Making Christmas Fruit Cake With A Traditional Twist

004Christmas cake, fruit cake, holiday cake…..whatever you want to call it…….this cake has had a love/hate relationship with a lot of folks.  Quite simply, you are either a huge fan of this Christmas tradition or you look upon it with the same revulsion as The Plague! If you fall in to the second category than I’ll bid you a good day and hope you’ll drop by again.  But, if you enjoy the combined taste of almonds, currants, dates, raisins, candied cherries and citrus all baked up into a flavorful greatness, than I’ll bet that you love fruit cake and look forward to buying this cake at Christmas.  But this year, instead of buying Fruit Cake, why not try your hand at making this Holiday favorite?  I promise……it really isn’t hard!

My initial desire to make this cake came from two separate areas.  First, my Dad LOVES fruit cake.  I can still remember his “company gift” fruit cake coming into our house on Christmas Eve and being strategically placed on top of our fridge.  Every January evening after dinner, that fruit cake was taken down from its sacred spots and a small piece was sliced off and washed down with a cup of coffee. So for you Dad, I’m really making this cake, though I too am a fan of the fruit cake as well.  Secondly, my blog is focused on “stepping back to a simpler time” and I received a great opportunity this month to make a fruit cake in a wood fired brick oven just the way folks would have done so more than 150 years ago!  So…. without further adieu, here is a classic fruit cake recipe that I hope you will enjoy.  Oh….by the way, ……you don’t need the wood fired brick oven.  Your conventional oven will work just fine.

Makes 1 large cake or 3 small cakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds

1 cup candied cherries cut in half

1/2 cup chopped mixed peel

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried currants

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/4 cup brandy

* combine and allow to stand overnight014

Grease a loaf pan which will hold 5 1/2 cups of ingredients or 3 small pans which will each hold just under 2 cups of ingredients. 

Blend together:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt042

Cream

1/2 cup butter

Gradually blend in

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

3 eggs044

Mix together

3/8 cup molasses (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)

3/8 cup apple juice/ cider (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)

Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with liquid.  Make 4 dry and 3 liquid additions.  Fold in flavored fruit.  Turn into a prepared pan.046049

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Bake in 275 degree oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours for a full size cake and 2 hours & 40 minutes for a mini cake.  Because every oven is different, make sure to test your cake by inserting a toothpick into the cake,  If the toothpick comes out “clean” you will be good.  Remove from pan and lift off parchment paper.  Drizzle generously with brandy (around 2 tablespoons).065 - Copy

 

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Cool cake completely and then wrap loosely in wax paper and store in an air-tight container.060

Getting Your Backyard Chickens Ready For Winter

After a Snow Fall

Winter is knocking at the door up here in Southern Ontario.  The leaves on the trees have pretty much disappeared, daylight hours continue to decrease and the night-time temperatures are toying with freezing.  With that said, this City Boy needs to make a few changes to our coop/run in order to keep “the ladies” healthy and productive through the long cold months ahead.

1)  Minimize Drafts063

My 3 hens have a 60 square foot run that is enclosed with hardware cloth.  This makes for a great predator-proof and airy environment in the warmer months, but too much wind does not bode well for chickens in the colder months.  Like you and me, they also really start to feel the cold when that Northern wind starts blowing.  Even with that thick  coat of down feathers, too much energy will be used to keep warm in winter when those prevailing Northern winds continue to blow.  In order to remedy this problem, most of my run is covered with plexiglass in the winter.  I emphasize most, because you still want some fresh air to circulate throughout the run in winter.  You just don’t want the strong cold winds to accompany them.

The upside to plexiglass is that it is transparent.  In other words, I can still keep an eye on the chickens in the comfort of my warm home as I write this post.  The down side is that it is expensive.  If this is an issue, then consider using plastic vapor barrier as an alternative.  The down side is that it is not really transparent, but it is relatively inexpensive.  Just make sure not to seal everything up too tight and prevent air from circulating within the run.  I recommend securing the vapor barrier on the outside of the hardware cloth with some 1×2 strapping.

2) Heat & Light In The Coop092

I heat and light my coop with a 100 watt incandescent bulb that is screwed into a secured brooder lamp (note: the safety screen on the lamp was temporarily removed in order to show the entire coop in the above photo).  I didn’t go to the effort of running electricity out to the shed in order to keep the hens warm.  I did it so that the drinker and eggs would keep from freezing.  The cost sure outweighs schlepping water out to the coop a few times a day because the drinker has frozen again.  I am also a believer in getting eggs all year-long so I do provide my hens with additional “artificial” light in order to stimulate their pituitary gland and keep those eggs coming every day.  I also went to the trouble of completely insulating the coop with 2 inch Styrofoam when I built it a few years back.  Between the insulation and the light bulb, I have never had an egg or the drinker freeze in the last two years. * Note:If you choose to light your coop, make sure to wipe the cooled bulb from time to time and NEVER use a “coated (shatter-resistant) bulb”.  I read that the chemical that is used to coat these bulbs gives off a toxic gas that can become lethal to chickens who are confined in a small area.

3)  Make a Dust Bath

Honda demonstrating for you!

If you let your chickens free range, I’m sure you are aware of their need to tear up your favorite garden and enjoy a dust bath.  You can’t blame them.  It’s ingrained in their DNA and they perform this incredibly euphoric act to not only clean themselves, but also rid themselves from the potential for lice and mites.  Don’t know about you, but free ranging is severely curtailed in the winter at City Boy Hens and the ground becomes hard as a rock. So..in order to satisfy their need,  I made the chickens a dust bath for their run.  They use it daily and wait patiently to take their turn!  If you would like a few ideas on making a dust bath, CLICK HERE.

