Vent Gleet: Clearing Up Messy Vents in Laying Hens

Messy vents are not uncommon for even the healthiest chicken flocks.  The tell-tale signs of what look like clinging droppings on the feathers followed by eventual feather loss and redness or scalding are certainly distressing to the owner and unhealthy to the bird.  Treating this condition, colloquially called “vent gleet”, requires and inside-out approach that is easy and effective.

Why does vent gleet happen in an otherwise healthy flock?

Vent gleet is a term for a condition that usually begins with a slight bacterial imbalance of the digestive tract of the chicken.  Laying hens are under a good deal of stress: egg laying, barnyard squabbles, molting, etc.  These stressors on their system result in stress on their immune systems and digestive tract.  Once the immune and digestive systems are affected, the immune system is compromised and digestive bacteria which usually keep their systems in top running shape falter.

The role of good bacteria in the health of a hen is vital.

Many people do not realize the importance of beneficial or good bacteria in warding off other pathogens that cause illness in the digestive tract.  Good bacteria fight some of the most dreaded problems in a flock such as coccidiosis, bacteria, and yeast or fungal blooms.  Furthermore, the good bacteria are also responsible for producing the B-vitamins and enzymes that help keep food digested and not clinging, toxically, inside the digestive tract.

These interior changes might not be noticed by even the most careful flock owner until there is a yeast infection, a bloom of fungus inside the bird.  At this stage, the fungus sends microscopic tendrils through the delicate linings of the chicken’s digestive tract causing inflammation and runny droppings which do not clear the feathers when expelled.  The acid droppings on the feathers and skin cause feather loss and the typical redness and skin infections that owners eventually notice.

Treating vent gleet means treating inside and out.

The first step in vent gleet is recognizing the problem and treating exterior symptoms.  The hen should be thoroughly cleaned in the vent area with warm water (no soap) making sure not to chill her.  The area should be dried as thoroughly as possible.  A combination of triple antibiotic ointment and an anti-fungal cream such as that designed for athlete’s foot applied to the skin helps not only address any bacterial infection but also any yeast infections on the skin.  Make sure the ointment is rubbed into the skin well so that it will not be picked and eaten by the bird grooming itself.

Analyzing the environment and feeding program are the first step.

As with most things, treating just an external sign does nothing for the internal issues; taking a good look at the flock’s feed, environment, and then treating the internal issues is vital to stopping gleet in its tracks.  The savvy flock owner will do a quick assessment of their feeding program:  Is the feed fresh (less than 6 weeks old), appropriate (laying feed for layers, breeding feed for breeders), and kept in a cool, dry, air-tight container (not inside the sack)?  Are the laying hens receiving free-choice crushed oyster shell s as well as an occasional mixture of the powder from oyster shell in their feed?  Is the water offered to the flock clean, the containers generally slime and algae-free?

Are the hens kept from possibly problematic areas like compost piles, wet spots, rotting vegetation, and other sources of excess fungus?  Do the hens have dry bedding, clean ground, a good source of sunshine and lots of room?

Cleansing the system of toxins and pathogens creates a clean slate.

Once food and environmental issues are analyzed and corrected, the owner can treat the bird from the inside out.  A gentle flush helps to remove sludgy, toxic food that might be retained by the slowed digestive tract and thus acting as a source of food for harmful fungus.  Simply using a little molasses in the sole source of drinking water for 24 hours helps tremendously.    A cup of molasses can treat a 3-gallon waterer.  Mixing 1 tablespoon of molasses into a jar of applesauce also works for multiple birds.  Individual treatment can be achieved by mixing 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts into 1 ounce of water and giving a little to a bird.  Whichever path chosen, do this flush only one time per illness – no more than that.

Probiotics help replace vital bacteria lost in stress and illness.

Follow up by either giving the birds a treat of apples, crushed, or applesauce – whichever they prefer.  The pectin will help move and cleanse their systems gently.  The pectin also serves to feed and invigorate the good bacteria still left in the digestive system.  Mixing the apples with some form of probiotic helps replace the vital, beneficial bacteria which keep the system healthy.  Probios brand probiotic powder for all species is readily available through most online and local livestock supplies.  Note to the poultry owner: buying the larger all-species container is vastly less expensive than the small, poultry-specific container which is the same product.

Other probiotic sources include plain yogurt (easily mixed and hidden in feed or other treats for the bird), as well as acidophilus capsules marketed for people.  No matter which you choose, make certain to provide as a quickly-eaten treat; do not treat in the water no matter what the label states.  Give the probiotics at least twice a week for at least two weeks alternating with a water treatment.

Clean water and simple treatments help keep the digestive tract in top shape.

