Tag Archive for chicken

On the Value of a Hoophouse

Cost: $100 (mostly recycled materials).Value? priceless.

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After a hard day of trampling paths up & down the hill or shoveling the 22″ of snow that have graced us since Friday (or plowing snow for Keith, including the road and the driveway of several neighbors), we have worked quite an appetite. Tonight dinner is homemade pizza (the dough was rising while I was – of course! – shoveling snow; canned tomato sauce from last summer) and a big mix green salad of lettuces, arugula, mache, parcel, frisee endive – freshly harvested at 4:00 pm today. Dessert? Quince fool (canned quince from last fall). We may even try the quince liqueur. That’s probably still too rough though, so we may have to settle for strawberry liqueur instead… sigh…

Like El at FastGrowTheWeeds, I see my pantry as the traditional dry pantry, the freezer and the fresh outdoor pantry that the hoophouse is. Not only do we eat fresh, but the chicken get to have something green too. Rather precious at the moment. And you know, chickweed grow really well in there, really really well…

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It’s a good thing we build the with metal arches – PVC would have collapsed – and we put the arches closer than suggested…

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I trudged up through the snow to clean it off the hoophouse before the thaw and freeze cycle started. I mostly had to clear by hand. For sure I got exercise today! The garden was blanketed by 20″+ of snow, but inside the hoophouse, it was as beautiful as ever… and smelling so good…

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Chickens Are Not Vegetarian

They love insects, worms, caterpillars, maggots, larvae, meat if they can get it. They do need animal protein for a balanced and healthy diet – which means also chicken and eggs healthy to eat – and delicious.

If anybody ever doubted that chickens are not vegetarians, they should have been here a few mornings ago, when I broke through the frozen top layer of the small compost pile housed in the current chicken area. It has been so cold that the compost pile surface has frozen. The very heart of it was warm enough though… Of course, as always curious, they follow me to see what I am up to. Plus I had the fork, and they know it’s the tool I use to lift rocks or dig out perennial weeds (all of which bring up all kind of good food to the surface).

So, as soon as I started to turn the pile, the race was on! Get that worm, girl! and that one! here! another! quick!

Vigorous scratching that sends clumps 4 feet away, heated conversation (yes chicken do converse), diligent industrious pecking, excited chatting and calls about a tempting juicy plump cache of worms… that’s what happens. And worms and other bugs just get gobbled up, fast and methodically. I love watching the chicken being chicken and expressing their joie de vivre through being able to do what chicken evolved to do.

Bugs the hell out of me when I see “vegetarian feed only” on boxes of supermarket eggs.

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On Chicken

The chicken have moved to their winter quarters.

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We’ve taken the wire fence from the summer garden down; moved the electric net fence to enclose the new chicken area; relocated the coop inside the old summer garden, and built a little dome shelter – complete with perches – so the chicken can be outside the coop and dry on wet days – like today.

The idea is to harness “chicken power” in helping to prepare next year summer garden. We’ll give them the run of the area through late April, with the hope that they will eat the bugs, control weeds, aerate the soil and incorporate organic matter – including their droppings – in the top soil (since I am also piling leaves, old straw, and other organic debris in there). Besides providing us with tasty eggs, those girls (and one boy) are playing a big role in the cycle of the garden.

Come April, they’ll be moved to another area that I want them to help clear. We hope to rotate them every 6 months, with the idea that, at all time, one area will be under chicken patrol, one area will be fallow (with cover crop) and one area cultivated.

Meanwhile, this winter, we have work to do moving the stones around to change the perimeter of the summer garden. One can see on the picture low stone “walls” outlining the perimeter of the initial summer garden – about 28 feet square. We saw way too small when we first did it two years ago. Of course, at the time, it looked big, and picking and moving the stones from the to-be-planted area to the perimeter was no small task. Fields grow stones, around here! Prospectives have changed. Funny how that happen. I now have grand plans for extensive plantings of beans, corn & squash for next year, so the summer garden is likely to be 3 to 4 times bigger by the time we are done.

A girl can dream.

The stones will have to be moved.

Breakfast For The Girls

We are calling them girls (Gael, Gladys, Gwen, Gali, Gudule etc etc). There might be a boy in there – won’t know for sure for a few weeks. He’ll be Gaston, or Gus, or Gaspard – haven’t quite decided yet.

