23 December, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to make some flavoured vodka in the summer and as it takes three months to mature, I thought I'd make us something special for Christmas. I used 500g of cranberries, pricked them with a skewer, put them in a bottle, added the same amount of sugar and topped up with vodka. It looks amazing and tastes yummy, it's quite simply Christmas in a bottle.

Cheers, and Merry Christmas everyone!

20 December, 2010

Christmas Chocolates

Note to self, must make more next year! Very easy to make, delicious and using condensed milk instead of cream makes them keep for longer.

Chocolate and almond truffles

500g good quality dark chocolate
a small tin of condensed milk
1 tsp almond extract
crushed almonds

Put the chocolate and condensed milk in a bowl over boiling water and melt very gently. When melted, take off heat, add almond extract and crushed almonds and leave to cool. When cool enough to keep their shape, roll into balls, roll the balls in some cocoa powder and put in the fridge to harden.

These are the flat bottomed ones I made when the mixture was still a bit too warm to keep its shape. The perfectly round ones have already been packed away in a hamper for one very lucky lady!

16 December, 2010

Two hens a laying!

Cissy's first egg on the left, Bella's 31st on the right.

Chickens don't like cold and wet, and since it might get a bit colder again tonight, I wanted to make sure the coop was clean and dry. After emptying the poo tray in the compost I put some fresh bedding in the nest and went in for a cup of tea. What I didn't realise was that I had left the coop door shut. When I looked outside I saw both of the chickens by the dustbath, realised my blunder and went out to open the coop door. I had a quick look in the run and spotted something in the dustbath. It was a little brown egg!

I had already collected Bella's egg in the morning and poor Cissy must have been desperate to try to get in the nest, then given up and settled for the second best option. I can't believe both of my little chooks are laying. There will definitely be some egg boxes going in the Christmas hampers now!

And just when my mother was beginning to suspect that we might have been sold a cockerel!

13 December, 2010

Textbook chickens?

There were plenty of signs of Bella coming into lay, which made her a textbook chicken. Cissy, on the other hand, seemed completely clueless to this whole egg laying malarky.

In the last week or two, however, we've started to see some changes in our little hen. First her wattles and comb got a bit bigger (I would say their combs and wattles are the same size now, although Cissy's are still a bit paler). Then, I finally managed to catch her attention and get her to come when called (rattling the corn jar does the trick), which she never had the confidence to do before, unless Bella did it first. For a few days she has been getting more comfortable with me, letting me give her a quick stroke as she goes past and today she even crouched for me.

I was sure Cissy wouldn't lay her first egg until next year, but we might get a Christmas surprise after all!

09 December, 2010

Marinated garlic cloves

Another quick and easy recipe for Christmas hampers!

Marinated garlic cloves

3 garlic bulbs
1/2 dl white wine vinegar
1 dl olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
any spices and/or herbs you want to flavour the garlic with

Separate the cloves and boil them for 3-5 minutes. Rinse with cold water, peel and put in a jar, covered with vinegar. Let them marinate for 3 days and drain (if you wish, you can keep the vinegar for the next lot). Mix the oil, salt and herbs/spices, and layer this in jars with the garlic. They will be ready to eat in 5-10 days.

I tripled the recipe and used 9 garlic bulbs, so that I could try making different flavours. I've made one jar with sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and another one using chilli flakes and honey.

If you'd rather not cover the cloves in oil you can use an alternative. Bring 1 dl water and 1/2 dl white wine vinegar (and any herbs and/or spices you want to use) to the boil, pour over the cloves and close the jars. Let them cool down and keep refridgerated. This method is quicker as you can skip a step. Instead of separately marinating the cloves, you can pour the vinegary preserving liquid straight onto the cloves. I made my third jar this way and used a combination of herbs, honey and chilli flakes to flavour the garlic. I've got to say it doesn't look like much next to the other two, but the proof will be in the eating.

I hope my test batch turns out ok, can't wait to experiment with some home grown garlic next year!

03 December, 2010

We've got nasties!

Image from: http://club.omlet.co.uk/forum

Almost a week ago I finally managed to have a closer look at Bella's bottom feathers while Hubby was holding her and to my utter shock and horror, found some little critters moving near the vent. A quick look at the Chicken Clinic told me they were lice. For a moment I felt like a complete failure, but reading further on made me realise that it's a very common problem and it can be easily solved. I happened to have bought some sort of mite and lice spray* and had in fact treated the birds not too long ago as a precaution, but as I wasn't sure that they had lice I wasn't being vigilant enough. This time I made sure everything got treated. I cleaned and sprayed the coop and made sure it was dry and well ventilated before letting the chooks in. While Hubby was holding Bella, I parted some feathers and sprayed straight at the lice. Cissy wouldn't let us anywhere near her after one failed attempt to grab her, so we waited until she was half asleep in the coop before giving her bottom feathers a good squirt.

The spray seemed like a good all-in-one product for getting rid of all sorts of nasties, but I was quite shocked to find out that after spraying the birds there would be a seven day egg withdrawal period. I was agonising over throwing away all the eggs that were laid after Sunday and decided to do some research. I found that some people think it's perfectly ok to eat the eggs, but others would rather throw away the eggs that have been laid within the seven day period. I'm going to compromise between the two and (as suggested by another chicken keeper) bin the eggs laid within 48 hours of spraying the chickens and keep the rest. We can do this as long as the eggs are for our own comsumption and won't be sold to anyone.

I should treat the chickens again this Sunday to make sure I'll get rid of all the lice and their eggs, but if the weather is as cold as it has been for the past few days, I might have to wait and do the whole thing again later. The chickens are coping with the cold (Bella's still laying almost daily), but I don't want to make it harder for them by spraying wet stuff on them as it will take ages to dry in this weather.

Sorry about the picture (just thought someone might find it helpful), it doesn't half make me itch!

*) Pyrethrin based insecticide spray to destroy lice, fleas, ticks and red mite.

02 December, 2010

Moonblush tomatoes

I love sundried tomatoes and wanted to see if I would be able to make them myself in the dehydrator. I decided to use cherry tomatoes, because hopefully I'll have loads of them come summer. This is how I made them.

Moonblush tomatoes

cherry tomatoes, halved
sea salt and pepper to season

Spread the tomatoes on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Leave in the dehydrator overnight (or for 8-10 hours, maybe longer for bigger tomatoes) on 57°C, and when dry store in a sterile air tight container. If you need to store them for a long time, top the jar up with oil.

If you want to make them in the oven, turn it up as hot as it will go while you prepare the tomatoes, then switch it off, put the toms in and leave overnight without opening the oven. The tomatoes should be nice and dry in the morning.

The drying process makes even watery shop-bought tomatoes taste amazing. They would make lovely Christmas presents, if I had any left. I'll be making some more of these next year!

Room for two, room for four?

From: http://www.omlet.co.uk/  - KIT B

I can't resist a bargain. I thought I had already stretched the run to the absolute maximum I could fit in our small garden, but then I spotted the run extensions on sale on the Omlet site. After some quick measurements in the garden I asked Hubby for his opinion on whether or not we should get another extension. It seems like my normally oh so sensible other half has also gone completely bonkers as he seemed to think it a very good idea. So, here we are with a four metre long chicken run reaching from the corner of the shed to the raised bed.

Cleaning the run will be definitely a two man job from now on, but I'm happy knowing that the chooks have more space, especially now that they show no interest in going out of the covered run to free range in the snow.

(And now I've got room for four chooks. Might go and choose a nice Black Rock or two for my birthday in the spring!)