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, May 23, 2010

Once in a blue moon...

You'd be forgiven if you mistakenly thought the moon in the header was a reference to how often I'd be posting here.

All will be forgiven however when you get a load of what I've got to share with you today. Maybe not quite as exciting as finding out where the cardinals are nesting this year, but close, very close.

I realize the Food Network has become a bit passé in certain circles, and in a little over a week the idea that channel has become too old school may (or may not) be reinforced by the debut of the newer, presumably hipper Cooking Channel (set to replace the Fine Living Channel on Memorial Day).  I read somewhere the Food Network owns the Cooking Channel so I doubt one will take the other on in any confrontational way, but browsing the shows pitched the Cooking Channel seems to feature a series of younger, attractive faces.  Doing what exactly, we will soon discover.

My point (and I did have one at some point back there) is that I started out a long time ago watching cooking shows on Public Television and so eventually when the Food Network came around it was an easy sell for me.  Whether or not it has since become too commercial or has been eclipsed by other network offerings or web based enterprises I cannot say other than to voice my own subjective opinion. What I do know is that I still enjoy getting their "Recipe of the Day" email updates.

Whether or not I ever prepare the actual dish featured it almost always gets me looking at some recipe somewhere, and as a result, something to eat happens here at Austin Agrodolce.

Because whether or not I am posting, we sure enough are eating here.

So what do I have up my oven mitt today?  None other than Chinese Five Spice Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes.

CUP CAKES!  Planning ahead a little, what wouldn't be fun about cupcakes on the upcoming holiday weekend?  You can grill up a storm, swim, spit watermelon seeds all you want, but if you want folks to know it is a special occasion, if you wish to make the point that by golly there is something different about this long weekend as opposed to any other, then in my book somebody is going to need to trot out some little iced cakes.  Pronto.

As is usual around here, "somebody" means me.  But before running these up the Memorial Day flagpole for the entire family, a test batch was called for.

I already had a large bunch of organic carrots hanging around the crisper bin so once I located a can of crushed pineapple and that neglected bottle of Chinese Five Spice I was good to go.

I broke my own rule about sticking strictly to the recipe for the first try and substituted organic apple sauce for the oil. Heeding the comments posted on the recipe site I decided to make half the icing recipe, and as it turns out, these were both good calls.

The cake has a tendency to stick to the cupcake liners a bit, (which may or may not have to do with not using oil) but I don't mind going to the extra "effort" to get that last bit of cake off the paper, especially when it means I don't have the cooking oil calories to fret over.  Hell, if I accidentally eat some paper I'll just count it as extra fiber.

Following that same line, I used Neufchatel rather than cream cheese for the icing, just to stave off the idea that eating cup cakes during bathing suit season somehow represents flawed thinking.   Pffft.  That's what those extra big "beach" towels are made for anyway, am I right?

You'll note (if you read the recipe that is) this calls for 1/4 cup of crushed pineapple.  The smallest can I can find is 8 ounces, so rather than make a double batch of cupcakes I used up the rest of the fruit in a batch of carrot salad.  I mean, once you've got the grater out and your counter is already looking a bit like a carrot exploded there, why not?  Grate a few extra carrots for some salad and you can shave a few minutes off that upper body workout (at least for one arm....).

So here I sit, my late lunch ready and waiting for me but not quite wanting to eat it because let's face it, I couldn't post about the cupcakes and not at least TRY ONE now could I?  Of course not - that would just be foolishness beyond measure.

I mean what if the recipe yielded nothing but a dozen bits of nastiness?  I wouldn't want to come back here, take the post down, apologize, blah blah blah.  So yeah, I tried one.  Before lunch.  Without icing because again, who wants a bowl of icing with only icky cakes to put it on?  What luck that the cakes turn out to be delicious, moist, and just spicy enough to be really interesting.  After my not so bold initial recipe departures, the only other change I'd contemplate would be to add chopped nuts (pecans being my first choice).   A bit of crunch is never a bad thing in a cupcake and after all, these are already carroty pineappley good for you.

