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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Something of a Stretch

Pay no attention to that man with the yam.

The inland oats and the oak trees have called it.Still needing the A/C running occasionally or not, it is by golly FALL.

And this past week especially I have been happy as happy can be for some slightly cooler temperatures, allowing me to reintroduce some cooler weather favorites back into our mealtime rotation.

I'll admit nothing original here, just some inspired borrowing and what I consider to be necessarily frugal and slightly more ethical reworking of ingredients to inventively stretch animal protein. Allow me to explain?

Serving as a first example of an old reliable in that category, a Niman Ranch shoulder roast. My Mom used to call beef fixed this way Pot Roast. It is a straight out braised roast really, cut into a few large chunks, with some of the resulting sumptuous meat pieces first appearing over a half baked potato liberally doused with braised onions and the eponymous liquid from the pot.

That braised beef next showed up neatly tucked into chimichangas. I use up small portions of pork or beef or chicken this way regularly, shredding the meat, moistening it with pesto or salsa, adding a bit of grated cheese and wrapping it all in butter softened flour tortilla bundles that are then pricked with a fork and baked for 15-20 minutes in a hot oven until toasty brown. Using smaller sized tortillas makes for great portion control and leftover chimichangas travel and reheat well for quick lunches.I put the third and final bit of the beef put to work center stage in a hash, costarring with a farm fresh egg, over easy. Hash is dead simple to make, there are all sorts of reliable guides to preparation out there and once you top it with egg it is all kinds of crazy good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

As reliable and delicious as braised beef is (and oh boy is it ever!), I think the real winner around here lately is this recipe from 101 Cookbook's Heidi Swanson for a Rustic Cabbage Soup. As these things go, it was not the featured recipe for her recent post, but a link in that post to a previous entry from January of last year.

I began following Swanson's site to find recipes that could help me in my attempts to have us eat less animal protein.

I did add Nilgai sausage to the recipe (a gift from a hunter friend of the family). While that may seem counterintuitive to my stated purpose, let me hasten to add that whenever I add animal protein to a soup or stew, it stretches those protein servings out, so while the Hub and I are still getting our desired animal bits, we are getting them fewer and further in between while not losing anything in taste or enjoyment. Baby steps, y'all.The Rustic Cabbage Soup recipe is rich and delicious and I recommend it to you as written, or, if substituting in a link of sausage, just brown it with the onions and garlic and skip the addition of white beans. I especially appreciated how, after cooking the potato pieces first in oil, they held together as a discrete element in the soup rather than simply giving it up to the broth. I'll be incorporating that little trick into other dishes I'm sure. And isn't that a great part of the fun of cooking? Figuring out how these techniques are used to get a certain desired result so you can more confidently wing it when you want to, is the name of the game.

I spooned a little Crema on top to slightly offset the jalapeƱo liberally included in our sausages. We had the soup for dinner with a spinach and upland cress salad alongside. I sprinkled the greens with bits of organic pear and crumbled toasted pecans and coated it all lightly with a a rice wine vinaigrette.I offered toasted La Brea sourdough (now baked fresh daily at Wheatsville) slathered with Irish butter alongside and I promise you, nobody pushed away from the table feeling they'd been slighted in any way.

Finally, I want to offer a word of encouragement to anybody out there who has not yet made a batch of applesauce this season. If you are anything like me, you've gotten quite used to the array of applesauce offerings on the shelves at the store, and perhaps, as I did, you sometimes forget how pleasing and how easy home made really is.I can't begin to describe how satisfying it was to slowly peel and pare a 3 pound bag of apples, knowing I'd have several generous helpings of applesauce as a healthy dessert alternative to offer after that small effort.

Maybe it is just me being weirdly me, but I love to peel stuff. With a nice sharp knife in hand I get very much into the process, appreciating the textures, making progress in my pile of "to be peeled" versus my pieces of "ready for the pot". I find it quite meditative. And the smell! That wonderful aroma of apples cooking is as much an observation and seasonal celebration as anything I can imagine short of carving a pumpkin.

If all you need is a gentle nudge to remind you to make applesauce!, consider it done. Buy a bag of organic apples and make yourself a batch of applesauce while the supply is abundant, won't you? And, try Swanson's rustic soup. You can eat it right away as she suggests, or try my preference which is to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator for the flavors to fully develop before reheating and serving. It is wonderfully hearty and representative of some of Fall's best offerings.

Whether the thermometer is reinforcing your feeling of the season or not, Fall is here, the trees and the plants all know it, so be sure to find your own way to immerse yourself and enjoy it while it lasts.


PassivePastry said...

i went to a wedding this weekend and have a HUGE box of leftover pears (the skinnyish brown variety?) and granny apples that were used for centerpieces.... what to do with all of these??!

my least favorite meal as a child was my mom's roast for some reason. it would cook all day and when i walked in to the house after school and smelled it i would cringe.

love the stuff now though. oi, i'm hungry!

TexasDeb said...

Oooh - a box of fruit is a pretty good wedding favor when all is said and done.

Granny Smiths are great in pies or applesauce either one. And I am guessing your pears might be Boscs? If so they keep pretty well and if I remember correctly are supposed to be nice and firm so will hold up to baking and/or poaching like a champ.

Marion said...

Making applesauce is kitchen yoga, something I never realized until I read this piece. Thank you.

TexasDeb said...

Marion you are such the word artist. Kitchen Yoga. That is perfection. Thanks for dropping by!

jo©o said...

My oh my, a dedicated food blog. Didn't know those existed, not being a foodie.
All very alien to me, but at last, there came the applesauce. I can relate to that. My daily staple until the apples run out. Our one and only cooker supplies us until February. Then we have to buy and lose all taste.
I suppose our tree is Newton Wonder, 'cause you can eat the cookers that come off late in the year. Don't care for Granny Smith.
You would cringe at my diet. Never varies from day to day. I don't cook, merely assemble. Haven't used an oven for years. Himself makes the applesauce and boils the eggs. I make the yoghurt. Wouldn't really know how to make anything else any more. It's not you that's weird, not compared to me anyways :-)

texasdeb said...

JoCo - No cringing here at all - what a beautiful simplification for mealtimes. I often fall into eating the same things over and over, I find it very comforting. Unfortunately the Hub is not so eager to have the same thing(s) day in and day out. Working around our differing approaches to eating is all part of the fun. Glad you stopped by here and even more happy you found something to comment upon. I hope you'll come back!