Where growing, making & good living come together

Chickens from Swillington Farm: an update

Posted by on Thursday 17 January 2013 in cooking | 1 comment

(Hi, happy new year, hope you’re all well. I’ve really got out of this blogging lark, haven’t I? :) )

Swillington Farm, the awesome organic farm near Leeds, has linked to my very old post about their chickens in their most recent newsletter and I thought it was possibly time for an update.

We’ve had a monthly meat box (like a veg box but, you know, meat) most months since Swillington Farm began delivering them in June 2011. While the contents of each box is different each month depending on availability at the farm, we always get a chicken from them and they’re always huge. We had a couple last autumn that dwarfed that first one we got – each breast alone was nearly 1lb (454g) in weight! I always joint the birds because we prefer to have the meat stretched across the month rather than in one big feast. That “14 meals from one chicken” is the rule, not the exception:

Added to veg/pulses, the breasts each give us four portions of some yummy main meal – usually some sort of curry or risotto, or something like enchiladas = 8 meals

The legs we usually roast whole – though sometimes when they’re very big (like last autumn), I have to joint them into thighs & drumsticks because they’re too big for me to eat in one sitting. Let’s be conservative though and just say = 2 meals

The wings we usually stock up to have a couple at a time but they are considerably bigger than standard take-away “hot wings” so would be fine one wing per person with salad etc for a light lunch. Again though, let’s be conservative and say 2 wings = 1 meal

The skin and liver still usually go to the animals but I roast the carcass and make stock, and use the stock and the meaty bits from the carcass/neck to make soup. I’ve made chicken, carrot and ginger soup for the last few months because it’s my favourite winter warmer. Our homemade soups are usually a minimum of five portions – some for now, some for the freezer. So the carcass & meaty bits = 5 meals.

… so that’s about 16 portions, with some of the frankly massive birds giving us even more. Gosh!

Obviously we are adding plenty of veggies/pulses/grains to all of the above – but each of them is still very “chickeny”. Anyone who knows us in person will know we’re not sparrow-like eaters: we eat big portions – too much really. We could easily stretch it further still if we weren’t such food-obsessed gluttons.

Swillington Farm birds are more expensive than supermarket birds but they really do go far. Organic, humanely raised, properly free-range meat is never going to be the most frugal option but for us, it’s one of those situations where we’re happy to pay extra to suit our other principles. Until we can grow our own meat birds, we’ll stick to Swillington.

(Just to be clear: this is just me gushing, not a paid for post by any means!)

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Posted by on Thursday 4 October 2012 in cooking | 3 comments

In an effort to get back into the habit of blogging regularly, I’m taking part in Blogtoberfest 2012 – at least one post a day on at least one of my blogs (full list of the posts).

I had to do something with all that great smelling stock, so today has been a batch soup making day.

We’ve got chicken, carrot and ginger at the front, all pureed up and ready to go, and still a bubbling away George’s Marvelous Medicine type tomato/pepper/beany soup at the back.

The former is one of my favourite winter warmer soups because of the heat of the ginger but also because the carrot keeps the soup at lava temperatures for ages (useful on particularly cold days!). I know it’s not quite winter yet and today was actually a really nice autumn day here, but the start of soup season is mentally if not physically upon us here, and what the hey, it’s just yummy ;)

The latter is a particularly special concoction because while I was picking some of the key beany ingredients I couldn’t find the can open so had to use whatever beans can in a ring-pull can… It’s packed with cumin and chilli too though, so I’m sure it’ll be fine!

Have you been soup-ing recently?

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The best smelling chicken stock I’ve ever made*

Posted by on Wednesday 3 October 2012 in cooking | 5 comments

* Well, you know, one of them. I don’t remember them all exactly but this one smells gooooooooood.

Hi again. It’s been a while since I blogged – too long – I hope you’re all well.

