They said it couldn’t be done: Star Wars-loving chef makes Death Star ravioli

It’s hard to miss the love of Star Wars in the South Austin restaurant Cane Rosso.
Star Wars characters pop up everywhere at Cane Rosso thanks to pieces like this one from artist Clay Stinnett. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
All the brightly colored art that lines the walls of this pizzeria and Italian restaurant near Sunset Valley are of Star Wars characters and scenes. Dallas-based artist Clay Stinnett creates nearly all of the art that hangs in the Cane Rosso restaurants in Dallas in Austin, and many of the pieces include the familiar faces of Chewbacca, Yoda, Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia.
Cane Rosso chef Josh Healy made these Death Star ravioli ahead of the new Star Wars movie. Contributed by @joshhealy
With the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Cane Rosso is one of several restaurants that are hosting events tied to the movie. Cane Rosso’s party on Dec. 15 will feature films and themed drinks, but that didn’t quite satisfy the curiosity of chef Josh Healy, who was determined to make Death Star-shaped ravioli.
“When I said I wanted to do death star shaped raviolis for the Star Wars they all told me I could try. I look them right in the eyes and said “There is no try. Only do.” These bad boys will be served with wood fired tomatoes, cherry peppers, poppy seeds, and a lemon butter sauce. Come celebrate the best time of the year with us! May the force be with you”
Healy says he used a cookie cutter to shape the pasta dough and squid ink to color it. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried it at home with activated charcoal. If anyone at home wants to recreate these, you can find the cookie cutters on Amazon and elsewhere.

Tamales: Where to buy ’em, how to make ’em and why it’s not ‘tamale’

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It’s not Christmas without tamales in many Central Texas homes.

You can find the most common Mexican-style tamales at food trucks, restaurants, gas stations, corner stores, grocery stores and even a cooler at a neighbor’s house, but you might also celebrate with Puerto Rican-style pastelada or another variation.

No matter which kind of tamal you’re enjoying, stick with “tamal” and not “tamale.” It’s the difference between potato and potatoe, and nobody wants to be the person who misspells “potato” or “tamal.”

Here’s a list of place where you can buy tamales this time of year, but they aren’t as hard as you might think to make at home.

RELATED: Austin360Cooks: Friends gather for Puerto Rican pastelada

Making tamales? Get the most from your masa

I’ve made them off and on over the years, and I always love to eat them. If you are lucky enough to get invited to a tamalada, say yes, and if you feel adventurous or brave in your skills, don’t be afraid to host one. I had a friend over for a two-person tamalada one year, and we had a wonderful time splitting the work between ourselves.

It’s easiest to make tamales in a group because they require so many steps. Contributed by the Beef Loving Texans.

RELATED: Why you should stop saying “tamale”

Where to buy tamales in Austin

The filling for beef tamales. Contributed by the Beef Loving Texans.

Beef Tamales

Beef Loving Texans, the consumer-facing site run by the Texas Beef Council, has a great step-by-step tutorial on how to make tamales: and the following recipe for beef tamales.

For the beef filling:
6 lb. brisket
1 onion
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tsp. salt
6 peppercorns
8 dried ancho chiles
1 tablespoon cumin (comino) seeds
Water to cover
1/2 lb. lard (or 1 cup canola oil)
For the masa:
6 lbs. prepared, storebought masa or
4 lbs. masa harina
1/2 lbs. lard (or 2 cups canola oil)
6 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups of broth from beef filling

To prepare the corn husks/hojas: Hojas are corn husks that are dry and papery but usually clean of silks, trimmed, flattened and ready for use. To soften them, pour plenty of very hot water over them and leave to soak for several hours or overnight. Shake well to get rid of excess water and pat them dry with a towel. You’ll need about 3 pounds of husks for this recipe.

To make the beef filling: Cut the brisket into large squares and put into a large pot with the onion, garlic, salt and peppercorns.  Cover the beef with water and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and simmer until tender – about 3 hours. Set the beef aside to cool off in the broth. Strain, reserving the broth, and chop beef with garlic roughly.

Cover chiles and cumin seeds with water and bring to a boil. Let them stand until chiles are soft and water cools.  When they are cool enough to handle, slit  them open and remove seeds and veins. Using a molcajete or a blender to grind/blend them along with the cumin into a paste.

