Monday, January 7, 2013

Duck Prosciutto

Yep. You heard me right. Duck prosciutto. I got Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn for Christmas. It's basically a cookbook for cured meats. If you're a fan of charcuterie and would like to try it yourself, I urge you to run, not walk, over to Ohio Farmgirl's website and buy it from Amazon through her store. Take a look at her blog while you're there. She's a talented, informative, and highly entertaining writer.

I am a prosciutto NUT. Try to take a slice of prosciutto from me, and you'll get a growl if you're lucky, a nasty bite if you're slow. I am also a huge fan of duck. And luckily enough, our ducks breed like rabbits. They hatched out over 50 this season.

To start the prosciutto, you'll need two duck breasts with the skin still on, kosher salt, ground white pepper, cheese cloth, and some kitchen string. I removed the tenderloin from the back of the breasts and gave it a quick sear. It tasted better than any steak I can remember. Make sure the breasts are dry. Find a container that will hold the breasts without them touching each other. I didn't have anything that fit very well, so I put each one in a separate glass pie pan. First, put a layer of kosher salt down in your container(s). You don't want the breasts touching the side of the container or each other. Put the breasts in meat side down. Make sure they're pushed down in the salt. Pour salt over top to cover. Make sure that they are completely covered. Wrap your container(s) in plastic wrap or foil and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Covered in salt

After the day in the fridge, remove the breasts from the salt. Rinse them. It's okay if you don't get every single grain of salt off. Pat the breasts dry. You can let them air dry on a rack for a while if they're not completely dry. Once dry, sprinkle both sides liberally with the pepper. I've read other recipes where people use different spices, or place spices in the salt. This is where you can use your creativity. I followed the recipe since this was my first time curing meat. Throw out the salt! Don't try to get frugal.

After a day in the salt

Wrap each breast in a single layer of cheesecloth. Secure the cheesecloth with the kitchen string, leaving a length at one end to hang them. Weigh each packet and write down the weight on a piece of paper you can attach to the packet.

Pretty little packages

Find someplace to hang them where the temperature stays between 50-60 degrees F. For me, it was in our pantry which is unheated. It stayed perfect. Generally, they'll need to hang about 7 days to be ready. It could be longer or shorter depending on the size of your breasts...well, the duck's breasts...and the humidity. To be honest, I missed the part about weighing, and let them hang for seven days but gave them a little squeeze(the duck breasts, not mine) every day to check progress. If you did remember to weigh them, you want them to lose 20-30% of their weight.

Once they're ready, remove them from their wrapping and inspect them. You just want to make sure there isn't any mold or anything funky. I've heard white mold is fine, just wipe it off with a vinegar and water solution. Other kinds of mold are not good and it's time to start over, with probably less humidity.

Prosciutto is best served in paper thin slices. I like to eat just prosciutto, but it's delicious with fruits, cheese, melon. You can saute it for sauces or to jazz up a dish. It makes all kinds of great hors d'oeuvres. It will last for months in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap. Honestly, I just don't know how much you would have to have to not eat it in a week.

It turned out amazing for me. I think it probably was ready on day six. The outer edge of the meat side, was a bit jerky like, but not too bad. It darkens as it ages. The inside stays softer and lighter. It is...well, just prosciutto. It has the smooth texture and wonderful flavor. The white pepper really sets off the flavor. So, run right out and get a duck and start curing meat. You won't be sorry. All I see outside is prosciutto walking around on webbed feet. I think the geese are getting nervous.

Here is a little video of Chad and me unveiling our prosciutto(sorry if I should've have worn something more formal than pajama pants). Let me know how it turns out for you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gone too long...

Hiya friends,
It hardly seems possible that it has been almost 5 months since my last blog. Surely, it was just day before yesterday when I said, "Oh, I'll write another one tomorrow...". Summer sure can keep you hopping on the farm. Now that the cool weather has moved in, I have just a tad more time to catch my breath. Let me try to recount our summer in a few paragraphs...

