Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chicken in the Crockpot

Admit it, you are expecting a recipe or a review of a delicious dish.
Well, this IS chicken in a crockpot but I hope you won't want to eat it. Let me first provide a brief history of how we got to this place...
We have a largish flock of Buff Orpington chickens and one of the reasons we selected this breed was because they are said to be more broody than some other breeds. We thought it would be nice if our flock could self-propagate. We recently, as in 'for a couple months now', have had a handful of broody hens at any given time. A few weeks ago we hatched the idea of letting a couple of the hens sit a clutch of eggs each. I could go on at some length about how not to go about doing this, which is exactly what we did. It was a whim more than a plan. And we watched as musical chickens took turns sitting the eggs. At all times, someone seemed to be shouldering the responsibility for warming and turning and we just thought we'd see what happened.
Forward to this late morning when I'm checking nest boxes for freshly laid cackleberries and I find a partially hatched chick. With a hen who seemed to think this soggy, weak, completely confused speck of a chicken was some sort of danger, I had to make a decision quickly and, for better or worse, I chose to remove the emerging chicklet and the other eggs to a different location. Like a crockpot on my dining room buffet. Oh, that does sound bad, doesn't it?
I've been cycling the crockpot on and off of the Keep Warm setting to maintain a warm enough but not too warm environment.

I decided to use a wait-and-see approach and let her continue to work her own way out of the shell. A friend arrived and took one look and said, "You DO know you need to keep them moist, right?" Well, if I DID know that, then they would probably have been moist at that point. I asked her to lend her expertise and she helped the chick out of the drying shell and membrane and it captured her heart. I don't know if the chick think's she's her mother, but my friend does.

Here's the newly released bird resting and drying out. My friend acted like a mother hen. Really. She kept fussing and making sure the warmth was at the right level, helping it to sips of electrolyte mix. The whole nine yards.

And it is now a fluffy and lively little chick that gets very excited each time my friend peeks in on it.

As for the other eggs - we're waiting to see if they will hatch as well. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Does "GF" Mean?

Just over six weeks ago I began a challenging dietary change. I took gluten, sugar and dairy right off my menu. I'd been feeling sick, fatigued, and depressed for some time. I needed to change something. I had never thought I had a gluten issue. I mean, I mill my own grains fresh and bake wonderful homemade bread. Real bread. Really good bread. Make your tongue slap your brain good. But I read a book called The Blood Sugar Solution and decided to try a six-week reset for my body. At that point, GF to me just meant gluten-free.
Eating gluten-free has been challenging on many levels. Not the least of which is because my family is not eating gluten-free. My husband and father continue to enjoy their favorites. Many of which I make for them. And darn it, I make some good gluteny food. Soft pretzels, bagels, biscuits, homemade bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies (savory and sweet) - the list goes on and on.
I am faced with changes in taste and texture. Nothing but gluten produces that spongy, elastic dough that is as smooth as silk and stretchy to boot. Things just aren't going to be the same.
And I need to find new recipes and learn a new way of making baked goods. Vinegar or lemon juice are added with soda or baking powder to get a rise out of doughs. I quickly determined that I didn't like the pasty, white GF breads make with flour of potato and tapioca starches. Not enough taste or structure.

And I'm learning to use coconut and almond flours. Very tasty and nutritious. I have finally found a pizza crust I like. And the thing that got me blogging again was this "bagel" recipe. Now if you're going to be hard-nosed, you can say these aren't bagels. But try going without for a month or two and you will likely find your definition and requirements blurring a bit.

I just had to shout from the blog-top when I had one of these! Yippee! It's so hard not to eat the whole batch. This recipe comes from Laura's Gluten-Free Pantry. I did swap out 1 cup of freshly milled millet for 1 cup of the almond flour. I love millet and almond flour is admittedly pricey. Hence the switch. And I used our honey in place of sugar. Then, as you can see, I topped them before baking with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt and dried onion bits. I can't wait to toast my next one!

And you can see that these are not small. The recipe called for making them in a doughnut pan but I don't own one. However, I have lovely large English muffin rings my husband made for me. I buttered them and laid them on buttered parchment. Not a drop leaked out. And I only had six of them although the recipe says it will make seven. These are easily 1 1/2 inches thick and 3+ inches across. I'm just so tickled!!

And then I said to myself - it wouldn't be hard to make a GF cornbread. In fact, I just swapped GF flour for regular flour and again used our honey instead of sugar. It will be so nice to have some baked goods from time to time.

I'll try and share the coconut cookies recipe and multi-grain pizza crust recipe soon. Both gluten-free, of course!

So what does GF mean to me now? How about Good Foods or Great Feelings? Because that's what I'm eating and how I'm regaining my health!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gobble Up Those Apples

Everybody likes apples, right? I know we do. And so do the woodchucks. And the rabbits. And the other morning I saw that wild turkeys do, too! I looked out the kitchen window (hence the less than stellar photos through the window screen) and saw what appeared to be a "family" flock. Multiple large turkeys as well as half-grown and in-between sized. I believe I counted 18.

