Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Count Down!

So, Thursday is Thanksgiving and I am planning a traditional menu.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, two kinds of stuffing, green beans almondine (NOT the slimy, icky green bean casserole that I abhor!), homemade cranberry relish/sauce, carrot-pineapple salad (a favorite of mine!), broccoli with butter sauce, dinner rolls, cherry pie, apple pie and a fresh veggie plate.
I'll be baking the pies tomorrow, making the carrot-raisin salad and cranberry relish on Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon, I will make sure the turkey is thawed out, if it isn't, I'll do the cold water bath until it is and start cooking it around 3 a.m.I will start my bread dough then as well. Everything else can be done within two hours of serving...which will be around 2 p.m.
Simple menu, a lot of do-ahead stuff. I have Girl and Boy and the Darlin' Man assisting me, so I will be able to sleep for a while after I put the turkey in.
YAY! for family backing you up!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Ready.....STARTER!!!

The past few days I have made bread twice. Not a packet of yeast in the house. Yet my bread was light and yeasty with a fine texture and a light *crumb*, as they say in baking circles.
I use a *starter*.
A good starter is worth it's weight in gold! I know of some families that use starters that date back 100 or even 200 years!
I made my starter a month ago.
When I made bread, I saved one cup of the dough, put it in a clean jar, added a teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 cup warm water, stirred it up, tightly capped it and stored it in my refrigerator. I shake it a bit every few days and once a week add a teaspoon of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. If it looks a bit dry, I add a bit of warm water.

When I make bread, I spoon out about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of starter into the bowl I am going to make my bread dough in. In the *starter* jar, I add 1/2 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup (or so) of flour and store it in the fridge for next time.
When you use a starter, it can take a while longer for your bread to rise. Some folks recommend letting your dough rise 24 hours, but I never have the time to do that!
I generally add an hour or two to the rising time.

Now, for sourdough lovers out there, you make your starter an entirely different way!
Sourdough starters are usually made by *capturing* wild yeast. I am currently making my own.
Step one, boil a potato in it's skin. Yes, you can cut it up to speed things up. SAVE YOUR POTATO WATER! You'll need two cups of potato water.
Go ahead, eat the potato, I'll wait.
Now, take that two cups of potato water, put it in a ceramic crock or glass jar.
Add 2 cups of flour to it and stir well.
Add 2 teaspoons of honey and stir well.
Now, I use a piece of cheesecloth *rubber banded* over the top of the crock/jar, but some folks leave it uncovered.
Just set it on top of your fridge or in any other *sorta* warm place in your house. Some folks set the crock/jar outside (covered with cheesecloth, I hope!). Let it set for 4 to 6 days, stirring it 3 or 4 times a day to aerate.
It should begin to smell *yeasty* and get bubbles in it. The yeasty smell will have a bit of a sharp-sour smell to it that is different from regular yeast bread.
Store in your refrigerator and treat sourdough starter as you do a regular starter.
Use as you would the regular starter.
Remember to always *feed* your starters and to replace any used with flour and water with a smidge of sugar or honey!

I know...yeast is available as close as your grocery store, but as a *prepper*, I realize that my local grocery store might not always be there! Also, *starters* give bread more *personality* and flavor than commercially available yeast. If you run out of those convenient packets of yeast and don't have the time or inclination to run to the store, it is comforting to know you have starter sleeping away in your fridge, just waiting to wake up and perform for you!

Think of your starters as legacies for your family as well. It used to be a tradition for young brides to receive starters from their mothers (or new mother-in-laws) to set up housekeeping.Some starters have been in families for 100, 200 or even 300 years!
I know of one family that had such a *legacy* starter, brought into the US by immigrant ancestors from Ireland. It had withstood the uncertainties of time and travel for over a hundred years. In the 1960s, a *modern* daughter, disgusted at the smell and of the mindset that "bread is best purchased at the grocery store", threw it out after the death of her mother! Along with the little hand made crock it was kept in.
What a loss! A strain of yeast is gone and can never be reproduced.
I think we should bring back the tradition of mothers handing down starters to their newly married daughters (and sons). Bread is known as the "staff of life" and in giving starters, we are giving them our heartfelt wish that they will have a happy and long life!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aeronautical Hens and Water Buckets and Kim Chi, Oh My!

