Monday, 27 February 2012

Odd thing happened...

Today, two of my hens laid 2 eggs each. Like, in the same day. One of them laid two right after another! Let me 'splain.
We shut our chickens in at night and let them out in the morning. These days we're very careful about always checking for eggs because the weather has been below freezing, and when eggs freeze they can crack.

This morning I let the birdies out and did my usual scan - nothing. When I got home in the afternoon I checked on them. Big Momma was in the process of laying, there was a blue egg in one box, a brown egg in another box, and another brown egg on the floor of the coop. I picked up the two brown eggs, and they were identical. They were the big, medium-brown eggs of our Rhode Island Red, Little Jerry Seinfeld. There is certainly no confusing her eggs with the others - hers are much bigger (though on a side note, yesterday I found a teeny tiny, M&M size egg that I swear was also hers...). I thought this was very odd, but decided that the one on the floor must have been buried in shavings this morning. 

I went about my business in the garden and when I checked back to see if Big Momma was done yet, there were two more identical eggs in the corner of the coop on the floor! This is Turkey's usual spot and they were most definitely her colour eggs. They were near the same place where I found the other Jerry egg, and they were sitting right next to each other. One was warm, and one was not.

Of course that led me to the internet, which was MOST unhelpful in this area. A few people did what I did and exclaimed "My chicken laid 2 eggs in one day! What causes this?" And everyone else says "Do you mean a double-yolker?" or "That's not possible". 

So I'm here to say, I don't know why it happened, but it is possible! The weather has been extremely strange lately, sunny to hailing to downpour to snowing all in one day. I wonder if this stress had something to do with it? Their diet has stayed the same and their routine has not changed. 

I will continue my search for answers, and in the meantime, just know.... it IS possible for a hen to lay 2 eggs in one day!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Fish Tacos and a Confession

Our first meal to start easing into the Daniel Fast was Fish Tacos. The only thing not in the 'rules' was the fish (Tilapia), but that's not the confession. We are making exceptions for occasional meat, and when we do it will be prepared in the healthiest way possible. SO, don't judge us if you see some recipes that include meat - we didn't want this to become the kind of thing where you give yourself a guilt trip if you don't follow the rules exactly. I'm also not going to kill myself trying to come up with the perfect meal - we're using the Fast as a guideline, and will do our best to follow it wherever we can.

I'm starting to like fish tacos more than what can now only be considered a North American taco. I think it's because they seem more authentic. In the places where tacos originate they aren't laden with sour cream, cheese, and "taco seasoning". They are often very simple and very fresh - lots of fresh chiles, tomatoes, and herbs. Exactly the kind of cooking style that I enjoy. Minimalist, with loads of fresh flavors. This is also one of the fastest, healthiest week night meals I've come across in a long time. Even if only for that, you should try these! You can find the recipe here.

Now on to the confession. It's a little strange....... Here goes: When it comes to food, there are few things I enjoy more than discovering a perfectly ripe Avocado. It's always a gamble with Avocados. They feel soft, are they too soft? Are they soft enough, is that a bruise? Eeek! But then you slice into that thing, and when it's a good one I think a Heavenly Choir sings a little bit! I always exclaim in delight when I find a good one. They're just so pretty! With their creamy flesh that fades from a buttery yellow in the center to a soft but vivid green around the edges. Mm! I often give a few moments of silence to take in their splendor before I get to work cutting them up.

Well, now you know why I have two pictures of Avocados below.
I just want to stick my face in it.

Which would actually be a good thing - they do wonders for your skin when used internally OR externally!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Lent - the Daniel Fast

Well, Lent is now upon us. 40 days of pre-Easter mind and body preparations. My husband and I decided that since we are currently trying to improve our physical AND spiritual health, we would do the Daniel Fast. I've been surprised at how many people haven't heard of this - but then again, I did grow up in a household where fasting and cleanses were fairly common. Thus, I will elaborate. If you have a Bible nearby Daniel 1:8-17 gives the more detailed version, but to sum up: Daniel and his buddies were in Babylon and the guards appointed over them were trying to give them the usual Babylonian cuisine of very rich food and wine. Daniel considered these foods to be defiling to his body and health, so he asked if he and his men could be given only vegetables and water to drink. The guard wanted to grant the request, but was concerned that it would cause this gang to become scrawny and weak, and he didn't want any trouble with the King. Daniel asked him to do a 10 day trial, and at the end of it they were much healthier and stronger than everyone else.

