Thursday, December 30, 2010

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

... he is going to ask for a glass of milk.

If you buy me a house, I am going to want more closet space.

If you find wood floors while putting in new closets, I am going to want to restore them.

If you restore the wood floors, I am going to want a Victorian Livingroom with built-in bookcases.

In order to get a Victorian livingroom with built-in bookcases, I am going to want to rip out kitchen cabinets.

If you rip out kitchen cabinets, I am going to want to buy a circular saw to make them fit in the Livingroom.

If you buy a circular saw, I am going to want you to put up a pot rack with recycled pegboard from the garage.  
If you install a pegboard pot rack, I am going to want a trip to ikea for pot lid racks and brackets for the shelves that are going to replace the cabinets.  

My poor hubby had no idea what he was getting himself into when he bought me a house.  

Oh, and since we're clearly demolishing the kitchen & livingroom simultaneously, i had better share my kitchen moodboard:

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Quiche Lorraine

aka: Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the Pantry

Dinner tonight was going to be Ham'n'Swiss pie made with my homemade bisquick and leftover Christmas ham. I had everything on hand for that recipe.  Then, I got to thinking how similar it is to a typical French quiche and decided to find out what Julia had to say on the subject.

Quiche Lorraine is a cream and bacon (or ham) quiche.  At first, I wasn't gonna share this little French experiment with you because I did some substituting and adding, but that is the life of a home cook, isn't it? I used the ingredients I had on hand and customized it to my tastes (something even Julia encourages when it comes to quiches, because they are so easily customizable).

You start out with a half-baked pie crust (pgs 39-46).  The recipe, per cup of flour, follows.  I used 2 cups worth, which was enough for a n 9 inch pie plate and some tartlets.
1c. All Purpose Flour (3.5 oz)  (I used whole wheat)
4 tb. Butter
1 1/2 tb. Vegetable shortening (I used palm)
2 1/2 to 3 tb. Cold Water (I wound up needing 4 1/2 but that may have been because of the flour)
1/4 tsp. Salt
pinch of sugar

I then started out with a basic quiche lorraine recipe:
3 eggs
3 or 4 oz ham cubes or boiled bacon
1 1/2 to 2 c. Whipping Cream or Half and Half (I mixed milk & sour cream)
1/2 tsp Salt
pinch of Pepper
pinch of Nutmeg
1 to 2 tb. Butter

Mix it all together and I added a little parley, a handful of mozzarella, 2 diced roma tomatoes and 1/4 diced yellow onion.

The instructions are to pour in shell and bake 25-30 minutes @ 375.  at 30 minutes.  At 30 minutes, I still had soup in a pie crust.  I added another egg, turned the oven up to 400 and gave it another 45 minutes.  Luckily, it did eventually puff up and solidify, but I was scared there for a minute, and the extra time gave the crust quite the browning.

The crust, despite being whole wheat, is incredibly tasteful and flaky.  Whole wheat can sometimes detract from more delicate foods, but not in this instance.  The filling is flavorful and fluffy.  It def gets my vote all around!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chick or Pullet?

My Pet Chicken, the best hobby site I could find for chicks, posted their 2011 chicks for pre-order.  It's decision time folks.  When we started this venture, I was sure I wanted started pullets.  Now i'm not so sure.

"Started Pullets", or hens that are about set to start laying, were my initial preference for a number of reasons.  Mostly because chicks seem so frail and we're new at this.  Also, I can buy exactly as many hens as i'd like and, barring dog attacks or the like, thats how many I should continue to have.  Unfortunately, when I started looking into things I found no poultry farms in the area (at least that advertise well).  This leaves my only local source for hens as craigslist, but who knows what my selection will look like and if they'll be authentic?  I have a few breeds in mind, but I know that (aside from an easter egger or two) I want heritage breeds.

The chicks at agway in the spring are probably cheaper than started pullets, but for healthy chicks of a specific breed, one must order them online and shipping is costly.  Because we live so far from the city, we have to order a few more than we actually need.  On one hand, they all may well not make it (but we pay for them regardless!) but what if they all do?  and chicks need a lot of attention.  On the upside though, we can choose our breeds and know we're getting what we pay for and we know from birth how they've been handled and fed.

