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, August 24, 2012
It was that way the first time I was pregnant. I've been told it was a shift in my focus that made the difference but I promise you there had never been quite so many disposable diaper commercials on television until shortly after we discovered we'd be entering the realm of parenthood.
Suddenly diaper commercials were on every five minutes, punctuating every genre on every channel.
It has been that same way more recently with brining. The technique, once garnering the rare mention each year when it became time to Talk about Turkey, is now being suggested to bring an extra punch of flavor to all sorts of proteins allowing them to be cooked without drying out.
What got my attention, really made me sit up and take notice, was when folks started talking about using the juice leftover from jars of commercially sold dill pickles as brine. I'd always poured that pickle brine down the drain, rinsed and tossed the jar into the "Glass" bin and that was that.
But saving the brine from the pickles to use with chicken? Talk about recycling!
I combined the juices from both jars to assure I'd have quantity. I was planning on making fried chicken strips, a long time family favorite.
I put two whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, split into halves (so four pieces total) in a container, covered them with pickle brine, and let that sit in the refrigerator overnight. After an overnight soaking the surface of the chicken picked up the slightest tinge of green from the brine. Hoping that meant it had picked up flavor as well, I cut the chicken into strips and proceeded with my regular recipe.
Ooh la la! The differences are subtle but oh so positive. There is a hint of dill, a vinegary brightness that doesn't permeate any one bite but is rather a background boost to the overall flavor of the dish. The chicken itself was moist inside and crispy outside - a deliciously perfect one-two punch of fried chicken goodness.
I don't plan on using pickle juice for every brine from this day forward (not that that would be so horrible), but I will never again empty a jar of pickles without knowing there is still significant play left in that game. Substituting commercial pickle brine for home prepped brine is a ridiculously easy way to add an extra punch of flavor to your dishes. Try it and see!
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Rather than provide a recipe here today I thought I'd share a technique I've developed to use up leftover proteins. Dire economic times or no, I hate throwing out food of any sort but especially animal protein. It is wasteful, children are starving, animals gave up their lives, there are all sorts of good reasons to make sure every bite of animal protein you've purchased and/or prepared is consumed and hopefully enjoyed.
But what to do when you are left with bits and pieces that do not in themselves constitute a meal sized portion? Recently I had roasted pork loin, poached and grilled chicken pieces left from the week's dinnertime efforts. Sure you can throw them atop salad or into soup but, BOR-ING.
Enter the chimichanga.
When I make chimichangas, however, I finish them off in a hot oven. There's still plenty of fat calories along for the ride, these are not any sort of restrictive diet type items, but the baked version simply and reliably re-heats better. The way we eat around here that ability to reheat and serve on demand is essential.
You may be wondering, how much is enough? I rarely have predictable amounts of leftover meats at any given time. If what is on hand looks like it won't have enough to feed everybody, I'll put together a few chimichangas using seasoned refried beans in lieu of the animal protein mixture. (Be sure to check the end of the post if you are planning on using beans, the technique varies slightly.)
What I had on hand today yielded about a cup and a half of meat once pulsed, and that is just about enough to fill the 10 tortillas that come in the packaging of our favorite locally made variety.
Soooo - let's make Chimichangas! Ready? Wheee! Here we go!
The cast of characters is as follows:
Flavored mayonnaise** (see below)
Flour Tortillas (6-8 inchers - not those behemoths sold as "burrito" sized)
Assemble your proteins. Making sure to remove skin and bones as applicable (these can go into your next batch of broth or stock) cut the meat into chunks about an inch in diameter. As previously mentioned here I am using leftover roasted pork loin, some poached, and some grilled chicken.
In this case I took a 1/4 cup of Hellman's, added in about 1/16 teaspoon of chipotle powder and smoked pimenton each (to taste) and let that sit in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors speed date. You'll want to watch adding salt if your cooked meat is already seasoned. Plain mayo works fine in a hurry. You don't want a wet mess, just add enough to barely hold it together, like so.
Put a tablespoon or so of grated cheese into the middle of each softened tortilla. You are putting the cheese in first because you'll flip the tortilla over prior to baking and you want the cheese on top of the meat. If the cheese ends up on the bottom it often leaks out while baking thus undoing your work. Sneaky, work-undoing cheese! When the heat is on you just can't trust it to stay put.
