Savor The Earth

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Little Cake February 11, 2010

Filed under: cake,cookies/brownies,dessert,easy,fast — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 12:49 pm

"Here Fluffy!"

sweet stack!

Here’s a little fancy cake that pulls together quickly, once you have all the components.  These constituents can vary, depending on what you have on hand and need to use up, or your whimsy.  And most components can be made well ahead of time.  A three-layered dainty, sized just right for the family and maybe a guest or two (yeah right, like I’ve been having company to dinner in the last two years.  Or has it been six?  Do cookouts count?), this petite gâteau (not to be confused with le petit gâteau) plays your palate big time, with light layers of whole grain sponge cake moistened by a refreshing syrup, and contrasting/complementary filling and frosting.  Your funny valentine might appreciate a sweet slice!

For using up odds and ends of leftover fillings, glazes, etc. (the “leftover layers” version below was filled with the last of some buttercream whipped with the three tablespoons or so of leftover chocolate èclair glaze), or for simply spreading and stacking with preserves from the pantry—and maybe frosting with whoop cream, this is your go-to gateau.

WHOLE GRAIN SPONGE CAKE makes one 4″ X 7″ loaf-shaped assemblage,  about 2″ to 3″ high

  • 3 local eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.  I like Real Salt.
  • 100 grams (½ cup) organic sugar.  Central Market’s brand sells for $2.99 for a two-pound bag.
  • ¼ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons local or organic butter, melted and cooled a bit.  I love Organic Valley Click for a coupon.
  • 48 grams organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder, sieved.  I prefer Rumsford, non-GMO and aluminum-free.

Preheat the oven to 350º and line an 11″ X 7″ baking pan (the old-fashioned brownie pan size) with a thin nonstick liner (I don’t recommend a Silpat style liner here) or a piece of parchment paper.

Combine the eggs, salt, sugar and extract and whip at high speed for about five minutes.  A stand mixer is very handy here.  While the eggs foam and lighten, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  When the eggs have maximized in volume and form ribbons that disappear after a couple seconds or so when the whip attachment is lifted, be ready to fold.  Lightly sprinkle a third of the flour mixture onto the eggs and quickly and gently fold it in with a large whisk.  Repeat twice.  Whisk a cup or so (just eyeball it) of the batter into the butter before folding the butter mixture into the rest of the batter.

Fill the baking pan right away, smoothing and leveling it with a small offset spatula or just a spoon.  Bake for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned and the center barely springs back when gently pressed with your finger.

Place the pan on a rack and let it cool completely.  This cake is small and light so that won’t take too long.

Unmold the cooled cake onto plate or cutting mat.  Using a sharp knife, actually I like to use a finely serrated steak knife, cut the layer crosswise into three slabs, each about 3½” wide (by about 6½” long).  The top crust of the cake will be sticky, which is great fun for your fingers, so lay the bottom layer onto your serving dish top side down.  Brush with a little soaking syrup (see below) and spread with about ½ cup of filling.  For the middle layer, brush one side (either side) of the cake piece with syrup and stack that piece on top of the filling, syrup side down.  Now brush the top of that layer with more syrup.  I use about 2 Tablespoons of syrup per side.  Some folks like a juicier cake and some folks like a drier cake, so go with your gut.  Top with another ½ cup of filling, and the last cake layer, brushed with syrup on the sticky side first and set syrup side down.  Brush the top of the cake with syrup and frost the whole thing—you can use a different component .  Or just frost the top—in which case I’d keep it the same as the rest of the filling.  (Or maybe not.)

leftover layers

Here’s a simple formula for a


  • ¼ cup organic agave nectar.  Madhava brand’s on special at Central Market right now.
  • 6 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water

Stir together til well mixed.  You can flavor your syrup with liqueurs or liquor—Amaretto, Frangelico and dark rum are my favorites, or a small amount of compatibly flavored extract.  This recipe should moisten your little cake sufficiently.

The “Fluffy” cake pictured above was filled with crème patissière (already on hand) and frosted with a maple Italian meringue—the Bonus!

Beware of hygroscopic high jinks.  Make meringue on a clear (low humidity) day.  The bluer the sky, the better.

Excess frosting can be formed into “kisses” (with or without chopped toasted Texas pecans folded in) and baked in a low oven (250º) until set.  Use a pastry bag, a spring-loaded scoop or two spoons to dollop your meringue onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (I like If You Care brand unbleached parchment paper.)

MAPLE ITALIAN MERINGUE FROSTING: enough to generously frost your small cake, plus extra for kisses

  • 2 local egg whites
  • 1 Tablespoon organic sugar
  • ½ cup organic  maple syrup, preferably grade B.  Whole Foods 365 brand is often the best buy.

