Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cake Ball Chicks & Easter Chicks

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my family is a chicken family. We have had egg-laying chickens for a total of about 15 years. These chickens aren't just workers, and certainly not food!, they are our pets. So, Easter often brought new chicks when I was growing up. 

To celebrate Easter, or spring, I thought these cute chicken cake balls would go with today's post. 

My friend Candace, who taught me how to make cake balls, 
made these little guys with me. 

Yellow or White Cake Mix 
White Icing
Yellow Candy Melts
White Chocolate Chips  
Black Squeezy Gel Icing 

Combine the cake ingredients as directed. 
Bake the cake as directed.
After cooling, combine cake with icing. 
You should start with half the can of icing 
and see if the dough is sticky and can be easily rolled into a ball.  
If not, add more icing until reaching desired texture.
Roll into 1” ball shape. 
Melt yellow candies and dip the cake balls. 
Decorate with sprinkles for the comb, wings and feet.
Use white chocolate chips for the beak and the gel for eyes. 

Feel free to get creative with the sprinkles/colors! 

But back to my real chickens ... 

When my sister Julie and I were growing up, we dressed our chickens up, took them for walks in our red wagon and sold their eggs to my grandma's friends. As a result, Julie is the chicken woman.  She collects chicken things and thinks there should be a decorative chicken in every home. We both grapple with eating chicken — she doesn't at all. 

But, as much as we love our chickens and they were a wonderful Easter surprise, I have to warn others not to hastily purchase them this holiday weekend. Our chickens were a 5-12 year commitment each, not just for a weekend. So if you add any fluffy family members this weekend, understand they are a commitment and love them when they grow up too.  

My mom's hen Tina ... She has a sister named Fey.  They are our only two egg-layers this year, and they do a great job.
Photo by Robert Giglio

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Überfrau Beer & Remembering an Überfrau

My incredibly kind brother-in-law, Andrew, recently brewed up some love for my late Oma.  Andrew and his friend Robbie make beer in DC with their budding home brew, Broken Propeller brewing. Andrew decided to toast our Oma with a toasted hazelnut beer — as she was Bavarian and crazy for hazelnuts. (The last thing I actually baked with my Oma was hazelnut cookies.) 

Last night my sister Julie, Andrew, my mom and I tried the beer for the first time.  Andrew and Robbie think it was their best yet. The beer is labeled Überfrau because when Andrew, Julie, my aunt and I were on our way to the hospital after Oma's stroke, the car in front of us had a personalized license plate "UBRFRAU" with a myriad of German bumper stickers. We smiled because we were on our way to see our own Überfrau, or Wonder Woman. 

 Andrew, in honor of Oma, volunteered to share his recipe today. 


Broken Propeller's Uberfrau beer, in honor of my Oma. My brother-in-law Andrew brewed the beer and made the label.

Überfrau, According to Andrew ... 

"I’ll be honest: one of my favorite parts of joining the family was co-opting their German heritage.  Since I travelled to the 2006 World Cup in Germany (coincidentally the LSU study abroad location that summer), I’ve been enthralled with German culture.  Besides the fact that there’s something almost Louisianian about Bavaria in particular, with its many food- and drink-centered festivals, the national matter-of-course tradition of beer brewing took hold of me.  The Reinheitsgebot basically says “live free & party, but there’s a right way to do it.”

That was exactly the feeling I got that first Christmas with Julie, Caroline, the family, and Oma especially.  We had a feast that has been amply documentedon this blog, along with a wide selection of delicious German beers.  To honor the memory of my surrogate German grandmother, Oma, I convinced my beer brewing partner Robbie to indulge in a bit of adventurous beermaking.  (Granted, at our level of experience, pretty much everything we make is a risk. But, the worst-case scenario is bad, but still alcoholic, and drinkable, beer.) 

Being the good German grandmother she was, Oma always had a chilled 6-pack of my favorite dark German beer for me at every gift-giving occasion.  Since spring is approaching, I decided to start this project with a style that captured both of these things: a German Dunkelweizen, literally ‘Dark Wheat’.
Wheat beers are associated with the warmer months, since they have brighter, fruity notes like banana and citrus, and also because the higher level of carbonation makes them more refreshing on hot days.  Dark wheat beers carry similar flavor profiles, but are made using malts that have been roasted longer to impart a bolder, warmer taste more amenable to the addition of our special ingredient: Hazelnuts.
Oma loved hazelnuts, and could sometimes be caught spiking her afternoon coffee with a nip of hazelnut liquor or arak (ooh, another beer idea.) 
We began the brew with a traditional dunkelweizen recipe, and made a few easy modifications ..."

