Monday, September 24, 2012

New guinea keets

Only two guinea hens remain from the six guinea keets DS received from a neighbor almost two years ago.  Without a guinea cock, all their egg-sitting this summer was for naught.  But they're still here and don't wander too far so I wanted to add to the flock while these two are still around to show the new guys how to survive. (I hope!)  Plus, I kept imagining how sad the lone guinea would be if something happened to the other one.  Too anthropomorphic?  Maybe, but I really like having guineas--they're excellent at bug patrol and extremely entertaining, too.

This past weekend I went to the monthly poultry swap held in the Harrisonburg Tractor Supply parking lot and came home with guinea keets: 9 three-months-old adolescents and 14 two-days-old keets--all pearl greys.  The older ones are in the chick brooder pen for now while the little ones are in a dog crate set under a table on the front porch.  DH lined the crate's walls with cardboard and hung the heat lamp in one end.  I spend half the day running outside to "check" on them--nothing's ever wrong, I just can't resist watching them. 

They're so young that when they fall asleep, they almost fall.  They drop right where they stand and, unless another keet runs over them, they'll stay like that till they've had their short nap.  Then it's back up and going. 

Two of the older keets escaped from their pen--it has flight netting over the top so I think they squeezed out where the door doesn't fit tight against the frame.  We keep a bungee cord stretched tight over a piece of chicken wire used to bridge the gap, but the bungee wasn't fastened so there was an opening just waiting for a determined guinea keet or two.  DS found the escapees when he went out this evening to close them up.  They were hanging around trying to figure out how to get back inside so we took advantage of that desire and used an old window screen to trap them, returning them to the brooder house with the other keets for the night.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hot sweet chile-garlic sauce - the new ketchup...

I cannot believe I haven't posted this recipe yet.  Made this sauce last fall with some of the last hot peppers from the garden and after opening the first jar, we decided to ration it so we wouldn't run out before we could make more this summer.  We're using it as a dipping sauce, like ketchup, for fried potatoes, meats and wraps like spring rolls (fresh or fried) plus brushing it on grilled vegetables and meats and any other way we might use a sauce with a little kick. 

My niece posted a FB photo of their homegrown chicken wings (photo above) prepared with this sauce. She wrote "decided we need the recipe. They were perfect." So here it is.

Hot Sweet Chile-Garlic Sauce
1 cup vinegar (5% acidity for canning - I use white or apple cider vinegar)
1 cup water (or fruit juice -- see note*)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
1-1/2 cups hot red peppers, stemmed and seeded (save the seeds)

Briefly blend peppers in a food processor or blender so peppers are reduced to small bits but not liquified.  Drop seeds in and blend for a short burst or two at the end, just till seed clumps are broken into individual seeds.  Seeds should remain whole.

In a large, heavy saucepan, bring vinegar, water (or juice/fruit, if using), sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt.  Reduce the heat and boil gently until the mixture thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

Stir in the peppers and garlic.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a rolling boil.  Let it boil for several minutes, until temperature on a candy thermometer reads 230º or a drop of sauce in cold water forms a short thread.

Pour into canning jars (pints or smaller) and process 10 minutes in a BWB or store cooled jars in refrigerator where the sauce should keep well for at least a year.

*Note:  Excellent with pureed peaches or nectarines.  Maybe applesauce or plums?

Notes from 2011-09-29 batch:
Pureed nectarines left from batch of nectarine vinegar (made with 2 quarts white vinegar, 1 quart chopped nectarines, 1/2 cup sugar - let sit in cool, dark cabinet for 6-8 weeks, strain off fruit) subbed puree for water in recipe above.  Yield was 4 cups of pureed fruit so all ingredients, except sugar, were quadrupled.  To offset sweetness of fruit (even though vinegar-soaked), sugar used was closer to 6-3/4 cups than the 8 cups called for when recipe X4.  Peppers were a mix of hot red peppers including hot banana, cayenne, jalapeno and cherry peppers.

Yield for X4 was 5-1/4 pints so as recipe is written above it should yield around 2-1/4 cups sauce.

Adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A savory bread saver

I went to a homeschool convention earlier this month and stayed at a hotel where I could take advantage of the in-suite mini-kitchen to prepare my solo meals.  I brought some favorite homemade foods like thick yogurt, nutty granola cereal and nectarine kombucha along in a cooler but stopped at the C'ville Great Harvest Bread Co. on my way over the mountain to pick up a loaf of their sliced honey-whole wheat bread since I didn't have enough time to make bread before I left.  Of course, as soon as you enter the bakery, someone offers a slice of just-baked bread -- this time it was a crusty slice of  a savory spinach feta bread.  Since it was a little heartier than plain, I picked up a round loaf to take with me for my dinner.

When I got back home a few days later, I still had about half a loaf of the spinach feta bread.  Cubed and dried in the dehydrator for several hours, it went into a jar on the pantry shelf.  Then yesterday, I had a package of pork chops and a can of apple pie filling (recently found at the back of a pantry shelf...) which I wanted to turn into several freezer meals DH could take to work, the dried bread cubes became the basis for homemade stovetop stuffing that was out of this world!

I used a very simple recipe from Kraft which called for browning chops in a little oil and then putting apple pie filling in an ovenproof casserole, topped with the pork chops and prepared stuffing.  The spinach feta bread made this recipe.  I'm going to have to remember to make savory breads like that just for the purpose of using as a base in the stuffing!

Pork Chops with Apples and Stuffing

  • 4 pork chops
  • tablespoon or so of vegetable oil for browning the chops
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 (20-oz.) can apple pie filling
  • 3 cups dried, cubed bread (I used the spinach feta bread from Great Harvest)
  • pinch each of sage, thyme and celery salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion or 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth or water
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Brown pork chops in a little oil in a heavy skillet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread apple pie filling in the bottom of an ovenproof casserole dish which is large enough to hold the four chops in a single layer. 

Bring broth, butter, and onions to a boil in a saucepan.  Pour in seasonings and bread cubes and toss to moisten.  Put the lid on the pan and let it stand for a few minutes till bread's completely absorbed the liquid.

Put chops on top of apples and mound stuffing evenly on each chop.  Cover casserole with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350ºF. for 45 minutes.  If desired, remove lid for last 5 minutes of baking time to allow stuffing to dry slightly.

Note:  I'm unlikely to have a can of apple pie filling the next time I want to make this so I plan to either substitute fresh apples or canned tart cherries packed in water which I'll quickly stew with a little sugar and maybe a dash of cinnamon before spreading in the bottom of the baking dish.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cleaning out the freezer. . . again.

I love the way food keeps without developing freezer burn in our manual-defrost freezers.  But I'm not too fond of the day, and it always comes, when they must be defrosted.

This weekend it was the big chest freezer that had to be turned off, then quickly unloaded, blow-dried out and re-packed.  We're getting better, though, as I only found two fruit juice popsicles and a lone mini-muffin (where did its packaging get to I wonder?) which had to be discarded.  But there were a couple packages of chicken, a package of pork chops and one chuck roast which needed to be used soon so I cooked a pot roast with vegetables for Sunday's dinner and thawed the chicken and chops in the refrigerator in covered containers of buttermilk.

Buttermilk seems to refresh even the oldest frozen chicken.  (And it's not too bad as a marinade for frozen pork either.)  One package of chicken was boneless, skinless chicken breasts and those went straight on the grill when they'd thawed.  I'll use them sliced on a garden salad and in quesadillas for lunches later this week.  The other package was bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts which I turned into seven pints of spicy pineapple chicken.  (The recipe, found on the Canning2 list a couple of years ago, is supposed to be a PF Chang copycat but I've never tried the original so can't vouch for that -- just that it's easy to make and tastes good when we need a meal in a hurry.)  I cut the meat from the bone and used the bones and skin to make the quart of broth called for in the recipe.  (Because I thawed the meat in buttermilk, I rinsed it before throwing the scraps in the pot for the broth.)

The photo below shows the jars right before I added the liquid to fill.  Pints like this are perfect for two but don't quite stretch when we're all three home.  But since I had the canner out I did a fast soak of 5 pounds of pinto beans and put up 7 quarts of beans when I'd finished the chicken.  (Sort beans and add to enough boiling water to cover by several inches, boil for 2 minutes, cover and let soak for 2 hours.  Drain and reserve soaking liquid, fill jars half-full with soaked beans.  Top with reserved soaking liquid, brought back to a boil, and process for 75 minutes at 10-lbs pressure. Altitude adjustment, if necessary)

The last couple of years I've made more meal-in-a-jar batches than my old freezer-style oamc.  There are still things I make ahead and freeze, of course, but for space-savings and ease of use, a meal-in-a-jar can rarely be beat.

