cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, peas

Take a Step Back in Time and Grow Peas This Spring

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One of the first crops we plant every year on the homestead is peas.  They give us our first opportunity to really work in the soil.  They are also one of the first vegetables we harvest.  They are very easy to grow and preserve, so they are a great addition to any garden.  You can even plant peas again in late summer for a fall crop.  We start planting peas as soon as the soil can be worked.  We plant both bush and vine varieties,  we also plant sugar snap peas for stir fry and salads.  We start planting seeds by turning over the soil and then making a small 1/2″ deep trench.  We then place the seeds about 4″ apart in the trench.

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Finally, we cover the seeds with soil.  Some varieties require a support to grow on, and for those we construct a simple trellis system made from t-posts and some used garden fence.  Over the years we have used all kinds of different materials, but these are the simplest to install and seem to last the longest.  We simply put a t-post every 8 feet and then tie the fencing to the posts with wire.  The least expensive wire we have found is in the masonry department at our local lumber yard, it is used to tie re-bar together so it is strong enough to do the job and the price is right.  Sometimes we use wooden stakes for additional support.

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In 7-10 days you should see your seedlings begin to emerge.  It is so exciting to see new green in the garden. After a long winter those little green leaves can really lift your spirits.  They grow fairly rapidly and really enjoy the cool weather.

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Those little marvels will send out tendrils and climb up your trellis.  We keep the weeds at bay by using an extra heavy weed guard, but weeding by hand is also a snap.  As the days grow longer the peas will stretch for the sky .

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Eventually white flowers will form and it is from these flowers that your pods will emerge.  You can eat the pods when they are young or leave them on the plant to grow big round peas. We pick sugar snap peas when the pods are about 3″ long, but the best and most fun way to see if they are ready is to taste them.  Peas are perfect for a snack in the garden, and often more make it into our mouths than into the house.  Kids love to pick peas and eat them.  You can teach them quickly how to pick them without damaging the plant.  Some of my first garden memories are of picking peas and beans in my grandfather’s garden.  Even then, very few made it back in the house to grandma.

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We pick our peas when they are nice and round inside, again it takes a little trial and error to get the right size.  Once the peas are picked it is time to shell them.

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Sitting on the porch shelling peas truly brings you back to a simpler time.  We often shell them at the end of the day and have an adult beverage with great conversation.  The most wonderful part of shelling peas is that you cannot use your cell phone while doing it.  Two hands are required and after a short time you really get the hang of it.  A big bowl of pods does not yield a big bowl of peas, but they sure are worth the effort. We also feed the pods to our chickens and pigs so nothing goes to waste.  Unless you have grown them you have no idea how good a fresh pea is.  Frozen and canned peas are not even close.

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Preserving peas is a snap.  You just have to toss them into boiling water for about 30 seconds then shock them in ice water and freeze in a single layer.  Once they are frozen you can put them into a good quality freezer bag.  Every year we grow more and more peas aside from being a great side dish, they are a great addition to salads.  They can also be a healthy snack.  Growing anything in our garden has to be worth the effort and space we give it.  Peas take up little space because they grow vertically,  and because they grow quickly you can grow more than one crop a season.  The time spent shelling them is almost as valuable as the nourishment they give us.  Growing peas takes us back to a simpler time when people actually talked to each other.  And after growing them you will never look at that big bag in the grocery store the same same.  So grow some peas this year, and don’t forget to wave to your neighbor when they drive by.

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backyard chickens, cooking, duck eggs, ducks, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising ducks, recipes

Maple Bourbon Smoked Duck, what “farm to table” means to us

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The term “farm to table” is another one of those terms, in our opinion, that is way over used and frankly, not even used properly. If we were to define our way of homesteading, we would say that the term, “farm to table” applies. On our homestead, we have ducks and chickens. (Our ducks were introduced to you in an earlier blog, so look that up if you did not see it) In all farm or homesteading life, most of the animals serve a purpose, such as eggs from the hens and ducks as well as their meat.  Last fall, we hatched 14 ducklings and ended up with a total of 7 males and 7 females.

