Monday, May 14, 2018

School Project

For English, the youngerchild had a project due today. The assignment was to pick a poet from a country other than the US and make a presentation about the poet and their poetry as well as incorporate some of the elements of the culture. Creativity was encouraged. My child chose Hafez, a poet from Persia in the 14th century. So, in addition to the writing parts, we jointly decided that there should be traditional Persian sweets for the class to consume while the presentation was happening.

Last week the youngerchild and I made baklava. It went pretty well, considering the youngerchild hadn't really done anything like it before. My goal was to step back and let my kid do most of the work and we had a lot of fun. This stayed in the fridge, uncut, until yesterday when we were putting everything together.

Yesterday we attempted zoolbia. This was much harder as it required deep frying and then dousing the fritters in saffron and rosewater syrup. First we made the syrup and set it aside. Then we made the batter with corn flour, yogurt and water. On the first attempt to use a squeeze bottle to drizzle the batter into hot oil, the squiggles were too thin and they looked like shredded wheat. I cut off the tip of the squeeze bottle and tried again but the batter sank in the oil and stuck to the bottom of the pot. So I carefully transferred the hot oil to a muffin tin and tried again, getting hot oil EVERYWHERE. Amazingly enough, nobody got burned. In the muffin tins, the batter came together more like a cookie than a squiggle, but at least they didn't stick. I would transfer the zoolbia into the syrup and the youngerchild would take them out when they were sufficiently infused and put them on the cooling rack. We put them in a container and poured more syrup over them to give them more flavor and then this morning before taking them to school drained off the excess syrup. They taste good even if they don't look quite right!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Quick Check

It's a perfect spring morning today and since it's been a while since I checked on Beeyonce and her colony I decided to pop out for a look. This time, I finally saw the elusive Beeyonce! I also saw plenty of capped brood, both workers and drones. I even saw a little bit of capped honey. They're doing fine. Today I moved the false back to the back of the hive, to give them more space which they don't need yet and also because it's warmer and they don't need to work to keep their hive warm anymore. If anything, very soon they'll be too warm!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Bees are Brooding

And that is a good thing!

It's gorgeous out here today, 67˚ and sunny. I'd noticed the bees were not eating as much syrup so it seemed like time to get the feeder out of there and check on everything. All good news: while I still can't find Beeyonce there are larva and capped cells so I know she's healthy. There's stored pollen and even the beginnings of honey - no capped cells, but definitely nectar being stored. I pulled out the feeder, did a bar by bar inspection, and closed everything up. They seem pretty well established.

My plan for this year is to get in there more often than my first colony, in an effort to keep an eye out for things like cross-combs, queen cells, and other things which are either a nuisance or signs of impending danger. That means I should aim for a weekly or biweekly inspection. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Birthday Cakes, 1 and 2

The youngerchild has turned 13 and celebrated twice, once with each set of grandparents. Who live in different states, so that meant two cakes. Never a problem, as the youngerchild has been asking for both these cakes for a long time.

First off, with my in-laws, I made a Brasilian Carrot Cake. I used the recipe I posted before but instead of fudge frosting I made a simple chocolate ganache. When I first poured the ganache on the warm cake, it filled the pan. I turned my head for a second and then looked again and the ganache had sunk about 1/4". Where did it go? It soaked into the top of the cake! That made the already rich and moist cake even richer and moister. Yum. We had a second piece each for breakfast before we hopped on a plane and came home. Our flight was delayed by over an hour, so I'm glad we had a filling breakfast.

Last night, for today's celebration, I made a New York Style Cheesecake, with strawberry topping. This was a recipe from school; the full recipe makes two 10" cakes and so I cut the recipe into 1/3 so I could make one 8" cake. (18 ounces of cream cheese, 3 eggs, a little sugar and flour, and some cream.) The batter was even run through a sieve to get out all the lumps, that's how much of a labor of love this was! It chilled overnight and today was served with the strawberry pie filling as a topping. The only other change I made was that the crust was chocolate wafer cookies crumbs rather than graham crackers.

And, with that, I think the youngerchild has been properly ushered into teenager-dom.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Sorted Out, Sort Of

The past few days I've been out of town and it's been cold and rainy. Even a little snowy. While I was gone my very awesome husband even offered to change the bee's feeder for me, but couldn't get into the hive when it was cold or overcast or rainy. So I got to them this afternoon when it was finally 50˚ and sunny and I was pleased with what I found.

They very industriously have started making comb. They had completely eaten the syrup I left for them. They also ate through the little sugar plug and released Beeyonce. However, I'm still not very good at finding the queen, evidently, as even though I know she's marked with a red dot I still couldn't find her. That's OK. I'm sure we'll see her sooner or later.

