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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cold Turkey

Sharing here that I have gone over 24 hours now without a piece of pie or any Thanksgiving leftovers in whatever form.

I won't pretend I have pie willpower. Those pies are long gone. Ancient History. No evidence of their existence past a teensy extra bulge in the elastic waists of my clothing.

My hands are starting to shake a little - that could be from the caffeine.

Alternately, it might be the prospect of our two chores for today.  Hauling down the tree from upstairs to set it up and getting the Christmas lights up on the outside of our house.Why rush from Thanksgiving right towards Christmas, you ask?

A) Is this really your business?, and 2) Because it is a fair amount of work and I want to enjoy it for at least a month, that's why.

Equally important to recall is that this year, for the first time in a very long time, we have a young cat with an untested tree reaction to factor in to our Christmas decor equation.

Decorated Christmas Tree plus New Extremely Frisky (read: potentially destructive) Cat equals....what? Many many possible answers might balance that equation.
DCT + ENFC = ???

Here's another way to think about it.

If a cat, we'll call her "Kitty B", traveling at the speed of blurring vision, propels herself towards a fully decorated Christmas Tree while a creaky human, we'll call her "Alarmed A" observes and lurches up from the couch to intervene at slightly less than the speed of drying paint, who will lose their footing and actually knock over the tree?  Or....

Kitty B + Angry A x Velocity of Slips/Slides ÷ DRT (distance remaining to tree) = ?what¢¶the™º*§?!!!
Be sure to show your work or you won't get credit even if you answer correctly!

We may discover that yes, sure, ooooops! That decorated tree does indeed look for all the world like a giant Kitty Toy.Or it may be spectacularly uninteresting to Bijou. My money is on that first option, but I will be tickled to be proven an alarmist.

My original point, and I am pretty sure I had one in there somewhere, was that I'd like to see how the cat reacts and then yet have enough time to retool and reload the tree as needed before LawSchoolGirl arrives later this month. She is of the "turn all the lights off and sit in the glow of the tree and admire" ilk, direct descent from her Momma there, and I am looking very much forward to our chance to sit and do that together, ad return to law school.

In that aspect, the preserving and representing the holiday traditions of the family? I am the Tenacious D. So. Shaking hands from excitement, terror, caffeine or turkey withdrawal notwithstanding, we have our work cut out for us today.As a reward I have that "here is your Thanksgiving Feast Again Three Days Later" dinner in my pocket for tonight. Yes, resting patiently in its plethora of plastic preservation permutations, the Heat It and Eat meal extraordinaire awaits!

I'll admit this. Thanksgiving:The DoOvers is one of my favorite meals of the year. It ranks just after that piece of pie for breakfast the morning after Turkey Day. You get all the deliciousness without the fatigue of it coming on the heels of the effort it took to put it all together.

All the deliciousness except for the pie that is. And Yay for that. The Siren Song of pie in the house is nearly impossible to resist. So we mostly don't.On to stringing lights and dragging down (too many!) boxes that are mostly holding in the Christmas Tree and her abundant decorations.

That is the last blast from me today - except to note that Christmas Trees have a lot in common with road maps. Once you get them fully unfolded, and in the tree's example, properly fluffed out? They never ever quiiiiiite fit back in where they started from, in my experience. Which may or may not fully explain all the crumple marks on my road maps and the years worth of tape around the tree box.Luego - es tiempo por las luces!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Got List?

One of the fun bits about food blogging is the chance to participate in various events, round ups, projects and contests.

Take your pick. There are recipe collections centered around a theme or central ingredient, and there are recipe round-ups featuring home grown ingredients.

If you are the competitive sort, there are plenty of contests, too. Some contests feature special ingredients while others are geared around a theme.

Then there are larger scale projects like those emphasizing eating locally. Or the Slow Food Movement, dedicated to preserving food traditions, counteracting "fast food and fast life".

And that is just the tip of the internet iceberg.

Some projects are fairly involved. Those I mostly enjoy reading about.

