Saturday, December 27, 2008

Summer In...December?

My thermometer recorded a maximum temperature of 74 degrees today. It was so warm and balmy that I managed to spend a few hours outside enjoying the break from single digit temps. I enjoyed watching the ducks digging in the muddy bank of the pond and the chickens grazing in the lawn. Just a few days ago the chickens wouldn't even come out of their snowed-in coop! All the snow is gone now. They were catching frogs by the pond this afternoon!

We took advantage of the warm weather to get some outdoor chores done. Derek cleaned the chicken coop while I rinsed and squeegeed the cement floor in the garage and hosed down the garage rugs. The coop was pretty messy after the ducks spent a night in it last week. They emptied out the water and made a wet mess of the floor. Now the chickens have some fresh, dry straw in their coop.

It was so nice outside that I fired up the grill and made one of our family favorites: Man Burgers. I put my brand new food processor to work shredding cabbage and carrots for homemade coleslaw to go with the burgers. The bread maker did the work making a batch of dough for a baker's dozen of honey-wheat sandwich rolls to hold my gigantic burgers. Jim was busy with a customer in the shop so I plated up two burgers and some cole slaw and some Jello squares for them both and took it out to them. Less than a minute after I got back in the house I got a call from Jim on my cell phone. He just had to tell me that the burgers were the most awesome burgers ever! That made me feel good.

If you want to try a Man Burger, here's how to make a batch.

2 lb. ground beef or ground sirloin
1 heaping Tbsp. of steak seasoning--I use McCormick's

1/4 cup fresh French bread crumbs
1 egg
Big splash of A1 Steak Sauce or Worcestershire sauce

Form into 6 big patties and grill till they'd done the way you like them. I also like to grill some onion slices while the burgers are cooking. They're great on top of a big, juicy Man Burger! Also, a half-and-half mixture of ground turkey and ground beef will make a leaner burger if you'd like to eat less fat. You can't taste the turkey at all! I've been known to mix in a bit of minced onion or minced green peppers into the beef mixture too. Yummy!

The warm weather isn't going to last. It's going to be in the 30's tomorrow, but that's still better than 4!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Early Christmas

Yes, Jim gave me an early Christmas present. He even called me from the store to see if he was getting a good deal on it (20% off plus a $10 rebate for a total of $69). I had been looking at food processors the other night and he asked me if I wanted one. I sure could use such a time saver when making pastries and chopping large quantities of fruits and veggies, something I do on a regular basis. The clincher was two nights ago when I was trying desperately to make a pumpkin/cream cheese filling for a cheesecake for Christmas. My old Osterizer blender about gave up the ghost as it tried to churn the thick filling! I could smell the motor smokin'!

So now I am the proud owner of a KitchenAid® 7-Cup Food Processor. It's just the right size for the amount of food I work with on a daily basis. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet though. I set aside today to bake two loaves of honey wheat bread. The first thing I want to make with it is a pie crust. Even though I don't have plans to bake any pies soon, I can always keep the pastry in the fridge for future use. I just want to see what a food processor can do with cold butter and flour! I'm going to make au gratin potatoes with ham in a day or two to see how the slicing disc works with potatoes. Feel free to give any pointers/handy advice for food processing. I'm new at it and have always relied on my awesome Wusthof knives to do my chopping and slicing.

Those of you who use their KitchenAid stand mixers to knead bread dough, please give me some pointers on kneading a large batch of dough (7 cups of flour) without it climbing up the bread hook. How frustrating to have to stop the mixer every few seconds to shove the dough back down! Should I have made a smaller batch? I doubled the recipe in order to make two loaves (which came out very nice) but ended up making more work for myself during the kneading process.

I finished up my Christmas shopping this afternoon and while I was looking for a book for my little niece, I stumbled upon the cookbook section (oh joy!) and saw this one with my name written all over it. Can you see it too? Right there by that basket of eggs it says "Amy". See?

Would you believe there is also a companion book to it dedicated entirely to baking? While I didn't indulge in the baking manifesto, I did treat myself to this culinary treasure. I'm perusing the "Yeast Breads" section tonight, trying to improve my baking technique. I haven't yet figured out my timing when it comes to rising. I'm still not waiting long enough for the yeast to work its magic which is resulting in too much oven rise and some of my loaves split along one side--not tolerable for the "breadies" out there, but for this amateur it's OK. It still tastes the same, right? I suspect room temperature might be playing a part in the split sides too. I keep the house at 70 and bread bakers know that yeast like 80-85 degrees. Advice anyone? I've been covering my loaves with damp towels and putting them in the unheated oven to rise. The pilot light keeps the oven just a bit warmer than the kitchen. I've also risen bread on the top of the dryer when it's running. Perhaps I should combine laundry and bread baking?

Tomorrow Derek and I are going to tackle the "Velvety Butter Cookie" dough that is waiting patiently in the fridge. I made the dough last week and stored it until I was ready to roll and cut out all the cookies and get them decorated. I hope it's a fun and pleasant activity for us.

