Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving: Menu Outline

Need a menu outline for your Thanksgiving meal?  We are cooking for 25 and really looking forward to it.  We create a menu outline and email it around to everyone.  Anyone that wants to bring a favorite dish can then add their name next to an existing menu item or add a new menu item with their name next to it, then gray it out.  Then they reply/all so everyone gets the most current menu.  Even our children get involved if they wish.  Guests can bring what they want, some elaborate dishes, some old family traditional dishes and some simple.  Personally, I think it is great to have some unadulterated carrots and other vegetables on the table to round out all the buttery, sugary dishes!

We fill in the items that are just easiest to do at our house -- and also a few items that we specifically grew for a particular dish (creamed onions).  Also, I try to make a Pecan Pie for Andy because he doesn't ask much of me, but REALLY appreciates this pie.  My daughter's tradition is cheesecake so she makes that every year.  After everyone has a chance to fill in what they wish to bring, we make all the rest.

Hope you all have a great time with family and friends this Thanksgiving day!

Thanksgiving 2013 Menu

Turkey Andy
Gravy Kerrie
Stuffing Kerrie
Potato Andy
Butternut Andy
Creamed Onions Kerrie
Sweet Potato Margaret
Other Veges - Roasted Brussel Sprouts Margaret
Pickle Tray
Cranberry Sauce
Other favorites???
Horse d'ovres:
Cheese/crackers Margaret
other favorites???
Apple Pie
Pecan Pie Kerrie -- Andy's favorite
Oreo Cheesecake -- Meghan
Pumpkin Pie - Doug
Ice Cream
Whipping Cream -- Russell+Sydney
Other favorites???
Cider Margaret
Other favorites???

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rotiserie chicken: Simple Math: (aLittleBitOfJunk + a LittleBiOfJunkt + aLittleBitOfJunk)* everythingWeEatInAday = aLOT

There are two things I have been meaning to do for a long time.  One is to purchase a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store and compare it to our own.  The other is to purchase a hamburger and have my puppy (who really likes good food) compare it to our own.

First the hamburger -- I couldn't do it.  I will soon and let you know the results.  The packages are just so big and I don't really even want the dog eating it.  Though when we were on vacation in August, she did get boiled eggs from the grocery store -- very pale looking things -- and she got raw hamburg to supplement her kibble (a small amount of Wilderness Puppy) and the hamburg wasn't looking too good to us.

Now for the chicken.  It really doesn't stack up well against our Maple Heights Farm broilers -- or likely any broilers from any local farms around here. Ok, the price was cheaper.  I didn't weigh the bird, but it might have been a little more than half price compared to ours.  This was $8.99 for the rotisserie chicken and ours is $4.50/lb.

Ok, and it was cooked so easier to get onto the table (but not much).  But at what price.  I'm uncomfortable with plastic touching my food -- especially if the plastic is sitting in very (VERY) warm conditions for some number of hours.  And don't get me started on warming Styrofoam.   To cook one of our chickens, it needs to be thawed (about 30 seconds work), rinsed and placed on a roasting pan (about 3 minutes), sprinkled with salt and pepper (another 30 seconds) and put in the oven.

Perdue Giant Roaster Chicken Ingredients: whole roaster breast, water with 2% or less of salt, sodium phosphate, dextrose, brown sugar, carrageenan, flavoring.  Note that it is not saying that it is injected with 2% of water, just 2% or less of each of the following.  And why does a chicken need "flavoring" whatever that is???  Hmmmm???  And that is not all.  There is a BBQ Spice (probably the herbs on the top) salt, spices, onion and garlic, hydrolyzed soy protein, maltodextrin, oleoresin paprika, with no more than 2% silicon dioxide as an anticaking agent -- is that food??????  And if you could see spell checker going crazy with that ingredient list!

Maple Heights Farm Ingredients: CHICKEN!

Seriously, why do we need all that junk in our food?  Sure, you could say it is just a little bit, but it really isn't. 
It is a simple math equation: (aLittleBit + a LittleBit + aLittleBit)* everythingWeEatInAday = aLOT

Now the reviews from my family:  One wouldn't even eat it.  She can be like that (two of them can but one is away at college and didn't have the option of refusing this).  She doesn't have to eat food she doesn't trust -- and she won't eat it.  My foodie daughter says it was "fluffy" and that is not normal.  Another said it was salty and another didn't appreciate the "flavoring" as it tasted "fruity".  I have been spoiled by our real chickens that are real chicken and only chicken, that taste like chicken.