Today was a typical Saturday.
Darlin' Man and Girl and Boy were home. Darlin' Man fed the critters around 6:30 a.m. I got up and made pancakes.
After breakfast, we did a bit of clean up in the yard.
I went back in the house to start a batch of kim-chi and also to get some bread dough started.
Boy wandered out of his room and gulped down a bowl of cereal and went out to assist his dad.
A neighbor had given us some chicken wire and Darlin' Man and Boy were making some alterations to the coop. They let the chickens out in the yard and two hens, Miss Priscilla and Zoe, tried out their aeronautical abilities...right over the fence and into a neighbors yard! This neighbor has quite a pack of dogs, some of which could be termed "chicken aggressive". Darlin' Man leaped over the fence and retrieved the hens before any damage was done. Boy came in and informed me that my talents were need to clip the wings of the "fly girls" before they got themselves into any more trouble.
I was literally elbow deep in kim chi fixins' at that point!
But, I grabbed my utility shears and headed out.
Catching the hens was easy. I snipped the first five feathers on each wing quite a bit shorter. The hens weren't too distraught over the procedure and went back to their scratching as soon as I put them back on the ground. Since Zoe and Chloe are the same breed and size, I went ahead and clipped Chloe's wings as well.

As for the kim-chi, the Darlin' Man got very fond of it during his time stationed in Korea, so I make a good sized batch every month.
Basic recipe:
1 Napa Cabbage
1 Large Cucumber
1 Bok Choy
1 to 2 bunches Green Onions
2 inches Ginger Root, peeled and sliced very thin
1/4 cup salt
1 cup Korean red pepper (ground)
3 tablespoons minced garlic

Wash all vegetables and slice into 1 inch pieces. Put sliced vegetables and sliced ginger in LARGE non-reactive bowl and sprinkle salt over all. Pour in enough water to cover and cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, drain liquid off vegetables (SAVE that liquid!). Pour one cup of ground red pepper and 3 tablespoons minced garlic over vegetables and mix in well. Pack in one gallon jar. It might be a tight fit, but it can be done! Slowly add in saved brine until jar is full. Tightly cap jar and place in cool (not cold!), dark place (Back shelf in your pantry?) for 3 days. Open on third day. Refrigerate after you open it! The smell will knock most people on their butts--but it is supposed to smell like that! It's called lacto-fermentation.Same principle behind yogurt and sauerkraut.
It is good for you, gets all sort of useful enzymes playing around in your digestive systems.
Some studies have shown kim-chi can be useful in treating colds and flu and researchers are looking into kim-chi as a dietary immune system booster as well. Koreans also claim it wards off cancer...and since Korea has low levels of many types of cancer, maybe there is something to that!
I use kim-chi as a chilled side dish, I mix it into pancake batter along with some shredded pork to make kim-chi pancakes.and generally serve it whenever any Asian dish is on the table!

Today, we also put in *soaker buckets* beside each of our fruit and nut trees.
I live in a very dry climate.If you water trees, about 70% of that water can be lost through evaporation before the tree can absorb it into their parched root system. So, the trees here are a bit stunted and produce little fruit as, like all living things, they are just trying to survive in this climate!
We have plenty of 5 gallon buckets that we get at a local bakery.
We drill 4 or 5 teensy holes near the bottom of each bucket --on one side of the bucket only.
Then we dig a hole beside the tree deep enough and wide enough to put the bucket in, with about one inch above ground level.
When we put the bucket in the hole, we make sure the holes we drilled in the bucket are facing the tree.
We fill the buckets at sundown and the water s-l-o-w-l-y seeps into the ground at a level where it is more easily accessible to the trees root system.
If we water in the morning, we put the lids on the 5 gallon buckets after they are filled with water to stave off evaporation.
We can also fertilize with the bucket system. Strained manure tea works well for this.

That's my did yours go?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Added Value. Do You Look For It?