PF Chang Spicy Pineapple Chicken
  • Chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces (I started with 3-lbs of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts)
  • 2 (20-oz.) cans crushed pineapple
  • 1 (8-oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained and juice reserved (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion per jar
  • 1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce per jar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic per jar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce per jar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar per jar
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar per jar (I used apple cider vinegar)
Stir fry the chicken.  Meanwhile, divide the crushed pineapple and pineapple tidbits among the jars.  Add seasonings. 

Divide cooked chicken pieces among jars.  Combine chicken broth and reserved pineapple juice, use to fill jars.  Leave 1" headspace.  Process for 75 minutes at 10 lb pressure. Adjust pressure for altitude if necessary.  (Refer to NCHFP website for directions.)

To serve: Add thickener such as cornstarch or arrowroot to sauce while heating and serve over rice.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The story of E.B. and her 3, 4, no, 5 chicks

Once upon a time, Echa, a Turken hen with an attitude and the indisputable queen of our laying hens, hatched a chick. 
Echa and E.B. in August 2010
It was her second time at being a mama hen.  The first time ended badly as she lost the days-old chick to a skunk.  The next time the baby chick survived and we named her E.B., short for Echa's Baby.  When Echa decided her work as a mother was done and dropped E.B. at a couple of months old, we moved her back to the portable chicken pen with the other laying hens and she returned, quickly, to being "top chicken."

Usually we move the pullets to the portable pen once they start to lay but E.B. grew into a pretty black hen and established herself as one of the backyard flock.  Even DH, who's always pointing out the backyard flock isn't supposed to increase in number but instead serve as a chick brooder staging area, couldn't bring himself to move E.B. 

We've observed that the hens who are hatched and raised by a broody hen are more likely than the hatchery-provided ones to go broody themselves.  So when E.B. (with Mrs. Badger's help) hatched Solly last year, we weren't that surprised.  And DH had noticed E.B. was showing signs of being broody again this spring.  But when he went to gather eggs at lunchtime on Thursday, he was little surprised to find E.B. sheltering three baby chicks in a corner of the backyard coop.  (I'd swear it was only 10 days ago that I saw E.B. out on walkabout in the front flower bed with Bronwyn...)

DH was in a hurry as he still needed to eat lunch, have a shower and pack his supper before heading off to work but he took time to prep the dog house and chain-link dog pen we use as a brooder and move E.B., her three chicks (two black and one chipmunk) and the rest of the eggs she had underneath her into their new home.  DS and I were off working on backdrops for an upcoming play he's participating in at our homeschool co-op and got a call from DH to let me know we should check out the new arrivals when we got back home later that evening.

But there was more to come.  When DH was back in the kitchen preparing his food, he kept hearing a sound, like a cheep-cheep, coming from somewhere in the kitchen.  While he'd moved the eggs E.B. was sheltering into the brooder with her and her hatchlings, he'd taken the eggs from the other corner of that coop and carried them into the kitchen in a basket.  Turns out the cheeping was coming from one of those eggs.  So he tucked those eggs back under E.B., hoping the one, at least, would go ahead and hatch out.

It must have worked as Friday morning we had four chicks. Then, Saturday morning E.B.'s sporting five chicks under her wings. 

E.B. is very protective of her chicks.  Her tail feathers stay ruffled and she continually makes a sort of low growling sound the whole time people are around.  Makes for interesting times changing out the water and feeder.  To get these pics I had to bribe her with treats (crumbly cornbread, this time) because she prefers to keep the chicks in the house if someone's outside the pen.

So far, then, on the "good mama scale", she's scoring high.  But writing this post reminded me of last year when she and Mrs. Badger hatched Solly and E.B. gave up mothering way early so she could re-join the backyard hens in roaming the yard.  Hope we don't have a repeat as Mrs. Badger can't be counted on to pick up the slack this year and I don't want to raise five chicks...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to make spring come early

It's easy if you know how.  Just knit a warm and cozy hat that you really want to wear.

