1L Jar of Stewed/Canned Tomatoes 4-6 cups Homemade Stock (I used venison. Beef or Chicken are good too) 1 pound Bacon (I like thick cut) 1 package Mushrooms (I used mixed) 1 large Onion 2 cups Risotto 1/2 cup Cheddar Shredded (I used 5 Brothers Smoked from Gunn’s Hill) 1/2 cup Cream 3 tbsp. Butter (try for grass fed it is way better for you) Parmesan (For grating on top) Instructions
Heat your stock in a small pot so it is steaming but not boiling.
While that is heating, start by chopping the bacon, mushrooms, and onions into 1/2″ slices.
Heat up a small pan for the onions and a bigger one for the bacon and eventually the mushrooms.
Add 1 tbsp of bacon fat (or oil if you don’t save bacon fat, but really who wouldn’t) to the smaller pan. Then add the onions and cook until carmelized looking (see photo). Then pull off the heat and leave until later.
In the larger pan just put the bacon in. Once it looks like it is getting close toss the mushrooms in with the bacon. After another 3-4 minutes pull off the heat and leave for later as well.
Now the fun really begins: Take the pan with bacon and pour most of the fat into a big pot. I used a stock pot but most larger pasta pots should work. Place it on Med-High heat and add your Risotto grains. Let them heat until you hear some crackling, about 3-4 minutes.
Now you add ladles of the stock into the Risotto pot one at a time and stir until most of the moisture is absorbed, but don’t worry too much. You just don’t want to dump it all at once, this makes the cooking time faster. It should be about every minute for the first 5 minutes, then you just watch for the bubbles to thicken.
Now once you get it going well and and have done about 10 minutes of this add the jar of tomato sauce slowly, while constantly stirring and let it get back up to heat.
That last part is about another 10 minutes where you continue to slowly add stock. I said in the instructions 4-6 cups and this is why. Sometimes it needs more to soften the grains sometimes it doesn’t, it depends on the risotto. So you can start taking a couple out on a spoon and make sure there is no crunch to them at all.
Once you feel the Risotto is ready, you can add 2/3 of the bacon and mushroom into the pot along with the onions.
Then remove from the heat and add the butter, cream, and cheddar, stirring to incorporate well.
Serve it up in a bowl or pasta dish and top with a pinch of the bacon and mushrooms and a shaving of Parmesan.
When we are inundated with Butternut squash in October, we take the time to roast a bunch, puree them in the food processor and then store in freezer bags. This allows us to make use of the abundance and keep the squash ready to use (minus the thaw time, of course). Roasting the squash in the oven brings out its natural sweetness. Once the squash cools down, my daughter likes to peel off the caramelized sugar from the silicon pads we put on our baking sheets.
We make the soup in a large pot and blend it using an immersion blender, which minimizes the clean-up afterward.
Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup
Ingredients 1 large Butternut Squash (about 2 lbs) 1 Tbsp Olive oil 1 large yellow onion, diced 1 Tbsp minced (fresh) ginger 1 – 2 Tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste 4 cups Chicken or Vegetable Stock 1 400 mL can of coconut milk Salt and pepper, to taste Cilantro to garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 425℉.
Slice squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash cut-side down on a baking sheet (a parchment paper-lined sheet keeps it a bit tidier). Roast for approximately 25 minutes or until a knife easily pierces through the skin. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Scrape out the flesh and set aside.
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add in ginger and curry paste and cook for another minute, stirring constantly, until very fragrant. Add chicken (or vegetable) stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Puree the soup using either an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender. If you use a standard blender, be sure to hold the lid down securely when processing the hot liquids! Return soup to the pot.
A couple minutes before serving, stir in the coconut milk, salt, and pepper. Garnish with cilantro.
During asparagus season, we found ourselves challenged to come up with a new way of using asparagus. Why not try it on a pizza? We quickly decided that an Alfredo-based sauce, rather than a tomato-based pizza sauce, would complement the asparagus better. I recalled seeing a Caesar salad recipe with asparagus, so using the ingredients for Caesar dressing as our inspiration, we made ourselves a delicious asparagus pizza.