Treating the water is simple:  on days when probiotics are not being given, add a shot glass of organic apple cider vinegar per three gallons of water or about 1-2 tablespoons per gallon of water to the drinking water.  This is not an exact science; smell to make sure the smell of vinegar is not too evident.  Organic vinegar, such as Braggs brand, is made without a chemical process and still contains good bacteria.  This water treatment helps to bring the entire body back to its normal pH which, in turn, is unfriendly to bad pathogens, yeast, fungus, and illness.

An occasional short-term treatment keeps illness at bay.

After the two weeks of treatment, providing an occasional dose of treated water followed by probiotics can be very healthful to a flock, giving them essentially a “tune up” of their digestive tract to keep the vital bacterial healthy, thriving, and effective.

Vent gleet can easily be treated and prevented for a healthier flock.  Taking some time to treat symptoms from the inside out helps keep any flock healthy and thriving for years to come.

Things That Make Me Happy

  • Watching leaves and bits of grass dance on the wind, whirling around and glistening in the sun like some dancing spirit.
  • The shape of a big, stocky horse butt.  Who am I kidding?  ANY part of a horse.
  • Watching birds in the trees without them realizing I’m watching them.
  • Seeing a baby doe run across the field, stop, and look at me just as bold as brass knowing I’m standing right there; she reaches down to eat grass like I’m part of her safe world.  I am.
  • Looking out into the pasture to see my pregnant mare, Kat, roll – or try to roll.  Preposterous.  She loved it; so did I.
  • Seeing cats curled up together.  It makes me wish I were tiny so I could curl right up with them.
  • Dogs running.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  Even better if there’s some degree of tongue lolling happening.
  • Over single one of Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman’s) shows.  Pure joy.  If I saw her, I’d probably hug her and she’d think I was a weird stalker.
  • Family; who knew that with so little of them left I’d be taken under the wings of other families. 
  • Friends; no matter how nutty or random I am, no matter if I’m having a bad day or great one, true friends make life a complete joy.  I could do another 47 years with you all.

What makes you happy?

Playing Well with Others; Socialization and Training the Horse – Part I

Part I:  Cash’s Introduction to Herd Dynamics

Most of today’s clinicians and horse training experts rely on techniques which, in turn, rely on the horse’s natural social skills.  But when your horse is – to put it kindly – socially inept, then what?  Teaching your horse proper manners on the ground is vital to riding, even if the lesson is his first.

A little about Cash

Recently we brought a new horse into the herd:  Flash, aka CashMoney.  Cash is a lovely 5-year-old gelding who comes to us green broke from the family who raised him.  While not papered, Cash’s bloodlines promised the potential for nice movement, intelligence, possibly a little cattle work and reining.  His dam was on site – a really good looking buckskin with a great disposition.  I could tell from first meeting that Cash was going to be fast, catty, and a thinker – meaning he would want to know why we had to do everything and not just blindly accept that we *were* going to do everything I say.  That was fine with me because I like a horse with a mind.  To me, he seems bold – he certainly moved that way.  So I bought him.

Cash comes home; Rodeo Days

Cash had never been in hauled in a trailer, a project that I’m sure will be carried out here for you all to see – fun!  We managed to get him loaded and home.  The first day of transition we had him stalled up so everyone could take a good look at him without getting at him.  This also gave him a chance to become acquainted with my very old mare, Queenie.  Everything seemed great.

When we took him out eventually to become acquainted with the other horses, we had the usual of what I call “Rodeo Days” – meaning everyone had to run, buck, chase, posture, show what big ol’ tough horses they are, and so on.  Fair enough – horses have social orders and the new kid in town shook things up.  Usually Rodeo Days last about 3 days and then everyone gets over themselves.  Egos deflate, bruises heal, and I can stop worrying.

After three days, however, we realized that Cash was still running terrified from everyone except  Queenie – and the mini cow.  (Nothing runs from the mini cow; the most she can do is lick you to death with that long scratchy tongue of hers.)  The more Cash ran, the more other horses were determined to bully him.

Horses seem to be a lot like kids in elementary school; if you dare to cringe, you are guaranteeing that you will be the target of abuse until you are past graduation.  That being said, this was just too much.  Then it dawned on me:  Cash doesn’t know how to be a horse!

Our realization about Cash

Cash was raised with his momma only – no herd.  He apparently spent a lot of time in a pen next to her, not with her where she could push him around, pin her ears at him but not do anything really, and just basically teach him to keep out of her personal space.

When I lead him, I get the feeling that he’s a 2-week-old colt and *I* am his momma.  Colts have a funny way of sticking to their moms like glue sometimes, invading that personal space in a way that the mare would never ever tolerate from any other horse.  When Cash would see something new, all 1100 pounds of him would be quite firmly stuck to my side – a bit intimidating since he is fast as his first name – Flash – states.

Cash has been schooled by humans, but not by horses

Cash has experienced some Clinton Anderson techniques.  For example, he will back up if you shake the lead a bit in front of him facing him.  However, it seems to me that he doesn’t really know things like personal space, manners, and that standing 1 foot in front of your much-shorter owner with your head above her head isn’t the thing to do.  Cash is neither doing these things because he is bad nor because anyone has neglected anything in his upbringing; he is just being a horse that has never really experienced a herd environment.

