More Like Marta

Some time ago, I wrote about how we rescued Marta from the bottom of the pecking order among our egg-laying flock.  She lived in the woods for a while, making occasional appearances, while she recovered both physically and emotionally from the trauma her feathered “friends” inflicted.  She has now taken up residence in our barn, and she remains a gentle and friendly bird.

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We have discovered that Marta is at least partially blind.  She responds to audible cues much better than visible.  As a matter of fact, we occasionally startle her when we’re working in the barn.  The other day, after helping my son, Isaac, settle his turkeys into their winter home, Marta was under foot during the process.  I moved her to the other side of the gate so she didn’t get stepped on.  I then turn around, and she’s nose-to-beak with our tortoise-shell cat, Patches.  Just calmly checking each other out.  Marta has allowed both of our adult dogs and one of our puppies the same privilege of up-close-and-personal examination.

On our little farm, we don’t typically encourage freeloading.  This was a certain unnamed party’s concern once Marta moved into the barn.  I pleaded her case, though, and she was given a reprieve.  The icing on the cake is that my oldest daughter discovered where she is laying her eggs.  Good girl, Marta.

I have occasionally wondered if Marta harbors any ill will toward her former coopmates.  They were awfully hard on her–irrationally so.  She doesn’t seem to hold any grudges as she pecks and scratches along the outside border of their confines.  She might appear to gloat a little bit from time to time, but that certainly seems forgivable under the circumstances.

If only more of us were like Marta–willing to leave the flock behind when what they do threatens to destroy us.  Willing to carve out an existence on our own, independently forging our own way.  Willing to give back out of gratitude when we can and staying calm even when the circumstances are a little bit scary.  Willing to not let bitterness change us into something ugly and unforgiving.  Willing to take the high road.

Cheesy Chicken Bundles

I simply must share this recipe with you.  I found it while looking through some recipes, and it piqued my interest.  I had been searching for a new non-casserole, non-soup freezer meal that could be adapted for my power cooking classes.  I gave this a whirl, and it was an instant success.  Once we tried, it I realized that I had made it years ago and wrote it off because it was a hassle.  Obviously, my definition of “hassle” has changed considerably.  Plus, I now know that making a double batch yields twice as much for only one mess.

Anyway, I tweaked a couple of things, and it has worked beautifully for both my power cooking classes and my family.  I rarely buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I confess that I’ve been buying them monthly in order to put these on the menu.  Boneless, skinless chicken thighs would also work nicely.  I hope your family enjoys them as much as mine.

1 c. bread crumbs
½ c. cheese, grated (Swiss is my fave.)
½ c. grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 ½ t. seasoned salt
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ c. butter, melted

Slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise as though you were going to butterfly them.  The goal is to have a thinner piece of meat with which to work.

Combine bread crumbs, cheeses and seasoned salt in bowl.  Melt butter in separate bowl.

Dip chicken pieces in melted butter, then in cheese-crumb mixture.Tuck sides of chicken under to form individual bundles.

To freeze, wrap each bundle in plastic wrap and then place in freezer bag.

To serve, make sure chicken pieces are thawed.  Place bundles in large, shallow baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until topping is crispy and chicken is done.

NOTE:  If you use smaller pieces of chicken, you will have less baking time than if you use larger pieces.  If you think your pieces look smallish, start with a baking time of 25 minutes; you can always add more if needed.

Spring Chickens

Seventy-some new boarders arrived at Country Haven yesterday.  When I went to the post office to pick them up, I could hear them before I could see them.  They peep-peeped from inside their cardboard box all the way home, arriving alive and ready for their new adventure.

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Sixteen of them will be laying hens–a mix of Black Australorps and Silver-Laced Wyandottes.  We’ve never had the australorps before, so we’re excited to get acquainted with this brown-egg breed.  The wyandottes are beautiful at maturity, and I look forward to eating their eggs as well as watching them scratch around in the yard.  The rest of the babies will grow at science-fiction speed and be ready for our freezer in eight weeks.  Truly remarkable.  People often ask me how I can eat those cute little baby chickens.  I find this to be an interesting question.  First of all, by the time these cornish-cross meat birds are ready to butcher, they do not even remotely resemble the fluffy yellow chicks that I shuttled home from the post office.  Second of all, every shrink-wrapped package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts began in some commercial mega-brooder somewhere; it’s no secret.  Well, it shouldn’t be a secret, anyway.

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For the first time, my husband constructed a nipple-based watering system, which will greatly reduce the hassle of continually cleaning and refilling traditional waterers.  It will also help the bedding stay dry a little bit longer.  Brand new chicks need to be introduced to their water supply, which is a time-consuming but necessary task.  The kids and I gently held each fuzzy baby up to a water nipple, releasing the water with our fingers until the chick got a taste, then making sure the little one could release the water on its own before setting it down in the brooder area.  I was surprised to find that the meat birds caught on much more quickly than they layers.  Apparently, I’ve held to a stereotype that big equals dumb.  Please forgive me, little chicks.

We have “city folks” come out to our family’s farm from time to time, and they ask a lot of questions about chickens.  Sometimes, they discover that they’ve been duped when it comes to chicken knowledge, and they are often astounded by what they learn.  The kids and I love busting agricultural myths, mostly because we have had so many of our own myths busted since we began our little hobby farm ten years ago.  It feels good to learn new things and to pass along that info to other folks.