I guess I never blogged about one of the most momentous events so far on the farm. Shaasta, our mini-LaMancha goat gave birth to twin girls on March 9th, Tilly and Luna. They are just adorable. Tilly needed a little help to get out in the world and Luna came sliding right out, no problem. They're as tall as their mommy now.

We put in a HUGE garden this summer. When I say 'we', I guess I should say that I put in a reasonable sized garden and my step-dad thought it should be about 3 times the size I planned. Oh, and once he helped me get it planted, it was time for Ma and Pa to head back to Arkansas to take care of some things! I was a bit overwhelmed. Next, our tomatoes started showing signs of leaf spot. It's a nasty fungus that starts with round dark spots on your tomato leaves. The lower leaves start dying and the fungus progresses up the plant. Our tomato crop was pretty much a bust. I'll most likely plant them in raised beds or the greenhouse next year, as it takes 4 years for the fungus to die in the soil. We did get lots of beans from the garden.

That leads to the next adventure. I learned how to can. Boy, that is some hard work. I know it just seems like 'cooking', but it keeps you hopping. I spent several days canning. We put up pickled beets, pickled okra, tomatoes in sauce and wholes, chili sauce, and beans. If you haven't tried canning before, get a Ball Blue Book and a canning kit. It's a great feeling to put up your own food for the winter.

We had our first hogs butchered. Nigel was our Old Spot/Large Black cross and Mr. Humphries was our Old Spot feeder. We filled our freezer with pork goodness. We have been eating a lot or pork and not complaining. It is wonderful. The bacon is out of this world, and unfortunately, we are out of it :-(  We have three more hogs ready to go to the butcher in December. One is sold. We'll try to sell a second and keep one for ourselves. These are two Yorkshires and a Hampshire. Next time, we'll be back to Old Spots. We had a hard time finding a husband for our sow, Martha. He came all the way from Georgia. Luckily, we were able to meet his previous owners in Kentucky. She's very excited to be betrothed. She just wishes um, he would get taller, quicker...
We finally got our hoophouse finished in time for fall. A hoophouse is an unheated greenhouse. We'll be able to grow plants that can tolerate cool weather throughout the winter. This includes root vegetables and many types of lettuces/greens.
We are also currently raising a few cows for beef. We buy them as calves from the livestock auction and bottle feed them until they are weaned. Billy, our first steer, is about 6 months old and getting huge. We call him 'Billy', because it was written on his eartag when we purchased him. He's like a 500 lb. puppy dog with horns. He's very friendly, but you should never let your guard down for a second with such a large animal.

 We also have Count Chocula and McCartney who are still on the bottle. We feed them a mix of milk replacer and goat milk. They do very well on it.

We are now up to 14 goats! Animal Hoarders, here I come. No, they are well taken care of and have plenty of space. We finally got our pasture fenced with a lot of help from Pa. The animals are having a high time in their expanded digs. We even took a trip to NY back in May to pick up Jill from the Beekman Farm. It was such a pleasure to meet John Hall. He raises some spectacular, friendly goats.
Me and Jill
 Here's a pic that has most of our goats. We have quite the herd now. We love them all so much. They really bring more joy than you can imagine to our lives.
Oh, shoot. I almost forgot. We have a line of soap! Chad and I come up with all of the scents, and we have a master soapmaker, Margaret Neff from Nature's Touch Soaps, who makes the soap for us. We are in several retailers and a bed and breakfast. We also have an Etsy store where you can purchase online.

We recently made the decision to give up television! Honestly, it hasn't been that difficult. If there's something we really want to see, we can always watch it online. We just found ourselves wasting too much time in front of the TV. There are so many more things we could be doing that would be productive. We just have to make sure that we have downtime. You will find yourself worn out if you don't give yourself some.

I think I have hit on the major points since my last blog. I am going to do my best to be a regular blogger. I hope they're as much fun for you to read as they are for me to write. We have the beginnings of our website up as well. Visit us at There are links to our store and this blog. There will be a lot of content added over the next few months. It's great to be back!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The fight for good food...

