Austin Urban Gardens

Raised Bed Gardening and Eating Well in Austin, Texas

Kung Pao Chicken, at Home January 7, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 12:17 pm
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I’m working on becoming a better cook, with a goal of conquering some Asian cuisines.  My first effort, was Indian Butter Chicken, which turned out great, so now I’ve turned my sights on Kung Pao Chicken.  This happens to be one of my dad’s favorite Chinese dishes, so he will act as my test taster.

I chose one of the easier recipes I found, from Food & Wine Magazine, online. (link above)  I was looking for a recipe that didn’t venture too far astray from my eating philosophy, which is eating seasonally and using produce and proteins I can get from my local farmer’s market.  Although I grew peanuts last year, I had to purchase the ones I used here.

The main ingredient is chicken, and I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Smith and Smith Farms, which I got at the Mueller Farmer’s Market.  This chicken was beautifully trimmed and incredibly fresh.  (Learning to properly debone a whole chicken is also on my lists to conquer, but I’m dreading that one).

Smith and Smith Farms Chicken

Smith and Smith Farms Chicken

The first part of the process is to cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, and marinate the chicken in Soy Sauce, sherry and Cornstarch. (I bought Tamari for the soy sauce and Bob’s Red Mill Cornstarch.)

Once the chicken was cut marinating in the fridge, I chopped the onions and Bell Pepper.  The recipe didn’t call for Bell Pepper, but B5 Farms at the farmer’s market, had some beautiful bell peppers, grown in the greenhouse.  I couldn’t resist.

B5 Farms Tomatoes and Peppers

B5 Farms Tomatoes and Peppers

I cut one bell pepper into the same sized pieces as the chicken, and separated the green onion whites and greens and set those aside.

Next, I made the sauce, which consisted of Tamari, Rice Vinegar, Sherry, Sesame Oil, Water, Cornstarch and a little sugar.

Ingredients

Ingredients

The Sauce

The Sauce

I wisked the sauce to get the cornstarch incorporated and set it aside. At this point I made the rice, and set it aside as well.  I could tell that the next steps would happen quickly.

Time to start cooking.  First, I poured a Tablespoon of Avocado Oil, (recipe called for Peanut or Vegetable Oil), into my wok, and let it get hot.  Once hot, I quickly cooked the raw peanuts until they were golden brown, then set them aside.

Cook the Peanuts

Cook the Peanuts

A little more oil into then pan, and I quickly cooked the scallions, bell pepper and chili flakes.

Cook the vegetables

Cook the vegetables

To the vegetables, I added part of the chicken.  It was clear the amount of chicken I had cut up (doubled the recipe), would be more than should go into the wok.  It was still crowded, which made it take longer to cook, and caused some sticking to the wok.

Cook the Chicken

Cook the Chicken

Once the two batched of chicken were mostly done, I put them back into the wok with the sauce and stirred as it thickened.

Add the Sauce

Add the Sauce

At this point, I tasted the sauce, and wanted more heat, so I chopped up a garden Serrano Pepper and added it to the mix.  I then turned off the heat and threw in the peanuts.

Once the sauce had reached what seemed like the appropriate thickness, and the chicken was done, I plated some up for myself, then bundled the rest to take to my parents up the street.

Serve over Rice

Serve over Rice

I enjoyed this dish, but felt as it it lacked some complexity.  While I would make it again, I would like more heat, more onions and peppers, some ginger and perhaps some garlic.  I’ll also revisit some of the more complicated recipes I looked at, to see how it could be made more interesting.  It was very easy and fairly quick to make.  My taste tester called after finishing his dinner to give the recipe an A+.  My mom liked it as well, and she is the pickiest eater I know.

 

Alton Brown’s Scratch Onion Dip December 31, 2014

The holidays provide an excuse to eat things we don’t indulge in during the regular year, and you know I try to keep things local, seasonable and non-processed.  However, I was looking for an excuse to indulge a little and had some folks coming over, so I decided to try Alton Brown’s Scratch Onion Dip recipe.

