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.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back to the Table

Now that our children are adults, launched and out on their own, if we want to spend time with them we see if we can get them to share dinner with us. Which is only logical because except for sleeping in the same house, the times spent preparing and eating meals together represented by far the largest chunk of shared time in our family lives together. Those twin acts of eating and talking could be said to centrally represent who we are to each other.

So perhaps it is not so shocking to find it is typically in restaurants, ordering a meal, when I feel most keenly the huge shift my role as Mom to our two adult children has taken. It is there, seated at a table in public, when I am most forcefully reminded of who I am now as opposed to who I used to be. Faced with an identity crisis of that proportion, it is a silver plated wonder I ever get around to ordering.

How can I think about such trivia as whether or not I want soup or a salad as starter when I am so busy considering how I am no longer the sage my children turn to for hints as to what on the menu they might like? How much psychic energy to put into choosing an entreé while I am working so hard not to notice how my opinions are no longer sought out as to do I think they might substitute an ingredient or can I explain what a particular cooking term means?

My old pattern of scanning the menu quickly for items to suggest that might please the pickier palates in our group before considering what I would order for myself is no longer welcomed, much less required. I stubbornly scan anyway, secretly testing knowledge of my family's likes and dislikes to see if I can guess what my kids will order for themselves. When I guess incorrectly, which happens more and more often now, I am left to wonder: what does it mean when a mother don't really know what her kids would want to eat for dinner any more?

The same two children I was convinced would be forever living off of noodles coated with cheese powder from a blue box are now adventurous eaters. With a trained chef in our midst all eyes naturally pivot towards him when a question arises about terminology or the wisdom of combining certain ingredients. I don't even regularly order wine for us when we eat out any more. The wine I know most about (good but inexpensive) rarely appears in commercial cellars.

My adult children are now partial mysteries to me. Their preferences have changed, their philosophy shifts. How do we relate now that I am no longer the one with answers to their questions?

I don't have those answers for myself either. If I am no longer the person charged with making sure these two young people have that revolving list of "what you'll need today" ever handy, if it is not me who is reminding them to be sure to take their shin guards, water bottles, homework, art portfolio, diorama, trumpet, backpack, lunch, then who am I to them? If it is not my job to go about the grocery store spotting a new fruit for them to try or coming up with a way to prepare broccoli or green beans they will find more palatable, then what do I do now to support them and help them to grow?

And please don't dive into this paragraph thinking I will share any, much less wise answers to those questions here because I don't have any. Really. The honest fact is that I don't really know how to be a Mommy to two grown children. I couldn't find any instructions in the Golden Mommy Handbook and it seems to me that these young adults have moved all the bars, making a clean break from simply adjusting the timing of when they would fall in love, marry, have children and settle down to questioning if they ever will choose any of those old goals as the ones they wish to declare for their own lives.

Clueless, I let them lead. My two grown kids, ChefSon and LawSchoolGirl, both mostly tell me what they want from me now and what if anything I can do to help them out if help is what they need. Otherwise, my job has narrowed down to telling them how handsome/gorgeous they are and how proud I am of how fabulously they are both turning out. Which is pretty easy considering both are true. Oh - my new job description also occasionally includes accepting a gentle nudge back when I forget what year it is and begin acting like the Mommy they used to need.

Which leads us in an exceptionally roundabout way to this. We all ate out together for Father's Day (albeit the day after). We chose Olivia's, mostly because we liked the look of their menu which changes depending on what is fresh and good and available, but also because they state clearly they support local food producers and even grow some of their own produce. They name names. We agreed we all like it that way. Supporting local farms and ranchers, knowing where our proteins come from including how humanely they were treated is becoming non-negotiable. We are trying as best we can to get away from the practice of eating anonymous food.

The food at Olivia's was wonderful. We ordered all sorts of small plates to share. Their wine list is impressive and our waitress was well informed and patiently made a couple of extra trips to the kitchen to inquire as to whether or not a particular protein was local. Eating at Olivia's is definitely an experience we want to repeat.

So there we are, finally celebrating Dad with his special restaurant meal. Four adults. As we order, a discovery emerges. ChefSon now likes corn. A lot. I don't know how or why his palate is now pleased by corn when before it was not, and I suspect nobody else does either. But whenever tastes change in a way that adds in a food (as opposed to those times when somebody abruptly stops liking something) I try not to question the why. And hope that next time it counts, I will remember the change.

After we got back home we were all still talking about how wonderful everything tasted. I began to smile, thinking about ChefSon and corn and all the times I'd urged him in vain to "just try some", hopeful every time, but he never did like it. And now he does. I was thinking about how much I loved fresh corn on the cob growing up and how nice it was to have something my Mom could fix and feel good about as a vegetable that I really enjoyed to eat. It was relaxing thinking about corn pleasantly, as opposed to regarding it as the root source of most processed evil industry food.

