Goodbye Girls…

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

Goldfinger (black with gold highlights) the rooster with his charges.

It was a cold day in December (in many ways) when my friends came to take the chickens away to their farm in the next county. They are good folks, so when I called them at Highgate Farms up in Marshall to ask if they could add my girls to their egg flock, they said yes right away. We all thought it would ease the transition if the hens arrived at their new home while the resident girls were asleep. So down the mountain just after dusk came Melissa and John in their beautiful old bio-diesel Mercedes.

I had already said my tearful goodbyes and tried to remain calm. I collected Mattie, Buffy, Flopsy and Mopsy one by one from the perch where they slept peacefully and deposited them into carrier boxes for the ride to their new home. Collecting Opal, the tree-sleeping Sumatra hen was another story, but with a little help from a ladder they were all in the trunk of the car and heading off into the night. I can’t say thanks to John and Melissa enough times for providing them with a good home. It makes me feel a tiny bit better; but just a tiny bit. IMG_2123

I’ll keep the why part of the story short since it’s all negative and we don’t want to dwell on it. Suffice it to say, we have a neighbor who is not neighborly, the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. And that’s all you’ll hear about that.

Buffy checks out the harvest. She's not a fan of kale or cabbage but love tomatoes and cucumbers.

Buffy checks out the harvest. She’s not a fan of kale or cabbage but love tomatoes and cucumbers.

The sadness I feel has surprised me. Even after a month, I miss my girls and our rituals terribly. I still expect them to be clamoring for their afternoon treats when I open the door. As my sister said, I cried lots of big fat chicken tears! But don’t worry, I haven’t given up chickens for good. We still have the hen palace and all the gear that goes with it. One day we’ll move farther out into the country and have 10 acres or more; a place where people and chickens can have a little freedom!

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

Large, medium and small eggs laid by Ruby, Mattie and Baby respectively.

That dream is down the road a ways, but I’ll keep you posted. It’s good to have something to look forward to while I’m driving to the winter tailgate market to BUY EGGS THAT COME FROM CHICKENS I’VE NEVER EVEN MET!

Thanks for listening to my sad story. I’ll be back soon with a recipe to cheer us all up. This picture should help too!

iPhoto Library

 

 

 

One-Pan Pasta Dinner

Simple, quick and delicious. I'm in!

Simple, quick and delicious. I’m in!

Have you seen the one-pan pasta recipe that’s flying around the internet? It’s a great way to use fresh tomatoes and basil that are so good right now.The idea is that everything goes into the pan and cooks at once. Although I think it’s been around for a long time, Martha Stewart Living recently published the recipe and got the buzz going. I read about it at Smitten Kitchen where Deb complained that the pasta was on the mushy side of al dente and revised the recipe using farro as the main ingredient. That farro version is truly delicious will go into my favorite dinners notebook. In fact it was so good that I became curious about the pasta version and tried Martha’s recipe. Deb was right. By the time the sauce had reduced enough, the pasta was too far gone.

Bring it all to a rolling boil, stir for 10 minutes and eat

Bring it all to a boil, stir,eat.

I wanted to make this recipe work. The idea of a true one-pan meal that is healthy, easy, quick and really good was so appealing that I couldn’t resist trying. Paul would happily eat pasta every night so he was thrilled with my repeated experimentation. I’ve always wondered why you need so much water to cook pasta. It takes forever to come to a boil and then it all goes down the drain except a half cup or so that might be used to thicken sauce. Well, it turns out that you don’t need gallons of water and best of all you don’t have to drain the pasta or wash the colander! My changes to Martha’s recipe include using a heartier type of pasta and reducing the amount of water.

The finished product.

Dinner is served!

 

I’ve tried lots of one pot meals and have rarely been satisfied. This one’s different. It’s not a compromise, something you’d only want to make when you’re short on time. Thanks to the principles of evaporation and absorption, it works and it’s darned good! We’ve served the final recipe to two sets of guests so far and everyone loves it. It’s beautiful, ridiculously simple and can be prepared ahead of time. Use a hearty, high-quality dried pasta and the results will make you happy! I haven’t experimented with whole wheat or other pastas, but suspect they would become too soft. Let me know your thoughts if you try alternative pastas.

 

One Pan Pasta that Works (Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living)

3-4 servings as a main dish, 8 as a side

INGREDIENTS

 12 ounces dried penne rigate, small rigatoni or orecchiette

1 large red onion sliced thinly, root to stem (about 2 cups)

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes halved, or quartered if they’re large

4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced

2 generous sprigs of basil plus torn leaves for serving

2 tablespoons olive oil p;us more for serving

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

4 cups of water

Grated parmesan for serving

PREPARATION

Place all ingredients except parmesan and torn basil in a wide skillet with straight sides (If you’re prepping ahead, don’t add the water until you’re ready to cook). Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Set the timer for 8 minutes and continue to boil, stirring often. Test the pasta for doneness at 8 minutes and cook another minute or two if needed. Serve with torn basil, parmesan and olive oil.

