Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Little House on the (New Mexico) Prairie Christmas Feast

Okay, so we don't technically live on the prairie, but close enough that Cubby came home with this a few days before Christmas:

He also carried it through the house to show it to me in the kitchen, dripping blood the whole way, but I don't want to talk about that.

That there is a jackrabbit, which, despite the name, is actually a hare. He chased it down and shot it with his .22 while he was out with A. on the range. He was extremely proud of himself. So of course we had to eat it.

It hung for a few days to age and tenderize, and while it was hanging, I was pondering how to cook it.

Then, just a couple of days before Christmas, at 2 a.m. when I was trying to get back to sleep after getting up to nurse the baby, I remembered something. "Hey," said my semi-conscious brain, "I think Laura and her family ate a jackrabbit one year for their Christmas dinner."

This is the sort of thing a juvenile brain steeped in the Little House books will come up with at 2 a.m.

I looked it up the next day--or rather, later that same morning--and sure enough, right there in By the Shores of Silver Lake were three paragraphs describing the Ingalls family's Christmas dinner, which featured a jackrabbit shot by Pa.

Well. This was fate. Kismet. Destiny. I had to make the jackrabbit for Christmas dinner. And while I was at it, I might as well make the rest of the meal as described in the book. Because it also included sourdough biscuits (no problem for a slave to sourdough like me), cucumber pickles (thanks, Rafael!), bread and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, and an apple pie. 

Okay, so we begin with the jackrabbit. My primary concern with it was toughness. To address this, I brined it for a day and then baked it covered, in a relatively low oven, for two hours. I also draped it in bacon. In the book, Ma uses salt pork for this, which is essentially bacon that hasn't been smoked. 

I'll spare you the photo of the raw jackrabbit curled up in the pan, because raw rabbits look like skinned cats. Not appetizing.

Next, bread and onion stuffing. For this, I set Cubby to work early in the morning cutting up a half loaf of sourdough bread to dry out during the day.

His reward for getting up so early to open presents.

This is, amazingly, the first time I'd ever made stuffing (technically a dressing, as I didn't stuff it in the jackrabbit). I looked at a couple of recipes online, and then just made it up, as is my habit. I sauteed some onion and celery in a lot of butter, added salt, pepper, and some sage that I had just received that morning as a Christmas gift from the MiL along with my pepper mill from Penzey's spices (so fortuitous!), mixed in the bread and then some venison stock I had in the fridge. It baked at the end with the jackrabbit.

I used this recipe for sourdough biscuits. The book specifically mentioned that the biscuits were small, so I made them that way. I don't have a biscuit cutter, anyway, so I can make them any size I want with whatever round item I can find to cut them with.

In this case, I used that small honey jar there. The black water bottle top was too small.

I ended up with two skillets of biscuits, but no room on my single oven shelf for both skillets plus the pan of stuffing. So I put one skillet of biscuits directly on the floor of the oven. They got a little too brown on the bottom this way, but were still fine.

And look how cute!

Mashed potatoes are pretty self-explanatory, though I bet Ma didn't have so much butter, milk, and sour cream to put in hers. I did, though, so I used it. No sense sacrificing flavor for historical accuracy.

I also omitted the cornbread the Ingalls family had, since there was quite enough bread already on the menu. The "rich, brown gravy" also went by the wayside, as the juices in the pan from the jackrabbit were far too salty because of the brine and the bacon.

Ma made a pie from dried apples. We ate all of our dried apples already, but I had also frozen some of Mr. Billy's apples with sugar and cinnamon, thinking I would use them for baked apples. Works for pie filling, too. I mean, I guess. I'm not a pie expert. I've literally never made a pie. This was my first one. 

I don't even own a pie pan. So I used my deep oval casserole dish and put just a top crust on it. I used the Fannie Farmer recipe for a 9-inch crust and I knew as I was making it that I was overworking it. It was kind of inevitable, though, as I had to use almost exactly twice as much water as the recipe called for (thanks, high altitude!). So I was judiciously adding the water a tablespoon at a time, but that meant that I had to keep mixing it and my kitchen was a sweltering 80 degrees and . . . 

Yeah. This was a terrible pie. The crust was almost inedibly tough.

Also, I overbaked it because the top wouldn't brown and then the filling was dry. Super.

I'm sure Ma's pie was a lot better than mine, but I had vanilla ice cream to go with my terrible pie, so I think that's still a win.

