Sunday, February 27, 2011

February Daring Bakers Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

First off, thanks for the kind e~mails and support you've shown regarding this.  Things are progressing okay, although we found out on Saturday evening that the sister apparently died from cancer about five months ago.  Her husband didn't seem to think that was news worth sharing.  Like I said--a tight knit family...
Moving on!

The February Daring Bakers challenge was a canvas calling for all sorts of self-expression.  I thought that after last month's challenge, no challenge to come could ever come close to calling for the creativity inspired by the joconde imprime.  I. Was. Wrong.  Furthermore, I'm really happy to wrong!  How often is that the case?  Not very, even though I'm wrong a good deal of the time. 

Blog-checking lines: The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

The first part of the challenge, the panna cotta, is a gelatin dessert made with dairy instead of fruit juice.  Think jello, but creamy.  The flavor can be sweet, savory, or anywhere in between.  Like I said before, a blank canvas begging the cook to be creative.  I went with the original version as provided by our hostess with the mostest, and intended to make several more varieties.  I'm not sure what happened, though, but February has ended without me playing with this recipe any further. 

Don't walk away from the stove when heating the cream, or you'll get to do some really fun scrubbing afterward!

The second part of the challenge, the Florentine cookies, was a tasty revelation.  Fast, easy, eminently edible either as dough or as a baked good....mmmmmm!  Seriously, I've thought on more than one occasion over the past month how easy it would be to just make a little pot of the cookie batter and squirrel it away all for myself. 

Butter, oats, sugar, and flour.  What could be better?

Warning, they spread quite a bit when baking!

Chocolate drizzle, baby....

Florentines on panna cotta. Delicious, comforting, and not too difficult!
The recipes are here, so you can see for yourself what a satisfying project this is.

I want to do another with butterscotch schnapps, and another with Kahlua.
Maybe you can test is out and let me know how it goes?

PS Happy 16th elope-a-versary, Mr. Boom.  Go take a look in the shop...there's a brand new little something for you out there on your workbench.  I hope you like it!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Mr. Boom's uncle died of a sudden massive heart attack Thursday morning.  He was 55, and in seemingly good health.  We're reeling.  Two of his brothers (including Mr. Boom's father) aren't mentally able to make plans.  His uncle is schizophrenic, and his father is deep in the midst of the mist of Alzheimer's disease. Another brother, whom I've never met, is supposedly coming to town.  He's a couple of states and a lot of bad weather away.  There's a sister, too. We don't know if she's been reached yet, or if she's coming.  The sheriff of the last county she was known to be in is trying to track her down. It was another sheriff who reached the uncle a few states away.  It was yet another sheriff who contacted the brother who lives in our town.  We didn't know about it until a man we don't know called us up in the middle of the night to make sure we'd heard.  We originally thought it was a joke.  The local sheriff had asked the local uncle to contact us--we can't figure out why they thought that would work?

This is what happens when three of the four remaining siblings don't have e~mail, phones, or even physical addresses.  It's not what you might call a tight-knit family. 

Mr. Boom's uncle was a great guy, the only sane relative I think Mr. Boom had (besides his brother). He smiled ALL the time.  He would help anyone at the drop of a hat.  He conquered alcoholism long after anyone would have thought he had a chance to do so.  He was the best mechanic in town, was the mascot/coach/lacer-upper for the fledgling roller derby team, and was the one who could make anyone feel good no matter how glum they were.  He really wasn't anything at all like his siblings. 

In my family, there's a definite line of authority.  I could tell you in my sleep exactly who would be in charge of what if any single member needed help, or a funeral, or whatever.  This family doesn't have that.  I'm at such a loss. 

So is our whole community.

I'll be back when I can.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Floating on air

We spent the weekend helping Mr. Boom's bother and family move into their palatial new digs. Wow. Bathroom chandeliers, people. Bathroom chandeliers. Teensy kitchen, though. I wonder what's up with that?

The freestanding "Lego Room" (What? Doesn't everyone have an extra building on their property to hold all their Legos??) was locked, and the realtor didn't have a key to give them. Should I be proud that I was able to use my little plastic free-hunting-license-holder-cum-wallet-that-fits-my-back-pocket to break in?

Skillz baby. Redneck skillzzzzz.

