Flea Market Finds

I hope you all enjoyed Memorial Day Weekend and flew the American flag as I did! We’ve been enjoying incredibly warm (record-breaking!) weather for southeastern Michigan. Farmers are already harvesting first cutting hay!

On the home front, we planted most of our veggie garden ~~~  just in time for Monday’s rain showers. But, I also discovered I ran out of seeds for my green beans. EEK! I had a taste of my farmgirl friend Teemie’s (of Teemie’s Country Blooms) pickled green beans. Let me tell you ~~~ lip smack’n YUM! I hope she’ll share the recipe? So, I’ll need to do a double-check on my seed inventory (I usually do sequential plantings) and make a quick trip to the store – before the veggie seed inventory is depleted!!

I did manage to sneak a quick trip to our local Armada Flea Market this past Sunday. It’s difficult to get away with A.M. milking chores & bottle feeding babies. If you can’t arrive at the flea market by 7:30 A.M. – FORGET IT! The crowds and PARKING are intolerable…for me anyway! 

 

I managed to make several purchases for a total $5 investment including a new cook book “Patricia Wells at Home in Provence” which explores French countryside cuisine. I can’t wait to try some of the recipes!!! YUM again! I also found a silver plated candle stick ~ that I’ll use for a ‘sheepy’ make-do pinkeep perhaps? The last item is a ‘poker’ or prodding tool with a wonderful wood engraved handle ~ something handy for my craft room? 

I also made my first batch of Chevre goat cheese since the girl’s freshening this Spring. I used fresh herbs from the garden to season the cheese to produce a little variety…a ‘gift’ to my daughter’s math teacher at the Academy. Apparently she has fond memories of eating fresh goat milk cheese made by her grandparents from the old country. I wonder if this will earn Katie extra credit?  LOL 

I also made a batch of Feta yesterday to accompany the basil pesto linguine and garlic toast for dinner. This is one of Katie’s favorite meals! Another YUM! I’m inspired to write a quickie how-to goatie cheese making and recipe booklet! Hmmm…perhaps I’ll start with drafting an outline? 

Happy week everyone!

A Special Valentine’s Dessert

Matt was home for the weekend…I know this because I did 5 loads of his laundry. lol

Since he was home, and we were all together, we decided to pull-ahead our special St. Valentine’s dinner. Every year since my kids were toddlers, we have prepared a fun Valentine’s dinner. Everything heart-shaped, pink or red, little tokens of affection ~ just silly things, but my grown kids still enjoy this family tradition and have come to expect it.

Meatloaf is comfort food at my table so,

…heart-shaped meatloaf along with ‘pink’ mashed potatoes, heart-shaped sliced beats (which Katie cut-out with a mini cookie cutter), heart-shaped biscuits, pink/red beverage of choice, etc. I’m sure you can think of a few of your family’s favorites and start your own little St. Valentine’s tradition? I even pulled out some of the hand-made Valentine place-mats the kids made years ago. I know, I’m such a sentimental slob!

But, for dessert, we tried something new ~ Coeur a la Creme.

I found the recipe for Coeur a la Creme (which translates to ‘Heart of the Cream’ in French) on Ricki’s Cheesemaking website. Basically it’s Fromage Blanc cheese with a little sugar and egg whites folded into the cheese. You can also buy the heart-shaped cheese molds on her site, but I think you can use any heart-shaped (economical) mold. It’s important to line the ‘mold’ with cheese cloth to easily remove the cheese dessert from the mold! Katie spooned some of our garden strawberry preserves as topping, but you could also use sliced fresh strawberries (or any fav fruit) or chocolate drizzled on top.  Here’s the recipe: 1 cup Fromage Blanc, 1 T granulated sugar, 1 T heavy cream, 2 egg whites, beaten until stiff. Combine the cheese, sugar and cream. Fold in the egg whites. Spoon into your (butter muslin/cheese cloth) lined mold. Let set for 6-10 hours in the refrigerator. Gently pull up the butter muslin to remove the heart from the mold. Serve with fresh fruit, syrup or melted chocolate! YUM!

Winter has arrived!

Brrr…baby it’s cold outside with temp’s in the teens and sub-zero if you factor in the howling wind!

Here in southeastern Michigan, we’ve been enjoying a somewhat extended fall with only an occassional dip in daytime temps. That was last week; more recently we’ve had some snow flurries on & off, freezing rain, high winds, certainly hinting of more winter-like weather on the way, or shall I say, here to stay? I guess you could say that this recent cold snap ~ pre-curser to winter: let’s not push it since winter doesn’t officially arrive for a couple of weeks ~ took me by surprise these past few days! 

