One Bird, Two Ways

This past fall, Adam and I raised fifty free range chickens for their meat, in addition to the egg laying hens.

If you knew me any time before 2011, go ahead and say it.

I know your thinking it.

Trust me. I thought it plenty of times too.

What. The. Hell.

What the hell am I doing with over fifty chickens in my backyard?

The only “chicken” in my backyard growing up was when we would play it in the pool.

Things that were in the backyard of my youth? A Jack Nicholas golf course and a large swing set… that was painted one of three colors permitted by the Home Owners Association.

I never looked into it, but chickens probably didn’t make that “permitted” list.

… Just a guess.

As insane as it does seem, it’s my reality. And, now with a freezer full of great, pasture raised chickens it all makes sense and it’s all worth it.

Don’t worry, friends… I have not totally converted. We took the birds somewhere else to get processed. They took care of everything, so our birds look just like a whole chicken I would get at the grocery store. Phew.

Adam and I have been experimenting with all sorts of recipes with these birds. This week, using one bird, we made two great and very different meals.

Because it’s only the two of us, we don’t need a whole bird for a meal so halving the chicken is a great way to insure there aren’t any left over’s. Here are the steps for dividing a whole chicken in half:

Note: I now understand why magazines, like Real Simple, walk readers through tips like these with illustrations. Photos of raw meat just don’t look that pretty. But, today, I am scraping vanity because I do think it helps seeing how it really works.

Put the chicken breast on a cutting board breast side down with the neck pointing away from you.

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First, starting from the front of the chicken, insert the knife and work it from the neck to the tail of the bird, cutting right along one side of the backbone. It is important to cut as close to the bone as you can.

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Make the same cut on the other side of the back bone and remove the spine.

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Keep the chicken breast side down and make a small slice in the skin and cartilige by the neck. Fold the chicken back and forth in order to snap the breastbone.

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Remove the “Keel” bone. This is the bone located inbetween the rib bones.

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Cut off any cartilige on the breastbone. Once removed, cut the bird in two down the middle of the breast.

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Make a small slice in the skin to tuck in the leg.

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Ta-Da... Done!

Ta-Da… Done!

With the first chicken half, we made Jerk Chicken.

We were in Jamaica the last week of Janaury and were welcomed back to the midwest by major snow storms and bitter cold. So, a couple nights ago, I picked up a six pack of Red Stripes and decided to make the quintessential Jamaican entrée.

Soaking up the sun!

Soaking up the sun!

My goal was to pretend like we were on the island, but once I put the chicken in the skillet, I didn’t have to pretend. My whole kitchen smelled like Jamaica. Yah, mon!

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1 habanero pepper, stem cut off
1 bunch scallions, but into pieces
2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon allspice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons of vegetbale oil
3 ½-4 pounds chicken pieces

In a food processor, puree peppers, scallions, garlic, thyme, brown sugar, allspice, soy sauce, lime juice and oil.

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Put mixture into a large zip lock bag with the chicken pieces.

Let marinate in the refridgerator for at least one hour or up to twenty four hours.

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Grill until cooked through or sear on the stove in a skillet that can go in the oven and move into the oven for thiry minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Use oil or spray to prevent sticking before cooking.

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If your going to have Jerk Chicken, you've gotta have some Red Stripes's to wash it down!

If your going to have Jerk Chicken, you’ve gotta have some Red Stripe’s to wash it down!

And with the other half of the bird I made a soup using some of our frozen garden vegetables. This super simple, spicy soup was easy to make and, excluding the spices, came straight from the backyard!

Frozen garden poblano peppers and sweet corn

Frozen garden poblano peppers and sweet corn

2 cups diced poblano peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 diced large onion
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 minced cloves of garlic
32 ounces chicken broth
5 cups cooked and shredded chicken (Adam cooked the chicken the day before and seasoned it with a handful of spices from the pantry. Salt and pepper works great. You also could use a rotisserie chicken.)
4 cups of fresh or frozen corn
Black pepper to taste
Crumbled Queso Fresco or Moterary Jack Cheese for topping (If desired)

In a large pot, saute olive oil and onions over medium heat about 5-8 minutes. Add the spices and garlic and saute for a minute.

