Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roasted Chicken, Biscuits and Gravy

Four small cottonwood trees, cut and stacked, seasoning for future use.

The log cabin is a bastion of warmth along 
the cold waters of Clear Creek.

     It is cold.  It was 2°F outside this morning when I awoke.  Ruby and I are impatiently awaiting an upcoming move to southern Oregon for a wider range of employment opportunities and higher quality, local foods.  Also, I must admit there is reason enough to migrate from this cold weather.  An inch or two of very fine powder fell in overnight but the magnificent crystalline formations found along the creek made an early rise worth the effort.  Minus 30°F is the lowest I have seen the thermometer read here, although it is said to have gotten even colder than that.  It hurts to breathe when it's that cold.  Winter has arrived and I am thankful for the abundance of firewood that I cut, split, and stacked on this side of the creek.  The new temporary bridge I built in October has been helpful as well, especially for transporting the wood via wheelbarrow.  
      A hydrologist and equipment operators have been working tirelessly on the new, permanent bridge's abutments and on stabilizing the banks of the creek by redirecting the inertia created during the high-water runoff, which could erode the foundation of the house.  (The footbridge we use to access the house was washed away in June.)  Four small cottonwoods were, unfortunately, rooted where the new bridge is to be placed.  That meant that I needed to fell, buck, and stack the rounds to season the wood for next year.  Cottonwoods burn well but are very fibrous and, therefore, difficult to split unless thoroughly dried.  The log cabin, which we have called home for the last year, is heated primarily by a large Rumford fireplace (which Ruby helped build) and a Glenwood cookstove.  The crackling fire centered in the home satisfies the soul throughout the bitter, lonely winters.  It's a good thing we have so much wood too, did I mention it's cold?

     Family has begun to arrive for the holiday and a surprise visit from a friend has also helped to warm the house.  Michelle Jorgensen went to high school with me in Martinez, California.  We did not know each other well back then, but worthy relationships certainly don't always develop in such a simple manner.  When Ruby and I lived here a few years ago (before moving back to California, only to return last fall) we left a few pictures of my family and us on the refrigerator.  A family friend whom was staying at the house for a few nights had invited some co-workers over to hang out.  At the time he was working at a local dude ranch with many other young adults from around the country.  Michelle was also, at the time, working at the ranch after spontaneously deciding to relocate to the rural wilds of Wyoming.  When she recognized me in the photos and, then later my father (who was her P.E. teacher in elementary school), she must have felt some sense of cosmic warmth in knowing just how small this world can be.
     Since then, Ruby and I moved back to Buffalo last fall to work at that same ranch. Michelle and I have gotten to know each other a little and mutually appreciate each others' blogs.  She writes a travel blog showcasing her adventures here and around the country with her stunning photography and intriguing stories of a life seldom experienced.  The blog is called travel 'til my home is found.  She sent me a message the other day, which informed me that she would be in the area with her friend Andrea, and asked if I would be interested in getting together for a Blog Party, of sorts.  Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, making friendships hard to come by.  I was thrilled, not only to have a friend visit, but also to have an excuse to make delicious happen, yet again.
     I decided, considering the weather, that we deserved some good ol' fashioned comfort food.  Ruby and I have, over the years, developed a self-induced infatuation for oven-roasted chicken with biscuits and gravy.  I am comfortable stating that I don't think there is any room for improvements on this recipe; I'm pretty sure it's perfect.  Rendering the fat from the skin in a hot oven first, then slow roasting the chicken (while basting it in its own fat every 12 minutes) produces a moist, golden bird.  Saturating the bird in its own flavorful juices produces a tender meat, eager to fall off the bone.  Gravy that is chunky with gizzards, heart, liver, and neck meat provides an appropriate vehicle to truly enjoy the simplicity of a perfect biscuit.  A healthy melange of fresh vegetables to accompany everything makes this simple meal an elegantly heart-warming reach into American memory.  The meal evokes a certain magical nourishment, the value of which is often over-looked in today's fast-paced hustle and bustle.  I love gravy, so much.

