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It's Officially Autumn

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It's Officially Autumn

This week has been a stern reminder that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. You can see your breathe and a sweatshirt is a requirement. Now that the days of shorts are just about over and harvest season is in sight, it's time to switch from outdoor recipes to bone sticking indoor cooking and that means braises and roasts. This share is a kickstart to fall with the inclusion of chicken and duck, both a great option for those stick-to-your-bones meals we mentioned.

Chicken in Milk

Copyright - http://www.thekitchn.com/
Copyright - http://www.thekitchn.com/

This is perhaps one of the best recipes for chicken I've ever made and, on top of that, it's dead simple. This recipe gives you an easy way to bring a roast chicken to the table, while also providing enough food to last a few days an extend the reach of the bird. If you're so inclined, we save the bones after eating and use them in stock, only furthering the use of the chicken and giving you more for the money.

Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk

Slow Roasted Duck

For us, duck is a beautiful meal in the fall. It's rich, it has crispy skin and the smell is just amazing. With the abundance of fat that is typically found on duck compared to chicken, roasting the duck with vegetables pretty much gives you a one-pot meal that's fit for a king. When it comes to how to cook duck, there is no one we trust more than Hank Shaw, who is not only a close friend, but also the author of Duck, Duck, Goose, veritable Bible for cooking any species of waterfowl you can think of. His recipe for slow roasted duck is a great place to start, and you won't go wrong.

Slow Roasted Duck

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June is Chicken Time

Have you ever heard the phrase, "You're no spring chicken"? People talk often about "eating seasonally" and how important that is. The idea is typically applied to the world of produce, but people often forget about it in the context of meat. The reality is though, meat is as seasonal as any produce. This is the reason that when people ask for pork or chicken in the winter, if it's not in the freezer, we won't be able to provide it. We choose to raise and harvest our animals when they are in their optimal environments, that being pasture and/or the woods in the fall.

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Specifically though, lets talk about chicken. It's our belief that chickens need to be raised outside and eating bugs. When large enough to be less vulnerable to predators from the sky, they need to be able to range beyond their coop, consuming bugs, grass, worms, snakes or any other items they may find throughout their journeys. Allowing them to range like this and consume this variety ultimately makes for a much better tasting meat. There is more intramuscular fat, more blood movement and subsequently... and perhaps most obviously, more flavor. This is how this month's chicken, and all future chicken through the CSA will be raised, as well as your upcoming Thanksgiving turkey.

In addition to pasture-raising the birds, we're also doing something a bit unique for our members as well. Historically, most people are used to what are called Cornish Cross chickens. These are fast growing meat birds to be raised to slaughter weight in 6 - 8 weeks. The birds we typically raise, called Pioneers, are raised to slaughter weight in about 12 - 14 weeks. However, there are thousands of different chicken breeds, all with their own merits. We wanted to expose our CSA members to this variety, and have chosen to raise 4 different breeds of birds this year; Cornish Cross, Pioneers, Turkens and Speckled Sussex. Throughout the remainder of the year, you'll be able to taste the variety of different breeds and learn just how much variety and flavor there is in Chicken.

Enough with the rambling, lets get to the cooking. The first bird you'll be getting will be the Cornish X, and because of it's younger age, large breasts and mainly white meat, we're going to need to bring in some flavor. Obviously, smoke and char is an easy start for flavor, so we'll be cooking it on the grill in a style known as spatchcock. Spatchcock chicken is probably the best way to cook a chicken on a grill, and it also happens to be one of the quicker ways to do so. Essentially what you're going to do is split the bird in half and and cook it flat on the grill. This gives you great surface area for flavor and heat transfer. Breaking the bird in half sounds tricky, but it's quite easy— rather than me explain it, check out this video on how to do it with a turkey, but the same applies to any bird:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhWf6RyT--I

Now, regardless of whether your bird is whole or split, everyone loves crispy skin and good flavor. The secret to great crispy skin is removing all the moisture you can from the skin before cooking.  Luckily, this is easy to do. 24 Hours before you plan to cook your bird, and after you've decided to split or keep your bird whole, generously salt the skin of the bird and place on a wire rack set in a cookie sheet, and place in your fridge for 24 hours. The salt will draw out all the moisture from the skin, and you'll notice that over time the skin will become dry and taut. This is exactly what you want.

