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Eggs!

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

My mother was a country girl who grew up on a small farm in the southwestern region of South Korea near Mokpo. My grandfather repaired bicycles and raised white sweet potatoes on the rich red soil. My mother and her friends often collected the abundant eggs scattered all over the fields from the chickens everyone in the neighborhood raised. She said that all the chickens, no matter how far they went, no matter how much they mingled with other chickens, came home at night to their own coops and families. No chicken got lost or confused or ran away to join the circus.

I’m an American city girl, but I don’t live in a big city. The downside of a not-big city is that the best of country life and the best of city life both elude you. I’m surrounded by farms, yet Chicagoans have better access to grass-fed beef. I’m surrounded by restaurants, but I can’t find dim sum. This is my way of explaining why it wasn’t until today that I finally got my hands on the kind of eggs my mother might have eaten.

Frightened Pastured Chickens In Danger eggs

Another wrinkle of a not-big city is that farmers who come here have just enough knowledge to know what sells but not quite enough knowledge to market perfectly to obsessive food-blog readers like me. My egg lady knew that putting up a sign that said “Free Range Eggs” would get attention. What she didn’t know was that a food nerd would cross-examine her. Legally, a free range chicken can be raised indoors as long as it has access to the outdoors, access that most free range chickens never use because they’re too busy with their Wii or whatever it is chickens do. So this was our conversation.

Me: Are your chickens pastured?
Egg lady: Muh? They’re free range.
Me: I mean do they, uh…run around outside ‘n stuff? [Wiggle forefinger and middle finger back and forth to emphasize my running point. Atticus Finch I am not.]
Egg lady: Oh yes. Well except at night, when they go in their coop. [Lowers voice.] See, I live near the woods.

Well that sealed it. If natural pastured chickens are great, pastured chickens in danger from woodland predators are downright awesome. How much more natural can you get than imminent death by fangs? Even my mom never ate eggs from frightened chickens. Her chickens had it good. A dozen brown Frightened Pastured Chickens In Danger eggs cost me only three dollars, a staggeringly good price for pastured eggs, especially in light of recent price hikes, not to mention the Danger.

The eggs are charming. They differ in size and shape. Some are evenly tan, some are freckled, some have spots. A few have bits of grass stuck to them or a misty white coating. I cradled one in my hand and realized that for the first time ever, I was holding an egg that had not been sanitized in a manner required by the United States Department of Agriculture, an egg that had not been transported at temperatures no higher than 45 degree Fahrenheit, an egg that had not been rinsed to remove the protective cuticle that keeps the natural pores in the eggs closed and allows for unrefrigerated storage outside the U.S. where this rinsing isn’t required, and egg that had gone through almost no processing, an egg that that had, I began to understand, come to me with little intervention, i.e., an egg that was fresh from the chicken’s butt.

Or wherever the egg comes out, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. You think it hurts?


Let’s get ready to crumble.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

As I see it, the problem with nature is that it’s natural. It’s hot, humid, and contains insects. For instance, there’s this shiny black bug that looks like a cross between a spider and a housefly. It twitches, skitters in circles, and jumps on you for fun, but only when you’re on a tall wobbly ladder picking cherries. While I haven’t verified this with scientists, I’m pretty sure that if this bug lands on you it will crawl up your nose and eat the top layer of your brain.

Sour cherriesAt least nature provides us with sour cherries—the perfect pie, tart, and crumble ingredient—colored a smashing shade of red. My neighbor invited me to pick sour cherries from her tree, and I would have done so right away if nature didn’t get in the way. When it wasn’t storming it was 90 degrees with 95% humidity, and when the cancer-causing sun finally set, the West Nile mosquitoes lined up on my porch ready to swarm me on sight. (I am the foie gras of the mosquito world. Chiggers love me too. Sand fleas have constructed temples in my honor.) As a result of nature’s cruelty, the cherries were almost gone when I went to pick them. That’s when I learned that if you leave them on the tree too long, cherries and white mold become totally BFF. Sigh.

“The early bird gets the worm,” is exactly the kind of thing nature would say. “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” is another thing nature would say. “You snooze, you lose.” Nature’s a bitch.

Sour cherry crumbleWhen I found enough perfect cherries for a crumble, I dumped them into an old grocery bag and pitted them with my pitter, the juices harmlessly squirting the inside of the bag instead of my eyes. Take that, nature’s pits! I was going to post a picture of the setup for educational purposes, but the red-stained plastic with piles of gutted cherries looked too much like a scene from the morgue.

