Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thinning the Flock

Since we purchased our first incubator last year and started hatching chicks from eggs we were faced with the dilemma (if you want to call it that) of what to do with extra roosters we hatch. Do you give them away? Do you slaughter them? Do you collect them and go broke feeding them?

Well, if you give them away most likely your a giving someone a free chicken dinner. There's nothing wrong with this if you don't mind all the food and expense that went into the birds doing down the drain. Sometimes you know the person and you know they really want a rooster to be a companion (or stud!) for their hens. I gave away a cuckoo maran rooster to a family last year to live with the 20 Rhode Island Red pullets they had raised. They are still enjoying this rooster and their four kids just adore him. The rooster I gave away made a friend's life happier so it did not seem like money down the drain to me.

This week I had to cull a few spare roosters. I try putting it off because it does make me a little sad and the laying breed roosters are a little more difficult to process than the meat birds are. They are much more heavily feathered and because they are not broad-breasted like the Cornish crosses, they a have a narrow cavity which I find getting my big hands into a bit more difficult.

I've cleaned birds that I have hunted like waterfowl and wild turkeys dressing out a bird is not totally new to me. I do scald the chickens before I pluck them in 140F water for about a minute which makes them very easy to pluck.
The meat on these roosters is darker than your average meat chicken because of their maturity, more varied diet and the exercise they receive free-ranging. These birds are too tough for roasting or baking so I use them for stewing and make chicken with dumplings with them. They are way more flavorful than the average store-bought chicken.

So, even though it's a little bit of a pain to process them, I am rewarded with the wonder food they provide for us and my hens are grateful that they aren't being chased around by a bunch of roosters all day long.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Iron Chef Bradley V Entry

Well, I'm at it again! This is my 4th attempt at an Iron Chef Bradley online cooking competition. The Bradley Forum created this great contest for it's forum members a few times a year. There are 3 "secret ingredients" that must be incorporated into your recipe and t 80% of the cooking must be done outside: BBQ, smoker, gas grill, open fire, etc.

I posted mine yesterday and so far I'm the only entry but there will be more. I cooked mine 10 days ago so I was eager to get it posted. There are a lot of nice prizes, too, which makes me even more eager. Voting is next week so I will let you all know how I did.
Twice-Baked Winter Squash Stuffed with Smokey Beef, Roasted Red
Pepper & Cornbread Stuffing


1 1/2 red bell pepper
2 winter squash ( I used Carnival squash but Acorn would work the same)
1 pound beef stew meat diced into 1/2" squares
1 medium sweet onion diced
1 6oz package of seasoned corn bread stuffing (I used Mrs. Cubbenson's)
1/2 cup pecans chopped
1/2 tsp beef bouillon
1 TBS olive oil
4 TBS salted butter divided

Chop and toast pecans at 350F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. I did this in the oven but the rest of the cookin' was done outside Cool

Dice the stew meat into 1/2" chunks

Cut the squash in half and scrap out the seeds.

Cold smoke the squash and stew meat for one hour using pecan smoke.

Roast whole peppers for 20 minutes over high heat on the grill.
Once slightly blackened place in a brown bag for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the bag, peel of the skin and seed.

Dice 1 1/2 of the roasted peppers.

After the squash are cold smoked place them face down in a roasting pan.
Add enough water to the roasting pan have 1/4" in the pan.
Bake in a gas grill for 30-40 mins at 400F with the grill lid shut.

Either on the grill or side burner heat up the olive oil then saute the diced onion until browned.
Remove the onion.

After the beef is cold smoked, salt and pepper the diced beef liberally and add to the hot pan.

Cook until well-browned then add enough water to cover.
Heat to boiling then back off to a simmer and cover.
To make the meat tender it needs to simmer for 45 mins.
Add water if needed.
Once tender pour drain the meat reserving 1 cup of the liquid.

After the squash is cooked, scrape them leaving about 1/4" remaining on the skin.
Add 2 TBS of the butter and 1/2 tsp beef bouillon to the squash that was scraped out and blend well.

To the corn bread stuffing mix add the reserved liquid from the beef, 2 TBS butter.
Then add the beef, the squash mixture, the sauted onion, the diced roasted pepper and the toasted pecans to the stuffing mixture. Blend well.

Salt and pepper the squash shells then add the stuffing mixture evenly distributed to each shell.

