Tag Archives: Austin Food

Picnic at Walnut Creek Park

Two of the best things about living in Austin are the weather and the outdoors. In 2009, Forbes named Austin one of the “best outdoor cities” in the nation. Yet, after almost a decade living here, I have explored just a few of Austin’s public outdoor spaces. This summer I’m working to fix that. My husband Rami and I have resolved to take weekly picnics around Austin so that we can visit lots of different parks in the city and enjoy some great food together.

We are well outfitted for our picnic adventure: we’ve had a nice insulated picnic basket for years, courtesy of my mother in-law, and we threw down $7 at Goodwill last week so we’d have a proper picnic blanket.

We’re hoping these picnics will be a fun, cheap way to spend time together over the summer, and a chance to experiment with new recipes. I rarely cook lunch for us, so cooking sandwiches and picnic dishes with seasonal, local produce will be a nice way to stretch my cooking chops.

We started our picnic tour on Sunday at Walnut Creek Park in north central Austin. On the menu were sliced apples drizzled with local honey, a bagel sandwich with a root vegetable omelet, and a bottle of Texas wine.

The meal took us about 45 minutes to make. I packed two whole apples in the picnic basket along with a paring knife and the bottle of honey. For the sandwiches, I used Scott Ehrlich’s recipe for Spanish-Style Beet, Carrot and Egg Sandwich published by Food and Wine. Rami and I made the sandwiches with carrots from Acadian Family Farm, beets from Massey Farm, spring onions from Bar W Ranch and Farm and Yukon potatoes from Green Gate Farm.

In the sandwich, sweet onions and carrots, earthy beets, and buttery potatoes are sliced very thin and cooked until they’re tender. These become the star ingredients in an omelet, which serves as the filling for a toasted bagel sandwich. A spicy mayonnaise-based sauce complements the omelet perfectly. (Recipe here.)

The sandwiches were easy to cook, and the omelet portion of recipe will probably join our regular brunch rotation, especially when we get beets in our local box. (I never seem to use those up!) For the picnic I assembled the sandwiches at home and wrapped them individually in foil for transport. Our insulated picnic basket kept the sandwiches hot until we arrived at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, which is just 10 minutes from our house.

Walnut Creek Park has extensive hiking and bike trails, an off-leash area for dogs, plus a baseball diamond and a playground. There are 26 picnic tables at the park and Rami and I had no trouble finding a quiet, clean place to eat around noon on Sunday. Our picnic table overlooked a shady clearing near a trailhead to the north, and a playground to the south. There’s also plenty of free parking available on the park property.

You can’t tell it from this picture, but this part of the park is very popular for dog owners since it’s near the off-leash area of the trail. Our dog Barclay was on his leash at the picnic table, and he enjoyed greeting several other dogs who walked by during our meal.

All in all we considered this first picnic venture a success. The sandwich was good, the wine was sweet, and the park was a pretty relaxing place to spend our Sunday afternoon.

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#5: Mister Tramp’s

Photo credit: Liz Love and Amy Russell

Masala Chai Ice Cream

This was Rami’s and my first married New Year’s Eve, and we spent most of it apart.  He had a gig playing Beatles tunes with the Austin Symphony. I stayed home in my PJs and rediscovered PhotoShop. (We just got the newest version. It rocks.) By the time he got home around 11:00 we both kinda wanted to go to sleep.  But that didn’t feel quite right, with it being our first married New Year’s Eve and all, so we made some small talk about resolutions. As midnight approached, we decided to make a toast. We don’t keep champagne on hand, so I pulled out the fanciest thing we had  in our kitchen: this Masala Chai ice cream.  We dished it up clinked our spoons together as the ball dropped.

The first bite of ice cream was like hot snow, and we both moaned when we tasted it.  Sweet cream brushed up against spicy chai as the ice cream swept our tongues.  Each spoonful had a velvet finish, with hints of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and black pepper.  By the time we lapped up the last bit, New Year’s Eve finally felt like something special.

I can’t take credit for the magnetism of this dish. The chai is from Austin’ own Zhi Tea Gallery, and the recipe belongs to my sister-in-law, Fatima.  Her cream steeping technique imbues the ice cream with deep flavor using fresh or dried herbs, and the final product is infinitely better tasting than an ice cream flavored artificially.  The best part is, you can adapt this recipe for any kind of tea or fresh herb by adjusting the amount of herb and steeping time according to taste.

Finally, a happy coincidence: I just saw that today’s Austin Groupon is $20 for $40 worth of merchandise at Zhi Tea!  Since Masala Chai from Zhi Tea is the standout ingredient here, I couldn’t resist.  And with almost 100 different flavors available from Zhi, just imagine the crazy ice creams you could make!! Just the idea of Honeybush Rooibos and Vanilla Rose ice creams has my mouth watering.

Masala Chai Ice Cream (yields 1.5 quarts)

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup loose tea, Zhi Tea Masala Chai flavor
5 large egg yolks

Before you begin, you’ll need some specific equipment for this recipe: a mesh strainer, a saucepan, a whisk, a few spoons, a 1.5 quart ice cream maker, and a few bowls: one large metal mixing bowl which will sit in an ice bath (use a bigger bowl or the sink for this) and a small mixing bowl. A kitchen thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is useful.

1. In a medium pan, warm milk, sugar, one cup heavy cream, salt, and tea leaves. Stir occasionally. Once mixture is hot, about 150 degrees, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse chai flavor.

2. Set a large metal bowl over an ice bath (a bunch of ice in your sink or in a larger bowl.) Pour the reserved cup of heavy cream into the bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. If you haven’t already separated your egg yolks, do that now, and set them aside until step 4.

3. Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the tea leaves from the infused cream by pouring the mixture through a mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Use the back of a spoon to press down on the tea leaves, squeezing out any remaining liquid, then discard the tea leaves.  Return the infused cream mixture to the pan.

4.  Rewarm the infused cream mixture over medium low heat. In a separate bowl (the one you strained the cream into before is fine) whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by ladling the warm, infused cream into the egg yolks a little bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the egg yolks are warm.  Pour the warmed egg yolks into the pan with the rest of the infused cream.

5. Cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon, or at about 170 degrees.

6. Immediately strain the custard into the big mixing bowl with the reserved cream. Stir together over the ice bath until cool. Transfer cooled custard to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.

7. Freeze the ice cream according to the directions that came with your ice cream maker.  When ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, transfer it to an airtight container and freeze for a few hours before serving.  I sampled this recipe at both the soft serve and completely frozen stage (just doing my duty here!) and the flavor is better developed after a few hours in the freezer.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.