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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

CSA Basket - Week 5

Here we are, in our fifth week of CSA booty and I will admit, I am falling a little behind. Two people can barely keep up with the bounty week in and week out of a Tecolote Farm basket. I am happy to share what we cannot reasonably use with my adult children and friends, but it still feels a little like admitting defeat not to be able to prepare and devour every delicious bite ourselves. We asked for it, we paid for it, we ought to be able to eat it, my reasoning goes.

Life gets in the way. As do Loquats. This bounty of fruit moving quickly from ripe to over-ripe in the backyard has been a powerfully distracting force recently. Once I have spent 3 hours in a steamy kitchen making a batch of jam, I am much less likely to have the time or energy to research, much less prepare, a new vegetable or three for our dinner.

The oak pollen counts are falling. This means I am able to go outside for longer and longer streches of time during this most beautiful time of year without collapsing afterwards into a swollen, sniffling headachey mess. My garden does require some attention here and there, but as gardens often do to gardeners, mostly my outside plants call to me to be noticed, admired, remarked upon and often, photographed. I have my own vegetables growing out back. I have tiny tomatoes, onions, tomatillos, at least a first bloom on the eggplant, zucchini vines stretching out, teensy carrots, and more. I cannot provide them anything other than water and admiration. Yet, this takes time.

On top of that, the two dinners I prepared on either side of that chicken pot roast marathon Sunday evening, did not use any of my gorgeous basket veggies. The chicken curry with loquat chutney at least used some loquats up. Dinner tonight however, other than providing a miniscule reduction in the amount of wonder salad mix on hand, was simply a departure from the tried and true to produce something I saw Mark Bittman prepare online and felt I wanted to try out for myself.
Taco Filling with Poblano Strips and Potatoes (Tacos de Rajas con Papas) was one of those dinners where I was delighted and amazed with the results and my husband, while able to eat his dinner without complaint (he LOVED the salad), was not similarly impressed. .....Next!!

So what do we have this week? Technologically savvy organic farmers sending the weekly newsletter via email to save paper for starters. Clothespins to clip to our returned baskets to help keep track of who brought theirs back and who did not, for a contrast. We have lettuce mix, radicchio, rainbow swiss chard, new onion, iceberg (hey - it's ORGANIC - don't be snide), kohlrabi, Red Ace and Pink Chioggia beets, turnips, carrots, and cilantro.

At least I know what to do with iceberg, turnips, an onion, the carrots and cilantro. The rest I'll figure out.

All by way of saying I have a full load of fresh vegetables in my house and a few left over from last week already on hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a LOT of serious cooking to get done this week!But before I cooked, I had to preserve the gorgeous colors Mother Nature in concert with the Tecolote Farm folks has provided us this week. Looking at these works of art make me wish I was a painter. But then, these babies don't cry out only to be painted, they want to be EATEN. Onward.....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Dinner

It's an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody some good. A weather front passed through our area yesterday giving us two go-rounds of hail, heavy rains, high winds and unseasonably cool temperatures. We went from an afternoon high of 85 one day to an afternoon high of 58 the next.

While this is bad news for my jalapeño pepper plants in the garden, who do not appreciate ice or cooler temperatures, this is great news for my dinner plans this evening, which included trying out a pot roast chicken and vegetables recipe.

A baked chicken for Sunday Dinner is as traditional as it gets, it just doesn't make that much sense when you are already wondering where you put last year's unused bottle of sun screen and do you need to wash the beach towels before you use them this year. But on the heels of a cold front, with as close to a "chill" as you can expect in Texas in late April in the air? Pot roast chicken is just the ticket. Schizophrenic weather like this calls for some versatility.

I got this recipe off the Serious Eats website. It is adapted from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall. Don't you like the name? He really sounds like somebody who should know from pot roasted chicken, yes?

So far I have to say either Hugh's vegetables run smaller than mine do or he has a much larger pot to use for this recipe. I pulled out my largest covered roasting pan (after realizing when I had the bird and only half the cut up veggies filling my dutch oven to overflowing that IT wouldn't work). When I hit the 50 minute mark where I am supposed to give the veggies a good stir and baste the bird with the fat off the top of the juices? I could barely get to the juice and many of the vegetables were sitting well above the liquid.

So I compromised a bit. I added some chicken stock to bring the level of the liquid up for finishing off the vegetables, and I threw a bit of butter on the bird to help it brown as it finishes out the stint in the oven with the pan uncovered.

The stuff looked gorgeous uncooked. I can only hope it will taste and look that great at the end of this road, in about another half hour. I plan on serving the meat and vegetables with a bit of good chewy multigrain bread and a nice glass of white wine.

Doesn't get much easier or much better than that. Here's the recipe - my notes on finishing up will follow:

Pot-Roast Chicken and Vegetables
- serves 4 to 5 -
Adapted from The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

1 chicken, weighing 4 to 6 pounds
2 onions
3 large carrots
3 leeks
3 potatoes
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon soft butter
A glass of white wine
A glass of water
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the chicken in a large casserole, a clay pot, or a deep roasting pan with a lid. Slice the onions and cut all the other vegetables into chunks. Arrange the vegetables and herbs around the bird. Rub the butter over the breast of the bird and pour over the wine and water, then season well with the salt and some pepper.

2. Place the lid on the dish and put it in a preheated 375°F oven. Remove the lid after about 50 minutes and give the vegetables a good stir. Baste the chicken with the fat on top of the juices in the dish. Leave the lid off and return to the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until the breast is nicely browned and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer.

