I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Monday, 31 January 2011

by way of update

A few changes at the farmhouse over the last month in the pet department...

Six-year-old MeMe has joined us, and is settling in well. She's a sweetheart and the girls love her, even when their stuffed toys mysteriously make their way into MeMe's sleeping crate. Sam has not minded the addition, and it's been fun to see the two playing in the snow while the girls skate on the creek.

Note to self: curious, agile dog with no point of reference for rodents as pets (and not mice to be trounced) does not generally end up well for hamsters. Our return home from church last Sunday led to the sad discovery of little Sparrow's cage spilled off the shelf and onto the floor, and poor Sparrow himself decidedly worse for it. The girls decided to get another hamster but the cage was moved up to a much higher shelf, and so little Cappuccino joined the family.

It seems next week we'll be turning into the Creekside Home for Potentially Homeless or Dead Chickens (it does need a better name). Some friends whose flock has been diminishing over the years are down to three hens, one of which was actually one of ours (long story), want to get rid of it, and some consultation between the girls and their buddy let to some puppy dog eyes looking at me and saying, "but Mom, they'll DIE if we don't take them!". Of course they said it with dramatic inflection. So, we'll give it a go and see how the hens get along. Hens are not the most accepting of new additions to their crew, but if you sneak them in at night sometimes they don't quite notice that there are newcomers. Hens, needless to say, are not the brightest of creatures.

Winter continues, the snow being rather sneaky in its accumulation, but the creek has frozen beautifully and the girls have passed many fun-filled hours skating on it before returning to the house with rosy cheeks. I love it.

Monday, 17 January 2011


The cold has descended, creeping in and chilling everything. Last night dipped to -25C (-13F), although 'dipped' seems the wrong word when it seems to be firmly ensconced there still this morning. It's chill-to-the-bone cold, nostril-freezing, throat-numbing, hide inside cold. Which is really too bad, as D used the snowblower on the weekend to clear off a section of the creek and (oh, irony!) it's too cold to ice skate today.

On the walls of the unheated buildings, frost forms ornate curlicues that look organic, like bits of stylized moss stretching across to reach who-knows-what. Nature's wallpaper. The windows glow then the sun hits them, again displaying the details of the frosty art.

The chickens huddle in their coop under the heat lamp, their feathers fluffed out to conserve heat. The eggs will invariably come in frozen today, their shells cracked by the expanding egg white. Thank goodness for the electric water heater, or the poor hens would be trying to chip at ice to get something to drink.

In other news, we met our soon-to-be dog yesterday. Well, she's already a dog - but soon to be ours. Six-year-old Meme will be joining us soon, an absolute sweetheart. She's built small but she's lovely, a German Shepherd who's been a show dog herself and the mom of several champions. It's retirement time for her and so breeder LK, who has set the bar for dogs with this family very high with both Tasha and Sam, emailed to ask if we'd be willing to give her a home here at the farm. We're all looking forward to having her here.

And still it's cold. After last week's calorie-packet but oh-so-yummy cassoulet, I was thinking of lighter fare this week - but all I want to eat is stew, stew, and more stew. Off I go to find something to meet both requirements.

Friday, 14 January 2011

daring kitchen, january

"Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba." - Julia Child, Julia Child and More Company, Cassoulet for a Crowd

Before this challenge I had neither heard of a confit, nor a cassoulet. I am now a great fan of both. Come to think of it, D and the girls are too. The Daring Kitchen challenge once again has added a new dish to our family's repertoire.

"Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman."

I started this one by amassing ingredients. Meat, meat, beans, and - oh! - meat. The ducks mentioned in my last blog, a side of pork, pork sausage, and bacon, along with some northern white beans, were all found easily enough. A trip to the Butchery garnered the all-important duck fat (yes, you can buy it in plastic tubs, but it's not cheap) for the confit.

Salted duck legs
A confit is pretty much meat poached in fat. Four duck legs were salted overnight and then submerged in over two cups of duck fat to cook in the oven. This isn't deep-frying, it's done slowly with herbs. It smelled amazing, and made for meat that was tender and flavourful while not being greasy.

This then sat, still in the fat (making for an old-time preservation method, since the fat sealed the meat and extended its storage life), in the fridge to await the cassoulet. I do plan to try a confit on its own sometime, as the meat can be browned under the broiler to enjoy on its own.

Next stage: A few days ago I started tonight's supper. The beans soaked overnight, then were cooked the next day with side pork, onion, and a bouquet garni.

A puree of cooked bacon, onion and garlic was prepared, the sausages were browned in duck fat (of course!). Yesterday it was assembled as what the girls called "bean lasagna" as we layered it.

We lined my roasting pan with bacon (D said: "when you line the pan with bacon, how can you go wrong?"), then a layer of beans, then sausage, then onion/garlic puree. More beans, side pork, more puree. More beans, the duck confit, and more beans. The cooking liquid was poured over the top to finish it off.

That's a lot of food. This is my roaster for the 25-lb Christmas turkeys.

It roasted for two hours before cooling and sitting in the fridge overnight. Today I melted butter, cooked some garlic, and tossed it in Japanese bread crumbs and parsley. The cassoulet was put in the oven and heated, pushing the top crust down as it formed, and then topped with the bread crumbs.

Ready to serve!
On the plate. This is serving #1. We all had seconds.
Oh. my.

First off, this recipe is massive. For supper we had friends over and only ate about half of it. The flavours had melded beautifully, but there was still some distinction. It was hearty, tasty, rich, with that sort of basic goodness that comes from slow-cooked foods. We will make this again! We had rave reviews all around the table, including the kids.

While we may not be in the subzero of Manitoba chopping wood, I'm sure it will suit a day's skating or sledding here in subzero Ontario. Delicious!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


I started cooking with duck this week. In fact, had one of the biggest laughs in a while in the kitchen when D was walking in and I yelled "DUCK!" and tossed one at him. He deftly caught it, insightfully (or luckily?) realizing that I was announcing the projectile rather than warning him to avoid it. Good times.

The 'real' reason for duck will show up here on Friday when I post the January Daring Kitchen post. This required duck legs, but they just don't seem to be sold alone like chicken legs. So, two whole ducks made their way into my shopping cart. After quartering off the legs, the breast meat was removed for another meal, while the rest of the carcasses were roasted and then boiled for stock. These things are pretty pricey, so I wanted to make the most of it.

Duck is, unlike other poultry I've dealt with (read: chicken and turkey, for the most part) cooked rare. I decided to go simple with the now-boneless duck breast. The skin was scored, cooked over low heat to render out the abundant fat, which I poured off before upping the heat to sear the meat. The interior was left pink. My kids looked at the thin slices that came to their plates, and A ventured: "isn't it supposed to be cooked?" before being reassured and digging in. The skin was crispy, and a thin glaze of reduced pan drippings, balsamic vinegar, honey and white wine was drizzled over the top. Herbed, roasted small potatoes and buttered peas finished off supper.

Wow. Everyone tried it, and we all agreed it was delicious. It's almost got a steak-like texture when prepared like that. The kids loved it, chewing slowly to enjoy the flavour. Looking online I've found French cuisine, Asian cuisine, lots of options for using it that are begging to be tried.

And yes, I've started looking into adding a few ducks to our meat birds next summer.