The Winds of Change

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Change in the air

Change in the air

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Believe it or not, even though it is still hot, humid, and rainy here in Florida there is a slight feeling of a change in the air. Here in the south we can’t wait for the summer to be over! The farm is ever changing with progress, with the seasons. Over the summer we have been working very hard, planting, and clearing, working on equipment, repairing and building. The farm is becoming easier and more efficient to take care of, it almost seems organized!  It is beautiful and peaceful here. The plants and animals are happy and healthy. The chickens are laying eggs and wandering all over the farm. As the days are getting shorter I can see and feel a change in the horses hair. The dogs are shedding, getting ready for their winter coats. The Raintree is starting to bloom and a few of the trees have leaves that are changing.

You know I am always trying to incorporate healthy, vibrant, seasonal vegetables into my meals. Monday I picked up some really beautiful red and golden beets and I tried a new recipe, Chocolate Beet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting from the September issue of Eating Well magazine. I am not a huge fan of beets, I am always trying to cover up their “earthy” taste. These cupcakes were actually quite delicious! I would add a little more sugar in the batter but other than that, I thought they were moist and tasty, similar to a Devils food cake!  I tried them out on a few different discerning taste buds and the general opinion was everybody liked them especially if they tried them before they knew there were beets involved! Isn’t it funny how our minds work? You think “Oh no, beets don’t belong in cupcakes, YUCK!” but the vegetable helped to keep the batter moist and tender.  I like to be adventurous in the kitchen cause you just never know! Change is inevitable and sometimes change is good!

Just Peachy

New kitchen!

New kitchen!

Right now in Florida it is blueberry and peach season, my favorites! I have some blueberry bushes that are loaded with fruit, they are just taking their sweet time ripening. I also have two peach trees and a nectarine tree that are starting to ripen, they are delicious! I am pretty sure we will eat them all straight off the tree! Luckily we have some “you pick” places right near us. Tomorrow morning I think MacKenzie, my dog, and I will go peach picking. I would love to make some peach and blueberry jam and some cobblers and pies. I love the golden sweet juiceyness of the peaches and the deep blue little berries, they are beautiful together.

Right now the farm is amazing, everything is in bloom or has fruit. It is a bit of work, but it is very rewarding to grow your own food, it just tastes so much better!  Very different from the pale tasteless stuff you buy at the grocery stores. We just did a mini kitchen make over, that is absolutly amazing!  Our kitchen has always been small and never had enough storage or lighting. We all cook, and it was a pain in the neck trying to find stuff. We were actually storing pots and pans in the bathtub and the oven. So when you wanted to cook, to preheat the oven you had to take all the pots out and stack them on the table, then you had no room to prep, ugh! So…We got a large standing cabinet with shelves and doors and we put in a large island with 3 cabinets and drawers underneath. We bought these awesome industrial lights and put two over the island and one over the sink. It feels like a new house!  The kitchen has always been the heart of our house, when people come to visit everyone sits around the kitchen table talking, laughing, cooking, and eating.  Now we have a wonderful, comfortable, and inviting place to play and work in. Right now I have a little time on my hands since Jerry is in California and Scott is in New York, sounds like a good time to organize! Before I leave for LA in a few weeks. Everything is just peachy!!!

Sopapillas!

Last summer when I was in New Mexico I found out about this delicious little treat, sopapilla! I had never heard of them before. I ate one at El Paragua and I don’t think I will ever forget it, they served theirs with a wonderful homemade plum jam. It was like a light delicate little cloud of yum!

Sopapillas are essentially little fried biscuits, a delicacy with origins in Mexico. The name means  “sofa pillows” they plump when you fry them. They are light and airy like pillows not heavy and greasy? They don’t contain any sugar and are traditionally served with honey. You could also enjoy them with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, or any other jam or dipping sauce you can come up with!

I am including a recipe and I hope you will try them.

