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Hoppy Easter

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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.

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

Happy Pi Day: Pizza Pie Recipe

Last Monday, I coached Thing One into creating a pizza from scratch.  She enjoyed the lesson so much, that she promptly went over to the calendar and wrote Pizza Night on all the Mondays.

In honor of her exuberance, and the fact that this Pizza Monday is also Pi day, I’ll share with you our pizza pie recipe.  Thing One is not into a lot of junk on her pizza, so these are old school, Neapolitan-style margarita pizzas.

I believe I got the original outlines for the dough and sauce recipes from this this crazy pizza genius.  This is a guy who had moved to Atlanta, but whose very bones ached for a slice of Patsy’s NYC pizza.  His only choice in this pizza desert was to spend 6 years (!) perfecting a recipe that could duplicate this Neapolitan style pizza in his home kitchen.  Of course, he had to clip the door lock off his oven so he could cook his pizzas in 2-3 minutes at a temperature known as the “self-cleaning cycle”, but he reached his pizza Nirvana.  I am not as passionate about my pizza, so I cook it on a stone at 550 degrees for about 7 minutes.

The simple recipe is at the end.

Dough:

First, combine 740 gm of flour with 624 gm water.  Mix this together until the flour is as evenly wetted as possible, and then let it sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add 9 gm active dry yeast and 21 gm salt to 220 gm flour, and mix to combine.  After the 20 minutes has passed, add the remaining flour mixture to the dough by a combination of mixing and kneading.

Stand on a chair, and knead for about 5 minutes until a smooth ball is formed.

Let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.  Divide the dough into 4 x 400 gm balls.

You can now refrigerate these dough balls for 1-6 days in the refrigerator.  Place the dough in individual small plastic containers, lightly oiled and with a lid.  When you are ready to use them, remove them from the fridge, and let them sit at room temperature for about 1.5 hours, until they have risen about 50%.

If you want to use the dough immediately, let the dough balls sit, covered with a lightly damp cloth, until risen about 50% (about 30-45 minutes).  During this rise, preheat your oven with a pizza stone in it to 550 degrees (or as high as it will go).

Sauce:

Open a 28oz can of San Marzano plum tomatoes.

Pour the contents of the can through a strainer into a bowl.  Take each tomato, open it and with your fingers remove most of the seeds and discard.  Place the tomato flesh in the bowl with the juice.  Once the tomatoes are mostly de-seeded, rub any remaining pulp through the strainer into the bowl and crush the tomatoes in their juice by hand.

Add about 1-2T olive oil to a saucepan and when hot, add 2 cloves of garlic and a very small pinch of red pepper flakes.

Heat until you can smell the garlic and then add the de-seeded tomatoes and juice to the saucepan.  Add a leaf or two of torn basil.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Taste and add a small pinch of sugar if it tastes bitter.   Remove from heat.

Assembly:

Take a ball of dough and pat it into a circle.  Pick up the circle, and holding it by the edge, gently stretch and pinch the dough making the circle larger and the dough thinner.  Then, draping the dough on the back of my hands, I stretch it further.  My assistant demonstrates.

I quickly move my hands around the edge of the circle and the weight of the dough hanging down helps to stretch it.   Again, to my able assistant.

This method also leaves the edge of the dough a little thicker for a nice crust.  I don’t make the dough much larger than 13″ in diameter because it will be too thin, and it also won’t fit on my pizza stone!

If the dough really resists the shaping, and seems to spring back, let it rest on the counter for 5 minutes or so and it will relax a bit and then continuing with the stretching.

Prepare a pizza peel (or rimless cookie sheet) by sprinkling cornmeal on it.  The cornmeal will act like little ball bearings and allow the pizza to easily slip onto the stone for baking.  Place the dough on the peel and top it evenly with a bit of sauce.  Don’t use too much, or the pizza will be soggy in the middle.  I then top it with a sprinkling of fresh chopped basil, followed by shredded mozzarella cheese (part skim, shredded at home) and grated Parmesan cheese.  I put the basil under the cheese so it won’t burn in the oven.  I think I will be out of a job soon…

Ready for the oven!

Slide the pizza from the peel onto the stone with a quick jerk (be brave and assertive, and it will slide right off). Cook for about 5-7 minutes, watching carefully those last couple of minutes.

(Capture  blurry picture of pizza in 550 degree oven.  Remember to draw in eyebrows tomorrow.  Ouch.)

I like the cheese lightly browned, and the crust with a light char on the underside.  This is a teensy pale.

While the first pizza is cooking, I prep the second one.  I take the first pizza out of the oven and place it on a cooling rack for a minute or two before cutting.  I think this helps keep the bottom crust crisp.  I using a cookie sheet as a peel (or big spatula) to get the pizza out of the oven, since the peel now has the next uncooked pizza on it.  Slide the next pizza in the oven, and continue until you are out of ingredients.  The cook eats her pizza while standing in the kitchen assembling pizzas and watching them cook.

Recipe:

960 gm flour

624 gm water, warmed

21 gm kosher salt

9 gm active dry yeast

1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes, seeded, and crushed by hand

1T olive oil

2 cloves garlic

small pinch of red pepper flakes

pinch of sugar (optional)

1/2 pound half skim mozzarella cheese (shredded at home)

1/4 – 1/3  c Parmesan cheese, grated

Basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Few tablespoons of cornmeal

Combine 740gm flour with all the warm water, mix and set aside for 20 minutes.  Combine remaining flour, salt and yeast.  Mix into dough, and knead for 5 minutes.  Divide into 4 equal sized dough balls, and place in lightly oiled container.  Keep in refrigerator for 1-6 days.  Remove from refrigerator and keep at room temperature about 1.5 hours to warm up and rise about 50%. If you decide to use the dough immediately (ie no refrigeration), let the dough rise, covered with a damp towel for 30-45 minutes, until increased about 50%.  Shape dough into 13″ diameter circles.  If dough resists shaping, let it rest on the counter for 5-10 minutes to relax, and then continue shaping.  Place dough on a peel (or rimless cookie sheet) prepared with a sprinkling of cornmeal.  Top dough with sauce (see below) and other toppings.  Slide onto pizza stone, and bake at 550 degrees for 5-7 minutes, watching carefully for the last couple of minutes.

Sauce:

Seed canned plum tomatoes and crush by hand.  Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and heat until you can smell the garlic.  Add the tomatoes, pulp and juice to saucepan, and a few torn basil leaves and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Add a pinch of sugar if necessary.

Springtime Arrives!

Finally, after a winter where the depth of snowstorms was sometimes measured in cats…

and the weather conditions made even the most usual chores a challenge.

Where the decision to run out for a quart of milk sometimes required a little extra effort…

We are beginning to see signs of spring!

Despite our inattention, the rhubarb abides.

The daffodils remind us of the work we did in the fall…

while the side garden sits fallow, a reminder of work to come.

But for now, the work will wait.  These early spring afternoons are meant for sunning at the beach…

and treasure hunting on the rocks.

We are enjoying our time to free-range

after a winter of being cooped-up.

Spring has finally arrived at Casa de Pollo Loco.