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, July 30, 2009

Slightly pithed off

Long ago but not far at all away, we had carnitas for a combined Mother's Day/ChefSon Birthday dinner. When I had waxed rhapsodic in a phone call about this to LawSchoolGirl, I assured her I'd saved half the pork in the freezer to rerun the dish while she was home for the summer.

She got here about a week later. That would have been the third week in May. I took the pork out of the freezer three days ago. That was July 27th.

I'm not sure what took me so frickin' long to get around to carnitas again. Have you ever done that? "Meant to" make something that required defrosting an ingredient and somehow managed to let some inability to plan ahead enough to get that ingredient out of the freezer stall off the dish for way too long?

As is typical for me, I stuck close to the recipes I'd found the first go-round but after having one batch of carnitas deliciously under my belt (literally) I was emboldened to treat the various recipes more as guidelines for preparation than a "must-do-it-this-way".For instance, I only had a teensy onion on hand to start with but did have a leek I needed to use up. I had limes as it turned out, but no oranges. I had grapefruit and wanted to get that two or more hour simmering in the oven part of the process started before it got any later in the day. I had other things I wanted and needed to do, so a compromise was in the cards.

All by way of explaining why I used an organic grapefruit, peels and juice, rather than an orange and a lime when I made this second batch of carnitas. When I chopped the grapefruit in quarters prior to putting it into the pot I did entertain the question briefly as to whether or not the results of all that grapefruit rind in the braise liquid would get too tart after a couple of hours simmering in the oven.After waiting so long to fix carnitas however, and after the run-up I had given LSG about how Marvelous! Wonderful! Amazing! it was going to taste, I was in something of a self-imposed rush. I pushed that nagging doubt aside, dumped everything into the pot, and didn't give it another thought.

Note to self: In future, do not let a sense of rush keep you from paying attention to your instincts. Take time to think about what you know to be true about grapefruits and oranges and the relative tartness of their respective rinds.

Long story longer, the carnita meat cooked up to just the right "falling apart" stage as expected, only the cooking liquid was a leetle bit on the tart side compared to results with an orange and a lime. Interweb, I will admit it. I was pithed!I was sure it wasn't ruined. I took steps to adjust the seasonings in the basting liquid to overcome the slight bitterness from the grapefruit overdose, doused the pork as usual and ran it up under the broiler. Catastrophe averted. Rave reviews. Happy ending. Yay!

As a worldly two time carnita eater I have naturally developed my own version of THE "perfecto" carnita taco. While I offered crumbled Cotija at both carnita dinners I like mine "con crema" best. My idea of the universe's best carnita goes like so: Grilled flour tortilla, schmear of Mexican crema (or sour cream), sprinkle of arugula sprouts, second sprinkle of diced Purple Cherokee, layer of porky wondrousness, all topped with a liberal layer of caramelized onion slivers.

Roll into a firm delivery system and move from plate to mouth. Repeat as needed. Other diners greatly enjoyed Cotija on their tacos if I interpreted their mumbled responses correctly. That is the advantage of a "build your own" approach, everybody gets a customized experience. I don't have photos of the finished products because frankly, once you have seen anything wrapped in a tortilla you've seen everything wrapped in a tortilla.

This readily correctable near miss has me more sold than ever on carnitas as my go-to pork preparation. The additional step of dousing the shredded cooked pork with the reduced braising liquid then running it up under the broiler to crisp and cook on the coating, elevates it from "good" all the way to "ungodly delicious". I am dead certain this would make just as mean a sandwich filling or be equally delightful in a pita preparation. As long as the end of the story has that promise of porcine perfection traveling from outside to inside your happy, happy mouth.

In other words, you simply must not hesitate to make this dish for yourself, and if you are feeling generous, sure, involve a couple other people you want to treat. My only stipulation is that you use non-CAFO sourced pork because pigs are smart and I do not want it said I ever encouraged anybody to spend their money supporting a system that is cruel to animals, much less smart critters like pigs.