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Add chicken broth, shredded chicken, corn and poblanos and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for thirty minutes.

Diced Poblanos

Diced Poblanos

Shredded Chicken.

Shredded Chicken.

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Serve right away. (… But, the left over’s make a great lunch!)

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Egg Series Day 2: Egg Labels and How To Hard Boil

Navigating the wonderful world of eggs these days can be a little crazy. “Cage-Free.” “Free Range.” “Organic.” “Hormone Free.”

Crazy.

Here’s what it all means:

Cage Free– Term established by the USDA meaning the chickens have been raised without cages. They can walk around and flap their wings. But, don’t be fooled: This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have access to the outdoors. They can be “cage-free” in a barn and never see the light of day.

Free Range– Term established by the USDA. Means the birds are cage free, with access to the outdoors but there are no regulations on how long they are outside, the conditions of the outdoors, or what the chickens eat.

Pasture Raised– This is not a term regulated by the USDA. It means the chickens feed in a pasture and eat a diet of bugs and grasses in addition to feed. It might also means that the hens are possibly fenced in or kept in a pen.

Natural– Sounds nice… but this really doesn’t mean anything. All chickens and eggs are natural because they are not a processed food. There are no regulations surrounding this term.

Organic– This is regulated by the USDA and means that the chickens were fed feed that had no contact with pesticides and fertilizers. There are no regulations for the conditions the hens live in. Keep in mind that all egg laying chickens are hormone free. This is based on a USDA regulation. They are given antibiotics if they are ill, but that is all that is permitted.

The eggs from our backyard hens are, by definition, Pasture Range and Organic. They have their coop, but we let them roam throughout the yard everyday. They have feed in the coop but also eat grass and bugs.

Exploring the yard last September.

Exploring the yard last September.

We have five hens and get about four eggs each day. I have gotten in the habit of hard boiling ten to twelve eggs each week. They are so great to have in the fridge for a quick snack or an on-the-go breakfast.

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There is a little bit of a fine science when it comes to hard boiling eggs. If they don’t boil long enough the yolks are runny. If they boil too long the yolks turn green.

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And it may seem super basic, hard boiled eggs… easy, right? But, many of my friends have admitted to not knowing where to begin when making hard boiled eggs. I even had to Google it when I lived in my first apartment.

Older eggs make peeling the shells off easier.  I had to learn this the hard way...

Older eggs make peeling the shells off easier. I had to learn this the hard way…

Thanks to a lot of practice, I think I finally have it down.

I used a dozen eggs we had stocked up in the fridge.

I used a dozen eggs we had stocked up in the fridge.

Place eggs in the bottom of a sauce pan. Cover with about one inch of water and bring to a boil.

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Once boiling, remove from heat, place lid on pan. Let sit for twelve minutes.

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Run eggs under cold water.

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Enjoy right away or place in the fridge. They last about a week in their shells… but ours never make it that long!

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Root Loot

During our visit to my parent’s home in Michigan earlier this month, my mom took Adam and me to Holland’s Farmer’s Market. Holland is about twenty five minutes away from my parent’s house and is a really neat little town.

The Farmer's Market/dish crew.... got to love family dinners.

The Farmer’s Market/dish crew…. got to love family dinners.

Holland is home to Hope College, where my little brother is a freshman and a strong backstroker on the swim team. The community plays up the connection to the country, Holland. It is decorated with traditional windmills and hosts a Tulip Festival each spring. There are also a bunch cute boutiques and unique restaurants that I cannot wait to check out on a future visit.

But, it is clear the town value’s the farmers market. A whole street is set up for the market which is open twice a week from May to December.

And even during the first weekend in December, the market was full of produce, baked goods and beautiful Christmas décor.

One vendor was offering a deal where you could fill a large department store bag full of any root vegetables of your choice. Adam and I took him up on this offer and filled our bag with Red, Yukon and Sweet Potatoes, lots of carrots, yellow and red onions, beets, and a celery root.

