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, December 18, 2007

Gifts To Go

It is a wonderful thing to get an edible gift over the holidays. People drop in unexpectedly, stay longer, family members gather at meal times, including those grown children who ordinarily aren't around for dinner any more.

Bottom line is I am often called upon to prepare more food than I expected for more folks to enjoy.

So, a little something extra to pad the pantry is always a good thing.

Plus, portable potables are the ideal hostess gift. You get invited somewhere to share a meal? What nicer "thank you" is there than to depart, leaving your host/hostess with something wonderful to eat they didn't have to prepare or clean up after?

With that in mind, I share a new recipe for me that worked out beautifully, is entry level cook proof, makes sufficient quantities to share and keep, and is just plain versatile and delicious. What, you wonder, is this wunderkind of the Holiday Delight table?

Onion Marmalade. Yup. After having this featured in three of my recent favorite restaurant meals lately, I was determined to have some on hand. A quick search of even my expanded grocery store's supplies left me in the lurch, so off to the internet I headed to find a recipe. I found seven- used one - and here it is for you to try:

Onion Marmalade Recipe

6 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 cups sherry or red wine vinegar
3 cups sugar
2-4 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns, cracked

Place all ingredients in a non-reactive, thick-bottomed pot over low heat. Simmer until almost all liquid has evaporated and onions are translucent. Set aside to cool. Place in glass jars and refrigerate. Will keep for 4-6 months.

This savory jam is well-matched with pates and terrines, or on roasted meats and chicken. Recipe from: Executive Chef Staffan Terje, Scala's Bistro, San Francisco, California

One caveat: "Simmer until almost all liquid has evaporated..." took the better part of 4 hours. Not like it took more than a casual check every now and again, but not something to start when you need to leave the house in short order.

Our favorite way to enjoy this treat (so far) is atop warmed Brie.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Stress Reducer

One of the smartest ways to handle holiday stress is to cook ahead, or to cook dishes that have components that can be re-combined with new ingredients in ways that find you spending less time in the kitchen and more time with your family and/or guests.

Roast Chicken with Herbs and Butter is one of those simple recipes, more a technique really than a recipe, and depending upon the quantities prepared, you can find yourself with a delicious meal and past that, with roast chicken ready and available for use in any number of other dishes.

The only way to go wrong with this recipe (and believe me, if there IS a way I will find it), is to overcook this and be left with dry chicken whose flavor has all gone into the pan juices. The best way to avoid this for me has been to get the chicken pieces sorted out according to size in two pans, and take the pan with the smaller pieces out 10 minutes after turning to rest and finish cooking through. Another option I employ is to cut the chicken breasts into two pieces if they are especially large. And, again, it is best to test for doneness after 10 minutes unless you know your oven (or your protein) really well.

Two meals or more from the energy of one? That always makes for a pretty Merry day in my book.

Without further ado:

Roast Chicken with Herbs and Butter

4 (skin on) chicken breast halves or 8 thighs or drumsticks or any combination
8 pats of butter for a total of 2-3 tablespoons
4 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves (or 2 tsp fresh tarragon, or 2 tbsp snipped fresh dill) or to taste
salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut into quarters

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Loosen skin of chicken and insert a pat or two of butter, depending on size of pieces, and a portion of herbs under the skin.

Sprinkle skin with salt and pepper and place pieces, skin side up, in a roasting pan just large enough to accommodate chicken.

Roast, turning pan from front to back once after 15 minutes (do not turn pieces).

Chicken is usually done when nicely browned, 10 to 15 minutes later (about 30 minutes total). You can cut into a piece or two to make sure juices are running clear.

Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges.
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 40 minutes

Monday, December 3, 2007

Season's Eatings

There is nothing quite as satisfying as baking up treats to share with people you love. The breads featured in the photo are part of an array of yummies a small group I belong to at my church offered up to go with our weekly Fair Trade coffee recently. It was fun to make them and more fun to watch them being devoured with appreciation by people I worship with week in and week out.

But. With all that baking I was not doing anything real to feed hungry people who can't feed themselves, and this time of year especially I feel we are ALL called to do just that. As we waddle away from the officially designated Feast Day of Thanks, I am reminded there are still folks, right here where I live, who do not have enough nutritious food to eat on a daily basis. I know I want to do something, but what?

As I was out collecting leaves to mulch one of my garden beds last Monday, I got my answer. My across the street neighbor asked if my husband and I would "mind" having her Brownie Scout Troop stop by Sunday afternoon as part of their "Caroling for Cans" event. I told her we'd be delighted.

Yesterday Troop 844 went door to door in our neighborhood to share a couple of songs in return for collecting non-perishable goods for the Capital Area Food Bank. In addition to being some of the cutest carolers EVER, they are learning, as six year olds, that they are able to do something important to help other people less fortunate than themselves.

Did we "mind"? So far that miniature serenade has been one of the highlights of our holidays.I know I can't eradicate world hunger but I can do something. I can donate to my area food bank. And now I have. Won't you join me?