Thursday, March 30, 2017

No-knead buns, thoughts on food?

I baked buns yesterday.  Who cares? What's the big deal?  Well, I've never made them before and maybe this might help someone else.  I bake bread here 4 or 5 times a week and do a very basic but versatile no-knead bread.   It couldn't be simpler and you can alter it a thousand ways.  If you can stir you can make this bread - promise.  I also do various sweet breads and a very good naan but rolls/buns always seemed.... fiddly.  Like you had to actually measure ingredients.  Then knead and shape the dough.  It makes my head hurt to think about.  Probably because I have a teething toddler yelling "MAMAMA!" and climbing up my leg at all times. It's nice to feel needed. 

Store bought rolls and buns are so gross...  they're like soft flavorless sponges that yes, I guess they hold a burger but that's it.  There is absolutely nothing redeeming about them and they taste like paste. So whenever I cook anything requiring a bun I re-visit this problem and think to myself  "I really, really wish I had some sort of pan with holes in it that could hold little balls of dough.  And a lid for it".  Yesterday it occurred to me.  "You do, dumbass.  Everyone with an oven does.  It's called a muffin tin".  Literally smacked my forehead with my palm.

The lid? An inverted cookie sheet.

So I made a batch of dough and added to it two leftover egg yolks from making macaroons the night before.  Added a bit more flour than I usually would.  When it came time to bake I put the muffin tin in the oven along with the cookie sheet to pre-heat. While they were heating I cut off 12 chunks of dough roughly the same size as golf balls, rolled them into balls and let them rest.  When everything was hot I sprayed the muffin tin with olive oil, tossed in the dough balls and put it in the oven.  Set the hot cookie sheet, inverted, on top to act as a lid to proof the buns during the first 10 minutes of baking.  After that I took the sheet off, put an egg wash over the buns and baked for another 15.

They're amazing.  More the size of sliders than full buns, they were great with the pulled pork we had last night.  Or to just eat on their own.

It reminded us of the first time I made homemade noodles.  It was a revelation to us that something so simple that we took for granted and didn't even taste while we were eating was elevated to a thing. An actual contributing ingredient to a meal when done well.

Makes it worth the effort.

Anyone else make something humble that tastes amazing? Did it change the way you think about cooking?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fairy Duck Egg

I don't pen the ducks up at night during the winter but I have to when spring comes around.  If I don't then they tend to lay their eggs willy-nilly all over the yard.  Last year the crows discovered duck eggs made a pretty good breakfast and would wait every morning for the eggs to be laid. Then they would swoop down and steal them before I could steal them.  So every night into the duck ark they go.  They're really good about laying in nests and I know just where to look in the morning - the Pekin makes a straw nest under the little ramp and lays there.  Sometimes the Runners will use her nest but more often than not they go upstairs and use the little chicken nest boxes.  So every morning I check both spots.

What did I find today?  Our first ever fairy duck egg.

It's so tiny.  Smaller than a bantam egg.

This tiny egg was in the nest box with another full sized egg.  Called "fairy eggs", "rooster eggs" or "witch eggs" they are either due to a blip in a lady bird's system (if she's a seasoned layer) or a young bird's first attempts at laying an egg.

(They are also, God help me, known in this country as "fart eggs". I am not making that up. While it is a well documented scientific fact that rainbows are the product of bunny toots I refuse to believe that a duck has ever tooted an egg. Unless that duck is the kind of duck that may have been a guest on the Jerry Springer show. Just. Gross.)

So, a fairy egg.  I actually squealed when I saw it because, come on, it's adorable.  I didn't know when I brought it into my house that it could have possibly been the work of the devil.  I should have thrown it over the roof of the house to ward off evil but I didn't.  It's sitting in the refrigerator.  Harmlessly. So far.

So where did it come from?  We have 5 female ducks and have been getting 3 eggs a day like clockwork - 1 Pekin and 2 Runners.  The stray duck that showed up in our yard is too old for this kind of thing so I think it was the first laying from the spotted duck that was born here last September.

We are knee deep in eggs.  I think there are about 3 1/2 dozen in the house right now.  Eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and baked into treats.  Everyone's cholesterol level, including the cats' is probably through the roof.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Meat chicks are here! Potatoes planted.

Well. I have to be honest. It feels really, really good to be back in food production here.

