July 31, 2008

lazy. busy. eating out.

Don't you guys have those weeks? I actually don't see evidence of it on most of your blogs, but me, I guess I needed a break!

I'm still here, though! We had a busy weekend in New Braunfels, a popular spot south of Austin for floating down the river.

We made migas tacos for breakfast one morning. If some of you (or shall I say, "y'all"?) aren't familiar with migas, they are a really simple TexMex variation of Eggs a la Mexicana:

Migas Tacos

(serves 6+)

15 -20 corn tortillas (the fresher, the better)
8 eggs, scrambled
3 T milk, added to the eggs
1 jalapeno, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
handful of mushrooms, sliced
2 t chipotle powder (and/or a good dash of your favorite hot sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
1 T olive oil
1 c shredded cheddar cheese or a blend with cheddar and white Mexican cheeses

1. Cook tortilla strips: Depending on how crunch or textured you want your migas, take 3-5 of the tortillas and dice them in about 3/4 inch pieces. (Some people prefer them sliced in thin strips.) Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet. When it's hot, add the tortillas and cook until browned and crispy. Remove and set aside.

Ah, nothing like migas and tequila in the morning.

2. Cook the veggies*: Put your tomato, onion, and peppers in the skillet and cook just a few minutes until they begin to soften.
Do not cook them too long, or the migas will lose their freshness and texture. (This is my tendency: Ugh! Can I help it that I like my vegetables soft and caramelized?)

3. Cook the egg mixture: Add the eggs, milk, and seasonings and scramble gently until almost set. Add the tortilla pieces and the cheese, folding in.
I'd suggest not scrambling too enthusiastically or too long. Again, this was failure number two on my part. If you overdo it, they'll still taste good, but they don't look as pretty and are a bit too crumbly for my taste.

4. Serve, with cheese and perhaps extra hot sauce and salsa. The migas can be served or plated either in the remaining tortillas as tacos, as we did, or just on the plate with warm tortillas on the side.

*I recently read someone griping about the devolution of cooking on the blogosphere, specifically about the use of casual or colloquial language. One of the terms that so perturbed the author was "veggies." Well, honey, here it is. Hope you took your blood pressure medicine. Veggies! Veggies! Veggies!

Some will tell you that migas tacos are just redundant, due to the excessive use of corn tortillas. To that, I say, pshaw!

After a long day on the river, we cooked up a variation of the bison burgers I made the other week, and attempted some baked sweet potato fries. However, the fries need another go. I blame their imperfect state on inferior cookware provided at the rental condo. Still, the flavor was great. I'll be sharing a revised version of the sweet potato fries soon!

Klassy table cloth, eh? Still, look at the color of those sweet potato fries!
I can't wait to do them justice. Stay tuned.

July 21, 2008

a zucchini after my own heart

So this is not the first time I need to give, ahem, MAD PROPS to Smitten Kitchen. All the same, I loved the simplicity of a recent post for zucchini strand spaghetti (which was adapted from a recipe by Michael Chiarello), and knew it was quick enough that I would not only attempt it but achieve a fair imitation.

Sure enough, I was not disappointed. And I didn't even keep with her suggested textures, substituting fusilli for the spaghetti; nor did I use fresh basil. (Geez, I'm starting to think I should rename this blog something like "Lowest Common Denominator Adaptations from the Pros.") Ah, well. Only some much time in the day and so much space in the tiny rental kitchen.

The best thing about this dish is that it reminded me that I don't necessarily need to douse my zucchini in olive oil and cook them on high heat until they're browned (though this also is tasty!) It came out light but still satisfying the way only fresh vegetables paired with pasta, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, a little heat, and some Parmesan can.