It's warmed up and the ducks are once again in the pond. They came up to the chicken coop this morning and waited for someone to let them inside to warm up. Jim let them in and when I got up I put them back out. I walked them down to the pond and as I headed back inside I turned to see them all waddling back up to the chicken coop. So I let them back in for the day. The temps warmed up considerably this evening and I had Derek let them out again. They all were content to stay in the water this time, so it looks like they'll spend the night out there. Ducks sure are clever!

The light in the chicken coop might be beginning to work. I got 5 eggs today! Woot!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peanut Brittle and Cold Ducks

Mom went back up to Michigan today after spending the weekend with us for the pie party. Jim and Derek went Christmas shopping. I had the house to myself and no distractions. It was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making peanut brittle. I planned to give it as gifts as part of the homemade Christmas theme this year.

Speaking of homemade, mom knitted these cute corn hot pads. They fit over the handle of a cast iron skillet. She made enough to share them with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. Mom's the knitter; I'm the cooker.

Let me just say that candy making is not my thing. This was the first time I've ever actually used Jim's candy thermometer and I certainly have a healthy respect for boiling sugar! I was very cautious at all times during the cooking process. I didn't know that boiling sugar crackles at 300°! The candy took a long time to heat up to that hot but when it was ready I poured it into the heated, prepared pans and was amazed at the way it cooled into an immoveable sheet of peanutty sugary yumminess! I mistakenly grabbed the thermometer too low when I removed it from the pan to pour out the brittle, but fortunately it didn't break when I dropped it on the top of the stove!

Look at this, isn't it something? I made this huge chunk of brittle just for my buddy Chris who is going to quit smoking. When you're craving a smoke there's nothing like a gigantic wafer of caramelized sugar and peanuts to chomp on. Here ya go Chris! Enjoy!

These little bundles of peanut brittle will be given to our UPS and mail carriers as Christmas gifts. I packaged them up in plastic wrap filled with just the right amount to nibble on during the rest of their routes tomorrow.

It's bitterly cold tonight. I just checked the thermometer again and it's now down to 4°. I was out before dinner to feed the ducks and check on them. They seemed to be miserable in the howling, freezing wind and I felt very sorry for them. I enlisted Derek's help in getting them into the chicken coop for the night. He went out to the shop and got a long pole to herd the ducks out of their little swimming hole in the pond. Ducks aren't fond of walking very far and halfway to the chicken coop they stopped and hunkered down, refusing to go any further. So we resorted to picking them up and carrying them the rest of the way to the coop. Picking them up gave me the opportunity to check each of the eight ducks. I'm happy to say that they are all very fat and strong with a dense covering of feathers. At one point, I had a drake under each arm and those boys were heavy! Ducks are extremely well insulated, but I doubt they would have survived the weather tonight.

The chickens were very unhappy about having eight ducks tossed into their coop. They all panicked and scrambled up onto their roosts. Silver glared down at the ducks from above. But he was smart to keep his scrawny butt up on the perch. Murphy's a big, strong drake and probably wouldn't tolerate a rooster bothering him.

Derek is going to let the ducks back outside in the morning. The weather isn't supposed to be nearly so harsh tomorrow. Jim went out to check on them after dinner and said that they were all happily grooming and oiling their feathers. So it seems all the birds are settled in comfortably for the night.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here are some shots of the winter wonderland that is Twelve Acres.

Ice is still on the trees from the storm that blew through Friday. This is a photo of the fence row trees that are about 700 feet away from the house.

The sun going down.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nothin' But Pie

Today my "Nothin' But Pie" party was held at Twelve Acres. Guests were asked to bring their favorite pies along with the recipe to make it. I am putting the recipes together into a pie recipe book which I will distribute at Christmas. It was a huge success and everyone remarked at how great it was to have nothing but pie to eat. Here is the "Before" photo.

Starting in the back row on the left are Mom's first-ever pecan pie, Derek's peach-raspberry pie, and my chicken pot pie. In the bottom row starting from the left are Tyler's custard pie, Debbie's spinach, sausage and feta quiche, Rachel's peanut butter pie and lastly, Delores' chocolate custard pie.

The menu is sinful, no? Who cares.

Here I am with my homemade chicken pot pie. The chicken I used was the last of my own chickens that Jim and I butchered in July. I hated to use the last bird so I saved it for this occasion. Everyone remarked on how good it was.

Look at the damage we did to these pies. The quiche and my pot pie literally disappeared! I highly recommend a pie party to anyone. It's such fun to see what everyone brings. And it's easy as pie!

Iced Over!

The ice storm that passed through our area left a beautiful scene in its path.

We weren't able to get online all day Friday because our satellite antenna was iced up. We spent the entire day getting ready for my "Nothin' But Pie Party" so it's not like we missed it. More about the party in my next post...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Frigid Fowl

Hey chooks, wanna come out today?