Others projects are a lot easier to be a part of, which makes them a lot of fun, and here is one of those I wanted to share with all of you.David Leite at Leites Culinaria Blog wants your shopping lists. He writes:
I was about to toss out my shopping list when I got an idea: Why not post the list for everyone to see. Kind of a little social/cultural project. Then I got an even better idea: Why not ask all of you to scan and send me your lists so that over the next five weeks we can post them to collectively see what we're all eating as well as to send a message out to those wonks in Washington that says not only are we surviving, but thriving, despite the mess they've put us in.

So here's the deal: Until the end of the year, scan your shopping lists (comestibles only, please), large and small, and send them to me at david@leitesculinaria.com. I'll post the more interesting and telling ones. All I need is your first name and the name of your town and state. That's it. Oh, and spread the word."

I already threw out my shopping lists for our Thanksgiving Feast because I am somebody who had all my shopping done by last Saturday afternoon. Yeah - I am that person.

However I fully intend to scan in my next shopping list to share.

Sending a message to Washington Wonks with my list (along with what will probably be hundreds of others) just sounds like too much fun to miss out on. Dontcha think?

Got List? Scan it in (or take a good digital photo) and send it, along with your first name, the name of your town and state, to: david@leitesculinaria.com

UPDATE:  I sent in my list - now, how about you guys?  Send your list copy to me too if you want and I will post them here with a link to the site.  Now get with it Austin, let's get our list on!

I appreciate

Let me briefly say the pecan pie was good but not great. I will try to tweak the technique towards more outstanding results and then post that recipe when it is ready. (I will share no pie before its time...)

Let me also say I always appreciated having Friday night be "pizza night" while the kids were growing up, as that gave me a cooking break and accommodated having their friends sleep over seeing as nobody doesn't like either cheese or pepperoni pizza.

Right now I appreciate that Friday night is still pizza night. Friday comes after Thursday. That means dinner tonight will be pizza and I don't have to plan or shop or do anything out of the ordinary to pull that off.


I appreciate a whole lot more, but as I eat my second leftover turkey sandwich (and I do really truly like leftover turkey sandwiches) I am mostly temporarily grateful for pizza, and how it is so NOT part of a Thanksgiving meal. And that I don't have to get out and shop for anything today.

Do you get out into the Black Friday hooraw? Is it worth it to fight the crowds? Not from where I sit (in front of the TV with a movie starting up and a turkey sandwich to finish). Movie has started....all for now....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Two Lessons And a Grace for Thanksgiving This Year

I have been going back and forth about Thanksgiving this year. There is a lot of extra hoorah on food blogs lately and most of it is one of two extremes.

Extreme the First? Over the top Thanksgiving feasts.

Two or three entreés, eight sides, bread, two kinds of dressing, , salads, appetizers, four kinds of pie and several wines.

That sort of foray into what is more typically hotel buffet realm is fine if that is your style, but in this time of economic downturn it might strike some as a bit tone deaf unless you are actually needing to feed a small army.

Extreme the Second. Low calorie feasting. Oxymoron anybody? Crustless pies, fatless gravy (not technically gravy by the way), substitutions galore. The cook works just as hard but I suspect everybody enjoys it less. The spirit is not right on that end of the spectrum, either.

I am not suggesting you hang up your apron and eat Ramen. Nothing like that.

While we are certainly not Ramen haters, I think there is a middle ground. And as these things go, my kids helped me remember that this year.

Yesterday, when it came time to actually cook ahead for our feast today, there were two lessons I took to heart that reminded me: Feasting is not something to take for granted. Your heart needs to be in the right place as the very first ingredient.

First - and this was something both kids said to me in one way or another over the past couple of weeks - there are times when you do not mess around with people's comfort foods.There are lots of extremely fancy Thanksgiving feasts being pulled off around the country today but the meal our family, at least those of us in town, will share, won't rate as one of them.

We are having what we usually have, with just a couple of nods to the idea of cooking using local products, organic whenever possible, and sustainably raised.That means natural organic turkey, organic green beans - but in our otherwise regularly featured kicked up green bean casserole- organic yams but with the same sauce as we used to put on the canned ones, etc. etc..

The second lesson is that sometimes, even the most well intentioned Feast Thrower can get it wrong. In my case, this came in the form of a little reminder that while I can put together the requisite family feast for this day, there are still times when I need to be a Mommy First and a Feast Thrower second.