I changed the feeder, inspected each bar, and put everything back in place until the next time. I'll probably have to feed them pretty frequently until things warm up reliably and there are flowers around. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Still Getting Situated

After a chilly start we have a few nice days during which I hope my bees figure themselves out. I went and changed the feeder this morning and found a whole bunch of dead or dying bees still in the crate. I'd left it open under the hive hoping they would find their way in; some did, but those that didn't weathered a few nights in the cold and so I don't think they're going to make it. Bee-yonce is still in her cage; I'll go back into the hive in 3 days and if she hasn't been let out I'll do that for her. But the bees only really made comb next to her cage and I hope that they'll figure out what they're supposed to do soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Run the World

Feeder in place. It's adorable.
The bees are back!

After a year off, and some pondering, I decided to try again. I opted to get bees earlier in the season, to take advantage of the spring flowers here in Eastern MA. Unfortunately, it's still pretty cold and today it's going to rain, so I got them in as quickly as I could and am hoping for the best.

Here are some things I learned:

An empty hive attracts termites. I discovered this yesterday when I went to do a final clean out. Disappointingly, they ate into some of the wooden slats but fortunately all are still useable, the bees will likely seal any holes with propolis. Also disappointing: they ate much of the comb I left behind for the bees to build on this year. Well, something did, anyway.

Making a bee feeder can be as hard as you want it to be. My husband designed a feeder for me and 3D printed it, but the grooves are off so I had to jury rig it so it wouldn't leak. Still, it works!

Bees don't fan on an overcast day. I really hope the rest of the colony makes it into the hive before nightfall. Still, I think I have enough in there for now that the queen will be OK.

Speaking of the queen, she has a red dot (I went for a marked queen this time) and her name?

Bee-yonce.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Another Year, Another Chocolate Birthday Cake

Not that anyone is complaining, mind you!

I was going to make a Boston Cream Pie for my husband like last year, but then I saw this recipe for a Guinness cake with frosting that is flavored both with whiskey and Irish Cream. It looked like fun and I'm happy to report it IS fun to make!

Yesterday I made the cake part, which went smoothly. Each layer was wrapped and refrigerated until today. Once I made the frostings, I split the cake layers (my husband was very impressed with the evenness, thank you, culinary school!) and assembled the cake. I know the recipe says to serve immediately, but I have other things I have to do for dinner that are more time sensitive than this, so this can wait in the fridge until after dinner. I will sprinkle the top with cocoa before I serve it.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stuck In The House

Well, not really. But close enough. Our bunny has been ill and I needed to keep a close eye on him after I brought him back from the vet yesterday. So I'm not planning on going anywhere. The youngerchild and I are working on a gladiator helmet for Latin class and I made chicken stock and soup.

I'd roasted a chicken on Thursday and set aside the bones and leftover meat for this project. However, I also dug through the freezer and found a second bag of chicken bones and meat so added those in. After pouring off 9 pints of stock from the pot, I added more water and simmered again to make the soup. Now the soup is simmering with green beans, celery, carrots and onion. The stock has been canned and is cooling down.

While I was digging through the freezer I did find 5 gallons of tomatoes that I'd frozen last summer. Those were simmered until soft and passed through the food mill. I always forget what a mess that is, and today was no exception. My shirt was spattered with orange sauce, as if I were an extra in a low-budget horror movie. But the sauce is now simmering nicely and it remains to be seen how many pints of sauce I will get. [Edit: 7 pints. I left them plain, without any herbs or spices.]

In the meantime, I keep checking on the bunny and hoping that he's starting to eat. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Closer to Wonder

Since I got Legion, my yeast starter, I've mainly used it to make loaves of bread for toast and sandwiches. Until recently I generally used a combination of 1 part sprouted wheat flour and 3 parts bread flour with either honey or maple syrup as the sugar. However, the youngerchild expressed nostalgia for Wonder bread and requested I try to get the bread a little closer to that. The changes I made were: use all-purpose flour instead of the other flours and use sugar instead of honey or maple syrup. Everything else is the same. It's not super squishy like Wonder bread - honestly, I'm not sure how they do that, nor how they make the crust so soft - but it is white inside and less dense. We're all pretty happy with how it came out. After the first batch, we couldn't stop ourselves and just ate warm bread with butter and almost finished a whole loaf in 10 minutes! Tonight we'll probably do the same thing as these loaves just came out of the oven. Mmmm!

Nor'easter

Welcome to March, when we in New England are subjected to back to back nor'easters. What makes them worse is that it was so warm in February we got into spring mode already. Mother Nature is laughing at us.

