Hoppy Easter

Murder Most Fowl

Stella the cat was outside when we returned from grocery shopping.

The husband noticed she was chasing something and he and Thing One went to investigate.

Stella had found a little mouse friend to play with!

Oh!  What fun they were having.  Pounce, release, chase…pounce, release, chase (repeat).  It was hard for me to see the expression on the mouse’s face, but I’ll bet it was just tickled to have made such an attentive new friend.

Stella and the mouse moved their game near the chicken pen, and Thing One and the husband followed to cheer on the mouse.  Mousy escaped and dashed toward the pen, but was blocked by a swift paw and pounce.  Mousy escaped again and this time managed to run into the chicken pen!

There was a little confused bawk-bawking, and then one of the chickens (I think it was Chiffon) did her little cockeyed distance-to-target calibration stare and Wham! one peck and the little mouse game was over.

We all went “awwww!” and then as the other hens gathered around and we changed our cry to “Oh, Thing One, don’t watch, don’t watch!”  But it was too late.  Chickens are definitely omnivores.

Thermapen Winner!

We have a winner of my refurbished Thermapen!

I put the names of the 8 entrants into the virtual hat (I disregarded Timothy’s comment because he works at Thermoworks and I’m sure he has more thermometers than he know what to do with), and had my friend, the random number generator pick out the name.

The winning comment was Commenter #1, Cristin.

Yay, Cristin and thank you random number generator.

Cristin is my niece who is newly married, newly certified as a yoga instructor and newly relocated to Arizona.  And she gets a nearly new thermapen.  Spooooky.

Congratulations, Cristin, and may your bread always rise and your meat be just how you want it.

Cristin, 1986-ish

The Hawks Are Back

Sitting in our living room today,  I heard the hawks cry.  Looking out the window I couldn’t see the hawk, but I did see its shadow moving ominously across our deck.

For the past few years, we have had hawks nesting in a tall pine in our yard.  We would see and hear them in the spring and then things would quiet down.  Then mid-summer, the babies would fledge and we would see and hear them crying and circling again.  And in fall, they would disappear.

Before we kept chickens, the hawks were purely a treat to watch.  Sometimes they would land on our pool fence right outside our kitchen window.  It was a little disconcerting to be eating your Cheerios and glance up and notice you were being watched like a…a…hawk.  In the late spring, we open the pool and float the solar cover over the surface to try to nudge the water temperature up a few degrees.  On some mornings, the hawks would land on the cover, making a depression that would fill with water and they would bathe in the warm water pool they created.  All of this was fun and exciting and “gosh how cool”.

Now, I hear the hawks shriek, and I run to the window and look at the chicken pen.

Chickens are marvelous creatures.  They eat Lyme ticks, weeds and kitchen garbage.  They fertilize your garden (and sometimes, if we are being honest here, your deck).  But their claim to fame is their wonderful trick of turning all this stuff that we don’t want into a perfect little egg.  The egg, chocked full of high quality protein (it provides all 10 essential amino acids for humans), vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids.  The egg, a magical ingredient that can transform basic ingredients into things of beauty: a fluffy mousse, an ethereal chiffon cake, a mile-high lemon meringue pie.  Of course, the egg also shines when prepared simply:  a soft boiled egg with a sprinkling of salt,  or a poached egg served over pasta.

But we don’t love our hens just because they give eggs.  We love them because, well, we just do.

Unfortunately, chickens are not the brightest creatures.  I would not call them dumb, but they are kind of silly.  And they panic.  Because of this, they are very low on the food chain.  I would guess, if you were to rank this sort of thing, to a predator they provide the most amount of protein for the least amount of effort.  And they have a lot of predators.

A quiz:  here are some pictures taken in my suburban 1 acre backyard.  See if you can tell which one is not a chicken predator. (This is not a complete list of predators I have seen in our yard; there was this orphaned baby fox and a coyote that rambled through one morning).

Red Tailed Hawk

Raccoon (Mama relocating baby)

Skunk (with voluptuous tail)

Neighbor’s Roaming Husky (not my photo)

Stella

Stella is not a chicken predator, but I think she would like to be if she weren’t such a fraidy-kitten.  Oh, she’ll pretend to be a big, stalking jungle cat, but when the chickens stop and stare back,  she scampers away.