What would you do? I'd love to hear your feedback,

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Breakfast Sandwiches

I have been fortunate enough to live a relatively addiction-free life.  You might say my biggest vice is overeating, or maybe the combination of potatoes and oil.  You would be right on both counts, of course, but those are both very broad statements.  If I had to name my one biggest vice, it would be a Sausage Egg & Cheese McBiscuit with lots of Hashbrowns.  Not Burger King's alternative (their hashbrowns, while innovatively bite-sized,  have a funny texture) or Wendy's (the sausage is too strong).  McDonalds.  Let's just leave it to say that I am perfectly aware how NOT chemical-free and environmentally friendly McDonalds is.  It doesn't matter.

In an effort to save my waist-line, my low-chemical intentions, my time, gas and the environment, I have been working on home alternatives.

Buttery Biscuit
Alternatives Considered: Make my own white flour buttery biscuit, make my own whole wheat not-so-buttery biscuit, homemade bread, bought bread, homemade bagels, bought bagels, homemade english muffins, bought english muffins
Current Favorite: Thomas' Hearty Grains 100% Whole Wheat English Muffin

Folded Sheet of Egg?
Alternatives Considered: Omelette, Fried Egg (with and without draining yolk), "Scrambled Pattie", Microwaved, Microwave Poached, Classic Poached, Steam Poached
Current Favorite: Steam Poached Organic Eggs

Cheddar? Cheese
Alternatives Considered: Slice Cheddar, Brick Cheddar hand-shredded and tossed with cornstarch, Pre-shredded Cheddar, Organic pre-shredded Cheddar
Current Favorite: Organic Pre-shredded Cheddar

Processed Pork Sausage Pattie
Alternatives Considered: Bought Processed Pork pattie, natural pork links, natural pork pattied, bought turkey patties, homemade turkey patties
Current Favorite: Homemade Turkey Patties, Baked

Then my mom, knowing both my love for the Egg Sandwich & My love for all gadgets, kitchen or not, raised the bar.  She got me a toaster that also steam-poaches or hard-boils eggs & warms pre-cooked breakfast meat.

I'm not gonna say that this keeps me from McDonalds entirely, but it makes it a lot easier to only go there on Grocery day when I'm already in town, provided i get my but moving early enough to be ready to shop and in town during breakfast hours.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Soup a l'Oeuf, Provencale aux Pommes de Terre

Ok, I am by no means attempting to mimic the Julie/Julia Project, but about a month ago I got my hands on a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and swore to myself i'd make something out of it once or twice a month and here I am a month later, barely getting started.

Most people have never cooked out of this cookbook for the simple reason that it really isn't a cookbook.  It doesn't read like one, anyways.  It's basically a cooking textbook.  Today's recipe, for example, took 3 pages of instructions (more if you count the 2 pages it referred to on poaching eggs), though it took only an hour and 15 minutes to make.  It's daunting, and it was not written for people who have our understanding of what it is to "fix dinner".  It was written for obsessive housewives of the 50s and 60s.

I started flipping through soups, the first chapter in the book and this was the first one I was ready to attempt that Nick thought would be filling enough, and to be honest it's a mashing of two recipes: Soup a l'Oeuf, Provencale (Garlic Soup with Poached Eggs) and Soup a l'Ail aux Pommes de Terre (Garlic soup with saffron and Potatoes).  They are both variations on Aigo Buido (Garlic Soup).  The recipes can be found on pages 46-48 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, First Edition but here is my quick synopsis of it.

One head of Garlic
2 qts Water
2 tsp of Salt
2 Cloves
1/4 tsp Sage
1/4 tsp Thyme
1/2 Bay Leaf
4 Parsley Sprigs
3 tbs Olive Oil
3 c. Cubed Boiling Potatoes
6 Fresh Eggs
Toasted French Bread Rounds

Separate cloves, but do not peel.  Boil for 30 seconds.  Run under cold Water.  Peel.

Put Water, Peeled Garlic, Spices & Olive oil in pot (I chose a saucier, she said sauce pot) and simmer for 30 minutes.

If you chose a sauce pot, strain contents through collander into saucier, if you started out in saucier, skim to make sure you have removed cloves, garlic & bay leaf.  Mash garlic with fork or food mill and return it to soup.