With corn already on my mind I recalled how last summer I found a great recipe for a grilled corn salad (details in this post). Bingo! Grilled corn salad was now on my short term "gonna fix it this week" menu. I knew I had everything I needed on hand. It would only be a matter of getting the grill going in the morning hours one day before the triple digits seeped into the house too much while my appetite seeped back out.The very next morning, bright and early, I fired up the grill top and started soaking the corn. I got out the lime, onion, olive oil, and the Queso Fresco.

Yelck. Since I used it last, the Queso Fresco had morphed into Queso GrossOut. I checked the refrigerator and found I did have some delicious Pure Luck Goat Cheese on hand. I could nearly taste the corn salad already. Goat cheese it was.

Goat cheese is much softer than Quesco Fresco. I was concerned it would simply "become" part of the dressing for the salad rather than stay a separate component. A quick stir in of an ounce or so confirmed my suspicion - this cheese was not going to give me a crumble that would stand up on its own. I reconciled myself to the idea that this version of the salad would feature a cheesy creamy dressing. I added in a bit more lime juice to keep it from getting too thick, and threw in a bit of finely chopped basil to keep the whole thing from becoming too tart.

Grilled Corn Salad
Printable version here

2 ears of corn, husks on
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of one medium lime
3-4 ounces of crumbled cheese (Cotija, Queso Fresco or Goat Cheese)
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
jalapeño pepper, seeded, membrane removed, minced
pinch sea salt, ground fresh black pepper to taste
4-5 leaves basil, finely chopped

Set your grill at the appropriate heat for roasting vegetables. Know your grill - if you are using an outdoor grill, medium heat is suggested. I used an indoor grill so I set it at the highest heat.

While the grill heats, soak your corn in water to wet the husks. This is important - thoroughly soaking the corn husks means the corn will steam during the first step.

Place the corn, husks on, on the grill and cook until they develop grill marks, turning every few minutes.

While corn is grilling, combine other ingredients in a medium sized bowl.

Remove corn from heat, peel back the husks, and return corn to the grill, cooking until a nice brown char develops all around.

Turn the corn every few minutes. Now I've prepared this a few times, I typically wrap the husks and silks in a bit of foil to keep them from catching fire and to make it easier to turn the cobs on the grill.

I leave my corn on the grill as long as it takes to develop a nice char. It is that grilled taste I am going for after all. This is what elevates this salad from good to swoon. This step can take 15-20 minutes depending on your grill. Keep an eye on it and use your best judgement.

Once your corn is nicely colored, remove from heat, let cool a bit, and remove the kernels from the cob.I stick the cobs into the center of a bundt pan and use a knife to scrape the kernels into the bowl of the pan. Works like a charm.

Toss the kernels with the other ingredients and serve chilled.

Serves 2-4

The results? Just as yummy and not all that different an eating experience with this version's creamy cheesy dressing from what I'd originally hoped for. As opposed to Mommying, once you begin to combine grilled corn, with lime juice, jalapeño, sweet onion and cheese, there are simply no wrong answers.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Next Food Network (Lone) Star

Had to happen sooner or later. The reality (and I use the term loosely) series The Next Food Network Star is coming to Austin to hold an open casting call for Season 6.

According to Alana Jemas the casting producer they are looking for people who are "full of life, passionate about cooking and knowledgeable about food to meet us in person at the open casting call. Anyone is welcome: chefs, line cooks, home cooks, caterers or culinary enthusiasts who might be interested in becoming the host of his or her own cooking show on Food Network!"

After reading a bit about the process and realizing Guy Fieri got his start on the show, I've actually been watching it this season as a gapstop measure to prevent the shaking jones while waiting for TopChef to begin again. Not like I enjoy watching Guy, I don't think I've sat through one entire episode of his show. But I do see he snagged a full fledged career out of this reality show process and that is something I find weirdly impressive. I mean, I can see how it can launch somebody. Now I want to see it launch somebody worthy.

Which may be where you come in.

So far the other television viewers in this house are not particularly impressed with the Next Food Network Star as a concept, with the contestants overall, or with me for wanting to stick it out for at least the rest of the season. I will agree - TNFNS is populated with a few decent contestants but also subjects viewers to what for me is a bit too much air time featuring inadvisable commentary and a couple of clearly out of their league cooks.I hate to seem disloyal, but Keller Texas Mom of 4 Melissa D'Arabian is not who I necessarily want representing "Texas Cooking". She clearly has a few chops in the kitchen and being a former MommyCook myownself I do not wish to be caught denigrating the millions of us out there generating good food for our families day in and day out. I most certainly do not.

However, when I tune in to a Food Network show I want to see somebody calm and collected. Somebody with more going on than I think I already have going on in the kitchen, quite honestly. I already have the internet for dinnertime food ideas, I want to be ENTERTAINED by a trained chef with personality and cool tricks up their sleeve when I take the time to watch a cooking show on television. I want pizazz, I want new techniques demonstrated, I want some articulate person who can tempt me into trying something new and daring. But that's just me. And I assure you, I am clearly not reliable.

