Hidden Creek Farm

As I tour West Michigan farms, one thing I’m surprised to hear is that many of the farmers weren’t raised on farms. Crystal of Hidden Creek Farms falls into this category, telling me she was raised in the country but not on a farm. When I asked her how they learned so much if they weren’t raised on a farm, she replied they’ve learned along the way. And what a lot they have learned!

On my visit to Hidden Creek Farm, I was blown away by how much they have going on there, especially given their location, right off River Road. The first time I happened upon their farm, I was en route to a friends house, turning off Whitehall Road onto River Road. As I was driving, I saw their roadside stand and sign. Right there amidst family homes and small neighborhoods was an 18 acre farm, complete with chickens, goats, cows, pigs, quails and more.

 

 

Crystal started our tour with their mini-market they call their “Farmacy” (LOVE IT!), where customers can stop by and pick up some eggs, honey, and when available, maple syrup. They also have a fridge for their customers who purchase their goats milk, and freezer where they keep their broilers (and sidenote: we’ve purchased their broilers before. Delicious! Buy some, you won’t be disappointed!) I loved that in addition to the food products available for purchase, Hidden Creek also has an assortment of handmade earrings and necklaces made from molted feathers from their chickens. How cool is that?! On trend fashion that’s sustainable and local. Just as exciting are the tanks, t-shirts, handmade soaps and bows available for purchase. Ladies, bring extra cash when you pick up your farm fresh products, you won’t want to miss this!  And gentlemen, Mother’s Day is coming up. Imagine the brownie points you’d get if you made that Mom in your life an omelette bar brunch, adorned her with some fashionable jewelry and gave her some time to indulge in a shower or bath with some wonderfully smelling soaps. Just saying. (Wink wink, nudge nudge, dear husband of mine).

 

Next up was a trip to the barn where I saw some of their pigs. Unfortunately the piglets running around didn’t stop long enough for me to get a good photo op. But trust me, I wanted to squeal with delight (pun intended) at how cute they were. On the other side of the farm, I got to see more of their hogs, running around, being their curious natural selves. Crystal told me they raise registered Tamworth pigs, a heritage breed known for their great foraging abilities. The pigs at Hidden Creek are raised on open pasture and a woodlot and when fed grains, given only non-GMO locally milled grains. Coolest part: these pigs (and other animals on the farm) are fed pulp from Rootdown and Bodhi Tree, two local businesses. I LOVE this! ALL of this! From the humanely raised local meat to the local businesses supporting each other. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

 

After visiting the pigs, Crystal showed me their broiler chickens, cows, eggs layers and goats. They offer 1/4, 1/2, and whole cows, whole and half hogs, lamb, goat, turkey, and broiler chickens for those interested in filling up their freezers. (Coming from a someone who has ordered many sides of meat, you really should consider this. I absolutely love the quality of meat we get from local farmers, and the ease of always having meat to pull out of the freezer for dinners and cookouts). To learn more about their animals, check out their website and “like” their Facebook page. You will undoubtedly be impressed by how well they take care of their animals and be even more impressed by how amazing care and attention translates into better tasting meat.

 

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Of course a tour of Hidden Creek Farm wouldn’t be complete without touring their garden spaces, flower gardens and raised beds, prepped and ready for a busy growing season. During the growing season, you can stop by their roadside stand to enjoy some fresh produce and stunning flowers. You can also find Hidden Creek at the Sweetwater Local Foods Market each weekend, selling what’s in season on their farm, as well as those super chic pieces of jewelry and other handmade/homemade goodies. If you want even more farm to table goodness, Hidden Creek is partnering with local chef, Chef Damon Covington, to present a Farm to Table evening on July 14.  Hidden Creek is also hosting two FUN filled open farm events, May 19th and September 15. Check out their Facebook events to see all the other local vendors who will be present to make these events you won’t want to miss.

For a couple who wasn’t raised on a farm, Crystal and Lee sure have farming pretty well mastered. Their commitment to humanely and sustainably raised meats and non-GMO, chemical free produce shows their dedication to providing high quality and healthy foods to the community around them. Thanks, Crystal and Lee, for sharing your beautiful farm with me and for continuing to be honest and transparent about your food! Can’t wait to come back for your events and purchase more of your amazing food.

 

 

 

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Making Chicken Stock or Broth

I delight in making my own home made chicken stock because it’s really like making something from nothing. And you really won’t believe how easy it can be. Like I’m pretty sure you can’t screw this one up. If you could, I would have by now, trust me. The closest I’ve come to screwing it up is forgetting about my stock that was cooling on the counters and not realizing it until the morning when it was too late. Several quarts of beautiful stock down the drain.

Before I begin with the how-to portion of this post, let me persuade you to seek out a locally raised chicken. I know, shock and surprise since everything I post is about local foods. But hear me out. The difference between an okay stock and an amazing stock lies in the quality of chicken you start with. You wouldn’t think the bones of an animal would be any different, but really, truly, a healthier, well cared for animal is not only much healthier for you, it’s also much tastier. We have many options for our purchasing local chicken in West Michigan. (Or you can be all-in like us and raise your own. Raising your own animals can be fun but it’s also a lot of work, so do your research. I mean, I never thought I’d be inside a chicken tractor, in the pouring raining, face to face with 10 unhappy muddy chickens, laying down as much dry bedding as possible while my husband dug a moat around the chicken tractor to re-route the water. Yes, this happened. And it’s part of the reason we never waste a morsel of chicken in this house.)

