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.

Friday, April 9, 2010

While we are on the topic

Speaking of food photography, did you know Saveur announced the winners of their First Annual Food Blog Awards recently?  (neither did I!)

No, I didn't make the cut, wasn't even nominated truth be told, but once I saw who was on the list all became clear.  These bloggers are the cream of the crop.  These are the blogs you'd want to read on a desert island (providing you had full access to your computer there and maybe a great desert/farmer's market....).

One of the categories was Best Food Photography, and the winner there, Smitten Kitchen, also snagged a Best Individual Post win for her take in January 2007 on Hibernation Fare.

I read Smitten Kitchen regularly and would agree the photography and writing are both inspiring, though she will go to an awful lot more trouble than I will to create, or in some cases, recreate a dish.  The few dishes of hers I do attempt are always wonderful and even the majority of time spent just reading her posts is thoroughly enjoyable.  

Another long time favorite blog/blogger, Homesick Texan scored a win for "Regional Cuisine".  Represent, y'all!

Just as some folks might make a point of watching all the Academy Award nominated "best" films year to year, or read anything snagging a New York Times bestseller status, I recommend to you trying out the blogs on Saveur's winner list.  Not a clunker in the bunch.  The list with links will take you all sorts of good places you might not have even known you wanted to go.

The full list of winners is right here.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is The Unexamined Meal Worth Eating?

I can't put my interweb finger on it but I'm certain I've posted here before about how I've been writing down on my refrigerator calendar what we eat for dinner every night.

The process has been revelatory to me in terms of how often we really eat take out food, for instance.  Reviewing the entries helps me avoid the sneaking suspicion I am cooking the same three dishes over (and over and over...).  It is a simple practice, one that is easy to stick to since even if I forget to record anything for a while it only requires me remembering what I ate for dinner for a few days in a row to catch back up.

LawSchoolGirl tops that.  Periodically she keeps a food diary, recording every single thing she eats and tallying up the calorie total day to day.  When I asked she took the time to show me several sites set up to help folks get started, the idea being that we often eat more than we realize, and/or keeping a record helps people stick to a particular intake level.

That sort of discipline is well and good, but when it comes to keeping a food record, my E for Effort currently goes hands down to Javier Garcia, featured in a recent NY Times article entitled "First Camera, Then Fork".

Garcia has photographed everything he has eaten for the past five years.  Snacks included.

That's a lot of photographs.

Apparently the trend is spreading.  People are sharing not only what they cooked, but also what they are eating, and they are doing so via every available social media outlet.
I find it fascinating enough I submitted my own shot of the last bit of Brazilian Cheese Bread I'd baked to the interactive feature at the Times where they are posting photos solicited from readers.

I'll hold off adding "featured photographer in the NYT" to my resumé for the time being as my shot hasn't shown up yet and I've had it with obsessively re-checking.

Honestly, while I capture most of our initial forays into recipe or food categories here on the blog, I'd say most of what I eat remains unchronicled so far (you're welcome!).

During the course of maintaining AustinAgrodolce there have been dishes I would have blogged about but either forgot to take or at times made a conscious decision not to stop to take photos.  In my opinion reading about a recipe without any photos included can quickly veer towards tedious.  So for me, no photo typically=no blog post.

And I decided early on not to take photos in restaurants.  Even before the economy tanked most places I know had already put in as many tables as would physically fit and in close quarters I think flash photos are intrusive.  

Your thoughts?  Does the idea of looking at other people's meals pique your curiosity or does that sort of food one updishship leave you cold?  Do you regularly share photos of food you eat with your friends via posts or tweets or facebook updates?  Have you noticed people taking photos of their food while dining out?  Did you find it irksome?

I'll never be as methodical as Garcia and just can't see myself happily whiling away the hours on Flickr checking out "I Ate This".  That said, it could be visually fascinating to chronicle one meal a day, just for grins.  How long before it ceased being fun and started becoming an obsession is anybody's guess.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Catching Up

I'll let the photo cue you on how busy I feel it has been around here lately.

While I can't (won't?) make a good accounting for my waking hours, I promise you I yet fall into a chair at the end of them, satisfied I've earned my rest despite the lack of a checklist worthy recitation of accomplishments.

Nonetheless, as promised, to follow is a report on three new recipes tried out recently, all of which have both ease of preparation and delicious results to recommend them.

