Saturday, May 29, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: A Thought.


Yesterday I went to a new farmers' market, which is always a fun experience. This one was on the beach, so we sampled fresh-grown California strawberries while listening to the Pacific crashing nearby. Everything looked delicious, so we took it home and made a nice big feast for dinner:

Marinated London Broil
Arugula-Strawberry Salad with Fried Shallots
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Grilled Asparagus
Lemon Meringue Pie

The pie was left over, and the meat didn't come from the farmers' market, but honestly those were the least enjoyable parts of the meal (incredibly delicious though they were). It was the farm-fresh tasty that rocked my world - the sweet, juicy corn that didn't even need butter, the asparagus all crisp and delicious, and best of all, the salad, with the sharp bitter arugula as a perfect complement to those sweet, succulent strawberries.

It got me thinking (again) that 90% of cooking is in the ingredients you start with. That corn, that asparagus? Just tossed them in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and rubbed with a bit of garlic. Then they only took a few minutes on the grill while the meat cooked up. Good veggies don't need much of anything to make them delicious. A lot of people who think they can't cook, because whatever they turn out tastes bad, are just starting out with shitty ingredients that Bourdain himself couldn't do anything with. Start with good, organic, farm-fresh produce and you really would have to try very hard to screw it up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Make Your Own Monday - Baby Food

Check this shit out from Sydney U.

*snip*
The survey, which involved 429 children from Western Sydney aged 6 to 24 months, found that all but one of the children consumed 'extra' foods during the three-day period of the study.
*snip*

All but ONE child in three days ate a junk food of some kind, all children being less than two years old?! You're telling me 428 children in a three day period ate some sort of junk? Well, that's to be expected. One in three days is a treat, right?

*snip*
Fats and oils and products such as biscuits, pastries and cakes were consumed by 90% of the children over the three-day period when their intake was recorded. One in four (41%) of the children studied consumed cordials daily, and another 29% did so on alternate days.
*snip*

That's 70% of children drinking a cordial at LEAST every other day. Cordial? Is sugar syrup. Nice. Pastries are being consumed by 90% of children under the age of 2! Two thirds of children ate sweet biscuits on the MAJORITY of the days - meaning two out of three. Two thirds of children are eating sugary biscuits two thirds of the week!

So, I bring you: Make your own damn baby food. There is absolutely no reason that all but one child should be eating sweets, expecially when the bottom age is six freakin' months. Who on earth is giving their six month old biscuits two days out of every three?!

Thank heavens for websites like this, promoting making your own baby food. Basically most of the recipes require the fruit you plan on feeding your child and either boiling it in water or simply mushing it with a fork. How hard can that be?! Surely not harder than opening a chip packet.

Now I don't have children* so I decided to make a healthy alternative to apple pie baby food because, well, I'll eat it. Don't judge me.

3 cooking apples
1 egg yolk (for babies 6 months to 10 months,
omit egg yolk and thicken with infant cereal)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp stevia
1 teaspoon water or apple juice
Small pinch of ground cinnamon

First:
Slice and decore apples. Place scraps in school bowl.
Second:
Cover partially with water and squeeze in lemon. Boil over mediu until it looks like this:

Third: Mash and add rest of ingredients. Bake at 350/180 for 15 minutes or until set.

And that's all there is to it! Heck, the rest of the ingredients are even easier. Making full meals is as simple as blending leftover beef with overcooked brown rice. No reason for biscuits again!



*I used to, but I am only allowed to visit on Wednesdays from 2-4pm and I can't bring food. Something about parole.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Farm Fresh Friday: Fajita Salad

What's better for Farm-Fresh Friday than a salad? Homegrown salad greens are thriving this time of year, and some of you are finally getting tomatoes and other tasty garden treats. This is why summers are meant for salads.

Y'all know I love salad, and this is an old standby. (Apologies for no picture, because this really is gorgeous - I'm just traveling and hence a bit photographically impaired.) Like all salads, this one is super-flexible, and it makes a really great dinner in the summer. Sit outside and have it with a nice cold beverage!

FAIJTA SALAD

1/4 cup olive oil, plus some for cooking
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 lb. steak, chicken, and/or portobello mushrooms
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup corn kernels (canned, frozen, or fresh)
Tortilla chips (I recommend blue corn)
Freshly-grated cheese (cheddar and/or Monterey Jack)

You'll also need a big bowl of salad greens and all your favorite toppings: sliced carrots, chopped tomato, cucumber, green onions, raw turnips, avocado, whatever you're into. The more, the merrier!

