Uncategorized

Not Gone Fishing

I wish I could say I haven’t been writing because I’ve been gone fishing, but that’s not the case.  I haven’t been writing because winter is so hard on my arthritic hands.  I got through Christmas, but I’ve been in a lot of pain since.  I kneaded a batch of sourdough bread last week, and my hands were numb for hours afterwards.

I’m going to be trying a new treatment on my hands pretty soon, so hopefully it’ll help, and I’ll be able to post a positive report for those who also suffer such problems.  The treatment is a laser bio-stimulation, and my daughter, the periodontist, will be doing it for me.  She uses a laser in her practice for gum surgery, but it also has bio-stimulation applications.  Recently, I had an experience that made me even more eager to try an extended bio-stim treatment program.

I’ve been getting regular medical massages for a couple of months from a therapeutic masseur, Bob Tripp, in my hometown, and these treatments have helped tremendously with my TMJ and head pain from clenching because of all the other pain.  Jaw, head, shoulders, and heel pain is all much, much better.  Interestingly, the treatment that helped the most on my heel pain was moxa.  Moxa is a method or technique of heating the tissue to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself.  I don’t know much about it other than what Bob told me.  He said it is used with acupuncture sometimes, but he does it with a small butane or propane applicance that heats up the tissue as he works it.  I was in such pain in my feet after Christmas, I could barely walk, and I couldn’t put any weight on my right heel. One moxa treatment, and my heel was so much better I really was astounded.  I had been considering seeing a podiatrist, but now I feel no need!

The laser Amy, my daughter, uses does something similar in the bio-stim application.  It heats the tissue deep down, and the heat continues to radiate for hours, even as much as day, after treatment.  Amy has done it for me a few times before, but we’ve never done an extended period of treatment as we intend to start at the end of the month.  I have hopes it will help my hands and other joints that are being affected by chronic and systemic erosive arthritis.

In the meantime, even writing these few short paragraphs has my thumb joints protesting and my little fingers going numb.  Here’s hoping I have something positive to report the next time I check in.  Later, friends.

 

 

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appetizers, Desserts, Fermenting, Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes

Sourdough Fun

Update 12/6/16:  I baked the sourdough sugar cookies again yesterday, and when I got out my paper copy of the recipe I’d printed off from Cultures for Health, I realized I had made a number of rather important changes to get the good result I had from my first batch.  I thought I’d better post an update, so here’s the amended sugar cookie recipe.  The link to the original recipe on Cultures for Health appears in the original post below.

Sourdough Snickerdoodles

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar in the cone)*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup fresh sourdough starter
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Gently mix in the sourdough starter. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoonful onto a PARCHMENT PAPER–COVERED cookie sheet. (If you do not have parchment paper, spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray.  I used a bare pan in one trial, and the cookies stuck a bit.) Sprinkle the cookies with cinnamon and sugar if desired. (I did, it was good and made them taste like Snickerdoodles.)

Bake 12 minutes. (I baked 14-15 min. at my altitude, depending on the size of my spoonfuls.)