3. To serve, transfer the chicken to a large warmed plate and carve it up fairly chunkily. Spoon vegetables from the roasting pot and plenty of buttery juices onto each plate beside the meat.

Note: If using a stewing chicken, turn the oven down to 300°F after the first half an hour, then cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours without removing the lid. Turn the bird over on its back halfway through cooking and give the vegetables a good stir at the same time.

I didn't have three carrots but I did have some kohlrabi from my CSA basket yet to use up, so I added those to the mix. Most of the recipes I saw for kohlrabi were for braising them, so I figure this pot roasting will treat them well. In addition to bay leaves out in my herb plantings, I also have some sage, thyme-oregano, and garden variety thyme, so I grabbed a bit of each and added them in. I like herbs in my chicken and vegetables, and considering the amounts called for in this recipe filled the largest covered roaster I've got? It looked to me as though the flavors would have plenty of room to play nicely.

OK - it is time, according to the recipe and the oven buzzer, to serve. However, the chicken is not quite all the way done and the vegetables are not nearly ready to eat. I took the chicken out, covered it with foil and placed it in the cooling oven to finish off. I placed the vegetables on a burner and will bring this to a low boil until the vegetables finish off and the liquid in the pan is reduced. I have some fabulous Irish butter to add in at the last for a finishing touch, and then I will carve the rested bird with a side of buttered veggies and some good bread.

Finally: I did not take into account (and neither does the recipe) the extra time it takes to roast a bird on the heavier end of the scale. If you try this recipe, please note you will need to adjust/lengthen baking times for a 6 pound bird. I ended up putting the chicken back into a very hot oven for 15 minutes to finish it up but was rewarded with incredibly delicious browned crisped skin for that extra time in the heat.

My husband is being lovingly patient with our delayed dinner. It smells great here and we have nowhere to rush off to, so we will have a very sophisticated late dinner for just the two of us with great leftovers to reheat next week. I will try to get a photo of the finished product if I can stand to wait 1 minute longer than necessary to dig in! Bon Appetite!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Jammed Up

With all the brash confidence a second time jam maker could muster, I prepared another batch of Loquat Jam yesterday.

This time I left the peels on, reasoning the extra pectin and body from the skins would add a certain "toothiness" to the jam that I personally prefer. There is always "enough" sugar in these recipes (says me) to overcome any tartness the skins might yield. To my palate most commercial jam tends to rely too much on sweeteners, resulting in a loss of flavor that is what had me opening the jar in the first place. I think of it as "jammyness" and it is why I usually prefer home canned jam to most store stuff, even some of the expensive imports.

To me a good jam evokes warm afternoons. I want to be able to taste the sunshine in the fruit. Otherwise, why bother?

There are clear warnings against trying to reduce the sugar in the recipes provided in the pectin packages, with dire predictions of unset jam as the result. There are other products out there purportedly designed to produce a sugarless or reduced sugar jam, but I've not been able to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. It could be they appear and sell out early as do certain other seasonal products, but now I will keep an eye out and garner my own stash for next go round. Or not.

Jam is not something that should be treated like fresh fruit. It is a sweet treat and should be used judiciously, acknowledging the fact that it is mostly sugar, sugar flavored with cooked fruit, and not the other way around. I have been using organic fruit (seeing as we have never touched the loquat trees other than a rare trimmed branch) and organic sugar, but organic sugar is still, well, SUGAR.

Now I have the remainder of my ripe loquats sitting in a large bowl on the counter and scads more quickly ripening in the morning sun.

While I am told homemade jars of jam are welcome gifts, and I have always appreciated the jars I have been given, I believe my current stash of 12 jars will satisfy most of my gift giving AND jam eating needs for the foreseeable future. I usually make a jalapeño cranberry sauce I give away to various friends and they give me a jar of fig jam in return when it is "that" time of year. I am not sure they'll fully appreciate a switch up exchange to "loquat jam for fig jam" at this point.

What to do? For starters tonight I will prepare my usual Chicken Curry recipe, substituting chopped loquats for the chopped apple regularly called for. I am going to throw some Sriracha Sauce and ginger into some of that first opened jar of loquat jam to create a chutney to go along with the chicken curry.

Tomorrow I have plans to make the "hot pepper relish" recipe that comes inside the pectin boxes substituting loquats for some of the peppers in the ingredients list.

If I still have "too many loquats" left after all that I will give some away along with a copy of the pork tenderloin recipe I posted earlier. I want to try a simple purée of the fruit that is left. I am going to proceed with skins on - peeling loquats is tedious unless they are larger than an egg and most of the fruit I have left is smaller than that. I will strain the whole shebang, and freeze the reduction afterwards.

In this age of the built in ice maker, I don't have ice cube trays any longer. I can't decide on whether to buy trays or try to use muffin tins or just freezing in larger containers and then breaking the frozen fruit up into smaller sections. I want to have something ice cubish on hand this summer to use in iced tea or sangria. Or Margaritas... Loquat Daiquiris? Loquat Bellinis? Hmmmm- maybe I won't be giving many loquats away after all. Once we hit the hot dry days of summertime, a little frozen loquat might go a long way.

Friday, April 25, 2008


We had leeks in our CSA basket this week. As I often do, I turned to my son (a professional chef) and asked him for advice on how best to prepare the leeks in a way that will win over my husband's palate.