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The girls are still in the brooder and not out yet (too cold – got down to 19F/ -7C last night) but I want them to be exposed to the outside and to eat fresh and varied (beside their chicken starter ration). Eating fresh and varied… sounds familiar? So? so, every morning, we dig fresh clumps of succulent greens for them, and put the clumps in a big flat pot or large clay saucer. We bring it to them (replacing the day-old saucer which they have battred down quite vigorously). On the menu this morning: chickweed, grass, mache, dandelion etc sprinklered with granite grit – which they need for their digestion. Gael et al are now at the stage where they actually eat the greens. And they are expecting it! Woe to me if I don’t bring it. Read more

The Ides Of March

Something softly went through the hollow last night, dropping huge handfuls of wet snow all over. The snow on the ground was gone by mid-morning, but wads of sticky whiteness remained in shrubs and dry grasses – looking like cotton candy.

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Meanwhile, inside under the shop lights, seeds planted earlier this month have germinated, true leaves starting to show.Soon to be moved to the greenhouse, thinned and even up-potted.seedling-2009-03-065

and then… peep peep… arrived today, brought by a big stork…peep peep

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Chicken Soup With A Twist

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It’s been really cold here. We have seen the minuses (Fahrenheit, that is!). Oh, I know, there are areas of the country where winter is routinely at -20 F… but not here in the Northern Piedmont… and without snow cover at that! I don’t dare checking my poor greens in the gardens, huddled under layers of agricultural fabrics and straw…

Cold? Soup!

And an easy one too please. Using staples. And one that’s fast. And tasty! And not boring.

OK! Here is a recipe that fits all the requirements. And if you protest that ginger, fish sauce and chilies are not part of your pantry, you protest too much. They should. Ginger keeps for weeks when stored at room temperature; do not put this tropical root in the fridge: it will get chilly, sulk and start growing mold. Alternatively, if you insist on chilling ginger, then go ahead, and chill it all the way: peel, chop and process the roots in your food processor (or grate) until you have a rough puree, and then freeze it in small quantities (that’s what ice-cube trays are for!); when you need some, just take a cube out. If you really left ginger out so long that it sprouts new shoots, eat them, they are a delicacy. As far as fish sauce, it will often save the day, transforming a boring dish: a tablespoon or two will bring that elusive definition-escaping yet recognizable taste present in so many of the South-East Asia cuisines. Finally, fresh chilies can be frozen or turned very easily into fiery sauces ready to enliven a soup and warm you up from the inside on a frigid day. Got it? There, three more things for your pantry. And do yourself a favor: buy the fish sauce by the quart. It’ll cost just as much as those fancy little bottles in gourmet markets and it’ll keep forever.

The rest of the ingredients are quite plebeians, wouldn’t you say? Rice, chicken, carrots, celery… So here is one of the numerous versions of my Vietnamese-Inspired Rice & Chicken Soup. We made a version at the Simply Soups! cookery workshop this past week-end, and this is yet another. As with many soup recipes, exact ingredients and quantities vary based on what is actually in the pantry, the garden and your mood. Read more

True Coq au Vin

For those who don’t know, “coq” means “rooster” in French. Therefore, “Coq au Vin” means “Rooster cooked in wine”. The dish is a staple of French provincial cooking, a dish originally made by using extra roosters culled from the chicken yard or an old chicken (aka a stewing chicken), the local red wine and available aromatics. Of course, in those areas that produce only white wine (Alsace), they have versions using white wine or beer (excellent beer is made is Alsace). In Normandy and Brittany, which are too cold for wine but where hard apple cider or perry (pear cider) have been made for century, there are versions of the dish too.

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It’s like curry, or chili or Brunswick stew. Nobody has a monopole on it: many versions have evolved over time in different parts of the country. I am sure the Spaniard and the Italians have their own way to slow-cook chicken in wine, too. What those many dishes have in common is that they were born of necessity and ingenuity and that they use wine as a simmering base. Don’t kill the chicken as long as it’s laying eggs, but once that’s over, find a way to eat it. It’s the essence of peasant/country cooking: you use what you have, and make the best of it. So, no fryer, no tender little poussin for this dish: Save your fryer for frying or grilling, and your poussins for quick braising or spit-roasting! Your old chicken, however, will be perfect simmered for hours in an acidic (wine) sauce with aromatics. It will keep its shape and provide an incomparable aroma (something maybe even too strong for those palates who like their chicken really mild! Be warned).

With temperature dipping in the single digit (Fahrenheit/ -13 C) and with the holidays, long slow cooked hearty dishes that simmer for hours on the stove with tantalizing aromas are just about perfect now. mmm… coq au vin….I was recently reading a post (December 11, sorry I can’t seem to get the permalink!) from Matt of Matt’s Kitchen who relates his disappointment of making the Barefoot Contessa’s version of Coq au Vin, and how vapid and insipid it turned out. Now, I am a great admirer of Ina Garten… but that recipe – as reported and photographed on the few blogs I looked at – sure does not lood like Coq au Vin. Not even remotely. The chicken swims in broth! It’s pallid! It looks like soup …. Several posters and commenters complained of a strong unpleasant wine taste: well… no wonder, that wine did not simmer long enough to let the alcohol evaporate and it never had a chance – along with the mushrooms, onions & bacon – to meld into a gooey mess of thick and silky luscious succulence that is the essence of Coq au Vin – a dish made to savor slowly, sucking all the bones clean, and eating up all the last bits of that thick silky unctuous sauce.