Pour the maple syrup into a small saucepan, ideally nonstick or enameled.  Bring to a boil on medium heat and clip on a candy thermometer to start measuring the temperature of the syrup.  When the bubbling brew reaches 230º (we’re talkin’ Fahrenheit here), begin to whip your egg whites on low-medium speed.  Once again your stand mixer will perform honorably .

When the egg whites look foamy, add the sugar and raise the mixer speed to medium.  Check on the syrup temperature.  When the boiling syrup reaches 238º it’ll be ready to add to your egg whites and you’ll want your egg whites to have reached the firm peak stage by then.  You can adjust the mixer speed to help synchronize the processes.  Be careful not to overwhip the whites to the “dry” curdled stage.  Slow ’em down if you need to.  When syrup and whites are ready to unite, slowly pour the syrup into the mixer bowl in a steady stream, whipping on medium as you do so.  Avoid pouring the syrup directly onto the beater.

The meringue will expand as you add the hot syrup.  Continue to whip the mixture for at least 5 minutes after you’ve added all the syrup, allowing the meringue to cool to room temperature.  Use right away to frost your cake.


Be My Valentine February 10, 2010

Filed under: cookies/brownies,dessert — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 6:00 pm

my hearts belong to you

kiss and a hug

For the kindergartner’s classroom Sweetheart’s day celebration I figured I’d bake up some edible valentines for my young heartthrob to proffer—heart-shaped cookies tagged with each student’s name.  This whole grain recipe, not too sweet and crisply perfect for glazing, delivers the bright sparkle of Texas citrus with orange and/or lemon zest shaved off in-season fruit.  Glazed or not, monogrammed or not, will you be mine?

WHOLE WHEAT CUTOUT COOKIES makes about 60 2-inch cookies

  • 4 ½ ounces (a generous 1 cup) organic all-purpose flour.  Whole Foods 365 brand in the 5-pound bag generally sells for the lowest price.
  • 4 ½ ounces (1 cup) organic or local whole wheat flour—I love Richardson Farms locally-grown freshly ground whole grain flour, available at Sunset Valley Farmers Market.
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder, sieved.  I use Rumford, non-GMO and aluminum-free.
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) organic butter, softened.  I love Organic ValleyClick for a coupon.
  • 75  grams (3/8 cup) organic sugar.  Central Market’s brand costs $2.99 for a two-pound bag.
  • ½ teaspoon salt.  I like Real Salt.
  • 1 teaspoons fresh zest from a Texas orange and/or lemon
  • 1 local egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together flours and baking powder.  Cream the butter with the sugar, salt and zest.  Mix in the flour—I like the stand mixer for this dough.  It’s very dry at this point.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until well blended and the dough masses together.  Rest the dough in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it soften up at room temperature for awhile.  A couple of hours may not be too long if the kitchen’s cool.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Roll out dough to about 1/8″ thickness on a sheet of parchment paper sized to fit your baking sheet.  I like to lay a cut open plastic bag on top of the dough to protect the rolling pin from sticking.  Cut out approximately 2″ cookies,( I chose hearts this time, of course) spacing the cuts fairly close all over the surface of the dough.  Remove the dough surrounding the cookies and place the parchment onto your baking sheet.  Bake for 5 minutes, give the cookie sheet a 180º spin and bake for about 5 more minutes.  The cookies should be beginning to brown and will feel set when pressed lightly with your fingertip.

Place the parchment paper with cookies on a cooling rack.  Let cookies cool for a minute before removing from parchment and cooling completely on the rack.  Glaze when cool.

Patch together any leftover dough scraps, reroll and cut out and bake the remaining cookies.

glazy day


  • 115 grams (1 cup) organic powdered sugar.  Central Market’s brand is usually the best buy.
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons local or organic milk.  I like Swede Farm Dairy and Wateroak Farm‘s goat’s milk.  Way Back When is selling their local cow’s milk at our farmers markets.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons organic agave nectar.  Madhava brand’s 23.5 ounce container (light or dark) is on sale at Central Market for only $5.49.

Stir sugar, milk and vanilla together until smooth.  Stir in agave.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Whole Foods sells India Tree natural colors (not cheap!).  Glaze cookies right away.  I usually use a small clean paintbrush or a small icing spatula.  Let dry before monogramming.


Dai Due Double Duty: Secret Ingredient Stuffed Portobellos February 8, 2010

Filed under: Dai Due,meat,vegetables — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 8:06 pm


Dai Due‘s Chaurice sausage stuffed our ‘shrooms.  Texas portobellos, on sale at Central Market for $3.99 a pound through February 9, served as the foundation for a meaty mound, topped with crunchy toasted bread crumbs.