Melt lard, add chile paste and sauté for about 3 minutes stirring all the time. Add beef and garlic, continuing to cook for the flavors to meld. Add 1/2 cup of the broth and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes over a medium flame.  Filling should not be watery. Add salt as necessary.

If you have access to freshly prepared masa that’s ready to use in tamales, buy it. If you want to use Maseca or another masa harina, buy the one for tamales and follow this step: To make the masa from the masa harina, melt the lard. Use a large mixer to mix masa, salt, baking soda, broth and the lard (one cup at a time). Continue beating for 10 minutes or so, until 1/2 teaspoon of the masa floats in a cup of cold water. If it floats, you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light. If it doesn’t float, beat more melted lard into the mixture. Beat until fluffy and semi-shiny. Masa should be of a stiff consistency but spreadable.

To make the tamales: Using a tablespoon or a knife, spread a thin coating of the storebought or homemade masa over the broadest part of the corn husk, allowing for turning down about 2 inches at the pointed top. Spread the masa approximately 3 inches wide and 3 ½ inches long.

Spoon some beef filling down the middle of the dough, about 1 tablespoon. Fold the sides of the corn husks together firmly. Fold up the empty 2-inch section of the husk, forming a tightly closed “bottom” and leaving the top open.

To cook the tamales: Fill the bottom of large soup pot or a tamale steamer with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. If using a pot, either put a molcajete, bowl or ball of aluminum foil at the bottom of the pot and fill in with leftover corn husks. Stack the tamales upright, with the folded part down at the bottom. Pack firmly but not tightly. Cover the tamales with more corn shucks. Cover the top of the steamer with a dishcloth or thick cloth, or cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid.

Cook tamales for about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours over a medium flame.  Keep water in a teapot simmering so that you can refill the pot when necessary. If you use a tamale steamer you should not have to add any more water.

To test the tamales for doneness, remove one from the center, and one from the side of the pot. Tamales are done when you open the corn husk, and the masa peels away easily from the shucks and the tamale is completely smooth.

— Ellen Riojas-Clark

You can put so many different fillings in tamales, including pork, beef, chicken and beans. Contributed by the Beef Loving Texans

Where to buy tamales in Austin

Tamales are available at many area restaurants, including Guero’s Taco Bar on South Congress. Contributed by Guero’s.

It’s officially tamales season in Texas, but making them from scratch isn’t necessarily a project that everybody wants to take on.

Dozens of restaurants sell them this time of year, and here is a list of some of them:

Bill Miller BBQ
Tamale House East
Chumikal’s Cafe
DK Maria’s Legendary Tex-Mex
Uncle Julio’s
Mellizoz Tacos
LeRoy & Lewis
Guero’s Taco Bar
Fresa’s Chicken Al Carbon

Stiles Switch
Rosie’s Tamales
Mi Ranchito Taqueria in Manchaca
Hecho en Mexico
Rosie’s Tamale House in Bee Caves
Casa Chapala
Black’s BBQ

Did I leave off your favorite place? Leave a comment or email me at abroyles@statesman.com and I’ll update the post.

 

Where to buy stollen, challah other holiday breads in Austin

In America, we might associate the holidays with decadent, buttery sweets, but in many cultures around the world, Christmas and other winter holidays are the time to break out the specialty breads.

Stollen is a popular Christmas bread that originates in Germany. This is the loaf you can find at Easy Tiger through Christmas Eve, but other bakeries in town sell it, too. Contributed by Easy Tiger.

Throughout Europe and the U.S., you’ll find families serving slices of fruitcake, German stollen or Italian panettone dotted with candied fruit all month long. In Sweden, where St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13) is one of the most beloved days of the season, saffron buns and vörtbröd are found around every table. 

Where can you buy these baked goods in Austin?

RELATED: Mastering the art of the challah braid

In a hurry? Here’s a pumpkin-spiced French toast to slow you down

Stollen is lighter than the American fruitcake, which might be one reason why it’s so popular here during the holidays. 2007 AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Upper Crust Bakery4508 Burnet Road, is well-known for the challah it sells only on Fridays, but during the holiday months, you can also buy stollen and gift-wrapped stollen.

