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Food Matters: Frozen yogurt shops near UT; Austin Restaurant Week; state's biggest cake show this weekend; blogger recipe features local rabbit

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Shops serve up frozen yogurt around campus

Patrick Vuong describes himself as an "ex high-tech refugee." In his quest to stay in Austin after leaving the tech world, the University of Texas graduate opened a frozen yogurt shop on West 24th Street in January called Juicytart. "The frozen yogurt trend is like the explosion in the popularity of bagel shops or coffee shops," Vuong said, noting that his research turned up more than 30 frozen-yogurt outlets in the greater Austin area.

With so many yogurt shops, the sweet-toothed student in the UT area might begin to feel like a reality-show bachelor standing in front of a new crop of 25 women: Some are sweeter than others, some are a bit tart and some won't be around for long. Many of the new shops follow a self-serve model, charging somewhere between 39 cents and 45 cents an ounce for soft-serve yogurt and toppings ranging from fresh fruit to cereal to crushed candy bars.

Vuong said he hopes the reported health benefits of frozen yogurt - claims range from weight control to clearer skin to a reduced risk of cancer - will give the dessert spots staying power over other food trends.

We visited five frozen-yogurt shops within walking distance of the UT campus.

• The Yogurt Spot (2815 Guadalupe St. 478-7768, www.theyogurtspotusa.com . Price: 39 cents an ounce): This location scores big points for atmosphere. There's a lot of seating inside, and the place is big enough to bump into someone you haven't seen in awhile. Free parking is available in the nearby garage, but it's also close enough to campus to walk there. Visitors are offered a small stack of sample cups, and they'll give you more if you ask. This store offers 16 different flavors of yogurt and more than 30 topping options, including Fruity Pebbles, Heath bars and squeezable syrups.

• Toy Joy (2900 Guadalupe St. 320-0090, www.toyjoy.com . Price: Cups and cones $1.95-$4.75. Toppings start at 50 cents.): A diamond in the rough, the Toy Joy coffee and vegan soft-serve counter is hidden among a collection of toys. Without inside knowledge, you might not know it was there. This is the only nonyogurt, nonself-serve place on our list, but it's certainly a comparably luscious option, an organic, keep-Austin-weird way of doing soft-serve. You can choose between a regular or gluten-free cone, a little cup or a big cup. They always serve vanilla and offer another flavor-of-the-week option. Past weeks have included strawberry, peanut butter and pumpkin pie. I quickly became a fan.

• Yogurt Planet (4601 N. Lamar Blvd. 452-7888, www.yogurtplanet.com . Price: 39 cents an ounce.): This spot in the Triangle shopping center is by far the longest haul from campus, but it is well worth it. Yogurt Planet is one of the few shops I've visited that offers cake-batter yogurt. The shop is usually packed with students and families, so grabbing a table is sometimes a challenge. Flavors change regularly; red velvet was the exact rich, red color and flavor of a homemade cake.

• Swirll (2310 Guadalupe St. 482-8668, www.swirlls.com . Price: 43 cents an ounce.): Beware that this yogurt was on the icy side and melted quickly. It's a quick walk from campus, so grab a couple of napkins and take your yogurt to class. Seating inside is limited. The shop offers flavors such as peanut butter, cheesecake and a tart house blend. The gummy bears, worms and sour worms add a delightful texture option as toppings.)

• Juicytart Yogurt (504 W. 24th St. www.juicytartyogurt.com . Price: 39 cents an ounce.): This 5-week-old shop stands out by staying open until 2 a.m. They're also among the cheapest places per ounce when you take advantage of a 10 percent loyalty discount. There's plenty of comfortable seating, free Internet and several TVs. It'd be a good place to study. The owner is very friendly and suggested toppings for my Strawberry Tart yogurt, which was creamy and thick and didn't melt quickly. Recent specialty flavors have included Orange Creme. It tasted just like a Dreamsicle.

- Emily Macrander

Bakers come together for sixth annual cake show and competition

It's amazing what talented bakers can do when armed only with the ingredients required to make a cake. At the That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show and Competition this weekend, some of the country's most talented bakers and sugar artists will show off their work at the Crockett Events Center, 10601 N. Lamar Blvd., for the sixth annual show hosted by Austin's Capital Confectioners Cake Club. Jennifer Bartos, show director and owner of All in One Bake Shop, says this is the biggest cake competition in Texas and one of the top three nationally. This year's theme for the show-cake contest is "2010 - A Cake Odyssey," and 16 other competitions will keep both participants and guests busy and entertained. Guests can take on-site classes or view demonstrations, and there is a decorating area for kids. Admission is $8, and kids under 18 get in free. www.thattakesthecake.org .

