Eggs: The Fruits of Their Labor

Today is a very exciting day for the Thistlemoon Meadows homestead. We just finished an incredibly delicious farm fresh breakfast – from OUR farm. One of our sweet little hens gave us a very unexpected surprise this week – an egg, and then ANOTHER egg! This came as a surprise, because we were not expecting eggs until late November at the earliest.  They are only a week shy of 5 months, but at least one of them is mature enough to begin laying.

I can’t explain my excitement when I found that first egg. My heart swelled for this flock of birds that we have raised from day-old chicks. We have fed them the best organic feed, which happens to be local, and they feast on grass, clover and other greens as well as bugs, grubs and worms and our kitchen scraps (vegetables).

They have been such a joy to have, especially our special girl, Gimpy. But even the healthy ones all have such personalities and we have so enjoyed their greeting clucks and squawks whenever we  pass by.

I cannot ignore the fact that we are in the middle of harvest season, and as part of that harvest we can now add these eggs. I am just so thankful to our hens and for all the beautiful sun and rain we had this spring and summer that allowed them to have such good quality fresh food. You can tell by the deep color of the yolk. Look at your eggs the next time and take note of the color of the yolk, and how well the egg holds its shape after you crack it open – this will tell you so much about the quality of the eggs that you are buying.

We look forward to more eggs to come. But we wanted to really celebrate these first two. To do so, I made a delicious harvest breakfast – fried eggs, with bacon and kale homefries. The potatoes in the homefries were also from our garden. I served it all with a dollop of homemade ketchup.

Happy Harvest and Hallows to all!

Tagine Pot Roast

Now that the weather is growing colder and we are beginning to stay indoors more often, it is time for me to break out one of my absolute favorite cooking vessels – my beloved Tagine. I have used my tagine to make numerous tagines, but I have also used it to make beef stew, roasted chicken and stewed pork ribs, among others. I find that cooking with my tagine is unmatched when my goal is tender, fall-off-the bone, don’t-need-a-knife-to-cut-it meat.

Tagine cooking is really so simple, but the flavors are deep. These meals are perfect for a casual night at home, and at the same time impressive when you have guests over. Especially if you have a decorative tagine to serve it in. But the time commitment is minimal. In other words, perfect for absolutely any occasion.

This time I decided to start Tagine Season off right with a traditional pot roast. I slow cooked it with delicious root vegetables from our garden. It was the perfect meal on a cold night, sipping a glass of red wine and sitting by the fire. I look forward to many many nights like this, during the fall and winter months.

Tagine Pot Roast

INGREDIENTS:

1 roast ( I prefer grassfed beef)
salt and pepper
spices of your choice (I used an espresso meat rub)
olive oil for browning
¼ cup of red wine
2 TBS aged balsamic vinegar
3 large carrots in large dices
2 turnips in large dices
2 potatoes in large dices
1 large daikon radish in large dices
2 TBS dijon mustard
1 TBS of olive oil
dried thyme
rosemary sprig

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rub the meat with the salt, pepper and spices. In a large skillet brown the meat on all sides in olive oil (optional step). You can do this right in your tagine, if it is made of cast iron. While the meat is browning, toss your cut vegetables with dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper and dried thyme. If you are not browning in the tagine, once the meat is browned on all sides, remove the meat from the skillet and place in your tagine. Pour the red wine and balsamic vinegar over top and arrange your vegetables around the meat. Place a fresh rosemary sprig on top, put the lid on, and cook in the oven for about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Be sure to check every 45 minutes or so for liquid. If it needs more liquid, you can just add a tablespoon or so of water. Serve and enjoy!

Un-Processed: Is It More Expensive To Eat Organic and Local?

I don’t go to the grocery store very often anymore. I am lucky to have a variety of year-round farmers markets, local farm stores and independently locally owned markets that sell locally made food available to me. Generally going to the grocery store means that I am really really pressed for time, or desperately need something I can’t get at these stores like paper products. To save on gas, I might pick up some organic staples while I am there and make due for the week with what I have in the pantry and freezer. But I know that not everyone has this variety of Local Love available. So I wanted to talk about how the average person living pretty much anywhere, can eat organic and local and SAVE money.

