Friday, March 26, 2010

Coming Home To Roost

Sometimes there are things we have longed to do and it falls into the "some day" category. While my bucket list has many "some day" items, I've realized there are some which are actually quite attainable. I decided that unless I act, many of my "some days" will never come. Wednesday "some day" came.

It's no secret that I've always wanted to keep chickens. A flock of lovely ladies providing fresh, organic eggs for my table - always a dream. My oldest friend Holly, has kept chickens for a few years and inspired me to take the plunge. I, or we, are now keepers of chickens. Yaaaayyyy!

I am happy to introduce the latest additions to The Yellow House. The last two days have been very exciting. The best part, just like children, has been watching their little personalities develop.

This is Little Lily. Ella selected this little scrapper. By far the tiniest little chick I've ever seen, she definitely holds her own, just like Ella.

Rita Red, adopted by Max. Named for Bob Marley's wife, this Rhode Island Red is a quiet observing presence. Coincidence?

Meet Martha. Henry wanted to have a "bright yellow one" and here she is, a White Barred Rock. White-blond fluffy down with an open mouth, always chirping or eating. Hmmmmmm.....

This is Charlie. Jake selected this Black Barred Rock because "she was standing in the corner, oblivious to what was going on, pecking at a staple." Reminds me of someone......

And finally, this is my Milly. This adorable girl is either a Buff Orpington or an Aracauna. The Arucaunas lay the lovely blue-green eggs. Should Milly be an Orpington, she'll to like to eat a lot, get fat and be lazy.

I think I'll end my personality parallels there.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Egg Salad In Spring

Isn't it said that eggs are the perfect food? I couldn't agree more. I crave perfectly poached eggs and salivate at the thought of them softly scrambled. Strata. Custard. Pudding. Do we even need to go there?

Eggs, a traditional symbol of spring, seem to be perfectly celebrated just as the weather begins to warm. A sun-starved Chicagoan, adding eggs in the form of salad to my menu rotation is perfect - even if it still may accompany a bowl of soup. When asked to do a demo at the Community Winter Market last Saturday, I focused on farmstead eggs and updated a classic salad.

If you've never had farmstead eggs, you must. While many foods fall victim to the wily ways of marketing, in my mind eggs suffer greatly. The slew of terms added to egg cartons mislead shoppers and perpetuate factory farming. I could write forever on the ins and outs of selecting eggs for your family. The most direct advice? Seek out local egg producers and taste the difference.

Pedestrian egg salad? No way! This recipe simple, fresh and mayo-free salad is the time to use wonderfully fruity olive oil you've been hording. A handful of fresh herbs, peeking through a blanket of leaves in the yard (if you're lucky) or from a pot purchased at your market. For the tasting, I served the salad on tiny toasted baguette rounds, compliments of Orchard Patisserie, then topped it with a few leaves of baby greens from Erewhon Farm. At home, serve as an open faced sandwich with a big fluffy pile of greens.

Dinner's ready and spring is here!

Warm Egg Salad with Herbs and Olive Oil
a nourish original

4 hard boiled eggs-still warm, peeled, yolks and white separated
1/4 cup red onion, finely minced
3 T. fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 T. chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, basil or tarragon are lovely)
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 slices quality Italian bread, toasted
2 oz. arugula or mixed baby greens

Coarsely chop the egg whites in to rough pieces and place in a bowl. Coarsely crumble the egg yolks (or mash with a fork in a separate bowl) and add to the egg whites.

Lightly toss the chopped egg mixture with olive oil, fresh herbs, salt and ground black pepper. Stir with a fork to gently blend until finely chopped portion of egg yolk blends with the olive oil to create a light but creamy dressing. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Spread the still warm salad onto the toasted bread and top with greens. If desired, add a light drizzle of olive oil used in the egg salad to garnish.

