Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two Dozen Egg Brunch

With an excess of eggs in the refrigerator, my daughter coming home for the weekend to celebrate her birthday, and a new cookbook in the kitchen, I naturally thought of a brunch celebration. I love brunch because I'm not an early morning eater. Toast is usually how I ease my stomach in to the day. However, since I am not a three large meal a day person, a couple hours after toast I'm usually ready to take on some protein. 
This cookbook was recommended on one of the chicken blogs I read (Doesn't everyone have a backyard chicken blog or two in their bookmarks?) As well as recipes, it presents an informative, basic guide to raising your own chickens, and has some pertinent information on eggs - color, sizes, handling, storing, freezing (yes freezing!), the making of (curious now aren't you), and freshness. The majority of the book contains recipes though, from omelets, to souffles, to salads, to tarts, to breads and popovers. 

I wanted to come up with a simple yet elegant brunch that used as many eggs as possible. I think I succeeded. When all was said and done I used 24. (Ok, I dropped one. I added that one to the count anyway)

When I saw the french toast recipe with homemade Challah Bread, I knew that's what I wanted to start with. Challah bread is an egg based, sweet-ish, light delicious bread. And after this weekend, I can verify it makes excellent french toast. On a side note, it always baffles me when I come across a cookbook where part of the recipe is missing. I read through this recipe multiple times and a few of the ingredients, including eggs! that were listed in the ingredients were not listed in the instructions. I'm thinking a beginning baker would be pretty much set up for failure when they got to the instruction section and it didn't have the proper instructions to go with the ingredients. Don't books have to be edited before going to press? Especially recipe books?? Ah well.

Trying to think of something that would compliment the french toast, and would be light, savory and healthy, my brother offered this suggestion with picture and recipe, and I thought it would be perfect. Individual twice baked goat cheese souffles nestled in a bed of greens with apples and nuts topped with a light vinaigrette. I don't make a lot of souffles, but am notorious for testing out recipes at parties - whether family or friends (not always a wise thing to do). It took a bit of work. The only complaint I had was the ingredients were written with European measurements. As I have been measuring ingredients more and more lately on my kitchen scale (which has grams), it only added a bit more time to the process. I prepared the sauce first using butter, flour, milk, Parmesan, mustard, and fresh thyme. Then added egg yolks and goat cheese, and finally folded in beaten egg whites. The souffles were baked in individual ramekins in a bain marie (water bath), and then taken out of their molds, turned over, drizzled with Parmesan glaze and broiled until the tops turned golden. It got a bit tricky at crunch time trying to coordinate the french toast and souffles, and all the last minute details (my husband is an excellent sous chef and dishwasher though. Saves me.) At one point I had a flash back to a Thanksgiving where the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows was left under the broiler too long with disastrous results. Luckily, no seriously - luckily - my souffles did not succumb to the same fate. They ended up being satisfyingly light - in texture and flavor and were improved by the salad, french toast and champagne cocktails.

For dessert I made a chocolate tart from the cookbook with a creme anglaise (both full of eggs!), which I thought was just ok. Although over the next two days the tart tasted better and better. 

Setting a special table I think, is part of creating a special meal. It doesn't always have to be fancy, but I always try to come up with some sort of theme. My daughter's birthday being in April is always easy, because Spring is a fun theme to work with. 

Speaking of spring, here's a look back at last year when we bought our last clutch of baby chicks. As I carefully tended and raised them, I thought ahead to fresh eggs and spring brunches. I love it when dreams come true. Even baby ones.

p.s. Here are some songs I've been listening to lately, because, you know, music motivates and inspires me...these are light and spring-like - well, maybe not in message, but in sound....
I Lived   ....I have never broken a bone in my life. hmm.......
Wrong Direction...because you can't go wrong with a quirky British guy
I'll Try ...because I'm a sap. By the way, check out this version of Peter Pan if you're not privy because, it has Jason Issacs as Captain Hook, an adorable young Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, is a quality version, and c'mon, it's Disney, it's a classic tale of never growing up, being free, learning life lessons, and ...pixie dust. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Notes From The Country - Out of Hibernation

Early spring has arrived. The drab brown pastures are giving over to spring green, the buds on the tree branches are fattening up, and the clouds in the sky appear to have more volume and shape.

The transition from winter to spring is fraught with indecision here. It's like waking up after a long, dream laden sleep. You're somewhat drowsy, you stretch and test your limbs, you try to sit up. If the room is chilly and the day ahead busy, you just want to dive back under the covers for a few more stolen moments. You may sit on the edge of the bed for a bit before yawning, thinking of the next few steps you will take to prepare for your day. If you are a morning person with abundant energy, you may throw off the covers as soon as you are conscious and jump up to start your day.
Spring is not a morning person here. It is hesitant, slow to start, often moody. Sometimes it's downright grumpy.

Some days there is a still pause as if to recover from the night before taking on a new day.

And sometimes the effort is subtle and gradual.

Early Spring is cautious like the new horses in the neighboring pasture when the alpacas went to check them out on a particularly calm and warm day last week

This week's chilly mornings brought relationships a bit closer

Well, maybe too close. They eventually shared a meal of fresh spring grass and all was well.
The chickens are happy to just have some dry, unfrozen ground to pick about on - even happier with the emerging weeds and insects.  

