Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lessons from my Father's family

Venison Tenderloin or "Backstrap" makes a very elegant meal.

Lessons from my Father's family came at an early age. My sister & I were initiated into a world of Texas ranch life of strong family ties, cattle, hunting, fishing & traditional Texas meals that seemed to go on for days.

Being raised in that life we learned that our ancestors who were hunters & ranchers were fierce guardians of the land & it's natural resources. During the tough times of recessions & depressions the sustenance of the Texas wildlife kept our family fed. My Grandfather, Father & Uncles were avid hunters who kept all matter of game on the dinner table. Deer hunting season each Fall at the ranch was an event. It is because of these family meals that I have a great respect for venison on a dinner table.

Deer meat is typically lower in calories and fat, yet higher in iron, than beef. For example, a 3 oz. serving of deer meat contains 134 calories, 2.7 g of fat and 3.8 mg of iron, while a 3 oz. serving of beef tenderloin contains 275 calories, 21 g of fat and 2.6 mg of iron.
Marinate the tenderloin 1-2 hours

Texas Venison Tenderloin
2 pounds venison tenderloin/backstrap*, cleaned of any silvery membrane
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped (reserve 1 Tbsp)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 strips of bacon, uncooked

Rinse venison and pat dry. Season liberally with garlic & pepper. Add balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Rub into meat and let marinate for 1-2 hours. Remove tenderloin from marinade, pat dry then wrap tenderloin with bacon strip & secure with toothpicks.(ie: corkscrew style) If the tenderloin is very large use a strip & a half to go the length of the meat.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium high heat. Pan fry venison, turning to brown, until medium, about 5 minutes total for a two-inch thick backstrap. Remove from heat and tent with foil. If you desire the tenderloin to be less rare you can always cook more but under-cooking is easier than over cooking. Slice venison at an angle and serve immediately.
*I used this marinade for 2 tenderloins. The tenderloin is also called the backstrap
Make certain to rest the tenderloin & tent with foil before slicing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Irish for a day...

or a lifetime in my family. Each year we proudly celebrate St.Patrick's Day, not just because he drove the snakes out of Ireland (why didn't he make a stop in Texas too?) but also because it's who we are. On Mom's side of the family we have some pretty clear Irish lineage, we come from good strong stock, my grandmother's maiden name is Harrington.

It's a little late (only about a month) but I wanted to share a little bit of Irish with you from our family's St.Patrick's Day dinner. This year we opted for something other than the typical corned beef, some salmon alongside Guinness bread and some cheesy potato pancakes, yes a little starch heavy but still good!

Guinness Roasted Salmon
2 Tbsp Molasses
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Guinness
1 1/2 Tsp Lemon Zest
2 Tsp Thyme
2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
4 6oz Salmon Fillets

1. Mix molasses, vinegar, Guinness, lemon zest, thyme and vegetable oil and marinate salmon in it for 1-4 hours.
2. In an oven preheated to 450 F, bake the salmon for 10-12 minutes, baste once.

Cheesy Potato Pancakes
4 Potatoes, Mashed
1/2 Cup Arugula, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
2 Egg Yolks

Herb Mayonnaise (Serve alongside Pancakes)
4 Cloves Garlic, Roasted and Smashed
1 Tsp Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp Rosemary, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise

1. Mix potatoes, arugula, nutmeg, egg yolk and cheese together and form into pancakes.
2. Heat about 1 inch vegetable oil in a deep cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is sufficiently hot drop potato pancakes into oil, let them brown (2-3 minutes per side) on each side.
3. Serve with herb mayonnaise. To make mayonnaise mix ingredients into 1/2 cup mayonnaise, chill.

Guinness Molasses Bread
3 Cup All Purpose Flour
3 3/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/4 Tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Molasses
12 oz Guinness

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a 9x5 loaf pan.
2. Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
3. Slowly add beer, about 1/2 way through the bottle add molasses and then continue adding the beer.
4. Mix well, do not overwork the dough, mix so that all ingredients have been incorporated.
5. Bake 40-50 minutes until bread is cooked through.

While nothing on the plate is particularly well known as a 'Texas' food, I wanted to share this because it's something about our family, which is deeply rooted in Texas. The Irish have a long history in Texas, one which is well inter-twined with that of my family. During the Texas Independence revolution, 25 Irishmen signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence, 11 died at the Alamo, 14 were with Fannin at Goliad, and about 100 fought at San Jacinto—a seventh of Sam Houston's army.

