Category Archives: Breakfast

Picnic at Walnut Creek Park

Two of the best things about living in Austin are the weather and the outdoors. In 2009, Forbes named Austin one of the “best outdoor cities” in the nation. Yet, after almost a decade living here, I have explored just a few of Austin’s public outdoor spaces. This summer I’m working to fix that. My husband Rami and I have resolved to take weekly picnics around Austin so that we can visit lots of different parks in the city and enjoy some great food together.

We are well outfitted for our picnic adventure: we’ve had a nice insulated picnic basket for years, courtesy of my mother in-law, and we threw down $7 at Goodwill last week so we’d have a proper picnic blanket.

We’re hoping these picnics will be a fun, cheap way to spend time together over the summer, and a chance to experiment with new recipes. I rarely cook lunch for us, so cooking sandwiches and picnic dishes with seasonal, local produce will be a nice way to stretch my cooking chops.

We started our picnic tour on Sunday at Walnut Creek Park in north central Austin. On the menu were sliced apples drizzled with local honey, a bagel sandwich with a root vegetable omelet, and a bottle of Texas wine.

The meal took us about 45 minutes to make. I packed two whole apples in the picnic basket along with a paring knife and the bottle of honey. For the sandwiches, I used Scott Ehrlich’s recipe for Spanish-Style Beet, Carrot and Egg Sandwich published by Food and Wine. Rami and I made the sandwiches with carrots from Acadian Family Farm, beets from Massey Farm, spring onions from Bar W Ranch and Farm and Yukon potatoes from Green Gate Farm.

In the sandwich, sweet onions and carrots, earthy beets, and buttery potatoes are sliced very thin and cooked until they’re tender. These become the star ingredients in an omelet, which serves as the filling for a toasted bagel sandwich. A spicy mayonnaise-based sauce complements the omelet perfectly. (Recipe here.)

The sandwiches were easy to cook, and the omelet portion of recipe will probably join our regular brunch rotation, especially when we get beets in our local box. (I never seem to use those up!) For the picnic I assembled the sandwiches at home and wrapped them individually in foil for transport. Our insulated picnic basket kept the sandwiches hot until we arrived at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, which is just 10 minutes from our house.

Walnut Creek Park has extensive hiking and bike trails, an off-leash area for dogs, plus a baseball diamond and a playground. There are 26 picnic tables at the park and Rami and I had no trouble finding a quiet, clean place to eat around noon on Sunday. Our picnic table overlooked a shady clearing near a trailhead to the north, and a playground to the south. There’s also plenty of free parking available on the park property.

You can’t tell it from this picture, but this part of the park is very popular for dog owners since it’s near the off-leash area of the trail. Our dog Barclay was on his leash at the picnic table, and he enjoyed greeting several other dogs who walked by during our meal.

All in all we considered this first picnic venture a success. The sandwich was good, the wine was sweet, and the park was a pretty relaxing place to spend our Sunday afternoon.

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Strawberry Preserves & Hand Pies

I think it’s nearly impossible to walk past fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market without buying a pint. (Or four.) So between our Greenling Local Box and two trips to the farmer’s market last week, I had six pints of local strawberries in the fridge on Saturday morning. Two pints were from Gundermann Acres in Wharton, two were from Naegelin Farms in Lytle, and two pints were from Two Happy Children Farm in Taylor, Texas.

So many strawberries won’t keep more than a few days, so I decided to make some jam to use up my haul of berries. I am an inexperienced canner, so Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves seemed like a great place to start: not-to-sweet, and no added pectin. His recipe calls for a lot of berries, some citrus, and a pinch of rosemary and black pepper. I made it my own by substituting oranges for the lemon, omitting the salt, increasing the rosemary and pepper, and cutting the sugar down a bit. The rosemary I used is from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, and the oranges are from G&S Groves down in McAllen, Texas.

Here’s my version of the recipe, scaled down for just one pint of strawberries.

