Posted by: Rachel | April 7, 2014

so, what have *you* been up to?

Yikes – where did the past month (month!!) go?

Well, (if you know me then you know this is true) mid-March into May (or whenever it gets too hot) I just let indoor things slide. I’ve been busy, though, *really* busy (really!)!

Yard “work” – I cleaned out my wash tub ponds, replanted and restocked them.

Squirrel on rock in washtub pond

Ahhhhh, fresh water! Finally!!

I went on another wonderful Slow Food Austin farm tour, this time at Munkebo Farm. I had a wonderful time, and what a fine bunch of folks!

large stately bull

Moooooo…

Greeted some returning “old” friends.

male blackchin hummingbird at feeder

Mmmm, juicy!

Had fun at the flower show at Zilker Festival again, and oh were we lucky with the weather this year! A perfect weekend!

small "nosegay" of herbs in a small green glass bottle

Mmmmm! Fresh!

Been amused by spring’s “springiness”:

peacock strutting with full fan tail

I feel pretty, oh so pretty…

And generally been mucking about outdoors as much as possible! Clean up, new plantings (another crepe myrtle, a Mexican buckeye, another big Texas sage etc etc – photos next time, OK?) I’m very happy to report that I didn’t loose as much of my citrus as I thought I had, and all of my figs seem to have come through fine.

Whew… Pretty exhausting overall.

my outdoor cats, resting together

just a quick catnap, ok?

Once in a while I cooked, but that’s another story (grin). Oh and I’m taking a writing class, and doing my best to find time to spend with friends as well. And I’ve missed all of you!

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been doing? Hope your season, whatever it may be where you are, is going well for you! I’ll try (try, but not promise) to stay in touch better, but I’m betting you understand, right? Until next time…

Posted by: Rachel | March 9, 2014

parsley, sage, cilantro, and thyme…

Every year around this time I promise myself that I will be reasonable, that I will show restraint, that I won’t over-buy on new herbs for my garden. And every year I get seduced by those 4-inch pots of scented yumminess, and fail totally. This year, though, it isn’t my fault – honest!

My friend is clearing out her herb bed to make room for “real food”. She offered me pretty much my pick of her crop (thank you again!!), and how could I say no? I guess, and if you know me at all you already know this, I couldn’t!

We dug ‘em up, set them gently in (recycled, of course) pots to protect the root balls, and I hauled them down to my part of town. That’s how my car came to smell like salsa – that cilantro is potent stuff! I think (assuming it takes kindly to being transplanted) that I will use what I can then let it go to seed. Mmmm…

herbs in the back of my car

parsley, sage, la la la…

The parsley is the curly leaf kind. Very pretty, very healthy, and while not as tasty as the Italian sort, it’ll do fine. The sage should be happy, and I hope the lemon thyme will be as well.

The only one that is new to my garden is the cutting or leaf celery. Oh does it smell wonderful! It looks very healthy, so I’m hoping it will be happy here. I’ve never grown it, only read about it, but I am envisioning soups, adding it to sautéed onions as a base in lots of dishes, or maybe just to munch on! Mmmm…

We had rain (RAIN!!!) yesterday almost all day here, good Irish-style gently drizzly rain. The ground is soft today and I’m in a planting mood, so I’m off to find spots in my beds for these babies. Yes, I said yes before I figured out where I’d put them all… I’m bad that way but I’m sure it will work out fine. I’ll keep you posted on their progress over the summer!

If it is spring where you are, what are your garden plans? If not, how is your garden? Still covered with snow? Enjoy whatever the season and, as always, bon appetit! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | January 26, 2014

the cauliflower variation

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I am mad about chestnuts. And, you know I keep bags of them on hand year ’round because I love them so.

Since we have actually been having winter this winter, I’ve been digging into my reserves and finding new and different (at least for me) ways to incorporate them into my “winter” diet. Here’s one for you.

These past few weeks my local grocery has practically been throwing cauliflower at us. They are huge, snowy white, and cheap! So… since I can’t pass up such a good deal I got to thinking.

I’m sure this is not original. Nothing really is – there are only eight notes in music and everything else is a variation, right? But I haven’t seen this precise combination before and I think you might enjoy it too.

I’ve been making this dish without the cauliflower for use as a pasta sauce since I got back from that Italy trip last November. It is a very rough take off on a dinner I enjoyed (enormously!) at the Patria Palace Hotel after slogging around on an immensely rainy day in Lecce.

They made it with chestnuts, mushrooms, and shrimp as a pasta sauce. It was just what I needed. Mmmmmmmmmm!!

