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Range chicken garlic scape cilantro pesto sausage with chickpeas and beet greens

15 Jun

A friend of mine from high school contacted me via facebook back in February about moving to Nashville. She had several places in mind in North Carolina but was also considering Tennessee. She was interested in hearing our thoughts on Nashville since we had recently relocated here.

After a few e-mails and phone calls we reunited downtown at Tootsies over a few cold drinks and some good music and caught up over the past two decades (ahem, +). After visiting North Carolina and looking at employment options, etc., our new/old friend e-mailed to let us know she had decided to move to Nashville. We were thrilled!

Once she got here, I showed her some of the sights in Nashville. Since I had to pick up hog casings for sausage so I could make my June Charcutepalooza submission, one of the places we visited was the Butcher Supply store. It was quite the adventure.

Our new/old friend has read our blog and was intrigued by the Charcuterie challenge along with the recipes and the farm food. Since the sausage stuffing challenge was due on the 15th, we invited her to help us with the sausage making last Sunday, June 12th.

We started the afternoon off with a farm fresh shaved (we used a potato peeler but a mandolin would be better) beet salad, mixed with fresh squeezed lemon (or lime) juice and chopped parsley, a palate cleanser and supposedly a precursor to the evening. This salad is simple and delicious. A customer who bought some beets from our farm gave me this recipe last summer. It’s one of our favorite starters.

We had all kinds of plans including making pesto (which we accomplished) and subsequently the chicken pesto sausage (left for later), having a light lunch at home and then heading out to one of our favorite people watching venue’s, Puckett’s in Leipers Fork then back to the farm for dinner.

Well, the conversation and people watching was incredible and the day got away from us. When we finally got back to the farm from Puckett’s we had not started the chicken part of the sausage and dinner was not (even close to being) ready. However, we all pooled our skills and rolled back our sleeves to stuff sausage for the first time (even with a key component missing on the stuffer). This was a big mistake and the end product was a colossal failure. Instead we made a pasta sauce with the ground chicken and pesto mixture and had a late chicken pesto pasta dinner. It had wonderful flavor.

And we learned what NOT to do in our trial sausage making run. First, have ALL the parts for your meat grinder/sausage stuffer ready and re-read your instructions. Here’s how to do it right:

Cut the white and dark meat off of 2 (*humanely raised) chickens leaving the wings on the carcasses(save the carcasses for making soup later) put the boneless meat in a plastic bag in the freezer for at least a half an hour, you will want it almost frozen.

Prepare pesto

Soak casings for the amount of time specified on the package.

Run the chicken meat through the meat grinder and mix with the pesto. Run the meat/pesto mixture through the grinder again to make sure it is completely mixed with the pesto.

Remove the extruding piece from the grinder and add the stuffing arm (we have a manual grinder).

Make sure the stuffing arm has been sprayed with oil per Mrs. Wheelbarrows post about stuffing sausage…very important. Stuff sausages and cook or freeze, they will keep in the fridge, but only for a few days.

We decided to cook our sausages on a roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes (or until done).

To accompany our sausages, we looked to the garden. Garlic, beet greens and parsley appeared gorgeous and tasty, all perfectly fresh. We also had some left over cooked chickpeas from making homemade hummus a few days ago.

Beet greens and chick peas.

2 cans or 3 cups pre-cooked chickpeas
Large bunch of beet greens, chopped
5-8 cloves of fresh garlic, diced
bunch parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
2 Tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Saute greens, garlic and parsley over medium high heat  in oil until wilted (about 3-5 minutes) add chickpeas, mustard and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sausages and chickpea/greens with a dollop of whole grain dijon mustard and if there is any leftover pesto, add that to the plate as well. Though the pictures don’t do it justice, it was incredible.

Our new/old  friend was not with us to enjoy the successfully completed chicken pesto sausages… however, there are some in the freezer for next time we see her!

*We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these chickens enjoyed life in all the chicken ways that chickens will – given the opportunity to range completely without constraint on pasture and in the woods (with the protection of Livestock Guard Dogs). And when it came time to grace our table, the end was quiet, calm and a sincere apology was offered. This is the most humane end we currently know of. If there is a better way, we’ll find it, as the processing of a chicken is no fun for anyone. How do we know these chickens enjoyed this life and met this described end? We raised them and we processed them ourselves.