Many months ago I had such an experience. We were actually still in Florida. I had just stocked up on frozen organic berries for smoothies and some organic meat ( which was on sale) and I was getting all my dairy to make cheese, yogurt and kefir for the week (not a farmers market week). The woman in front of me had her cart, which was not as full as mine, with frozen dinners, boxed lasagna, bags of frozen meals – where you add your own meat, soda and a few organic veggies (she was trying)– enough food for maybe a week of meals. I made sure to take note of her total just for curiosity’s sake. When my cart was rung up, my bill was only $2 more than hers. I had loads of fruits and veggies, grassfed beef, organic meats, frozen organic berries, eggs, dairy and pantry staples – things I would be using over the next several weeks. This really amazed me, because I have been told so often that eating the way we do, is too expensive for the average Joe or Joan. So much so, that I was actually starting to believe it.

This event has stayed with me all these months, and so when Andrew from Eating Rules asked me to guest post for his October: Un-Processed challenge (you can still take the challenge!!!), I enlisted the help of friend, fellow blogger and grocery store resister, Melissa from Alosha’s Kitchen to write a post about how eating locally and organic has reduced the cost of our food bills over a year by about 30-35%!!!

If you want to see how we did it, I suggest popping over to Andrews blog and reading all about it!

Learn how to  have fun in the kitchen and support your local community, while feeding your family healthy and nutritious meals that taste WAY better than pre-packaged fodder, for less than the cost of eating every meal out, or takeout, or from the frozen food section! Try it yourself and see what happens! There are several recipes in the post to help get you started! Enjoy and Have FUN!

Coconut Flour Pancakes

I just enjoyed a plate of these lovelies for breakfast this morning. I really enjoy pancakes, but have struggled for over a year now to find an easy go-to recipe that I don’t need to plan ahead for, like my Sourdough Crêpes. There have certainly been many disasters, but I can officially say, after testing this recipe several times over, that this is my new go-to recipe for fluffy pancakes. They are wonderfully delicious and also kid-tested and approved! Plus, they do not taste overwhelmingly of coconut, if you are not a coconut lover.

We eat these pancakes usually twice a week. I make more than we can eat when I prepare them, usually on the weekends. I pop the rest in the freezer, and then just heat them up in the oven on a weekday that we are craving something other than our normal egg dish. The thing that I love about these pancakes is that there are more eggs and dairy than flour. This really ratchets up the protein content and keeps us satisfied and going strong for longer than most typical pancake recipes. So I would recommend these not only for taste, but also for nutrition.

Although I have yet to experiment, I am sure that these pancakes would taste great with berries or apples mixed in. But what I really want to try, especially this season, is mixing some pumpkin in for an autumn version. The problem is that I love them so much the way they are, I just never get past the idea phase for these other versions!

Sometimes I even use the leftovers as a base for a quick dessert, like this one:

I sautéed some apples we had picked in butter, a pinch of rapadura sugar and cinnamon. I warmed up the pancakes, and spooned the apple mixture on top. Then I put a dollop of crème fraîche on top and drizzled it with a bit of Fat Toad Farm’s Original Cajeta or goat milk caramel. Heaven.

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Coconut Flour Pancakes
adapted from Nourishing Days

INGREDIENTS:

4 eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup of either yogurt or kefir
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 TBS honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup coconut flour
1 tsp baking soda
butter for frying

METHOD:

Preheat cast iron skillet over low heat and preheat your oven to 250F. In a large, using a hand mixer, bowl beat eggs until frothy. Mix in milk, vanilla, and honey, salt and cinnamon. Then add in coconut flour and baking soda, and blend together until you have a smooth consistency.

Grease pan with butter. Ladle approx. ¼ cup of batter into pan for each pancake. This batter will be slightly thicker than your usual pancake batter. So you will have to spread out slightly with the measuring cup or back of a spoon. The pancakes should be 2-3 inches in diameter and fairly thick.

Cook for a few minutes on each side, until the tops dry out slightly and the bottoms start to brown. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Add butter to the pan before each new batch.

Once the pancakes are finished cooking, place them on a cookie sheet in the oven to keep warm while you cook other batches. Makes approx. 10-12 pancakes, depending on the size of your eggs.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Seven Days Newspaper Features The Leftover Queen & The Foodie Blogroll!