I will admit, one of my favorite aspects of these baskets is that extra shove I apparently need to explore how to prepare new vegetables at home. I've had and enjoyed leeks in restaurants any number of times, but was always intimidated about buying them to prepare in my own kitchen. When something shows up in my weekly basket - like leeks - necessity overcomes my inertia and gently insists that I override my fear of the unknown.

My son pointed out, coming off my turnip redux success (scalloped turnips winning out over roasted), that leeks lend themselves well to creamed concoctions. He said they practically cream themselves.

Gotta love a cooperative vegetable.

I tried it out and am pleased to report my son was correct. Leeks are a natural for creaming.

I simply chopped, sauteed in a little oil and butter, sprinkled with some flour and then stirred in a bit of cream. Creamed leeks, coming right up.While I was playing to previously demonstrated strengths, I ran another version of the pork tenderloin, only this time I prepared the fruit sauce with apples and loquats rather than strawberries and loquats.

With all due respect to the cookbook author who printed the original recipe, it was my premise that apples, being much closer in character and texture to loquats than strawberries, would hold up better when being prepared together in a sauce. The original recipe was delicious, but the strawberries did reduce themselves to squishy little bits by the time the sauce was reduced and ready for the pork. Using apples instead, the flavor was still complementary to the pork (if somewhat more traditional and expected), and the apples tended to cook at the same rate as the loquats, so to me the texture as well as the taste was more consistently satisfying.

My husband and I both enjoyed the leeks and the pork immensely. No leftovers this time around. Two more checks in the "winner's column!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mother of Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention they say.

If Necessity had all the loquats ripening in her back yard that I currently do, I think she'd be busy in her kitchen, adding loquats to every recipe she thinks will welcome their complex flavor. At least, that is what I have been up to lately.

Our two loquat trees are absolutely loaded with fruit this year. The branches are leaning down, heavy laden with lots (and LOTS) of loquats ranging from the still bright green to the obviously deeply golden ripe lobes that seem to mostly be way up high in the trees. I am perfectly willing to climb our tallest ladder and retrieve the fruit, but even standing on the next to top rung and reaching out as far as I can, most of the fruit is simply too far away to harvest.

That said, we still have more loquats than I know what to do with. I will make another couple of batches of jam, sure, and I am determined to whip up some sort of loquat salsa this week, but past that, I am at a stage where I evaluate every recipe carefully, wondering if there is not some way to introduce loquats into the mix.

The first recipe here, a pork tenderloin with a fruit sauce, is the single result I came up with (aside from jam or jelly) off the internet utilizing loquats. The recipe acknowledges that loquats are not all that common (outside my backyard, anyway), stating you can use all strawberries for the sauce. Or as I will do next time, use all loquats.

It was easy, delicious to the point where it did not serve 4, but rather two, as my husband happily finished off the leftovers in the kitchen as he cleaned up after dinner. First run at leftovers is a privilege I happily extend for help with the dishes. It is really the best way to go if you understand a few simple rules about eating. To begin with, calories consumed while standing up only count half. Calories consumed while standing up AND cleaning away the chaos of food preparation don't count at all.

Pork Tenderloin with Strawberry Loquat Sauce

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound), trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons mild olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup loquats, seeded, peeled, and quartered
1/2 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup Madeira

Cut the pork tenderloin in half so that it fits in a medium size skillet and season the pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in a medium size skillet over high heat. Add the pork tenderloin and brown it on all sides, about 2 minutes total. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the pork registers 150 degrees F. on an instant read thermometer, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pork tenderloin to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Pour off the fat in the pan. Add the loquats, strawberries, and sugar to the pan, and sauté until the fruits are just soft, 30 seconds. Stir in the Madeira wine with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add any meat juices collected on the plate to the pan. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter until it is completely melted. Remove from the heat. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the pork tenderloin l/4-inch thick and place on a warmed serving platter. Spoon the fruit sauce over the meat, and serve at once.

Yield: 4 servings Source: Nicole Routhier's Fruit Cookbook
This second recipe is a conglomeration of a Whole Foods recipe shared by somebody in my CSA basket group, and some online research as I had previously looked around for tips on fennel preparation. I could not find blood oranges at my store and was determined to use what I had on hand that was organic, which meant a grapefruit. I still wanted the dramatic orange/red color combination that blood oranges give especially for the vinaigrette. I decided to add in some mandarin orange slices since I also had those already on hand, and I pureed a few strawberries left over from the pork recipe to give the juice that gorgeous red color. And while I was in the process of throwing in extra fruit anyway, I added some loquats.

I am hopeful the additional fruit won't throw the salad too far out of balance and I am thinking about leaving the olive garnish off since I put the extra citrus in. I'll try a bite with olive and without olive and make that determination when I serve.

It's all a matter of personal taste when you get right to it. A matter of taste and of supplies on hand. I think the salad looks good enough to eat, don't you?

Fennel and Fruit Salad

2 large bulbs fennel, cored and thinly sliced
2 blood oranges, cut into supremes (reserve juice)
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
10 mint leaves, cut chiffonade style
6 loquats, peeled, seeded, cut into eighths

1/4 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup oil cured black olives

Slowly whisk the oil into the orange juice and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Place sliced fennel, orange sections, onion and mint leaves in a bowl. Toss with vinaigrette and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Stir occasionally.

Serve garnished with olives.

