A Quick Knit and Bacon Experiment

Sometimes a quick knitting project is needed. Something you can finish in a day, maybe two. Molly needed another winter hat so it all worked out quite well. Molly is at the stage where hats are a fun game. I put the hat on her head, she swipes it off and waves it about. Sometimes she tries to put it on herself. Don’t think of helping her cause then she’ll pull it back off and it starts all over.

I had some leftover yarn from this BSJ and a pattern for a cute hat. I lost the pattern though (!), so I just made it up as I went along, ending up with an elvish hat. The older brothers just love all things elf related so they’re excited about the prospect of Molly outgrowing said hat and having their stuffies get to wear it. In fact, Molly’s hat went for a round of trying on and has disappeared. SO, no cute photos of Molly “in” her hat.

As not to leave you photo less I’ll share with you a recent experiment in our bacon curing. Normally I cure our sides or bacon in the fridge with just maple syrup, brown sugar and salt. No nitrates.  I think I’ve done several posts on how I make it previously if you look under recipes. It’s good but, not like store bacon. I thought it was possibly the nitrate factor. Celery is a natural source of nitrates and I had plenty of celery in the garden. I made one half with added juiced celery and one without.

DSCN8258Without (above)

With (below)

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We cooked up a couple of slices of each. They were tasty and pretty close in flavor. Although, we both thought that maybe, the one with celery was better; a little deeper in flavor. We would have cooked up a bit more for comparison’s sake but Sasquatch, that little puppy Megan had last year, snatch up the side of bacon and devoured it. So we’ll be trying that again and keeping a better eye on the dogs.

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Dairy Kefir In The Winter Kitchen {plus NT recipe}

During the summer I keep a jar of dairy kefir out on the counter. I use it freely and top it off daily – with summers abundent milk supply. Now that winter is here I find our dairy kefir usage has plummeted. It’s just too cold to mix up a frosty smoothie and, not in the least, our milk supply has dried up. Yet, kefir grains need to be fed regularly. So how does dairy kefir fit into my winter kitchen?

For starters I keep my jar of diary kefir in the fridge. This slows the fermenting process down considerably. That means there’s less to use daily and I can feed my grains less frequently. The kefir still ferments so when I do want to use some I can. Then I replace however much I just used up with fresh milk. If I use over half the jar I might leave the jar out to ferment on the counter, otherwise it might not be ready for a few days at least.

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During the summer kefir generally goes into smoothies and veggie dips and dressings. During the winter I use kefir mainly as a replacement for yogurt or buttermilk in recipes, like pancakes or meatloaf for example. These are cooked so they won’t contain the benefits of live kefir; although any grains in the recipe will benefit from soaking in the acidic kefir. You can still reap the benefits of kefir’s live cultures if you make dressing, dip or consume it unheated in some other way.

Here is a recipe I adapted from Nourishing Traditions, it’s kind of a three recipes in one recipe. It’s a light mild dressing. NT calls for piima cream or creme fraiche but I used kefir instead.

Creamy Dressing

First make the basic dressing (pg129 NT) This makes about 3/4 cup.

Combine the mustard and vinegar then add in the oil in a thin stream, stirring all the while till emulsified.

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 Tlb plus 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar ( NT calls for wine vinegar)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 Tlb flax oil, if you have it.

Add 1 tsp finely chopped fresh herbs i.e. parsley, oregano, tarragon, thyme, basil etc. This is now the herb dressing (also pg 129 of NT).

Finally blend in 1/4 cup kefir.

 Now you have 1 cup creamy dressing (pg 131 of NT).

Adjust seasoning to taste. I like to let it sit for a while to let the herbs have a chance to release their flavor.

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Some other recipes using kefir:

Susan’s Whole Wheat Kefir Pancakes   (or use your favorite pancake recipe replacing the buttermilk or milk with kefir)

Kefir Pizza Crust

Ranch Dip (from cultures for health- this one is a favorite)

Also, try straining the kefir for a thick & smooth kefir cheese. Season with herbs and salt and pepper. You can roll the seasoned cheese into small (about golf ball size) balls. Place balls in a jar and cover with olive oil.

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Chicken Kiev

DSCN9992As far as chicken dinners go chicken kiev is one of my family’s favorites. It looks fancy but it’s pretty easy to make. This recipe was passed down from my mother-in-law when struggling_along and I married 10 years ago. I still remember the first time I made chicken kiev. Having never made it before, I did not realize that the chicken was supposed to be wrapped around the filling. I had simply rolled them up, allowing all the butter and herbs to melt right out into the bottom of the pan! It was still edible but it’s even better if you succeed in keeping the butter and herbs sealed in the center of the chicken.

The Recipe

First prepare 6 boneless, skinless, spilt chicken breasts by flattening them so that they are even in thickness and a bit larger, which makes them easier to roll up.Then combine the herbs in a small dish:

1/4 tsp dried tarragon

2 Tlb  dried parsley

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

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Then, using 1 Tlb butter for each piece of chicken, dip the butter into the herb mixture and coat well. Place the herbed butter in the middle of each piece of chicken.

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Roll the chicken up, around the butter, trying to tuck in the ends of the chicken. Secure with a tooth pick.