Bake at 400F in a closed gas grill for 20 to 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

They are ready to eat! Enjoy! Smiley

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Winter That Wasn't

With a technically a month of winter remaining I know I'm asking for trouble from Old Man Winter making a statement like that. In defense of my title, this winter (so far) has been the most un-winter-like we have ever experienced in our 13 years of living in North Idaho.
Our house
The last two winters were the snowiest on record for this area since they have kept records. The the year 2008 we received over 300" of the white stuff because January 2008 and December 2008 were both record breakers themselves. But weather like that here doesn't make the news like it does when it happens back East . I guess the media just expects us to deal with it or that we are used to it.
The barely frozen pond
We when walking around our property last week end. Our pond is still barely frozen but there is no snow anywhere. It's weird walking the back acreage with no snowshoes on.
Check out this ant hill we found, covered with ants, in February! Robins are out and daffodils are poking through the soil in our front yard.
Emma atop of moss
The moss on some of the rock outcroppings is so green it looks like grass. Grass is starting to sprout in the cattle pasture. I saw an elk out there last night when I tucked the chickens in for the night.

I looked at the forecast for next week and they are predicting snow for us. But right now we are enjoying highs in the low 40's. I'll keep you all posted...didn't that groundhog see his shadow?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Silkie Saga

Probably "saga" is being a little too melodramatic but it was a bittersweet experience. The sweet part is that we ended up with two beautiful silkie babies from the three eggs that did develop. Bless their little pointed heads. :)
The bitter part was that my first little pipper that I blogged about in my previous post died. He zipped around the egg successfully and just stopped moving. (That's his egg in the foreground) We tapped on the incubator after a few minutes and he still did not move. I took the egg out and he was dead. Perfectly formed with no defects visible to the eye so I'm guessing he died from exhaustion going 40 hours from pip to zip.

The two other chicks hatched with no problems and are doing well. Hopefully I'll be setting more eggs very soon. Yes, it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster but that's just how it is when you take on the challenge of raising anything: chickens, children or tomatoes they all make me want to cry at some point. ;) But the rewards far outweigh the tears!

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Pip! Now Just Waiting For the Zip.

One of our dear little silkie eggs that I blogged about last week has pipped. We came home from Emma's 4H meeting and I noticed a wee little, almost discernible crack in one of the eggs. That is what's known as a "pip".

Before we went to bed last night we were lucky enough to see the chick make the pip a bit larger while we watched. Now we are waiting on the "zip" which is when the chick pecks away the shell in a circle around the egg. The zip starts at the pip. Chicks will usually pip and rest for up to 24 hours before they start to work on the zip.

Nothing to report on the other two eggs as of yet. Hopefully this little early bird will inspire the other two to get cracking. I'll keep you all posted.:)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reclaiming the Barn

I have taken on a huge, daunting project...converting our barn back to being a barn. Yes, from the outside it does look like a barn and it does on the inside, too. But somehow we have turned our barn into a very large storage unit and a mouse housing project.

When we first purchased our place we used the barn for what it was purchased for. We housed our two goats and a guard llama in it. I could never coax any of our steers into it though, I think because of the concrete floor but I left the big door open just in case they overcame their fear.

Then in 1999 we converted the barn to a serigraph studio and printed my husband's art work. After the arrival of our daughter in 2002 we decided to contract out to have the art prints made. We sold all the printing equipment and just started using the barn for storage mostly. I did raise meat chickens in the barn and raise chicks out there but that has been about it.
We have three sheds converted to poultry houses which has worked great for our free-ranging poultry. Now I would like to have a nice place to raise some purebred chickens like the silkies that we are hatching.
Here are some pictures of the poultry housing that we have set up already.
The barn is huge and heated, too. As you can see it needs a new roof in the worst way. We are hoping to roof it with metal this year or at least purchase the material since the bottom fell out on a lot of building materials right along with real estate prices.
I'm currently going through all the stuff right now and finding things we forgot we even had. To start we are building three poultry pens in the south end of the barn. An area we actually have kept clear of stuff. I will post some interior pictures once we have those built out. It's too embarrassing to post interior pics right now :)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Go Silkies Go!

As you all know I do enjoy our chickens. We have a mixed laying flock made up the of typical large fowl breeds you pick up at the local feed store. Also, we have a trio of Cuckoo Marans that are production stock which we hatched from shipped eggs last year.