Zucchini Strand Pasta with Pesto
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, as adapted from Michael Chiarello

2 medium sized zucchini
1 lb pasta (I used wheat fusilli and loved it.)
1/4 c olive oil
4 cloves or 2 T garlic, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
3 T coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves, or 1 1/2 T basil pesto
pepper and kosher salt to taste
2-3 T grated Parmesan

1. Put your pasta water on to boil.

2. Prepare your zucchini. Cut off the very ends. Then you can julienne with a mandoline, but I don't have one (and quite frankly am afraid of them), so I sliced my zucchini into the smallest strands possible. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta until it's al dente. This should take about 8 minutes for wheat and 10 for semonlina. If your zucchinis aren't teeny tiny, as mine were not, suspend the zucchini in a colander over the pasta pot for 2-3 minutes or until crispy-tender. When pasta is done, strain over a colander, reserving 1-2 T of the pasta water.

4. Heat the olive oil, brown the garlic, and add the red pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the garlic is golden brown. Add the pesto (or basil), mix well, and remove from the heat.

5. Combine and serve. Toss in a bowl or serving dish: pasta, reserved pasta water, zucchini, oil and pesto mixture, and about 2 T Parmesan. Serve warm and sprinkle with 2-3 t of Parmesan.

Mmmm. I kind of wish summer squash season lasted all year 'round. Then again, we probably have the longest growing season possible. Stay tuned for perhaps some fried zucchini blossoms.

Update: Yipes, speaking of blogging plagiarism and copyright issues (see Alosha's entry that started it all off), please note that the nice photo below is from Gourmet. Clicking it will take you to their recipe (similar to almost any you'll find) for fried squash blossoms.

For a nice straightforward recipe from Gourmet for fried zucchini blossoms, click the pretty picture below from Gourmet's website.

I do recommend you follow Marcella Hazan's directions to cut the blossoms so that their petals fan flat and open, like a lovely star, before frying.

(Unless you choose to stuff them with goat cheese, which I hear tell is an even more decadent approach to these.)

salmonella schlalmonella, or why i love the farmer's market

One of my few solitary activities (because I generally like company and sometimes have a hard time being quiet) is my semi-regular Saturday morning visits to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market. I've really been getting a kick out of leaving Adam home--seeing as how he refuses to get up before 11 on Saturdays--and heading south to the market, usually with a quick stop at the bank for what the ancients call "cash."

I'm afraid I was too laden with grocery sack and money in one hand and my hibiscus mint tea in the other to take any photos at the market, for which of course this blog is now screaming. It was a gorgeous morning. This being July in Texas, the air was pretty warm but an unusually cool breeze was in the air, tossing the bunches of basil and onion tops to and fro and causing several of my fellow shoppers to comment happily on the amazing summer weather.

Here's a little photo of my haul:

Nothing too exotic here, but a great selection of cheeses, melon, potatoes, baby portobellos, peppers, basil, bison, and last but not least, tomatoes.

If you don't already visit a local farmer's market, but are interested, click here for what seems to be a pretty solid directory.

Before I sign off, what are your favorite local food finds this season? I'm sure you guys have some great resources in other regions--how I long for fresh seafood or lovely Silver Queen Corn!

July 15, 2008

smashed red potatoes with summer pesto and buffalo burgers

I can be such as dang slacker. You know I spent 6 weeks in Italy in college studying archaeology and was such a slacker that my friend and I refused to complete the easy assignment or essay requested at the end of the program, thus passing on the how-many-ever college credits it should have been worth. W. T. F.? That is just pathetic. But I did have fun!

So, the charming and entertaining Cathy of Noble Pig is hosting a Potato Ho-Down for submissions of potato recipes galore tomorrow--You know, for all those folks who might occasionally jump right over the asparagus or sole and go right to the say, garlic mashed potatoes, home fries, or latkes! I was *so* looking forward to joining this month and cooked the simple recipe below for Sunday dinner. Then what do I go and do? I think I was the LAST person to send her my entry. Whew! Made it, just under the wire. (I'm having flashbacks to nearly every college assignment. I must work well under pressure... right?)

Check out Noble Pig tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th, for links to lots of lovely folks' undoubtedly fantastic takes on the unassuming but oh-so-satisfying potato.

