Friday, October 30, 2009

"to all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends"

the food: Carrot Oatmeal Cookies
the song: "Sure Shot" Beastie Boys

It is a beautiful, cloudy morning in Austin. I've had a wonderful day- I took the day off for a weekend trip with my mom. Tomorrow (Halloween) is her birthday, so I'm heading up to her part of Texas for a long weekend. I'm happy to be spending her birthday weekend with her. For a birthday treat to snack on all weekend, I'm taking her these cookies.

I know, I know...2 sweets posts in a row? That's very unlike me. I tend to gravitate towards the savory and cheesy things in life, opting for a second taste of dinner instead of dessert. But these little cuties are different. Let me show you why.

Wha'? What are those carrots doing in there? If my last post was an ode to the full-fat dessert, this one is a testimony to the possibilities healthy(ish) sweets have to offer. This recipe comes from Heidi over at 101cookbooks. They are my favorites for several reasons. First of all,
the most obvious: they are not too sweet, not too bad for you, and easy to pull together (once the shredding and chopping is done). Second, they are incredibly versatile. These are delicious with my morning coffee this chilly morning, and they perfectly compliment beer and hot dogs during summer cookouts (really- I know it sounds weird, but it is a really nice combination.) And finally, they are fun to serve. After all the ooh-ing and mmm-ing dies down, tell people they are sugar free. Heidi's version is even vegan, if you want to really blow people away.

My breakfast...and dessert.

Oatmeal Carrot Cookies
adapted from 101cookbooks

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded carrots
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup butter, melted
½ tsp All Spice (I use Chinese 5 Spice because it is in my pantry)
½ tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, All Spice, and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. In a smaller bowl, use a whisk to combine the maple syrup, vanilla and butter. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one tablespoon at a time. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

There you have it. A sure shot cookie for (almost) any occasion.
These might be the perfect break after all that Halloween candy. Speaking of...Happy Halloween! Go watch zombie movies! And happy birthday to my lovely Mom.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"if someone offers you some sugar, he should eat it"

the food: Nantucket Cranberry Pie
the song: "Sweet Treat" Smog

This cool fall weather is doing a number on my food cravings. All I've been wanting lately is warm and fatty foods in big portions. Just check out the things I'm posting on my Tumblr. Really- where did all the vegetables go? All I see is cheese. I love this cool weather, but I've still go some swimsuit wearing to 1 week, we're heading to Cabo San Lucas for a family wedding. Funny thing is,
I've been getting lots of compliments lately. Maybe I need to not beat myself up for the savory and sweet fall foods and just go with it. This fall, satisfied is the new skinny. :)

I made this fantastic dessert for Sunday brunch with my folks. This is the third or fourth time I've made it--all the previous times I had tried to make it somewhat healthier. 1/2 whole wheat flour (ok, actually, just not quite as flakey)...less sugar...less butter...even one with half maple syrup (no dice). This time, though, I made it the way the original recipe called for- with all the butter and sugar flakely and beautifully intact. It will be a while before I experiment with this recipe is almost perfect. I mean come on- it is dessert. This recipe is so short and simple. Make it with cranberries, while they are available. Once they aren't, you could use blueberries or (as my mom suggested) cherries.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

2 cups fresh cranberries, halved
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon almond extract

Spread the cranberries, walnuts, and 1/4 cup sugar in the bottom of a cake pan. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl to form a batter. Pour the batter over the cranberry mixture and bake it for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

This recipe is adapted from Cooking Books, who received a shout-out on thekitchn for this very dessert.

Mmmmm- looking at these pictures makes me wish I had some left. But it went quickly. No one has ever turned down leftovers, and most I've served it to go back for seconds. That's fall food at its best.


Monday, October 26, 2009

"the pictures are all I can feel"

No real post today- I just wanted to share some food images from the weekend.

First lettuce harvest.

New Belgium Transatlantic Kriek sampler at Flying Saucer Beer Fest.