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The following are recipes showing what we did with some of these great root vegetables.

Homemade Terra Chips:

I love Terra Chips. If I buy a bag, it rarely makes it into my home unopened because I always seem to “need a snack” on my drive home.

But, I hate how they are so expensive.

So, using some of my beets, sweet potatoes, and Yukon potatoes from the Holland Farmer’s Market, I decided to make my own.

They were great and really easy. The beet chips were sweet and balanced the more savory flavors of the potatoes.
I loved having them around as a snack. Can’t beat getting a serving of vegetables but feeling like you are eating chips. (And saving you the $8 Terra bag…!)

The colors were amazing!

The colors were amazing!

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 large sweet potato
3 medium Yukon Potatoes
Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

Slice all veggies ¼ inch thick. I used my mandolin. Toss sliced vegetables with oil.

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Lay vegetables on a large cookie sheet.

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Bake for thirty minutes and place on a cooling rack. Chips will continue to harden as they cool.

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Consume within 48 hours.

Turning up the Beet on Risotto:

I recently was asked what my favorite thing to cook is. And honestly, I was stumped. I love to cook. Eggs, dessert, breads, vegetables, large roasts, soups, stir fry’s, homemade pizza… I could go on and on.

Then, it came to me at work when I was assisting a chef at my Alma Mater: I love to cook risotto.

I came to this discovery while cooking risotto for eighty sorority women. Even though the muscles in my shoulders burned from stirring the massive amount of Arborio rice, I knew this was my love.

It’s great anytime of year, but there is just something so cozy about it when it’s chilly outside. It is also so versatile. Risotto prep starts the same every time, but you can add all sorts of ingredients towards the end to make it your own. My mom often adds parmesan and scallops. That evening on campus we added coconut milk and toasted coconut flakes to the risotto as it served as an accompanist to some island style chicken.

I was searching for something to do with our farmer’s market beets other than roasting them and through my searching, found that goat cheese pairs great with the sweetness in the beets. Inspired by my risotto at the sorority, I thought it could be a great combination.

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And it was.

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 shallot, chopped
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 cups of chicken stock (… It may take less. I have found with any risotto recipe that I use far more broth than is called for. It is just a lot easier to be prepared and have more ready. I can easily use any leftover broth with something else. Also, for this, we actually used our turkey stock…worked just fine!)
4 ounce log of goat cheese
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse any dirt off beets, pat dry. Roast Beets for 40 minutes. Easy way to do this is just place on a sheet of foil. Doesn’t hurt to drizzle a little olive oil on the beets. Once complete, let cool and remove skin. Cut into ½ inch pieces.

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Heat up stock in a sauce pan. You want the stock just to steam, not boil.

In a large, high sided skillet (We have found our wok works better than a skillet… I had forgotten about this when I made this risotto.) heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add the shallots and cook for about three minutes. You don’t want them to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Reduce heat to medium and add a half cup of stock, stir until absorbed. Continue with a half cup of stock at a time until rice is cooked through.

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Remove from heat and stir in beets, butter, and goat cheese. Top with chopped chives.

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Roasted Whole Chicken and Root Vegetables:

So, the oddball in out root loot was the celery root.

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I had never cooked or had one, so we decided if there ever was a good time to give it a try, this was it.

It is a weird looking vegetable. And, really, not all that pretty. But, I read that what it lacks in looks, it makes up in flavor.

I also read online to prep it you need to remove the skin. I used a vegetable peeler and it worked okay. The skin is a bit thicker than anything on a carrot.

We had just had fifty of our free range chickens processed and we were eager to give them a try. We decided to roast one of the birds so it just made sense to roast some veggies as well. Using a few other of the root vegetables on hand we made a great meal when a couple friends were joining us for dinner.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (Ours are about six pounds… Chickens at the store are typically smaller than this.)
1 Onion cut into 1/2 inch pieces (We used a yellow onion, but I wish I had grabbed a red one instead. It would have added great color.)
5 Carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Celery Root, cut into ½ inch pieces
Salt and Pepper
Juice of one lemon
Red Pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425.

