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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dead Simple

Maybe you are a fan of the Naked Chef - Jamie Oliver?

To follow is a recipe I tried from his next to newest collection, "Cook With Jamie". In this book Oliver points out that Great Britain consumes more prepackaged food than the rest of the EU put together, which he feels indicates folks have lost the information they need and the confidence as well perhaps, to cook simple good food at home.

I think much the same might be said about many Americans. With so many take out options available, it is daunting some days to pick up a spoon and try to put together something that will look, smell, and please the local palates to greater extent than anything that could be handed out of a drive-through window.

Controlling the ingredients going in to our meals, and thereby into our bodies, is a first step toward healthier living. That, combined with the knowledge that we all need to find ways to significantly lessen our environmental impact, is often all that keeps me inside the kitchen and out of my car. That, and recipes like Oliver's "Old School Pork Chops with Apple and Sage".

This recipe is typical Oliver style - what he often refers to as "dead simple" (read: easy). Aside from his own take on colorful phrases denoting amounts, (Oliver coined "glug" where I typically use the term "sploosh" to refer to enough olive oil in this instance, to just put a sheen on the bottom of a pan), the ingredient list is not long, the components are readily obtainable, and there are no fancy techniques involved. I had to adjust the timing slightly to accommodate the smaller chops I could find, and I swapped a less tangy parmesean for the recommended Stilton, but the results were still delectable.

Without further ado here is the recipe:
Old-School Pork Chops with Apple and Sage
- serves 4 -

Four 9-ounce pork chops, preferably free-range or organic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 good eating apples (e.g. Mcintosh or Cox), unpeeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges
A knob of butter (a couple of tablespoons)
A handful of fresh sage leaves
3 1/2 ounces good strong cheese like Stilton or taleggio (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. What I like to do is to lay the pork chops out on a board and, using a sharp knife, make 1-inch-deep cuts all along the fatty side of them. You can even ask your butcher to do this for you if you like. It helps to render the fat out and will also make the skin crispy. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper.

2. Pour a glug of olive oil into a hot pan. Carefully place your chops in it and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. If you need to, open out the little pieces of fat along the edge so they don't stick together.

3. When the chops are nearly done, lift them out of the pan and put them in an oiled baking pan. Add the apple wedges and a knob of butter to the pan and fry until lightly golden. Lay 4 wedges of apple on top of each pork chop. Dress your sage leaves in a little olive oil and top each apple stack with them. Sometimes I like to top it all off with a knob of Stilton or taleggio. Put the baking pan into the oven for 4 to 6 minutes until everything is golden and melted.

And here is the result:

One other caveat - I did not have a "handful" of fresh sage leaves available from my garden. Here in Central Texas we have been ranging from 92 degree highs to 29 degree lows within the space of two days. That, combined with a lack of measurable rainfall in 2008 so far, has my sage plant, along with nearly everything else, just puttering along, waiting for some sort of seasonal break. Since my hubbub doesn't particularly care for the bite of fresh sage, I simply took the few leaves I could harvest and quickly fried them in the skillet along with the apple slices and then popped them on top as a garnish for my plate at the end.

All substitutions were minor but typical for a home cook accommodating the palates at the table that night. This recipe performed brilliantly despite that, and will become a "go to" for our meatier dinners. As part of our attempt to eat less meat, this recipe proves a good option because the combination of flavors and textures slowed our all too typical "bolt it down" pace somewhat, allowing us time to enjoy the meal, and fill up comfortably on less. Give a try and see for yourself...

Credit Where Credit is Due:
I first spotted this recipe on the website "Serious Eats", and while I am not NEARLY so "serious" as many who frequent this site, I do appreciate the ongoing source of recipes, nods towards products or recipe collections that have been kitchen tested by other foodies, and the general give and take of folks who may have something they "need" to cook some way for dinner, or who have other questions about how to substitute for an ingredient they can't find (or won't eat).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Saga Continues

Eggplant Butter turns out to be a great component to have on hand. It is one of those "goes with" ingredients that inspired me to try it out in a variation on one of our favorite appetizers from a "back of each issue" Texas Monthly Recipe my family has enjoyed for years.

This is not so much cooking as it is combining great elements to build a tasty tower of Yum! I called these "butter boats" for lack of a more proper name. If I spoke French fluently I am sure a descriptively elegant moniker would be a breeze. At any rate, here is what you are looking at from bottom to top:

2) Filone bread, thin cut into angled oval slices, and marked in a panini grill to close off the bread surface and add a bit more texture, then cut in half again to provide a two-three bite sized piece.
2) Approximately a tablespoon (a "ploosh") of eggplant butter at room temperature
3) Two freshly boiled/peeled Texas Gulf Shrimp to create a "ring"
4) Two angle cut pieces of asparagus, grilled after being coated with olive oil, sea salted and peppered to taste

These treats were a real party in the mouth. My husband (who likes to live dangerously) looked at the platter amply covered with the "boats" and asked what we were having besides appetizers?! A fair question in a way - the recipe did evolve from an appetizer as a starting point. But what we ended up with was more like loads of small open faced sandwiches.