Poach eggs in soup.  If they aren't as fresh as you'd like, boil in shell for 10 seconds before cracking.

Set eggs aside.  Add cubed potatoes and simmer for another 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.  Add eggs back to warm up.  

Fill bowl with soup.  

Add toasted French Bread Rounds.  

Top with eggs.  

Top with Swiss or Parmesan Cheese.  


P.S. If you're as nebby as me, here are the Julie/Julia Project posts where she tackles these soups.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mending Begins

The summer after we bought out house, we cut down 9 trees in the span of two days.  One of them crushed a length of out fence.  This past summer, during the unfortunate incident that also claimed my neighbor's house, two more lengths of our fence were claimed.  Where our fence stops, the remainder of our property was bordered by enormous, towering hedges... that we pulled out.  Needless to say, our fence is in sorry shape.

If we're gonna have chickens and a dog that has free reign of the yard, we will not only need to fix what we have done to our fence, but extend it considerably AND put up some strong wire mesh (since our current fence won't actually keep the puppy in) AND install some gates so we can get in and out.  

A couple of weeks ago, my father-in-law disassembled a project made of wolmanized lumber what was still in fine shape and gave us the wood.  Fortunately, it was similar enough to our fence wood that it could be used.  I was thrilled!  I wanted to get straight to work.  Of course, it was freezing cold and we had to call it quits after a few hours (presumambly 'til spring) but we did get one, VERY LARGE gate put in.  

I fully admit to laziness (and wanting to conserve our few 4x4s) where this gate is concerned.  We went to the hardware store and picked up a few extra screws and some hinges & a  latch and went to work.  (don't ya just love how I say "we", but i'm the one behind behind the camera while the hubbs works?)

After this point, my hands were too cold and it was snowing enough for me to be concerned for my camera, but not bad right? I'm just glad that the hinges could handle it and it doesn't scrape the ground.  It'll need taken down again when we finish the fence to be painted, but it's wolmanized so it can wait.  

Tortellini, Bacon & Arugula

Wow, I'm the worst blogger on the planet.  Sorry about that folks.  Christmas festivities are quite the distraction.

Remember when I made tortellini a month ago? Well, this is Nick's favorite tortellini recipe.  I must first point out that, while I did indeed use the tortellini I made in that post, the recipe is better with ones filled with a sharp cheese (like Asiago) and i'm learning in my pasta escapades that wheat pasta fits better in place of it's white counterparts if you salt the dough just a tad.


  • 1 pound cheese tortellini
  • 4 ounces sliced bacon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups arugula (about 1 bunch)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Cook the tortellini according to the package directions, or until the pasta is tender and the dumplings float.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, 7 to 8 minutes. Reserve the bacon and discard the drippings.
  3. Wipe out the skillet and return it to medium heat. Add the butter and swirl or stir with a wooden spoon as it starts to foam and sputter. Remove from heat as soon as it begins to turn golden brown and smells nutty, about 1 minute.
  4. Break the bacon into small pieces and add to the skillet with the arugula, salt, pepper, and cooked tortellini; toss well. Divide among individual bowls.

Served with smoked turkey breast (courtesy of my father-in-law's obsession with his smoker).  Sorry about the crappy pic, my camera was dead at the time.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Puppy Cookies

I know I can be a bit of an obsessive pet owner, but I think it's always nice to remember our furry friends at Christmas time.  My Christmas list includes 4 dogs, including my own and the neighbor kids (Georgie and Aadin) have a little mutt named Brutus.  With my little helpers, we made a LOT of dog treats.

Peanut Butter & Carob Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butter , no salt or sugar added
  • 1 tbsp. blackstrap molasses
  • Additional Flour for Rolling
  • 1 bag carob chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Whisk the flour, oats and baking powder together in a medium bowl.
  3. Gradually stir in the milk, peanut butter and molasses.
  4. Turn out onto a floured surface.
  5. Knead until a soft dough forms.
  6. Roll out to 1/2" thickness and cut with a cookie cutter.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Let cool overnight in the oven or cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Dip or Sprinkle with melted carob chips
Storing: These peanut butter dog biscuits bake nice and hard and they can last for 2 weeks in a dog treat jar. If you prefer to bake a softer dog biscuit, be sure to refrigerate them for up to 3 weeks. The hard biscuits will be fresh in the refrigerator for 4-5 weeks and both soft and hard dog treats will be good for up to 6 months in the freezer.