All by way of which I yet want to say, look, Austin. There are scads of you out there who can cook up a storm, have loads of personality, and maybe even the presence of mind to bring that all together in front of cameras on a sound stage/kitchen. So here is more information on the open casting call to be held Friday, July 17th, 10am-4pm at the Hyatt Regency Downtown (208 Barton Springs Road).

What to Bring:
1. Two recent photos
2. A copy of your resume
3. A filled out application found here.

For more information or questions please e-mail them at: nfns6austin@yahoo.com. I can't help but think if we get a good mix of trained Texas chefs in the mix the show will move up to a whole new level. How could it not? The world may begin to understand why folks love food so much around these parts, enough to tolerate the summer weather. It could prove mighty entertaining. Y'all get to it!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Daddy's Day

I will admit it. I am waaaaaay too cynical to get very excited about Mother's Day or Father's Day either one.

Once a child gets old enough to not be excited themselves to make a card or a git for Mommy or Daddy the whole thing just starts to feel forced. With that as my attitude, you can guess how excited our adult kids typically get at the prospect of celebrating these "arbitrary family appreciation" type holidays.

There are other contributing factors to our laid back attitudes.

We've already held a conversation I think occurs in many empty nest homes sooner or later. It occurs a few days prior to either Mother's Day or Father's Day with no children geographically or temporally available for celebrating and husband says to wife (or vice versa) "Honey, what do you want to do for Father's/Mother's Day?" and the sincere answer may be "Um nothing really. Why are you asking? You're not my Mother/Father?".

We are all of us in the same city this month, but both males have careers where holidays are just as often work days. Which happens to be the case for both this year. That leaves the idea of getting overly focused on a particular "date" a formula for additional frustration.

So we try to ease the idea of anything being too formal, too tied to the calendar, and hopefully we can all appreciate those spontaneous moments of family warmth when we get them.

Like last night. LawSchoolGirl prepared scallops for our dinner.In a family where Mom is obsessed with food and brother is a working Chef, it is not often or realistic you will find anybody else willing to take on meal provision that doesn't involve driving everybody to a restaurant or making a run through a take out window.

Last night however, LSG put together her version of Spiced Seared Scallops au jus with a Citrus Reduction Sauce. It was all kinds of wonderful. She hit the interweb looking at recipes to get general guidelines for proportions using ingredients I already had on hand, but past that launching point this delicious entreé was all hers.

Unfortunately ChefSon was working, so he couldn't be here to share the love or the delectable scallops.I know he would be proud of his little sister for her intelligent take on this classic technique as well as her plating. Not to mention her willingness to cook in somebody else's kitchen to prepare a meal for one of the other pickiest eaters in the universe (who I will not name but hint: he isn't me).

And even though the Hub had to haul in to the hospital to care for a toddler with a health care crisis before the plates were stacked in the sink afterwards, I know he was tickled eight shades of Daddy Proud to have been served up such a great dinner by his daughter.

The home cooked dinner was last night, there will be a couple of gifts today and hopefully a shared restaurant experience with all hands on deck in the days to come. We may not be gathering in organized classic calendrical configuration but we pretty much have the holiday surrounded. It will surrender to our efforts if it knows what is good for it.

I hope that however, whenever and with whoever you celebrate, yours will be a Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Double Header

It is hot here today. It was hot here yesterday and will be hot here tomorrow.

It is hot and it is going to stay hot until at least mid to late October.

Cooking becomes such a chore under these circumstances and yet, despite the heat, folks still keep getting hungry and demanding to be fed. This puts a morale whammy on the cook designate because motivation is difficult when every move you make seems to be sapping the little bit of energy you might have left at the end of yet another long hot day.

Right about now is when a few new recipes that yield surprisingly good results with delightfully little effort can really pay off. I was lucky enough to find two such recipes recently and naturally wanted to share them both with you.

First up to bat we have Elise at Simply Recipes offering us a wonderfully simple preparation for breaded and baked chicken.

We eat a lot of chicken so I am always on the lookout for another good recipe. Dinner here can feature chicken as the main protein up to three times a week. The only way I get away with that is to make certain I have significantly different presentations in the lineup so it doesn't get too boring.

The original recipe features chicken drumsticks, but since I am the only one around here who typically eats the drumstick, I decided to swap out for chicken thighs. I will let you grab the particulars from the original recipe on the website with the following words of encouragement.This is one of those especially good recipes, folks. You take 8 ingredients, spend roughly 40 minutes for prep and cooking time, dirty two bowls, one baking sheet, and end up with a delicious dinner entreé for 4-6 people. The chicken stays moist, the crumb topping is crunchy and flavorful, it browns nicely (especially if you run it up under the broiler for a couple of minutes at the end), and the components work together to give you something a lot more interesting than your garden variety baked chicken.The only switch up I made was to use thighs rather than drumsticks. If you have fans of both cuts in your household you could certainly mix and match. This is such a keeper. Easy, uses ingredients you have on hand, and really tasty. I can already tell this recipe will take pride of place in our regular rotation.