Last weekend we worked with a purpose to catch-up on winterizing-type chores like draining the house water spigots, put away the last of garden hoses, swap out water troughs for smaller buckets, added wood shavings to the dogs’ house, move the remaining ‘tender’ plants from the un-heated greenhouse to the house…and so on. Wouldn’t ya know our barn yard hydrant decides to ‘act’ up and seemingly requires some repair/replacement parts and of course we’ll wait until the sub-zero temp arrives before we can finish that little job!!!! I don’t think I would survive as a pioneer woman. I like my modern conveniences like running water and electricity!!! Oh well.

Since the temps have plunged and worried about freezing, I decided to make several batches of applesauce from the apples I had stored in the garage. I simply washed and quartered the apples – peels and all –  into a large dutch oven with about a cup of water, sugar to taste and a couple of crushed cinnamon sticks. Bring to a slow simmer and cook ’til soft. I allowed the cooked apples to cool and put it all through the food mill. YUM. The apple peels & pulp was a nice treat for the chickens. I probably put about 3/4 of it in the freezer for later…

The latest project we’ve embarked upon – is the systematic dismantling of our kids’ (the two-legged variety) play fort and re-construction/re-purposing the usable lumber into a kids’ (the four-legged variety) play fort. If you know anything about goats…it’s that they love to climb. The previous owner/breeder of my Pygora, Brutus, had a sweet two-story goat house that seemed both entertaining and practical. My friend who owns one of our wethers, Jet, also constructed a ramp and shelf-type ledge in the barn for Jet to keep watch over his sheepy stall-mates. We ‘borrowed’ a little from both of these ideas to come up with our own design for a two-story goat house of our own…with a platform or deck instead of stairs leading to the second level ‘dog-house’…er, goat house, that is. There’s always a need for a little bit more housing to shelter another critter!

Here’s what’s left of ‘his’ and ‘her’ fort which was connected by a tower  and swinging bridges (first to go and no longer visible) between them. It was the stage for many family summer get-together water-balloon fights and wonderful memories! In truth, I’m glad to be taking them down. Visitors to my shop allow their kids to ‘wander’ the farm…and they soon discover the play fort. OMG, what if someone fell off and hurt themselves… ?

I’ll post some pics of the goat fort as soon as we finish – we seem to have many detours along the way, in spite of our plan and best intentions. HA HA

Talk about planning…like, Scherehazade, our Alpine doe, having been bred November 1, to kid in April. Hmmmm, apparently she came back into heat today????? So, drop everything, Katie skip school (at least 1st hour), load Scherehazade into the back of the Explorer (hubby has the truck) and off down the road we go. Just hope she doesn’t pee in the back of the truck! Thank goodness our friend’s buck is only 30-minutes away! We’re on a Nelly ‘watch’ next week TOO. This breeding stuff, predicting their heat cycle, is not an exact science, ya know! But, Rox, she’s ALWAYS wagging her tail…she’s sooooo happy to see me!!! lol

Earlier this week I also made – first time – fromage blanc, which is French in origin and means “white cheese”.  The word fromage is derived from the Greek word ‘formos’ which is a type of wicker basket used by the Greeks to drain whey from the cheese solids. Fromage blanc is easy to make – very similar to chevre (which is French for goat), but made with cow’s milk. It’s a soft cheese made with a mesophilic (low temp) starter/culture, similar to cream cheese and may be mixed with herbs or used plain as a substitute for cream cheese or ricotta in a recipe. Also similar to chevre, the cultured milk is allowed to ripen for about 12 hours and then drained anywhere from 6 – 12 hours depending on the desired consistency. 

I’m fortunate to live just down the road from Crooked Creek Dairy, a family operated Grade A Dairy. I thought it would be nice to make a fresh cheese to bring to our spinning guild’s monthly meeting/XMas Party. We had delicious soup, lamb stew (most of us own fiber animals), sloppy jo, all sorts of sweets and confections…and my home-made cheese. I made both a sweet (mixed with apricot preserves and blanched almond slices) and savory cheese with the fromage blanc. YUM! The savory (a blend of herbs, fresh green onion and garlic) was voted as everyone’s favorite. While I prefer to use my own fresh goat’s milk, it’s nice to know (during my goats’ winter down-time) that I have a local dairy right down the road and by purchasing their farm-fresh milk I’m supporting local farm lifestyle and Ag business while pursuing my cheesemaking adventures! Got Milk?