4)  Keep Them Busy.

Snackin'

Snackin’

Chickens are always on the move looking for the next blade of grass or bug.  It’s pretty hard to find either when snow is covering the ground.  Unfortunately, idle time can sometimes lead to bullying and this can open a whole new can of worms.  So why not give your hens some extra treats in the winter in order to keep them occupied?  Every morning, I scatter a handful of scratch onto the floor of the run.  The scratch gets “lost” in the wood shavings and the chickens spend lots of time “scratching” for it.  This serves a few purposes.  First, the scratch metabolizes fast and gives them a quick energy boost for heat.  Second, it helps “satisfy” their need to forage.  Lastly, it helps keep their toe nails trimmed which will prevent overgrown  nails and potentially distorted feet in the future.  But remember, scratch should only be used as a treat.  It does not have the same nutritional requirements as regular layer feed.

I also supplement their layer feed with chopped up spinach, carrot peelings and tomatoes.  This is a great “nutritional” treat that will help to keep your chickens healthy in those non-free ranging months. I’ve also strung a cabbage up in the run from time to time and the chickens love to peck at it for hours.  Just remember, these foods should be given as “treats” with the primary food still being layer feed.

5)  Humidity

Animals in confined quarters that poop with the frequency of chickens can sure raise the humidity level in a coop.  Unfortunately, this can lead to frost bite on combs and wattles if the temperature is too low and the humidity is too high.  As stated earlier, it is essential that fresh air is circulated in the coop.  You don’t need a lot, just a bit of movement that replaces the stale moist air with fresh “drier” air.

Humidity can also be decreased by regularly cleaning up of poop in the coop.  Some folks use a drop board under the roost and that works great.  I just pick it up with a cat litter scooper every morning before heading off to work.

But if you really want to keep track of the humidity level in your coop, you could purchase a portable weather station and keep a sensor in the coop.  This will, not only let you read the relative humidity, but also inform you of the temperature in the coop.  I’m not embarrassed to say that I have checked the read out a few times on those nights when the temperature dipped down well below freezing!

-10C outside and 6.4C inside the coop at 7:54pm.  Nighty night girls!

-10C outside and 6.4C inside the coop at 7:54pm.

So….there you have it………..my 5 recommendations for healthy & productive hens throughout this coming winter.  I’m going into my second winter at City Boy Hens and I’m glad that my experiences from last year have taken a lot of the surprise out of Old Man Winter’s bag of tricks. I’m no expert, but I’ve learnt a lot from the Winter of 2012.  “So……… bring it on Old Man Winter!  We’re Ready!  Oh…and ladies….don’t you be worrying.  Just keep pumpin’ out those eggs……I ‘ve got you covered!”

*If you would like would like more information on my coop/run CLICK HERE.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any further questions!  I will do my best to get back to you in a timely and knowledgeable manner.

Tucked and Hidden Away

Thanksgiving Harvest Apple Cake

024We like to eat a lot of apples at City Boy Hens.  So much so, that I buy them by the bushel.  On their own, apples make a great snack, but combined in a cake….they are excellent.  This cake is very easy to make and is a family favorite.  It originates from memories of my childhood when it was baked by my Mom on Sunday afternoons in Winter. I guess I’ve managed to “pass the torch” because my kids love this cake as well and it always makes its first appearance of the year on Thanksgiving weekend.  Up here in Canada, we already celebrated Thanksgiving back in early October and now I have the opportunity to share this recipe with my neighbors who are “south of the border”.  I hope you give it a try.

Ingredients

Filling

1/4 cup melted butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 apples – peeled and thinly sliced

Batter

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3  tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Filling

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Pour melted butter into a 10-inch cake pan.  Make sure to cover the edges of the pan.

Sprinkle sugar on top.

Add sliced apples and set aside.011 - Copy

Batter

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.016

Cream together butter and sugar in a separate bowl.  Beat in both eggs.012

Combine milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup.

Alternate adding 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/3 of the milk to the creamed butter.  Beat in between additions.

Once the final “thirds” have been added, beat the batter for 1 more minute.

013Spread batter over apples in cake pan.017

Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown.

Cake is done when a toothpick is inserted into the center of the cake and comes out clean.

Leave cake in pan and cool on rack for 30 minutes. 019

Now, decorate your cake with some leaves from your favorite tree.  I used 4 Japanese Maple leaves that I managed to keep before they all blew off the tree.  Contrary to dutiful son’s misunderstanding, they are not marijuana leaves.021Sprinkle generously with icing sugar and remove the leaves.024To all of my American family and friends, I wish you a great Thanksgiving weekend!

Want To Learn How To Make Italian Sausage?

Hot & Sweet sausage.

Hot & Sweet sausage.

Italian sausage season started last weekend at City Boy Hens.  For the last 3 years, my good friend Mike and myself have been making these meaty treats and they taste GREAT!   Whether they are cooked on the BBQ, added to Beloved Wife’s pasta sauce or poached in my chicken and sausage cacciatore they ALWAYS add up to a home run!  But, best of all, they are made with quality ingredients and work out to about half of the price of a store-bought sausage.  For this CITY BOY ,that was enough reason to learn how to make these babies and to chronicle the steps for you to follow.  If I can make it, you can make it as well.  So…..why not give it a try and learn how to make Italian sausage?  Before you know it, you too will be beaming with pride as your family and friends sit down together and share a great meal made with your homemade Italian sausage.  Now…..you’re  just one click away from taking that tasty plunge.  Ready??????  CLICK HERE!

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