May 30, 2010

There's a Chicken in my Laundry!

When you keep a flock of chickens and you have young kids you never know what might happen. On this day, I went to do laundry (yes, I am airing my dirty laundry on my blog) and I found a chicken roaming around. This is Lady Godiva, a Rhode Island Red, who is pretty new to our flock and apparently needed some extra attention. So the self appointed caregiver (aka Banana Girl) decided to bring Lady G into the house and promptly forgot about her. Thankfully she did close the door, so Lady G could not free range in the house. Instead the chicken poop (very runny stuff I might add) was contained to the already dirty laundry pile! Lady gave me a very disdainful look when I opened the door and scurried right over to the backdoor to be let outside. I think she'd had enough housework for one day.
Welcome to my life in Chickenville, where you just never know what's going to happen next.

May 28, 2010

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations to the two Doodlepak winners...

Ann C
Tricia C

And as a special treat, Doodlepak has agreed to offer all Chickenville readers 10% off any order placed in the month of June. All you have to do it call or email them directly and tell them you heard about Doodlepak from Chickenville and they will discount your order. That includes the grown up version of the Doodlepak, called the Purse Pak. I keep mine in the car so I can write down a note to teacher or friend, directions to somewhere or a reminder to myself when I get home.

May 27, 2010

Ah Spring and the Bloom of Flowers

I am surrounded by lovely flowers in my yard all spring and summer long. I think this one is so interesting and unique, but I have no idea what it is. Do any of you know?
I love walking through the yard at various times in the year to put together flower arrangements. That's something I treasure - fresh flowers. They bring me joy.
This arrangement was from last month with spray roses, green hydrangea, solomon's seal and another "i don't know" (the tiny pink flowers). I made this one for my book club night - very girly.

May 26, 2010

Creamy Barley Mushroom Risotto

Comfort food, we all have something that reminds us of a great meal or memory or just is a favorite. Maybe it's mashed potatoes, chicken pot pie, peach ice cream,  or even cinnamon rolls. My husband would say his is sushi, so I guess it really CAN be anything! This dish is my definition of comfort food with a creamy texture, earthy smell and the recipe contains cheese. I came up with this dish after my husband and I took a trip to Italy. I really LOVED Italy, everything about it was amazing. The people were friendly and kind (I was pregnant at the time and they really love pregnant women). The historic sites were...well what exactly can you say about the Roman Colosseum? All you can do when you see it is to stare in awe. Much of Italy is like that with art, culture, history, agriculture and it's people all fascinating. And then there is the food. Mama mia! We enjoyed every single meal we ate there (and that is saying a lot). The simple meals in quick cafes were fresh and delicious. The working class meal we ate when we had no idea what we were getting (no Italian on our part and no English on theirs). We just pointed to some other people's plates and an incredible hearty lunch was served. Each meal is a process (except breakfast which is simply espresso and bakery item to go) and was made to enjoy - to savor. The best meal we had was at Ristorante Rinaldi al Quirinale in Roma. We went for a special dinner and came away wanting to move to Italy just to be able to eat at this place more than once. I remember wishing I wasn't pregnant so I could fit more food into my squashed belly!

We walked into the place pretty early for the regular crowd. We were greeted at the door with a display case of the vegetables available for eating. If it's not in season, you ain't getting it. Dinner in Italy is meant to be five courses: the antipasti (appetizer), primo (1st course, usually pasta, soup or risotto), secondo (your meat or fish dish), ordered with contorni (vegetable dishes or salad) and ending with dolci (dessert) then coffee or an apertif. I have no idea how anyone can eat all of this - even though dinners last several hours, it's still a LOT of food. The funny part, the Italians are shocked and maybe even a little offended when you don't order everything. But we'd already learned our lesson at previous places and knew we couldn't order it all. I started my meal with the most amazing risotto dish I've ever had...creamy rice, mushrooms and smoked provolone cheese. It was divine and I have been in love with risotto ever since.

Back home, I often recreated that dish (with never quite the same amazing results). This time, I decided to branch out a little. Risotto is white starchy rice (see previous post on other rice types here), and I was looking to make it a little healthier. I decided to use pearl barley which is a grain I adore. You can find it with the other dried peas and beans in the grocery store. It stays firm but tender when cooked like pasta, not mushy like oatmeal or some other grains. It doesn't have a strong flavor on it's own, so it adapts well with other flavors. I knew I wanted to use wild mushrooms. This interesting company called Marx Foods sent me several samples of wild dried mushrooms (which keep in your pantry forever just waiting for the perfect use). One package ended up in a miso soup to be written about later, but the shiitakes I knew would be perfect in a risotto. This recipe is an adaption from a couple I found out on the web. I was really thrilled how it all turned out and the whole family loved it.

1 c pearl barley
2 c water
4 c beef or vegetable stock (I made mine with the water I re hydrated the mushrooms in)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c finely chopped onion
2 oz rehydrated shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp butter
1/8 tsp pepper
extra sage and Parmesan for garnish

Combine barley and water in a bowl. Let stand for 2 hours; drain. Heat stock to a simmer in the microwave. In large pan, heat the oil, then add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add mushrooms, salt, barley, warm stock, and sage to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally. The liquid will be absorbed into the barley and create a creamy base. Remove from heat stir in cheese, butter, and pepper. Serve with a little sage and cheese on top.

