Thursday, December 22, 2016

Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 Recipes

There is nothing logical about my desire to have my own backyard hens. Yes, chickens would serve a practical purpose, and yes, it would be wonderful to have really fresh eggs, but my long held desire for a small flock of birds is not in any way rational, it's all about the heart. I've always loved the idea of having my own chickens. I can't explain it.

For me a garden is more than a place for pretty flowers. I'd like my garden to be a home for a whole range of critters; a place where bees buzz, birds nest and butterflies flit from flower to flower. I know that, as a gardener, I should hate seeing a baby rabbit on sight, but instead I feel oddly honoured that Mama has selected my garden as the perfect spot to raise her young offspring. Perhaps if the garden were overrun with rabbits, I might feel differently, but as it is, I find it hard to begrudge the occasional baby bunny a meal. Yes, there will be a few decapitated plants, but I am always happy to share!

So what holds me back from keeping my own chickens? Time? Perhaps. Money? Maybe. But mostly it's lack of confidence. I am not even sure where to begin. Perhaps you feel the same way. 

And that's where a book like  Happy Hens and Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes comes in. 

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

In addition to tending her family's flock as a child, Signe Langford has discreetly kept chickens in her Toronto backyard for almost a decade. She writes about her chickens with such joy it's contagious! The book moves through the seasons offering practical advice on issues as they are likely to arise. When I started reading, I had lots of questions about housing hens (How do you keep them warm in winter? How do hens handle heat of summer?) and worries about dealing with possible predators (In the river valley where we live, we have coyotes, foxes and racoons). I am glad that Signe also covers the best breeds for backyards and what to feed hens to keep them happy and healthy.

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

As well as being a book about keeping chickens, Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 Recipes is a cookbook. Included are dozens of simple and elegant recipes from Signe's own kitchen, as well as recipes from celebrity contributors like Laura Calder, Vikram Vij, Roger Mooking, Meeru Dhalwala and John Higgins.  

Even the most basic recipes in the book, like the one for devilled eggs, comes with an interesting twist. I would be curious to follow Signe's directions to salt-cure some egg yolks and grate them over some fresh pasta. There are also drink recipes that are super fun too. This summer I must try making the book's pretty-looking raspberry-rose cocktail. The addition of an egg white makes the drink frothy and smooth. 

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

How adorable are the "Teeny tiny lemon meringues en coquille d'oeuf" (seen above) from the book? And there are other delicious looking desserts like a sumptuous, raspberry-topped chocolate chiffon cake and a creamy-looking vanilla `a la crème that swims in a puddle of blueberry maple compote. I am dying to try the recipe contributed by Laura Calder for a creamy custard dessert that is topped with soft meringues that have been delicately poached in vanilla-infused milk.

From the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

I will end this post with a recipe from the book that Signe and her publisher Douglas &McIntyre have kindly allowed me to share. Wouldn't this omelette make a great holiday breakfast?

Sweet Lingonberry Jam Omelette

Serves 2 for breakfast or dessert

" The first dinner a boy ever cooked for me was an omelette; um... it was a night of other momentous firsts. I have a thing for omelettes. Omelette soufflée à la confiture is sweet and light, like our memories of youth. 
And although "confiture" means jam or preserve, any sweet fruit spread or purée will work; I dare say, Light and Fluffy Citrus Curd (recipe on page 111 in the book) would be brilliant."
Signe Langford

1/4 cup (60 ml) homemade or excellent-quality store-bought lingonberry jam, at room temperature
1/3 cup (80 ml) mascarpone, at room temperature
1 Tbsp (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 free-run eggs, separated
2 Tbsp (30 ml) super-fine vanilla sugar, divided
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter, divided
2 tsp (10 ml) icing sugar for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, add the jam, mascarpone and lemon juice and stir well to fully combine. Set aside.

Place egg yolks and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the vanilla sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until pale, creamy and beginning to thicken.

Place egg whites in a large bowl that has been wiped out with a drop of lemon juice and a clean kitchen towel. Add the remaining tablespoon (15ml) of sugar and a pinch of salt, and using electric beaters or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the yokes until well combined, being careful not to collapse the whites.