To incorporate some local flair into our meal we finished it off with some beautiful petit fours from Paige's Bakehouse, a cute little bakery that has recently opened up in Round Rock. More to come on Paige's later but just to tease you here's a picture of the dainty little cakes we enjoyed:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Than a Pretty Face, this Girl Needs a Home~

 Give this girl a home.  Her name is Lady Bird & she's looking for a family.  When we went to the Cedar Park Farmer's Market on Saturday we were surprised to see there was a pet meet & greet going on.  This pup captured our hearts immediately.  She was sweet, kind & altogether polite which is what made us stop & visit with her to hear more of her story. 
With soft ears, responsive licks & fur like velvet she was a warm sight on a cold  Saturday morning at the Farmer's Market.  Lady Bird is a well mannered 3 year old. She lost her human companion about a year ago, has a soft spot in her heart for kids, kitties & loving companionship.  For more information on Lady Bird Check Here:  For more information on Adopt-a-Bull in Austin or around the country check here.  The American Stafordshire Terrier is a very loyal & proud canine breed.  A few people give these incredible dogs a bad name but if I didn't have a house full of pet companions already I'd take Lady Bird into my home.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Where everybody knows your name?

Hand-battered Onion Rings cooked to perfection!
Okay, so it's not a neighborhood bar in a charming historic area of Boston. However Snuffy's in Hutto Texas seems like that kind of spot for regulars. The local bar with good food & even wifi sits directly on highway 79 in the middle of Hutto. It just might have been overlooked a few years ago however recent growth has been getting the tiny town just 30 minutes from Austin an incredible amount of notice. There seems to be much to take a second look at these days.  Snuffy's might seem like a neighborhood bar but the food they offer really hit a sweet spot for us one recent visit. The menu is simple,  hearty & the service was prompt. Our waiter actually came back to the table several times to check on our response to our heartys sandwiches & onion rings. The pulled pork sandwich & burgers were good but oh, those onion rings!! Hand-battered & fried in small batches. They are everything which a satisfyingly, guilty pleasure of bar food should be.

Slow cooked daily, the pulled pork sandwich is fabulous.
1/3 lb burgers at under $5 were a hit.
Snuffy's has been around as a tavern or bar since the 1940's but is rumored to have been home to several former businesses which include a funeral home & even a potato chip shop which used to sell potato chip snacks for a nickel a bag. Regardless of which story is to be told or believed in this small town, tall tale of humble beginnings; the food at Snuffy's Place was a hit.  How much of a hit?  Well, we are planning another visit on a weekend not too far away.  Best time of day to visit Snuffy's?  Daytime seems best to beat the evening crowd & have a little more time to enjoy the food but then where else can a tiny Texas town offer full bar, good food & wifi?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gone to Market

While I didn't grow up in a tiny town I always admired the little town of Stars Hollow on the TV show Gilmore Girls, there was something neat about all of your needs within walking distance of your house, entertaining and quirky neighbors, the whole package appealed to it should've come as no surprise that I have ended up living in a small town (not entirely tiny) but close enough to Austin to enjoy it's many benefits and far enough that I can see the stars at night. My little town (Hutto) has started to pick up some neat little shops of late, the usual cute-sy stuff (you know, metal signs, candles, home decor) but in the last few weeks a grocery store has gone in! I am very excited to announce that Sarah's
Texas Pantry
opened its doors just a few short weekends ago to quite the crowd!

Unknowingly Mom and I stumbled into the midst of the ribbon cutting event and joined the fray! After the ceremony we enjoyed talking with Sarah (the proprietor)...

Her shop is fantastic, it's full of Texas products, from great scented bath supplies, pet food and treats made in the Lone Star state to fresh produce, great canned/jarred products, spice mixes and other pantry staples and even locally sourced meat and dairy products.

During the Grand Opening we had the chance to sample some delicious sausages made by Texas Heritage Beef Company. One of the most fascinating things to me was speaking with the brother and sister duo who was there to represent Texas Heritage Beef Company, we spoke about their products, how they produce their meets and Texas ranching in general. What a great opportunity to really know where your favorite products are coming from!

Sarah's stayed nice and busy and I am happy to report I have made a number of visits since, I can't wait to see what other fantastic items she stocks!

Monday, November 8, 2010

You see milk, I see cheese....

Never have I considered that cheesemaking is something I would try, frankly it sounds rather crazy, even though I now know I have actually been part of it! The story begins in a round-about way, for my birthday (back in September) I was given a Rocco DiSpirito cookbook, Rocco's Italian American, it has beautiful color photos in it of mozzarella being hand pulled, I was curious, searched the index and found no recipe for making mozzarella....well I couldn't stop there! I started Googling around and found Ricki Carroll's fantastic website, when I saw the '30 Minute Mozzarella' recipe I knew I had to try it. So I kept digging and found out that I would need some very specific supplies, away I went, clicking my way to a Cheesemaking Kit (yup that has crazy written all over it!).

While waiting for my shiny new cheesemaking kit to arrive I started reading up on the history of cheese, both in Ricki's book Home Cheese Making and online. Being a food nerd is something I am not ashamed of and frankly reading about the history of cheese was pretty fascinating.

