Monday, 18 February 2013

why has my chicken laid a very small egg?

Here is this afternoon's offering:

 I guess there may be a problem with one of the chickens! They tend to lay very small eggs like this at the begining or end of their productive lives. My hens have all been laying for a while so I don't think this is a good sign!

dealing with an egg surplus

My beautiful eggs!
A week ago my hens weren't laying - no surprise after such a cold spell of weather. I had a few cakes to bake for various cake sales so I bought a dozen eggs. The days are getting longer now, and a bit warmer; the hens have responded to the increased hours of daylight by going into egg overdrive with the result that I now have 15 eggs - and that's not including those used in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday,  the eight I used in a Spanish omelet at the weekend or the quantity of boiled eggs my girls have eaten. Luckily a boiled egg is a great treat for them!

I need to think of more ways to use them up. In the meantime it's important to store them properly. Always write the date on eggs - pencil is best for this. They shouldn't be stored in the fridge as they are too humid, an ordinary kitchen cupboard is best. If your eggs are a bit grubby it's tempting to wash them but you really shouldn't do this, getting the muck wet might allow bacteria to pass through the porous eggshell. If you must clean them them a wipe with a very slightly damp cloth is the best thing to do. Of course the best way of keeping the eggs clean is to make sure that the hens nest box is regularly cleaned and the straw or sawdust replaced. I find fresh eggs easily keep for a fortnight.

I use the freshest eggs for boiling, scrambling etc and the older eggs for baking. If you want to hardboil and peel eggs it's easier to use eggs that aren't completely fresh - they will be delicious but very difficult to peel as the white will be almost crumbly (in a wet sort of way!). The egg white gets much rubberier as the eggs get older.

I think I'll be making some cakes this week and maybe a Queen of Puddings - a really delicious eggy pudding! The hens seem to think spring is coming so maybe there is an end in sight to this long, cold winter. My five year old found a daisy flowering yesterday which she thought was a great 'sign of spring'.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beef and ale pie with suet crust pastry

This hearty pie makes a supper for a winter evening. We like it served with baked potato and steamed curly kale. The filling makes a great casserole on its own if you are trying to cut down on the carbs. The ingredients below make enough filling for two pies - I always cook in large quantities and freeze half, it's so handy to have easy suppers ready in the freezer. So much nicer than a horse lasagne! The pastry doesn't keep so the ingredients below are for one. I have tried making and freezing these pies with the pastry already on but it's never as nice and the pastry is so easy there's not much point.

The key to success is long slow cooking of the casserole, this means you can use cheaper meat that has a higher fat content which stops the meat from drying out. You really do need to cook it for a long time to enable all the fat to melt out of the meat though. If you cook it faster and at a hotter time you'll run the risk of the meat drying out.

Filling / casserole (for two pies):
1kg stewing steak, large cubes (2 - 4cm)
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into 1cm pieces
50g flour
6 onions, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 handfuls button mushrooms
beef stock cube
2 cans beer (not lager!)
tbsp tomato puree
bay leaf

Suet Pastry (for one pie):
225g self raising flour
110g vegetable suet
cold water

Make the filling,
Fry the onions and bacon in a large casserole dish on the simmering plate (for agas) or over a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring often, then add the mushrooms and stir in the flour. Meanwhile brown the steak in batches in a frying pan. Add the steak to the casserole dish and then the carrots, stir. Add the beer and watch it froth! Stir in the stock cube and tomato puree. Add water if necessary - most of the ingredients should be submerged with just a few bits poking through. Cook in the bottom of the aga overnight. Last time I did this I cooked it for 20 hours; the meat was so tender.

If you want to make your pie immediately then put the filling into your pie dish and freeze the rest. If you are going to assemble the pie later put the dish in the fridge when cool enough. Don't assemble the pie until you actually want to cook it, suet pastry doesn't like hanging around!

Make the pastry,
Put the flour and suet in a bowl, stir. Gradually add cold water, stirring after each little addition, until all the flour is incorporated and you have a single blob of rather sticky pastry. Take care as the pastry can easily get too wet if you add too much water! Then put the pastry onto a floured board and stretch to shape. No need to roll. Moisten the edge of your pie dish and put the pastry on top. It should look rustic and bumpy rather than smooth. Make a little hole in the middle and even up any big lumps and bumps with your fingers. Cook in the top oven for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the pie is sizzling. Serve immediately!