Wanting nothing to do with the windy, cold, snowy, chaotic days of early spring, the cats embrace the generous bursts of warm hours on those days where you can almost feel summer days ahead.

The white chicken is still drawn to my cat. Still trying to convince him they are kindred spirits of a sort. My cat is still having none of it

As the signs become visibly louder each day, this spring has nudged the lax, nearly absent gardener in me. I LOVE gardening - from seed planting to harvesting. In fact, I have dusted off my seed starting shelves downstairs, opened a new bag of peat-y goodness, and with new and years old seed packets have begun the early planting process.  I  have also indulged in these excellent new garden clogs! Our summers have been chopped up the last few years with our Miami travel, and going through this effort only to know all the hard work and potential food will succumb to the overpowering weeds of summer during my absence is just not worth it. I have hopes to be around more this summer, and intend to get into the rhythm of the season around here. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

I have been baking bread lately. I used to bake bread every week and somehow as kids grew up and out and my focus changed I let this go by the wayside. I love baking bread. I love eating homemade bread. This is my basic whole wheat version. It's actually half whole wheat and half white. I used to make bread the old fashioned way. Stirring ingredients with a wooden spoon in an antique yellowware bowl, then kneading the dough by hand. It builds good arm muscles, although not easy on the back. I appreciate the process - and as with anything you put effort and good intent into, the end result is rewarding. These days I have given over half the task to my trusty powerful Kitchen Aid mixer and dough hook, but I always finish the kneading by hand. It makes all the difference. I think dough responds better to warm, living hands. It is also very therapeutic - kneading and throwing dough around.

Someone smells fresh baked bread? Actually my cat likes to eat crunchy things. We put left over vegetable matter and bread, etc in a bowl for the chickens on the counter. And my cat with occasionally jump up and drag out a crust of bread to chew on.

Speaking of chickens, they are in full laying form so we are using eggs every which way right now. I decided to make some ravioli. This is something else I love making from scratch. Making pasta is really quite easy. Eggs and flour. That's it. I have upgraded a few things to make life a little more streamlined for myself. And have upgraded my ingredients. I order Italian 00 flour specifically for making a lighter pasta. Paired with my fresh eggs, I think it is worth it.

One of the things I have to make the process quicker are these pasta attachments I received for Christmas a few years ago. They are amazing.

I also bought this ravioli form recently. I still like to make free form round or square ravioli but this was fun and easy. You put the dough sheets over the form, pipe the filling, cover with the top sheet and use a rolling pin to seal. I made a 5 cheese filling with herbs. There are so many varieties of pasta and filling. My favorite has been butternut squash filled ravioli, and I'm going to try beet ravioli with goat cheese this weekend. Can't wait. 

This is what I love about cooking. Starting  with some simple ingredients like eggs and flour and cheese, and with some time and love, you end up with a simple but rewarding meal that everyone appreciates more for the effort. 

Like everything around me right now, I feel like spring is drawing me out of my winter hibernation. It's why I love living in a place with four distinct seasons. The 
 changing seasons energize me, especially winter to spring. As in nature, winter is more of a dormant, reflective time for me, and now is when I naturally become more active. This spring is about revisiting things I have always loved doing but finding new intent and new purpose to them. It's about learning new things and applying them. And about looking forward. 

Simple Whole Wheat Bread
3 cups warm water
3 pkgs. active dry yeast ( or 6 3/4 tbls instant yeast)
1/4 cup honey
5 cups whole wheat flour
5 tsp. salt
4 to 5 cups all purpose flour
5 tablespoons oil (this time I used half canola oil and half olive oil. I think olive oil makes for a lighter baked good)

Mix together water, yeast and honey. (If using instant yeast which is pretty much all I use you  just mix the yeast with the dry ingredients. It doesn't have to proof) Add whole wheat flour and salt. Mix well. Add 4 cups of the all purpose flour alternately with the oil and mix and knead until a very soft - just past sticky dough is formed. Add more flour as needed, but the downfall of good bread is too much flour and a stiff dough. Cover and let rise until double in size, about an hour. Form into 2 loaves and place in greased 5 in by 9 in loaf pans. Let double in size again. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes then cover the tops loosely with foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool slightly before slicing and putting fresh butter on. ;)

For a detailed explanation of how to make homemade pasta for ravioli and recipe for 5 cheese ravioli or "Honeymoon" ravioli, here is the link to my favorite Italian cooking blog. My ravioli recipe was adapted from this
The Italian Dish Blog - Honeymoon Ravioli

And one more thing. Because every so often I just need to listen to this kind of music. Well quite often actually.
But it is spring!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Afternoon Pick Me Up - Oscar Time

 It's Oscar weekend. And yes, I love the Oscars. I love movies. This year kind of crept up on me though, and while I usually see all the nominated movies, actresses and actors, and foreign films, I find myself this year doing some last minute catch up. Of course, in our town, you would be hard pressed to find a theater playing one of the nominated movies right now - Robocop 12 or 13 - yes, Oscar movies - no. 
 The one theater in town that is playing a few is The Lyric. It's a small, independently owned place that shows mostly independent and foreign films. They also show old cartoons from 10 to noon several mornings a week for $5.00 which includes an all you can eat cereal bar. (They have Frosted flakes!)