Just in case you don’t make it out to our farm, here are the answers to some of the most common chicken questions we receive:

  1. The color of a chicken’s eggs is not determined by the color of a hen’s feathers.  Most often, the egg’s color is determined by the color of a chicken’s ear lobes, though that is not always the case.  (Who’d a thunk, right?)  Egg color also does not affect the quality or taste of the eggs.
  2. The two biggest factors in an egg’s taste are what the chicken has been eating and the freshness of the egg.  Our eggs are richer and more flavorful in the spring and summer, due to the fresh forage material (bugs, plants, seeds) that the hen eats.
  3. Hens can, indeed, lay eggs without the aid of a rooster.
  4. An egg can only grow a chick if it has been fertilized by a rooster.  So…no rooster, no chicks.
  5. A rooster fertilizes the egg before it has been laid.
  6. If eggs are gathered daily, fertilized eggs can be eaten without any gross-out factor.  If you let the eggs sit a couple of days before gathering them to eat, you will see a bloody-looking spot in the egg yolk that is off-putting for most people.  It will not hurt you to eat the egg at this point, but most Americans do not even want to try.
  7. Most of the hens we have will lay 6 eggs each week.
  8. Chickens are wonderful garbage disposals, and will eat almost any kitchen scraps we give them.
  9. Farm-raised eggs laid by hens who forage for at least part of their diet have way less cholesterol than store-bought eggs.
  10. Butchering our own chickens, which we do from time to time, does not make us insensitive bloodthirsty monsters.  It makes us involved in our own food production.  Every chicken nugget had to be butchered by someone (well, kind of).
  11. Chickens do not have nuggets or fingers.  Honest.

Hawaiian Chicken

We ran across this recipe recently and decided to try it.  It will be coming out of the slow cooker in 3…2…1…

4 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
16-oz. pineapple bits, drained
15-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
3 T. cornstarch
¼ c. brown sugar
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. lemon juice
½ t. salt
½ t. ground ginger
pinch cayenne pepper
1 green bell pepper, cut in strips

Combine all ingredients except bell pepper.  Place in slow cooker.  Cook on low 4-5 hours or on high 2-3 hours.  Add bell pepper one hour before serving.

Serve over rice.

NOTE:  If this is put in your slow cooker frozen, be sure to add a couple of hours to the cooking time.

 

Zesty Chicken

This creamy recipe is a super easy freezer meal option.  When you find chicken breasts at  a good price, buy enough for three or four of these meals, along with the remaining ingredients and you can have supper ready to cook and spares for yourself and a friend in less than 20 minutes.

If you’re steering clear of canned cream soups, you can easily make your own version for not much more time.  There are lots of recipes available online.

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pkg. cream cheese, cubed
1 pkt. Italian seasoning/dressing mix

Added later:  1 bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower or California medley, if desired

Add all ingredients to slow cooker, stirring to coat.

Cook on low 5-6 hours.  (Add a bag of frozen veggies last hour, if desired.)

If preferred, you can bake this in the oven, covered, at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is done.

Serve over rice or noodles.

One-Skillet Arroz con Pollo

My aunt made this for a Christmas get-together last year, and my kids hounded me until I requested the recipe.  It really was very tasty, and we found it very easy to make here at home.  I’m going to give you the recipe as she gave it to me (with my changes in parentheses).

This is a great way to stretch a little bit of leftover chicken into a meal.

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 1/2″ strips (I used 2-3 c. chicken leftover from something else.)
3 T. oil
1 medium onion, chunky diced
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used, um…five.)
2 c. salsa of your choice
1 c. monterey jack cheese, shredded (I used colby.)
2 c. chicken broth
2 c. cooked rice
salt, & pepper to taste
1 t. cumin
1/4 t. cayenne pepper, if desired
chopped parsley, if desired

In large skillet, heat oil then add onion and garlic; cook for about 2 minutes.  Add chicken and season with salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne.  Cook until chicken is browned on all sides, which happens pretty quickly.

Add salsa and rice; stir frequently while chicken continues to cook.

Add chicken broth, a little bit at a time, stirring frequently while adding.  You may not need it all.  When chicken is cooked through and rice is creamy, remove from heat and stir in cheese.

Top with parsley, if desired.  (Green onions would be really good on top.)

Biscuit Chicken Casserole

This is a quick, easy, comfort-food kind of casserole that is very versatile.  It’s a great way to use leftover chicken and veggies, too.  Instead of using canned biscuits, we usually make a quick drop biscuit batter (similar to the recipe you would find on the back of a Bisquick box) to spread over the top.

4 c. cooked chicken, diced
2 10¾ -oz. cans cream of chicken soup (or about 3 cups of white sauce)
2 c. (or 1 can, drained) green beans
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. can sliced mushrooms, if desired
1 c. mayonnaise
2 t. lemon juice
1 10-oz. tube refrigerated flaky biscuit
1-2 T. butter, melted

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat; cook until hot and bubbly. Pour hot chicken mixture into an ungreased 9×13 baking pan.

Separate biscuit dough into 10 biscuits. Arrange biscuits over chicken mixture. Brush each biscuit with butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 375 for 25-30 minutes or until deep golden brown on top and bubbly around sides.