Summer is in full swing, and our basil plants are too. I’m out there every day, harvesting as much as I can use to keep the plants from going to seed.
Even better, the fresh milk from Windsor Dairy is especially beautiful right now — our weekly jars are now topped with an extra-thick layer of yellow cream that changes flavor each week as the cows get into different herbs and grasses.
Soon, I’ll be making a lot of fresh mozzarella for caprese salad. But while we wait impatiently for our 30(!) tomato plants to start producing, I’ve been using our abundant supply of basil and fresh milk to make ice cream.
Now you might only associate basil with savory dishes, and think that basil ice cream sounds gross. I get it. But I tried putting basil and peaches together in a jam (to be shared with you soon; it’s almost peach season too!) and I realized that basil works just as well with sweet flavors.
Around the time I started my first garden, I saw an article that listed the “10 Most Nutritious Foods,” or something like that. High up on the list was purslane, something I’d never heard of. The article didn’t provide a picture, but it did have a lot of nice things to say about purslane, which was enough to entice me.
And so I went on a quest to find some for my garden. I checked all the local greenhouses and seed displays, and every person I asked answered with “No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that here” and occasionally a funny look. And then the rest of the garden started taking off, and I forgot all about purslane.
Until about a year later, when I was at a friend’s house thumbing through a book about wild edible plants in Colorado. A book with pictures. And then I realized why none of the local places sold purslane — I pulled about 5 pounds of it out of my tiny garden plot that morning alone. Although it’s widely used as a food in most other countries, here in the U.S. it’s a weed.
I’ve picked more than my fair share of purslane since then, though I usually just give it to the chickens. It’s hard to rinse, and most of my attempts to sauté it were a waste of butter — but I do like to eat it raw, especially in the early morning when it has a tart, almost lemony flavor (this is because the leaves are full of malic acid, which is converted into glucose during the day — by afternoon, the leaves taste like mild lettuce.)
And this year, for the first time, I saw purslane in the seed display at the garden store. I may not be buying it anytime soon, but at least my rookie mistake doesn’t seem so embarrassing now.
It’s been a rough week. After a promising start to the season, the state of Colorado is on fire once again and many of my loved ones are evacuated and waiting to hear if their homes will survive. We’re safe here on the farm — nothing more than a little smoke and some extra-beautiful sunsets in my neighborhood, but every time I look at the thick haze settled over the mountains my heart sinks.
At the same time, I learned that one of my friends was experiencing a health crisis. So the past few days have been spent watching and waiting, and of course worrying. For me, a heavy heart leaves no room for the stomach — this has been the sort of week where I’ll watch the fiery sunset until the colors fade, and then realize I haven’t even begun to think about dinner.
Fortunately, I had a big batch of this quinoa pudding in the fridge. It’s the ultimate comfort food, as far as I’m concerned. It reminds me a lot of tapioca pudding, but with a texture that will probably be a lot more appealing to the tapioca-haters out there (I just don’t understand.) Not to mention, it’s nutritious and easy to digest.
It’s just what I need when I’m feeling sick, or sad, or just looking for a quick and delicious breakfast. And I haven’t tested this theory yet, but kids will probably love it too.
Easy, delicious, and nourishing -- this pudding is comfort food at its finest.
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup quinoa flakes (you can find these sold as a hot breakfast cereal)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
ripe peaches, nectarines, or plums (optional)
Rinse the whole quinoa thoroughly to remove any bitter residue (you don't need to do this with the flakes.)
In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, combine milk, sugar, and whole quinoa (not the flakes.) Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is tender (about 20 minutes.)
Stir in the quinoa flakes and simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, thoroughly beat the egg in a small bowl.
Slowly dribble a ladleful of the hot quinoa mix into the egg while stirring with a whisk (this tempers the egg so it doesn't curdle.) Then, gradually whisk the egg mixture into the rest of the quinoa in your saucepan.
Cook for another 2 minutes under low heat; be careful not to let the mixture boil. Whisk in vanilla and remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken. Serve hot, cold, or with a splash of milk and some fresh fruit.
Adapted from Whole Grains for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff.
I don’t think I ever saw brussels sprouts on the dinner menu growing up, but I feared them nonetheless. Hearing my elementary school classmates describe being forced to eat them was enough.
So maybe it’s a good thing that my first memorable experience with brussels sprouts was a few years ago, when I was part of a CSA and one week found myself with a bunch of them still on the stalk. Fridge space was limited, so I cooked them immediately. And as it turns out, brussels sprouts are delicious! Especially when given a good dose of butter and garlic and a sprinkling of pine nuts to bring out their sweet, nutty flavor.
I’ve tried to grow them every year since, and always end up with big beautiful stalks but no sprouts (they’re hard to grow in Colorado but I’ll get the timing right, someday.) So I get them from the farmer’s market once in a blue moon, but usually I can only find sprouts that are flown in from California or Mexico. Friends on the West Coast, I envy you.