Other than paying attention to who raised and slaughtered your protein and how, which you should be doing as a matter of course now, right, (RIGHT??) do not let anything else, not hot weather-no-cooking-willies, defrost delay debilitation, or the lack of a proper citrus fruit get in between you and your own plate of carnitas. I won't!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sorry sorry sorry!

I really don't know where the time goes. One day you are sitting and watching your old computer talk to your new computer, handing over all your precious passwords and bookmarks and putting your preferences back carefully where you like to keep them, and suddenly it is a full week later and you haven't done diddly squat. The days, they are long gone, regardless. Yikes and then some.

I will attempt to make up for that week long silence today with a nice long catch-you-up post, so get comfortable and let's get started, shall we?

I got the new computer to replace the brain dimmingly noisy older model I'd been using. The old computer was appallingly insistent upon conducting freelance experiments into the effects of constant exposure to high decibel fan noise on the Typical American Householder. This may have been early evidence of Skynet's attempted takeover of the BloggerNet, I cannot say for sure. Come the Revolution though, remember you read it here, first. Unless the skinjobs begin slaughtering people and in that case, I've never seen you before.

I'd had a couple of unsettling shut downs, a near brush with the blue screen of death, and it was time to be Good American Consumers and boost the economy by regearing computer wise. Nobody is more patriotic than we are when it comes to buying new gadgets, y'all. We love our country that much. I am a Leo American, so Happy Red White and Birthday to me, I got that new computer.In a move I still can't explain, when the Hub asked me whether I wanted a grande or venti sized monitor, rather than following a lifelong pattern of making do with the least expensive option available, I said I would be thrilled to have me a computer monitor that is larger than is absolutely necessary. Much. Much! Larger. Who says an old lioness can't learn new tricks?

Anyway, that old menace to the hearing world is gone now, history, outta sight and outta ear range for good. And I have a gorgeous new monitor that is large enough I could check my email from across the street if I wanted to. Between this Really Big Monitor and our ginormous TV I may never need my reading glasses ever again. Except for those pesky papery things, what are they called? Oh, right. Books.

Reading this some of you may begin to wonder, "do I, also, need a computer monitor that is larger than the first television set I ever owned?". And my answer to you is "don't you worry your pretty little heads - I am doing research on that for you right this minute - maybe even while you are sleeping". That is the kind of selfless scientist that I am. And if you have been asking yourself "does all the crap on the internet look any better when it is shown to me in a format that is bigger and brighter?". I can honestly say "I'll get back to you on that after I spend another 371 hours scientifically sampling various websites". I wouldn't want to ruin everything with a too early weigh in on the topic.

So yeah, I do apologize for leaving this blog out hanging somewhat in the hot dry summer breeze. There are a lot of fine places with regularly shifting content to click on so I do not want you thinking I take it for granted that you will just keep checking here. We have been cooking and we have been eating, plenty, some of it mighty fine stuff, too. I'll try to do a quickie catch up and then we must never speak again of my poor manners, leaving you alone to your own devices just like you had your own live(s) to lead.

First and foremost, last weekend ChefSon and LawSchoolGirl and I went shopping together for provisions, which is always fun. The two of them are like a finely honed comedy team, riffing off the people, places, and life all around them. Especially the people that is their own personal Mommy.

Momma is so funny, uh huh, she distracts so easily and who knows how she functions day to day without the wryly comedic observations of her offspring as running commentary on her life. (Who am I kidding? I love it when my kids make fun of me because that means we are together. I'd rather be hanging around with my kids making fun of me than hanging without them, any old day.) Delicious as it was, making fun of me was not our purpose for the day, far from it.

We had decided we were going to have ourselves a Seafood Celebration. A Bivalve Bonanza. Which meant in this landlocked burb we needed to buy something fresh, cook it, then eat it immediately if not sooner. And so we did.