Your Mom is supposed to be the one who remembers who likes what in the family. Especially around a big deal meal such as Thanksgiving. It is Mommy who knows who likes light meat or dark, who can't stand beans even under layers of onion rings, and who likes which pie with or without whipped cream.

While under the influence of the Less is More Feasters I had decided to make only one pie this year. I went for pumpkin thinking you can't have Thanksgiving without it. Also, I know my LawStudentGirl really likes pecan pie and I figured I would make it for Christmas when she is home again.

However, I was reminded by my daughter that it is ChefSon, the (grown) child who will actually be present today at the table and grateful to have a meal cooked for him rather than the other way around, who truly love love loves pecan pie. He can't imagine a holiday without both pumpkin and pecan pie and if I was a halfway attentive Mommy I would have remembered that without having to be reminded.


Before anybody gets ready to have a tag with my name/address on it pinned to my clothing, I managed to get a pecan pie made anyway.I pulled out the Karo corn syrup (sorry there Michael Pollan - please avert your sensibilities!) and decided to combine two recipes. The first is the fairly reliable Bessie's Pecan Pie recipe from an November 1994 issue of Texas Monthly. Back then they featured recipes on their back pages. The other, supposedly a regular award winner at county fairs, is from a Texas pecan grower's website.

The recipes are nearly identical so I simply combined them and we will hope for the best. If this turns out to be an amazing amalgam of the two you will be the 5th, 6th and so on to know.I rested well last evening knowing I have a pecan pie ready and reasonable facsimiles of our family's version of Thanksgiving Comfort Foods on hand for today. The pecan pie looks good. It set up well, which is always the potential problem with pecan pie. Nothing more disappointing than a pecan pie-slide after the first cut, although they typically still taste delicious.

I will be back to report on the pie and share the final recipe with you after the holiday food stupor lifts. Meanwhile, I hope you will have a delightful feast with family and friends. If you are traveling, I hope you will do so safely and return back home without incident when the time comes for that.

And please, before you get to eating one or two or even three kinds of pie, do remember the reason for the feast and offer thanks in your own way. We all have something to be grateful for if we will tune our hearts to sing that song. That grateful heart is the best thing anybody can prepare for a feast no matter what your mindset is for the rest of the meal.
Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want - for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace.
~ Rafael Jesus Gonzalez ~

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One of these things is not like the other

Yes, Alex, I'll take "Misleading Packaging" for $2,000!

You see, this is a chief reason people who are trying to "eat light" or "eat healthy" or "eat right" - whatever positive euphemism you want to call your diet - this is why we get so very, very discouraged.

You take this box. It looks pretty good. The chicken portion is decent, not too large, not miniscule. It is sporting a deeply colored rich looking glaze which promises something other than the too typically dried out tough microwaved poultry pieces many frozen entreés rely upon.The green beans are nice, thin, delicate even, sprinkled with almond slivers for interest.

Overall, not a bad looking meal, going by the photo. As we eat first with our eyes, I am already halfway into this.

Then come the stats.

Great numbers, yeah? 250 calories and 27 grams of protein.

Oooh, you got me going, now! Moist chicken and a good sized portion of tender green beans, what's not to like? And when you open the box, more good news, the box is compartmentalized so your meat/glaze has one side while the green beans/almonds have their own little nest on the other side.

Sidebar: That is one of my daughter's primary complaints about most frozen entreés. She is one of those people who likes it when each part of her meal stays in its own place, never mingling pieces or juices unless, or until, she deems it appropriate. She is the kind of gal they invented those plates with the ridges to keep the sections separated for.

So this packaging concept would make her happy.


Once I opened the box, about one third of the green beans had apparently exchanged angry words with the remaining two thirds of the beans and had migrated in a huff over the divider to the chicken side of the box.

The sauce, well we won't ever really know what went on with the sauce but let's just say "something happened" and the sauce was everywhere. Eh. Ver. Ree. Where. On the chicken, on the green beans, on the dividing line between the chicken and the green beans, all over the place.

So when I reached the halfway cooking point and was instructed to "lift the film off the box, stir the sauce and spoon it over the chicken", I hit my first snag.