Next up was an old school quick bread loaf courtesy of a weekly feature on Eat Me Daily called Retro Recipes. Staff writer Stephanie Butler has been charged with cooking up various vintage recipes to sample and report on the types of foods our mothers and grandmothers would have considered cutting edge. This Peanut Bread 1953 caught my eye initially because it was in a cookbook that came out the year I was born.Yeah that's right. I am that old. Let's move on, shall we?

Peanut Bread won my heart as I licked the spoon and realized the batter tasted an awful lot like Tom's Peanut Butter Logs, a regional childhood candy favorite of mine. I substituted Splenda for half the brown sugar with no discernible loss of moisture, quality or flavor, in keeping with a truly optimistic attempt we are making around AustinAgrodolce to try and shed a few pounds over the summer. Here now the recipe:

Peanut Bread from The Modern Family Cookbook, 1953 edition
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

Sift flour, measure and resift 3 times with soda and salt. Blend sugar into peanut butter. Stir in beaten egg and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beating until smooth after each addition. Turn into buttered loaf pan, bake in a moderate oven (350) 1 hour or until well browned.
Printable Version
Another simple recipe, using run of the mill pantry staples. This does call for sifting the dry ingredients three times which seemed to lead to a particularly light batter. All that sifting was kind of fun, really, although I'll admit to a bit more flour over drift than is usual.

Once I smelled it baking I didn't mind so much. Once I had a bite I could have cared less about a little extra flour on the counter tops. Or the floor. Or on me.This peanut bread is sweet but not overwhelmingly so. It would work equally well as part of a quick breakfast or would support any number of more decadent dessert presentations. You can use your own imagination there. Next time I make this I am going to try using chunky peanut butter just for fun.

My only regret is that I have not been making this Peanut Bread for my family all along. It is another one of those basic building blocks of a recipe that supports the kind of simple good eating I truly appreciate. I am sure I'd have baked this whenever company was staying over the weekend, for school holiday breakfasts, to share with friends, you name it.

Better late than never!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When is A Muffin Not Really a Muffin?

You may already know the old saying attributed to Freud that goes "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!"?

Same goes in cooking apparently. This concoction, from 101 Cookbooks is called "Sun Dried Tomato Cottage Cheese Muffin Recipe".

Hey not the flashiest name perhaps but you read that and at least you know what you are getting in to. I think I like that better than calling this something like "Hot Flash Mini-Pies" because while whimsical, that name doesn't give you much of a clue as to what it might be all about. That said....

This recipe will give you what is more a crustless mini-quiche or soufflé type result than a muffin. So if the word "muffin!" conjures up sweet soft crumbly bites interspersed with little blue spherical orbs or a sugary buttery streusely top, then don't even go there, OK? This is not that.

What it is, is healthy and delicious. Taken from "Vegetarian Supercook" by Rose Eliott this recipe reportedly is representative of Elliott's ability to combine proteins, complex carbs, vegetables and good fats in just the right way to fill you up without simply moving that literal cottage cheese out of the container only to be conceptually reproduced by a fatty re-visualization on your own thighs. (OK if any guys are reading this and are grossing out then just skip down towards the end of the post where I describe the taste. Deal?)

I used my food processor to do all the heavy lifting in this recipe. This made the prep easier than I'd anticipated. Which I gotta say up front means I am sitting here while they bake having a hell of a time typing because I have my fingers crossed so tight these will turn out to be deliiiiiiiiicious, a new family favorite.

Maybe you are in fine shape but I could desperately use a breakfasty favorite to feature around here that is not all about bacon or syrup or time spent over a skillet doing ANYthing one at a time. Something healthy but tantalizing. Something with built in portion control.

Funny thing is, for a family of control freaks, we seem to have nearly no self control when it comes to portions. Without some strict guideline, we have a startling tendency to fill up our plates until there is no room left. Thanks so much "there are starving children in China!" Mommies. Conditioned by countless well meaning admonitions over the years we are just as likely to over fill our plates and then over eat to clean them after. And apparently, leading by example, we just about trained our kids to do the same.Enter the Miraculous Not Muffins.

In the past I have carefully avoided making anything featuring a load of ground nuts in place of most of the flour. I already confessed to being a World Class Avoider when it comes to trying new things. What made the difference this time? A muffin is a great running head start on portion control. Then, after reading the rest of the ingredient list my curiosity overcame my hesitancy. I took a deep breath and decided to boldly go.

