Chicks! (Again!)

As of last week, we have four little chicks hanging out in a bin in our basement. They are beyond cute. They are fluffy. They peep. And hopefully sometime this fall they’ll burden us with an overabundance of eggs.

Two of them are Ameraucanas which means they’ll lay blue eggs. The other two are New Hampshire Reds. The New Hampshires are the yellow ones.

We’re also getting closer to the good stuff with our current hens. I’ve been throwing large handfuls of raw kale their way and we’ve started getting eggs with slightly darker yokes. Thus far my family is less than enthusiastic about the kale I try to serve them. So I figure feeding it to the hens is the next best way to get those dark leafy greens into their systems.

Breakfast Nirvana

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Moonstruck is probably my favorite romantic comedy of all time. I’ve been cuing it up for many years now. In the beginning, it was all about the unstoppable and offbeat romance between Loretta (Cher) and Ronny (Nicholas Cage). But lately every time I watch it I focus on the food.

I love the scene where Rose (Olympia Dukakis) fixes egg-in-a-hole for Loretta. Until recently I thought Rose had added some bacon on top of the egg. We’ve even made it this way a few times. But the last time I watched the movie I noticed that it was really strips of roasted red pepper! I am thoroughly over the bacon-on-top-of-and-inside-everything-you-could-possibly-eat thing. So roasted red pepper sounds so much more exciting.

The next morning I couldn’t find any roasted red peppers in the house. But we did have some leftover caramelized onions hanging out in the back of the refrigerator. I didn’t hesitate because, as far as I can tell, caramelized onions never disappoint. And this time was no exception.[/donotprint]

Egg-in-a-Hole with Caramelized Onions Recipe

One slice bread
One egg
1 tablespoon butter (or less, just don’t be shy with the butter)
Salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons caramelized onions

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Cut a hole out of the center of a piece of bread with a 2-inch round cookie cutter or the rim of a shot glass. Add butter to skillet and wait until the butter is melted and starts to bubble/sizzle.

Place the bread in the skillet. Crack an egg into the hole. Season with a dash of salt and pepper. Top with the caramelized onions. Cook for four or five minutes and then flip the bread over with a spatula and cook one minute more.  Serve immediately.

Yield: one serving
Prep-time: 5 minutes

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The Dark Side of Keeping Chickens

Overall,  I’m amazed at how easy chickens are to take care of. But sometimes the whole situation reminds me of breastfeeding. Everyone’s so busy talking it up and saying how great it is that they forget to mention that there are moments when it truly sucks.

For instance:

1. Culling

Sometimes a chicken that was supposed to be a girl turns out to be a boy. In fact, I think it happens about 1 out of 10 times since chicks are so difficult to sex. After about a month of non-stop crowing for a half hour every morning, something had to be done (see above photo). What we thought was a butch hen was quickly becoming a rooster with a capital ‘R’.

Turns out there isn’t a drive-through slaughter house in our area catering to wimpy wannabe farmers. Even though we were fond of Miss Rooster, the rest of world saw her/him as a disposable entity that we needed to deal with ourselves. Gulp.

Apparently there will be more culling in two to three years when our hens are past their prime. They can live for several years, but if you’re in it for the eggs like we are it doesn’t make sense to keep them around. I’m not looking forward to it.

2. Start up costs

We found our little blue coop on craigslist, but it was still $500. I’ve seen fancy new coops for $1500. Then you have to build a yard around it. We used a healthy amount of hardware cloth to build ours so the yard cost somewhere between $100 – $200 more. Then there’s the food and the bedding. I don’t even want to do the math to figure out how many eggs our hens would need to lay to make up the costs. And I really don’t understand how farmers manage to make any money off of this kind of stuff.

The good news is that the chicks cost next to nothing.

3. Maintaince

Chickens poop a lot. So far it hasn’t gotten too smelly. But I’ve heard it can be a real stinkfest.

So all in all, I’ve discovered that keeping chickens is not always a pastoral love fest. But then when you’re cleaning out the coop for the millionth time, you find one of these:

I’m still a newbie, so it still feels better than Christmas morning to find a little egg hanging out in the nest box. It’s a miracle. I wonder if it will ever get old.

Thank you little hens.

We Have Egg!

It arrived a month late, but all is forgiven now that we’ve finally had our first egg from our hens.

I think I was feeding the hens too many of our kitchen scraps and they weren’t getting enough protein to produce eggs. A few weeks ago I cut the scraps way down. But I had still pretty much given up hope. The days are getting shorter here and supposedly output usually decreases during the winter.