We had the Butter Boats, a lovely mixed green salad with a vinaigrette to echo the balsamic in the butter prep, and a glass of Campus Stella, one of our favorite AlboriƱo wines from the Rias Baixas region and readily available from Twin Liquors among other vendors.

If you haven't tried the Eggplant Butter recipe, now you have additional incentive to give it a whirl. You'll be rewarded with several cups of wonderfully balanced rich winter goodness to use in all sorts of dishes. Let your imagination go - you won't be sorry.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Eggplant Butter is BETTER!

(Scottsdale Sky courtesy of an iPhone photo)

I made the eggplant butter late yesterday afternoon and I have to say this recipe from Nellie Cashman's Monday Cafe at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, is a winner all around.

It is easy to make - no special skills required.

It doesn't take very long - a little over an hour to give the roasted eggplants time to cool enough for ease of handling.

It isn't one of those recipes that take a lot of attention. It is something you can easily put together while you are attending to other things. You roast and then add other ingredients.

And, it is one of those "other" ingredients, that elevates the Butter above the Ghanoush, to our way of tasting.

It was my daughter who pinpointed the delicious difference. The white balsamic vinegar, in addition to the fresh lemon juice, gives the mixture what we think is a better acidic balance overall than your standard Baba Ghanoush.

The only downside I can see to the recipe is that while rich it is yet so delicious it is hard to stop eating it just because you know you "should". Self control not being one of my strengths I suppose I'll have to settle for portion control.
Here is the recipe again just in case you missed it and don't want to go clicking around:

2 eggplants

2 tbls chopped garlic

3/4 cups olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tbls white balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Set oven at 350 F. Cut eggplants in half, drizzle eggplant halves with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Roast eggplant (cut side down) on a baking sheet until soft - about 30 minutes

Cool until easy to handle.

Peel eggplant*, add rest of ingredients and process or blend until smooth.

Finish with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature but store covered in the refrigerator. (I will let you know how long it lasts if we don't eat it all in two days....)

*I found it easiest to cradle the roasted, cooled eggplant skin down in my hand, use a large spoon to disconnect the fleshly interior from the stemmed top, and then scoop the pulp directly down into the food processor. Most of the eggplant came away pretty cleanly from the skin with only a few stubborn strands that I could easily disconnect with the spoon edge. However you get the pulp out, it is going to be blended smooth, so you don't get style points for leaving it intact. Just get it out and move on. See? Easy - I told you! And delicious.

We have been enjoying this on homemade toasted pita chips but it would work well with flour tortillas or any sort of flat bread. Play around with what you dip into it - I have a feeling the flavor will work well with a host of delivery foods.

Now I find myself wondering how reasonable it would be to try and grow my own eggplant plants? I could see an advantage to having a steady supply all my own.

You know, give a gal some eggplant butter and she'll be happy and well filled. Teach her how to make the recipe and grow her own and....she'll need elastic waisted pants!?!? That needs work, clearly - I'll be back to finish butchering that metaphor another day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Close, but no cigar

As if I needed another lesson in humility recently, the wonderful stuff we had in Arizona was not Baba Ghanoush as it turns out but something close called "Eggplant Butter".

So my Baba Ghanoush guess was close, but no cigar. I received the recipe a few days ago from the friendly folks at the Kierland Resort and Spa, run by Westin in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jason Christie, chef de cuisine at Nellie Cashman's graciously shared the recipe via email and while it is very close to baba ghanoush, it is not precisely the same. The substitution of a white balsalmic vinegar for tahini is a distinction with a flavor difference, and I am hopeful my attempts to duplicate this later in the week will hit our taste buds with the same pizzazz we previously experienced.

Although, truth be told, it is a rarity in my experience when something you enjoyed on vacation is ever quite as delectable once you get home. Maybe this will be the exception to prove that rule? At any rate, I am enjoying the beauty of having eggplants around.

Here's the recipe - I'll report back on my results in future posts. At least I honed my Pita Chip making techniques while we devoured the Baba Ghanoush I made earlier. No harm done there, except potentially to our waistlines...

2 each roasted eggplants (1/2 cut)

2 tbls chopped garlic

3/4 cups olive oil

Juice of 1/2 whole lemon

2 tbls white balsamic vinegar

Sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Set oven at 350 F, drizzle eggplants (1/2’s) with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast eggplant until soft about 30 minutes
Peel eggplant, add garlic, lemon juice, white balsamic and olive oil, blend until smooth
Finish it with salt and pepper to taste

Again, thanks to Lou Ayers, Director of Outlets for Westin and Jason Christie, chef de cuisine at Nellie Cashman's Monday Club Cafe, for their courteous and prompt response to my recipe request. Our entire stay was characterized by that sort of friendly assistance from all the staff we encountered, and the Kierland is well placed on a relatively short list of places we'd be happy to visit again. In the meantime, Eggplant Butter will be a great way to remind us of our delightful stay.