You may remember that during the trip I discovered burrata, what I call the “ship in a bottle” cheese. I will never understand how they get that cream in the center, but oh my, does it add to a sauce!

I can only give you rough amounts, as this is one of those “slightly different each time” recipes. I add pancetta if I have it and if I am not feeding vegetarians. I add onions if I’m in the mood. I went with the cauliflower variation only because, as I said above, I couldn’t resist it!

Here’s how I did the cauliflower variation.

Cauliflower Bake

ready to pop into the oven

almost ready

1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil
1 5-ounce bag prepared chestnuts (about 1 C)
oyster mushrooms, rough chopped
1/2 head cauliflower cut into small florets
pancetta (optional)
burrata
salt and pepper as desired

Butter an oven-proof baking dish.
Preheat the oven to 325F

(If you are using pancetta, chop it and cook it over medium heat in a large pan until slightly browned.)

Add olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions gently until tender but do not brown. Add the mushrooms and chestnuts. Cook down until the mushrooms are soft and the chestnuts can be mashed with a fork. Mash the chestnuts slightly but leave some nice chunks.

Add the cauliflower and toss or stir to incorporate. Cut the burrata into bits over the pan so the cream runs in, and stir to incorporate.

finished "casserole"

baked and beautiful

Scrape the contents of the pan into the baking dish, cover tightly with foil and bake for 1/2 hour.
***
You can skip the baking step if you like, by covering the pan and letting the cauliflower cook down, but I think baking it melds the flavors and melts the cheese better.

If you can’t find oyster mushrooms, any variety will do but I love the woodsy, meaty flavor of the oyster mushrooms.

You could also use those silly colored cauliflower varieties (yellow, green, purple…) that are showing up these days. Who knows? Maybe that’s a way to get more veggies into kids… and it certainly would be festive!

This is one of those “enjoy with green salad, crusty bread, and red wine” recipes I so love. If you are gluten-intolerant, skip the bread (obviously) but the sentiment remains. Enjoy this during cold or wet weather and buon appetito!

Posted by: Rachel | January 15, 2014

let me be the last…

By now I trust everyone else that you know has wished you a Happy New Year. So, let me be the last. Happy New Year! Yup, I finally got around to it, sorry it took so long!

I really don’t quite know how it got to be mid-January already! I mean, I’ve been busy, sure, and lazy when I wasn’t busy, but really!

In any case, here’s a little something I just discovered on someone else’s blog. Do I remember whose blog it was? Nope. Bad blogger, bad, bad blogger. I’ll try to do better next time. What I did manage to remember was that they (good blogger) credited Bon Appetit, and yup, if you take a peek it looks a lot like what I made!

finished salad and pomegranite

Mmmmmm!

This has got to be about the quickest and yummiest bean salad I’ve ever had. And, since pomegranates are in season, go for it! The ones from my tree are long gone, but my local grocery is almost throwing them at us. Mmmmmm!

I told my sister about this and she said she makes basically the same thing with the addition of feta and mint. That sounds fab too – mmmmm!!

I like this, though, since (as you know) I’m lazy. The canned beans are fine as long as you rinse them well, or, if you are more evolved than I am and a better planner you can certainly make your own from dry or even grow them.

Remember those Meyer lemons I got from Girl Gone Grits? I used one for the juice and added the zest and, well, wow! So thanks again for them lemons! Mmmmm…

I doubled the recipe and added more lemon juice than called for because it was Meyer so it wasn’t quite as tart as “regular”. I also added a bit more pomegranate seeds because I love them. There is something about the pop of the seeds with the squish of the beans…

Anyway, here’s all I did:

Cannellini Bean Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

2 15-oz. cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, well rinsed (or 3 cups cooked cooled beans)
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
salt and pepper if it suits you

Toss beans, pomegranate seeds, lemon juice, oil, scallions, and chopped parsley together in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!
***

I’m looking forward to eating this pretty much all summer. I mean, fast, no-cook, yummy and good for you – wow! And, while you can certainly make this ahead, it tasted pretty good to me as soon as it was “finished”. It should travel to picnics etc just fine, too, as it really doesn’t need to be “right out of the fridge” cold for serving.

My sister and I are musing on freezing pomegranate seeds. Has anyone done it? Do you think it might work?

I recommend eating this now or when ever pomegranates are in season in your part of the world. I also think this would make a great dish to be served on most any Italian holiday… this salad is the colors of the Italian flag, after all.

Let me know what you think about freezing those seeds, OK? And, again, happy new year!