As I've said before, I am trying to forge some new territory around here in the culinary arena to help support our eating healthy portions including a lot less animal protein without feeling all hair shirt about it. I wanted this whole "not so much meat" trip to be more about adding in, rather than simply taking away. So. Add in the Miraculous Not Muffins please!

A few notes. As I made these this morning I discovered two things. First while shopping for ingredients recently I apparently grabbed two hunks of shrink wrapped Romano rather than a hunk of Romano and a hunk of Parmiggiano-Reggiano as I'd intended. A bit later I found that, although I can count to ten without moving my lips or anything, my Miraculous Not Muffin batter batch yielded more than would fill 9 of the designated batter cups in my muffin tin.

A lot more.

So I pulled out my container of muffin papers, tucked 3 more into place and as it turned out, there was just enough batter to nicely fill all 12 muffin cups. So I did. My muffin pan apparently is more of a "small" than a "medium". It was nice to have things skewed towards the smaller rather than the larger for a change - but maybe that's just me.

I figured to check the Miraculous Not Muffins early, at 25 minutes, Just In Case. I took my slightly smaller Not Muffins out at 25 because they looked done but 5 more minutes wouldn't have ruined them. But enough about me. Here it is as featured on 101 Cookbooks:

Sun-dried Tomato Cottage Cheese Muffin Recipe

You can use the flour of your choice in this recipe. The original recipe calls for soy flour (great for people looking for a gluten-free option), I use white whole wheat flour - unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. To grind the almonds I gave them a whirl in my food processor. You are looking for a flour-like consistency - be sure to stop short of turning them into an almond paste.

1 cup plain cottage cheese (low-fat is fine)
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup flour (see headnotes)
1 cup almonds, very finely ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Line a muffin pan with medium-sized paper baking cups, you'll need nine of them.

Put the cottage cheese into a bowl with all but 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, water, and eggs, and season with salt, then mix all together.

Spoon the mixture into the muffing cups 3/4 full, scatter with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until set, risen, and golden brown. Serve as hot or at room temperature.

Makes 9 muffins.
And here are my Miraculous Not Muffins. Before I tell you what they taste like to me, go back and scan the ingredient list and see if you can guess for yourself. Really. I'll wait and totally not use the time to eat another MNM. Or well, maybe I will, but only to make sure I have a fresh set of sensory references to report to you. I am so all about the science here.

OK. Ready with your guess? Did you guess Pizza? Because, you smart cookie you, that is exactly right. Whatever you want to call them, these tasted to me very much like pizza. A really moist on the inside, with a little crunch from the baked on cheese of the outside, tomatoey, cheesy Margherita style pizza.

Now maybe you are one of the 5-9 people in the United States who do not think that pizza is an acceptable breakfast food. If you are, avert your eyes for a few sentences because I am sitting here typing to tell you these Not Muffins are so evocative of eating pizza that I think any kiddo any age would be delighted to find these waiting on the breakfast or lunch table either one.

They would also de-foofify any bruncheon setting but in a totally stealthy way. They would look all properly grown up on a platter garnished with a few springs of basil and a sprinkling of edible flowers. Surrounded by the other typical offerings like fancy supremed fruit salad these Not Muffins would go WOWZA along with a mimosa or bloody mary for sure. Once everybody started to daintily bite in with their pinkies all elevated you just know these big grins would be breaking out on everbody's tastefully made up faces because here you've given them yummy moist healthy PIZZA flavored bites. Take that, Martha Stewart!

OK maybe Pizza is not one of your favorite food groups. Fair enough. You could play with the flavor profile a bit and swap in chard and some finely chopped thyme for the basil and take it a slightly different direction altogether. You could try a different grated cheese, but do take pains to avoid anything that will throw too much moisture into the mix. The original post on 101 Cookbooks lists a whole host of potential tweaks if tweaking is what you want.

I count these a total success even though along with some of those commenting on the 101 website I too noted these Not Muffins have a tenacious cling to the paper quality that has you turning aside from fellow diners so they don't necessarily have to watch you scraping the last bits off the paper with your teeth. (cue "eeeuwwwww" noise from studio audience)I am not sure how to address that problem really are you? What do you do about muffins that stick to the paper (or in this case Not Muffins)?

Any ideas out there? Spray the muffin paper with cooking oil prior to baking? Use free standing aluminum muffin cups rather than paper liners in a tin? Spray the muffin tin itself with oil and eschew the paper lining cups altogether? I figure on trying any/all of these options as quickly as I can justify the additional batches. If I happen upon some remedy I will be back with an update.

These are healthy, cute as a button and pull together in about a half hour, especially if you have a food processor to do your grinding/chopping/grating. Don't let a tenacious muffin paper or unreasonable fear of using nut flour get between you and your own batch.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tzatziki Sauce!

OVERPOWERING GARLIC ALERT/ADDENDUM!! CODE RED - SOUND THE ALARMS!!! The recipe that follows calls for what we here at AustinAgrodolce, in consultation with Significant Others Who Shall Remain Nameless have determined is too much garlic. WAY too much garlic.