Place a 10-to 12-inch (25-to 30-cm) skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) of butter, melt and swirl around the skillet. Pour in the egg mixture and spread out to the edges, patting it down a bit. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the eggs just set. Do not let the omelette brown.

Using either an offset spatula or an egg flipper, slide around the edges and underneath to make sure there are no stuck bits. When you're sure the omelette is loose, set a plate on top of the skillet and flip it over; the omelette should drop onto the plate. Wait a second and listen for the soft "plunk"!

Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining butter; melt and swirl the butter, then slip the omelette back into the skillet. Continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the egg looks just set.

While the second side is cooking, spoon the jam-mascarpone filling over one half of the omelette. Tip the skillet, and with the help of the spatula, slip the omelette onto a serving platter, then fold the omelette in half. It won't be perfect— it shouldn't be perfect— the filling should be peeking out suggestively! Or, and this is my preferred way, skip this last stressful step and eat right out of the pan, tête-à-tête style.

Dust with icing sugar, if you care to, and serve immediately.

Recipe from the book Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden – with 100 Recipes, ©2015, by Signe Langford, Photography by Donna Griffith. Published by Douglas & McIntyre. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Signe Langford

More about the book's contributors:

Author Signe Langford is a chef, Toronto-based food writer and a backyard chicken enthusiast. She is a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail,  National Post, Toronto Life, Canadian Living and Garden Making magazines. Visit the author's website.

Donna Griffith is a Toronto-based photographer who taken photographs of food and drink, homes and gardens for a number of publications and books.
Artist Sophie Sanders specializes in hand-made and printed linocuts and ink drawings.

Publisher Douglas & McIntyre has given me a copy of  Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs: Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden, with 100 Recipes to give away. Because we will have to send this book through the mail, I will have to limit entry in the draw to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open for the until January 1stIf you are not a blogger, you can enter to win by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page. You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Nasturtium Butter

This year, spring and early summer were super hectic for me, so the window boxes that hang in the little courtyard just inside the back gate remained empty and neglected well into June. 

There are no less than five good-sized window boxes in this small courtyard. Filling them with annuals can get pretty pricy, so I decided to be frugal, and despite the late start, grow flowers from seed. Trailing nasturtiums seemed like a perfect choice.

Growing Nasturtiums

I love nasturtiums! They are such bright, happy flowers. They're also really super easy to grow from seed. Nasturtiums like lots of sun and rather poor soil (if the soil is too rich, they will produce lots of leaves and very few flowers). Nasturtiums seedlings prefer not to be transplanted, so its better to plant the seeds directly out in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Little green shoots should appear 7-10 days after the seeds have been planted.

As well as the familiar bright orange, yellow and red flowers, nasturtiums come in a range of colors including a soft butter yellow, pale peach and deep red. 

The growth habit of most types of nasturtiums is quite bushy, but there are cultivars that climb/trail. There are even varieties with interesting variegated foliage.

Both nasturtium foliage and flowers are edible. Pick the flowers or leaves from the plant, rinse them in cool running water and pat them dry before eating them. The flavour is peppery and spicy and is often compared to the taste of radishes.

 A couple of years ago I tried making some flower petal jellies and I loved how they turned out. I wished there had been more free time available to make them again this summer. Sooner than I'd like, the gardening season was ending.

Fall was uncharacteristically mild this year, and even late into October, my nasturtiums were still going strong. Frost was bound to strike at any time, so I decided there wasn't a moment to loose if I was going to experiment with this year's flowers.

Just before the end of the month, I went out into the garden and picked every flower that remained.

It wasn't a huge harvest, but it was just enough to try making some flavoured butter.

I looked up several recipes and combined their best features into my own version of a recipe. Here's what I did:


3 or 4 tablespoons for chopped nasturtium flowers

1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon rind


Set your butter out in a small bowl to bring it to room temperature.

Wash your flowers carefully under running water. Snap the petals off the nasturtium flowers and let them fall onto a sheet of paper towel. Gently pat them dry.

