Monday, November 30, 2015

Growing Like Weeds

These little guys are getting so big!
The runt is still tiny. I didn't see her when I got there yesterday and was afraid she may have died. But then I spotted her little butt poking out of the hay.
Sadly - 2 more have been lost and there are only 19 left.
The hazards are obvious when you have mamas weighing hundreds of pounds versus little ones weight only a handful. :( Such is farm life.

The runt. She is so cute.

Above is the dad of all these babies. He is so patient. He goes for a nap and almost all of the  babies swarm him and cuddle up to get warm.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My Twist on Sherpherd's Pie

As per my Saturday usual, I found myself playing min the kitchen again.
This week: Shepherd's Pie.
I don't do a traditional shepherd's pie by any stretch.
Here is show I make mine!
What you need:
2 or so carrots, halved and sliced
Handful of garlic cloves - minced
A shallot or an onion - finely chopped
Celery (I use the tender center part of the celery, leaves and all), roughly chopped
Mushrooms - I used a half pound - roughly chopped.
Frozen peas and corn. Fresh if you can!
Olive Oil
6-8 good sized potatoes. I used up some reds from last weekend and added yellows.
Sour cream
Grated cheese
Can of mushroom soup
Packet of gravy power
Smoked paprika
1lb ground beef
1lb ground pork
In a large pot, heat up some butter and olive oil.... or just oil. Start to cook down the carrots as they will take the longest.
Add the shallot/onion and garlic, mushrooms, celery and some salt and pepper. I cracked the pepper myself with the mortar & pestle. Add some basil if you'd like.
In a bowl, mix the coup and the powdered gravy and ass a little paprika. I just love the smoky taste - it's not necessary though.
Get the potatoes boiling.
Once the veggies are cooked down, add the frozen peas and corn - I did about 3/4 cup each.
Mix the veggies with the soup and set aside.
Brown the meat in the same pot. I use a pot that can also go in the oven to save on mess.
Once the meat is cooked, dump the veggie/soup mix into the pot - or mix all together on a casserole dish.
When the potatoes are ready, drain them.
melt a quarter to a third of a cup of butter in the pot and get some minced garlic cooking.
put the potatoes back in the pot, mash and add about a cup of sour cream.
Spread over top of the meat mixture. Top potatoes with grated cheese and bake in a 350* oven for about a half hour.
If the gravy bubbles up over the cheese - skim it off, add some more. toss a little bit of bread crumbs on there and broil if you want that crispy cheese crusty top. That's the best.
Let sit for a bit and then enjoy!
For days....

Thursday, November 26, 2015

More Piglet Photos

A little dose of cuteness for you!!
I took about a thousand photos on Sunday...These little guys are just so ridiculous to watch!!

Here is the runt. She is so adorable. And doing very well!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf

So I made a meatloaf.
I have done this one before and it is a popular one with the male population.
It's a miracle if you eat it without having chest pains. So if you are a health nut, this is NOT a meat for you!
Wanna know how I make mine? Keep reading!
Here is what you'll need: 
Approximately 1lb lean or regular ground beef
 Approximately 1lb lean ground pork
1 package of bacon
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
A few handfuls of grated cheese of your choice - I use marble
6-8 good sized mushrooms - I prefer crimini - coarsely chopped
1 shallot - or you can use onion - finely chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic minced
1 package of powdered grave - I used a mushroom one
Salt and pepper to your liking
Sprinkle of basil
Smoked paprika - if you smoky flavor
Water or milk. I used water
Line a casserole dish with bacon. I use a round one because that's what I have.
Use whatever is big enough to hold everything, but I wouldn't go too shallow. 
Heat up  some olive oil on the stove in a pan. Sautee the garlic, shallots and mushrooms and season with a little S&P, until they look done. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, mix the meat, eggs, bread crumbs, basil, sprinkle of the paprika, handful of cheese, powdered gravy, a bit of salt and pepper and your sautéed mushrooms and whatnots.
Mix together either with your hands or a wooden spoon. I use a wooden spoon because it's cleaner.
Dump meat mixture into the bacon lined casserole dish and sprinkle the top of the meatloaf with some more grated cheese if you'd like and then fold the bacon over top.
Bake on 350*F for about an hour and a half. If you are using a thermometer, it should read 155*F when done. As you can see - I had to cut into mine - BEFORE I took the picture - as I don't have a meat thermometer. I am going to buy one. Haha!
Now - for sides - one thing I like to do is make mashed potatoes.
So make your favorite mashed potatoes. Mine are usually with white or Yukon golds - but last night I used red... Because I am cheap. Haha!
I boil the potatoes to the point of being ready to mash.
Drain them and leave them in the colander in the sink.
Take a good heap of butter - as much as you and melt it in the potato pot.
Add a ton of minced garlic and cook it down.
One thing I like to do sometimes is get the butter to the brown point. That one you have to watch like a hawk. The second that butter turns brown you have to remove it from the heat.
I didn't do I that way last night though.
When the garlic is cooked - add your potatoes back in and mash them.
I like to add sour cream, but I forgot to get some yesterday.
Because why should the potatoes be any less unhealthy than the meatloaf? 
NOW - the gravy.... At some point during cooking - maybe more than once, pull the meatloaf out of the oven. As it is cooking, it is releasing juices and fat and shrinking in the dish. Use a turkey baster to suck out all of those juices.
Put them in a pot.... add some water if you'd like - and a package of powdered gravy. Yes - I cheat.
Gravy - again - make it to your liking. Add some pepper or herbs. I added a bit of starch to thicken it because I wanted more gravy than what the package would allow. Buy two packages if you want. You can use flour... I added more of the meatloaf juice as I went along. Really - just make your gravy. There's no right and wrong way!
Finally - pick your favorite veggie to serve with it as well so you don't feel too guilty about all that bacon and meat and cheese and butter... and VOILA! Bacon wrapped meatloaf just happened.  
The beauty of meatloaf is that is - just like my pasta sauce - is a blank canvas. Don't be afraid to tweak it... don't be worried if you aren't accurate with measurement... I rarely am unless I am baking.
Cooking is like art. You can express your creativity through food.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pasta Sauce Revival

I seriously have BARELY cooked since I have been back in Alberta.
Who was I going to cook for? It was never worth making the mess just for me. Alas - I ate take out, salads, fruit, veggies, soup....
Cooking has always been something I love to do. A creative outlet. Especially cooking for people.
So now that I am seeing someone, I have started to dabble in the kitchen again.
I did 2 half assed slow cooker meals - a stew and a meatloaf - for him, as well as my rouladen. That's the one with the beef, Dijon, onions, bacon - wrapped around a dill pickle, simmered in wine. Then I make a gravy and serve it with mashed potatoes. Garlic, butter, sour cream and some of the left over bacon. It is good. I will make a post about it next time I make it.
Pasta sauce has always been one of my favorites to make. You can take it anywhere. The pot and the tomato sauce are like a blank canvas just dying to be turned into something amazing.
This sauce I made last night was a good one to get me back in the game.
This one was made by pan frying to the point of ALMOST done, one pound each of ground beef and ground pork with some oregano.
I set that pan off to the side and in my most favorite pot EVER(the one my mom always used and said I could have when she was dead... so unfortunately I know have the pot), I started to sauté minced garlic and thinly sliced shallots in some olive oil. Once they started to soften up, I added chopped celery - about 7 ribs and one zucchini. I like the rustic feel to the sauce, so I tend to chop my veggies into larger pieces.
I then added in 4 diced roma tomatoes and the juice of half of a lemon, and a LOT of thick sliced mushrooms. Probably over a pound, white and crimini both.
Once I started to see a bit of browning on the bottom of the pot, I deglazed it with some red wine. I also added some of the juices that had cooked out the meat. Then I added my spices. Oregano, basil, a little thyme, some rosemary that I ground up with my mortar & pestle, smoked paprika, peppercorns - the colorful ones - that I cracked up myself, sea salt, parsley... and I think that was it.   
I let that cook down a bit and then I added a large can of tomato sauce, a drained can of diced tomatoes, some balsamic vinegar and then I let it simmer for a bit. I dumped the meat in and let it simmer down a lot, adding a few more spices to taste as I went along, as well as a bit of corn starch to thicken it up.
THEN... garlic bread.
I minced up garlic - put parsley, basil, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice. Spread that on the French bread that I cut in half, Then I topped it with grated marble and parmesan cheese and tossed it under the broiler.
The sauce finished up. I served it over rotini, topped with grated parmesan... and it was fantastic!
And there was a ton of it so I have left overs galore! It is even better the next day. :) 

Piglet Pictures

As you were warned.... here is some incredible cuteness from Wednesday! The piglets are getting so big and active now and Charlotte has her babies out with the group. Still holding at 21.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thrown Into Farm Life....