So much garlic in fact that, if Sookie Stackhouse tried this recipe (it could happen!) her vampire boyfriend Bill would drop her like a silver cross. It is our considered opinion that you try this with one clove of garlic and add more only if you think you need to. This is supposed to be a cool sauce after all and the 4 cloves of garlic moved it over into hot garlicky territory. Not awful, just not tzatziki.

It was also agreed upon in further discussions that the "chop finely" instructions for the cucumber did not specify that the degree of teensiness desired from the chopping would be as if you ran the cukes through your food processor and stopped just when they were at risk of stopping being discretely tiny bits and becoming a cucumber mash. In other words - use your processor to chop the cucumbers very very finely. We clear on that now? Good. Proceed!

You know how sometimes trying something new completely gives you the heebie jeebies?

So much so that you find all sorts of reasons (appearing to rational outsiders as "excuses") not to ever actually try the recipe out?

These are those recipes, you know the ones, where you pretend you will try them only to actually read them and discover they involve two hours of something sitting dripping into a pan. Or they require a specific kind of vinegar or a special whisk or something, anything, so long as it is something you don't have or forgot to get, so you bail.

Over. And Over. Again.

This heebie-jeebizing is what has kept me from making tzatziki sauce for months now.

At first I didn't have plain yogurt in sufficient quantities and I was concerned cutting the recipe in half wouldn't yield a reasonable amount. I also didn't have a very sharp knife and it calls for a lot of finely chopped bits. The Hub often doesn't like tangy stuff much. LawSchoolGirl doesn't particularly care for mint.

So why, you might wonder, did I keep thinking I wanted to make tzatziki? Because, that's why. Because when I had the sauce with gyros in Salt Lake City Utah where we used to live 148 years ago I really really liked it.Because it is summer time and in summer time I like to eat cucumbers every possible way. Tzatziki sauce is, after all, at least partly about the chopped cucumbers.

Because everywhere I turn for the past two weeks; newsletters, Food Network shows, you name it, I have been bumping into lamb or other Greek style burger patties served with some version of a tzatziki sauce.Wheatsville's Gurus of Meat now offer seasoned lamb sausage patties that look scrumptious so I bought some. I wanted something authentic to serve with them and tzatziki sauce isn't just fun to type and fun to say it was screaming at me that it was JUST THE VERY THING TO SERVE WITH LAMB PATTIES FOR DINNER. IMMEDIATELY. IF NOT SOONER!

Of course I'd forgotten you have to let yogurt drip for at least two hours first so I bumped the lamb patties from dinner one night to dinner the next night to allow sufficient time over the bowl.

I have a great new knife (thank you again from the bottom of my chopping block, chef son!) so the many finely chopped ingredients in tzatziki now represent a joyful aspect to the recipe prep rather than a challenge.

I have basil growing out back which I feel is a decent substitute for mint for my non-mint fan in the house.

I have a few Hawaiian sweet bread rolls on hand I need to use up, rolls that are foods of the gods and will serve as the perfect foil for a seasoned lamb pattie with a tangy sauce, sooooooo.........

Having knocked all my potential objections out of the way, tzatziki sauce time it is. I put the recipe elements together so they could rub shoulders and do the Vulcan Flavor Meld in the refrigerator all day.

It is nearly dinnertime now and I did a followup taste test an hour or so ago and noted the garlic was absolutely kicking ass. I did use one ginormous clove as two of the suggested four cloves and in so doing I may have inadvertently bumped up the garlickity quotient of the flavor profile by about 80 percent.

Hey - that is a risk I, as a committed garlic lover, am quite willing to take. Not much of a risk really as I think the flavor of the lamb can stand up to as much garlic tangyness we can throw at it honestly. Especially in combination with buttery couscous and a Hawaiian sweet roll.

Just at the moment I can barely type for my stomach growling in anticipation. My mouth is watering so much my keyboard is in jeopardy. For whatever reason, after months of playing with the idea and coming up with lame excuses not to? Now that I have finally made the daggum tzatziki sauce I am absolutely chafing to have it be dinner time already [!!!] so we can just eat some for heaven's sake.

Can anything live up to the hype my feverishly anticipatory brain is concocting? Man, I sure enough hope so.

I hate recipe letdown more than you can imagine.

At the moment however everything is all sweetness and light and Man I Can't WAITness. Dinner Tonight: Seasoned Lamb Patties from Wheatsville served with Tzatziki Sauce, Buttery CousCous, Hawaiian Sweet Bread Rolls and sliced fresh fruit. Yum yum yum yum yum. I think.Here is the recipe I used - Alton Brown's version from the Food Network. I let my yogurt drip overnight so may be slightly short the 1 1/2 cup mark but what I've got is pretty close. I've thrown other substitutions and notes in parens. In several other recipes I found they suggested at least a two hour resting period in the reefer so as previously noted I made mine this morning so it could sit.