Speaking of yields, when I followed the directions to fill the pan 3/4 full, I ended up with 17 cupcakes rather than 12.  I don't know if I have some mutant pan or if the silly thing shrank in the wash or something, but there you have it.  17 cupcakes (16 after taste testing).  And that halved recipe of icing provided on the Food Network site provided gracious plenty to ice every single cake with just enough left in the pan for me to get two good finger swipes in and thereby totally obliterate what was left of my appetite.

Oh - you might note a couple of paint swatches and a stick in the last photo?  The reason for the not so much posting lately is that we've been painting our living room and home office and then taking advantage of the chance to rearrange all the art in both rooms.  We did it slowly, taking lots of breaks, mostly occasioned by the need to oh so carefully disconnect the television components and computer equipment.  But we are all done now, everything is up and running as it should be, only now surrounded by gorgeous COLOR.

Which I gotta say, makes me a happy happy gal.  Five Spice Pineapple Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.   Don't wait for a holiday weekend or a paint job finished to try them, but if you do?  You won't be sorry!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yes we are still eating...

but life has been on something of a "need to eat RIGHT NOW - no time for plate styling or photos" schedule of late.

I lack photos to persuade but nevertheless highly recommend to you the following for some tried and true fine eating:

Simply Recipes Blender Hollandaise sauce (for whatever your version of Eggs Benedict needs might be)

Garlic Roasted Chicken from the Food Network (I used bone in thighs and white wine rather than vinegar)

Tacos of Carnitas Roasted with Orange, Milk and Pepper from Cookstr

We had our tacos with a version of Austin Gastronome's Salsa Verde

Meanwhile, tomato plants are (finally!) in the ground and I am back into Chief Bug Smasher/Waterer territory for the season.

And speaking of the season: loquats are a-ripening.

In order to get our fair share before the bugs/birds/squirrels have taken all the lower fruit I can reach from my wobbly ladder perch,  this year I picked a bit early and will now depend upon the displayed low tech indoors ripening technique.

Overripe bananas plus not so ripe loquats plus a plastic bag equals WONDERFULLY RIPE FRUIT FOR JAM!  I hope, anyway.

That's Plan A and while the loquats huff ethylene and carbon I will be methodically gathering up jam jars and checking our supplies of lids and rims.

I'll have to see how much usable loquat fruit I end up with before deciding if I can make all loquat jam or will need to mix in strawberries or peaches.

I admit it is a lot of pitting and peeling for a fairly small usable amount per fruit.  Regardless, the novelty grabs me annually and I love having home made jam to pull out on demand (even though the making of it gives me night terrors).  Having homemade jam around makes me smile - every single time.  So worth it.

Is there something you will go to extra trouble to do or make just because it pleases you to be the person who will do that?  Some special sauce or quick bread or cake or dish that you make because you like what it says about you to do so?  Fess up in the comments - we all want to know!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Now it's working....again!

The saga continues:  The Hub (which must certainly stand for Hero of Unanticipated Breakdowns) determined the cause of the garage refrigerator failure and even better than that - he repaired it.  (!!!)

Let it be said here we are not useless, but we are by no means ultra handy types.  We are bright enough between us, we are willing to work hard and get our hands dirty and our Daddies taught us both various skill sets to bring to bear on the home front.

There are however repairs beyond our purview, and major appliance repairs typically fall smack into that category.  This was the lovely exception to that rule and YAY to Hub for bothering (eventually) to check the once broken refrigerator for the possibility of the need for a simple repair.

Then double YAY for following through with that repair requiring him to spend a certain amount of his time off straining away lying on his side on the garage floor when he could have kept his mouth shut and simply walked away.   I'd have been none the wiser.  This man, my friends, is a keeper!

We called the store to cancel our purchase and were told since it had not yet been 24 hours since the order had been placed that we'd reached them in time.  As we did not get the automated call later on telling us when to expect a delivery, we relaxed, feeling all due diligence had been exercised.

Story over, right?  Happy endings all around!

That glowy warm slightly self congratulatory feeling lasted until around 8:30 AM the following morning when a delivery guy rang our doorbell.  I answered and immediately noted a new, no longer wanted or needed refrigerator already unloaded from the truck, glinting in the sun at the curbside, as the guy asked me "where do you want your new refrigerator installed?".