May 21, 2010

Disappearing Pork Tenderloin

This is the most fabulous pork tenderloin recipe I have ever had. We make it several times a year and it's perfect for an ordinary weeknight, but it's great for company too! Here I served it with mashed potatoes, green beans with crushed gorgonzola crackers and sauteed apples. Delicious! Everyone we've ever served it to enjoys it and our kids scarf it up.

This recipe comes from Weber's Big Book of Grilling, which I highly recommend to anyone who grills.  Every recipe in it is yummy, at least the hundred or so we have tried. I like this book because it teaches the basics of grilling (it'd be a perfect wedding gift) and has recipes that are not made on the grill, but complement grilled food.  For instance...tequila orange marinade, raisin pine nut couscous, and oatmeal molasses cookies. It also includes more unusual recipes that you might not think would cook on the grill, but do, like...warm cherry pudding, beet and onion salad, pizza, and mashed sweet potatoes (a personal fave).

I digress, which happens often when I'm talking about food. The recipe I've promised is for pork tenderloin.

Disappearing Tenderloin

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 lb each

the Marinade:
1/2 orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (which I just learned has anchovies in it!)
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp minced garlic

the Rub:
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp black pepper (I like to use coarse ground on all our grilling meats)
1 tsp salt (again, here I use coarse salt)
1/2 tsp cumin (which you should already have from making hummus here)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp granulated garlic (invest in granulated instead of powder because it's big like the salt and pepper and therefore stands out more in your mouth)

Whisk together the marinade ingredient. I usually just put them all the my marinade container from Tupperware and give it a really good shaking. Separate the tenderloins and trim any excess fat from them. Put them in your container (or a ziplock bag) and shake them up with the marinade. You could do this in the morning, but it really only needs an hour or two to marinate in the fridge.

Remove the tenderloins and toss the marinade. Coat both loins with the rub by patting it all over. Make sure the meat has enough time to come to room temperature before grilling. Just take it out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for a little while, about 20 minutes.

Grill over indirect medium heat for about 25 minutes until the internal temp reads 155 degrees with an instant read thermometer or a handy remote thermometer. Either way, when it's done take it off the grill and put it on your clean serving platter. Then make a tent out of aluminum foil and put it over the pork. Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

The recipe also calls for serving it with a pico de gallo (kinda like a salsa) but I think this ruins the dish. It is perfectly seasoned with a little heat (the chili powder) and sweet (the molasses and oj). It needs no sauce on the top, just tasty side dishes. This is a perfect dish anytime, but since the weather is so great now, get out there and grill!

May 16, 2010

Raisin Bran Muffins

These are so easy and yummy. My kids and husband love them, maybe because they do have a bunch of sugar in them, but still, they have to be better for you than the store bought muffins. The super cool thing about this batter is it will keep in a non-metal covered bowl in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Just stir the batter to mix it up. Then scoop out the batter and put it into the muffin pan whenever you want hot muffins fresh from the oven. The total recipe will make about 4 dozen muffins.
Raisin Bran Muffins

5 c flour
3 c sugar
5 tsp baking soda
1 1/2  tsp salt
7 1/2 c raisin bran (pretty much a box)
1 qt buttermilk
1 c vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, in a large bowl. Blend raisin bran with dry ingredients. Add buttermilk, oil and eggs, blend until moist. Fill lightly greased muffin pans 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Thanks to my Aunt Machel for this recipe! Here's what it looks like when it's a couple of weeks old.

May 13, 2010

The Marietta Greek Festival

Need fun plans for this weekend? Check out the Marietta Greek Festival. It's held at Hold Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church off Trickum Road on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They have a gift market, singing and dancing, an art area for the kids, but most important - they have Greek food!!! Spanakopia, souvlakia, tzatziki, gryos, stuffed grape leaves, greek salad, baklava, pastries, cookies and more. The food was definitely my favorite part. If you go to their website, you can get free admission after answering a couple of questions.
My favorite greek salad dressing recipe is below just to get you in the mood.  I love this dressing anytime of year, but when the tomatoes are ripe and fresh in the summer, it's over the top good.

Absolutely Fabulous Greek/House Dressing from

1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 1/4 tsp dried basil
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
Put all ingredients into closed container (glass or plastic) and shake REALLY well.  Store in fridge. These measurements will be enough for about 10 salads.

May 12, 2010

Free Mulch

So you want the yard to look good, but how much is that going to cost in pine straw or mulch?? I don't know about you, but it pains me to pay for something I can get for free. If you call a local tree company or even the local electric company, they will put you on their "list". See the companies that take down trees have to pay to dump the shredded tree mulch. Of course, they would rather not pay, so they are thrilled when someone will take the chips. When you are on their list, the next time they take trees down near your house, they will gladly come and dump a huge pile anywhere you tell them. And you don't have to take the whole truck load, you can ask them to stop whenever you have enough...1/2 load, 1/4 load, whatever you need.