Little  hands cutting biscuits

Sadie supervising

We quickly learned that carob doesn't drizzle like chocolate, even with added milk.  Dipping was a much better option.  

Cheesy Garlic Biscuits
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
2 tablespoons dried parsley 1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 ° F (165 ° C).

In a large bowl,dissolve yeast in water. Add stock, oil, cheese, drymilk, and herbs. Gradually blend in the flours and cracked wheat. Add enough wheat flour to form a stiff dough.
Transfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 3-5 minutes). Shape the dough into a ball and roll to 1/2-inch (12 mm) thick. Using pizza cutter, cut out small cube treats. Place on ungreased baking sheets, spacing them about 1/4-inch (6 mm) apart. Gather up the scraps, roll out again, and cut additional biscuits.
Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk for the glaze. Brush the biscuits with glaze, turn and brush other side. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let cool overnight.

Wrap them up nice'n'pretty and put them in your puppy's stocking!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Concerning Poultry

One of the most expensive changes we've made around here int he last 6 months or so is eggs.  A dozen eggs at Aldi costs $.89.  A dozen cage-free, organic eggs costs $3.50.  A dozen from a local farmer (when available) $2.50.  Thats a 3 or 4x increase!  Seeing as we go through at least a dozen if not more every week, thats a lot of extra money on eggs.

Nick suggested it first.  "Why don't we get chickens?"  My first reaction? "Absolutely Not!  Birds are dirty and carry diseases!  Do you know how much work that'd be?"  Nick is even more of a schemer and dreamer than I am and I figured that, like so many of his ridiculous ideas, it would go away.  Discourage the truly crazy or expensive ones and humor his attempts at the less expensive ones, right?

Well, it didn't go away and to be honest it started to grow on me.  I like having control over what I eat and doing it as economically as possible.  Honestly, keeping chickens (after the start up costs) would probably mean breaking even, but there will probably be the opportunity to sell the extras.  What really sold me was the chicken tractor.  I'm not so fond of finding chicken poop on my walkways or searching for eggs all over the yard, but i kinda felt like it wasn't worth doing if I was planning on keeping them in a coop with a static run for their whole lives.  A chicken tractor is basically a movable coop/run combo with no floor.  Every day or so, you move it to a new spot in your yard.  The chickens have new weeds & bugs to pick at regularly so they don't ruin any one spot in your yard (but rather, fertilize the whole thing).  They're also protected from predators (and puppy dogs).  They'll still need to be provided with feed, but it should be much less than strictly coop-raised birds.

Once I had found a way of doing things that seemed more livable to me, we had some things to work out:

How many chickens? A Prolific laying breed hen can produce from 250-300 eggs per year.  That means 2 chickens for every dozen you would like to get each week.  Also consider that in the absence of a rooster, one hen may cease to lay and take on some rooster-like qualities and that now and again one of your hens in bound to get clucky (aka: quit laying and sit on some eggs) for a time.  We decided we want 6.  4 would meet our needs, but we wanted cushion.  Worse come to worse i'm sure we could give the eggs away.

What Breed? Where and how will we get them?  There are about a million breeds of chickens, not to mention hybrids and mutts.  To narrow it down, I set down some preferences.  Mostly, I wanted heritage breeds that were prolific brown egg layers, extremely cold hardy and fairly docile.  Other less important preferences were year-round laying, not prone to getting clucky and i kinda wanted one or two more colorful layers, something blue or green or something.  Thus far I have narrowed it down to Australorps, Rhode Island Reds and either Ameracunas or Easter Eggers.  Australorps are both prolific brown egg layers that are cold weather hardy and, being dual-purpose breeds, are also good eating.  Australorps are more docile, but prone to cluckiness.  RIRs are less prone to cluckiness, but i've found the full gambit of comments as it pertains to their temperament.  Neither Ameracunas or Easter eggers lay quite as much, but they are blue egg layers.  Ameracunas are a heritage breed but very rare, Easter Eggers are mutts and their eggs can be any number of colors, but they're fun and easy to come by and everyone raves about their personality.  I'm still up in the air about where to get them.  My first instinct was to try to purchase started pullets (about ready to lay) for our first time around, but I haven't found local poultry farms online where I could get some.  There are sometimes chickens on craigslist though, though i'll have to wait til spring to see that much.  You can order day old chicks online.  Most places require that you order at least 25 chicks, but My Pet Chicken lets you order 8.  We could deal with that many, and cook one or two if its too much.  They also carry 3 of the 4 breeds that I like.

