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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Three Swingin' Chicks (plus one)!

The chicks have presented us with wonderful Christmas presents: eggs, LOTS of eggs. After not laying since March 27th, Roxanne started laying a few weeks ago and now she and other three chicks haven't stopped. I've been getting 3 to 4 eggs a day on a regular basis for the last three weeks. It must be something about the spirit of the season. Or it could be the beautiful snow, the Christmas carols playing on the coop radio, or the warm mash I've been feeding them each morning. Either way we feel lucky to have such generous girls.

I hope you all enjoy your holiday times with friends and family. If you're not too overloaded with cookies, you might try one of our favorites, chewy Almond Drops. Simple cookies of almond paste and egg white, these gems are perfect. Plus they're gluten-free! I've altered the recipe only slightly from the original version posted by King Arthur.

Almond Drops
10 oz. almond paste (look for the kind in the can not the tube)
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
powdered sugar for sprinkling 

Heat the oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the almonod paste and sugar in an electric mixture on medium speed until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the egg whites gradually until a smooth paste is formed. Beat in the almond extract.
Spoon 1 teaspoon amounts onto baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

Bake 20 minutes or until pale golden brown. (do not over bake.) Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Adrift in a Blizzard

Sometimes taking care of chickens is hard. Like today. We're in the middle of a blizzard. This is the view as I stepped out back this afternoon: waist high drifts on the way to the coop.

 The snow has been falling since midnight last night. We've already got 18-inches on the ground with more on the way.  

Everything in town has been called off, the airport's closed, buses aren't running and Christmas concerts and plays are canceled. But chickens need care no matter how much snow we get, so out I trudge.  I'll be back out later in the evening to bring them lots of cracked corn and scratch feed. The corn and goodies in the scratch digest slower in their tummies keeping them warm through the night. Kind of like covering them with an extra blanket. With the wind howling and temperatures plummeting to below zero tonight, keeping them warm and protected is crucial.

We plan to warm up our own tummies tonight with my family's special holiday drink: Tom and Jerry's.  My grandfather's neighborhood bar was known for this drink and customers came from miles around to warm themselves up during the cold holiday season. Keep warm everyone and cheers to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Treats

The kitchen's getting steamy and overheated--the food marathon has begun. First up: Pumpkin-Toffee-Pecan Cookies. It's a variation of a recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Victory Garden Cookbook. I hadn't planned to make cookies as we're already having an over-abundance of desserts in the way of pies tomorrow, but I had an extra cup of pumpkin puree leftover so decided to put it to good use. I'm glad I did, yum!

These puffy cake-like cookies are very special with a strong hint of orange combined with toasted pecans and bits of crushed toffee. They're almost like mini cakes with a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on the top. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. I just have to remember to put some aside for our Thanksgiving guests or we may just nibble them all away.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 tablespoon grated orange peel 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract  
1 cup English toffee bits
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans, toasted

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 to 2 cups powdered sugar

Heat oven to 375ºF. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Beat the sugar and butter together on medium speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Beat in the pumpkin, orange peel and vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed until blended. Stir in the toffee and pecans. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely. 

To make frosting, beat cream cheese, butter and cream together at medium-low speed until smooth. Reduce speed to low and beat in enough powdered sugar for spreadable consistency. Frost cooled cookies. 
Makes 3 dozen cookies.
If you're like me. one of the main problems with preparing the Thanksgiving meal is that so much of it needs to be done at the last minute, from mashing the potatoes to making the gravy to carving the turkey.So I thought I'd share one of my favorite do-ahead recipes: Caramelized Onion Gravy. It's perfect for the time-stressed cook because it can be made the day before. It's rich dark color with a hint of sweetness comes from the browned onions and it's silky texture makes it the perfect topping for mashed potatoes and turkey. The recipe was featured in the Cooking Club magazine. I'll be making it this afternoon and I thought you might enjoy having the recipe also.

Caramelized Onion Gravy

1 (32 oz.) carton lower-sodium chicken broth
Giblets from turkey (without the liver)
1/4 cup butter
3 large onions, quartered, thinly sliced crosswise (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Simmer the broth and giblets in medium saucepan over medium-low to low heat 30 minutes. Strain broth and reserve; discard giblets.

Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, stir to coat. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until wilted. Sprinkle with sugar. Increase heat to medium-high; cook, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes or until onions are golden-brown, stirring frequently and adjusting heat as necessary. Stir in flour, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; boil 8 to 10 minutes or until of desired consistency. Stir in sage, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Reheat until warm; stir in any drippings from the roasted bird or meat before serving, if desired.
Makes about 3 cups.
Don't worry, the chicks haven't been forgotten in the flurry of holiday baking. In fact, I created some special treats just for the girls: Cranberry-Raisin-Peanut Butter Cakes. The name sounds enticing and yes, they actually look good, but I've had to remind everyone they are for the chickens only. While they're filled with goodies such as raisins, dried cranberries, peanuts and peanut butter, they also contain nutritious (for chickens) scratch feed, cracked dried corn, and mealworms. The girls are loving them and scarfing them up. I got the idea from my friend Andi at General Mills She created cupcakes for her wild birds and I thought my chicks deserved no less.

Cranberry-Raisin-Peanut Butter Cakes 
(for chickens)
1/2 cup chunky all-natural salt-free peanut butter
1/2 cup chicken scratch feed or regular chicken feed
6 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup dried mealworms
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Microwave peanut butter until soft. Stir in chicken feed, oats, mealworms, raisins and cranberries. Spoon about 1/4 cup into 6 cupcake liners. Top with additional cranberries and oats if desired for garnish. Freeze until firm. Remove from cupcake liners and give to chickens. Store covered in the freezer; thaw slightly at room temperature before giving to chicks.

Makes 6 chicken treats.
(You can substitute raw pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried coarse corn and chopped peanuts for the oats, mealworms, raisins and cranberries.)

I tried to give a treat cake to the girls in a suet feeder thinking they could easily peck at it. Wrong. They had no idea what to do and basically ignored it. It wasn't until I placed it in their regular treat bowl that they went crazy.

Cold weather has come early this year but the chicks have a lot to be thankful for. My new Sweeter Heater infrared flat panel heater just arrived yesterday. It'll go next to the original Sweeter Heater that warms the coop all season. The new one will give extra warmth on those days when the temps get below zero. Last year I used a red heat lamp for extra warmth, but the red glow coming from the coop at night made it look like the coop was on fire. I kept waiting for the neighbors to call the fire department. Flat panel heaters emit no light so the chicks now will be toasty warm and dark. Lights are on in the coop, but only during the day and early evening hours to give the girls their required 14 hours of light necessary for egg production. It's working, I'm getting almost two eggs a day from the new girls.

I've also ordered a small portable Am/Fm radio for the girls. On the days when they are literally cooped up inside, public radio classical music soothes them and keeps them happy. The radio I used last year was large and fell after one of the girls tried to roost on it. It never worked quite right after that with its antenna bent and chicken droppings on it. The new one will hang on the wall hopefully away from inquisitive chicken claws and rear ends.

Wishing you and all your chicks a Happy and Delicious Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buttery Giant Biscuits

Great news: My book, Chicken and Egg is available for pre-order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books. It's also available from the Good Cook Book Club and Home Style Book Club. It looks like the earliest you'll be able to get it will be January 26th. The official release date of January 15th that I mentioned in my last post is apparently the date the book ships to all of the stores. (I'm slowly learning about the publishing world.)

For anyone who wants to pre-order the book and give it as a delayed Christmas present, I have good news as well. Chronicle Books, my publisher, will be printing up cards with an image of the book on the front and a recipe from the book on the back. You'll be able to wrap up the card with a note that the book will be coming soon. Just drop me a line or give me a call and I'll be happy to send you as many cards as you need.  Also a big thank you to everyone who has already pre-ordered!

The chickens are worrying about the ominous weather report for this weekend. A possibility of a foot of snow in some areas.  Hard to believe it was 70ºF on Monday! The chicks are trying to figure out a way to follow the 3 trumpeter swans I saw flying overhead this morning. Beautiful graceful birds running before the storm.

We're ready for whatever happens this weekend as the last of the deck furniture got put away yesterday and all the leaves have been swept aside. A big pot of soup is cooking and I'm planning to make my favorite Buttery Giant Biscuits. (Recipe below.)