Skillet smashed potatoes for Sunday brunch with my parents.

The beginnings of Nantucket Cranberry Pie. Recipe coming soon!

Good, busy, and delicious weekend. I look forward to writing more about the Beer Fest, that awesome dessert, and my garden bounty soon.


Friday, October 23, 2009

"there's barely time for us to breathe"

the food: Swiss Chard, Mushroom, & Carmelized Onion Bruschetta
the song: "There's Never Enough Time" Postal Service

Yaaaawwwn. Is it the weekend already? This week has flown by with little time to stop and breathe. We've been working on various projects, some together and some separate (this link is John's. If I linked to one for me, it would be this one. Boring!) Weeks like this can get a girl feeling a little down. I come home exhausted after a day with the little ones, and want nothing more than to shower and climb into bed until my alarm goes off the next morning. But I don't. Like everyone else, I am faced with questions when the clock hits 5: are the clothes washed? are the dishes put away? do we have cat food? is it trash night? do we have (enough) beer in the fridge? Inevitably, the most important question is always "
what's for dinner?"

I really love food. I love reading about it, looking at pictures of it, talking about it, and writing about it. I love growing it, shopping for it, chopping it, and cooking it. But most of all, I really love eating it and sharing it. It has become my way to unwind, even when I
think all I want to do is fall into bed. All that chopping and simmering, smelling and tasting, "mmm"ing and belly rubbing. When I can't motivate myself to do anything else, I can usually muster up something to eat. The dishes might not get finished that night, but bellies in my house will always be full when the lights go out. Seriously...if I ever am too tired to eat, rush me to the hospital.

This was an exceptionally good dinner, at the end of a long day when there was very little energy left. It came together very easily, with homegrown Swiss chard, fridge leftovers from last week's shopping trip, and a quick stop for good cheese and fresh bread. I felt immediately rejuvenated after taking my first bite. Served with a nice salad, this will be a new staple in our kitchen for a busy week night meal.

Swiss Chard, Mushroom & Carmelized Onion Bruschetta

for the topping:
big bunch Swiss Chard, thick lower stems removed, sliced into bite size strips
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
8-10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 or 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vegetable broth

for the rest
1/2 loaf thick, airy bread
1/2 cup gruyere or mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup feta
olive oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion then cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Then add the red pepper flakes, mushrooms, and garlic. Stir for about 20 seconds until you are hit with the aroma of the garlic then immediately add the broth and the greens. Adjust the heat to medium-low then cover the skillet. Cook until the greens are almost tender, about 5 minutes.*
Meanwhile, slice your bread width-wise down the middle. Throw it into a 350 degree oven, sliced side down, laying side by side for about 5 minutes. When your topping is ready, remove bread from oven and flip it over. Brush sliced sides with olive oil and top with a good covering of gruyere (or mozzarella) and chard topping. Sprinkle on a little feta, or any other of your favorite salty cheese, and pop it back in the oven for about 10 minutes, until everything looks melty. Slice into stips and eat every last bite.

*The method for cooking the swiss chard and onions comes from the beautiful Not Without Salt blog. Can't wait to try the taco version one day!

So there it is--an awesomely easy dinner to round out a tiring day. I'm so glad it is the weekend. This is a big one, too. The Austin Flying Saucer is hosting their 2nd annual Fall Beer Fest (yay!), and my parents are coming down for it (double yay!). My step-dad is a big beer drinker- might be where I get it from- and I'm super psyched to see them. I want to wake up tomorrow and bake cookies, but I probably will do something less fun like wash last night's dishes.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"companionship is where you find it"

the food: Brooklyn Beer Dinner at Alamo Lakecreek
the music: "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" The Mountain Goats

Garrett Oliver is a bad ass. I don't have a more delicate way to say it. He is a founding board member of Slow Food USA, has judged Great American Beer Festival for the past 11 years, and authored
The Brewmaster's Table which is all about pairing food and beer (and #1 on my Christmas wish list.) I was fortunate enough to attend the Brooklyn Beer dinner with my husband on Sunday night and it was an experience better than I even imagined.