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Coat in a 1/3rd cup flour (or cornstarch if you want it gluten-free). Use the flour to help seal the ends of the chicken.

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Then dip the floured chicken into 1 egg beaten.

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Coat in 1-2 cups of bread crumbs (use gluten-free bread to make gf crumbs).

DSCN9959Place in a buttered baking dish. I like to use a Pyrex dish.

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Bake at 425 for 5 minutes then turn the oven down to 400 and bake for 40 minutes or till done. Baste with any butter that does melt into the pan.

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DSCN9982Serve and enjoy! Serves 4-6. This chicken goes well with a lot of different sides. For this particular dinner I made roasted potatoes and peas but any veggies, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf or what have you works well.

DSCN9991Here’s the recipe again, in short form:

Chicken Kiev

6 pieces chicken breast

1/4 tsp tarragon

2 Tlb parsley                   -Mix these herbs together

1/8 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tlb butter                   -Coat in above herb mixture

Roll up chicken around butter and secure with a toothpick. Dip chicken into (in order)

1/3 cup flour

1 egg beaten

1-2 cups bread crumbs

Place in a lightly buttered pan. bake at 425-5 minutes then at 400 – 40 minutes. Baste with any pan butter.

That’s it.

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Nourishing Traditions: Latin American Sauerkraut {with pineapple vinegar}

DSCN9544 I’ve been on the look out for recipes using pineapple vinegar. I noticed one in Nourishing Traditions for Latin American Sauerkraut which isn’t necessarily a recipe I’d normally make.  I happened to have a small head of cabbage left from making stuffed cabbage- which works best with the large outer leaves. So I figured why not?

DSCN9542Now, as you can see below, the original recipe calls for onions. I left them out because the last few times I added raw onions to, for example, pickled beets I found the raw flavor way too strong. Also, there are two versions: one with salt (and optional whey) and one with pineapple vinegar. Since all of the shredded cabbage and carrots didn’t fit in one jar I made both. The fuller jar contains the pineapple vinegar version, while the lesser jar is just salt.

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DSCN9560The salt only version packed down significantly more. And already appears softer. Following the instructions I left both out for three days before transferring to the fridge.

DSCN9555mossy_stone

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Breakfast Bacon

I love pigs. They’re smart, friendly, and they can be a great resource to any homestead – turning unusable food scraps into food and they are great at turning up soil and removing tree stumps. Admittedly, they can also present a challenge. They can eat a lot, they’re smart, persistent, and strong (that can add up to escape). So what makes it all worth while?

Pork.

Or more specifically pork tenderloin, chops, roasts and….bacon.

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Bacon comes from the belly of the pig. I wish I had a decent photo of Mercedes. She is growing into such a bacon pig! Long and well-built. What makes bacon bacon is the curing process. The curing process adds flavor and can help preserve the meat too. Most store brought bacon is cured using sodium nitrates. The way I do it does not.

Here is the way I make it most often:

Place a side of bacon in a bag or dish large enough to hold the bacon. Mix together 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup kosher salt. Coat the side of bacon with this wet cure; seal bag or cover dish and refrigerate.

DSCN8387The next day flip the side of bacon and return to the fridge. My bacon is skin on. You can cure bacon with or without the skin. I prefer to leave the skin on until right before slicing.

DSCN8400Everyday, once a day, turn the bacon. You’ll notice the meat firming up.

DSCN8413After 7 days remove the bacon from the wet cure and allow to dry on a cooling rack in the fridge for a day. Now if you have a smoker I’d smoke it. However, I do not so I go the liquid smoke route.

DSCN8531First I brush on a thin coating of liquid smoke. A little goes a long ways. A quick once over starting at one end working towards the other as to not miss a spot does the trick. Then place in a low oven. My oven (a gas range) doesn’t actually have any markers under 260F so I have to guesstimate, with the help of an oven thermometer, to get 180F.  Leave the bacon in the low oven for several hours – until the bacon registers 150F.

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Cool and slice. A meat slicer will give the thinnest most even slices but with a little patience and practice hand slicing can do a fair job. Fry up a few slices and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

DSCN8562I have to admit that home made bacon is a bit different than store bacon. It looks a little different and it’s a bit chewier. Not using sodium nitrates mean the pork is a little less pink and tastes a tad more porky. I find it helps to fry the bacon over a little lower heat than you might normally fry up bacon as to avoid burning it. That said, it’s still delicious!

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Preserving Lemons

I love having fresh lemons on hand but, alas, lemons do not grow in Maine and my local market doesn’t always have organic lemons. Enter preserved lemons. All you need is:

Salt

lemons, a jar and a knife

Cut lemons into quarters, sprinkle generously and completely with salt and pack into jar-pressing to release juices. The lemons should be submerged.

Just let the lemons sit out for several days-I do about 3 days ( *see note below). The lemons should smell great and the peel softened. Store in the fridge and use whenever lemons are called for- the juice as well as the whole lemon is usable. Hold back on the salt  tho- these are salted lemons after all.

Coming up: I’ll share several recipes in which I use preserved lemons.

Editing: I just want to add that you can rinse the finished lemons to cut back on the salt if desired. Also, preserved lemons are not traditionally stored in the fridge. I’ve begun to leave the preserved lemons out -saving fridge space- and I have to say they keep getting better.

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