When shopping, do you look for products that give you "added value" for your money?
Obvious examples of this are;Flour that comes in a fabric flour sack and jelly and jam that come in drinking glasses.
You may not have to pay extra for products that have that "added value", either. The flour I buy in 10 and 20 pound sacks is priced less than national brands that come in paper packaging. The quality is just as good.
The patterns are sweet and charming. Old fashioned patterns in plaids, gingham's and calico.
I have found jelly and jams packaged in many different types of glassware, from mason jars to champagne glasses!
Less obvious products come with "added value", as well.
Oatmeal. Those round oatmeal containers, once made of easily destroyed light cardboard are now made of heavy duty stuff, some brands even use a light plastic. The oatmeal rounds are great for many purposes. My kids used to make them into banks and also keep their crayons and markers in them.. I use them to put yarn in (attention knitters!). You cut a hole in the top (very small), thread your yard through the hole and then can easily use your yarn without it getting snarled or batted across the room by the cat. I also use Oatmeal rounds to store some spices, tea, my fried chicken dredging mix, etc. I use a Sharpie to mark on the top the contents. You can also cover the rounds with Contact paper in a color or pattern to match your kitchen and affix a pretty label--if the aesthetics of the oatmeal label don't appeal to you.
Coffee Cans. I don't drink coffee, but all my friends that do give me their cans. I LOVE coffee cans! In the tool room they are perfect for nails, screws, nuts and bolts. In the kitchen they are handy for all kinds of storage. If you use them in the kitchen, wash them out pretty well, otherwise whatever you store may end up with a coffee flavor that you didn't want. Some coffees come in plastic type jugs with a handle. I use one of those to put chicken feed in. Very convenient in the morning!
Bleach bottles. The one gallon bleach bottle is very versatile! Some people use them for water storage. I use some for seedling planters (cut off the top and punch in some drainage holes) and turn the top into a scoop (useful for my chicken feed!).
Glass jars...pickles, spaghetti sauce, etc. I use jars such as these to store anything you can imagine. A pickle jar does duty as a pen/pencil holder on my desk. A spaghetti sauce jar holds beads for crafts in my sewing area. I soak the labels off and fill some with my home-made bath salts to give for gifts (remember to paint the lids or cover them with a scrap of pretty fabric!).
Remember when you buy groceries or anything at all, for that matter, to look for "added value" in the packaging!
Added benefit to the planet is that the more you can reuse the packaging, the less you will be tossing in your local landfill!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Arrivals and a Backyard Battle Royale!

Darlin' Man had to stop by the feed store to pick up feed for the chickens and dogs. While there he saw they had just gotten some new chickens! They sell chickens--from hatchling chicks to full grown. He picked out a couple of gorgeous full grown young hens and brought them home!
They are both Rock Island hens, black and white barred.
We named them Chloe and Zoe. Red, the rooster, was all agog at their loveliness and spent the rest of the day trying to snuggle up to them.The new girls were having none of his amorous advances and perched themselves on the top of the laying box structure...well out of Reds reach. We have had them two days now and while Zoe continues to be a bit stand-offish towards Red, Chloe has warmed up to him.

Wang, the buck goat, is still languishing in his bachelor quarters. Yesterday, he made a bid to rejoin his harem in the big goat pen--which turned into a wild and woolly afternoon for me!
Wang had been forlornly bleating, letting us all know his displeasure at being separated from his girls. He added butting his head into the pen gate to his repertoire.Somehow he finally nudged the chain off the gate and dashed out. Unfortunately, our large, goofy German Shepherd, Andy, was outside.Andy is now about 8 months old, still full of puppy energy and, frankly, not the brightest dog.
Well, Andy channeled the predator in his little doggie heart and went in to attack.
Now, in the wild, male goats protect their flocks from many predators. Coyotes, wolves, cougars, even bears. Sometimes the predator wins...but sometimes the goat is successful.
While Andy was channeling his inner predator, Wang was calling on the spirit of all those wild goat ancestors.
The battle was on!
Andy, snarling and snapping, lunged for Wang.
Wang lowered his head and connected with Andy's ribs and tossed him about 3 feet and Andy landed on his butt in the dirt.
Undeterred, Andy charged Wang head first.
Big mistake!
Wang lowered his head and met Andy at full speed. You could probably hear the *crack* a block away.
Andy's knees buckled and he collapsed in the dirt.
Wang, apparently confident that the battle was his, trotted over to the big goat pen and focused his attentions on his little harem.
I checked on Andy. He was out cold. Since he weighs about 80 pounds, I just let him lay there.
After about 10 minutes, Andy came to and staggered over to the back patio. He got a drink of water and then whimpered to have me open the door. I opened the door and followed him in. I checked him over pretty thoroughly. Nothing broken, but he was tender on his ribs and his head.
Andy lay down on the couch and took a nap.
I let Wang browse in the yard beside the big goat pen . The Darlin' Man man handled him back to his bachelor quarters when he got home. Before that, when Andy and Siona (my dog) went out in the yard, they gave Wang a WIDE berth.
Andy is fine today. He romped around the yard this morning and tried a tentative foray next to Wangs pen....but Wang lowered his head and shook his head at Andy and the goofy dog decided he had very important business on the other side of the yard!
Andy, like some people, always needs to learn the HARD way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Long Promised Recipes!

Sorry for the delay! much loved Cheeseburger meatloaf. My kids love this, my Darlin' Man adores it and I am kinda fond of it, too!

Now, you can use your favorite meatloaf recipe and just top it with cheese and bacon, or you can use my recipe!
1 pound hamburger
1 egg
1 cup bread or cracker crumbs (I use bread crumbs)
1 cup French Onion soup (NOT dry stuff, if you use the dry mix, make it! I use Wolfgang Pucks canned French onion soup--one can)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms (fresh if possible!)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup shredded cheese (I use a combo of cheddar and mozzarella)
4 slices bacon--cooked!