Place the dry petals on a cutting board and cut them into fine pieces with a sharp, serrated knife. (Note: Nasturtium flowers have dark striping on the petals that I was concerned might make the butter look unattractive, but the darker pieces blended in without a problem.)

Add the nasturtium petals to the butter, along with a small pinch of salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Grate in a small amount of lemon rind. 

With a rubber spatula mix the petals into the softened butter until combined.

Spoon the finished butter out onto a piece of parchment paper. Roll the butter into a small log and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

 Store in the refrigerator. Warm to room temperature when you plan to use the nasturtium butter.

Now, incase you are worried that the flavour of nasturtium butter would be too strong or too spicy to be to you're liking, let me reassure you. The flavour is really quite delicate. In fact, I would caution you not to add too much grated lemon rind or lemon will be the dominant favour note. This butter is rich and creamy with just a very subtle peppery note. 

Nasturtium butter takes minutes to make, yet it looks very gourmet. See how incredibly delicious it looks slathered on some golden cornbread. Next time I make this butter, I'd love to try it on a piece of salmon. Nasturtium butter also might be nice on a party tray along with cheese and crackers.

Next summer, it's on to new experiments. I am excited to try making pesto with the leaves following this recipe I found on the blog You Grow Girl.

Bookmark this post to try 
making nasturtium butter yourself!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cool Kitchen Tool: Salad Dressing Shaker

Usually I am not  one for gadgets, but I do like handy kitchen tools that make my life easier. Recently, I discovered this neat salad dressing shaker, so I thought I would share.

For an upcoming cookbook review, I found myself whipping up a number of salad dressings. 

I was surprised how easy they were to make and thrilled with how fresh and light the homemade dressings tasted.

The only issue I had with producing my own was finding a handy container for storing any leftover dressing. 

Many people make and store dressings in Mason jars, but I find that the dressing can slop down the side of the jar when you pour it. I found myself wishing I had something better to use. 

Then I saw this Oxo Salad Dressing Shaker on a television cooking show. It was a little eureka moment. 

The lid twists open allowing you to use the bottom section to mix the ingredients by using the measurements on the side of the shaker or by eye balling it.

Screw the top back on, a few quick shakes of the wrist and the ingredients are combined. Flip the stopper to the open position and your ready to pour the dressing. Close the stopper again and any extra dressing is ready to store for another use.

I took the dressing shaker for a test drive when I made this quinoa salad. It worked perfectly, although in this instance, I used all the available dressing. 

I used this Canadian Living magazine recipe with the minor modification swapping green onions for red and adding a tablespoon of honey to salad dressing (honey mellows tahini so nicely). This salad would make a great summer side for grilled chicken.

It may be available in numerous stores, but I found my Oxo Salad Shaker at Crate and Barrel*.

* Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I am not benefiting in any way from the sale of salad dressing shakers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cookbook Review: 3 Times a Day

Recipe 1: "Lemon & Olive Chicken with Feta Couscous"

The chicken, onions and garlic are nicely browned and its time to add the pitted olives, but I realize as I fish the green olives from inside the jar with a fork, that I have no idea how to pit an olive!

I roll my eyes and think, "Too late now! I am just going to have to wing it." I sigh when I remember the recipe calls for a quarter cup of the purple olives and a quarter cup of the green ones.

Thankfully, I have opted only to use as many olives as is required to remain relatively true to the recipe. I am plotting to sneak this dish past my husband, who claims to detest olives of any kind.

My fingers get to work on the slippery olives.

I am hoping the pit will just pop out, but no, the flesh of the olive seems reluctant to part with the pit that hides at its centre. Mutilated pieces of olive fall into my measuring cup.

"At least I won't have to do much chopping," I think attempting to console myself.

The chicken dish I am trying out is from the French Canadian cookbook 3 Times a Day.

3 Times a Day is a great title, don't you think?

If you were to see it on a generic list, you might wonder what the book suggests happen three times each day. Once you know it's a cookbook, the answer is clear: it's eating three times a day.

As a teenager Quebec singer/songwriter Marilou Champagne began her career in the entertainment business where the pressure to be thin is enormous. Though she loved cooking and food, Marilou struggled with anorexia into her early twenties.