- Addie Broyles

Blogger group pushes higher food awareness

"Eat as though your life depends on it." That's the short, but to-the-point bio on Ren LeVally's Twitter page. LeVally is part of a growing online movement of socially conscious cooks who use their blogs to spread awareness of organic, raw and local foods, as well as the negative effects of processed and genetically modified foods. LeVally, who works as a systems administrator during the day, says Edible Aria (www.ediblearia.com ) is a way to record his own food journey and connect with a people who are trying to do the same. "Personal health and well-being are a major motivator, but I wouldn't give up on all the new friendships for anything," he says.

In his personal attempt to eat healthy and sustainably, he's creating - and chronicling - vibrant, sophisticated dishes, including this rabbit pan-fried in duck fat with creole mustard cream sauce. In just more than a year, he's built up a healthy following of readers who come back from outstanding recipes, as well as tips on creating "interesting food on a reasonable budget," he says.

- A.B.

Pan-Fried Rabbit with Creole Mustard Cream Sauce

For the rabbit:

1 fresh pasture-fed whole rabbit, with giblets

1 cup sprouted spelt flour

2 Tbsp. Cajun-style seasoning

2 tsp. half-sharp paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rendered duck fat

For the sauce:

1 Tbsp. duck fat

1/4 cup yellow onion, diced

1/4 cup bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup celery, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, slivered

1/2 tsp. champagne vinegar

2 cups light game, chicken or vegetable stock

1 sprig each of fresh bay, thyme and oregano, tied in a bundle

1/2 cup fresh cream

2 Tbsp. Creole mustard

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

For the rabbit: Cut up rabbit into serving-size pieces (2 forelegs, 2 back legs and 2 thighs), reserving the loin for another recipe. Rinse in plenty of cold, fresh water, then pat dry. Season liberally with salt and pepper, wrap in butcher paper and refrigerate 2-4 hours. Remove from refrigerator and wipe away salt, pepper and any accumulated moisture. Dust with flour mixed with Cajun-style seasoning and paprika, shaking off any excess.

Melt duck fat to a depth of about 1/2 inch in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add rabbit to the pan and fry as you would chicken, turning frequently until golden brown and the juices run clear. Transfer to a side dish, then sauté liver and kidneys in the same pan.

For the sauce: Melt the duck fat in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and celery and sweat until slightly softened. Moisten with champagne vinegar, then add stock and herb bundle. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about a third. Add cream and mustard and continue to simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Discard herb bundle and season to taste with salt and pepper.

- Ren LeVally, Edible Aria (www.ediblearia.com )

High schools face off in regional culinary event

On Saturday , students in the culinary arts programs at Del Valle High School and Travis High School and four other Central Texas high schools will compete at the First Annual FS Prep/ProStart Regional Competition. During the daylong event, the students will be judged on their ability to prepare a three-course meal within an hour, knife skills and other food-related events. "The competition will bring the students to the next skill level," said Wendy Saari with the Texas Restaurant Association, which sponsors the competition through its education foundation. The event will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Texas Culinary Academy at 11400 Burnet Road and is free and open to the public. The winners will compete in March against winning teams from Houston and Dallas.

- Emily Macrander

Try new places, dishes at restaurant week

Austin Restaurant Week begins Sunday , with more than 60 restaurants offering fixed-price menus for special prices, ranging from $10-$15 for lunch to $25-$35 for dinner. The first half of the eight-day event runs through March 3, and the second four-day stretch is March 7-10. Restaurants and menus at www.restaurantweekaustin.com .

- Mike Sutter

Openings, closings & coming soon

• Open: El Arbol, an Argentinian restaurant . 3411 Glenview Ave. 323-6636, www.elarbolrestaurant.com .

• Open: Buffalo Wild Wings, the third Central Texas location of the sports bars chain at 13000 N. Interstate 35. 339-0772, www.buffalowildwings.com .

• Open: TaKorea, a trailer serving Korean barbecue tacos at 6019 N. Interstate 35. 970-8256, www.eastmeetsmex.com .

• Opening Friday: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, the fourth Austin location of the California-based coffeeshop at 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza in the Domain. 494-4041,www.coffeebeanaustin.com .

• Closing Friday: Dot's Place, longtime home of Southern cooking, at 15803 Windermere Drive in Pflugerville.

- M.S., A.B.