Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jackpot

Cubby and I were wandering around this morning, digging in the dirt, climbing on Tuffy, playing with hammers, and generally doing our usual thing when I spied a hen clucking her way along in the paddock near the house. She was making her way back to the rest of the flock, so I figured she had been laying her egg in the hay barn in the paddock. There's a little nest at the very top of the hay where I've been finding eggs, but only if the dogs don't find them first. They will apparently climb the hay bales to get up there, so great is their appetite for fresh eggs.

Their coats have been awfully shiny lately.

So I went into the garden and climbed up into the barn to get the egg and found that there was still a chicken in that nest. Which meant that the hen I saw had been coming from a different nest.

Well well well. An investigation was in order.

Cubby and I went into the paddock and around to the front of the barn, where I found a nest in the hay there and eight eggs.

HAHA, DOGS; I WIN.

With the egg I found in one of the laying boxes in the coop (laid by a nice, well-behaved chicken that actually uses the boxes put there for that purpose) and the one I recovered from the dog pen this morning before the dogs could get it, that makes ten. If I can manage to get the eggs from the stupid chicken under the forsythia hedge and the one still at the top of the hay barn, that would be an even dozen.

Now that's the kind of egg recovery I'm looking for. I just have to vigilant. And quicker than the dogs.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Let's Talk Chutney

Do you like chutney? Do you even know what chutney IS? Yeah, I didn't either, other than that it sounded impossibly British somehow.

Turns out, chutney is kind of British, but only by way of India. It's a condiment, made from pretty much, well, anything. Mostly fruit, with the addition of hot peppers, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Sound kind of gross? It does, I admit, but it totally works.

My introduction to chutney came a few years ago courtesy of the MiL's friend Jane. Yes, her name really is Jane, and she is originally from Yorkshire. They do chutneys in a BIG way in Britain. Jane makes her own, from whatever fruit she might come across. She even sells it at her church's bake sales and things. Jane's practically a professional when it comes to chutney.

I think the first of her chutneys I tasted was an apple chutney. I tasted it from the jar and honestly, kind of shuddered. It was just very . . . strong. What with all the spices and the heat and the vinegar, chutney is not a bland food, to say the least. But put it on a curry, which is the traditional use for it, and some strange alchemy happens.

That's how I discovered that chutney is DELICIOUS.

But still, I only used it on curries, which we don't really make all that often. Then the MiL was making her usual corn tortilla and cheese microwaved until the cheese melts, but she added some chutney on it. And Cubby, as is his habit, begged for a bite. He took that bite, then he took another, and another, and another.

Cubby loves chutney on corn tortillas with cheese.

And why not, right? It's sweet, but savory, with a little bit of heat. It is, in fact, much like a fruit salsa, but with a lot more spices in it.

Chutney, as I have mentioned, can be made from almost anything--pears, apples, red tomatoes, apricots--but the most useful application for chutney for me is as a way to dispose of multitudes of green tomatoes. Of which I always have many.

So, without further ado, here is Yorkshire Jane's Green Tomato Chutney, exactly as she wrote it out for me last fall in her very British voice. Make some. You won't be sorry.

Yorkshire Jane's Green Tomato Chutney

2 lbs. green tomatoes

8 oz. onions

8 oz. apples

4 oz. sultanas (yellow raisins)

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. dry mustard

8 oz. sugar

10 oz. malt vinegar

All measures are English. Although the vinegar isn't too far off, I'd be inclined to start with less and if you use American vinegar its acidity is 5% and English is 4% and I used to be aware of this back in Houston but then I forgot and all my pickles made after I came here are much too strongly vinegary so I'd dilute with water to get to 4%. We don't use measuring spoons (or measuring cups either) and the teaspoons mean just that: a teaspoon rounded so there's as much above the lip as in the bowl.

Chop the tomatoes and put them in a preserving pan with the peeled and chopped apples and onions. Add about half the vinegar and cook gently until the tomatoes and apples are soft, keeping the mixture well stirred. Then add the rest of the vinegar and all the other ingredients and continue to cook steadily until the chutney thickens. This should not take longer than 15 minutes. This chutney has a tendency to dry out, so make sure you don't overcook it; pot while it is still slightly runny and cover.