Oh, and here's a picture of the last few refrigerator dills:

I may have gotten a little snap happy with the food photos.

The Ingalls family's meal was notably lacking in vegetables, as was all of South Dakota in December at that time period. However, I figured carrots are a pretty standard winter vegetable, so I threw some in with the jackrabbit for the last hour or so.

Here is the final plate of (semi-) historically accurate Silver Lake Christmas food:

Have a very carb-y Christmas; it's the best time of the year.

The jackrabbit, oddly, reminded both A. and me of beaver meat. We were ambivalent about it, but the kids loved it. Of course.

So there it is. My descent into crazy Little House culinary fandom. It was fun, but I won't be repeating it anytime soon. 

Boys of Winter

Yesterday morning, Cubby looked out at the 17-degree blowing snow and said to his brothers, "Hey guys. It's a perfect morning outside. Let's go out."

So they did.

Keep up that northwoods conditioning, boys. Wouldn't want to get soft, now would we?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Friday Food: All Beef, All the Time

Only two meals this week did not feature beef. This is what happens when you have a whole cow in your freezer. I am not complaining.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, fried onions, bread and butter, green peas

Long version: Oh man. I really, really, reeeeeally did not want to cook this night. Had I the ability to make a Wendy's magically appear closer than 120 miles from my house (literally--I just looked it up), I would totally have gone to Wendy's.

However. That magical ability has yet to be granted to me--and let's be honest, it's really for the best--so I made the hamburgers myself. Some of the ground beef from the whole cow had already started to defrost, so I used those packages in this meal.

The only reason my lazy self even bothered to slice an onion and fry it in one of the hamburger skillets was because there was a half of an onion sitting in my refrigerator, and I hate partial onions in my refrigerator. I can smell it every time I open the door.

I also hate waking up to a dirty kitchen, but guess who was also too lazy to wash all the pots and pans? Yup. At least I managed to load and run the dishwasher. And rinse out my French press, so I could make coffee first thing. Priorities.


Short version: Chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, boiled potato chunks, vegetable soup

Long version: The butcher that cut up our cow is actually just over the line in Texas. Thus, when I was giving my cutting instructions, the guy asked if I wanted my flank steaks "chicken fried." Meaning cut thin and pounded into cube steaks.

Thinking of A. and his fondness of chicken-fried steaks, and my own fondness for grillades, I said yes.

They are pretty convenient. Quick-cooking, you know. Or at least, they would be if I wasn't cooking six of them and thus shuffling steaks in and out of the skillet to brown them and then putting them in the oven to finish cooking.

I still have the print-out of the recipe for "Texas Chicken-fried Steak" I found online all those years ago, and the most amusing thing about it is that in the note in the instruction about dredging the meat in flour, then egg, then flour again, "Your fingers will get messy, so remove your rings."

I guess you can tell I'm not from Texas, because I didn't even have to remove one ring, much less plural rings.

I probably should have mashed the potatoes, but I didn't feel like it.

The vegetable soup was mostly to use up two jars of venison broth I took out of the freezer to make room for all the beef. This soup had onion, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, frozen zucchini, frozen green beans, the liquid left from making the Italian chicken a few days prior, and pinto beans. I managed to get those cooked in the morning, so I had beans in my soup this time. Yay.


Short version: Leftovers and regrettable peanut butter balls

Long version: The peanut butter balls were not regrettable because they were bad. Quite the contrary. I fear that now that I know how easy it is to make a superior version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at home, they will become a regular feature and my jeans will never fit again.

I used this recipe, but added a bit of coconut oil to the chocolate chips when I melted them to make the dipping chocolate a little bit looser. This is a five-star dessert. So good. So, so good.


Short version: Pot roast, bread and butter, frozen green beans

Long version: We went to a 5 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass that was 35 miles away, which meant we were gone during dinnertime. I made the pot roast--an arm roast--before we left and then just turned the oven off at 4:15 when we left the house, leaving the meat in the warm oven. It was still warm enough to serve when we got home at 6:45 p.m.

Then all I had to do was microwave the green beans and slice the bread, butter it, and force my children to sit down and put something besides sugar in their stomachs. I did this by means of bribery. This is also how I got them to behave at Mass. You sit still (well, still-ish) and don't shove your brother for an hour and eat your dinner and you can open the presents from your Florida relatives.

It worked. Hooray for presents.