     Good chicken stock is crucial in making any sauce or gravy.  It should only be made from  vegetarian, all-natural, organic (if possible) chickens free from antibiotics.  A roux, which is equal parts (by weight) of fat and flour stirred over low heat until light blonde colored, and slightly nutty to the smell, thickens the stock to a saucy consistency while the offal contributes to the gravy's savory richness.   Pan drippings from the roasting pan are a welcome addition to this wholesome sauce which is brightened by subtle flavors of thyme and garlic.  Ideally, the gravy can be made while the chicken is roasting and finished with the pan drippings.  Use this recipe interchangeably with turkey, duck or even breakfast sausage by simply replacing the meats and, if possible, the stock.
     The chicken is seasoned with salt, black pepper and a blend of ground spices including cumin, paprika, coriander, red chili pepper, onion, garlic, and dried cilantro.  The Spice Hunter makes a wonderful salt-free spice blend called Mexican Seasoningthat works perfectly in a pinch.  If utilizing the convenience of this pre-made blend I will still add some paprika for coloring and flavoring.  High quality spanish paprika lends warmth to the overall profile of this hearty dinner with a mild, spicy heat.  The biscuit recipe that I use can be found in The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  Unfortunately, I am not permitted to post the recipe without their permission, but if you email me, I can share our adapted version.  We have found that replacing the dairy with rice milk and all-natural butter substitute can create a wonderful vegan product.  (Soy-Free Earth Balance is probably the healthiest spread on the market.)  This book can answer many technical questions as their wealth of knowledge, obtained within a test-kitchen, comes from multiple variations of the same recipe (something far out of reach for most cooks.)

Seasoned, oiled, ready to roast.

Roasted Chicken

4-5 lb fryer chicken, rinsed and dried
Spice rub with paprika, garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, red chili pepper, and dried cilantro
Salt and black pepper
olive oil

  • Preheat oven to 425°F
  • Roast chicken on top rack for 25 minutes.
  • Drop temperature to 325°F and baste exterior of bird with fat from the pan.
  • Baste every 12-14 minutes, roast for 1 1/2 - 2 hours basting one final time 15 minutes before pulling from the oven to maintain crispy skin.
  • Rest on cutting board for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Finished chicken, ready to carve.

Country-Style Chicken Gravy

2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups water
1 Tbs dried thyme
2 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
1 Tbs paprika
114 g AP flour
114 g butter
1 chicken neck, gizzard, liver and heart
1/2 cup roasted chicken drippings
salt and black pepper

  • Braise seasoned gizzard, heart and neck in oil and 2 cups water.
  • Combine flour and melted butter in sauce pan.  Stir constantly over low heat until blonde in color and slightly nutty smelling.  Let 'roux' cool to room temp.
  • Saute seasoned liver in oil. 
  • Remove neck meat from the bones and chop with gizzards, heart, and liver.
  • Bring stock to a boil, whisk in cooled roux and simmer an additional few minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  • Add meat, thyme, paprika, and garlic.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add chicken drippings, once finished basting, stir to blend.
  • Season to taste.

I apologize for the blurry photos.  'Delicious' was more important.


Braised Kale with Bacon

1/4 lb bacon cut into small 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 lb kale (tuscan black kale, cavolo nero, lacinato kale) washed and rib removed
1 clove garlic minced
2 Tbs Cholula hot sauce, or medium-high mexican chili hot sauce
1/4 cup water
Pinch salt

  • Render the bacon by first placing it in a cold pan, then slowly cooking the fat away from the bacon, 'till crispy.  Then blast the heat.
  • Add garlic and kale.
  • Toss a few times until the kale is wilted. 
  • Then add water and hot sauce.  
  • Toss again, then cut the heat.  Toss again.

Sometimes dinner needs to be convenient for a group, so I utilize residual heat by stacking precariously.
Sometimes I spill delicious food everywhere, beware.

     Silence, broken only by scratching fork and knife, satisfactory grins after a swirled sip, clean plates and a request for more: success.  Thanks Michelle, Andrea, Renee, Jimmy, Carmen, Joe, and Ruby for such a wonderful excuse to have some fun and eat well.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Venison Pastrami Reuben

Large group of grazing mule deer in the distance.

