Well, since we all kinda have those February Blah's, we decided to do a fun project that was a little bit different (Ardyn doesn't get to cook much, except in her play kitchen) and I have to say that per usual, she is over the moon about being in the kitchen with mom. She really enjoys it, but I have a hard time finding too many things that are safe for a 2 year old... The best part about this is that the measuring doesn't have to be accurate at all for birds to find it delicious... the ingredients are simple and inexpensive, and we have them all on hand... and the cooking is minimal and the heat on Low. Plus, Ardyn has had bird feeders right outside (and ON) her bedroom windows since she was not even a year old, so she loves to feed the birds and watch them. Suet cakes aren't really expensive, but every little bit of homemade can help!
So to start, we donned our aprons, and got our recipe and our supplies/ingredients all set out. Ardyn helps me cook on a stepstool/chair that our friend Nancy Anderson bought for us loooooong before we even moved in to the house, at Michael Jon's grandma Michlig's sale. It was cheap and she said that everyone needed a chair/stool like that (and we REALLY do because we have some cupboards that are so high you can only reach them if you stand on the stool.) It's great for Ardyn to help, and puts her at counter height, plus it has two steps for easy up and down!
Here's Ardyn ready to go with the recipe. She LOVES recipes. Grandma Deb gave her a "recipe box" for her play kitchen this Valentine's Day and she hasn't let it go since yesterday when she got it! Her favorite Strawberry Shortcake episode is "cookin up fun" and she really loves recipes.
First, measure out 1 cup of shortening. We use the cheap stuff from Aldi's and measure it in our mini-measure-all cup. Ardyn held the cup and I used a mini-spatula to scoop and fill the cup while she held it. We added it to the saucepan, I held the cup and she pushed the plunger and squealed with delight when the shortening "plopped" into the pan.
Stir to combine.... it will be a thicker consistency obviously, and a little grainy looking. Think Cream of Wheat or Malt O Meal :)
There are LOTS of ways to form your suet. If you save those little plastic trays that some store bought suets come in, you can add the suet to those to make perfect little squares. Another alternative is an 8x8 disposable baking pan, or even a silicone pan so you can twist and release. We happened to have an aluminum one on hand from a previous project, so I lined it with wax paper (so it would release easily and so we could use it for future batches/projects... you know how we are about reducing and reusing around here) and then we poured the suet mix inside and spread it evenly with our spatula. Once it cools, we can slice it into four perfect squares, which will be the 4x4 suet cake size of most store bought suet cages (which we already own... so it's perfect!) We also plan on using plastic party cups (think keg cups) in a future attempt, which will much mimic the bell type of suet cake... just add ribbon, string, or twine in a loop, which you can embed into the cake via the open top of the cup before the suet dries.
Since I didn't feel like contacting Wyanet Locker looking for real suet, and then bringing it into my house and letting Ardyn smear her hands in it, we used the lard/peanut butter alternative that birds seem to love just as well. Once it cools, we will be in business for bird watching!
Homemade Bird Suet
•Melt 1 cup shortening (or lard) in a saucepan on very low heat.
•Add 1 cup peanut butter and stir until melted.
•To this add 1 cup plain flour and 3 cups plain cornmeal. Mix thoroughly.
•Add whole rolled oats, seeds, raisins or bread crumbs if you have any. The final consistency will be putty-like.
•Pour into a disposable 8 inch by 8 inch aluminum pan and allow to cool.
•Slice into quarters; each one should fit nicely into a suet cage, available at most garden centers.
•Store remaining squares in the refrigerator.