Whisk up the 1/4 c olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, cumin, garlic, and salt. Set aside.

Slice the meat and/or mushrooms into strips, fajita style. Pour a little oil into your skillet and fire it up! Saute the meat/mushrooms with the onion until it's all cooked up. Alternatively, you can leave the meat/'shrooms whole and slice the onion in half, grill them, and then slice them afterward. Either way, you'll wind up with cooked fajita strips and onions...

...which you should toss with the dressing mix you just made. Stir in the beans and corn (gently, so as not to smoosh the beans) and stick it all in the fridge to chill for awhile. I like to do all this after lunch or in the morning so it's nice and chilled for dinner.

When you're ready to eat, assemble your salad. Big bowl of greens, all the toppings scattered around, and then the chilled fajita mixture, drizzling the dressing over the rest of the salad. Toss it up a little, and then top it with the grated cheese and a couple handfuls of tortilla chips crushed in your hand.

If you have any leftovers, they're great the next day wrapped in a tortilla for lunch, or spooned over a baked potato, or served atop some quinoa.

Happy summer!

Friday, May 21, 2010

How Udderly Nutty

Damn hippies have got me at it again. I have decided to post a recipe for nut and seed milk. Nut and seed milk is considered to be an extremely protein-rich and healthy alternative to cow's milk. Great for that lactose intolerant hooligan in your family. It takes roughly 2 cups of seeds and nuts to make 1.5l of milk. Oh and you can make flour from the dredges. Bonus.

Place 6 cups of water and 2 cups almonds in a blender. Or hazlenuts. Or walnuts. Or pecans. Mmmm... macadamias. What? Oh, yes, sorry. Let them sit for about 3 hours and soak the flavours nicely. Blitz. Strain. Put milk back in blender and dredgy nut paste in the dehydrator. Add honey/agave nectar/sugar/2 dates/sweet fancy into the blender. Blitz again. Store up to one week.

Dry pasty chunky nut bits in dehydrator until perfectly dry, about 6 hours. Blitz in blender. Almond meal. Or hazlenut. Or walnut. Or pecan... or macadamias..mmmmm. Almost tasty enough to make me like you dam raw vegan hippies.*



*not really, I still hate you.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesday: Golden Rosemary and Sea Salt Sweet Potato Chips


Why should you be making your own potato chips when a bag only costs about two bucks? I know, it seems very 'un tight-arse' to you right? Well.

1. This giant pile of potato chips cost me about a 60 cents in potatos. Only 3 potatos were harmed in this photo.
2. Health - what I'm saving you may only be $1.40 per bag, but your body will thank you!
3. Less fat than normal chips! I normally only eat the "three ingredient" chips anyway so I'll go as far to say as it even has less carbohydrates than normal chips.
4. Using sweet potatos instead of normal potatos changes the GI to be *GASP* LOWGI POTATO CHIPS!
5. $1.40 is $1.40! If you eat a packet a day, I have saved you over $600! See, this is a savings.
6. Psst. It's also raw. Damn crunchy granola hippie freaks.


You can flavour your chips with anything you want. Simply slice about 4 potatos (I ate one while it was drying, don't judge me!) on the mandolin or, if your food processor has a slicer attachment, use that. Pour about a tablespoon of oil into the bottom of a bowl and your seasonings (I used fresh rosemary and blitzed it until it was dust) - use slightly more than you think you'll need if you want that real 'chippy' flavour.

Toss. Arrange onto racks. I find if you just haphazardly chuck them onto the racks instead of laying them out separate, you can just toss them around every few hours when you peek (and you will) on them and they'll dry evenly.

Dehydrate on high for about 6-8 hours.

Keep on hand as a great healthy alternative to your normal snacking!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grapefruit and Vanilla Bean Marmalade


First of all: What makes a marmalade? Why is this a marmalade and not a jam or a preserve? For one, jam is made from fruit which is one, not a citrus, and two, peeled. For a marmalade, you use the entire fruit. You can remove the pith, but it is not necessary in this recipe. I also find it time consuming. If you are going to keep the peel in the jar and not strain it like I did, you will want to do this, otherwise you get a very unpretty jar of marmalade.

Now I adapted this recipe from a delicious Gourmet Traveller one after I realized I was inundated with in-season citrus and delicious vanilla beans from the local farms. I am looking forward to eating this, letting it settle in it's jar for a few days to really set that vanilla flavour in.