Garrett Oliver welcomed the crowd and started talking about Wonder Bread. He eloquently and concisely traced the decline of American craft breweries with the decline of real food in America, but explained beer is coming back, thanks to the rise in food culture. According to Oliver, making beer that tastes like water is actually pretty difficult, much in the same way that an accomplished baker could never make Wonder Bread in their home kitchen. It made me think of the guys from King Corn trying to make high fructose corn syrup in at home (3:51 in this video).

The food was meat based, so we unfortunately did not get to taste all the pairings.
But I think we did get to taste the best one. The second course was Chingri Malai paired with Cuvee de Cardoz (not available in Texas, but I will keep my fingers crossed). Chef Paul prepared the curry the same day as the feast, and was kind enough to fry up a little tofu for us to enjoy the creamy coconut milk and lemongrass sauce. As soon as I sipped the beer, I understood the curry pairing. Oliver collaborated with an Indian chef to develop the beer, and it is deliciously complex and spicy. The only flavor I immediately identified when I sipped was ginger, but there are so many tastes that perfectly complimented its curry companion. You can read a more specific description of the beer here.

We sadly missed out on dessert- homemade pumpkin graham cracker, Local 2 marshmallow 'smore- but had the delicious Black Chocolate Stout, so we weren't lacking in flavor. This is a new beer to me, just popping up in our Central Market. I generally shy away from Chocolate Stouts- they are often just too sweet for my taste. But this beer was so subtle and calm- nothing overwhelming or syrupy. The perfect dessert, really. And as if that wasn't enough, I also sampled a fan-baked pumpkin chocolate beer cake from MisoHungry. Woah.

Other beers we sampled were among our favorites... the Local 1 and Local 2, which we are fortunate enough to have access to in Texas. Oliver ended the evening by saying that his goal as a craft brewer is to make beer worthy of the time you spend around the table, which is the most important and best time we all have together. He encouraged us to slow down and pay attention to what we eat and drink.

Again, I was a little sad to not taste the other amazing looking chef creations, but I'll take what I can get. Alamo Lakecreek shows a lot of love for beer and brewers, and I always jump at the chance to attend any of their beer events.
We had a blast, and I'm grateful to the Drafthouse for yet another fantastic night spent around the table.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

"how sweet this world can be"

Before I start, I just want to say "Hook 'em!" Football has never been that important in my life (hence writing a post while watching one of the most important games of the season), but I'm from Austin, dammit, and I'm so glad those boys in orange won. I hope they are all celebrating at the Texas State Fair today with some victory fried butter.

the food: Wink 5 course vegetarian dinner

the song: "Heaven" Orange Mothers

We are rounding out our anniversary week with some college football and breakfast tacos. It has been a good week, although I kind of wish we has a mandatory vacation built into our work schedules for anniversaries. We've both been busy, but we did take some time out this week for some specialness (most involving food). Tuesday night, I made a delicious dinner inspired by a couple of recipes for pastas involving butternut squash. My main inspiration was Giada De Laurentiis, with secondary hints from Vegan Dad. I followed Giada's recipe closely, adding walnuts instead of the ameretti cookies and garlic to the sauce instead of nutmeg (those are interchangeable, right?). I was clearly going for more savory than sweet. And the verdict? Yes to butternut squash lasagna with a garlicy bechumel. We enthusiastically ate leftovers all week. I will most certainly be making this again.

Friday night we shared an AMAZING anniversary meal at Wink. My wonderful husband (of 4 years- woot!) chose the place, and there is no way he could have picked something more up my alley. We started out at the wine bar, where the awesome wine goddess Darcie started telling us about the menu. After she gushed about the grass fed beef, quail breast and venison on the menu, we told her about our diet. She assured us that the chefs would not spit in our food and that the chefs could even alter the 5 course dinner for vegetarian eaters. When we expressed interest, she went over to the restaurant to give the chefs a heads up so they could be brainstorming. As we sipped something bubbly and light to whet our appetites, our one-of-a-kind meal was being planned. Score one for Wink.