Notes:  Because of recent experiences with sourdough starter recipes being too wet, I reduced the amount of starter the original recipe called for and omitted the water.  My starter is 100% hydration, so it is wet and fairly thin.  I used whole wheat pastry flour in the dough. The original recipe called for types of unprocessed sugar I’d never even heard of before.  I did have some piloncillo in the house, which is an unrefined, Mexican brown sugar. It comes pressed into cones of varying size and weight.  It was a pain to break up (I had to pull out the food processor), but it made a delicious cookie.  I see no reason why subbing white sugar, organic or not, wouldn’t work.  Regular brown sugar will work. I have made one version with regular brown sugar, spices, and nuts, but I still need to tweak it a bit before I post the recipe.

~~~

In my last post, I said I would share links to other sourdough discard recipes if anyone wanted them, and my faithful reader and friend, Kelly, said yes!  So here are my favorite discard recipes so far.  I’m sure there will be others as I explore the sourdough websites, in particular, Cultures for Health.

First, the sourdough cookies.  I really liked these cookies, and my son and granddaughter did too.  I used piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) instead of the sucanat called for (raw sugar), which I will not use again because it is a pain to deal with that cone of hard sugar.  Next time, I’ll use organic white sugar and reduce the amount by 1/4 cup, and I think that will make them taste even more like Snickerdoodles, my son’s favorite cookie. I sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on the tops of the cookies and called them Sourdough Snickerdoodles.  I have ideas about other incarnations of this recipe too, which I’ll be exploring shortly.  http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/sourdough-recipes/soft-sourdough-cookies

Another favorite recipe for using sourdough discard (remember, this is just sourdough starter batter that you have to use up before your starter becomes too big to be manageable) is the pizza dough.  I really, really liked this dough, so much so that after I tried it the first time, I made two batches of fresh dough the next day and froze them for future fuss-free pizzas.  The dough should be thawed overnight in the fridge, and I would take it out several hours before rolling to let it come up to room temperature.  http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/sourdough-recipes/sourdough-pizza-crust

The third recipe I liked for sourdough discard is an onion ring batter.  This recipe came from Cultures for Health also, but the recipe was for onion fritters.  I decided to add a little sugar and use the batter for apple fritters, which I love. I was very disappointed with the result.  The fritters would not hold together, and I finally figured out one reason was the lack of egg in the recipe.  A batter needs eggs, people!  Also, the batter wasn’t thick enough, and I ended up adding a lot of additional flour before I got something resembling a fritter.

However, I decided to try the batter, with the addition of an egg, for onion rings.  (Mostly, I wanted to use up my discard, and I had a lot of fat leftover from the apple fritter experiment that I wanted to use up.) I wasn’t terribly surprised when my altered batter created yummy onion rings.  So here’s that recipe, for those of you who aren’t afraid to fry.  (I really don’t like frying myself, but onion rings are about the easiest thing to fry, so don’t be timid.)

Fried Sourdough-battered Onion Rings

(serves 4-6)

  • 1½ cups sourdough starter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cayenne (optional)
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, sliced into ¼ inch slices
  • ½ cup brown rice flour (or any flour you prefer)
  • Preferred fat for frying (I used a mix of refined coconut oil–not unrefined because it will burn at the temp needed for frying—and avocado oil.  I don’t feel guilty about frying when I use “healthy” fats.  You can use vegetable oil or peanut oil, also.)

Turn your oven to warm, and set cooling racks over paper towel-lined cookie sheets inside the oven.  You will probably need two racks.

Start fat heating in a deep, 2-quart saucepan. You’ll need several cups of fat, and this is why I prefer using a deep saucepan with a small bottom rather than a cast iron skillet.  You can get a deep fryer effect with less fat.  The fat should be at least 4 inches deep in the pan when melted/heated.  If you happen to have a deep fryer, follow manufacturer’s instructions for using.

It’s wise to have a candy thermometer or digital thermometer to monitor the heat of the fat.  The fat should come up to between 350 and 360 degrees.  (Hotter than that, and this delicate batter coating will burn immediately.  Cooler than that, and they will absorb too much fat and will not be crispy.)

Separate onion slices into individual rings.  In a medium bowl, combine sourdough starter, beaten egg, sugar, cornmeal, salt, and cayenne with a whisk. Combine baking soda and baking powder and sprinkle over batter; whisk until just combined.  Batter will foam and increase in volume.

Working in small batches, toss a few onion rings in flour to coat (a Ziploc bag works well for this).  Dip flour-coated rings in batter with a fork or tongs, and place immediately into hot fat. Don’t try to fry too many at a time; cook three or four at time, maximum.  If you crowd the pan, you’ll lower the temperature of the oil, with the results noted above, and it’s also harder to flip a bunch at the right time than a few. Fry until bottom is golden brown, turn, and fry for about a minute longer.  These onion rings cook very quickly.  They are done in just about 2 or 3 minutes.

Remove from fat and place on racks in oven to drain.  You can salt them now if you wish, but they don’t really need additional salt.  These onion rings are light and crispy. Enjoy!

The last recipe for sourdough discard also comes from Cultures for Health.  I like the recipes on this site, obviously.  This one is for Sourdough Egg Noodles.  http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/recipe/sourdough-recipes/rustic-sourdough-noodles