There is plenty of leftovers for the lunchbox, (quesadillas (family favorite) , chicken salad (add nuts, raisins and mayo)) but I don't know what to do with the bones.  Because I do not know what feed this bird has been fed, almost certainly laced with antibiotics, and the fact that it was likely raised in unhealthy conditions (by our standard) I am not a big fan of boiling the bones for my children because  I am concerned for what might accumulate in the bones.  I think I will make the broth anyways and feed it to the dog.  Surely it will be better than what she gets in her dog food??? 

Winner: Maple Heights Farm Broiler!  Yes, they cost more, but with careful meal planning they can be economical, more delicious, AND WHY WOULDN'T WE WANT THAT GRAVY!!! You
cannot get that from a rotisserie bird. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A baby's life on Maple Heights Farm

Feeding time
One of our summer babies
Baby Protected by Mom
This baby calf was born a few days ago.  Russell and his friend, Jake, were exploring and they discovered her (she was expected but we didn't know when).  In the morning, Andy found that she was alone without her mother.  This is common.  Typically a mom will hide the baby in the tall grass or in the woods so she can spend the time that she needs eating and drinking.  Later she will return and care for the calf.  Since the grass is not tall at this time of year, she was not hidden.  Because Andy found her alone he began monitoring her to make sure the mother was returning to the calf to care for her.  Andy put her in the barn just in case the mother wasn't taking care.  Sure enough, mom was faithfully returning to take care.  Everything is well and mom is doing a great job. This calf will grow at Maple Heights Farm and likely will become breeding stock -- having babies of her own.

Feeding again while Mom watches us
She will never receive any medications of any kind.  No antibiotics, no hormones, no worming medicine -- nothing. What if she gets sick?  This doesn't happen here very often here at MHF.  In the last few years, we have only had one cow (this past summer) who developed an eye infection, probably from walking into a stick.  This did not spread to any other animals and we monitored it but left it alone.  After a few weeks, she started to lose some weight -- very common with eye infections.  We were reading about treating it with tea (yes, Barry's English Tea) with honey and salt, which we have success with in the past (on our own children and with clogged tear ducts in our puppy).  Just as we were developing a plan, the cow started getting better.  Problem solved with no intervention.  What about worms?  Our cows eat a varied diet of very healthy plants that grow in the pastures.  We do not mono-culture, but instead encourage the plants that have been here for the last century and beyond.  This diet in addition to frequent rotation of pasture and our pasture management program seem to keep the worms at bay -- and out of the cows.  We are thinking of supplementing a few haylage bales with garlic, oregano and hot pepper which is thought to also help -- we would do this as additional insurance.  Would we treat with antibiotics?  YES.  DEFINITELY.  IF absolutely necessary.  It just hasn't been at all necessary.  So far we have a perfect record after 6 years on this farm!

Back to the calf...  She will nurse off her mother until her mother decides she is done.  We have had "calves" still nursing at 2 years!!  But more normally this will be about a year.  We will not interfere with this process.  The calf will not get milk-starter or grain or preventative medicine.  We believe her mom will give her the best start possible -- human intervention and processed foods are not better.  For now, the calf will only get mother's milk.  Eventually she will begin eating bits of grass (will become scarce over the next month or two) and our USDA Certified Organic Hay and Haylage (organic fermented grasses).   She will never receive grain or treats of any kind -- though if we have a hard winter where our feed is not providing enough calories for warmth, we will supplement with a non-GMO corn silage grown and fermented by Andy's father in Fitchburg.  We have not had a recent winter where this has been necessary and do not anticipate a need for this in the foreseeable future.  On occasion, an organic winter squash or pumpkin might get tossed over the fence and smashed for all the cows to nibble.  Pumpkin is thought to ward off worms (our puppy eats a spoonful every few days). 

She will likely decide to stay outside most of the winter through snowstorms and rain, seeking shelter in the barn only when the weather is at its harshest and then, likely only for the occasional night.  She will decide when she wants to be outside and when she wants to be inside.  As of this point in the year, our herd has chosen to stay out under the stars every night -- but it has not been cold -- only getting down to 20 degrees F thus far.

The mother will protect her initially.  This morning a sister-cow came by to lick the calf.  Mom pushed her away -- and not lightly.  Message received.  Coyotes are ever-present here (we have moved the chickens inside for protection) and a 300 pound bear has been present in the neighborhood and on the farm for the past few months.  The herd will protect this new baby and the three other baby calves that were born earlier in the year.  They do a great
job.  They will call to Andy if they need any additional help, but that is rarely necessary. 

During the day, she will stay by her mom while her mom forages.  At times, her mom will leave her in a protected spot and return when she can.  She will congregate with the herd in the lower fields and occasionally follow them up to the barn while they fill up on water.

