3 Facts About Free-Range Chickens & Eggs

Free-range eggs are all the rage these days. They’re delivered in cartons at the grocery store, found by the dozens at farmers’ markets, and even farmed straight out of your neighbor’s backyard. 

3 Facts About Free Range Chickens

When you think of free-range chickens I bet your vision includes acres of open pasture, hours upon hours of daylight, fresh grass, lots of bugs and happy clucking chickens.

Well, in some cases this is true. My parents’ chickens are raised exactly this way! They lead a very happy chicken life. So does Rudy. (Their rooster.)

Free Range Chickens

Unfortunately, however, not all free-range chickens are the same. The term can be misleading, and marketers have gotten savvy. They want us thinking about happy little clucking chickens, rooting around in open pastures for as long as they’d like.

Know what though? In a lot of cases, that’s not the life a free-range chicken leads.

3 Facts About Free-Range Chickens

1. Use of the term “free-range” is not strictly monitored.

In order to be certified organic, farmers have to adhere to strict criteria that’s set by USDA. In order to stamp “free-range” on a carton of eggs, chickens simply need to have regular access to an outside area. And by area, I mean access a cement patch, a swatch of gravel, or a square of dirt for as little as five minutes a day. FIVE MINUTES and she’s considered free-range. Pathetic.

2. Free-range chickens don’t necessarily mean all-natural chickens.

The only way to ensure that your eggs are from an all-natural, antibiotic-free hen is to buy certified organic eggs, get to know your local farmers and how they raise their chickens, OR raise your own. It’s pretty simple.

3. True “free-range” chickens have a diverse diet and make better eggs.

Chickens that are allowed to be outside for extended periods of time eat all kinds of things. They’re scroungers, happy to gobble up bugs or table scraps in addition to their chicken feed. They get lots of natural sunlight, and are delighted to roam around in a large space outside until dusk when they roost for the night. All of this makes for a better tasting egg, and according to at least one study, more nutritious too!

Wait. There are more labels….

Egg cartons aren’t simply labeled organic, free-range or nothing. You might also see cage free, free-roaming, certified humane and a slew of others. Confusing, right? Especially since most of these labels are also not closely regulated to mean what we’re supposed to think they mean.

If you don’t know the farm where the eggs come from (and therefore can see for yourself how the chickens are raised), then choose a carton with the label “Food Alliance Certified” or “Animal Welfare Approved.” Both of these labels mean that the farms ensure the chickens get plenty of outdoor time, and must be able to perform natural chicken behaviors like nesting, perching and dust bathing. However, only Animal Welfare Approved (which has the highest third-party auditing program) prohibits beak cutting….

You can find all of the labels and their descriptions at The Humane Society website.

Poached Egg in a Mug

Poached Egg in a Mug

It’s true that moms have a special way of making everything feel better when you’re a sick kid.

My mother would make us a poached egg in a mug, with buttered toast alongside, as a recovery food when we were under the weather. There was something about that sick meal that always tasted perfect and settled flawlessly in our bellies, and she never made it any other time.

Eating this poached egg in a mug was a ritualistic process. We’d first rip the toast into small, buttery bits and then mix it in with the over-easy poached egg. Then we’d slowly savor the delightful combination from the comfort of the couch and a TV tray.

My most nostalgic sick-kid memories come from my elementary and middle school years. It was the mid-80s, but we didn’t have cable so I ended up watching whatever happened to be on during the day, classics like I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched. And eating my poached egg in a mug. Oh the memories….

Poached Egg in a Mug Bite

It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized a “poached” egg wasn’t usually cooked this way. In fact, most poached eggs are made by way of a gentle boil and a dash of vinegar right in a sauce pot.

This way of poaching eggs, however, is a fun alternative. And dare I say a traditional poached egg wouldn’t have the same healing effects as the poached-in-a-cup alternative?

Poached Egg in a Cup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 large egg
  • salt & pepper
  • water
Instructions
  1. Set a medium sized mug inside a sauce pot. The pot's sides should be higher than the top of the mug. Fill the pot with water until it reaches half-way up the mug. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.
  2. Crack the egg into a bowl and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Once the water is boiling, pour the egg into the mug. Cover the pot and reduce the heat - keeping the water at a gentle boil.
  3. Cook the egg for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on how runny or solid you prefer the yolk. Serve the poached egg in the mug, with buttered toast on the side (perfect for dipping!).

Collecting Fresh Farm Eggs

My faithful readers are well aware that my parents have a flock chickens on their small farm, and most weeks I’m able to get a dozen fresh farm eggs to stock our fridge.