6.6 lb Wheat Liquid Malt Extract (LME)
1 lb Maltodextrin
Milled Grains: (along with a mesh bag for steeping)
8 oz. Munich Malt
8 oz. Chocolate Malt
Hops (pellet):
0.5 oz. Hersbrucker
0.5 oz. Hallertau
Special Ingredients:
0.5 lb raw hazelnuts
150 mL Torani hazelnut syrup (not sugar free!)
One sachet of brewer’s yeast

Andrew brewing the Uberfrau

There’s a bit more to brewing here than I’ll go over, but there are tons of resources online and in print.  A synopsis, from the gold standard reference book How to Brew by John Palmer, is as follows:

- Malted grains are soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars.
- The malt sugar solution is boiled with Hops for seasoning.
- The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
- The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.
- When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.
Andrew and Robbie bottling the beer. 
We toasted the hazelnuts on the stovetop and rolled them under paper towels to remove the charred skins.  After a rough chop, we added the nuts during the final 20 minutes of the boil. We then chilled the beer to around room temperature before transferring everything, trub (sediment) and all, to our fermentation vessel and pitching the yeast.

After two weeks of fermentation, we decided the beer could use a bit more hazelnut oomph.  So, in the place of the standard dry priming corn sugar, we calculated that there was the same amount (about 95 g) of corn sugar in one 150mL bottle of Torani Hazelnut Syrup.  Into the beer it went, and we bottled, capped, and cleaned up.

Another two weeks later, we had something that Oma would have loved: a roasty, toasty, hazelnut-infused beer that’s perfect for enjoying during this up and down lingering winter-spring we’ve been having.  I was inspired to make a label that summed up the whole idea and our muse, someone who always knew how to create a good time that blended tradition with something new.  I proudly present the Toasted Hazelnut Dunkelweiß, Überfrau.

Ubefrau beer!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Frittata & St. Joseph's Day

In New Orleans, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated with its Italian brother, St. Joseph's Day.  There is an Irish Italian parade to celebrate the March 17th & 19th holidays, respectively. Sicilian St. Joseph's Day is observed with altars dedicated to patron Saint Joseph who prevented a famine in Sicily.  As the holiday falls during lent, meatless dishes are offered — primarily ornate breads and pastries.  But, frittatas are often a heartier staple. 

Frittata Recipe 

This week's recipe was given to me by my mom, thank you!

Grease or line ceramic or glass deep dish pan, 9x13 inches for strata (frittata layers). 

1. Strata [whatever you’re going to pour the egg mixture over and bake]:

3 to 4 cups Cooked and Browned diced potatoes or hash browns
Rosemary, basil and garlic shaken over potato layer
Coarse sea salt and black pepper ground over potato layer

Cubed, blanch, and pat-dry 1 large eggplant. Brown lightly, and then layer over potatoes.  Slice ripe 3-4 medium tomatoes and pat dry. Layer enough tomatoes to cover eggplant cubes.

1/2 to 1 onion, thin sliced & browned, layered over tomato
2 cups shredded cheese, Italian blend of Asiago/Parmesan/Provolone/Romano
Garnish with fresh herbs: rosemary & thyme sprigs and leaves of fresh basil.

2. Strain over strata: Eggs mixture whisked lightly together:
1 pint (2 cups) dairy liquid, choice of
Rich: whipping cream
Regular: whole milk
Skinnynonfat UNSWEETENED evaporated milk, or Hood’s Simply Smart Fat Free Milk
6 eggs, or:
                  Skinny: Original Eggbeaters equivalent to 6 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp.  Dry rosemary, thyme and garlic in combination to taste

3.  Prepare the Frittata:
Let egg mixture soak the strata, 4 hours to overnight, for best results, in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven, 450F ceramic/425F glass. Bake 20 minutes on high temperature, reduce to 375 and check in 15 minutes.  Bake until top bubbly, browned and knife inserted comes out clean.  It may need to bake a total of 35 to 50 minutes, depending on oven and ingredient variations.

St. Joseph's Day 

When I got home from Pittsburgh & D.C., I had a sweet gift from one of my National Geographic oral history subjects.  (You may remember some of my other subjects showered me with kindness, cards, a cake and figs.) The package on my doorstep contained blessed St. Joseph's fava beans — the shamrock of St. Joseph's Day. 

You see the fava bean is an important symbol of the holiday because they were the crop used by St. Joseph to save Sicily from famine.  When all the other fruits failed, St. Joseph answered prayers with the fava bean.  The tradition now goes that you cannot go hungry if you have a fava bean.  So, many New Orleanians keep the St. Joseph's beans around all year as sort of a good luck charm.  

Me posing with a fava bean during a Nat Geo phody session.
The beans definitely came at a time when they were needed.  As many of you know, 2013 has not been my year.  With more changes on the horizon, I'll be keeping my fava beans with me.  Not just as a symbol for luck, but a symbol of my project and all the hard work I have behind me — and ahead. 

Thank you to the kind participant who sent the beans.  And best of luck on all of your wonderful future endeavors! 

Blogging tips