A Fowl Murder

 At last – ‘A Fowl Murder’ – book three in the Swaddlecombe series, is being published next weekend! Victoria and Albert are back and you can catch up on their latest adventures.

To whet your appetite, here’s the synopsis from the book jacket:

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As her first summer in rural Devon draws to a close, Victoria West feels comfortably settled and her relationship with farmer Albert Moreton is jogging along nicely… but then death comes a–calling.

A work colleague from Victoria’s ‘old’ life in London appears on the scene and life starts to get complicated. An article on breeding chickens somehow draws Victoria and Albert into a web of jealousy, lies and murder. There’s a catastrophe over the canapés and plenty more shocks in store in the third Swaddlecombe adventure.

As ever, the locals add plenty of colour to this the cosy British murder mystery. Will pub landlord Roger ever be able to face a cup of coffee again? Can Victoria keep clear of the clutches of sleazy Morris Podger and will Albert manage to bake a gluten-free cake?

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Thank you all so much for your patience, support and kind words. A Fowl Murder has, for all sorts of reasons, taken much longer to publish than we had hoped. My partner in crime writing, Julia, and myself hope that it brings you suspense and laughter in equal amounts… and that you think it has been worth the wait!

The paperback will be available on my website and on Kindle very shortly and I will let you all have the link as soon as it is ready!

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Do room temperature eggs really make a difference?

As you know, we like our chickens and eggs on this blog! So what about the whole ‘room temperature eggs’ debate? Delia Smith says don’t put them in the fridge, so that must be correct then. I’m sure you’ve seen room temperature eggs listed in the ingredients for various recipes, and maybe you’ve followed those instructions, or maybe you haven’t. So, the big question is, does it really matter?

And the answer is… it depends! 

For most baking — things like biscuits, brownies, quick breads, and even some cakes— using eggs straight from the fridge will not make a noticeable difference in the overall finished product. However, using cold eggs will reduce the temperature of the batter and dough, and your cake or loaf will probably need a few more minutes in the oven than if you had used room temperature eggs.

Where room temperature eggs really matter is in recipes where the eggs are whipped to incorporate air into the batter – for example a light sponge cake, like a Victoria sponge. Warmer eggs whip to higher volume than cold eggs, resulting in a lighter and more delicate cake. For recipes like these, it’s best to let the eggs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using them, or follow the handy tip below.

How to quickly get eggs to room temperature

If you do have a recipe that requires room temperature eggs, you can get them to room temperature quickly by placing them in a small bowl and covering the eggs with hot (not boiling) tap water. Let them sit for five minutes before proceeding. Hey presto!

PS. Another good excuse for keeping your eggs at room temperature is that you can justify buying all sorts of lovely chickeny designed egg holders and storage things – as my hen-keeping partner in crime writing Julia does. These are just a few of hers in the photos along with her hens wonderful eggs.

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A quick and simple supper…

I was trying to think of something different to have for a light supper over the past bank holiday weekend and one of Richard’s favourites has long been pâté. So I thought I would share my simple recipe for chicken liver pâté with you. I prefer chicken liver as it is a much milder, subtle flavour than pig’s or lambs liver.

The main ingredient you need is a food processor! Without one, it becomes a huge chore and I personally wouldn’t bother, I’d nip out and buy some.

All you do is fry the chicken livers in butter until just about done, a little pinkness inside is good, and add some flavourings, as per the recipe below. Then you simply remove them from the heat and whizz in the processor lightly until the mixture is completely smooth, taste to make sure you have seasoned it enough and then scrape the mixture (a silicone spatula is a great tool for this!) into a suitable container and chill in the fridge. If you want to, you can cover it with melted butter to seal it and help it keep better.

I sometimes use a little mini Le Creuset casserole dish as it looks pretty when you serve it. Serve the pâté with toast or rolls or even crackers, depending on your preference. This makes a very inexpensive, very tasty meal and takes so little time.

Ingredients

  • 300g butter
  • 400g chicken livers
  • Small wineglass of either brandy or any other alcohol of your choice
  • Seasoning of salt and pepper

And then you can use whatever additions you like. I like zest of oranges and lemons, or you could add a little red currant jelly, I tried horseradish once… that was different!

Basically so long as you have about similar quantities of melted butter/alcohol and livers then the texture should be fine. Have fun experimenting!

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What is it about chickens?

© ChickensInSweaters – Nicole McArthur The chicken. What is it that makes it such a popular subject in just about everything these days? Chicken fabrics, chicken calendars, chicken sweaters – yes that’s for the chickens, not you! – and just about every other chicken-themed thing you can imagine!

I shared a post on the Joanna Sheen’s Country Days Blog Facebook page today about sweaters for chickens – there are some beautiful designs and ideas out there. It isn’t quite as dotty as it looks as some chickens, especially ex-battery hens, can often be lacking feathers and they benefit from being kept warm. Julia, my partner in crime writing and general chicken-crazed woman was designing fleece jackets for hers a few years ago, when they moulted in the middle of winter but I’m not sure if that particular project ever got completed.