The worst predator problem we have had so far is with the neighbor’s roaming husky.  I built the coop and attached pen strong enough to keep out every chicken predator in our area (I think, knock wood), but the chickens have to use just a teeny bit of common sense.  When the husky wandered into our yard, I found out that might be asking too much of our hens.

The hens were in their pen when the dog started harassing them.  One chicken went into the coop (or may have been in the coop), and the other three stayed in the pen.  The dog raced around the pen, barking furiously, and the hens panicked and threw themselves against the wood and wire sides of the enclosure.  I chased the dog away after only about 10 seconds, but it was enough time that three of our hens cracked their beaks in their frenzy to get away from the dog.

It looked really sore.  After a few days of soft food, supplemented with some extra protein and fat, they seemed to be back to normal.  Now they are completely healed and you can’t see any sign of damage.  It was traumatic for all of us and especially disappointing to me, that despite my best efforts, that the chickens could still be harmed even if the predator couldn’t actually touch them.

And now the hawks are back.  Last year we didn’t see a lot of the hawks; we had a murder of crows (how great is that phrase) move into our backyard and they are known to chase hawks away.

So we will have to see what this year brings.  Will the crows come back and rid our yard of the hawks like a group of Guardian Angels?  Will the hawks think our chickens are too big to handle, being deceived by their extreme fluffiness?  Or will this be a summer of keeping the chickens in their pen unless we can be out there patrolling and watching them like…like…a mother hen.

Orange Glow Chiffon Cake

In honor of spring, I made this happy, light, citrus-y cake for dessert.  Maybe I should have made it in honor of our chickens because it took a lot of eggs, and coincidentally, one of our chickens in named Chiffon.

Our chickens are lovely, and loving this spring weather after a long, cold, snowy winter.  This was our first winter with chickens, and I was worried how they would do in our unheated coop.  I didn’t have to worry a bit.

Our chickens are Buff Orpingtons; a big, beautiful winter hearty breed, and they were game to venture out of the coop in whatever winter decided to throw our way.  Snow, rain, sleet, freezing rain, hail would not keep them from their duty of pecking and scratching.  I wonder if the post office needs a new mascot?  I always thought that Zip Code guy was kind of creepy.

The only concession to the weather (or lack of daylight) the chickens made was they slowed their egg production between the end of December and the end of January.  Usually, our four hens give 3-4 eggs a day, but during the depths of winter they slowed to 1-2 eggs per day.

They picked up the pace during February, a month that to me suggests spring will never, ever come.  Like  a crocus poking through a snowdrift, the chickens reminded me that we were on the backside of winter.

And strangely enough, on the first day of spring we had our first 4 egg day since before Christmas.  So thank you my beautiful hens for reminding me that spring was coming when everything around us was suggesting otherwise.  And thank you for letting me make this egg-rich cake.

This was another Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe, this time from her classic cookbook, The Cake Bible.  The Cake Bible has all manner of cakes in it, from simple coffee cakes through large wedding cakes and everything in between.

The cake I made, the Orange Glow Chiffon Cake, is a typical chiffon cake.  You separate a bunch of eggs, and make meringue out of the whites and a rich yellow batter out of the yolks, and then combine the two with some gentle folding.  Pop the batter into a tube pan and bake.

This cake is infused with orange flavor due to the addition of both orange juice and orange zest in the batter.  It smells great making it, and even better as it’s baking.

A very similar cake is in RLB’s new cookbook, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.  Marie, at the blog Heavenly Cake Place, has been doing a bake-a-long through this cookbook, and a cake very similar to this one was baked this week.  At Marie’s blog, you can check out her success with this cake and also click over to all the other folks who made this cake.  It’s a very cool blog and fun to see different interpretations of the same recipe.

After making and baking this simple cake, it finishes up with a stressful step:  cooling.  A chiffon cake is so delicate before it cools, it can become crushed by it’s own weight.  Because of this, it is cooled upside down on the neck of a bottle.  This uses gravity to help the cake maintain its height until the crumb cools and it becomes less of a girlie-man.