1tblsp butter melted

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tsp salt

1cup flour plus extra for forming dough

1 ½ tsp baking powder

corn oil for frying

Begin by heating 1 ½” of oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat. Combine melted butter and milk in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the combined dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Allow the dough to rest a few minutes to absorb the liquids. Lightly pat the dough out on a well floured surface, folding and turning a few times, keep the texture soft. Pat the dough to ½” thickness and cut into 1″ squares. Once the oil has heated to about 355 degrees, or approximately 10 minutes on medium heat, add the little squares, 9-10 at a time depending on the size of your skillet. They will plump and turn a golden brown on one side and if your lucky they will turn themselves over, otherwise use a fork or slotted spoon to help turn them. Once they are a deep golden brown on both sides, remove them to a paper towel lined plate to cool. Then pile them into a paper towel lined bowl or basket and enjoy them warm or at room temperature.

This recipe is from The Farmers Kitchen by Marie W. Lawrence

I think I might whip up a batch tonight in honor of Cinco de Mayo and I can serve some of the delicious blueberry jam I made last week with them!

Peeps!

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Chicks!

Chicks!

Wow these little egg shaped critters are so cute! I am learning all about raising them. Right now they are in my tub under a heat lamp. Not too hot not too cold! Messy messy messy! There is a lot to know, I am surprised. But I think they will make a wonderful addition to the garden.  They eat bugs, aireate the soil with their scratching, they will provide compost, and help clean up the kitchen scraps. Not to mention the eggs! Fresh eggs are the absolute best! Naturally raised, free range chickens produce eggs with dark yellow yolks the darker color means more vitamins, which come from the healthy variety of foods they eat.  Eggs are an excellent and inexpensive form of protein. They contain complete protien with all 9 essential amino acids that humans cannot produce themselves. They also contain vitamin D, which promotes strong bones and reduces inflammation.

The chickens I got are supposed to lay colored eggs, I can’t wait! There are so many ways to eat eggs. Hardboiled, scrambled, poached, in omelets, in almost everything you bake! But I really enjoy the classic dessert Creme Brûlée this is a recipe that I baked over the holidays and it was fabulous!

This is a wonderful recipe from Williams-Sonoma.com

A classic dessert, vanilla crème brûlée should be experienced in its purest form before embellishing it with additional ingredients. You might try steeping lemon or orange peel with the vanilla bean, or adding a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom. Either way, this simple recipe will produce a smooth, velvety custard with a delicate caramel topping.
Ingredients:
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 4 Tbs. sugar
Directions:
Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a baking pan that is 2 to 3 inches deep with a small kitchen towel.

Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.

Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

March Mischief!

Before

Before

March and it’s madness is in the air! We have pollen everywhere! Just when the weather is awesome and you want to be outside biking, hiking, gardening, etc. perfect temps and everything greening up and blossoming out! Overnight the oak pollen and caterpillars seem to have taken over. Yikes they are everywhere! On door knobs and gates on bikes and lawn chairs. Be careful what you touch and where you sit! March is usually dry for us and unusually windy which only makes matters worse! Doesn’t matter what color car you have this month it will be coated in a lovely yellowish green powder! Not to mention everything and anything else you might leave outside!

So I thought it might be a good idea to spend a little time inside. I decided to cook up a batch of corned beef and cabbage and bake a lovely cake to bring to my daughters house later on in the evening. I had just picked up the latest BHG and found a recipe I wanted to try by Beth Kirby, it was a dark chocolate cake with fresh strawberry buttercream. Strawberries are in season and so yummy right now, and chocolate…well that’s always in season! So, I spent the afternoon whipping up this wonderful cake. Now I am not a huge cake fan, I normally prefer to just lick the spoon, but this cake was really delicious, the moistest chocolate cake and I just loved the fresh strawberry buttercream! It took some time but I would definitely make this cake again!