     Venison is readily available in Wyoming this time of the year.  There are so many deer that the cops are allowed to kill more than 75 deer within residential city limits.  "Put an orange collar on Fido, the 'Good Ol' Boys' are hunting with handguns!"  Unfortunately, the deer are more comfortable in town than they are in the wilderness because of the pressure the annual hordes of hunters place upon the animals.  Also, they have more food later in the year which can be found in residential gardens and manicured lawns.  
     A friend provided a nice-sized hind leg of local whitetail deer for our enjoyment and I have decided to produce some pastrami with a portion of it.  The rest of the leg was cut into steaks and ground into a HUGE meatloaf with bison and pork for Ruby, Renee, Jimmy and me to enjoy.  They are currently working relentlessly on their mobile trailer, which endured some nasty road damage during their last leg from the east coast.  Holiday season brings distant family together and soon we will have 11-12 guests for Thanksgiving this year; a real treat for Ruby and I who rarely enjoy a holiday with family due to the demands of professional cooking schedules.

Front yard feeding is a safe choice for this whitetail fawn.

Stay alert little one.


     I have recently made a bunch of corned venison with cabbage, carrots and potatoes from the doe that was donated to us last year.  However, I have not made pastrami before, and I have yet to 'go for the gusto' and make a venison reuben sandwich from scratch (except for the swiss cheese).  Rye bread, saurkraut, pastrami, swiss cheese and Russian (thousand island) dressing are the traditional components of a reuben, which is warmed on a griddle and served hot.  The reuben sandwich is a quintessential 'melt' of heaping flavor that tastes, in my opinion, like deli.  The pickled cabbage, peppery, smoked meat and sour rye combine to create a ubiquitous flavor one can only associate with American delicatessens.
     Pastrami is corned beef brisket which is coated in cracked black pepper and coriander, smoked to an internal temp of 150°F, then steamed for 2-3 hours.  However, I will be using the eye of round cut from the hind leg of the deer.  Brisket is from the chest of the animal, which is not very large on deer.  The pastrami is brined for 7 days in sodium nitrite, kosher salt, spices and water.  Sodium nitrite tenderizes and maintains a red-colored flesh while preventing the possibility of lethal botulism bacterial growth.  Increase the value, depth, and reach of the pepper and coriander by lightly toasting the spices before grinding to release the essential oils.  I decided, for this pastrami, to add some minced garlic to the exterior rub for a little extra zip.  Since oak trees don't grow out here in the northern midwest I used applewood with some alderwood mixed in to create a gracefully sweet smokiness.  I baked a rye bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D..  This is one of those few, revolutionary books you must have if you like to eat fresh bread but don't have a lot of extra time to make it.
     A few weeks ago I made a fresh batch of saurkraut which has fermented for both one and two weeks (for those who like it more strongly flavored).  Saurkraut is cabbage that has been pickled in its own juices with some salt to control the bacteria at a safe level.  This method, which uses minimal salt, relies on crushing the trapped water from the cellular structure of the leaves, which then creates a high-salinity juice for everything to pickle within.  It is important to weigh down the saurkraut with a water-filled plastic bag or ceramic dish during the fermenting to prevent spoilage.  Three tablespoons of sea salt is all that is needed for five pounds of chopped cabbage.  Sea salt is optimal for pickling vegetables because of its mineral content which keeps the product crisp and brightly colored.  The process of bashing the cabbage to obliteration is time consuming but produces an authentic, high-quality condiment.  We used to make giant batches of this stuff at work for a menu item, which I must say, is both fun and painstakingly arduous.  
     I made a stop-motion film with photographs to document the process.  This short film depicts an hour-long process of cabbage bashing followed by weights, filled with water, placed on top to keep the product submerged.  It just so happened that a dear old friend, and fermented cabbage aficionado, Mortimer Bickle stopped by during a business trip while I was putting together the video and offered to provide a voice-over for informational enrichment.   