The little quail I bought the other day are doing great.  Sadly, we did lose one. One of the tiny yellow A&M quail was lying dead in the bedding Saturday morning.  There is nothing sadder than a dead baby bird. What went wrong? I have no idea.  I've always had pretty good luck but there are a million things that can go wrong with birds. Sometimes it's something they're born with. Sometimes something goes wrong later.  All of the rest of them look healthy and have already grown.  I put a bunch of pine boughs in with them and they're having a great time zooming in and out of them and popping around like little bumblebees.  Quail really like having cover to hide in and when they are startled they flush straight up into the air.  Which is adorable when they're the size of peanuts and you're just trying to give them fresh water.

The little man and I drove to the TSC in Meadville Friday and brought home 12 meat chickens. Finally!

They had Red Rangers and Cornish Crosses and I bought 6 of each so that I could compare them. The Red Rangers we had last year were a joy and the hen I kept back has been a terrific producer of large, speckled brown eggs.  However, I did have to put down one of the Red Rangers this morning. It was obvious that something was very wrong with it that was not going to get better.  It's worth mentioning that when I bought the Rangers some of them had pasty butt (yes, that's a real thing due to stress and not contagious) so they may have had a rough time in shipment to the store.  These were NOT the ones I purchased, obviously, but they were all in the same shipment.  I'm assuming the box they were mailed in may have gotten chilled, kicked off of a truck, lost in the mail, who knows.

I said above that there's nothing sadder than a dead baby bird. There is. It's having to kill one yourself.  Which, if you ever need to know, is done with a pair of kitchen shears.

Sigh. Yeah. Well.

Saturday I raked out part of the spring side of the garden and the little man and I planted 10 lbs of seed potatoes.  Frankly I was surprised we got it done but he was a great little helper.  He carried the potatoes to the garden in his wheelbarrow. I made the rows and he took the potatoes out of the bag and threw them over the fence.

Then we covered them up and stomped on the dirt.  It was adorable.

I could have cut some of these potatoes into pieces to get more "seeds" but I hesitated because I've never planted them this early and figured they had a better chance of thriving if they where planted whole.  We'll see what happens. We planted 5 lbs each of Red Norland and Yukon Gold.

It was 70 today and if the weather continues to hold I'd like to get more done in the garden this week; plant spinach, orach, parsley and chives.  Also, the strawberry, shallot and leek seeds under lights are starting to grow!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The quail are here!

We took a short drive to visit Lisk's Heritage Farm in Linesville, PA yesterday.  I found them through the their ad on Craigslist and I'm so glad I did. Very nice people and beautiful birds.  I purchased 25 and she put some extras in the box (thank you!) so I think I counted 28 when I got home.  They move really, really fast.

I got a mix of  coturnix quail - half jumbo brown and half Texas A&M.  The browns have the stripes and the A&Ms have those cute dots on their heads.  Good thing birds get less cute as they get bigger because these little guys are off the charts adorable.  The plan is to grow them out in the quail tractor, put most of them in the freezer and keep a small covey for eggs and entertainment.

They are a day old here, look how tiny!

That little one sleeping cracks me up.

I took a short video so you can see them popping around.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Critters, brooders & getting old

First, the tracks in the snow?  Both friends and foes showed up on the game camera. 

WHAT! We have never seen a trace of a fox here, but here he is. Mr. Red Fox. Public enemy #1.

More varmints.

It's getting to spring which means we are knee deep in bunnies.  Cute, fuzzy bunnies.  They look like demon bunnies with glowing devil eyes in this picture.

Deer.  This one looks like a shaggy bison.

What else has been going on... I went to the annual game dinner at the local Elk's club on Saturday.  It was a great time although none of us won anything.  Because I was the only female hanging out with a bunch of dudes including my uncle and dad, I was careful to monitor my language.  No jokes containing the words "rack" "mount" or "meat".  I did NOT say things like "this tastes just like bald eagle" etc.  A person needs to act like they have some self-restraint.  Although when my uncle from out of town asked where the club got all the wild meat from I DID say, totally straight faced, "I think they have an agreement with PENN DOT. That's where most of it comes from." and then I went back to sipping my drink.

Anyway. what else.  Cleaned out the garage to set up the brooders.  Finished the whole garage and then bent down to pick up a near empty bag of layer mash that might have weighed all of 10 lbs.  And killed my back.  I couldn't move from that position for several minutes and wondered if I was going to have to call my husband from the garage to come rescue me.  Was completely lamed up for nearly 48 hours.  Apparently 37 is not only middle aged, but in fact OLD.  Old, old old.  Dinosaur old.

Got a brooder set up for quail - I need to make a call when I'm done here but I'm planning on picking up 25 day-olds tomorrow.  Half jumbo brown and half Texas A&M.

