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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


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