What a horse learns in a herd and why it is important

The thing is – herd manners are vastly important to modern training techniques such as that by Anderson and others based on the teachings of Ray Hunt and company.  The body language and thinking used to teach a horse on the ground and then in the saddle are based on a horse herd dynamics.

In a herd, a horse learns that if one horse pins his ears and comes at him, he needs to move and move quick; however, you do not have to keep moving like you are on fire when that other horse releases that pressure.  In a training environment, body language is used to move a horse forward in a controlled way.

In a herd, Cash would have been nipped and probably kicked for getting up in other horses’ spaces – no matter the reason.  In a training environment, the trainer uses personal space pressure and physical pressure to teach a horse to think about personal space.  In a herd, walking up to the alpha mare (in this case: me) with ears pinned back would have resulted in a lesson in manners.

A proper herd would have taught Cash that horses, by nature, are too lazy to chase you for a mile if you will just kindly heed their warning and move; continued terror is not necessary.  In training, when a horse does what you want the pressure you used to get that result is immediately released.

The horses get the teaching job – for now

I was going to begin Cash’s training 3 days after he arrived.  However, when you see a 40 inch pony chasing a 1100 pound/15 hand high gelding around who is terrified – you realize that he might need some adjustment time.

Now Cash is fine.  We locked up the Tiny Terror (PonySue) so that Cash could taunt him over the stall without fear, Kat and Dante got over their jealousy, Jo never cared much either way about chasing Cash, and Queenie has loved him from the start.  Cash is getting to learn how to move in a crowd with  manners and without fear, how to think instead of reacting – a vital skill for the training process.

Now that Cash seems to understand a little more about how to be – well – a horse, we can go forward in his training on how to be an awesome horse.  I am excited to share this with you in the upcoming segments.  I hope you join us, Cash and myself, for our adventure.

Every-color Rice with Chicken

Do you ever have one of those days where you want something warm and comforting, but you just do not seem to have the fuel your body needs for a big meal?  So do I and today was one of those days.  I needed a food-hug to get through the day, so I decided to make a spin-off of a meal my momma used to make.

This meal is not only colorful, it’s delicious.  This is an awesome way to sneak veggies into your meal in a soothing way.  You can also adjust this recipe for nearly endless variations which makes it a great staple in your book of recipes.

I used two pots today, but you can just as easily use one very successfully.  If you use one pot, then you get all the delicious, caramelized chicken bits and pieces in your rice dish – a real benefit.

Let’s get started.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken, uncooked, cut into tenderloin sized-pieces.  Breast or thigh.
  • One package of “yellow rice”**
  • One cup or small can of black olives.
  • One handful or a cup of frozen peas.
  • One handful or a cup of frozen or fresh peppers.*
  • Various seasonings.  My favorites are garlic powder (not salt), Lawry seasoned salt, salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
  • One medium  or small yellow onions.
  • Two to four garlic cloves (optional if you have garlic powder around).

Some ingredient notes:

*On peppers, the more colors the merrier.  I look for sales on  the red/orange/yellow peppers because they add sweetness and color to a dish.  There are also bags of frozen strips of tri-colored peppers in some grocery stores.  These are an inexpensive way to keep beautiful and delicious peppers available at all times for your dishes.  Just a little handful adds a ton of beauty to a dish.

**Yes, there really is a product called “yellow rice”.  You can also make this with regular rice and saffron, but I’m a lazy creature by nature and the package takes a whole lot of work out of this dish.  You can also use white rice, but really – the color of yellow rice is absolutely stunning – a perfect foil for all those pretty colors you’re going to throw in.

Preparing ahead of time takes away some of the pressure.

I like to have as much of my cooking goodies ready ahead of time so that I can just throw ingredients into the pan like some mad scientist!  If you are like me, then go ahead and slice up your onion into medium-thin slices, slice your olives in half if they’re whole, chop up some garlic into tiny dices.

Cook the chicken first.

The first task at hand is to get your chicken going and pretty and colorful!  I give you the option of using either breast meat or thighs.  I confess:  I used to think that chicken thighs were the worst thing ever.  In fact, I told my boyfriend that I never eat chicken thighs and I sure didn’t intend to start.  Yeah, I’m that hard headed.   Every once in a while, however, something will get through my thick skull and makes its way into my thinking process and this time it was chicken thighs.

Chicken thighs are really flavorful in a dish like this where the juices and flavors of the thigh will be cooked into the dish as a whole.  I really feel that thighs are the way to go for this dish because of a certain richness they add without being overpowering.  That being said, feel free to use breasts if you like them better.  I recommend having them cut into tender-sized pieces no matter what you choose.

