Archive for March, 2015

Duck & Mushroom Stroganoff

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Duck Stroganoff

Next to chickens ducks are a simple and versatile farm animal even for a suburban homestead. They are quiet, easy to care for and provide eggs that are great for baking and meat that is wonderful for eating. While having breeding stock is a year-round affair, raising meat ducks is a fairly short endeavor, about seven weeks from hatch to slaughter. If you’re hankering for an addition to your productive small homestead that will produce a rich, flavorful meat that is no more difficult to raise or cook than chickens or turkeys, then by all means try ducks. To learn more about raising meat ducks, check out our post Raising Ducks for Meat.

I can still remember the first time I ever ate duck stroganoff. We had spent the day in a costal wine region tromping through vineyards, tasting newly released varietals, and sipping fresh pressed cider from local orchards. It was fall and the leaves were beginning to turn red and gold and orange and brown. The crisp evening air was beginning to smell like fall as we pulled into a tiny town full of antique stores, boutiques and trendy little bistros; a combination of fog and sea, freshly turned soil with a hint of wine and apples. It was heavenly.

The town was bustling with day-trippers heading back to the city. We popped into a few shops just to look before we walked down the street to a local café. We had eaten there before, but only for lunch and were excited to see what their dinner menu offered built out of locally sourced ingredients. We were far from being disappointed; it was a great choice and a fabulous meal.

I opted for the braised short ribs bathed in a rich red wine and beef sauce, nestled on top of garlic mash potatoes, but sis’s choice stole the show. A duck and mushroom stroganoff that we both had been eyeing. Better to choose two different entrees and share than the same one and not try something new.

This was unlike anything I had grown up with or made at home. The sauce was bold with the flavor of mushrooms, the duck was fall-off-the-bone tender and the papardelle was perfect at capturing the vegetables and broth. It put every stroganoff I had eaten till then to shame. Seriously!

As the evening drew on the restaurant began to thin out with fewer and fewer tables occupied. We were getting ready to leave when our serve came over to ask if there was anything else we needed. Jokingly I replied, “I’d sure like that duck stroganoff recipe”. She smiled and went to check on a few other tables. When we finally stood up and gathered our coats to leave she came over to say goodbye and gave us a copy of the evening menu. She said they changed it every night to take advantage of what was fresh and available in the area. I thought it was a nice gesture since we had chatted with her throughout the evening. It wasn’t until we were walking back to the car that we stopped to look in a store window. Half paying attention, I glanced down at the discarded menu only to discover handwriting on the back. And, wouldn’t you know it, it was the duck recipe written out by hand. I don’t know whether the server snuck it out of the kitchen or if the chef willing gave it away, and frankly I didn’t care. I had a recipe for one of the most scrumptious meals I had tasted in a long time. And, with a batch of homegrown ducks in my freezer I knew exactly what I was going to do with them. If you love rich, indulgent and flavorful meals then give this one a try.


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 lbs. duck legs, skin and fat removed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

6 large shallots, chopped fine

1 large carrot, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

3 slices of prosciutto, chopped fine

2 sprigs of rosemary

2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

4 garlic cloves, chopped fine

¼ oz dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder in a spice grinder

8 oz fresh mushrooms, cremini, porcini or Portobello, sliced

1-1/2 cup white wine

3 cups chicken stock

1 pkg pappardelle

½ c ricotta cheese

2 tbsp grated pecorino cheese, plus more for serving


Preheat oven to 350. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat olive oil until shimmering. Season duck legs with salt and pepper and place in the casserole. Cook over medium high heat, turning once, until browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes; remove and place on plate.

Pour off all but 2tbsps of fat from the casserole. Add shallots, carrot, celery, prosciutto and mushrooms, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Coo k over medium high heat, stirring constantly until the veggies are softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in porcini powder and wine. Simmer, scraping up browned bits, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Return duck legs to casserole cover and braise in the oven until legs are tender, about 1-1/2 hour; turn duck legs half way through.

Transfer duck legs to plate and cool slightly. Pull meat from bone and shred into small pieces. Return shredded duck to ragu and season with salt and pepper; discard rosemary stems and keep warm.

Cook pappardelle in large pan of salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of cooking water. In a bowl, whisk ricotta with 2 tbsp of cooking water until smooth.