We were seated around 8:30, greeted by name by the manager and presented with menus that read "Happy Anniversary, Emily and John!" The date was also printed at the top, because Wink does a daily rotating menu based on the items they get from local farms. Add another tally mark. Our waiter opened up the evening by telling us about the Slow Food movement and another lovely wine selection. At this point, I was beaming, and I hadn't even tasted the food. Wink-3. Us-Not a chance.

I'm going to go ahead and write about our courses, but please be aware that words do no justice for the taste and service we experienced.

course one: Lolla Rosa with Texas Galla apple, goat feta, and walnut-sherry vinaigrette
course two: parsley gnocchi (holla!) with long beans and carrots
course three: okra & eggplant with black pepper gravy and herb yogurt biscuit
course four: confit potato, trumpet mushrooms, zucchini, and black truffle cream corn
course five: goat cheeseplate from Pure Luke Farm

Just amazing. truffle cream corn. Did you see? We started eating a little before 9 and didn't leave the restaurant until 11:30. We agreed it was probably the best dining experience we've had. At the end of our meal, our waiter brought back our menus which had been autographed by the chefs. After that food, I felt a little star-struck.

Our Wink experience was a great way to celebrate. I feel so lucky to be with a man that appreciates food, is adventurous with food, and understands the value of a good meal. We moved to Austin in 2001, away from our folks for the first time and learned to eat and cook for ourselves...together. We've come a long way. But from dorm food and Velveeta shells and cheese to butternut squash lasagna and parsley gnocchi, it's all been pretty perfect.

Thanks to Scott & Tem, who took our wedding photos. They did an amazing job.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"i'll be so good to you"

the food: 4th anniversary dinner
the song: "Marry Me" St. Vincent

Ok, I've got the menu figured out for tonight's (almost) anniversary dinner! Here it goes:

Appetizers: apple & pear, served with raw milk cheddar and gorgonzola

Main Course: butternut squash lasagna, roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic
Dessert: vanilla ice cream, covered with Raspberry Lambic

Is there any vegetable that says love more than butternut squash?

They are intimidating. They take a lot of work. But just look how beautiful they are.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

"you're sound asleep with the cats as I climb back in bed with you"

the food: Migas Pie
the song: Overlee The Rentals

Laziest day ever. I've been in my pajamas all day long. It is rainy and chilly in is still raining now, as a matter of fact...and it was a perfect stay at home and do nothing sort of day. I did manage to make these tasty Beer Bread Pecan Rolls for breakfast, subbing walnuts because that's what I had in the pantry and using a honey wheat home brew for the beer. Other than that, I read, petted cats, watched Glee, and very leisurely washed clothes and kind of cleaned house.

Before the weekend is over and I go back to the kids tomorrow, I wanted to quickly post a recipe so I can feel like I did something today.
Take a minute to prepare yourself. Ok, ready? Now soak up these two delicious words: Migas Pie. Uh huh. A good friend of ours suggested this idea a few weeks ago and I was immediately enthralled by it. In searching for recipes, I was heavily influenced by the migas over at Homesick Texan, and by this hilarious 'guy food by a hot girl' (in this case, Mary Louise Parker who is indeed very hot) section in Esquire. This recipe involves a lot of chopping, so factor all that in when you're thinking about preparation time. Here we go.