Serves 2 generously.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shamrocks, Tacos and Beer

For the second time, Doug and I ran the Shamrock Shuffle. Doug has been a runner for years. Confident for years I'd never be a runner, must admit I've enjoyed my recent attempts. It's something Doug and I can do together - even if he crosses the line before I do. Finishing a race has perks beyond that great feeling of accomplishment, too.

Last year the Shuffle was run in several inches of snow and slush. This year, the snow stopped just before the start but it was overcast and freezing. So, why subject myself to this?

The really, really bright green shirt? No.

The neat number pinned on my really, really, bright green shirt, then hung on the garage fridge? No, that's not it either.

Pretty much it's the beer.

It is the beer this shy running stud is toasting - even if it is crappy ultra-light. When crossing the finish line, the refrain heard over and over? Many - all including the word "beer". It's always socially acceptable to drink beer following a run - even if it's 10am.

Frustrated by crowds in our favorite post-race spots, we searched elsewhere for seats to rest our weary bones and grab a bite. We lucked into a gem when we happened across Flaco's Tacos. This quaint and casual taco joint was just what we needed.

Bright colors, cool decor and empty seats.

Nachos with homemade chips.

These delicious fish tacos for only $2.25 each!

And, of course, beer.

The perfect way to celebrate my Irish-Mexican heritage.

Well, at least the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

THE Chocolate Chip Cookie

The chocolate chip cookie. Lunchbox filler, after school treat and bake sale favorite. Sadly, often unappreciated and forgotten amongst the myriad of cookie recipes calling my name. I do love a good Tollhouse cookie but sometimes they're just pedestrian, leaving me wanting more. A perfect balance of chewy, crispy, rich flavor. Sometimes an "updated" version isn't as good as a Tollhouse and I go back to it. It's a viscous cycle - searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Never one to give up, I have continued the search for this cookie of my dreams. Thanks to my good friend, Georgine, the search is over. She suggested I try this Cook's Illustrated recipe, extolling it's many virtues. She has a great palate, especially with things sweet, and I trusted her instincts implicitly. To say that it is stellar is an understatement. Pale, soft and chewy centers, golden and delicately crisp at the edges. The dark brown sugar and browned butter impart a noteworthy butterscotch essence. I love butterscotch.

Treat your self. Treat your family. Thank Georgine.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Cook's Illustrated-The Cookie Jar episode
Like the Jacque Torres recipe, this would be great with a sprinkle of sea salt, too.

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4oz.)
1/2 t. baking soda
14 T. unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 t. table salt
2 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 1-3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use a heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes , then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Divide dough into 16 portions each about 3 tablespoons. Arrange 2" apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

Bake cookies one tray at a time until cookies are golden brown, still puffy, and the edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool completely before serving (although they are especially delicous when warm and squishy.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Max's Groovy Party

I love to plan parties. When the big kids were little, I started making party plans in January for their summer birthdays. Compulsive, maybe. Awesome parties, totally. I always plan themes around something they are particularly "in to" and like to make the invites. One year there was the Captain Underpants party complete with gigantic underwear decoration and photo op with Super Diaper Baby (Henry with red velour cape). Ella had an Asian tea party at the Japanese tea house at Fabyan Park. Lots of dim sum and mochi. (btw-Mochi is gross). Max had a skateboard party and we made tie dye shirts. Henry's kindergarten carnival, the back yard campout and trip to the firehouse. Did I mention I love to plan parties?

The boys are older now and neither seemed to want a birthday party but after Christmas expressed interest in having some friends over to "hang out". Party? Do you want to have a party? The final of the four winter parties at the Downing house took place last Saturday night. Max went with a 60's theme - Peace, Love and Happiness!

Tie dye table cover, pyrex bowl and smiley faces. The smiley face wine bottle became a candle holder. Okay, I threw a little disco in, too.

Saturday afternoon we made fun treats. Big round sugar cookies became smiley faces.

The most fun to make were the tie dye ones. Drop on spoons of fun color....