Asparagus Pizza with Caesar Sauce
Prep Time: 25 min. Total Time: 35 min. Makes: two 12-14 inch pizzas
Two 12-14 inch pizza crusts (recipe here) 10-12 spears of asparagus additional toppings of choice (we added sliced salami and mushrooms) 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded 2 Tbsp butter 2 -3 garlic cloves, chopped (use more if you’re a fan of garlic) 3 Tbsp flour 1 cup milk ½ tsp lemon juice ½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce ½ tsp Dijon mustard ¼ tsp fish sauce Chili paste, to taste ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Fill a skillet with ½ inch of water and heat over medium high, bringing the water to a gentle boil. Trim the asparagus and lay in the skillet. Cook until bright green and tender-crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan, cool, and cut into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.
Meanwhile, to prepare the Caesar sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbling, then add garlic and cook for one minute. While constantly whisking, mix in the flour to make a roux. When the flour is evenly mixed into the butter, slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Keep whisking to remove any lumps. Continue to heat the milk until it thickens, stirring to prevent scorching.
Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, and Dijon mustard and stir to combine. If desired, add chili paste to taste. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 425℉.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two 12-14 inch circles and place each on a round pizza pan.
Divide the Caesar sauce between the two pizzas and evenly spread over the dough. Sprinkle some of the cheese onto the sauce and top the pizza with sliced asparagus and any other toppings you desire. Finish off the pizza with additional cheese.
Bake until crust is golden and crispy, about 10 minutes.
Prep Time: 15 min Total Time: 1¼ hr Makes: two 12-14 inch pizzas
1⅓ cup warm water 2 tsp instant yeast 2 tsp sugar 2½ cup flour (all-purpose or bread flour) 1 tsp salt ¾ cup flour (whole wheat or all-purpose), or more, as needed for kneading dough
In a large bowl, stir together the water, yeast and sugar. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast is dissolved. Add the first amount of flour and the salt and stir to combine as the dough begins to come together. If the dough is too sticky, begin adding additional flour until it begins to becomes too difficult to stir.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Dust dough/work surface with additional flour if too sticky. Place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl and turn to coat.
Cover the bowl with a clean towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough looks to have doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Upon opening the fridge and pondering what to make for dinner, we pulled out some ground beef, mushrooms, and potatoes. Dad devised this dish from a childhood memory of sloppy joes composed of ground beef and cream of mushroom soup on a bun. We don’t tend to stock our panty with canned soups, so Dad made a mushroom duxelles instead. We served it over mashed potatoes (grown in our garden last summer!) and the little ones gobbled it up. Everything in a duxelles is finely chopped so that it becomes almost indiscernible from the other ingredients in the pan. The picky eater couldn’t even spot the mushrooms to avoid.
Prep Time: 30 min. Total Time: 40 min. Makes: 6 servings
1 ½ lb potatoes, quartered ¼ cup butter 1/2 cup milk ½ tsp dried thyme Salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large pot with salted water, place potatoes in a steamer basket and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until very tender.
Meanwhile, as the potatoes cook you can prepare the mushroom duxelles.
8 oz fresh mushroom (we used cremini) 2 Tbsp each of bacon fat and olive oil 2 medium shallots, chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (no stems), about 6 sprigs ½ cup red wine (we recommended brandy or cognac) 1 Tbsp molasses 2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce ½ cup heavy cream 2 Tbsp soy sauce 1 lb lean ground beef
In a food processor, process mushrooms into small crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a bowl and set aside. Process the chopped onion and garlic into small crumbs.
Add bacon fat or olive oil to a skillet over medium and cook mushrooms until liquid is evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the finely diced onion and garlic and the thyme leaves and cook for another 4 minutes. Deglaze the skillet with red wine, scraping off any bits and cook for another 4 minutes.