What’s the secret ingredient?  Dai Due’s own persimmon Worcestershire sauce.  Now that’s a concoction I would have never thought of!

Thanks to Wendy, Foodie at Central Market, for suggesting I stuff my mushrooms.


  • 8 large and 1 medium to large Kitchen Pride Texas-grown portobello mushrooms
  • 1 pound package Dai Due’s chaurice sausage, or other local sausage.
  • 4 Tablespoons organic or local olive oil.  Try Texas Olive Ranch, available at our farmers markets.
  • 10-ounce bag Cora Lamar’s triple-washed spinach from Poteet.  Available at Central Market for $2.99 a bag.  Or use 10 ounces of another local spinach.  Wash it very well.
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • zest of one small local or organic  lemon.  Check with your neighbor.  Get growin’ if you can!
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 large clove of domestic organic garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala.  Click for a recipe.
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt.  I use Real Salt.
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa.  I like to season quinoa with ½ teaspoon ground turmeric for 1 cup of raw quinoa.
  • ½ cup organic or local heavy cream.  Organic Valley is great.  Click for a coupon.  Look for Way Back When’s local dairy products at our farmers markets.  You gotta get there early to get cream or butter!
  • ½ cup organic or local ½-n-½ yogurt or sour cream.  To read how to make your own, click here.
  • 1 teaspoon organic mustard.  I usually buy Central Market’s own brand.  Use whatever style you have on hand or prefer.
  • a generous Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce—Look for Dai Due’s peppery persimmon Worcestershire sauce.  Tangy and savory, it boasts that familiar kick.
  • generous teaspoon kosher salt.  I use Diamond Crystal brand.
  • 1 cup bread crumbs.  I crumble up stale bread and freeze it.  Cornmeal bread, crumbled and lightly toasted, makes incredible bread crumbs.  Sometimes I just eat ’em with a spoon.
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons organic or local butter, melted

Remove stems from mushrooms.  Chop stems and the medium to large whole mushroom finely.  I use the food processor.

Brown the sausage in a skillet and simmer, covered, with about ¾ cup water for 5 minutes.  Remove the sausage and place on a plate to cool a bit while you continue with the recipe.

Heat up ½ Tablespoon olive in a large saute pan with the red pepper flakes and ground coriander.  Add the spinach and wilt, turning frequently.  Stir in lemon zest and place spinach on a plate.  Return pan to heat and add another ½ Tablespoon olive oil.  Stir in the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the garlic and heat through until fragrant.  Remove from heat.

Halve each sausage lengthwise and then slice each half into ¼” pieces.  Add sausage to the pan and return the pan to the stovetop on low heat.  Chop the spinach and stir it into the skillet along with the garam masala, paprika, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Heat through to finish cooking the sausage.  Stir in quinoa, heavy cream, yogurt, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.

Prepare the mushrooms.  Place a rimmed baking sheet, large enough to hold the eight portobellos, into the oven and preheat the oven to 400º.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice ¼” deep cuts, spaced ½” apart into the mushroom caps.  Slash again at right angles to the first cuts to create a crosshatched pattern.  Brush the mushrooms on both sides with a total of 3 Tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with a generous teaspoon kosher salt.  Place the mushrooms gill side up on the hot baking sheet, and return the sheet to the oven.  Bake for about 8 minutes, until the portobellos are browning around the edges and have released some of their juices.  Carefully flip the mushrooms over and place back in the oven for another 8 minutes, until the juices have evaporated and the portobellos have browned.  They should smell great!

Mound about a ½ cup of filling onto the gill side of the mushrooms.  Mix the bread crumbs and melted butter together.  Top each mound with about 2 Tablespoons of the bread crumbs.  Place the portobellos back on the baking sheet and return them to the oven under the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the tops.  Serve hot.


Herbal: Bleak at First Glance February 5, 2010

Filed under: gardening — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 2:44 pm

take my oregano, please!

I managed some serious pruning of the lemon verbena recently.  Not that I know what I’m doing, but I hope, hippocratically, to have inflicted no harm.  A rangy creature it was, and devoid of even a single green leaf.   But in closely inspecting the woody tangle I discovered a number of tiny green buds—good news post-big freeze.  The coldcocked kaffir lime still sports some green skin, albeit piebald, and I’m taking that as a positive sign.  The dead wood appearance of the curry bush, a familiarly lifeless sight at this time of year, doesn’t fool me.  I have to admit, though, I feel a little regretful that we hadn’t saved one of those transplanted shoots for ourselves.  Late spring should set my mind at ease, like it always does, when small green frondlets emerge near dirt level.