Hello friends,
It has been way too long since I last blogged. I'm trying to do better. This post isn't going to be a catch-up post. This is going to be more of a vent/rant. As all of you know, we moved to the country in search of the good life. We found it in spades. We decided we wanted to share some of the good life and help pay some of the bills. We want to sell our pork which is raised on pasture naturally as opposed to crammed into metal buildings, never seeing the sun, getting shots of minerals because they can't root them out naturally, and crammed full of antibiotics to prevent disease in these unnatural conditions. We had our hogs butchered at a USDA inspected facility which allows us to re-sell it.

I called the county health department. We have to have a freezer to transport the pork to and from the market. We've transported the pork for hours before in a cooler with ice and it was still frozen rock hard when we got home. The best part is that the freezer doesn't have to be running, it just needs to be able to run. How is that different than a cooler. The permit is $167. The county guy told me that I also have to have a permit from the state to store frozen food.

So I call the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Their permit is $50. They have to come out and inspect the storage area. The freezer has to be dedicated to the meat you're selling (can't be used for the rest of your food). We have that. There's one thing wrong with our freezer situation. It's in our house. You're not allowed to have the freezer in the house. It has to be in an outbuilding. We have an automatic, natural gas generator for our house. It doesn't power any of the outbuildings. The guy goes on to say that there are other common sense rules like no toxic substances stored on top of the freezer or dogs running around doing their business in the freezer room. I say, "That's not common sense. Common sense would tell you to put it in the nice clean temperature controlled house with a generator instead of the dusty outbuilding that who knows what can get into." I get the "I don't make the rules speech.".

All I want to do is share my pork with the world and make a little money in the process to keep the farm going. I will jump through all of these hoops against my better judgment. I'll probably end up running power from the house to the milk house. I hope that having a freezer in the milk room (processing, not where I milk the girls) won't cause me not to be able to do milk.

I get that we need to keep our food supply safe. If I thought for a millisecond that these rules are working, I wouldn't complain. I know that they are not. You just have to watch the local news to find the latest food-borne illness that these rules didn't protect you from. It's time for a food revolution in this country, and I hope to be part of the vanguard.

Do you want to get your pork from someplace like this:

Or someplace like this:

 Which side are you on in the food revolution?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dueling Vinegar Pies

Last weekend, my mom, step-dad, and sister went to the livestock auction with me. On the way home, we stopped at a little restaurant in Martinsburg, where we lived when I was in 1st/2nd grade. This place has the type of food you would find at a dairy stop, but it's more home cooked fare. My mom was reading the daily pie selection on the chalkboard. "Oh, you have vinegar pie!". They have what???? That sounds disgusting. My granny used to fix it for my mom when she was a kid. They only had one slice left (you mean people actually ate it?), so my mom bought it for my sister and me to split.

We finished our meal and it was time for dessert. We also had a piece of hickory nut pie. I tried that one first. It was good. It was almost indistinguishable from pecan pie. Now, it was time to trie the vinegar pie. It looked like the filling was kind of custard-like and the top looked like a sugary, crunchy layer. I'm not afraid of trying new things, in fact, I rather enjoy it. I'm glad I wasn't afraid to try it. It was delicious! It's not quite as smooth as a custard, but similar. It has an almost citrus taste, and the crunchy layer on top was a nice contrast to the filling.

I did a little research on-line about vinegar pie. I read that the early settlers would make it after their store of canned fruits had run out over the winter. There are more recipes than you can imagine. I decided to make one. I've always been a Pillsbury pie crust guy, but I figured it was time to make them from scratch. I read a few recipes and settled on this one. I really want to try one with lard. David at Spring Hill Farm is going to let me know when they have some in stock. On a side note, I'm on the list for a couple feeder pigs once he has some ready. Ohiofarmgirl has done too much raving about them. I just had to try them.