                                         Soundtrack by Garage a Trois


And now I feel the need to apologize for that.  I know, It was pretty bad . . . Sorry.

Finished saurkraut (weighted down and covered loosely with plastic wrap) ready to ferment.

Deli Style Rye
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.*

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbs granulated [active-dry] yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 Tbs kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbs caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 cup rye flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel [or thin board]
Cornstarch wash [1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with small amount of water added to 1/2 cup water.  Bring to boil or microwave for 30-60 seconds on high until mixture appears glassy.]

  • Mix the yeast, salt and caraway seed with the water in a 5 qt bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
  • Mix in remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon ... or heavy duty stand mixer (with dough hook)...
  • Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  • Refrigerate ... for two more hours and use for up to 14 days.
  • Preheat oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack.  Place an empty broiler tray on any other [rack] that won't interfere with the rising bread.
  • Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit sized) piece.  Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.  Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf.  Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-crusted pizza peel [thin board] for 40 minutes.
  • Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with cornstarch wash and then sprinkle with additional caraway seeds.  Slash with deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
  • Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone.  Pour one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.
  • Allow to cool before slicing...

Venison Pastrami

Corning Brine
     *This brine recipe is the same I use to make corned venison, just simmer it in a covered pot with water and aromatics for 5 hours.

3-4 lb venison round or loin (with excess fat and silver-skin removed)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 oz sodium nitrite (Instacure #1)
5 dried bay leaves
4 Tbs black pepper
3 Tbs coriander seed
1 tsp whole mustard seed
1/2 gallon water

Smoking Rub

2 Tbs coriander seed, freshly ground
5 Tbs black pepper, freshly ground
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • Combine all brine ingredients and bring up to simmer, stir to disolve salts.
  • Cool to room temperature in plastic food-safe container large enough to accommodate the roast and brine.
  • Place meat in brine so that it is completely submerged, use a stone or weight to hold it down if necessary.
  • Brine for 7 days in refrigerator.
  • Remove from brine, rinse and dry.
  • Coat in mixture of garlic and lightly toasted, ground black pepper and coriander. 
  • Smoke at 225-255°F over oak, apple, plum, cherry, alder or hickory wood until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.  
  • Remove from smoke and place on rack above steam tray and cover. Place in 275°F oven or on low heat on the stovetop .
  • Lightly steam for 2-3 hours.
  • Slice very thin, serve warm or cold.

Russian Dressing (Thousand Island)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1/4 cup sweet relish


3 Tbs sea salt
5 lbs thinly chopped cabbage
1 tsp caraway seed

Deer Reuben Sandwich,

     You taste good.  
Well, actually you taste great!  Thanks for being delicious.  

Your friend,  



*Francois, Zoe , and Jeff Hertzberg. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buttercup Tart with Cardamom-Maple Ice Cream