On farm, all farm breakfast…

15 May

This morning we rushed to finish chores and make breakfast in order to get downtown for a Mr. Pink Guitar gig on Broadway with Todd Bolton. We’d originally planned an obligation free Sunday for our breakfast sausage-making for the Charcuterie Challenge/Charcutepalooza the apprentice challenge this month (due today – nothing like waiting until the last minute…). However, Mr. Pink Guitar got a call late last night to fill in for the Sunday show, as the other drummer had canceled. So suddenly our Sunday was wiped out. Ruh, roh.

Waking early, we opted to divide and conquer. Mr. Pink Guitar and Jack finished the morning feeding chores while Sophie and I harvested tatsoi and collected eggs.

Oh, and herbs,

Tatsoi on the right, Napa cabbage on the left, onion “companions” interspersed:

We’d hoped to harvest our February planted fingerling potatoes…but alas they were not ready. So, no starch today for breakfast. With feedings done, we cubed our pork, chopped herbs and sprinkled seasonings;

ground our sausage;

Cooked the patties; wilted the chopped greens in sausage drippings (yes, the tatsoi has a few bug nibbles, we don’t spray insecticides).

fried up some farm fresh eggs;

And ate the most delicious, satisfying and nourishing breakfast ever. No kidding.

All of the ingredients came from our farm except the balsamic vinegar, butter (local) salt and pepper. That, my friends , feels like quite the accomplishment. Mr. Pink Guitar wants me to do a post on how hard the work is on a farm, how it is every day work that is a labor of love and costs a fortune. He’s correct but that stuff is boring.

So as I sit downtown at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on Broadway, writing this post, worlds away from the farm, my gratitude for the animals, vegetables, hard work and time it took to bring this incredible food to the table is a bit overwhelming. The brick walls of the venue, the worn plywood floors, the tiny front window stage and music reverberating around my head and through my core inspires me; but the farm food sustains me.

My friend Farmer Joe always shares words of wisdom whenever he delivers hay to the barn or when I see him at the elementary school where both our kids attend. He tells me stories about hog killin’, making lard, the design of their scalder (it was set in a hill) how it was an event for multiple families and brought the community together. He says… “we ate really good for being such poor people”. Joe is one of the smartest farmers around, we’re lucky he shares his stories, insight and wisdom with us.

And he’s right, the food is so undeniably delicious, it doesn’t seem fair. If you want access to the freshest ingredients, meet your farmer, lend a hand, help out, the rewards are immeasurable.

Sausage recipe: (Adapted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s breakfast sausage recipe)

1 Pound Chopped pork (we used what would be pork chops along the back bone from a primal cut) so there was already a lot of fat on the meat
1/4 Pound Pork fat (see primal cut reference)
1 small bunch sage
1 small bunch oregano
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme (no stems)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Generous shake of kosher salt (be liberal if you like salt)
Many grinds from the pepper grinder (you decide)

Mix all ingredients together and grind into sausage. We used a manual meat grinder.

Form patties and fry in lard until browned, flip and repeat. Wilt the greens in the sausage drippings, remove and then fry about 6-8 farm fresh eggs in a little butter.


Brined, smoked range chicken and a Charcuterie Challenge

9 Jan

This morning I decided that the 3 thawed range chickens we were planning on smoking today should sit in a brine overnight. Good planning on my part, eh? A search on the net lead me to this post, and a recipe for a quick brine, perfect for those of us that want something now or at least sometime today. Here is my version:

I mostly followed the recipe with ingredients I had on hand. I added Italian parsley and sage from the raised beds (that made it through last nights temps of around 9 degrees Fahrenheit) then added some of our farm raised dried red pepper in addition to about a cup of Red Guitar (!) Old Vine Tempranillo Garnacha left over from last night.

While on Michael Ruhlman’s site, a cute picture of some red pigs caught my eye. CharcutePalooza? Right on! What a coincidence! Though I did not see any telltale wattles on the pigs, I clicked to find out more.

Interestingly, I had just this past Friday, conversed with a local farmer friend about preserving meats and told him this was my year for learning about how to make Virginia style hams, prosciutto and all other good things porky: smoked preserved and otherwise cured.

I love how things come together in life and the universe gives you a kick start when you really need it. This is all part of my journey here in Tennessee towards learning the old way and in doing so, I plan to document artisan skills that are nearly lost. I believe it’s why I became a farmer in the first place and is a perfect opportunity to stay focused on the goal. Here are the “Ruhls” as posted on the Mrs. Wheelbarrows Kitchen site (see link to site above re: charcutepalooza).