Heat up your pan and, when hot, add a little bit of olive oil into the pan – just a bit.  I usually make an S-shaped swirl.  This gives you enough lubrication for your chicken without weighing down the dish.

Season both sides of your washed and dried chicken with generous amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or similar product.  When your oil is hot enough and the top of it isn’t smooth but is dimpling a little, then go ahead and set your chicken pieces down in that oil.

Did you know foods have personal-space preferences?

Remember, all foods have their own sense of personal space.  Some foods like onions and other vegetables are social creatures and don’t mind being heaped up all in one pile.  Meats and mushrooms, on the other hand, like a little personal space.  Give the pieces enough space around them to where they don’t necessarily touch.  You’ll find that they always color up and cook a lot more happily.  Happy food makes happy tummies, and I’m all about the happy tummy!

So nestle those chicken pieces on into your beautiful olive oil and listen to them sizzle.  Give each one a little wiggle so that some of your olive oil gets beneath them so that they brown better and stick less.  A little sticking is perfectly fine; every little piece that sticks and really browns is going to enhance your dish in the end.  So don’t sweat the small stuff.

Developing color and moisture in the chicken pot.

The temperature should be medium-hot.  The goal is to let the chicken get colored up on one side to where you have a beautiful browned and interesting surface.  This also sears in juices, so resist the urge to poke and worry the chicken.  It knows what it’s doing; let it be.

If you’re new to cooking, just take a peek now and again by lifting the chicken pieces and looking under them.  If the chicken looks pale, it’s not ready to be turned.  Wait til it’s something you’d want to see on your plate before turning it over.

When your chicken are pretty and colorful, go ahead and give them all a flip.  Remember to wiggle them so that they don’t stick.  Then let the other side color up.

When the chicken is nearly the color you want, I throw in the pieces of bell peppers with the chickens so that they can warm up.

When your chicken is done, take the chicken and peppers and set aside.

Two-pan method versus the one-pan method

Two pan method:  while the chicken is cooking, go ahead and saute some onions in a pre-heated pan into which you’ve added olive oil (again, an S-shape) which you’ve also heated up.  I like to throw a little Italian seasoning over my onions as they cook.  If you’re using garlic, throw those in when the onions are nearly done and just browning.  If not, then put your garlic powder in when you put the onions in; seasoning them before they’ve released their moisture helps distribute the seasoning flavors throughout your onions.

One pan method: when the chicken is removed from the pot, throw the onions in and cook as in the two-pan method.

Prepare the onions and rice.

Either way:  cook the onions until they have sweated out a lot of their moisture, but are still retaining their shape.  They should be a little soft and nicely browned without being completely caramelized.

When the onions are done, pour 2 and 1/2 cups of hot water into the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Once the water is boiling vigorously, not just little bubbles… (I know, it’s very hard to wait for that moment) then pour in your yellow rice.  Stir and continue to boil the rice/water/onion mixture for one minute.

NOTICE: Most packages or  yellow rice are the same; however, if your rice calls for less or more water – then use the amount recommended on the package.

My stove tends to stay really hot so I’ll actually turn my  heat down to 2 or simmer when I’ve added the rice.  In my case, the water will continue to boil as I stir it and stirring it helps it come down to a simmer temperature.  You can try this as well so you don’t scorch your rice.

Stirring at this point helps you to keep the rice moving around and not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  The olive oil in which you cooked stuff helps, too.  If you are using the one-pan method, use this time to scrape all the good chicken bits from the bottom and into the boiling water.  That’s the good stuff!

Put everything together.

After your minute has passed, take your chicken and nestle the pieces into the water-covered rice.  Make sure that all the pepper pieces go as well.  Then dump your frozen peas and black olives on top.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes without stirring, or until all of the water is absorbed into the rice.

Finish your beautiful dish.

When you see all the water is absorbed, take the pot off of the heat.  Add two pats of butter and give the whole gorgeous thing a good stir.  Enjoy the beautiful yellow, red, green, orange, and black colors in your beautiful yellow rice.  Don’t forget to take a nice deep smell of this super-comforting dish.  It really smells like home and happiness and love and chickeny-goodness!

IMG_0452

Serve up a heaping dish for yourself and your family and enjoy!

Every-color rice and chicken.

Every-color rice and chicken.

City pizza in my country kitchen

IMG_0426

I was raised in or near the city where a good pizza was available just about any time of the day or night.  When I moved to Bandera, I realized that my days of 24/7 pizzas had to come to an end.  I do admit that sometimes the late-night pizza commercials make me want to cry.   Real tears.  Really.

I tried the frozen pizza options and while sure – they worked for a while, there were still times (usually at 2 a.m.) where I really wished I had a hot, fresh pizza.

