Archive | February, 2013
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Wordless Wednesday

20 Feb

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Introducing ….Mabel and Betty

17 Feb

Last weekend we went to pick up two new chickens. Hens. Chooks. Girls. Whatever you want to call them.

And for the last week they have just been known as the new girls or the blue one and the white one. Or the new two.

But this morning they got names, over breakfast, as I was eating really delicious scrambled eggs on toast, watching them outside doing their chooky thing.

Mabel making herself at home in a nesting box

Mabel making herself at home in a nesting box

 

Moby tries to play Wacky Races with Betty

Moby tries to play Wacky Races with Betty

Mabel is being bullied by the three original girls. Whenever she gets close to them, especially when there’s food about, one of them will peck at her to chase her away. She runs pretty fast though so she’s not being harmed. And Betty, who is very petite and possibly a bantam, just hides behind Mabel so she’s ok.

Mabel and Betty haven’t started laying again yet after their winter break, but as the days get longer and spring starts to show, I’m sure they’ll be laying soon. At the moment we’re very happy with three eggs a day from Achilles, Hector and Tommy – and the eggs have got much bigger than when they first started laying, with rich dark yellow yolks – perfect for poached eggs, which is a regular quick supper these days.

Both Mabel and Betty are Wyandottes – a white and a blue – but they are so different from one another to look at. Personality wise, they are both much shyer and less talkative than the hybrids, with Mabel being protective of wee Betty. They are canny wee girls though – they’ve nabbed the nesting box for themselves, and they’ve worked out when to nip in and grab a treat without being pecked by the bullies.

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday

13 Feb

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I hate bullies

10 Feb

Hector and Achilles are bullies. I should have known. Give the girls names which make them think they will be immortalised for their battles and of course they were going to pick on the new beautiful girl.

I may have to call my bumptious big white girl Helen if those Greek/Trojan heroes are going to fight over her.

This afternoon I went to give them all a wee treat of some bread (cut up into dinky wee cubes so they all get some) and Achilles, Hector and Tommy were outside doing their chookie thing, while the two new girls were  indoors and keeping out of the way. That’s ok, the new girls might be feeling a little lost and want to get their bearings before they venture out too much.

But of course when there was no food left outside, the old girls started to wander in to see what I might be offering indoors. And then they went for the white chicken to try to prevent her from getting any treats. It was Hector, he was the ring leader. Achilles kinda joined in, and Tommy was too busy scrabbling around for food to really get involved.

I’ve read about bullying when new chickens join an established group, about how it takes them some time to establish the new pecking order. But it’s brutal! I told Hector off, but I suspect she doesn’t understand like a dog would, and so she’ll continue to pick on ‘Helen’ pecking feathers out of her neck.

Meanwhile the wee blue girl was hiding in the shadows, keeping out of the way and then darting out to peck at some bread when the others were too busy fighting to notice. I think I like her already.

 

I hate marmalade

10 Feb

I don’t like marmalade.

I’ve never liked marmalade.

I went through these two statements in my head the other day, and then I thought to myself, ‘But perhaps I do’. You see, because I have known all my life that I don’t like marmalade, I’ve never tried it again since I was about 7 years old.

So then I started thinking about children not liking food, and how you should get the kids involved in cooking using the ingredients they think they don’t like. And then voila! They will at least try them. And quite possibly like them, as they are so proud of what they have made.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The farm shop had lovely looking seville oranges, and I decided to test my hatred of marmalade, by making a big vat of the stuff.

I LOVE making preserves, and have several cookbooks devoted just to that, in addition to various back to basics cookbooks and family cookbooks which I was certain would have good recipes. I consulted my go-to website for finding recipes eatyourbooks. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but if you haven’t read that post, then I’ll tell you about it again – if, like me, you have many cookbooks and no longer have an encyclopaedic knowledgeable of exactly what recipes are in which. Register them on the website, and you’ll be able to search for recipes, or on particular ingredients, and it will tell you which books or magazines will have the recipes you are seeking.

So, I narrowed my choice down to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, or Thane Prince.  And Thane won (and not only because I follow her on twitter, but because I love her no-nonsense recipes with her explanations of WHY you do certain things).

But of course, being me, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe word for word – I didn’t have enough granulated sugar in the cupboard and was determined not to go back out to the shops again, so I substituted with a mix of caster and dark brown muscovado sugar.

Orange and ginger marmalade

From Jams and Chutneys by Thane Prince. If you are even vaguely interested in preserving, buy this book – it covers the basic techniques and then delicious recipes for everything from an every day raspberry jam, through frozen cranberry vodka to smoky barbecue sauce.

