Limoncello Raspberry Basil Sparkler

Lemon cocktailWhat do you do with an entire container of limoncello and free afternoon? Mix cocktails, of course! While limoncello is lovely to sip on its own it also makes a great base for craft cocktails. I also wanted to incorporate some sort of wine product and just happened to have a bottle of Prosecco in the wine fridge. To compliment and balance the sweetness of the limoncello, I added basil (my basil plant is going crazy right now!) and gin. If you do not like raspberries, blueberries can be used for this recipe.

What are your favorite limoncello cocktails?

Limoncello Raspberry Basil Sparkler

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 raspberries
  • 2 leaves of basil
  • 2 ounces limoncello
  • 2 ounces gin
  • Ice
  • Prosecco

Directions:

Muddle the raspberries and basil together in a cocktail shaker.

Add the limoncello, gin, and ice. Shake for 30 seconds.

Strain into a cocktail glass ( I used a highball glass) and top with Prosecco.

Relax and WineDown!

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Mettle Celebration

Mettle

met·tle

/ˈmetl/
Noun

The ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

To celebrate the end of my first week at the new gig in a spirited and resilient way, the hubs and I decided to try a new restaurant called Mettle. True to the definition of the word, Mettle offered an exciting and creative menu, friendly staff, and a great wine selection.

Mettle Restaurant

Mettle is located at the very end of East 6th Street. It appears that the restaurant is part of a converted warehouse or industrial building. It is one of many establishments that is housed in this space. The fun play on the name, Mettle (Metal), is consistent with industrial decor. Mettle incorporates  minimalistic dining elements with local artistic pieces. I love the glass sculpture in the main dining room!

Mettle’s menu is classically based, but with a modern spin: tomato salad, beef tongue tacos, duck breast and star anise spaghetti, and steak with potato chip gratin. Food MelodyOut of the selections at the table, I thought the deconstructed beef tongue tacos were outstanding! Served with homemade tortillas, fresh escabeche, crème fraiche, and salsa verde, it was visually appealing and fun to eat. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness! Beef Tongue TacosThe dessert menu was minimalistic by design (and indecipherable) with only a short description of ingredients. Our wait person was ready for questions and described each dessert in detail. I decided to order the macadamia, coconut, coffee, lime and my husband ordered the birch, sweet cream, hazelnut. They were both beautifully presented, but the birch and hazelnut dessert was wonderful. It tasted like a root beer float!DessertWe shared the meal with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Aney (which was very satisfying with a heavy meal), but they also offer a full menu of signature cocktails. The Mexican 86 was delicious! I didn’t think tequila and rose champagne would go together, but it works. I can’t wait to try the Rainey St. Mule on my next visit!

I thought the food at Mettle was well worth the visit. It can be expensive if you order drinks, apps, and a main course, but you do get a lot for the money. I would suggest you arrive early (before 7pm) as the restaurant fills up fast and it can be quite loud. Mettle also has a great patio so I foresee happy hours outside when the cooler weather arrives!

What is your recommended restaurant in East Austin? Drop me a line and let me know where you like to hang out!

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom risottoHi there! Long time, no blog! Life got a little crazy with leaving one job, interviewing, and getting ready for a new one. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.

I managed to sneak in some time to make my famous wild mushroom risotto last week. It isn’t healthy in any way, but risotto is my ultimate comfort food (just ignore the butter). Totally worth it when you are craving a heavy meal though. Enjoy with fresh bread and a bottle of Bordeaux (or your favorite wine)!

Do you have a favorite risotto recipe? If so, please share!

Wild Mushroom Risotto

  • Servings: 6
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small shallot or 1/2 cup of onion
  • 1 package fresh baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 package dried oyster mushrooms
  • 1 package dried wood ear mushrooms
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups risotto
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Truffle salt or oil

Directions:

Bring six cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and soak dried oyster and wood ear mushrooms for 20 minutes to reconstitute.

While mushrooms are soaking, mince garlic and shallot (or onion).

Melt stick of butter over medium heat. Add bella mushrooms, shallot, salt, and pepper. Cook down for 10 minutes until mushrooms and shallot are tender. Add garlic. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add two cups of risotto to the mushroom mixture and stir to coat risotto. Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes to “toast” the risotto. Keep a close eye and stir frequently to prevent burning.

As the risotto starts to toast the pan will start to dry out. Add 1/4 cup of white wine to deglaze. Cook for 3 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to pull the reconstituted mushrooms from the liquid and add to pan. Save the mushroom broth!

Reduce heat to medium.

Add one to two soup ladles of the mushroom broth at a time to the risotto. Cook the risotto until the liquid is incorporated and add more broth. Stir constantly. Once the mushroom broth is consumed, switch to a chicken or vegetable broth.

Continue adding broth and cooking down until risotto is tender and creamy in texture. This can take up to 30-45 minutes. Just keep stirring and checking the texture. Once done, stir in one cup of Parmesan cheese.

Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like truffles, add several teaspoons of truffle salt, a light drizzle of truffle oil, or freshly shaved truffles.

Notes:

I use the dried mushrooms because that is what is available in my grocery store. However, you can use any fresh wild mushrooms. You would need to increase the amount of broth to about three cans.

