The New Challenge…for now

To my disappointment, I had to abandon my year-long Farmhouse Delivery challenge when I left Austin. No one could recommend a similar all-local delivery service here. (On the upside, I think I missed the bulk of beet season!) Luckily for me, Farmhouse recently announced they were setting up shop in H-town. So when I ditch the suburbs for a hip, inner-loop locale, I’ll re-join and pick up where I left off with my challenge.

My first box!

In the meantime, you’ll have to follow me on the long road to the The Food Experiment National Championship. There is no theme for this final showdown. The only rule is to cook “The Perfect Bite.” And, oh the choices…and the intimidation! The only thing I know is that I want to create Texas flavors with local, seasonal New York ingredients. Something warm, something hearty, something delicious. That really narrows it down, right?

For a little Texas inspirado, I bought Robb Walsh’s new book over the weekend, Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook. It’s my new kitchen bible. He masterfully crafts together his rough history of Lone Star cuisine through stories of Texas legends and beautiful recipes.

I look forward to reading it cover to cover. And hopefully, Mr. Walsh will spark my experimentation imagination.

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Big Exciting News

Time to come out of my winter hibernation, and finally share where the hell I’ve been the past few months. Plus, I have BIG exciting news to announce! First and foremost, I moved to Houston five months ago for a new job. It was a sudden, unexpected transition accompanied by some jumps for joy and lots of tears, but the job was too good to pass up. The magician still lives in Austin, but he’s moving here this summer! YAY!

And now the BIG exciting news…with a little back story first. Last year, the magician and I competed in the first ever Austin Pork Experiment hosted by The Food Experiments, America’s most exciting amateur cook-off series. We won third place in the audience round with The Oinker, a.k.a. a delicious pork meat-cake topped with sweet potato mashers and chives.

The Oinker

So when Theo of the Food Experiments announced that the Houston Beer Experiment was the first stop on the bigger, better 2012 National tour, the magician and I rushed to enter as “The Magic Hops” for another chance at culinary glory. For the entire month of February, I cooked (and drank) lots of local, craft beer to perfect our dish, Pork and Grits Under the Influence. This year we were not taking any pilsners.

Our final bite for last weekend’s cook-off was a smokey pulled pork served over Bombshell Blonde infused grits garnished with a homemade bread & butter jalapeño, bacon, and scallions. The dish came together exactly as I’d hopped…I mean hoped. I smoked the pork over Lonestar-soaked applewood for 6 hours, and then continued to braise it in Southern Star Bombshell Blonde for another 5 hours until it was fork tender. The grits cooked in Bombshell Blonde along with a few other confidential ingredients. And, the jalapenos, my secret weapons, had brined for a week and were the perfect sweet, spicy kick to top off my Southern classic.


Photo courtesy of the Houston Press.

My competition was intense! My fellow amateur chefs brought it, and we went up against sixteen incredible dishes. (Fried Pork Belly, Guava Wheat Lamb Stew, and Barely Buzzed Beer Cheese Soup just to name a few.) After the judging ended and 250 samples were passed out to the huge crowd, the team captains gathered on stage awaiting the results.

I was nervous and giddy as Theo announced the awards. He finally came to the Grand Prize, and our team hadn’t been called. One more spot left. I fidgeted with anticipation. Then he shouted “The Magic Hops!” The rest is a blur. I freaked out. Someone told me, I literally hopped to the mic like a bunny. I was wearing bunny ears, but the hopping was a pure coincidence.

Our prizes included: sweet cookware from Le Creuset & Analon, a Wusthof knife, a kick-ass t-shirt, Chameleon Cold Brew, and most importantly a trip to Brooklyn sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery to compete in the National Championship against all the tour winners. I am so honored that so many in the crowd loved my food and so proud to represent Houston, my hometown. Thank you to everyone who supported us, The Food Experiments, and Brooklyn Brewery for an amazing day. I look forward to experimenting to create the perfect bite for the final showdown in Brooklyn on December 16th. It’s only 283 282 days away. But who’s counting.

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March 8, 2012 · 7:05 pm

I’ll be back!

Hi dear readers! I know I’ve been m.i.a. the past few weeks, and I’ve got a good explanation for you…promise. I’ll be back next in a few weeks to share the exciting changes that have happened in my life the past 2 months. Look forward to hearing about edible adventures in a new city, and my continual quest to waste less food.