What type of Tractor?  Below is a pic of my favorite design.  We'll settle on dimensions when we figure out how many birds we're gonna have.  

I can't wait until spring when we can put this all into action!

PS don't forget that you have to check with your municipality to make sure chickens are allowed!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why We Got A Real Christmas Tree

I want to share why we get real Christmas trees with ya'll because at the least, I do think it's a decision that requires some thought.  Of course, it's a personal decision and there are ok reasons to get a fake one (like a pine allergy, e.g.).

1.  My Health: I have an extreme dust allergy and a weak respiratory system.  So much so that when I was in college, the (admittedly less than competent) doctor I was seeing sent me to be tested for lymphoma (yup. cancer!).  When in college, I noticed that unpacking our decorations made me quite ill.  Now that I have my own place, I combat that with air-tight storage containers and ABSOLUTELY NO GARLAND.  Garland is basically a duster that glitters and I have never figured out a way to hang or store it that dust wasn't an issue.  And, what is an artificial tree, but an enormous piece of garland?

2. Tradition: It's true.  Real trees have always been tradition in my family, and they smell great :)

3. PVC: Fake trees are made of PVC, which is notoriously difficult/impossible to recycle and can sometimes contain lead.  Thats a concern to me cuz pretty much anything below waist height is at risk of being chewed on in my house.  PVC is also made from Fossil Fuels.  I'm not ready to freak out about anything made or that runs on fossil fuels, I would pretty much have to go back to a time before plastic at the very least.  BUT, I feel that this is one plastic item that is easily avoided.  

4. INTAKE OF FOSSIL FUELS: Not only is PVC made from them, but most trees travel from China on it, if not just elsewhere in our rather large country.  Our real tree came from closer to our house than any grocery store or gas station.  Hows that for less fuel?

5. RENEWABLE RESOURCE: If you get a live tree, like with the roots still attached, you have never wasted the oxygen-producing beauty that is a tree.  Cut trees almost exclusively come from Christmas Tree Farms and rest assured, for every tree that is cut, another will be planted.  It is to the benefit of the farmer, in addition to the environment, for them to do so.  

6. RECYCLABILITY: Unlike PVC trees, which are almost impossible to recycle, there are lots of ways to recycle real trees.  You can have them chipped and either used for landscaping or compost them.  You can also burn them.  I know that doesn't sound good but burning natural things (like wood) is as carbon-neutral as decomposition, but it's a lot quicker when it comes to a whole tree.

7. SUPPORT LOCAL FARMERS & ECONOMY:  I would venture to say that everyone in this country who lives where pine trees naturally grow lives within an hour of a Christmas Tree Farm.  We are fortunate enough to have 3 in less than 10 minutes (the joys of living in the country).  If you don't know where your local farms are, you can use internet tree finders like the Christmas Tree Network, which is a national finder.  There are also more state or region specific ones, which probably have more smaller listings.  

Also, for anyone out there who is concerned about the "fire hazard" that a real tree might be, I have a couple tips:

1.  Cut the tree yourself & take it straight home & put it in water.  It will stay much fresher for much longer.  
2.  Cut a disc off the end of the trunk right before you put it in the water.  
3.  Put a couple of spoonfuls of sugar in the water.  
4.  Use low-heat lights & use your common sense: only have them on when you're home.  
5.  If you're still worried, get a Fire Alarm ornament.  You hang it high on the tree (because smoke rises) and should your tree begin to smoke in anyway (or a casserole if it's too close to the kitchen) it will emit the same deafening chirp as the alarms on your wall.  Remember to check it's battery every year!