Saturday, July 16, 2011


"It's not a recipe blog.  I'm interested in what doesn't change, what can't change, what is permanent, what is fundamental to the act of cooking.  I am interested in not needing recipes." ~ Chef Michael Ruhlman, on the subject of the blog he created to go with his book The Elements of Cooking

My sister is the one who sent me the recipe for yesterday's tomato tart.  It spurred the following e-mail conversation:

HCH - Synchronicity!  I just had a tart like that at Linda Allen's, and was wishing I had a recipe for something similar.
Sis - I figured you were making things like this up by now.
HCH - Funny you should say that.  I've found a great blog called My French Corner, that is really inspiring me more and more to try to cook without recipes, or at least, to take a basic one, then adapt it to my needs or to whatever ingredients I have on hand.  I've got to get those basics down first though! In one of her really old posts MFC talked about making a "gastrique", or basic reduction sauce, and I suddenly realized that many of my favorite recipes (Barefoot Contessa's steak au poivre, my pork chops with blackberry sauce or mustard-wine sauce, my holiday pork tenderloins with cranberry sauce, etc.) are actually all the same recipe! 

A gastrique is where you brown your meat in a little oil or butter, take it out of the pan and add some wine or vinegar to "deglaze" the pan while you stir up all the good browned bits and drippings from the meat, which add all the flavor.  You let the liquid reduce a bit to concentrate the flavor, then you just add your fruit or cream or mustard and seasonings or whatever.  Magnifique!  All this time, I've just been cooking a hundred variations on one basic recipe!  Now that I know that, maybe I'll have the confidence to make up some of my own combinations.

And so, since it is still prime berry season in much of the country, I thought I would share one of my very favorite "gastrique" recipes with you.  Maybe then you can come up with a few variations of your own -- or perhaps you already have a favorite gastrique preparation?  If so, I do hope you will share it with the rest of us, in the comments below!

Pork Chops with Blackberry-Zinfandel Sauce, from Cuisine At Home
(makes 4 chops, 2 cups sauce)

2 T. chili powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 bone-in pork chops, 3/4-1" thick (6-8oz.each), trimmed of excess fat
2 T. vegetable oil
2 T. shallots, minced
1/2 cup zinfandel
4 cups fresh blackberries, divided
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 T. sugar, or to taste
2 T. unsalted butter
  • Combine spices and rub into chops.
  • Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high.  Add chops and saute 4 minutes on each side.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 5-7 minutes.  Remove chops to platter, cover and keep warm.
  • Saute shallots in same pan over medium-high heat about 2 minutes.
  • Deglaze pan with wine, scraping up any browned bits; add 3 cups berries, broth, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, simmer 3 minutes, then coarsely mash.  Simmer sauce until slightly thick, add remaining berries, and cook until heated through.
  • Off heat, swirl in butter; season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve chops with sauce.
Bon Appetit!  Next up?  Ten easy ways to improve your cooking -- and then we will step away from my food obsessions for a few days.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I tried a new recipe yesterday, for a tomato tart.  It was pretty dang yummy, and yet...

it wasn't the perfect tomato tart.  You see, the combination of buttery pastry, mozzarella, parmesan, basil, garlic and mayonnaise was so rich and yummy, it pretty much obliterated the flavor of the tomatoes, tasty as they were.  So I'm still searching, for just the right recipe -- one that will highlight the flavor of the tomatoes, rather that overpower it.  Any suggestions?

Of course, imperfect though it may be, that's not gonna stop us from polishing off this baby!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Yes, I realize these teapots are only marginally related to our water topic, but they were just so darn cuh-yoot!
I heard some depressing news the other day.  Well, actually I overheard some really good news first.  I heard a lady saying this was going to be an El Nino year, which meant we'd be getting plenty of rain this fall.  Too bad she didn't know what the heck she was talking about!  She got me all excited, only to have my hopes dashed a day or two later when I discovered we are actually heading into another La Nina year, which means more water for those who are drowning, and nothing for us.  Since we are already experiencing extreme drought conditions, and have been for some time now, this pretty much ensures that this "dry spell" that started over a year ago is fixin' to win the title of "Worst drought to date in the recorded history of Texas."