But enough with the boring details….we have a hen that laid an egg! We’ve been feeding and tending these birds for months and months. The egg’s arrival feels miraculous.

No word from the hens (we’re down to only two from the original six – long story) yet as to which one of them finally stepped up to the plate. Regardless, one of them gave us a lovely egg. My taste buds were most likely clouded by the fact that the egg was from hens we had raised, but I’ve gotta say it was mighty tasty. (Don’t think I’m terrible and didn’t share it with my family, we all had a bite.)

The shell was thick which is nice. Thin shells bother me. It was a bit speckled which I’m chalking up to first time jitters. The yolk wasn’t as dark as I’d like. I’ll try throwing them some fresh parsley and see if that does the trick.

If you’ve got any other tips for me, please share them in the comments below. As you can probably already tell, I need all the help I can get.

Chicks!

Well, we were supposed to be waiting until next year…

But you know how that goes. Hopefully, I’ll have more willpower when it comes to getting a dog. 

We have six Rhode Island Red chicks who are growing like wild fire. Here they are (above) at one week old fresh from the Tractor Supply Store.

And here they are at two weeks (above). Notice the wing and tail feathers already coming in!

Here are the reference books I’m using as guides.

But I still have very little idea what I’m doing. Anyone know of a rad website/blog that details raising chicks?? Right now I’m wondering how long they are going to be happy in a big box. They’re growing so quickly I just can’t picture them fitting in it a couple weeks from now.

But, luckily, so far, so good. If you’re thinking of raising some chicks, be warned that they produce a great deal of poop! It’s giving me flash backs to the days my kids were in diapers. I could share other details, but I’m such a novice I think I’ll just keep quiet for now. Fingers crossed.

Hard Boiled Quail Eggs

In my dream world, I’m busying planning a fabulous party to celebrate the coming of Spring. Actually, I’d be happy if I just bought some flowers, had the girls make a few crafts, and made a nice lunch. But more than likely, none of it will happen.

The girls spent a great deal of time last weekend celebrating in their own way by making trouble in streams of ice cold water and soaking their clothes with mud. Something was in the air that no party could ever touch. There was bare ground to run on. Coats were cast off and immediately forgotten. Canada geese honked. Life was good.

Then of course it snowed a bit this morning. But it didn’t stick! Being a New Englander teaches you so much about keeping hope alive.

Here’s a snack to celebrate the coming of Spring. A quail egg. It’s not too big or boastful, but it doesn’t have to be because it’s so darn cute. I picked these up at an Asian grocery on a busy Saturday morning for only a few dollars. To me, they taste the same as chicken eggs. With a few grains of coarse salt, they are a perfect healthy and tasty snack.

I also have some green snacks in the archives that might interest you like Smashed Avocado Toast, Mint Yogurt, Avocado and Tomato FaceRoasted Tomatillo Salsa and good ol’ Guacamole. Also, don’t forget my new favorite Joy the Baker’s Kale, Spinach and Pear Smoothie.

How to Hard-boil Quail Eggs 

Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover the eggs and an inch more. Place the saucepan on a burner over high heat. Carefully place the eggs in the water. Don’t crowd them.

Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Leave the pan covered on the burner for five minutes.

Immerse the eggs in cold water, or better yet an ice bath, to stop the cooking process. When they are cool, crack the shell by tapping it on a hard surface and peel. The membrane between the shell and the white is a bit thicker than chicken eggs, but not too much so. Serve with salt to taste. Store leftover peeled eggs in cold water in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Prep-time: 5 minutes
Cook-time: 5 minutes

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Banana Julius

I think the next series I do will have to be about ways to use up over ripe bananas. It seems to be a question that puzzles me too often. And maybe it would provoke me to make a banana cream pie. I’m up for anything involving pie.

So here’s a lovely way to use up an over ripe banana.  It’s creamy without containing any dairy, which is a bonus on these hot summer days. The kids gave this one rave reviews. I’m excited to make them an egg cream someday soon.

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg white OR 2 tablespoons pasteurized egg white product*
1/2 cup cold water
1 ripe banana, peeled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ice cubes (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon honey

Unless you’re using a pasteurized egg product, pasteurize your egg white in a double boiler over gentle heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg white along with the sugar and 1 teaspoon water. Place bowl over a small saucepan containing an inch or two of simmering water.

Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an instant read thermometer to take the temperature. Keep the themometer in the egg mixture as much as possible and not touching the bowl. Once the thermometer reads 160, remove the bowl from heat and continue to whisk for another minute to be sure the egg doesn’t coagulate.

