Category: Musings


Back to the Blogging Front

April 23rd, 2013 — 4:28pm
Pickled Peppers

Pickled Peppers

The silence on the blogging front does not mean that nothing meaningful has been going on at the Busy Gourmand.  The hiatus was a means of going back to basics and included a period of experimentation in the garden and in the kitchen.  There have been plenty of new recipes developed.  We have figured out better ways to get more out of the garden. And we have even been able to figure out improvements in the ways to use herbs and spices along with producing our own spices.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Preserved Meyer Lemons

The new recipes will dribble out slowly as we are sure they have been perfected.  And the gardening tips and techniques will be shared so you too can have the freshest of herbs and spices in your kitchen.  As with life the journey from idea to recipe is often more interesting than the outcome.  We will include more narrative so you can figure out what the heck has been going on here in North Texas.

Deep Dish Pizza

Deep Dish Pizza

The recipes will be as diverse as deep dish pizza and a kind of hummus-like spread.  The new techniques will include smoking meats and peppers as well as the best way to use dried oregano (warning it can be a bit messy). I do not want to spoil all the fun on the front page of the blog.  If you want a syllabus of what is to come you can find out more at the link here.  In the mean time it is great to be back at the keyboard.  I hope our time away will prove fruitful for your cooking ideas as well.

Comment » | Gardening, Herbs, Musings, Recipes

The Blogging Wilderness

June 11th, 2012 — 9:00am
catalan pastis

Catalan Pastis

Writing a food blog can be a lonely pursuit. I can actually measure the number of visitors to my site daily, noticing the trend over time keeps going up. I can also figure out which recipes are visited most frequently. Unfortunately strangers tend not to leave comments on the site so I am never really sure how well it is received.

I was honored when a Brazilian travel magazine featured my Buenos Aires restaurant reviews along with the New York Times reviews. I guess you cannot get closer to being taken seriously than that. I also see my food pictures and recipes featured on Pinterest. But who bestows this recognition is hard to figure out.

bucatini puttanesca

Bucatini Puttanesca

My good friend David Allen who has written for the blog and posts comments fairly regularly took another step for me and nominated me for a Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. I read his blog Cocoa and Lavender weekly. Sometimes it is just fun to look at the pictures. He goes to a lot of effort to make his food look great. Something to which I am not so dedicated. So, thank you David. It is nice to know at least one person who enjoys my posts! And if you enjoy it as well please feel free to post a comment.

2 comments » | Musings

Garden Surprises

June 8th, 2012 — 9:18am
calabaza and butternut squash hybrid

Exterior Calabaza and Butternut Hybrid

We try to compost and recycle as much as we can. I am not sure we are trying to reduce our “carbon footprint” or we just hate to see anything go to waste. Over the past 10 years we have gone from throwing away two large trash bags of material per week to about one-third of a trash bag per week. Most of this is kitty litter and the very few things we cannot compost or recycle.

Once you start composting your realize that the pile of detritus is an amazing thing. It actually takes on a life of its own. When done correctly it is pleasant smelling, somewhere between earthy and the smell of yogurt. With enough citrus elements it actually smells a lot like a fruit drink. The color changes from greens and browns to a dense chocolate color. And when spread over the garden it yields some incredible plants, intended and unintended.

I am guessing that our compost never gets to a very hot temperature as many of the seeds that end up in the pile will germinate once added to the garden. We have become used to cucumbers growing among the tomatoes and squash sprouting around the basil. This year we have had two very surprising guests in the garden. The first are two tomatillo plants; surprising only because I cannot remember the last time I made tomatillo salsa. The second seems to be a plant that has hybridized from two foods we compost regularly, butternut squash and calabaza squash, a Mexican squash similar to zucchini although a bit fatter and lighter in color.

calabaza and butternut hybrid

Interior Calabaza and Butternut Hybrid

This hybrid squash has the interior texture and color of the butternut squash, with very tiny translucent seeds. The exterior is more like the calabaza, green and readily edible although a bit tougher than its true Mexican cousin. We have prepared it sauteed and baked. It is less sugary than the butternut, but much more flavorful than the calabaza. And since we did not grow either calabaza or butternut squash last year we have no idea how the two species could have crossed unless the compost elves did some of their magic.