Here my friends and I have gone to all the trouble to create something as wonderful as The Bountiful Sprout, so we can help our local farmers earn a decent living, only to have them all run out of business by drought.  It just isn't fair -- especially when everywhere else is being inundated with water!  There oughta be a way to lasso some of those clouds and haul them down to us.  Or, at the very least, you'd think my genius brother and his fellow aerospace engineers, whose jobs are hanging by a thread, and some of my hubby's fellow engineers in the oil and gas industry, could put their heads together and design a humongous water catchment system, kinda like what we have right here at our house -- one that could take the overflow from the areas that are most prone to flooding, and carry it to places like Arizona and Texas.  Easy-Peasy, right?  I mean, for pity's sake!  They put men on the moon and built the Alaskan pipeline, didn't they?  How hard could it be?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Have you ever heard of a mash-up?  They do them all the time on that TV show Glee.  It's when you take two songs, and blend them into one.  Well, yesterday I orchestrated a blog mash-up, which should have been a fantastic photo op, but I totally blew it.

You see, I have this friend from back in our Bahraini days.  Nellie is a school nurse, and is very active in the fight to stamp out childhood obesity.  She's forever doing presentations or sitting on one panel or another, and yesterday it just happened to be one in San Marcos, so she called the day before to see if I wanted to meet up for coffee afterwards.

Nurse Nellie, back in the day.
Paula, me, and Nurse Nellie now.
Well, it just so happens that Tuesdays are Coffee-With-The-Muses days, and since NN has just recently discovered this blog Seasonality, and has been reading all about the Muses, and since they have been reading all about her over on Miss Becky Goes Abroad, I figured it was the perfect opportunity for a mash-up of the two blogs.

Our Coffee Corner
Oh my word, what a gab fest, and so much in common!  And, since one can never say all one has to say when a group of women is gathered, NN and I went from there to lunch, and gabbed some more!  But not once, in that entire time, did I think to pull out my camera -- not even when The Muses were telling her what a pain it was to be my friend, what with my constant photo-taking.  Doh!

Monday, July 11, 2011


One bit of sad news was that during the last big wind that came through, my very favorite wind chimes -- the one I based the entire Cantina Garden color scheme on -- got smashed to smithereens.  Waaah!  I'm pretty sure though, that the Muses will come up with some creative way for me to utilize those shards in the garden.  Fortunately, I discovered a few good surprises at the same time as this bad one.

First of all, my purple coneflower has blooms on it!  I have had this plant for a couple of years already, and the deer have never allowed it to bloom before, but now, for some unknown reason, they are leaving it alone.  Glory be!   Here's an even bigger surprise.  If you recall, the deer chomped all my tomato plants in half at the beginning of summer.  Since tomatoes don't set fruit, as a rule, once we hit temps in the 90s, I was planning to yank them all out and try again come fall.  Only I didn't get around to it before we left on vacation.  Guess what I found when I got back?
Go figure!  Know what else is mind boggling?  This!

John planted a little pot of plumbago -- a tender perennial which prefers part shade and good beds -- in a very sad bed that gets full blazing sun, at the beginning of one of our coldest winters ever, and it's doing fine.  Then he planted several agaves, a bullet-proof plant if ever there was one, in just the conditions they should have adored.  Remember this guy?

He was a really big splurge for us -- one of the most expensive plants, other than big trees, that we had ever bought.  Wanna know what he looks like now?

He looks dead, that's what he looks like!  In no time at all he started going into a decline, from the bottom up.  We couldn't figure out what on earth we were doing wrong, and no one we asked could seem to help us.  Was it too much water?  Not enough?  When almost the entire plant was brown and shriveled up, John went out to inspect it, and the whole thing just toppled over on him, as if it had been severed from it's roots!  Well, as it turns out, that's exactly what happened.  He dug around in the roots, and found the culprit, a nasty weevil that is attacking agaves and yuccas all over central Texas.  If we were broken-hearted over this one relatively small one, imagine what it's like for those who are losing 10 and 20 year old specimens, or entire display gardens and nurseries full of them!  So sad.  There is no organic treatment for these fellows, and many experts suggest that this is the time to sit back, let nature take its course, then see who the survivors are.  Gardening.  It ain't for wussies!