This couldn’t be simpler to make, or any more delicious.  First, you slice onions.   I used a mix of onions from my dwindling garden onion stash – 1015s and White Bermudas.  (I’m starting to dread the time between the end of last year’s onions and next year’s harvest.)

Onions

Onions

I doubled the recipe so this was about 3 cups of onions.  The most important step in this process is to caramelize the onions, which takes a little time.  They cook over medium heat in a little of olive oil, and need to be stirred around for more even cooking. Easy!

Carmelizing

Caramelizing

You want them past the translucent stage, which will cause them to reduce quite a bit.  This brings out their sweetness.

Getting closer

Once they get to the desired stage, allow them to cool completely.  I also chopped them up so that people didn’t have strips of onion to contend with.

When cooled, I added them to the mix of mayonnaise, (I used Duke’s,) and sour cream, then added the white pepper and garlic powder and gave a good stir.

Mixing together

Mixing together

I made this a day ahead, to allow the flavors to meld.  I served it with Kettle Chips, which are non-GMO verified, and have no trans fats or preservatives, which made me feel better about eating potato chips!

Chips and Onion Dip

Chips and Onion Dip

Based on the reaction I got from people eating this onion dip, it’s going into permanent party recipe rotation.  It would be perfect for a Superbowl Party.

Alton Brown’s Onion Dip

 

Stuffed Quail on the Fly December 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 9:09 pm
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Once or twice a year, I’ll order a case of semi-boneless quail from Texas Quail.  Quail is delicious, easy and quick to cook, organic, sustainable and all the things I want food to be.  It is so versatile- you can fry it, smoke it, grill it, stuff it, bake it, etc.  And, if it can arrive on my doorstep with just a couple mouse clicks – all the better.

A couple of days ago, I took a package of 4 quail out of my freezer to defrost.  I had been reading recipes, and had one sort of made up in my head.  I would make a delicious mushroom risotto, and stuff the quail with it and some local goat cheese, then bake it in the oven.  Fast forward to this evening, and I have a million things to do, the quail needs to be cooked, and I have no time to devote to it.  But, I also need it out of my fridge because I need the room and I need something for dinner.

So, I decided to wing it, as it were.  I put some Carolina Gold Rice on to cook, and chopped up a handful of Baby Bella Mushrooms from Kitchen’s Pride, which I got at the farmer’s market.  Into the pan with the mushrooms, I put a couple tablespoons of butter, some crushed garlic, and a generous helping of fresh thyme, the leaves from 4 or 5 sprigs.

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Once the mushrooms were cooked down, I folded half of them into some Water Oak Chèvre, which I get at Boggy Creek Farm.

IMG_0506

 

Using my hands in the messiest way possible, I stuffed a couple tablespoons of the cheese, mushroom mixture into each quail.  I didn’t bother to tie their little legs together – rushing, rushing after all.   After a generous seasoning of sea salt and pepper, I popped them into the oven at 350.

Quail ready for the oven

Quail ready for the oven

The remaining buttery, garlicky mushrooms, went into the rice.  At that point, I realized that my quick plan had no vegetable component.  I had some fresh spinach in the fridge, so I chopped up a a handful and put it into the still hot rice and stirred it up, figuring that it would wilt a bit and take on some of the thyme and butter.

Spinach in the rice

Spinach in the rice

After about 40 minutes, I switched the oven to broil, to brown the quail a little.  They looked done, but a little lacking in color.  Once they browned up, I took them out, and served one for my dinner over the mushroom, spinach rice.  I garnish everything, because it makes me happy, so I snipped up some garden parsley for the whole plate.  It was a quick and easy dinner – not the elegant meal I had envisioned a couple days ago, but simple, tasty and I got a lot done while it was cooking!

Goat Cheese, Mushroom Stuffed Quail

Goat Cheese, Mushroom Stuffed Quail

When packaging the leftovers for later, I tossed in some chopped pecans, which I though would add some texture to the whole meal.  It will be a nice surprise when I reheat it!