Now add about two tablespoons of meat filling on top of the cheese. Fold in two opposing sides towards the middle and then the other two sides in as well to make a neat little package, thusly.
prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking. See? Easy peasy.
If I am making bean and meat chimichangas at the same time and need to tell them apart I will poke a different pattern into each type. Also, as you can see, the tortilla flaps stick out on the bottom on two sides. You could orient your chimichangas in varying directions to differentiate types if that is how you roll.
Continue filling (and obsessively arranging on your baking sheet) until you've used up all your meat mixture. I had about 1 and 1/2 cups of meat mixture today and that fills 10 tortillas neatly.
I am not above tinkering with the amounts I use per tortilla to stretch or to use up extra filling as required. If you had extra, could you eat the pulsed meat mixture in a sandwich? Absolutely. Might you stand at the counter and eat that last little bit of moistened meat mixture left in the bowl? Not if you are watching your waistline you won't. Do as I say, not as I....lalala LOOK! A squirrel!
Depending on appetites, two to three chimichangas is a serving. You can put out crema (or sour cream) and salsa verde to be used as a bit of a dip with these if you like, but that is definitely gilding the lily. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some of my favorite lilies are gilded.
As mentioned, unbaked chimichangas will hold in a covered container in the refrigerator to be baked to order. On the off chance you have uneaten baked chimichangas (do we need a term for leftover leftovers? leftovers squared? leftoveragains?), they may be kept refrigerated and then reheated again easily in a warm oven for a few minutes.
I've tried microwaving these for just a few seconds to take the chill off and they are OK that way but to my mind the tortilla gets too soft for my liking. Once baked these will keep a week tightly covered in the refrigerator but I've never had them last that long.
Are you tired of all this talk about chimichangas? Me too. I like eating them a hell of a lot more than typing.
Here's a recap with some suggested amounts. SUGGESTED....for the love of all that is easy do not get too hung up on amounts. These are guidelines, not restrictions.
1 1/2 cups Cooked Protein (meat pulsed to a coarse grind or well seasoned refried beans)
1/2 cups Grated Cheese
1/4 cup Moistening agent - Not needed if using refried beans.
10 Soft taco or fajita size flour tortillas
1-2 tablespoons Unsalted butter
Heat tortillas one at a time in a hot skillet on both sides in a half pat melted butter until pliable. Repeat and reserve.
On foil lined baking sheet, place 1 tablespoon grated cheese in center of each heated tortilla
Add 2 tablespoons meat or bean mixture on top of cheese
Fold 2 opposing tortilla sides in towards the middle, then fold remaining 2 sides in to make a square bundle
Carefully flip bundles over seam side down
Pierce tops with fork
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes (until lightly golden brown)
Once you've tried these a few times you will doubtless hit upon combinations all your own that will become family favorites. You could top the meat mixture with pickled onions, a slice or two of jalapeño, chopped olives - be creative. But by all means do give baked chimichangas a whirl. You won't be disappointed.
My daughter is a confirmed carnivore and actually enjoys the bean versions best. Here are a couple of notes for using beans rather than meat as a filling.
For my vegetarian friends: These are fabulous made with well seasoned refried beans. If using beans, you will not need a moistening agent as you will with cooked meats. I've had good luck finding cheese made with non-animal rennet. If you are not using butter, soften your tortillas in a little flavorless oil. If you are eating vegan, then adjust further as needed.
Beans should be well seasoned. I have the best results making the chimichangas with refrigerated refried beans because they hold their position better on the tortillas while assembling. Again, start with your grated cheese. Then if you like, put 1-2 pickled jalapeño slices on next, then 2 tablespoons of your beans. Fold, flip and bake as directed. Enjoy!
Friday, August 17, 2012
First up, our territorial hummingbirds. There are least two males and a female that we see daily, with the males providing an ongoing air show. It mostly takes the form of a King of the Feeder dispute. This does not seem to involve one bird harming the other, but there is a lot of red throat flashing, dramatic dive bombing, and chittering going on.