I am always a little nervous flipping it upside down, and nervous that someone (Thing 1, Thing 2, Cat etc) will knock it over.  No worries this time, it came out beautifully.

I topped it with some orange-scented whipped cream and it was a nice finish to dinner with a guest at Casa de Pollo Loco.

Thanks hens (especially you Chiffon)!

Sticky Buns!

For breakfast with friends this Sunday, I had a request to bring sticky buns.  Sticky buns are not in my repertoire, so I went to my no-fail source for a good recipe:  Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.

RLB’s recipes always work for me, but I find them a teensy irritating (sorry, Rose).  Her recipes remind me of the way some people give driving directions.  I call them “up a hill-down a hill” directions.  I’m almost positive RLB gives up a hill-down a hill driving directions.

Me:  Hey Rose, can you tell me how to get to Tom’s house?  I need to see him today.

RLB:  Sure, it’s easy.  Go to the bottom of your driveway and take a left.  Go past that house on the corner, you know, the one that always has the beautiful roses in June?  Go past that house, and you will come to a traffic light.  If you go left, that will take you to Tim’s house.  Did you know he was moving?  If you go right, you will go to that really good bakery with the gigantic muffins.  Don’t go left or right, just keep straight.  Then you will go up a hill, and down a hill, and you will come to a traffic light.  There is a Walmart and a bank.  Keep going.  At the next light, by the car dealership, take a left.  Go up a hill, and as you are going down the hill, look for a white mailbox on the left.  It says #14 in black letters.  That is Tom’s house.  But he isn’t home today.

Me:  Oh.  Thanks.  (My hand cramped up after “beautiful roses”, so I stopped writing everything down, and tried to just get the important stuff.  Unfortunately, because I was listening, editing and writing, I missed the whole “he isn’t home today” part.)

Other people (ahem, my husband) give “just the facts” directions.

Me:  Hey Honey, can you tell me how to get to Tom’s house?  I need to see him today.

Husband:  He’s not home today.

Me: Oh, thanks.  Wait!  Where are you going?  Can you give me directions so I can see him when he is home?

Husband:  Take a left.  Third light, left.  #14.

I like my recipes like I like my driving directions; I don’t want to be flooded with detail, but I do appreciate a few landmarks to let me know I haven’t taken a wrong turn.

But, for these sticky buns, I decided to suffer through the “up a hill – down a hill” because I knew I would get a fabulous result.

To ensure I wouldn’t get lost in the words, I pre-read Rose’s recipe and made a skeletal outline of the time points.

If I don’t do this, I sometimes find I have to stay up late because I didn’t see the “chill the dough for 4 hours” step until it is too late.

These sticky buns are made with brioche dough.  Brioche dough is rich with butter and eggs.

Another cookbook gives three recipe options for brioche based on increasing amounts of butter and calls them, poor man’s brioche, middle class brioche and rich man’s brioche.

RLB’s recipe for brioche falls in the middle class category.  But with the addition of caramel, cinnamon sugar and rum-soaked raisins however, it appears this bourgeoisie dough has won the lottery and spent it all on booze and strippers.

I made this recipe over three days (!).  On Friday, I made the brioche sponge and dough, let it rise a bit, and then wrapped it and put it in the fridge.

On Saturday morning, I made the filling, soaked the raisins and made the caramel.

Hey look!  It’s my new thermapen!

On Saturday afternoon, I assembled the sticky buns and put them in the fridge overnight for the final rise.

Good tip from Rose:  Use dental floss to cut the cylinder into 1″ buns.

On Sunday morning, first thing, I took them out of the fridge to warm up and finish rising.

Then (finally) I baked them.

I didn’t get a nice final photo of a sticky bun on a plate,  but they were delicious.

The buns were light and airy and the filling was flavorful.  The only change I would make for next time is to reduce the cooking time on the caramel.  It was a little too firm for my taste, but they were yummy just the same.

You Should See Her With Soup

Thing 2 is at the I-need-to feed-myself phase.  I am at the it’s-a-good-thing-you-are-cute phase.

Contest: Win A Repaired Thermapen!

I’ll admit I got a little “the new phone book’s here!” when I saw this box sitting on my porch.

I opened’er up and look what was inside!