Happy weekend!

A Recipe for Parsley…

tabouli

Do you recall all the parsley in my garden in a previous post (it’s actually about half of the parsley in my garden)? Well, if you have lots of fresh parsley, here’s a recipe that perhaps you’d like to try… TABOULI. First, a few facts about parsley. Parsley is a biennial – that means it comes back the second year and produces seed. But, I generally treat parsley as an annual and plant it every year. It’s not as prolific the second year because most if its energy is spent on producing seeds, not the leafy greens we’re after. If you’re a seed-saver, plant a fresh batch and save the seeds from the second year.

Now, I prefer Italian plain leaf parsley versus French or curly leaf parsley and most cooks will tell you the flat leaf variety has more flavor. While most folks consider it a garnish, it’s actually very nutritious, a rich source of iron and vitamins A and C. It’s also a natural breath sweetener! The goats, bunnies and chickens love any harvest surplus!!

Tabouli is a healthful Mediterranean dish traditionally prepared with cracked wheat (bulghur), parsley, mint, garlic, tomatoes, green onions, olive oil and lemon. I’ve substituted lentils for the bulghur and added a chopped cucumber. It’s great chilled or served at room temp, by itself or in a pita!

Prepare 16 oz lentils (or 2 cups bulghur) according to package. Drain any extra water and set aside. Chop 1 cucumber, 2 small tomatoes, 1 bunch green onions, 1/2 cup fresh chopped mint, 2 cups fresh chopped parsley and 1 – 2 cloves minced garlic (to taste).  Make the dressing: 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, 3/4 cup olive oil, salt to taste, 1 tablespoon pepper. Mix all ingredients. Makes about 8 cups.

For dessert, how about GOAT CHEESE TRUFFLES?

goat cheese truffle

Ingredients: 8 ounces high quality Chevre goat cheese (preferably your own), 10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, 2 teaspoons vanilla, cocoa powder. Method: Melt the chocolate chips and cool slightly. Cream the goat cheese and vanilla; add the cooled chocolate and continue to cream. When well creamed, use a melon ball to measure out the truffles. Place on a wax papered cookie sheet and place in refrigerator. When firm enough to handle, roll into balls and roll in cocoa powder. Refrigerate. Your friends won’t believe it’s goat cheese. HINT: The truffles freeze well – perfect for midnight snacking…straight from the freezer!  Enjoy!

Recipe courtesy Goat Lady Dairy

A Working Weekend

Matt was home over an extended 4-day weekend (mid-terms) so I spent lots of time rattling the pots and pans in the kitchen preparing his ‘favorites’. Used up the last of my goat’s milk cheese with baked manicotti…YUM! I made meatloaf –  it’s always a family fav – for another supper, and last, stuffed green peppers with a basil/tomato sauce with pick’ns from the garden just before the hard frost.

For dessert, I had to bake an apple strudel…but not the type you’re probably most familiar with…light airy filo-type crust? This ‘apfel’ strudel is my mom’s recipe from the ‘old country’, Nieder Osterreich (Northern Austria) from a little farming village called Rastenfeld where my mom was born and raised. It’s a simple-folk farmer’s hearty-type dough, made with flour, sugar, butter, sour cream, milk and egg yolks. It rolls out easily and is then filled with fresh sliced apples, sprinkled with sugar and dotted with butter (I toss in a few raisins and a little cinnamon). Another BIG Y-U-M!

  apfel_strudel

Here’s the recipe, made the old-fashioned way – BY HAND. NOTE: MAKES TWO APFEL STRUDELS: In a large bowl, add 4 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup sugar, pinch salt. Stir with whisk. Now, make a hole in the center of the flour and add: cut in 2 sticks butter, 4 tablespoons sour cream, 4  tablespoons milk, 4 egg yolks (reserve the whites to brush on top of the strudel if desired). Now comes the fun part! Push up your sleeves and with your hands, begin to pull in flour from sides and incorporate into the ‘wet’ ingredients. Once you have formed a ball of dough – of sorts – turn out onto a floured dough board and work gently adding a bit more flour if needed until ingredients are all incorporated and smooth. Put finished dough aside under the bowl while you prepare your apples. Peel, core ‘n slice 7-8 large apples (I use Northern Spy but any good baking apple will do. Now, back to the dough…cut the dough in half (makes 2). Roll out half the dough to fit lengthwise on a parchment paper lined 11 X 17 baking sheet, approx 1/4 inch thick. Arrange sliced apples down the center of dough. sprinkle on sugar to taste, add cinnamon & raisens if desired, and dot with a few bits of butter. Gently fold over dough to center and pinch ‘n tuck ends closed. Brush on egg whites and sprinkle with sugar if desired – OR – when baked, just dust strudel with powder sugar. Repeat process with second half of remaining dough (for second strudel). Transfer from wood board to baking sheet, next to first strudel (see pic). Bake at preheated 350 degrees F until golden brown, juices should be flowing, approx 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy!  