Sweetish Hill Bakery, 1120 W. Sixth St., sells stollen this time of the year, and it’s also one of the few places that will make the Swedish holiday bread limpa, which you have to call (512-472-1347) in to order ahead of time.

RELATED: If you’ve never baked bread, here’s the absolute easiest way to get started

A boozy bread pudding recipe from specialty food pioneers Fischer & Wieser

Easy Tiger baker David Norman is making these saffron buns this week ahead of St. Lucia Day. Contributed by Easy Tiger.

At Easy Tiger, David Norman is selling stollen through Christmas Eve, and he’s also making Swedish saffron buns until Dec. 13. In the following weeks (Dec. 15-17 and Dec. 22-24), the baker and author of a forthcoming book on European breads will be making vörtbröd, another Swedish holiday rye bread with cloves, ginger, the peel of Seville oranges and “wort,” the malt and hop mixture that would be brewed into a strong porter ale. To order, you’ll have to order them 48 hours ahead of time by contacting specialorders@easytigeraustin.com or 512-614-4972.

The Austin-area locations of Central Market and Whole Foods also sell stollen and panettone that are made in-house, as well as fruitcake.

For Hanukkah, get Gail Simmons’ recipe for latke reubens with apple slaw

Hanukkah starts this week, so it’s time to break out the potato shredder.

These latke reubens are a dish from Gail Simmons’ new cookbook, “Bringing it Home.” Contributed by Johnny Miller

Gail Simmons, who was at the Texas Book Festival last month for her new book “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating” (Grand Central Life & Style, $30), uses a food processor to make short work of what can be an arduous task, but the most important step is the one that follows: straining and squeezing the water out of the shredded potatoes. The latkes won’t stay together if you don’t.

RELATED: Get wax off the menorah before Hanukkah

8 days of sweet: We love doughnuts for Hanukkah

Kids curious about Hanukkah? Read my guide

Latke Reubens

In Simmons’ new book, the “Top Chef” judge shares this recipe for latke reubens. Combining two Jewish staples is an apple slaw that goes on top of the pastrami. It’s tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, a tangy complement to the old school Russian dressing that she seasons with hot sauce and horseradish.

For the slaw:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage (about a quarter of a small head)
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (about half small onion)
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
For the Russian dressing:
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish
1 teaspoon hot sauce
For the latkes:
3 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
Canola oil, for frying
1/2 pound thinly sliced pastrami, slices cut in half crosswise
Chopped fresh dill

For the slaw: In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and a generous pinch of pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined.

Add the cabbage, apple, onion, celery, and dill to the dressing; toss thoroughly to combine. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Let the slaw stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

For the dressing: In a medium bowl, stir together all of the ingredients. Adjust the hot sauce to taste. The dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

For the latkes: Set a large strainer over a bowl. In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred the potatoes and onion in batches. Add each batch to the strainer and let stand for 5 minutes, then squeeze dry. Pour off the liquid and rinse the bowl, then add the shredded potato mixture. Stir in the flour, eggs, dill, baking powder and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Scrape the mixture back into the strainer and set it over the bowl again; let stand for another 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of canola oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, spoon a scant ¼ cup of the potato mixture into the hot oil for each latke, pressing slightly to flatten. Fry over moderate heat, turning once, until the latkes are golden and crisp on both sides, about 7 minutes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel–lined baking sheet. Season well with salt.

To assemble: Spread about 1 teaspoon of the dressing on each latke. Top with a folded slice of pastrami and a heaping tablespoon of the slaw. Garnish with dill and serve. Makes 3 dozen.

— From “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating” by Gail Simmons (Grand Central Life & Style, $30)

 

Eggnog isn’t the only festive cotton candy coming to the Trail of Lights this year

A local cotton candy company is bringing a taste of the holidays to the Trail of Lights this year.

Fancy Fluff is selling cotton candy in half a dozen holiday flavors, including apple cider and pumpkin pie. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Fancy Fluff, a relatively new Austin company that is usually only available for private events, has developed a line of seasonal flavors to sell at the upcoming Trail of Lights, which kicks off on Friday with a preview night and then is open to the public until Dec. 23.

In addition to eggnog cotton candy, Fancy Fluff is selling organic spun sugar that tastes like gingerbread, apple cider, candy cane, sugar plum and pumpkin pie.