Add pasta to ragu along with ¾ cup of reserved cooking liquid and 2 tbsp of pecorino. Cook over medium heat stirring gently until pasta is hot and coated with sauce; add more cooking water if sauce becomes too thick. Spoon pasta ragu mixture into shallow bowls, top with ricotta and serve, passing pecorino at the table.




Build a Mini PVC Pipe Garden House

Saturday, March 7, 2015

For many years I had trouble with birds (and my own chickens) getting into the garden and eating tender vegetable plants as they emerged from the soil. And, in the colder months I wanted to extend the growing season and protect my crops from frost. I wanted to install a hoop house, the kind I’d seen in magazines or while driving back country roads, but they were too large for one person to manage and too expensive for my limited budget.

I wanted something lightweight, easy to move and something I could make myself with supplies I might already have on hand.

I looked around the farm to see what I could use and hoped that an idea would come to mind. Sure enough, it did. As I stared at my raised beds I thought of a mini greenhouse type structure that could be draped with bird netting in the growing season and float cloth or plastic to extend my plantings.

Here’s what I came up with:

A PVC frame that fits over my 4’x8’ raised beds and is held in place by “C” brackets screwed to the wooden vegetable bed frame. A 10’ piece of PVC runs the length of the uprights to keep the covering draped properly over the frame. At ground level it can be tacked to the wooden vegetable bed or covered with dirt or rocks to keep it from blowing off.

How I made it:

I cut 4 pieces of PVC pipe 2 feet long; two for the sides and two, half the width of the vegetable bed, to make the peaked top. This would be wide enough to reach across the bed and give good clearance for taller plants like lettuce, broccoli or tomatoes. I then assembled the greenhouse frame using 45 degree PVC pipe fittings (these were on hand, but 90 degree might work better on the legs). Once I tested the greenhouse, to see if it did what I thought it would, I glued all the pieces together. I made 3 frames for each 8’ bed.

To install my newly made mini-greenhouse, I screwed “C” brackets into the vegetable bed frame about 6-inches from each end and in the middle of the bed (about the 4’ mark), I then zip tied a 10’ piece of PVC pipe down the middle to keep the peaks upright and to keep any covering from falling in on the plants.

In less than an hour, using the supplies I had on hand, I made enough frames to cover four of my eight vegetable beds; protecting my crops from marauding chickens and scavenging birds.

Like Whispers in the Wind

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I chanced upon an interesting documentary this evening. It was about the American Cowboy; the life, the land and their deep unfailing love for them both. No matter what the day brings, the harsh weather that makes it challenging to get day-to-day chores done or the cold that can kill a newborn calf in a few minutes, they wake up each day feeling part of a proud, strong past. They seem hidden though, out of sight of normal people, tending to cows and horses; bringing food to millions of people every day. We may not see them, but we revel in their hard work and dedication every time we grill a steak, buy a burger or put on a pair of leather shoes.

It was fascinating listening to these hard chiseled men with their long mustaches and weathered faces talk so eloquently about what it means to be a cowboy. These are not the rough riding, gun slinging, hard drinking, trouble making men we see in the movies, but soft spoken sometimes shy men of few words. When they do speak, they speak with tenderness and conviction and a deep seeded love for what they do that many of us may never understand.

They worry too, same as we do. These are not ignorant men, spending their life in vast, sparsely populated areas of the country cut off from the troubles of our modern world. They speak profoundly about their concerns for the country, the land and their way of life. They fear the disconnect between themselves and the people who consume the product they raise, and the consumers ignorance of how their food gets to their table will, in time, destroy the cowboy way of life.

It was during one such interview that a gray-haired cowboy in his mid-fifties referred to a quote by William Jennings Bryan, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” The cowboy looked sad and a little forlorn staring off into space, as if he could see to the end of the trail and it was desolate.

I think we get so caught up in our every day lives that we forget about this different world out there—ranches that stretch out for hundreds of miles and the quiet life of men who tend stock. As homesteaders, we know that beef comes from cattle, but do we really understand or appreciate a life lived in quiet isolation. These men and their lifestyle are like whispers in the wind; seldom heard and rarely seen, but their existence is felt in every restaurant and fast food joint and grocery store in the country.

And, since I’m not at a point where I can raise my own beef, I for one will be sending up a silent prayer of gratitude and thanks tonight.