I faked it, but even so, what I ended up with, even after sorting things mostly back where they belonged (that sauce wasn't going back in its compartment so I didn't even try) was a dish that looked like this.Now, take a gander at the photo on the box one more time. And then look again at what I ended up with.


Everything tastes ok. But just ok. The chicken is moist, the sauce, well. I am glad the sauce is not particularly strongly flavored because did I mention it spread everywhere? The beans are, not too sucky. I liked the almonds.

This sort of bait and switch is precisely why people who are trying to eat healthy often lock themselves into a closet with a quart of ice cream and a spoon and keep eating until the screaming noise in their head stops.

The outside of the box says to you "eating healthy is a good thing, you are a good person for eating this, you will not suffer if you buy this product - just LOOK!".

The inside of the box says to you "you are a total loser for being too heavy and having no self control and having to eat this instead of a nice lunch consisting of real food. This is your punishment for taking up space and using up the air the skinny people might need later to breathe in deeply after they exercise the second time for today.".

I was actually hungry when I opened this box. I didn't finish it. That nearly never happens. So yeah. If I bought a bunch of these? I would totally lose weight. And eventually probably my will to live.

That is all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cross Blogging

OK - for an update on our adorable new cat and an in-depth report on her spaying and recovery check this out.  You know you want to....just do it!

And tell me please- because I really want your advice.  I have three blogs because I thought separating out various types of posts by blog would be best.  

There are general/activism posts on one blog (A Season for Everything),  gardening posts on another blog (Gardenista), and then there is this blog, Austin Agrodolce, where the foody stuff goes.

Are three blogs two blogs too many? Should I keep them teased apart or put them all together into one mega-blog?  Anybody care one way or the other?  Let me know in the comments section.  Thanks! 

Friday, November 21, 2008


OK this is going to be harder than I thought.

And I already figured it would be hard.I just got three quarters of the way through a post I deleted because I nearly bored myself to death trying to edit it.

Writing about cutting calories and lightening up recipes is just not all that fun."Cooking Light" may be selling a trazillion magazines doing just that but I'm convinced folks are mostly buying it to lick the photos and then leave their copies around in prominent places so the other people in their house will be grateful for all the effort they are going to.

I mean, have you looked at the recipes in there?

They take some simple four step technique and then run it out to a page of single spaced instructions to accommodate the fact that every good thing in the recipe is now being replaced by four other not nearly so tasty things, generally incorporating all sorts of extra work for the cook.

Most of the weight loss from such cooking results from a combination of exhaustion "then beat each of the 7 egg whites separately and briskly by hand for 45 minutes!" and revulsion. Once you "know" what that "easy pastry substitute" is, no way you'll enjoy eating it. Nope, you'll just pass the "pie" and smile brightly, dwelling on how everybody can have as much as they want because the "crust" is really ground up seeds mixed with cardboard.

Somehow, making a pie "lighter" by forgoing regular pastry with a substitute of hand ground boxes the other food comes in mixed with an egg and your own spit just doesn't strike me as reasonable.

Pie is pie, people. It is DESSERT. Either eat a small portion of dessert (and by small I mean no larger than the palm of your hand - if you are Shaquille O'Neal) or don't eat it at all. Low calorie dessert is fruit salad by another name. Fruit. SALAD. Not fruit dessert. Please. Let's be real.

And maybe the people buying that magazine are cooking healthy food for their families. But - how many Mommies are licking the butter knife after putting that precise amount on their families' plates (every time) and then going into the laundry room to eat the rest of the mashed potatoes out of the pan? Hands?

I thought so.

I figure I am going to pretty much keep cooking the way I cook because 1) it is AWESOME and B) I don't want to have to be making those lame substitutions and triple guessing and doing extra work all the time.

You know what I'm saying, right? Those decadent dishes with the preface "If you want to cut out half the calories, just substitute half and half Elmer's Glue mixed with mustard for the Bearnaise sauce! Bon Appetit!".

Or, "Soon enough your children will learn to enjoy eating sticks and berries from your yard and never miss those sugary cookies!".