You only have to look online to see how phenomenally popular chickens are. Chicken doorstops, chicken coat hooks, chicken mugs, chicken plates, chicken clocks – it is endless! And there are lots of websites dedicated to chickens. Some of my favourites include:

www.ilikechickens.co.uk

www.countyourchickens.co.uk

www.cotswoldchickens.com

© www.ilikechickens.co.uk

So what is it that makes us so fond of chickens? Is it the shape of a hen? Their featheriness? The varied colours, the cosy noises they make or the fact that they provide us with that wonderfully versatile thing – the egg?

I suppose few farmyard or back garden animals display such appealing characteristics as chickens. Whether they are scratching the ground searching for grubs, performing aerial acrobatics in pursuit of insects or strutting self-importantly, they never cease to entertain us. Their ‘chatter’ is immensely soothing. I know when I have sat outside drinking a coffee with Julia in her garden, the hens are a constant background soundtrack as soothing and melodious as a bubbling brook.

So where do chickens come from originally? Although the chicken has been in Britain since Roman times (and possibly before) it originates from South East Asian some 10,000 years ago. Amazingly, it is estimated that there are about 27 billion chickens in the world today at any one time!

And finally, here are a few chicken nuggets for you:

  • The Poultry Club of Great Britain was founded in 1877
  • Depending on its size, a chicken egg provides between 60 and 80 calories
  • Queen Victoria kept chickens!
  • So which came first, the chicken or the egg? In 2010, two British universities, using a super-computer, decided it was the chicken.

PS. You might like to know that in our next novel – book 3 in the Swaddlecombe series  – chickens play a major part in the plot!

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Chicken or the egg?

So which did come first… the chicken or the egg? Well, on this blog, it’s the chicken as we had them last week, so this week it’s the egg! Julia adores both scrambled eggs and omelettes and makes them so well I thought it was worth asking her how she does it. So here you are from the horse’s mouth or should that be from the chicken’s beak?

I keep hens because they’re great fun and I’m lucky enough to have the room but, of course, the main reason is for their eggs. Our hens produce rich golden yolks that make omelettes and scrambled eggs look really appetising as well as tasting wonderful. Eggs make excellent cheap, nutritious and simple meals in minutes – a convenience food if ever there was one! I am sure you all know perfectly well how to make scrambled eggs but it’s interesting hearing another cook’s methods – do you remember Delia teaching us all how to boil an egg? Very useful advice it was too! 

The secret of good scrambled eggs is a low heat and lots and lots or stirring!

Scrambled eggs
Allow two eggs per person, or three if you are feeling hungry. I add salt, freshly ground black pepper and whisk very thoroughly with a fork – and that’s it. I use a non-stick (very important!), heavy-based frying pan that is 9” across. I get this hot (no need for butter or oil) and then pour in the eggs. Gently stir, using a silicon spatula, the silicon works well as it’s slightly soft and means you can cleanly push the egg off the base of the pan as you stir, so you don’t get a coating stuck to the pan, end up with a bit of a mess.

Turn the heat down really low (I use gas which is nice and responsive), then just stand there and stir gently, for about 4 or 5 minutes, until you end up with a very smooth, creamy scramble – no big lumps, or hard bits. Stop while it’s still soft and moist and tip straight onto the hot buttered toast that you remembered to put in the toaster earlier!!

Create folds in your omelette so that it is delicate and light, yet properly cooked. We enjoyed this one with mushrooms AND smoked salmon!!Omelette
I allow the same amount of eggs per person, and use the same non-stick pan and spatula and, again, there’s no need for any fat. I get the pan hotter this time and will drop a little bit of egg mix in to check that it is hot enough to start cooking on contact. Then I pour all the mix in, and after about 10 or 20 seconds, when it has formed a thin cooked layer on the bottom, start pulling the mixture in from the sides. It’s rather like ‘rumpling up’ a sheet and creating folds. I always find this bit very therapeutic!

Keep doing this, angling the pan every now and then to let any uncooked egg mixture in the middle escape onto the hot pan to cook. This is a quick process and the whole thing can be done in about a minute. While it is still very moist, and even wet, in the middle, you can chuck in some grated cheese or your cooked mushrooms. Lift up the edge to check it is slightly golden underneath and then slide it out of the pan. I always flip one half over the other as it leaves the pan as this gives you a lovely hot filling inside the perfectly cooked egg. DON’T overcook it and end up with a brown underside or it will be like shoe leather!

And of course, the options are endless – using different fillings in your omelette (I love crumbled goat’s cheese!) or making a more robust Spanish omelette with lots of veg, or even a frittata with potatoes and bacon, ham, sausage … I could go on!

How do you cook your eggs? Do you have any cook’s tips? Do share as it’s always great to learn something new!

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