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!

4 Comments

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!

1 Comment

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!

6 Comments

Chicken dinners

From the top: One and two – Edith and Dahlia having a go at the cabbage. Three – Dahlia and Lavender making sure they don’t waste any bits! Four – the ladies gather for a photo, minus Iris. Five – thinking about taking afternoon tea in their chalet.I know you all like hearing about chickens, so I’m handing over today’s blog to my partner in crime writing, Julia.

I haven’t rambled on about my hens for a while, so Joanna said I could give you an update this week. I introduced five new hens back in October and you can never be sure how they will settle down and whether there will be bullying. I always think a flock of hens is very like a group of people – sit and watch for half an hour and you will see many human traits you’ll recognise (mostly bad!) and will soon understand where the phrases ‘hen pecked’ and ‘pecking order’ come from.

The three buff orpingtons, Dahlia, Iris and Lavender, and the two cream legbars, Edith and Bunty (all named after characters in our novels!), have settled in very well. Far from being overwhelmed as I’d feared, my two old hens, less romantically named Dino and Specky, who had looked ancient (Specky is 6 and Dino an amazing 9!) have both rallied. Chickens tend to moult in Autumn and both the old ones were looking moth eaten, but the arrival of their new companions has galvanised them into action and they both have beautiful new feathers and are even acting ‘young’ again. Just like us humans – nothing like a bit of competition to make you go and get your hair done or nip to the gym!

My previous flock had a bully in its midst and I’m afraid it made life hell for some of the others. The bully died last year and I was determined that when I introduced new hens it would all be harmonious. Several hen keepers I’d chatted to online had told me how to deal with any future bullies. And no, it doesn’t involve a cooking pot! You isolate the bully, keep them out of sight of the others for about a week. The main flock will then settle down and a pecking order re-established. You then reintroduce the bully who will very probably find herself at the bottom of the heap – and she will then behave herself! Can’t we all think of instances when it would be handy to do this in real life?! 

This time of year it is all rather muddy and the hens can get bored with no grass to peck at or insects to chase. The lovely people I bought the cream legbars from, rather cleverly hung cabbages on string from trees. The chickens can then peck away at it and, as it moves about it, gives them a bit of a challenge and keeps them interested. I had a hilarious 10 minutes recently, watching Dahlia and Lavender standing either side of a suspended Savoy cabbage. One would peck, the cabbage then swung toward the other hen, and she’d lunge to peck it, and back it swung – I swear it looked as if they were playing ‘swing ball’ with great enthusiasm! 

The buffs are very gentle natured, but they are big birds and they do like their food! The cream legbars, Bunty and Edith, are faintly hysterical (they remind me of that character Mavis in Coronation Street!) and paranoid, so they will only approach the cabbage once the buffs have had their fill. They manage a few pecks but are, of course, frightened by the swinging vegetable as it is clearly ‘out to get them’ and they tend to run off screaming.

When we introduced the cream legbars, they were younger than the others and needed to be kept separate and given different food, so we searched eBay and managed to buy a second–hand coop for very little money. It is rather twee and looks a bit like an alpine chalet! Bunty and Edith liked it and would fuss around inside like two old maids bickering over the housework.

Now, the hens all live together in the main coop, but the chalet is still there inside their run. We have noticed that most afternoons, the five new hens go Gossiping inside the willow structure before going in for a WI meeting in the chalet.and stand in it, apparently for no good reason other than to have a bit of a gossip. You can hear them making contented ‘pock pock’ noises like a load of old gossips at the WI. It’s interesting that the older birds don’t seem to be invited, so perhaps there’s a little bit of girl power in action but fortunately, it seems to be no more than idle gossip! Let’s hope it stays that way!

 

 

8 Comments

Some Boxing Day musings…

Well, it will be Boxing Day by the time you get to read this post, and I do hope you’ve all enjoyed a lovely Christmas Day and are looking forward to the New Year… resolutions or not!

We have been snuggled up with my girls and gorgeous granddaughter Grace, having a very ‘family’ Christmas, which has been super.

Partner in crime writing Julia, and myself, got together to pose for this daft Christmas shot a few days ago – so much for snowy scenes to go with our antlers, it’s been positively balmy down here in Devon with all sorts of things in bud in the garden. Who knows, a cold snap may yet come along and catch us all out! 

And so, to matters literary. Julia and I have made a start on Swaddlecombe book 3, but we’ve both had a few hiccups along the way with work, families and life in general getting in the way of fiction(!) – so we are really going to start writing in earnest in the New Year. We have our plot, we know ‘who dunnit’ and we also have a title, but we aren’t going to tell you just yet – we don’t want to tempt fate! Let’s just say some feathers might be about to get ruffled…! Watch this space… 

Health and happiness to you all and here’s to a peaceful 2015.

Joanna

 

6 Comments