What’s in those Chicken Nuggets?

So What’s in those Chicken Nuggets?

A while back a picture surfaced on Facebook of what looked like creamy ice cream or cotton candy or something really….pink, and upon further inspection it turned out to be a big ol’ bunch of… Mechanically Separated Chicken.  Eww, gross, right?  The original FB post I saw claimed that Mechanically Separated Poultry, (MSP) was used to make McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and included the entire chicken, eyes guts and all.

Ice Cream? Cotton Candy? Foam Insulation? No! It's Chicken!

Now, I’ve processed an animal or two in my lifetime, and the claim about the eyes and guts made me a bit suspicious, because that has just never been what I’ve experienced, (also I think it’s illegal, for whatever that’s worth) so being from the Show Me state, I thought I’d check it out a little further.  Because as much as I love the internet, it isn’t always the go-to guy for the truth.

Snopes.com, who generally is considered to be a reputable source of facts, considers this story to be a mix of fact and fiction.  Yes, mechanically separated chicken is made by pushing the leftover parts after the breasts and legs are removed through basically a strainer to separate meat from other…stuff.  No, eyes and guts are not included.  Those probably get ground up and made into fertilizer or something else not intended for human food.  Feathers, at least when I was studying nutrition at good ol’ Mizzou are often ground up for livestock feed.  The mega poultry processors aren’t going to waste a thing if they can help it. Or miss a chance to make a buck.

Anyway, back to the McDonald’s McNuggets.  Turns out McDonald’s has used chicken breast for their nuggets since 2003.  Not that I’m defending McDonalds, but fair is fair.

However.  That mechanically separated chicken is available in many other brand name products.     Mechanically separated meat is required by law to be listed on the ingredient label of the food product.  So, as we should all be doing anyway, read the food labels. Know what you are getting into.  Or better yet, stay away from the processed stuff and buy your meat from a good, local, wholesome family farm.  I happen to know a few! ;o)  Yes it may cost more but you get your money back in better health and quality across the board.  We are what we eat, and we are also what we eat, eats.

And the truth is, I’m less opposed to using every part of the animal in some way or another than I am to all the stuff that gets done to the meat before it reaches us.  There is a huge difference in “mechanically separated” and “deboned”.  And a big difference between high quality sausage or charcuterie and processed meat with preservatives you can’t even pronounce.

Here is a clip of a video from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution featuring a simplistic version of mechanically separating chicken.

I feel really sorry for Jaime at the end.  And seriously, what are we teaching our kids?!? Maybe he should have shown that to the parents instead?

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Good bye, Year of the Rabbit!

 

If this were a coin would it be called "bunny money?"

Tomorrow begins the Chinese Year of the Dragon, and alas, we must say goodbye to the Year of the Rabbit.

According to lore, the Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be a year in which you can catch your breath.

Um, yeah.  Lore had to be referring to a different year than the one I had.  2011 pretty much kicked my butt, I don’t mind tellin’ ya.

The Year of the Dragon is supposed to be a very vibrant, dynamic time.  Also a time of prosperity, which I think we could all use for sure.

I will for sure miss some of the lovely Year of the Rabbit pictures I collected over the year, and I thought I would share them with you all one last time.  Here’s to a happy Year of the Dragon!

I love the "who, me?" expression! Someone must have shown him the feed bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The artwork here is simply beautiful.

More pretty stuff.

 

 

 

Goodbye, Year of the Rabbit! See you in twelve years!

 

Does anyone have any  plans or goals for the Year of the Dragon?  I can hardly wait to see what 2012 has to cough up, myself!

 

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2011 In Reflection

2011 was a busy year for The Rare Hare Barn.  We started out by finishing up the rehab and therapy on my leg, which I decided to break in 2010, just for kicks.  Who knew the doctor wasn’t kidding when she said it would take five months to get back to work?  And that she was serious when she said a year to a full recovery?  I guess that KU med school actually works, huh? Go figure.

So the spring was off to a slow start, but we more than made up for it in the closing months of 2011.

We had some record heat.  And I mean not just a little.  We had the hottest summer, and the most consecutive 100+ degree days since that little event called the dust bowl.  Combined with the heavens shutting off the faucet that provided rain in about June, the summer of 2011 sucked, to put it mildly.

We did lose several rabbits in the heat, but not as many as might be expected considering the extreme weather.  That, if nothing else is a testament to the hardiness of the heritage breeds of rabbit.  And once the initial “selection criteria” had been applied, the rest of the rabbits did pretty darn well.

In October, we visited our friends at Tilly Foster Farm in New York.  Tilly Foster is a wonderful historical farm featuring rare breeds of livestock, and a great conservation partner.  They have some of our American Blues, so it’s always a treat to visit them and see how the “kids” are doing.