To the skillet, stir in the soy sauce, molasses, and cream until thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. This is your mushroom duxelles.
In the same pan, cook the ground beef until brown. When browned, reduce heat to low and add the mushroom duxelles back into pan and mix it with the cooked beef. Keep burner on low until ready to serve. If the mixture looks too dry, you can add more heavy cream, or if you prefer, some beef stock.
When the potatoes are very tender, drain and return to the pot. Mash potatoes to break them apart. Add the butter and milk and continue mashing and mixing into the potatoes. For a creamier texture, you can add more milk.
Season potatoes with dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste
Serve the mushroom duxelles over the mashed potatoes.
This recipe has no hard and fast quantities. Instead it’s about the ratio of tomatoes and basil to dressing, and that is a matter of taste. Outlined below is a simple guideline for the salad.
A handful of fresh tomatoes (about 3 – 4 cups of chopped tomato is our normal) A handful of fresh basil leaves (about ½ cup of chopped leaves) 4 Tbsp mayonnaise Fresh dill (optional), to taste Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste
Add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix together. The tomato juice will mix with the mayonnaise and thin it to a creamy dressing. So simple and so delicious. Best eaten with produce fresh-picked from the garden (or brought home fresh from a farmers market).
It should not come as a surprise that chickens play an important role in our family’s culture. Four years ago we brought home our first birds. Consequently, for most of their young lives, our children have known chickens. And since we have no other animals or pets, the chickens filled the “pet” void – especially for our eldest daughter.
She had one hen in particular that would put up with her loving devotion. This hen became her doted upon pet. She would take her on walks and attempt to put her in clothes. She would interpret every cluck it made as a murmur of affection. She would nurse it when it was injured and ensure it received its share of the food scraps. And she studied the nuances of that chicken so intently that she could pick her out from among 30 doppelgangers, describe her feather patterns and comb in great detail, and made it her muse and inspiration when sketching. She truly loved that chicken.
However, she had to learn the hard way that chickens don’t make great pets and that favouring one above the rest of the flock leads to problems. Flashback in your mind to grade school: do the girls at the top of the pecking order like the teacher’s pet or do they make her life miserable when the teacher isn’t looking? The pet hen was on the bottom of the pecking order and her constant removal from the flock by our daughter was not helping her assert herself and move up in the order. In fact, a remedy for a bully hen is to isolate it from the rest of the flock so that when she is re-introduced, she finds herself at the bottom of the order; knocks that troublesome hen down a few rungs.
But chickens don’t last forever. Our daughter’s pet hen had a ailment called bumblefoot, which is an infection on the foot that makes walking, scratching, and roosting uncomfortable. She was unable to sit upon a roost and instead slept alone in a nest box. All was well, until one night I unknowingly locked a skunk in the chicken run. After desperately digging and trying to escape under the fence, the skunk wandered into the coop. All the chickens were safe upon the roost and out of the skunk’s reach. All except for the pet hen. That skunk probably could not believe its good fortune! A sleepy, dopey hen sitting right in front of it for the taking. And take it it did.
The following morning was full of stress and confusion as we tried to deal with the skunk. Unfortunately for the skunk, it now had a taste for chicken and had to be permanently disposed of. Dad had been meaning to take the certification course for his Arms Licence, but hadn’t gotten around to that yet. So, armed with only a pellet gun, he spent close to an hour playing hide and seek with the skunk, trying to hit it with a kill shot while protecting himself from getting sprayed by the skunk. In the end, Dad won and the skunk lost. Through the whole ordeal, the skunk did not spray but kept that for its finale; the spray was its swan song. Multiple changes of clothes and showers later, and we were ready to get back to our normal routines.
Back to that pet hen. Our daughter was devastated. She blamed herself (probably some truth to that) for hurting her “pet” so that it could not escape the skunk. Despite our constant reminder that chickens are not pets, they are farm animals, she had grown attached to that hen and grieved its death.