I made these for my Thanksgiving turkey carcass soup because, yeah, I needed to get rid of some discard, and I love homemade pastas!  This recipe calls for incubating the dough for 8 hours, so starting it early in the morning for dinner that night, or the night before for a lunch dish, is key.  However, when I was planning to test this recipe, I forgot that the dough was supposed to sit for 8 hours, and I didn’t get it started until 11 o’clock in the morning.  I figured I’d cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put the dough by the heating stove and see what happened in the time I had.  I was very surprised that in just 4 hours, the dough had more than doubled in size.

I took half of it out of the bowl (and I had only made half a recipe anyway because I didn’t want to sacrifice 6 eggs on an experiment) and rolled it for noodles for the turkey soup. I covered the rest of the dough and left it sitting on the counter, thinking I’d roll the other half when I got home from my granddaughter’s basketball game, if I felt like it. I could tell I’d have plenty from the one half for my pot of turkey soup.

I rolled the dough out on a floured board and cut it with a pasta cutter (which is old and dull, so I think I’d have been better off with a sharp knife), then spread the noodles on racks to dry for a couple of hours before being added to the soup.  Then I went off to my granddaughter’s game.

  

An hour and a half later, I got home and decided I was too tired to finish the soup and roll the rest of the noodles.  I cooled the soup and put it in a bowl to chill in the fridge so I could skim the fat (that wasn’t done when the carcass and pan drippings were put in the bags by SOMEBODY at my daughter’s house and frozen—wasn’t me!). I wanted to skim the fat off the soup before I added starch in the form of noodles.  The leftover noodle dough had risen again, even in the cool kitchen, so I stashed it in the fridge to deal with the next day. The rest of the noodles were left on the drying rack overnight. (Sometimes my ambition is too big for my energy’s britches.)

When I got up the next morning, I decided to finish drying the noodles in a warm oven, so they’d last for a few days before I had to use them up.  I decided to roll out the rest of the noodle dough that afternoon, dry it for just a bit, and then add it to my soup.  I love fresh pasta, and I didn’t want to pass up that fresh, tender pasta texture.  I’ll use the dried noodles in venison or bear stroganoff later in the week.

The noodles were wonderful, tender as only homemade fresh pasta can be. That half-recipe of dough made enough noodles for a big pot of turkey soup and one other dish for two.  If you are an empty nester, like I am, I’d definitely cut the linked recipe in half, or even quarter it, so you don’t end up making more noodles than you can easily use.  If you have a large family, by all means, make the recipe as it is in the link.

That’s it for this round of sourdough fun.  I’ve found a bread recipe I’m testing, and I’ll report on it soon.  The recipe was posted on a Facebook group by a guy who’s a doer, not a writer, and as is usual in such things, it’s a bit confusing as written.  As soon as I get the kinks worked out, I’ll share that.  It looks promising. The grandkids ate half a loaf when they came over after school to make dog biscuits. My grandson wanted to take the rest of it home, and that’s quite an endorsement from the food critic in the family!

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Recipes, Side dishes

Sourdough Rolls

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a no-muss, no-fuss sourdough roll recipe!  I’ve posted sourdough biscuit or roll recipes previously, and I liked them, but this one is my own, and I like it best, because of the no-muss, no-fuss part.  What I mean by that is there’s no prep to do for the night before, and no rising time before baking, which makes it much easier to coordinate for Thanksgiving dinner.

The previous sourdough biscuit recipes I used came from a friend who gave me some of her husband’s family’s heirloom sourdough starter.  This was back in the ‘80s.  I kept that starter alive for many, many years, but when my mom passed away, I went through a period of depression and inactivity, and I let the starter die in the fridge.  I didn’t mean to, it just happened.  Sadly, the rest of my friend’s family also let the starter die, so it is gone from this world.  And that’s a shame, because it was a good one.

I tried starting new batches of sourdough starter using baker’s yeast, but they were less than successful long-term.  They just couldn’t survive the periods of inactivity in the fridge the way that strong, old heirloom starter did.  However, some years ago, I learned that sourdough could be started with just flour and water.  That was how the old-timers did it, and that was surely the origin of the heirloom starter I let die.  So I finally got around to trying that method, starting with 3 tablespoons of flour and 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of water.  You just mix that up in a glass bowl or jar, cover loosely, and set it in a warm place to let the yeasts in the flour start feeding.  Every day, twice a day, you feed the starter the same amount of flour and water, stir, and watch for bubbles.  On the third or fourth day, you have to start feeding a little more flour and increasing the water.  A quarter cup of flour to a quarter cup of water, still twice a day.  It really couldn’t be easier.

On about the fifth to the seventh day, you have to discard half of the starter to keep it to a manageable size that won’t consume massive amounts of flour. It takes a while for the starter to develop enough yeasts to leaven a loaf of bread, and in the meantime, feeding the starter will create prodigious amounts of discard, as in several cups a week.  Some people throw it away, but I am using rather expensive flour, and I didn’t want to waste it. (I am using Guisto’s Organic Bread Flour that I bought at our local health foods store.)  When the starter is a few weeks old, you can start feeding it ½ cup of flour and water once a day.  And when it is over a month old, you can stash it in the fridge for a week or so, with a tight lid, and only take it out the day before baking to feed and reactivate.