Ignoring that it took three trips to find scallops of a certain size that had not been previously frozen, everything else was fairly easy to locate. Once we got our little saltwater friends safely out of the triple digit heat of the day, we cleared the decks and allowed ChefSon room to work. The rest of us assisted as we could, he didn't need much in the way of help prepping dinner for 4 people rather than the numbers he cooks for at work. Mostly we watched and were duly amazed. Here are a few glimpses of what we enjoyed...Scallops nestled on roasted sweet corn atop sunchoke purée, garnished with micro arugula, French Breakfast radish curls and cherry tomatoes. Seasonal pleasure on a plate.

A caveat. ChefSon discovered my skillet's seasoning was out of whack which meant the scallops did not brown the way they were supposed to. That was an equipment failure and totally my bad. The scallops still tasted amaaaazing, so I will simply apologize to the universe for not taking skillet seasoning seriously enough and assure you I have spent hours remedying that unfortunate lapse.

Next up was the wonderful Bivalves in a Bowl.We had littleneck clams and mussels, coaxed into opening up to us in a bath of the most delicious vegetable broth I've ever personally spooned. ChefSon corralled about 38 different ingredients into the stockpot for this richest of stocks, and while I despair at ever duplicating this effort I also celebrate that I have all the leftovers frozen into cubes of golden goodness to be carefully doled out in dinners yet to come for as long as they last. As the stock came up to temperature he added in bits of Spanish chorizo, a special request coming from our having recently watched Anthony Bourdain eat and drink his way around España for the second or third time.

Chefson gilded these sea lilies with more cherry toms, (including a few intrepid sun golds from our sputtering tomato plants), sauteéd leeks, creme fraiche, chiffonaded basil from our garden, and some alder smoked sea salt. A drizzle of Arbequina olive oil on top and we were reduced to slurping moaning machinery. We spent the next half hour or so methodically prying bites of delectable clam or mussel out and then unceremoniously chunking the shells into a growing pile of "what was". "What", was one of the least conversational and yet most satisfying dinners we ever shared as family.

ChefSon's act is impossible to follow but here's the thing about fantastic meals. No matter how spectacular one meal turns out, eventually everybody gets hungry again and somebody has to make more to eat. We are no exception despite our tendency to declare our willingness to sell our clothes and be taken straight to heaven after so much sea bounty in a bowl. Here's a glimpse of a couple of other recent efforts, that while perhaps representing a polar opposite from that handcrafted, everything from scratch feast, were yet pretty tasty.

It seems that discussion of and recipes for various home prepared potato salads were turning up everywhere on the late June and early July internet, and remembering I had some organic green beans waiting for me to appreciate them properly, I decided to press them into service for a summery potato salad all my own. That said, I was trying to finish knitting a prayer shawl that was due in to a glbt rights organization before a certain church denomination's national meeting in August, so I felt I did not have the luxury of the time in the kitchen it would require to prepare one of the many recipes I had seen.(that is my excuse - what's yours?) I decided to pull my own version of "semi homemade". I realize this opens me up to all sorts of serious food hate but hang in while I tell you how great it turned out.I boiled some chopped russets, blanched my beans, and once everything was cool enough tossed them with crumbled toasted pecans, chopped scallions and Mother's Restaurant bottled Cashew Tamari Dressing. I salted, peppered, and threw in a bit more white wine vinegar to brighten the flavors and I tell you what, that may have been the best potato salad I ever made, conveniently dressed with store bought bottled dressing or not. Hub and I were instant converts.

And finally, last night I pulled out a technique that had become a family favorite, updated for slightly more adult palates. I lightly coat chicken cutlets with a mixture of mayonnaise and dijon, dredge them in a mixture of crumbled organic cheese crackers mixed with grated parmesean, and bake them in a cooking oil spray coated pan for 30-35 minutes at 350°. They come out moist inside with a wonderfully cheesy crunchy outside.

This is a delicious alternative to fried or skin on treatments and pulls together easily giving you just enough time while it bakes in the oven to throw together a crispy green salad or whatever side you might want. I don't have a plated shot to share, just a quick glimpse of the one lonely leftover cutlet that I will happily snarf for lunch later. Don't you like that bright color? My HomeEc teacher from middle school would be so proud.