...and swirl it around. I usually make a super tasty, fluffy frosting to decorate cookies but it's a little tricky for use for more detailed decorating. I found an easy, made-for-kids powdered sugar icing that sets-up and is the ideal consistency for painting.

Max and I had lots of fun working on this project together and were really thrilled with the way they turned out. Aren't they groovy? The best one was Max's orange peace sign.

Searching for frosting that allows for fun decorating and doesn't break your teeth and taste nasty like royal icing? Try this Williams-Sonoma recipe for decorating icing. You'll have tons of fun, I promise.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mmm - Deep, Dark Chocolate Pudding

I often ask my family for requests when if comes to what comes out of the kitchen. Last week, without missing a beat, my little chocoholic, requested chocolate pudding. My girl knows what she likes.

Pudding is always an easy thing to put together for a weeknight dessert. I always seem to have the ingredients on hand and it's a great reason to keep heavy cream in the fridge. As far as flavoring a delicious custard there are many options in the pantry, too. Bananas, vanilla, chocolate, dark brown sugar for butterscotch....the possibilities are delightfully endless.

Once the milk is brought to a boil with the sugar and cocoa the next step is incorporating it into the cream and egg yolks. Hot milk and eggs can be a bad thing when not handled with care. By very gradually adding the hot cocoa mixture and whisking constantly you can prevent the eggs from scrambling.

The custard is returned to the pan, brought just to a boil then allowed to simmer for a minute. To ensure a smooth and lump free pudding pour it through a fine mesh sieve before adding the chocolate.

Residual heat from the custard melts the chocolate. Deep, Dark Chocolate Pudding gets unsweetened cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate.

Smooth, creamy, deep, dark chocolate. Now the pudding needs to cool for at least three hours. Kind of a bummer since it's so tempting when it's warm.

In all it's glory with a lush crown of vanilla scented whipped cream and a dusting of finely grated chocolate.

Ask and you shall receive dear Ella.

Deep Dark Chocolate Pudding

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor

6 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup dutch-process cocoa (I used natural)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 cup whole milk
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 t. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and heavy cream. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the cocoat powder, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Place over medium heat and cook, stir ring constantly with a wooden spoon, just until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk the hot cocoa mixture inot the egg yolks and cream. pour the egg and cocoat mixtgure bak into the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, mjust unitl the mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking the pudding for 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Stir ni the chopped chocolate and vanilla just until smooth. Cover the surface of the pudding with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until very cold, at lease 3 hours or up to overnight.

Serves 4-6

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Child's Play + Food Rules

One day, Max and I were talking about the impact eating one meatless meal a week can make. He quoted a mind blowing statistic that I don't remember, but it was nonetheless, mind blowing. Henry caught wind of this conversation and was beside himself. You see, Henry loves meat. He comes by it genetically, something Doug is very proud of.

Never one to miss the opportunity to teach my children something, I dove in. I began by explaining to Henry that it isn't bad to eat meat. He agreed, of course, and shared how delicious it is. I went on to (briefly) say that we don't really need to eat lots of meat everyday, it's good to eat lots of vegetables......blah, blah, blah. At some point, humane treatment livestock came up. With this, I scored. Humane is a "Martha word". Check here if you are past PBS Kids age but suffice it to say, he understood. Thank you. Channel 11.

I am a visual learner and find it to be the best way to share knowledge with my kids. Lincoln Logs. Henry loves Lincoln Logs.

The first example in the top left, is my factory farm. Lots of steer, no place to go. The second, a nice corral (work with me) with a gate that opens into all the surrounding pasture (er...carpet). These lucky bovine could move around and not be so crowded. They could run and still go back to a safe place at night. I asked Henry, where he would rather live. He got it and was really excited about understanding it.

Later on, he asked me to remind him the next day about the cows so he could share what he learned at school. This, he decided, would be helpful to his classmates "especially if they really like meat".

So here's the question. If a 6 year old gets it and is willing to share, shouldn't we all?