In January I found a Cat Bordhi hat pattern with a Moebius brim and splendid wooly tendrils I couldn't forget.  And I needed a warm winter hat. So I started knitting my Arctic Anemone hat with some really, really soft, bulky superwash merino yarn beautifully dyed by Black Sheep Dyeworks

I finished the hat in time for a field trip DS and I were scheduled to make to Lexington on Feb. 14.  The weather report was pessimistic, promising sleet and ice, maybe snow.  But with my hat finished, I was ready to face it.   The morning did start out overcast but by mid-day we were walking around the grounds at VMI with our coats off and the sun shining brightly, warming us and making my hat superfluous.

This past weekend it snowed.  8 inches on Sunday!  I wore my hat all day.  By today all the snow had completely melted and the outdoor thermometer was registering 63ºF. at 5:30pm when I drove DS to his viola lesson.  I wore my hat anyway.  Drove with the window half-open so I wouldn't overheat...

Oh, well.  There's always next winter.  I'll be ready.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More dehydrated carrots

Two years ago I posted about buying 10 pounds of marked-down organic carrots and how I diced, blanched and dried them.  I even dried the peelings (but did not blanch) and used them when making stock or ground them to powder and used for seasoning blends.  I've continued to dry any extra carrots I have on hand.  They are very handy to toss into soup or rehydrate for a casserole.

Before Christmas I did a program for my Garden Club on garnishing.  Like most of our programs, it was a hands-on workshop so everyone brought their favorite sharp paring knife and went to town making carrot flowers, apple swans and more.  Garnishing is a lot of fun and especially nice to try when the garden is in full swing as you can just grab what you need and not worry about how many tomatoes you may ruin on the way to producing a perfect tomato tulip.  In the winter, the cost can add up.

To help contain the cost of the program, I planned to work with some vegetables we had from the winter garden.  Turnips and onions, both green and bulbing, make great garnishes and readily take up food coloring if you want to go that route.  Apples are another thing we keep in cold storage so I knew I'd have them available.  But I ended up buying a 25-pound bag of what's often labeled "organic juicing carrots" -- really big but still sweet and flavorful carrots.  They were perfect for cutting into garnishes and we've been eating the rest.

But they were beginning to sprout feathery greens and since I didn't want to lose the last 10 pounds or so, I determined to dry them.  This time I opted to scrub them rather than peeling and then shredded them in the food processor.  I spread them out on the papery lining because I didn't want the shreds slipping through the plastic mesh as they shrunk during drying.  I'll use them mainly for baking -- carrot cake or carrot-orange muffins are the first things that come to mind but I can also see using them in cornish pasties, meatloaf or spaghetti sauce and I'm wondering how they'd work in cha gio.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Running late with the seed orders

We save seeds for many of our vegetables each year but we still end up buying about half of what we plant each year -- mostly in the form of seeds. Sometimes it's because we didn't make the effort to save what we'd need or didn't maintain plant spacing so saving "true" seed wasn't an option, but the main reason is because we always have a list of new varieties we want to try.

After years of Jackie Clay extolling the virtues of Hopi Pale Grey squash it finally made the top of our "must-try" list and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was the only place I could find it. So I placed an order for the winter squash and a few other seeds on our 2012 garden list.  Their response time to the order was excellent as I placed the order on Tuesday morning and the seeds arrived in Friday's mail.

It's already time to plant onion seeds and a few other things indoors here in zone 6** so I must get the other seed orders out this weekend if we want to stay on track for spring planting.  Most of what we still need will come from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (just two counties away) but since they don't carry everything we want, I'll also be ordering from Pinetree and Richters and, if I can't resist the free shipping offer, Thompson & Morgan, too.
So who else is looking at seed catalogs and making lists or orders? How about seeding flats?  It really is that time of year...

**Note: Unsure of your planting zone? Check out the new-for-2012 interactive GIS-based USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.  It's a cool attempt to show more accurately "zones within a zone" where small pockets may exist within a geographic range.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Preserving in a great Christmas present

Yesterday I made marmalade in a maslin pan my mom gave me for Christmas.  It wasn't the first time I've used it since December but it was the first time I'd used it for it's intended purpose: preserving.

I'd already made several large batches of pudding and tapioca in it over the last few weeks. That's one of our favorite ways to use up the last half-gallon of milk left before we pick up the new week's share.  And the maslin pan's shape seems to contribute to the process by allowing me to heat the milk even faster than I can in the large heavy-bottomed pan I usually use.