In the meantime, here's a meal I cooked up Sunday that both Adam and I LOVED. It was terribly simple and sang of summer goodness.

Smashed Red Potatoes with Pesto
and Buffalo Burgers with Pesto Aioli*
Inspired by Sunday AM Rachael Ray episode and the Joy of Cooking recipes

*I just love that adding flavor to mayonnaise elevates it to the gastronomically superior "aioli." What a cheat.

5-6 small red potatoes
1/4 c milk
1 T butter

2 c basil, loosely packed
1/2 c pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 c Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 c olive oil
salt and coarse black pepper to taste

2 T low-calorie mayonnaise (or whatever mayo-like product you prefer)
1 lb ground buffalo (or beef)
1/3 yellow onion, diced finely
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t kosher salt
heavy dusting of coarse black pepper

4 kaiser rolls or hamburger buns, toasted

1. Make the pesto:
Put basil, pine nuts, garlic, and half of the cheese in a food processor and process until the mixture is fairly creamy. Stream in the olive oil and process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl or resealable container (so you can save the extras for pasta, bread, or vegetables). Add the salt, pepper, and remaining cheese; and gently combine with a spoon or spatula. Set aside.

2. Make the aioli for the burgers:
In a small cup or dish, mix 2 t of the pesto with about 2 T of mayonnaise, or adjust the ratio to taste.

3. Make the taters:
Clean, dry, quarter, and boil the potatoes until fork-tender. Drain, and place in a bowl or serving dish. Add milk, butter, 1-2 T of pesto, and smash or gently break up the potatoes while mixing. Add salt, pepper, and more pesto if you wish. Set aside, or keep warm in an oven at 200 degrees.

4. Make the burgers
Put a large cast-iron pan, non-stick skillet, or stove-top grill on medium-high. (Preheat for 2-3 minutes while mixing the burgers.)

Place defrosted lean ground buffalo in a bowl. Add onion, paprika, salt, and pepper and mix gently by hand. Press the buffalo into the bowl a bit so it's flat and score it so that you have portions for 4 equally-sized burgers. Shape the burgers, making the center a bit flatter or indented.

Cook the patties 2-3 minutes on each side for a medium burgers with a light pink center. Remove from heat.

To serve:
I put about 3 t of the aioli on the toasted burger bun, added the burger and put some thinly-sliced homegrown cucumbers (my mother-in-laws, not my own!) Plop down some potatoes, add some more fresh veggies or a green salad.

The burger was really fantastic with locally and naturally produced buffalo, the addition of paprika (thank you, Rachael Ray), and the creamy pesto aioli. Potatoes were tasty, though I might add even more pesto or some fresh bits of basil for a little extra brightness.

backup coffee supply

I don't have a great deal of tips and tricks to share--at least not yet. Still, everyone has their little habits and shortcuts that, if shared, might make another's day just a smidge more pleasant.

Here's one I like:

We use usually use a French press for making coffee. I prefer to grind my coffee for each pot, but I can't quite eyeball the perfect bean-to-grinds ratio and thus always have unused grounds lingering in the grinder. What I've started doing, rather than throwing them out or tossing them in a compost heap*, I like to store that extra teaspoon or two in a little ziploc bag in the freezer.

*which would be just lovely, but would mean less coffee for me and besides, I've grown to busy or lazy to maintain my compost properly.

This way, when I run out of coffee mid-prep and am desperate for just an extra 1/3 tablespoon of coffee to fully flavor the pot, I have a little back-up supply.

Got any tips and tricks for easier prep, saving money, or anything else appropriate to post online? Don't be shy.

thanks a lot

When I was about 14, a big group of us were taken by a parent to Galveston for a birthday party. I wore my first bona fide bikini, an Adrienne Vittadini "french" style in black and white stripes. I was foxy!

Shortly after a quick dip in the warm and frothy surf, I emerged: All the white stripes on my suit had turned a dull shade of gray-brown.

I was so disgusted!! The stain never washed out of my nice new suit.