This year we are trying something completely new for us. Emma has joined the poultry group of her 4H club. The leader has recommended that the kids show bantams because the smaller birds are easier for small hands to handle. We love silkies so it was easy to pick which bantam chicken breed we wanted to go with. But I wasn't having any luck finding some nice ones locally.

It's still a little chilly to ship chicks or young birds so I started looking for silkie hatching eggs. Of course I went hunting on the web for eggs and found Josh's Bantams, a breeder of lovely blue and splash bearded silkies. We purchased 16 silkie hatchings eggs.
Josh packaged the eggs wonderfully but one egg was cracked. No matter how carefully packaged, the postal service can be very hard on eggs. Even if eggs are not obviously cracked they can be exposed to extreme temperatures or just handled roughly.

We placed the 15 undamaged eggs into our Hovabator 1588. I candled the eggs at day 7 of the incubation. Three were developing but the other ones had nothing growing in them. All a testimony of just how rough their trip in the mail had been.
There's my three little silkie eggs in the incubator. Though I wished that the other eggs had fared better, I'm just as excited for these little guys as ever. If all continues to go well, they should hatch on 2/13. I'll keep you all posted!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Easy Cheesy! Let's Make Some Mozzarella!

This last Christmas my friend Deb from the Bradley forum sent me a wonderful gift box containing cheesemaking supplies, a cheesemaking cookbook and a even some gifts for Emma, too. What a sweet lady! She gave me everything I need to start a new hobby and another "If I Can Do it Myself..." to share with you all.

The book is entitled Home Cheesemaking by Ricki Carroll and it is all you need to get yourself starting in making your own cheese. Ricki's recipe for 30 Minute Mozzarella is posted at the New England Cheese Making Supply Company. The cheesemaking supplies sent to me by Deb were purchased there.
Here's what you will need:
  • 1 gallon milk (not ultra-pasteurized!) We used 2% fat milk
  • 1 1/4 cup cool water (chlorine free)
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp liquid rennet (or 1/4 of a rennet tablet)
  • 1 tsp cheese salt
Dissolve the rennet in 1/4 cup of cool water and set aside.Dissolve the citric acid in 1 cup cool water.Pour 1 gallon of milk in a stainless steel or glass pot. (no aluminum or cast iron). Add the citric acid solution to the milk while stirring.
Heat the milk to 90F while stirring.Remove from heat then slowly stir in the rennet and water mixture. Stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Then cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Check to see if a curd has formed. It will be like custard and there will be a clear delineation between the soft solid curd and the watery whey. The whey should be pretty transparent when the curd has formed. If the curd has not separated completely the whey will still look a little milky. If this is the case let it rest for a few more minutes.Cut the curd with a knife that is long enough to reach the bottom of the pot. Slice the curd, all the way to the bottom of the pot in a checker board pattern. The cut again another checker board pattern but this time with the knife at a 45 degree angle with the surface of the curd. This will cut the curd into little chunks.Now return the pot to the stove and heat to 105F all the while gently stirring the curds with a spoon. The goal is to break the curds as little as possible. Once it reaches 105F remove it from the heat and continue to stir it gently for 2-5 minutes. The longer the time you stir, the firmer your cheese will be. I wanted a softer cheese so I only stirred for 3 minutes.Now pour off the whey that is on top. Now you should see these lovely curds at the bottom of your pot.Using a slotted spoon transfer your curds to a microwaveable bowl. Gently drain off more of the whey but do not press or squeeze it out of the curds.

Place the bowl in the microwave on "high" for 1 minute. This is when you might want to put some gloves on or if you have very clean hands that are used to handling hot stuff you can do this bare-handed.

After microwaving it take drain the last bit of whey and add the 1 tsp of cheese salt to the curds. Gently fold in the salt. Return it to the microwave cook it on "high" for another 30 seconds.
Drain the curds again and start stretching the curd. It needs to be 135F to stretch properly. If it's not at this temperature put it back in the microwave on "high" for another 30 seconds.

Stretch and pull the cheese like taffy until it is smooth with a shiny surface. The more the cheese is worked the firmer it will end up.
Form the cheese into a ball or any shape you like. A log, oval or even a braid...from what the recipe says!

Once it's shaped the way you like it, place it in a bath of ice water.Once chilled, it is ready to do what ever you wish eat it!!! I was really pleased at how our cheese turned out. Though it was a low fat cheese it had a wonderful taste and texture.

We're looking forward to trying out more cheese recipes and we promise we will share it with you all!