Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Good Egg, One Bad Egg, and the Ultimate Egg Sandwich

Eggs are a big deal on our farm.  We make a living by supplying farm meat, dairy products, veggies, and prepared meals to the members of our CSA.  The vast majority of them request a dozen eggs with their weekly order, so it is important for us to have healthy, happy chickens laying wholesome, delicious eggs on a consistent basis.  Unlike eggs from "Prison Chickens," Free Range eggs tend to have a bright yellow yolk due to the nutrients they are able to get as they forage along the pasture.  They are fresher and definitely taste better.  Eggs are a wonderful source of protein as well as 13 essential vitamins and minerals---and all for about 70 calories.  The Good Egg is the perfect food!

...but I digress!  

Eggs are important to the Farm, for reasons of both Nutrition and Finance.  The condition of the egg shell can often reveal information about the health of our flock and when an egg looks funny, it is time to check the gals closely to make sure that nothing is amiss.

See the egg in the middle?  The funny wrinkled one? What's up with THAT?
Nothing to worry about, in this case!  The ripples and wrinkles you see on the pointy end of the egg are indicative of an egg that has been "body checked."  This is typically seen with older hens and results when an egg has been damaged, and then repaired, during production.  It tastes just fine and is perfectly safe to eat.

We have about 85 laying hens, which means a whole lot of egg collecting.  There are eggs in the barns, eggs in the coop, eggs in the tool shed!  The biggest challenge we face is getting to the eggs before the dogs find them!  Egg collecting has also been impeded by the four broody hens who have taken up residence in the nesting boxes.  A broody hen is one who wants to sit on her eggs until they hatch, which takes 21 days.  Broody hens will steal eggs from under other chickens to increase the number of eggs in their clutch, which can get ridiculous.   Some will actually carry the egg in her beak or roll it a long way to the desired destination.  

Once they start sitting, broody hens will only leave for a few moments each day to eat and drink.  I decided to label the nests after The Farmer came into the kitchen one day thinking that he scored the Mother Lode of Egg Hauls.  Truth is, he had just swiped a broody mama's clutch while she was taking a two minute break to eat!   Yikes!  Can you imagine a CSA shareholder baking  with her child, cracking an egg and having a half formed chicken fall into the Brownies? 

It is important not to disturb a broody hen because she might decide that it isn't worth the trouble and will abandon the nest for good.   Our broody gals have been in some sort of competition to see which can sit on the most eggs....they flatten down their bodies and puff out their wings in a futile effort to keep 30 eggs incubated.  Once the babies start hatching they will be so busy chasing the little ones that many eggs will remain unhatched and will have been wasted!
Rosie Belle Farm Grilled Ham and Cheese 
One of my favorite comfort foods is a grilled ham and cheese and yesterday  I made a more grown up version using goat cheese and an easy Goat Cheese Mornay Sauce. It is fast and delicious...the best part is that almost every ingredient can be found in a Rosie Belle Farm CSA box!
Good Bread is the Start of a Great Sandwich!
Ingredients for 2 Servings
3 Tablespoons of Butter, plus more for pan
2 Tablespoons of All Purpose Flour
2 Cups of Milk
1 teaspoon of Salt
1/2 teaspoon of Pepper
1/2 teaspoon of Nutmeg
One Cup of Farm Goat Cheese
4 slices of White Bread
4 teaspoons of Dijon Mustard
6 slice of Cooked Pork Product of your choice...ham, bacon.  I used Collar Bacon, a leaner, sweeter cut.
2 large eggs

First, gather the ingredients to make the sauce.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over moderately low heat.  The butter should NOT brown.  Whisk in the flour and stir constantly for three minutes or so.  Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, whisking the entire time so as not to scorch the milk.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and about 1/2 of the cheese and stir until melted and incorporated.  The goat cheese is not a super melty cheese and you might see pieces of goat cheese in the worries!  It will be delicious.  Remove from the heat.

Now for the Sandwich!  I am going to keep directions simple by building one sandwich.  Get two slices of bread.  One will be your Foundation Slice and the other will be the Top Slice.  Spread Mustard on the Foundation, then cover with a generous slather of Cheese Sauce.  Put half of the goat cheese on top of the sauce, reserving the rest for the second sandwich.  Add bacon/ham/pig part of choice on top of the goat cheese and finish off with another generous dollop of Cheese Sauce.  Repeat with the other Sandwich.

Preheat the broiler.
Heat up a frying pan and melt some butter.  Add the sandwiches and grill them on medium high heat until the Foundation slice is nice and brown.  Take the sandwiches out of the pan to melt a bit more butter and grill the other side.  Looking tasty, isn't it?  We aren't done yet!

Spread more sauce on the top of the sandwiches, put them on a cookie sheet, and put them under the broiler for two minutes or so.

While the sandwiches are in the broiler, fry up the eggs in the pan you used to grill the sandwiches.  They should be just about perfectly done when the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Slide the egg on top of the sandwich, grab a fork and a knife, and enjoy!
I just took a break to check on my broody hens...our first chick of the year has hatched!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Goat Balls, Spinach Balls and Finding Udder Peace....

The Cow almost did me in....I can handle 12 dogs, 75 chickens, 45 goats, and a bunch of hogs, but one little old Jersey cow damn near made me turn in my muck boots and high tail it back to suburbia.  Yeah, I know.  I was very excited by the prospect of The New Cow just a few short weeks ago, but that was way back when I was young and naive.

I am a hardened realist now.