 

Puerco Pibil with Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Cooking School December 19, 2014

I have always loved the idea of Cochinita Pibil, but never really thought to try making it myself, until I discovered filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Cooking School on YouTube.  He has several – one for BBQ, Tacos, Volcano Cookies and this one for Puerco Pibil.  They are very fun, and this one certainly demystified this slow cooked pork dish for me.

Two things make this dish unique, the first of which is banana leaves.  I procured banana leaves at Central Market.

Banana Leaves

Banana Leaves

The second unique ingredient is Annatto Seeds.  I got these from Penzy’s.  Annatto Seeds, or Achiote, really look like no other seed you’ve ever seen.  They are from a tropical tree, the Achiote Tree, and historically have been used as yellowish/orange food coloring for a variety of things, including cheddar cheese.  The taste is rather difficult to describe.

Annatto Seeds

Annatto Seeds

The Annatto seeds are ground up and blended with the other spices for the marinade.  I used a coffee grinder to pulverize the seeds.

Spices for marinade

Spices for marinade

The marinade calls for orange juice and lime juice.  I also used some orange zest, because I wanted lots of orange flavor.  I also backed off of the vinegar and used about half of what the recipe called for.  I put the pork  shoulder (cut into 2 inch cubes) and marinade in plastic baggies and allowed it to marinate for several hours.

Pork Marinating in Citrus

Pork Marinating in Citrus

I warmed the banana leaves over the flame on my stove, to make them more pliable, then lined the dutch oven with them.  I poured the pork and its marinade into the dish, and wrapped it in the leaves, then cooked it in the oven with the lid on.

Banana Leaves warmed over the stove

Banana Leaves warmed over the stove

When the pork was done, it was very tender.  I skimmed off the fat and some of the liquid, then shredded the pork, using two forks.

Cooked pork

Cooked pork

I ate the first meal with my Cochinita Pibil, or Puerco Pibil, served over rice, with quick pickled red onions and peppers.  The next night, I put the same mixture into corn tortillas, for Pibil tacos.  It was a fun and easy dish to make and I highly recommend Robert Rodriguez’s Ten Minute Cooking School on YouTube.

Puerco Pibil over rice with Quick Pickled Red Onions and Peppers

Puerco Pibil over rice with Quick Pickled Red Onions and Peppers

 

Indian Butter Chicken December 15, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 6:53 pm
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I first heard of Murgh Makhani, Indian Butter Chicken, several months ago, and for some reason, now it seems to be popping up everywhere.  When the New York Times published their best recipes of 2014 a few days ago, which including Sam Sifton’s Indian Butter Chicken, I decided I was supposed to make it.

Prior the closing of Savory Spice Shop, downtown then in Barton Creek Mall, I hoarded lots of interesting spices I wanted to cook with, so I had everything I needed for this recipe, Garam Masala, Cumin, Cinnamon Stick.  And I had planned a cooking and baking day on Sunday, so I had plenty of time.

First you mix the spices with yogurt and lemon juice and marinate the chicken thighs.   I let mine marinate for 5 hours while I made cookies for Christmas.  (You could use any part of the chicken, but I was following the recipe.)

Indian spices

Indian spices

Yogurt and spice marinade, with chicken thighs

Yogurt and spice marinade, with chicken thighs

Before time to cook, I grated the ginger, minced garlic and chopped onions and got those ready.

Ginger, Garlic, Onions

Ginger, Garlic, Onions

The next phase is where the butter comes in.  The onions sauté in some oil (I used coconut, although the recipe called for neutral) and 1/4 pound of butter.

Onions

Onions

The onions cook for quite a while, until they become translucent, then begin to turn brown.  This is where a lot of the flavor in this dish comes from.    Once the onions were ready, I added the chicken and the yogurt marinade.  After that cooked a bit, the recipe called for tomatoes.  It isn’t tomato season, so I used a pint jar of my home canned crushed tomatoes.  This probably amounted to more than 2 chopped tomatoes, but I was fine with some extra tomato flavor.  I also added a little extra red serrano from my garden.