We have saved some of the seeds in the hope that it is not a sterile plant like so many other hybrids. If not we may have found a new species of squash. Patent office here we come!

calabaza and butternut on the vine

Calabaza and Butternut Hybrid On The Vine

2 comments » | Gardening, Musings

Strange Beginning to 2012

April 6th, 2012 — 8:59am
Tornado Trying to Form

Tornado Trying to Form

With the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world as we know it later this year, I have been keeping my eye on any strange occurrences, perhaps pointing to the final outcome. We had an unusually warm and surprisingly wet (no snow) winter this year. With all the predictions of a continued drought we are now well ahead of our rainfall for the year with some of the reservoirs releasing water to control flooding. What a difference a few months of rain can make. While we had a pretty nasty outbreak of stormy weather this week, including 10 tornadoes within 10 miles of here, our weather has been relatively quiet, albeit a bit cloudy. You can see a tornado trying to form in the picture above (hard to see but if you look at the gap in the trees you can see the clouds lowering).

bulb fennel

Finocchio Gigante di Napoli

We have had a few garden miracles this year. For the first time we were able to grow fennel in its bulb form, or more technically finocchio gigante di Napoli. Fresh out of the garden it has an incredibly mild taste. I used it to create a new rice salad recipe (sorry forgot to take a picture) and of course one of my favorites a salad of oranges and fennel.

perennial strawberry

The Miracle Perennial Strawberry Plant

Other garden miracles include a strawberry that acted more like a perennial than a fruiting annual. Kept in a pot it was planted last spring, made it through the heat of last summer, the mildness of the winter, and recently began blooming and creating strawberries all over again. Unfortunately the squirrels really like strawberries. They do not bother with the fruit ripening. So while it is nice to know we have created a perennial variety of strawberry I do not recall ever eating any of the fruit.

Another garden miracle is the blooming of the garden sage. I know that most sages will bloom but I have never seen the garden variety bloom, at least in Texas. It was moved to a new location to prevent overwatering which may be the reason for the blooms. It is just one more happy addition to the garden.

garden sage blooming

Blooming Garden Sage

With the increase in rain and the mild winter I went ahead and planted tomatoes and peppers about one month early this year. The result is that we have tomatoes getting ready to ripen and some spicy banana peppers almost ready to be harvested. Perhaps the signs for 2012 are unusual but certainly not so ominous.

Comment » | Herbs, Musings, Recipes

Stuffed

March 22nd, 2012 — 3:00pm
ancho chile relleno

Ancho Chile Relleno

We recently returned from a trip to Santa Fe which included a bit of sightseeing, a lot of snow, and a large amount of eating and drinking. With all the restaurants in Santa Fe it is pretty easy to eat out for every meal and find some incredibly good food without having to repeat a restaurant. We opted to have breakfast and lunch out and spent the evenings cooking in. We had access to a very large kitchen and close access to an extensive wine cellar. There was no apparent reason to navigate the winding roads of Santa Fe at night with such culinary potential close at hand.

We spent one morning and early afternoon at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. We opted for a three hour hands-on cooking class in “rellenos” or more specifically chile rellenos. There were four types of chile rellenos to prepare, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, ancho chile rellenos, the classic chile rellenos, and chiles en nogada. I had never used dried chiles for purposes of reconstituting and stuffing. As the class split into recipe groups we chose the ancho chile rellenos.

stuffed pickled jalapenos

Stuffed Pickled Jalapenos

I am always a bit loathe to take these types of classes especially on cruise ships or trendy vacation spots. Typically the class turns into more of a comedy routine and you really do not learn anything except the chefs usually do not really know what they are talking about. In this case the chef, Deena Chafetz, was entertaining and full of useful information. She was especially helpful in the basics of cooking at a high altitude; recipes using liquids tend to cook a bit slower (especially beans) and recipes with leavening have to be adjusted. She was also especially good at letting the participants have their way with a recipe without too much interference except when asked. I especially liked the large plastic bin in which you put all your dirty pots, pans, and utensils. But as Chef Chafetz pointed out they do not work so well in your own home. Unfortunately such bins do not automatically clean the dishes. Rats!