Cheese is ancient (technically speaking), dating back to times before recorded history, potentially as far back as 6,000 B.C.E. According to The, cheese was part of the Sumerian diet, 4000 years before the birth of Christ, made from both cows’ and goats’ milk and stored in tall jars. Egyptian tomb murals circa 2000 B.C.E. show butter and cheese being made, and other murals which show milk stored in skin bags suspended from poles demonstrate a knowledge of dairy husbandry.

Cheese is made in virtually every country on earth and is created with a multitude of animals' milk, ranging from the reindeer in Scandinavia, the boar in Africa, the water buffalo in Italy, the yak in Tibet, the mare in Russia to the cows, goats and sheep we all know.

I'm not just going to ramble on about the history of cheese, the point is, every culture, every country and nearly every animal has some kind of cheese associated with it. Two things that are key to making your own cheese, good, fresh milk and not using ultra-pasteurized milk. In Texas we are very lucky to have great local milks available to us, this time we used Promised Land Dairy Whole Milk, it's a pleasure to have such great Texas products available to us and it made a delightful choice for our first attempt at cheesemaking.

The instructions for making this cheese come directly from Ricki Carroll's website but you'll note that you won't find these ingredients at your local grocery store, for that you'll need to go to a supplier who stocks cheesemaking supplies (my recommendation is of course, I won't go into the detail here but instead suggest you check out the link I've connected and will share our photos instead.

First we had to heat up the milk with citric acid, temperature is key so we had a thermometer constantly at hand.

Then we added rennet and let it sit for a few minutes, after it reached a solid state we sliced through it and we mixed it slowly bringing it back up to temperature.

At this point the curds and whey become so clearly cheese-like it got very exciting to be able to see some semblance of the product.

After more time we had to don plastic gloves and begin to press the whey out and bring the cheese to an even higher temperature.

Once it was hot enough it was ready to stretch, the fun part.

Finally, the finished product!

We had a fantastic time making the mozzarella, it was such a cool experience to see it come together in such a short amount of time and is a truly unique thing to produce your own cheese. I can't wait to try other recipes and to further explore this niche of cooking that is really a combination of science, cooking and art that I had no idea would be so easy to experiment with.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farmer's Market Inspired Focaccia.

We enjoy attending local Farmer's Markets though out Central Texas on the weekends. There is one booth which always intrigues us when we are lucky enough to run across it. One of the Farmer's Market vendor lives in the Texas Hill Country & drives into the Austin area weekly with fresh baked breads. The breads are fabulous & full of fresh & local ingredients. One of our favorites is the fresh baked Focaccia bread. We were especially drawn to the Mushroom Focaccia. So when we found Texas Fresh baby portabella mushrooms there was little question what we would bake up using the local mushrooms. A quick scan though the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book (more on this book later...)left us with a great recipe choice for an easy Focaccia bread which would complement the mushrooms as well as our other choice toppings. We actually had enough dough to make more than one Focaccia bread & made a variety of toppings however our favorite hands down was the Mushroom & Garlic.

From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Olive Oil Dough

Makes 4-1lb loaves.

2-3/4 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoon granulated yeast
1-1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Toppings: Garlic, Rosemary, Sea salt, Pancetta, Sun dried Tomatos, Roasted red pepper, mushrooms are a few choices, use your imagination.

Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour without kneading. I used my stand mixer with dough hook, but you can use a spoon (I used a fork).

Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and colapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours. I loosely placed plastic wrap on top of the bowl & laid a clean tea towel over the top to keep the dough warm.

The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 12 days. We used all of the dough to make 4 nice sized Focaccia breads.

Preheat the oven to 425* Each 1 pound (*grapefruit size portion) of the dough will make 1 Focaccia flat bread. Each Focaccia will make 6 - 8 appetizer sized portions.

Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil or line with parchment paper. We made our entire batch so experimented using a baking stone with a dusting of cornmeal underneath 2 of the Focaccia breads & 2 others we baked on cookie sheets greased lightly with olive oil.

Preparing the Focaccia with toppings

Dust surface of refrigerated dough with flour (the grapefruit sized pieces, you should have 4) Quickly shape the piece into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating until the piece fits onto cookie sheet or baking stone. Flatten it into 1/2 in. thick round using your hands. With greased finger tips make dimples into the dough. Let dough rest briefly while toppings are prepared. We used slices of garlic, roasted red peppers, fresh rosemary, mushrooms which had been sauteed & pancetta. Arrange toppings over the surface of the prepared Focaccia dough. Once the breads/toppings are arranged sprinkle coarse sea salt, a few teaspoons of parmesan cheese & drizzle with olive oil(approx 1 tsp per bread) Place the cookie sheet/baking stone in the center of the oven. Bake 25 minutes. Cut into wedges & serve warm.

If you enjoy Artisan Breads in the store & wondered how you could make them, try picking this wonderful book up: Check Here