Since I had man-power available, we managed to perform necessary flock management, worming, feet trimming, etc. getting everyone prepared for the winter and breeding(?). I also managed to skirt, wash and pick Reeces’ fleece, my ewe lamb – whom I sheared this past September. I was hoping beyond hope for a nice warm day to perform this ‘chore’ when it turned so unseasonably cold! Nevertheless, I accomplished the task in two days…well, I had to let the fleece dry overnight in my drying barn before I could ‘pick- it’. That’s kind of like teasing the wool apart – in preparation for spinning. But first…

drying fleece

Before I could USE the drying barn (I forgot to mention sequencing) – remember ALL that lavender drying all over screens and racks in the drying barn??? Well, it took me two days, but I finally ‘garbled’ (that is, removed all the leaves/buds from the stems) every bit of lavender I had harvested this past summer and temporarily stockpiled in the barn. YEAH – well done! Smells heavenly. I saved some of the longer lavender stems to bundle and use as scented ‘faggots’ for the fireplace.

And, I also made another batch of goat milk soap – this time I used peppermint and rosemary essential oils and some of my farm-raised organic peppermint for color. TIP: I use a ‘dedicated’ electric coffee grinder for grinding herbs and other botanicals for creating various herbal sundries. I always look forward to soapmaking day – the kitchen is usually filled with wonderful scents. After the soap is allowed to “set” for approx. 24 hours, I remove the soap (in this particular batch, a 10 pound loaf) from the mold. TIP: Use freezer paper to line your mold for easy release. I immediately cut the soap ‘loaf’ into individual bars. TIP: A non-serrated knife/blade makes a clean cut and/or a cheese-cutter (straight or curly/fancy blade cuts the soap nicely. Sometimes you can find them at the dollar store. I usually get anywhere from 24 – 30 bars depending how I cut the loaf. TIP: A small old wood drawer makes a nice soap mold! The bars of soap are placed on wire racks where they’re allowed to cure/harden for another 3-4 weeks before the soap is used/sold.

cutting_mint_soap

Last, but not least, hubby also mulched our veggie garden compost with his chipper/shredder that operates off the tractor PTO. We have a 3-stage compost system. One bin accumulates, one bin is in-process/cooking and one bin is the final ‘product’ …which is usually always empty because we put it right back into the garden beds in the Spring.  Since we already got hit hard with frost several times, I’ve been cleaning-up the garden beds and accumulating lots of garden debris. You increase the rate of decomposition by increasing the surface area…that is, chop up your veggie waste. Here’s the final product – it looks almost ready to place back into the garden – full of nutrients for next growing season!

compost

That’s flat leaf parsley in the foreground – normally lasts in the garden ’til Thanksgiving. I’ll pick lots and share with family. I’ll use some to make a parsley pesto and prefer to freeze the rest since ‘dried’ parsley begins to loose its flavor quickly. 

3-Stage Compost Bins
3-Stage Compost Bins

A busy, blessed weekend!

Chevre means “Goat”

Holly, my daughter's Alpine doe.
Holly, my daughter’s Alpine doe.

If you visit any country in the world, you’ll probably find cheese on the table! Through history, cheese appeared on the scene only after man domesticated animals. It’s not hard to imagine a biblical David with a bag of dried curds hanging from his belt as he delivered cheese and drink to his brothers in the field when he first encountered the giant Goliath!

If you enjoy raising fresh veggies for your table, baking bread or perhaps wine making, you’ll enjoy creating artisan cheese for family and friends – especially if you’re blessed with a few dairy goats!

In the process of cheese making, time, temperature, live cultures and patience becomes our teacher as we wait for the warm curds to form and set.  I consider myself a beginner cheese maker and I’ll share my adventures in this craft to hopefully provide a bit of confidence to YOU!  I will tell you that I’ve successfully made several soft cheeses (all from my goat’s milk) with minimal investment in cheese making equipment – chevre, ricotta and feta…and yogurt.