Uh huh.See Chapter Six of any "tell all" book (that's the chapter that comes after the chapter on wire hangers) and it will be filled with stories like "The Year My Mother Tried to Give Us Healthy Easter Baskets" or "What My Therapist Says About How My Mother Tried to Make Me Only Eat Cookies Baked with Honey and Carob".

I am writing this knowing that I pretty much did fix healthy food for my kids while they were growing up. But not to the exclusion of bacon or sugar or chocolate or canned sodas or any of that. I figured the best way to make my kids crave all that stuff would be to outlaw it entirely. Anybody read Romeo and Juliet?

If Juliet's parents had tried forcing those kids to get married and fast, that would have put the kaibosh on the whole deal. Totally parent tainted their erstwhile romance. If Juliet's Dad would have gone out to hold a ladder for Romeo? The whole deal would never have gotten past that balcony.

I digress.

So. Here's my plan. I mostly cook like I always cook only with an eye to portion control and more healthful between meal noshing options.Like, I don't know, carrots. Or popcorn.Popcorn is actually not that bad a deal. Higher in fiber than chips and if you watch the butter (while you are putting it on - watch it - watch it glisten, watch it gleam, watch it coat every morsel and ENJOY!!) - wait. See? Sigh. Popcorn without butter is fine in moderation.

Tonight is Pizza Night. I will fix a pizza with less fatty stuff on it and we will try not to eat the entire thing between the two of us.

A big salad will help. A Caesar probably, but with less dressing, no croutons and no extra parm. Instead of throwing almonds in for extra crunch I'll try a bit of celerzzzzzzzzzzzz..................

There I go putting myself to sleep again. So that's it for now. I am going to go stand in the corner, drink a full glass of water, slowly, and repeat the new mantra. "There's no place like ho--" no wait, that's not it.

Oh, right.

"Nothing tastes as good as the way I feel when I like the way I look.".

PS - nothing serious about Cooking Light. They do a good job at what they do and obviously loads of people appreciate that. I am not a light recipe hater, really. They can stick to doing that and not writing my blog and I will stick to writing my blog and not trying to lighten recipes. Such a deal!

Last but not least: ChefSon made it into the MarxFoods Comfort Food Contest Finals. Go here and vote for him - he is lucky number 7! If he wins I am pretty sure I can convince him to fix us all a huge batch to share over at my house. Go ChefSon! Yay Tortilla Soup!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Veni Vidi....

I don't know quite how to approach telling you about this, but the hub and I are going on a restricted calorie experiment for the foreseeable future.Restricted Calorie Experiment. See how scientific that sounds? I just love science, don't you? Rather than any ol' mundane sacrificial diet, this will be a full fledged project, with white lab coats, clipboards,flow charts, beakers, test tubes, and oh right, less food.

MUCH less food.

But still fun right? Right?This riotousall butter/all cheese/all bacon(it is local! It is raised in a kindly and sustainable way!)eating has gone to our heads. And, unfortunately, to our waists, our hips, our thighs, and even to our wrists, the bridges of our noses, and our kneecaps.

Sigh. I was always SO proud of my girlish kneecaps!

So the new drill around here is how to make food that is not only fresh, local, organic, sustainably raised, and delicious, but food that is fresh/local/organic/sustainable/delicious and lower in calories overall.

This will wreak havoc on my typical approach to get Hub to try something new which generally consists of the loving application (read:slathering on) of various forms of butter, cheese, or bacon. In some extreme cases, all three.

And coming as it does just prior to the holidays, our little experiment will hold a special challenge as I typically pull all the stops out for meals around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For whatever reason the closer it gets to Thanksgiving, the more I start coming off like a Jewtalian Mother, morphing into an overeater enabler and food pusher extraordinaire. "Eat! You want more? You hardly touched that 5th course and we haven't had dessert yet!".

So. OK. If I write it here I will (fingers crossed) stick to a pledge to make only enough food for twice as many people as will be seated at our table this year. That means every person gets two meals - no more - out of what I fix for The Feast. One for the feast, and one for whenever the other people want it. We are all grown ups and I am only going to be responsible for if I eat my extra piece of pie for breakfast the next day. Everybody else has to eat - or not - for themselves.

