Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Let it Begin!

Here it is - my first ever CSA basket from Tecolote Farm. I have to admit I was slightly intimidated at the idea of a basket brimming with new to us vegetables and greens but after picking ours up today, I am an instant convert.

Tecolote Farms not only has an online group to help with sharing recipes, storage tips and ideas about how best to manage a basket full of goodness from week to week, but if this basket is any indicator, the newsletter that comes with the produce each week will provide me with wonderful descriptions of the contents, tips about use, and so far two delicious looking recipes that I am anxious to try.

What do we have? This week's basket holds: Mache, Bloomsdale Spinach, German Red Garlic in the Green Stage (before cloves have formed), Mustard Greens, Japanese Turnips, and White Icicle Radishes.White Icicles are a favorite of mine. The best gardener I ever knew - my father in law - produced tons of these every year and I went from being a stranger to a fan in two bites. We only have 4 in this basket so it is not going to surprise me if they are the first to disappear. I am deeply hopeful for more of them in the weeks to come, and I look forward to discovering all sorts of new favorites as the Spring/Summer harvest arrives.

Time will tell if my enthusiasm will diminish as the baskets roll in, but at the moment I am thinking this is one of the smartest moves I ever made. It is worth the price of a month's worth of baskets just for that sensation alone. Eating well and doing it in a way that benefits rather than diminishes the earth. Wow. Not a bad start for a week....

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Monday, Monday

Tomorrow, Monday, begins a new era in the culinary life of this household.

Tomorrow, theory meets the table. Principle turns to practice.

Tomorrow I will travel just a few blocks to pick up the first of many weekly baskets provided in return for my subscription to a "community sustainable agriculture" outfit called Tecolote Farm.

What is in season is what we will get. This will require a stretch of imagination in order to prepare and consume certain quantities of what is actually able to be grown, right here, right now.

Can a couple of fairly picky eaters and sometimes lazy cooks get through a basket of fresh seasonal produce week to week without getting bored and/or letting unacceptable amounts go to waste? Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'ts What's for Dinner!

Boeuf, er, Beef that is.

Yesterday at the tail of a wonderfully rainy day, I got organized and made the Boeuf Bourguignon I'd originally planned for Sunday's dinner.

This is not a complicated recipe, but it does require some organization and a fairly long cooking time, so planning ahead is necessary.  This dish does not rush from step to step, so preparing every ingredient to add ahead of time is not crucial.  I'd suggest sitting and reading the steps carefully a couple of times through, then knowing how long it takes you to do certain things in balance with anything else you might be trying to do simultaneously, you'll know how to do this "your way".

Speaking of which, I'll cop to two substitutions I made which I feel did not seriously compromise the results.  First, I used beef broth rather than stock so added two bouillon cubes and skipped the extra salt in step 4 of the recipe.  Second, I used a roughly chopped onion I had on hand rather than springing for the bag of pearl onions. The stew as it cooked filled the house with tantalizing aromas and was richly, warmly delicious. Just the antidote for a chilly, wet, Spring evening.  Onward....

Boeuf Bourguignon

- serves 6 to 8 -

1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 bottle dry red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 package (8 oz) cipollini or white pearl onions, peeled, leaving root end intact
1 package (10 oz) white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, a bay leaf)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

1. Cut the bacon into 1/4- to 1/2-inch squares. Place in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot, and cook over medium heat until browned and crisp, about 25 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and set aside. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot.

2. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Arrange the meat in a single layer; brown over high heat. Once all the meat is browned, add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the flour, stir well, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping all the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

4. Add the stock, carrot, onions, mushrooms, half of the browned bacon, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover. When the meat begins to get tender, after 1 1/2 to 2 hours, crack the lid an inch or two—so the sauce can thicken. (If you've got a lot of liquid in the pan, you can take the lid off completely.)

5. Keep cooking for a total of 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until meat is very tender and sauce has thickened. Garnish with the remaining bacon and a little chopped parsley.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Best Laid Plans

It is said sometimes, "People make plans while God laughs".  

Rather than cruel commentary on a detached Creator, I take this more to mean we are right to make plans, but only in a hopeful sense of what we mean to do if all goes accordingly.  

In other words, never sweat the small stuff.  And, having your plans not work out is almost always small stuff. 

I'd meant to make Boeuf Bourguignon for a special family style Wire watching dinner yesterday evening.  The reality of the day was that in order to get the things I needed to build a raised planting area for my vegetables to go into the ground (as planned) on Monday, I spent a certain amount of time after church at my favorite local Nursery (Barton Springs) on Sunday.

And while I was there, I shopped the sales tables.  So when I got home, I had not only the soil and soil amendments I needed, but some young plants I wanted and decided to put into the ground just in case it rained, as it was predicted to do.

And while I was outside planting those plants, and after I'd attended a meeting I'd committed to in support of the 2008 Austin Multifaith PRIDE Worship service, well, I ran out of time and energy to cook anything, much less the three hour long beef in red wine I'd planned.  

So we had Chinese takeout.  We ordered with an eye towards healthier than usual eating (for us anyway), and we enjoyed a dinner together without benefit of home cooked anything.  

Which was fine.  Bottom line, the people are always more important than the food.  A beautifully prepared dish at the expense of the energy of the cook or the exhaustion of the waiting diners, is not the way to build warm memories of family meals shared.

Now today, it IS raining.  Good for the little plants I put into the ground yesterday and bad for my plans to build a raised garden box for my vegetable plants.  So maybe today I will get around to that Boeuf.  And maybe tomorrow the sun will be back and I will have a chance to build the garden box.  

At least, that's my plan......