     Sweet decadence has been haunting me as of late.  Ever since these goblin colored beauties entered the house I have pondered their aptly given name in reference to what I would create from them.  Hmmm,  buttercup . . .  And yes,  I am referring to buttercup squash, not the damsel in distress from "The Princess Bride."  I decided a traditional pie, in miniature size, would showcase the squash with seasonality, considering the two inches of snow that blew the other day.  Snow"fall" around these parts is almost unheard of.  The incredibly dry snow drifts sideways and whirls around in the powerful Wyoming winds creating a sensation similar to being trapped in a snow-globe or better yet, a dishwasher.
     We harvested seven nice-sized squash from the garden this year.  Two were zapped by the frost and snow volunteering them for duty in this particular dessert.  The cold temperatures concentrate sugars in the squash but also contribute to shorter shelf-life at the same time.  While cutting open the peeled squash to remove the seeds before roasting I note the cantaloupe colored and scented flesh with curiosity.  I know the raw squash won't taste like sweet melon, but it makes me consider new possibilities.
     Served on top, black cardamom-spiced, maple syrup-sweetened ice cream provides an interesting accompaniment to the pie.  Cardamom, which is related to ginger, has a warming, citrus-y aroma often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.  Desserts are the most common destination for this historically admired spice, yet savory spice blends like Garam Masala emphasize the medicinal and flavorful benefits the seed pods provide.  The crust is a traditional tart dough or 'Pate Sucree' for textural contrast with smaller scale portions.  It is sweeter than flaky pie dough, as the french nomenclature suggests, but since the sugar has been reduced in the filling, the crust and ice cream provide a saccharin roundness to the palate.  The crust is 'blind-baked' before filled to maintain crispiness.  Combined with the rich flavors of pure maple syrup, cardamom gives the ice cream a butterscotch flavor at first, then hints toward citrus notes later on.  All together with the mildly spiced pie, one gets an eggnog-like flavor profile from the pairing.  A warm brandy in front of a cracking fireplace would elevate this to a state of autumnal ecstasy for the senses.
     I prepared 3 small 4-inch pie tarts with this recipe which would otherwise make one 9-inch pie.  A full pie takes 5 extra minutes of baking time, both with the crust and once filled.  The recipe for the pie filling was adapted from a pumpkin pie recipe in The New Best Recipe, a cookbook from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.  A small, 1 1/2 quart ice cream maker was used to freeze the ice cream.  Inexpensive and simple to use, ice cream makers are worth every penny in my opinion.

Tart Dough (pate sucree)

1/2 lb butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
12 1/2 oz A.P. Flour

  • Cream the butter and sugar 'till smooth.
  • Add salt
  • Add yolks
  • Add flour
  • Mix till dough comes together.  Do not over mix.
  • Wrap in plastic, refrigerate 30-40 minutes.
  • Pull dough from fridge, roll out to 1/4 inch thick on lightly floured surface.
  • Slide pie dish under and trim edges leaving some excess for shrinkage.
  • Cover and refrigerate for 40 minutes, then freeze for 20 minutes.

Buttercup Squash Pie Filling

2 cups buttercup squash puree (peeled, seeded, quartered and roasted, covered with 1/2 cup water in 375°F oven for one hour, blend 'till smooth)
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs

  • Combine sugar, squash, salt and spices.  Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat in heavy bottomed pan.
  • Line interior of pie shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans.
  • Bake on top rack for 20-25 minutes at 375°F uncovering for the final 5-10 minutes (check at 15 min.)
  • Mix in heavy cream and milk. Bring back up to barely simmering. Turn oven up to 400°F.
  • Beat eggs 'till smooth.  Slowly add hot mixture while whisking eggs until all is combined.
  • Fill hot pie shells with hot squash mixture and bake on bottom rack at 400°F for 15-25 minutes depending on size (4" = 15-20 min. / 9" = 20-25 min.)  Pies are done when center jiggles like gelatin instead of liquid.  

Cardamom-Maple Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp black cardamom (removed from pod, roughly ground)
5 egg yolks

  • Bring cream, milk, syrup and cardamom to scalding.
  • Slowly add to beaten yolks whisking constantly.
  • Strain any large spice granules from mixture.
  • Chill
  • Pour into frozen ice cream basin and turn 'till frozen soft.
  • Store tightly covered in freezer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Seared Venison and Wild Watercress with Elderberry Sauce

     Autumn has brought us little rain and no snow yet.  The field behind our home is abundantly brown, crested with evergreens on the rising foothills.  Cottonwood leaves blaze colors of amber to orange, widespread as wildfire.  Pale straw crunches underfoot among cactus so withered, only needles and the hope of a drink remain.  Crispy sagebrush and large ant hills prevail in a rocky landscape arid and unforgiving like this.  The small forks of Clear Creek are dry now, causing the main flow to provide the only water for miles.  Well, almost the only water.  A small, unexpected, freshwater spring can be found far off in the middle of the field.  Actually two semi-warm springs bubble up from the earth year-round.  It is not easy to spot from afar, but is plain as day once you are upon it.

The draw coming from the spring.

The source of the spring and our dog, patiently waiting in the far back left.