Buttery Giant Biscuits

Thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, if you're looking for great pie recipes, check out Nancie McDermott's book Southern Pies. It's common knowledge that Southerners have the perfect touch when it comes to pies and Nancie's book is filled with great recipes and tips. She's posting a pie on her blog almost every day to celebrate the release of her new book. You're bound to find something wonderful to try and I'm honored she included my 20-Minute Apple Pie recipe with the great Southern tip of baking it in a cast-iron pan.

Buttery Giant Biscuits
Print This Recipe
 This dough is very moist and the reason these biscuits are so tender and light. Use a large spoon to drop the dough onto the baking sheet creating free-form biscuits.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut-up
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Heat the oven to 425ºF. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or fingertips until butter is the size of small peas. Stir in buttermilk with fork until flour mixture is moistened. Drop the biscuit dough into 6 mounds on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with plenty of butter. 
Makes 6 biscuits

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken and Egg

I'm so excited! My book Chicken and Egg, A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes is over in China being printed as I write and will be officially released on January 15, 2011.
What a New Year's present! It's strange to think that after all the cooking, testing, writing and hard work that went into putting this project together, that I'll soon have the actual book to hold in my hands.    

 I'm a little nervous, although I know it's going to be beautiful. My publisher, Chronicle Books, has done a fantastic job of melding my recipes together with stories of my first year of raising backyard chickens to create this unique cookbook memoir. I hope you're going to love it.

As more details become clear, I'll let you know where you can purchase it, if you can pre-order, whether I'll be signing books and all sorts of other fun things.

In the meantime, the chickens are oblivious to their upcoming fame. Cleo's in a terrible mood as molting has given her a bad hair day for a month now. She's only 3 but acts 13 and truly embarrassed. Roxanne, who molted in June, is beautiful but bossy. She hasn't laid an egg since summer causing me to wonder why we put up with her. 

The two little ones make up for the quirkiness of the older two. They laid their first eggs 2 weeks ago and haven't stopped. Ruby has laid 14 eggs in a row! I think it's a record. The older girls always take a break every couple of days, that is when they're laying at all, but not Ruby our tiny runt of a girl. Hens are born carrying the entire number of ova that will develop into eggs in their lifetime. I hope she's not using up her stash too quickly.  Coco has laid 8 out of 10 days so she's also doing her part. It's great fun to be back in the egg business. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it.

Look at the posts below for some of the new recipes I've been making. I don't have room to post them here so thought I would share them in individual posts. Also, I've finally updated the tabs About Me and Recipes. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Zucchini is one of the few vegetables that's not good for me. Which is surprising considering it's extremely low in calories (13 calories in a half cup), has a considerable amount of vitamin C along with good amounts of folate, potassium, and vitamin A. My problem is, when I see zucchini I think of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and zucchini bars. I do not think of steamed zucchini, stir-fried zucchini, or raw zucchini.

So, the other day when I had a couple of zucchini to use up, I immediately thought of the Zucchini Bars my mother made when I was growing up. They're moist, fragrant, filled with spices and raisins for extra sweetness.

The girls ate the leftover shredded zucchini thereby getting all of the good vitamins without the added fat and calories. But I know I enjoyed the bars more than they enjoyed the raw zucchini.

Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Print This Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup raisins

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon milk
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar, or enough for desired consistency

Heat oven to 350ºF. Spray 13x9-inch pan with nonstick spray. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla on medium speed 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg until blended. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Stir in the zucchini and raisins. Spread batter in baking pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make icing, beat cream cheese, lemon juice and milk on medium speed until blended and smooth. Reduce speed to low and slowly beat in 2 cups of the powdered sugar, adding additional sugar for desired consistency. Spread icing over bars. Let stand 30 minutes or until set.

Makes 24 bars

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trout with Maple-Cider Glaze

Our backyard is currently like a Norman Rockwell painting with the chickens rooting through the gold and red leaves, pumpkins stacked and hay bales ready. The sun is out and the weather's mild; we know winter's coming, but today we don't care. 