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fababa del Duero

Fababa del Duero is essentially a stew consisting of various forms of porky deliciousness combined with a few seasonings and white beans. So, pardon the indulgence, but it is truly pork and beans, Spanish style.

It is easy to make once you have assembled your ingredients, and even easier to eat. I accidentally rendered the version we had last night for dinner perilously close to the "too hot to eat" line, but my husband and I (bravely) managed to eat every bite and then wipe the last bits of sauce left from the bowl.

The heat came from the many jalapeño peppers encased in the wonderful Nilgai sausage links gifted to us from a hunter friend, in combination with the amazing smoked Spanish hot paprika that brings the stew it's other major blast of flavor. Knowing this, next time I will throw in another couple of cups of white beans with liquid to tone it down. If you are using a smoked sausage that is not liberally sprinkled with little green heaters, then no need for caution except to take the "serves 6-8" notation provided by the recipe writers as a gentle suggestion rather than a fact. In our house, this recipe will serve closer to 4.

I provide the nutritional information because I know some folks are trying to be very careful. Honestly? If you are going to prepare a dish calling for two kinds of sausage that are added to a pot already containing a quarter pound of bacon then you can't get too hung up on fat or calories. This is for cold weather, let's say after a day of working hard doing - whatever it is that passes for hard work in your life. Otherwise either avoid this kind of porcine goodness altogether or forget about the fat calories and enjoy! You can have salad all day tomorrow.....

Fababa Del Duero

This hearty stew has its roots near the region of Ribera del Duero, which runs through the heart of Castilla. Serve it with a full-bodied red wine, thick slices of country bread and a simple green salad. Serves 6-8.

2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, cut into large pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup chicken broth
4 cups white beans with liquid
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, browned on all sides, cut into serving size pieces
1/2 pound chorizo or dry cured sausage, cut into large chunks

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and bacon pieces. Sauté the onion and garlic until lightly browned. Add the thyme, paprika, and black pepper. Add the chicken broth, white beans, and smoked sausage. Simmer very gently for 20-24 minutes until sausage is cooked through. Add the chorizo and cook another 5 minutes.

Per serving (303g-wt): 660 calories (410 from fat) 46g total fat, 15g saturated fat, 7g dietary fiber, 29g protein, 33g carbohydrate, 85mg cholesterol, 1350mg sodium

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Not Kneaded

It has turned winter here in Central Texas again - at least for a few days - which has me appreciating another chance to prepare cold weather food. I like the way many of my favorite cold weather dishes - often stews or casseroles - spend a certain amount of time in the oven or over a burner, warming the kitchen, filling the house with aromas while I turn my attentions to other things assured of a wonderful reward when mealtime finally arrives.

I have two such dishes planned for the next run of 4 or so dinners. A wonderfully simple Fababa del Duero recipe from Whole Foods, which is a hearty white bean and sausage stew. Then, for the season and series finale of our favorite HBO show, "The Wire", a Boeuf Borguignon recipe from the folks at Serious Eats.

Watching whatever HBO series is on Sunday night and sharing dinner with whoever in my family is available to join us has become a bit of a tradition over here. It is not quite so Norman Rockwell as sitting around a table laden with home cooked goodness for a meal with no TV involved, but gathering to watch the show together, and the commentary we share afterwards, is about as close as we often get. We are who we are.....

Anyhoo, these wonderful stewy type recipes are generally followed by a comment along the lines of "Serve this with a full-bodied wine, thick slices of good bread, and a simple green salad". All of which had me thinking about...bread.

We are fortunate these days to have a ready supply of a variety of breads from nearly every grocery store, not to mention the bread specialty stores that dot our area. That said, there is nothing quite as satisfying to me, as having bread to share that I have made myself.

Just because bread is a daily staple and readily available doesn't mean it is all that easy to make. Good bread can be a trick to pull off considering the many hazards faced by intrepid home bakers. Distractions, fussy ovens, imprecise measuring, humidity and fluctuating room temperatures can all take their toll on a loaf of bread. Then there is the time it takes to knead the bread, let it rise, and then do it all again before even beginning the baking process. Who has that kind of time? The family chef speculated to me the other day that the difficulties of reliably producing good bread at home are behind the vast array of bread machines sold in the US. (I don't have current numbers but recall in the late 90's they were selling some 3 1/2 million bread machines annually!)Which is why I really like this simple recipe for No Knead Wheat Bread. It is fast, easy and reliable, and doesn't need any machinery other than you and your oven. I wouldn't call this a "show off" bread, but it toasts well, is delicious with peanut butter, and the recipe makes two loaves so you can have one to eat, and one to share. Try this and see for yourself. You don't need a bread machine, or time to knead and let loaves rise, to have good home baked bread.


3 cups warm water, 105-115 degrees F
2 packages active dry yeast
1 tablespoon molasses or honey
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt

Combine warm water, yeast and molasses or honey. Stir to dissolve yeast. (Tip: coat the bowl of your measuring spoon lightly with no-stick spray oil for easy release of sticky liquids like honey or molasses. You get every drop with no fuss.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. Pour liquid into dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Dough will be quite wet.

Divide dough equally into two greased 8 1/2 b7 4 1/2 by 2 1/2 inch loaf pans.

Let dough stand in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until mixture has partially risen.Bake at 400 degrees F for 40 minutes or until done. Bottom of loaf will sound hollow when tapped.

Turn loaves onto a rack to cool (no need to let cool in pan first - these loaves come easily out of the pan right out of the oven.)

Good served with peanut butter or slices of cheese. Excellent for sandwiches and toast.

For those of you concerned with calories? They suggest each loaf yields about twenty-two slices and each slice runs around 105 calories with 22 grams of carbohydrates. No fat, no cholesterol, 13 mg of calcium, 179 mg of sodium, and 4 g of protein.