Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Productive Weekend of Real Food

Cold weather means being inside, and being inside can quickly lead to boredom if one doesn't find productive projects to undertake.  On typical weekends, my routine is pretty consistent.  I get up on Saturday morning, go to the farmer's market to get the week's produce and meat supply, and then I go home to clean and do things around the house.  Sundays mean cleaning the chicken coop, messing around in the yard if needed and weather permitting, and doing anything leisurely we decide to do together.  I used to want to be on the go all weekend and got very bored being at home, but the older I get the more I love being home with a list of projects to complete before the work week takes back over and robs me of all freedom and time. 

Last weekend was a very productive weekend for me, and the snow brought in last night has proven to be helpful as well.  Since blogging last, here are some of the projects I have completed.  Of course, since I have been working on these things, there have been no new things to post on, so I will link each project to previous posts and pictures about it.  I was a little slack in taking pictures this time around.   

Friday night I thawed a quart of frozen strawberries from last spring to make a batch of fruit leather.  Strawberry fruit leather is one of our favorites, and during the winter when there are no fresh local fruits available it is one of the things we eat.  When my workplace started a weight loss program pushing increased fruit consumption, I did actually start buying bananas and grapes from the grocery since not many local fruits were available, but I just couldn't continue.  Not only does it go against my goal of eating as locally as possible, I also don't visit the grocery often enough to consistently have these things on hand.  Our grocery visits are usually about three weeks apart since most of the things we purchase from the store are staples like flour, sugar, grains, and beans (things that can be bought in bulk and keep well).  It was one of those personal decisions that I had to make for myself.  I would rather eat less fruit and know where that fruit came from rather than purchase something from South America or Mexico for the sake of so-called "health".  So, dried and frozen fruit are important to us in winter.  I don't mean to sound preachy here.  Each person must do what seems right for their particular situation and set of circumstances.  

Strawberry fruit leather being wrapped in wax paper and tied with baker's twine

Even though we have tried to eat local meals at home in most cases for several years now, one thing I have just recently started buying locally in its entirety and on a regular basis is meat.  I had always purchased some meat at the farmer's market, but for the past several months, we have not purchased any meat at the grocery store.  All of our meat is sourced locally at this point, and it feels great to know that what we are eating was raised humanely and responsibly.  If you are wondering what made me change, it was a combination of things including several books I have been reading (Food Matters by Mark Bittman and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) along with my connections to people at the farmer's market and the increased availability of local, pastured meats in my community.  Also, even though I have obviously known how animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) were raised, I (like so many others out there) tended to push it to the back of my mind when planning meals to save money.  I have now made the conscious decision to bring that knowledge to the forefront of my mind each time I eat which can really make things seem less appetizing.  I'm not saying it's always possible to eat local meat.  Sometimes you are in situations where that is not feasible, but making the effort to do it as much as possible can make a big difference in your personal health and attitude about food.  Also, even though it is more expensive, that just leads us to eat less meat which is also healthful in itself.  Again, I'm not intending to sound preachy, but I think it's important that we know where our food comes from and how it was produced, and I think it's important to keep as many of our food dollars in the local economy as possible rather than spending them to support big industry.  

Our meat/cheese comes from a combination of the following farms/sources: 

Beef/Chicken from Baucom's Best 
Beef from Martins' Charolais Farm
Pork from Grateful Growers
Cheese from Ashe County 
Cheese from Goat Lady Dairy

With that being said, I am trying my hand at producing some of my own cured meats.  I currently have a pork loin curing in the refrigerator which will be similar to Canadian bacon.  When it is finished, I will take pictures and share the results.  

I also used the last of my frozen lard (rendered months ago) to make two batches of pie crusts using this recipe.  The all lard crust was exceptionally flaky, but we did miss some of the buttery flavor of my regular crust.  From now on I will use a combination of lard and butter which I have done in the past and really is the best of both worlds.  Either works well and all freeze beautifully.  One crust went into making a quiche with local breakfast sausage, local cheddar cheese, potatoes from storage, and backyard eggs.  You can't get much better than that.  

Pie crusts ready for the freezer (these are all-butter crusts)

Since I used the rest of the previously rendered lard, I purchased and rendered another 2 pounds in the slow cooker resulting in 2 pint jars for the freezer. 