First off you will need:

1.4 pounds (omg did I use imperial?) or a little over half a kilo of grapefruit and lemons. This should be roughly one grapefruit and one lemon.
5 cups of water
3.5-4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
and... that's it!

Cut citrus in half and then slice thin slices lengthwise. Remove pith if you do not plan on straining. Do so on a plate so you can collect the extra juice and throw into a thick bottomed pan with the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off and let cool. The longer the better - up to a day. This is when I strained. If you have decided to keep bits in it, go right ahead. Still tastes delicious.

If planning on keeping preserves for awhile, this would be when you prepare and sterilize your awesome jars.

Place sugar in pan. Slice vanilla bean in half and scrap seeds into pan. Bring to a boil and then simmer at 230F/110C for half an hour. Let cool a bit and then pour into jars. At this point I got nervous about the setting and added a teaspoon of pectin for Gd knows what reason - it's setting quite thick now and was probably unnecessary. But hey, unlike your local politician, I didn't lie about it.

Seal and/or enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Knishes Are Knice!

I’m writing this from the comfort of an Amtrak lounge car, riding the Coast Starlight from Portland to Los Angeles. It’s about a thirty-hour trip, and if you’ve ever ridden Amtrak, then you know the pleasures are many but do not include the food. I like to eat one meal in the lounge car just for the experience, but it’s too expensive to do that for every meal and I prefer some healthier snacks anyway.

So I packed a few tangerines, a bag of freshly-picked raw snap peas, some garlic cheese curds, and organic, naturally-sweetened raspberry lemonade. For something more substantial, I broke out an old recipe and made knishes.

In talking about it, I realized that not a lot of people outside of New York are familiar with knishes. I don’t know how my Southern ass found out about them – being Jewish was probably a factor – but I’m so glad I did. They’re delicious, portable, and oh-so-cheap! The recipe makes a ton of knishes, which is great because they freeze beautifully and go right from the freezer to the oven, toaster oven, or microwave. They’re also delicious at room temperature, making them ideal to take to work for lunches or to bring on long train trips.

I’m giving the recipe here for the knishes I made last night; you, however, are not married to this filling. Plain mashed potato filling is good, or you can add cheese, chicken, or any veggies. I’ve even offended the culinary sensibilities of three continents by making a sort of knish-bao hybrid, filling my knishes with teriyaki stir-fry. Knishes are a great way to use up leftovers.

Speaking of bao, I also like to prepare my knishes with that technique. Traditionally you roll up knish filling in the bread dough like a jellyroll, then cut it with the side of your hand and pinch it shut. For silly reasons, I like mine bao-style, like round stuffed buns, instead. So I’m giving you those instructions here.

And when you look and the recipe and think it’s too much oil and flour to be nutritious – remember, this makes A LOT. How many depends on the size of your knishes but I got almost three dozen out of this recipe. So don’t worry, you’re not eating it all at once!

THE FANTASTICALLY PORTABLE FREEZABLE KNISH!

Dough:
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup barley flour *
1/2 Tbsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder (optional)
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup veg or canola oil
1 1/4 cup water

Filling:
3 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb ground organic beef, chicken, or turkey
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small turnip, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 cup spinach, finely chopped
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chipotle powder (optional)

Egg Wash:
1 egg + 1 Tbsp water, beaten together

* If you can’t find barley flour, just use 3 cups whole wheat and 2 cups white. But barley flour gives a very nice flavor if you can find it.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (200 C), and lightly oil a baking sheet.

For the filling, throw the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Salt it if you’re in a hurry, and bring it to a good boil. Simmer the potatoes 10-20 minutes, until cooked.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the ground meat and onion together. You don’t need to add oil; the meat will sweat its own fat out. When the meat and onion are cooked, drain in a strainer to get the excess grease out, then set aside.

The potatoes should still be cooking, so start on the dough. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl, and beat the wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine until it’s all mixed in. Knead the dough until it’s even and moist but not sticky – add a little more flour if it stays sticky, or a little more water if it’s crumbly. (This is easier than it sounds, trust me.) You should be able to roll it into a ball and your finger should leave a lasting impression in the ball when you poke it, without dough sticking to your finger.

By now your potatoes should be about done. Drain them and return them to the pot with the heat off. Mash the potatoes well, then stir in the other ingredients until evenly blended.

Tearing off fist-sized chunks of dough, roll each chunk out one at a time until it’s about ¼-inch thick. Cut circles out with a cereal bowl or something similar. Hold a circle in your hand with the palm flat, and scoop a tablespoon or two of filling into the center. Gather the edges up carefully and give a little twist – it doesn’t have to be a perfect seal at the top, but you don’t want filling leaking out the sides. A bit peeking through at the top is just fine.