Migas Pie

2 jalapenos, diced
½ onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 roma tomato, diced
½ cup cilantro
6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
7 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese

Heat about 1 teaspoon olive oil in medium skillet. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes and cilantro.
Next (to quote the lovely Mary Louise Parker), “rip seven corn tortillas into scraps the size of a baby's fist, sauté till golden”, and arrange them into a pie crust at the bottom of a pie pan. It is also fun to play around with a lattice crust, so save a few tortillas for that, too. Crack your eggs into a large bowl. Add milk, a little s & p, and whisk. Then stir in sauted vegetables and 1/2 cup cheese. Pour into your tortilla crust, then add your lattice.
Cook for about 45 minutes at 350. After about 30 minutes, pull out the pie and sprinkle remaining cheese on the top. Check the center with a knife to make sure egg is thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving. Serve with plenty of salsa.

The final product, mere minutes before it was devoured.

Well, I guess my lazy Sunday is drawing to a close. Big week ahead...I'll be planning an special meal for me and the husband this Tuesday. We celebrate our four year anniversary on Thursday, so I've reserved Tuesday as a special meal/special bottle of wine night. I've got some thinking to do about the meal because right now I'm a little stumped. We're also trying to decide where to go out later in the week. Last year we went to Boticelli's and it was amazing, so the bar is set pretty high. But whatever we decide, the whole week is bound to be filled with good food, celebration, and happiness.


Friday, October 9, 2009

"i try to get right with myself"

the food: Pan Seared Gnocchi with Asparagus and Mushrooms
the song: "No Key, No Plan" Okkervil River

tinker, tinker, tinker.

Well, I made it to my one month mark
without changing the format of this little blog. I'm constantly working at overcoming my shyness...or maybe it's just my lack of confidence. So it's very like me to second guess my format, my recipes, my pictures, even my words themselves. But I've made it one month, so I'm giving myself a permission to tinker.

In honor of my one month of consistent writing, I decided to cook gnocchi, and show some love to one of my favorite bands. It seems like I've been following Okkervil my entire adult life. They were starting to get some attention right around the time the husband and I moved to Austin in 2001 to start UT, and they have consistently and without fail blown me away every time I've seen them play. After 8 years, I will still jump at the chance to see this band. We were fortunate enough to see them at an Austin City Limits taping back in June. When it airs, I'll be easy to spot in the crowd. I'll be the super fan sitting next to the other super fan, singing every word with reckless abandon.

Now, for the food. This is one of those dishes I cook that relies on processed, packaged food even though I generally try my best to avoid those. There are several foods I'm just totally intimidated to make from scratch. Pastas of all kinds fall under this category. For this reason, I use store bought gnocchi. My confidence is growing daily, however, and before the year is over I will attempt gnocchi from scratch. But for now, let me share my favorite gnocchi recipe.
This basic recipe is one of the best for seasonal eating. Keep the gnocchi and mushrooms (if you like them), then change up the green vegetable. The original calls for Brussels sprouts, sliced as thin as possible and sauteed until crisp tender. But until the weather gets a little cooler and while asparagus is still cheap, I'll cook it this way.

Pan Seared Gnocchi
adapted from Vegetarian Times, February 2009

1 16 oz. package gnocchi
about 10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 lb. asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup shaved or shredded parmesan
handful of pine nuts, toasted
splash of wine, beer, or vegetable broth
olive oil

First, prepare the asparagus. Remove the tough end. I use my hands to break the asparagus at its natural tough point, then clean it up with a knife. Then cut the stalks at an angle into bite size pieces. Steam for about 4-5 minutes, until asparagus are still crisp, but cooked throughout.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add gnocchi, and cook 5-7 minutes until browned, turning often. Transfer to large bowl.

Add mushrooms and a bit more olive oil to skillet. Add a healthy splash of tasty liquid here (wine, beer, broth) and a generous amount of pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until mushrooms absorb most of the liquid. Add steamed asparagus and chopped garlic and stir together about 1 minute, just allowing flavors to permeate the vegetables.

Stir gnocchi back into skillet*. You might want to add another splash of liquid here to help it all come together. Remove from heat after a few minutes and stir in pine nuts and parmesan.

*I fully admit this next statement is one of the most bourgeoisie things to ever come out of my mouth, but if you have truffle oil sitting around your house, I highly recommend adding a tiny bit when you're doing the last stirring in the skillet. It adds a nice flavor that compliments the textures of this meal.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

"something stronger to start off the day"

Yesterday's brunch... Tortilla Egg Cups, Black Beans, Swiss Chard
Yesterday's song...
"Bloody Mary Morning" Willie Nelson We just got back from an AMAZING and decadent brunch at
Moonshine with a good group of friends. I truly love this place, and if it were socially acceptable I might go every Sunday and just eat plate after plate of broccoli rice casserole and white chocolate bread pudding.

I love brunch. It really is such a forgiving meal. I especially love a large scale brunch with lots of friends and plenty of time. Had I never heard of brunch before, it might go something like this:

"So let me get this straight- there are eggs cooked 4 different ways? Oh, wait 5 ways...I just spotted the deviled eggs. Is that an espresso bunt cake right next to the salad? Now that you mention it, it does seem like a good idea to get some pancakes with my biscuits and gravy and sweet potatoes. And you'll bring me a drink with...hold and tomato juice and Tabasco?? I'm sold."

Seriously, you could never get away any of that at just a plain old breakfast, and certainly not lunch. At brunch, though, everything just seems to fit together. Willie knows what I'm talkin' about.

Some time ago, a few good friends of ours organized a brilliant pot luck brunch at their home. We ate outside, each contributing our own special item. I brought baked cheese grits (even then my love for polenta was guiding my decisions.) The standout of the brunch (other than the cheese grits, thank you very much) was egg cups, made by a friend whose aunt operates a bed & breakfast and provided her with a version of this recipe. I've made them numerous times since then, and yesterday I think I hit the nail on the head...just the right cooking time, a nice assortment of ingredients, and a lovely crunch.

There are several reasons I like this recipe so much. The first is that the result is very cute and looks nice on the plate. These are also perfect to make for a group- it takes just as much effort to make 4 (like I did yesterday morning for the husband and myself) as it does to make 24. And finally, I love the versatility of these puppies. After I'd been making this recipe for several months, I ran across a similar and delicious baked egg recipe on 101cookbooks that uses pita bread instead of tortillas. They are good with just about any filling, from peppers to mushrooms and spinach. I can imagine them being quite tasty with veggie sausage (or real sausage, omnivores) if you wanted something a little more hearty.

One last thing...I make these different every time; it all depends on what I have in my fridge. This recipe is what I came up with yesterday, and it was a very tasty combo. Also, a note about the cooking time. My husband tends to get a little grossed out by runny egg yolk, so we cook ours all the way through.18 minutes or even just a smidge longer is perfect for us, but it took me several times of cooking these to get it just right. If you like the yolks a little oozy, I recommend checking the whites with a toothpick after about 12-15 minutes. As long as those aren't runny, you're ready to eat.

Tortilla Egg Cups

3 flour tortillas, quartered- (in my opinion, corn get too crunchy. But be adventurous with flavored flour tortillas-this time, I used multi grain.)
6 eggs
about 2 tablespoons chopped marinated tomatoes
1/4 onion, chopped
5 or 6 mushrooms, chopped small
1/2 bell pepper
1 large garlic clove, diced
shredded parmesan
shredded cheddar
salt & pepper
olive oil

salsa for serving

Heat a bit of olive oil in a medium skillet. Saute onion and bell pepper for a few minutes until they start to soften, then add mushrooms and garlic and saute until all vegetable are just cooked. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes.
Prep a regular size muffin pan with some non-stick spray. Overlap 2 quarters of a tortilla in the bottom, point ends down, so they form a cup.

Place the following in the cup:
about a teaspoon of vegetable mixture*
one egg (don't beat)
shredded parmesan & shredded cheddar

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, depending on how done you like your eggs.
Serve with salsa.

*I like to cook my beans in the same skillet with the leftover vegetable mixture. Less dishes and less waste is always a good thing!