Because my starter is young and producing lots of discard, I’ve been testing recipes and have found some I liked and some I didn’t.  I tried a sourdough cookie that was very similar to Snickerdoodles.  Joel and Kaedynce really liked those. I’ve also been making a lot of sourdough pancakes, and I adapted my sourdough pancake recipe for waffles. I made sourdough pizza crust that turned out great, and I even made extra and froze it for later.  (If anyone is interested, let me know in a comment and I’ll provide those recipes and links in a separate post.)

When I tried my old sourdough biscuit recipe with my new starter, I had not exactly a total failure, but what I ended up with was not something I’d serve at Thanksgiving. My sourdough biscuits are a tradition at Thanksgiving, so I wanted to get the recipe right.  And goodness knows, I had plenty of discard to experiment with!

It took two more batches of biscuits to get the adjusted recipe right, but wow!  When I got it, I was really happy.  My starter isn’t very sour yet because it is still young, only six weeks old, but I’ve been assured that typical sourdough flavor will come in time.  For now, these rolls are perfect to continue the Thanksgiving tradition, and I figured out a short cut to save prep time the night before.  This recipe uses fresh discard, that is, sourdough starter that has been fed within 12 hours.  I’m calling them rolls, because they tasted more like a yeast dinner roll than a sourdough biscuit.  (Again, that’s because my starter is young.  If yours is mature, you’re going to get more of that classic sourdough flavor.)

Sourdough Rolls

(makes one dozen rolls)

2 cups sourdough starter/discard

1 cup dry powdered milk (see notes)

2 cups flour (I used organic pastry flour—see notes)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons sugar (see notes)

1 teaspoon salt

Additional ¼ – ½ cup flour for kneading

2 tablespoons butter, melted in 9×12” pan (see notes)

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix starter and powdered milk together in a large bowl until smooth.  Mix baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt into 2 cups of flour in separate bowl.  Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients until flour is moistened.  Dough will be wet.

Sprinkle ¼ cup of flour onto board.  Turn out soft dough onto board and knead until smooth, adding more flour as necessary (up to ½ cup total) to keep dough from sticking to board.  When dough is stiff enough to cut, pat down to about ¾ inch thickness and shape rolls as desired. (I use a biscuit cutter or a small glass, dipped in flour after each cut.)  Dip one side of the roll into melted butter in pan and turn over so butter-coated top is up.  Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  The rolls will rise during baking.

Notes:

Why powdered milk?  Sourdough starter is wet and runny.  It’s half flour, half water. Rolls and biscuits need milk, but sourdough discard recipes typically don’t need more liquid.  My old sourdough pancake recipe used powdered milk, so I thought why not try it in the rolls?  It worked beautifully. I can only find non-fat powdered milk, and I get it in bulk at Winco, so it is inexpensive.

I used organic pastry flour for my rolls.  All-purpose flour will work fine—I used it for years in sourdough biscuits.  I would not use bread flour for the rolls because there’s no long rising and working periods to develop the gluten.

I used organic cane sugar. If you object to sugar, don’t use it, but sugar gives the rolls that old-timey, yeast bread flavor that I love.  There’s no reason you couldn’t use honey or any other sweetener of your choice, adjusting as necessary for your taste.  If you use honey or any liquid sweetener, add it to the sourdough starter and powdered milk before adding the flour mixture.

As for baking the rolls in butter, you can substitute any oil you like to use for baking, but you will lose flavor.  These rolls contain no other fat (unless you use powdered milk that contains fat), and the butter helps them brown on top and bottom and gives them delicious flavor.  Melt the butter in the pan and then allow the pan to cool down before you put the rolls in.  You don’t want the bottom of the rolls to start cooking right away in a hot pan.  You want them to rise before they start to brown.

One last note.  The baking powder and baking soda react with the acids in the sourdough starter to make these rolls rise as they bake.  My old recipe (also using baking powder and baking soda) called for allowing the biscuits to rise for 30 minutes before baking, but I found that with my young starter, I had better results baking as soon as the rolls were in the pan.  They rose higher and were lighter with better texture.

I only have one picture of my recent batch of rolls in the pan, and it is a bit blurry.  I took it in a hurry on my phone because I was getting ready to leave on a trip.  It’s not the best picture, but trust me, the rolls tasted so much better than this picture might indicate.  There’s one missing from the pan because it was snitched as soon as they came out of the oven for a taste test!  Mmmmm.

 

 

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Leftovers

Pumpkin Plops for Pups

This post is about grandkids and grandpups.  I am always on the lookout for simple but fun things to do in the kitchen with my granddaughter, Kaedynce, and grandson, Bryce. I also love my grandpups.  I have three of those, Chloe (a.k.a. Boss Bitch), who belongs to Kaedynce; Buddy, Bryce’s birthday dog, and Mac Daddy, whom my daughter, Amy, and son-in-law, Solo, rescued.  Chloe is a beagle who has no idea how small she actually is, and she is the boss of any group she joins.  I love her spunkiness and sometimes wish I were more like her!  Buddy is a Yellow Lab, only 9 months old, and he’s the size of a small elephant with the loving disposition of a Lab. Bryce wants to train him to be a search-and-rescue dog.  Mac Daddy is a Yorkie/Silky mix.  He’s absolutely the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and also one of the sweetest.