I'm using the grill a lot while I still don't have to put a jacket and gloves on to turn the food, and I recently made a fabulous dish using steelhead trout. In an effort to eat more fish, as well as a variety of fish, I bought the special of the day, steelhead trout. It's related to rainbow trout but is an ocean fish that returns to freshwater after 2 to 3 years to spawn. Its color and size is more reminiscent of salmon than rainbow trout but its flavor is mild and delicate. I grilled it simply with salt and pepper then served it with a maple-cider glaze. Simple yet perfect for this perfect time of year.

Trout with Maple-Cider Glaze
Print this Recipe

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. steelhead trout, arctic char, salmon, or other fish
salt and pepper to taste 

Combine maple syrup, apple cider, and balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until it's reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

Heat grill. Brush the oil over the trout and season with salt and pepper. Grill, skin-side down, over medium heat or coals 7 to 9 minutes or until fish just begins to flake. (I found the trout to be quite fragile and difficult to turn to I suggest cooking it on the skin side only. The skin will slightly burn and may stick to the grill but don't worry about it.) Serve drizzle with the maple-cider glaze.

Serves 4

Spiced Grape Jelly

I was congratulating myself the other day on having homemade jelly tucked away for winter.  I felt like a real homesteader using the backyard grapes my friend Joni the gardener had supplied. But as I reached for the jar I realized my stock was dwindling - fast. The problem with homemade preserves is they are too good. It's hard to keep them around to sustain you through the winter. If you're in the mood for real grape jelly, and believe me this is nothing like Welch's, try this recipe. Trust me, it won't last long.

If you're wondering where I got the unique custom labels, click over to Lelo's site on Etsy.

Spiced Grape Jelly

About 4 1/2 lbs. grapes
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, or to taste
1 (1.75 oz.) pkg. powdered fruit pectin
6 cups sugar

Remove grapes from their stems and place in a large pot. Add just enough water to keep the grapes from scorching (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring and mashing the grapes with a potato masher or spoon to crush. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or the grapes are soft, crushed and the juices are flowing.

Spoon the grape mixture and liquid into a jelly bag fitted over a large bowl or into a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl and let stand 4 hours or refrigerate overnight. (I let mine go overnight to all the juice drain.)

Measure out 5 cups of the grape juice into a large pot. Stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and taste, adding additional spices as desired. (It's important to taste and get the spices the way you want them at this point, because you won't be able to do so later.) 

Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and bring back to a full boil that cannot be stirred down, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Pour jelly into sterilized jars and immediately place lids and rings on jars. Process jars in boiling water 10 minutes or according to canning directions. OR, if you don't want to further process the jelly, store the cooled jars in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.

Please consult a canning book, Fresh Preserving, or the USDA for sterilizing and processing information.

Makes about 8 (1-cup) jars

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

20-Minute Apple Pie

Our plans for a stay-at-home get-a-little-caught-up weekend disappeared as the
the cats and chickens took over our lives yet again. Well, actually, it was one cat and all of the chickens, or rather the chicken run, but with everything we had planned to do it was the animals who once again took preference.

It started with our not-yet-two year old cat Bella, climbing 30 feet up into our neighbor's oak tree before realizing she was scared of heights. We, along with our neighbors, tried to coax, cajole, and bribe her down throughout the day but there she sat, four feet beyond the reach of a ladder, crying pitifully but too scared to move.  She stayed up there for two full nights. It was painful to walk away at midnight and leave her there on a cold windy night. By Sunday morning she was finally brave enough, or tired and hungry enough, to crawl down the last few feet to the top of the ladder and into my arms. She and I moved slowly down to safety.

For future reference, those of you with cats should know that the fire department will not come out to rescue cats. There are several tree services, however, who do rescue cats and they're identified on a national website Cat in a Tree Emergency Rescue. The one closest to us was going to be our next call.

Once Bella was rescued, the chickens took up the rest of our time. They're getting a new chicken run, or I should say a new screened in porch or solarium, as it'll be much nicer than a simple chicken run. My husband turned master carpenter this weekend and has taken on this project as his own in order to build me a beautiful extension to the coop. It will keep out the rain and won't cave in under the weight of the snow, plus it will still let in light and keep things nice during the winter. He had to dismantle the original run and put up the new one. It's going to be beautiful when it's finished, and he's doing a fantastic job.

