Let’s Hang Out

Hangout Starts at 6pm cst

Watch Live!!

I’ve spent most of my life learning about things like gardening, farming, design and décor and I always want to share these new ideas with my friends and followers. It’s amazing how our communication channels have changed over the years and just how many of them there are- books, television shows, videos, print articles, radio shows, my website, social media… you name it, I’ve used it! Now there’s a new technology that I can’t wait to try out, because it brings you, the viewer, into the conversation unlike ever before.

This Thursday at 6pm CST, I’ll be hosting my first Google+ Hangout all about chickens. Don’t know what a Google+ Hangout is? Don’t worry, I only recently found out. Essentially a video conference, Google+ Hangout allows you to “hang out” with a group of people in an online chat room and have a virtual conversation, meeting, brainstorming session, or any other type of get-together.

The brilliance behind it is that while my friends and I have this conversation with one another via webcams and our Google+ accounts, YOU can watch and engage on YouTube. It actually streams live, so you can comment on the video and we’ll be able to answer your questions and comments in real time. For a guy who has a habit of responding to fan questions once a week, this is a huge improvement in communication!

Speaking of communication, I can’t wait to kick off the chat where I’ll be joined by a few poultry experts and friends alike. Dr. Mikelle Roeder, a nutritionist from Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, Jeff May, a poultry specialist with Dawe’s Laboratories and Keith Bramwell from the Department of Poultry at the University of Arkansas will share their chicken wisdom and insight. Kylee Baumle, a garden blogger and backyard chicken owner and Heidi Berry, another chicken owner and gardener will also join in for what I suspect will be a fun and very informative “chicken chat”.

Want to get involved? I’ll share the link to the chat on my Facebook page, Twitter, and homepage- all you need to do is head over from 6-7pm on Thursday and click on the link to join in. If that time doesn’t work well for you, don’t worry- you can still get the chicken scoop! A recording of the entire conversation will stay on my Farm Raised YouTube channel. While I’m really looking forward to getting together with these guys, I also think it’s a great way to share information on a topic that I find to be more and more popular with my fans. I hope you’ll join me!

Pickling Punk Rock Style

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and fellow gardener Laura Mathews. She’s a garden writer and photographer who contributes to several websites including Punk Rock Gardens. She’s also the Northeast Garden Guru for Proven Winners. Laura attended our annual blogger event at the farm, Garden2Blog, in 2011.

While scouring the virtual garden for harvesting and preserving tips I discovered that Laura knew quite a bit on pickling. I asked her to share her knowledge, which she very graciously did. Plus a recipe for bread and butter pickles you can freeze. I can’t wait to try them.

If you have questions for Laura and just want to find out more good gardening information look her up on Twitter (@punkrockgardens) or Facebook or visit PunkRockGardens.com.

At times in the growing season, the bounty from our vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming. Many of our backyard vegetable garden favorites mature within weeks of each other. One way out to this annual pickle… is to pickle.

Pickling may seem like a frightening black art practiced only by women of the past with extraordinary quantities of technical kitchen skill, but it’s actually much less complex than say, maintaining a quality compost pile. With attention to a couple important things, pickling is easy. It also generates a lot of value. Pickling turns inexpensive homegrown vegetables into crunchy, tangy delights that cost far less than they would at the grocery.

The first thing to grasp is that pickling via canning is that it’s not cooking. You cannot safely fiddle with the recipes. Follow modern recipes to the letter. Make sure your source for the recipe is reputable. Consider as well, employing safer methods of pickling. Grandma’s recipe for refrigerator pickles – that may include letting the pickles stand at room temperature for hours – aren’t considered safe by the USDA. The trendy practice of pickling by fermentation is also best left for those with deep understanding of food safety. Canning your pickles or making easy freezer pickles is the safest way to start.

Next, your pickles will only be as good as the vegetables you use. Find or pick very fresh young cucumbers for pickles. The fresher the cuke, the more natural pectin it contains. This pectin will keep your pickles crisp. Some recipes call for products like pickle crisp or suggest ice baths to preserve the crunch. Make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it contains enzymes that will soften the cucumber. If you’re purchasing cucumbers, don’t buy any that have been waxed. The wax will interfere with the pickling processes.

Vinegar is key to pickling. Acidity in the vinegar is what keeps microorganisms from spoiling food. Be sure to check your vinegar labels for acidity percentage. Recipes are tested using vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Don’t skimp on the salt or substitute table salt for canning salt. Additives in table salt will cause cloudy brine. Stay away from Kosher salt unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Kosher salt is measured differently and can cause your pickles to be too salty.

For canned pickles, look for fresh pack recipes. You’ll need sterile jars and a pot large enough to boil several jars at once. A rack or good tongs will be needed to take the hot jars from the canning bath. The steps are easy. The recipe will dictate how to slice the cucumbers. Add the spices and the slices to jars. Cover the vegetables with the hot pickling solution which is mostly comprised of specific proportions of water, vinegar and salt. Seal with hot canning lids and cook for a bit in a boiling water bath. Cooking times for pickles are less than other forms of vegetable canning. After the jars cool, flavors will develop in a matter of weeks and you’ve made your own pickles.

If you want a no heat and no worries place to start, try freezer pickles. This is also fun to do with children. This recipe comes from Martha Zepp, Lancaster County Food Preservation Consultant with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Martha’s Freezer Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt

Layer cucumbers, onion, and salt in a glass bowl or non-metallic bowl. Weight down and cover. Do not add water. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.

Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed (this can be adjusted for taste. Try adding some mustard seed.)

Next morning, combine, but do not cook, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon celery seed, Zepp says. Stir until very smooth and sugar is dissolved. Drain sliced cucumbers and rinse well. Return to bowl, add syrup and refrigerate an additional 24 hours. Place into freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace and freeze.

Pickling is simply an artful mix of vegetable, acid, spices, sugar and salt. Don’t limit your pickling to cucumbers. Dilly beans are a personal favorite. Adding a little vinegar, some spices and salt to vegetables is really all that’s required to preserve your garden veggies while adding flavor and interest.

Butcher Block Countertops

If you are looking for an easy update for your kitchen countertops, take a look at butcher block. It’s a classic choice, both functional and beautiful. Butcher block will fit into any style; it’s all about the wood that you select and the finish.

Butcher Block Countertop Choices

Maple – Maple is the most traditional and what I selected for the Garden Home Challenge house. It’s a popular flooring choice for high traffic areas because it’s durable. The light color is especially nice for bright kitchens.

Walnut – American walnut is a blend of dark to light brown and cream. Walnut is beautiful in both traditional and sleek, modern kitchens.

Cherry – This is a classic choice for countertops. The red and brown color deepens with age so the material just gets better looking over time.

White Oak – White oak has honey tones, open grain and interesting burls. Choose this wood for farm house chic rooms.

Butcher Block Maintenance

Butcher block is very forgiving of daily use and with minimal care it will maintain its beauty for years. Keep the wood well-oiled and dry so that your love affair with your countertops will endure.

The first thing to do is to condition the wood with food grade mineral oil. Apply a generous coat of mineral oil and allow it to soak in for about 15 minutes. Repeat the process until the wood won’t absorb any more oil. Wipe off the excess. Don’t worry about using too much oil. Avoid edible oils such as vegetable, olive or nut oils. These contain fat that will go rancid over time.

Next seal the surface with beeswax, which is safe for using around food. This will keep the oil in and block out moisture and bacteria. Spread on evenly, allow the wax to dry, and then buff with a soft cloth.

If you have brand new butcher block, you will need to oil and wax them once a month or so. It will get easier each time you do it.

For daily cleaning, sponge it off with soap and warm water. Be sure to dry afterward. You can sanitize butcher block with a weak bleach solution (1 tbsp. bleach to 1 gallon warm water) or vinegar and water followed by an application of mineral oil.

Sand away stains, scratches and imperfections with a fine grade sandpaper.

Good to Know: Lumber Liquidators

I found the butcher block used in the Garden Home Challenge house at Lumber Liquidators. Famous for their flooring, they also carry butcher block countertops. I was able to get a 1 ½”x 25″ x12 linear foot countertop for $359.00. That’s quite a savings. Check them out at www.LumberLiquidators.com.


Happy Thanksgiving

As a child, I remember Thanksgiving meals at my grandparents’ house. My brothers, sister, cousins, and I would play outside all morning and eat peanuts we roasted over the old wood burning stove. My grandfather grew peanuts so there was always plenty to keep us going until lunch.

Red cheeked and hungry, we would run into a house full of mouth watering aromas. After washing up, we would all gather around for the meal – we small ones at the kids’ table on the back porch and the adults in the dining room.  Before dining in we would stand in a circle holding hands around the “big” table and my grandfather would say the blessing.  All the wonderful dishes made it hard to sit through the prayer, but as I grew older I learned to listen to what he was saying and now, as an adult, I hear his words  echoed around my own Thanksgiving table. That’s what this celebration is all about, being thankful for the blessings of the year and rejoicing in the bounty of the harvest.

Many members of my family are gone now, but their memories are very much alive and with us on Thanksgiving. Every year I dig out my grandmother’s recipe for corn bread dressing and my sister always makes mother’s cranberry relish. My young nieces and nephews have taken the place of my brothers, sister and cousins around the kids’ table and we’re passing on to them this very American tradition that each family has made into their own.

This recipe is included in my cookbook. Click on the book image to learn more.Josephine Foster’s Cornbread Dressing

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons bacon drippings

Cornbread:
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Dressing:
1 (6 to 7 pound) roasting chicken
8 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 celery rind, including leaves, chapped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
12 slices day-old white bread, crumbled
1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 level tablespoon rubbed sage
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
First, prepare the cornbread batter: Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk, stirring well to combine.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add bacon drippings to a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven for 4 minutes, or until it is hot.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and spoon the batter into the sizzling bacon drippings. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is lightly browned. Remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken (reserve them if you’ll be making gravy). Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out. Place it in a stockpot, and cover it with cold water by about 2 inches.  Bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the chicken and set aside while preparing the dressing. Reserve the broth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and set it aside.

Crumble the cooled cornbread into a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the celery, onions, and green onions, and cook until they are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Then add the mixture to the bowl containing the cornbread. Also add the crumbled white bread, 2 ½ to 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth, the half-and-half, beaten eggs, salt, sage, and black pepper. Mix everything well to combine.  Taste for seasoning. Spoon the dressing mixture into the baking dish. Place the chicken on top of the dressing – either whole or cut in pieces. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is brown on top and the dressing bubbly around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.