Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It is all in the Iron

Nebraska Prairie Girl on Cast Iron Cookery
Before Paula Deen, and Teflon there was Cast Iron Skillets.  Cast Iron has been used for more that 2,500 years, and became popular in the United States in the 18th Century.  What would our pioneer sisters have done with out the use of Cast Iron?

I have been cooking with iron skillets for over 25 years now and I will not use anything else.   I have purchased and tried Teflon, stainless, aluminum, and enamel.   I have not found anything that beats or even comes close to cooking with Iron Skillets.   
   Iron, cooks evenly,  is indestructible, non-toxic, adds iron to your food,  can be found inexpensively at thrift stores, second hand stores and auctions. You can go from stove top to oven, you can cook over a fire, so it is functional both indoor and outdoors.  Cast Iron comes in many shapes and sizes, round, square (great for cooking bacon or cornbread in), there are tea pots, griddles, dutch ovens (cooking pot with lid).  They even come with a pretty enamel layer on the outside in many vibrant colors to choose from. (Watch out Paula Deen)

I think a lot of folks think that caring for iron skillets is a daunting task, and maybe not worth the effort.  Actually,  I find that it is no more difficult that any other cookery.     Here are some tips I have learned over the years of taking care of my iron skillets.   1.  Never wash your iron skillet with soapy water, use warm water if you have to.   2. you should simply just wipe out you iron skillet with a dry towel.
after cooking sausage
after wiping out with dry towel
 3.  I never cook acidic food in my skillets ie. spaghetti sauce, chili,  I find acidic food is hard on the seasoned surface. (I have stainless pots for those meals)  4.  if I have to use water to clean my skillet I place it on a warm burner or in a warm oven to dry.  5. to re- season from time to time I just wipe a thin layer of canola oil around the inside of my skillets.  6.  If you purchase brand new skillets you will find they have a protective layer of oil on them.  You need to wash that protective coating off  with soapy warm water (this is the only time you should use soapy water).  Dry the skillet with a clean towel.  Now season the skillet with one tablespoon of canola oil being sure to spread it all around the inside and outside of the skillet, using more oil if necessary.   Now place the skillet in an oven heated at 250 degrees for two hours.  The heat will incorporate the oil into the iron, binding it to the iron  and creating a protective layer.  If you take care of your iron skillet this is the only time that you will have to season it is such a manner. 
my favorite skillet with a great seasoned layer
The best skillets I have found have been second hand.  They already have a great seasoned layer if they have been cared for correctly.  I think that the older the Iron skillet the better the iron is.   I have both newer and older skillets and find the older ones are the best hands down.  I love to think of all the wonderful meals that were cooked in those old iron skillets,  and has added to its wonderful seasoned layer.
When we moved to our farm we found some iron skillets in one of the barns that had been exposed to the weather and had become rusty.   In a effort to save the skillets my son took a  wire brush for a  drill and just scrubbed all the rust off.  I seasoned the pans as mentioned above and the pans come out  beautifully.  

The only draw back that some might find is that Cast Iron Skillets are heavy, especially when they are full of vittles.   But then again it does help build muscles and they can be used as a weapon if necessary.  :)

Corn bread baked in my iron skillet
Corn Bread Recipe
                                 1 cup Cornmeal                                                      4tsp baking powder
                                 1 cup flour                                                               1 egg
1/4 cup honey                                                         1 cup of milk
1/2 tsp. salt                                                             1/4 cup butter
Mix dry ingredients into a bowl.  Add egg, milk, honey, and butter.   Beat with egg beater until smooth.  Pour into well seasoned 8 inch cat iron skillet.  (you can spray with Pam if you would like).  Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.   Makes 6 servings.  
(I added whole corn to the recipe above.  For a southwest flavor green chilies can be added.)

So, if you have Iron Skillets hanging around your house dust them off,  re-season if necessary.  Cook up a batch of corn bread and regain some of that pioneer spirit. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Now that spring is in the air and the temperature of my house is a bit more stable.  (We heat our house with a pellet stove all winter, it has it ups and downs, as in temperature)  It is time for me to get the  Sourdough out and working.  I love baking with sourdough, one of the most pleasant aromas in the world is the smell of sourdough working in your kitchen.