Approximately 1 hour before you're ready to grill, remove your bird from the fridge so that it can come up to room temperature, and generously coat in ground fennel and sweet paprika. You can simply grind the spices together and generously coat the chicken in the spice seasoning on both sides. This is my go-to spicing for grilled chicken, especially when I'm cooking the bird spatchcock-style.

Once your grill is nice and hot, throw the bird, skin side down, directly over the heat and cook until nicely charred, usually about 12 - 15 minutes. Flip the bird and cook the remaining time with skin side up until the chicken hits an internal temp of 145. Once it hits temp, remove and let rest, as you would a steak, to allow juices to redistribute.  Cut and enjoy an amazing chicken.

One thing to note is that you may see a slight pink tone in the meat color. This is absolutely normal and typical in pasture-raised birds. Do not be put off by this and resist the temptation to keep cooking until it's gone. If you cook all the pink out, you'll be cooking the bird to 165-170 and it will most definitely become a great candidate for making stock or perhaps a new pair of shoes.

Save the bones in a ziplock freezer bag, until you're ready to make stock with them!  This is a great way to stretch your dollars, while also providing your family with excellent, hearty food.  We usually just start a gallon-sized bag, label it "chicken bones" [we always have separate bags going for chicken, pork, beef, duck and turkey bones, as you can just keep adding until they're full], and then keep it around until fall hits and we're ready to fire up the stove and make some stock.  Stock is very easy to make, good for you, and freezes well!

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A couple of other recipes for other items in your basket:

Brisket: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/texas-style-smoked-brisket-51175220

Ham Steak: https://grillinfools.com/blog/2012/12/18/grill-glazed-spiral-ham/

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Hot off the Grill - It's the May CSA

It's grill time people. IT'S GRILL TIME!!!! This month's share celebrates this by bringing you products that are meant to get you outside and over that open flame. IMG_3054

First up, the beef. In this month's share, you'll find some burger patties that are flat-out delicious with just salt and pepper, but also a flank steak. The most common use for flank steak is fajitas. While fajitas are a perfectly fine preparation, with a little bit of work and awareness of how to cut the steak, you can create a grilled steak that everyone will love. When cooking flank steak, we simply use salt and pepper, but this steak is well suited for any marinade or rub. When you're ready to cook, generously season the meat and then cook over a high heat for only a couple of minutes per side (depends on thickness of course). You want to be sure to not overcook the meat, as it has the potential to get tough if given the opportunity. You're also going to want to ensure adequate resting time, generally about the same amount of time that you took to cook the steak. Once well rested, slice the meat and serve to your family and/or guests. It's not your standard slicing though, as you're going to want to slice it -across- the grain to help tenderize the cuts. Here is a good video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_WF-aUCOCk

Once you're all set with the cutting, there's nothing left to do but open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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Pork chops are probably the best grilled item on a pig, at least in my opinion. They have great marbling (at least ours do ;) ), a nice fat cap and don't take too long to cook. That's where people go wrong with pork chops though— they overcook them. This country has been told for so long to cook pork to 150 or 160 or even higher, but really, the optimal temperature in our opinion is about 135-140. They'll be just a little bit pink in the center and absolutely perfectly juicy. With this being the first opportunity to try pork raised our way, I suggest using the opportunity to just do salt and pepper for seasoning so that you can clearly taste the difference. As for cooking, you're looking at 3 - 4 minutes per side for a room temperature pork chop and the same rules as above for resting. After that, slice and enjoy with a nice spring salad or even some smashed potatoes. There really is no wrong side when it comes to pork chops, so just enjoy the flavor with whatever you enjoy on the side.