Some notes from Kristin: This next time I make this, I'll probably use just a bit less sugar, as I like it a little less sweet. Chutney is all about the balance of flavors, so make sure to taste it and adjust the vinegar or sugar or whatever as needed. Chutney will be about the consistency of jam when it's cooled, but it will thicken as it cools, so you don't want to cook it to the consistency you really want it to be in the end, but a little runnier. If that made sense. It did, despite Jane's admonition, take longer than 15 minutes for me. I canned this using, I think, the directions for a different chutney recipe in my Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Jane later told me this should sit in the jars for about a year to reach the optimum flavor, and it will keep in the refrigerator for just about forever. Months, anyway, so you don't absolutely have to can it if you don't want to.

Edited to add with some more notes because I just made this and remembered some stuff: Probably the reason I had to cook it longer than 15 minutes is because I double the recipe. Duh. Also, I use only about half the cayenne called for because I can't take a lot of heat. As written, this recipe will make a pretty spicy chutney. I didn't have yellow raisins this time, so I just used regular ones. I think the yellow raisins are specified just because the end result is a pale green chutney and yellow raisins look prettier. I didn't have malt vinegar this time, either, so I used plain white, but I meant to use cider vinegar, except I grabbed the white first and chucked it in before I thought about it. You can see with what great care I cook.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Appetizing

We ate the squirrels last night from A.'s most recent hunting expedition. They were combined with a very old rabbit that has been in the freezer since last spring to make hasenpfeffer. Except with the squirrels I guess it would be hasen-squirrelpfeffer?

Whatever, I dumped our random dead wildlife in the Crock-Pot with a bottle of red wine and some spices and called it good. And it was good. Of course. You really can't go wrong with that much wine.

However. Since yesterday was somewhat sultry despite being ALMOST OCTOBER HELLO, I put the Crock-Pot out in the shop to do its thing, so it wouldn't heat up the kitchen. Also in the shop? The two squirrel hides that A. salted and laid out on a board to dry. The gustatory enjoyment of such a dish is not much improved by confronting the splayed-out skins of one of the main ingredients every time one must enter the chamber of horrors to check on the food component of the animals.

Welcome to my life.

ANYWAY.

In addition to eating some rodents last night, I finally (FINALLY) finished canning pears. The grand total (this is where you do a drumroll on your desk, if you wish to be kind of lame and also irritate your co-workers) . . . 54 quarts. That's right. A five and a four.

That is, indeed, a shitload of pears.

Now I just have to make and can some green tomato chutney--Cubby is a great fan of it on his corn tortilla with cheese--and do some more pickled jalapenos. Plus snap the ends off of approximately 80 million green beans and then blanch them and freeze them. And blanch and freeze the chard. And then, maybe, I'll be finished with the food preservation for the season.

Or maybe I'll be offered five tons of free apples again and spend October giving myself arthritis in the hands making applesauce. You just never do know what fun might await in the kitchen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The End of Tomato Suck 2011

Cubby and I pulled out the tomato plants yesterday. It was pretty sad in there, what with the generally poor performance of the plants all season and the end-of-season blight. So I decided to just put an end to the misery and yank 'em all.

First, of course, we pulled off all the green tomatoes. Cubby was very happy to help with this part, since he's been trying to do just that all summer as I explain over and over again that we only eat red tomatoes, Cubby. The green ones don't taste good. Trust your mother, child.

Needless to say, he doesn't trust his mother and harvested several green tomatoes for me this summer.

He also thought it was great that I ended up using two buckets for the tomatoes. Because then he could transport the tomatoes one by one from one bucket to another and back again, over and over and over. With such wonderful entertainment did he occupy himself for several minutes while I yanked out all the plants and tossed them in the gully.

Then, since he still seemed quite happy with his tomato transport operation, I decided to cut the dying foliage off the last of the potatoes. Yuck. Slimy and smelly and slugs everywhere. I got it done, though. Now we just need to get a long-enough spell of dry weather so we can dig them up and let them dry out on a tarp before storage.