Keep rolling out the scraps with more dough and making more knishes until you’ve used all the dough. If you have a little filling left over, just eat it for a snack or give it to the chickens. Once all the knishes are ready, arranged nicely on the baking sheet (or sheets; you might need two), and brush them with that egg wash.

Stick the knishes in the oven and bake them for 30 minutes. Careful when they come out – the middle is REALLY hot; I burnt my lip on a fresh knish last night because they smelled so good I couldn’t wait. Let them cool for awhile and then bag ‘em up for the fridge or eat them right away.

If you plan to freeze the knishes, only bake them for 20 minutes and then give them another 20 minutes in the oven from the freezer.


Make sure you bring a couple extra if you take them to work; everyone wants one. I like to make a game out of it and say they can only have one if they correctly pronounce the word “knish.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

AND THE WINNER OF OUR COMPETITION IS!!!!!

video
My husband did the draw for the Mother's Day gift of Kimberly's mixes and my all-natural soap package! Watch the video and comment here to receive your prize!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tight-Arse Tuesdays - Vegetable Packet Soup - Without The Packet


I have no idea why I never thought of this before, but it just occured to me when I was trying to think of ways to save money. Another recipe I've been working on is tomato leathers in my dehydrator pre-flavoured so all you do is add it to water to make pasta sauce.

I hate packaged soups. They always taste a bit funny to me. Of course, it's filled with preservatives and, oh, about $4 a fricken box. But that's only a dollar a soup, you say! Yeah well.. this recipe is only about TEN CENTS a soup. Cheaper than that girl you don't like. Easier, too.

Ingredients:

2 cobs corn
2 cups frozen peas (once mine actually grow, I'll be drying these freshly boiled baby)
2 carrots
2 capsicum - any colour (bellpepper)
2 spring onions
2 stalks celery
1 red onion
2 zucchini
3 baby eggplant
dehydrated garlic (already had it on hand, but you can just use 5 cloves garlic and dry and smoosh)
dried parsley
dried oregano
sea salt (I used pink himalayan though)
pepper
1/4c dehydrated stock or 4 smooshed buillon cubes
2 cups cous cous

Place couscous, stock, and spices to taste in the jar.

Using a knife, remove the kernals of corn from the cob. Throw leftover cob to chickens. Save corn husks for recipe I'll be giving you next week. On the bottom of the dehydrator place the corn and peas spread evenly. You'll need to stir these every 2 hours to keep them from sticking.

Instead of spending hours cutting carrots and zucchini, just shred them. I used a rather thick cut shredder, so it would be nice sized bits. Dice red onion and capsicum and thinly slice green onion. Slice celery and eggplant lengthwise and then chop. Dehydrate six hours, checking every two to disperse the ingredients evenly for optimal drying.

Package.

1 part soup mix to 4 parts water. 1/4c mix 1c water makes roughly one bowl of soup. Just put in bowl, pour boiling water over, wait a few minutes and enjoy!

Perfect for businessladies on the go who don't have time to prepare lunch that day. Keep at work or in the cupboard! Much healthier alternative to packaged soup - and much cheaper too!

Depending on the size of your ingredients, this should make roughly 20 servings of soup.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Perfect Pie Crust (and it's gluten-free!)



I know a lot of people are cutting out gluten nowadays. I'm not on that bandwagon, but I'm always willing to try new things, and I had a hunch that gluten-free pie crust might be better than the traditional kind. I was right!

See, when you make pie crust, gluten is your enemy. The more you work the flour, the more you handle it and the more the butter melts into it, the more it glutenizes. That formation of gluten is what turns a pie crust tough and makes it turn out like bread or a cracker. All those little tricks people tell you, about keeping everything cold and handling it as little as possible and refrigerating it between every step and keeping your hands ice-cold but dry - that's all to prevent the formation of gluten. So why not just use gluten-free flours?

That's what I did, but I also kept my traditional pie-making tips. I'll give you the recipe I used, but you can also use these same techniques on a traditional pie crust recipe if you want to. They work!

THE BEST (AND EASIEST) GLUTEN-FREE PIE CRUST

1 3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup arrowroot
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves (all optional)
3/4 cup butter, frozen
1 egg
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
5-6 Tbsp ice water

Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly. Then grate the butter with a cheese grater, or cut it up into small cubes, and add it in. If you have a food processor, pulse it all together until it looks like coarse sand; if you don't, get in there with your fingers and crumble the butter in. (This can be very relaxing on a stressful day.)