I also plan to limit the amount of pie I make - perhaps only one kind this year rather than two or three. I will take a serious look at the amount and source of the fats I use and see if I can't whittle, oh, say, about a zagillion calories out of the meal overall.That way I can hopefully avoid having to search for cunning reindeer print MuuMuus or holly patterned clown pants.

But let me clearly state here and now that this is Simply. Not. Fair.

Just when we have a little (and I do mean little thanks G. Bush and deregulators!) disposable income lying around and just when I have discovered the coolest source of all things local/organic/responsibly sourced/old style dairy'ed (thanks W'ville!) AND have both the time and the accrued talent to really cook it all up in style?

Just when all those stars have aligned my body has gone into "Poof! I will make you into a Gramma Shape" mode.

My hormones are on two settings.There is the "Yes you are a female but what happens when I throw a little extra Testosterone in?" mode which has me looking around for sharp sticks and heavy blunt objects.Then there is FULL ON ESTROGEN mode which has me reaching for frilly aprons and looking up recipes to bake new cookies. And pie. And then seriously considering sitting down and eating them all myself. With 14 cups of coffee with cream. And SUGAR.

It is as though the universe, via my sputtering into oblivion girl parts, is sending me the signal "Relax, doll. No more man attracting or baby making for you! Just grab a glass of wine and let's have a quarter pound of cheese and some nuts and look online for elastic waist pants, OK?".

Which is mostly all true but somehow there is supposedly some health thing where I am not supposed to be as wide as I am tall. And some socially agreed upon idea that a 50 something woman is still supposed to still be sveldt. [Audrey Hepburn I know you are dead now and we are not supposed to admit to bad thoughts about dead people but I hated you and your enduring gamin looks. There, I said it!]

If only I could grow 2 inches - what a help that would be. American Drug Industry? What if I told you that you're barking up a dead tree with diet pills? What we need is not to suppress our wonderful appetites - but rather to stimulate continued growth in height! I would be skinny if I weighed what I weigh and was only two inches taller.

Two inches! Is that so much to ask????

And then there is that whole skinny people live longer thing and avoiding diabetes and heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. etc. We all know all the health reasons to eat less and exercise more. Blah blahdedy blah.

Truth be told I like cheese and I like eating real butter from a real old style dairy (you would not believe how much flavor that butter has, seriously) and I like eating bacon and I like eating good bread.

I think if doing that means I am going to gain some weight then maybe, just maybe, that also means it is time for my Italian Grandmother period.I mean really, even Sophia Loren packed on the pounds once she hit a certain age. And nobody, EVER, thought of her as anything but a bombshell.

However. The Hub has requested lighter eating around here. The Hub is the one who lights my spark, who holds all the keys to my heart, and folks, if lighter eating is what he wants, then lighter eating it is.

For him, anyway.

I also figure, in a hopefully reasoned way, not to give up all of anything in favor of giving up a little of everything.Moderation more than abstinence. More salads and fruits and nonstarchy vegetables and a little less bread, butter, and dessert.

Otherwise, the terrorists have already WON! Or something like that.

I guess we will discover together how boring a food blog is when the blogger is trying to cook a little lighter. OK? Yeah.

I feel lighter already.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cooking Green(s)

The collard greens in my garden are being eaten.

Unfortunately, the eaters weren't me or my hub.
Don't get smart - these are the caterpillars.  We are not one of those couples who look like each other

I know people eat collard greens and I have heard repeatedly from a close friend who grew up eating collard greens that they are the best. Yet I had several healthy collard plants out back which I had enjoyed just for their looks so far. I was intimidated by the idea of actually pulling the leaves off, cooking and then eating them.

Just recently in fact this friend was telling me about getting collard greens in her Greenling box. While she prepared them for her family it brought back memories of her own Momma fixing them decades ago, starting off with rinsing them in their washing machine - the only watertight receptacle large enough to hold the quantities it took to feed a family of six hungry greens eaters.

Then I did my routine check of  Homesick Texan's blog to discover her own salute to the joys of cooking and eating collard greens.Something snapped. Or maybe it clicked. The stars aligned, the wind blew from the correct direction, the barometric pressure hit the right number and I knew it was time for me to harvest some of my own collard plants before the crawly critters got them all.