Short version: A Little House on the Prairie Christmas

Long version: I'm still working (read: have not even started, but have the best of intentions--and photos) on a post about this, but I'll just say that we sort of re-created the Christmas dinner Laura's family had in By the Shores of Silver Lake. And if you know what that is, you are my kind of person.

Teaser photo of the Mystery Main Course:

Definitely not a supermarket ham.


Short version: Prairie Pie and other leftovers, salad

Long version: I made a version of shepherd's pie with the leftovers from Christmas dinner for the children. A. ate yet more of his ponudo and I ate a salad with some leftover hamburgers that really needed to be eaten.


Short version: Tacos, ice cream with peanut butter hot fudge sauce

Long version: Yeah, this is what I chose for my birthday meal. Mostly because I had the ground beef in the little freezer, so it was the most accessible, and also because it's easy to make and I really like taco salad.

You may notice I omitted cake this year. I'm so tired of baking--and, incredibly, eating what I bake--that I didn't even want to make or eat a cake.

I know. It's like I don't even know who I am anymore.

But! We did have some vanilla ice cream, and that sounded like a good idea with hot fudge sauce. But this time, I had the brilliant idea of adding peanut butter to the hot fudge. With my love of all combinations of chocolate and peanut butter, I don't know why this didn't occur to me before.

What I should have done was use my favorite recipe for hot fudge sauce and then just stir in creamy peanut butter. Instead I looked at actual recipes for peanut butter hot fudge sauce and used this one. I made a half recipe, and it made a very thin sauce. I should have known it would, given the half and half instead of heavy cream and cocoa powder instead of chocolate. It was not at all fudgy. Also, not enough peanut butter flavor.

I added some semi-sweet chocolate chips to thicken it up, then stirred in peanut butter until it tasted like liquified peanut butter cups, which of course is what I was going for. Yum.

My only request for a birthday gift from my children was a photo with all four of them. I told them that included everyone smiling nicely and not making silly faces. This is what I got.

Close enough.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thirty-Nine Years and Counting

Happy birthday to me! Anyone else out there have to actually do the math to figure out how old they're turning? I was born in 1979 (on a cold and foggy night . . .), so that means this is my 39th birthday. And what do I have to show for these 39 years?

A lot of children and a really messy house. The one begets the other.

New Mexico has decided to morph from southern Arizona weather to upstate New York weather, so it's currently 26 degrees with a couple of inches of snow on the ground. A. has to do some serious wood cutting today to get ready for the single-digit temperatures coming our way. He did get up this morning to field the morning demands (and refereeing) from the children while I lazed in bed until the shocking hour of 6:40 a.m.*

I'm drinking my second cup of coffee while Charlie reads a book to Poppy--might as well take advantage of having both literate children and a baby who wants to read board books all the time--and will shortly go into the kitchen to make my breakfast. Which I will not be sharing.

If you can't be selfish on your birthday, when can you? (Answer: Never, if you have children. Including birthdays.)

Anyway. Have a pleasant day, my lovelies. Feel free to eat some cake in my honor today if you so desire.

* I usually get up any time between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., so this is sleeping in for me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas in Captions

I'm too tired to write out a whole post--making Christmas memories is exhausting--but I took lots of pictures. Here they are.

Cubby got up an hour and a half before anyone else, so I put him to work helping me start dinner preparations. Merry Christmas!

When Charlie finally got up, he and Cubby spent some time on their beloved heating vents while they were waiting for . . .

These two to appear for stocking exploration.

In which there were nuts. And a very exciting package of peanut butter crackers for Poppy.

She loved her little piano/xylophone, too. And the boys were appropriately impressed that I managed to pick out "Jingle Bells" on it. Just call me Beethoven.

This little spinning ducky toy unfortunately became a prime target for the Transformer toys the boys got. Apparently, it's easy to mistake a singing duck for a Decepticon.

Eventually I kicked the boys out on to the enclosed porch to crack nuts in their pajamas.

And the silly socks my dad sent them.

The boys got lariats from their other grandfather and practiced with them quite a bit on this post A. set up for them.

And inevitably, on A. himself.

Such a fun dad.

I've apparently reached the limit of photos I can upload to one post, so I'll stop here. I have to do a whole separate post for Christmas dinner, anyway. It was a weird one. So stay tuned for that.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ready, Set . . .

It's a go in the morning.

Merry Christmas Eve, my lovelies.