Anyway, they have the palace, but I have all the happiness in the world. Tomorrow night, Mr. Boom and I are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary in Jost Ritter concert. The incurable grin is already creeping across my face.

There will be no sleep tonight. And tomorrow? First day of Master Gardener classes, and a big ol' board meeting at work tomorrow. No way those guys can bring me down at this meeting. No way at all!

I'm a bit too old to be giddy, but that's why I totally love Josh Ritter and his band. These guys will gidd-ify you, too.

Please watch this video. Or this one, with Joan Baez. I know you'll smile. Just like me!

CRAP!!!!! up to 14 inches of snow are predicted for the mountain pass we have to cross to get to the concert! I'll ski there if I have to, but this is not good news!

Friday, February 18, 2011

FFwD: Green beans with Pancetta and other things

Maybe I'm missing something, because all the other kids on the French Fridays with Dorie block loved this dish.  They raved about this dish.  They drrrrrrroooooooooled over this dish.

They should just marry this dish.

Me?  Meh.  I didn't even take a picture of the completed dish.  I still have leftovers from Valentine's Day in the fridge.  I could very easily get up at take a picture.  It just wouldn't be worth it.

This "recipe" consisted of blanching green beans, frying up pancetta, combining the two with a bit of butter, and serving up.  I like pancetta, I like beans.  I do not like pancetta and beans.  My tongue wanted more.  It felt like drinking orange-spice tea without the little pinch of sugar.  It felt like an English muffin without the butter.  It was the Sunday Times without the funnies or crossword puzzles.

Dorie has so many great recipes up her sleeves.  I wish this big glossy page of the cookbook had one of those printed on it, instead.  Anyone want my leftovers?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....

Remember the momma cow who'd given up trying to birth her baby?  I talked to the rancher the next day about some unrelated business and he let me know the little calf survived!  It was breach, and "twisted-a-turvy," and each time the cow pushed, the calf's feet (which were caught up on top of the pelvic bone) sprung the baby backward again.  One of the cowboys got in there, though, and managed to free everything up and the baby was born just fine.  Less than ten minutes later momma and baby were back out in the pasture with the rest of the herd.  Made me happy.

Meanwhile, back here in town...

A blizzard.  We received a few inches of snow in about as many hours on Wednesday, and it still hasn't all melted off.  Snow tends to fall straight down, here in my valley.  We just don't get wind in the winter.  So the snow "falling" just about parallel to the ground was really interesting to sit and watch. All the tension that had been building up on Wednesday simply released while watching the snow. 

The chooks are not impressed, however.  And frankly, I'm really ready for spring myself!  Have a good weekend, everyone.  And really, if you'd like some pancetta green beans, there's a big bowl in the fridge.  Just help yourself!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Midweek ramblings

This week, more so than a lot of weeks, I’m looking forward to the downhill slide of Thursday and Friday. It hasn’t been a bad week so far, just a week full of waiting for the poo to hit the fan. I’ve felt like I’ve been ducking all week, and all the while wondering if I’m even ducking in the right direction. The sword of Damocles has been held high all week, but I’m not confident that the thread from which it dangles is all that trustworthy!

Valentine’s Day was on Monday. I hate that I expect anything on this day, but deep down I do. I always go into that day mentally propped up for the worst, just in case, you know, and this year was no different. Of course, all that worry was for naught. Oh how I do love Mr. Boom!

Monday was also The Day That Chirp chirp Got Braces. She’s nearly 14, but has only lost a few baby teeth. Her four canines were pulled two years ago and still haven’t come through. Her mouth is tiny, but she’s definitely got her dad’s twisty curvy oversized teeth. This poor child hasn’t lost a single tooth without hours of trauma and buckets of tears. For her, the pain of a dentist visit begins when the dentist first gingerly puts a finger in her mouth. The numbing gel makes her cry. She’s very---sensitive.

Miracle of miracles, though, she was an absolute dream patient during the procedure to put the braces on. I was so incredibly proud of her, as well as really gobsmacked at how much mature she’s become over the past year. I thought about singing from the rooftops, but that might have embarrassed her….

