Monday, February 23, 2009

Apple Butter Time!

I realize that for most folks apples are more a symbol of autumn than the last month of winter. But for me apple butter time is now.

Every fall we go to an apple growing region just across the state line in Washington called Green Bluff. We usually come back with big crates of Granny Smiths and Honey Crisps. And we never head home without buying a dozen pumpkin donuts, too...yummy!

From October on we eat these wonderful apples and make tons of pie until we get to the point of being slightly burnt out on apples. But there's always some apples that are left and we kind of forget about them since they are stored in the basement. This usually happens around February or March. I made a batch of apple butter this last weekend and this is how I did it....

What you'll need:
4 quarts of sweet apple cider
3 quarts of pared apple chunks....about 4lbs of apples
2 cups of sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
6-7 half pint canning jars with lids
Heat the 4 quarts of apple cider to boil and then back it off to a simmer. Simmer uncovered so it can reduce. You want this to reduce down to 2 quarts which will take approximately 1 1/4 hours.
We like to use our apple slicer/corer to prepare the apples. Emma loves helping me on this part.
Now we have 3 quarts of apple chunks and a tub of skins and cores to feed to the chickens.
Once the cider is cooked down to 2 quarts we are going to add our ginger, cinnamon and cloves to it. And we are going to add our apple chunks in there, too.
Bring the mixture to boiling then back off to a simmer. Cook uncovered until the apples are soft and can be broken with a spoon. This will take about an hour. If you want a smoother texture to your apple butter, run the cooked apples through a food mill but it is optional.
Once you arrive at the texture you want add the 2 cups of sugar. Stir it in and heat it to boiling. Back off to a simmer.
Simmer this uncovered and stir frequently. In the mean time get your boiling water canner heated up to 180F. Your lids and jars need to reach this temperature to insure food safety. But do not allow the water to reach a boil because this is not good for the seals on the lids. We want our lids to experience boiling temperatures only once and that is during the finally processing.
We want to cook down the apple butter for about 2 hours. To test if the apple butter is ready to put into the jars you will place a spoonful of it on a plate, tilt the plate and if no liquid separates from the pulp it is ready.
Fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth and place the lids on the jars. Seal with rings and processing in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Add 5 mins of processing time for each 1000 feet above 1500 feet. I live at 2500 feet above sea level so I process my jars for 15 minutes.
Take the jars out of the canner and cool. Check the tops of the lids to be certain that you have good seals. Now you have apple pie in a jar to spread on your morning toast! Enjoy!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Turkey Men

The turkeys came a calling today. I call them "the Turkey Men" because more often than not it's the toms that show up for food. We're getting more girls in the mix though. To be politically correct maybe I should call them "the Turkey People."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Wiggles - Olive Oil

I couldn't have expressed my love for olive oil better myself!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Smoke Therapy Part II

I'm sorry I left off with a compilation of my smoking disasters but there is a happy ending to this story. One problem that I often suffer from is an inability to see the forests from the trees. I get so wrapped up in the little things I fail to see the big picture and this is why I wasn't "getting it" when it came to smoking meat. The beauty of the Bradley Smoker is the control it provides for both the temperature and the amount of smoke to apply. But I wasn't separating out those two concepts in my mind. I was just cranking up the heat and smokin' the crap out of everything I put in it.

When my husband and I both harvested deer in November of 2008 we removed the tenderloins and back straps from both deer and had the processor package boneless roast that I could cut jerky from and the rest was ground with 15% beef suet. Even though I was far from mastering the art of smoking we were not going to spend the money to have the deer made into our favorite treats including our very favorite smoked jalapeno cheddar sausage. This is a favorite of most our local deer hunting friends. Our neighbors had an entire deer processed just into this sausage and it was about $250 to do it.

It was my mission to convert all of this beautiful venison into wonderful things to eat. We purchased casings from Cabelas and I searched online to find a jalapeno cheddar recipe for venison. I also went back to the official Bradley Smoker site for more information and noticed they had a forum for Bradley customers. I found one recipe online that looked good but it was for an oven application not a smoker. I wasn't sure how to use this recipe with my smoker so I posted the recipe on the Bradley forum and asked for help converting this to a smoker recipe.

I was amazed at the help I received. I have tried some forums on different areas of interest in the past and never liked the feeling I got from some of its members. Always felt like their goal was to "set you straight" more than to help and guide the newby. Not so at the Bradley Smoker Forum. These were the nicest, most helpful group of folks in the world. They gave me exact step by step instructions seasoned with tips and encouragement. I even learned you don't need to have the smoke going the entire time of the process!

I followed their directions and came out with jalapeno cheddar sausage that rivaled the stuff from the processor and this was my first try! I posted pics of the results on the forum and received the greatest compliments. I know this may sound funny but that was it for me, I was hooked on smoking and the forum from that moment on. How can you beat having a new hobby that helps feed the family and a circle of friends that are as excited about it as you are. I never thought I'd be taking before and after pictures of sausage and jerky but now it's just another fun part of it. Greg will even ask me "Did you get a picture of these?" before he tastes something that just came out of the smoker.

Now I'm either smoking or sometimes canning something nearly every weekend during these colder months. Being a substitute teacher can be tough at times and I find it so therapeutic to be planning and looking forward to what's going to be put into the smoker or canner that up coming weekend. Also, I'm branching out into making fresh sausage which we used to pay the processor to make for us and the breakfast sausage we make from our venison is actually better than the sausage we had them make for us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Smoke Therapy Part I

When our new Cabelas opened here in North Idaho the fall of 2007, I became acquainted with a piece of cooking equipment called the Bradley Smoker. I became fascinated by this innovative electric smoker that just happened to be on sale during their grand opening event. After seeing it at the store I went home and researched it on the web to find out more about it and if I could find one at a lower price. I could not find it cheaper and heard nothing but rave reviews. So, once I was able to justify my purchase, I returned to Cabelas and bought the Bradley Smoker.

