Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gilded Recession pt. 1

Austin is one of the top ten best cities to "weather the recession" in according to Forbes magazine. A falling unemployment rate, as well as low median home prices, have landed us on this list, along with three other Texas metroplexes: San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth. To date, only a few of my friends have been affected by the economic slow down, mostly those who work on the front of the house side of restaurants.

For others, it's business as usual. Wheatsville is growing strongly, which is extremely positive as we head into the final stages of our expansion project. Dan, or GM–and my boss–recently returned from a NCGA conference in New Orleans, where he learned that many co-ops around the country are experiencing a slow down to single digit growth, which is still positive, yet may be harmful to those in the midst of renovations or other projects. We are bucking that trend, so far, maintaining double digit sales growth, and a positive attitude that our owners will shop with us more as times get hard, and we are better suited to meet their needs than the big chain stores.

Even the wine business is doing well. Despite a bit of a lull around the New Year, things seem to be going okay, or so I have presumptuously surmised. Shaddley, wine rep extraordinaire–who is currently touring around France for winning a contest at his work–seems to be doing well, despite the fears being touted by Washington, and the rest of our country. Maybe Texas should secede? We'd be all right. Anyway, we had intended to do our first dinner club on Friday the thirteenth, but due to a change in plans, and then another, I went down to North Buda, to cook for Shaddley and YogaMarketingBrownieGirl. He was in the mood for steaks and fingerling potatoes. He had some big wines open, and that was the driving force behind the meal.

We went to the 'Ville earlier in the day, bought some provisions, including some beautiful locally grown organic brussels sprouts courtesy of Montesino Ranch in Wimberly, fingerlings, bacon, and some beautiful Niman Ranch strip loin steaks. I loaded him up with some other goods that were at my house, some backyard lettuce, aioli that I'd made earlier in the day, and a container of rabbit confit. I eventually made my way down to North Buda.

Once again, this meal was inspired by Shaddley's open wines, and his lust for steak, bacon, something 'garlicky', and fingerling potatoes. For me, that was an easy enough starting point. Big wines, and bacon! Steak and potatoes! I had this. Shaddley wanted to grill the steaks, and alas, grilling is not my strong suit, yet! I left that aspect of this meal to him. The wines we would be drinking that evening were a 2004 Haut-Carles Fronsac from Bordeaux, and a 2005 Pellegrini Milestone from Sonoma.

Oh, happy meat, happy soul!

We got to work. The steaks were seasoned, and seared off; the rabbit confit removed from its protective shroud of duck fat; dressings were made, brussels and fingerlings blanched, as we approached dinner time. I had a secret for the night up my sleeve, and my hosts were unaware of the madness that was brewing in my evil mind. They looked at me strangely as I started to heat up some heavy cream.
"What's that for?"
"This, oh, nothing, do you have any liqueur?"
"Yeah, Kaluha, or Cognac?"

Ready for the grill, time to see Paul Wall.

As we neared dinner time, we had been drinking some other non-dinner-focused wines, helping to loosen us up, which would be a saving grace for the gastronomical madness that was about to ensue that weekend. The brussels were sauteed in some bacon drippings and finished with bacon; the fingerlings were pan roasted in duck fat, and tossed with some thyme, and parsley. The salad was dressed with a simple blood orange vinaigrette, garnished with rabbit confit, bacon and blood oranges; the steaks, wrapped in bacon, hit the grill to finish. Go time. I find it difficult to get good pictures in these cat's house, but we got a few! After a few minutes on the grill, and a bit of time to rest, the steaks were ready, so we plated up the food, smothered the steaks in the aioli, which over time covered the entire plate, complimenting all the sides with goodness of garlic.

We ate, we drank. The Bordeaux stood out; flavors of dark, ripe fruits, rounded out with that familiar taste of rich soil that I love in French wine, it was as if a child had served me a blackberry mudpie smoothie, and I couldn't get enough. Both wines held up to the richness of the steak, bacon, and duck fat, cleansing my palate and leaving me thirsty for more. The salad was a beacon of hope, full of acidity, sweet citrus notes, and rich rabbit confit. We finished up, opened another bottle, did dishes and sat down.

Confit, bacon, and blood orange... a good way to dress up that backyard lettuce.

. Roasted fingerlings are evil... Photo courtesy of the Scots

After a brief rest, I asked who was ready for dessert. They looked at me, crazed, perverse, and depraved; I knew they were ready. Chocolate and cheese is not just a great Ween album, this combination was our dessert that evening. Out came the Cognac ganache, three years aged sharp Canadian cheddar, and St. Andres triple cream brie. Shaddley, feeling inspired, pulled out a delicious dessert wine; a serious treat worthy of royalty. The 2000 Royal Tokaji, a Hungarian dessert wine, which had a beautiful golden color, a bouquet of apricot, wild flowers and a touch of orange peel. The mouthfeel was like thinned honey, viscous, and sweet. It was times to get our hands dirty, time to make truffles. YogaMarketingBrownieGirl and I got in to it, shaping our little chocolate friends before they were rolled in cocoa powder.


Truffles are so rich, and delicious, that you need some seriously powerful cheese to help you slow your roll or else quickly you'll quickly fade into the depths of a food coma. Or at least that's what happens to me. After we finished this amazing combination of items, we sat around and drank a little more. Soon, I was nodding out like a mid-seventies Jerry after smoking some China white. Full, content, and drunk on life, I went to bed. 

To be continued...


Shadd Scott said...

I am laying here in Avignon listening to Leonard Cohen, when I found this post. I smiled through the whole retelling. You waited just long enough for me to forget the details and get nostalgic. This was the perfect prep for France. Can't wait for the next installments.

Flapjacks said...

people used to comment on blogs more.

Heather's Moving Castle said...

I try to comment. And I am giving you a blog award!! It is the Hooked on Your Blog award. ;o)

Heather's Moving Castle said...

P.S. Go to my main blog to see it. I passed it onto three ppl only. It has a pink box with houses on it..the award photo. lol.

You can take it or leave it. Just know I love ya!

Laurie said...

I'm sorry I never comment. I keep daylight hours now, and breaking up kidfights is all I ever do. For example, yesterday after work, I had to explain to Alex and Zelda that busting up the swingset with the croquet mallets is not only destructive, but very disrespectful to their grandma, who bought them those lovely gifts. To complete a thought would be a luxury, but for now, everything I do is interrupted by something silly. There. That's a comment - you're awesome. Keep writing. Shut up!

Oh - wvb - outende adj. - shit, I got nothing for this, but I'm pretty sure it's an adjective...

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