Checking out the unfinished run.

So, you're wondering what all of this has to do with apple pie? Well, because the weekend was so crazy and because I was stressed out from cats in trees and everything else, I really wanted a special dessert by Sunday night, but I didn't have lots of time to make one. I pulled together this super quick when-you-really-need-a-treat-but-don't-have-much-time apple pie. It's a cinch to make. The 20-minutes refers to hands on time, not baking time, but once it's in the oven you can actually sit down and put your feet up while waiting.

 20 Minute Apple Pie

This pie is topped with a puff pastry crust over an apple crisp-style filling made with tart apples, raisins, brown sugar, and spices. Serve it topped with cinnamon ice cream or with plain yogurt sprinkled with cinnamon.

4 medium to large tart apples, peeled, sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus additional for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 sheet puff pastry (from 17.3 oz. pkg.) thawed according to package directions
milk to brush over crust
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Heat oven to 425ºF. Spray a 9x2-inch deep dish casserole or pie plate with nonstick cooking spray. Toss the apples, raisins, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in a large bowl. Pile the apple mixture into the casserole.

Lay the puff pastry over the top of the casserole and trim away the excess pastry with a small knife or scissors. Brush the pastry with milk, sprinkle with granulated sugar and lightly dust with cinnamon. Lightly score pastry with knife to decorate, if desired, and make a small vent hole in the center.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the apples are tender. Cool 30 minutes on wire rack to serve warm, or cool completely.

Serves 6

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Everyone Knows it's Windy"

According to local meteorologist Paul Douglas, Minnesota has one of the most extreme climates on earth. A couple of days ago it was close to 90ºF, yesterday our rain gauge registered 4.5 inches of rain for the day, and this afternoon it's 54ºF with gale-force winds. My 4-month old babes are confused and suffering. I just looked out the window and saw all four girls huddling together under an evergreen tree. The older hens have dealt with our temperature fluctuations before, but today even they're looking a little crazed. Happily for them, they've discovered a way not only to deal with the weather but also their otherwise annoying young companions: use the little ones as windbreaks.

Roxanne and Cleo position themselves near the center of the evergreen tree, forcing Coco and Ruby to cover their rears. Coco Chanel, third in the pecking order, has squeezed herself to the inside, leaving poor Ruby on the outside. My tiny girl sits in the wind hunched in a round ball with her head buried under her wing. As I glance out my kitchen window she looks up, but quickly nuzzles her face back into her down coat. I don't have the heart to tell her this is only the start. And it's not even winter....

Why don't the chicks go into their protected run or the warm, draft-free coop? God only knows. Their question to me would probably be "Why do we live in Minnesota?" or better yet, "Why does anyone live in Minnesota?"


Well, before I ended up posting this blog the weather changed again. It's now sunny, calm and gorgeous. In fact we grilled outside enjoying the last of the summer corn and tomatoes!  That's why we live in Minnesota.

Grilled Herb Pork Tenderloin with Toasted Corn Relish

1 (1 lb.) pork tenderloin
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
3 to 4 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (I used marjoram, oregano, sage, and parsley)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toasted Corn Relish
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ears corn, kernels removed (generous 1 cup)
1 small onion, halved, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Brush pork tenderloin with olive oil and rub minced garlic over pork. Pat herbs over both sides of pork and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill pork over medium heat or coals 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 145ºF to 150ºF (pork will be pale pink in the center).

While the pork is grilling, make the corn relish. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil and heat until hot. Cook the onion and corn 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to scrape up the browned bits, reducing the heat to medium if necessary to avoid burning. Stir in the tomato, lemon juice, salt and pepper and heat until warm. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 3 to 4

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Coop Tour 2010

I had a great time touring several of the St. Paul coops on Saturday at the Twin Cities Parade of Coops. Judging by the online chatter this week, there was a great turnout across the cities. In fact, hundreds of people strolled through the 28 coops on display during a beautiful fall day.



              SILKIE BABES


                 GENTLE BARRED ROCK LADY



If you missed the tour this time, watch for announcements next spring, a perfect time to introduce yourself to the joys of backyard chickens.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Twin Cities Coop Tour September 11, 2010

Grab some friends and head out to the Twin Cities Coop Tour next Saturday, September 11th from 10 AM to 4 PM.  It's the largest tour ever with 28 coops on the tour!!! Visit all of the coops or just a couple in your area and find out how easy and fun it is to keep backyard chickens. 