(I’m not playing favorites here.  I asked for pictures of all three dogs, and this is the only one I got before post time.  But isn’t Mac Daddy the cutest little guy?)

Recently, a Facebook friend of mine, Debra, dehydrated some cooked sweet potatoes as a treat for her dogs. She used a jerky gun to extrude the sweet potatoes into a square shape.  I got to thinking, why not make something like that for the grandpups with the grandkids?  I don’t have a jerky gun, but with some advice from Debra and the dehydrating group, I came up with Pumpkin Plops for Pups.  Of course, the only thing original about this is the title.

I used to make Thanksgiving pies from homegrown Halloween jack o’lanterns until I learned that field pumpkins are not nearly as sweet or flavorful as pie pumpkins.  I started growing pie pumpkins for Thanksgiving pies, and just a few field pumpkins for carving.  But the waste of the field pumpkins after Halloween always bothered me.  Oh, yes, they were composted, of course, but still.  Last year, I had chickens, so I didn’t feel as guilty, and this year, I planned to give our two jack o’lanterns to the chickens again.  But then I saw Debra’s post about her dog treats, and the light bulb blinked on.

It really couldn’t be any easier. I had two jack o’lanterns that Dennis carved during the family carving party.  (During which Buddy, by the way, ate quite a bit of raw pumpkin.)  I named our jack o’lanterns Drunken Jack and Happy Jack.

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I cut the faces off the jacks (the cut sides tend to mold quickly, although these weren’t bad), and gave them to the chickens.  They also got all of Happy Jack, because I didn’t need him. It made a funny picture.

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I cubed up the rest of Drunken Jack and filled my 6 quart soup pot.  I put a little water in the bottom of the pot to keep the pumpkin from scorching and got it boiling, then turned it down to a simmer.  I stirred the pot occasionally, bringing the more cooked cubes up to the top and turning the more raw cubes on top down to the bottom.  It only took about 45 minutes to get the peel on the large cubes soft enough to puree.

I didn’t peel the pumpkin for two reasons.  One, that’s a lot of work my hands can’t take, and I didn’t want to put too much pain, time, or effort into an experiment I wasn’t sure would work.  Two, I thought the peel would provide more body to the plops and fiber to the pups.

When the flesh and peel were soft, I scooped the pumpkin out of the pot and into a colander set over a large bowl.  I wanted to drain as much water out of the pumpkin as I could before dehydrating, and I wanted the pumpkin to cool down before I pureed it.

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Once the pumpkin was cool, I put it in the food processor in batches.  It took a while to get the peel broken down enough for my purposes, but eventually, I could only see small specks of bright orange.

The grandkids arrived after school, and the plopping commenced.  Early on, I’d thought we might be able to use frosting piping bags to create little poop-shaped plops (in which case this post would have been titled “Pumpkin Poop for Pups”).  But as soon as I scooped the pureed pumpkin out of the food processor bowl to fill the piping bags, I could tell it wasn’t going to hold a shape.  It was still too watery. But that was okay.  I thought the kids would have fun with the piping bags, and they did.

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We each had our own fruit leather tray.  Bryce gave creating a log-shaped poop plop for Buddy a good try!  Kaedynce was more dainty with her plops, but she was attempting to create a medium-sized plop for Chloe.  I made little plops for little Mac Daddy.  When our trays were full, they went into the dehydrator at 115 degrees.  Bryce, little logician that he is, read the guidelines on the control panel of the dehydrator and told me that vegetables should be set at  135 degrees.  Kaedynce, older and wiser in the ways of the kitchen, replied that pumpkin was not a vegetable, but a fruit. “Doesn’t matter,” Bryce said.  “Vegetables and fruit should dry at 135 degrees.” There might have been a squabble, but Nana intervened.  “My friend, Debra, recommended 115 degrees, so that’s what we’re going to do!”

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(If you want to try this but don’t have a food dehydrator, you can do it in the oven.  Set your oven to the lowest setting. The pumpkin plops can be placed on parchment- or waxed paper-covered cookie sheets.  When the oven and cookie sheets are warm, turn the oven off, turn on the oven light, and leave the oven door closed for 18-24 hours before checking. If the plops are still wet, heat the oven up again, and repeat above procedure until plops are leathery.)

The plops were very watery, so I was very surprised to see that they were dried to the leathery stage after about 18 hours.  I was also surprised to see how much they shrank!  They were so small, Buddy could have eaten them all in one gulp!

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I decided to try another batch with the leftover cooked pumpkin from Drunken Jack.  I’d intended to give the leftovers to the chickens, but the bowl was still sitting on the counter the morning after the initial test run.  I buzzed the pumpkin cubes in the Ninja blender this time, and it was faster and made a smoother, thicker puree.  Then, instead of using a piping bag, I used a tablespoon to create big plops, smoothing down the tops with the back of the spoon to a relatively even thickness.  I knew these would take longer to dry, but I thought maybe after shrinkage they would be substantial enough for big Buddy. They still only took about 18 hour at 115 degrees.

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As always when dehydrating food, it’s a good idea to put the dried food into a glass bowl, cover it with a tea towel, and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours to let the moisture left in the food equalize.  Then if it’s dry enough, you can store it in a plastic bag or glass jar.