Also set up a brooder for meat chickens.  The TSC here still has not had any come in and I'm getting behind schedule.  It might take a drive but I need to find some for the brooder ASAP.  

None of the seeds I planted the week of the 10th have germinated.  None.  Zero. No idea what the problem is but it occurred to me that the bulbs they are under might be getting old and losing their oomph?  

So, upward and onward.  It's going to be a good week.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tracks in the snow, keeping it immature

Most of the snow we got the other day has melted. *Please refer to my last post and see below. The weather has gotten a bit warmer and critters are out and about.

It looked like deer and rabbits had a party back by the old orchard.

Something landed and scuffled around in the snow overnight.  Owl?

Pretty sure these are blue jay feet.

Ducks took a walkabout.

And I found this around the chicken yard.  I may have said loudly, OK shouted:
 Son. OF. A! BITCH!! 
Opossum? Raccoon? Damn it anyway.

So I set a trap of sorts with the game camera.  Kicked the snow down to bare ground and tossed around a bunch of corn.  We'll see who shows up.

They're not going to be happy to see me. 

* P.S. - Yes, there were all sorts of inappropriate jokes I could have made with that first sentence, mostly including words like "massive" and "shrunk", but I didn't.  Do grown women do things like that?

P.P.S. - That's what she said.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Snow day still lifes

We got about 8 inches of snow between last night and this morning.  I'm calling it a snow day.  Nothing to do but stay inside and try to find some color to combat the blanket of white outside the window.  Here is our life today.  A lot of handmade love in these pictures.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Zoo trip, power out, prepping & seeds

Remember when I was going on about life being pure adventure? You never can tell.

Is it possible to ride a carousel and not think about this scene from Strangers on a Train?

It was really nice earlier in the week.  Wednesday morning we decided to take a family trip to the Erie Zoo. About halfway there it was obvious that the car battery was on the way out so we pulled into Autozone to buy a new one and have it installed.  I'm glad that hiccup happened in the gas station parking lot and not, say, at the rest stop on 79.  So our trip up took longer than expected but when we got there it was perfect, there were all of about 10 cars in the parking lot and we had the place just about all to ourselves.  Most of the animals were out as well.

I was sorely tempted to stuff one of these penguins in my pocket - they can live with the ducks, right?

The southern end of a north-bound rhino.

After the zoo trip we took a drive around Presque Isle to see if any swans had started migrating in.  I've never seen it so windy on the peninsula.

There were huge waves hitting the beaches and breakers and sending spray onto the roads on the bay side.  We drove through a sand cloud at one point.  If there were any swans they were hiding.  I don't blame them.

The car was blown all over the road on the way home then we had a major windstorm that night and lost power around 5 that evening.  A tree across the street fell, ripping out power lines and knocking over the pole which then fell across the road.  Some grass caught on fire.   We didn't know all that at the time - we just knew that the power company and police showed up - and left soon thereafter without restoring the power.  That's not a good feeling.  I filled up some pans of water while I still could.  We lit candles, had tuna and crackers and wine for dinner and went to bed early.  The next morning we had breakfast out and took the little guy to my dad's (heated!) house while I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezers and moved all of the perishables across town to his place.

There was a time not too long ago when I was a bit of prepper.  It was the result of a perfect storm of my mother's cancer and oh, the Ebola scare.  Things seemed out of control and I had enough canned goods and water in the basement to last us for weeks at least. I had a kit in the car, which I actually needed to use once, that contained everything from fire starters to water tablets to antibiotics and reflective blankets.  I've gotten away from that totally and when the power went out we were woefully unprepared - as in the lantern didn't even work.  Sure we had canned food but no way to heat anything. And about a half gallon of water.

We have a child now which just magnifies how irresponsible I felt.  People talk about prepping like it's going to be some utopia of baking bread and sowing vegetable seeds - I call bullshit.  In most situations it's about heat, food and clean water.  Which we barely had.  Our power came back on the next day - but what if it hadn't?  This is not unreasonable in rural areas - my husband and I once went over a week with no power, ten days I think.  We were in a rental at that point which had a pond (for flushing the toilet) and a wood stove.  It was summer and we grilled all week.  But I digress.  It's not crazy to worry - anyone remember that cluster that was post-Katrina? Or 9/11?  Or that year the city of Buffalo was snowed in for a week - my mother was getting IV nutrition when that happened and if we had lived there - she would have literally died.  Things do happen where people are quite truly on their own for days or more. Good luck.

