Lasagna as comfort food.

by Veronica on August 5, 2010

It’s the last few weeks of winter here and after a run of really bad luck, I’m craving comfort food. Chicken and peas, drenched in gravy. Mashed potatoes. Rich tomato and beef casserole.

And Lasagna.

Lasagna is one of those things, it’s a pain in the arse to put together, it uses WAY too many pans for my liking, it’s got different elements and yet sometimes, you just crave lasagna.

Of course, the times when I crave lasagna, I never have pasta sheets on hand, because holy crap but GF lasagna sheets are expensive and as rare as hens teeth. So, doing what I do best, I improvised and just used a layer of spiral pasta between the meat.

I like to add vegies to my lasagna, but being lazy, this time I couldn’t be bothered grating carrots into the mince. So I just cooked it up, very tomatoey and figured we’d cope.

Brown off some onion with a couple of anchovies. Add the mince and cook through. Add a can of diced tomatoes and some tomato paste, some sugar and a little bit of salt. Cook together until it’s rich and delicious tasting. Adjust the seasoning with whatever you like. Once spring hits properly, I’ll have fresh herbs to throw through dishes like this.

Par cook some pasta. Drain.

Make a white sauce and then stir through a cup or so of ricotta. No, I’m not writing the recipe up. I’m lazy. Google it.

In a lasagna dish, or a casserole dish if you’re me, layer white sauce, spinach, pasta and meat, alternating so that you end with white sauce on top.

Top with cheese and put into a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown.

Delicious.

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Warning, this post talks about things that some readers may find distasteful. Please don’t read it if you can’t get your head around animals being slaughtered for food.

***

There is a feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you kill an animal. It’s that sinking feeling as you hit a wallaby in your car, that drop when you have to kill something for it’s own good.

These are the things I thought about as I held a flapping dead chook in my hand this afternoon.

3 hours previously:

Walking to collect the eggs, I entered the shed with the laying boxes and spooked one of my hens – she wasn’t laying, but she bolted when she saw me.

Another hen was laying at the time, curled up in her nesting box as I went down the row, collecting duck eggs and a chook egg.

Only…

Is that a peck hole? In my egg shell? Fuck.

It was, a suspicious peck in an egg – done recently as there was no dirt or grit around the entrance. As recently as me walking into the chook shed.

Fuck it.

Some chooks, they eat eggs. Something happens and they discover what is inside an egg and they start pecking all the eggs to pieces. If left, they’ll teach the other hens how to eat eggs and it will end up terribly. No eggs = no baby chickens = no reason for keeping chooks.

There is only one cure for an egg eating hen, and that is a quick death.

A few days ago, I’d found a duck egg broken in the bottom of the nest. I thought it odd at the time, knowing how tough the shells on my eggs are and I wasn’t sure a duck standing on the egg would have broken it.

I didn’t clean it up at the time, planning to come back and clean the straw and broken mess out of the bottom of the nest when I got a chance. So this morning when I found the pecked egg, I remembered the broken duck egg and went over to clean the nest.

Only to find the entire egg was gone, shell and all.

An egg eater, for sure. A possum or rat, well, they would have taken eggs from the other nests as well and made a right mess.

At this point, I was fairly sure that the chook I’d seen disappear when I walked into the chook shed was my culprit. She didn’t make an alarm call of ‘I was laying and PREDATOR’ or act like the other hens, quietly clucking at me in distaste when I bothered them.

AND she was standing leaning into the nest with the pecked egg.

So, we did what you do with an egg eater.

We caught her and killed her, humanely and fast. One chop and she went from upside down and relaxed in my hand, to dead. It was fast and it was painless for her, over in less than a moment. Slightly more traumatic for me, as my stomach dropped and I felt the feelings that come with slaughtering something.

But this is how it works when you’re making an effort to live more sustainably and only wanting to eat happy, ethical chickens. No one likes killing, (no one normal anyway), but it’s a fact of life.

Once she stopped flapping the death flaps and relaxed, we strung her up by a leg and did what you do – skinning, gutting, cleaning. It took a little while, as it was the first chook I’d done myself. I watched plenty of times as a child, but the actual act of doing, well, slow and steady and all that. There are things I’d never asked my father, like ‘how do you get the lungs out?’ and ‘how do you make sure you’ve got all the unborn eggs and kidneys out?’ but no matter, I worked it out myself. Me and my sharp knife and Nathan chatting to me while I worked. It was okay once I started, less like killing and more like processing meat. No different to gutting and filleting fish – a regular part of my growing up.

And then I brought the meat inside and chopped it into pieces for soup – which is bubbling nicely at the moment.

Tonight when we eat, I will silently thank the chook for living a good life and enabling me to eat ethical meat my way and I will know that this chook, she had the best life possible before she died and that her death wasn’t traumatic, for anyone other than Nat and I. Amy walked outside just after we’d chopped the hen’s head off and we talked about it.

That this is where meat comes from. We don’t get meat from the supermarket, meat comes from animals and our job is to give animals a happy life and ethical humane death.

Half way through skinning a chicken

Note the yellow fat? Proper free range healthy chooks have yellow fat and skin. Supermarket chooks have generally been bleached to make them more ‘attractive’. Personally, I’ll take bright yellow over covered in bleach any day.

This is once I’d broken it down and was browning in olive oil.

Recipe for chicken and potato soup:

Take your chicken, make sure it’s free range and break it down into it’s various elements. Take off the breasts, chop the legs down close to the carcass and remove them from the body. Brown everything in olive oil, including the carcass.

When everything is well browned, add 5 roughly chopped onions and a leek. Let them colour a little. Don’t burn anything!

Deglaze the pot with some white wine if you’re organised, or if you’re me, deglaze with warm water.