This week has been spectacular in terms of media relations for this blog and for The Foodie Blogroll. I had an interview on The Afternoon News with Richard Brown earlier this week, and today a long awaited article about this blog and The Foodie Blogroll appeared in this week’s Seven Days, an altweekly  Burlington, Vermont Newspaper!

I feel extremely lucky and blessed with all this recent attention. I want to thank my loyal readers and Foodie Blogroll members for all your support of this blog and the blogger network all these years. Without you, none of this would have been possible. THANK YOU!!!! I will continue to do my best writing post about wholesome, natural foods on a budget, as well as continue my efforts  in partnering with great gourmet food companies and cookbook authors, to give you the best giveaways than any other food blogger network! The team behind The Foodie Blogroll may be small, but the network is a force to be reckoned with, with over 30 million monthly hits our widget is the most popular amongst food bloggers! So THANK YOU!

Please check out the Seven Days article here!

Happy Thanksgiving To My Canadian Readers!

If you heard me tonight on The Afternoon News with Richard Brown I would like to thank you for visiting my blog. You can find my Leftover Queen Thanksgiving Dinner post here. If you have leftover cranberries, you might want to try making my Cranberry BBQ Sauce Recipe.

I invite you to check out some of my other recipes on this blog! Thanks for stopping by!

Canard aux Olives, Preserved Plum Tart and an Ode to Applecheek Farm

This year we joined a CSA – a meat CSA. Most people are familiar with vegetable CSAs but this was the first time I had heard of a meat CSA. We are very fortunate here in our little piece of heaven called Vermont, to have many amazing diversified farms, including one in our town, Applecheek Farm. For us, Applecheek is not just a place to get raw milk, free-range chicken eggs, delicious grassfed beef, or pastured pork. It is also a community hub. Since we have moved here we have been to numerous “Localvore Dinners” catered by and served at the farm, a pig roast, as well as several farm tours.

Applecheek has become a destination for our out of town guests that come to visit us and want to see and experience a real farm, where many animals co-exist together, grazing on green grass, as opposed to a feedlot where there are thousands of one type of animal grazing in, well, their own excrement.

(My step-daughter Gwen having fun with chickens, Jenn at the Welcome sign, Rocio w/ pigs and llamas, a real tractor, Jenn with a goat and the happiest cows you will ever meet).

At Applecheek people can get up close and personal with happy cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys guinea fowl as well as non-food animals like emus, llamas, draft horses and retired pet goats. It is also a place where the local community gathers to eat good food, learn about sustainable farms and spend time with each other.

Rocio and John who have recently taken over the farm operations from John’s parents John and Judy, and Jason and Sarah, who run the catering operation and the Localvore dinners became the first friends we made when we moved here. They have helped us immensely by providing tips for where to get various things locally and of course where the good eats are. We all share a love for good, nutrient dense foods as well as home-brewing, lacto-fermentation and food preservation.

Here is the Applecheek Farm philosophy:

“We strive to produce food that encompasses dignity for our animals, stimulates local economy, provides optimal nutrition for our customers and restores the ecological capital within our soils. Our priorities here on the farm begin with the soil and the nutrients that develop within our land and ultimately passed on to those who eat our food. From our perspective, this is a grass farm that converts grasses into meat, milk and eggs. While many people refer to our farm as a sustainable farm, we feel it is simply not enough to sustain. We are committed to a restorative approach to farming our land and animals in an effort to increase the quality of our soils.”

A dream come true. It is the kind of farm that all of us dream we had in our town after watching Food Inc. or reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Our dream was realized when we moved to this part of Vermont, and we are grateful for it daily, as inevitably some food item from Applecheek graces our table at least during one of our daily meals, be it fried eggs and sausages for breakfast, a delicious burger, or in this case a whole roasted duck.

I am getting really familiar with duck in this household since joining the CSA, which invariably make the fire department really familiar with us because no matter what, I cannot stop myself from frying potatoes in the fat from the duck – which always makes the house a smoky mess, and sets off our alarm! But look at this beautiful dish – it is totally worth it!