Followup note. At dinnertime I made the call to leave out the olives. I loved the salad, found it very fresh tasting and enjoyed the contrast of crisp fennel and soft citrus. My husband was not so impressed. The way this is shaping up, he simply may not be much of a fennel fan. Which simply means most of the fennel I will eat will be that I have ordered in restaurants. No big deal. I won't be planting fennel in my vegetable garden next year unless it turns out they have magical powers to turn loquats into jam overnight. Fennel is a bizarre beauty of a plant however, Maybe I'll put in a few just for looks.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Adventures in CSA Basket Eating - Week 4

Seems hard to believe it has been an entire month we've spent cooking/eating/sharing the bounty of the weekly CSA baskets we are getting from Tecolote Farm.

The flow of what we are getting follows Barbara Kingsolver's formula as laid out in "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" in what she refers to as a "Vegetannual" (poster copies on sale at their website).Her theory is that the flow of a farm/garden follows the form of a plant. First you get the root edibles, then you move towards leafy ebibles, followed by flower/fruit type bounty.

While you are on her website, scroll down to see pictures and read testimonials from folks who are making their own attempts at eating locally. It is a great boost to know the efforts we are all making, put together, just might make a real difference.

In our baskets this week we've gotten Salad Mix which features not only tender baby lettuce leaves, but also endive hearts and arugula, which is my current "new favorite" lettuce variety. We have some fennel, more kohlrabi, more leeks, some "new" carrots (not the overwintered ones but a new crop), more Bloomsdale Spinach which creams wonderfully, and a bit more fresh garlic.

I am learning as we go along that if I get, say, one bulb of kohlrabi there is a good chance I might get another one or two the next week, in order to have sufficient quantities as called for in most recipes.

That's another thing I am learning. Most recipes call for quantities that are taking for granted that you either have a limitless supply of something to choose from at your local market or from a harvest of your own.

This idea of limitless supply makes more sense to me if I think about it as coming from food producers. While I am not myself a "producer" in any commercial sense, our two loquat trees have set an amazing amount of fruit this year. I am trying to get much of the fallen fruit up off the ground before it produces another bumper crop of loquat trees, and in my attempts to pick what is ripe I have already outstripped my ability to use up all the fruit.

That is the way it typically goes for us with a garden. I think of it as the "Goldilocks Principle". It runs like this. You try to grow food. You plant, you wait, you harvest. As the harvest progresses (and here is where G'locks comes in) you start out with too few, then you have just enough, and finally, WAY too many of whatever it is you were growing.

My challenge this week will probably be the fennel. I have not managed to find a way to use this that has found broad appeal in the past, but I also recognize my intrepid husband's tastes have stretched over the past couple of years, and he has been an amazing good sport with all these new vegetables showing up on his dinner plate. I know my son loves cooking with fennel so my first call will be to him to get suggestions and perhaps to offer to share.Or maybe it will be the escarole. What an amazing example of GREEN greens.

You know, I use the word "challenge", but really it is fun researching these new (to us) foods and finding recipes that sound like a promising introduction to what I hope will become a regular in our dinnertime line up.

So far our adventures in Basket Eating have been great, delicious, fun. Most CSA farms have a waiting list. If you are considering this for your own family, I'd say your first step would be to go to the Farmer's Market to see who is out there in your area, and then get on their waiting list.

If our experience is any indicator, it will be well worth the wait.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I am embarrassed to admit my family has been watching loquats ripen, fall to the ground, and spoil, all without even attempting to harvest any for ourselves. I can't recall how long this has been the case. I originally bought two loquat trees in one gallon planters over 15 years ago and now both trees are as tall as our two story house.

Similarly, I don't recollect when the trees began to develop full fledged fruit, but I do know that my neglecting to pick the dropped fruit up out of the area underneath the two mature trees at one point resulted in a sea of baby loquat trees, completely covering their part of the yard.

I finally reached my breaking point and decided to clear the small trees out. I gave away as many as I could and composted the rest. At least a half dozen times while I was clearing out one set of saplings, I'd be hit on the head by a small loquat falling to the ground. About the size of ping pong balls or smaller, they were strange to me, usually still fairly green, and just didn't seem worth the bother.

Somehow, all that changed. I don't know if it was all the rain last year, the result of clearing out the hundreds of tiny competitors for nutrients, or a certain age being reached, but this Spring our two loquat trees were noticeably laden with fruit. Good sized fruit. Good sized golden fruit, some of it at least ripening easily within reach of a ladder.

None of that might have made much difference except that I am different this year. Having read Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" and Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", I am determined to grow more of my own food. I was fortunate enough to score a spot on Tecolote Farm's CSA basket delivery list this Spring and have already stretched my usual choices of what to eat while meeting the challenge of preparing and cooking what is locally ripe.

On top of all that I have been working with my husband to take areas of our yard out of grass and into garden beds where we have planted native flowers, various culinary herbs, and several vegetables.

Bottom line, to have this abundance of fruit on two trees ripening within a few feet of my bedroom window was not an opportunity I would choose to miss again this year. Carefully opening a loquat, taking out the seeds, peeling it and slipping the slightly firm flesh into my mouth sealed the deal. They are a wonderful combination of peach, apricot and cherry flavors.

Out came the ladder and I hand picked a bag half full of loquats. I've never made jam before, but with several pounds of ripe fruit on the kitchen counter and countless pounds more steadily ripening on the trees, I knew I'd have to find some way to preserve as much of this bounty as we could possibly eat, and share the rest with my friends, neighbors, and the local wildlife. (Credit where credit is due - the birds, squirrels and bugs have been enjoying our loquats all along. It was only the humans who were missing the loquat boat.)