Part of my hesitancy with regards to greens cooking was a lack of a clear understanding of how these leaves are supposed to be measured. I read "three bunches" or "three pounds" and I am stymied. I am not buying these from a store so how do I know what constitutes a proper "bunch"? I also don't routinely weigh the foods I cook (I don't weigh me after either and I feel we are all much happier that way). So how to proceed?

I did me a bit of a think on that and decided that people have been cooking and eating greens for centuries without measuring or weighing or formalized recipes and living to pass the habit on. I decided to read a few recipes, keep the common elements in mind, and go for it.
My trio - mustard, collard and mizuna greens.
Knowing that cooked greens lose most of their volume, I harvested three different greens types from the garden to give me what I hoped was sufficient quantity for 4 servings.

I checked into how to prepare the green leaves for cooking. All greens require careful rinsing to get the grit off. No matter where you get your leaves - store or garden - they are likely to need one or two thorough rinsings in a deep sink. They don't require a lot of drying off afterwards, they just need to be dry enough to handle/chop safely.Collards, I was told, are best prepped by taking out the central stem and then rolling and slicing the remaining leaves into ribbons. (Chiffonade.)I decided to apply the same technique to my two types of mustard greens as well. The mizuna isn't a large flat leaf so I simply rinsed and then pulled the green portions away from the stems. That might have been a bit of overkill but I figured to err on the side of uniformity of texture this go round.

Taking into account that mustard greens cook down faster than collard greens I figured to do the cooking in two stages so they'd all finish together.Every recipe I encountered (aside from the vegetarian ones) started with some sort of fatty salty pork, onion and garlic.The fat gets rendered out of the pork, the onion first and then the garlic get softened in that fat, water is added, greens are added, gentle cooking happens for varying amounts of time, seasonings are adjusted to taste and Bada-Bing Bada Boom you have you some greens to eat.So that is what I did. I gathered my greens - the collard leaves and two types of mustard greens.I prepped the leaves while the lardons (fancy schmancy term for bacon cut crosswise into little strips) were cooking.I threw the onions in first, after about 5-8 minutes I added the garlic, and a seeded jalapeño for a bit of zip, then I put in two cups of water.

Once that was at a gentle boil, I added the collards and cooked them covered for about 30 minutes. At that point I added the mustard leaves and cooked them covered at a gentle boil for an additional half hour or so.While the combined greens were taking their last half hour simmering together, I made savory cornbread (no big whoop I add dry sage/a smidgeon of dried thyme/pinch of sea salt to my batter), started a couple of chicken breasts in a Dijon mustard/dry sage marinade and heated up the grill.Just prior to serving the greens I added a bit of salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar, and a ploosh of olive oil to the pot.It is the next day now and I am still stunned at how absolutely delicious the greens were. They had all sorts of layers of flavor. Salty, meaty, nutty, fresh green, a bit of zing from the vinegar and a sweetness that comes from how fresh they are I suppose. They were toothsome - yielding but not mushy - they were velvety - they were heavenly. I am a new convert - an instant fan, can you tell?

If I can throw this together and have it taste this amazing I am dead certain you can, too. Just get yourself some fresh locally grown greens, do your own investigating into legitimate recipes if you wish, haul out a nice large pot and get cooking! You will be wondering as I am now, what took you so long to discover this simple yet simply delicious way to enjoy this traditional Southern delicacy.

If it is not easy being green, it sure enough easy cooking greens. Give it a try and you can thank me later. And hey - if you do try cooking some greens on your own and like them - then let us know here in the comments section and share any tips you might have. Let's work together to see that more folks have their greens and eat them too!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Test Kitchen?

When you read what I am about to tell you about cooking the other night you are going to figure I am either a publicist or a test kitchen for Mel over at bitchincamero.

Pinky swear, it simply ain't so.

It is just that she lives in a place where the weather matches here pretty well (she is in Florida and I am in Central Texas), and so far her recipes have all turned out to be pretty happy matches with one or both sets of taste buds in this house.