Beat the egg and vinegar together, and pour into the flour-butter mix. Don't skip the cider vinegar, whatever recipe you're using! You can cut back on the water by 1 Tbsp so it balances out, but the cider vinegar is a big secret for perfect pie. Stir the liquid in slightly with a fork (or pulse in the processor) until it's mostly even, and then add the ice water just a tablespoon or two at a time, mixing (or pulsing) after each addition. Eventually it'll be a nice dough - not sticky, not springy. It'll be crumbly, but when you roll it into a ball it will hold its shape, like this:



So divide it into two parts, one slightly bigger than the other, and roll each into a ball.

At this point you would normally refrigerate the dough for awhile, giving it a chance to rest and dragging out the time it takes to make a pie by hours or a day. Fie, says I. Now you don't have to. You can roll it out right the heck now. Take it over to the table, unless you're really tall, because it's hard to get the right leverage for rolling out a crust on the countertop.

Some people say to roll out pie crust on wax paper. I don't do this or recommend it, because I always find that it tears up into little pieces, which get embedded in the pie, and it's a pain in the ass to remove them. So I like parchment paper, but when I don't have any on hand (like today), I use plastic wrap. Whichever you're using, spray a little water on the table and spread the paper/plastic over it - the water will hold it in place so it doesn't slide around when you roll it.

Drop the bigger of the two doughballs on top, cover it with another sheet of paper/plastic, and get to rolling. Change direction every so often so you get a nice big circle. You want it REALLY thin, so keep going until it's a huge thin circle. Peel off the top paper/plastic. Then put the pie plate on top of the crust, upside-down. Slide your hand underneath and flip the whole thing over carefully. Now smooth the crust over the inside of the pie plate, making sure that it's sitting nicely against the sides and bottom and hanging over the edges. Carefully peel off the paper/plastic, like so:



It might rip as you go. That's fine. Pinch it back together. No one's going to notice or care. The great thing about gluten-free pie crust is the fact that you can't overwork it!

Now repeat the process with that other doughball, which will be your top crust. When it's rolled out all nice and thin, put your filling in the bottom crust - in this case an apple-pie filling I made back in October and froze in a pie plate so that it would be the right size and shape to just plunk down in the crust without thawing.



Once the pie is filled, carefully lay the top crust over it and peel the bottom layer of paper/plastic off like you did before. Then seal the crust by crimping around the edges - hold your two index fingers horizontally, facing each other, and make a little V by pushing each one in. Once it's crimped, trim the excess off the edges, so it looks like this:



At this point I highly recommend brushing some beaten egg on top. It's not necessary, but it'll give you a nice golden crust with texture. And if you're adding a decoration (about which more in a minute), it'll help it stick.



Now for decor! You've got that big heap of trimmings right there, after all. I usually like to take some of those trimmings and make a little ornament to go on the crust. Since this is an apple pie, I made an apple. I've also made hearts, stars, and other easy-to-cut-out little shapes. If you're not inclined to do this, don't bother, it isn't necessary.

What you do need to do now is cut some vents. This can just be a couple of slits, it can be an X, or you can make a little star-type design with the vents like I did.



Another optional thing - I recommend sprinkling the whole pie with a bit of sugar here. It gives the crust a bit of texture, and an appealing, rustic look that kind of sparkles when the pie is done. You don't need much, just a teaspoon or so (I never measure it, I just grab some sugar in my fingers and give it a good dusting).

Now you're ready to bake. This is going to vary depending on your filling, but with a fruit pie I start out with the oven at 450 F. I bake it for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 F and continue baking for another 45 minutes. That shock of hard heat at the beginning is what melts the butter and creates little air pockets which result in a nice flaky crust.

When the pie is done, let it cool, or the inside filling may be runny. It's most delicious while still just a bit warm though!



Heavenly.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our First GIVEAWAY!!



That's right, we are having our first ever Nothing But An Apron giveaway this month, in honor of Mother's Day! Because no one knows cooking and cleaning better than Mom, and Mom also knows better than anyone the need for a super-easy way to spend the morning relaxing as a family, and she also definitely knows when it's time for a nice hot relaxing bath.

So Lizzie and I are giving up the goods. She is donating a lovely gift basket of her handmade, all-natural bath bombs, body butters, and other luciousness; I am donating three flavors of my all-natural, organic, gluten-free pancake/waffle mix, and I'll even throw in the real maple syrup to boot. Believe me, you want in on this draw!