“The Ruhls

* Let’s celebrate the age-old talents and skills of charcuterie with contemporary takes on techniques, flavors and presentation.
* Let’s agree to use humanely raised meat, sourced as close to home as possible.
* Let’s write about our experiences. Not just how the charcuterie is made, but how we use it, serve it, flavor it.
* Buy a copy of ‘Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing’ by Michael Ruhlman.
* Cook along as often as practical. There’s no obligation.
* Post about your experiences on the 15th of the month.
* Display the Badge, if you are so inclined;”

I am joining this challenge if only for the pork portion (since that’s what I have) in order to keep things simple. Duck Prosciutto, January’s challenge sounds wonderful, maybe next year? I’ve been hoping for a pond this year in order to raise more fowl. Yet another Mr. Pink Guitar honey do list item… The cool thing about this challenge though, is that anyone who has access to humanely raised meats can participate.

So I am off to purchase the book, please feel free to join me in this challenge, I would love your comments. Oh, and I will keep you posted on how the smoked chicken turned out.

UPDATE: Well, the smoked chicken sat in brine for a few hours and then went into the smoker:

Then we phoned up our West Coast expert smoker friend, Steve, for advice. Here is what we SHOULD have done, and will do so next time. Brine for at least 12 hours, then, and this is critical: RINSE THE BIRD prior to smoking. We only had our chickens in the brine for a few hours and did not rinse them, so, although we sacrificed full tender juiciness, we still got great flavor without too much salt.

The chicken was delicious, even with our errors in planning. I would love to tell you that we sat down to a fabulous meal of smoked chicken, a nice bit of couscous, some healthy winter greens and then complimented the smoky flavor of the chicken with a sweet ginger/plum chutney, but we got it to the kitchen and devoured it with a chopped salad. The bad, blurry picture below shows how horribly IMPATIENT we were to try the chicken. Sorry, the picture just doesn’t do it justice.

The next day, it was served in sandwiches with that beautiful ginger/plum chutney mentioned above – sent to us this summer by more good friends on the West Coast. We feel lucky to get to eat such wonderful food and it is even more satisfying to know that we raised those chickens here. We also really appreciate all of the good help and flavors sent from so far away!

I’ll take a Mimosa, hold the o.j.

1 Jan

Happy New Year! We started out our first day of 2011 processing chickens. This was not by choice but by necessity. An unpleasant task, but a practical one, because it means a freezer full of chickens, or so we hope – man, is it a lot of work!

First new year’s resolution: I will not order 125 baby chicks for any reason. For the life of me, I can’t remember the warped rationale that prompted this. Did I think I was going to be a chicken farmer some day and needed the practice? Did I want to torture the family? Did I buy stock in chicken feed and feel the urge to drive company profits? Whatever it was, it escapes me now as I am up to my elbows in…well, never mind.

Don’t worry, I still have some of my city sensibilities left so I won’t be posting any graphic pictures, but there is a lesson here – the very reason for this blog, to share success and failure and experiences in the journey towards sustainability.

Did you know that you can order day old baby chicks by mail? They show up at the post office after you lose your mind ordering them over the internet. This is how it looks:

First thing in the morning on the day your chicks arrive, the local post office will call you: “Hey Mrs. Crazy, your chicks are in!”. When you go to pick up your baby chicks, because of the nature of the small southern town you live in, you will find that the staff politely snickers and looks at you sideways. Why? Because it’s a small town and Yankee stupidity is FUNNY!

The real work starts when you get them home. Every chick is given a once over for health issues and as they are added to the brooder their beaks are dipped in water so they will know how to drink. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR BROODER READY AND WARM AHEAD OF TIME!

The day before the chicks arrived, I was still trying to figure out my brooder arrangements and since the kiddie pool I had used before only held about 45 chicks, it dawned on me that I might be in a bit of a pickle.

I opted to convert my greenhouse shelving into a brooder with aluminum sheeting (flashing) and carpenter cloth from the local hardware store. We added a side door and with 2 heat lamps, we were good to go. Until, that is, about 3 days into baby chick brooding when I realized that the exponential growth rate of a chick was not factored into my brooder size calculations. Luckily, we had a second greenhouse shelving unit.

At this point, I became painfully aware of what poultry farmers already know. Baby chicks eat a lot, they also poop…a lot, frankly, I think more comes out than goes in! It’s really gross! Two weeks in the brooder and I was ready to put them outside in the coop. People, please find a poultry farmer and thank them! This is a dirty, thankless job!