I adapted the recipe for peach jam that came with the instructions inside the box of pectin:
4 cups finely chopped loquats, seeded, peeled, with inner membrane removed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 1/2 cups sugar

Use a food processor on "pulse" to chop the fruit. Process it in two batches, pulsing 4-5 short bursts until the fruit is finely chopped but not pureed.

Combine fruit, lemon juice and one box of pectin. Bring to a rolling boil stirring constantly, then add sugar. Bring to a rolling boil again, stirring, and cook for exactly one minute.

Remove from heat, skim off foam, and place in prepared jars for processing. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. The jam has not cooled long enough for me to test for sealing or to try the results, but the jars sure enough LOOK like they've got regulation jam inside and the lids all popped, just like they were supposed to.

I did learn a couple of things. Loquats are much smaller than peaches so the work involved in pitting and peeling simply takes longer. It took me the better part of an hour to prepare the fruit for chopping. After that, everything went pretty quickly. I discovered that the loquat peel comes off easily - I could use the side of a spoon to both pull the interior membrane around the seeds off and to peel the skin. It often came off in only one or two large pieces.

I also decided that the jam recipes call for enough sugar that I will try a batch of not so ripe loquats next for a slightly tarter jam. Past that if I still have loquats available and the will left to preserve more jars, I will try to put together some version of a loquat/jalapeño salsa.

As a first time canner, I learned that size matters. Yes, sure, a no-brainer for real, but the jars I purchased were too tall to allow for 1-2 inches of boiling water to cover in the tallest pot I have. I figure on using those taller jars for other projects and I will keep an eye out for a taller pot at my local Goodwill store. And in the future I will buy shorter jars that will fit in the pots I have on hand.

I can barely wait for the jam to cool sufficiently to test if it sealed and set properly. After all these years of looking at loquats, and pulling out baby loquat trees, it will be truly rewarding to be enjoying the fruit itself. In the next few days, I will prepare a pork loin with a loquat reduction sauce. Loquats, welcome to the family table.

If you have something you prepare from food you have grown - check out this web site dedicated to that very prospect:.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Much Ado About Mudbugs

We are mudbug fans in my family, have been for ages. Mudbugs, crawfish, crayfish, crawdaddies, whatever you call them, they have been a favorite of all of ours for a long time, although I will confess here that I mostly order them in restaurants, so as to avoid the labor intense process of boiling, pulling, peeling, all for that tasty small morsel of tail meat.

Crawfish are not the delicious secret they used to be. These Lilliputian Lobster types have their own website now. In addition, there are all sorts of recipes, blog posts, and even diy type pages dedicated to show the uninitiated how to peel them.

Lots of folks, Texans especially, like to throw a crawfish boil and by my insistence on eating crawfish in restaurants I mean them no disrespect. I think it is great fun to line a picnic table with newspaper, roll out a pile of boiled corn, potatoes, sausage and crawfish, hand out the bibs, cold beers, and let folks have at it. As long as it is somebody else's picnic table, newspaper, cold beer, house, and pile of boiled food, that is. I was looking for some way I could have my cake and eat it too, only with a lot less fuss and muss.

Enter the New York Time's Mark Bittman and his recipe for "Crabby Crab Cakes". He stated this recipe has gotten the lion's share of compliments handed out over the years and speculates it is because the recipe showcases the crab rather than other ingredients.

"Hmmmm" I thought. "I wonder how these would taste made with crawfish instead of crab?".

So I hauled over to the grocery store where they were selling cooked crawfish, and bought me some. Realizing how little recoverable meat there is in the average crawfish, and seeing as I shared half the cooked crawdaddies with my daughter who loves them as much as I do, I thought I'd supplement using cooked Orange Roughy mixed in. If all those "imitation crab meat" products can use fish in place of crab, I see no reason I couldn't try the same thing for my little Crawdaddy Cakes.

At the moment the Crawdaddy/fish cakes are sitting in the refrigerator waiting for it to get closer to dinner time. I have some vague anxieties over how well they will hold together. I only prepared enough for 2 people so had to cut the recipe in half, which might prove tricky considering the many substitutions I've already made.

As a matter of fact, this little experiment in terror runs counter to my usual practice in the kitchen - "make the recipe as is one time at least before substituting" being a cardinal rule of mine. But that is what is great about testing something new for dinner. Afterwards, for better or worse, you've either enjoyed eating the results or agreed to throw them out and make peanut butter sandwiches as the ultimate substitution.

I'll share how my substitutions fared more thoroughly if my cakes turn out. If not, hope you enjoy the photos and then we must never speak of this again....

UPDATE: Hey! The cakes not only held together, but they browned beautifully and Bittman is right - the cakes taste wonderfully like whatever the main ingredient is because they are so simply put together and don't have a competitive mish-mosh of tastes.

My husband approached me while the cakes were browning with a slight air of concern. "What are those?". "Crawfish-Fish cakes" I told him. "Are those all we have?". "Yup". "So, what are YOU going to eat for dinner?", he asked.

He had a point - with the yummy lime/black pepper aioli featuring the last of our German Garlic from Tecolote Farm, we could easily have thrown back an extra cake or two each. Not that we'd have NEEDED that to be full mind you, they just tasted that good.

Here are my notes - I was able to halve the recipe by beating the one egg called for in a small bowl and pouring half into the mixture. I had about a half cup of cooked crawfish and a half pound orange roughy fillet (I'd previously pan browned the roughy and flaked it with a fork). The irregularity of the fish pieces and the crawfish tails (which were small enough that I mostly left them intact) had me worried the cakes wouldn't hold together but something about the 2 hours in the refrigerator obviously did the trick. I did add the Dijon mustard Bittman lists as an optional ingredient. There are few foods that don't taste a little better with Dijon mustard in the mix, says me. I am adding Crabby Crab Cakes to my "Technique as much as a Recipe" file and envision future fun trying to stick together all sorts of ingredients that I'd like to serve in small cake form. Shoot - I might even try it out with crab one of these days...