But if you find yourself in possession of some sprouts, these crunchy, buttery little bites are perfect as an appetizer with a cold beer. They rarely make it to the dinner table in my house (although they make a great side dish, when they do.) I’ve won over a number of sprout-haters with this recipe, and I like to think it’ll work the same magic on any picky eaters you happen to be feeding.
Pretty much everything in the garden is going crazy now. It’s a jungle out there! First up, the Bee Garden:
And the lavender plants scattered throughout the garden are just starting to bloom:
The violas have been going for a while now, and are just begging to be put on top of cupcakes and scattered through salads (the flowers are edible, in case you didn’t know.)
And the bush beans: We’re doing a lot of different varieties this year, both dried and fresh. They’re finally recovering after their run-in with a family of rabbits.
The pole beans have been pretty busy, too:
The sugar snap peas got their first blossoms today:
And we’re getting our first ripe tomato, too. This plant is a Stupice (prounounced Stew-pEEch-ka) and it’s always our earliest tomato (and one of the last to quit in the fall.) Russian/Siberian varieties like this one do great in Colorado’s short growing season, so I grow a lot of them.
We’re starting to get some peppers, too:
And finally, just as I was about to give up and plant more seeds, our pink banana squash broke through the ground.
This is the rhubarb from our friends across the street. It’s finally starting to take off now, hopefully we’ll be able to harvest some before too long! Because I think I need more cake.
And the cilantro patch, which pretty much just grows wild, is already starting to bolt and reseed itself.
And the flowers…
And out in the coop, a few chickens have made the move up to the roost, where they’re sleeping with the big chickens (the rest are still dog-piling on the floor.) And who else would be the first, but Shelly (she’s the one on the right.) The little guy next to her is another of the five “special” chickens that stayed in the house under observation for the first week. Didn’t really expect these two to be leading the pack, but I couldn’t be more proud.
And the obnoxiously friendly Asada is now able to fly all the way up to my shoulder when I’m standing. She spent a while roosting happily on my head and shoulders while I tried in vain to get a picture, and then flew down just as the shutter went off.
And then one of Cutlet’s daughters, who we call Patty, decided to join the club and perched on my arm until I kicked her off. We’re going to get some really nice hens out of this batch (and I’m hoping both of these girls will lay green eggs.)
I’m lucky enough to live in an area where I can have a little flock of chickens, who provide me with delicious fresh eggs (and lots of entertainment.)
The Ladies: (L-R) Cutlet, Kung Pao, and Saltimbocca
Each of our 3 adult hens lays about 5-6 eggs per week, so occasionally they’ll get a bit ahead of me and I end up with several days’ worth on my countertop.
I should stop here and explain a few things about fresh eggs, because before owning chickens I would’ve been grossed out by the idea of keeping eggs on the counter. So you probably are, too.
But here’s the thing: Eggs are designed to stay fresh outside the chicken for about a month, without refrigeration. In nature, a hen will spend a couple weeks laying a clutch of eggs before sitting to incubate them (and the incubation process takes another 20 days.) And — I get asked this a lot — fertile eggs won’t start developing on your countertop unless your house is a steady 100 degrees fahrenheit. In which case, I’m sorry.
An egg comes out of the chicken sealed in a protective coating called “bloom,” which keeps pathogens from penetrating the shell and also helps keep the white from evaporating. As long as you don’t wash the bloom off, you can keep fresh eggs on the countertop for at least 2-3 weeks.
Unfortunately, any egg you buy from a grocery store has already lost its bloom to a chlorine bath, leaving the shell porous and easily invaded by bacteria — so you’ll need to keep storebought eggs in the fridge. This is just one of the many reasons why I think everyone should get a few hens for the backyard, or at the very least find a local farm that sells fresh eggs. There’s nothing like the flavor and consistency of an egg that’s never seen the fridge.
And here’s another reason: If you’re buying eggs from a grocery store, there’s a good chance they’ve been sitting on the shelf a while. As eggs age, the fluid inside starts to evaporate and the air cell gets bigger. This makes it very easy to tell if an egg is still good, using what’s called the “Float Test.” So if you’re wondering if you can still cook with those eggs in the back of the fridge, try this technique. Or even better, try it next time you buy eggs and see how fresh they really are.
Step 1: Fill a deep bowl with cool water (Note: if using unwashed eggs, give them a rinse in warm water first.)
Step 2: Set the egg in the bottom of the bowl.
#1: Freshly laid egg
If it lays on the bottom like this, it’s very fresh (this egg was laid the same day I photographed it.) You probably won’t ever see this unless you have your own chickens or get your eggs from a local farm. Eggs this fresh are perfect for poaching, but will be incredibly difficult to peel if you hard-boil them.