Regardless, what is nice is having a day when I have no place to be, and I can just bake to my heart's content. Also nice is that tomorrow is Pi Day.

I'm still working on a batch of bread, but this is what I've baked so far:

Baked apples - This was breakfast, along with bagels and lox. The apples were stuffed with some of those maple candied black walnuts, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter, and then baked. The verdict? More sugar and cinnamon. (I'd put 1 tsp sugar and 1/8 tsp cinnamon in each apple.)

Apple Pie - playing around with the crust again, I made some roses and a partial lattice. The pie filling was made and canned last fall and this pie used 2 pints. This crust was all butter because I only made enough for 1 single-crust pie and dragging the leaf lard out of the freezer for 1/4 cup seemed like a lot of work.

There is also a blueberry tart made with the leftover crust. That'll be for snack today!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Foraging Benefit

This morning we had waffles, which is exciting enough just by itself. However, I dressed them up with bananas and maple syrup that had been infused with black walnuts. These have been hiding in the fridge for a while, and they do seem to last forever! I guess maple syrup is a good preservative. Anyway, the walnuts are soaked in syrup and are very sweet but with that strong black walnut flavor. The syrup brings a more subtle amount of that black walnut flavor to the waffles. Perfect.
Now, what to do with those maple-infused black walnuts?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gummies

While we were all sick, it was suggested we take elderberry as a supplement - supposedly it has anti-flu properties. They taste great but they're rather expensive. I figured I had elderberry syrup around and it might be fun to make my own. So I bought some silicone molds and gelatin and played around.

The first batch was with unsweetened rose hip juice which I had in the freezer. Let's just say, it needs to be sweetened with more than a heaping tablespoon of honey. They set nicely but taste pretty bland.

Today's batch was with the elderberry syrup. One cup of syrup plus another 1/4 of water and 2-3 packets of unflavored gelatin. Once they're in the molds they go into the fridge for 2 hours or so to set. They set well but were tacky so I coated them in sugar to make them less likely to stick to the plate or our hands or the counter. These taste really good, too! I don't have any more elderberry syrup but I have elderflower and cherry, maybe I can play around some more.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Fancy Birthday Cake, Day 4

Finished!

This morning I started out by making the apricot glaze which was required to then make raspberry glaze. First I used about 10 ounces of apricot jam from my stash and mixed it with some water and boiled it. When it was thick I added corn syrup and strained it to make apricot glaze. Then I added an equal amount of puréed fresh raspberries and this was then ladled onto the cakes. They went back into the fridge to set. That took a long time, particularly on the larger cake. I think the glaze layer was thicker and that's why.

This afternoon I melted some chocolate and decorated the cakes. First I got to use the torch to remove the rings and then suffered the consequences of the glaze not being fully set. (The glaze ran down the sides a bit.) Ultimately, I think the decorating came out fairly pretty. I didn't make little chocolate "duck feet" like we'd been taught in class; just some dots and swirls and then topped the cakes with raspberries.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Fancy Birthday Cake, Day 3

After work and making mousse and going out to dinner, I was too tired to post this last night...

Step 3 was to make the chocolate mousse and the raspberry syrup and assemble the cake. For the syrup I tried to cut corners and use some of the raspberry syrup I've canned but I shouldn't have. I did heat it up but it was still a little too heavy for soaking cakes. In the future I should remember to use the lighter syrup and follow Chef's directions. Anyway. The mousse.

Cakes with mousse, ready for the fridge
First I used one stand mixer bowl and whisk to make the mousse base, with the egg yolks and the sugar syrup and the chocolate. While that cooled, I chilled the second mixer bowl and whisk in the freezer, washed the first one, and made Italian meringue. Finally, I made whipped cream in the chilled bowl with the chilled whisk. Once all three things were combined I had chocolate mousse and it was time to assemble the cake.

The cake layers (1 per cake) had their tops and bottoms sliced off and then they were soaked in the raspberry syrup. These were placed in the rings. I then used some of my raspberry jam and piped a spiral of jam on top of the cake. I meant to get a picture at this point but I was just too sticky. The next step was to fill the rest of the ring with the mousse and smooth it. These went back into the fridge to chill and set.

The rest of the mousse was divvied up into little ramekins for desserts over the next few days and the youngerchild and I ate the rest!
Just a glimpse into what my kitchen looked like at the end of all this...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fancy Birthday Cake, Day 2

Cake!

Today I made the chocolate almond genoise cake which will be topped with raspberry jam and chocolate mousse. A genoise is an egg based cake and the rise comes from all the air whipped into the eggs - it's beaten for about 10 minutes or so to incorporate a lot of air. Splitting the recipe in half required a full dozen eggs! What I have learned is that each cake uses about 4 eggs, so that in the future I can scale down even further. As it is, I now have 3 cakes to work with. One's in the freezer, that's my back up cake. The almond came from the almond paste I made yesterday.