We were also down to one jar of pickled beets from the year before last, so when I saw beets at the market on Saturday, I purchased enough for a small batch to tide us over until we can grow some.  I cut these into wedges rather than slices, but I used my usual pickled beet recipe.  We got two jars of red pickled beets and two jars of golden pickled beets (which we are excited to try).  

Last but not least, I organized the chest freezer and took an inventory of what remained so I can make sure to use what we have when planning menus for the upcoming weeks.  We still have several bags of lima beans, field peas, green beans (although our stock is low), corn on the cob, corn kernels (only a few bags left), pesto, and roasted tomatoes.  We also have four bags of frozen peaches and one quart of strawberries which will most likely go to make more fruit leather in the very near future. 

All in all, productivity can be very rewarding and in this case will go into making it easier to produce wholesome weeknight meals with real food. 



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Parmesan Popovers

If you have chickens or purchase from farmer's markets, you know how wonderful fresh eggs from well-raised hens taste.  For most people with hens the number of eggs increases drastically in spring and summer and drops significantly in the cooler months when the days are shorter.  We are no exception to this truth of nature.  However, our girls are very prolific layers, laying almost every day in the warm months, and every other day through the winter.  They really haven't slowed down much at all.  This is fantastic as I never have to worry about being without fresh eggs, but sometimes I find myself with so many eggs, I don't know what to do.  

Recently, I have been working on finding ways to use eggs, preferably recipes that use more than a couple at once.  I use them for all of the more obvious recipes such as those for cakes and pies and egg dishes, but I want something a little different.  Something that showcases the eggs without being overtly eggy.  Enter popovers.  

These popovers are puffy, hollow on the inside, and brown and crusty on the outside.  They have been made ever-so-slightly cheesy with the addition of a little grated Parmesan, but this can easily be omitted if you want rolls to eat with jam or jelly.  They are delicious on their own, can be eaten like any other bread for breakfast or with a meal, and would be delicious used to sop up gravy or sauce.  More lovely than that, they are super easy and quick to make and use ingredients you probably already have lying around (and in the case of eggs, really want to use).  

Parmesan Popovers-  makes 8-10 popovers 

This recipe is adapted from The Fresh Egg Cookbook by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.   A couple of pointers for popovers...don't overfill the popover tin (I almost used too much batter in each one of these), make sure you beat your batter for a sufficient amount of time, and don't open the oven door during baking no matter how tempting it may be.  

3 Tbsp butter, cold
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup Parmesan (you can use slightly more for a cheesier popover)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray or butter a popover pan.  Add 1/2 tablespoon chilled butter to each popover cup.  Place popover tin the in oven while making batter.  

Using a stand or handheld mixer, beat the eggs until foamy.  Beat in the milk and melted butter.  Reduce speed to low, and mix in the flour, salt, and cheese.  Mix 3-4 minutes until smooth and air is incorporated into the batter.  

Fill each popover cup three-fourths full.  Bake 30-40 minutes until popovers are puffed and golden brown all over.  Serve immediately. 

Printable Version 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Keeping Track of Eggs

Ever since the girls started laying eggs back in the summer, we have been recording the number we collect each day.  Keeping track of the eggs helps us determine how many we are getting throughout the year as well as how the girls' production changes with the seasons.  One great thing about our chickens is that even though they are all Buff Orpingtons their eggs are decidedly different.  

One chicken lays eggs that are light in color, almost pink, and pointy at the tip, another lays eggs that are smaller than the others and more rounded, and the third lays eggs which are browner in color.  Marking the eggs on some type of chart really helps me determine how long it has been since each has laid.  This is easy for us since we only have three chickens.  If you have more, it may be more difficult to keep track of an individual chicken's laying habits.    

Up to this point, I have been marking the egg count on a standard calendar hung on the side of the fridge, changing the page each time a new month begins.  However, I have yet to purchase a calendar for 2014, and to be honest, it takes up a lot of space when all it is really used for is counting eggs.  So, when I saw this chart on I thought it was a great idea.  I decided to create my own with less text to make a cleaner looking chart for my fridge, and the chart below is what I came up with.  I think it will be simpler to use than the calendar since I will be able to see the entire year at a glance.  I also love that it has a line for totals each month.  With my old calendar, I had to count the tally marks each day which took too much time if I wanted to know how many eggs the girls had laid in all.  

I also look forward to being able to quickly compare the girls' production from month to month simply by looking at the chart.