I recently recreated two of the recipes at home; the stuffed jalapenos and the ancho chile rellenos. As with every recipe I had to tinker with it a bit. I substituted ricotta cheese for the cream cheese. I felt the cream cheese was just too sweet to be used with the pickled jalapenos. And the ancho chile relleno was adjusted using some cinnamon and nutmeg to give it more of a Mexican flavor than a New Mexican flavor. As people in Santa Fe continuously point out Mexican and New Mexican cooking are entirely different. (OK, I get it! Geesh!) The original recipes are included with a tip of the hat to Chef Chafetz, and Chef Noe Cano who cooks incredible beans (which we used at the cooking school) and who also made the dirty dishes miraculously disappear into some unseen section of the kitchen. If only he could do both at my house.

Comment » | Musings, Recipes

What Happened to Winter?

March 15th, 2012 — 2:58pm
broccoli seed pods

If You Can't Eat Them Arrange Them

Since the winter solstice we have had very little weather resembling winter. There were a few nights when the temperature dropped into the mid-twenties. But we never had one day where the temperature stayed below freezing for the entire day. This is quite unusual even for Dallas standards. Usually we get a string of a few days where the temperature hovers just below the freezing point.

The warm weather led to some unusual happenstances. First our broccoli grew like gangbusters only to go straight to blooming instead of forming edible flowerets. This was a boon for the bees that never actually got a chance to hibernate this year. We let the broccoli flower and ultimately it led to the stalks offering up seed pods. Something I did not know broccoli was capable of forming. So as not to be a total loss I made an arrangement of them for the table. If we were not going to eat the broccoli we were at least going to look at it while eating dinner.

meyer lemon in bloom

Meyer Lemon in Bloom

The warmer weather also allowed us to keep a handful of Meyer lemon fruits on the tree throughout the winter. Usually a prolonged cold snap finishes of the fruit and we have to hope that the spring will bring more blooms and more fruit by the end of summer. Unfortunately the heat of the summer is not so kind to the Meyer lemon tree. If you do not get a good batch of winter fruit you are pretty much out of luck. Not only do we have some fruits for harvesting in a few weeks, the tree is also in full bloom, making the backyard smell wonderful and keeping the bees buzzing around.

migrating cedar waxwings

Migrating Cedar Waxwings

Finally I went out to the garden, which already has tomatoes and peppers planted in it, and discovered that the cedar waxwings are migrating about one month early this year. They fly up on the warm southern winds from Mexico and places south stopping to eat all the red berries off the holly trees. You are lucky to see them migrating at all as they can pretty much blow through an acre of holly bushes in about 30 minutes. But there they were, a big group of happy, fat cedar waxwings on their long trek to Minnesota or points north. I guess we can assume that this winter is over for good.

Comment » | Musings

An Edible Train Wreck

February 20th, 2012 — 10:17am
orange-pineapple layer cake

A Collapsing Orange-Pineapple Layer Cake

I have been doing a lot of food experimenting lately. Some things turned out good, some things turned out not so good, and one turned out to be absolutely delicious despite the fact that it looked like something made in an Easy-Bake oven. I am embarrassed to even show you except for the fact that I need some help fixing it.

I often get inspiration from food remembrances. In this case I was craving orange-pineapple ice cream. This was my favorite ice cream as a child (I know even my father thought I was nuts!). I decided that an orange layer cake filled with orange marmalade and topped with pineapple-cream cheese frosting would be a great idea. Much of this was also inspired by a blood orange marmalade I found at World Market. I often buy things and then figure out how to use them later.

Those of you who know me are already cringing. First of all I do not bake unless under extreme duress. Secondly I can never follow a recipe, making sure to incorporate pieces of many recipes, which in baking is usually a big mistake. But off I went sort of following a couple of recipes and honestly thrilled with the idea that I was creating something original, and it being orange-pineapple, destined to be yummy. And of course as if orange marmalade and cream cheese would not make it rich enough, I drizzled orange liqueur over the cake before assembling. This was surely destined for culinary history.