Preheat oven to 365
In large bowl, mix hamburger, egg, bread crumbs, mushrooms and French Onion soup.
Pat mixture into round cast iron skillet.
Put in oven.
While meat loaf is cooking, melt butter in pan and add onions. Cook until caramelized (brown and limp, but not burnt!)
Cook bacon slices until crisp.
Bake meatloaf for 45 minutes, remove from oven, drain off fat, top with caramelized onion, shredded cheese and bacon slices (in that order). Put meatloaf back in oven for 15 minutes.
Carefully remove meatloaf from skillet and serve on large plate/platter that is covered with shredded lettuce and top with fresh tomato slices, if desired.
It looks like a giant bacon cheeseburger!
My kids loved this when they were little and up until their teens. The Darlin' Man's two kids, who had this for dinner last week, are already asking when I am making it again!
I sometimes *boost* the nutrition by adding a half cup to a cup of grated squash, carrots or other mild flavored healthy veggies to the meatloaf mixture. (And squash hating kids never realize what they are eating!)

I have to add that I frequently grate up or finely dice summer squash (yellow crook neck)  and add it to meatloaf, spaghetti sauce, chili and other  foods where it's presence can go virtually undetected by squash hating individuals! If you saute the diced squash with your meat, it will take on the flavor of the meat!

I think I have shared this next recipe, but it bears repeating as it is so easy and you can change it around to accommodate whatever you have in your cabinets or fridge!

Poor Mans Pasta

Cook enough pasta to feed your can be macaroni, noodles, spaghetti, whatever you have in the pasta category.
Saute one pound meat with garlic in olive oil or butter.  Sliced up Polish sausage, crumbled sausage, whatever you have.
Add fresh or dried herbs to meat last 5 minutes of cooking.
Dump the cooked, drained pasta into a casserole dish, dump in the meat mixture and toss.
Add a fresh veggie, diced. I prefer tomatoes or snow peas. One cup should do it!
Toss some more.
Toss some shredded cheese in and toss again.
Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
If you have it, crumble some cooked bacon on top, if not, don't worry about it.
One dish easy meal to set on the table with a salad and some garlic bread!

I use a lot of ground beef here. It is versatile and I can stretch it out really well.You can use spices and herbs and sauces to change the *character*. It can be "All American" as in my Cheeseburger Meatloaf, you can even change that to a Greek dish by adding sliced black olives, topping it with feta cheese and serving on a bed of spinach and topping with some chopped artichoke hearts!

Tonight the menu is decidedly Southern in character...pinto beans, rice, collard greens, sliced tomatoes and cornbread.
I have a habit of serving meatless meals twice a week. It's healthy, inexpensive and it stretches my grocery budget! It also gives me the opportunity to cook items in my food storage so I can rotate those food stocks. It is also important to help my family adjust their palates and digestive systems so that if we do get stuck using mainly food storage items, there will be no appetite fatigue or intestinal troubles.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Arrival Derailed Weekend Post!

Yes, we have a new arrival....Gabrielle, a lovely full grown and VERY pregnant goat! She, in fact, is expecting TWINS!
The farmer that sold the Darlin' Man the buck and two does that we already had apparently felt he had too many pregnant goats to handle this year. So, a call to the Darlin' Man Friday evening and the deal was struck.
Darlin' Man went over to the farm courtesy of a neighbors pick-up truck Saturday morning. By lunchtime, the new doe was meeting her  pen mates.
Gabrielle IS lovely.She is a blend of white and pale brown with nicely curved horns and a gentle bleat. She is a bit shy and was unsure of the other goats. Because she is so very pregnant, and because Wang (our buck) has a tendency to get rough and rambunctious, Wang has been moved into the *bachelor quarters* so recently vacated by Red, the rooster. Yes, the pen is quite large enough for Wang to be comfortable.
However, Wang made his displeasure known last night.

The most pitiful bleating you ever heard! He stood there in his pen, yearningly gazing over at *his girls* in the big pen and bleating his little goat heart out. The *girls* did not return the favor. They seemed happy and content to have their pen be *ladies only*. Wang grumpily settled down and went to sleep around 10 pm last night. He tried the bleating routine this morning, but seemed to get tired of making the effort after he got his breakfast of alfalfa. Gabrielle, Patches and Champagne were ignoring him anyway, lol!
Gabrielle will deliver sometime between the middle and end of November. I am so excited...we will have little ones!
 I will go grab my recipe file and post a few favorites later today...right now, I am going to go talk to some goats! (I go into the pen and hand feed them snacks and nibbles and talk gently to them and pet them to gentle them down).