Ronald Reagan’s favorite candy!

In the spirit of our 40th president, I ate all the jelly beans myself.

Then I saw this.  There is my nice, new shiny GREEN splash-proof Thermapen thermometer, but who is that to the right?  Ah yes, it’s my old broken, original red Thermapen.  I asked for it back when I ordered the new one (thank you spendthrift voters).

I took ol’Red out of the bag to relive a few fond baking memories and I saw that the case wasn’t cracked anymore.  Remember this horror?

Then, for giggles, I opened both Thermapens and put them on the counter.  It appears that the red one is working now!  Or the new green one is broken in exactly the same manner!  No, seriously, the red one was working!

Then I saw this little note in the bag…

How cool is that?!

Timothy was the Thermoworks guy that commented on my original post and suggested I check into repairing my beloved Thermapen.

Now this is where you come in!  I have two working Thermapen thermometers.  Good ol’repaired Red, and the Cadilliac-kid Green.  I don’t need two Thermapens, so in the spirit of Yankee neighborly-ness,  I am going to give away the Red Thermapen.  I think this also represents the spirit of Timothy and Amanda (and the other folks) at Thermoworks too.

All you have to do to be eligible to win my old Red Thermapen, is submit a comment to this post explaining why you would like it, or what you might measure with it.  Or just enter “hi”.  Really, it doesn’t matter since I won’t be judging you on the content of your comment, or even the content of your character.  Like much in life, I’m simply going to select the winning comment at random.   If you are selected, all you have to do is drive to my house and pick it up.  Kidding!  If you are selected, I’ll contact you by email to get your snail-mail address and I’ll ship the Thermapen to you gratis.  That’s Yankee for “it’s on me”.

Enter now, this contest closes at 8 pm EST on Friday, April 1st (but this is no joke).

EDITED TO ADD:

I would love to respond to your comments (as I always love to do), but I am refraining this time, so I don’t mess up the comment count for the contest!  Good luck everyone!

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:

I can’t resist, I have to respond.  It’s a problem, I know.  I will just eliminate my comments from the count and do the math.  For you, my readers, I’ll do the math.

 

CONTEST CLOSED!

 

Sirloin Saloon Bread Update

Jennifer, a Had The Radish reader (can you believe it?), recently came into possession of an actual loaf of Sirloin Saloon bread, and as she said in the comments section “…it is the yummiest bread (she) had ever eaten…”

Comparing it to the pictures of my recipe attempt, she said the real loaf was extremely heavy, dense, appeared darker and had a lot of seeds in it.  She then set off on her own journey to replicate the bread.

On her first attempt, she combined 4 different recipes and added soaked bulgar wheat to see if those were the “seeds”.  That wasn’t it.  On her next attempt, she nearly doubled the amount of rye flakes, and skipped the soaking step and used high gluten flour from the health food store, and eureka!  she got a result that was “extremely close to the original” although still a bit light in color to her eye.

She generously provided me with a picture of the real Sirloin Saloon bread (only half a slice, because, really, it doesn’t stick around waiting for pictures), and one of her copycat recipe.

Here is the real bread from the restaurant:

And here is a slice from the recipe she developed:

Lookin’ good!

Next batch I make, I’m going to increase the rye flakes and skip the soaking step (but adding a cup of water to the mix), and bake it at 400/350.  Thanks for your insight and thanks for having a conversation with me in the comments section about some yummy bread.

Here is a side by side comparison of the recipes:

(you can see Jen’s recipe method here, near the end of the comments)

Jen’s Recipe My Recipe
3tsp yeast 2.25 tsp yeast
2tbsp honey 1.5 tsp honey
4tbsp molasses 3 tsp molasses
4tbsp blackstrap molasses 3 tsp blackstrap molasses
1.5 cup hot water 1 cup hot water
1 1/4cups milk 1 1/3 cups milk
6 1/2 cups high gluten flour 6.25 cups flour
3 tsp salt 5 tsp kosher salt (2.5 tsp table salt)
2.5 c Rye Flakes 1 c Rye Flakes
1.5 T butter
Bake 400 for 10 min, then 350 for 30 min Bake 350 for 30-40 min

Separated At Birth

Grandpa and Thing 2