I usually go through the entire mushroom liquid and one can of broth before my risotto is done.

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?

A Food Lovers Guide to Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores signWhat makes a destination truly special? I believe the truth lies in the holy trinity: food, wine, and the best dessert in town. You can tell so much about a place from the establishments that support the community. I learned the Gulf Coast call to arms was “Give me seafood or give me death!”

Once I arrived in Gulf Shores, I immediately started looking for restaurants, food markets, shops, cafes, wine bars, and beach side grills. Because I was on the beach I was determined to take full advantage of the fresh Gulf seafood! Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp gumbo….Sorry, I couldn’t resist the classic Bubba monologue. It was required!

Below is a list of Gulf Shores restaurants that I think any foodie will love.

King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant

After driving 12 hours, the first place I went to eat was King Neptune’s. Featured on Bobby Flay’s Food Nation, I knew I had to try their seafood. King Neptune’s is known for “royal red” shrimp. The small restaurant was completely packed when I arrived, but the service was excellent. I ordered a plate of grilled mahi-mahi, shrimp, rice, and toast along with two glasses of wine for about $30. The seafood was outstanding!mahi mahi fish

The Original Oyster House

The Original Oyster House was featured on Man vs. Food, but it was around the corner from the condo so I thought I would try it. The restaurant is located in a small boardwalk area overlooking a lagoon. My parents and I went to lunch very early so the place was empty. I ordered a broiled seafood platter featuring shrimp, oysters, small crab claws, and flounder for $13. My parents ordered fried shrimp baskets for $11. Overall, the food was very good, but I should have stuck with oysters since that was their specialty. Good drinks and very friendly wait staff!Original Oyster House

Bahama Bob’s Beach Side Cafe

Bahama Bob’s sits on the Gulf Shore beach front and was about a quarter-mile from our rental. It looks like a typical beach side cafe–relaxed and unobtrusive. Nothing fancy on the outside, but good food on the inside. Bahama Bob’s offers a small seating area inside with surfboards on the ceiling and an outside patio. Still on my seafood kick, I ordered coconut shrimp and my Dad had a cheeseburger. I have to say that was the best shrimp I had the entire trip. The breading was light and crispy without being too greasy. It was served with a sweet and spicy pineapple dipping sauce. Yum, yum, yum! Both lunches with drinks cost about $20.

Hope’s Cheesecake

I wasn’t able to visit Hope’s storefront, but I had the original cheesecake at Nolan’s restaurant. Most restaurants that I visited in Gulf Shores offered Hope’s cheesecake for dessert. It was wonderful! I love cheesecake, but sometimes it is over cooked, chunky, or too sour. I thought Hope’s was a perfect combination of smooth, creamy texture and light sweetness.

Nolan’s Steakhouse

Nolan’s Steakhouse is considered one of Gulf Shore’s fine dining establishments offering steak and seafood. The main dining room was spacious and seemed to be on par with Bob’s Steakhouse in Austin. Because I was by myself, I opted to sit in the lounge at the bar and chat. Nolan’s is definitely the happenin’ place for retirees. I was, by far, the youngest person in the restaurant besides the wait staff! Boy, can they boogie!

Nolan’s has a decent wine list and offers a “Captain’s List” of reserve wines. I ordered the filet mignon which was served with sautéed veggies and a side of pasta for $30. The entrée, dessert, and three glasses of wine was $78. Overall, I thought they had good food and would visit again.Steak

The Sunset Cork Room

The Sunset Cork Room is a wine bar/restaurant/wine store located in Gulf Shores. They feature a more eclectic menu using locally sourced produce, cheese, and seafood. Sunset also features weekly farm-to-table menus. The small bar seats about 20 people and offered a nice wine selection. My sister ordered a local cheese plate and I opted for the grilled lamb lollipops. Because I was drinking Cabernet and my sister wanted Riesling, we ended up with six glasses of wine and food for about $120. I would consider Sunset a fine dining establishment for this area, but it is quiet, cozy, with good food and wine.Red and White Wine

Seafood Markets

There are an abundance of seafood markets in the area. If going out to eat isn’t your thing or you just need a break, go to a local market and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp, crab claws, or fish. Blalock’s and S&S Market offer fresh and cooked seafood, wine, and all the fixings. I made shrimp and saffron risotto!Seafood RisottoCosmo’s

Unfortunately, I was not able to try Cosmo’s, but it got great reviews online and I heard several locals talking about the restaurant. The Orange Beach Wine Festival is also hosted by Cosmo’s (as well as Sunset Cork Room). The menu offers traditional items with a twist such as banana leaf wrapped fish, duck and sausage gumbo, and BBQ crab claws. Prices are very reasonable at $10-$20 per entrée and they have an extensive wine list. I will make sure to try Cosmo’s next trip!

Flora-Bama Lounge and Oyster Bar

If fancy dining doesn’t float your boat, why not try a biker bar? Flora-Bama is located on the Florida/Alabama state line and offers a no-frills dining experience. Just beach, burgers, oysters, and beer. My whole family went for burgers and the food was excellent! Cheap drinks too! The crowd was more family oriented during the day, but it gets more diverse in the evenings. I would like to go back when they have live music.Flora-Bama bar

For those that have been to the Gulf Coast, what is your local favorite?