She had a recipe featured for a carrot pumpkin soup, and I had a kabocha squash (also known as a Japanese pumpkin) just sitting around looking gorgeous in my kitchen. So I figured - "why not?".The original recipe calls for 2 cups of pumpkin pureé. I keep reading that making your own pureéd pumpkin is so much better than using canned and I figured it was time to try that theory out.I cut my kabocha in half (wasn't that a Knack song in the 90's, "My Kabocha"?), put it on a foil lined pan, and roasted it in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. I had a spate of phone calls right around then so I can't be sure on the timing. I got lucky and it was done and hadn't burned, but I am pretty sure it wasn't in the oven for longer than 40 minutes.

I let it cool, scooped out the pulp, and discovered I only had 1 1/2 cups rather than two. At that point I decided to simply scale back the recipe amounts to make allowances, and off I went to carrot pumpkin soup land.

The only other change I made was to throw some chopped chives and croutons I had on hand on top as a garnish rather than hazelnuts (my hub doesn't care for the hazelnuts) and while the croutons weren't great as a garnish, the soup was so good we didn't really care.I also used my blender instead of my immersion thingie (it was at the cleaner's). Worked like a charm.

I ended up with two nice big bowls of soup for our dinner last night.

My hub demonstrated remarkable restraint considering I said words to the effect of "isn't this just the loveliest color!" about 28 times during the course of blending and then eating the soup.

But look at it. It is a truly lovely color. And ever so good for us and delicious to boot.

So thanks again, Mel. That is twice in one week that you've led the way to a delicious dinner at our house.

That's what all this blogging is about anyway. Helping folks figure out what to fix to eat at their house that they might not have tried without somebody sharing a recipe or a technique or giving it the spoons up recommendation so folks are feeling like it would be perfectly reasonable to try a dish out.

If you like pumpkin and you like soup then this is for you, sure enough. Don't think you have to roast and pureé the pumpkin, I am guessing this tastes fabulous with the canned stuff and using it would make for a really quick and easy prep to boot.

Mel plans on serving this as an appetizer course for her Thanksgiving feast. It will be a gorgeous addition to the table no doubt.But don't wait for a holiday to give this a test run at your house. Pumpkin soup gets two spoons, er, thumbs up. Easy on the cook, easy on the eyes, and easy on the palate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not Bragging - Just the Facts

Check out who was in the newspaper yesterday. Uh huh. Chef Son.His razzle dazzled recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Bread Pudding apparently caught the eye of Austin American Statesman food writer, Addie Broyles, and is featured here.I am not going to say I taught the guy everything he knows about cooking.

Mostly because A) He did graduate from the Texas Culinary Academy and I think they'd take issue with that, and 2) he has cooking in his gene pool.

While that would at least minimally include me, I am more talking about his grandparents.

Mostly on the paternal side. His father's mother was hands down one of the best southern style cooks I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, much less eating her cooking. She would think nothing of whipping out a lemon meringue pie, everything always from scratch, just to celebrate a family visit. Her everyday meals were feasts.

And, not to be outdone, check out his paternal grandfather in this Army publicity photo from June of 1949.Sporting some pretty snappy shorts, that is grandpa supervising "Preparation of dependant's food at the Marbo Food Service School". According to the text on the back, "Lt. Wilson said that as yet they have had no complaints, even though the meals are standard field rations.".

Marbo, as best I can make out, was the Mariana-Bonin Islands Command, a situation where the Department of the Army was in charge of training and supply for a military force assembled both to occupy Japan, and then eventually to fight again in the undeclared war against Korea. While a majority of the forces were based in Japan after the war, resident military personnel had their families shipped over in an attempt to provide a friendlier face to the defeated Japanese. Those family members, in military parlance, are "dependants". Take that, feminist movement yet to come!

Ahem! I digress.ChefSon was serious about his food experiences from early on. I guess we should have known he would end up using those gifts to create spectacular meals all his own some day. Truth is, he is one of those chefs who bring intelligence and creativity to the selection and preparation of dishes in ways that elevates the entire experience.

And yeah, I'm his Mom, but that's not bragging folks. That's just facts.

If you are interested in more recipes, ChefSon's blog is here. Enjoy!