Posted by: Rachel | December 23, 2013

should life hand you lemons…

Yes, certainly lemonade is one option, and limoncello, and lemon curd, or you can juice them, strain the seeds out, then put the juice in ice cube trays until frozen then package in plastic bags for summer uses… add some to almost any chicken dish or to salad dressing or greens, make a pot of avgolemono soup perhaps; so many possibilities! Mmmm…meyer lemon on brandy glass

I got a lovely gift of lemons (and a bunch of other goodies as well) at the AFBA “prop swap” this week. Wowza… I was lucky to pull Kristina’s number out of the “hat”. Ironically she got mine so she ended up with a baggie of cookie cutters and my (ok, not mine exactly…) sugar cookie recipe. Happily, she didn’t seem to mind!

Perhaps I should back up and explain a bit.

Last Wednesday evening was the holiday happy hour for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. We were tasked with (optional, of course, but what a great idea!) bringing a “prop” that we had used in a blog post. If we chose to participate, we’d pull a number and get some other blogger’s prop… you get the idea, right?

Anyway, she brought lemons from her Meyer lemon tree. This tree is famous in the local food blogger (and food blog reader, I think) community – it had something like 800+ (yes, you are reading the correctly!) lemons this year. Again I say wowza…

I am not sure what I am going to do with the ones she gave me. I’m pretty sure some will end up in a chicken and olive dish, a few may go into a batch of limoncello as well. Perhaps some sort of risotto? Maybe… Mmmm…

OK I’m hungry now! I think I’m going to go stare at those lemons a bit – what a scratch and sniff delight they are! And, even more than all the goodies – I really enjoyed meeting Kristina and having a chance to talk a bit!

I gotta ask: what would you do with a windfall bounty of lemons? All suggestions carefully considered…

Best for the season and particularly (knowing how lazy I am) the New Year! I’ll try to post at least once more before then, but who knows! Be well, stay safe, and enjoy! Mmm…

Posted by: Rachel | December 8, 2013

oh that old chestnut?

In the early 1900s here in North America the chestnut blight pretty well decimated all the chestnut trees.

chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Yes, roasting. On an open fire. Mmm!!

Happily (shhhhh – don’t tell the locavores!) we can get chestnuts from Italy, France, Spain, even (again, shhhh….) China! Mmmmm…

I see fresh chestnuts in the groceries this time of year, but pre-roasted pre-shelled vacuum-packed packages are available pretty much year round.

I will say, though, that I think of chestnuts as cold-weather food. I mean, there’s that whole “roasting on an open fire” thing, right?? And, this winter (or at least at the moment) we are having winter here in central Texas!

So, I made soup.

This has got to be about the easiest soup I’ve come up with so far. It isn’t perhaps, the most beautiful as it is somewhat beige, but it is tasty, filling, hearty, and (I’m pretty sure, anyway) good for you! See, chestnuts are actually pretty good for you, if you believe Wikipedia (and other sources).

Chestnuts are relatively low in fat, and are (again, Wikipedia says…) the only nut that contains vitamin C! I hope this is all true because I love them! They are sweet, mild, and make a fine thickener for soups. They add flavor without overpowering and play nicely with others.

I am happy to eat chestnuts pretty much any way they are offered to me. I love the paper bag of fresh-roasted burn your thumbs peeling them, keep your fingers toasty as you walk around Manhattan, winter in New York thing, but honestly I am happy to forgo all that work and use the bagged kind for baking or soup. Does that make me a bad person?

Lazy perhaps, but (I hope) not really bad

Anyway, I made (as I told you before I got off track) soup. And it was good! Here’s all I did:

Chestnut Soup

pot of soup simmering

nearly ready

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium to large yellow or white onion peeled and rough chopped
2 small (5 or 6 ounce) bags of roasted and peeled chestnuts (about 2 cups)
3-4 large yukon gold or other yellow (not baking) potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
water
milk (as needed)
salt and pepper

Put the olive oil in a large deep heavy soup pot. Add the chopped onions and sauté until translucent (do not brown). Add the chestnuts and rough chopped potatoes (nope, I didn’t peel them). Add water to just cover, bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until the potatoes are very soft (20-30 minutes should do it).

Purée with a stick blender, add salt and pepper to taste, and add milk if desired to dilute it a bit and make it even creamier. Enjoy!
***

Like most soups this is better the second day, but if you are cold and hungry (or at least hungry) it is fine pretty much immediately (she said modestly). Let us know if you try it, or just let us know how you like your chestnuts, OK? Mmmm… stay warm and safe!

Oh and why “old chestnut”? Here you go: old chestnut

Posted by: Rachel | December 1, 2013

how to learn Italian (part 3)

Well I’ve been home from Puglia for a few weeks now and the trip details are starting to blur a bit, but a few moments (and meals) still stand out.