Monday was also the day I took my grandma in for surgery. She was clearly suffering from a case of the nerves, and decided to take it out on me. I let her go on for a few minutes, then offered her the chance to get her own freaking ride to the hospital and find someone else to take the day off work to care for her afterwards…but maybe not in quite those exact same words. Maybe a little closer than they should have been, but anyway…

Her surgery went fine; I got her home, fed, tucked into bed, and then faced the daunting task of making a wonderful and memorable meal for my dear husband—who needed to eat in 25 minutes. After all he did for me, he got a measly 25 minute meal. I really should do something nice for him…

Tuesday: back to the hospital with grandma; back to the orthodontist with Chirp-chirp; back to work to handle some “situations” that came up while I was gone. Success on all three accounts, but still!

Tuesday also had me helping a rancher I’d just met search a creek for a little calf that may or may not have been born to a nearby cow in distress. There was a sort of “please find it, please don’t find it” track repeatedly running through my head. He called a hand in to take care of the cow (and the unborn calf?) while we continued our stream survey. I wonder how it turned out. Last I saw, the hand was pulling and pulling and pulling, trying to get the calf out.

Today I’m going to try to make pita bread for the first time. I *could* put it off for another day, but I guess I’m getting used to that sword over my head. Would a sword be an accessory? Does it make me look fat? What the heck is a fashion accessory anyway?

And is it Friday yet?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Mr. Boom outdid himself this year.

Theoretically, I don't believe in Valentine's Day.  It's a real trap of a day, which can so easily turn into a crap of a day.  Expectations are raised, attempts are made, hopes and dreams are dashed.  I was once married to a guy who pulled out all the stops on the big days of the year.  Our (three short) anniversaries were epic and public demonstrations of his fiery love for me.  The other days of the year were pretty much hell.  I would have traded the restaurant-full of patrons and staff toasting our love for a couple of turns vacuuming or doing dishes, or at least a little nod of appreciation for me engaging in those activities.

Oh wait, where was I?  Mr. Boom!!!! There for every single little day of the year and pulling out the stops on the big days of the year, too.

Last night, he ran to the grocery store, ostensibly to buy milk.  When he returned, I found he also had brought home flowers and espresso beans.  This morning, he woke me up with a handmade card that he started LAST SPRING!!!!  The piece de resistance?  Four little miniature spring form pans.  How freaking cute!

Obviously, I had to make his favorite dessert, french silk pie.  Miniaturized!  Chirp chirp cut out the little hearts to decorate the tops with.  We forgot to put them on the three we ate, but she remembered in time for the hearts to go on the fourth.

With or without hearts, this dessert is just as sweet.  Which is just nowhere near as sweet as Mr. Boom himself.  I love that man!

Friday, February 11, 2011

FFwD: Orange-Almond Tart

This week's French Fridays with Dorie Challenge was the orange-almond tart from her book Around My French Table.  This dish is made up of three parts--a pate brisee crust, an almond pastry cream, and fresh orange segments.  It's a good late winter recipe, with our markets so full of oranges and not much else.  See those apples on the counter? Those are the last of our stash from Mr. Boom's aunt's orchard.  Here in the north we just don't have all the fresh fruits that people in the southern climes are enjoying.  So yes, an orange tart is perfect here this time of year.

The recipe call for the oranges to be "supremed," or cut into segments minus the membranes.  These oranges were very small, though, and being navel oranges the segments were very twisty and irregular.  Had I supremed the fruits, I would have needed at least a dozen oranges.  Instead, I just cut these five oranges into thin slices.  The oranges are left to dry for a few hours, so I did these earlier on in the day and let them sit out on paper towels.

I did end up buying one "fancy" ingredient for the tart.  Almond flour has been popping up in more and more recipes I've been trying.  I usually just grind up my almonds in the food processor and call it good.  And really, it usually is just fine.  However, the last time I made french macarons, which of course was for a fancy baby shower, the nuts came out too lumpy and caused me no end of trouble.  So, I finally broke down and bought Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour.  This stuff is powdery, light, fluffy, and wonderful.  Should have done this years ago.  The price difference wasn't too much, about another 50% more, and those few dollars are dollars I'd gladly give up for the improvement in texture.

The almond pastry cream recipe was absolutely delicious.  I could have eaten the whole lot of it with a spoon and been on cloud nine.  Better than ice cream, and no ice cream brain freeze, either!