Besides that, I am always trying a new recipe with the duck, this time, I decided to make something simple, a classic French dish – roasted duck with olives, or Canard aux Olives. I pretty much followed this recipe, except that I used white wine instead of broth, added some lemons (also stuffed the bird with lemon wedges), skipped the vermouth and used all green olives. I also cooked it in a 350 F oven, instead of on the stove top. I served them with those delicious duck fat fried potatoes. The result was an incredibly good roasted duck that was unanimously declared to be the best duck I have prepared to date. The bones and leftover meat I used to make a delicious stock and soup. Nothing went to waste.

For dessert I made individual preserved plum tarts. I made a crust using almond flour and butter, vaguely fashioned after this recipe pressed it into my individual baking dishes, and baked for about 20 minutes at 350F. Then I placed some of my plum preserved in brandy-vanilla-cardamom syrup and topped with fresh maple whipped cream.

Now since Applecheek really is a special place, I don’t expect that all of you, my dear readers have access to such a farm. But I am sure that you do have farms in your area where you can buy free-range, organic eggs, or humanely raised meat, or if you are lucky raw milk. So support them, learn from them, ask questions and help to make the food on your table a little bit better for you and your family. The more we support these farms, the more farms like this will be available to us! To find farms in your area, check out LocalHarvest.

Traditional Sauerkraut w/ Juniper Berries and Lacto-Fermentation Questions Answered

Last month in my post My Life As A Squirrel, I discussed various ways of preserving foods for winter. I did an overview of various preservation methods, advantages and disadvantages to those methods. I also made the case for why we, as Americans should be preserving more food. If you missed that post, be sure to check it out, it is full of great information.

I have also been featuring lacto-fermented foods on this blog . My most recent foray is in traditional juniper berry sauerkraut. You can see the recipe at the end of this post. My posts on lacto-fermentation have raised a lot of questions and comments from my readers about this ancient art of food preservation. Is it safe? For many the process of lacto-fermentation goes against fundamental things were have been taught about food safety. We have been taught to be afraid of food, in a world of industrial big agriculture, salmonella and e-coli scares.

I really did not feel like enough of an expert to answer some of those questions, being a lacto-fermentation newbie myself. So I consulted a professional! Through my good friend Jen, I was introduced to David Klingenberger owner of The Brinery, an Ann Arbor, Michigan business focused on the ancient art of fermentation. David agreed to answer some of my questions, and yours about this process of food preservation. He and I share a lot of similar thoughts and values when it comes to not being afraid of food, and what he calls the “re-skilling” that is so important to people interested in preserving traditional foods.

Lacto-fermentation has had a very long history. What personally draws you to this ancient form of food preservation?

As a young man 10 years ago, I found my way to a local organic vegetable farm here in south eastern Michigan. I felt deeply drawn to growing food, and feeding my community. As I learned the skills of agrarian life, I was drawn to lacto-fermentation. I love that it is a raw food, teeming with beneficial bacteria that not only preserve the food, but are of the utmost benefit to our health!

The process of lacto-fermenting scares a lot of people. When I write posts about it, I have even gotten emails and comments from people claiming I will kill my readers if they make my recipes. The idea of allowing vegetables and other perishable food items to sit out at room temperature for weeks and sometimes months goes against the modern way of looking at food safety. What do you tell lacto-fermenting newbies who are interested, but at the same time afraid of these types of foods?

I think there is a re-skilling and a re-learning that is necessary for our modern culture! I like to remind people that fermented foods have been very common and continue to be so. Everyone knows yogurt, cheese, salami, sauerkraut. These are all naturally fermented foods. Yogurt is the perfect example, and perhaps the most socially acceptable in our modern age. It’s a much similar process with lacto-fermented vegetables. There is a modern myth that we must destroy all Bacteria. (for example anti-bacterial soap). We need the beneficial probiotics found in lacto fermented foods!

Once the food has gone through the fermentation process, how does it need to be stored? Many recipes and books call for refrigeration, but people have been preserving foods this way before the advent of refrigeration and some say they can be stored in a cool basement. Can these foods be stored out of the fridge, and if so for how long? At what temperature? Are there some basic guidelines that you can share based on your experience?