As you can see from the picture, after assembling, the cake collapsed in the middle while sitting in the refrigerator. I do not fault the marmalade, the orange liqueur or the frosting. I think the cake needed some more eggs, maybe, or something else entirely. The batter seemed awfully thick before I put it in the oven. The good news is the concept yielded an incredibly delicious, if ugly, cake. So I will post the recipe in prototype format. All of you bakers are now challenged to create the sturdier version. The first one with a fix will win…something! I do not think my nerves can take baking something so soon after this cake.

2 comments » | Musings, Recipes

All Quiet on the Blogging Front

January 31st, 2012 — 9:34am
italian seed packets

Italian Seed Packets

There has not been a lot of blogging as of late. In addition to my rather full plate of things to do I have added another business opportunity. This new opportunity seems to be eating up a lot of time while I climb the learning curve. This does not mean I have not been cooking. I have been making some old favorites while making changes along the way. I reinvented my cassoulet to include many more herbs and lamb. I am not a big fan of lamb but it seemed to give the cassoulet a different flavor dimension.

It looks like we are not going to get much of a winter here in North Texas. So it is time to start thinking about things to plant in the garden before the heat of the summer sets in. I usually just go to the specialty nursery and buy my plants. But I ran across some Italian seeds in beautiful packets. Leave it to the Italians to inspire me to try some seeds this year.

Of course I reached for things that remind me of Italy. San Marzano tomatoes (pomodoro alto San Marzano), bulb fennel (finocchio gigante di Napoli) which is impossible to find here in Texas, the spicy red Calabrese pepper (peperoncino Calabrese), and for good measure some arugula (rucola) and some chicory. The final two have been in the garden before. It is just that the packaging was so inspiring I had to buy them. We of course will add basil and eggplant later on.

I’ll keep you posted on the results. I have heard San Marzano tomatoes are hard to grow and the bulb fennel may not ever turn into a bulb. It never hurts to try new things.

Comment » | Gardening, Musings

More from the Mexican Market

January 10th, 2012 — 4:41pm
ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja

I keep finding new things to try out at the meat counter at the local Mexican market. It is not that you cannot find any of these things in the regular market. I think it is the way they cut and display the meat that makes me stop and take a second look.

Flank steak is not normally something that I would buy, but when they are stacked eight high, separated by paper in between and pressed against the glass of the meat counter somehow they just screamed “buy me.” As with many of my purchases I decided I would figure out what to do with it later.

In this case it turned into ropa vieja, or translated as “old clothes.” This is typically attributed to Cuban populations although it is apparently popular all the way from the Canary Islands to Colombia. What you put in the mixture is heavily influenced by your locale. Many of the recipes called for diced tomatoes or tomato paste. I just was not feeling tomatoes in this dish so I left them out. I tried to really spice it up with two whole pickled jalapenos. The slow cooking process I think really washed away the heat. So maybe add some more jalapenos at the end. Although the picture shows the dish in a bowl it is normally served with tortillas. And as with any sort of meat tortilla dish I like mine with a squeeze of lemon and some sour cream. Buen provecho

2 comments » | Musings, Recipes

Mexican Market Finds

January 2nd, 2012 — 5:46pm
oxtail osso buco

Oxtail Osso Buco

I have been availing myself of the many interesting things you can find at our local Mexican market. Over the recent weeks I have seen every part of the pig or the cow available for sale. (I cannot figure out what you do with the full pigs head. Guess I will have to research that one.) The produce is outstanding both in quality and variety. And prices, except for certain cuts of meat seem to be a bit less than the large chain grocery stores.

This market has inspired me to take a look at some things I would usually pass by. In this case I was captivated by the beautiful oxtails in the meat case. I had no idea what I was going to do with them once I got them home. And at $10 for four of them it was not a purchase I would take lightly.

oxtail tied up

Oxtails Tied Up Before Cooking

A bit of quit research turned up the idea Osso Buco. Although traditionally made with veal shank I decided the oxtails would work just as well with the requisite mix of meat and fat. And of course there are as many recipes to cook this dish as their are cooks who make it. So I pulled together the pieces that I thought would be best from each recipe and came up with my own. I served it over polenta, a very good choice and another new recipe which will follow in a couple of days. We had to have black-eyed peas for the new year so I made a nontraditional recipe with butternut squash. All in all I am batting 100% with all my great finds at the Mexican market. Olé!

Comment » | Musings, Recipes

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