RELATED: Trail of Lights tickets are about to go on sale; here’s what you need to know

I tried all six of them in my Facebook livestream this week and was impressed with both the light and airy texture of the cotton candy and the intensity of the flavors. Some of my colleagues thought they were too intense, but for $3 and $5 for small and large sizes, it’s not too expensive to try one for yourself.

Owner Jessica Morrow Halich has more than 50 gourmet cotton candy flavors available, including mango-chile-lime, chai tea, toasted coconut, watermelon-cucumber and cardamon-pear.

Here’s a wacky weekend project for you: Velveeta fudge

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I’d heard about marshmallow fudge, a common shortcut to make the beloved holiday treat, but I was having a hard time wrapping my head around Velveeta fudge.

Some cooks use marshmallows or other shortcuts to more easily get the signature texture of fudge. But one ingredient you may not have thought to try is Velveeta. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

A brick of processed cheese, mixed with powdered sugar and melted butter — this was not a recipe I’d heard of growing up in my neck of the Ozarks. But others with Midwestern roots in the newsroom chimed in that they’d had this back home.

Fudge is an American confection that dates back to the 1880s, when a grocery store in Baltimore sold “fudged” caramel for 40 cents a pound. Traditionally, you make it by cooking butter and granulated sugar to a soft-ball stage, about 236 degrees. This method requires being exact with the time, temperature and stirring (or not stirring) and can be difficult to master, especially if you only make it once a year.

So it’s no surprise that Americans, with their quest for efficiency and love of grocery store shortcuts, turned to the supermarket aisles for help with this staple of the holiday cookie tin.

Some quick fudge recipes use sweetened condensed milk and chocolate chips or marshmallows and evaporated milk to obtain that signature texture, but Velveeta fudge recipes rely entirely on a combination of melted cheese and butter mixed with powdered sugar and cocoa. Most Velveeta fudge recipes also call for a little vanilla or nuts, while others suggest dried cherries or even chili powder.

How did Velveeta end up in a dessert? Velveeta was first introduced in 1917 as a new kind of cheese made from scraps of real cheese. By the 1920s, Kraft had purchased the brand and started its still-ongoing marketing campaign to encourage customers to buy it.

When it debuted 100 years ago, Velveeta introduced a texture into American kitchens that was at that time much harder to obtain. Marshmallows and gelatin have had a similar effect on our collective recipe canon. With these new products, home cooks (and the marketers targeting them) could let their creativity go wild. From the 1940s through the 1960s, this gave us savory Jell-O salads, marshmallow-topped casseroles and, yes, Velveeta fudge.

In the past 10 years or so, Paula Deen repopularized the “chocolate cheese fudge” made with the product that is more often used in queso, mac and cheese and enchiladas. A few years later, the South Carolina chef Sean Brock included his family’s version in his book “Heritage.”

I went as basic as possible for my first attempt at making Velveeta fudge, using only vanilla and not including any nuts. The fudge mixture came together quickly. After I melted the butter and Velveeta on the stove, stirring often over low heat, I poured over a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa.

Using a spatula, I folded the fudge over and over again, pressing the dry mixture into the warm liquid until the two were thoroughly combined. The fudge spread easily into a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole dish, and within a few hours, it was solid enough to slice into pieces.

The processed cheese is melted with butter and then mixed with powdered sugar and cocoa. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The texture of the fudge was smooth, almost puttylike, and there was a creaminess that traditional fudge usually lacks. The biggest tell that something was different, however, was the faint smell of queso and underlying savory taste.

It’s unlikely someone would guess they’re eating cheese, but there are enough differences that friends and family are bound to ask what your secret ingredient is.

With or without the cheese, a fudge recipe with melted chocolate is always going to yield a richer product than one that relies on powdered sugar and cocoa. But this was still a nice treat.

Velveeta Fudge

In my family, fudge is a holiday dessert. And it may come as a shock to some, but the key ingredient in this fudge is Velveeta cheese. The ultra-creamy nature of the processed whey melts more evenly than traditional cheese. Everyone knows I am dedicated to heirloom ingredients; now I suppose you can add Velveeta to the list.