One day I was getting ready to pay $30 for a pizza that, while freshly made at our local pizzaria, just didn’t quite scratch that itch.  I decided it was “good and time” that I started to make my own pizza.  This process may seem to be a lot of work, but this recipe makes enough toppings for 2 pizzas at a good 12” each.   And let me tell y’all – 2 slices of this pizza will fill the hungriest person.  One pizza makes two very filling meals.

This is how you, too, can have fresh piping hot pizzas that will rival the best pies in town.

Ingredient lists:

Dough ingredients:

  • 3.5 to 4 cups of flour
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 1 package of yeast (active, dry)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil set aside; extra for working dough and greasing the  bowl.
  • One pinch of sugar.

Pizza sauce ingredients:

  • Italian seasoning
  • Cheap parmesan cheese in a shaker
  • Garlic powder (not salt)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 1 pinch of brown sugar

Pizza toppings ideas:

  • One onion, sliced into thin slices.
  • 1/2 pound hamburger meat.
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage (we used mild)
  • Canadian bacon – rinds cut off, sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Pepperoni slices
  • Italian seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • Cheap parmesan cheese powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Any veggies you like – such as red and green peppers, olives, fresh tomatoes chopped and patted dry with a paper towel, etc.
  • Cheeses:  mozzarella,  cheddar, feta.  For this pizza I used mozzarella and cheddar and Parmesan.

Here is a quick list of the dance steps, the order we’ll take to make the pizzas:

  • Proof yeast
  • Mix dough
  • Proof dough
  • Cook ingredients while dough is proofing, set aside
  • Form crust
  • Cover crust with sauce and toppings
  • Bake
  • Eat until you can eat no longer.
  • Stare at the pizza wistfully wishing you had more room.
  • Fall asleep on the couch.

Note:  the last three steps are VERY important; do not skip them.

Preparing the dough:

Proofing your yeast; always make sure your workers are ready to work!

Any time you are going to be making a yeast-type dough, you always want to proof your yeast.  What this means is that you are going to prove that your yeast is alive and working before you start the dough.  You do this by putting the yeast granules into warm water with a little food (in this case sugar) to activate them.

Measure out very warm but not hot water.  The temperature should be about 100 degrees.   You can test the heat by hand; the water should be much warmer than your skin, but not hot.

Word to the wise:  do not be like me and think you are so smart that you can use any amount of water unless you’re already experienced at dough-making.  When I was Miss Smarty Pants, my yeast did not work and then I thought “Um, how much water was that again?”

Use the pre-set amount of water just in case your yeast fail to work; that way when you dump your yeast concoction out, you know how much water you need to replace.

Feed your workers; yeast like warmth and a good meal.

Place a pinch of sugar into the 1/4 cup of water; the yeast organisms have been sleeping and they are hungry.

Empty the package of active dry yeast into the cup and wait about 5 minutes.  During this time the yeast pellets should dissolve; the yeast organisms awaken, eat, and create foam.  The foam may be just slight, but it should be there.  If no foam appears, your yeast might be expired in date or in life.  If so, just try another package in a new quarter cup of water.

Preparing your dough – the messy but fun part

In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of flour and the salt.  Add the olive oil and the rest of the water and stir well.  The dough should be gloppy (the official word for it, I am sure) and soft.  Once your yeast has proofed, add the yeast-water into the dough.  Add more flour very gradually until the dough is slightly stiff.

At this point your dough might still be sticky and wet; that is fine.  You are going to work more of the flour into it by kneading.

Work it, baby!

Flour a board lightly.  Dump your dough onto the board and get ready to get messy!  I love this part best of all.  I do know that you can use a dough hook and a machine for this part, but I really believe that you get the best feel of how dough is progressing by doing this hands-on!

Knead the pizza dough, gradually bringing in the flour that is left over from the ingredients.  The amount of flour that your dough accepts depends on the environment.  In the winter or low humidity, you will not be able to incorporate as much flour as you can in a humid and/or warm environment.

You can tell with your hands and fingers how much dough to use.  If the dough is sticky, add some sprinkles of flour to the board and on top of the dough and work it in.  You may think that your dough is fine, but press into it with your fingers and you will be able to tell if it is still a bit wet.

There is no need to fear the kneading process

Kneading used to terrify me.  “How am I going to do that – I’ve never seen anyone do it, I wasn’t raised doing this?”  However, I think you’ll be surprised how simple and comforting kneading can be.  Start with your ball of dough on your board.  With your palms down, place the balls of your palms into the bread.  Then just lean your weight into the bread and sort of smear it forwards.  If the bread feels sticky to your palms, sprinkle with a little flour as if you were powdering with sugar.

Turn your dough one-quarter turn to your right, fold the dough over itself, and repeat the palm-smear once or twice.  Feel the dough’s wetness and adjust with flour as needed.  Turn the dough one-quarter turn and smear.

How long do you need to knead?