Some people have a sour dough start that dates back a hundred years or more.   I had the pleasure of owning a sourdough start that originated in Alaska over 85 years ago.   Sadly, during our migration to Nebraska ten years ago my Alaskan sourdough was left uncared for and in the hustle and bustle of the move and it turned moldy and was ruined.   Since then I have started my own Sourdough.  There are numerous ways to make a sourdough stater,  this one below I have found works best.

Rinse a quart bowl (glass or plastic, not metal) with scalding hot water and dry.  Then mix the following ingredients together in the bowl:
Sourdough Starter
2 cups flour (you can use any flour for this, even gluten free)
1 package dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar

Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups warm water-enough to make a thick batter-and stir just enough to break up the clumps.  Let this stand in a warm place for a couple of days till bubbly.  Keep an eye on it once it starts to bubble and grown it can climb up and over the edges of the bowl.  (this has happened to me several time)  I figure it is ready when it smell like a combination of beer and freshly baked bread and has a watery heady smelling layer on top.  You can either pour off this layer mix it in like I do, or drink it like the old timers used to.   
watery layer on sourdough

Sourdough Bread Recipe
2 cups of sponge (starter)
3 cups flour
2 Tbsp. of olive oil or softened butter
4 tsp. of  sugar
2 tsp. of salt

To the starter, add the sugar, salt, and oil (the oil is optional - you can use softened butter instead, or no oil at all). Mix well, then knead in the flour a half-cup at a time. Knead in enough flour to make a good, flexible bread dough. You can do this with an electric mixer, a bread machine on "dough cycle," or a food processor. You can also do it with a big bowl and your bare hands. Keep in mind that flour amounts are approximate;  and your sponge can vary in wetness. Use your judgment; treat it like ordinary white or french bread dough.

Let the dough rise in a warm place, in a bowl covered loosely with a towel (if you're using a bread machine's dough cycle, let it rise in the machine). Note that sourdough rises more slowly than yeast bread; my starter takes about an hour or so, but some starters take much longer. Let the dough double in bulk, just like yeast-bread dough. When a finger poked into the top of the dough creates a pit that doesn't "heal" (spring back), you've got a risen dough.

Punch the dough down and knead it a little more. Make a loaf and place it on a baking sheet (lightly greased or sprinkled with cornmeal). Slit the top if you like, and cover the loaf with a paper towel and place it in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in bulk.

Place the pan with the loaf in your oven, and then turn your oven to 350o Fahrenheit and bake the bread for 30-45 minutes. Do not preheat the oven. The loaf is done when the crust is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when thumped with a wooden spoon. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack or a towel and let it cool for an hour before slicing.
Sourdough bread made in my bread machine
Once you remove some starter for a recipe you need to replenish the stater.  Replace the amount you took out with enough lukewarm water and flour to restore the batter to its original consistency. 

Ideally you should use some of the starter every week, but if you do not use it that often, store it in the refrigerator.  Just let it gradually come back to room temperature until it is bubbly and starts working.  Another trick a friend of mine shared  is to take a pastry brush and brush a layer of sourdough starter on some wax paper and allow to dry.  Once dry, flake the starter off and store in a air tight container.  To restart add the flakes to 2 cups flour and 2 cups water.   Allow to sit for a couple days until it has bubbled and gotten a watery head.  
My sourdough crock

I have found that in many recipes you can substitute sourdough in place of some of the buttermilk.  Here is a cookie recipe that is made with sourdough and buttermilk.

Sourdough Chocolate Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 squares unsweetened chocolate melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour dough
1 tsp. vanilla  
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Cream together, butter and sugar.  Beat in egg until light and fluffy.  Then add vanilla and cooled chocolate.  Stir in buttermilk and sourdough,  then sift the flour, soda and salt, add to creamed mixture.  Chill dough for a couple hours, drop by tsp 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 400 degrees 10-12 minutes.

Best Darn Sourdough Pancakes
Add to sourdough starter 2 1/2 cup flour and enough water to make a thick batter.  Let set over night.  Take back 1 cup of mixture to restart your sourdough.  To the remaining batter add: 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 room temperature egg, 1 tsp. oil,evaporated milk enough to produce the right consistency for pancake batter, 1 tsp. baking soda, 2-3 tsp. water, let stand 3-4 minutes to let baking soda work.     Cook as you would any other pancakes.  