Strawberry Preserves (Each pint of strawberries will yield about 1 cup of jam)
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
pinch black pepper
juice of 1/2 an orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

In a saucepan with high sides, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep close watch on the pan with a spoon at the ready– strawberries will foam up if you’re not careful! Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until jam is thick and syrupy. Around the half-hour mark, the consistency of the jam will be thick and the mixture will look glossy. You can test the consistency of the finished jam by spooning a blob onto a very cold plate. Wait a minute, then draw your finger through the jam. If the jam stays separated on the plate, it’s ready! If the jam runs back together, keep cooking. Once the jam is set to your standards, transfer it to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and use it up within the week.

My six pints of berries made a huge batch of the jam, and while it’s not as good as Confituras‘ I am really pleased with my first-ever attempt at strawberry preserves.

You can see that the preserves have a lovely texture: soft, chopped pieces of berries are suspended in a thick syrup. Homemade jam usually has a softer set than store-bought, and this is wonderful to spread on muffins, toast, or swirled atop oatmeal. Next time I make it I am going to experiment with increasing the sugar and using lemon juice to try to get a brighter flavor from the berries.

Tonight I used some leftover pie crust and 1/4 cup of the preserves to make these pretty hand pies. They’re kind of like strawberry Pop-Tarts, only they taste like real strawberries and there’s no red food coloring.

The finished hand pies were lovely, except for one that I overfilled. A whole chunk of strawberry spurted out of the side of the pie while it was in the oven.

I giggled when I saw it because it looked like it was blowing me a big raspberry! Er, strawberry!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Turnip & Collard Green Frittata

Picture of frittata

Frittatas are one of the most powerful tools in the home cook’s arsenal. They are extremely forgiving and easy to adapt to whatever ingredients are in the fridge. Plus, you can serve a frittata at pretty much any meal. Pair it with muffins and fruit salad, and there’s brunch. With crunchy green salad and wine, dinner is served.

Lately I’ve been turning to frittatas at the end of the week to use up the veggies straggling in the crisper drawer, both for quick dinners and make-ahead breakfasts. No matter what specific ingredients I have on hand, I always make frittatas using the same basic formula:

  • 2 cups chopped, cooked vegetables, onions, potatoes or meat
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup liquid dairy- milk, cream, or half and half
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • salt, pepper, garlic and other spices to taste

The recipe fills a 9-inch deep dish pie pan and bakes up in a 325 degree oven for 50 minutes

For this particular frittata, I took inspiration from the traditional southern preparation of turnips and collard greens and I paired those cruciferous veggies with garlic and heavy cream. Some Romano cheese added a bit of bite to the recipe, and I opted to use a mix of duck and chicken eggs since that’s what I had available. Next time we get turnips and collards in the local box, I’m planning to make this dish again and add some smoky bacon to the mix– I’ll just fry it up at the start of preparation and use the bacon fat to saute the veggies.

Picture of Frittata Ingredients

Turnip and Collard Green Frittata
yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:
olive oil
1 yellow onion
2 turnips
2 garlic cloves
1 bunch collard greens
6 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:
Peel and dice onion, turnips and garlic cloves. Chop stems off of collard greens, wash the leaves thoroughly, and chop them into 1/4 inch ribbons. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and use olive oil to grease a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Saute chopped onions, garlic and turnips until they begin to soften. Add the chopped collard greens to the skillet, and cook them with the other vegetables until they are wilted and soft. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs and cream together in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the cooked vegetables, cheese, salt and pepper to the egg mixture and pour frittata batter into prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes in preheated oven, until eggs are firm.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Cheddar Kale Muffins

image courtesy Howard Walfish

These savory muffins call for a whole head of kale, plus protein-rich cheddar cheese, making them a healthy and filling option for breakfast on the go.  You’re going to have to take my word for it that these muffins look good. I made a batch of them for us to take on vacation to San Diego, and I was in such a hurry to pack them up that I forgot to take a picture!  They were great travel food; not too smelly on the plane, and a big step up from any of the airport snacks.

