Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thank You, Chickens

If you are lucky enough to find free-range chicken eggs you can make the best yellow cake without food coloring. What a difference an egg makes!                                            Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups sugar; divided
10 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
3 Tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, room temperature (I used 7 medium yolks, 4 medium whites)
           Foolproof Chocolate Frosting
20 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup  confectioners' sugar
¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
 pinch of table salt
 3/4 cup light corn syrup
 1 tsp vanilla extract
 8 oz milk chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
350 oven.
1. Grease  two 9-inch cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper.
Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour.
2. Whisk flour, baking power, baking soda, salt, and l 1/2 cups sugar
together.  Whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and
3. Beat egg whites at until foamy, about 30 seconds. With machine running,
gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks
form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear
moist).  Transfer to bowl and set aside.
4. Add flour mixture to bowl with whisk attachment.  With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds.  Scrape whisk and sides of bowl.  Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully combined, 10 to 15 seconds.
5. Stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Lightly tap pans against counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
6. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pans and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. With a small knife, loosen cakes from sides of pan, and then invert onto greased wire rack and peel off parchment. Invert cakes again and cool completely on rack, about 1 1/2 hours.
Chocolate Frosting
1. In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth,
about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  
Add corn syrup and
vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds.  Scrape sides of
bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated - a great reliable magazine for recipes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Seeking Resilience

Our farm seems to have so many opportunities to learn from nature. Just looking around at the results of  pelting rain from two storms, one being Irene, reveals the resilience of nature.

Pelted by falling rain
     These flowers grow just about anywhere.  A person probably wouldn't even notice them along the roadside. However, upon closer inspection, they have beauty in their simplicity. They reseed themselves, and it is just as likely to find them in a brand new spot as it is for the place they sprouted last year.  The plants spend all summer growing and blending in with other greenery.  And then, when other summer blooms are spent, they appear almost as though out of nowhere with their perky yellow petals.

     The heavy downpours had the flowers drooping and looking rather dejected.  Subconsciously, these flowers had brought a smile to my face and lightened my spirit on the way to the chickens and geese.  Their effect on me wasn't obvious until they were drooping from the rain.  My hope was that it wasn't the end of the season for these cheerful yellow flowers. 

     On the first bright day after the rains, the flowers had rejuvenated; their stems were uplifting the flowers skyward once more.  Nature's resilience won out.  

     The name of my favorite wildflowers is unknown to me. But as a reminder to for the way life should be led, if I were to give them a name, it would be Resilience.

     This could be what my sister's pastor in OK meant when he posted these words, "Falling down is a part of life, getting back up is living."

September 11, 2011 - America is back up and living.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

Nikki leaving
     Does this make sense?  Does headbutting really solve a problem?  Apparently so in the sheep world.  A perfectly normal routine sort of day, who would expect sheep to immediately get into their field and bang heads into each other. 
     Maybe it was some old unresolved feud from yesterday.  Or did one toss and turn all night keeping the other awake? Should sheep count sheep when tired? 
     Clearly, one sheep couldn't have cared less about the battle or the outcome - the it's not me so I'm not getting involved. 
Winkyn (r), Blinkyn(l), and Nod(center)
     The other was content to get in as close as possible, but not participate.  Ah, the referee or the agitator,  secretly egging on the battle, or moral support - maybe.  I'll never be sure.  Know any humans like this?
     Anyway, after a few minutes, whatever the problem was, it was resolved and the flock was at peace once again.  Humans should be so capable to solve a problem and then drop it and go on with life.

Summer comfort food for today.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Angel Hair Pasta 5*
1 lb red cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb yellow cherry tomatoes
½  lb small green or other colorful heirloom tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup olive oil
3 Tbs slivered garlic
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp minced fresh oregano leaves
1 lb angel hair pasta
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz whole-milk ricotta salata, crumbled
½ cup toasted pine nuts (I used almonds)
½ cup grated Pecorino
Additional chopped fresh herbs, garnish
Hot French or Italian bread, accompaniment
Oven 350 degrees F.
1. In a large, glass baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the oil, garlic,
vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Roast until the tomatoes are
tender, stirring occasionally, 40 to 45 minutes.
2. Remove from the oven and add the basil, parsley, and oregano. Stir well.
3. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and return to pot. Toss with the extra-virgin olive oil.
4. Add the tomatoes and pan juices and cook over low heat until hot, 1 to 2
minutes. Add the ricotta salata cheese and stir until mostly melted, about 1
minute. Remove from the heat and place in serving dish.
5. Toss with the pine nuts and Pecorino cheese. Garnish with herbs, as desired, and serve immediately.
 Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Sunday, September 4, 2011

At Last, Normal Noise

     Today is the first day of normal noise since Irene took away our power.  Every day since last Sunday was greeted with the steady drone of a generator - not that this is a complaint.  I was thankful for every little bit of power this past week even if a refrigerator, freezer, TV, and lights couldn't be on all at once.  At least we always had water - cold water, but good nervertheless.

     But normal noise on a farm, from the very obvious to the very subtle, is wonderful, comforting sound.
The very subtle noises for this time of year began - and always begin - around the last week in July.  Somewhere the cicadas (I think) strike up a chorus that can't be missed.  It suddenly is the new sound of morning that wasn't there the day before. To me, it is the sign of the beginning of the end of summer.  The sound totally surrounds you, and yet I've never seen the creatures that make themselves known with this sound. 

     The barn brings anticipatory noises from the turkeys as soon as they hear the key unlock their door.  The door crashing sound is brought forth by the sheep in their eagerness to get out.  They can't help but knock into each other since they don't seem to be able to get the idea that all of them can't fit through the doors at the same time.

     Even though I try to see how far I can get sneaking up on the geese, they always hear me before I get to their door.  Ditto with the chickens.  All of them get their food and fresh water. 
      My last normal sound comes from Beethovan.  As soon as I turn to leave he sneaks up and grabs at the leg of my pants.  I turn too look and as expected he has arched his neck in a perfect "S" to the ground, then towards the sky, making a victorious gooselike sound.  He successfully scared me away again, and I wouldn't want him to think anything differently.

      Although thankful for the generator and its noise, the farm is now back to normal noise, and it's great.
   Today's recipe - so simple, so good.
Sungold Tomatoes with Pasta 5*
 4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
 8 oz Sungold or cherry tomatoes
 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
       Kosher salt
 6 oz capellini, spaghetti, or bucatini
 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan
 8 medium fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
 Toasted breadcrumbs (for garnish; optional)
1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes, season with salt, and cook, covered slightly and swirling pan often, until tomatoes blister and burst, 10-12 minutes. Press down on tomatoes to release their juices. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
2. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.
3. Transfer pasta to pan with tomatoes; set over high heat. Add 1/2 cup
pasta water. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until sauce thickens and
begins to coat the pasta, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining oil, cheese, and
half the basil and toss until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente. (Add
more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Add remaining basil, season with salt,
and serve with breadcrumbs, if desired.
Adapted from Mario Batali