•16 ounces plain yogurt
•1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
•Pinch kosher salt
•4 cloves garlic, finely minced (I used 3 because one of them was HUGELY large)
•1 tablespoon olive oil
•2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (I got a little splashy with this - may be closer to 3 tsp)
•5 to 6 mint leaves, finely minced (I subbed 5 large basil leaves from the garden)

Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Place the chopped cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

And, drumroll please.....HOW did it turn out? Great, thanks! LawSchoolGirl noted most gyro sauces are more blended than chopped so I may give the sauce we have left a whirlygo in the food processor and use that in pita pocketed lunch versions of the leftover lamb. It was pretty durn garlic intensive but garlic is good for you, and we will happily be in Vampire Avoidant territory for a day or so as a result. Maybe mosquito repellent as well.I am not sure why I have such trouble learning and holding on to the lesson that trying a new recipe is more often fun than terrorizing, even if it does not turn out precisely as planned. There are areas in life where I consider myself to be a quick study, but learning to be more adventurous in the kitchen is not one of them, obviously. That said, Tzatziki sauce is no longer a stranger in this household so I look forward to many many more visits. Opa!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sum Sum Summertime

A blogger I admire asked her readers recently to list in the comments section what they loved about summertime. My list quickly grew so long I decided to punt and post instead.

Here, in no particular order, is my non-comprehensive list of What I Love About Summer:
My birthday happens
HummingbirdsSchool is out
Shooting off fireworks (legally! really! The PowersThatBe didn't care so much about us kiddos being safe or escaping becoming tragically disfigured or potentially lighting up city block-wide conflagrations - oh those were the days I tell you)
Floating with hot sun on my back and cool water underneath me
Painted toenails
Snow Cones (red ones are my favorite followed by purple - you?)
Cicadas singing in daytime
Tree Frogs singing at night
The way little kids have to yell SO LOUDLY when they play in the water
CaladiumsThe way walking into air conditioning from a triple digit afternoon makes my glasses fog up for a minute
Eating icy cool crisp salad greens outside
The smell of swimming pools
Visiting someplace that is SO NOT Texas The smell of Coppertone sun screen
Home grown tomatoesIced tea
Eating ice cream cones outside fast before they melt too much and drip onto your hand
Neighborhood 4th of July Parades How everybody looks slightly more sophisticated in sunglasses
Cool tile floors on bare feet
Hunting for sea shells and wave tumbled glass at the beach
Ripe melon
Flip flopsSuntans (yeah yeah I know totally "what-do-you-want-us-to-all-die" politically incorrect but this is MY list - go make your own)
Cucumber sandwiches
Blinking in summer sun after seeing a matinee
The way that first taste of really cold beer tastes like Life in a Bottle

That will do for today. Feel free to share in the comments section how you feel about summertime. Do you love it? Hate it? What is your favorite/least favorite aspect of summertime? I really want to know!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cobbler Delay

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Texas Monthly ("the National Magazine of Texas") featured recipes on the last page of each issue.

While the series ran, I always turned to the back of the magazine first thing to see if what was there that issue would be anything I'd be interested in attempting. The recipes ran the gamut, from exquisite gourmet appetizer supplied by an up and coming chef to tried and true down home favorites, like a little beauty of a recipe for peach cobbler.

The Gourmet Gals' Hill Country Peach Cobbler recipe, which ran in the July/August 1989 issue, was a treasure that quickly became THE way this family would eat peach cobbler from that time forward. I nearly went crazy(er) waiting to try it, though.

The magazine with the recipe came out well past when it was easy to find peaches at my local grocery store. This being 1989 it predated the steady stream of peaches now available from around the country, much less around the world. Farmer's markets were scarcer than hen's teeth and roadside stands were all shuttered up for the season.

I had nearly a year long wait until local peaches were available again before I finally had my chance to reproduce the cobbler. That I held on to the recipe and managed not to lose it in the disorder that passes for my kitchen is testimony to how much I wanted that cobbler in my repertoire. As I dug the page torn from the magazine out of a pile of "important papers", unfolded it and carefully smoothed the creases out I remember thinking to myself, "this better be good...".

Was it ever. I've since prepared this peach cobbler recipe for friends, family, and fellow Lutheran church members in four different states over the course of the nearly twenty years since I first laid my hands on it. It is as good today as it was then, and the only difference between the way I fix it now and the way I fixed it then is that now I insist upon organic ingredients. Truth be told, since the peaches are peeled, I'd make it with conventionally farmed Texas peaches in a heartbeat rather than do without. It just isn't a proper start to summertime without a few batches of peach cobbler.Here is the recipe the way it was printed in the magazine.