Click on Twin Cities Coop Tour to find a Google map with all the locations listed. Printed maps will also be available the day of the tour at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave. in St. Paul, starting at 10 am. Centrally located for easy access from Minneapolis and St. Paul, Egg|Plant also carries chicken feed and supplies, books on coop-building and chicken-keeping, as well as coop and chicken tractor kits.

New this year, Coop Tour T-Shirts!

To order call 612-751-5478 or email

On the home front, my four girls are finally getting along and bunking together in the Pleasure Palace Coop. It took awhile, and Cleo did not adapt easily, but she's finally realized the babes are here to stay and there's nothing she can do about it. Come nighttime I find all four chicks in the coop with the two babies on the window sill or roost, Roxanne on the chicken door and Cleo pacing the floor or in the nest box. Not quite Kumbaya but we're on the way.

Fried Eggs over Buttered Leeks and Croutons
You have to love a friend who calls and asks if you want some freshly picked grapes and then delivers home-grown leeks and Siberian garlic too. My friend Joni recently dropped off these goodies and I was blown away. I once helped plant leeks at the Eastside Children's Garden, it's a backbreaking endeavor as you try to separate the teeny tiny plants and tuck each one upright into the soil. Then you have to mound them as they grow to keep the root end tender and white.  I once tried to grow garlic and ended up with small bulbs that weren't worth the effort. I admire real gardeners.
Garden Fresh Leeks

This was a precious gift that called for a special recipe.  I wanted to serve the leeks in a simple way so I could taste their unique flavor. So this morning I decided to saute the leeks in Hope Creamery butter and serve them over toasted bread topped with Cleo's eggs. Perfection!

Fried Eggs over Buttered Leeks and Croutons

3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups halved and sliced leeks*
salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs
4 slices artisan bread, toasted and buttered

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in leeks until coated with butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until tender. 

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Crack eggs into individual cups and gently pour into skillet. Cover and cook 3 minutes or until the whites are firm and the yolks are soft or until desired doneness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. To serve, place toasted bread on plates, top with leeks and place one egg over each slice of toast.

Serves 4

* To trim leeks, cut away the dark green tops and root ends leaving the white and light green tender stalks. Half the leeks lengthwise and wash well under water making sure all of the dirt is removed. Pat dry and slice.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kung Fu Cleo

Today the anticipated Meet and Greet took place. It quickly escalated into a Bared Beak and Clawed Feet Event. Roxanne and Cleo have been socializing through the fence with the new girls, Ruby and Coco, for the past four weeks and it was time to introduce them face to face. I set the mood by providing plenty of treats for everyone and things went along smoothly--for awhile.

Ruby and Coco were feeling brave and finally ventured away from their coop to the edge of the lawn where I was sitting. All of a sudden, Cleo took a running karate-style leap, landed on Coco's back and pecked her full force coming up with a gigantic mouthful of feathers. Bedlam resulted.  The two babes squawked with all their might, flew in a circle and headed into their coop. I flew out of my chair screaming at Cleo. I ran after that chicken as she led me on a chase through the yard still clutching her mouthful of black and white feathers like a trophy. Occasionally I got close enough to whack her with a plastic bag of raisins I still had in my hand, like a scene out of a Loony Tunes cartoon. She finally ran into her coop and I slipped the lock on. She sulked for 3 hours before she came out.

Roxanne Playing Mother Hen

Roxanne and the babes got along fine without Cleo. Roxanne hovered over them like a mother hen with an occasional peck if they got too uppity but it was all very quiet and quite civilized. Cleo finally stopped sulking and I let her out on condition she behave herself. The result? Cleo has established authority over the little ones, she only needs turn a beady eye towards them and they run. Otherwise, they've all settled down into a peaceful truce. Each staying in their own areas, but feathers are soothed and the neighborhood is quiet. We'll see what tomorrow brings.