On Barefoot Bloggers (a group of bloggers who cook and comment on Barefoot Contessa recipes) there are suggestions for replacing the wine and brandy for which the recipe calls. Proposed substitutions vary from grape juice, to verjus, to apple cider, to vinegar, to chicken broth etc. All fine and dandy: many of those substitutions might produce tasty chicken dishes (although looking at some of the associated post – it did not), but what they do not do is producing coq au vin. With vinegar, it’s Chicken with Vinegar (Poulet au Vinaigre is also a French country classic); with hard cider: it’s chicken with hard-cider (even Normandy Chicken, if one adds a little cream); with broth, it’s chicken stew… you get my drift. Those wineless versions may be called coq au vin by their authors, but they are no more coq-au-vin than Velveeta is cheese!

By the way, no offense to Matt, Karen & others who reported great disappointment with the recipe. They followed it. They did not fail. It’s just not a good coq au vin recipe.

Ok. Enough for the rant. Here is my recipe for Real Coq au Vin! Read more

Roast Chicken on Sunday = Tex-Mex Chowder on Day 4

Continuing our series of Roast Chicken on Sunday means easy tasty meals for the week… This is day 4 and we are using the remaining Day 2’s Chicken Tomatillo Soup of which we made a big batch. With the help of onions, potatoes and corn, we are going to transform it into a robust, flavorful, unusual and mostly meatless chowder that’s perfect for a cool fall night. Yes folks, there is still some late corn out there – if you can’t find it, just use frozen corn.

A bowl of tomatillo corn chowder

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Chicken on Sunday = Fall Rainbow Stir-fry on Day 3

Continuing our series of Roast Chicken on Sunday means easy tasty meals for the week… This is day 3 and we are using one cooked breast from our Roast Chicken. You can still make this stir-fry using an an uncooked chicken breast. You just need to stir fry it longer to ensure it’s cooked through, before adding back the vegetable.

The idea behind stir-fry is to use what you have. Pick 3 or 4 vegetable with contrasting colors, that remain firm when cooked (not tomatoes), that cook quickly (not potatoes) and that do not “bleed” (not beetroot). I picked yellow beans, broccoli florets and red Italian peppers (in addition to onion), because they made a pretty colorful plate, and I had all of them on hand. Other choice at this time of the year might be: corn, green beans and orange bell peppers. Or green bell pepper, shredded cabbage and julienned carrots… you get the idea.

When making stir-fry, it’s important to have all the ingredients trimmed and cut to size, i.e. ready to go into the pot – that, by the way is called “Mise en place” in restaurant lingo - because each ingredients cooks fast. It’s also important to cut/slice/dice each ingredient into the same size to ensure even cooking. Finally, while a wok is nice, it’s not necessary: a cast iron skillet (which is what I use) works just as well. However, do not overcrowd the pan, or the result will be steamed ingredients, not stir-fried. Much better to cook in small batches! Each ingredient is first cooked separately, and set aside. Finally everything is added back to the pan with the seasoning liquid and cooked for a couple of minutes.

A plate of Fall Rainbow Stir-Fry

Fall Rainbow Stir Fry Read more

Chicken on Sunday = Chicken Tomatillo Soup on Day 2

I love visiting other people’s gardens and tasting food they cook from their garden. So when I went to visit Pat D.’s garden in Castleton, VA, I was in for a treat. She asked me to stay for lunch, and served a most intriguing Tomatillo Chicken soup: pale green, slightly sour with a hint of heat, it was very pleasant. I, of course, requested the recipe since tomatillos are now behaving almost like a weed in my garden – albeit a welcomed one – as they pop everywhere. Pat said she got the recipe from the internet years ago when she was trying to figure what to do with all those tomatillos. Her husband Ed has been making the soup ever since and they both love it. The original recipe called for 2 chicken breasts that one has to pound and then sautéed. I thought left over from a roast chicken – especially dark meat – would work even better. And it did. Pat’s recipe did not called for any spice, I added some coriander seeds. My recipe has less meat than hers (feel free to add more to your taste) and is also thicker. Remember, we are using meat from the chicken roasted on Sunday.

A bowl of Tomatillo Chicken Soup

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