Oh! And here was another realization, the coop was too small. Maybe I thought I would have a lot of loss? We actually lost less than 10% in the 3 months we have had them. Thanks to the LGD’s, and the hardy nature of this breed of chicken, we were lucky, despite my ignorance.

No doubt, I was unable to conceptualize what 125 chickens meant on any level.

So here we are, 3 months later, with an insane number of chickens running around the yard, free to go where ever they please. Except, since it is winter there is not much to range. So of course, they have identified food with humans and whenever we walk into the yard, try to get in the car to run an errand, open the front door, make a noise, etc., we re-live the movie The Birds, except this is a ground assault!

Today, we put another 10 in the freezer. 29 down, who knows how many to go? Paul is the executioner, the kids are the pluckers, I gut the birds and Paul puts them in the freezer. We have a good system. It’s quality family time. How did we get here? Our learning curve has been steep over the past year.

Taking advantage of our new year’s resolution and reflecting on 2010 in order to make better choices on the farm I asked each family member why we do this. Sophie said “so that we have fewer antibiotics in our food”. Paul said “so that we know where our food comes from”. Jack said “because we are stupid”. I say “so that chickens get to be chickens” We do this for their health and subsequently ours, even if it seems stupid.

So what the hell does this all have to do with a Mimosa? I don’t know, it’s the new year, people! A time to celebrate new stuff on the horizon and put a tough year behind. You can have a Mimosa, even if you are processing chickens. I had one with fresh squeezed tangerine juice from fruits sent to us all the way from California, no less. Thanks Scott and Eileen and also Bob and Kathy for brightening our winter with citrus! Hold the o.j., I’m out of tangerine juice, I’ll take the next one neat. Cheers!


10 Oct

We were losing chickens. By August, we had lost all of our spring roosters and we assume they died protecting their (our laying) hens. When the roosters were gone we started losing hens, almost daily. The day Sophie lost her prized Bantam hen “Peppermint” evidenced by a puff of tiny buff and white feathers, we decided that we must act and fast.

We felt we had two choices, fence the chickens in, or find LGD’s (Livestock Guard Dog’s) to protect them. We love having our chickens range and initially suffered few losses. But our farm was becoming an all you can eat buffet for all the usual (and possibly some unusual) suspects.

We want our chickens to eat bugs, weeds and whatever else a chicken/raptor chooses to eat even if it means hanging out with piglets. We feel that especially in the summer time, it cuts down on feed costs and aids health and immunity (as long as they are not being eaten by a predator!).

We also like the idea that our chickens get to go for an afternoon stroll (or scratch, rather) in the woods, take a dust bath in the pony pasture or simply work out their chicken politics in an open forum. We decided we did not want to fence them in, nor did we have the means to tractor them, so free range it was – meaning the search for LGD’s was on. As you can see below, the piglets enjoy a little free ranging too.

I started researching LGD’s about six months ago, but with so many projects, I wondered how I would have time to train one… or two. Nevertheless, I had talked to farmers, seen LGD’s in action and felt confident that they would work for us, we just wondered how to find one preferably already trained (training can take up to two years) that would also be able to transition to our farm.

While we were out picking up our RWH gilt, I mentioned to the farmers at Ecotonefarm that we were looking for LGD’s (they have two wonderful Great Pyrenees dogs). And as luck would have it, they knew of a farmer who was looking to place two 18 month old Great Pyrenees dogs, a male and a spayed female who were siblings. After several e-mails, phone calls and a visit to our farm by this very conscientious farmer, we went to pick up Jane and Burley on October 3rd.

This is Jane (to the left), not only does she patrol all night long between the chicken coop and the pig pens, she walks the kids to their bus stop (the entrance to our driveway) in the morning. Jane is a sweetheart.

This is Burley (above right); he wanted to hang out with me in the garden today while I harvested sweet potatoes. I put him in the shade by the barn since he is too large and furry for the meager shadows of a fallen amaranth flower stalk and a bell pepper plant. I sure appreciated the company though! He is a big sweet boy.

Poor Jane, she had no idea that when she came here, she would have the dubious honor of piglet babysitter. She is a good piglet herder too, especially when they are naughty and try to eat the chicken food up by the barn.

Burley is more reserved and mellow than Jane, and he has a very deep bark. There have been no more chicken losses in the past 10 days since they arrived here.

Everyone sleeps better at night now that Jane and Burley are here on the job, including our Narragansett tom turkey, Brad. In fact, he feels so secure now, he even gobbles at the moon. G’night Brad!