Please remember that the fat on this pork is not the fat you know from the grocery store!  These pigs were finished on barley, which makes their fat snow-white, softer, more flavorful [some would say "nutty"]— you may even notice that it looks and feels different on your hands as you prepare it.  You may be tempted to cut the fat off, but this fat is partially unsaturated, like olive oil.  It's good and good for ya!  If nothing else, you can save it and use it when you're cooking something else, to grease your skillet or flavor a soup.  But, you might find that you like it just as it is, on the chop as part of the bite.

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March CSA - Pork Shank and Top Round Recipes

It's been a long cold winter and the start of the CSA means we're that much closer to spring, and we couldn't be more excited. We're not out of the winter woods yet, so this month's share has those stick-to-your-bones ingredients in the hopes of helping you stay warm until Spring decides to make an appearance. You hear us talk a lot about "value cuts" and the importance of utilizing the whole animal. These cuts don't always get a lot of love at the meat counter, but they have a great deal of flavor, plus in some cases the beautiful addition of gelatin [i.e. the stuff that makes soup or the trendy "bone broth" so delicious]. We kicked off the season squarely supporting this whole-animal philosophy, adding in pork shanks for the first edition of the small shares. These shanks are huge and are some of my favorite cuts on the animal. For the best use, you're going to combine three methods of cooking: searing, braising and broiling. It sounds like a lot of work, but I can assure you, it's not. This is a simple dish that's perfect for a cold day, and will give you a good deal of leftovers for the rest of the week.

[yumprint-recipe id='26'] 

Now onto the second recipe, the top round. The top round was in all the shares this month and is a great introduction into the world of grass-fed beef if you're unfamiliar with it. While you've invariably had beef before, grass-fed beef is, well, a different animal than what you typically find in stores. The cows tend to be older so that they put on more weight (also more flavor), and they also tend to be a bit more lean. Because of this, you need to take some care when cooking so that you can avoid having meat that is too tough. For the top round, we're going to do a simple roast, cooked to medium-rare and sliced thinly. You can pair this with roasted veggies, mashed potatoes or even atop a salad if you wish. Lets get to the recipe.

[yumprint-recipe id='27']

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Piggy Fever

Sage in Bloom Wow.  So we meet again, blog space.  It's been a while!

Umm... so... we have piglets!!  They're 4 weeks old, robustly healthy and wildly polka-dotted.  Gnocchi has been a wonderful mother to them, and we couldn't be happier.  She was 5 days late so we did some major sweating and all-nighters while she remained cool, calm and collected and built a snug straw nest for them as she waited.

We will keep 4 of the piggies... one gilt, to breed, and 3 barrows to raise out for our next generation of pork.  Another gilt will be headed to Napoleon Ridge Farm near Cincinnati.  Two gilts will be headed Up North to live with fellow Grrls Meat Camp member Chef Lori Swonder.  The only boar we didn't castrate will be going to another local farm, Frosty Acres.  Looks like Gnocchi & Orson's babies will be taking over the world!

Gnocchi and newborn piggies

Mucca, 3 minutes old  <3

Piggie Butts!

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Strong Fences Make Good Neighbors

2013 Ice Storm damage

The pigs spent most of this bitterly cold winter in their huts, buried in a deep bed of slowly decomposing straw.  But now that Spring has decided to grace us with her presence, it was time to move the fences that, at 12 to 18 inches high, spent most of the winter under snow cover.

First things first... we had to make a serious dent in the downed trees, broken and twisted branches, and upended root systems that were bowled over by the ice storm that hit us just before Christmas.  We were incredibly lucky to keep power through the ordeal, but the damage done to dozens of trees around our property was impressive.  Somehow we managed to avoid any structures or animals being hit at the time, but the fences did not fare so well.