Cycling along the coast, and I mean right along the coast was delicious. Quiet roads with the sea just a few yards away, fresh fresh air, and the occasional driver seemed far more interested in getting home for lunch than in aggravating or endangering cyclists. Quite a change from my usual experiences with city riding!

Then there was the day we had lunch at Masseria Il Frantoio. We didn’t stay here beyond the meal, but I sure didn’t want to leave!

so pretty (and gooooood!)

so pretty (and gooooood!)

I mean, sometimes the presentation is everything and sometimes the food trumps all, but the lunch we had this day was beautiful and delicious!

This was “Cicorielle selvatiche assise in cesto di pecorino”, which Google translates as “Wild chicory with pecorino cheese sat in the basket”. Trust me, it was wonderful.

See, this Masseria specializes in olives and olive oil, so each savory course had its own olive oil to either dress the offering or use as part of the cooking. So this second course was indeed cooked wild greens “sat in a basket” of pecorino! Mmmmmmm…

Lunch went on and on; happily they gave us a printed menu so I can better recall what all we ate. There was amazing fresh whole wheat pasta with artichokes and herbs, a crazy fish dish with raisins that was out of this world, something they told us was “Pizzelle con sughetto” which was tiny fried bread fritters with a fresh fresh tomato sauce, and for dessert, well…

ricotta flan with strega

bewitching!

A few days before I left on the trip my sister told me that a friend of hers had just introduced her to Strega.

She knows I am partial to mint and fennel, and that I am also partial to “digestifs”. Its true – you may recall that I make my own limoncello? Anyway she told me to keep an eye out in case I should happen across some.

Happily it found me!

As I told her, I’m sure you certainly could drink the stuff, or you could mix it with ricotta and eggs, bake it, then top it with a crunchy almond cookie, and finally serve it with a faint dusting of powdered sugar, a few pomegranate seeds, and a yucca flower… mmmmmmm!! Exquisite!

bowls of different kinds of olives

a baker’s dozen plus!

I’m going to leave you today with this image of a few of the varieties of olives they offer at Masseria Il Frantoio.

Me, I’m off to the liquor store to see about investing in a bottle of Strega! Mmmm… Buon appetito, have a fine week, stay warm if your part of the world is getting ready for winter, and be safe in any event!

Posted by: Rachel | November 26, 2013

how to learn Italian (part 2)

After we left Matera (Oh, are you just joining us? I’m raving on about my recent trip to Puglia, Italy), we headed for the coast. We stayed for a few days in a masseria, specifically Masseria Montelauro and the first morning I opted take a cooking class.

Chef Vito working the pasta dough

work it, baby…

What fun!

Very hands-on, and Chef Vito (yes, really) was an excellent teacher. We made pasta (no big surprise I guess), three different shapes from one dough, we made panzerotti ( a sort of deep fried empanada or calzone) stuffed with Caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil), we made a fish soup (words fail, it was so good) and we made a ricotta torta. Mmmmm…

Timing was everything – we didn’t waste a minute. Chef chopped up the tomatoes for the soup and got that going while we started on the filling for the ricotta torta (tart). Once the soup was simmering and the tart was baking we made the pasta… very organized but there was plenty of time for questions (and tastes).

But we were on a mission – we needed to get everything finished so we could have it for lunch! Oh I say again, mmmmmm!!

We made one of our pasta “forms” using a “chitara”.chitara for cutting pasta

You just roll the dough out fairly thin then lay it on the chitara (guitar) and roll over it with a rolling pin. The tight metal “strings” of the chitara make perfect strips and the strips drop into the box below. Brilliant!

The dough (roughly)
1/2 cup each semolina and AP white flour
1/4 cup water (or more if needed)

Mix together and knead until elastic. Let rest. Roll out into desired shapes or cut as desired.

Cook for just a few minutes in boiling salted water. Drain, sauce as desired, and enjoy! This makes enough to serve one or two depending on which course it is and how many miles you cycled that day…
***

After the soup simmered for maybe 1/2 hour, Chef gently fished the fish out of the finished soup, served the fish as one course and used the broth to sauce the cooked pasta. It was heavenly!

slice of ricotta tart

mmmm…

We finished lunch with that ricotta torta. Mmmmmm… Its something I love and I will say that Chef’s recipe and mine are pretty close.

If you’re interested in making it, you can find my recipe here. It is pretty simple and you can change it up if you like. The one we made in class had a lattice top crust, and mine involves mini chocolate chips which the Italian version didn’t, but the basics are the same.