Adding tomatoes

Adding tomatoes

This simmered for about half an hour, until the chicken was done.  At that point, you add 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream.  You are also supposed to add a little tomato paste, but I skipped this step, having none, and because I used extra tomatoes already.

Mixture with cream added

Mixture with cream added

That’s it!  After simmering with the cream for a few minutes, it was ready to serve over rice and garnish liberally with cilantro.

Indian Butter Chicken

Indian Butter Chicken

It was really delicious.  I served it Carolina Gold Aromatic Rice.  I thought of infusing the rice with some ginger, but it really didn’t need it.  I highly recommend this recipe!

 

Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts December 14, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 10:30 pm
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This time of year, when we are entertaining, large parties, small get togethers, whatever the occasion, I recommend these bar nuts, which originated at Union Square Cafe in New York.   The recipe came to me from Nigella Lawson’s cookbook How to Be A Domestic Goddess.  It has been reproduced a lot.  Here it is from Saveur.

So, you pick out whatever nuts you want to use – this time I used pecans, whole almonds, and cashews.  I really like walnuts and brazil nuts in it too, but they just weren’t available at the small store I shopped at.

Simply roast the nuts until they are lightly brown.  It is too easy to scorch them, so keep an eye on them.

Nuts!

Nuts!

 

Garden Rosemary

Garden Rosemary

 

Mix the butter, cayenne, brown sugar, salt and chopped rosemary in a sauce pan, and melt it until the sugar is dissolved.  This time around, I used Springdale Farm’s smoked pepper mix, in place of the cayenne, and it added a wonderful smokey flavor.

Toss it all together and serve warm, if possible.  If I’m having a few people over, I make extra of this recipe so that I can send some home with people in a ziplock baggie.  They will thank you for that.  Slightly sweet, slightly salty, slightly spicy, buttery, herby goodness.

IMG_0440

 

 

Homemade Chorizo August 12, 2014

I like to make breakfast on Sundays, and had a craving for Chorizo, Potato and Egg breakfast tacos, so I decided to make my own.

I settled on this recipe, which looked like authentic Mexican chorizo.

A trip to Penzey’s Spice Shop  was necessary to purchase some of the spices I didn’t have.  It’s always best to use fresh spices.

Penzy's Spices

Penzy’s Spices

I measured them all out and set them aside.  This looks like a lot of spices because it is – I made a 5 pound batch, while the recipe called for just over a pound.

I backed off of the clove and vinegar in this batch, because some flavors get to be too intense when multiplied.

IMG_0141High quality pork, and the right ratio of lean to fat are very important.  I went to Salt and Time, and told Brian the butcher there exactly what I had in mind.  He ground the pork in a 70% to 30% lean to fat ratio for me.  It is awesome to have a local butcher shop carrying high quality, hormone free, local proteins.

Good Quality Pork

Good Quality Pork

I simply dumped the spices and about half of the vinegar called for into the pork and mixed it well by hand.  While you want to get all of the spices incorporated, you don’t want to overwork the pork.

The most important thing you can do, when making chorizo and other sausages, is to taste it!  I made a small patty, and cooked it to test the flavor.  It was good, but I wanted more heat and smoke, so I added some of Springdale Farm’s smoked pepper mix, and some smoked onion powder that we made on the farm a while back.

Taste

Taste

I tasted it again, and it was exactly as I wanted it to be.

Chorizo, is best after 24 hours or so of resting to let the spices blend with the pork.  By Sunday morning I was ready to test it out.  Boggy Creek Farm potatoes, Springdale Farm Eggs, Homemade Chorizo, Homemade corn tortillas and some delicious (soon to be launched) salsa from Austin Josie Artisan Foods.  Happy dance!

Breakfast

Breakfast

 

 
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