Marilou's pledge to herself to eat at least three times a day was part of the healing process. She also started a blog with her husband Alexandre to share her journey toward a healthy relationship with food. Marilou began experimenting with table setting, food styling and creating recipes. Alexandre, who had a passion for photography, took the pictures.

The blog quickly found an audience in French Canada. The cookbook Trois fois par jour followed and sold 200,000 copies in French. Three Times a Day is the newly released English version.
(Listen to Marilou and Alexandre tell their story in a CBC radio interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.)

Back to my chicken.

The next hurtle turns out to be the cream sauce. I grate the lemon zest, squeeze the juice and add the chicken stock. Then I pour 15% cream over my beautiful looking chicken only to see it curdle.

I let out a scream of pure frustration!

The two older dogs quickly hustle out of the kitchen and down the hallway to cower. Little Piper runs all the way to the top of the landing to hide.

Damed if I will let this chicken recipe defeat me!

I fish out the cooked chicken, rinse it off and start over again. Using a little extra chicken stock to compensate for the pan juices, I brown more onions, add garlic and yet more olives.

Was it the lemon juice and cream in combination? The recipe offers the option of 15% or 35% cream. This time I opt to use 35% cream just for good measure.  In a separate bowl, I mix the chicken stock and the lemon juice really well and stirring vigorously, I add the cream. Yeah! No curdling!

A couple of minor deviations from the recipe: I used chicken breasts instead of thighs. The meat of chicken thighs would be even more juicy, but breasts happen to be on sale. I also added some dijon because I love the look and taste of those little mustard seeds.

So how did the chicken taste in the end? The answer is DELICIOUS!

The lemon adds a light, fresh note to the cream, which is rich and sweet.

The olives contribute a subtle flavour, but they are not so in-your-face that my husband called me out for using olives. In fact both he and my son loved the chicken, when I served it later that evening.

The side dish is a couscous with crumbled feta cheese. The fast, simple dressing for the couscous uses dried Oregon, dijon mustard, a little vegetable oil and tons of fresh parsley.


Recipe 2: "My Favourite Chocolate Cake"

The next thing I wanted to try from 3 Times a Day was a recipe for a very decadent looking chocolate cake.

Perhaps because I was always a working Mom or maybe because we were a small family of three, I could count on one hand the number of times I have made a cake from scratch! It takes the three of us forever to make our way through a big cake, so I have always favoured homemade cookies or squares instead.

But cakes are perfect for special occasions and for entertaining guests, so I have always felt that there was something missing from my small repertoire of desserts. 

One of my culinary ambitions has become a search for the ultimate chocolate cake recipe; one that is both easy to pull-off and tastes amazing.

Could this be the recipe?

The icing

One of the interesting things about this particular chocolate cake recipe is that it uses mayonnaise as a secret ingredient in the cake batter rather than butter or oil.

I could see why the moment I whisked the mayonnaise into the mixture of beaten eggs, sugar and vanilla. The combination of ingredients was so light and foamy!

The icing on the top of the cake calls for a pound and a half of butter, so it goes without saying that it's good. (Marilou suggests in the recipe's introduction that this is not the healthiest dessert, but is instead a cake intended for special occasions like birthdays.)

The cake in the book is topped with red raspberries. I thought that it looked so pretty, I wanted to top my cake in the same way.

So how was the chocolate cake? It was lovely!

One minor thing: the cake recipe calls for the addition of a 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips. If I make it again, I'd leave the chocolate chips out. I didn't like, and this is purely personal, the change of texture the chocolate chips made in the cake. But if you like surprises, you may find that the little pieces of dark chocolate are an unexpected delight. 

Is this the ultimate chocolate cake recipe I am searching for? It is certainly a candidate! But it's early days yet. I want to try other recipes out, before I settle on one.

If you would like to give this recipe a try, you can find it here. I'd love to hear what you think!

Visit the Trois fois par jour website where you can find recipes in both English and French. There are a number of wonderful recipe videos, but unfortunately they are only in French. The website has links to the Trois fois par Jour shop and French language magazine.

3 Times a Day is available through Amazon and Chapters.