Good question! Theoretically fermented foods do not need refrigeration! However the warmer it is the more it ferments. I have had sauerkraut in a basement for 8 or 9 months before. It wasn’t the best texture or flavor, but was totally edible and fine! So Yes, I do believe out of the fridge is fine. The middle of summer is probably not a good time to leave it out for extended periods! Make batches in the fall, and it will ferment slowly and keep longer in the cold of winter! Fermented foods will keep better the colder they are stored! And that is where refrigeration comes in! It’s not necessary, but allows more temp. control. Remember: if a proper laco-fermentaion has occurred then, you cannot get sick! I think it just comes down to taste/texture preference!

How can you tell if something has been properly lacto-fermented? Are there any tell-tale signs?

As far as I know, proper lacto-fermentation occurs under the brine! As long as the veggie are submerged under the salty brine, they will ferment! Conditions become very inhospitable to pathogens in that salty brine! The ph lowers quickly, which means the acidity levels rise! I have an electronic ph meter that I use to measure ability levels. LACTO-FERMENTATION CREATES CONDITIONS UNFAVORABLE TO PATHOGENS! Especially when their is no hermetic sealing of the jars!

Your company, The Brinery, sells several different kinds of lacto-fermented veggies. What is the first lacto-fermented food you tried, and do you have a favorite variety today?

At the Brinery I make Sauerkraut, Pickles, and Kimchi. Within those categories, I make many variations! I started out 10 years ago with good old sauerkraut, which I think is the perfect gateway fermented veggie to make at home. It doesn’t get more simple and pure than cabbage and salt! For my business, Kimchi has become quite popular. I just started making it for the Brinery, and love it! I try and do my own variation on a traditional Korean kimchi. I use dried Korean hot pepper flakes, and fish sauce for a traditional flavor. I try and source all produce from local organic farms. I also offer a vegan kimchi with no fish sauce. I have enjoyed making cucumber pickles, and turnip pickles as well. I am constantly experimenting and attempting to come up with new recipes!

Do you have any tips, anecdotes, etc. for people that are interested in learning how to prepare fermented foods? Any advice to those who have some experience but want to broaden their fermentation horizons?

I love preserving food through fermenting! Anyone can do it with little experience or investment. I feel it’s an important step in the re-skilling of our modern culture. Do it for health, for fun, for homesteading! Don’t be afraid. Trust yourself. Food is not scary. It doesn’t have to come from a factory or a laboratory. Food was naturally fermented at home for thousands of years! Even if you see moldy funky stuff on the top of you fermented veggies, that’s o.k. Scrape it off, and most likely, what ever has been under the salty brine is o.k! Don’t be afraid!
Anything you want to share with readers that I did not cover in the questions, but that you feel is important to share?

Have fun, eat living raw food! I think the best introductory book is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz!

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Recipe for Traditional Sauerkraut with Juniper Berries
from The Joy of Pickling

INGREDIENTS:

5 lbs trimmed and cored white cabbage- save some of the outer leaves
3TBS pickling salt
1TBS whole juniper berries

TOOLS:

5 pint sized mason jars

METHOD:

1) Quarter the head and shred the cabbage very thinly.

2) Add salt and juniper berries to the cabbage and thoroughly mix with your clean hands.

3) When it has softened and released some liquid – about 10-15 minutes, pack the cabbage into pint sized mason jars and tamp down with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, pour the brine evenly over the cabbage.

4) Weight the cabbage to keep it under the brine. Place a clean outer leaf from the cabbage on top of teh shredded cabbage and then place a food grade plastic bag filled with more brine on top of the leaf (1 ½ TBS pickling salt for each quart of water), in case of a leak. This helps if the brine gets scummy – you can replace the leaves instead of skimming off the scum or mold. Cover the container with a cloth or pillowcase and store in a dark place.

5) Within 24 hours the cabbage should be submerged in its brine. If it isn’t dissolve 1 ½ salt in 1 quart of water and pour as much as you need to over the cabbage. Check the sauerkraut every day or two for scum. If you find it, remove it, and replace the brine filled bags and cabbage leaves.

6) Start tasting the kraut after 2 weeks. It will be fully fermented in 2-4 weeks at 70 degrees and 5-6 weeks at 60 degrees. It will have a pale golden color and tart flavor.

7) Store it, tightly covered in the fridge or cool place. Or you can freeze it for later use.

This is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania. Check out the other great posts!