Gourmet Gals Hill Country Peach Cobbler

1/4 cup flour
less than 1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
3 cups sliced fresh peaches

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Mix with 1 1/2 cups sugar. Slowly stir in milk. Melt butter in 8x8x2 inch pan (a larger pan makes a thinner crust). Pour batter over butter, do not stir. Lay peaches on batter. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar or less. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Serves 6.

According to the description that precedes it, "From a small catering business in Amarillo to their present incarnation in Austin, where they've feted British Royalty (Prince Charles) and Texas common folk, Gourmet Gals are all over the map. This simple cobbler has an appealing, almost puddinglike consistency. "With the trends in Southwestern cuisine, we've kind of overlooked simplicity" says original Gal Betsy Nozick. "This recipe is so just-what-it-is." Gourmet Gals has since expanded, moved from their original Anderson Mill Road location and is now dba Gourmet Gals and Guys Catering and Events. Betsy Nozick and Tricia Henry have co-authored a book, "Texas Tuxedos to Tacos, The Mystique of Entertaining in Texas". Their newly expanded version has been recently released and is available from their website.

One note: I used unbleached unrefined cane sugar in this batch which is why mine has such a deep brown crust. I thought the additional layer of molasses-ish flavor in the unrefined sugar paired well with the brightness of the peaches, and to my great relief  it worked out great.  In all honesty that was luck, not skill.  I used that sugar because it was what I had on hand.

I've told you I am not a patient woman.  That first year I spent waiting to find peaches so I could try the recipe nearly killed me.  That was all the waiting for cobbler I could stand.  Once I'd made my mind up to have peach cobbler today I just went for broke rather than waiting until after a trip to the market.   Me, wait for cobbler?  No no no no no. 

You may think you already have a peach cobbler recipe.  I am here to set you straight.  If you aren't making this peach cobbler, you might as well give me your peaches and let me show you how it is done.  Or save us both the trouble and just make this peach cobbler.  Right now.  Go! The only hard part of this recipe is waiting an hour for it to bake.

Quick postscript:  I contacted Tricia Henry to ask permission to share this cobbler recipe with you here.  I'll admit when I heard back from her nearly immediately I was surprised. Folks, I gotta tell you she is about as gracious as a summer day is long.  I suppose you don't have to be a generous and sweet person to create a great peach cobbler recipe, but in this case, that is sure enough the way it worked out.  



Monday, June 1, 2009

Hot Stuff

I may well be the very last person in Austin to do so, but I became a full on Torchy's convert last Friday night.

There isn't a location all that close to where I live, but the consistently positive things I've heard about Torchy's in combination with a daughter in the house for the summer who was craving them for dinner and requesting that I just "try them out - one time to see" meant a taco road trip was in the cards for this bunch.

I had the Trailer and the Republican as a starting point but I figure I might as well make it my quest to work all the way through the menu. I can't imagine why not. I won't tell you how good they are - you probably already know and if you don't then Ha-Ha! I am NOT the last person in town to try one after all. Yay me.

After noting a couple of days ago that one of our oldest largest jalapeño plants was leaning waaaaay over I went to investigate. It was not damaged per se, it was absolutely loaded down with a bumper crop of peppers. I harvested as many as I could hold and decided while doing so the time was ripe for a batch of home made jalapeño jam.

Now on the pectin paperwork this stuff is called Pepper Relish but that my friends is a misnomer. Any recipe calling for 4 cups of chopped peppers to be combined with 5 cups of sugar and 1 cup of cider vinegar is going to yield pepper jam, not anything I'd call relish.The recipe suggests using red and/or yellow bell peppers in mixture with the jalapeño peppers but I could not find any organic bells other than green. I do aspire to aesthetically pleasing results as much as the next gal, but when it comes to eating something that has been processed and sitting in a jar in the pantry for months at a time? I want that something to be as organic as I can get it. Rule of thumb, that has been my approach for all my jammy work. So far I have been able to secure organic everything except for pectin. Truth be told I simply haven't investigated that. Yet.

So all green peppers it was. The results seem to be slightly less colorful but no less flavorful than I'd hoped. My jalapeño peppers are not particularly hot (I must not have been angry when I planted them). I decided not to leave any seeds in this go round to turn the heat up any. I can try that next go-round once I get a feel for how it will turn out. I do think the jam will heat up as it ages a bit but that will be fine by me.

Once again the fruity bits all floated up to the top. I don't fret over that (so much) any more at least. This time I waited until the jam had cooled and then shook the jars to redistribute the pepper bits. Hopefully that won't interfere with the jam setting and hopefully the redistribution will stick. If not, I'll simply stir the stuff up once I've opened a jar and let it go at that.

I'm hopeful to make a batch of peach cobbler this weekend. If I do I'll share the recipe because it is amaaaaaazing. Like Torchy's Tacos. Seriously, if you are the last person (after me) in Austin to give them a try don't wait any longer. You can say I sent you.