28 February 2012

Taste test

When I looked at this huge pile of citrus skins to shred on Sunday night I felt like Cinderella or some other of those put-upon fairytale characters who are given impossible tasks to do.

But eventually I managed to turn every single orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit shell into shreds for the marmalade. I didn't have time to do the boiling down afterwards, though, so I saved that job until yesterday afternoon, when I was slightly more awake. Somehow I don't think being in charge of boiling pans of syrup is a good idea when you're dog-tired!

My reward at breakfast-time this morning was to test the new four-citrus marmalade alongside last year's Seville orange variety, to see whether it came up to standard. The toast on top has the 2011 batch, the one underneath is the new variety, which came out a few shades lighter than the old one. The taste is different, as you'd expect, but still pleasantly tart and definitely something I will enjoy eating for the rest of the year.

26 February 2012

Missed the boat...

...the one carrying Seville oranges, that is. Somehow it's already the end of February and there isn't a Seville orange to be had. This year my marmalade will have to be made from something different. Here are some of the starting ingredients:

I'm going to use the same method as the Seville orange marmalade I've been making since 2009, but this time there are regular oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit in the mix. They're simmering away on the stove right now in the first stage of the process, filling the house with the smell of citrus. I'll let you know how it turns out...

21 February 2012

Cabbage-stuffed pancakes

Tonight's supper was a Shrove Tuesday variation on the cabbage soup I talked about the other week. I chopped up about two-cupfuls of cabbage, fried it gently in butter for a few minutes and then poured in some canned tomatoes which had been blended to a purée. These were home-grown ones I canned last summer (using this technique), which had some thyme and oregano in with them, but a can of regular tomatoes would work fine, too. I added a cupful of red lentils, some salt, pepper and smoked paprika and let that all simmer away for 30 minutes until the lentils and cabbage were soft and most of the liquid had been absorbed or boiled off.

While that was happening, I cooked pancakes. For four people, I used two eggs, about 2.5 cups of flour and two pints of milk-and-water (I don't do a lot of measuring when it comes to pancakes...). This made eight pancakes, which got steadily smaller in size as I realised I was running out of batter! I stacked them on a plate with kitchen paper in between to stop them sticking together and to make the process of folding them up easier.

Then I made a roux sauce and stirred some grated cheese into it. This is what the cabbage and lentil mixture looked like when it was cooked:

I folded each pancake around a few spoonfuls of cabbage, then arranged them in a lasagne dish and poured on the cheese sauce, scattering some more grated cheese on top.

After about 20 minutes in a 350F/180C oven, here's what the finished dish looked like.

Warming, filling and satisfying food. Perfect for a February night.

13 February 2012

Two-day winter

Looks pretty wintry, doesn't it? It was cold and snowy over the weekend, with temperatures struggling to get above -8°C/17°F, but the cold spell didn't last long. It's above freezing again today and I don't think this snow is going to hang around. It's already gone from the road in front of our house.

The ice over the stream is usually deep and unbreakable by this time of year, but it's not very thick at all at the moment - certainly not strong enough to bear my weight:

Such a peculiar winter...

08 February 2012

Sky strokes

Had to stop on my way to Deseronto this morning to capture these lovely swirls of cloud in the sky over Lake Consecon:

And a bit closer up:

Just beautiful.

01 February 2012

Chickens, inside and out

We keep getting little tastes of winter, followed by warm spells. Yesterday there was an inch or two of snow on the ground in the morning, enough to keep the chickens indoors. It melted over the course of the day and by this morning the chickens were happy to scratch around in the soil of the orchard.

January was stressful in relation to the chickens, as they were being preyed upon by a nocturnal killer. We lost five hens over the course of ten days. Mike spent a lot of time hammering wire over any holes he could find in the chickens' corner of the barn. We think the killer was a stoat (or ermine, as they are known in their white winter coats), as they just drink the blood of their victims, rather than eat their flesh. All the dead birds had damage to their throats but were otherwise unharmed.

Since the carcasses were basically sound, I decided that I should use some of the meat. It seemed a waste to just dispose of the bodies. The hens range in age from one to three years old; they weren't going to suitable for roasting and I therefore decided not to go the whole plucking-and-gutting route. Instead, I removed the skin from their fronts and legs and cut the meat out. I write that very casually, but I felt very nervous and sad about it. I don't look upon the chickens as pets but cutting them up for meat wasn't something I had been planning to do.

The first thing I noticed about the meat was the colour of the fat around the legs: a really bright yellow, not at all like the fat you see on the meat of the young chickens which are normally offered for sale. The leg meat was also much darker, although the breast meat looked much the same. I'd never cooked meat from such a (relatively) old bird, so I spent a little while researching the best way of doing that.

Long, slow, cooking seemed to be the Internet's answer, along with letting the meat mature for a few days in the fridge before using it. I just added water to the chicken legs and cooked them for eight hours on my oven's slow-cooking setting (around 225°F/108°C). Afterwards, I chilled the meat so that I could take the layer of fat off. The meat was very good to eat and the resulting stock was great but I would still much rather have had the chickens alive and well and producing eggs.

It has been ten days now since we last found a dead hen, so we're hoping that the ermine has been foiled in its chicken-hunting enterprises.