Happily, you are now all caught up. We are settling in for another triple digit weekend, and I have only the vaguest idea of what I'll try to cook next. The heat can do that. Regardless of what I come up with, it'll all be shared right here (sooner or later). I hope you'll come back to see.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Please Stay Tuned....

Yours truly is about to undergo a computer upgrade.

This will mean, among other things, in short order I will be able to surf the internet and create new posts without the constant accompanying noise of a computer fan that is doing its dead level best to reach decibel levels sufficient to crumble the walls of our actual house (as opposed to merely debilitating our psyches). This relentless Computer Fan Noise From Hell is very similar to a car alarm. Ubiquitous now, but of a frequency and intensity that spurs listeners to DO SOMETHING about it. So.

While the new quieter faster technology is being put into play (and an advance tip of the hat to the Hub who provides ongoing local technical support extraordinaire for AustinAgrodolce) I will be postless for a bit. Rather than leave you totally to your own devices, here is a fascinating video to keep you entertained while we regear and regroup. I like watching this without the sound personally, but that may be lingering aftereffects of ComputerFanNoise delirium. Enjoy!

SupEr hAndZ from [[- charetteprod -]] on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Status Update(d)

True confession here, I dabble in facebook. However, there are days in a row that go by where I forget to even log in, much less breathlessly post another update on my "status".

You want to know my status? I'll tell you. My status is fifty-harumpf, creakier, crankier and heavier than I'd like to admit, taking a bit of a beating from all the heat this year even though I was born here and used to brag about how Texas could keep bringing the heat 'cause I loved it hot.

None of that will change in the foreseeable future so I see little reason to be logging in specifically to share with my facebook friends that "no change is happening over here!".

Yeah. Doesn't so much make for rapt reading.

I do check facebook however to see how other folk are faring occasionally and was a bit startled to see the words recently (from a woman much younger than I) "It is too hot for coffee".

Why was I startled? Because, although the statement is factually true, I am still tossing back two ginormous cups of coffee every morning, even those mornings (which lately would be "every") when the mercury has climbed way too close to the 90s before it hits 9 AM.

This gave me a bit of pause. Why, if it is so hot outside, am I drinking a steaming hot beverage? What am I, nuts? (That is rhetorical folks, please don't bother writing me with your answers).

I drink coffee out of habit (read:addicted to caffeine). In the winter when I have the thermostat set at "hibernate" in an attempt to save on energy bills, I admit to you now I will pour a last cup of hot coffee just to wrap my hands around the mug. But now, when we are keeping blinds drawn and dashing out to haul water for gasping pepper plants as early as we can in order to escape getting cooked for our efforts, now, in this heat, why am I still drinking two hot cups in the morning? The true answer is: I don't know.

I can get my caffeine fix any number of other delightfully cold ways I suppose but I simply hadn't given the matter much thought. I am not so much a fan of iced coffee, but I knew there had to be other ways to have my caffeine and keep my cool. Enter Krysta at EvilChefMom and her recently posted recipe for Cappuccino Granita. This now thrice revised preparation seemed the answer to a daydream if not a prayer. No heat involved, actually a bit of standing in front of the freezer as a bonus, and an end product that is simultaneously delightfully caffeinated and chilly. Well yes, there is booze involved, but what's your point? It is not like you can see me having this for breakfast, right? (.....right????)

Y'all go ahead and visit her to get the recipe(s): (one for cold brewed coffee, two for the granita and three for the show, er, the whipped cream on top if you don't have your own). We subbed in the end of a bottle of Bailey's for the Kahlua originally called for just because we wanted to. Now we've had it that way, not sure I can make a strong case to try it any other way, truthfully. It is refreshingly cold, sweet without being cloying and offers that slightly smoky layer of coffee we like around here so much.Our only hitch was with the whipped cream. We'd decided the Bailey's was boozy enough (although we sure as shootin' are going to add a bit of Grand Marnier as Krysta suggested next time we serve whipped cream over fruit) but the real problem was our organic heavy cream from a neighborhood chain store had apparently gotten too jostled or something. It was about 60 percent of the way gone to the butter side of the road.We managed to get it to a soft peak, and it tasted like whipped cream if it didn't quite maintain the ooomph of a full on whipped texture for long.