Now, in recent years, I've returned and it seemed much better. I had thought our Texas beaches were getting better--and cleaner!

Thanks a lot, powers that be.

On the upside, I may be forced to vacate overseas now. ;)

July 13, 2008

oat scones with dates and raisins

I woke up this morning requiring a little something to soak up the booze from Saturday night: I've been laying low all week after our car accident, and after a nice long dinner at Chez Nous, then a pint at Lovejoy's, er... 2 more beers while watching Wanted at the Alamo, and ah, 2 more at the Continental Club to see Bobby Bare Jr! We had a great time, and it was sooo good to forget about my banged-up knee and the events of the previous week.

So, Sunday morning called for some breakfast sweets. I was craving oats, but didn't want oatmeal. When it's still 90 degrees at 11 pm, and the days are regularly peaking to 103, hot cereals are not called for.

Anyhoo, I decided to try something from the Joy of Cooking. These scones are a big diversion from my favorite recipe, but if you like a lighter, more buttery and biscuit-like scone, you may want to try these. My husband--a serious biscuit and honey aficionado, true to his southern roots--really liked them, whereas I can rarely get him to work up much enthusiasm for the denser version.

The crumb on these is nice and soft, and the flavor is mellow and buttery.

Oat Scones with Raisins and Dates
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 450o.

Whisk together:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt*

Stir in:
1 1/4 c old fashioned rolled oats
2/3 c raisins and/or chopped dates

Whisk together and then add:
1 egg
8 T butter, melted
1/3 c milk

Mix together until the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and pat into a 3/4 inch thick round. Sprinkle the dough with 1/2 t kosher salt. Cut the dough into 6-8 triangles and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the scones are nice and golden brown.

Yes, zee dough will indeed be sticky.

Here's the flattened and scored dough. Transferring a soft and sticky dough like this is made much easier with a bench knife.

*Post script: I wish I'd added some spice to these! I think some allspice or maybe cardamom would have made them more interesting.

July 9, 2008

happy back tabbouleh

So Easy! You Can Make it When You Have No Time and a Terrible Crick in Your Back!

Yep, this was soo easy and delicious. I've never made it before. Better yet, I now have an item to add to my rather short list of side dishes acceptable to share with vegetarians and vegans. Hurrah! My horizons are expanding.

This recipe is compliments of my lovely mother-in-law and the box of bulgar in her cabinet!

Bad Back Tabbouleh

1 C bulgar
1 1/2 C boiling water
1 1/2 t sea salt (though would regular salt make a distinct difference? Not likely.)
3-4 T lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
dash of garlic powder
3 C parsley, chopped finely
1/2 C green onions, chopped

Step 1: Put bulgar in a medium sized bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Let grains steep for 30 minutes.

Step 2: Mix everything else into the bulghar mixture. Refrigerate.

Or, you could just begin eating it out of the bowl, as I did.

Enjoy! The green onions really add a nice tang to this. It was more earthy and sweeter than what I've usually had in restaurants, with less parsley. You can of course adjust for your tastes, but I love it as is.

Post-script: I should probably call this Reverse Tabbouleh or perhaps Bulgar with Parsley, because in verifying (on the internets) that I wasn't calling Tabbouleh by the wrong name, I noted that this is by no means the proper way to make the salad. Nevertheless, I like bulgar more than parsley, so PBLTt!

holiday weekend recap

Well, it was a fantastic July 4th weekend (until our unfortunate accident, the details of which I'll spare you though I'm tempted to post the picture of my poor mangled Subaru!)

Hubby and I drove to Lafayette, Louisiana to share the holiday with his family there. Thursday, we were treated to my mother-in-law Jacque's "no recipe" gumbo. She's insisted that there is no recipe for her gumbo, but this time, I grabbed a sticky note and started jotting down her ingredients. So, in addition to brownies, I will be working on making a version Jacque's gumbo and a tabbouleh salad recipe she gave me.

Think I'll be able to follow that recipe?