— Sean Brock

Charleston chef Sean Brock grew up eating Velveeta fudge. He included a recipe for it in his 2014 book, “Heritage.” Contributed by Peter Frank Edwards

1/2 pound Velveeta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup chopped black walnuts (or other nut, optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan lightly with nonstick baking spray.

If you have a double boiler, melt the Velveeta and butter in the top of a double boiler over low heat. The water in the lower boiler should never be hotter than a simmer. Stir the Velveeta and butter together with a silicone spatula until melted and combined, scraping down the sides as necessary, about 8 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and set aside. You can do this in a microwave or in a saucepan over medium-low heat, but stir often to combine thoroughly.

Put the powdered sugar and cocoa in a large bowl and whisk together, making sure that no lumps remain. Add the nuts and stir to combine.

Add the sugar mixture to the warm cheese mixture, then add the vanilla and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Pour the fudge into the prepared pan. Tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles and smooth the top with a small offset spatula. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours; wait until the fudge is cold before covering it, so that moisture won’t form on the top. Cut the fudge into 1-inch squares. Serve at room temperature.

Tightly covered, the fudge will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Tightly wrapped, it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature

— Adapted from “Heritage” by Sean Brock (Artisan Books, $40)

Making New Year’s plans? Time to enter the black-eyed pea cook-off in Hye

We haven’t yet had any Christmas ham or Hanukkah latkes, but it’s time to start thinking about New Year’s plans.

William Chris Vineyard in Hye is hosting a Black-Eyed Pea Party and Cook-off on New Year’s Day. The deadline to enter the cooking contest is Dec. 26. Contributed by Miguel Lecuona

MORE: Browse New Year’s events in our holiday calendar

If you’re a black-eyed pea fan, you need to know about William Chris Vineyards’ annual black-eyed pea cook-off on New Year’s Day. This event in Hye brings together people who love to cook black-eyed peas and people who love to eat them to help bring good luck into the new year. Tickets cost $25 and include samples of the entries and a New Year’s toast.

For those of you who want to enter your best Hoppin’ John, you can enter the cook-off for $50. The winner gets $500 and a case of wine, which would not be a bad way to start the year.

RELATED: Going meatless next year? Here’s a vegetarian Hoppin’ John salad

Tickets, more details about the event and how to enter the cook-off are available here.

The party starts at 1 p.m. at the vineyard and will feature live music from Trace of Gold, with wine available for purchase and plenty of black-eyed peas. The deadline to enter the cook-off is Dec. 26.

Scenes from last year’s black-eyed pea event at William Chris Vineyard. Contributed by Miguel Lecuona

Remember these oatmeal peanut butter bars from school?

Reader and local freelance writer Kelly Larson posted a photo on Instagram that made me remember another childhood treat I loved: oatmeal peanut butter bars.

These oatmeal peanut butter bars were a staple in her school when Kelly J. Larson was a child in Oklahoma. Contributed by Kelly J. Larson

As she explained on her blog, Kelly’s Kitchen Creations (kellyskitchencreation.com), this layered bar is a Midwestern dessert through and though. You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry right now, and it’ll feed a whole classroom.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars

When I was a kid in Oklahoma, the school cafeteria food was so good. The lunch ladies served decent meals that included hot, homemade rolls each day and, once a week, the most incredible oatmeal peanut butter bars. That was my favorite day. Everyone (in my age range) knows exactly what I’m talking about.

After a few decades of missing them, I finally have the recipe that my elementary self dreamed of and hope to pass this on to all who long for those good ol’ cookie bars, or anyone who likes oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate and hasn’t tried them yet.

— Kelly J. Larson

For the bottom layer:
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups uncooked oatmeal (quick 1-minute style or old fashioned)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups flour
For the middle layer:
1 cup peanut butter
For the frosting:
1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk (plus a few more drops if needed)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the bottom layer ingredients together in a stand mixer, then press into the bottom of a large baking sheet (18.5 inches by 13 inches by 1 inch) that has been lightly sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes.

Press down the baked cookie base edges that are higher from the rest of the pan while cooling using an offset spreader. Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter randomly across top of baked cookie base to make the middle layer. Spread evenly using an offset spreader.