The Daniel Fast of today is not purely vegetables and water, but it does focus on whole unprocessed foods and avoids all meat and animal products, as well as sugars and bread. It's a pretty strict diet, so because Dave and I are also trying to exercise regularly we are making a few exceptions for the occasional chicken breast or salmon fillet, but we will do our best. We're also adding nightly devotions in the form of reading Lent-focused prayers and articles.

This all means that the recipes and concoctions I post here may not always LOOK tantalizing, but they will certainly be healthy, and I will never post something that I don't think is delicious. But on a brighter note, Sundays during Lent are considered mini-celebrations of Easter, therefore it is quite acceptable to break your fasts or 'cheat' a little on Sundays. You learn fairly quickly not to binge on Sundays - it can make for a Monday full of headaches and upset stomachs!

We're all in for a healthier 40 days!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tagine. Huh?

You may or may not have heard the word "Tagine" before. Until recently I had only ever seen it linked to pictures of what looked like ordinary stews, and heard it murmured a few times in the presence of something exotic looking with at least 5 different spices, at least one unusual ingredient, and a stone/earthenware dish that looks like this:
I did a little research after I saw a recipe for a Chicken Tagine in a recently acquired cookbook (Laura Calder, French Taste). In a nutshell, a Tagine really is just an ordinary stew originating in North Africa, named after the heavy clay pot it is served and cooked in. The top is cone/dome shaped to encourage all the condensation to return to the base of the dish (can you say moist meat?).  You certainly don't need the fancy dish to make the recipe taste authentic - a regular pot will do.
There are a few spices involved, but nothing you can't find in your usual grocery store. In the recipe I'm going to give you, they do call for preserved lemons (EASY to make, but take a couple weeks to preserve), which you could probably find with some searching.

I didn't actually cook this time - I was trying to fit too many things into one evening so Dave made it. I have to say he did a great job, but also tell you (without offending him!) that it is a super easy recipe so there's no need to be scared by how exotic it sounds. It was also DELICIOUS - I was very surprised. I don't usually pick a recipe unless I think it's going to be good, but sometimes it really comes out better than what I imagine. I may be choosing a recipe for the minorities - I know Olives are a touchy subject, but I love them and they really make this dish great.

Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons
Serves 4
4 chicken legs, split at the joint and skinned (or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in large cubes)
salt and pepper
2 onions, grated or sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
Skins of 2 preserved lemons, chopped (remember to rinse the lemons first, or you will die of salt!)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 pinches saffron (it's not a big deal if you don't have any)
Pinch turmeric (I used curry powder)
1 cup green olives, with or without pits
A generous handful or two of chopped cilantro

Put everything except the olives and cilantro in a pot, add a couple glasses of water, cover, and summer until the chicken is done, about 40 minutes. Remove the lid if there is too much liquid so some can evaporate (The dish should be quite liquid, but it's not as thick as a stew). At the end of cooking, add the olives and cilantro. Serve over couscous or quinoa.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Eat it Up - the Secret Garden Tea Co.

The Secret Garden Tea Co. is located in Kerrisdale in Vancouver. I discovered it one evening when I was babysitting for my cousin, and she had the most amazing Creamy Earl Grey tea in her cupboard. The only other thing the label said was "Secret Garden Tea Co". It was the most elegant thing, A white bag full of loose leaf tea with a simple, soft green circle on the front with those words inside. I was instantly transfixed. When I got home I did a search for this Tea shop and discovered that not only do they have large selection of unique and fantastic teas, they also do High Tea. And breakfast. And catering. And demi-high tea. And lunch. 

When I say High Tea, I'm not talking about cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and egg salad. I'm talking fancy. It's everything you would want in a tea party while you're wearing your best dress, and maybe some lacy gloves and fabulous hat. The High Tea menu changes every month, with only the favorites sticking around long-term. You need a reservation for High Tea, but everything else you can walk in. Though I would suggest avoiding the High Tea hours, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm. I've been turned away before! (Luckily there's a cute pub a couple doors down that is also delicious).

I told myself I wouldn't be long-winded with this post, because I think the pictures will speak for themselves. My last comment is this, Don't be afraid of the prices! I promise, it's well worth it if you want a genuine High Tea experience! Without further ado, please go here, and Eat it Up.