 

If you’ve never had eggs directly from a local farm, you’re missing out. They’re nothing like the eggs you buy at the grocery store, which makes you wonder about those store-bought eggs (and perhaps even a little frightened).

 

Real eggs, as we’ll call them, are produced in a variety of different colors ranging from white to pale blue to light beige (and a rainbow of colors in between), and some of them are speckled. They’re typically all different sizes, and the dozens I get from my parents include everything from large to jumbo. The yolks are nearly orange, and wonderfully rich and creamy.

 

The eggs, like the chickens from which they come, are just…pretty.

 

farm eggs, eggs, chickens, farm to table

 

Last month my folks went away for a long weekend, and my 4-year old and I had the job of collecting eggs from the coop early that Saturday morning. Ever since he was a baby, once I returned to work after maternity leave, he’s spent two days a week at their farm. He builds things, he gets dirty, he crafts, he helps in their giant gardens, AND he collects eggs from the coop. He’s a pro!

 

The only thing he won’t do is collect the eggs from the broody hens. “I don’t like them,” he said simply.

 

I get it. Broody hens are creepy. They’re like gelatinous lumps of chicken that won’t move, except to peck the hand that tries to get their eggs, and my parents have four or five of them in the coop.

 

From Wikipedia:

Under natural conditions, most birds lay only until a clutch is complete, and they will then incubate all the eggs. Many domestic hens will also do this–and are then said to “go broody“. The broody hen will stop laying and instead will focus on the incubation of the eggs (a full clutch is usually about 12 eggs). She will “sit” or “set” on the nest, protesting or pecking in defense if disturbed or removed, and she will rarely leave the nest to eat, drink, or dust-bathe.

Here’s one of the broody hens in my parents’ coop:

broody hens, chickens, farm to table, fresh eggs

 

Creepy, right? Broody hens or not, we ended up collecting quite a few eggs that day – maybe 15 or 20?

 

farm eggs, farm to table, chickens

fresh eggs, farm to table, chickens

Here’s a picture of one of the coops – a converted large shed, with a giant fenced in space with shrubs and trees for the chickens to roam freely. It’s fenced so that critters have a hard time getting in to eat the chickens (foxes, primarily), but the chickens do fly over and get out from time-to-time. (Eventually they make their way back into the yard.)

fresh eggs, farm to table, chickens

And this is one of the cooler features on their property: a log cabin. It’s not original to the land, rather the previous owners moved it years and years ago. My sister used to live there when she and Shawn were farming as Truffula Seed Produce, and now it mainly acts as a guest house, and also as a second kitchen when we’re all gathering for the holidays. Some say it’s haunted….

farm to table, fresh eggs, chickens

Do you have your own chickens, or buy eggs fresh from a local farmer?

Spinach, Bacon & Cheese Egg Casserole

egg casserole, easy breakfast recipes

On one hand, casseroles that you can throw together the night before make life really simple the next morning.

On the other hand, there are some mornings where a casserole sounds really, really scrumptious, but you didn’t have the foresight to prepare one the night before. Granted, there are a few “day of” casseroles that work out okay, like this Walnut French Toast Bread Pudding Casserole that I whipped up on a whim one Saturday morning.

But most of the time egg casseroles with any sort of bread involved need the time to soak. Overnight time to soak. Save these casseroles for the season where meal planning is inevitable – Christmas morning, Easter morning, vacations, etc.

In fact, we have a holiday morning coming up, don’t we? New Year’s Day {perhaps after a few to many libations?} would be the perfect time to have an egg casserole prepped and ready to throw in the oven for an easy January 1, 2013 breakfast.

Spinach, Bacon & Cheese Egg Casserole

egg casserole, easy breakfast recipes

{Print this recipe}

Prep: 20 minutes + overnight | Bake: 60 minutes | Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 10 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 French baguette
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 6 slices of crispy bacon, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 8-oz sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 green onions, diced

Directions

Butter a 9×13″ baking dish. Cube the baguette (roughly cut is fine), and place it on the bottom of the buttered baking dish. Layer the cheese, spinach, bacon, onions and parsley on top.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. Pour the egg mixture over top of the layers in the casserole dish, and then gently press down on the bread to make sure each piece has been soaked.

Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil, and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

egg casserole recipes, breakfast recipes, easy breakfast recipes

The morning of, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake the casserole covered for 45 minutes. Uncover the casserole, and then continue baking for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the casserole is bubbly and set.

Let the casserole rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Leftovers reheat well!

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