Home again!

I was in Austin, Texas this week for my company’s annual User conference.  I hope you didn’t starve!  Although I didn’t have much free time to explore Austin, I was treated to some really delicious food.  I’m always paying attention to food and looking for inspiration.  Here are a few things that I noted while traveling that I’ll try to incorporate into future planning:

  • Quesadillas – the first night we feasted on a buffet of heavy hors d’oeuvres which included a quesadilla station.  The three options were spinach and mushroom, grilled chicken with veggies and shrimp with black beans.  I have made a shrimp and black bean quesadilla before but all three of these were excellent.  They were served with salsa, sour cream and guacamole and sliced into wedges.  This would be a good option for a casual party and the variety of flavors offered something for everybody.  I’m going to do some more research on quesadillas and look to include in future menu plans.
  • Poblano corn chowder – lunch included soup each day (one was a chunky chicken served with avocado that reminded me of the Mexican chicken soup I make).  The first day we had a smoked poblano corn chowder that was really delicious.  It was served with toasted pumpkin seeds.  I would love to try to replicate it.
  • Tapas – our farewell dinner was a buffet at a tapas restaurant in Austin (Malaga).  The restaurant was lovely and we were treated to a flamenco show.  I was interested to see how the dishes compared to some of these things we have made in our New Year’s Eve Tapas feasts.  (Search tapas if you want to reread the reports.)   All of the food was really good and some tasted very familiar (patatas bravas, chicken with garlic, grilled lamb chops all reminded me of dishes we have made.)  One of my favorites which I think we could replicate in the future was a grilled scallop wrapped in a basil leaf and serrano ham.  It was outstanding.  As we were getting our dessert I remembered that my husband had promised to make Magdelenas – little Spanish teacakes for our daughter’s pretend trip to Spain.  I texted him and he managed to borrow an egg from a friend and have them baked and ready despite the fact that it was 10:00 when he started.  Good job honey!
  • Small containers – the spreads that our hotel put out for breakfast and lunch were delicious and pretty.  One of the things I noticed is that they served a lot of things in small containers.  One day had a lettuce-less Greek salad in little glasses, they served an orzo salad in small, shallow “boats” and a trifle like dessert in a petite glass cylinder.  This method encourages people to try things.  I’ll keep my eyes open for inexpensive, single serving options to use for parties.  (I think Pier One would be  a good place to look.)
  • Labels – when in a buffet line, it is human nature to ask “What is that?” before taking a serving.  The hotel (and the tapas restaurant) had everything labeled.  One day the lunch buffet table was covered with brown paper and the names of each dish had been written on the paper.  I thought that would be a clever idea for a casual buffet.  I’m also going to look for reusable labels for buffets.  My parties aren’t so big that I can’t tell people but still, it’s a nice idea.

It was a good week but I’m very happy to be home.  I’m also happy to report that my daughter is fully recovered from the stomach bug she had the night before I left.  We went out to dinner together last night to celebrate my return (I had a delicious spinach salad topped with fried oysters – another inspiration for future replication) and tonight is the next installment in our International Eating project – Mexican.  I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on our Mexican feast and a menu plan for the week – assuming I remember how to cook after a whole week!