I decied to start with this recipe for the vinegar pie. The one that I had tasted didn't have any of these spices in it, but this one sounded good. You cook the filling in a double-boiler until it's thick and then pour it in a pie shell and bake. It came out very dark, since it has cloves, cinnamon, and allspice in it. It reminded me of a really good homemade apple butter like my grandparents and great-aunts used to make. It was very different from the pie I had tried, but still good.
Contender #1
My pie crust recipe made two crusts, and well, this pie just didn't blow me away. I did another Google search for vinegar pie and saw a picture in the 'images' section that looked a lot like the pie I had first tried. I clicked on the picture and found this recipe. It's actually a page for gluten-free recipes. I used regular flower and a pie crust. This one came out looking just like the one I had tried. For the most part, it tasted nearly identical too. I think I may cut back on the sugar and vanilla next time I make it, but it was DELICIOUS.  I used some organic apple cider vinegar with 'the mother' in it. The mother of vinegar is a mixture of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that gives vinegar some great properties. Do you know all the wonderful things that vinegar can do? If not, I suggest you do some reading. It really is amazing.
We have a winner!

You really should try this pie. Take a look at some old recipes. This pie is incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. My pie crusts turned out pretty well, but they're far from perfect. Any of you have any great tips for making homemade crusts? I'm betting the lard will really help.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ode to Cheryl....

Monday night, I was walking out to the barn to gather eggs. It was oddly quiet on the walk. Generally, my two Chinese white geese, Cheryl  and Dodi, greet me loudly. I saw one of them with the ducks. That sent out the message that something was wrong. They're never more than a few feet away from each other. I did a quick scan. I saw white on the other side of the pond. The white wasn't moving. I dropped the egg basket and ran to whomever it was in the pond. I got there and it was Cheryl. She was dead. I pulled her out of the water and saw blood on her head. I looked closer and saw some large puncture marks. It was horrible. I checked out Dodi and he had some puncture wounds as well, but he seems to be doing okay other than being very traumatized. I'm pretty sure it was dogs who did this. I'm pretty sure a coyote would have taken them to eat and the puncture wounds were too large for any of the other typical predators around here.

I had raised Dodi and Cheryl(my nephew named them) from goslings along with a third. I had to put the third one down when it developed a horrible neurological condition. That strengthened my connection with the other two. I always wondered why people kept geese because they're often quite mean as the get older. These geese were my best farm friends. They would jump up in my lap and give me goose hugs and kisses. I'd give them dandelions and we'd talk about our days.
Day I brought the little fuzzballs home.

They always made me this happy!

As they got older, they did get mean to most other people. They pretty much were only nice to my step-dad and me. If the target of their aggression would stand their ground, the geese would usually back off. Their aggression wasn't limited to humans and included dogs and goats and most other birds. None of that mattered a whit to me. I still loved them. They would always greet me when I came home from work or any time I walked outside. Tonight, it was very, very quiet when I got home.
This was when they still liked Chad

Here's the awkward stage between fuzz and feathers

Cheryl before she got her bump on her bill

He doesn't turn his back on them any more. There's Chipmunk who we also lost last year.
Cheryl sometimes didn't mind the paparazzi

But when she did....

Well, she let you know!

Here's a beautiful picture of them taken by our good friend  Cherie Helman
Cheryl, I am a better person for having know you and will miss you more than you could ever imagine. Goodbye, friend...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aromatherapy for pigs and Wile E. Coyote impersonations

Since moving to the farm, I've tried to use things that are more 'natural'. I've been reading up on medicinal herbs, aromatherapy, and things of this nature. I'm a big fan of Molly over at Fiasco Farm. She has completely embraced natural healing and even sells medicinal herb mixes for goats.
Well, last week we experienced our first case of hoof rot in our goats. I did a little research and found that tea tree oil is a treatment for hoof rot (also for dandruff and I put it in my shampoo). I trimmed away as much of the dead material on the hoof and put a few drops of the oil on the affected area. It may have been my imagination, but Millicent seemed to be getting around a little better that afternoon. We're applying it twice a day.