In the meantime, warm up with a hearty bowl of Tortilla Soup. I shared my recipe with The Alcalde this week!

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Week 13: WMWS Cooking Class

Almost two weeks ago, I hosted a late afternoon cooking class for an intimate group at my friend Alex’s house. The farm fresh menu included:

Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Crostinis
Black Drum en Papillote
Roasted Tomatoes with Basil Pecan Pesto
Pecan & Roasted Garlic Couscous (recipe not included)

Wine and summer cocktails flowed, as I instructed them on to how prepare this elegant, dinner-party-perfect meal. While they wined and watched, my dear friends Jen and Tim photographed the entire preparation so I could share each stage of this Indian summer supper with you. So without further ado here are my step-by-step photo recipes for week 13.

1. Start with a nice bottle of wine, preferably equipped with a pouring aerator.
0. start w good aerated wine

2. Roast a green, red, yellow, and orange bell pepper at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes, rotating each pepper every 15 minutes until their skins have browned and puffed up. Transfer the peppers to a brown paper bag, fold the bag up, and let them cool for 15 minutes.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, skin, core, and de-seed them. Then, slice each pepper into long, thin slices. Combine them in a bowl with a sprinkle of salt & pepper, a dash of olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Add a whole clove of garlic to the pepper mixture. Let them marinate for at least 4 hours, or up to 1 day ahead of time.
2. Marinated Roasted Peppers

3. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice a whole wheat baguette into 1/4″ slices. Lightly brush each side with extra virgin olive oil. Toast the crostinis until they are crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
1. toasted crostini tsg

4. After the crostinis have cooled, lightly spread them with goat cheese. If goat cheese isn’t your thing, try Boursin or cream cheese. Or, skip the cheese altogether, but who am I kidding? That is just crazy talk.
2.5. spread crostini w goat cheese

5.Top each crostini with a spoonful of the marinated peppers.
3. building bruschetta

6. Add a chiffonade of basil to top each crostini.
4. final bruschetta

7. Take a bite and enjoy!
5. eating bruschetta

Now on to the entree…Texas Black Drum en Papillote. This a French preparation that sounds fancy and complicated, but it simply means to cook fish in parchment. It is an effortless preparation. I used 4oz portions of black drum because it’s a moderately priced regional fish from the Gulf of Mexico, but you can switch it out for tilapia, salmon, halibut, or whatever fish fits your budget. This recipe will serve 6.

1. Start by softening a stick of unsalted butter. When it’s soft and creamy enough, add a handful of chopped chives and combine. Tear off a square of plastic wrap and place the butter in the center. Start rolling the plastic wrap around the butter, and form it into a log. Chill in the fridge for up to 1 day ahead of time.
7.5. slicing butter

2. Thinly slice 1 pound of cremini mushrooms.
6. thinly sliced mushrooms

3. Wash a lemon and trim both ends off. Slice the lemon in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 6 thin half moons.
7. sliced lemons

4. Tear six squares of parchment paper and fold each one in half. Take each parchment sheet, and start layering the ingredients on one half of the paper. First the mushrooms.
8. layering en papillote

5. Then top the mushrooms with a cleaned and rinsed 4oz portion of black drum, a pinch of kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, two lemon half moons, a thin slice of the chive compound butter, and a sprig or two of parsley. Repeat this five more times. Each portion should look pretty like this.
9. fish prior to cooking

6. For each portion, fold the parchment over the fish and fold each edge to create a neat sealed package. Store the packages in the fridge on a cookie sheet. The packages can be assembled up to 8 hours in advance.
9.5. folding parchment

7. Toss two packages of washed cherry tomatoes with 2 tablespoons or so of olive oil on a cookie sheet.
10. tomatoes pre roasting

8. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. When it’s hot, roast the tomatoes and the black drum for 15 minutes.
12. everything in oven

9. While the fish rests for a few moments, toss the tomatoes with a few spoonfuls of pesto. Feel free to use prepared pesto or give Ina Garten’s recipe a try. To give her version a Texas twist, substitute the walnuts and pine nuts with a 1/2 C. of roasted Texas pecans.
14. Tossing tomatoes w pesto

10. Serve the black drum en papillote still in its package with the roasted tomatoes and couscous. Letting each person cut open the parchment is half the fun of this dish. When they are finally opened, the delicious aromatic steam erupts from the package and the fish is cooked to flaky perfection. Bon Appetit!
15. final plate with parchment

Thanks again to everyone who attended the class. And, especially Jen & Tim for the fantastic photos!!