As in life and nature, too many boys are not a good thing! Frequent fights and domination can cause quite a ruckus in a flock of ducks. So the tough decision has to be made, it was time to thin the flock. We have a friend that already had a female duck that mentioned that they wanted to get another duck for a mate. So of course, we offered one of our boys and they gratefully took it off our hands. As for three other males, we carefully, and as respectfully as possible, butchered them. No other details necessary here. They went into the freezer for a later meal.

Easter was fast approaching and in thinking of what we had in the freezer for our Easter dinner, we remembered the ducks. One of our favorite ways to have any of our fish or meat is brined and smoked. We have yet to perfect our home-built smoker, so in the meantime we use one that is a part of our gas grill. The wood we use for smoking is apple wood, and yup, you guessed it, from our small orchard of apple trees.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Smoked Duck

1 duck, 2-3 lbs

Cracked black pepper

The Brine (also great for chicken and pork)

4 cups of cold water

¼ cup of kosher salt

¼ cup maple syrup

1 oz of bourbon

1 tsp cracked black pepper

The Glaze

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tbsp bourbon

Whisk together the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the duck in a large bowl. If you don’t have enough brine to cover the duck, don’t panic, just add a little more water. We also use a trick here that we learned from making sauerkraut. Place a small plate over the duck in the brine and it helps to keep it immersed and to keep it from “floating”. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before cooking, soak the apple wood chips in warm water.

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After 6 hours, remove the duck from the brine and rinse the duck inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the duck on the smoker rack, and season simply with a sprinkle of black pepper. (let the smoke do the seasoning for you!) Smoke the duck according to your smoker’s directions with the wood chips that you have been soaking. We smoke ours at about 225 degrees for 2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees. (There are varying degrees of duck “doneness”, this is just our preference.)

After the first hour of smoking, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush the glaze over the duck, then brush again every 15 minutes. After the agonizing wait for your duck to be done, remove from the smoker and enjoy!

So there it is, the epitome of “farm to table”, or in our case, “homestead to table”. We strongly believe in treating our animals, which also become our food, with dignity and respect from their births all the way to nourishing our tired bodies from the homestead life. It’s not any easy life, but the rewards are countless. A meal in our house never goes by without thanking the animals for giving their lives for us, or thanking each other for the time spent caring for the animals, gardening, canning, freezing or preserving, and cooking the meal.

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, recipes

How to Make Corned Venison Move Over Corned Beef

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Every Year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around everyone thinks of corned beef, but here on the homestead we do it a little different.  We make corned venison and it has now become sort of a tradition, which we love.  We have no illusion that this is some sort of  long lost traditional Irish meal. Much like Rome was not built in a day, neither is corned venison.  Planning for this dish starts when we are butchering the deer in the fall.  We always set aside the roast that looks most like brisket for our corned beef and be sure to label it as such.  About a week before we defrost the roast, and then the magic happens.

Corned Venison 

1 venison brisket, about 3-4 lbs (feel free to substitute beef, also delicious!)

2 garlic cloves, cut in half

The Brine

1 quart of water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

In a sauce pot, combine all the brine ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once dissolved, set aside to cool. I am kind of impatient, so I use a little trick I learned from my grandma, pour the hot brine into a heat proof glass measuring cup, then put the measuring cup in a metal bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally and your mix will be cool in no time.

 

 

 

Place your brisket and garlic in a large gallon size freezer bag and pour the brine over it. Seal the bag, place the bag in a baking dish and refrigerate for 6-7 days, turning once each day.

 

 

 

After those very long days, remove your brisket (don’t be alarmed by its color, the “cooking” process has already started from the vinegar and salt) and thoroughly wash off the brine under cold water.

 

 

 

Place the brisket in a large pot, add one beer and enough cold water to fully immerse the brisket and cover. Bring the liquid/brisket to a boil, turn down to a simmer and allow to cook, covered for about 2 hours, or until the brisket is cooked through. In the last 20 minutes or so, add cut up potatoes, cabbage and carrots.

 

 

 

Just for comparison, the sliced meat on the top of the plate (darker in color) on the left is the corned venison, the other is a flat cut store-bought corned beef. The venison is much leaner and you won’t believe how great it tastes, you may never go back to that store bought one!   Whenever we treat venison like other meats we are pleasantly surprised with the results.  Having so many delicious recipes for venison allows us to make full use of our yearly harvests, and having another versatile source of protein makes us more self sufficient, even on St. Patrick’s Day.