Our Greek oregano is positively thriving.  If anyone wants to trade for annual/biennial herbs, say, cilantro, dill or parsley for example, I have plenty of this savory herb for bartering (Seriously.  Facebook me.)  Speaking of savory, just in the past year our winter savory really settled in, not that it’s grown to any where near the almost obscene dimensions of the oregano, but it has respectably established itself.  All the rest of the herbs survived the recent arctic chill with varying degrees of success, the tender Mexican mint marigold hanging in there as the weakest of the remaining greened plants.

And a shout out to the mandarin, in our fourth year together, as she (he?  I don’t know) bore over 50 fragrant and loose-skinned tangerines this season.  The fruits seem to continue to sweeten til their number’s up.  A bit on the juicy side, I guess the vesicles suffered a touch of frost and now leak their nectar a little.  Ambrosial.  I recommend this fairly easy tree to citrus-loving gardeners with sunny south facing wall space.  We bought our beauty at the Natural Gardener.

For thumbs blacker than green, try perennials.  That’s ’bout all we do around here and we do alright.  Plant a fancy herb (suitable for your site of course) and you can trade with your more-experienced neighbors when they have too many tomatoes, okra, or hopefully right now, dill and cilantro.  Cilantro.  That’s what I’m hoping for!


PDQ—Pizza Day Quick February 4, 2010

Filed under: bread machine,easy,pizza — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 7:26 pm

kids' pie

spice your slice

Stealthy Pizza Thursday sneaked up on me, catching me nearly cheeseless, without mushrooms, sans spinach and the kindergartner’s school pickup looming.  Action!  The junior pizzaiolo patted out the crusts. Muir Glen canned fire roasted crushed tomatoes (stocked up on sale)), well drained, blended with dried basil, oregano and surplus fresh thyme still on the counter from beanin’ day.  Plenty of organic garlic, a little turbinado sugar, a couple of anchovies mashed up and the last of that jar of South River’s organic white miso plus an assortment of minced olives (I especially love those dry cured shrivelly black olives, their bitter edge heightening all flavors within reach) combined to tsumanic umamic effect.  Full Quiver Farm‘s raw milk cheddar melded the mashup, festooned with the obligatory olive oil-lubed Hillside Farms red onion slices.  Peppered with freshly cracked black pepper, and crushed red pepper and pickled jalapeño peppers for the peppery adults, these pies packed a palate poppin’ punch!  P-P-P-Pizza please!


I Do D’éclair

Filed under: dessert — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 2:43 pm

baked choux

my d'éclairation

Finally!  That’s right, I finally got a chance to pipe out some éclairs to inject with that crème patissière I whooped up recently.  Pâte à choux, the medium of éclairs, cream puffs (mmm, religieuses), gougères (check out Austin food blogger Fête & Feast’s clever Caprese sliders), Paris-Brest and gâteau St.-Honoré, is actually easy to prepare and sublimes quickly from assembled ingredients to oven-ready forms.  For bakers subject to interruption, however, an untimely break in the process can wreak stalemate, so I postponed production until I could wrangle a reliable block of kitchen time.

There is room for a recess after the initial paste is cooked on the stove top, as it must cool for about 10 minutes before adding the eggs, and the formed dough can even rest overnight if necessary before baking.  But once you boil your liquid you must add all the flour and continuously stir the mixture for a minute or so to cook the starch.  And once you have added your eggs you should move right on to piping (Although Rose Levy Beranbaum affirms that you can store the dough airtight overnight and rebeat before using the next day, it’s sticky stuff.  I prefer to proceed in one pass).  The actual baking takes a while because the dough needs time to dry sufficiently to provide a soft crunch.  So, when watching a little one (or two), you need to know that you can reach certain points in the procedure and complete the operation before the sun goes down.  Hence the delay here at my house.

Enrobed with a simple chocolate glaze, these cream-filled ingots transport me back to the City by the Bay, remembering my favorite bakery there, the bustling Tartine.

PATE A CHOUX makes one dozen 4″ éclairs

  • 2 ½ ounces (¾ cup) organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 1/8 ounces (½ cup) bread flour, preferably organic
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) organic butter.  I love Organic ValleyClick for a coupon.
  • ½ teaspoon organic sugar.  Central Market’s brand in the 2-pound bag sells for $2.99.
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.  I like Real Salt.  I buy this in bulk at Whole Foods and bring my own container.
  • ¾ cup local eggs.  I like to use only one or two whole eggs and the rest egg whites.  A high ratio of whites yields a crispier pastry.