I mentioned that the woodchucks and bunnies like the apples, too. Actually, I think the rabbits are just eating the grass under the apple tree. But the whistle pigs are stuffing apples in as fast as they can. And getting plumper by the day. It turns out that turkeys are similar to chickens. You see, in the picture below there is a bunny in the upper right corner. The turkeys were more than content to graze with said rabbit. But when the woodchuck came out, they chased it right back home.

My chickens will squawk and scream like they are being eaten by bears if they so much as see a woodchuck in the yard. And with all those apples around, you can well imagine that my backyard is frequently filled with the sounds of panicked chickens while the offending chucks eat their apples seemingly oblivious to the chaos they cause.

Isn't a wild turkey just a magnificent bird? There seems to be a very healthy population in the woods and fields around here. I enjoy seeing them pass through our yard and pasture from time to time. Last spring we enjoyed watching a mama turkey with her little brood. Maybe I should consider getting my license?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

When the Cows Come Home

Which is about when both my readers thought I'd make another post. I will make no promises here - just consider this a random, semi-annual post. If more follow, then you and I will both be surprised.
The cows did come home. Several times. One of the last times was after a two day absence in which we recieved several reports of sightings and shenanigans. There were the neighbors we know who knocked on the door to say, "I think I just saw your cows all the way down by the next road." The neighbors we'd never met who knocked on the door to say, "Do you have two big black cows?! They are in our garden. Eating." I felt so bad. After reassuring her that they weren't dangerous and would flee if she approached them, I went and hung my head in shame. Eventually, after a multi-hour attempt at roping and leading them home failed, another neighbor saw them in the field next to our property and offered to help chase them back into their own pasture. Bless you JB. So the cows came home. I baked fresh blueberry muffins for both the neighbor with the egarden damage and JB. I wrote a note of thanks and one of apology. I offered to make it up to them... somehow.
And then I called my husband (who was at work during the cows return) and said, "Stop on your way home and buy these pastured bovines some cow crack! I want them to be dependent upon you as their drug dealer until the butcher can fit them in his schedule. There will be no more wayward steers!" He, much relieved to hear that they were, indeed, confined to their own pasture once again, stopped and bought them some corn. It didn't take much to get them hooked and they would stand at the fence all day looking for someone to bring them a scoop. (Insert sigh of relief.)
I called the processor and made an appointment. I called family and let them know, "Your beef will be on it's way soon - make room in your freezers."  And then I took my own advice.
I know my husband's penchant for cranberries with his turkey. You know, that pasture-raised turkey we put in our freezer and can? And he won't eat that jellied storebought stuff. No way. Turned out I had a lot of cranberries stashed in the freezer. Since you can't buy them year-round, in season I'm always snagging them when I see good berries for a good price. There must have been a lot of good prices. I believe I uncovered (between two large chest freezers) about 20 bags. Including a couple of monster-sized Costco bags.

I got inspired and decided to make up the cranberry conserve he liked and can it. Ready-to-eat. After studying the recipe I found it to be even more acidic than the recipe for basic cranberry relish in the Ball canning book so I didn't make any changes. Lots of fresh lemons, fresh oranges, fresh Granny Smiths and frozen cranberries later, we had significantly more room in the freezer. And 50 pints of Cranberry Conserve in the pantry. I won't encourage anybody to can something that isn't an official canning recipe but it is a very tasty dish. I will encourage you to try it with your next turkey. Or pork roast. Or roast chicken. Or come help us eat some. I left out the nuts from the recipe to add fresh and toasted on the day of use.

ANYWAY, I also canned frozen peach filling. Talk about making work for yourself. Freeze it and then can it. I was desperate for space. And I dehydrated frozen peas. And canned a couple of frozen turkeys.

The day came When the Cows Came Home. I had to laugh when my husband noted that he wouldn't have thought we could fit a steer in the Subaru. But we did and we hurried home to tuck all that frozen, vacuum-sealed, pasture-raised deliciousness in the freezer. We had managed to free up almost one entire chest freezer for this purpose. We organized, we applied our best Tetris skills, we used up every square inch we could. And it all fit!!

All except 63 pounds of ground meat. So I started canning. Are you starting to see what it is I do when food storage is in doubt? I can. I can all I can.

You can brown 10-12 pounds at a go when you use a roaster over two burners. Win!

And we chopped veggies, we browned meat, we formed meatballs, we cheated and used store-bought red sauce because, frankly, the kitchen was already a disaster site with the beef preservation. And we chipped away at 63 pounds of beef slowly defrosting in a large chest cooler in the dining room. If that isn't motivation to keep working, I don't know what is.

And when the dust settled, we had beef vegetable soup, meatballs in sauce, and ground beef for super-speedy dinners! Here are some of the jars of wonderfulness waiting to cool and head to the pantry.

I'm especially excited because for me, each of these jars represents a day with extra sewing time this late fall-winter-early spring. Yay! Dinners nearly done before I even get started. I see me finishing a quilt!

No promises but I think I may have another post or two in me at the moment...