NOTES: Yellow or white onions will work just fine. Red ones look and taste great and add nice texture. If you want to double the recipe, make two batches side-by-side for best results. A wide dutch oven will work if you don’t have a straight-sided skillet. Evaporation is important so it must be a wide pan. Finally, if you want to use fresh chopped tomatoes, the plum variety is best. For juicier tomatoes, reduce the water by 1/4 cup.  If you want your pasta on the soft side, add more water after the 8-minute test.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Sky

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Early Friday evening it rained hard. Afterward, I looked out at the sunset and decided photos were in order. I grabbed my iPhone and dashed outside. The sunset was indeed spectacular, but when I turned around and looked east, I gasped. There was a huge and perfect rainbow, no wait! It was a double rainbow!  That’s enough words for this post. The pictures of the evolving, cloud-filled sky, east and west, over a 10-minute period will speak for themselves.

WEST

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EAST

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 The End

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro (slightly adapted from Melissa Clark)

It’s snowy and blustery in the mountains today (and yesterday and the day before). Spring is really playing hard to get.  I read cookbooks like most people read novels, so I curled up by the fire to read Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now and came across a recipe that is perfect for warming up a snowy day.

If you’ve read my posts about our January 2013 trip to Italy, you already know that I became enamored of a bean and farro soup served in northern Tuscany. This stew has the same flavors, is easy to put together and so satisfying. It’s guest worthy too!

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Pot likker at it’s best!

I’ve adapted the recipe slightly from Melissa’s book. One change was essential. I am a southerner. Melissa, who is not, recommends discarding any extra bean liquid removed at the end of cooking. My grandmother is turning over in her grave as I type this. Southerners do not discard bean liquid (or as we call it, pot likker or pot liquor). In fact my husband and I each had a small bowl of this particular broth with a squeeze of lemon and it was magnificent!

But I am a big fan of Melissa’s and will cut her some slack since she was raised elsewhere.  Check out her book and her website where you’ll find tons of good recipes.  http://www.melissaclark.net/

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White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro (adapted slightly from Melissa Clark)
A fragrant bean and farro stew that will warm you down to your toes.
Ingredients
  • 1 pound dried cannellini beans
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive and more for drizzling
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (save the leaves for garnishing)
  • I large onion, halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together
  • 1 whole clove (stick it in the onion half)
  • 2 rosemary sprig
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Piece of Parmesan rind (optional, but really delicious)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
  • 1 cup farro, rinsed
  • flaky salt (Maldon or fleur de sel) for sprinkling
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • chopped celery or parsley leaves for garnish
  • lemon juice and/or grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
Instructions
  1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water, or add cold water and beans to a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let the beans soak for two hours. Both methods will greatly reduce cooking time of dried beans.
  2. When ready to cook, drain the beans and place along with the olive oil, 4 of the garlic cloves, the celery and onion in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf together, tie with kitchen twine, and add to the pot (if you use the herbs without tying, remember to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer from 1 to three hours, depending on how long you soaked the beans. A test of doneness is to place a bean in your hand and blow on it. If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Try a few from different places in the pot just to make sure they are all done.
  3. If the water level in the pot sinks below the top of the beans during cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. If there’s too much liquid at the end, remove and set aside to serve as a first course or use as a soup base tomorrow.
  4. While the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This can take 20 minutes to and hour depending on what kind of farro you use. When it is nicely chewy, drain well.
  5. Mince the remaining two garlic cloves.
  6. When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, hers, and Parmesan rind. The garlic can be served with the beans. Stir in the minced raw garlic and use an immersion blender to puree 1/3 to 1/2 of the beans. You can also puree them in a blender or food processor but that’s a lot more work! For a thinner broth, stir in the garlic and skip the puree step.
  7. Serve the beans in bowls over the farro. Drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, sprinkle with salt (flaky or otherwise), red pepper flakes and celery or parsley leaves. Stir in a bit of lemon juice if desired to heighten the flavors and sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired. Make sure you don’t skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper flakes when serving. These flavors make the whole thing come together.
Beans, olive oil, celery, clove, onion and herbs at a boil

Beans, olive oil, celery, clove, onion and herbs at a boil

Chick update

Let’s reintroduce the Benson-Ward chickens. Ruby and Mattie, pictured above getting ready for bed, are a year old. They each lay an egg a day, like clockwork and have great personalities.