Cover the chicken pieces with water and bring to a simmer.

Add 4 large potatoes, chopped.

Cook until the meat falls from the bones and the potato falls apart.

Season with salt and pepper.

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Home made bacon.

by Veronica on July 22, 2010

Smoked Bacon, the finished product

When Mum slaughtered her pigs, we knew that I was going to be playing around with making bacon from the belly. This week, I did a trial run, using some pork cheeks from the pigs.

I wasn’t too impressed with the butchering of the cheeks – it seemed like a fair amount of meat hadn’t been cut off of the head. That said, the guy who did the killing didn’t charge very much, so I can’t complain too much.

To start with, I cured the cheeks in some sugar and salt for a week.

A proper cure is meant to contain pink salt (curing salt containing nitrite) however, finding curing salt in Tasmania is like looking for a needle in a haystack, so I gave up and just used regular salt, replacing the quantity of curing salt with regular salt.

Basic Dry Cure:

450g (1lb) of salt
225g (8oz) sugar
50g (2oz) pink (curing) salt.

I halved this recipe, knowing that I didn’t need as much as the recipe made this time around.

After I made the cure, I dredged the pork cheeks in the mix – basically dipping the wiped clean meat into the salt/sugar mix until it’s coated – and then I popped them into a snap lock bag and removed as much air as possible. Laying the bag flat in the bottom of my fridge, I turned it every day for a week.

Now, my bacon was very salty – I would suggest anyone else using pork cheeks to only cure for 3-4 days, or until the meat feels dense when poked.

After the meat had cured, I rinsed it and set it aside to dry.

You can see how the fat has softened and I’ve poked it.

If you’ve got a hot smoker, you then put the cured pork into a hot smoker and smoke it until it reaches 65C in the centre, otherwise, put it into an oven set to 90C and cook it slowly until it reaches 65C in the centre. Then cool.

I don’t have a hot smoker, but I do have a whole heap of ingenuity and so I rigged a smoke infusing mixture in the bottom of my roasting pan. Cherry wood chips (thankyou cherry tree) and a warm oven.

However, it didn’t smoke as my oven wasn’t hot enough. So once the meat had spent long enough in the oven (I don’t have an meat thermometer, I should probably buy one) – which was almost 2 hours at 90C, I popped it onto my stove top and turned the hot plates on underneath the pan. This made the cherry chips smoke rather well, thankyouverymuch.

Well enough at least that I filled the house with cherry smoke and the smell of smoky bacon. I suppose I’m just glad I didn’t have clean washing drying inside this time.

5 minutes of smoke with the whole lot covered in foil and my bacon was lovely and smoky. So was my hair/clothes/hands. Heh.

I cooled the bacon after that and then used it as a base for pasta sauce that night. It was delicious.

Personally, I think curing meat is a huge learning curve and I’ll definitely do things differently next time – like smoking over the BBQ instead of inside and not letting the meat cure for quite so long. Even though it was a little salty, it will make the BEST base for soups and stocks at the moment – because of the meat/fat ratio, I don’t think these cheeks would be the best bacon for serving alone, there really just isn’t enough meat.

The bacon has since been dispatched to the Frogpondsrock household and I’m waiting to hear what they have to say about it.

I’m counting it a success though.

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Happy Ducks

by Veronica on June 23, 2010

My ducks are happy – not only has there been a little bit of sunshine lately, but they’ve discovered the vegetable garden, full of slugs and snails. And unlike my chooks, the ducks don’t do that much damage.

So yay, happy ducks! Ooooh, they’re going to have such tasty babies come springtime. I can’t wait. Who knows, I might even end up with ducks to share!

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A teeensy little rant. Just a small one.

by Veronica on June 3, 2010

Okay, first? The 7pm Project? I understand that you’ve got to keep it simple, that your audience is made up of people putting kids to bed and others, who are just getting home from work and not wanting to think.

HOWEVER.

Coeliac disease? It’s not just an ‘intolerance to gluten’.

No. Coeliac disease is an auto-immune response to gluten, wherein the immune system attacks the gut and intestines.

As the doctor of the show, I suspect the man talking about epi-pens and then mentioning coeliacs in such a flippant tone knows all about that.

But, why on earth perpetuate a myth that coeliacs is just ‘an intolerance’ to the greater public?

Until you’ve had to rub the back of a crying 3yo, while she sits on the toilet sobbing in pain because she accidentally ate something she shouldn’t have, or you’ve suffered with the cramps yourself (disclaimer: I don’t have coeliacs, I mother a child who does), you don’t know just how severe coeliacs is.

Now Amy, she’s so so sensitive. She reacts to glucose syrup, which according to the Coeliac Society is gluten free. I say it’s not gluten free, my daughter is just more sensitive to gluten than your tests are.

And yes, any child who needs an epi-pen has a severe and life threatening allergy and coeliacs is not an allergy (see above re: auto-immune reponse) so we don’t require an epi-pen. And I have friends whose children DO have severe allergies and I feel for them.

Coeliacs won’t kill you instantly like a severe nut allergy would without treatment. However, it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t kill you eventually.

So please, don’t pass off coeliacs in such a flip tone because it makes it harder for me to find acceptance for my daughter in greater society.

***

Now, Masterchef?

God, I am so pissy about yesterday’s episode.

You’ve got 5 hours to put up 4000 canapes, move a little faster people! They were SO FUCKING SLOW. Let’s all just move like we’re in a dreamy state and be all slow and shit.

Oh my god, I’ve not yelled at the TV so much in a long time.

It’s a REAL kitchen, not a pretend one. Work a little fucking faster.

I can’t believe how slow they were. And dreamy.

I wanted to throw things.

Speed it up!

***

And there is my rant.

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