  • 1.25kg Seville oranges, scrubbed in warm water
  • 115g fresh ginger, cut into 1″ nubs and then crushed
  • 1.5kg unrefined sugar (I used 3/4 caster sugar; 1/4 muscovado)
  • 200g jar stem ginger preserved in syrup, drained and chopped into slivers (keep the syrup – you’ll need it later)

You will also need a large muslin square, a big heavy based pan and preferably a jam thermometer (although this is not necessary)

  1. After scrubbing the oranges pop them whole into a large heavy-based pan, with the smashed lumps of ginger and 8 cups of water
  2. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for about 45mins till the fruit is soft and squishy
  3. Using a holey willie (this is what we call a slotted spoon in my family!) remove the ginger and the fruit from the pan – put it in a big bowl
  4. Pour the liquid into a jug to see how much you have – if you need to, add more water to make up to 6 cups and put it back in the pot.
  5. Add the sugar to the pot, and let it start to dissolve (off the heat) while you are processing the oranges
  6. Before you do anything else, pop a side plate into the freezer, or the icebox of your fridge (this will make sense later)
  7. Now, sit yourself down, put on the radio and get to work on the oranges. You’ll need a bowl lined with the muslin square, a wee sharp knife, a soup spoon, a chopping board and the bowl of oranges
  8. Cut the oranges in half, and scoop out all the pith and the seeds and the orangey goodness into the muslin lined bowl. Once all the oranginess is in the muslin square, tie it up securely and pop it in the pot of water
  9. Thinly slice the peel. This will take a bit of time to do properly, so relax and enjoy, it’s a lovely mindless task, almost meditative once you get going
  10. Add all the sliced peel to the pot. Pop your sugar thermometer into the pot if you have one, if not, don’t worry – you’ll still get good marmalade
  11. Bring the mixture up to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes
  12. Add the ginger syrup and the slivers of preserved ginger
  13. Cook on a fairly quick boil for a further 30 minutes, or until the marmalade has reached setting point. I didn’t boil it hard enough so it took FAR longer than 30 mins. If you’re using the thermometer, just keep boiling till it reaches ‘jam’ but do the cold plate test to make sure it will set.
  14. The cold plate test – take the plate out of the freezer and drip a blob of marmalade onto it. Leave a few seconds till it’s properly cold and then push it with your finger. If it’s runny, keep boiling. If it sort of wrinkles at the edges, it’s ready. Voila!
  15. Remove and discard the bag of oranginess.
  16. Ladle into sterilised jars, seal and label

 

A note about sterilising jars. You must do this! If you don’t your marmalade could go nasty really quite soon after putting it in the jars. And what would be the point of that?

You can sterilise them by running them through the dishwasher and using them immediately (without putting your icky fingers inside the jar before filling them). Or wash them in hot soapy water, and place them upright in a baking tray, and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so. Again, fill them with marmalade before you fill them with ickiness from your fingers.

And another note for you – about soft peel. That’s what marmalade is all about, yeah? How would I know, I never liked the stuff! Anyway, if you want your peel super soft and lovely, then you have to go through the process of cooking the oranges in water BEFORE you add the sugar. If you add the sugar before the skin has softened it will just go tough and your marmalade won’t be so unctuous and delicious.

So, I guess you want to know if it worked, if I now like marmalade? Well what do you think? Would I be able to resist this unctuous bittersweetness in a jar? It’s DELICIOUS! I still don’t know if I like ALL marmalade, but I certainly love this one.

And you do want the recipe for marmalade and apricot muffins don’t you?

Next time, next time. I’m too busy on my Easy Peasy Cheese Scones right now. And must make some lemon curd, to use up some of those eggs (and those lemons looking a wee bit sad in the fruit bowl).

 

 

Poached eggs

9 Feb

Ages ago I promised to tell you how to make the perfect poached egg.

Well, it looks like I’ll be having a few more poached eggs soon, as we have just got another two chickens. I thought they might be called Charles Darwin and Jane Austen (after significant authors in our collections at the National Library of Scotland where I work)… but now that they’re home, I’m not so sure. Pictures will of course follow but it’s such a dreich dull day that I can’t bear to take pics yet. They are both Wyandottes: one white and the other blue. The white girl is big and bumptious, and blue is petite and very shy. And neither can be seduced by food – I gave them a scattering of warm sweetcorn, which my other girls would hoover up in the space of seconds.. and the new girls weren’t really interested.

Anyway, there will no doubt be further news of my family of chooks, but for now, let me tell you how I make the perfect poached egg.

Poached egg

Get the freshest eggs you can get.

You do know how to tell if they are fresh or not? You pop them in water and see if they float or not. If they sink to the bottom then they are oh so fresh; if they float to the top I’m not sure I’d eat them. Somewhere in the middle is probably ok.

And the reason this happens is that there is a membrane inside the egg, and over time the gap between the membrane and the eggshell fills with air to make a wee air pocket, hence the egg floats.

OK, so now you’ve got your eggs, you’re ready to make the poached eggs.

  • Boil a kettle full of water
  • Pour the hot water into a wide pan (possibly a deep sided frying pan type thing)
  • Add a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (don’t add more, you don’t want your eggs to taste of the vinegar – it’s just added to help the egg whites stay together and not stray all over the pan)
  • Put the pan on a REALLY low heat – you hardly want the water to bubble at all
  • Break your egg into a tea cup
  • Lower the tea cup with the egg in it towards the water, at a 45 degree angle, then slowly and gently tip the tea cup and slip the egg into the water
  • Repeat for as many eggs as you have (but don’t overcrowd the pan)
  • Now, let them just sit there in the almost boiling water for about 3-5 minutes, depending how fresh the eggs were and how soft you like them
  • Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon (which was always called a holey willie when I was a child and I still find it hard to resist calling it that!)

Serve on fresh buttered toast. Of course. Preferably with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

Other things to have with a poached egg on toast

  • Black pudding – classic and delicious, needs nothing else
  • But if you’re being fancy, add some scallops (and perhaps swap the toast for some spinach)
  • Bacon
  • Ham with or without hollandaise sauce
  • Marmite – trust me, it works
  • Smoked salmon

 

 

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