First up to bat an "Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread" from Elise at Simply Recipes.

I must confess many days I am drawn to recipes that include the word "easy" in their title.  If I ever find myself desiring something more along the lines of "Difficult Brazilian Cheese Bread" I'll know it is time to back away, s- l -o -w -l -y, from the oven mitts.

The recipe is here and I will say this about that.  I subbed in a mixture of dairy products because I realized I'd run out of the preferred milk for our morning coffee the next day and didn't want to make a milk run.  The bread turned out great despite my cobbling together lowfat buttermilk and cream, so feel free to play a little with that component if you must.  And next time I'm determined to try an even sharper cheese than the Queso Fresco though I give it props for melting into the batter so gracefully.

The recipe does require tapioca flour however.  Tapioca flour has a tendency to absorb more liquids than other flours will and without that, this recipe won't work.  And, having made one batch I can vouch for the use of a regular muffin pan with wells filled 1/4 full if your mini muffin pan is at the cleaners, say.  Your breads won't puff in the larger pan, mine actually got these keen holes in the bottom which I found enchanting, but they'll taste just as good.

And one final note (really a lot to say about an easy recipe, yes?) is that these breads are indeed best eaten the same day.  They will keep and reheat but will lose the crunch after the first day and revert to full on chewy bits, which I don't mind at all, but is not for everybody.

Next I will recommend to you a recipe I originally found on the Serious Eats site as part of their French in a Flash series for Dijon Chicken.

I tweaked this recipe just a bit because I used my large electric skillet start to finish.  I could explain why but trust me it was the way to go under my circumstances.  I used thighs rather than drumsticks, and rather than dump all the oil out and start with new between the first couple of steps I rather emptied the skillet of all but one remaining tablespoon of oil.

Additionally, on the advice of ChefSon, I thinly sliced rather than chopped my garlic cloves.  

Otherwise I followed the recipe as written with wonderful results.  This makes a sufficient quantity of sauce to thoroughly envelop a side vegetable or starch as you desire and believe me, once you get a taste of this you WILL so desire.  I served this with oven baked polenta, the third selection in our hat trick of recipes for today. The rich dijon chicken sauce and creamy polenta were lick your plate good together.

The recipe for the polenta was a gift from the LA Times earlier this year and can be found right here.  Knowing I was not going to use this as the main course, with some trepidation I halved the recipe and still ended up with enough polenta for 6 people as a side.

Potentially obnoxious sidebar for locals:  If you did not see the April Fool's edition of the Austin Chronicle then click here to enjoy what is perhaps the most fun a Longhorn Fan or Anti-Fan either one can have short a national title.  To explain a bit for non-locals, UT Football is an economic juggernaut that has flattened educational concerns for going on 4 decades.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled post...

While I was being foolish fearless, I reheated and held the polenta I'd made a day ahead for around 90 minutes in a double boiler.  I'd read several places that holding polenta at a steady temperature in that moist environment would allow the corn grains to continue to expand and become even more creamy.

Without halving the batch and preparing one in a double boiler and one not, I can't vouch for any difference but I assure you - this polenta was rich, creamy, and never came close to burning or sticking to a pan in either iteration, oven, or stove top.

If the Fear of Stirring has kept you from trying polenta then fear no longer.  Simply combine your ingredients, toss them in the oven, and walk away knowing corn wondrousness is in your short term future.  I'm already playing with ideas for my leftover three servings.  Something sliced and sautéed is my first thought.  I'll report back here if I come up with anything blogworthy.

So there you have it - a trio of easy and delicious recipes, home kitchen tested and certified as Allergy Medication Foggy Brain Screw-Up Proof.  What more could you ask?

Last but certainly not least, I extend warmest wishes to all my readers, regular or otherwise, with hopes that if you are observing holy days your celebrations will be filled with meaning and your hours will find you surrounded by those you love.

I realize posts here are sporadic. It is the nature of my temperament.  I know you have choices as to when and where you click on any given day.  I appreciate your persistence in dropping by and hope you will generally find this a good enough place to spend your time.  I certainly enjoy your company!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Yes yes

we are cooking and eating.  Several times.  Every day.

Today I already made Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread and have Perfect Baked Polenta in the oven as I type.

More to come later on those recipes, and ideally, the mustard chicken that is to go with them for dinner tonight..

In the meantime, something fanciful to entertain while you wait: