Monday, September 20, 2010


Please, if you have a second, head over to the Project Food Bog site and vote for my entry!

Thanks - that's enough shameless self promotion for one day :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Project Food Blog: Challenge One

As I warned you recently, I am competing in the Project Food Blog Challenge by Foodbuzz, for our first challenge, each competitor was asked to create a post that defines us as a food blogger.

How do I define myself, channeling my inner zen I think the best way to tackle this is to describe why I started blogging, in a nut shell it encapsulates a lot about me and helps describe what matters to me both personally and as a food blogger.

In May 2004 my father began commuting between Austin, TX and Torreon Mexico for work, eventually moving down there and taking my mother with him. Over the next few years it was a sort of withdrawal for me, sure I spent time away from my parents but not like this, these two people who I love whole-heartedly also are two of my closest confidants, to have both of them so far away was tough to say the least.

In 2006 my mother started blogging, it was her way of sharing the ex-pat experience, first with our immediate family and not long after with many other people out in cyber-space. I have never considered myself much of a writer but she began encouraging me, to take photos and document the things around me. At the time I was starting to truly explore cooking and the boundaries of what I knew in terms of cuisine. Quickly I realized that food was what I could write about, what I cooked, what I shared with family and friends and of course, a sprinkling of my favorite team's football successes (with much less finesse than the cooking since I'm pretty amateur at football commentary). Thus began my journey, what I hope you draw from it is that for me, the important things about this blog are a combination of those who are closest to me (family and friends) and how I express myself for them, in cooking and sharing the fruits of my labor.

In honor of that theme, I would like to share a recipe that I recently made for a Friday-night dinner with my family, a spin on the classic, Mac 'n Cheese.

Italian Mac 'n Cheese

2 Large Sprigs Rosemary
2 Large Sprigs Oregano
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley
1/2 Cup Panko
6 Slices Pancetta
2 Lbs Pasta
1 Cup Halved Grape Tomatoes
1 Bell Pepper, Sliced
1/2 Cup + 4 Tbsp Butter
3 Cups Milk
1/2 Cup Flour
2 Cloves Minced Garlic
1 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Dried Oregano
2 Tsp White Pepper
2 Tsp Nutmeg
1 Tsp Cayenne
1 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 1/2 Cup Shredded Mozzarella
1 1/2 Cup Shredded Parmesan

1. Crisp the pancetta and saute garlic in a tsp of olive oil in a small skillet, remove pancetta and set aside. Once the pancetta is cool, coarsely chop it.
2. Heat milk over medium high in a sauce pan. While milk is heating, heat butter in a large skillet. When butter begins to bubble, add flour and garlic, whisk until well incorporated.
3. Pour milk into butter, whisk until thick.
4. Remove from heat and season with white pepper, cayenne pepper, pepper flakes, nutmeg and salt. Add 5 1/2 cups cheese (evenly split between the two types) and the chopped, crisp pancetta and mix well.
5. Boil pasta until al dente. Preheat oven to 375.
6. Spray 9x13 casserole pan with vegetable oil. Place drained pasta in pan then pour cheese sauce over the top.
7. Sprinkle pasta mix with panko and remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.
8. Bake until brown and bubbling, approx. 30 minutes.

I hope that you have a better picture of who I am and what I believe. The most important thing I can do is to bring my loved ones together and enjoy their company, the easiest way to do that is with a good meal, beyond that I just want to share my finds and experiences with others.

These are the people I cook for, and the people who exert the greatest influence over me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brunch is for Birthdays

Instead of England's early Sunday dinner, a postchurch ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies, why not a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee, marmalade and other breakfast fixtures before moving along to the heavier fare? By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday-night carousers. It would promote human happiness in other ways as well. Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.
- Guy Beringer, "Brunch: A Plea," Hunter's Weekly, 1895
What is brunch? Is it simply a portmanteau of breakfast and lunch, like linner (sorry had to throw that in there)? Is it merely a synonym for buffet, as the Office québécois de la langue française suggests? I prefer the definition wikipedia gives, "A meal cannot be considered brunch if it is started before 10 am, such meals would still be considered breakfast. Typically brunch is had at around 11 am, close to lunch time but still before." Simply stated, brunch is what you make of it...there are no rules surrounding what kind of food must be served at brunch nor is there a prescription for what drinks should be served, only that it should be served sometime after typical breakfast hours and still before lunch.

Brunch is such a great meal for socializing to me, it falls at a time that isn't obscene during the weekends (well for those who can sleep late, of which I'm not one) and it is socially acceptable to have alcoholic beverages with breakfast if you call it lunch....that sounded worse that I meant it to but oh well. No matter how you slice it, brunch is one of my favorite things to host, I regularly have brunch at my house with two of my closest girlfriends. While the particular brunch that I am going to share photos from happened in late August, we regularly have brunch to share our birthdays as my birthday (today, September 16) and my friend Mickey's birthday (September 9) are so close it works out well.

The particulars of brunch change from event to event, but this particular brunch had an elegant flair, with Eggs Florentine in Prosciutto, Roasted and Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Caps and a Dragon Fruit Melon Salad.

Dragon Fruit is something I had never tried before but that I found at our local Asian market, it is actually not just a single fruit but there are many varieties that are the fruit of certain cactus species. Dragon Fruit is native to Mexico, Central and South America and is also cultivated in Asian countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. They bloom only at night, the plant produces a large white flower that is called a 'moonflower' or 'Queen of the Night.' The specific Dragon Fruit I purchased had pink skin (not to be eaten) and a white flesh with tiny black seeds inside.

With the Dragon Fruit cut open and on display I decided it would meld nicely with a simple melon salad.

Dragon Fruit Melon Salad

1 Thai Melon
1 Dragon Fruit
Juice and Zest of One Orange
2 Tbsp Chopped Mint Leaves

Combine all ingredients, stir and allow to chill for at least one hour before serving.

With the fruit ready to go I set to work on the remainder of our brunch. The mushroom recipe that follows is from a cookbook I picked up this summer, Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone.

Portobello Mushrooms with Ricotta, Tomatoes and Basil

3 Medium Heirloom Tomatoes, halved and cored
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
3 Tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
3-4 Springs of Thyme
4 Portobello Mushrooms, stems removed
4 oz Fresh Ricotta Cheese
2 Tbsp Small Fresh Basil Leaves

1. Position an oven rack about 8 inches below the heating element and preheat the broiler to low heat. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a large heavy baking sheet. Drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Broil for 5-7 minutes.
2. Arrange the mushrooms, grill side down, on the same baking sheet with the tomatoes, and drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Broil the mushrooms and tomatoes for 5 minutes.
3. Turn the mushrooms gill side up and spoon ricotta onto the mushrooms. Continue broiling for another 5 minutes, or until the ricotta is heated through and beginning to brown on the top. At the point the tomatoes and mushrooms should be just tender and the tomatoes should be lightly browned on top. Transfer them to a platter, sprinkle with basil and serve.

Baked Eggs Florentine in Prosciutto Cups

16 Slices Prosciutto
8 Large Eggs
6 Cups Fresh Spinach Leaves
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/8 Tsp Freshly Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Tsp White Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Layering two pieces of prosciutto per cup, lay prosciutto into a muffin tin so that cups are formed. Once oven is hot, bake cups for 18 minutes.
2. Remove cups from oven, turn heat up to 450F. In a small bowl mix spices and parmesan cheese, set aside.
3. Distribute spinach equally among the cups and then place one egg inside of each cup. Sprinkle spice/cheese mixture over eggs and put in oven.
4. Bake 10-15 minutes, until eggs are just set. Serve hot.

As an aside (and to explain posts you may see soon), I have entered the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog competition, there will be a series of ten challenges I will need to complete (read as: there will be ten posts will be focused on challenge topics) running from September 19 through December 13. During this time I plan to continue to post my typical posts but I wanted to make sure to call attention to the other items as a special thing that will not last forever nor will they detract (hopefully) from the normal topics I write about. In advance I'd like to point anyone who is interested in reading about the contest, checking out the participants and hopefully voting for me ;) to the contest homepage.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fishing for the end of summer

As I heartily welcome Fall I also have to bid Summer adieu, during the last part of August I stumbled across some beautiful Amberjack tenderloins in the ice chests at the San Miguel Seafood stand in our local Farmers Market. My mother has extolled the virtues of the purveyors of San Miguel Seafood on our other blog, Fresh from the Heart of Texas, but I can't tell you enough how fabulous these guys are. Every ounce of product that comes from the gentlemen of San Miguel is delicious! So, I gladly took their recommendation, bought the Amberjack and then had to come up with a fantastic way to use it. Towards the end of July my boyfriend was sent to Malaysia for a business trip, three weeks later his homecoming meal was the tasty Amberjack tenderloin :)

Taking advantage of not just the beautiful fish I found but the other delights of our local Farmers Market, butternut squash, peaches, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos to make a great welcome home meal.

AmberJack with Peach Salsa and Butternut Squash Fritters

2 6oz AmberJack tenderloins
1/2 Tsp Cumin
1/2 Tsp Ancho Chile Powder
1/4 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Tsp Coarse Sea Salt
1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
3 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
Mixed Salad Greens

Butternut Squash Fritters
1 Small Butternut Squash, peeled, shredded and drained
1/4 Cup Flour
1 Small White Onion, diced
Salt & Pepper to taste
Vegetable Oil

Peach Salsa
2 White Flesh Peaches, cubed
1 Blush Peach, cubed
2 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped
1 Small Red Onion, diced
1 Large Jalapeno, seeded, diced
1 Tsp Adobo Chile Powder
1/2 Tsp Coarse Salt
2 Tbsp Fresh Lime Juice

1. Mix all salsa ingredients together, let sit at least 30 minutes ahead of beginning cooking.
2. Prepare fritter mixture.
3. Season fish with all seasonings, melt butter in a large skillet and add oil.
4. Sear the fish on both sides, spooning oil/butter over the side not touching the skillet.
5. After fish is seared, place in oven at 250F for 20 minutes.
6. Once fish is in the oven, heat enough vegetable oil in a large skillet to come up about 1 inch in the skillet. Once the oil is heated and ready, drop rounded fritters into pan (only a few, maybe three max at a time). Cook so that both sides are browned, 3-4 minutes total.

After fritters and fish are done, plate, place fish atop mixed greens and top with salsa.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Missing an Ingredient? No Problem!

Ingredient substitution, it's something we all do, but is it really always a good idea? In my family the phrase "I didn't I used...." is infamous, my maternal great-grandmother (who was a home-ec teacher for many years) was notorious for her substitutions. I have childhood memories of our family sitting around the table at her house and my grandfather (her son) saying, "Mother, what is this?" about dinner, her response was something to the effect that we were eating a tuna salad, although she wanted to use mayo in it and didn't have mayo so she used Cool Whip! Or, one of my mom's least favorite substitutions, if something called for tomato and she was out, it might have been topped with katsup instead.

While these are definitely extreme examples, and hopefully one no one can identify with :) it illustrates just how confusing things can get when you start searching for a substitute for an ingredient. Some of us do it because we lack a specific ingredient (who doesn't get home from the grocery store without a key item occasionally?) or we do it because we want a healthier recipe (maybe subbing apple sauce into a baked good?), either way if you aren't extremely good at it, your recipe may be ruined. Because of the family jokes I am usually pretty leery of substituting things, the older I get the more adventurous I am but something about being ridiculed by the family makes me look for only the best substitutions. The internet offers a wealth of options, one of my favorite substitution charts can be found on the, maybe it will help you too, or if you have a better resource please share! Well for all of you substitute-rs out there, good luck!

In the spirit of substitutions, my recipe for Lemon-Raspberry Muffins with sour cream instead of all that butter!

Lemon-Raspberry Muffins
2 Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 Tsp Vanilla
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup Raspberries
Juice and Zest of 1 Large Lemon

1. Beat eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla
2. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
3. Slowly add dry ingredients to the egg mixture alternately with the sour cream.
4. Fold lemon juice, zest and raspberries into mixture.
5. Bake 20 minutes in a 400F oven.

Makes 12 regular sized muffins

Friday, September 10, 2010

To Can or Not To Can...

For the record I had never touched canning equipment or even had a clue how to can until this past summer, thanks for my mom (and my own interest in some more traditional cooking concepts) I learned exactly how to can this summer. The produce available all summer long made the task so simple, everything from onion relish, onion marmalade, spicy tomato chutney, peach preserves, vanilla peach jam to tomatillo jam, strawberry rhubarb jam and of course many veggies that ended up in pickling brine! For a glimpse at the many things we canned, check out this set of pictures on mom's Flickr stream. By no means will this be the end of my canning adventures, merely the beginning, I think there might be some canning coming up for Xmas gifts too :)

Canning used to feel like something that maybe my great grandmother would have undertaken, it didn't interest me all that much because to me there were so many options for cooking with the fresh products available to me, why can them? Part of the allure for me comes from the fact that it's one of those lost arts (in my mind), something that historically speaking everyone used to do but it kind of fell from popularity. It seems the current economic situation has brought preservation of food back into vogue as this summer canning supplies were easy to find and canning was easy to see on TV cooking shows and in magazines. So how did it come about?

The canning process dates back to the late 18th century where the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, concerned about keeping his armies fed, offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation. Nicholas Appert envisioned preserving food in bottles, like wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it will not spoil.

Nicolas Appert, developer of the canning process.

Oh the French, well thanks to Appert for his experimentation and development of the method, as all good things do, canning went through many iterations with the British using tin cans beginning in 1813 and some of our own American countrymen developing wholesale canning operations for commercial canning around the same time.

So the basic process here is that you cook/create the substance you plan to can (brine the pickles, make the jam, etc.) then you tightly put the lids on the jars and you boil them for a set amount of time. I have oversimplified things a bit but the idea is the same regardless of what you are canning. Canning can be done in one of two ways, first via a pressure cooker (those foods that must be canned this way include most veggies, meats, seafood, poultry and dairy products), or second, with a boiling water bath (foods that can be canned this way are highly acidic ones with a pH below 4.6,[1] such as fruits, pickled vegetables, or other foods to which acidic additives have been added).

While we canned lots of things and will likely be reprising our canning fiesta later in the year, for now we're just enjoying the fruits of our labor. To that end, I wanted to share a tomatillo jam that has been the dark horse of the canned goods here, it was the unexpected and yet very well liked recipe. It's delicious on warm cornbread, pork or poultry (not the fanciest picture here but it's sitting on a tasty pork tenderloin).

Tomatillo (or Ground Cherry) Jam
From The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich

3 lbs Tomtillos
4 Cups White Sugar

1. Remove the husks from the fruit, quarter or half them (depending on how large they are).
2. Place fruit in a large sauce pot, set pan over low heat and cover the pan. Cook the fruit, stirring occasionally, until it is soft. Mash it briefly with a potato masher. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Stir in the sugar. Over medium heat, heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil the jam until a drop mounds in a chilled dish.
4. Ladle the jam into pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 bread

College football, hatch chiles, school starting, what does this all mean....FALL! Funny thing, I would say fall is my favorite season but that wouldn't be true, any season is my favorite season, they all hold promise and beauty, I think it's just the changing of the seasons that makes me happy. It seems to reinvigorate me, the changing of the seasons reminds me that nothing ever stays the same and yet there's always beautiful familiarity in it. Not to get too zen there but I could wax poetic about my love of the turning of the seasons for quite some time. While the weather hasn't exactly changed around here (except for some serious rain) fall has started, ither way I'm pretending it feels like fall, hence the previous post being a stew! To go along with that warm, yummy stew I had to make some bread that showcased two of my favorite ingredients, Texas beer (Shiner!) and hatch peppers. I have to share that my inspiration for the bread was a post/bread that Girlichef did earlier in August. So late last week I set out to mix up these things I love into something else I love...bread, yup no Atkins diet here!

Hatch 'n Hef Bread
1 12oz bottle Shiner Hefewisen (or comparable beer), room temperature
2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 Lb (appx 4 cups) all purpose flour
1/2-1 cup hatch chile peppers, roasted, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1. Mix all dry ingredients together.
2. Stir in beer and chiles.
3. Knead until all is mixed well and bread has smooth consistency.
4. Let rise, covered in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
5. Punch down, let rise again for 2-4 hours.
6. In an oven pre-heated to 450 F, bake for 30-35 minutes. Slash the top of the bread and place a handful of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven (the steam from the ice will help create a crispy crust on the bread).

Oh yea, and for those of you who care (which might only be me), the Longhorns won their season opener against Rice and are looking forward to a great season:

09/04 at Rice (Reliant Stadium)
09/11 Wyoming (Austin)
09/18 at Texas Tech
09/25 UCLA (Austin)
10/02 at Oklahoma (Cottonbowl, Dallas)
10/16 at Nebraska
10/23 Iowa State (Austin)
10/30 Baylor (Austin)
11/06 at Kansas State
11/13 Oklahoma State (Austin)
11/20 Florida Atlantic (Austin)
11/25 Texas A&M (Austin)