Rub salt and pepper onto chicken. Place on baking sheet and cook for twenty minutes.

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While cooking, season vegetables with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Toss to coat.

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Add vegetables to baking sheet, turning to coat in the chicken drippings.

Continue to roast until vegetables are tender and the chicken is reaches at least 165 degrees internally and the juices run clear. (Should be about forty more minutes.)

Let chicken rest about five to ten minutes before serving.

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Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay... and fun friends.

Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay… and fun friends.

Savory Sweet Potato Fries:

Sweet potatoes seem to be all the rage these days. They are even showing up on menu at fast food restaurants!

But, I can’t knock them. They are full of nutritional benefits. For starters? They are a great source of Vitamin C, which is great this time of year because it helps ward off the cold and flu viruses. And another reason to eat sweet potatoes this time of year is because they are full of Vitamin D. Which, most popularly, we get from sunlight. Which, also happens to be in short supply as we near the Winter Solstice.

So, all those (self diagnosed…) Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder sufferers out there? Sweet Potatoes are for you us.

I think sweet potatoes already are pretty sweet, so I wasn’t looking to jazz mine up with brown sugar like they are traditionally done. So, I went the savory route with these fries based on a recipe from the Williams Sonoma blog and they were spot on.

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Ingredients:

About 2 large sweet potatoes cut into batons about ½ inch thick
2 Tablespoons of grape seed oil
Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place sweet potato batons on baking sheet with oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Make sure the potatoes are spread out so that they cook evenly.

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Roast for about twenty five to thirty minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the potatoes to be tender and a little browned.

While roasting, combine parmesan, parsley and garlic in a bowl.

Add the warm fries, toss gently to coat. Serve right away.

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Egg-citing News!

Yesterday was a Big Day!

I retrieved the first egg from the chicken coop!

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We had been told that it would take five to six months for our birds to begin laying eggs. We brought the few days old chicks home on Mother’s Day, so I knew it was just a matter of time. Adam had also recently switched the birds from Chick Starter Feed to Layer Feed supplemented with oyster shell.

I came home from work and opened up the coop to let the chickens run free in the yard. Side note: We used to let them roam all day, but one day two didn’t come home. (… Can’t help but wonder if a predator was involved somehow.) They still have a fenced in area off their coop they can run in during the day.

Many of the chickens ran out to explore, but one hen hung back. I peered beyond the doorway of the coop to the three roosts Adam had built and sure enough there was a small brown egg. I was excited and kind of in disbelief.

As I stepped into the coop to investigate, it was almost like the hen knew what I was about to do. They normally scoot out of the way of our feet, but she stood her ground.

I felt bad. Was this her showing maternal instinct? I reasoned with my commiserating, female emotion: She didn’t have this maternal instinct thing all worked out. Otherwise, she would have been sitting on this egg. Plus, it wouldn’t matter how long she sat on that egg. She wouldn’t be getting a baby. There was no chicken hanky panky going on.

Shoeing her away with my hands, I made it to the roost and picked up the small, fragile egg. It was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but I read this would be the case in the beginning.

Tiny Egg... Going to need ten of these to make anything...

Tiny Egg… Going to need ten of these to make anything…

I couldn’t help but beam with a little pride as I carried the first of many eggs back up to the house. Once in the kitchen I placed it in a little ceramic egg holder I purchased at Anthropologie right after we got the chicks last spring in anticipation for this moment.

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I laughed.

It was like I had been nesting.

In fact, the whole process of raising a chick to lay eggs seemed a little bit like pregnancy.

The excitement when you first get the chicks.

Seeing them grow bigger and bigger every day.

Getting fun accessories like the egg holder or asking everyone you know to save you their egg cartons because their “coming.”

Then it comes and it’s a lot smaller than you thought it was going to be.

But, it’s wonderful. And fun!

And then you start thinking of all that it could become…

An omlet?

A frittata?

Quiche?

… The possibilities are endless.

Below are some fun shots of the grown ladies. We have seven.

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Natural, Roasted Chicken. It’s What’s for Dinner.