 Summer Borscht
 Print This Recipe

At least once during the summer I make my favorite vegetable soup, summer borscht. This family recipe comes from my Ukrainian grandmother and all of us were raised on it from the time we could hold a spoon. I recently made a double recipe resulting in a huge pot that I was able to serve to friends, eat for many nights plus give a little away. Immensely satisfying. Anyway, if you've never tried borscht, or only tried a heavy winter version, try this light summer vegetable soup. You'll be surprised at how delicate and flavorful it is. Enjoy!

3 medium beets, peeled, quartered, cut into thin strips*
1 tablespoon salt
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup sliced yellow or green beans
6 cups cold water
1/4 cup tomato juice
3 medium potatoes, peeled, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons sour cream

Stir together the beets and salt in a large pot. (The salt keeps the bright red color in the beets.) Stir in the onion, beans, water and tomato juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer for 10 minutes. 

Add the potatoes, carrot, peas, green onions, dill and pepper. Simmer another 10 minutes. Add parsley and garlic; simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add lemon juice to taste and stir in the sour cream until blended. (Do not let the soup come to a boil once the sour cream has been added or the cream could curdle.) Serve warm with an extra dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

* To eliminate your fingers and hands turning red from peeling and cutting raw beets, use disposable gloves. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chicks Get Names

I surprised myself and went for over a week without naming the new baby chicks. I had a couple of suggestions from all of you, a few of which were under serious consideration. I'd try them out on each bird as if I were trying on shoes--seeing how they fit and whether the chicks snuggled comfortably into the name. For some reason nothing seemed right. In between trying out names--anything from Eunice to Dottie to Violet, Loretta, Aurora and more--the new chicks were known simply as the babies.

It's a funny thing, but without names I felt no attachment to them. Because they were already two months old and I hadn't reared them from day-old chicks, I wasn't bonding and felt untethered to them. Of course it didn't help that they ran shrieking every time I approached. Even my shadow seemed to scare them and off they ran to the other end of the run each time I came near. I kept waiting for their personality to emerge before I chose their names, but it's hard to detect personality in a whining chick you have no personal contact with.

Today it all came together and names were bestowed and I instantly felt more emotionally attached. The Rhode Island Red has been named Ruby. My friend Barbara gets the credit for naming Ruby as she sent it in as a suggestion early last week. But they've been an unmatched pair until today when I had a sudden inspiration for the Silver Wyandotte, my black and white hen. I've decided to name this chick with the designer-style feathers Coco, after the famous designer Chanel. Barbara indirectly deserves credit for this name too as she's the one who's taken M. and me to not one, but two recent Coco Chanel films (I may not be able to afford the clothes, but I now know her history).

Anyway, Ruby and Coco are my new girls and this evening there was a change in how I responded to them. I even got Ruby to sit with me and eat corn out of my hand. "I think this is beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Although, now that I look at all four names, I have a flock with Roxanne and Ruby and Coco and Cleo. Alliteration here we come!

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Chicks!

Two new darlings have been added to the flock. The new 2-month old chicks arrived late Saturday afternoon amidst the sound and light show of a severe thunderstorm with tornado sirens blaring. It was quite the welcome--no wonder the little ones are still a bit skittish of me.

It was hard to narrow it down to only two. Chickens are addicting, especially when each breed is so unique, so I have to keep telling myself I only have a backyard, not a farm.

I ended up with two lovelies that fit my criteria. I wanted a breed that was known for its egg laying ability and settled on a Rhode Island Red. This Little Red Hen is known as a great layer of brown eggs, an active bird that can be friendly to the point of following you around the yard. It is a heritage breed and was developed in Rhode Island at the beginning of the 19th century. It's considered a dual-purpose bird, meaning it can be kept for meat as well as eggs so it's been a popular breed through the years.
 Rhode Island Red (looking bigger than she really is)

My second choice was a Silver Wyandotte. These birds are not only good egg layers, they're also gorgeous with white feathers outlined in black giving them a lacy look. They're large fluffy birds, docile, and lay brown eggs. They're also a heritage breed and first appeared in New York in the 1870's.
 Silver Wyandotte

I haven't named them yet as I'm waiting for inspiration and to see their personalities emerge. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Roxanne and Cleo both froze with a stunned look in their eyes when they saw the youngsters. They quickly regained composure and hoofed it on over. They're spending a lot of time circling the little girls' coop and Roxanne has taken to honking like a goose, no doubt to the annoyance of the neighbors, trying to exhibit her dominance.