Did that discourage? Nah. That slamming sound in a few minutes will be me heading out the door for another carton of cream to make more whipped topping for the rest of the granita.

There were no serving indicators for this prep. I suppose it will be up to you to decide "how much" is enough. The recipe makes up a little over three cups of liquid which you then rake into a lovely pile of icy crystals, so how high you pile it when it comes time to serve will be your little secret. I am guessing we will get 9 servings out of this - maybe more like 12 if we behave. Eh, behaving is not the name of this game certainly so let me leave it by saying the number of servings is fluid for this one.

Icy, crystalline coffee flakes with a little booze to boot. Summertime, you keep right on bringin' your heat. Come the end of the day, my status will be updated to "is ready for more cappuccino granita".

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Might Have Been Dreaming

Suppose you were to walk into a room where I was napping (not all that unlikely in this weather, seriously) and you were to hear me mumbling in my sleep like so: "Republican, Trashy Trailer Park, Baja, Democrat, Dirty Sanchez...".You'd have every right to think I was commenting editorially in my semi-comatose state about recent political not so Appalachian Trail pecadillos or other various gubernatorial meltdowns, but you'd be dead wrong. If you did overhear me muttering to myself in such a way, you'd be listening to me sleep-talking about my second ever trip to Torchy's Tacos.

Ah, Torchy's, Torchy's. I have it as my goal, before I die, to eat everything on Torchy's menu at least once (don't judge - you formulate your list and I'll stay in charge of mine). So far I've had the Republican, the Trailer Park (trashy, thanks) and now have added the Fried Avocado (Chef Son's worthy favorite) and the Democrat to the "been there eaten that" category.Oddly enough in Torchy World I really really do like the Republican much better than the Democrat. I know, weeeeeeird.

I noted last time in that there are ever-changing monthly taco specials at Torchy's. I am still mulling on that particular twist to my challenge, knowing how unlikely it will be that I'll get there once a month. Maybe I'll have to officially narrow my quest to include trying everything on the "regular" menu and let it go at that. Sigh*...the sacrifices I make.....

And now a teensy apology to non-Austin readers out there. It often makes me itch when I read all about how fabulous some restaurant is someplace I don't live but then I console myself with the idea that someday I may visit that other wonderful spot and so now, when I do, I already have some idea of where I'll go to eat. If you do not live in Austin then get here soon as you can and when you do? Find a Torchy's and get started ordering. If you do live in Austin and haven't tried Torchy's yet? Wait no longer. OK. I'm done with Torchy's until next visit when I sense a damned fine surf and turf combo of a sort in my future.

In an unrelated Homeresque "D'oh!" moment, I recognized while listening to ChefSon wax poetic over a fabulous caprese salad he'd enjoyed recently that what our go-to Pomodori al Forni treats were missing (they didn't lack anything, OK - this is gilding the lily) was...... a bit of basil.

Usually I served the tomatoey bliss bites atop crostini schmeared with a little goat cheese. Good enough, you know?

But this last time out the gate I threw a basil leaf on top and et voila!

That one simple addition elevated what was already swoony good to something that reduces the eater to guttural moans of appreciation.

Really. Do not take my word for this.Try this recipe immediately if not sooner because this is summer in a bite.

Perfection on your palate.

Mmmmmmmmmm and then some.

As opposed to enjoying a taco from Torchy's which requires your presence in our fair city, Pomodori al forno can be yours.

Wherever you live, whenever you please.

And that, my friends, is heavenly. Sweet dreams!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hooray for the red, white and full

I hope you are having a great 4th of July weekend.

At one point I had to force myself to push away from my desk and turn my computer off. Everywhere I turned there were fantabulous lineups of pot luck picnic and family gathering type dish suggestions, taunting me with the idea that no matter what I had in mind to do for my family there would be something better on somebody else's blog that I simply hadn't found yet.

Which is just silliness. It is certainly not the case that we haven't been cooking or eating somewhat lavishly around the AustinAgrodolce abode.