I’m taking part in Blogtoberfest 2012 to try to get back into the habit of blogging regularly – the idea is to blog every day, at least once a day. I’m spreading my efforts across this site, How Can I Recycle This? and my somewhat geeky only-of-interest-to-my-mum personal blog to make it easier on myself (but I’m keeping a list of all my Blogtoberfest posts to make sure I do one a day!).

ANYWAY. The chicken stock. The last chicken stock I made in my new-ish big slow cooker was a bit lacklustre so I’ve been saving the carcasses from our Swillington Farm chickens in the freezer to make a mega-stock – and this is it.

After roasting the carcasses alongside our dinner last night, they went in the slow cooker and the smell of it cooking made me drool. This morning, I separated it out and it smelled even better. It’s a bit fatty at this stage but I’ll skim it before I use it. As well as making stock, I also made some fluffy friends – Lily-dog got the chunks of carrot from the stock and she & the cats also got bits of chicken too tough for our soup :)

The bestest bit is that Swillington Farm birds are so huge that not all my carcasses would fit the pot in one go so I’ve got a second load on now – more yummy aromas! (The last bird we got from Swillington was over 3kg/6lbs 6 – each breast alone weighed 400g/14oz! Massive!)

The first lot was spiced with coriander seeds, black peppercorns, a garlic clove and some chunks of galangal. This one is second one is black peppercorns, szechuan peppercorns and galangal. I’m not exactly sure what either batch will be used for but, since it’s us, it’s likely to be something spicy/gingery/peppery so these should work either way.

What spices/flavours do you use in your chicken (or other) stock?

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Getting my bac-on – dry curing bacon, stage one

Posted by on Tuesday 31 January 2012 in preserving | 5 comments

(Title inspired by the fact I sang a meaty “Get your freak on” parody while doing my cure mixing and meat massaging. It was so bad that even the cats, who usually “enjoy” my silly songs and certainly love it whenever I’m doing anything with meat in the kitchen, left the room.)

I finally started my first load of homemade bacon last night. I got my bacon on.

I’ve been meaning to start a load for a couple of months but things kept happening and I didn’t do it. Then on Sunday, we had the best bacon we’ve eaten in a long, long, long time on Sunday (from the excellent Swillington Farm) – I doubt ours will compared but my desire for perfectly preserved pink pork products is strong enough to force me to give it a go. Conveniently our monthly meatbox from Swillington also contained a small slab of belly pork – about 750g/1.5lbs – so streaky here we come :)

(Mmm, soon-to-be streaky!)

I spent a lot of time looking at different cure recipes and was surprised by how many recipes missed out vital bits of information — carefully detailing how much of each thing to use in the cure but then missing out the weight of the meat (300g? 3000g?) — but I think I figured out the required ratios in the end. I’ll hold off posting anything about my cure now until we’ve tasted the finished product – I will say though that I’m reluctant to use saltpetre and haven’t used it this time around. I’m quite glad we’re only using a small piece of pork as I suspect the cure will need some tweaking, for example, there seems to be a lot of coriander seeds on the meat, even though they make up a tiny percentage of the cure mix and I forgot to include pepper, which had been in my original plan. This post is more for me so I can remember what I did for next time :)

(I did grind the salt up further after I took these pictures.)

What I did: I mixed my cure (NB FutureLouisa: the recipe is in your blue scrap paper notebook), scored the rind the opposite way to the existing scores, then massaged most of the dry cure into the meat. I plopped it into a conveniently correct-sized container, skin down, and within a few hours, liquid had already started leaking out. This evening – and every day for the next five-ish days, I’m going to pour off the liquid and apply more rub (if needed). Then after that, I’ll rinse off any excess cure, pat it dry, then you’re supposed to leave it to hang but I think we’ll probably end up going down the route which sees it wrapped and rested in the fridge. (In the future, I want to try wet-curing & cold-smoking too – but I’ll wait until I’ve finally got around to building another smoker cabinet.)

We’ll just have to see how it turns out!

(Apologies for the bad lighting/mega-shadows in the pictures – we’ve had our normal kitchen lights taken down so the plasterer can reboard and skim the ceiling in there, and have two nasty, very yellow bulbs on wires in their place. Given the disarray, it’s probably not the best time to try an culinary experiment but nevermind!)

Have you made/do you make your own bacon? If so, have you got any tips/advice for my next few days or for my cure next time?

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My ten favourite simple living/growing/cooking/making books

Posted by on Tuesday 11 October 2011 in cooking, Featured, growing, making, wild food | 5 comments

(Inspired by book-aholic buying behaviour this month, I’ve decided to have a bit of a book-themed week both here and on my recycling site, Recycle This.)

Despite living on the internet & using it/blogs for most of my day-to-day info, I’ve got quite a few simple living related books and as you might expect, some are better than others. Some were chosen after careful research, others randomly picks from charity shops & the like – but as is often the case, there is little correlation between that and which are the better books!

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites:


  • The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour – this is a great overview book of so many different things. It’s admittedly more aspiration than practical for me at the moment – and because it covers so many different areas, it doesn’t feel like the most practical book anyway (it doesn’t have space to go into detailed how-tos/trouble-shooting on each different topic) but it’s still very useful. If I was fleeing to escape the zombie hordes*, this is probably the non-fiction book I’d grab.



  • The Vegetable & Herb Expert by DG Hessayon – my first veg growing book and the one I keep going back to over & over again. Not hugely detailed on each type & some bizarre comments about only eating chillis if they’re part of “your heritage”, but very clear, with lots of pictures (very useful when troubleshooting pests/diseases) and packed with useful info.
  • Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkcom – this book is almost the opposite of the Hessayon – lots of detail but not anywhere near as easy to dip into and few illustrations. I like them together but would struggle with the Larkcom on its own.
  • The Edible Container Garden: Fresh Food from Tiny Spaces by Michael Guerra – I was a little disappointed when I got this as it includes a lot of whitespace, big pretty rather than purposeful pictures and a lot of general overview text — but the 30 pages on “what shall I grow?” made the book worth it – very useful reference information about varieties, pot depths etc. I would recommend it to anyone who grows more than just the basic herbs in containers – but try to find a secondhand one so you don’t resent paying for the padding.
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Ten minute chicken & sweetcorn noodle soup recipe

Posted by on Tuesday 13 September 2011 in cooking, Featured, recipes | 1 comment

I wrote this back in August but it didn’t post for some reason. Now that soup season has properly started, we’re less interested in light soups – we want warming stodge! – but it’s still yummy :)

I usually make hearty, wintery soups but since it is technically summer at the moment, we’ve wanted lighter broths for our lunches. This chicken & sweetcorn noodle soup fits the bill nicely – not a giant overwhelming flavour bomb on our tastebuds but fresh & light, filling us up without the need for bread.

I make this whenever we’ve got some spare chicken stock – it’s a useful, quick lunch for us. If I’m thinking ahead, I put some vaguely suitable flavours in the stock – for example, extra black peppercorns, coriander seeds and galangal.

Quick chicken & sweetcorn noodle soup recipe

Serves 4 as a lunch

1.5ltrs of fresh chicken stock
150-200g-ish of chicken (either the already cooked bits stripped from the chicken carcass or a chicken breast)
A green pepper, finely diced
About 250-300g-ish of sweetcorn kernels
Pinch of chilli flakes/half a fresh chilli, very finely sliced

1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp of honey

A nest of egg noodles (or pack of ramen noodles)
1 tbsp of cornflour, mixed into runny paste with a little water
1-2 eggs, whisked together in a bowl
Black pepper (to taste – but a fair bit)
Salt (to taste)

Optional extras to serve
Rounds of fresh chilli
Rounds of spring onion
Coriander leaves

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