That got me thinking. I have noticed some scaly skin on Nigel, our Old Spot/Large Black pig, in his ham region. I've been applying it twice a day for him as well. It's definitely improving. As an added benefit, the barn smells better too.

One of our Black Copper Marans(breed of chicken) pullets(young female) got out of the fence and decided to take up residence across the road in the neighbors' pine trees. When they're in the barn, they come running to me because I = feed. Since she has heard the call of the wild, I = The Warden. My first attempt was to rely on the Pavlovian conditioning I've imposed on her. To set the scene, I'm in my plaid, fuzzy robe wearing pajama pants and muck boots. I went to the barn and got some cracked corn in the scoop I always use for the chickens and my butterfly net (and you thought the scene couldn't get funnier). I go over to her new home (with the net behind my back). I shook the scoop and did my usual 'heeeere chick, chick, chick'. Here she comes! It works! I let her eat for a bit and ready the net. I wait for her to bend down and peck up a few more kernels. Swoosh goes the net. 'Bock, bock, bock', goes the pullet as she runs back to the pine trees. "Grrrrrrr" goes the farmer as he chases after the chicken, followed by lots of wheezing and coughing. I love getting reminded by a chicken that I'm not the spring chicken here...

Once I was able to keep enough oxygen to get the wheels turning again, I came up with an even more brilliant plan. Chickens are flock animals, right? Well, I figured she might come around one of her flockmates. And no, I wasn't going to end up with two chickens on the lam....really. I took a length of twine and tied it around the 'bait chicken's' leg. I took her over to the runaway chickens new abode. We sat there for a while with the bait chicken trying to untie her leg. Little Miss Runaway started heading our way! I wasn't going to try the net again. I was sitting on the ground by the bait chicken. This time I was going to go for the leg with my lightning reflexes. Yeah, see the last sentence of the previous paragraph. The chicken is still on the loose. I went out with a flashlight tonight to see if she was roosting, because they're easy to grab when it's dark. No such luck. Tomorrow, I'm trying some bird seed and an Acme anvil. Stay tuned.

This is a video of the first time the pigs ventured outside. They just look so happy. It breaks my heart that so many pigs never get to be a pig. They are locked in buildings and many never even see the sun, let alone root in the dirt. Our pigs will get to be 100% natural pigs. Tell me they don't look happy. Now the goats on the other hand look terrified LOL. It gets more interesting about 15 seconds in or so...

I have some exciting news. Chad and I worked on the scents for our line of goat milk soap. We came up with two scents and we're going to do one that is unscented called Raaw ;-). We'll decide the mixtures of all the ingredients that go in with the goat milk. We found someone to make the soap as well. We really like her bars. We'll use our own goat milk as soon as we have some....c'mon Shaasta and Staar. It's really fun coming up with the recipes for the soap.

What's going on in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Crazy ducks

I got ducks back in the spring as about week old ducklings. Of course, they start laying just as it turns cold. They lay in one or two communal nests, and I guess draw straws to see who has to sit on them. I just let them sit and took a few eggs here and there, 'cause you know duck eggs are great for baking.

I never dreamed that they would hatch out in this weather. Well, they did....on a 16 degree day. I found out when my dog came running into the house with what I thought was one of her squeak toys. As she got closer, I could tell it wasn't her squeak toy. Yep, it was a duckling. She didn't kill it, it just didn't make it because it was too cold. I couldn't believe it hatched. There were actually three. None made it. That hen is going to be a good brooder in warmer weather if she can hatch them when it's this cold.

We've been seeing a lot of the sad side of the circle of life recently. Hopefully, we'll get to see the happier side soon with the arrival of several healthy doe kids. On a side note, I'm still being entertained by the pigs. I think it's mainly because I don't know much about them. They're vicious little beasts to each other, and all they do is eat, sleep, and poop. They're coming around to us, probably because we usually show up with something they want. Gotta keep the bacon happy. We'll get them on pasture soon where they belong.

What's going on today in your world?