Ironically, many of the trees damaged were the much-maligned Box Elder trees, a quick-growing, shallow-rooted piece-of-garbage specimen that resides on our short list of things to remove in the coming years on the farm.  We had planned to remove them at a slower pace, but hey, no time like the present!  Christian and our friend John Beng fired up their chainsaws and we started making piles of wood as it was cut.  The pyres soon towered over us.  As everything leafs out in the next few weeks, I'm very curious to see what our former Forest looks like.  I'm guessing we could put

Now you see it... now you don't.

a full-sun garden out back this year if we wanted to!  We spread a mix of seeds in its stead, and will be watching to see what grows well in the coming months.

Christian and I have gotten rather proficient at pig-fence building.  It's a simple process:  1) pick your size, 2) unwire old fence, 3) place insulator posts and corner t-posts as desired and string with wire... and you can't forget the most important part!  Once your new fence is up and taut, tie your "flags"— plastic orange tape that alerts the pigs to the fence's location.  Pigs aren't known for their sense of sight, so the more you can help them avoid the fence, the better!  In the photo to the right, you can make out the wire in the foreground... but other than the insulator posts, as your eye travels down the line, there's no telling whether or not a wire is there.  In the background, you can see where I had stopped tying flags to take this photo.  The bright orange is hard to miss.  Once our pigs have been trained to these fences, they stay reliably inside of them even on a single strand of wire!

IMG_4478Once your fence is stranded and flagged and free of any snags, you're ready to hook it back up to the solar charger.  That, besides the flags, is the most important part.  And really, without the voltage, the flags won't do much good.  We keep the fence hot, around 12,000 Volts or so, and the pigs know it.

Voila!  Pigs in the woods.  So far they've been turning over rotting logs, digging up raspberry roots, and hopefully rooting up any remnants of last year's garlic mustard and burdock.  They love their freedom to explore, and we love watching them work.  Not to mention, it makes for some delicious pork.  Just don't tell them that.

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Spring is In the Air...

IMG_4452The chorus of birds has reached fever-pitch each morning as the sun breaks.  Not just our local songbirds, but the turkeys, and chickens, and ducks seem to awake just before dawn to start their daily warbling, crowing, quacking, gobbling, cooing and clucking. Long gone are the mornings when our alarm clocks would sound in what felt like the middle of the night, and we would rouse in pitch blackness, prying the dogs out of their cozy beds to venture outside for chores before winter's bleak dawn.  While that was our reality for eternity this winter, it has all been forgiven now that tulips are starting to peek out under mulch, and tree buds grow fatter by the day.  Wispy, watercolored clouds usher summer closer as the sunshine banishes all traces of Winter 2013-2014... We'll forgive but never forget!

IMG_4337There is a marked difference in the behavior of all the animals since even just a few weeks ago.  The chickens, who had barely set foot outside their coop since December, have been ranging all over our yard and the woods surrounding.  They're finding tender new shoots, sprouted seeds, worms and newly hatched bugs.  The color of their yolks has deepened already to a rich golden hue, and they just look healthier.  They even venture into the pig pasture sometimes, scrounging for spilled grain or grubs that the pigs have turned up while rooting around.

Everyone feels playful, too.  Finally, it's been warm enough for our chicks and ducklings to spend time outside.  When they haven't grown their adult feathers, even a chilly draft can be enough to sicken or kill them.  But in the sunshine, they strut and flutter and preen while learning to scratch around in the grass and dirt.

[click on a photo to view gallery]IMG_4344

There is a certain sense of serenity among the frenetic energy of spring.  We have so many projects to do, both inside and out of the house.  But just as our ducks are busy building nests in which to lay their eggs, just as the bees are slowly circling the property in search of those first blooms that will carry nectar to rejuvenate their hive, just as the grass reclaims its green luster from high summer, so, too, do we feel the need to build and create and maintain.

"A high windy day, with sunshine and the blue jays calling.  Snowdrops in bloom, first of all, and the bees active, finding something, I think, among the chickweed buds.  But the year has not yet come alive. . . . Blessed quiet, thinking and working." — David Grayson, A Countryman's Year

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