Now back to making chicken stock or broth. First, the difference between the two. Stock is made from bones, simmered for a long time, resulting in a more robust flavor and having more of the good-for-you gelatin from the bones. Broth is made with meat and bones. Like you can dunk the whole chicken in water, simmer for a long time and boom, have broth. In my world, the difference is whether I have the patience to cook up a whole chicken or if I say,”Screw it!” And throw the whole bird in the water bath. Each way is easy and will result in something beautifully delicious.

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker. Minus the carrots because I ran out.

Let’s start with the easiest, set-it-and-forget-it way. Get your slow cooker out. Add either your whole chicken or the chicken carcass. Add water to fill it up. Turn the slow cooker on low. And wait several hours (I’ve swiped some stock out of the slow cooker after 6-8 hours but the longer it cooks, the more it releases the good stuff in the bones). I generally get this started first thing in the morning and let it simmer in the slow cooker for around 10-12 hours.  It can be as easy as that. Just make sure if you’re using the whole bird, you use a meat thermometer and make sure it reads 165 degrees. And make sure if you’re using a new slow cooker, you don’t try to leave the slow cooker on for more than 12 hours because apparently some newer models turn themselves off after 12 hours, unbeknownst to the user resulting in a very sad and angry person in the morning. Not that that happened to me or anything.

But most people add some accompaniments for a tastier product. Throw in a few rinsed, roughly cut carrots, some celery stalks, garlic cloves and a quartered onions. Sometimes I add in a bunch of fresh parsley if I have it. But if you don’t, it won’t make or break the stock. You can add in salt at the beginning, but I like to add it in the end or not at all. I’d rather salt the dish I’m making with the stock. You can always add salt. You can’t take it away.

One tip I learned years back is to add some vinegar to the mix. Vinegar helps break down the bones. Don’t worry, your stock won’t taste like vinegar. I only add about 1 Tablespoon and it does the job. Just don’t be freaked out when your stock cools and it’s all wobbily like Jell-O. That’s a very good thing. That’s the gelatin from the bones and it’s very good for you.

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Frozen celery from the end of the season

Another super cheapo, corner cutting tip: You can freeze your kitchen scraps for making stock! After you rinse your veggies well, you can peel your carrots and freeze the peels to throw in your pot for stock. Sometimes I freeze the celery if it’s gone a little floppy (but obviously not moldy or anything). Make use of the leafy tops you don’t normally eat by freezing them. I froze a bunch of celery from our garden (see the photo above) when the stalks were too skinny for eating but the end of the growing season was near. You can even freeze your chicken carcass until you have time to make stock. Get this: you can even freeze that turkey carcass from Thanksgiving and make stock with that. Shut. The. Front. Door. There, I said it for you because that’s what you were thinking, right?

Moving right along. Now for the slightly more difficult version requiring a tad more of your attention. If you want to make a lot more stock at once, grab the biggest pot you have and get to work. We have a 5 gallon pot we use for everything from beer brewing to making pickles to boiling down maple syrup. You don’t need something that big but it helps when you want to make lots of stock at once. If you have a huge pot, you can add two bird carcasses and make some kick butt stock. The “recipe” is still the same: add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and some fresh parsley if you have it.

Cooking the stock on the stove has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is you can make more at once than you can in a slow cooker. The biggest disadvantage is that you will need to keep an eye on the pot. First, you will need to bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once it’s at a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer. You will need to simmer the pot on a low temperature for at least 4-6 hours, preferably more. I generally let it cook for anywhere from 8-12 hours. It’s not like you need to stand there watching the pot the entire time. But if you filled your pot pretty full with water, you will want to make sure it doesn’t get out of control and boil over. Just check it from time to time to make sure you have a nice slow simmer.

I’m purposely not making this into a recipe, saying exactly how much of each to add. I literally just throw in a couple of each. Once the hubs didn’t add any vegetables, only a chicken carcass, to the pot, and it was delicious. Once I had no carrots and it still worked out. Really truly, it’s pretty fool proof.

Now for the messiest part, pulling everything out of the pot. Take your pot off the heat and let it cool. Then, I take two grocery bags, one inside the other, and use tongs to get the biggest chunks out of the pot. Next I get the smaller stuff out with a fine mesh strainer. Last, I ladle the stock/broth over another mesh strainer into a container. We buy big two quart containers (I think they were from Tractor Supply. I’ve seen them lots of places with the canning supplies). I generally fill up a few smaller containers to use when making rice or recipes that only call for one or two cups of stock. I will cool these off in the refrigerator over night then put in the freezer to store. If I’m going to use it within the next few days, I will ladle it into quart canning jars and put them in the fridge. If you have a pressure canner and the know-how, you can most certainly pressure can the broth. I’ve yet to do this, simply because we tend to use the stock up pretty quickly, so I don’t want to take the time to pressure can it.

 

Once you have some beautiful, homemade stock or broth, the possibilities are endless! The most commonly made soup in our house is chicken noodle soup. But my new favorite is the Bearded Man’s ramen bowl. To. Die. For. Other favorites are broccoli cheddar soup, cauliflower white bean soup or an incredibly easy minestrone. All very easy to make if you keep some basic (and local!) ingredients on hand.

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