 

cooking, homemade, homesteading, recipes, tostones

How To Make Tostones

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If there is one thing that life on the homestead revolves around, it is food.  We are always trying to grow more of it and we love to cook it.  As hard as we try, there are always foods we enjoy that we can’t grow on the homestead.  Every once in a while we treat ourselves to one of these foods.  This week while at the store, the checkout clerk handed Tracy a free plantain.  What a wonderful gift, since we love to make tostones from  plantains.  We acquired our recipe from a Dominican gentleman I used to work with.  The recipe is perfect in its simplicity, and it reminds us that good food does not have to be complicated.

You begin with a green plantain, it should be firm but not hard, it should also not be turning yellow or it will burn due to a higher sugar content.img_2352

The next step is to peel the plantain and slice it into 3/4″ slices

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Pour 2″ of vegetable oil into a large pot and heat until the oil ripples.  Then add your plantain slices cook 30 sec on each side then remove and drain.

While they are draining you can prepare a dipping sauce called Mojito.  Crush three large cloves of garlic and lightly brown it in a pan with olive oil. Once it is browned place it in a small bowl for dipping your tostones.

Now comes the fun part. My Dominican friend called it “the smashing”.  Take one of your cooked plantain slices and place it on a cutting board.  Take a second cutting board and place it on top of the slice.  Then push down until it squishes the plantain.  It takes a few tries to get the feel but you want the slices to end up being 1/8″ or so.

Then use a knife and scrape them off of the board.  Next place them back into the oil for a second fry and cook until golden brown, flipping once.

Drain again on a paper towel, lightly salt and place them on a plate around a bowl of your dipping sauce.

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This amazingly simple dish is full of flavors you will enjoy.  They are especially popular as a late night snack.  Homesteading is about getting back to the basics, and this dish does just that.  It is amazing how good 4 simple ingredients can taste,  and when you make them on a winter’s evening they warm you with thoughts of the Caribbean.  So next time you are at the market grab a plantain and take your family on a tropical getaway.

cooking, cooking venison, cooking wild game, homemade, homesteading, sausage, venison

These Are Not Your Mama’s Venison Meatballs

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There are a many ways to prepare ground venison.  Ground venison is very flexible and by adding a few spices you can really change its flavor profile.  One of our favorite ground venison dishes is venison meatballs.  Over the years, this recipe has evolved.  In the beginning, we treated the meat as if it were beef, but it still tasted a bit too gamey.  So over the years we added ingredients until we came up with these amazing gourmet venison meatballs. A tradition Italian meatball is made with veal, pork and beef.  With that thought in mind, we combined venison with beef and pork to make a spectacular meatball.

Venison Meatballs

1 lb each of ground beef, pork and venison

1/2 cup of plain bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp dried parsley

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp dried basil

1/2 tbsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

olive oil

Marinara Sauce, waiting patiently on your stove

In a large bowl, combine the 3 ground meats. Add the bread crumbs, parmesan, egg and seasonings. With clean hands (or I sometimes use gloves) mix all of the ingredients together until well combined.

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat a large baking sheet with olive oil (I personally hate to scrub dishes, so I also line the baking sheet with aluminum foil). Shape into meatballs that are about 2″ in diameter. Don’t mind those few sausages that joined the meatball party, they were just waiting to be used in the freezer!

 

Place on baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, turning once during the baking time. After 30 minutes, remove the meatballs from the pan and place directly into the sauce. Simmer in the sauce for another 30 minutes or until the meat is thoroughly cooked through and absorbed some of the sauce.

 

Serve over your favorite pasta, or if you want to take it to the next level, put the meatballs and a little sauce in a 13 x 9 baking pan, cover with mozzarella, and pop under your broiler for a few minutes. After the cheese is melted and lightly browned, you will have made an amazing meatball parmigiana!

 

 

When we make a dish for the first time, we always spend time talking about what changes need to be made.  We can spend an hour after a meal thinking of the right changes to make.  We enjoy the conversation and usually the wine as much as the food.  A great meal is always more than a sum of its parts.  It is the hard work that went into the harvest,  The time spent cooking, and the great company that we enjoy.