Pour egg mixture into a blender along with the 1/2 cup cold water, banana, vanilla extract, ice cubes, and honey. Mix until smooth. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Prep-time: 10 minutes

Homemade Orange Julius

One sip of this homemade Orange Julius transported me back to The Valley Fair Mall circa 1986. I never thought about it much when I was 13 years old, but the secret to Orange Julius’ frothy goodness is egg whites. Not wanting to forage for powdered egg whites or fork over the money for Eggology, I figured out how to pasteurize them easily at home.* 

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg white or  2 tablespoons pasteurized egg white product
3/4 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups ice (about 10 cubes)
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate

Unless you’re using a pasteurized egg product, pasteurize your egg white in a double boiler over gentle heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg white along with the sugar and 1 teaspoon water. Place bowl over a small saucepan containing an inch or two of simmering water.

Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an instant read thermometer to take the temperature. Keep the themometer in the egg mixture as much as possible and not touching the bowl. Once the thermometer reads 160, remove the bowl from heat and continue to whisk for another minute to be sure the egg doesn’t coagulate.

Pour egg white mixture into a blender along with the 3/4 cup water, orange juice, vanilla, ice cubes, and orange juice concentrate. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 cups (or thereabouts)
Prep-time: 10 minutes

*While the odds of bumping into an egg contaminated with salmonella are slim, it’s not worth the risk. The last thing I want to do is pass on any bad information or techniques. My instructions for pasteurizing the egg white come from the FAQ section of the American Egg Board (What is an adequate temperature to cook an egg?) and from Pat Willard’s book A Soothing Broth. If you don’t feel comfortable with home-pasteurization for whatever reason, please go and buy a pasteurized egg white product.

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Valentine Volcano

Here we have a chocolate meringue with fresh whipped cream and crushed strawberries – a mini pavlova. 

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As I was preparing the meringues, my husband was kind enough to tell me they look like pertrified dog poop. So I guess this snack doesn’t score a 10 for presentation, but the kids didn’t seem bothered in the least.

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This recipe is substantially lower in sugar than any other pavlova recipe I’ve seen.  It’s a relatively light snack all around, except for the whipped cream. But you can’t not have the whipped cream.

 For the meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 ounce dark chocolate, chopped very fine

For the whipped cream:

1/2 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar

For the strawberries:

6 frozen strawberries (about 1/3 cup), thawed
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a standing electric mixer, whip the egg whites, sugar, cocoa powder, and vinegar on medium-high speed until semi-stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the chocolate pieces with a rubber spatula. Spoon the meringue mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet about a 1/3 cup at a time. Create a heart shape, if desired.

Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until outer shell has formed and the meringues are not terribly difficult to remove from the parchment. Allow to cool on the pan.

Meanwhile, make your whipped cream by pouring the heavy cream and sugar into a bowl and beating it with an electric mixer until peaks form. If it’s an especially hot day, put the bowl in the freezer for a while before you begin. Store the whipped cream an airtight container in the refrigerator until the meringues are ready.

Meanwhile, drain any excess liquid off the strawberries. Crush the berries and sugar in a small bowl with a fork until they are broken down. Cover and keep at room temperature until the meringues are ready.

To assemble simply place a dollop of whipped cream on top of each meringue and top with 1-2 teaspoons of crushed strawberries. Serve immediately.

Yield: 10 mini heart-shaped pavlovas
Prep-time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 1 1/2 hours

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Crispy Clouds

[donotprint]These are otherwise known as Pavlovas. But I can barely say ‘pavlova’, much less my kids. Good tongue twister, bad name for a kid snack.  My kids came up with name while stuffing their faces. There were no leftovers.

Crispy Clouds have a delightful mouthfeel. They remind me of eating a roasted marshmallow, but take away the heat and sugar overload.[/donotprint]

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3 large egg whites
1 tablespoon agave nectar or sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt

3/4 cup whipped cream (give or take)
1 cup fresh raspberries (give or take)

Preheat oven to 200 F.

Place the egg whites, agave, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the whisk attachment, whip the egg white mixture on medium high speed until peaks form. Turn off mixer and detach bowl. Transfer large spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Place the scoops at least an inch apart. Make a well in the center of each scoop with the back of the spoon. They should be approximately 4-inches wide once the wells are created.

Bake on the center rack of the oven for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the clouds are stiff and willing to detach from the parchment paper.

Allow the clouds to cool for 1-2 minutes on the baking sheet. Gently remove from parchment paper and transfer to serving plate. Garnish each cloud with approximately 1 tablespoon whipped cream and a heaping tablespoon of berries. Serve.

Makes 12 clouds
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 1 1/2 hours

Note: Raspberries can be replaced by any soft fresh fruit.

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