The backyard omelet: the local foods movement has progressed to include backyard barnyards full of feathered friends.
When Cindi decided last summer to add a chicken coop to her collection, it seemed normal (and possible) for her, but not me because I live in a covenant-laden neighborhood. After a little research, I realized it is possible for me, or anybody, to have a flock of chickens. Across the country, there is a surging passion for raising chickens at home. Chickens seem to go hand and glove with a reclamation of other lost domestic arts such as quilting or canning, and they are a declaration of self-sufficiency. Raising chickens, it seems, is as enduring as pearls or old loafers. The local foods movement is here to stay with flocks of chickens, sustainable gardening, and ordinary composting.
The trend is so strong that, in the past two years, more than 500 towns and cities have revised their laws to allow urban folks to keep their own chickens. And what about those eggs!
In 1982, Martha Stewart published her first book, Entertaining, and introduced us to her rare-breed chickens producing pastel-colored eggs. As only Martha could do, she ventured on to introduce her first paint collection based on these egg colors. She made chickens seem more useful and companion-like creatures, rather than livestock. She knew the value of raising her own chickens and the difference between store-bought eggs and fresh, organic eggs. After cooking a few recipes with my first basket of fresh eggs, I, too, understood the difference and wanted more. A fresh egg stands up with its deep golden yolk crowning a mound of shiny, translucent white, where a not-so-fresh egg rapidly spreads. The flavor is richer and more pronounced. Some markets sell fresh eggs, so try them and taste the difference.
The Internet is loaded with websites on how to raise your own chickens--including information on coops, organic feeds, and choosing breeds. Murray McMurray Hatchery (www.mcmurray-hatchery.com), based in Iowa, helps you select chickens that are most adaptable to your region and climate and will mail a box of chicks straight through your local post office. Mypetchicken.com lets you choose your chickens based on the color of eggs.
Eggs are good for you, and they are one of the most versatile foods for any meal or dessert. Moving toward a sustainable lifestyle is good for all of us. Even if you can't raise your own chickens, try and locate some fresh eggs to cook with. It might be all you need to become part of a movement that is edible and timeless. Picture "Green Acres" minus the evening gowns, broken equipment, and Arnold the pig, of course!
SCRAMBLED EGG TORTILLA WITH PICO DE GALLO
12 eggs 1 cup milk Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon hot sauce 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill 1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno (fresh or jar) 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese, divided 12 (6-inch) flour tortillas 2 to 3 tablespoons butter, divided Using a whisk or rotary beater, mix eggs, milk, and remaining seasonings in a glass bowl. Stir in jalapenos and one cup of cheese and set aside. In a skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon butter. Place tortilla in hot skillet and cook for 30 seconds, flip and cook for 30 seconds. Repeat with remaining tortillas and keep warm. Melt remaining butter in skillet, and when butter is foamy pour in eggs. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, cook eggs until just set, gently stirring. Remove from heat. Lightly butter 9 x 13-inch baking dish, and heat oven broiler to medium. Lay tortilla on a flat surface, and spoon 1/2 cup of cooked eggs in center of tortilla. Gently fold over one side and then the other, covering eggs. Place stuffed tortilla seam side down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas and sprinkle remaining cheese on top of tortillas. Place baking dish under broiler and cook until cheese is bubbly and melted. Serve immediately with Pico de Gallo.
Yield: 12 servings
PICO DE GALLO
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped 1 jalapeno, finely minced 3 green onions, chopped 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped 1/2 red onion, chopped 2 teaspoons cumin Juice of 3 limes Salt and pepper to taste Mix all ingredients and chill for several hours. Check seasonings and serve.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
EGGS A LA GOLDENROD
This was a favorite recipe of my mother's, and it is wonderful for brunch or a special breakfast.
6 eggs, boiled and peeled 1 (1 1/2-pound) ham, sliced 1/2 stick, plus 2 tablespoons butter, divided 1/4 cup flour 1 1/2-2 cups half-and-half or cream 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce Salt and pepper to taste 3 English muffins, split in half 1 cup fresh chives, chopped Cut boiled eggs in half, gently scoop out yolks, and place in a separate bowl. Finely dice cooked whites and set aside. In a medium-sized skillet, lightly fry ham in 2 tablespoons of butter. Set aside and keep warm. Add remaining butter to skillet and heat until foamy. Add flour and whisk until mixture is smooth. Slowly add half-and-half or cream and continue whisking until sauce is silky and completely of lumps. Reduce heat; add chopped egg whites, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Toast English muffins and place on a plate. Top with several pieces of ham. Pour white sauce over ham and muffin and top with egg yolks that have been pushed through a fine sieve. Sprinkle with chopped chives, and serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings
LUNCH COUNTER EGG AND OLIVE SANDWICH
6 eggs, boiled, peeled, and chopped 1/4 cup capers, rinsed 1/2 cup Spanish olives, chopped 1 rib celery, finely chopped Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and hot sauce to taste 1/2 cup mayonnaise mixed with 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Leaf lettuce 12 white or wheat bread slices, lightly toasted In a glass bowl, mix eggs, capers, olives, and celery together. Gently blend in seasonings and mayonnaise, adding more or less as needed. Place lettuce leaves on 6 slices of bread and top with scoop of egg salad. Place remaining bread slices on each sandwich and slice in half.
Yield: 6 sandwiches
EGGS BENEDICT SALAD
Enjoy a little twist on the classic brunch dish.
3 tablespoons olive oil 1/4 cup white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon kosher salt Freshly ground pepper 4 large eggs 8 to 10 cups torn lettuces 4 slices Canadian bacon, cooked and chopped roughly 4 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced Paprika for garnish In a small bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar. Season dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Bring 6 cups water and a pinch of salt to simmer in saucepan over medium heat. Crack egg and gently slide into pan of simmering water. Poach each egg until the white is just set, about 2 minutes. Remove from water with slotted spoon; keep warm. Toss lettuces with vinaigrette and divide among four plates. Top each with bacon, radishes, and red onion slices. Place a poached egg on each salad, and drizzle Hollandaise Sauce. Dust with paprika.
Yield: 4 servings
3 egg yolks Juice of 2 lemons 1 stick butter, cut into 8 pieces Place egg yolks and lemon juice in top of a double boiler, and bring water in bottom pot to a simmer. Whisk eggs continuously until mixture is thick. Reduce heat and add butter 1 piece at a time, stirring after each addition. Keep warm until ready to use.
EGG CUSTARD AND CLOUD
1 quart half-and-half or cream 2 cups sugar, divided 1 vanilla bean, split 8 eggs, separated 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups sugar Heat half-and-half or cream, sugar, and vanilla bean over medium heat in heavy-bottomed saucepan. As soon as mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low simmer until ready to poach meringues. Beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup sugar slowly until all is incorporated and whites are stiff. Working in batches, form egg whites into egg-shaped mounds, using 2 large serving spoons. Gently spoon meringues into hot cream mixture. Poach for 2 minutes on each side, turning with slotted spoon. Remove meringues from cream and place on paper towels to drain. To make custard, beat egg yolks with remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar until light-colored and very thick. Strain cream mixture into another saucepan over medium heat. When mixture begins to bubble, add 1/2 cup to egg yolks, whisking constantly to keep eggs from curdling. Pour yolks into hot milk and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping bottom of pan to make sure it is not cooking to fast. The custard is cooked when it coats back of spoon evenly. Remove from heat and strain to remove lumps. Chill until ready to serve. Spoon custard into balloon-shaped goblets or parfaits and place a meringue in each glass.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
photography by tom beck