Thursday, October 16, 2014

More Fun With Crab Apples

As it turns out, we have a very prolific crab apple tree in our front yard.  It has approximately one bazillion crab apples on it.  That creates a challenging situation for folks like us who are busy with other homesteady things, but who hate to see any produce go to waste.  So we did the only thing we could think of: we made a plan to use all bazillion crab apples.  Most of them are still out on the tree, but at least we've got a plan.  Plus, we've already filled the fridge with sauce and juice, and Katie says we have to clear that out before we pick any more.

We've laid out our plan below, in case anyone else reading this is in a similar situation and just needs a creative nudge.  Hopefully we'll be able to report back over the next several weeks about successful experiments, so stay tuned!

The source.  Loaded and really hard to mow under.

The first five gallons worth.  This didn't even get one branch out of the way for mowing.  Yikes!  It turns out they're just like regular apples, except crabbier.

The sauce-making apparatus (aka, berry grinder), in case the strange-looking device in the next graphic is hard to decipher.

...And here she is: the master plan.  Twelve ideas for what to do with all those crab apples.  We posted about jam, pie filling, and liquid pectin earlier, but we're now revisiting some of those recipes with a 100% crab apple version.  Also, preliminary tests suggest chickens like crab apples at any state of processing--from completely raw all the way to the screened-out leftovers.

What do you do with your crab apples?  Let us know in the comments below!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stuffed French Toast Strata

A question: what is the best part of coming home to one's parents' house after being away for a while? An answer: mom's cooking!  Another question: what is an extra special treat during such visits, even among mom's cooking? Another answer: stuffed french toast! 

Stuffed french toast is pretty easy to make, just like regular french toast.  We've normally had it with french bread sliced double-thick and sliced halfway through in the middle of each double-thick slice (see here for an example)--but it works with regular bread, too, and we've even made the sausage-and-swiss style from the link above as just a french toast-grilled-cheese sandwich.  But then we thought, "wouldn't it also be great in a strata?" And we're happy to report that it is, indeed, great in a strata.

Start by browning up some ground meat to make some breakfast sausage.  For 1 lb ground venison, we seasoned it with about a half-teaspoon each of salt, and pepper, and one teaspoon each of garlic powder, caraway seeds, and ground sage.

When the meat is cooked through and tastes like the type of breakfast sausage you want, make layers like the picture shows, in a 9 x 13" pan.  A couple of differences between this strata and our other recipes: this one doesn't have vegetables in it, so you'll have to get them in a side dish.  (Don't skip them!  Remember, this is mom's meal plan we're emulating.)  Or maybe make an omelet to go with it or something.  Also, we're not normally picky about what kind of cheese we use in the strata, but this one's gotta have Swiss cheese.

Add a second set of bread-meat-cheese layers, then pour a mixture of six eggs, three cups milk, and one teaspoon each of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning (beaten together) over it.  The seasonings in the egg mixture could also be more traditional french toast spices, like vanilla and cinnamon, but we decided to match the sausage flavor instead.  Doesn't matter, we'll still eat it with syrup like Buddy the Elf.

Set it in the fridge to chill out for a while.

Then bake at 350 °F for 50-55 min until it looks something like this.

Look at those layers! Time for the syrup! Good stuff, Maynard.  House rules: when an entree is topped with real maple syrup, the plate must be licked clean.  No exceptions!

What do you stuff your french toast with?  Let us know in the comments section below!

The recipe:
~1 lb ground venison
 0.5 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, caraway seed, and ground sage

10 slices of bread (at least)
1 lb shredded Swiss cheese

6 eggs
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon each of garlic powder, and Italian seasoning, salt and pepper

Brown the ground venison in a frying pan over medium heat, seasoning with garlic powder, caraway, sage, salt and pepper to taste (suggestions above).  The amount of ground meat can be adjusted, too--1 lb gives a two scant layers in the strata, two lbs. makes a very meaty strata.  Layer the bread, browned meat, and cheese in a 9" x 13" pan, starting with bread and ending with cheese, aiming for two layers each. Beat together eggs, milk, and remaining seasonings. Pour over layers and set in fridge for several hours or overnight. Bake at 350 °F for 50-55 min. Allow to cool and smother with real maple syrup.  Remember to lick the plate afterward.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chicken Coop Feng Shui

At our homestead, we have three places for chickens to hang out, depending on the circumstances.  We have the row cover chicken tractor, which fits neatly over our garden beds, but doesn't have enough predator proofing to keep the chooks safe overnight.  Then we have the A-frame chicken tractor, which is pretty predator proof, but doesn't have much room for nest boxes (which we need now that they've started laying).  Lastly, we have part of a shed that shares a wall with the garage.  It doesn't give the chickens free access to the grass (yet), but it gives them the most space to move around, the best predator protection, and, we'll admit it, it's easiest on us.  (We still herd them out to the yard every time we have a few hours.)

A couple weeks ago, our Easter Egger caught us off-guard by starting to lay at 19 weeks old, followed shortly by the Rhode Island Red.  How did they know what to do?  We didn't even have our nesting boxes ready!  We clearly had to get the boxes built ASAP, and we took the opportunity to rearrange the shed coop and get the positive energy flowing more smoothly.

This is what the coop looks like from the outside, after rearranging.  We don't have a picture from before we reorganized it because it's probably bad karma to publish such things.

On the innermost corner, we built a platform, supported between two studs and on some pruned buckthorn trunks.

Then we built a nest box or three to go on the platform out of old fence wood...

...set it on the platform, and filled it with some of the straw-like tall grass from the yard.  This setup must be ok, the first egg was laid in it 20 minutes after the chickens first saw it.

Then we added a roost above the nest boxes.  As it's shown in the picture, the poles are too close together.  We're going to fix that soon.  But it's better than the 2 x 4s we had hanging from the ceiling before this renovation!  We also built a 'droppings box' out of an old 1 x 12 and some fence pickets, which helps keep the top of the nest boxes clean (shown in picture below).

The chickens can all fly up to the platform, but we have a pallet ladder to make it easier for them.  Some of them also seem to like the challenge of climbing the ladder and shuffling across the other stick to get to the platform.  We haven't heard them cluck the Mission: Impossible theme yet, but they're getting there.  Also notice the chicken feeder full of grit hanging underneath the platform, and the oyster shell dispenser behind that.  How 'bout that use of vertical space?

Good job, ladies.  Mission accomplished.

How do you make the best use of your coop space?  Let us know in the comments section below!