They also serve light snacks like a hummus plate with vegetables or bagels with goat cheese along with wine and local beer.

There are two theaters both of which have some theater seating as well as couches in the front with coffee tables.
And some very eclectic and interesting wall art to peruse. It's also a coffee shop so you can hang out in the lobby at a table or couch to pass the time.
Coming attractions mixed with some fun art.

The hallway with more art and murals

Here's a Friday afternoon alternative to happy hour. A cheese plate with local cheeses and crackers and a glass of wine paired with a Oscar movie and a comfy couch. That sounds like pre Oscar fun to me.

On Sunday I will be drinking champagne and making some fancy appetizers and watching the day long pre Oscar silly stuff. It's what I like to do. And of course! I wear an apron while making my Oscar hors d'oeuvres - in the form of an Oscar apron. This one was from a few years ago. I usually just use whatever old fabric I have in my stash and try to make it somewhat festive and fancy. 

Because this is more suitable for sipping Champagne while making mushroom caviar on blini or salmon pot, or shaved beef tenderloin. Here's to Hollywood, movies, actors and all the people who bring art to life or is it life to art? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Notes From The Country - Winter Food Cravings and Random Things

I went to Whole Foods and had entirely too much fun. I had a mid-winter craving for fresh vegetables though so I indulged. I've gone back and forth lately between fresh salads and unctuous winter soups.
I enjoy simple salads full of fresh vegetables, lettuces, spinach, and in this case some fresh peppery arugula and marinated, roasted chicken. I added the blueberries too.
One night I made a cheese and bruschetta platter. I love bruschetta because the ingredients are fresh on the bread. This was a combination of small heirloom tomatoes, feta cheese, basil, capers and a balsamic vinaigrette. And kale chips with a bit of smoky red pepper to go along with. I can't get enough of kale chips lately.   
I'm trying to infuse a little eclectic fun in my decorating hence the little antlers above I bought at a place in the mountains last year. An antler shop. Nothing but.
I also made a citrus salad with some navel oranges, blood oranges and cuties with an olive oil and fresh basil vinaigrette. It also works with a honey mint dressing. 
 Speaking of citrus, we put my Meyer lemon tree and my husband's lime tree up in my daughter's room because it has great corner windows for winter sunlight and she only comes home every couple of weeks now that she has her own apartment. They are both full of blossoms right now and the fragrance is filling the entire upstairs. It's better than perfume.
Someone else has taken up residence there as well.

Since we've had plenty of days like this lately, I've also been craving and making some soups and broths.

 I made beef stock - with roasted beef bones and vegetables...It reminded me of the story I always used to read to my girls when they were little - Stone Soup.
I started to make a pureed vegetable soup for dinner one night, but I realized at this point I needed to use up the rest of those vegetables I bought so it turned into a Tuscan white bean soup with vegetables - cauliflower, shallots, carrots, asparagus, spinach, chard in which I sauteed most of the veges first then cooked in a little flour for thickening and simmered it all in chicken broth with cannellini beans, herbs and a leftover rind of parmigiana reggiano. A really nice warming winter soup.
I also really enjoy roasted root vegetables and sometimes for a simple dinner I just roast some chicken along with. I used one of our local mushroom-sage infused olive oils which gives everything a little extra flavor and a handful of my dried herbs and salt and pepper. Golden beets, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower and brussel sprouts (ok these last two not root veges!)
The next day for lunch, I pureed the leftover roasted vegetables and added vegetable broth for a pureed soup for lunch. Along with some tea.

Speaking of tea, my brother gave me a set of beautiful little tea cups for Christmas along with some special green teas from Lupicia in San Francisco, so I've been tasting.

 I made a rice bowl for lunch one day. I lightly poached some salmon, steamed some brown rice then took a few mushrooms and some bok choy (I love bok choy!) and put it all in a bowl.
Then I brewed some fresh sencha tea and poured it over all to make a soup. The hot tea finished cooking the salmon and wilted the cabbage and mushrooms just enough. Simple and more on the bland side - it was just right for me.
My chickens have started laying eggs again! I've never had chickens start laying this early in the year. So nice to have fresh eggs again.
So I had to make my favorite Ina Garten
French herb baked eggs - although I added mushrooms and steamed asparagus for a little more substance. Oh so delicious.
Here's the view outside from our new garage door window

You would be excited too if you could have seen the old door. I think it's beautiful.
Speaking of snow, this is what living on a dirt road where it snows can make your car look like.
And while walking around the garden I was reminded that I didn't do garden clean up - yet again - last fall. The tomato cages should be clean and stacked up in the shed. 
As well as the pea trellis'. Oh well.
Back inside where it's warm I'm slowly making progress on some new things.
I love my home and animals and land but sometimes I dream of living in a little gnome-like cottage at the edge of a rain forest with a barrel of herbs outside the front door.