It’s hard to believe that it really is late August.

School has started and is in full swing.

The sun is down before nine.

The corn is tall.

And the garden is full of produce.

Like these peppers.

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And tomatoes.

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Tomatoes.

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Tomatoes!

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With so much naturally raised produce in the kitchen I decided to cook the naturally raised chicken from my Farmer’s Market trip in July for dinner on Monday night.

I had never cooked a whole chicken and used the website 100 Days of Real Food as a stepping stone. I visit this site often as it is a great resource for cutting out over processed food from your diet. The author takes a realistic and relatable approach as she has (precious) kids and she doesn’t want to “worry” about food, but rather be confident in her family’s food choices.

On the website there is a post about roasting a whole chicken: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/05/14/recipe-how-to-roast-whole-chicken-safely-defrost-meat/

Perfect.

A chicken seasoned with lemons, garlic and rosemary.

Even more perfect. Some of my favorite flavors and I already had local rosemary and garlic in the house.

The post begins with how to properly defrost a chicken. She mentions that even though she has lived to tell about defrosting meat on the counter, the USDA recommends that meat should be defrosted slowly in the refrigerator.

… Something that made this ServSafe certified, hospitality professional proud.

Once defrosted, I mixed the herbs, seasonings, and oils together in a small bowl.

The next order of business was to remove the “giblets or bag of ‘parts’ that may be stored inside the chicken.”

The chicken man at the market had mentioned the “giblet bag” was in there. I remember thinking when I made the purchase, “Oh wow. That’s nice. He bagged those up and put them back in. I bet there are people who want to keep those.”

I looked in my defrosted chicken’s butt. I didn’t see any evidence of a ziplock baggie or saran wrap like I was expecting.

Weird.

I opened the rear end more. A sleek brown, jelly-ish mass was in plain sight.

I had just read the chapter in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” where Michael Pollan processes free range chickens on Joel Salatin’s Virginia farm. Pollan wrote about removing the chicken’s insides after the bird bleeds out.

I knew what I was looking at… it was the bird’s liver.

There was no actual “bag.”

I had been lied to…? Maybe he just forgot to bag up this one…?

Or, it’s an expression. Slang, if you will.

… For chicken organs.

I also remembered from my read that removing these organs needs to be done carefully. Pollan warned that a ruptured gall bladder can be a big mess.

“What the heck am I supposed to do?” I thought, desperately wishing Adam was home. He could handle this.

I looked at the clock. Adam wouldn’t be home for about an hour. And the bird would take that long in the oven. I couldn’t wait.

So, I did what every girl who didn’t know what 4-H was until she was eighteen would do: I Googled it.

The first page I saw said to “Gently reach in and simply remove the giblets.”

Seriously? That’s all you got, Google?!

After many other failed searches and confusing youtube videos, I decided to suck it up.

“Like a band aid,” I told myself, sticking my hand in the bird’s rear end. I wrapped my fingers around the bundle in the cavity of the chicken, wincing, eye’s shut and gave it a pull.

Ohhhhmyyyygodddd,” I squealed out loud as my hand emerged.

Browns, pinks, yellows and blues made up the still slightly frozen mass. (Thank God. Had that been any squishier we would have had issues.)

Just be glad I didn’t take a picture.

Once I recovered (and threw the giblets away), I brushed the bird with the herbed oil marinade, stuffed the lemon peels in the chest cavity, and placed him in the oven for about an hour.

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Right around the time Adam got home from work the chicken had reached 170 degrees. I let it rest on the stove top while I chopped up some tomatoes and cucumbers to serve as a side with a splash of red wine vinegar. Light and easy.

The aroma of the rosemary, garlic, and lemon married well with the chicken, filled the kitchen and demolished any traumatizing mental images of giblets.

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By the time I plated everything I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

It seems crazy, but the natural, free range bird did taste different than the chicken breasts from the grocery store that I am used to. It was moist, flavorful, and felt as though I could really taste the chicken.

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I am looking forward to having more natural birds from our own backyard this winter.

… And having someone else do the processing.