We’ve got two batches of chicks. The first is from our 9-month old Sumatra hen, Baby. The gang of three are six weeks old now and look like miniature chickens. Still hanging with Mom though they seem to know the ropes pretty well.

Unfortunately, they are free range chicks and don’t sit still so are hard to photograph. You’ll have to take my word for it that all three are exceedingly handsome at this point!  The shot I did get was Baby spreading her wings over them to settle in for the night — the only time they aren’t in motion.

The six week chicks are getting big. Baby can barely cover them all at night, though she spreads her wings mightily trying!  The chick that looks like an eagle is peaking out.

The six week chicks are getting big. Baby can barely cover them all at night, though she spreads her wings mightily trying! The chick that looks like an eagle is peaking out in the bottom right corner.

The second batch of five little girls came from the farm supply store at one day old. Three week veterans now, they’re at that awkward stage with part baby down and part real feathers. I think they double in size every few days. They’re still under the brooder lamp staying warm, doing all the things chickens do.

Some evenings they read or watch tv with us since they don’t have a mom. We’ll keep them inside for a week or two more, then start taking field trips to get them used to the coop and the weather.

Their personalities are developing so we should have names soon. It’s been great fun raising the chicks but we’re looking forward to having them join the older girls. They chirp constantly during the night now and chase each other endlessly over and under the perch Paul made them. No rest for the weary at our house!

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Remember the picture of two of them at two days old?  My how you’ve grown!iPhoto Library

Vermeer & Texas Salad: Italy update #2

Comfort food after a day of sightseeing in Rome.

Comfort food after a day of sightseeing in Rome.

Day one ended with dinner at Da Francesco and that was a good move!  I had read about it on one my favorite blogs, 101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson. Just a few blocks from Hotel Raphael where we are staying in Rome, Da Francesco serves Roman style pizza, very thin from a super hot oven with the crust slightly blistered black. We loved the wiry pizza maker who kneaded the dough athletically before tossing it and we were the only Americans there. Paul relished every bite of his pizza Margharita!

I had tonno vitello. This translates to Tuna with Veal. Sounds strange, but it’s delicious. Years ago we visited Ascona, in Switzerland’s Italian region with my brother, two young nephews and sister-in-law Karen whose mother is from there. One of my best memories is being served tuna vitello the evening we arrived exhausted from plane, train and auto travel. Karen’s dear Italian friend, Sylvia, said tonno vitello was just the thing after a long journey. We were nervous about the tuna/veal combo, but our fears were unfounded. Italian tuna in oil is really tasty. For this dish, it’s whipped to a velvety mousse, spread on thin slices of roasted veal breast and sprinkled with capers.  It is indeed perfect. So that’s what I had last night. I also had grappa afterwards for digestive purposes and slept like a baby.

This morning we fortified ourselves with cappuccinos from the amazing Hotel Raphael breakfast and thrust ourselves out into the rain again. We walked to the Piazza Popolo, Spanish steps (check out Guy Clark’s Dubliner Blues for my favorite song reference to the Spanish Steps) and Trevi Fountain, visiting several churches along the way. Paul was especially taken with the scale and beauty of Trevi. And yes, coins were tossed to ensure return visits!  The rainy walk was worth it though the narrow sidewalks of old Rome seem especially narrow when everyone is carrying umbrellas. It’s interesting to guess who will give way and who will pretend you don’t exist as umbrellas vie for space.

Our next destination was Museo de Quirinale  to see a Vermeer exhibit at 2:00 p.m.  We arrived in the area at 1:00 to find ourselves in a government compound with no restaurants so suffered through lunch at the nearest tourist bar. The TEXAS SALAD was edible but the rest was awful. ‘Nuff said.

After all that walking, we decided to take an elevator at the museum. We waited and waited. Finally the door opened and out marched 20+ preschoolers who were packed in like the proverbial sardines. Even the slightly grumpy man waiting next to us had to smile!

We enjoyed the Vermeer exhibit and happened on an official ceremony featuring a marching band and other precision military units parading in the drizzle.  We never figured out the purpose but it was fun to watch! Last stop was a revisit at the Pantheon for Paul to apply some history he had read the night before.

Finally made it to a bar near the hotel around five to rest our tired feet and have a refreshing glass of Prosecco and tiny cocktail sandwiches to hold us until our late dinner. It’s much more fun to eat late with the Italians than alone at seven!  In the cozy bar, the zipper on my coat refused to separate at the bottom. I finally dropped the coat to the floor and stepped out of it much to the amusement of two Italian crones at the bar.

We dined at Da Francesco again because it was  so good, so comfortable and so near the hotel after a long day afoot. Good house red, Roman style artichokes, perfect pizza and roast chicken with rosemary roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach. Simple and perfect for our last night in Rome.