In an effort to protect both our children and our farm animals from another owner-pet relationship, we adopted a different sort of animal for the purpose of being a loveable pet. Something cuddly and relatively low maintenance. We settled on a rabbit. We brought home our new pet and, unlike the chickens, we keep her in the house. Fortunately for us, she came spade and litter-trained (phew) and her upkeep is easy enough that the children can handle it themselves (with some continual reminders, of course). We could even classify the rabbit as a productive farm animal; her manure is a great fertilizer!
What do turkeys like to do on sunny days? Have peck-nics.
Our turkeys were Artisan Gold turkeys, a breed that likes to be outside foraging. In essence, they acted much like wild turkeys. We put their mobile shelter into our orchard and gave them a safe area to graze within an electrified fence. Every week we moved the shelter and fence to give the birds new pasture.
Given the choice, turkeys like to eat grasses, seeds, berries, and insects; and that’s just what our birds dined upon. Between the orchard rows we have lush grasses and forbs for the grazing (decades ago, pigs lived on that same spot and their marvelous soil-building legacy is still evident). Within the rows are an understory of shrubs, among which grow some currants and comfrey bushes that the turkeys liked to dine upon. Of the two plants, the turkeys showed an obvious preference for comfrey. Every plant within their fence was stripped of leaves. Thankfully, comfrey is very resilient!
Next to the orchard is a line of raspberry bushes and this years was a bumper crop for the berries. We couldn’t keep up with the canes production and would come across lots of spoiled berries when we were filling our baskets with ripe berries. We started filling a separate basket of spoiled raspberries for the turkeys and tossing them over their fence. The raspberry season lasted over two months and the birds quickly clued in that if we came to pick raspberries then they were likely to get some too and would come crowding by the fence hoping for a treat.
Which side of a turkey has the most feathers? The outside!
We marked the date on the calendar: Thursday October 4th, Processing Day. Dad took the morning off work and the Little Harrolds and I took the morning off from regular lessons. The day was to be a firsthand lesson in where our food really comes from. As the day approached Dad scrambled (once again, I admit, we cut it very close) to put together a poultry processing area behind the barn. He ordered lumber, drove over an hour to buy a turkey-sized restraining cone and freezer bags, appealed to his buddy for a stainless steel counter, and ordered the necessary knives and scissors on Amazon. With that done, he erected the frame of a lean-to, set-up the turkey plucker, and asked his accommodating brother to assist on the big day. Phew!
Finally Processing Day was upon us. We brought out of equipment, set everything up and were ready to start. I should point out that we are still very new to poultry processing. A willing neighbour heard about our plans and offered to come assist us. We were grateful for his advice and experience. He informed us that while he was quick and ready to help newbie homesteaders like ourselves, taking the life of an animal is not an easy thing to do and he had to mentally prepare himself before arriving. We also asked Grandpa to help us, which he (perhaps naively) agreed to do. The roll call on Processing Day was Dad, Mom, Accommodating Brother, Willing Grandpa, Helpful Neighbour, and three Little Harrolds.
We started small. Since we still had a surplus of roosters from the batch of eggs we hatched back in April, we began with them and worked our way up to the turkeys. We also had a broiler chicken that we’d dubbed Tub-O’Lardy that was three months past her processing day (of the original eleven broilers we started with, nine were taken out by a family of raccoons and one died from heat stroke). With the chickens finished, everyone was in their groove and prepared to upsize to the turkeys. In total we processed five chickens and six rooster that day.
We have some memorable highlights from Processing Day, for better or worse. First, one rooster was so small that Dad couldn’t fit his hand inside; an eager daughter was happy to give eviscerating a try. Second, willing brother was off to meet a potential client straight after our morning’s work and wore an XL garbage bag to protect his outfit. Third, I wrestled a turkey without wearing gloves and had a talon puncture my ring finger (I still can’t fit my wedding band on). Fourth, Dad looked at his first processed turkey and recalled the story of the Grade C turkey that Dave prepared for Christmas dinner for Morley and the kids… fans of Stuart Mclean and The Vinyl Cafe should get that!