Long time no post! The last few months have been busy, exhausting... DIFFERENT.

About a month ago, I started seeing a very nice guy. A farm guy. He has a farm about 50km away from me.

He works up north a lot and is gone a lot, so he had someone going in to feed his animals. 8 pigs, 2 dogs, 4 chickens and his 2 horses. That person fell through. So he found another one... who fell through... and then ANOTHER one who bailed as he was leaving to go back up to work. This was the end of September.

SO.... me being the bleeding heart volunteered. It was only going to be until October 18th. Here we are, November11th and I am still doing it. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I love the animals. I am enjoying the work. I have always wanted this kind of life. It's the extra 100 kilometers a day that I am driving, and the rushing to get things done after work that I don't like. It's the fact that I don't do MY things anymore. I have been writing this for a WEEK. I just started seeing this guy and I have assumed his life. Mine has been put on the backburner it seems. I spend my weekends out there doing farm things. I like it. It's how I have to spend time with him right now. But it's ok. I like learning this stuff. I like being out there. It's quiet and relaxing - when I am not rushing to get things done and get home. But I am starting to feel like "the help".

He came home last week and had a lead on someone to take over. I hope. I am not driving that route when it snows. No way. I also told him that it was important that he find someone to take over before I start resenting him and hating this life. And things are going well with him and I can see this one working out... so we have to be careful. And he agrees. His mother has a friend who knows someone a few miles down the road. Yet she does not see the urgency in us finding someone closer to do this and has not taken the 2 minutes it would have taken to get us the contact info. I was supposed to have been done last week, but have to go back this week now. He is a great guy, but I think I am putting in way too much way too soon.

BUT - in spite of all the stress there are some good things.
Something that I have been dealing with out there.... Pig babies.
This last week saw the 3 sows all give birth. Of course I took the camera to capture a few photos.

Now - sadly, part of raising pigs is having a few casualties. I had to remove one that had died - quite possibly from being crushed by it's mother - from the pen. It was not fun. I cried. I put the baby in a pail to take down to the bush and I had turned by back for a few minutes and the dog took the body and did SOMETHING with it, I don't know what. She didn't have time to eat it. I cried more.

Sometimes they get injured. 2 had fairly large wounds, likely from being stepped on. And with them being a day old, they weren't very strong and there was nothing much that could be done. You feel helpless when you can't do anything. The day after I saw those two, I came back and they were gone. Pigs will eat their dead young to keep predators from coming around. While I was there, one of the sows started rooting around like a maniac in the straw. She pulled out a partially eaten mangled little body and finished it right in front of me. Again, I cried.


The little piglet in the 2 photos above, was one I fell in love with. Spunkiest one in the bunch. GONE. Vanished. I am heartbroken. I am learning.... don't get attached.

Of the 26 that I counted when they were born, 21 are left. That is good. Better than what survived in the spring. In the spring, 19 piglets were lost, along with one sow. She tore internally and her babies piled up behind her and suffocated when she was unable to clean them off.

Above, this is Charlotte. I gave her that name. I was being introduced to the pigs and she was the only one without a name. I was telling the guys at work about her (because I lead a boring life clearly) and one of them suggested Charlotte. So I called her that.
Charlotte lost her whole litter in the spring. It was her first. She was stressed out and didn't know what to do. She had her little after the other sows and was overwhelmed by those babies coming at her, trying to feed off of her. Likely she had no maternal instincts yet not having her own babies. She is my favorite because she is the outcast. She gets picked on at meal time and is always on her own. This was her last chance to prove she could be a good mother. Sadly, on a farm where the pigs are there for income, ones that are not producing are not kept. So I was rooting for her. Looks like she was the first to have her babies this round. She is the only one who has the same amount of babies now as she did when she gave birth. I think that her antisocial behavior helps because she kept her babies in the shelter and was glued to them. Yesterday - she finally had all of her babies out with the others. And she seems to have a bit more confidence. She has been getting in there and eating with the other pigs. Standing her ground a bit more.

I had never really spent much time around pigs before. But I have found a great respect for them. It is hard not to get attached to them. I am not a vegan by any stretch. It is sad knowing that most of these little guys will end up in freezers. But I understand farming. And I would rather eat pork from a pig that was treated like family and got to live a little rather than one that was tormented and killed. I have seen the photos in the media and some of these "farms" are appalling. These pigs that I have been spending time around are treated with respect. No tiny cages. No farrowing crates. 

So - I guess - brace yourselves for a mass amount of piglet photos....