Monday, April 28, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Chickens

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

All the things I've read encouraging me to eat local, pastured chickens, make it sound like an easy no-brainer thing to do. Factory-produced chickens are fed cheap food in unnatural conditions and thus are missing nutrients and flavor. Farm-raised chickens lead happier, healthier lives resulting in flavorful meat with more nutrients, including those important omega-3 fatty acids. But, if you're like me and used to buying boneless, skinless chicken breasts for stir-fries and leg quarters for grilling, the fact that local chickens are sold whole is more than a little intimidating.

When the Kirkwood Farmers Market opened at the beginning of April, I decided that now was the time to make the switch. It's the end of April and I can proudly say that I'm no longer intimidated by the whole chickens I buy from Farrar Out Farm.

Here's how the transformation happened.

Chicken 1. I thought maybe the fact that I have carved lots of whole roasted birds might mean that I could just wing it. But things are different when the bird isn't cooked and when you're looking for pieces more than slices, so it all got rather mangled around the ribs and back bone. I wanted instructions for next time.

Chicken 2. The Cooking for Engineers website has a very helpful, illustrated method for Cutting Up Chicken. I did much better getting my second chicken into parts with those instructions although I needed some practice finding the leg and wing joints -- they are much closer to the main body than I seem to think they are. Cutting up the whole chicken into parts was proving to be fairly easy, but it was about this time that I realized the real challenge -- deboning the chicken breast to make those skinless, boneless chicken breasts that we're using in stir-fries 2 or 3 times a week right now.

Chicken 3. Cooking for Engineers had a page on Boning Chicken Breast, but when I finished those instructions, there were still bones in my chicken! Next time, I'll try a different set of instructions.

Chicken 4. R cut up this chicken and deboned the breast while I read the instructions from the new (2006) Joy of Cooking. It went better--this time we ran out of bones before we ran out of instructions. But I still felt like I didn't have a real understanding, a method that I could use over and over again to quickly prepare whole chickens.

Chicken 5. The break-through came, for me, with a video on You Tube: No Feathers "How to Debone a Chicken". He's working with a cooked chicken, but the process for getting the bones out of the breast worked just the same on my raw chicken. I wasn't as fast or as smooth, but I got it done and, even more, feel like I could do it again. He uses shears for all the cutting, I used a knife for parts of it, but the shears really made the difference in the deboning.

So, it took 5 chickens for me to get comfortable. But, even the first four chickens tasted good! The flavor and texture is definitely an improvement over supermarket chicken.

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at Eat. Drink. Better.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Plant shopping

I've visited more than my usual number of haunts for plants this spring. While far from an exhaustive search of St. Louis area nurseries and plant outlets, I've learned enough to make a list of my current favorite places.

Best conventional herbs: Biver Farms, selling at the Kirkwood Farmers Market

Best unusual herbs: St. Louis Herb Society, selling during the Missouri Botanical Garden's Herb Days (scroll down to April 16-19). Today, they had a non-flowering basil, scented annual geraniums that can be used in cooking, and large stevia plants.

Best unusual annuals: Meramec Horticulture Club selling at St. Louis Community College - Meramec, Great Plant Sale (April 18, 9am-7pm and April 19, 8am - 12pm for 2008)

Best native shade perennials: Gateway Greening, selling at St. Louis Community College - Meramec, Great Plant Sale

Best native sun perennials: Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, selling at the Kirkwood Farmers Market

Best vegetable plants: Thies Farm

Best trees and shrubs: Schmittel's Nursery

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is it spring yet?

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

We had a cloudy, cool day. There's a prediction for flurries in the morning and a hard frost tomorrow night. Fortunately, it's been such a wet spring that no one has been able to get anything into the ground, so the freeze will hopefully not have much effect on gardeners or farmers.

In spite of the gloomy weather, I went to a Farmers Market this morning, the St. Louis Community Farmers' Market. It's a monthly winter market near Tower Grove Park. I didn't know about this one until Denise posted on the Kimker Hill Farm blog that she would be selling her flour there.

Among other things, I bought a cheese-herb focaccia from 4 Seasons Bakery, red lettuce from ShowMe Fresh Farm (a hydroponic farm near Cape Girardeau), and baba ghanoush sold as a fundraiser by the church hosting the market. Putting that all together, I had a fast food lunch -- Farmers Market style.

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at Eat. Drink. Better.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Spring planting

We potted canna rhizomes yesterday. It reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter where they pot the mandrake roots. Someday this summer, they will form a border of stately flowers.

In the meantime, it's too cold to put them out. So, they go in pots in the sunroom, turned greenhouse, for awhile. We planted 20 Crimson Delights that R ordered from the canna people, Horn Canna Farm. And we repotted 3 cannas that R bought on his birthday from a local nursery, just to try some different varieties.

Around mid-May we'll plant them in a new bed we're making in the sideyard along the neighbor's fence. We're trying to keep the new bed dry with plastic because it looks like it's never going to stop raining long enough to use a tiller. Then in the fall, we'll dig up the canna rhizomes and store them in the root cellar for the winter to do this all again next spring.