Cheddar Kale Muffins (yields 12 regular-sized muffins)
1 head kale, washed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 12-muffin pan with paper liners. Chop thick stalks off of kale and slice remaining leaves very finely. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, saute chopped kale in olive oil for about seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until kale is very tender and starts to look a little dry.  Set cooked kale on paper towels to drain and melt the butter in the skillet.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together milk, melted butter, egg, minced garlic, and cooked kale until the egg is completely beaten. Add flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cheese.  Stir until just combined; do not over mix.

Fill twelve prepared muffin cups with batter– about 1/4 cup per muffin– and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. The finished muffins will be slightly browned and a toothpick inserted into a muffin should come out clean. Remove the pan from oven and allow muffins to cool completely before eating. The kale flavor in the muffins is very strong while the muffins are hot; it mellows as they cool, resulting in a great breakfast treat.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery, and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

I first read about Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter in one of my favorite Austin food blogs, Local Savour.  I knew right away that I wanted to use it to make Christmas cookies, and last Wednesday I bought a jar of pear butter from Stephanie herself just for that purpose.  Well.  Sort of.  I never actually made it to the cookies because as soon as I sampled a little of the pear butter, I ended up eating half the jar.

I still needed to make something for dessert that night, so I came up with this challah pear pudding with salty caramel sauce.  For the recipe I used cinnamon challah from  UT’s Challah for Hunger, incorporating into the dessert flavors from Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter.

Wowza, what a great idea!  This bread pudding is easy to prepare, indulgent, and fancy enough for serving at a holiday dinner where you want to impress. And while I made my own salty caramel sauce, topping the dessert with Confituras’ Salty Caramel Pear Butter is just as tasty. (I know, since that’s what happened to the other half of my cookie-making jar.)  A recipe of this bread pudding along with a few 8 oz. jars of pear butter would make a creative and delectable holiday hostess gift.

Challah Pear Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce (Serves 8 )
Bread Pudding:
1, one-pound loaf cinnamon or plain challah bread*
3 ripe pears
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (omit if using cinnamon challah)

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon salt
OR top pudding with 8 oz. Confituras Salted Caramel Pear Butter

Prepare bread pudding: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and butter a 2-quart baking dish.  Cut challah bread into 1-inch slices, the cut those slices into 1 inch cubes.  Set aside.  Core and dice pears (no need to peel them) and set aside.  Heat butter, brown sugar and white sugar in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for 90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds with a wooden spoon to keep mixture from scorching.  Carefully pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and whisk in milk.  Add eggs, nutmeg and cinnamon, whisking until mixture is well combined.  Add challah and fold together with a rubber spatula until bread cubes are coated.

Pour 1/3 of the pears into the prepared baking dish and cover with 1/2 the bread mixture.  Repeat, and top the casserole with the remaining 1/3 of the pears.  Use the rubber spatula to smoosh down the pudding so that it sits in an even layer in the dish.  Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for an hour in preheated oven, or until pudding springs back. Remove foil in last 10 minutes of baking so that the top of the bread pudding is golden brown.

To make salted caramel sauce:  cook 1 cup white sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  It will take about 8 minutes of frequent stirring for the granulated sugar to transform into an amber-colored caramel.  At that point, remove the pan from heat.  Slowly add one cup heavy cream to the melted sugar, stirring constantly.  (Mixture will bubble and foam; this is good.) Add butter and salt, stirring until caramel is thickened and a little glossy.

Here’s how the sugar looks during the transformation from granulated white stuff to amber-colored caramel:

Top the finished bread pudding with caramel sauce and serve warm.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

*I’ve mentioned UT Challah for Hunger on my blog before, and they are one of my favorite local food sources. The group of UT students sells regular, cinnamon, and chocolate chip challahs for just $5 every Wednesday on the west mall of campus, with proceeds benefiting Darfur. Unfortunately, this past week was the students’ last time to bake for the year, and they won’t be back in action until late January. (In the meantime, you can get your challah fix on Fridays at Upper Crust Bakery in the Rosedale neighborhood.)