Keep kneading and adding slight amounts of flour until you feel you have incorporated as much of the flour as you can and your dough is smooth and silky.  I try to knead the dough for the better part of 10 minutes.  If the dough is sticky, I continue to knead.  If the dough is silky before the 10 minutes is done, I can stop a couple of minutes early.  Roll the edges under your dough to make a pretty ball.

Tuck the dough in for a good rest

Oil the inside of a bowl, preferably one that you can see through.  I like using olive oil for pizza dough.  Go ahead and jump in and use your hands to spread the oil around the bowl leaving a tiny bit spare at the bottom.   Go ahead and keep your hands covered with that lovely oil and pick up your dough ball.  Gently rub the oil over the ball and place it smooth-side-down and spin it in the bowl a little to coat with oil.  Slide it back upright, smooth-side-up, to let the bottom get oiled.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free area.

Helpful hint:  placing a piece of tape on the side of the bowl to show how high the dough is at the beginning helps you keep track of how far it has risen.

Another helpful hint: do not try to add tape with oily hands.  I can tell you from experience that this does not work out well.

Turning on the oven light is often enough warmth for your dough.  Put your covered dough in the oven and leave it there for about 20 minutes or until it has doubled, about 40 minutes.  The dough will let you know when it is ready if you use the finger test.  To finger test your dough, put to finger tips into the dough then remove them.

If the dough springs back, it needs more time.  If the dents remain, you are ready to go.

While your dough is resting, prepare your toppings.

Preparing the toppings

Toppings; the meats:

I like to pre-cook all of my toppings.  Simply brown the Italian sausage, making sure to season it well with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, onion powder, whatever you like.  Do the same with hamburger.  Yesterday I used the oil from the Italian sausage crumbles and cooked my hamburger in it; it was divine!

Toppings; the veggies:

For my onions, I use thin slices and then add them to a pan that is hot and has a dash of olive oil in it.  I keep that pan at a medium-low heat and just let the onions sweat and soften in the olive oil.  Season with your herbs at that point before the onions are done.  You can either cook them to where they’re just slightly soft or go ahead and caramelize the onions.  I am convinced that caramelized onions make absolutely everything taste better.

For your veggies like peppers and tomatoes, I do like to toss them in a warm pan – perhaps with the onions – if they take a while to cook.  I also like to cook mushrooms first as they will release a lot of moisture which can make your pizza soggy.  Letting your veggies release their moisture in a pan helps to ensure that your pizza will not be too moist and messy.

I do not cook the pepperoni and other prepared meats such as salami, pre-cooked bacon, etc.  The very slight amount of oils and liquid that comes out of these meats only adds flavor, not sloppiness, to the pie.

Let your toppings cook while you are preparing the sauce.  When they are ready, place them in a paper-towel lined bowl to soak up extra oil.

Preparing the sauce

Empty your small can of tomato paste and of tomato sauce into a bowel.  Add 2 tablespoons of cheap powdered parmesan.  Add about 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a hefty pinch (or two) of garlic powder.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add one pinch of brown sugar to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.  Stir and give it a taste test.  Set aside for when you top the crust.

Preparing the crust

Take the dough out and put it back on your board.  Give the dough a couple of good reassuring pats to “punch down” the air.  I like to push the dough down to where it is about 3 inches tall.

Take a plate and use the plate as a cutter to divide the dough into two halves.  Form both halves into balls.  At this point, if you wish, you can lightly oil the outside of one dough, wrap in saran wrap, and put it in the freezer to use later; just thaw, shape, and bake with your toppings.

Oil a pizza pan if you are making a pan pizza.  Place the dough you are going to use and place it in the oiled pan.  Start in the middle and press the dough into a pizza crust shape from the inside outwards.  Use your fingers to lightly press the dough towards the outside, gently stretching the dough into a shape.  Rotate your dough as you go around.  Keeping your hands oiled with olive oil helps this step tremendously and gives the dough such a great flavor!

If the dough wants to spring back really hard – it is okay: let it rest a few minutes and try again.  Sometimes this allows the gluten to relax and the dough to shape more easily.

If you want a nice roll of dough around the outside, then leave a little ridge of dough on the outsides.  Alternately you can flatten the edges out.  You can control how thick or thin the dough will be.

Make one pizza; have one ready any time you have a craving

Remove half of the ingredients and place in little ziplock baggies.  Place all of those baggies into one bigger baggy when they are frozen; that way you will have a “pizza kit” ready with barely any work.  Just thaw your ingredients, shape the crust, top it, and bake!

Toppings, toppings, toppings!

Once you get the dough in the shape you want, rub oil over the entire crust gently – including the crust edges.  Season the entire dough – including the edges – with your Italian seasonings and a sprinkle of cheap parmesan.

Take your pizza sauce and place a blob of it into the center of your pizza.  Use your hands or a wooden spoon to paint the sauce outwards onto your pizza.  Again, sprinkle with the parmesan.