Friday we were treated to stuffed chicken and pork chops, homemade mac and cheese casserole, baked beans with sweet onions, peppers, and ground beef (a really delicious twist on the traditional sweet baked beans), salad with homegrown tomatoes (yeah, just like the Guy Clark song), and chocolate eclair cake.

Friday night, after my initiation into the world of Wii Bowling, the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra treated us to a blend of Cajun music and traditional July 4th tunes, followed by a beautiful fireworks display.

But, back to the food: Saturday was spent strolling the shops in downtown Breaux Bridge, my mother-in-law's hometown, then catching up over drinks with Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred. Fred and Helen collect, repair, and sell antique collectibles, linens, and vintage fans; and make and sell all kinds of fantastic preserves and syrups. (If you're ever in Breaux Bridge, you can find their booth at Le Napoleon downtown.)

A sampling of our goodies from Fred and Helen!

While in town, we had lunch at the Cafe Des Amis, a popular spot for visitors that features a fun Zydeco breakfast (which we missed) and a very tasty turtle soup which my hubby is quite fond of (though I seriously doubt I'll be attempting a recipe any time soon!) If you are in town, however, I hear the humbler Le Cafe is amazing for delicious po' boys.

Sunday, it was time to hit the road, though Adam couldn't return Texas without a stop for some hot boudin sausage links that we spread onto bread in the car for sandwiches, which makes for a nice retro road trip luncheon, in my opinion!

Happy July! Enjoy a wheat beer for me. I'm sadly stuck with ibuprofen for a few more days!

July 8, 2008

i told you i'm a winner

Before I get into my lengthy weekend recap, I have an overdue thank-you card to write.

Dear Kristin at Going Country,

You rock! Thanks for the props and the Arte y Pico award!

Your friend,

Yep, I was gifted the Arte y Pico award from hysterical, crafty, and thoughtful converted city girl Kristin at Going Country. SOOOO exciting! Like Kristin, I think the last time I received an award of any kind was 8th grade. It was for the science fair. For a project I did with my friend Meghan on mummies. Getting props for the lil' blog was way cooler. I'll be sure to do the same for others as soon as I get caught up from the weekend.

Many many thanks for Going Country and to Arte y Pico for giving me another excuse to get in touch with other bloggers! Please check out Kristin's site and her post for the Arte y Pico award to meet some cool new bloggers and learn all about Kristin's adventures on the small farm she runs with her husband. The have barns! And sheep! And lots of produce! Bats! I tell ya, it's always an adventure.

out sick; back later!

You know how your parents or friends always tell you to "drive safe!" "It's a holiday weekend!"?

Well, there's a reason for it. On Sunday afternoon while driving back from Louisiana, my little blue Subaru was murdered. Now, hubby and I are home licking our wounds and waiting for the whiplash to recede! Other than that, it was a lovely holiday weekend!

Hope your weekend was safer and involved less loss of property!


July 2, 2008

boule, glorious boule!

Well after about 437 hours I finally had my bread! Ain't she pretty?

I did use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for hearth bread, and will add the recipe as soon as I return home from visiting family.

Here I am, enjoying the fruits of my labor. (Note dorky work project schedules in the background...)

Thank you, Rose and my dear pizza stone.

July 1, 2008

hearth bread, how you taunt me

Oh, the emotional roller coaster of baking bread. Damn you, yeast!

I'm on my 2nd attempt at baking bread in two days. The first batch tonight, after 24 hours of allegedly developing a richer flavor in the fridge, the dough turned to glue in the mixer. Admittedly, this was to be expected: I accidentally tossed the salt in far too early, and likely killed all the little yeasties. I just thought I'd give it a try.

Here's attempt number two, during which I meticulously follow each word of Beranbaum's instructions, and read each word twice whilst trying to soak up every possible grain (tee hee! a pun; my apologies) of baking wisdom.

Please, bubble through, little sponge!! Now to insert toothpicks into my eyes and stay up past my desired bedtime in the hopes of Successful Crusty Bread.

The dusty apron, awaiting use once more.