We may have to wait awhile. But the potatoes are ready whenever Mama N. is. So any time with the sun now, Mama. My french fry consumption has been sadly lacking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scrap That

I was all set to tell you about how I was Not Stupid yesterday and didn't screw anything up or destroy anything and in fact managed to make some tomato sauce and can seven quarts of pears.

Then something else happened. And as is so often the case at Blackrock, that Something Else was a raccoon.

At nine last night I had just gotten out of the shower and was greatly looking forward to bed. As I was drying off I heard . . . something. At first I thought it might be Cubby, so I listened for a second and determined the sound came from outside. Then I thought maybe it was the neighbors' yippy little terrier dog. But after a bit I realized that what I was hearing was our dogs, engaged in combat.

By the time I got out of the bathroom, the MiL had already grabbed A.'s big spotlight and A. had his gun. And by the time I got to the door wrapped in my towel, there was an enormous raccoon dead on the ground. The dogs had chased it up the maple tree right next to the dining room door, where the MiL spotlighted it and A. shot it. Those people move fast.

Next we had to check the dogs to see if there were any injuries. Leda had disappeared immediately upon the appearance of A.'s gun, which she is terrified of. Mia was fine, but Otty has a cut on her ear. Since the dogs are vaccinated for rabies but we aren't, the MiL had to get rubber gloves and be very careful to not touch the blood on her head, since we didn't know if it was the raccoon's blood or hers.

Leda got a pretty bad bite on the muzzle, which the MiL cleaned up and which we'll keep an eye on to make sure it doesn't get infected.

So there goes another raccoon. And there goes a post about tomato sauce. Just another day at Blackrock.

Monday, September 26, 2011

And Then There Was This

Good thing I created that new label for Stupidity, because I have YET ANOTHER to add to it today.

I went with my parents to the farmers market in the Small City last Thursday to buy tomatoes, since my tomatoes haven't done jack this summer and I haven't had any to can. I bought about a bushel of seconds, intending to make salsa and then maybe just freeze some. They were all in my reusable grocery store bags, of which they filled about three.

I did make a batch of salsa, but there were still a couple of bags of tomatoes. They couldn't be stored on the floor in the kitchen, thanks to a certain small someone who likes to pull them out one by one and leave them all around the kitchen. So I put them on top of the table in the kitchen.

And then it was yesterday. Which was three days after I bought them. The MiL went to move the bags off the table and found . . . grossness. Specifically, one of the tomatoes in one of the bags had rotted to the point of liquefying, which then leaked out of the bag and made a black-ish stain on the table. The antique farm table that is probably 150 years old and that I just made an indelible stain on thanks to my stupidity.

Once again . . .

SHIIIIIIIIT.

The MiL thinks she may be able to bleach it off, but still. I'm considering retiring from my position of head housekeeper, because I apparently can't be trusted to take care of anything without damage anymore.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

And Yet ANOTHER for the Stupid Archives

I should just create a whole label for "Stupidity," because that's apparently my new hobby.

Yesterday afternoon after canning the salsa I had made the day before, I did all the dishes and, as I usually do, put the big pot I had made the salsa in on a hot burner so it would dry quickly and could then be put away. My big pot that I love. The indispensable, perfect big pot that I actually dedicated a whole (admittedly somewhat lame) post to not very long ago.

Then I went outside to harvest pole beans and tomatoes. About ten minutes into this activity, my sister-in-law came out to tell me there was an empty pot on a hot burner on the stove.

Shit.

I asked her, of course--and quite calmly considering the circumstances--to turn the burner off. Then I ran inside to find that the MiL had taken the pot off the stove and that the copper core bottom had actually come clean off the aluminum bottom of the actual pot. Some aluminum had melted onto the stove, but the stove was okay. The pot, however? Not okay. Not at all. Not salvageable.

SHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT.

So that was the end of my favorite pot of all time. The MiL was actually about to leave for the Small City, so she found a replacement pot for me. It's the same brand, the same size, and the same general style, but it's just not quite the same. Not quite as heavy, not quite as nice. My fault, though, so I can't complain.

I can swear though, right? Right.

SHIIIIIIIIIT.