Thanksgiving: Butternut Squash Kugel


This kugel is my answer to that icky-sticky sweet potato casserole that is so popular in some Thanksgiving circles.  I prefer this dish mainly because it does not have marshmallow cream along the top. However, there are other advantages: this kugel has a firmer texture than sweet potato casserole, it is much easier to prepare, and it’s healthier.

I adapted this recipe from one published on Allrecipes.com, using fresh squash puree instead of frozen cubes, substituting wheat flour for all-purpose, and reducing the sugar.  On Thursday I plan to serve this as a side dish during the main meal, garnished with fresh sage chiffonade.  I’ll cut the cinnamon in that version of the recipe down to one teaspoon sprinkled on top.

Butternut Squash Kugel (serves 4-6)
1 cup butternut squash puree
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 medium eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon, divided

Need help preparing the squash puree? Step-by-step instructions are here.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 6×9 inch pan with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray. In a medium mixing bowl, combine squash puree, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, melted butter and about half the cinnamon. Stir until well combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes, until kugel is firm and golden brown.  Serve warm or at room temperature. I really like this cold for breakfast the next day, too.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Apple Persimmon Compote

Persimmons and apples are a natural duet;  the spicy sweetness of the persimmon is complemented by the apple’s tart flavor, and the flesh of both fruits are similar enough that they cook at the same speed.  I originally conceptualized this apple-persimmon pairing as a filling for mini pies, but it has lots of other delicious uses.

Image by Nathan Russell

Traditionally, compotes are served as a dessert, either chilled or warmed and garnished with whipped cream.  However, you’re selling the dish short if you limit it to just desserts!  Here’s are some ideas for how to use this recipe in your meal plans:

  • Breakfast: as a topping for oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • Breakfast: in a parfait with yogurt and granola
  • Breakfast: with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
  • Breakfast: over pancakes or waffles or in crepes
  • Snack: instead of applesauce
  • Snack: as a dip for cinnamon sugar pita chips
  • Lunch: with cream cheese in a sandwich
  • Lunch: with roast turkey and Dijon mustard in a sandwich
  • Lunch: with goat cheese in a quesadilla or Panini
  • Dinner: as an appetizer, baked in Phylo dough with a round of brie
  • Dinner: heated over top of baked pork chops, chicken, or turkey
  • Dinner: over top of a baked sweet potato
  • Dessert: over ice cream or whipped cream
  • Dessert: in mini pies (the flavor is too strong for big pies)
  • Dessert: as filling in a pastry braid or sweet rolls
  • Dessert: as a filling for a spice cake with cream cheese icing

Preparing this compote is quick and easy.  The most difficult part of the process is identifying which kind of persimmon you’re working with, and then peeling and coring fruit.  There are two kinds of persimmons: Fuyu and Hachiya.  Hachiya persimmons are heart-shaped, with pointy bottoms.  Fuyus have flatter bottoms and look more like tomatoes.  This recipe calls for the firm-fleshed Fuyus.  However, you could substitute the pulp of very ripe Hachiyas if that’s what you have on hand.  Here are detailed instructions for ripening and cooking with Hachiya persimmons.  Below are instructions for coring and peeling apples and Fuyu persimmons.

Here’s the full recipe.  It doubles or triples well if you’re looking to feed a crowd, and the finished compote will last about a week in a tupperware in the fridge.

Apple Persimmon Compote (yields 2 cups)

4 Fuyu persimmons
3 apples
1/4 c. butter or vegan margarine
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger (about a 1 inch section)
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice, apple juice, or rum

Peel, core, and dice persimmons and apples.  Melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet and saute fruit for about 5 minutes, until it starts to soften and give off a little liquid.  Meanwhile, grate ginger and measure out cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, ground pepper, brown sugar, and rum.  Add all ingredients to the skillet, cover and continue to cook over medium heat for about half an hour, until the fruit reaches desired tenderness.  Stir occasionally and add a little water if necessary to keep compote from drying out. (Shouldn’t be a problem if your skillet’s covered, but burned brown sugar and fruit is no fun to clean up later!) Serve creatively and enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and also appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

the flesh of both fruits is similar enough that they are easy to cook together, and