Monday, June 29, 2009

The Chickens are my back yard

We finally got to see Mad City Chickens yesterday at Indian Creek Nature Center. It was a good time. I recommend it if you are considering adopting a few hens as pets. I also recommend it if you think that's a stupid idea.

The filmmakers were there, too. The project took three years and they say they have enough extra footage for a sequel.

Here's the thing; I'm not much for those Humane Society tear jerker ads full of shocking footage of bald, starving cats. I'm sorry that any animal ever has to suffer, but really, I'm thinking the starving children in Iowa probably take precedence. I admit that the story of Consuela, the rescued "spent hen" found at the dump in Waterloo had me by the throat. "Some of the chickens they gas don't die." This was the explanation given by the person at the dump when questioned by Consuela's rescuers.

So, not only are those anemic, sad little thin shelled cheapo grocery store eggs not as GOOD as the real eggs from happy backyard chickens, but they come from hens that are pretty much tortured until they stop laying, and then gassed to death right before the "farmers" drop their bodies off at the city dump. Oh. Yum.

I was already a little inclined to go behind the city zoning people's backs, build my little coop and adopt three chickens next spring. Now that the husband and kids are fully on board, I'm unstoppable.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Beer Broccoli Cheddar Soup

So I have all of this broccoli and cauliflower and Budweiser and Ranch dressing and cheddar cheese left from our big event last weekend. I invented a soup. I ate it for lunch and froze the rest. If there's any left in November, it'll be a welcome fall warm-up.

Beer Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Over medium heat, in a large sauce pan, cook 1 large white onion (diced), 5 cloves of garlic (diced), 1 cup of carrots (diced), 1/2 cup celery (diced.) Stir every few minutes for 15 minutes.

While that is cooking, make a small roux (6t salted butter + 6T flour, whisked together over medium-high heat until it turns the color of caramel.)

Add 1 12 ounce can of a dark beer to the vegetables and stir. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add 2 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, 4 cups of water and bring mixture to a boil. Add the roux one spoon at a time (if you pour it in, it kind of explodes; I proved this theory today.)

Add 8 cups of finely chopped broccoli or a mixture of broccoli and cauliflower and stir in a cup of Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk Dressing. Stir for a few minutes until the broccoli turns bright green.

Add 4 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and stir for a few more minutes. Let mixture cool a bit and blend with a hand mixer or pour 2-3 cups at a time into the blender. Re-heat the soup and add salt and pepper to taste.

This makes a lot. Use big pots.

Oh, and buy your broccoli at the farmers market. It makes the soup taste better.

Happy Eating!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Victory in the Garden

They are cropping up in the alleys in our neighborhood. Little gardens tucked in behind a garage or running along the wrong side of a privacy fence. Their owners seem tentative. They hide their first try, but tend their peonies and petunias proudly in the front yard. This is the first year I've really noticed people trying to grow food. The same people who bought the green peppers at Hy-Vee and never gave it a second thought are now experimenting with a little Victory Garden of their own. I see them when we go on our night-time walks with the little girls. I feel proud of my neighbors. Like we all know the same little secret. You can grow your own organic food. You can teach your kids how to eat from the back yard. Your own green peppers are the best ones in the world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Asparagus Class

Here are the recipes. I cooked it all in two hours and it could not have gone better. Great class, good time, and possibly the most rocking risotto ever.


And take a New Pi food class. For goodness sakes.

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus Tips

10 strips bacon (thin sliced)
30 thin-medium sized asparagus spears, trimmed and washed

preheat oven to 425 degrees
wrap 3 asparagus spears with one strip of bacon and secure with toothpick
cook 20 minutes or until bacon is crisp, turning 2-3 times throughout cooking time
serve hot

Simple Grilled Asparagus with Sea Salt
1 pound washed and trimmed asparagus spears
sea salt
good quality olive oil
Preheat grill so that it's very hot. Place asparagus on grill so that the spears do not fall in between grates. Cook 3-4 minutes per side. When the spears have little blister marks on both sides, remove from the heat into a large plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Dress with lemon juice. Eat immediately.

Asparagus Pasta with Peppered Feta Sauce

1 pound box of penne pasta
5 ounces of peppered feta cheese
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, washed, and cut into 1" pieces

Cook the pasta according to package directions. 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done, put the asparagus into the boiling salted water with the pasta.

In the serving bowl, wisk together the feta and one cup of the boiling water from the pasta until a sauce forms.

Drain the pasta/asparagus mixture. Mix the sauce and pasta together in the serving bowl. Garnish with shredded fresh mint or basil and shaved parmesan cheese.

Asparagus Lemon Risotto with Mint

Finely chop your asparagus stalks into tiny discs, keeping the tips whole. Then start making your basic risotto recipe.
• 34 ounces vegetable or chicken stock• 2 tablespoons olive oil• 1 tablespoon butter• 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped• 4-5 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped• 2 cups risotto rice• 1 cup dry white wine• 2 pounds of asparagus, trimmed and sliced into thin disks• 2 1/2 cups hot vegetable or chicken stock• 1 tablespoon butter• 1-2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus a block for grating• a bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped• zest and juice of 2 lemons• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper• extra virgin olive oil

1: Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Put the olive oil and butter in a separate large pan, add the onion and celery and cook very gently for about 15 minutes, until soft. Add the rice and turn up the heat. To keep the rice from sticking to the pan, keep stirring it. Cook 1-2 minutes.
2: Pour in the wine and keep stirring 1-2 minutes.
3: Add the stock to the rice one cup at a time, stirring and waiting until it has been fully absorbed before adding the next.. Turn the heat down to low and continue to add stock until it has all be absorbed. This should take 15 minutes or so. The rice should be al dente. Set the pan aside.

Now put a large saucepan on a medium to high heat and pour in half the stock, followed by all your risotto base and the finely sliced asparagus stalks and the tips. Stirring all the time, gently bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until almost all the stock has been absorbed.
Add the rest of the stock one cup at a time until the rice and asparagus are cooked. You might not need all your stock. Be careful not to overcook the rice - check it throughout cooking. Turn off the heat, Stir in the butter and Parmesan, mint, almost all the lemon zest and all the juice. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Put a lid on the pan and leave the risotto to rest for a minute. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a little bit of lemon zest and a block of Parmesan on the table.

Creamy Asparagus Soup with Egg sandwiches

• 2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and washed• 2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped• 2 sticks of celery, trimmed and copped• 2 leeks, trimmed and chopped• 68 ounces good-quality chicken or vegetable stock, preferably organic• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper• 10 small very fresh free-range or organic eggs• 8 slices of ciabatta bread• a knob of butter• extra virgin olive oil

Cut the tips off your asparagus and put these to one side for later. Roughly chop the asparagus stalks. Get a large, deep pan on the heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently fry the onions, celery and leeks for around 10 minutes, until soft. Add the chopped asparagus stalks and stock and simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on. Remove from the heat and pour into blender. Blitz several times until it's the consistency you want. Season the soup bit by bit with salt and pepper until just right. Put the soup back on the heat, stir in the asparagus tips, bring back to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes until the tips have softened.
About five minutes before you are ready to serve the soup, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the eggs and turn them out onto tasted ciabatta slices. To serve, divide the soup between eight warmed bowls and place a piece of toast into each. Season to taste and drizzle with olive oil.