Now, I'm not gonna kid you moving that mulch wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow is hard work. It's physical labor, which is pretty much the catch in this free deal. But it's better than going to the gym on a beautiful spring day and your yard will look fabulous. The added bonus is kids LOVE playing king and queen of the mountain on top of the giant mulch pile.

May 7, 2010

Giveaway!! Doodlepak Entertainment for Kids

Congratulations to the Two Winners!!!
This contest is now closed.

I have found the solution! What's the problem you ask?...cranky kids waiting for the bank person to help you, brother or sister having to watch yet another soccer game, kids just bored in the car? Enter the Doodle Pak! A friend of mine started this company a while back and gave my kids these clever paks as presents. That was three years ago and my kids are still using them. Seems so basic, a pad of paper and crayons, but something about having their name on it and having it portable makes it really fun. We keep ours in the car and then take them when I know there is going to be a boring wait time for them. I've gotten artwork, love notes, shopping lists and other treasures from the kids on our Doodle Paks.  We'll take them places and play hangman or make our own connect the dots picuters. (They even sell grown up versions, that I keep in my car for notes or messages to friends and teachers.)

I really wanted to share this fun product with you, so they agreed to give away a personalize Pak to two lucky winners. You can have up to 4 chances to win! Please leave separate comments for EACH entry. All of them are easy…you ready?…

1. Simply leave a comment on this post
2. Subscribe to the Chapel Hill to Chickenville email list or fan Chickenville's Facebook page and let me know in the comments
3. Tweet this giveaway and leave me a comment so I know you tweeted
4. Head on over to the Doodlepak facebook page and fan then, then leave me another comment telling me you signed up

This giveaway will close Sunday May 23rd at midnight, The winners will be chosen by and notified by email.

May 3, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Cake - Fantastic

Photo credit: Oxford Press

Am I strange for not loving cake? I mean I make them all the time for other people, but I am not the biggest fan. I am more of a "dessert" person. Things like tiramisu, fruit tart, pecan pie, rice pudding, chocolate trifle, fudge, chocolate get the idea. I would say if I HAD to pick a cake it would be this one... Fresh Strawberry Cake.

The recipe comes from Southern Living, by way of the Cake Doctor. EVERYONE who makes it loves it. It's moist, sweet and full of flavor. My husband (who doesn't love cake either) insists on it for his August birthday each year at the tail end of strawberry season. We usually freeze half of it since it's so rich and then bring it out a few months later when we are missing the taste of fresh strawberries. It still tastes amazing even after being frozen.

You may have heard of the Cake Mix Doctor. She is a Nashville food writer who became famous for doctoring regular cake mixes into extraordinary desserts. She even has a couple of recipe books out now, like The Cake Mix Doctor and The Dinner Doctor (which I have not seen). In the former she has this recipe that is soooooo good you will beg for seconds. Discovering this recipe was a stroke of great luck, because we all love it. It's rich, creamy, bright with fresh strawberries and VERY moist! In fact, it's so moist, it's hazardous if you make it in a warm kitchen because the layers will slide off! Consider yourself warned.
Triple Decker Fresh Strawberry Cake
1 (18.25 oz) white cake mix
1 (3 oz) strawberry jello
4 large eggs
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1/2 c finely chopped fresh strawberries (washed, dried and hulled)
1 c vegetable oil
1/2 c milk
1 c butter, softened
32 oz powdered sugar, sifted
1 c finely chopped strawberries (washed, dried and hulled)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans. (This means you spray the cooking spray in to the pan and then sprinkle a little flour into the pan. Then you shake it all around so flour sticks to every part of the pan, including the sides).
Beat all cake ingredients at low speed in large bowl for 3 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides as needed. Pour the batter into the three prepared pans. Bake for 23 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes and then shake the cakes loose from the pan. Cool completely on wire racks.

While cooling make the frosting. Beat the butter on medium for 30 seconds until it's fluffy. Add sugar and strawberries, beat on low until mixed. If the frosting seems too wet, add some more sugar. You can also "thicken" it up by putting it in the fridge for a little while so the butter hardens back up. You don't want it to be super stiff because you need to spread it on the cake, but if it's too runny, it will run down the sides of the cake and not stay on.

After the cakes are cool, level the top off so each cake it straight across the top (you can use a big serrated knife). Then frost the bottom, stack another layer, frost it and stack the top. Then frost the side and the top of the cake with remaining frosting. I've never run out of frosting and in fact always have a little the kids can lick when I'm done. Store this cake in the fridge or you'll end up with a runny mess due to the fresh strawberries. Once, I didn't put the cake in the fridge right away and the top half slide right off! I had to carefully put it back on top of the two other layers and then cover my finger marks by smearing the icing back in place! Of course, I HAD to lick my fingers!

No matter what you do, it will "weep" a little due to the fresh strawberries. I often save a few whole strawberries with their tops on to garnish the cake right before serving. This is seriously good cake, so if you take it somewhere, don't expect to bring home leftovers! And if you do take it somewhere, you may want to put some chopsticks through the whole thing to keep it together. Not that I would know anything about it sliding all over the cake carrier while driving it to my family's celebration, naah, not me.


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