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Pumpkin Plops for Pups was a success, in terms of a fun activity for me and the kids, and in terms of creating wholesome little treats for the grandpups.  The kids and I intend to make dog biscuits one of these days, if we can just find a bone-shaped cookie cutter.

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Fermenting, Uncategorized

Kombucha for Chickens

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Some of you will think I’m crazy.  But I’ve tested my theory several times, and each time I’ve found it to be true.  When I give my chickens a little kombucha several times a week, their eggs are almost completely clean. When the kombucha is withheld for several days, the eggs get poopy.

First off, some folks might not know what kombucha is.  Kombucha is fermented tea.  It’s fermented with some particular strains of bacteria.  You can make kombucha at home using raw, unflavored kombucha purchased in a health food store or obtained from someone who makes her own kombucha.  If you are interested in doing that, here’s the link I used to start my kombucha and SCOBY.  (The SCOBY is what grows in the kombucha.  The kombucha is the fermented tea that you drink.)  Kombucha is probiotic, very good for your gut.  And presumably, for a chicken’s gut.  Did you know they actually make probiotics for chickens? Yeah, that’s a thing. Some people buy probiotics for their chickens.  Some people feed them yogurt regularly.  I feed mine a little kombucha several times a week. And they love it.

I make my kombucha with green or white tea, mostly.  I have not ever given my chickens any kombucha made with black tea, because I want to keep the caffeine levels as low as possible.  Kombucha generally contains about a third of the caffeine in the tea it’s made from. Green or white tea contains less caffeine than black tea, thus the kombucha made from green or white tea contains less caffeine too.

Now, I’ve done a little research, and caffeine is apparently toxic to chickens (as it is to dogs). You’re not supposed to give them chocolate, tea bags, or coffee beans (I don’t know why anybody would, but nevertheless, you shouldn’t.)  However, many people do allow their chickens access to freshly brewed coffee grounds dumped in the compost pile, and these folks report no ill effects from the chickens eating the coffee grounds.  From what I understand from my reading, minute amounts of caffeine in things like spent coffee grounds doesn’t seem to hurt them.  I think small amounts of kombucha is probably the same. (You’re also not supposed to let chickens eat apple seeds, but mine ate windfall apples in the orchard all last fall. And when they eat an apple, they don’t leave anything but the stem.) So I think we can use an ounce of common sense here along with the kombucha.

I don’t give my four chickens a lot of kombucha at any one time, and I give it to them mixed with some scratch grains.  I put the scratch, about 1/3 cup or so, in an old pan, and pour on about a tablespoon of kombucha, or enough to just moisten the scratch.  I swirl and toss that around to coat all the scratch in the kombucha, and I let it sit for a minute to absorb the kombucha while I’m getting out their laying pellets.  I feed those separately.  They get the scratch/kombucha supplement about every other day.

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How was it that I began giving kombucha to my chickens in the first place?  In the summer of 2015, I was trying fermented feed for the chickens, for the probiotic effect, and I was using kombucha as a starter, mixing it in with their pellets and scratch and letting it ferment for 3 or 4 days before I gave it to them.  But with colder fall temps, fermenting the feed in the unheated pumphouse wasn’t working.  And it was another task when I really didn’t need another task. Then I thought, why bother with all that?  I have lots of kombucha, and it is easy to make more if I need it.  I could just keep a jar of it with their feed to mix with their scratch.

I did a little reading, noticing that many people reported giving their excess kombucha SCOBYs to their chickens, and I’ve done that too.  The chickens eat them like worms. No one reported any problems, and the SCOBYs retain quite a bit of kombucha in their layers. So I figured, why not?

I started noticing, a week or so after I began the kombucha regimen, that the eggs were clean.  Not just cleaner, but clean.  Rarely did I even get a little streak or smear of poop on an egg.  The majority of my eggs were pristine, like they’d been washed.  The change was noticeable, because they were pretty poopy before.  So I had nice, clean eggs all fall and into the winter.

In late winter, I came down with a bad case of influenza.  The old-fashioned stuff.  I was sick, really sick, for over a month.  During that time, Dennis took over feeding the chickens, and I hadn’t told him about the kombucha.  Didn’t even think about it until I was well enough to scramble myself an egg.  And then I noticed that the eggs were poopy again.

I told Dennis about the kombucha/scratch combo, and he started doing it.  Within a couple of days, the eggs were clean again.  No fooling.

Since then, we’ve had chicken minders for a week or so, at least three times, while we were gone on vacation.  I never tell them about the kombucha or ask them to do it because I don’t want the chickens getting too much kombucha. You never know how well people are actually listening when you tell them how to do something. Each time when we’ve returned, the eggs are poopy.  And each time, after a few days back on the booch, the eggs are clean again when I gather them.

The last time we left, the neighbor boy who was minding the chickens put a half-pan of dry scratch in the run for the hens so they had 24/7 access to it, something I never do, but it proved one thing to me.  It’s definitely the kombucha, not the scratch, that’s keeping those eggs clean.  I’d had a slight, niggling doubt about that, but this time was the clincher. I had poopy eggs for two days after we got back, until those chickens got some kombucha back in their systems.