What is the most musical part of a turkey? The drumstick.
We processed our turkeys on the Thursday prior to Thanksgiving Weekend. Never before had we eaten a fresh turkey. Our past turkey cooking experiences started by thawing a rock solid bird in the fridge days before we planned to cook it… the same time that our fridge was full of all the other ingredients we needed to prepare Thanksgiving dinner on top of the usual things we already stored in the fridge. But not this year! Our just-processed turkeys were briefly stored in a freezer set to 4℃, a temperature maintained by a special gizmo Dad connected to the freezer. In the end, we sold two fresh turkeys, cooked two for our Thanksgiving dinners (one for each side of the family) and froze the remaining two birds for the future.
We had long anticipated those Thanksgiving turkeys and were not disappointed. One of our hosts, as he cooked our turkey, commented that “there’s enough pressure cooking a turkey for a group of people, but even more when you’re cooking one that people raised”. He need not have worried. The meat was moist and rich in flavour. When carving it we were struck by how red the dark meat truly was. No surprise, really, these birds actually used their muscles and behaved like turkeys, eating what they wanted and their bodies’ craved. These were very nutritious turkeys! Remember all that comfrey they were eating? Comfrey is a bioaccumulator; a remarkable plant that reaches deep into the soil and pulls up nutrients, which then move through the food chain or return to the soil through decomposition. All that comfrey munching while in the orchard made for some nutritious turkey meat.
Beyond Thanksgiving dinner, we made use of the two turkey carcasses for stock and generated 24 cups of turkey stock. Afterward, the remains were given to the chickens, who turned them into delicious, healthy eggs.
In the end, we figure it cost us less than $2/lb to raise the turkeys on organic feed and to power the electric fence. That estimate excludes the infrastructure costs of fencing and the materials necessary to build the mobile shelter. If we want to recoup those costs, we’ll have to grow more turkeys next year. If we consider how we can ethically raise turkeys and end up with nutritious and flavourful food and then compare that to the daily work of caring for the birds and the eventful Processing Day, it might just be worth it to do it all again.
Last year around Thanksgiving we thought it would be rather neat to serve turkey that we had raised ourselves. After a bit of research we decided to give it a go. Prior to picking-up our order of six turkeys from the hatchery, we started to build a turkey tractor. I say “we”, but Dad did the research, design, and building. I helped by holding things in place while he worked the drill or stitched together the hardware cloth where he told me to. In typical fashion, we managed to complete the tractor just as the turkeys outgrew the brooder (nothing like leaving things to the last minute and then scrambling to finish the job). The turkey tractor was a mobile coop on wheels, allowing us to move the birds onto fresh grass, provide water and feed, and lock them in at night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day-old turkey poults arrived on May 8th in a cardboard box along with the some day-old broiler chicks. We ordered six turkeys, and the hatchery sent along an extra as an insurance policy. We placed both the day-old chicks and turkey poults into a brooder box for the first four weeks, during which time they stayed roughly equal in size. Once the turkey tractor was finished and feathers replaced the birds’ downy fuzz, we moved the them from the brooder to the great outdoors. The chickens continued to share quarters with the turkeys for a few days before moving into their own area.
Unfortunately, we had a problem with a very persistent family of raccoons that reduced our broiler flock from 11 to two. They also got one of our turkeys (turns out that insurance turkey was a good idea). One stubborn turkey did not want to go into the roost area where it would be secured from predators by a sturdy 2 by 4 frame, ¼ in. hardware cloth, and a door that locked. In frustration, it was left free within the turkey tractor. Sure enough, mama raccoon came by with her family and found a weak spot in the poultry netting covering our turkey tractor. She broke in, killed the stubborn turkey, and made off with it during the night. The next morning, the only clue left behind were a few feathers stuck to a bent up piece of poultry fencing.