So we are getting ready to head out and I set the cake down on the kitchen table, it was pretty heavy so I was gonna get one of the guys to carry it to the car. I went outside to put a few other things in the car. I wasn’t outside 5 minutes. I came back in to get it and, my dog and long time kitchen helper, MacKenzie had very delicately helped herself to a small portion of it! Oh noooo! She has never ever done anything like this before! All I can do is laugh! Apparently she has a sweet tooth and knows a good cake when she sees (smells)one!

As I mentioned earlier, it seems that March has a mischievousness about it inside and out!

Chocolate is not good for dogs but she seems to be fine, except now she has a new nickname…Cake Eater! I will just have to be more careful in the future of where I put things.

After

After

My kitchen helper and cake eater, MacKenzie!

My kitchen helper and cake eater, MacKenzie!

Magical Mix or Mysterious Goo- Sourdough Starter

Magical mix or mysterious goo?

Magical mix or mysterious goo?

There seems to always be some mystery around sourdough starter. I remember the sweet sour smell coming from a bubbling crock in a quiet corner of my Moms kitchen counter. Her measuring and caring for it like a little creature. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Very strange but very delicious! My Mom’s sourdough bread was wonderful, crusty and browned perfectly on the outside and warm and light on the inside! It had complex flavors mildly sour and yeasty with just a little sweetness. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

So what is this crazy concoction all about? Sourdough starter is a treasured part of many bakers’ kitchens, sometimes passed down through generations. Sourdough baking is as much art as science. What makes this bread so special? The breads seem to take on the essence of were they originate.

Well basically it’s pretty simple, flour, water, and time. There are many recipes online but I wanted to keep it simple. With so few ingredients it is essential to use the highest quality you can find. I use filtered water and unbleached all purpose flour. The wild fermentation of flour and water will usually yield beautiful results in about 5 days.

So here is what I did.

Mix 2 ½ cups of filtered water room temperature with

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

and I added 1 tbsps. Sugar

I mixed this all together with a wooden spoon in a ceramic bowl and took it out on my deck, I sat with it for about a 20 minutes, letting it gather wild yeast from the air, myth or not I wanted to do it.  Then I brought it in, covered it loosely and let it sit in a warm, quiet corner overnight.

Right away it started with little bubbles coming to the surface, so exciting! It is a living thing that you must take care of, you must discard some and add some to keep it healthy. You are cultivating yeast and lactobacillus which must be fed if you want to keep it active. If you take proper care of it, it should be ready to use in 5 days.

Mystery or goo? I hope to be baking a loaf sometime next week. I will keep you posted!

Cakes, cakes, cakes!

Half Baked!

Through lots of trial and error I figured out most of my Moms recipes and became a decent cook. I really enjoy baking at the holidays and especially Christmas time. I make lots and lots of delicious treats and pastries. But, as it turns out, I have a rather small family and make way too much for us to eat! Most of my friends work full time so I thought giving deliciuos homemade treats for gifts would be nice. Cookies and cakes and pies, yum sharing the love! They tasted great but the look left something to be desired! Now I don’t know if I told you this before but I am a professional artist, I have a degree in art and sell quite a bit of my work. You can see some of it at http://www.ecumbess.com So now I am thinking…it tastes good but my friends expect more from me!

So what’s a girl to do? I signed up for a cake decorating class at my local Michaels. This was fun! I enjoyed it and wanted to learn more so I took all the classes offered and started putting out some pretty good looking stuff! Goal achieved!!! Yea now I could make tasty treats that looked nice too! Right about the time my last course was finishing up my teacher says “Elizabeth, you should teach this class, you are an artist, you are doing great, you can do this, it’s fun.” Just so happens she was moving and needed to fill her position! Ok! I said I will give it a try!

For the next 4 years I taught cake decorating at my local Michaels to lots of wonderful people! It was fun. I made and decorated lots and lots of cakes! I made birthday cakes, cupcakes, wedding cakes, every kind of cake you can think of! My family was sick of cake, my friends were sick of cake, heck I was sick of cake! Time to move on…