The recipe for the pate brisee, however, was a total bust.  I'll stick to my tried-and-true Nick Malgieri pate brisee recipe if I make this again.  Dorie's recipe kept cracking as I tried to roll it out, refused to hang together when I lifted it to put in the pan, and just wasn't as tasty overall as my go-to recipe. 

After multiple patches and much cursing, it did end up baking just fine. 

The pre-baked crust is filled with the almond pastry cream, and then the oranges are decoratively lain out over the top.  It looked so pretty at this point!  That last statement?  They call if foreshadowing in the biz....

I baked the tart for the called-upon amount of time, and it was nowhere near done.  I set the oven for another five minutes, then another five minutes, then another five minutes, then just plain forgot about it.

Oops.  Despite the heavy browning, the tart still tasted pretty nice.
However, I think next time I'll just make the cream and surreptitiously eat it all myself.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicken tractor!

Our poor hens, or chooks as I've taken to calling them, are sick and tired of their pen.  They're feeling quite cooped up, as it were...
Trouble is, green things are starting to poke up through the soil in the flowerbeds and and lawn.  And everyone with chickens knows that fresh green sprouts are chick magnets, so to speak.  A chicken tractor, or chook tractor (hee hee!) is the perfect solution.  It's a bit like a playpen for poultry.  We never used a playpen for Chirp-chirp, so I'm not sure if this means we're kinder or crueler to the birds than we are to our own offspring. 

Chirp-chirp, would, I think, argue crueler as she started her braces treatment today.  So far, she just has the little rubber o-rings fitted between her teeth that will attempt to make some sort of a gap for the metal bands that will go around her teeth to fit down into.  Yes, she would argue that we are cruel.  The joys of parenthood.  (And the COSTS!!! Oh my!!!)

Anyway, back to the chook tractor.

Using lumber we had on hand, we cut down one 2x4x10 into two 5 foot lengths.  These became the ends.  Two 2x4x8's became the sides.

We used 3.5" long wood screws to hold the boards together, and then use some small braces left over from another project to further anchor the corners together.

We bought six of these 1/2 inch electrical conduit braces for approximately 75 cents each.  These are at each corner, and one pair exactly halfway down the length of the frame.

Electrical conduit is made of PVC and cuts very easily with a hacksaw.  The common length of each piece is ten feet long, which includes a small bell shape on one end that we removed for this project.  We paid just a bit over a dollar for each section, of which we needed three.

The clamps held the conduit in very firmly, but to be on the safe side, we used a wood screw that went very easily through the conduit and into the wood.

As you can see, the conduit arched beautifully, and the ten foot length resulted in a nice height for the structure.

To add a little support, we ran a 1x2x8 down the length of the tractor, right at the apex of the arch.  We secured the wood to the conduit by drilling a small hole through both pieces and then tied them together with baling wire.  Is there anything you can't do with baling wire? 

The biggest expense was the chicken wire, which ran us about $20.00.  Ouch.  We do have several sections laying around, but we chose to buy a new roll and spare ourselves the hassle of trying to piece together scraps to make-do.  We could have used bird netting, which would have been much cheaper, but we wanted something a tad sturdier. 

The rolls of wire were exactly 4 feet wide, or one half the lenght of the tractor.  I'd like to say we planned that, but it was really just a very lucky accident.  We secured the chicken wire to the conduit with zip-ties (about $2.00 for 30), and then stapled the wire along the bottom to the wood frame.

Our original plan was to put wire at the ends as well, but we changed out mind and used 1/2" plywood instead.  We simply traced the outline of each end onto a sheet of wood and used a jigsaw to cut out the shape.  Wood screws hold one end onto the frame, and the other end is hinged to allow us to get the birds in and out.

Here they are in the tractor, working up the soil in one of our raised beds!  I put a bucket of water in there for them, and throw down a little bit of scratch to get them started.  After the beds are turned up nicely and have been planted, I'll just move the tractor around the yard so they can nibble on grass and bugs, and NOT on my vegetables or flowers.

Although, all this garden and yard talk may be a moot point.  We're looking at another house tomorrow.  Three acres!  A goatpen!  A woodstove!  A bigger mortgage!  Oh, wait.  That last one is a big downer...

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm exhausted, so have a present!