That said? When given any time at the feeder undisturbed whichever bird I am trying to capture in photos often gets caught out looking like a tiny feathered goof. As in this:
|I'm the King of the World!|
|Double click on any photo to view a larger size|
Speaking of feeding disputes? As part of Back to School preparation, many parents responsible for putting together home sourced school lunches are being targeted by advertisers trying to get their kid-friendly foods into lunch bags and bento boxes nationwide.
I doubt any professional campaign could go further than the following video made as part of an after school program called Beats and Rhymes (provided by the Minneapolis North Community YMCA). Called "Hot Cheetos and Takis". I'll let the kids show you themselves:
So when it's about a quarter to a 4 and you are rollin' to the store? You'll want to join the kids as they -snack! -snack! -snack! MUNCH!
I know I wanted to.
Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Takis? They are a spicy packaged snack from Mexico available here in Central Texas mostly in convenience stores rather than large grocery chains, though all that may change shortly if these mini-stars have anything to say on the topic. And oh, they so do. Enjoy!
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I moved back towards the fracas in the loquat trees.
It always surprises me how readily even the untrained the eye can discern the difference between a body that is motionless, at rest, and a body that is lifeless, no longer animate. Witnessing the transition from one state to the next for this tiny bird felt intimate in some way I cannot fully explain.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I don't change out blog elements very often - in fact in all the years I've been blogging I've only swapped out the title background three or four times. Occasionally I simply get antsy to do something fresh, so I play around a little. It is always my intent that none of my changes feel intrusive but rather add a bit of a fresh look to enhance your experience reading here.
Just for fun: This latest photo featured up top has a bit of a surprise...
If you look up top where it appears on the blog, focusing on the area directly below the "S" in Austin? A hummingbird silhouette is there, a regular visitor caught while heading in towards a back porch feeder.
I don't get many hummingbirds at a time, but the ones I get behave fiercely attached to the feeder stations so they've won my begrudging admiration for their tenacity and peevishness both.
As always, thanks very much for dropping in here and sharing a little agrodolce. Y'all come back now, y'hear!?
Sunday, August 12, 2012
When it comes to gardener bloggers, we preferentially feature breathtaking close-up shots of blooms demonstrating evidence of our plans-gone-right. I suspect if anybody is counting, bloom shots would represent fully 99 percent of bloggers' carefully curated post images.
I don't recall seeing many, if any, photos of folk's dead trees.
I get it, I'm personally not all that interested in spending time online viewing sere limbs reaching up into relentlessly sunny skies. If that is the sort of scenery I admire? I've got only to raise the shades and look out back, where recently, rapidly, without warning and for no reason we can discern, one of our prized Mountain Laurel trees simply gave up the ghost.
I wanted to commemorate the event in some way, losing a mature tree is significant. But I didn't want to do that featuring the photographic equivalent of a death mask. Again, downer with a capital D, none of us needs more of that.
So......Ta da! I call this masterwork "The dead tree's reflection on the water out back" or alternately, "Golden, On the Pond" (with apologies to Ernest Thompson).
Earlier this season I tried threatening said cannas (raised fist, "BLOOM!" in what was supposed to be a commanding tone) and that didn't work for beans. I suppose that is yet another technique that will remain safely in the realm of a professional nurseryman's secrets, how to successfully "force" plants to flower.
And yes, yes, if I was more patient or even perhaps a more clever blogger I'd wait until after the cannas bloomed so I could share that breathtaking close-up with you here to bookend the post.
I am so not that person.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
I am under no illusion that hummingbirds are angelic.
If you are at all confused as to the true nature of these tiny flyers, I invite you to spend time watching as one particularly feisty male spends every sunlit hour of the day furiously defending "his" feeder, here at our house.
When he is not actively feeding, he hides in wait to zoom in seemingly out of nowhere, all to chase off his fellow hummingbirds.
An identical dynamic sets up year in and year out, though I have no way to know if it is the same male working to defend "his" territory here, or perhaps a succession of possessors.
If there ever was to be a prototypical Angry Bird? I'll nominate the Hummingbird to take that prize, absence of green pigs notwithstanding.
Further? If I was having fever dreams and spotted this out my window,
Friday, August 10, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
|There's a path in here somewhere|
Such procrastination is dangerous. Bermuda grass can sense my disregard and whenever left to its own devices hops right to making legions of baby weed producing seed heads. Don't even get me started on the bindweed. It seems everything that is not busy dying is busy overgrowing its bounds.