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Playing With Our Food....

I'd been wondering if getting weekly CSA baskets would be the teensiest bit like having children.

No, no, we are not cannibals and I am not deluded, thinking babies come delivered in baskets. I have two grown children and the stretch marks to show for having firsthand knowledge about where babies come from and how they are delivered.

What I was thinking might be a parallel was how much fun I've been having taking photos of the baskets week to week.

You know how that goes? You take photographs about every 84 seconds of your first born child, then by the time your second child claims their limb on the family tree you are a lot busier and even a bit wearier and you realize that perhaps not every nuance of that child's smiling and lip puckering will simply have to be captured on film and shared. At least that is how it went for those of us who recorded all of that pre-digital photography.

"Historian Fatigue" as I have dubbed this phenomenon isn't anything new. I have the baby book my own Mom started for me back in the (ahem!) 1950s. There are careful entries for "Baby's First" everything up until about 18 months when apparently I became a lot less, well, darling and/or recordable we'll say. Some of my "Firsts" past that point sit unrecorded, and certainly unrecalled, at least by me.

So far I'd have to say I am finding an opposite trend happening with the produce baskets. I mean, come on, these vegetables are GORGEOUS! I could barely be bothered to think about, much less cook and eat dinner today because I was having so much more fun taking photos - especially of the kohlrabi. What a rock star of a root! I'll share some of today's favorite photos with you in just a moment.

We will eat something from the basket for dinner tonight I am sure. We have leftover scalloped turnips and I have some orange roughy fillets to prepare. And although I am excited about a recipe for Cwikla Beets shared by one of the basketeers on the Tecolote Farms Yahoo Group, that is a "refrigerate overnight" deal so it will have to wait. See - I am not alone in all this frenzy over fresh vegetables. There are a whole host of us out there going week to week, excited about our food.

With the Yahoo Group and the newsletter we get each week, a lot of the intimidation factor is taken out of all of this for a newbie like me. Yes, it is true - I am thoroughly enjoying playing with my food again.

Mom would be so proud - I bet she'd write THAT in my book!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

If at first you don't succeed

Fry, fry again!

Or at least, that is how I imagine Paula Deen would approach the situation.

However, (I pretend) I am more concerned about calories and fats, so when my husband declared the other night that he was "not a fan" of the herbed oven roasted turnips (mixed in with organic russets, new, and an organic sweet potato), I was determined to find another way to prepare turnips that came in this week's CSA basket from David and Katie Pitre of Tecolote Farms.

It wasn't the turnip's fault, I reasoned.  I just hadn't found quite the right way to prepare them to enhance their turnipy goodness in a way that would hit my husband's palate in just the right spot.

Enter Scalloped Turnips, stage right.

Now, while I would PRETEND to be concerned about frying, let's be realistic for a moment, yes?  When I am preparing a scalloped turnip casserole, once you figure up the butter and heavy cream called for in the recipe, I think the "virtues" of prepping a vegetable this way over frying are, well, as Joey would put it from the old TV series, a "moo point".

But I didn't find a recipe for fried turnips - I found one for scalloped turnips.  

And if there is something I know my husband IS a fan of, it is scalloped potatoes.  So I gave this a whirl.

As luck would have it, I didn't have quiiiite enough turnips to reproduce the recipe precisely, so I had to wing it a little bit with reducing the ingredients.  The results were pretty durned delicious, and as I am an enthusiastic rather than expert cook, I'd say that means this recipe just might be "goof proof".  

Here's the original recipe, minus my substituting what I had on hand (scallions for onions) and reducing the amounts to accommodate the roughly 2 1/2 cups peeled, sliced turnips from my basket.  I got this from Simply Recipes:

Scalloped Turnips
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
4 cups peeled, sliced turnips
2 tbsp flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 1 quart casserole.  Melt 1 tbsp butter and lightly sauté onions until just wilted.

2.  Layer a third of the sliced turnips in the casserole dish; top with a third of the onion; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of flour, 1/3 teaspoon of salt, and one grind of pepper; pat with dollops from 1 tablespoon of butter.  Repeat this layering twice.

3.  Mix milk and cream together and pour over the turnips.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake for another 30-45 minutes until turnips are tender and liquid is bubbly and top is nicely browned.

Serves 4.

My notes:  As mentioned above, I only had 2 1/2 cups turnips and I am dubious that 4 full cups and the full amounts of liquids as noted will not fill a 1 quart casserole over full.  I used a 1 quart casserole dish and the reduced recipe I prepared filled it more than 3/4 full.  I think I might try this in a 1 1/2 quart casserole if I had the entire shebang's worth of turnips, just to be safe and to prevent nasty boil overs (because my oven is soooooo clean....)

I would also suggest that a full recipe might serve 5-6 folks due to how very rich this turns out to be.  Not that I am judging anybody for eating a lot of rich food, far from it.  Before I put the serving spoon in the dishwasher tonight I licked it clean.  REALLY clean.  But I do think this will give you more than 4 servings unless you were serving it as a main course.

Other than that I have to suggest you try this one out if you are not already completely sold on turnips as God's gift to root vegetable lovers.  This has converted my husband from "not a fan" to "anytime you want to serve this, feel free".  