I apologized for their trouble and informed him of the repair and cancelled order.  Somehow, though the guy managed to be absolutely polite, I felt he failed to share our glee over repairing our refrigerator in the nick of time.  I also got the distinct impression this was not the first time an order had been cancelled and the delivery guys were the last to know.

Such is life in the no-passing lane I suppose.  Store's bad, not ours, but still I kept apologizing.....

In the interest of karmic studies I also immediately went to check the repaired refrigerator to make sure it had not abruptly stopped working while I was sending its replacement back to the warehouse.

Phew.  Lights on, cool air intact.  I am calling this a WIN for the home team.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Now it's working....

now it's not.

That is the punch line to a tired old joke about women and cars and windshield wipers, but it sums up a  revealing episode in the life of the AustinAgrodolce household.

As I was hunter gathering in the auxiliary garage refrigerator for dinner ingredients, the refrigerator light went out.

No worries - I've replaced many an appliance bulb in my day.  AND we happened to have an extra on hand.

I fetched it and replaced it and nothing.  Nothing but gloom and food in there.  Then I noticed there are TWO light bulbs in that refrigerator.  Hmmmm.  That still didn't mean the new light bulb ought not work once it was screwed in.  But it wasn't.

And what are the odds TWO light bulbs would burn out at the exact same time?  It might seem logical that both bulbs turn on together and worked the same amount of time but in my experience that just never happens simultaneously.  Light bulb union rules or something.  You can put three bulbs into one fixture and each one will burn out on its own schedule.

I checked the freezer.  Heyyyy - the light bulb in the freezer was burned out too?

A tiny light FINALLY went on in my dinner prep distracted brain.  The refrigerator wasn't working.

As in broken.  As in a lot of food was going to go south as the temperatures slowly climbed.

I called in the heavy artillery.  The Hub checked the plug.  No help there.  All plugged in.  He checked the light bulb.  Nope.  Having a man screw that bulb in was no help at all.  The refrigerator was still kerflunken.

After determining there was no way to arrange for same day delivery of a replacement refrigerator (and even if we could borrow a truck to fetch one home today there'd be haul off to arrange so we bailed on that idea) we bit the bullet, consulted the runes, the tea leaves, Consumer Reports and ordered ourselves a new backup refrigerator to be delivered Monday.

I busied myself moving the expensive proteins into the kitchen refrigerator while The Hub wondered aloud (because surely he wasn't speaking directly to ME) how I'd fit it all in seeing as both refrigerators and freezers had been pretty doggone full to start with.

Little did he know that I had begun storing nuts and grains in our freezers and not too surprisingly, since I don't keep my freezer in proper order to be able to easily see what I already have on hand, I have (cough) one or two extra packages of almonds and pecans on hand.  I figured I could take out all the non-immediately-perishable items from both freezers, move the proteins and frozen foods over to the kitchen, and the only leftover consideration here is that I now have two frozen pizzas that have become "what's for dinner tonight".

But my point here, (and I really have had one), is that putting all those nuts and bags of barley and polenta and coconut into one place has shown me that I may have a teensy OverStocking problem.  There are a couple of bags of stuff in there that I am pretty sure I might never use.  Sad but true.  I mean, if I can't remember buying the barley (or why I thought I needed it in the first place) I am fairly certain the odds are low I'll actually NEED much less want barley anytime soon.  And why I've ended up with three bags of black eyed peas is a bit of a mystery.  We like them just fine but three bags?  Really?

So.  It is a new day (or afternoon anyway) and a new dawn and I am feeling filled with resolve.  I will clear out the stuff I know I'll never use (once more with feeling) and toss out any foil wrapped packets I cannot identify or remember.  I will make room in my freezer once again for the food we actually will EAT and I will stick to the program to only buy items I intend to serve for dinner that same week.

As we all know, the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that it exists.  Boy oh boy do I recognize this one.  It is spilling out of a cooler onto the kitchen floor as I type this.  