To prevent the loss of another turkey to our masked nemeses, we had to ensure that all turkeys were put into the roost every night. This was an annoying, but simple enough task with two or three people working to corral the birds. Especially when our children welcomed an excuse to catch and pick up the birds. However, when we went on a camping trip and Grandpa was left with the chore of closing up the turkeys, he quickly realized it was an exercise in frustration for a single person! It was time to rethink our arrangement. We set up an electrified fence around the turkey tractor. So now, even if we were away and a turkey refused to cooperate with Grandpa, we had some assurance that the spark of the fence would deter a raccoon from trying for another turkey. By this time, the birds had grown so large that they out-weighed any raccoon. However, this arrangement lasted only briefly.
The growing turkeys needed more space. So, we opened up the door and allowed them to forage within the confines of the electric fence. This gave them the ability to spread out and wander, leading to them exercising their wings and seeking to fulfill their desire to roost as high as they could. And that meant on top of the turkey tractor. Now our nightly routine included taking a rake along with us to “rake” the birds off the roof and herd them through the tractor door, which once closed, allowed us to catch the turkeys and heave them into the safe roost area. In an effort to keep the turkeys from flying onto the roof each night, we clipped their wings. This was semi-successful. A few birds were still able, with a running start, to flap onto the roof. Fortunately, they never tried to escape by flying over the fence. We carried on in this manner for two months, watching the birds feasting on grass, insects, comfrey, and raspberries and estimating how much they might weigh as Thanksgiving 2018 crept steadily closer.
The other day I offered my children a way to earn some money: “help me dig up the potatoes and I’ll pay you for your work.” “Okay, mommy!” and they all dashed off to put on their shoes. In short order the girls disappeared to make sure the chickens had enough food and water. They did not return. So, it was my son and I who worked away at harvesting the potatoes. I worked the pitch fork and he scooped up the potatoes as I unearthed them. We chatted away and laughed as we completed the chore. He was the only one to add more coins to his bank that day.
My son wants to help his parents with their tasks. I’m glad he does. I know that this willingness to pitch in won’t last and I should encourage it and nurture it now so it will become a habit for later. Habits are powerful. Charlotte Mason said about them that “each of us has in his possession an exceedingly good servant or a very bad master, known as Habit”. Rather than nurture habits of dependence, sloth, or entitlement, we need to take advantage of his interest and grow it into a magnanimous spirit.
Do you like that word? Magnanimous? I’ve only recently learned it myself. The latin construct of the word is a combination of animous, which refers to something alive, like a “soul” or “spirit” and magnus, which means “great”. So, magnanimous is literally, “great spirit.” Some of its synonyms for the word are generous, altruistic, unselfish, charitable, noble, or big-hearted. I would like my son to have the habits of unselfishness, charity, and altruism.
Little boys were designed with a desire to do a productive service; they want to contribute and will feel validated when their efforts are acknowledged. When our son is not busy with a task, he tends to get into mischief with his sisters or pester them until a petty squabble erupts. Keeping him occupied is a benefit to everyone. And having his attention and energy devoted to a productive task gives him a sense of purpose and keeps the atmosphere of our home peaceful. When we welcome his assistance, he also benefits by learning new tasks. Within the last month he’s learned how to use a level, prepare garlic for storage, remove skin from tomatoes, swap batteries in the hand drill, and drive a golf cart.
Here is a little story of how my son looks to entertain himself when this need to be useful and productive is brewing away within him. Recently, during a visit from his cousins, my son and his fellow male cousin were busy in the yard next to a patch of raspberries and plot of squashes. They were intermittently searching through the raspberry canes to find ripening berries while working away at a pile of just-picked squash laying on the grass with a pair of sticks in their hands. Into the squashes they were drilling their sticks and making holes of an ever increasing size. When I came upon them, while trying to hold my composure as best I could, my son told me they were trying to get the seeds out of the squash so that we could plant them again next year. I promptly informed him that we only take the seeds out when we cut the squash open to eat it. Now we wouldn’t be able to store or eat these squashes with holes bored into them. The boys left the squashes alone and went off to join the girls who were catching toads.