To enter, leave a comment on this post. Each comment will get you one entry in our draw, to be done on Mother's Day by Random.org. But you get DOUBLE points - two points per comment - when you tell us something you learned from a mom. Doesn't have to be your mom, just somebody's mom, and it doesn't necessarily have to be housekeeping-related.

Share this around, encourage your friends to enter (maybe they'll share the goodies with you if they win!), and spread the word! And good luck!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Farm-Fresh Friday: Home Grown Eggs

I'm going to show you something rather disturbing which will have you running to your local offices to see if you can keep backyard chickens or at least make you start searching for a new place to buy eggs. I give you: The Boiled Egg.


You see that gorgeous thick yellow yolked egg? You see that mushy looking pale orange yolked egg? Well the first one is my homegrown, corn-and-scrap-fed organic freerange chicken eggs. The second one? Well, you'd want me to tell you it's a standard market fresh egg, wouldn't you? It's not. This egg cost me $.70. Why? Because it's ALSO freerange and organic - but it came from the supermarket.

As my father in law said to me, "Beware of organic - it's a fancy way of selling a lesser product for more money." And in a lot of scenarios, it is. Especially this one. I say this as a woman who only eats organic and feeds her chickens organic mash. The thing is, if it's from an organic farm, a farmer can sell you B and C grade (meant for things like lotions and animal feed) fruits, vegetables and eggs at a higher price than if they sold grade A or AA non-organic foods. Just like this egg.

When you buy organic, also check quality of food. I am very particular about my foods and quality is a big deal to me. Eggs are a staple of your diet; from cakes to breakfasts to mousse... eggs are an essential item to the non-vegan chef. You want to make sure, if you're picky like me about organic, you're also getting a beautiful quality egg. The problem with eggs is their shell. It's hard to tell quality until you've already cracked. However, once cracked you can know whether the work is quality or not by the yolk.

An egg yolk's colour will depend on what it was fed but 100% of the time, if a chicken is fed well, it will be BRIGHT. Yellow or orange, those two colours are interchangable and, if a chicken is corn fed exclusively, it may even by an incredible bright sunshine-y orange. A pale yolk is a sign of a very malnourished chicken.

Try to get a fresh egg if possible and compare the shells. I never noticed until I got my own chickens just how thick a fresh eggshell is. You think, gee, but eggshells are actually pretty hardy already. You have no idea! I've had eggshells that, once cracked, could slice my hand open they were so thick and hardy! The thicker the shell, the more protein a chicken has had. A chicken is an omnivore, though post people don't realize, and need massive amounts of protein to lay a nice egg. A chicken can even lay a shell-less egg should it not get enough protein.

If you have your own chickens, a product called 'shell grit' should fix this right up, as well as chucking your meat scraps (yes, as disturbing as it sounds, even roast chicken) to the birds. Shell grit is nothing more than ground up seashells, so you could even make your own if you live near a beach. Once you've finished your eggs, as well, grind up the shells (so they become unreconizable as eggs and the chickens won't eat their own) and mix it into their feed for another protein boost.

A good laying hen will give you 300 eggs a year. At .70 per egg, that's a savings of $190 a year (assuming you bought the chicken for $20 already laying and sexed) per chicken. If you find yourself overwhelmed with eggs, nearly any neighbour will buy them for about $4 a dozen in Australia, so you can even start making money off them!

The scraps I feed my chickens are no more than my leftovers I can't eat and food that's slightly past it's prime in my fridge. Since I eat organic, my hens do too. Obviously this is entirely up to preference.

After awhile and a keen eye, you'll be able to get cheaper chickens. I've found some laying sexed hens for five dollars. I've even found some pecular breeds with funny shapes and combs for a few dollars. I like funny looking chickens. I feel if you're going to keep chickens, you should go for uncommon breeds, because it's more fun!

After awhile you might find yourself collecting pretty and fluffy breeds of chickens that lay less than their productive counterparts - but I have got to say, nothing is so good as a farm-fresh egg and nothing is so good than watching your beautiful girls run around your backyard in their lush grass (the chooks have WAY more lush grass in their pen than the rest of the house) enjoying a fresh worm and running like idiots across the lawn.

So next time you're out at the farmer's markets, consider picking up a hen. If I can have one in my backyard, maybe you can too. Then you'll enjoy fresh brightly coloured eggs all year round and get the joy of collecting them yourself and knowing exactly what the girls have eaten their entire lives. Plus, you get a new pet! It's a win/win/win/win scenario.