Anyway, here are the cakes. (Note to self, they took about 15 minutes to bake.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Fancy Birthday Cake, Day 1

My Mom's birthday is coming up and I'm making her a cake. It happens to be a cake I made in culinary school, and one for which the youngerchild has been begging. I don't have a billion pots and pans and mixers at my disposal, nor do I have a ton of time in large chunks, so I'm making it in stages. Today, I made almond paste.

In class, I'm sure, we just opened a can of almond paste. I don't have almond paste but I do have almond flour and the internet. I found this recipe for making almond paste out of almond flour.

Now I have just over 12 ounces of almond paste. I set aside what I needed for the cake and then the remaining 8 ounces were wrapped in plastic wrap. Could I freeze it? Back to the internet! The answer is yes, if it's packaged properly. Time for me to use my new toy, the vacuum sealer. That was my Christmas present this year. It's super easy and this is the perfect use for it. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Variations on Confit

The other day I made duck confit using 8 duck legs and a whole lot of duck fat. When the legs were done I stored them in a big jar with the fat sealing it all in. Today I put it all to good use!

For dinner we had spaghetti with confit and lemon, essentially this recipe. The youngerchild prefers plain pasta with meat on the side so received just that, with a seared duck thigh. We also had a quick salad of baby lettuces tossed with crisped duck confit shreds, croutons, and a vinaigrette made with duck fat and balsamic vinegar. It all was lovely.

There are two duck legs left for dinner on another day. So many uses out of one dish!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Accidental General Gao's

When I set out to make venison meatballs today, I did not intend to make them sweet. I looked up a recipe online and started to follow it, only to realize I didn't have all the correct ingredients. So I improvised, but what we ended up with was a surprise.

Here are the meatballs:
1.5 pounds ground venison
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
salt and pepper
dried basil (about 1 tsp)
dried parsley (about 2 tsp)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 sweet onion, minced
dash of nutmeg
1 egg

These were mixed and then allowed to rest for a bit so the bulgur wheat could moisten. Later I rolled this mixture into meatballs, it made 17. I baked them in the oven at 350˚F for 30 minutes and then added them to the sauce to simmer.

Here's the sauce, and considering I hardly ever have tomato jam it's unlikely I'll ever make it exactly this way again:
1/2 sweet onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
olive oil
4 oz. tomato jam
4 oz. port
8 oz. tomato sauce
salt and pepper
dried parsley (about 1 T.)

Sauté the onion and celery in the oil. Add the jam and heat until the onions are soft. Pour in the port and then the tomato sauce and let it boil down for about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer on low until you add the meatballs and then continue to simmer for about an hour. 

The sauce ended up very sweet, with a taste similar to General Gao's chicken. The meatballs lost their gaminess in the process of being cooked for so long. We served them over egg noodles and they were excellent. I suppose that in the future I could just go all the way down that road and toss some sesame seeds on them.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Finally Coming Out From Under it All

We're all finally feeling better and I'm starting to get my energy back to do some baking. I've had this particular cake on my agenda for a while. I've made chocolate zucchini bread, which is essentially cake, and golden beet cake. I knew I had a recipe for chocolate cake with red beets and I've been saving some beets from the farm share just for it. So a few days ago, I made it. The recipe is for "Secret Chocolate Cake" from Simply in Season.

The youngerchild was immediately suspicious. "You never JUST make cake. What vegetable is in this one?" Even after knowing there were beets in it, after a big sigh, the youngerchild ate two pieces. But the next day, a chocolate glaze was requested for the rest of the cake. I made a quick glaze with butter, chocolate, powdered sugar and boiling water. The youngerchild was happier.

Another observation is that the beet flavor becomes less obvious the older the cake is. So on the third day, it was definitely more chocolate than beet. 

I will point out that there is a list of cakes the youngerchild wants me to make: the chocolate mousse raspberry cake from my culinary classes, a Brasilian carrot cake like I did for that fundraiser. There's also baked apples, similar to what we had at a B&B in Vermont. I'll have to get baking.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Never Ending Cycle of Illness

At least, that's how it feels.

Now that my husband has recovered from his head injury, while we were getting dumped on by a blizzard and he had to clear out the driveway four times he developed a fever and cough. I'm still coughing from whatever it is that I got, but I'm hoping not to get what he has so I'm keeping my distance. The youngerchild is recovering from pneumonia, the olderchild has a cold but is recovering, and I made chicken soup.