In the first picture below, you can see that the eggs are very clean.  I don’t wash my eggs until I use them, if I need to wash them.  (If you have backyard chickens, you know why, but for those who don’t:  the reason you don’t wash eggs until you want to use them is that when the chicken lays the egg, it comes out with a protective coating that seals the shell and prolongs the life of the egg inside.  Store-bought eggs are washed, and they have shorter shelf lives than unwashed backyard eggs.) In the second photo, I’ve tried to take a close-up of the only egg in this carton (gathered over about a week’s time) that has any sign of poop on it.  It’s just a faint dark smear (not the reddish speckles–that is just pigment in the shell), and might not even be poop.  It could just be a smear of dirt from a chicken foot.  This is typical for my eggs when the chickens are getting kombucha at least three times a week.

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Kombucha for chickens makes cleaner eggs.  I don’t know why.  I could speculate, but I don’t know enough about the anatomy or digestive system of a chicken.  I just know it works.

 

 

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Canning, Recipes

All-Natural Cinnamon Pears in Brown Sugar Syrup

Although my mother never canned her pears with cinnamon candies, I remember eating some that someone else had canned.  They were a pretty, rosy color, but awfully sweet.  I’ve never been fond of overly-sweet, and I’ve become less so the older I get.  I usually can my pears in a light syrup, and a couple of years ago, I tried a recipe I found online, pears in a brown sugar syrup with ginger matchsticks.  (You can find that recipe, and several others that I still like very much, on my Pears, Pears, Pears post.) Gingered pears sound good, right?  Well, they were, the first year.  Typically, home-canned fruit is good for years (and yes, I’ve eaten fruit ten years in the jar that still tasted good, so I know whereof I speak).  But after the first year with the gingered pears, I found that the ginger didn’t taste good, and I didn’t like the flavor of the pears all that much either.  But I really liked the brown sugar syrup for a couple of reasons that I’ll go into below.

I didn’t have time to go out and forage like I normally do, so I didn’t think I was going to can pears this year. But when I was gifted some pears by my brother and sister-in-law this week, I decided to try something a little different.  I already knew I was going to use the brown sugar syrup, and here’s one reason why.  I like the flavor of the brown sugar with the pears, kind of caramel-y.  But the other reason has to do with darkening of the fruit.

I always treat my pears before canning them, with either acidulated water (about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to a half-gallon of water), or with Fruit Fresh.  If I use Fruit Fresh, I use about a tablespoon to a half-gallon of water.  This works well to prevent darkening for a while, but I am so slow these days with any task requiring any manual dexterity (my hands are badly damaged by arthritis), the fruit still darkens a bit despite the pretreating.  Brown sugar syrup hides any darkening.  The fruit looks pretty in the jars, pretty in a bowl, and tastes delicious.  So, a brown sugar syrup it is.

At this point, I have to interject a comment about a tool.  Years ago, I found this little gadget in a box of kitchen tools in an antique store.  I’m always trolling through those, looking for old vegetable peelers.  (My favorite peeler is in the picture below.  The old ones are so much sharper than the kind you can buy now.)  I picked up the unfamiliar tool and looked and looked at it, wondering what it was.  And then the shape told me.  It is a pear corer.  Pears can’t be cored on an apple corer.  They are too soft, and the shape is wrong.  I’ve only ever been able to do it properly with a small paring knife like the one in the photo, and it is so hard on my hands.  I bought the pear corer and stashed it in a drawer and forgot about it.  I found it last winter when I was boxing up the kitchen cabinets and drawers in preparation for the kitchen remodel.  I made a mental note to try it if I did get any pears to can this year.  And I’m here to tell you, be on the lookout for one of these.  It worked beautifully!  After I cut the fruit in half lengthwise, the narrow end of the corer scraped out the blossom scar on the bottom and removed the strings that run down to the core from the stem.  (Canning books tell you remove them because they will darken in the jar and look unattractive.)  The large end scoops out the core like a melon baller.

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Now, back to the syrup.  As I was looking up the processing time for pears in my old Ball Blue Book, my eye lit on that old recipe for Cinnamon Pears using the cinnamon candies.  I’m not a fan of adding artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives to my home-canned foods, but cinnamon pears sounded so good. And then a light bulb flashed on above my head.  Why not add cinnamon sticks to my brown sugar syrup?

But, here’s the thing.  You can’t can cinnamon sticks in anything in a hot water bath process, and I’m not even sure it would be safe to can them in a pressure canner.  I knew that if I was going to infuse any cinnamon into my syrup, it was going to have to simmer for a while.  So I made up my light syrup (2 cups of brown sugar, light or dark, to 1 quart of water), added five whole cinnamon sticks (unbroken, to keep any small pieces out of the pears), brought it to a boil, and then simmered it until I was ready to add the pears to briefly cook them for a hot pack.  My syrup ended up simmering with the lid on for at least an hour.  When I needed to make another batch of syrup, I just reused those same cinnamon sticks.  (And I saved them and put them in the freezer to add to a batch of chai kombucha I’ll be making in a week or so.)

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The pears I was canning looked green but were sweet and tasty, and I think I could have gone with an extra-light syrup (1 cup of brown sugar to 1 quart of water). And before you wig out too much about the sugar in the syrups that you can fruit in, remember that sugar is a preservative, and if you are canning enough fruit to last for a couple of years (I usually do), it’s better to use a light, rather than extra-light, syrup.  If your fruit is tart (like the red plums I did last year in extra-light syrup), a light syrup is better.  As a young friend of mine recently found out, canning fruit in water results in a not-so-tasty product that has a much shorter shelf life.

