Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eggs to Chickens

Now isn't that the natural progression?  The cyclical question for me is quite easy.  The egg ALWAYS came before the chicken.  It all started here:

Eggs on toast is my absolute favorite homemade breakfast.  If I could have two eggs, sunny side up and a piece of whole wheat toast for breakfast every morning I swear I would be the most productive, alert broker there ever was.  Punching the clock at 6:30 am leaves little room in my morning schedule for breakfast, let alone one that's pan-fried, so I have resigned myself to every Saturday and Sunday morning making a pretty looking breakfast for myself.  Either like this one above or this one here or the ones here, it's a must to keep my early morning habits consistent and healthy.

The breakfast above is a particularly memorable one.  This winter, I finally visited an old friend from college whose side hobby had been an intriguing point for quite some time:  he owns two little Rhode Island Reds that live in a coop, outside his apartment in Lincoln Square. After greeting the ladies, watching them poke around in the dirt and brick patio for the better part of an hour on a chilly grey January Saturday morning, we ventured back to the kitchen where he retrieved from his freezer three lovely brown eggs.  "Here" he said, "I've got much more than I know what to do with."

Sometimes when you see someone else doing something that looks crazy and impossible, something clicks in your mind and makes it seem like you yourself could actually do it too.  Didn't you ever get into something you never dreamed of because someone that you knew was already doing it and that somehow took some pressure off?  I will not be so naive or foolish to pretend that I'm the first one ever doing this (puh-lease people have been raising chickens for centuries!) nor even the first in Chicago (check out this lovely google group for more info), though I may be the first in Old Town... 

4 little peeping chicks, nay, squawking chicks were delivered to my doorstep on Tuesday morning.  They had been injected with a LOT of electrolytes and packaged up with some heat packs and straw in a box and shipped overnight from a hatchery in Naperville. I believe they were born on Sunday, which would make them exactly one week old today.  Here is Paprikash on her first week birthday with daffodils that just bloomed today:

So here's hoping that you're along for this adventure too, and prepared for many an egg recipe come October.  In the girls honor, I threw a petit "wine and chicks" evening for some girlfriends.  What's better on a dreary Friday night in March than a little red wine and chirping hens (human and gallus families).  And what better dessert should one have with Easter heavy upon us, than coconut cupcakes.

Thanks to Ina Garden for always knowing precisely what I should cook for parties and having the best cupcake recipes there ever were.

Chickadee Coconut Cupcakes
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 t pure Mexican vanilla
1 1/2 t pure almond extract
3 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
14 oz sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 t Mexican vanilla
1/4 t almond extract
2-3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on high until light and fluffy as a little 1 week old chick.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating slowly between each add.  Add vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together, flour, powder, soda, salt.  In threes, add the flour mix and buttermilk to the sugar & butter mix, in shifts.  Mix just until combined.  Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin tin with paper liners, fill liner to the top with batter and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

While cakes are baking, cream together cheese, butter, vanilla and almond with an electric mixer on low.  Add confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with remaining coconut.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Espressos In Brazil

Last week, I was in Brazil for work and in true "when in Rome" fashion I found myself consuming up to 6-10 espressos a day.  Two for breakfast, 2 during morning meetings, 1 with lunch, 2 during my afternoon meetings, and one after dinner.  Hang on, that's decidedly 10.  Shameful.  While I cut my caffeine consumption back to normal levels, I thought I'd share with you all just how representative my consumption levels were displayed throughout my photos of the trip. Here are a few smatterings for your viewing pleasure:

Breakfast at Praia Ipanema Hotel (much recommended for any stay in Rio, stay away from Cococabana)

Breakfast meeting & mid-meeting cafes

Alright alright, so I wasn't drinking coffee the WHOLE time: Chopp: cheap delicious cold Brasilian lager & Ipanema Beach

How does the phrase go?  An espresso a day keeps the sleepiness away?