Dave is boring and always gets Irish Breakfast Tea, I got Blue Angel (Rose, Hibiscus, Caramel, and Apple)

The one with the green and purple was an apple cake, the green was apple flavoured icing, and the purple thing was a real slice of Granny Smith apple, folded into a heart!

Cranberry Scones and Devonshire Cream

It's hard to take your time

BBQ Pulled Chicken croissant with basil

This is my new favourite: Lemon Rosemary biscuit with Ratatouille, Black Olive Tapenade, and Goat Cheese filling

Is there anything better?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A pizza revolution!

Sausage, Spinach, Basil, and Gruyere Cheese
I am a regular subscriber to Martha Stewart Living magazine, and sometimes I am just blown away by all the new ideas they come up with. I mean other than your ingredients, who knew that pizza could actually STILL be improved upon? (In the March issue)
Before I continue my ravings, I should tell you what kind of pizza person I am (what? there are many different styles of pizza!). I like a crispy-bottomed crust, but I don't want to eat a cracker. I want my crust just thick enough to provide a bit of chew. I like classic, fairly minimalist toppings like actual tomatoes as the sauce, basil, sausage, peppers, and only enough cheese to hold the toppings together. I don't know what kind of pizza you like, but if you're adventurous - and I know you are - you should probably give this a try!

I won't tell you what kinds of toppings to use or how much - by now you should know what you like on your pizza!

1) Oven on to 500'F. In a well-oiled cast iron skillet, press your pizza dough (store bought or your favorite recipe) into the skillet, coming up ever so slightly on the sides. Spread with sauce. I crushed whole canned tomatoes and mixed them with fresh garlic and a tablespoon of tomato paste. If you do it that way, spread all the watery/juicy bits right to the very edge of the crust. It adds flavor to the spots that may not get toppings.
2) On the stovetop, cook the crust on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom starts to get golden. Then pop it in the oven for another 3 minutes.
3) Take it out and top it with whatever you like - cheese and all. Then put it back in the oven for exactly 8 minutes. I did mine this way and it came out perfectly cooked and delicious.

Please be careful! The whole cast iron skillet is going to be extremely hot, and so will your pizza! It's probably a good idea to let the pizza rest on the cutting board for a couple minutes, to soak in the juices and cool down a teense.
Cooking on the stovetop

Topped, before popping in the oven

Fresh Basil scattered on top after cooking - mmmmmmmm!!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Eat it Up - Herbies Drive-In

 With my limited budget I hope to visit enough interesting restaurants, cafes, diners, and drive-ins that I can make Eat it Up a fairly regular addition to my blog. Eating good food is fun, but so is talking about it!

First up is a drive-in very close to my heart. I have only eaten here 3 or 4 times, but this place still has strong emotions and memories attached to it. Up until a few years, my family took an annual summer camping trip to Salmon Arm. It had been a tradition since before I was a baby - my Dad's family started going when he was a teenager. Part of their trip often included a stop at Herbies Drive-in, in Cache Creek. Home of the Legendary Monster Burger, and the beckoning "HUNGRY?" sign.

When my siblings and I found out about this place, we of course begged to go, and from that first meal there we fell in love with the history and the food. Unfortunately we started our tradition only a few years before we stopped going on the camping trip. It's my goal to go there as many summers as possible anyway, and introduce the tradition to my kids one day.

Old-school diner style on the inside.
Oh Poutine.
My favorite thing to get is the Poutine, and my husband loves their soft-serve cones. Fun Fact: Most soft serve is made with milk but Herbies makes theirs with cream, making it the most delicious thing you've ever had. You can also get it dipped in Chocolate or Strawberry sauce. Yum! A trip wouldn't be complete, of course, without the Monster Burger. Two big fat patties on a soft bun served with the classic burger toppings. What more could you want in a drive-in? Go here, and eat it up.
Chocolate dipped, creamy soft serve

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Because you have to do a Valentine's post

I was feeling a little bit left out this morning as I was catching up on my favorite blogs - almost everyone had some kind of Valentine's post. I've never been a big Valentine's celebrator (something about all the pink, and the fact that there's no real occasion... you should love people everyday), so I hadn't exactly planned ahead on this one. Luckily, my Facebook page is filled with photos of food, so its always easy to pull something together!

I made these cupcakes last year, for a my Grandpa's birthday, which happens to fall close to Valentine's Day. I'm also not big on cupcakes either, so this is a pretty rare post!