But the citrus needed to be used and marmalade is great on its own and as an ingredient in food prep (on its own to glaze chicken, added to a little salsa for a good sauce for chicken or pork, sandwiched between cookies or gingerbread, heated slightly and drizzled over ice cream).  So this was my first opportunity to use the maslin pan as it was intended.

I used my standard marmalade recipe and started the process the night before when I put the chopped fruit pulp, thin-sliced peel and water in the pan, heated it to boiling and simmered for 5 minutes.  Then I put the lid on the pan and let it sit on the back of the stove till the next day.  So yesterday morning, I brought the fruit mixture back up to a boil and simmered it quickly till the peel was tender.  Then I measured the mixture and added 1 cup sugar for each cup of fruit.  The recipe I use comes from an old Ball Blue Book and is listed below but there are many marmalade variations available.

Once I add the sugar and stir to dissolve, I have to be prepared to devote my whole attention to the process for 30-40 minutes or until the mixture is brought to jelling temperature (8ºF. above the boiling temperature of water for your altitude or around 220ºF.)  I don't rely on the thermometer as much as I do testing the sheeting action and quickly chilling a few drops on a saucer to test for jelling.  Maybe I was just excited to use a cool new pan, but I thought the process went faster (timing was 28 minutes from start to jell) and while I couldn't walk out of the kitchen and I did manage to step away from the stove several times during the process without risking a boil over which has happened to me with other pans.

When it came time to put the marmalade in jars, I opted to use 23-ounce recycled applesauce jars with the plastisol-lined metal lids that feature a pop-up button seal.  This, of course, is NOT the recommended jar/lid type.  (Refer to the National Center for Home Food Preserving for approved canning information.)  Because I had doubled the recipe (again, NOT recommended) I ended up with 5 full jars and one three-quarters full which, upon cooling, went straight into the fridge for immediate use.  DH was already eyeing it this morning...

Orange-Lemon Marmalade
[Adapted from Ball Blue Book, year unknown]

2 cups thinly sliced orange peel
1 quart chopped orange pulp
1 cup thinly sliced lemon (including peel)
6 cups water
Sugar, as needed

Combine orange peel, orange pulp, lemon and water in a large preserving pan. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes. Cover and let stand 12 to 18 hours.

Bring to a rapid boil and cook over high heat till peel is tender, about 30 minutes. Measure mixture and add 1 cup of sugar for each cup of mixture.

Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches jellying point, about 30-40 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon butter to reduce foaming, if desired, and skim any foam from surface of mixture as it develops.

Pour hot into prepared jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath (see National Center for Home Food Preservation for detailed BWB directions). Yield: about 5 half-pints.

My notes: I added a lime to the mix because I had one and I like lime in marmalade. As long as I keep the ratio of fruit to liquid, then to sugar, the same as listed above, I've found I can use whatever citrus I have on hand, even grapefruit. And, when I have it available, pineapple juice is an excellent sub for some of the water called for. It adds a piquant tropical touch to the marmalade that's very tasty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A yard is enough

Sometimes I buy a yard of a fabric I just can't pass by.  It's only a yard and I can find a way to use it up, right?  Well, yes, most of the time. (And that's what I tell DH...)  But sometimes I just can't find the right project to commit it to.  In the case of the yard of cotton I used for my latest quilting project, the design was too big to cut up neatly and I couldn't bring myself to cut it up in small pieces to utilize it for just the bright colors -- I wanted a project that would take advantage of the design and the colors.  I really liked that yard.

Then when I was searching for just the right design for a baby quilt intended as a gift for a friend's adoption, I came across a book at the library, Joan Ford's Scrap Therapy: Cut the scraps and a project she calls "Once Upon a Scrap".  As soon as I saw the picture, I knew I wanted to make that quilt and I knew exactly which piece of fabric I wanted to use for the three main sections. 

As often happens once I decide on a "dream project" (one that incorporates and builds off favorite fabric, fiber, color, and/or design), the other bits came together without much effort.  I used odd bits of cottons I had on hand to cut out almost all of the 180 2-inch squares required for the two patchwork sections.  It was a lot of fun searching out blues, greens, reds, yellows in my fabric stash.  And I even found a couple of orange prints to use.

