Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tips for Tuesday
In Season: October

artichokes + arugula + asian vegetables + beans, green + beans, shelling + beets + bok choy + broccoli + broccoli rabe + brussels sprouts + burdock + cabbage + cactus pads (nopalitas) + carrots + cauliflower + celeriac + celery + chard + chicory + collard greens + corn + cress + cucumbers + eggplant + endive + fennel + garlic + gingerroot + herbs + horseradish + jicama + kale + lambsquarters + leeks + lettuce + mushrooms + mustard greens + nettles + okra + olives + onions + parsnips + peas + peppers, chile + pepper, sweet + potatoes + purslane + radish + rutabagas + salsify + scallions + shallots + spinach + sprouts + squash, summer + squash, winter + sunchokes + sweet potatoes + tomatillos + tomatoes + turnips

Fruit and Nuts
almonds + apples + chestnuts + cranberries + pears + pomegranate

duck + lamb + partridge + pheasant + rabbit + venison

clams + lobster + mussels + scallops

And a couple of great links, with maps, charts, and interactive resources, to keep yourself, and those you love, eating well:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Farmers Market Favorite
Okra Fritters with Sweet Pepper Tomato Saute

Pumpkins, pears, pomegranates, apples, Brussels sprouts..... It must be fall.

BUT WAIT A COTTON-PICKIN' minute, you guys.  It's still Indian summer down south and our fields, and markets, are still full of late summer-season favorites, like fall tomatoes, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, squash, and OKRA.

My early distaste for okra is well-documented. I was stubborn about the stuff. No matter the preparation, I was just not interested.

Until, that is, I grew my own. Okra loves this dry, intense Texas heat, and I began to love anything that would flourish in the hell heat of a Texas summer. Or late summer. Or early fall. Or mid-fall. (Y'all, it's hot down here). And if I was going to put my money where my mouth was, or put my mouth where my money was, or whatever, I was going to have to eat some okra.

It may be poor for eating chips with,
It may be hard to come to grips with,
But okra's such a wholesome food
It straightens out your attitude
Song of Okra Roy Blunt, Jr.

I pickled it. I stewed it. I canned it. I sold it. I roasted it. I grilled it. And today....I frittered it!

I'ma be honest with you. This, right here, is how this recipe was developed:

Once a month, I have the honor of being the guest chef for a cooking demonstration for fresh, seasonal, local produce at the Cedar Park Farmers' Market and the Mueller Farmers' Market. The idea behind my appearance is to prepare a seasonal dish, using the market's bounty and little of anything else. It's about helping real, live, home cooks to come up with ideas and dishes around the fresh fare they see at the market that day. I arrive at the market without even knowing, for certain, what will be offered by the farmers and vendors that day. Just like most market-shoppers arrive. So I'm often doing some fast pedaling in my head, coming up with the day's meal, dish, bite, demo of the day.

Now I have some help in this department. As they say, what GROWS together GOES together, so with the help of  Mother Nature, and gluten-free cornbread mix and farm eggs from Organicare Farms, whole milk and cheeses from Mill-King and Dos Lunas, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Texas Hill Country Olive Company, all market vendors, I gathered what was most in abundance at the market this weekend:

Okra-- from Tecolote Farm and Bernhardt Farm
Mixed Peppers & Onions--from Johnson's Backyard Garden
Tomatoes-- from Engel Farms
Elephant Garlic-- from Hairston Creek Farm

This was an impromptu, casual dish, just like the impromptu, casual meals I might make for dinner. Depending upon the number of diners in your world, adjust quantities to best fit your needs. For our demonstration, the following casual measurements were employed:

Pepper Tomato Saute

Approximately 1 bulb elephant garlic, 3 yellow onions, 1 pound of mixed sweet peppers, 5 large tomatoes, 1-2 Tablespoons coriander seeds, (I crush, slightly, with the help of a mortar and pestle. They can be left whole, as well.), 1-2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Okra Fritters

Approximately 1 pound of okra to yield 30 small fritters, one package gluten-free cornbread mix from Organicare Farms, 3 whole eggs, 1 pint whole milk, 2-3Tablespoons of your favorite seasonings (I used a leek garlic dried seasoning mix with celery salt and a little dill. Herbes de Provence would work, as well as anything with cinnamon and ginger, like, perhaps, a 5-spice powder blend).

About a cup of cooking oil (grapeseed oil would be ideal for the high heat of fritter-frying).


