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Food Matters: Hill Country Wine and Food Festival wrap-up, a new pizzeria from the Parkside guy, Louie's 106: Closed?, what's in chef Bryan Caswell's fridge

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Reports from the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival

The 25th anniversary of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival last weekend will be remembered more for a different kind of liquid: rain. Storms forced the cancellation of the Texas 25 tasting Thursday night, drove the Culinary Masters dinner inside at the Four Seasons and made for the second consecutive soggy Sunday Fair, which still drew an estimated 3,000 people (some of whom were unhappy when the wine samples stopped flowing a half-hour shy of the 4 p.m. cutoff; some vendors told the American-Statesman they'd bring more next year). Here's a sampling of our reports from the festival and corollary events.

• Out and About blogger Michael Barnes, on Saturday's Rare and Fine Wine Auction at the Four Seasons: This year's most charismatic-looking package consisted of five Bond Estates wines, estimated value: $3,500. But that lot didn't take the top cash. That was dinner in the cellar of auction founder Larry Peel and prepared by the Four Seasons' Elmar Prambs, which went for $4,500. Total take: $213,630, primarily for culinary scholarships. More at austin360.com/outandabout and Thursday in Life & Style.

• Relish Austin blogger Addie Broyles, on Thursday's rained-out Texas 25: The sold-out event was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., and just after 6 p.m., festival officials decided to cancel it due to safety concerns from the afternoon downpours, a festival spokesperson said. Several vendors tweeted that they weren't sure what to do with the product they'd prepared. Retro Bizzaro and Izzoz Tacos spread the word through Twitter that they were giving away tacos and snack treats at the nearby Kung Fu Saloon. More at austin360.com/relishaustin .

• Broyles, on chef John Besh's cooking demonstration Saturday: The affable and award-winning chef has had a successful year, appearing on "Top Chef Masters" and publishing his first solo cookbook, "My New Orleans." He now owns six Louisiana restaurants, most in New Orleans. In August, Besh will opening his first restaurant out of Louisiana - another Luke, named after one of his sons - on San Antonio's River Walk.

• Liquid Austin blogger Patrick Beach, on Saturday's Palate Cleansers tasting: You know the push-back against crazy bold wines is going full tilt when the festival books a room for lighter, more delicate tasting of rieslings, roses, chenin blancs and more. I was particularly taken with a dry rose from McPherson Cellars of Lubbock. It was long on strawberry, airy and delightful for mid-afternoon sipping. Owner Kim McPherson said the grapes come from Brenham. More at austin360.com/liquid .

• The M.O. blogger Matthew Odam, on Friday's Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting: Chef Tyson Cole and his crew from Uchi were serving a delicious amberjack sashimi. The Jason Dady group from San Antonio served an amazing New York strip steak tartare with roasted peppers, sea salt, black pepper and white Cheddar foam. Other standouts included La Condesa's lump crab meat served with mango, tomato and a spicy chipotle mayo and David Garrido's braised pork with shaved manchego, black truffle aioli and dried cranberry. When I suggested he put it on the menu he said he couldn't, because then he wouldn't have these flavors to play with at special events. Fair enough; just tell me when the next special event is. More at austin360.com/themo .

Parkside's chef- owner planning a pizza venture right next door

After bringing refinement to Sixth Street dining with the fresh, clean flavors of Parkside, chef-owner Shawn Cirkiel is preparing to expand his culinary corner. In July, Cirkiel plans to open the Backspace, a pizzeria in the space at 507 San Jacinto Blvd., adjacent to his restaurant at 301 E. Sixth St. The small space will seat about 30 people. With the simplicity of just a wood-burning oven, Cirkiel said the Backspace will serve about five Neapolitan-style pizzas (including a marinara and a margherita) along with a few appetizers, such as prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella. Cirkiel said the inspiration for the Backspace, was fairly simple: "Cook for your friends and for yourself and then hope everyone else enjoys it." The Backspace, which will be designed by Austin restaurant icon Michael Hsu, will initially be open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., but Cirkiel says they plan to be open for both lunch and dinner by the fall.

- M.O.

Houston chef keeps it bubbly in the fridge

Bryan Caswell was a fisherman long before he was a chef.

The Houston-born chef has been catching fish in the Gulf of Mexico since he was a kid, and it wasn't until he was in his 20s that he considered cooking for a living.