Sprinkle a very thin layer of mozzarella cheese over the sauce.  Add a little of your hamburger and sauce crumbles at this point; their flavor will infuse the sauce.  Sprinkle a little more mozzarella, a little more seasoning, and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Add your pepperoni and Canadian bacon slices all over the pizza along with any veggies you choose.

Then sprinkle yet more parmesan, mozzarella, and then some cheddar cheese.  This pizza is not for sissies!

Make sure this last layer of cheese goes over the crust .  The cheese will melt onto the crust and just looks and tastes absolutely fabulous!

Baking your pie

Place the pizza in a 350 degree pre-heated oven.  The amount of time the pizza takes varies.  My pizza took about 30 minutes for the crust on the outside to puff, set, and turn a little golden and lovely.  The outside crust edges will tell you a lot about what it going on under the pizza.  Make sure all of your cheese is melted and lovely.  Remove the pizza and let set for 2-3 minutes.

Slice the pie into halves twice, then get your knife and fork ready; this pizza is really filling and hefty.  I always make the 2-slice bet; I’ve never seen anyone who could eat more than 2 slices, no matter how badly they wanted to eat more.  I win more bets that way!

Here are a few reasons I think you’ll really enjoy this pizza:

Moving forwards towards happiness

Barbra Schulte wrote this and I read it today in her newsletter: “Did you know that the month of January is named after the Roman god, Janus who symbolizes letting go of things that don’t work and moving forward in productive ways?”

I know that last year meant letting go of a lot of things, things I didn’t ever think that I would or could ever release. But I released them and, in doing so, freed myself.

Think carefully. Are there things in your life that cause you pain, feel like a weight that sometimes is unbearable, or keep you tethered in the past? If so – they’re not going to let you free voluntarily. You yourself have to cut the bonds yourself; sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes both.

Don’t be fooled that you can cut them once and they’ll just flit away into the air, either. Once cut, things that stubbornly kept you down will try to continue to do so. Keep pushing them away. If you need help, ask God, ask me to ask God with you, or if your beliefs run differently just talk to me about it – it helps to talk things out. I will stand with you for a better, healthier, happier life.

Isn’t it time to let go, let God, and get free? I highly recommend it. It’s soooo worth it. LET yourself be happy this year.

Love, your friend.

Nat
For more information about Barbra Schulte, please visit her site:  http://barbraschulte.com/  While she writes towards horse people, her methods work for everyone to build a new life, achieving your dreams.

Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes

med chicken plated

Bandera, Texas is usually a very warm place; however, this time of the year the winds can pick up and it gets pretty chilly for a Texas town!  After doing a morning’s chores, I decided I wanted something warm, flavorful, and filling but not necessarily fattening.

Today, I knew I had some really nice roma tomatoes from the store that I could not resist, a small package of goat cheese I picked up as a treat, and frozen chicken thawing in the fridge.  I also had potatoes that needed to be used while they were still good, so I decided to make my Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes.

Both of these dishes are simply delicious, do well with one another or paired with other sides, and are really very easy to make. They bring color, flavor, and love to your table and will definitely reward you for all of your hard work outside!

Mediterranean chicken and roasted potatoes.

The potatoes:

You will want to do the potatoes first because they cook in two segments at 40 minutes each.

  • 6 medium sized baking potatoes, cut into wedges.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (I prefer extra-virgin for its fruity flavor)
  • 1/2 cup of water.
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice – fresh or bottled.
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced finely.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Spray a pan large enough to hold all of your potatoes with a non-cook spray.

Take your washed and dried potatoes and slice them in half lengthwise.  Place the flat side down and cut into half twice and then again twice so that you have evenly-sized wedges.  The closer in size the wedges are width-wise, the more uniformly they will cook.

In a separate container, mix the oil, lemon juice, oregano together.  Add the garlic to the oil mixture and stir well.

Place the potatoes in a deep bowl and salt and pepper them. Toss them around a little to make sure the S&P gets on each of the potatoes.  Then add the oil to the bowl.

Wash your hands thoroughly and then use your hands to mix the potatoes and oil.  Yes, you will smell  like garlic.  If that bothers you, use vanilla extract in  your hand-washing soap when you are done tossing the potatoes.  If that does not bother you, you are like me.  I love garlic, love the smell of it, and I don’t mind getting a sniff of it here and there as I’m cooking!  The more the merrier!

Place the oiled potatoes into the baking pan and pour the water into the bottom of the pan.  This is the secret to roasting potatoes without them becoming dry and sponge-like.  (Don’t tell your friends – let them just imagine you’re a genius.)

Place the potatoes into the oven and set the timer to 40 minutes.  At the end of 40 minutes, stir the potatoes around making sure to spoon the delicious garlic-infused oil/water over the potatoes.  While the first 40 minutes is taking place, you can prep your ingredients for the chicken dish.