Truth be told, with LawSchoolGirl around for a while this summer to provide encouragement and an extra pair of hands,we have been cooking up a storm. Which naturally means all good intentions to trim down aside, we have been eating up a storm as well.

Here are some recent forays into "yeah I know it isn't low calorie but this is IN SEASON and LOCAL, OK?" territory [with the occasional "wow - that looks good - let's try it" thrown in for good measure].

After seeing Elise post about her Dad making a Beef Wellington version on Simply Recipes, it occurred to me I hadn't ever tried to make my own Wellie, although I'd certainly enjoyed eating it whenever I had the chance. Since we're trying to only eat responsibly sourced protein and no appropriate beef roast was available, we decided to go to the Pork side of the force.We loosely adopted an Alton Brown recipe and were pleased to the point of smug with the results. I doubt this will be a regular in the lineup, but it is fun to have it checked off the "been there cooked that" list.

After snagging what ChefSon asserted was not a "real" souffle recipe but was called that nonetheless, we decided that, while we were foofing it up dinnerwise with the Wellington anyway, we'd take some local organic strawberries and tease them into a dessert high kick all their own. Strawberry (Velveteen)Souffle, here we go.I don't care what you call these. They were berry good (sorry - could not resist).

Several different blogs were featuring buttermilk dressing recipes lately, so I combined a couple and made some to have on hand. I took the last bit of our home grown cabbage, a half apple that had seen better days, dried cranberries and celery seed and combined them with a bit of sweetened dressing for a killer slaw for two.Speaking of home grown, our garden has been suffering from the high temperatures and lack of rain. We are only managing to get a handful of tomatoes and peppers so far to show for our efforts.Thankfully Wheatsville has had all sorts of fresh local produce available, so snagging a couple of pounds of organic Roma tomatoes meant I could reprise the amazing Pomidori al Forno for some summertime tomato delirium. The full recipe along with step by step photos is in an earlier post here.If this is something you meant to try but didn't? DO IT NOW. We love these sitting atop a schmear of Pure Luck goat cheese spread on toasted French. Crackers will most certainly do if you are flat out of bread.

Blueberries have been in abundance so after reading about how wonderful they were on TheBittenWord we obliged with our own attempt at CI's Best Blueberry Muffins. And Best they were.The lemon zest sugar sprinkles on top were inspired, well worth the price of admission all on their own, providing a perfect bright note to go with the berries.With a few berries left over, it was time to attempt a recasting of one of my favorite old Parents Magazine recipes (originally appearing in the June/July 1998 issue) for Berry Breakfast Bread. This simple recipe calls for strawberries and was good enough I never felt tempted to stray.

Aside:I loved recipes from Parent's Magazine back in the day, especially the ones geared towards cooking with your children helping out in the kitchen. Whether or not my kids wanted to "make something" varied according to some complex formula having to do with the ambient temperature multiplied by the television schedule subtracting the barometric pressure. I always liked cooking with them but I liked even more that the recipes geared towards my cooking with them were simple enough I could approach without intimidation.

This summer, fresh on the heels of muffin making mania with blueberries to spare, I was confident I could loaf them up in place of strawberries in this old go-to breakfast bread recipe.To follow is the recipe as originally printed. All I did was swap out sliced strawberries for an equal amount of blueberries and bump up the sugar a bit (maybe an extra 1/8th of a cup) to compensate.Berry Breakfast Bread - Yields one 9x5 inch loaf

Vegetable Spray
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a 9x5 inch loaf pan with vegetable spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until fluffy. Add oil and sugar and continue beating until light and airy. Add berries;stir and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients and stir well. Add dry mixture egg mixture until completely incorporated.

Spoon batter into pan and bake 50-60 minutes until a skewer stuck in the middle comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack.

And there you pretty much have it. We have been flagged, paraded, hot dogged and firecrackered for yet another year. Independence aside, we have eaten like kings and queens all along the way. However you celebrated the holiday weekend, I hope you offered- and got- the royal treatment. It's the American way to go!