I found that it is a challenge to see how long  you can keep a sourdough starter going.  Of course, in our busy lifestyles it is not always easy to have another thing that requires feeding and attention around:0)

Handmade sour dough bread

sliced for sandwiches

Sourdough Grilled Cheese

Happy Sour doughing!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Manly Shave

So you may be asking yourself "What does the Nebraska Prairie Girl know about a manly shave?"  Well not much, I suppose.  I do know that I watched my dad as a little girl shave with his shaving brush, mug and shaving soap.  I have fond memories of him lathering up his brush and putting suds all over my  face and nose.

 Earlier  in life my husband Dave started to use a brush, soap and mug to shave, mainly from my urging.   Poor, guy just gets married and his new wife talks him into shaving like her father.  He was a good sport and tried it but did not stick with it.   Well now 27 years later, his crazy wife  decides to make shaving soap and guess what, he was my guinea pig.  Actually, this time he was not as reluctant to try shaving with a brush and soap, he was actually excited for me to finish making it.  Maybe it was the importance of his job at hand, he had to try the new soap and give me feed back.  (Husbands seem to enjoy telling their wives what they think when given a chance.)  :)   I made the soap it was a success and my husband loves it.   He said that," his face was smoother and the shave seemed to be closer."  Of course,  he made me feel it for conformation of his finding.  It was smooth, soft and smelled great!  

The procedure for making the shaving soap is much the same as the process I use for the rest of the soap line.  The ingredient list is the same with the addition of Castor oil and Clay.   The Castor oil helps increase the lather and the clay adds slip to the shaving bar. Without the clay you would find it hard to glide the razor across your skin smoothly.

Here is a look into the process I used to mold the soap.  Well first I went to the local home improvement store and purchased 3" pvc.  When asking the friendly plumbing department guy where the end caps where at he asked," what kind of caps do you need we have two varieties." I told him, "I need something that I can remove easily."  Then he had to ask what I was using it for.   I replied, "I am using it as a mold for men's, shaving soap."  Well that nice plumbing guy cocked his head looked at me and said, "Mam, I have sold pvc pipe for a lot of things but never as a mold for soap!" Well,  we both had a laugh and then a discussion about shaving soap, he said he was interested in trying the soap himself.  I thanked him for his help and told him I would get back to him when the soap was done and passed the quality test.  (By Dave of course.)

Well armed with my pvc pipe soap mold, I took to making a batch of soap.  Once the soap was ready I put it into the pvc.   I let the soap cool and set up for 12 hours as I would any other soap I mold.    Then I put it in the freezer to make it easier to un-mold.   My first attempt to un-mold was not very successful.  Try as I might I could not get the soap out of the pvc.  So I decided it needed to stay in the freezer a bit longer.  Many hours later I gave it another shot.  I tell you what I have never had to work so hard to get a soap out of  a mold in my life. 

Finally, with a hammer  a board, three people holding it,  and fifteen minutes of pounding I was able to get the soap to budge a bit.  After that I had to take  a tea break and contemplate how I was going to get the next 24 inches of soap out of the pvc.  Well I decided to go at it again with the board and hammer all the while thinking there has got to be a better way. 

Finally, after another 25 minutes of pounding on that poor soap, with a crazed determined look on my face,  the soap  came out. 

After the condensation dried off of the soap I sliced it into 4-5 oz bars.  

Once the soap had cured for two weeks it is wrapped and labeled. 

What I learned from this little experience.   One- cut the pvc pipe into two shorter sections, instead of one long one.   Two- be patient and let the condensation do the  work for you.   Once the condensation has melted a bit, the soap came out easier.  Whew!

Shaving with Shaving Soap and Brush

Select a good brush.  Brushes come in many variations, Boar’s Hair, synthetic and Badger hair.  The Boar’s hair and synthetic bristles are your least expensive.  Badger Hair Brushes can run anywhere between $20 -$1000 dollars and are the most desired. 

Shaving soaps work best in a shaving mug; you can purchase mugs specifically for shaving or use a coffee mug. Place the soap in the mug.   

Moisten your face with warm water.

Rinse your shaving brush under warm –hot water and let the water soak the bristles.   Take the brush out of the running water. Don’t wring the brush or shake the water out.   Put the brush directly on the soap and swirl around in the mug.  Develop a good lather in the mug and on the brush.  

Apply the brush to your whiskers in a vigorous circular motion.    This will soften your whiskers as well as stand your whiskers up.   The soap will not create a huge lather like shaving cream does; it is not designed to work that way. 
Shave as you normally would using your favorite razor.  When you are finished, rinse with hot water.   

Now that is a Manly Shave!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Butter.