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Week 11 & 12: Cliche Confessing

Old habits die hard. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. A leopard can’t changes its spots.

I’d like to tell a tall tale, and proclaim, I’m the exception to these cliches. But I am writing my cliché confession with my head hung in shame…I am a recovering habitual food waster, and I’ve slipped back to my old wasteful ways.

These past two weeks, my trash can has been full. 3 or 4 different bags of beans…(to be fair the magician is severely allergic), cucumbers, a pair of pears, what else? Peppers. I even think a rotten tomato slipped in there. To some people, this is probably nothing. An occurrence that is normal. Routine. To me, this waste feels wrong. So wrong in fact, that I have procrastinated writing this post. I told you…my head is hung in shame.

This summer has been brutal. Today will mark our 66th day here in Austin that will reach over 100 degrees. It’s absurd, seriously absurd. Meanwhile, the dedicated farmers in our area have strived to produce quality, fresh, beautiful food for people who appreciate their efforts. The food we eat represents something greater than our daily required nutrients. It connects us with the people who grow it and our dessert-like soil that enriches it.

Their efforts are meaningful, and the fruits of their labor deserve so much more respect than carelessly throwing their food down the disposal. So I’m hitting my restart button, and I urge you to join me. I am going to stop letting my wasteful habits die hard, and I am turning over a new leaf.

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10 Words of Wisdom for the Dog Days of Summer

1. A bouquet of basil might be more beautiful than a dozen roses.

Bouquet of Basil

2. When mom tells you, “Sweet Dreams, don’t let the bugs bite, ” she means it. Don’t let the bugs bite! They are disgusting, terrible pests that might as well require you to move. Ask the magician. He knows. Fortunately for me, they typically bite only one person in the bed.

I made a tart with strawberry figs, left over El Pollo Rico chicken (see # 3.), caramelized onions, and boursin to cheer him up.
Strawberry Fig Tart

3. El Pollo Rico is a Riverside gem. Order a whole charcoal-grilled chicken combo with extra green sauce. You will not be disappointed. Bonus, El Pollo Rico is really fun to say out loud.

4. Homemade desserts make friends’ birthdays better, particularly home-baked Fat Witch brownies.

Fat Witch Brownies

5. Dirty Sixth Street Scavenger hunts make friends’ birthdays infinitely better.

6. Julia Child must have been speaking about omelettes when she said this: ” The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Country Omelette Brunch

7. Building a career is not always as easy as this roasted cherry tomato pasta…especially in this economy.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

8. Mangoes grow in Texas…in McAllen by G & S Groves. Surprised? Me too.

G & S Groves Mango

9. Our hell-like temperatures are not the only topic of conversation. Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, and margaritas also make pleasant small talk.

Peach-Kiwi Rocket Pop

10. And on a non-food related note, dust your ceiling fan. You probably never notice, while it’s spinning way up there, but it’s filthy. Really, really filthy.

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Farmhouse Magic: Week 9

Farmhouse Magic: Week 9

1. Square Birthday Blueberry Pie for my dear friend Lynn

2. Quail wrapped in bacon and stuffed with a cream cheese jalapeño given to me by my co-worker and friend, Grant. I topped it with a red wine cherry reduction and served it with a salad of butterhead lettuce, red onions, bing cherries, and balsamic vinaigrette.

3.The magician and I celebrated National Hot Dog in style with grilled Hebrew National haute dogs. On the left, my Austin spin on a Chicago dog included: sharp cheddar, a zesty pickle spear, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pickled jalapeños, celery salt, and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. On the right my Asian inspired dog included: Thai crab salad, avocado slices, mango (which was later removed…too sweet), Sriracha, and black sesame seeds.

4. Thai rice noodles tossed with shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, garlic, hot peppers, green onions, black sesame seeds, spicy shrimp broth, and coconut milk.

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