Welcome new baby calf.  It is nice to finally have you here!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

English Muffins and Chili: Breakfast and Lunchbox covered!

Dough rolled in a ball and flattened.
After talking to my friend Carol, I decided to try her suggestion to make English Muffins.  Our English Muffin bread has been a favorite in this house for a long time, but actual English Muffins seemed to be too much for me to take on.

I get up early every morning and make breakfast for our current crew of 5 (one is away at college).  This may seem like a lot of work but I find that it is easier to make one breakfast for everyone than it is to clean up 5 different breakfasts from a family that is more than willing to cook in the morning.
Breakfast is served.

So, off I set.  I can throw together a batch of dough in about 2.5 minutes (literally).  I pre-package the dry ingredients ahead of time and I write the recipe in sharpie right onto my bread machine.  I make the dough at night and use my refrigerator as an "arrester" which means the dough rises very slowly over the night.  In the morning I flattened balls of dough and put them in the frying pan.  They tasted pretty darn good too. 
Egg and Chili Sandwiches for lunch!

Andy cooked up some surplus eggs last night (about 18) and I have some chili leftover from a Sunday football game (our own recipe that won first place in the Westminster chili cookoff a few years ago).  These will all be assembled into English Muffin, Chilli and egg sandwiches for lunch.

Lunch is packed.  Everyone gone and it is only 7:00!

It has nooks....  and crannies.

Who else gets homemade English muffins in the morning? ...  The Magees do!

You should make them "this" size -- hands held out bigger than any frying pan I have ever owned.

Are you going to make any extras and bag them up?

We will add this to our breakfast repertoire.  They were easy, turned some leftovers into a treat for lunch and everyone felt enjoyed sitting around the breakfast table with something good to eat!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Beef Shank Pot Roast, Gravy, Bone Broth (and marrow -- shhhhhh)

Cooking up some pot roast for dinner.  I'm using beef shank which gives me the added advantage of a few bones (marrow bones).  This is a simple, make-ahead dinner -- with plenty of leftovers!  First, sear each shank (about $5 each).  I'm using 3 because we have a few nights this week when we need a quick meal and the leftovers will come in handy.  Searing locks in the juice and helps keep the broth very clear -- which is nicer for the vegetables.  Not as much in the way of "floaties" sticking to them.  To this, I added about 5 roasted knuckle and marrow bones.  These bones not only flavor the broth but make the broth something special for other meals including soups and gravies.  (We also liberally feed out the broth to our high energy border-collie-without-an-off-switch in order to keep her bones strong).

After cooking for a day or two, at noon on the day you plan to serve this, remove the bones and add potato, onion, carrots and some herbs.  Skim the fat and make some gravy with it.

From the bones, remove any softened cartilage and add it to a collection of good-eats-for-puppy.  Also add a good dose of broth to her evening meal.

After dinner, remove meat and vegetables from the broth.  Add this to the remaining gravy for a gravy and toast fast-food meal. 

Add the bones back into the remaining broth.  Add a bit of organic cider vinegar in order to extract maximum minerals from the bones.  Minerals are the main reason that I add bone broths to our diet and I often wonder how much additional calcium my family needs after eating these broths.  Cook for another night (I simmer on VERY low on the stove-top). After refrigerating, a hard, beautiful, mineral-rich gelatin will await you.  Use this for sausage tortellini soup or add some to boiled water and feed-out to those suffering from a cold.

Now for the marrow.  I love the foods of France.  In France, they eat the marrow -- and Julia Child has told me to do the same.  Though I am a bit squimish about it, I am going to scoop the marrow from the bones, season it, and serve it to my family.  I'll probably make my best, homemade baguette and spread a think layer onto it.  I know they will enjoy it -- they all have a pretty adventurous palette and eat very little in the way of processed foods (pasta excluded).  Why would I do this?  Well, just to try it, but also because I believe that it is important to eat real foods.  Although this is fatty, it is also rich in nutrients.  It is also my firm belief that we should be honoring each animal by not wasting any of it where possible.  I'll let you know how it goes...

Now, for the remaining bones.  The broth is in the refrigerator and there is no need to throw out the bones.  We do not give these to the dog after they have been cooked as they may splinter and will not be safe for her.  They go in the compost pile!  I want these minerals to be returned to my soil in order to build up the mineral profile of my vegetables.

Note: It is my strong opinion that only grass-fed, non-medicated animals for bones should be used for these broths.  Animals from CAFOs and animals given medications and hormones, in my opinion would not be safe for me to feed my family -- or my puppy!