This is one of the things I tend to keep in the freezer - one bag with the carcass of some bird (today I used the chicken, but there is a turkey and a goose in there, too) and a separate bag of leftover meat. What I didn't have on hand was celery, and it took me an hour and a half to get some. First I went to the Whole Foods with their tiny parking lot that was backed up because people we waiting in line to park. I figured I did not need to wait in line for overpriced celery so I left and went to the market in the next town. By the time I got home, I'd spent 90 minutes running that particular errand.

The rest was easy - make a stock with the bones, thaw the meat, separately sauté the mirepoix and then put it all together with salt, pepper, thyme, and egg noodles.

Hopefully it makes everyone get better sooner!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy New Year - Highlights and Lowlights From the Last Few Weeks

The holiday season is always busy, and this one was no different. We had our share of joy and chaos and food. Where to begin?

My brother-in-law out in Ohio has taken up hunting and, for Christmas, sent me a box with 2 venison roasts, 2 pounds of ground venison, 2 pheasants, 2 partridges, venison snack sticks, a venison summer sausage, and 4 goose breasts. Since two of the goose breasts were starting to thaw (even though the food was packed on dry ice, it was supposed to be an overnight delivery but it took 3 days and, yes, they got their money back for the shipping costs) we had them the night they arrived. My husband grilled them and I made an elderberry-cranberry-port reduction. Most of us thought they were lovely. The youngerchild apparently doesn't like meat that's a little "gamey." I have plans for some of the rest, like maybe venison meatballs or venison lasagna or something.

There was a quick run up to Christmas eve, in which the youngerchild was sick with a bad cold and I worked all the way through the 23rd. We had our first Christmas with my parents a week early. We had our second Christmas, with just the four of us, on the 22nd. On the morning of the 24th we flew to Denver to spend Christmas with my family out there and then go skiing. This is where the chaos set in.

We've done this ski trip thing for many years, right? We have it down to a science. We know how much food to get (as long as my husband doesn't go off script at the grocery store) and what meals we can easily cook in a small and not perfectly stocked kitchen. We have not, in the past, had to deal with illness. What happened was this - the youngerchild suddenly developed a fever and didn't want to get out of bed. We spend Christmas afternoon at an urgent care, with a negative flu test but a tentative diagnosis of pneumonia. Antibiotics were started. I asked the doctor if we could go to the altitude where our rental condo was; he assured me all would be fine.

Nope.

Up at altitude the fevers did not go away. After a day where the youngerchild did not ski and one of our friends did not ski but the rest of us did, in the night things seemed to be worse: breathing fast and really hot. The next morning we went to the urgent care on the mountain where it was quickly demonstrated that my youngerchild needed oxygen. A chest X ray showed a pneumonia but on the opposite side of where the original doctor thought. A different antibiotic was started and the options were to stay at altitude with oxygen or go down to a lower altitude and it was likely oxygen wasn't going to be needed. In my opinion there was no choice so the youngerchild and I left, leaving my husband, the elderchild, and our friends to stay and ski. I got a home oxygen saturation monitor and checked frequently, the first day was a little dicey but then things got better quickly. So we hung out with my sister and waited for the rest of the crew to finish the trip.

The original plan was this: we had the rental condo until 1/1, everyone was supposed to ski 4 out of 5 days, finishing up on 12/31. However, it was really warm up there (apparently the only part of the country that was) and after 3 days everyone decided to return their skis, book a snowboarding lesson for 12/31, and then come down a day early so we could be together for New Year's Eve. But then another event happened which threw that into disarray as well: they decided to go ice skating. Yeah. Suddenly I get a call on 12/30 that my husband had fallen, hit his head and, "there's a lot of blood." My friends sounded nervous, so I made them put him on the phone. He sounded fine. I had them take him to the same urgent care where he apparently started repeating himself. As I'm trying not to panic too much, thinking about concussions, head bleeds, CT scans and how to delay our flights and the fact that the kids have to be back at school on 1/2 and how am I going to get him down to where I was and whether he'd be safe to fly I eventually get another call that he's looking and sounding better and his head is getting stitched up. They get the intern on the phone with me so we can chat and we decide that he can be watched by our friends and then come down tomorrow. Snowboarding lessons were cancelled, everything else that had been planned was cancelled, and early on 12/31 they packed up and came down to Denver. Thankfully by then he just had a headache and we were able to go to the movies.

With regards to the cooking, I managed to get chickens roasted on the first day, the leftovers were turned into soup the next day. After that, the rest of the gang were on their own, and they seem to have fed themselves just fine.

Now we're all home, and we all feel as though we need a vacation from our vacation!