Food blogging rule #1: Never post photos that look as if they could have been taken at the morgue.

Food blogging rule #2: Never use the word “morgue” on a food blog.

Sorry about that.

This crumble recipe is adapted from a cross between this cherry pie recipe and Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Nigella Lawson, who probably adapted it from nature. The idea of a crisp topping on steroids with no added butter really spoke to me. It works. Don’t be alarmed by all the sugar—unlike sweet cherries, sour cherries really need the help.

NATURE’S VERY OWN SOUR CHERRY CRUMBLE

Read the rest of this post »


That chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

You’ve probably read about the cookies by now. Perhaps you have questions.

Should I?

Yes.

When?

Now.

Chocolate Chip CookiesHow many?

As many as possible. You know how many Cookie Monster might bake? Like, double that.

Eaten with what?

Are you a commie? Everybody knows that you eat chocolate chip cookies with ice-cold milk. Cow is traditional, but yak, goat, and soy are acceptable.

Any suggestions?

Yes, four. First, for the best textural variety, remove the cookies from the oven before any part of the 2-inch center develops brown color. Second, unless you prefer typically sweet cookies, obey the recipe and use at least 60% bittersweet chocolate—regular semi-sweet chocolate chips are a little too sweet and overwhelm the caramel notes in the cookie. I used regular chips and regretted it almost as much as that one time I brushed my teeth right after I ate chocolate cake. Third, be truly generous with the salt and don’t be afraid to use a coarse-grained variety. Rock salt is probably overdoing it. Four, flatten the dough ball a little before sprinkling the salt. If you don’t do that, the salt tends to fall off the sloped sides and distribute too heavily in the center.

Salt? Really? Salt?

If you’re new to the salt thing, try this chocolate bar or this chocolate gray salt caramel. The salt melts slowly, hitting your palate with delayed bitterness from the chocolate. The flavor of what you’ve just eaten, whether it’s a caramel or a chocolate chip cookie, lives and lingers, makes you lust and love, and after the experience is over, you become a happier person and the world becomes a better place to live. Hyperbole? Yeah. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s tasty, like chocolate-covered pretzels or peanut butter cups, only better.

Cookie doughWhat’s up with the half bread flour and half cake flour thing? Why not just all-purpose flour?

Nobody bothered to explain this, which is a major oversight for a lazy geek like me. I used both flours because I had them, but others who tried the recipe say that AP flour works just fine. I would bake both and do a side-by-side comparison if it didn’t make my side-butt-side swell. And not swell like, “She’s swell!” Swell like, “She has gotten her hips stuck in the only emergency exit, and it looks we’re all going to die now in this terrible, terrible fire.” The gluten content of the mixed flours is about the same as for AP flour, so gluten can’t be the reason for the two flours. It must have something to do with the nature of the flours themselves. According to Harold McGee, cake flour is heavily chlorinated, acidic, and very finely milled. Rose Levy Beranbaum notes that the soft wheat in cake flour is extra starchy and absorbs moisture better than other flours. So what do these qualities combined with bread flour do that makes the combination superior to AP flour alone? In my experience, cake flour lends a velvety, sandy texture to baked goods, so that quality combined with bread flour for structure and chewiness might be the reason for using both. Or…Mr. Torres and Mr. Leite just want to BE DIFFICULT.

Chocolate chip cookieCan you freeze the dough and bake it later?

I hope so, because I put a dozen scoops in the freezer to harden them up before tucking them into a freezer bag. I also folded up the used parchment paper from the batches I baked and tucked them into the freezer bag along with the dough. That will keep the butter on the paper from going rancid and allow me to reuse them to bake the reserved cookies. This is called cheapness environmental consciousness.

What about silicone baking sheets?

I like those for candy and extremely sugary cookies like benne wafers. But silicone liners insulate the pan, increase baking time, and interfere with crispityness development. Cookie crispityness is what makes life worth living.

Those flat chocolate disks. Yay or nay?

Yay I’m sure, but I can’t find them in my town, so they’ll have to wait until fall when the chocolate sites aren’t forced to pack their merchandise in ice and charge you extra for it.

Be honest. Are you eating a cookie right now?

Tho! … Theth.

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bullet IMPORTANT COOKIE LINKS
· The original NYT article and recipe.
· Fabulous photo comparison of the batter and baked cookies at different ages from For the Love of Food.
· Excellent post on the cookie and gauging doneness at King Arthur Flour.

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