Whew! I fell off the news round-up wagon there, folks, but I’m hoping to make time for sharing food stories from around the pages of the Statesman once a week.
Matthew Odam has been hard at work on the 2013 Dining Guide, his annual list of the top 50 restaurants in Austin. Spoiler alert: There’s a new No. 1 this year! Lots of solid choices in the top 10 and a few surprises in the top 50.
In recent weeks, he’s reviewed Bufalina, which earned one of his highest ratings all year, the French bistro Arro and Winflo Osteria, which is hosting a meatball festival on Nov. 23. In other restaurant news, a fire at La Condesa has closed the popular eatery, which is usually packed with private reservations during Formula One weekend. No word on when they’ll be able to reopen, but they do have a new food truck called El Cubico. La Barbecue is moving from its home on South First to East Sixth Street, starting in early December.
If you’re looking for a place to eat out on Thanksgiving, here’s our annual round-up, which we’ll be adding to as we get menus and details from the restaurants. (Which means if you’re a restaurant and your menu isn’t listed there, email Melissa Martinez at email@example.com)
In yesterday’s food section, we had two great stories from people whose stories you don’t read every day in the food section. Freelancer Claire Canavan, who usually writes chef profiles and theater reviews for Austin360.com, takes us behind the scenes of last weekend’s Wine & Swine, where chefs started cooking pigs over open fire the night before.
My favorite food story to run this week was from Dave Doolittle, who is one of the people in the newsroom who leads the Formula One coverage. He’s been a Formula One fan for many years, but only since the race made its Austin debut last year did he start cooking to coincide with where each race would be held. Poutine for the Montreal race, steamed fish for the race in Shanghai, mussels in white wine for Monaco. His personal challenge taught him much about global flavors (and making them appealing to two kids under 6).
Speaking of Formula One, the free Austin Fan Fest is taking place in the Warehouse and Second Street districts downtown starting tonight and running through Sunday. Organizers have put together something called Cadillac Cafe, which will feature cooking demonstrations with a number of Austin chefs. Starting at 6:30 p.m. today, chefs from El Alma, The Bonneville, Sway and Garrido’s will prepare various dishes at a stage located on Second Street between Guadalupe and Lavaca streets. The demonstrations start at 3 p.m. Friday, 12:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Did you know the Food Network is turning 20 this month? In my column this week, I reviewed "From Scratch: Inside the Food Network," a new book out that details the channel’s nitty gritty start. In short: It wasn’t pretty. Two decades later, though, the network has transformed how Americans think about food and cooking and has launched the careers of countless stars, including Rachael Ray.
Ray will be in Austin next week as the keynote speaker at the Texas Conference for Women, but she’ll also be signing copies of her new book "Week in a Day" at 6 p.m. Monday at BookPeople. You can buy the book now either in store or online, which will automatically assign you a "ticket" for the free signing. For details, go to bookpeople.com. Until then, here’s one of the make-ahead dishes in the book.
Mushroom & Spinach Bread-zagna
Lasagna may be the favorite comfort food of all time, but once you make bread-zagna, and you figure out how much easier your lasagna life can be, you might never look back. This will make enough to serve six grown-ups unless I’m there, then it will probably feed two — John and I could eat the whole bread-zagna by ourselves.
— Rachael Ray
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. cremini or mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1/3 cup Marsala or dry white wine
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 lb. farm spinach, stemmed, washed, dried and chopped
2 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter cut into small pieces, plus softened butter for the baking dish
8 slices (1-inch thick) peasant-style white bread
3/4 lb. Fontina Val d’Aosta or Gruyère cheese, shredded or thinly sliced
1 1/2 to 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and dark. Stir in thyme, garlic, shallot, and salt and pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with Marsala and stir until almost completely evaporated. Pour in stock, wilt in the spinach, and turn off the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk half-and-half with eggs, a few grates of nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Soak the bread, turning occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed.
Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. Lay 4 slices of bread on the bottom and top with mushrooms and spinach and half of the cheeses, followed by the remaining bread and cheese. Dot the top with butter and bake until golden, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
To make this dish ahead of time, bake for 45 minutes and then let cool before covering with aluminum foil or other lid and refrigerating. On the day you’d like to serve it, bring the bread-zagna to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Serves 6.
— From "Week in a Day" by Rachael Ray (Atria Books, $24.99)