And just for kicks:  water & a biscotio de polvilho watching futevolle

Guarana, amazonian fruit soda & pao de queijo.   The view from the top of Pao de Acucar

I'm missing the flavors of Brasil already.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mexicana to Thai: a carnitas/cabbage study

I solemnly swear to those interested parties that this is my last publicly sung praise of my slow cooker.  I'm moving on to bigger (physically) and better (come on, it's JOHN!) cookbooks, namely this one.  It was a delightful peace offering from a biz trip to NOLA and I'm quite eager to get at it but before I do,  Trodímo̱n please allow me this final last tribute to my lovely slow cooker.

I received this slow cooker from la maman de Trodimon for Christmas.  As a matter of irony, I was incidentally so vocal about my desire for a slow cooker that I also received one from my culinacurious father.  On December 26, 2009 I was the proud owner of TWO slow cookers-- and sometimes I still wish I had two, if only because it would be a physical manifestation of my true love.  Alas, practicality calls and I really needed new cutting boards, knives, a slotted spoon-- you know, the essentials.  For those that are still using old cutting boards that are warped and don't have the fancy stick-ems on the bottom: UPGRADE!  It makes all the difference.

Back to the matter at hand, she who gave the slow cooker happened to be celebrating  une petite anniversaire, and naturally it was not enough to only have a stellar lunch here; we needed to have a two day celebration.  I personally believe that birthdays should be week-long extravaganzas, so a two-day is a must.  With the last evening of slow cooking ahead and a birthday at hand, a new recipe was needed.

Bon Appetit ran a spread on slow cooking in their latest issue, much to my delight, and in it was a lovely recipe for carnitas.  With a pork shoulder in the freezer from a local farmers market, it seemed an easy choice.  I left my slow cooker on low for 8 hours, and then at warming for another 3-- final tip to the slow cooker: when it comes to meats, the longer on the warm setting, the better.  Don't be afraid of a 6 hour cook time-- you can go longer.  In fact, this recipe doesn't call for any liquids to add and I was a bit nervous about the meat drying out.  When you're throwing together salt, pepper, oregano & pork, having good quality meat is key.  I picked up a pork shoulder from Jake's Country Meats at the Logan Square Market and it was phenomenal. 

But then, here I am with 3/4ers a head of cabbage and where to go from there?  I've fallen in love with the Brassicaceae family, so I could not leave such a delightful specimen alone.  New challenge:  how to cook with cabbage.  But let's be honest, none of us like cooked cabbage. I can handle a little saurkraut every now and again but cooked, wilty cabbage?  No merci.  Call in for backup:  I have two friends at work that have been a delightful discovery.  Turns out, when you start to be vocal about your love of food, you never know what effect that can have on a friendship.  One of these you've heard of before but the other, a delighful franco-fille has been an incredible source of new recipes and ideas and cooking dates. (*note to self, we're WAY overdue for another one... ) So Tweedle-dee and Tweedle dum came in to save the day.  Try this they suggest.  Both ladies made this last summer and it won top prize at their respective July 4th celebrations.

But since a cabbage salad cannot stand alone, it came with a side of Thai curry shrimp and Trodimon's homebrew.

Winter Seasonal Thai Cabbage Slaw  adapted from Bon Appetits
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded into 1/4 inch strips
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
handful baby carrots, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped

1 T fresh squeezed orange juice
1 T canola oil
1 T asian rice vinegar

Toss veggies and cilantro.  In a separate bowl whisk oj, oil and vinegar.  toss together and voila!  Serve with one of those cheap asian pre-fab noodle dinners.

Locavore plug:  I can't barely stand buying wilty greens from the grocery store these days but am growing fairly weary of potatoes 24-7.  This salad is delightfully seasonally appropriate: cabbage is being sent in most CSAs during this time of year; I used fresh squeezed orange juice from oranges I picked in CA three weeks ago and dragged in my carry-on all the way back.  The frozen corn from the Cap's grandparents' farm (which has appeared before), carrots from a farmer's market and err... cilantro.  Forgive the one exception.