Elsie came by way of an Animal Trader....not a recommended way to buy an animal, by the is just one step up from the Sale Barn, which is where old/infirm/bad tempered animals are often sold for meat. The Trader mentioned that her teats were "kinda tore up" but our budget was limited, the timing was right, and SHE WAS IN we took a chance.

Frankly, it was much tougher than I thought it would be.... physically demanding and Kind of Scary.  She was in pain when I tried to milk her and acted out accordingly.   Turns out that the Animal Trader used her to feed six hungry calves.  She was tied up and the ravenous little mouths went in for mealtime twice a day.   Animal Traders view animals as commodities that must be monetized and a cow in milk helped keep feed costs down.  Most cows feed one or two babies, so six put a lot of pressure on Elsie and her teats were a chewed up mess.   One of her teats looked like it might actually slough off from the damage.  Regardless, she needed to be hand milked twice a day to keep the milk flowing and to guard against the development of mastitis.  Ugh.

Milking  was clearly very painful for her and I was an inept Newbie.  She bled and she kicked. I dodged and swore and dodged some more.  It is a bit intimidating to have one's head in the direct path of a 1200 pound kicking animal, yet I needed to apply medication and earn her trust.  

The situation was made more challenging by the fact that the muscles in the forearm that are used to milk cows are very clearly not muscles that I have ever used in my lifetime.  Plus, I am really old.  Too old to be learning new tricks?  It surely seemed so!  One frustrating morning I dropped the milk bucket because my hands were rebelling. I watched the milk literally go down the drain and I leaned against Elsie's big warm cow body and cried.  Pretty pathetic but True nonetheless.  Fortunately, Georgie was the only one around to witness my shame and he was too busy lapping up the spilled milk to pay me much mind.  

I slogged forward.  The Farmer gave me pep talks and did a great job of keeping Elsie entertained and well fed while I bumbled and fumbled through those first weeks. A tense time was definitely had by all.  

Happily, we seem to have gotten to the other side.  Elsie's injuries have healed and the kicking has stopped.  We have developed a nice rhythm and she stands patiently while I milk her.  

Whew!  Ya know, I think I've got this!

A few week's ago I pulled out a well loved recipe for our CSA shareholders.  Spinach Balls are a tasty treat with a very  pedestrian name.  Try it in French...

Boules d'Epinards.  

Much more sophisticated, dontchathink?   Spinach Balls  stand alone as an appetizer or can be added to pasta for a meal.   The recipe will make about four dozen balls. They freeze really well and are consumed with gusto, so don't be afraid to make a big batch!

6 cups of chopped spinach (About 8-9 generous handfuls of fresh spinach)
6 cups of panko
15 eggs, beaten
3 cups Parmesan Cheese
2 cups of Softened Butter
4-6 cloves of garlic
3 cups of chopped onion

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Chop the spinach.  I did it in batches in my Food Processor.  Don't pulverize it or turn it into juice, just pulse a handful or two at a time. Put all of your ingredients in a really, really, big bowl and mix well.
Once you have the ingredients well mixed, stick the bowl in the refrigerator for an hour or so.  The butter will firm up just enough to make it easy for you to work with the spinach "batter."  I rarely follow my own advice in this regard because I am always short on time.  C'est La Vie. They always taste great, they simply fall a bit flat on occasion.  Happens to the  best of us.

Anywhooo...Grab some mixture, form it into a ball, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  I use an ice cream scoop so that the balls are a uniform 1/4 cup.  Pack those little suckers close and personal.  The proximity will keep them from spreading out and losing their shape if you have skipped the refrigerating step. 

Pop they cookie tray(s) into the oven and set the timer for twenty minutes.  This is a good time to clean  your mess, put on a load of laundry, or have a glass of wine.  Tick tock, tick tock.

Timer went off!  Check your balls!  They should be nice and crispy on the bottom.  Take the tray out of the oven and use kitchen tongs to turn over each one of them.  Don't try to do this while the tray is in the oven.  You WILL burn yourself, which will make you not want to make Spinach Balls  Boules d'Epinards...which would be sad....because they are really, really good!

Once you have flipped the balls, set the timer for another 20 minutes.  Rotate the cookie sheets if you are using more than one and wait patiently.  Tick tock, tick tock. 

Prepare to be dazzled!
So while I was cleaning up my Spinach Ball mess it occurred to me that I had out two of the six ingredients necessary to make another favorite appetizer, and figured out that I might as well make that one, too!

I present to you.....
Goat Balls are ridiculously simple to make but the process does involve Deep Frying.  Don't judge me.

1/2 Cup Panko
1/4 Cup Flour
Salt/Pepper/Garlic Powder
Goat "Farm Cheese"...available from your local goat farmer
Oil for frying
Chili Aioli 

Combine the panko, flour, seasoning in a bowl.  Take 1/4 cup of Farm cheese and form into a ball, then dredge ball in panko mixture.  Repeat.
Heat oil in a deep fryer or small pot, bringing temperature to 350 degrees. 

While the oil is heating, take a minute to whip of some quick Chili Aioli by blending a spoonful of Mayo with a bit of Sriracha sauce. Voila!

Has the oil reached the proper temperature?  If you don't have a thermometer, sprinkle some panko into the oil to see if it sizzles.  Using tongs, gently release the balls into the hot oil.  Cook just until golden brown and drizzle with the Chili Sauce.

Life is better with Goat Cheese...and melted Goat Cheese is just about the best thing around!