Rather than fall hapless victim to a growing sense of fatigue exacerbated by afternoon heat and Sisyphean chores, I decided the other day to make a list of what I am happy about in my garden beds. I figure a different perspective may provide the extra little shove I need to keep from disgustedly throwing in the trowel for the season.
So, to follow, in no particular order, what I am fond of in my August garden.
1) New hardscape elements
I am fortunate to have a late summer birthday in that it provides me with the opportunity to ask for gifts such as a new bench, or bird bath. I am even more fortunate to be spoiled by The Hub who surprised me with both my requests this year. A past example is the sundial given me by my Mom over two decades ago.
That is what is wonderful about things versus plants, especially in frickin' August. Things don't need to be watered, weeded and best yet, they do not die.
I've wanted to grow sunflowers as a returning element close to our major bird feeder each year. I had several come up and develop good sized blooms but the squirrels kept gnawing the bloom heads from the stems and running off with them leaving little trails of petals in their wake.
Despite that? I did manage to get one good sized seed head matured. It matters not how long it has taken me to get to this point. I prevailed by gum and I'm going to call it and relish it as a VICTORY!
I have been fretting about not seeing very many anoles this year and I've hardly seen any bees. When I do spot a specimen of either it is exciting, both note and photo worthy.
|Where's Waldo? Double click and see how fast you spot the anole in the vines.|
Every year I enjoy the bounty of vigorous reseeders of the non-weedy variety. Cosmos and Tropical Salvia are two of my favorites, and I can't imagine gardening without these surprise repeaters spontaneously adding their pops of August-resistant color.
Last but not least?
5) Surprise bloomers
I put garlic chives in what I consider my "kitchen" garden, which is not so much a bed as a collection of plants intended to provide culinary support. It was a complete delight and a bit of a surprise to see the wonderful blooms they develop.
The best part of making a list of the upside of August in my garden? It was one late summer task I set myself that turned out to be more gift than challenge.
Despite the heat, despite the weeds, despite the preponderance of seemingly endless and thankless tasks? As it turns out, my garden is indeed a constant source of delight and wonder.
Even in frickin' August.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
I failed to take into account how difficult the delayed viewing was going to be as it requires dodging the ongoing spoiler effect of the Hub already knowing most outcomes.
Every day the sun rises. Soon afterward, the Hub does likewise. He drinks his coffee (the Hub I mean, I heard the Sun gave up caffeine years ago on doctor's advice). While he drinks his coffee my Hub hits the interweb. Yes, unbeknownst to the world at large, each morning there is a massive news gathering effort going on as routine accompaniment to my dear Hub's coffee consumption.
The fact past that you'll need to know? My Hub is not only an inveterate news seeker but he is a born news sharer. That man is generous with his fund of knowledge to a fault. If he reads anything interesting online in the morning, he is going to want to turn around and tell somebody about it. Pretty much right away. According to him, sooner is always better than later. (Later he might forget.)
As a result, withholding race results and medal counts is difficult for him to do if he is to simultaneously enjoy watching whatever it is he's previously read about. Which is pretty much everything about the Olympics. Because he knows already, and he (really really) wants me to know, too.
He doesn't want to wait. Waiting bad, sharing good.
The Hub especially did not enjoy waiting to news share until after I'd watched the entire qualifying round of women's gymnastics, with its interminable-to-him buzzers and shouts, gasps at near falls, spontaneously offered encouragement for arched backs and stuck landings both. Silently enduring my sage observations about hair clips, the upswing in glitter spray use and the misfortunes of various painfully young athletes shown dissolving into tears? That did not remotely resemble his preferential cup of tea.
In fact I'd be significantly concerned about the fairness of my arbitrary declaration of How We Will Watch The Olympics if it weren't for the existence of a little sports preference viewing balancer otherwise known as professional football.
After all the pro football games I've sat through, (including commercials thank you) while the Hub watches with remote firmly in hand? I say I safely get to call how we watch the Olympics for about the next bajillion years. Or until we both become centenarians, at which point the Hub, if he still cares, can have all control back. See? Sometimes I like to share, too. The difference is, I can wait.