What a crazy weekend!  It's only a little bit after 8:00 Sunday evening here, but my internal clock is striking at least eleven dongs in my head.

Yesterday, we (finally!!!) designed and built a chicken tractor for the ladies.  Their pen is quite a mess, considering a winter's worth of snow and ice in now trying to melt each day, but solidly refreezes each night.  Some Brussels sprouts erratics have emerged from the wintry mix, and I can't even tell you the last time we had Brussels sprouts.  Maybe mid-October?  Ewwww... Anyway, I feel bad for the hens.  They want to be in the flowerbeds scratching up the little bits of green trying to poke through. 

"Compromise!"  I keep yelling this at them. "You can have the lawn, but the flowerbeds are mine!"  The gol-durn chickens refuse to cooperate OR compromise, and my blood pressure keeps rising above healthy levels.  Thus, a chicken tractor.  I'll show you some pictures and our plans in a later post.  It's easy, effective, and fairly inexpensive.  Yay, for that!

Today was Mr. Boom's Grandma's 87th birthday.  We all went to lunch at a local restaurant, so I didn't get to make her a cake.  I might take her something later on in the week.  We'll see how the week goes, first...

Also today, we drove up into the hills for a little bit of turkey scouting.  Saw a good dozen or so down low on private property.  The yard of the house was totally torn up from the birds.  I started to mentally design a turkey tractor in my head.  I wonder if the landowners would be interested?

So, did somebody say presents?  Sure!  The Pollinatrix, one of my first readers (if not THE first reader?) of this blog got me into this happy mess. 

I promise to send something I make myself to the first 5 people who leave a comment on this post and who, in turn, promise to make the same offer on their blog. The rules are that you need to make the items personally and send them to your 5 folks within 2011.

So there you go.  Presents!  Just pretend the "strings attached" are ribbons!

Friday, February 4, 2011

FFwD: Basque Potato Tortilla

Did a whole week really go by again?  Every day I see things I want to share, or learn things I want to pass along, so why don't I blog more?  I don't know.  I really don't. 

I took a great hike on Sunday to retrieve a trail cam.  Of course, I forgot to bring my camera along, and there was nothing of interest on the trail cam itself. 

Also, the goldfinches and flickers have returned to my part of the world.  A cute little finch hit the window while I was out one day, so Chirp chirp brought the stunned bird into the house, provided a bit of seed and water, and there it recuperated in the music room.  I should have taken a photo, but I didn't.  One of it's feet was all fuzzy-ferny like.  I still need to look that up and see what the deal was.  It didn't seem to effect his flight, though, when we finally opened the window to release him back out into the cold.

I don't know.  I need to get myself in gear, I suppose.

I promise you this, though.  Sometime this weekend, or Monday by the latest, I'm going to post something really fun. You'll want to check back, it will be worth your while, and that's all I'm going to say about that right now.

So, this week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge.  Basque Potato Tortilla.  Yummy!

Oh!  Look!  Collages in Picassa!  I had a professor once who pointed out that every time a new theory came along in anthropology, every anthropologist tries to apply it to every single bit of new information they find, as well as apply to it every bit of old information already in their head.  He said that to a man with a hammer, the world looks like a nail.  Collages are my hammer at the moment.  So please do forgive me!  

I mean, have potatoes and onions ever looked so organized on this site before?
I love love love my cast iron pan.  The recipe called for cleaning out the pan after cooking the onions.  Everything slipped out of my pan and I didn't even need to wipe it out. 
Have I ever mentioned this pan was FREE?  I found it at a yard sale, covered in rust, in a "freebies" box.
Can't buy me looooooove.  Nooooooo, no no no, nooooo!
After adding the eggs and potatoes back to the pan, you practice your patience skills, and once the mixture has set up a bit you run a little knife or spatula around the edges to prevent sticking and to judge the doneness.

After a little stint under the broiler (I used my toaster oven on the broil setting), this lovely dinner awaits.

Yummmmm.  From start to finish the project took under half an hour.  It's like a quiche, but you don't have to make a pie crust.  And, it's like an omelet, but you all get to eat at once.

I'm not allowed to share the exact recipe with you (per Dorie's request), but this is the type of dish where the recipe is secondary to the technique.  Now you know the technique, so please do try this lovely fast meal.

(And don't forget to check back for the surprise!)