How about you?  Your refrigerator all neat and organized and filled with foods you use up regularly?  No random ingredients or impulse buys in there taking up space?  (and if not maybe I can borrow some of your space...just temporarily......)


Nothing like that last post date to burst my fantasy bubble it has "not been that long" since I wrote here.

I am going to blame allergies and more specifically, my allergy medication for that lapse because, well, it is true, and because if you yourself have or if you love anybody who has serious seasonal allergies you know the other side of that truth.  You realistically have to cut a body extra slack when the meds they are taking so they can breathe without sneezing make it so they have to fight to stay upright and awake.

Dinner, coming when it does, requires a bit of extra energy and cleverness be exerted at what is typically the lowest point in any garden variety allergy season day.  I might be hungry, I might not, but what is a given is that as long as there are oak pollen thingies piled on the ground I am scrambling to find one good solid reason not to succumb to the strongest possible urges to begin a nap around 5:45 every afternoon.

So while we have indeed been eating something for dinner every single evening, there was not much in the way of New! or Exciting! to report.

Until yesterday.

Oak season is grinding to a close and we have timidly spent a few hours with doors and windows open to fresh breezes, experimentally confirming our impression that It Might Be Safe To Breathe Outdoor Air again.

Partly to celebrate that, and partly because whenever we get close to May we start talking about ChefSon's birthday and whenever we start talking about ChefSon's birthday the topic of Lemon Cake comes up, LSG decided to forage around on the interweb for a better lemon cake recipe.

And I say "better" because we'd had a favorite recipe for lemon cake previously (Lemon Quick Cake). It had served us well for the better part of three decades but folks it is decidedly old school.  This recipe relies upon a full cup of oil, a box mix, a package of lemon jello plus lemon extract to keep it moist and pack in that lemon flavor.

The old cake only got better upon standing which we rarely were able to test past the three day mark.  It was that lemony delicious.  But.  That said, it was also pretty much exactly the kind of recipe leading to precisely the kind of cooking and eating we aren't indulging in around here any longer.

So long story longer, LSG found a fabulous Barefoot Contessa recipe for a lemon cake that had cropped up on blogs all around the internet, with reportedly delectable results, and the quest for a new lemon cake recipe was potentially at an end.

We made the bundt cake version of the recipe (as you sophisticated types can tell from the photos) and despite all the venting in the comments on some sites, had no problems with the cake absorbing the lemon syrup that was lovingly applied before the glaze went on.  You can find Smitten Kitchen's version of the recipe right here.

Go ahead and check it out.  I'll wait....

Yup, that is correct.  This is a cake with not only three quarters of a cup lemon juice, but also three quarters of a cup of lemon zest in it.  It doesn't stop there though.  This is a cake that also has a lemon simple syrup basted on immediately after coming out of the pan and then is enveloped in a confectioner's sugar/lemon juice glaze.  The lemony goodness in this simply does not stop.  But is all lemon lemon.
No extract.  No lemon gelatin mix.  Just wonderfully bright, tartly sweet natural lemon.

If the old recipe was denoted a Lemon Quick Cake, this might be considered a Lemon Slow Cake.  All that zesting and basting takes a fair amount of time but on this side of the dessert plate, I'd say it is well worth the trouble.  Creaming two sticks of butter with two cups sugar nearly undid our hand mixer but LSG coaxed it all the way to creamy just short of actually burning out that teensy motor.  And we're SO glad she did.

This is one of those recipes I'd read through and probably shrug it off, thinking "too much trouble for me".  But now I have sous cheffed for LSG while she did all the heavy lifting and more importantly now I have tasted the results?  I am one hundred percent sold.

No one step of this recipe is all that difficult and the fact this cake would only improve by being made a day ahead makes it ideal for those take along a cake situations when you want to wow the crowd.  And wow it will, by golly.  Wow it will.

Postscript:  We used up the last of our Meyer Lemons for this project, in addition to a handful of organic lemons bought specifically for this cake.  In this cake recipe, with all that zesting going on, I would recommend only using organic fruit to avoid potentially loading your cake up with pesticide residue.