Pepper Tomato Saute

Warm 2T cooking oil in a heavy skillet until shimmering. Add garlic, sliced thinly, and stir frequently to avoid scorching. Remove from oil. Add onions and peppers, coriander and thyme,and saute until limp. Add chopped tomatoes (I tossed in skins, seeds, and all. No fussy preparation for market demos, weekday meals, or Meatless Mondays, whatever the case may be.)  Continue to saute until tomatoes release juice, return reserved garlic to the mix, add vinegar, and continue to simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes over medium heat. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Okra Fritters

Prepare fritter batter: To make a thin fritter batter without a lot of fuss, I added 3 whole eggs and 1 pint of whole milk to one package of Organicare gluten-free cornbread mix(which instructed 1 whole egg and 1/4 cup milk for cornbread preparation.) Season batter, as suggested, above.

Clean and dry okra with paper toweling. Slice crosswise, thinly, and add to prepared batter. Stir to coat, avoiding 'over-stirring', which will make the batter dense and a bit soggy-- a waste of the leavening ingredients. We want light and airy, here, so don't overwork the batter. Leave. Well. Enough. ALONE.

Heat approximately 1 cup grapeseed oil over medium to high heat in a heavy skillet.  When a little drizzled batter begins to sizzle in the heated oil, it's time to make quick work of these little babies. Using a small ladle, drop approximately 1/8 cup batter into oil, without crowding the skillet. Allow to firm about a minute, then flip, frying for about a minute or two more, or until golden brown.

Remove from heat and allow to drain on paper toweling.


Top Okra fritter with warm Pepper Tomato Saute, garnish with crumbled cheese. Serve warm.

Once a month, I have the honor of being the guest chef for demonstrations at the Texas Farmers' Markets, Cedar Park and Mueller locations. If you find yourself in the Austin area, looking for a market nearby, chances are these markets are close! And if you'd like to drop by for a visit with me, I'd love to see you and I'll save you the best samples!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thirsty Thursday
Top Spots to Catch A Buzz in Austin: Rio Rita

Rio Rita Cafe y Cantina
"Mild mannered coffee shop by day, swanky lounge by night."

1308 E. Sixth Street
Austin 78702


Open Monday-Friday  8am-2am.
Saturday-Sunday 10 am-2am

What a funky place.

An original among a growing number of Austin coffee shops by day, cocktail bars by night, Rio Rita is a laid-back faded rose, experiencing a revival while dressed in her best thrift store chic.

The renaissance of the East Side has encouraged new foot traffic in this area that my parents always warned me away from, but having attained a certain, shall we say, maturity, my inner rebel child ventured into the mean streets, and found a jewel-in-the-rough in Rio Rita.

Boasting the Bloody Mary most-mentioned in the area, the Rita also offers a serviceable menu of caffeinated favorites--coffee and espresso drinks all based on the fair trade beans of Texas Coffee Traders.  Pick up a bag of their signature 'Victory Blend', a custom combination of Ethiopian, Sumatran, Guatemalan, Peruvian and Nicaraguan Certified Organic Fair Trade Coffee  ($10/pound or $5/half pound).

And about that Bloody Mary-- billed as their Breakfast of Champions, a hangover salad in a glass, the pepperheads among us will not be disappointed. Vodka, horseradish, Tapatio, Zing Zang, celery, lime, olives, pickled okra & banana peppers? Well that oughta put a little pep in your morning-after step. $8.50, or $10 with infused vodka.

Rio Rita offers a full bar, with wine, beer, house-infused vodkas, and cocktails which run 5 to 10 bucks a piece. Should you catch a case of the munchies, enjoy $3.50 slices of East Side Pie, house-made hummus with pita, chips and salsa, and my local favorite Rockstar Bagels. Check out their menu, here.

Rita hosts regular weekly events Love and a 45, Irish and Old Time Music Collective, and Arts and Drafts. Find details, here.

As for seating...well choose the spot that best suits your mood. I like the dinette set right by the front door, so I can see what's passing by on E. Sixth. If you need a smoke, or want a breath of (often not all that) fresh air, take advantage of their large patio out back. If opium den is the vibe you're looking for, try the curtained corners and their various second-hand couches--there's a crazy little spot for all of Austin's weirdest finest.

And hey, where else can you go from work to party with nothing more than a change of chair, and attitude.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday
Fresh from the Market

What makes the farmers market such a special place is that you’re actually creating community around food. -Bryant Terry

Thank you to the vendors of the Mueller Farmers Market for providing their ridiculously photogenic farm fare for photographing. The Mueller Farmers Market is open from 10am to 2pm, Sundays, under the Browning Hangar, in Austin, Texas

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