Because my mind usually tries to organize things I'm working with into patterns even when I don't want it to, I laid the stacks of colorful squares out on the ironing board and began to play with their layout.  I wanted to keep the patchwork section colorful and free without a discernible color placement order.  To aid that I purposely cut no more than 10 or 12 squares of any fabric so I wouldn't be able to fall back on a coordinated presentation.
I did end up buying a black, horse shoe-patterned fat quarter that jumped out at me on a trip to the local fabric store where I also found the perfect mottled blue cotton used for one of the borders and the soft flannel print used for the backing.  (And what I actually went there to purchase!)  Also, I used a wide green double-fold bias tape for the binding because I think it wears better than the straight-cut quilting cotton which the directions called for and while my best wish for this quilt is that it's worn to tatters by the little one it's intended for, I don't want it to be in tatters due to shoddy fabric or workmanship!
The cotton batting recommended quilting or tying at least every 4" or so and since I used flannel for the backing I planned to hand-quilt.  (I don't machine-quilt when using flannel for backing as I always have trouble with it "ruffling". YMMV)  The simple design encouraged me to just "quilt in the ditch" but the large landscape sections and the long blue border required more coverage. 

DH suggested I do a simple block pattern across those areas but when I attempted that, the white quilting thread didn't look right to me.  Usually I love a simple, primitive quilted design like that but it seemed to distract from the colorful quilt.  The fabric I couldn't bring myself to cut was instead cut up by little white stitches.  Well, not that little -- I average 6-8 stitches to the inch when quilting.  My grandmother, who hand-quilted all her work, considered anything less than 10-12 stitches to the inch to be a hazard as, in her words, "you could get your toenail caught in stitches that big!"

So this quilt features hand-quilting and tying.  I used embroidery floss, blue for the border and green for the design print, to tie the layers together that were deemed not suited to quilting.  DH asked me why I didn't consider hand-quilting with colored thread but I couldn't bring myself to use anything except my usual white cotton quilting thread for the hand-quilting.  Traditions are hard to break, you know?

Monday, January 9, 2012

One lost turkey yields quite a few current and future meals

Trying to clear out the chest freezer before we defrost it later this month and found a turkey. Yes, a 22-lb turkey, in fact. I don't know where it's been hiding but I spotted it under bags of frozen nectarines and strawberries intended for smoothies.

What's worse than admitting I lost a turkey in a large chest freezer? Admitting I haven't bought a frozen turkey in at least 2 years, maybe longer.

The turkey didn't show any signs of freezer burn but our manual-defrost chest freezer will hold well-wrapped meats and most produce in good condition for a long time. Drawbacks? It needs to be defrosted every 12- to 18-months and, if you're short like me, plan on standing on your head to retrieve anything that falls to the very bottom.

Because the outside temperature stayed in the 30s during the day (lower at night), I let the turkey thaw outside for several days. Instead of taking up (a LOT of!) space in the refrigerator, it sat (still sealed in plastic) on the deck in a large enamelware dishpan covered by a laundry tub. When it had thawed enough to allow the giblets and turkey neck to be retrieved from the cavities, DH plunged the turkey into a 5-gal (food-grade) bucket of brine (recipe here), enough to cover the turkey completely and set the covered bucket outside in the cold. Overnight temp was well below freezing but the high concentration of salt and sugar in the brine keeps it from freezing. I swear by brining -- it does wonders for a turkey, especially an aged one.

After brining overnight, I drained the turkey and soaked it in buttermilk for several hours. I did this because I've found with this step the skin will turn the most gorgeous perfectly-roasted brown color, even in a roaster oven, and, perhaps more importantly, the buttermilk soak lessens the saltiness of the pan drippings. Before I started taking this extra step, I didn't like using the pan drippings to make gravy or add to stock.

Rather than use a rack, I put carrots, onion wedges and celery stalks on the bottom of the pan under the turkey. They add good flavor. When the drippings are cooled in the refrigerator, it's easy to lift off the solidified fat that rises to the top. The gelled liquid goes back in the roaster along with the bones, skin and other bits and pieces plus water to make rich turkey stock.

This time, I cut up the roast turkey immediately, while still hot, and readied about half of it for canning immediately. I heated (home-canned) seasoned chicken broth in a pot and added the turkey to it as I carved. Then transferred the hot chunks of turkey to pint jars (ended up with 8) and added the hot broth to cover. Processed for 75 minutes while we had dinner: turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, butternut squash and peas. The rest of the meat went in the refrigerator destined for several days worth of hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, cold turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and, one of DS's favorites, turkey vegetable soup.