I’m full just reading about this lunch and hungry at the same time. I’m going to go find something to eat! Have a fine week and we’ll move on to a different part of the coast next time! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | November 16, 2013

how to learn Italian (part 1)

I guess I should just plan on taking most of October and November off from blogging every year and stop feeling guilty about it. As soon as the weather starts to cool off here I become far more interested in getting back out into my yard than doing most anything else! And, this year I took a trip as well.

I went to Puglia.

Puglia is the “heel of the boot” that is Italy. The part I saw was full of olive groves (and yes, it was harvest season!) and occasional vinyards, coastal for the most part, and relatively flat which was good as it was a bicycle tour!

I love bike touring. This is the second bike touring trip I’ve done (remember Bruges to Amsterdam a couple of years ago?) and, for me, the pace is the thing. Walking tours are fine, but too slow – a corn field can eat up a morning. Bus tours are easy and pleasant but too fast – there’s a “what was that we just passed??” feeling much of the time.DSCN0033

So, I was lucky enough to take this bicycle trip. I went with friends. We decided to go a few days early since getting off a plane and on a bike isn’t easy without a few days to acclimate. That’s how we came to spend a few days in Matera. I read about it and it sounded beautiful if a bit rugged. It was both…

I’m going relive the trip a bit with you, so today we’re starting and stopping in Matera. Here’s what I can tell you. I have been lucky enough to travel a bit and I have been to some places that ooze old: Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, Pech Merle, and Pompeii, but those places are more like living museums than actual inhabited living places.

Matera is very much alive, and has been for hundreds of centuries, 10,000 (yes ten thousand) years or more. Almost impossible to wrap one’s head around! But from the “new” town you can see across the gorge to the original caves that were settled back then, and you can see how they have been used, reused, and are still being used today.

But I’m not here to give you a history lesson. I’m here to tell you that I had some truly amazing food! You know me, I think, so you know that I’m a pretty easy eater. No allergies (lucky) and no real dislikes. You probably also know that I like to try new things, especially when traveling.IMG_9464

The very first day we found a café that made such good panini that I ate three of the same kind in two days. Mmmmmm… speck, arugula, tomatoes, and burrata, which is the “ship in a bottle” of cheeses. Mmmm… put it all together, then grill it just a little. Words fail.

Oh and I went to the market. I love to visit the outdoor markets most anywhere I am and this one did not disappoint in the least. My only regret was that I had no kitchen! Ah well…part of the market

At first we couldn’t find the market. It is tucked away on three quiet side streets off one of the main squares, and we knew we were close but we figured we’d best inquire.

The two gentlemen we asked looked at each other, then (I can understand some Italian even if I can’t speak it) one said to the other “you take them”. He walked us all the way and seemed loathe to leave us! That’s how it was the entire trip; people were incredibly patient and kind, and went out of their way to be helpful!recipe text handwritten

One more story and I’m done for this post. At the market we saw some greens in a box and we were musing (in English) about what they might be (I’m pretty sure it was young cardoons).

A woman came up to us and explained (in Italian) what it was, then proceeded to explain (in Italian) how you use it in soup. In case we didn’t understand, she offered to write it all down for us. And, once she understood that we didn’t have a kitchen at hand she offered to cook it for us! Astonishing…

I could go on and on about the marching band, the lunch in the park, the hot chocolate as well as the coffee, but I gotta go take a nap. More soon again, my friends!

Posted by: Rachel | October 7, 2013

rhymes with…

In the part of Pennsylvania where I grew up “roots” rhymes with “foot(s)” rather than “boots” or “moons”. That said, yesterday my cousins took me back to my, well, roots.

We went to Russia.

20131007-085020.jpg

Ok, maybe it was only Brighton Beach, but it was the most Russian place I’ve experienced so far. On the street and in the shops you hear Russian (at least that’s what it sounded like to me).

As for the shops, well, here’s a sample bookstore shelf:

20131007-085750.jpg

None of these cookbooks will be coming home with me. Ah well…

To make it all just a bit odder, the commercial street is under the elevated train tracks.

20131007-085531.jpg

The street noise between trains is amazing due to the acoustics of having tracks overhead, and when a train rumbles and clashes through, oh my!

Lots of the shops were having sidewalk sales. Mmmm…

20131007-090626.jpg

Inside all the shops it smelled wonderful. Bakeries, smoked meats and smoked fish, exotic yet comfortingly familiar. I loved it!

20131007-091112.jpg

After poking about in the shops we went a few blocks over to the boardwalk. It was a gray misty day (very Russian!). We sat and watched the gulls wheeling over the beach.

Then we walked up the boardwalk to Coney Island, but that’s a story for another day…

20131007-092227.jpg

Next time I promise recipes, or at least a recipe but I wanted to share this amazing day! Mmmmmmm, food and family!

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