The cats and everyone else have checked out the new settlers, but they seem fairly oblivious to their stream of visitors. They eat voraciously, love anything green - clover, grass, ferns, and want to run wild. I'm keeping them penned in until they grow a little more as I'm not sure my yard is chick-proof, and I don't relish chasing a wild chick around the neighborhood.

Visiting hours are open, so if you're in the area stop by!

~ ~ ~

I picked up the chicks at Anoka Ramsey Farm and Garden Center. While there, I also picked up some just harvested Yukon gold and purple potatoes, plus eggs. I couldn't resist, they'd been grown by the young man who helped me choose my chicks. There's nothing better than potatoes fresh from the garden. I made them into a French-style potato salad and served them with grilled chicken. Perfection.

French Potato Salad
The purple potatoes don't taste any different, but they do make a nice accent in this salad. Feel free to use all Yukon gold potatoes or red or white new potatoes. You may also add 2 to 3 chopped hard-cooked eggs to this salad.

7 small purple potatoes (about 2 inches), unpeeled, quartered
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into eights
1/3 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, chives, tarragon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 medium garlic clove, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place the purple potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, add salt (1 teaspoon) and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes or until the potatoes are just fork tender. Drain. Place the warm potatoes in a large bowl. Toss with the shallots, herbs, salt and pepper.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Place the vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a small jar; shake until all of the ingredients are combined. Add the olive oil and shake vigorously until blended. Pour over the warm potato mixture and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6
(Makes about 5 cups) 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


You've got to check out a great new store in town: EggPlant Urban Farm Supply. Whether you're interested in chickens, gardening, sustainable living or just like to see what's new, you're going to love this store!
 The owner, Audrey Matson, is a farm girl turned urban gardener with a masters degree in horticulture. She raises chickens in her St. Paul backyard and decided to combine her two interests into one great store. Two years ago, Three Swingin' Chicks posted a photo of Audrey with one of her chickens in an early blog about the Twin Cities Parade of Coops. Check out EggPlant's link About Us to see our photo and read about the store.

EggPlant has everything you need for chickens and gardening, from feed and seed to coops and tomato hoops.

And guess what? They're even taking orders for fluffy day-old chicks, which will arrive on July 21st.  So if you've been thinking about acquiring chickens, this is the time. You've got a one-stop shop with expert advice thrown in for free! Gardeners will love the organic plants, fertilizers, the latest tools and books. They're very open to new ideas and suggestions, so please go in and have a chat.

EggPlant is on the cutting edge of a national trend in chicken-garden center combos. The Wall Street Journal has even taken note of chicken entrepreneurs who are cashing in on the urban chicken craze. Some with specialty items such as chicken diapers, others with boutique coops or small batch chick orders. While I'm not sure my girls would ever submit to a chicken diaper, I'm all for anything that promotes the chicken revolution! 

Roxanne and Cleo have just cast a nasty stare in my direction at the mention of chicken diapers. They're rather crabby at the moment. I guess I can't blame them, these Minnesota cold-hearty chicks are outside stuck in the sauna. No, I haven't built them one, but when the temperature is 90ºF and the humidity is 90%, the backyard morphs into one giant hot box.  Unbearable to say the least, especially when you're wearing a down coat. (Please note we use the word sauna around here, we try not to upset the girls by talking about a hot oven!) The chicks are currently sitting in the shade trying to breathe without moving. I wonder if a cool shower with the sprinkler would do them any good?

...I've escaped the backyard and am now sitting inside in the air conditioning dreaming about new chickens. I think Roxanne and Cleo will now be receptive to expanding the flock. I've cleaned the big coop, readied the little Eglu for the new girls and now all I need are the chickens. The problem is, now that I've started looking at the variety of different breeds, I want them all. They're all so unique and so gorgeous. If things work out I'll head to the feed store this weekend. I will let you know when I bring home some new chicks.
 ~ ~ ~
Well, I couldn't wait. Before I ended up posting this blog I drove out to get a couple of new chicks. Will fill in the details soon!


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