Now, if it were only calorie free....oh well.  Can't have everything.  

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kermit had it wrong...

It IS easy being green.

At least with somebody else doing all the heavy lifting. While I have all sorts of vegetable plants in the ground, I have yet to show any edible results for my efforts. This will hopefully change later in the season, but for now trying to keep a watchful eye out to avoid the various pitfalls of raising food has me grateful that I've got a built-in supply of guaranteed goodies with my weekly CSA baskets from Tecolote.

Tonight, case in point, I went to Castle Hill Fitness to try out one of the free classes with my daughter who is a member there. Their Off the Wall class is open to visitors on Thursday nights, and is a fun and funny way to discover both how fit you REALLY are (or aren't), and how comfortable you can be while hanging upside down.

Bottom line is I got back home around 7PM and still needed to prepare something for dinner. I'd thought about this beforehand, knew I wouldn't be up to too strenuous a prep, and decided to finish up a package of 4 cheese ravioli and the last of our amazing Mustard Greens along with some of our Bloomberg Spinach with the following recipe.

This is adapted from one of the few Michael Chiarrello recipes I'd ever attempt off his NapaStyle website. Tortellini in Brodo with Greens is as much a technique as a precise recipe. Here's how it breaks down:

1 pkg tortellini
1 1/2 quarts stock
2 cups tightly packed mustard greens, spinach, broccoli rabe or dandelion greens

Season broth to taste with sea salt. Bring to a simmer in a saucepan.

Add tortellini and cook as directed.

Transfer tortellini with a slotted spoon to four warm bowls. Add greens to broth and cook until greens are tender, then use tongs to divide the greens among the bowls.

Ladle a little broth over pasta and greens.Grate Parmesan over bowls and finish with a grind of black pepper and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil.

I used a lot more greens, a little less stock, and ravioli rather than tortellini, but you get the drift. It was quick, it was delicious, it was a lot healthier than the ravioli smothered in, say, butter (hypothetically - ok?), and it really hit the spot on a night like tonight when I needed something fast(er) but good.

I served ours with a bread combo (for my husband at least) of the moist cornbread I'd made yesterday, and some homemade soft pretzels my son made and gave me when I visited him earlier today.

He has converted his back patio to a culinary garden of sorts so I took him several larger planters we weren't using as well as some of our basket goodies. As a chef, he has been eagerly waiting to get his hands on some of the organic veggies like I'd promised back when this all started. I shared beets, parsnips and some of the mache. I'm seriously hoping to find at least one more bag of these especially tender and yummy greens in next week's basket so I won't rue having been so generous with sharing it so far this year.This was just a great day for me. I got to spend good time with my kids while we pursued some of our common interests. I got to spend good time with my husband and shared a delicious and healthy meal.

Eventually our little crops out back might be featured in a series of great meals. That is the plan, anyway. Until then, I am grateful as I can be for farmers who will go to the trouble for me, of seeing that we have healthy food to eat on hand week to week. As far as I can see from here, green is the only way to go. And with Tecolote Farm as my provider? Easy does it.

Extra Moist Cornbread

I asked my husband yesterday afternoon "Do you mind cornbread that has actual corn kernels in the batter?".

I asked this because I had it in mind to prepare an Extra Moist Cornbread recipe I found on the Serious Eats website. Partly because I had an unexplored aversion to eating cornbread with any extra ingredients in it, and partly because the author of the cookbook from which the recipe was taken has such a delightful name, I was determined to give this recipe a try.

It takes a while to make because you allow the batter to sit for 20 minutes before you put it into the oven. My cornbread baked up in about 35 minutes but they suggest baking time can take as long as 40 minutes, so you are not looking at a recipe that will qualify as "quick" by any means.

Even though we are all about slow(er) food and meals these days, I decided to make the cornbread a day ahead. As I was turning the fully cooled cornbread out of the pan it broke, so I took the opportunity to trim away the broken parts and taste. Delicious! My husband will be a happy man at dinner tonight - at least as far as the cornbread goes! The rest of my notes on this follow the recipe. I hope you'll want to give it a try.

Carroll’s Extra Moist Cornbread
Adapted from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon.

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream (or full-fat, if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1 cup canned creamed corn
2 eggs
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with oil.

2. Place the sour cream in a large bowl; whisk in the baking soda to activate it. Then whisk in the remaining wet ingredients: the oil, creamed corn, and eggs. When thoroughly combined, sprinkle the cornmeal over the top.

3. Combine the cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a small dish; sift over the cornmeal. Stir the whole thing together with as few strokes as possible, to just combine wet and dry.

4. Transfer the batter to the prepped pan. Let it stand at room temperature for 20 minutes, then pop it in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. - makes 9 squares -Notes: My batch took about 35 minutes to bake. Now that I have seen how this turns out I would not hesitate to make additions to the batter as long as they themselves did not add too much additional moisture. If I was going to use a particularly wet ingredient, such as a can of chopped green chilies, I would reduce the amount of oil in the recipe by about half.

Chopped jalapeño pepper, some finely chopped fresh sage from the garden or a little bit of chopped cilantro, as examples of dry additions, would all work well in this moist corn dominant bread.

One word of caution - this product is very moist as the name implies, and therefore did not result in a cornbread that would fall neatly out of the pan in one piece. This is much more like cake, and without further help such as parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, it will be best to begin to cut the cornbread into squares and lift them out of the pan individually to serve.