Mix frosting ingredients together until smooth. Drop spoons full of frosting carefully on top of middle layer, then spread evenly across the top with an offset spatula. Cut into squares and serve. Makes 32 bars.

— From Kelly J. Larson, Kelly’s Kitchen Creations (kellyskitchencreation.com)

What food rescue group Keep Austin Fed really wants for Christmas this year

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Keep Austin Fed has been preventing food waste and reducing hunger in Austin since 2004, but it wasn’t until last year that they could hire their first employee.

Lisa Barden, program director for Keep Austin Fed, left, hands Melissa McClure prepackaged food from Snap Kitchen as Anne Hebert, a volunteer from Keep Austin Fed, sorts through a cooler. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Thanks to winning the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s top grant of $10,000, the organization was able give more hours to Executive Director Lisa Barden, who became the organization’s first full-time employee a little more than a year ago.

RELATED: Keep Austin Fed keeps food out of the trash, gives it to Austinites in need

Melissa McClure, 36, bakes leftover bread she turned into croutons. She says she avoids wasting food by making juice from bruised fruit and turning extra bread into breadcrumbs or croutons. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

For more than a decade, Keep Austin Fed operated entirely on volunteer effort. Founder Ira Kaplan gathered the first volunteers in 2004, and the nonprofit became official in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that Barden started volunteering.

“I’d watched a movie called ‘Just Eat It’ and was overwhelmed by the amount of food waste, but I was a little incredulous that that much food waste actually exists,” she says. After picking up excess food as a volunteer, she saw what the statistics tell us: Forty percent of food doesn’t actually get eaten.

Lisa Barden, program director for Keep Austin Fed, collects apples and other food donations from Austin Achieve Public Schools to donate on Dec. 1. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The quantity of food surprised her, but Barden says she was most shocked by just how many people needed it. “That blew me away even more than the waste,” she says. “I got hooked. The warm fuzzies when you deliver the food is a powerful thing.”

Every month, about 20 to 25 businesses donate about 56,000 pounds of food — that’s almost 50,000 meals — that Keep Austin Fed volunteers pick up and deliver to more than a dozen partner agencies, including Foundation Communities, Caritas, Salvation Army, refugee communities, day habilitation programs and church food pantries.

Anne Hebert, a Keep Austin Fed volunteer, puts donated food from Snap Kitchen into a cooler before dropping prepackaged meals to La Reunion in Austin on Dec. 1, 2017. La Reunion received about 30 pounds of food from Snap Kitchen that day. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The highest-volume donors, including Snap Kitchen, Trader Joe’s, Eddie V’s and the Westin Hotel, have scheduled pickups every week, but many donations come in by phone.

After they learn of a donation, Barden puts out the call to volunteers to see if someone is available to transport the food. The organization hasn’t been able to buy trucks or a van to move food, so volunteers, who have been trained in food safety and handling, use their own vehicles. They deliver hot food hot, and most organizations distribute it that way.

Keep Austin Fed relies on a small pool of about 70 volunteers, so they do have to turn away food sometimes, especially on the weekends. “We could rescue so much more food if we had volunteers with flexible schedules,” Barden says. “There’s so much more to be done. We’re hamstrung” by a lack of volunteers. (Interested in volunteering? Go to keepaustinfed.org to find out more.)

At some point, she’d like them to have their own trucks and cold storage, so they could keep donations cool overnight. For now, Keep Austin Fed’s lean machine will keep moving as much food as it can to fight hunger.

Keep Austin Fed accepts donations from anyone, but the food must prepared in a commercial kitchen and can’t have been served on a buffet or to an individual. Barden reminds potential donors that, thanks to laws passed in the 1990s, there are federal protections for people who donate food, so there’s no liability.

In 2016, Snap Kitchen donated more than 200,000 individually packed meals to Keep Austin Fed, and they are on pace to meet that this year. With such high volume, a Keep Austin Fed volunteer comes every day to the Northwest Austin store, where meals from all the area stores are consolidated.

Shaady Ghadessy, brand director for Snap Kitchen, says that the company has similar partnerships with food rescue organizations in Plano, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Ghadessy says Snap Kitchen employees become invested in the donation as they get to know the volunteers and learn more about where the food is going. “There’s an immediacy. You know they are headed to this place and this is what’s for dinner tonight.”