Today we’re making chevre. Chevre is the French word for “goat”.  It is a soft, creamy cheese made from fresh whole goat’s milk. It makes an excellent spread and may be used as a substitute for cream cheese or ricotta in cooking (but, you’ll want to make ricotta too because it’s also simple to make!). Chevre is also a versatile cheese since you may add many different herbs and spices to it to create so many different variations! TIP: Naturally occurring lipase enzymes in goat’s milk is what gives goat’s milk cheese it’s unique flavor.  

The first thing I noticed about my goat’s milk is that it is very white! Did you know: Goat’s milk contains no carotene, so it produces a whiter cheese. Goat’s milk is also naturally homogenized. Goat’s milk has smaller butterfat globules than cow’s milk – making it more easily digested. It also contains about the same butterfat content as cow’s milk.

A few words you should know: curds, whey, cultures, rennet. When we make cheese, the protein solids produce the curd. Every cheese starts with the same basic ingredients: milk, heat, bacteria/culture and rennet. Generally, pasteurized milk is warmed to a temp where ‘good’ bacteria thrive; rennet is added to help with curdling  the milk… that is, to acidify the milk. Over time, the curd forms from protein, fats & solids separating the watery liquid called ‘whey’  from the ‘curd’.  TIP: The whey may be used as a substitute for buttermilk in recipes and/or for the ‘liquid’ portion in bread making. You can also make cheese from whey, drink it, feed it to your livestock or enrich your compost pile.   

Before your begin your cheesemaking adventure, you’ll need some basic cooking equipment. I prefer stainless steel pots, lids and utensils, a good ‘dairy’ thermometer that’s easy to read (20 – 220 degrees F), a slotted spoon, curd knife, whisk, measuring spoons & cups, colander and cheesecloth.

 IMG_0212                                                                                            

If you have your own fresh goat’s milk, you’ll need to pasteurize it first. Place 1 gallon goat’s milk in a double boiler (put the milk in a  smaller pot and put it  inside a larger pot filled with water). TIP: Make sure all your equipment is absolutely clean. Hot simmering water works well, but if you use hot soapy water and a weak bleach solution to clean & rinse your cheese making equipment make sure there’s no soap/bleach residue! We don’t want to kill the ‘good’ bacteria!

How to pasteurize raw milk: Slowly heat the milk in a double boiler until it reaches 145 degrees F. Stir occasionally for even heating and don’t read the temp near the bottom of the pan. Hold the temp at 145 degrees F  for exactly 30 minutes. Remove the pot of milk from the pot of hot water and place it in the kitchen sink full of ice water. Stir the milk until the milk temp drops to 40 degrees F and refrigerate for future use.

For chevre cheese, we’ll drop the temp to 86 degrees F.  Add & mix in 1 packet direct-set chevre starter IMG_0223_2(purchased in a freeze-dried powdered form from any cheese making supplier). I’ve listed a couple resources in my fav list.  Stir gently in an up-and-down motion.  Cover the pot with a lid and wrap it with a towel. I place the pot on top of the refrigerator where it’s nice and warm. Allow the milk to sit undisturbed for 12 hours – for ripening. 

 

IMG_0207After 12 hours, the curd has formed and appears yogurt-like. The liquid portion surrounding the curd is the whey.  

 

 

 

 

IMG_0209Using a slotted spoon, gently ladle the curd into a butter muslin or cheesecloth-lined colander. The whey will run off through the muslin into the container below while the curd remains in the muslin to dry. Gather the four corners of the muslin and hang the cheese to ‘dry’ for 6 – 12 hours  until desired consistency. Here you see the ladeling process. TIP: You may also use cheese molds for this purpose.

IMG_0211_2The pic gives you a ‘primitive’  idea on how I place a wooden utensil through a knot in my butter cloth and suspend it between my kitchen cupboard knobs to drain!  But, you get the idea…lol 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0219_2Finally, you may unwrap or un-mold the cheese, add a little salt if you wish to bring out the flavor, along with fresh-picked (or dried) herbs, garlic, spices, etc.  HINT: A bit of flake salt is usually added to soft and hard cheese. Salt’s alkaline base slows down and/or halts the acidification (souring) or fermentation process; it removes excess ‘tang’ and adds a little creaminess. It also acts as a preservative. Cheese salt is a coarse, non-iodized flake salt. Diamond Crystal kosher salt is a good substitute.   NOTE: One gallon milk produces about 1 -1/2 pounds of chevre and may be stored for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  YUM…enjoy!