Not you ordinary butter. Nope we are talking about Body Butter.    

So what is Body Butter anyway?   Is it edible? Nope.  (Though my children have licked the spatula thinking it was cake batter.  Good thing it is all natural)  Body Butter acts much the same as real butter as in consistency.   If the room temperature is warm the Body Butter is more liquid, if the room temperature is cool the body butter will be more solid.   Body butter is by definition a moisturizer that is applied to the body.    Our body butter is made with the finest of ingredients and is ultra-softening.      Here is a little look into how our body butter is made:

100% all Natural Ingredients are what sets Body Butters apart from one another and from all other moisturizers.   Our body butter contains:  Goat milk, Coconut oil, Bees Wax, Apricot Kernel,   Avocado and Sweet Almond Oil,  along with Aloe Vera, Borax, preservative, and essential oils.

Wait hold the bus, did you say 100% all natural?  But the ingredients list says Preservative.    The ingredients used to produce the Preservative we use is accepted by ECOCERT as preservative for use in organic cosmetics.   It is found suitable for all skin types, including sensitive-skin, it even has the ability to smooth skin texture and reduce  the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.   Could one ask any more of a Preservative?

Once all the ingredients are gathered and measured out it is time to start melting the Bees Wax and Coconut oil. The bees wax comes in little pellets that make it much easier to weight and melt.   The coconut oil is the solid white mass that has begun to melt in the middle of the bowl. 
The bees wax give the body butter a nice cream color

Now that the oils are all melted it is time to add the milk, borax and preservative to the oil.    We use a stick blender for this process.
Now that the milk, borax, preservative, coconut oil and bees wax have been blended we add the rest of the oils.   Once these ingredients cool to room temperature it is time to add the aloe Vera, once again with the stick blender.

In the photo to the right you can see what the body butter looks like once all the ingredients are added.   The body butter has become rich and creamy like real butter.   This batch is scented with one of our most popular fragrances, Oatmeal Honey Spice.  Now it is time to put the body butter in the jars.

All done!
Once the jars are filled and cleaned now starts the process of labeling, sealing and applying the shrink bands.   

I hope this helps you understand what goes into making our Body Butter.   And what does not go into our body butter here on the ranch.   You will not find anything on our labels that you can not read like, Isopropl Palmitate, Glyceryl Stearate, Petrolatum, Dimethiconol. What the heck are those anyway and why would we want to put them on our skin?  If I can not read it and if it is not all natural I do not want to apply it to my skin.  How about you?   For more information on our body butter go to Double L Country Store

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fragile Eggs.

Fragile Eggs!

A local farmer in Banner Country knew that I was looking for bottle piggies for our summer camp we hold here at the ranch for Children who require Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy, who also have Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  

Well I got a message Friday morning from our Friendly Farmer saying he had three little pigs that were not going to make it without some TLC, he  wondered if I wanted them.   Did I want them?  HECK YAH.  So a few hours later off I go to pick up the piggies

I got to the farm and they were waiting for me in their little box  which read "fragile eggs"  I had to giggle at the three "fragile eggs"  that were in the box, " fragile" was a very appropriate term.  Of the three eggs in the box one was a very strong and healthy, that would be Porky.    The other two eggs where not so strong but William was the weakest egg. (The farmer had weaned the pigs and these three little pigs just did not transition well to dry feed.)  On the trip home I notice that William was really struggling to breath and kept just going limp.   While I was driving I put him inside the front of my hoodie patting him all the way home trying to keep him going.   (I would not recommend driving with a piggie in the front of your hoodie unless you are experienced in this type of craziness)

We made it home all in one piece and Little William was still with us.   Well to give poor little William a jump start I gave him 3 cc of corn syrup, you would have thought I had hit him with a Heart Defibulator.   He was now super charged and ready to go, now the task was to get milk down all of the piggies.   

Well if you read my earlier blog about making soap and our surplus of goat milk.  Well now with three little piggies who are going to wipe out our surplus,  I may have to beg some of my goat milking friends for some of their surplus milk.  One such friend is Sarah Pinet of Victory Hill Farm here is her websiteVictory Hill Farm  If you love Goat milk Cheese this is a must.  

Well back to the Piggie story.   We got all of them to drink some of that surplus goat milk,  not a easy chore at all.  See these little piggies were use to getting their milk from the momma pig (sow), not from a rubber nippled  baby bottle (gerber).   So far William and Porky have figured out how to nurse on a bottle but Wilbur being the middle egg requires a bit more attention. 

