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Food Matters: Vegan queso, cheesecake bites, New Year's dining and more

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Vegan queso comes close to the real thing

Vegans who live in the queso capital of the world need not cry tears in their margaritas any more.

An Austin company is now selling a lactose-free, wheat-free, soy-free queso dip that tastes as close to the real thing as you're probably going to get.

It all started when Alana Leigh, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., noticed that nutritional yeast, high in B-12 vitamin and protein, happened to taste a lot like cheese.

Earlier this year, she started playing around in the kitchen, and the result was Nacho Mom's Ultimate Vegan Queso, a cheeselike dip that contains no animal products, fat, nuts, soy or corn.

Chandler also developed a fire-roasted version that is gluten-free. Austinites can already buy both flavors at Wheatsville Co-op, but Leigh says that starting Jan. 17, the jars (about $4 for 16 ounces) will be available in Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers and other retailers in more than 25 states.

A third flavor is in the works and will be available next year.

The queso, which you can use on top of vegetables or in other dishes that call for cheese, only has 10 calories per serving, which means if you eat the whole jar, you'll have only consumed 160 calories, about half of what's in that lime margarita.

- Addie Broyles

Former Statesman Sports writer turns baking into a career

Cheesecakes have always been Michael Hurd's specialty. Even during stints on the American-Statesman sports desk, Hurd was tweaking his recipes to create what he saw as the perfect dessert. It's taken him 30 years, but Hurd has finally started CinnaMan, a dessert catering company through which he can sell dozens of flavors of cheesecake and other baked goods.

Hurd makes standard flavors such as strawberry and lemon cheesecake, but he's best known for his creations that combine cheesecake with traditional desserts such as bananas Foster, sweet potato pie, apple pie, pralines and carrot cake.

Cheesecakes start at $15 for 4-inch rounds, and Hurd offers sampler trays ($50-$60) with dozens of bite-sized cheesecakes that are great for parties. (He says if you contact him today, it might not be too late to get something set up for your New Year's party.)

Hurd also makes round cakes and sheet cakes in dozens of flavors ($25-$50) including caramel carrot cake and the pastry-inspired honey bun. www.cinnamandessertcatering.com

- A.B.

Openings, closings and coming soon

• Open: Second Bar + Kitchen, the casual-dining venue of former Driskill Grill chef David Bull's three-part venture at the Austonian. 200 Congress Ave. 827-2750, www.congressaustin.com .

• Set to open Friday: Congress, the fine-dining venue of Bull's Austonian operation. 200 Congress Ave.. 827-2760, www.congressaustin.com . The restaurant's lounge, Bar Congress, also opens this week.

• Closing Sunday : Katz's Deli, after 31 years at 618 W. Sixth St.

- M.S.

Toast New Year with a bloom in your glass

As if champagne or prosecco weren't chic enough, an Australian company is selling hibiscus flowers in syrup that you can drop into a flute of bubbly as you toast the new year. A small jar ($12-$14, available at Central Market, Williams-Sonoma and some area Spec's) contains more than 10 edible hibiscus flowers that are soaked in a pink cane-sugar syrup. The flower slowly unfurl when dropped in a glass of wine, champagne or a cocktail like this gin sparkler. wildhibiscus.com

- A.B.

Wild Lime Hibiscus Gin Sparkler

Hibiscus flower

1 oz. fresh lime juice

2 oz. gin

1/2 oz. wild hibiscus syrup (or simple syrup)

Crushed ice

Champagne

Place flower in bottom of the glass. In shaker, combine lime, gin and syrup and shake vigorously. Pour into glass; carefully add some crushed ice and top with champagne.

New Year's dining

Here are three of the more than 45 listings on austin360.com/forklore of places open for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

• Asti Trattoria (408-C E. 43rd St., 451-1218, www.astiaustin.com )

• New Year's Eve: Three course $65. Four courses $85. Call for hours.

• El Chilito (2219 Manor Road, 382-3797, www.elchilito.com )

• New Year's Eve: Regular menu. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• New Year's Day: Regular menu. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

• Threadgill's (6416 N. Lamar Blvd, 451-5440; 301 W. Riverside Drive, 472-9304, www.threadgills.com )

• New Year's Eve: Regular menu. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. north, until 10:30 p.m. south. Special dinner and show with Jimmy LaFave at north location starting at 7:30 p.m.

• New Year's Day: Regular menu, plus black-eyed peas and greens. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. north, until 10:30 p.m. south.

- Mike Sutter

Food briefs

Mat Clouser, chef at Black Star Beer Co-Op, is hosting a Rabbit + Hat supper club at 7 p.m. on Jan. 9 at the East Side Stages, 3000 E. Cesar Chavez St. The dinner ($75, including cocktails and wine) will feature game hen confit, cured steelhead trout and roasted filet mignon. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/141435

- A.B.