It is delicious however, and I was not put off by the corn kernels in the batter at all. I can't wait to see how my husband likes it. I think he was a little disappointed last night when I told him he'd have to wait for the next night's dinner to get a taste. Sweet an-ti-ci-paaaaa-tion....

Monday, April 7, 2008

Getting Back to Our Roots

I picked up my second basket at our neighborhood "hub" for Tecolote Farms today. I was fortunate to catch the driver unloading the delivery van - Annie - and she enlightened me as to what they could re-use (the basket itself) and what they could not (the plastic bags for the salad greens and salad mixes, the jute ties for various bunches).

Annie told me they are considering developing some sort of clothespin/nametag system to keep track of who has returned their baskets to be refilled and who has not. The reason for this? Tecolote Farms was short over 100 baskets at the end of their last operating season.

One hundred baskets. That's a lot of forgetting. Maybe the powers of fresh organic vegetables to help your mind function more clearly are a bit exaggerated? Or maybe the folks (I admit it - just like me) who have become used to living off the harvest of other's efforts are unfortunately quick to save ourselves a bit of trouble even if it comes off of somebody's else's bottom line. Wait - scratch that - ESPECIALLY if it comes off of somebody ELSE'S bottom line. If it cost ME more to "forget" to bring my baskets back, I have a feeling I'd remember just fine, thanks.

All speculative. As this is only my 2nd week of basketeering, I am 1 for 1 at the moment.

This week's basket has a great baby lettuce mix (I just finished the last of last week's salad mix for lunch today, phew!), more Mache, Bloomsdale Spinach (which is delicious and extra crinkly), the cutest baby carrots (REAL babies - not lathed down), red beets, more Japanese turnips, parsnips, Italian parsley, and some Shunkyo Long Radishes that are "a little spicier" than the icicles we had last week.

The icicle radishes we had last week were QUITE spicy. I am going to approach the Shunkyos with great respect. And maybe gloves.

A big bag of baby lettuce mix means lots of salads will be on the menu at our house. I know just what to do with radishes, carrots and lots of lettuce. Maybe we were both rabbits in a previous life, because fresh salads always seem to hit a good spot with us. We can eat them daily without food fatigue. I can eat them twice a day.

In addition, the newsletter that accompanied the Tecolote baskets today read, "If last week was the 'greens' basket, this is the 'roots' basket...". That will, I suppose, find me looking for new and wonderful ways to use the roots in this week's line-up.

The turnips, case in point, which my husband was not totally happy with roasted last week, might be more palatable mashed in with potatoes.

I have noted restaurants around here have been going nutso over pureed parsnips (the alliterative prospects perhaps?) so I will probably try to find a way to puree some of ours. I will however try to keep an open mind as I explore what else looks entertaining and delicious in the marvelous realm of the parsnip.

For now, I hold a bit of fear and trepidation over the beets. My husband likes beets he says. So if I can manage not to get in their way, hopefully we'll be fine. I'll keep you posted, as always.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cooking From A CSA Basket

The saga continues....

Last night I prepared a greens in cream recipe that I tweaked slightly off a Serious Eats "I Love Creamed Spinach" post. I also prepped roasted herbed organic root veggies, and grilled up a couple of ham steaks served with leftover Jalapeño Cranberry sauce from our Easter dinner. Finished up the Thyme Bloomed Cornbread with that, and we ate like kings and queens last night.The Creamed Spinach recipe is an easier faster way to get the flavors of creamed spinach without a lot of the fuss. More a technique than a recipe really, it goes as follows:

1/2 to 1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash freshly ground nutmeg
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
One bag spinach or equivalent amount of greens with stems and tough ribs removed as needed
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream

Heat olive oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onion is transparent.

Add greens to pan. Lightly press down as they wilt. Stop when wilted before greens begin to fall apart.
Add one half to one cup heavy cream. Season with nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Stir and allow cream to warm through and reduce slightly. Serve.

Now - mustard greens cook WAY down so we ended up with just about 3 servings. Spinach holds up a little better so I am guessing you might end up with 4 servings but I can't vouch for that yet. The author of the original post noted that an entire onion might be a little much but she loved the contrast. I used a half onion last night and my husband missed having more in there so next time I'll go for 3/4 of an onion and see if that hits the mark. I also used half/half because I had it in the refrigerator and I was trying to hold the fat content down a little. It worked just fine although I can see where the heavy cream would add a slightly more cohesive consistency to the final product.

I really enjoyed the slightly sweet flavor of the roasted turnips in our roasted root mix but my husband (who has been a great sport about all this Adventures in Veggie Eating so far) has declared himself not so much the turnip fan. This probably means next week's basket will have 3 different varieties of turnips but if so, that means my work will be to find a way to prepare them that will pass muster.

So far I have used about half the Tecolote salad mix from our basket, nearly all the mustard greens, half the turnips, half the green garlic, a handful of the mache, and all the radishes. Tonight we are heading to Belton to celebrate a friend's birthday and I will take her some of the basket bounty since she is an excellent cook herself.

It will take work to use up an entire basket each week going towards dinner for only two people. I was right to think that it might take some sharing to get a basket fully utilized each week, but what better way to help celebrate fresh organic local food than to share it with friends and family?

Friday I will take a serious look at the Bloomsdale Spinach and see what I can come up with to pay proper respect to this heavily savoyed (crinkled) heirloom and it's "sweet and meaty" flavor. I might try the creamed greens recipe again to see what difference using spinach makes...not quite sure yet. Stay tuned......