Even Cooper is required to help with the piggies. 

Piggy Jail
Once we got the three little pigs fed we placed them in a little dog kennel in front of the fireplace to keep them warm.  They looked something like this.

Well except for little William he still was the weakest and most needy, (typical of the baby of the family).  He wanted a little more attention and I was ever so glad to oblige.

Once everyone was fed and tucked in for the night,  I told those three" fragile eggs"  good night and see you in the morning.   But wait,   what is that sound at 2:30 am. that is waking me from my slumber?   Three little piggies that decided they could not wait until morning for their next bottle.   So, down the stairs in my jammies I go to heat up three bottles to feed three very hungry piggies.   Have you ever tried to feed three hungry piggies three bottles by yourself?   Not a easy thing to do especially at 2:30 am.   Now, I remember what it was like having infants in the house. 
New meaning to pork in the kitchen
Well of course the story does not end here,  we will continue to care for our three "fragile eggs"  and once they are bigger and stronger they will have to go out into the barn like real pigs.   Just don't tell them, they like life in warm house, with all the TLC.    Come May when we have our first Camp out here on the ranch it will be so much fun to see all the children  interact with our Three  Fragile Eggs, who will not be so fragile by then.  

Here's to Happy Pigging. 

PS. By the way when I went to pickup the piggies I took that nice friendly farmer 2 dozen eggs as a thank you for the piggies.    Isn't it ironic that the box he sent them home in said, "fragile Eggs".  I really like the trade we made between our "fragile eggs"  Don't you? 

If you would like to view the photo's as a larger image just click on the photo, then hit your back button to return to the blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Soap Making 101

Here on the Lazy W Diamond Ranch in which I call home,  we have a herd on Nubian Dairy Goats.   I have owned this herd for the better part of 16 years.  Though the goats may not be the same as 16 years ago they are still part of the original herd.    I started milking goats to supply our family with fresh milk, cheese, yogurt and kefir.    Well as time moved on and I increased the size of the herd,  one thing became clear, "We have more milk than we know what to do with"  So my good friend Lori being a great partner in crime took to milking and relieved me of a few goats.   Well not only did I have a surplus of milk but Lori did as well.  So what do you do with all that surplus?  You make soap and open a business together. 

Many people ask what goes into making soap.  Here is a very simple version of the process we use in making our hand crafted soap. 
This is the oils that we use.  Coconut, palm, and olive oil ready to be heated to 80 degrees and melted.

Mixture at Trace
 In this photo the oils have melted and reached 80 degrees.  The lye has cooled to 80 degrees and the milk has been added to the lye water.   The lye milk mixture is then added to the melted oil and blended with a stick blender for several minutes until the mixture reaches "trace", meaning everything is blended so well it thickens like pudding.

Once the mixture reaches trace it is heated and cooked at 195 degree.  During that time the soap mixture changes several times.  At the beginning of the heating process the soap becomes very thick and almost solid again.   Then after that is becomes very runny and looks like applesauce, as seen in the photo to the right. 


After about an hour and a half of cooking at 195 degrees and many changes the consistency and color, the lye cooks out of the soap and the mixture once again becomes creamy and smooth.   To the left you can see it is now time to add any of our special nutrients, coloring and essential oils.  This has to been done quickly, as the soap at this point will continue to thicken and becomes very hard to mold.

Lavender Soap just poured in the mold.
Now it is time to  put the soap mixture into the molds.  Once the soap is in the molds we let it cool about 12 hours before we remove  batch from the mold.   

To make un-molding easier we usually chill the soap at 0 degrees for about a half an hour.  Once chilled the soap usually comes out of the mold fairly easily.   Below is a batch of Lavender and our new scent Vanilla Bean after just being taken out of the molds.    As you can see the molds leave hatch marks on the bottom of the soap batch.  It makes it easier to cut even sized bars. 

Now that the batch is unmolded it is ready to be cut into individual bars.

Although at this point the soap is safe to use we allow it to cure for two weeks. During the curing process the soap which is very soft in the beginning, continues to dry and harden.

From the start of the soap making process to the point of molding the soap takes about 5 hours.  Each batch is handmade from the beginning to the end and because of this there is differences in each individual batch and bar.  I hope that you enjoyed this little snap shot of what goes goes into making soap here at Double L Goat Dairy.  Double L Country Store.