     Many little critters call this oasis home.  Migrating sandhill cranes and geese often stop and feed on the bioavailability this little bit of water provides.  The pronghorn antelope, whitetail and mule deer slake their thirst and eat grass from this geological irrigation system.  For me, however, the patch of wild watercress centered in the heart of the spring is superlative.

Bright green watercress in abundance.

     Watercress is a wonderful little leafy green with tremendous texture and a crisp, peppery bite.  Because this is grown wild, it must be cleaned thoroughly.  I submerge and rinse at least three times, then spin it dry.  I most often use it in salads or cold appetizers for its mild, spicy flavor and wonderfully vibrant color.  Usually dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt, watercress also makes a lively garnish among dark, robust flavors.
     I still have some venison from Jim, the war veteran and whitetail hunter who parks his camper across the creek and uses our access to hike in and out from his tree stands throughout the season.  He donated one of his does to us for allowing him to pass through.  Archery hunting is the only kind allowed on this land as it is part of the Veteran's Home of Wyoming.  Although this was not my kill, I am happy to have such sustenance provided for me.  I cleaned, skinned and cut the meat myself, storing most of it in the freezer and grinding all the trim for chili, meatloaf, and breakfast sausage.  The round (leg) provides several nice steaks or a couple of good sized roasts.  This deer was not very big, though, making it incredibly tender.  I decided to sear off some 8 ounce steaks with a generous amount of freshly cracked pepper.  This was served on millet cooked like pilaf (browned in oil with aromatics, then simmered) with crimini mushrooms alongside the simply dressed wild watercress (as described above).  Millet is a healthy, old-world grain similar in flavor to quinoa or bulgur.  A red wine sauce made with homegrown dried elderberries, which happen to be hugely popular among the local deer population, provides a sweet, velvety completion to the dish.
     Altogether, the millet, mushrooms and red wine are the only products not foraged, hunted or grown on this land.  Not only was this a delicious dinner, but local, seasonal and inexpensive to boot!

Elderberry Sauce

1 750ml bottle red wine Pinot Noir, Syrah, or light bodied Zinfandel
3/4 cup dried elderberries (2 cups fresh)
1 quart veal stock
2 Tbs butter

*may need an additional 2 Tbs sugar if using cheap wine

Reduce veal stock to 1 pint.
Add wine and berries, reduce to 1 pint.
Taste, add sugar or salt if necessary.
Fold in butter to warm sauce just before serving, stirring till emulsified.

Crimini Mushroom Millet

1 cup millet
1 small spanish onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water, plus additional 2 Tbs water
2 Tbs olive oil, plus additional 4 Tbs olive oil
7 crimini mushrooms, halved

salt and pepper to taste

Add millet and 2 Tbs olive oil to pan on medium heat stirring constantly.
Lightly brown millet till tan in color, then add onions and garlic.
Add 2 cups water, stir once and cover.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

In separate, smoking-hot pan, add the remaining olive oil and mushrooms.
Saute till brown, season with salt and pepper.
Add 2 Tbs water.
Toss together with cooked millet and serve.


Sear seasoned venison in hot pan on high and finish in 500°F oven for 5 min.
Let rest at least 5 min before slicing across grain.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Egg-cellent Layers


     Raising chickens is definitely worth the effort.  Farm-fresh, free-range eggs are undoubtedly in a world of their own.  The color of the yolk is bright orange and rich in flavor.  The whites are thick with albumen and coagulate well, unlike the store-bought watery, disappointment in a pan.  All natural, homegrown eggs are safer and cleaner too, lacking antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on the shells of crowded, cage-raised hens given strange medications and hormones.
      The latest outbreak of contaminated chicken eggs from the mass-producing companies owned by Austin "Jack" Decoster is quite pathetic from a cook's perspective, primarily since salmonella is only found on the shells of eggs.  This failure in our food security system is no different from the E. coli found on spinach, tomatoes, or anything else deemed a dangerous threat to consumers.  The solution, sadly enough, is washing.  Pre-washed foods sold to consumers present a false sense of security.  Steps once commonly taken when processing one's own store-bought produce have gone by the way side in the name of laziness.  Consumerism should be synonymous with vulnerability these days.  An endless amount of short-sighted trust has been given to these large corporations to do the right thing because they are 'regulated' by government administrations.  These administrations designed to protect the interests of the consumer are controlled by the same owners (or affiliates) of these large corporations.  The only solution is to raise your own food, and if not possible, cover your own ass by simply washing what you buy before eating it.  (Recently I have learned that this information is not entirely accurate.  Chicken's can have salmonella residing within their ovaries as a result of being fed recycled, infected chickens that die on the farm.  This practice, which is also how Mad Cow Disease occurs, combined with antibiotics and poor living conditions creates resistant strains of the bacteria which can overpopulate a chicken house very rapidly.  This link is quite helpful in understanding the shelf lives of foods.)