So, I'm going to be preparing again on a reasonable scale.  So that next time this happens I can say "meh" shrug my shoulders and set up the camping kitchen out on the front porch.  It's not unreasonable to make sure that we have extra lanterns, water stored, easy to make meals and propane for the camp stove.  Shelf-stable milk for the little guy.  A couple of buckets of water for the poultry. That kind of things.  As far as heat goes - we have no fireplace or woodstove so we'd still be kinda screwed there but at least we'd be fed.

Crazy?  More like common sense

Speaking of seeds, I did start some this week - alpine strawberries, leeks, shallots.  So that is on schedule.  I haven't gotten meat chicks yet - but I thank god that I didn't have a brooder of peeps to worry about when the power went out - so maybe that's for the best.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Winter squash for dinner & dessert!

It's March and time to start using the last of the winter squash.  After the turkeys and chickens killed off all of my plants last summer I ended up buying some from a farm up the road.  I don't know what kind this is but I had one the year prior and it was very good.  Can't find it in the catalogs - any ideas?  I saved some seeds and while I know they may have cross bred it will be fun to grow anyway.

It's very large and heavy; my toddler had been using it as a chair.

Ready for the oven.

A helper in the kitchen.

After the squash was baked through I let it cool and then scooped the flesh out with a spoon.  The skins and leftovers were given to the chickens.   After making the soup and bread there are still many cups left, I'll portion and freeze them. 

This is what I made this weekend:

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Swirl Bread.  The combination of winter squash and chocolate is just amazing.  I loooove chocolate squash cakes and so do children and picky adults if you don't tell them what they're eating. This one has an orange glaze. Really moist and almost entirely eaten already.  Yum.

For dinner I made up a Thai style pumpkin coconut soup. Into the crock pot I put 1 qt rooster stock, 1 can coconut milk, about 3 cups squash.  Then I sauteed garlic, grated ginger, shallot, green curry paste, siracha, fish sauce, a sweet pepper.  Salt & pepper.  All added to the crock pot.  Pureed before serving, added lime juice and garnished with shrimp, peanuts and cilantro.  Served with homemade bread.   Really good but more spice next time?

Winter squash are so versitile and fun to grow.  Can't wait to get the garden planted!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Woke up, it was a pancake morning

And the first thing that I saw was a herd of nine deer crossing our front yard.

Decided to make pancakes with black raspberries.   Got out the Joy of Cooking

They were a hit.

His favorite toy right now is the toaster

There's not much going on here today.  The weather has turned cold again and it snowed, so we're pretty much housebound unless it gets a little nicer out.  I'm going to be starting some seeds in the next couple of days - Alpine strawberries, leeks, shallots.  Also some paw paw and quince seeds just for fun.  So maybe I'll get my trays and lights out while he naps.  The plan today is just to stay warm and entertained.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Duck egg pierogies, Ohio Farm Girl

The first duck eggs arrived today, narrow ivory colored ovals.  Possibly they came from one of the runner ducks.  I say "they" and not "it" because I found two - one in the middle of the poultry yard and another hidden in a far corner.  I don't know why but after having ducks for four years the eggs still seem magical to me.  Especially the first ones of the season.  Maybe it's because of their reputation for being so great for baking - bigger yolks, higher fat, whiter whites. They just seem special, something to be cherished when cooking.  My enthusiasm only dampens slightly over the season when each lady duck is gifting an egg per day, every day.  That quickly adds up to be a lotta eggs.

Honestly, if you're looking for great eggs for your home - please consider getting ducks.  Ohio Farm Girl once told me that they were "bomb proof" and it's true.  Easy keepers, sky high producers, joyous and entertaining.  They make me smile every time I look at them waddling around the yard.  Huge eggs every single day.  The eggs taste like eggs.  I can't tell the difference.

(Incidentally, if anyone knows OFG in real life please tell her "hello" and give her a big hug for me.  I think about her often because she was a huge influence in what I do here.   She and Nicholas and Nibbles are missed and I hope they're doing well.  I hope when everyone settles into the Land of No Winter she decides to pick up blogging again.)

I try to make something special to celebrate the first eggs, usually pasta, but this year I decided I'd try my hand at making pierogies from scratch.  After reading a couple of recipes I decided to just wing it.  The dough is very loosely based on this.  I just chucked things into the mixer until the dough looked right.  The filling is shallot, cheese, bacon and potato.

Ready to be boiled.

After a quick fry in butter.

They were delicious.  Or, as my little man would say "dish-us".  I cooked up 18 tonight and there is dough and filling in the fridge for many, many, more.  Probably I will make them up tomorrow and freeze them.