When your timer is up and your potatoes are turned and bathed, set the timer for another 40 minutes; use this time to actually cook the chicken dish. The total cook time will be 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Mediterranean Chicken

  • 3-4 chicken breasts, washed and then salted and peppered, cut into halves or thirds.
  • 6 roma tomatoes – diced into pieces around 1/2″
  • 1 tablespoon of capers, drained and rinsed
  • I small can of black olives, sliced (or slice your own)
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice – fresh or otherwise
  • half a small onion, sliced thinly
  • Worchestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon
  • Garlic powder
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 pats of butter.
  • Fresh goat cheese crumbles

I’m going to go on a cooking rant – I can just feel it bubbling up inside of me, so buckle up because here we go.  Cast Iron.  No, no, no – I know – they’re heavy, they’re confusing sometimes, they don’t have the ever beloved teflon non-stick that people are convinced they MUST have – but really…. if you can just try one nice big cast iron pan, I promise that you will hear angels sing, see fireworks, and ask it to marry you.

OK maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit.  But seriously – a well-seasoned cast iron pan will rock your world and your cooking and even clean up time!  If you’re new to cast iron pans, I’ll post an article about how to choose, use, and enjoy them.

So – no matter what pan you choose (subliminal messaging:  cast iron) you will want to heat the pan to medium/medium-hot.  If you use stainless, I sometimes use a simple non-stick spray to help clean up.  Once the pan is good and warm, add your oil and let it heat.

While the oil is heating, combine all of your other ingredients except for half of the onions and all of the lemon juice into a bowl and let them meet each other.  Toss in your seasoning, give them a little stir so that they’re mingling and getting happy, then get  ready to do more with your chicken.

Vegetables: Mediterranean chicken

Vegetables: Mediterranean chicken

Eat at least 2 olives and pretend that you’re doing quality control on the way.  Don’t tell anyone you did it – deny it vehemently if anyone suspects anything!

Note, in this case I used green olives because we had a party and ate all of the black olives.  Oops!  I really cannot resist olives!

Gently nestle the seasoned chicken breasts into the olive oil.  I really believe the care you give to the food you’re cooking and the fun you let yourself have comes out in the quality at the end.  Enjoy the process!  Listen to them sizzle as they hit the pan.  Give them a little bit of a wiggle so that the oil gets under them and they stick a little less.  Then let them be for a bit.

You want the one side of the chicken to sear a bit.  You don’t want to micromanage the food, poking it, looking at it, moving it around; you’ll anger it and it’ll decide it wants to ruin your dinner party.  Let it just rest until the one side is at least white (not pink), and preferably has a little color to it – just a bit.

If you’re impatient and you really just cannot resist doing something to it, show it some love by putting some more seasonings on the top side.

Once the chicken is ready on one side, go ahead and flip it over to give the other side some color.

chicken and onions

At this point I added the reserved half of the onions to the skillet to start to pick up some color and caramelize a bit.  To me, there are few flavors that really make a dish as interesting as caramelized onions.  Cook until the chicken breasts are nearly cooked about 10 minutes.

Chicken browning, veggies are on standby.

Chicken browning, veggies are on standby.

Once the onions have picked up color and the chicken breasts have as well, dump the tomato mixture into the pan with the chicken.  Stir the tomato mixture around the chicken gently so that the tomatoes and the chicken both have a chance to touch the bottom to continue cooking.

med chicken

Breathe in deeply and enjoy the smells.  Tangy, rich, bright, deep – they’re all there.

med chicken close

Turn down your heat to medium/medium-low so that you don’t cook this too quickly.  The goal is to let the tomatoes cook down and lose their structure, but not to burn them or let them get too mushy.

Go in occasionally and use a spoon to lift up the cooked tomatoes, put them on the chicken, and let the still-uncooked tomatoes get their turn at the bottom of the pan.

Once about half of the tomatoes are cooked down, I turn the chicken over.  Use a spoon to pick up the juices from the tomatoes and bathe the chicken pieces in them.  Take your lemon juice and sprinkle over the top of the chicken pieces, season with a little more salt and pepper – just a little.

When all of the tomatoes are done and the chicken is complete, about 15 minutes, put 2-3 pats of butter into the sauce and stir it in to finish your sauce.  Get your warm plates ready.

For this dish, I put the potatoes on the plate first.  Then you serve the chicken beside it, or on top of the potatoes.  That being said, I think serving them on the side is best because the roasted potatoes keep crisp and you can always drag them over to the tomato sauce to pick up some of the goodies.  Yum!!

Sprinkle a tiny bit of fresh goat cheese crumbles on top of the chicken.  Then be sure to eat some of the extra goat cheese because it is Just That Good!!

Just look at that.

med chicken plated 2

This is a dish that is piquant, warm, so easy to cook, and very pretty with its reds and greens topping the beautiful golden chicken.  Be sure to share it with friends and family.

med chicken plated for 2

Enjoy!!