#2: Still good
If the egg stays on the bottom of the bowl but stands up on end, like this, it’s a little older but still good (this one’s been on my counter about 3 weeks.) This is the ideal hard-boiling stage, because the whites don’t cling to the membranes as much.
#3: Toss it
If it floats, it’s no longer fresh (these I scramble and give back to the chickens.)
My sister and I ate General Tso last week, and he was delicious, though the cooking part didn’t exactly go as planned.
The original plan was to do an Asian-style tea smoked chicken, which is delicious but hasn’t graced my kitchen in a few years (I have a feeling it will soon, though.) But that plan shifted when we made a shocking discovery:
The General only had one testicle. And it was enormous.
To give you some perspective, a chicken’s brain is about the size of my thumbnail. The General’s lone gonad was nearly the size of my fist. Suddenly, his aggressive behavior made a lot more sense.
So back to the recipe. We’d talked before about making Beercan Chicken, mostly in jest, because we used to have a Speckled Sussex hen named Beercan. But now we had to, because of a favorite local beer: One Nut Brown Ale.
Unfortunately, Oskar Blues had One Nut on tap but not in cans or growlers. I briefly considered ordering a pint at their restaurant and smuggling it out, but instead I settled on the next best thing:
Only, the Beercan Chicken idea didn’t work out so well either. I decided to try doing it in the oven instead of the grill since it was getting dark outside, but the can slid around on the cookie sheet and collapsed. I tried for a few minutes to get the whole mess balanced, even using a different size can and spilling most of the beer in the process, but I soon gave up. It seemed disrespectful somehow, trying to balance a chicken impaled on a beer can. I can’t imagine why.
So instead, I laid the whole chicken down in the spilled beer (about half a can’s worth) and rubbed it all over with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh thyme. Then I added a few pats of butter and some chicken stock to the pan and put it in a 325 degree oven until the thigh meat reached 165F (this took about an hour and a half for a nearly 4 pound bird.) I turned it over halfway through the cooking process, and basted every 15 minutes or so.
The meat was tasty, and not at all tough (partly because we let it rest in the fridge for a couple days, partly because Speckled Sussex roosters are slow to mature.) The recipe I based mine on used a lot of pepper, and that plus the beer flavor was a bit overwhelming — I wouldn’t necessarily do it the same way next time, but it was still the best chicken I’d ever eaten because I grew it myself.
The leftovers were made into frozen burritos, assembly line style. And everything else went into the stockpot, soon to become several pints of rich, velvety chicken stock.
To make stock, I cover the carcass with filtered water (add in any unused giblets, too) and throw in a bunch of carrots and onions. We have a huge lovage plant that comes back every year, so I use that in place of celery (but you can use anything you like.) This time I also threw in a few handfuls of thyme, tarragon, and whatever else needed to be cut back in the herb garden.
I boil it for as long as I can (about 9 hours, this time) then strain it into glass jars. Once cool, I freeze it in plastic tubs and then vacuum seal the frozen stock so I can reclaim the containers. Then I have chicken stock whenever I need it — for soups, or as a vehicle for poached eggs.
Stock is infinitely better when made at home, and it’s a perfect way to make use of every last bit of the chicken (and fill your house with delicious smells in the process.) So please, never throw away a chicken or turkey carcass — why would you want to waste all that, especially when it’s so easy? If you don’t have time to make the stock right away (I usually don’t) just seal up the carcass and stick it in the freezer.
The chicks aren’t chicks anymore. They’re about to turn 6 weeks old, and now, they’re chickens.
The boys are starting to make themselves known, with big combs and little scuffles popping up everywhere. We’ve identified 10 that seem to be cockerels, exactly what we’d expect from the 19 chicks we hatched. I’ll go into detail about sexing chickens in another post, once I get photos of everyone. Not that I’m an expert or anything, quite the opposite. But I am finding it a lot easier to compare boys and girls now that there are so many of them.
The easter egger chicken above, known as Five Spice, is 100% boy. The large comb and the coloring are dead giveaways, even to me (and I convinced myself that my last two roosters were hens.)
This is Crispy, one of our assisted hatch chickens. Remember Crispy? We’re thinking girl for this one, but not sure yet. The other rough hatch chicks, Shelly and Sesame, are almost certainly girls. Glad I helped them out!
We ended up with 5 Easter Egger/Speckled Sussex chicks, which we refer to collectively as “The Cutlets,” after their mother. They are all very similar in appearance and turning out to be great little chickens — wily and very pretty. I think 3 of those are roosters, including this guy:
And last but not least:
This little barred easter egger, called Asada, is by far the friendliest chicken I’ve ever met. She flies up to perch on my shoulder when I bend down to refill their feeder, and settles in my lap for a nap if I sit down in the run. So far she looks like a girl, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed a while longer. Maybe you can cross yours too?