We are very grateful to have found Jane and Burley through the farmers at Ecotonefarm and to benefit from the wonderful training they received from their former owner. Jane and Burley are truly amazing, incredible dogs and are already a very important part of our farm. Many thanks to C.J. and Fletcher!

Winner, winner chicken dinner…

8 May

It’s hard to think about where our food comes from. Particularly when it’s so easy to go to the grocery store and throw that shrink-wrapped chicken breast in the cart for tonight’s dinner. The reason it’s hard to think about where it comes from (before it lands in the store) is because we don’t have to. If you delve into the topic and share what you learn, even in a way that children can understand, you might find a surprising number of people would just rather not know.

I had never owned a chicken prior to moving here. I had never eaten a truly free-range chicken egg before. I had never raised baby chicks and I had most certainly never processed a chicken.

The overall chicken experience here has evolved rather slowly over time, in stark contrast to our first on the job baby chick raising training – that was a trial by fire. We started out with 15 1-day old chicks from TSC that first April after moving here in early 2009. I let my son just randomly pick out chicks and then we picked 7 pullets. Pullets are supposed to be female chicks. If you buy your chicks “straight run” odds are you will end up with about 50% roosters. At the time, I’m not sure if we knew what any of those terms meant.

We lovingly started our baby chicks with all of the gear, a large, tall plastic storage bin, heat lamps, chick waterers, feed troughs and pine shavings. We immediately realized that this was a very high maintenance period in the life cycle of a chicken. They needed to be checked many times a day. They messed up the water, scattered the chick feed everywhere, and pooped A LOT.

What a relief to get them out to the coop and in a small enclosure so they could eat some grass, scratch around and act like a chicken.

After the chicks feathered out, we were able to tell if they resembled a Rhode Island Red, A Black Astrolorp or a Buff Orphington. We had a few of each and one Buff Orphington hen. And yes, of course we called her “Buffy”, she was our favorite.

Eventually they were large and agile enough to range freely. This was when we started counting our roosters. Uh, oh, we wanted A rooster or TWO. Not EIGHT. They comically started out with very sad, raspy crowing attempts. We giggled. They strutted around and established pecking orders, challenging each other with neck feathers fluffed out, wings forward and beaks striking. Our baby chicks, which we had tenderly held and named – didn’t really want us to hold them anymore. We felt rejected.

Needless to say, too many roosters can spoil a hen house. In fact, they were getting so aggressive that they were attacking our hens. And when they almost tried to kill our beloved Buffy that was the last straw.

So, we got on the internet and studied how to process a chicken. We set a date and gathered our courage along with our equipment. We put a large pot of water on the stove and made a plan. We really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.

Because our motivation to process these roosters arose out of our protective instinct for our beloved Buffy. We felt justified in our cause, that she had been wronged, and if we did not terminate and eat the two worst offenders, she would be gone. Justice must be served up in the form of fried chicken. Heck, if we sold them or gave them away chances are they’d meet the same fate, shouldn’t we at least get dinner for our efforts?

The two roosters were targeted. The first one went quickly, but the second one got wise and ran off. We finally got him too. Sweaty, tired and feeling a little sick; we tasked ourselves to the real work: plucking feathers.

After plucking, cleaning and cutting up the chicken, we were a little dismayed by the looks of our scrawny leggy chickens. They looked so much bigger running around with all of those feathers! They sure didn’t look like store bought chicken. We had read that they might be tough so we soaked them in buttermilk overnight in the refrigerator.

We ate fried chicken the very next day, a sunny Sunday summer afternoon. It was pretty good. It was a lot of work. We were exhausted, it had been a long, dramatic weekend.

One week later we had to do it all over again. As nature would have it, the next two most aggressive roosters jockeyed for position, reestablishing rank. Buffy was still getting attacked and they were just as vicious. We realized that all the roosters, save one, must go. That was a tough realization to swallow.

We went through a variety of methods and mishaps to achieve our goal of freezer roosters. Needless to say, there was a learning curve. I would hasten to add that all of our methods were planned and evaluated for what we felt would be the most humane/pain-free end to a chicken life. Theory didn’t always play out as we hoped in our fumbled attempts at practice. For those botched jobs, we are genuinely regretful.

Later, even that one remaining rooster, the last one, attacked Jack, our son and so he had to go into the freezer too.

With no more roosters, our hens laid their large beautiful free-range eggs in uninterrupted bliss. But with no more chicken meat in the freezer, and a palate developed along with a conscience for homegrown chicken, we tentatively started researching the different types of meat birds out there…

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