Here they are:  pears in brown sugar and cinnamon syrup.  I’ve already opened the little jar to taste, and need I say it?  Well, yeah, I have to. YUM! Sweet, but not too sweet, with that caramel flavor of brown sugar and the warming spice of cinnamon. As for the cinnamon, five sticks gave a cinnamon flavor, but not very strong.  Next time, I might put in a couple more.  If you do, let me know.

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Oh, and don’t throw away that delicious syrup.  You can add it to selzer water for a fabulous spritzer.  (That’s what I did last night, after my canning session.) For a cocktail, I think a shot of rum with a little of that syrup might be really good.  You could add fizzy water to that, too.  Or you can reduce the syrup and put it on pancakes or waffles.  Mmmm.  I might do that with the syrup I saved from the little jar.

As a bonus, I saved the pear peelings and cores for a small batch of pear vinegar.  I made some a few years ago, and it was one of the best vinegars I’ve ever made.  If you’re interested in vinegar-making, see my Waste Not, Want Not post.

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Main dishes, Recipes, Side dishes, Uncategorized

Mediterranean Farro Salad

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Farro, also known as emmer wheat, is an ancient grain.  I bought some organic farro a while back, and have been developing the recipe for this salad through trial but not error—all iterations were delicious. Farro is high in fiber, protein, some minerals, and B vitamins. While it is lower in gluten than other types of wheat, it does still contain some gluten. (If you want to try a gluten-free version, I think quinoa would work nicely with the salad ingredients. Brown rice would probably also be delicious.)  Farro is nutty, with a firm, slightly chewy texture. For more about farro’s nutritional value, here’s a link:  https://draxe.com/farro.

I really like this salad for several reasons.  It’s one of those dishes that’s really versatile and can be served cold or at room temperature, so it’s perfect for potlucks and outdoor summer  suppers. The recipe below has Greek influences, but I’ve also made it with Italian flavors, and it’s equally delicious that way.  I also like the fact that it is can be a cold, main vegetarian dish or a side dish.  This variation is meatless, but it would be easy to add some cold roasted chicken or lamb, or even a bit of grilled flank steak to increase the protein (in which case you’d want to chill it and keep it cold until serving).  Add some baby spinach for more veggie content.  Or how about some grilled or roasted marinated eggplant?  Fresh zucchini cubes or slices?  Grilled zucchini planks, ribboned? So many possibilities!

And now, to the recipe/s!

Mediterranean Farro Salad

3-4 cups cooked farro (approximately)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, diced (or a combination of all three colors is pretty)

¼ cup red onion, diced

½ cup sliced Kalamata olives

½ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes (or fresh grape tomatoes, halved, or diced Romas)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

1/3 cup Greek salad dressing (see link below)

First, cook the farro.  What follows are the package directions for the farro I bought.  There are different varieties of farro, so be sure to follow the directions on your package if they are different than these.

1 cup farro grains (makes 3-4 cups of cooked farro)

3 cups lightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon sea salt is what I used)

Bring water to a boil, add the farro, bring back to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and partially cover with a lid.  Cook farro, stirring frequently, for approximately 30 minutes, or until all water has been absorbed.  (At my altitude, it takes 40 minutes.) Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Stir occasionally while cooling.  While the farro is cooling, prepare salad dressing and salad vegetables.

I used this simple recipe for Greek salad dressing, and I really liked it:  http://www.simplyscratch.com/2010/11/my-big-fat-greek-dressing.html. You’ll probably have all the ingredients you need already in your pantry.  A garlic clove, dried oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil.  Delicious!

Combine the cooled farro (it doesn’t have to be completely cool, just cool enough to avoid wilting or cooking the veggies), vegetables, feta, herbs, and salad dressing.  Mix thoroughly, cover, and cool completely in fridge.

Before serving, stir salad up from bottom to redistribute any dressing that might have drained to the bottom of the bowl and taste.  If you want, you can add more salad dressing, but you don’t want your salad to be oily, so don’t go overboard.

For an Italian variation:

*Omit cucumber.  Add a cup of roasted or grilled eggplant cubes.  (This can be marinated in Italian salad dressing after cooking for more flavor.)

*Omit feta cheese.  Substitute cubed fresh mozzarella.

*Omit mint.  Add a bit of fresh snipped basil instead.

*Omit Greek salad dressing.  Use Italian salad dressing instead.  My Italian dressing is essentially the same as the Greek dressing, except for acid I use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice, and I use dried basil along with the oregano, and pinch of dried thyme.

*Omit sun-dried tomatoes and use fresh grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, or seeded and diced Roma or Italian tomatoes. Any fresh tomato would be fine.

*Omit Kalamata olives.  Substitute sliced or halved ripe black olives.

*Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for that quintessentially Italian flavor.

Happy summertime eating!  If you come up with any variations of your own, I would love to hear about them.

 

 

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