     Currently, our hens are happy and well.  Although, since my last post regarding the chickens, disaster struck in the name of predation.  One morning in May, I went to feed our 32 hens only to find one young pullet lying on the ground with a slashed throat.  Startlingly confused,  I thought at first, one of the other hens must have seen some weakness and turned on the young hen as can sometimes happen (chickens are REALLY dumb).  Then I noticed another, further back in the pen lying in a ruffled dead mess with the same mortal wound.  Another three inside the coup lay on the floor in the pine shavings.  All of the victims were young hens who had not begun laying eggs yet.  After mentally pushing past the initial shock and anger, I removed the lifeless birds from the pen to keep the surviving chickens from feasting on their dead neighbors.  I counted the remaining hens only to find 18 altogether.  I surveyed the perimeter fencing of the pen for undermining and could only find one small hole, 2-3 inches in diameter. There was no way a large predator capable of killing fourteen birds could have entered through this space.  But, how could this be?  I had only retrieved 6 carcasses, where were the others?
     I went inside to break the news to Ruby and Renee.  Also, I needed a second opinion to help solve this murder mystery.  Renee joined me on the case and we began our investigation.  I had a strange gut feeling that the culprit was still among us within the pen, yet there was no sign of life beyond our surviving hens, completely oblivious to their crisis.  It did not take long for us to start looking under the coup for the killer, yet visibility through the darkness was impenetrable.  We formulated a plan involving two bottle jacks (to raise the shed off its foundation) and a semi-automatic .22 rifle (to exterminate the vermin).  After an hour of digging at the foundation, we installed the jacks and started to raise the shed.  Before long, our murderer showed his fuzzy little face.  It was a mink!  Blood-thirsty, savage, little coat sleeve of a mink.  Unfortunately, he had to be removed from the pen and that meant dead, not alive.

     Mink are common in these parts, especially since we are along the creek.  In fact, before Renee bought this land, mink were raised for their fur in the barn across the creek from the house.  Apparently, mink will kill more than they can eat, sucking the blood from their victims and stashing the bodies for later.  That's exactly what this guy did.  We pulled 8 folded-up chickens out from under the shed in disgust of the gluttonous spree this little creature reaped on our newly expanded hen heaven.  It suddenly seemed more like a hell for those little birds of ours.  And, our soon to be abundance of fresh eggs seemed very far out of reach at the moment.
     Certainly, this was a common price to pay when raising livestock.  Perspective allowance for wild animal predation must be accepted, as this land belongs to the native beings more so than anything else.  Yet, complete annihilation; taking more than is needed, is very tough to tolerate.  Putting myself at odds with moral righteousness, I made a choice to save my chickens.  Not an easy choice to make, especially while conveniently reading Ishmael at the time.

     One evening, days later, Renee curiously left to run an errand.  When she returned, Ruby and I thought nothing of it.  Until the next day, when we awoke to feed our hens and noticed they had company did we realize where she had gone.  She had bought us some new, young hens!  What a surprise, not just to have new hens but they were exotic ones as well.  Among the new additions were a Pencil-Laced Wyandotte, Dark Cochin, Speckled Sussex, Buff Rock, two Buff Brahmas, and two Salmon Favorelles.  The luxurious Dark Cochin was decidedly named Aviana by Ruby and the two Favorelles aptly named Ruby and John because of their comical appearance and humble disposition.  One of the older hens, a Black Orpington, became increasingly featherless initially from the sexual advances of a previously owned rooster named Ygnacio, or "Nacho."  Later, even more feathers were lost due to a bad infestation of mites earning her the name Pucker-Butt, suggesting the primary location of the affliction.  The Speckled Sussex deserves a name as well, considering she is the obvious 'Mother Hen,' loudly demanding with a very rude, stubborn personality.  However, it seems irrational to name an animal due to its apparently negative appeal.  Then again, what about naming chickens is not irrational?