Whisk together the flours and set aside.  Combine the water, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan (a 2½ to 3-quart size suffices and I like a nonstick or enameled interior) and bring to a full boil over high heat.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously.  Return the pan to the stovetop and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously for about a minute.  Remove the pan from the heat, give the dough a few more stirs and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes, until it is no longer hot enough to scramble your eggs (no hotter than 140º if you’re employing a thermometer— but I don’t bother).

You can now mix the dough in your saucepan if you wish, I prefer my stand mixer.  Beranbaum swears by the food processor, but I have yet to try that out.  Gradually add the eggs and beat them in very well.  Eventually the mixture will become fluffy.  You may not need every last drop of your eggs, so hold back on the last couple of tablespoons and add only enough to yield a smooth and shiny, soft (pipeable) dough, thick enough to hold its shape.

Secure a sheet of parchment paper (I like If You Care brand, available at Central Market and Whole Foods) onto a baking sheet (my 13″ X 16½” REMA brand thrift store score, insulated, is perfect) with small dabs of dough on the corners.  Use a pencil and a ruler to mark two 4″ wide rows lengthwise along the paper, leaving a 2″ parting in the middle and about 1″ borders along the top and bottom.

Fill a medium-sized pastry bag, fitted with a ¾” tube (I love to use a star-cut tip, Ateco # 829—technically measuring in at 11/16″) with the pâte à choux and pipe out 12 4-inch lengths, six per row.  You can fashion any excess dough into a couple or more 1¼” or so cream puff shapes in the middle of the lineup for lagniappes.  With a wet fingertip, smooth down any kewpie tails at attention.

Place the baking sheet into a preheated 300º oven.  Raise the heat to 450º and bake for about 15 minutes, until the pastry has puffed and browned.  Reduce the heat back down to 300º and continue to bake for another 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and using a very sharp paring knife, quickly slice a slit in the side of each éclair to allow steam to escape and further dry and crisp the pastry.  Return the panful of puffs to the turned-off oven, prop the door ajar and let them continue drying for another half hour, or longer if convenient.

Filled pastries soften, so I prefer to inject only as many éclairs as we will eat right away.  For this size batch make double the recipe of Crème Patissière. Fit a pastry bag with a ¼” diameter round tip, preferably the Bismarck tip.  Poke the tip into the pastry in three spots, through the side slits or into the bottoms, and pipe in the pastry cream.

Glaze the filled éclairs with this simple chocolate icing:


  • ¼ cup organic or local heavy cream.  Organic Valley and Promised Land are available in our grocery stores and Way Back When brings their dairy-doings to the farmers markets.
  • 1 ½ teaspoons organic agave nectar.  Central Market’s own brand is usually the best buy.
  • 3 ounces organic semisweet/bittersweet chocolate, chopped.  I love Green & Black’s brand.

Heat the cream and agave nectar to a simmer—you can do this nearly effortlessly in the microwave—and stir in the chocolate until smooth.  Cool at room temperature until you have a spreadable glaze.  Cool it just a shade more, stirring well, and you can thicken the icing to a pipeable consistency and use a pastry bag and basketweave tip to apply the glaze.  Wilton tip #1D will cloak the ‘clairs in two strokes.

Don’t be discouraged by lack of pastry bags and tips.  You can use spoons to form the dough and also to fill the éclairs.  Just cut off the top third of the baked pastry and spoon in the cream.  Replace the “lid” and spread the chocolate glaze on top with a butter knife or small icing spatula.

Eat ’em up while they’re fresh.  You can store unfilled pastries well-wrapped in the freezer, to fill later.  Refresh the choux in the toaster oven at 350º until heated through and crisped.  Cool before filling and glazing.


Dai Due Salt Pork February 3, 2010

Filed under: beans,Dai Due,easy,vegetables — Austin Frugal Foodie @ 4:53 pm

steamy beans

Dai Due‘s gettin’ into my pot again.  My bean pot, that is.  This time around their aromatic and prosciutto-esquely funky salt pork—superiorly-seasoned Richardson Farms pork belly—lopped into lardons and rendered crisp, meats its match in a crock of organic black-eyed peas and garbanzos, spattered with half an emergency can of organic black beans.  Local carrots and radishes chunked up the mix while backyard savory, sage, thyme and bay lent herbal essence.  Allium alums Texas onions and organic garlic soffritto’d the misto.  A stash of local cauliflower leaves—you wouldn’t throw those away, would ya?—melted into the meld.  And there you have it.  Ladled over Lowell Farms organic jasmine rice (surprise!) OR boiled and browned  (reserve that fat) organic russet potatoes (on sale now at Newflower Market at $2.50 for a 5-pound bag), oink if you dig pig!