How about you Betty, wanna come out? No?

The ducks don't seem to mind the cold. They're so well insulated I bet they can't even feel it. They keep their little swimming hole open despite the cold. They'll be so happy when spring comes!

Esther and Betty are staying in though. I've been giving the girls a flake of high quality alfalfa each day to pick over. They eat the little leaves. I'm sure they miss grazing in the green grass.

I've installed a light on a timer inside the coop, something I swore I wasn't going to do. I am only getting about 2-3 eggs a day right now and that's not enough to keep up with customers and my baking. So I'm putting the girls to work again. They're young, healthy and very well fed. Time to end the strike!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

Since my love of vintage items is clashing with the overall theme of Twelve Acres, I've created a new blog: Everything Old. Twelve Acres will remain and I will continue to write about my life here in my childhood home.

If you love vintage kitchen stuff like I do, add Everything Old to your blog favorites and come visit my kitchen! Vintage items are just too fun to not appreciate them for their uniqueness and longevity.

So brew some Sanka and grab a date bar. Everything old is new again!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Half an hour after I got out of bed today I was making bread. I set aside today to bake two loaves of wheat bread (recipe here), a big batch of cloverleaf dinner rolls and a focaccia for supper. It was rainy all day today--the perfect weather for staying inside and baking. My goal was to have some sandwich bread in the freezer to last us a few weeks. I don't want to buy anymore unless I have to.

The focaccia tonight made a delicious meal. Italian spices and minced garlic went into the dough itself, then when it came time to bake it I smeared a third of a cup of chopped garlic, Parmesan, olive oil and a bit of salt all over the top. It baked up so beautiful and golden with the smell of pungent garlic filling the house. I sliced it up into 9 pieces which I then halved, sandwich style. The filling was some sauteed chicken, peppers and onion along with a slice of cheese and some fresh salad greens on top. A big salad on the side and a dessert of lemon pudding made it a meal worth remembering. God it was good! Everyone loved it and we all agreed that this meal was a "do again".

I am full. I am satiated. And now it's time to relax. I am beyond worn out but I am satisfied that I accomplished what I set out to do.

After days like this, I feel like Queen of the Universe!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Day of Baking

It was too cold and snowy to do anything outside today, the perfect day for staying inside and baking yummy food. I was inspired by Paula at Fraker Farm (who was inspired by Susan at Farmgirl Fare) to try my hand at making bread bowls. Seems we're all an inspiration to each other.

Following the bread bowl recipe in my bread maker's recipe book, I made these neat little dough balls. I let them rise on top of the dryer for an hour (warmest place in the house at the time) then baked them for 20 minutes. They came out perfect! I made shrimp and corn chowder to go inside them. I cut off the tops and tore out some of the bread inside them then ladled the chowder into them. It was very good and very filling! We barely had room for cookies.

They make a nice presentation, no? The really nice part about bread bowls is you get to eat the bowl, so you don't have to wash it. Since the chowder is very simple to make and perfect for making the day before, this meal would be a great one for company. Make everything the day before then heat up the chowder and away you go. Easy!

Remember me kvetching about silicone hot pads yesterday? Well here's why I hate them so much. See that little pink thing poking out? That's my thumb! Every time I take a loaf of bread out of my bread maker the edge of the pan tears a chunk of silicone out of my oven mitt. It's gotten to this point now. Silicone is not at all durable. Heat resistant, yes, but not durable.

Paula was brave enough to show what her kitchen looked like during her bread baking/chowder cooking. I thought I'd keep the ball rolling. Here's what my kitchen looked like today during all the activity.

While I was waiting for the bread bowl dough to rise I made a loaf of potato bread which can be seen cooling on the bar behind the kitchen sink. It's a really good recipe and everyone loves it. To the right of the bread is that horrid
Chrysanthemum cake from yesterday. And if you think you see cookie dough on the counter, you're right. While the bread bowls were baking I whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the KitchenAid. After the bread was done I proceded to bake cookies! Yum!

I put two quart sized storage bags full of cookies into the freezer to enjoy later. Don't worry, I saved this one for you!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hungry Raptor!

This Cooper's Hawk was hoping for an easy meal from my House Sparrow trap this weekend. It wasn't so lucky. (If you want to know how and why I trap HOSPs, click here.) Derek grabbed my camera and took the video below. Doesn't he/she look frustrated? Birders with more expertise than me will have to let me know if this is a male or female and an adult or juvenile. I'm assuming it's a juvenile based on the streaked rather than solid feathers.

And where were the chickens during all the commotion? Less than 15 feet away, safely hidden away under the front porch. Jim reported that Silver was a good rooster and did his best to protect his girls. My birds are used to seeing raptors on the Twelve Acres and they are very vigilant and cautious. I have yet to lose a bird to a raptor attack (or any other attack for that matter).

What bird left this footy print on the snowy sidewalk today? Whatever it was it has "thumbs". Aren't they cute?