Nevertheless, they looked gorgeous, and they were rather delicious. The batter was just a regular white cupcake recipe with smashed up frozen raspberries added. The icing was also simple, a standard icing sugar frosting - but for the liquid I used the juice of the raspberries! That added color and flavor. The chocolate hearts on top are the real reason for this post, though. They look so amazing, and they really are easy! Observe:

Melt Chocolate (use your discretion as to how much you need.... no one ever complained about leftover chocolate!) in the microwave, going about 15 seconds at a time and stirring. Stop when there are just a few chunks of chocolate left, and stir until it's all melted. You CAN actually burn chocolate in the microwave.
Fill a piping bag or a plastic bag with the chocolate. (Snip off a very small tip if using a plastic bag)
On a baking sheet lined with wax paper pipe a heart shape (the chocolate may come out very fast) and fill in the center with random swirls and lines. Make sure most of them connect to the outline of the heart.
Pop the tray in the freezer for about 15 minutes. The hearts will come off very easily, and you can stand them up or lay them on your cupcakes!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Brining a Turkey - do not be afraid!

Brining your poultry (and sometimes your pork) may seem like an old-fashioned, unnecessary waste of time, but this is the kind of thinking that leads to dry, flavorless Thanksgiving dinners! When it comes to cooking, a lot of the old "tricks" your grandparents used are still very true and useful. There is truly nothing difficult about brining your bird - it only requires you to be thinking ahead (though if you have frozen birds, I hope you're doing that anyway! A Thanksgiving size turkey usually takes almost 4 days to thaw in the fridge!).

All you need is kosher salt, sugar, and water!
If you're new to roasting chickens and turkeys, or even if you've done it a few times but don't quite consider yourself to have mastered it yet, try this brine recipe! I promise you'll notice a difference! ALL the meat will be so tender and juicy, and so well seasoned! Unfortunately I cannot yet describe the science behind it, but trust me - it works, and it's delicious! I'd like to share my favorite brine and Thanksgiving Turkey recipe with you, and I encourage you to try it soon! Nothing makes my husband happier than a Turkey dinner well after Christmas is over!

For a 14 lb Turkey:
1. In a large bowl, dissolve 1 cup of Kosher salt (or 1/2 cup Table), and 1/2 cup of sugar in 1 gallon of lukewarm water.2. Put your Turkey in a small garbage bag  (or in double-bagged roasting bags) and rest it in a large bowl or pot. Slowly pour the brine all over the Turkey and try to get it as submerged as possible.
3. Let it sit in the fridge for 6-12 hours (preferably overnight).
4. If possible, take your Turkey out of the fridge 2 hours before roasting to let it come to room temperature. When you take it out of the fridge, rinse it very well in cold water. This is very important!

I should probably mention that no matter how well you follow these directions, if you overcook your Turkey it will still be dry and, well, overcooked. If you're unsure, check the temperature frequently near the end of the estimated roasting time. It should be between 160-170 degrees. Any higher than that and the white meat will get dry.

People were getting antsy to eat this thing, so I apologize for the terrible quality of the picture, but look how crisp and golden!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Homemade Cheese!

I was recently given the chance to dabble in a little cheese-making. For Christmas I was given a beautiful homemade cheese press by my soon-to-be brother-in-law. He and his bride-to-be (my husbands sister) have one of those cow-share dealios, where they have access to raw milk (or "body lotion" as it is marketed as) every week. Part of the gift was 1 week of their milk supply and the use of their cheese-making equipment and book. I made a Raw Milk Tomme... just a basic hard cheese in salt-brine rind. 

Heating the milk
I write this post certainly not to provide you with detailed instructions, and I won't tell you to get a share in a cow (unless you really want to, it's expensive!), but to encourage you to give it a try sometime! There are plenty of recipes available that use the whole milk you can find in grocery stores, and I recently discovered an Organic Market near my house that sells Goat Milk! So the stuff is out there, and while some recipes may take a lot of time and attention (this one was almost a good week of doing a small step everyday, plus it's now aging for 5 months!) they aren't difficult, and it will be really cool to say to your friends "Try this cheese that I made and aged myself!"

Enjoy the pictures :)
Curds have formed!
Draining the whey off of the curds

Pressing all the moisture out of the cheese in a makeshift mold

After pressing, pre-aging!