As soon as it was stripped, the turkey carcass went into the roaster oven which still contained the warm drippings and roasted vegetables. I added the roasted skin, the still-raw turkey neck and the gizzard from the giblet pack along with some fresh thyme, rosemary and sage leaves and about 3 gallons of water. The turkey stock simmered on a low setting (200ºF.?) for several hours while the canner was going and I cleaned up the kitchen. By then it was nighttime and I was ready to call it quits for the day. So DH helped me strain out the bones, skin and vegetables and set the covered roaster oven outside under the laundry tub till morning.

It was definitely cold enough overnight to chill the turkey stock thoroughly and I lifted off almost 3 cups of white turkey fat the next day. It's great for making pastry or biscuits to top a pot pie. The turkey stock I brought to a simmer, still in the roaster oven, and then jarred and processed in the pressure canner for 25 minutes. I really love the tall AA canner we have as it lets me stack jars so I could do all 11 quarts of turkey stock in one batch -- a definite time-saver.

I used part of the turkey fat to make potpie crackers which we ate with, naturally enough, turkey pot pie made from part of the leftover turkey. DH and DS also like the potpie crackers in their turkey vegetable soup instead of oyster crackers or crushed saltines but I've never been one to put crackers in my soup (served alongside, yes!) so I can't recommend that personally but even plain, as a snack, they're pretty good...

Potpie Crackers
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook and attributed to Doris Brubaker, Mt. Joy, PA)

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup turkey fat, other shortening or lard, or butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk, kefir, yogurt or buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in fat. Add eggs and milk, stir lightly and form into a ball. Divide dough into 3 or 4 parts. Roll each out on a lightly floured board, as for thin pie crust.

Either cut and transfer each 1" square or lift dough and lay in cookie sheet before cutting into small squares. Bake at 375ºF. for 10 minutes or until crackers are lightly browned. In my oven, the bottoms brown long before the tops -- check carefully.

Crackers keep well in tightly-covered container so can be made in advance. Except at my house the fact that they will keep is no guarantee that I can keep them. See note above regarding snacking...

Serve with creamed turkey or chicken, soups, anywhere you might think to serve dumplings or saltines.

Creamed turkey or chicken (like a potpie filling)
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook)

1/4 cup turkey or chicken fat or butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups turkey stock or chicken broth
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2-to-3 cups diced, cooked turkey or chicken
1 cup frozen peas or peas and carrots (optional)

Melt fat in heavy saucepan. Add onion, and celery if using, and sauté until translucent. Sprinkle flour over all, stir, and cook until bubbly.

Add liquids. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add frozen peas and turkey. Heat through and serve with potpie crackers.

Instead of peas, try adding a cup or two of any favorite leftover cooked vegetable you have on hand -- chopped broccoli, diced potatoes, or green beans are ones we like to add.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Last year it was felted hearts,

This year it's stockings -- elvish-styled stockings.

I don't know if it was DS's insistence that I read all four of Paolini's Inheritance Cycle books in late November or just one of those things, but when I sat down to make an ornament for my guild's annual exchange an elf bootie is what I kept coming back to no matter how many other ideas I tossed around. That's pretty much the same thing that happened last year when I made Grinch-styled hearts, from the same felted wool sweater...

Used a stocking template I found in a book, Sweater Renewal by Sharon Franco Rothschild, but have since run across Rothschild's original template in a November 2009 post on the Etsy blog. You can find her version and a link to a pdf including the template at this link.

Even though I think I was channeling elves this year instead of Grinch hearts, I couldn't seem to let go of the color combos that still remind me a bit of Dr. Seuss and the Grinch...

So far I've made three, one for the guild ornament exchange, one for the local homeschool support group exchange and one for my aunt.  Each is a little different as I played with the embroidery stitches but they all share the same overall shape and the feather-stitching (plus beads down the front) following the seam lines.  I used a combination of regular DMC embroidery floss and pearl cottons.

And perhaps it's more than just Paolini's books influencing the elfish choice this year. It also could be I was influenced by these little guys who live in my corner china press. They were my mom's when I was little and she gave them to me a few years ago -- I still like them.

They were always so cheerful-looking when I'd spot them under one of her flower arrangements or just hanging out on a shelf somewhere. I couldn't pass them up when she offered.