Caswell went to the Culinary Institute of American in New York and was hooked. He spent the following years traveling and cooking in some of the world's best kitchens before coming back to Houston, where he now is the chef-owner of four restaurants: Stella Sola, Little Big's (a burger and wine bar with two Houston locations) and Reef, which has won more accolades in the few short years since it opened than most restaurants earn in a lifetime.

In 2009, Food & Wine magazine named him one of the best new chefs in the country.

Caswell, whose fishing and cooking adventures you can follow on Twitter or his Whole Fish blog (www.wholefish.blogspot.com), was one of more than two dozen of the state's top chefs cooking at last week's Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting, one of the biggest events of the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival.

What three things are always in your fridge? Agua con gas (sparkling water), Lone Star, whole milk

What's your favorite condiment? Pickled anything

What's your go-to late-night snack? Omelet

- A.B.

Hit the books for a lesson in basic cooking

Since I moved out of the University of Texas dorms and into an apartment two years ago, I've been in charge of making my own meals. After a few months of eating instant and frozen foods, it became clear that I desperately needed to sharpen my cooking skills. But time and again, I bought cookbooks and downloaded recipes and that I never used because they served 12 or required too many bizarre ingredients. "The Ultimate Student Cookbook: From Chicken to Chili" by Tiffany Goodall (Firefly Books, $14.95) skillfully handles the frustrations of being a student cook. The book provides a list of basic kitchen tools students should invest in, and the recipes only use those tools. From that list, I already had a saucepan, a colander, a cutting board, a big knife and a little knife. The book is broken up into breakfast, food on the move, weekend food and treats. I love that the recipes make enough for just one or two people. I was thrilled to be able to make French toast without being overwhelmed by leftovers. Whether it's a high-energy smoothie or hot lamb curry, the ingredient lists are short and call for things easily found at the grocery store. Thank you. Each step is illustrated with a photo, and the thorough directions allow even the most novice cook to follow along without getting swept away in a sea of foodie words. Put down the Easy Mac. Pick up the book.

- Emily Macrander

French Toast

11/4 cups milk

2 medium eggs, beaten

2 slices of bread

1 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey

Mix the milk and beaten eggs together in a shallow dish.

Dip the bread in the mixture, slice by slice, and let soak for a minute to absorb the milk and egg. By the time you have done both slices, most of the mixture should have been absorbed.

Melt the butter in the skillet set over high heat. Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat to medium.

Add the bread and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Serve hot, drizzled with maple syrup or runny honey.

Openings and closings

• Open: Nuernberg Brauhaus, a German restaurant in Pflugerville at 1202 FM 685. 512-990-5544, www.nbg-brauhaus.com

• Open: Karma Taco, a taco truck at the corner of Fourth and Guadalupe streets. 721-6820, www.karmataco.com .

• Closed?: According to a message on its Web site and on its front door, the 25-year-old downtown Mediterranean restaurant and tapas bar Louie's 106 is closed. Whether that's temporary or permanent is unclear, and attempts to contact owner Joe Elmiger have been unsuccessful.

- A.B., Matthew Odam

For Earth Day, food for thought on the screen

In celebration of Earth Day this week, PBS is airing the national broadcast premiere of "Food, Inc." tonight at 8. (KLRU will rebroadcast the program at 3 a.m. Thursday). The Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by Robert Kenner and featuring authors Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma"), examines the agriculture industry, including both how produce and meat typically get from the farm to the grocery store, as well as genetically engineered food, food-borne illnesses, workers' rights and product labeling.

Whole Foods Markets across the country are screening food and environmental films this week. Tonight at 7 at the downtown Whole Foods in Austin, catch a free screening of "No Impact Man" on the rooftop plaza. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Whole Foods downtown will host a free showing of "What's On Your Plate?" followed by "Nourish: food + community." Visit www.letsretakeourplates.com for more.

- Addie Broyles

Fancy cakes, with lids

Cake has never been more portable. Austin chef Scott Calvert, who for 14 years has been making cakes and desserts for his company, the Cake Plate, is now selling cake in a Mason jar with a screwtop lid. Calvert had the idea for selling cake in a jar when someone showed him cupcakes in a jar. "But I'm kind of over cupcakes," he said. So he launched the Cake Jar (263-9305, www.thecakejar.com ), which offers more than 14 specialty cake, icing and mousse combinations, as well as standard flavors, in two sizes ($6 for a half-pint jar, $8.25 for a pint jar). Now you can take a jar of Pancho and Lefty (Mexican vanilla cake with pastry cream and strawberries) with you on your next picnic, "plus, you get to keep the jar," Calvert says.

- A.B.