The nameless 'Mother Hen.'

John and Ruby (left to right).

     Many of the older hens, which were returned to us from a friend, had lost feathers due to Nacho's compelling romanticism.  Roosters often peck and scratch the backs of their hens while mating.  Unfortunately, the infestation of mites on our flock (during the fall last year) did not help matters improve for the birds.  It is not easy to see the bugs, but the effects are obvious.  Normally, chickens bathe themselves in dirt to remove dead skin cells and bugs.  These little dugout pits are used repeatedly for the fine particles of dust they contain.  When confined to a pen, the dirt is not as "clean" so to speak.  Adding fireplace ash to these wells provides a collection of particles so fine that they will suffocate and kill the bugs.  Pucker-Butt has since grown back little feathers just in time for winter.


It's business time.

Nine so far today!

     Our hens receive a diet of all-natural scratch feed and laying pellets.  Crushed sea shells tossed with the scratch feed adds much needed calcium to their diet for strong shell development.  The garden produces plenty of additional fodder for the flock with bolting beet greens, flowering broccoli, wrinkled cucumbers, and sun damaged potatoes.  The pen's proximity to the garden also helps eliminate one front of the grasshopper assault on our patiently awaited fruition.
     Right now, the 23 hens are laying an approximate total of 10 eggs each day.  Each morning we eat 5 eggs, at most, accumulating dozens after a week or so.  Newly laying hens produce tiny eggs at first, then slowly, larger ones in time.  In order to utilize each and every egg, I process the yolks into egg noodles and the whites are baked into meringue-based cakes like angel food or poppy seed cake.  Eggs may also be frozen, separating yolk from whites to use for later.

Waiting for grasshoppers from the garden.

     Pasta making is not very difficult with a pasta rolling machine.  I use a hand-powered Atlas 150 made by Marcato to make a wide variety of styles and shapes.  However, an egg noodle recipe learned from Chef Dylan Fultineer during my employment at The Hungry Cat in Santa Barbara is a household favorite of ours.  The technique is simple: mix flour and egg yolks into a dough, slap the dough to remove air bubbles, refrigerate, scale and roll, then cut into desired shape.  Either eat fresh, or dry by hanging to enjoy later.  So far, in the last two months of high egg production I have made two 5 lb. batches of dried noodles.
     I use a counter-top food mixer to prepare the dough, however, if not available making pasta by hand is not out of the question.  In fact, many traditionalist cooks prefer to make pasta by hand.

Three easy steps are involved when making any pasta:

  • Make a well in the center of the flour mound on the counter.
  • Add eggs to the well, breaking the yolks and stirring them into the flour.
  • Work and kneed into dough by incorporating the moisture from the eggs until elastic ball is formed, maybe 3 minutes or so.

     After this, refrigerate for an hour or more.  Limitless styles can be produced with a little practice and patience.  Remember to use flour when rolling so your pasta does not stick, and keep dough that is not being used covered so it won't dry out.  Roll consecutively smaller and smaller, being sure not to skip a setting as this can cause air bubbles and tears.  Cook in salted, boiling water for 7-10 minutes depending on shape and size.  I hope to elaborate on the various techniques some time in the future.

Egg Noodles

20 oz All Purpose Flour
17 oz Egg Yolk
*may need some additional cold water if too dry

  • Roll to #5 on pasta machine setting or less than 2 mm thick

Five pound batch drying on the pasta tree.

Egg noodles with bacon, brussels sprouts, tomato, onion, garlic and morel mushrooms.