My justification for this purchase was the idea that I could save us hundreds of dollars a year smoking the venison that we harvested instead of paying the meat processor to do it. We are hunting enthusiasts but in all honesty we are not venison enthusiasts. So, we liked to have our venison processed in fresh sausage, smoked sausage and jerky.....basically processed beyond recognition. On top of the regular cut and wrap fee one would have to add the cost of sausage making and smoking fees, too. Needless to say, it was pretty pricey.

Once I got the smoker home I wanted to make my own jerky. I didn't have any venison available at the time so I experimented with Pedmontese beef which is the leanest beef out there, it's leaner than buffalo! I followed a Bradley recipe for mesquite-smoked jerky but I took the directions a little too literal and ended up smoking the jerky for the entire drying process. It's one thing to over-smoke your jerky but it's another thing to over-smoke it with mesquite!

Later I tried smoking a turkey breast and smoked the crap out of that poor bird, too. This was all part of the learning curve, oh but what a long, tall curve it seemed to be. Well, I just kind of kept away from the smoker for a while except for some trout that I smoked during the summer which turned out okay.

But I saved my greatest fiasco for last! My husband was planning to be out of town for an art show during the Labor Day weekend so I planned my first attempt making smoked sausage. I ran over to Cabelas and bought myself the HiMountain summer sausage kit. I had never stuffed sausage before let alone smoked sausage.

Stuffing those big fibrous casings with my little KitchenAid stuffer took forever. Then when I smoked the sausages I followed the directions to the letter until grew impatient for how long it was taking for them to reach the desired internal temperature. It was taking all day it seemed like. So, I cranked up the temperature on the smoker....BIG mistake! They made it to temperature alright but I ended up with long brown tubes filled with dry meat floating in a lake of fat and water. The poor things had to be lanced like a festering sore! They were horrible!

I put the cover on the Bradley and pretended it didn't exist for almost three months. The feeling of defeat was depressing. Cooking is a source of pride for me and I was producing things from my smoker that were barely fit to feed to the dog...if I had one to feed it to.

But it wasn't the smokers fault, I just needed some guidance which was to come in the form of a forum.

To be continued....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

But I didn't know it was loaded.

Any one who knows our daughter Emma quickly realizes that her mind is finely focused on one thing and one thing only...chickens. She is frequently called "the Chicken Girl". She loves her chickens.

But what started as her pets has escalated into a new obsession for mom. We started with a few chickens a couple years ago. Then I started collecting chickens like some women collect shoes. I don't know what got into me but I just was captivated by these birds. They were pretty, funny and came in such a variety of breeds and colors...I wanted to collect them all!

Then last summer one of our Australorp hens, "Pickety" decided to go broody. We had her sit on nine eggs and eight of them hatched. We were so excited. Then it dawned on me "Why can't we make our own chickens?!? Just think of all of the eggs and meat we could produce!" But to become a poultry alchemist one could not just wait on her hen to get in the mood to hatch eggs now and then. No, we would need an incubator! So, early this year I ordered the Hovabator 1588 with an auto turner.

My incubator arrived and I couldn't wait to use it. I knew I wanted to order some hatching eggs of breeds we didn't have like Cuckoo Marans and Speckled Sussex. But the folks at the Backyard Chicken Forum all recommended to practice on a batch of eggs that were either cheap or better yet, free. Well, with 11 hens and 2 roosters, I assumed the eggs from my own chickens would work. But this being the middle of winter I also assumed that they probably were not the most fertile eggs. It seemed the hens rarely ventured off their perches long enough to get "fertilized"...if you know what I mean!

So, I decided if I was to experience at least some luck this first time around, I would start off with 12 eggs. I candled the eggs after 7 days in the incubator and saw embryos in all of them! Candled the eggs at 10 days and could see that one had stopped developing and culled that egg. At day 18 I candled the eggs one last time and the remaining 11 all had little moving embryos.

But still with all of this development going on I kept telling myself there is no way this is going to work the first time I do this. Is it? I kept reading all of heartbreaking posts on the chicken forum of how folks have lost chicks on the day of the hatch due to the humidity not being right or some other factor. You do have to watch the humidity inside the incubator like a hawk. But I make a pretty good hawk!

Emma was so excited about the possibility of having chicks but I kept warning her not to get her hopes up too high. After all this was just an experiment to see if the manufacturer's setting on the incubator were correct. Well, to make a long story not much longer, all of the 11 eggs hatched beautifully with absolutely no problems. I was in shock! I didn't know the eggs were that fertile and I didn't know that we would do such a competent job incubating them. Just like so many shooting accidents where the person holding the gun says "I didn't know it was loaded", my sentiments exactly! I guess you shouldn't put eggs in the incubator unless you intend to hatch everyone of them. Especially if you are using a Hovabator 1588. Any incubator that sounds like a movie that Arnold could star in is surely going to get the job done.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Carolyn and I live in Hayden, Idaho, USA. It's a beautiful area located in the Panhandle region of Idaho. We moved here in the winter of 1996 after spending all of our lives in Southern California.

Needless to say, we have had no problem adapting to a life that is a 180 degree turn from our former life in old SoCal. We have developed so many new interests and hobbies since living here, both out of necessity and sometimes just for fun.

We are not survivalists or anything like that (though we do enjoy our guns!). But we do strive for a level of self reliance in our lives. Hence the title of this blog. Because many of the interests we have so often begin with the utterance of those exact words "If I can do it myself....."