Right before that, though, we had an adventure that wasn’t rabbit related at all.  As you may know, we also raise Pineywoods cattle, and as of this post, we had the only living bull representing the extremely valuable and critically endangered Palmer-Dunn strain. Oops.  This could be a problem.  Fortunately, there are three Pineywoods breeders who are very dedicated to the conservation of this particular strain, and a cooperative effort was made to collect our bull and cryopreserve his semen.

Yep, it’s exactly how it sounds.

And those of you who have met “Arnold”, our bull, know what a gentleman he is, and that we pretty much think the sun rises and sets on him.  So one of the big concerns we had was that he come out of the process as much of a gentleman as he went in, but the folks from Reproduction Enterprises Inc. in Oklahoma handled Arnold, and the whole process quite professionally, and the result was an impressive collection of Arnold’s semen that will help the Palmer-Dunn strain continue into the future.

Arnold

Very soon after arriving back from NY in October, we made arrangements to pick up some rabbits from a fellow breeder in Canada. The story is here.  The rabbits settled in quite nicely, but still have their accents.

The second weekend in November we hosted the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s Annual Conference and Member’s Meeting at the Sedgwick County Zoo.  These events are always a great deal of fun, and the only regret is that we don’t get more of an opportunity to talk in depth with some of the most interesting people working with rare breeds of livestock.

A personal highlight for Eric and me was being awarded the Bixby-Sponenberg Breed Conservation Award for our efforts in working with the heritage breeds of rabbit, as well as the Pineywoods cattle, and our Navajo-Churro, Karakul, and Jacob sheep.  When the award was presented, and our names were called, I think it’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been caught with nothing to say.

Bixby-Sponenberg Award

This award literally represents the who’s who in breed conservation, and while I can say I always wanted to be worthy of the award, I figured we had many more years of work before we deserved it.  So, now our challenge is to take our conservation efforts to the next level!

The July issue of National Geographic issue featured an article on rare breeds and genetic preservation, and the rabbit featured on the contents page is a Silver Fox courtesy of The Rare Hare Barn.  The cattle featured in the article are courtesy of the Sedgwick County Zoo, which as you know we have a strong connection with.  We had a blast hosting Nat Geo photographer Jim Richardson and his assistant Jim Turner, and a blast drinking a few adult beverages and eating some rabbit burgers afterwards.

Continuing in the photography vein, Storey Publications is coming out with a new book about rabbit housing in 2012, and pictures of our barns are planned to be included.   Good thing Eric got a new paint sprayer for his birthday and the barns got a fresh coat of paint!

My dream of being a published writer came true this year also, with an article in the fabulous magazine Grit.  My first job was carrying the Grit magazine when I was a little whippersnapper and the magazine was printed in newspaper format, so it was a nice little full circle that Grit published my first paid article.

May-June 2011 issue of Grit featuring yours truly!

Mother Earth News, a sister publication of Grit, published an article about raising rabbits, and Eric was interviewed for that article, and a couple of photographs of him and his favorite buns were included.

As the year wound down, we took our first Pineywoods calves to the locker, and we are currently in the process of heartily enjoying some of the freshest, leanest, most flavorful beef we have enjoyed in years. It’s amazing what a little wholesome fresh air, sunshine, and good forage will do for the end product.

We had a total of *** litters of rabbits born for the year.  Eric started out with our goal being to have 300, and darned if he isn’t an overachiever.  Our goal for 2012 is to have 400, and if he overachieves again we may have to hire that intern we’ve been talking about.

So, that’s our 2011 in a nutshell.  How was the year for you all, and what do you have planned for 2012?  Hopefully the weather will be a bit more cooperative, and all our endeavors will do well.

Wishing you all the best in 2012!

Eric and Callene and All the Critters

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The Great Canadian Hare Lift, 2011

So, you might remember that early last year, we sent some American Chinchilla rabbits to a rabbit friend in Canada.

It was quite an adventure, but the rabbits arrived at their destination safe and sound and only a trifle jet-lagged.  They then proceeded to do, well, what rabbits do, and apparently have left their genes all over Canada.

This year, the time came for us to get stock back from our friend in Canada.  Robert and Eric spent I-don’t-know-how-many phone calls discussing stock, traits and qualities, and finally we were ready to get the rabbits on the  plane south.

You might think that being on the receiving end would make me a little less stressed out, but you would be wrong.

At the Canadian airport

Should we change that to "Hare Canada Cargo"?

Shipping animals is always a bit of an adventure; and apparently I have a bit more of a control freak streak than I would like to admit, so it makes me seven different kinds of crazy no matter which way the rabbits are going.

I researched everything I could think of prior to getting things going.  Interestingly, every rule that applied shipping rabbits OUT of the U.S.  INTO Canada did not apply coming from Canada to the states.  Rabbits, even domestic ones, are covered under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife department and no permit, or any other paperwork is required.  And, Air Canada, unlike the major US carriers, does not require a health paper on animals.

I mentally pictured my worst case scenerio:  Not having filled out some dusty, mothball encrusted form only obtainable somewhere in the bowels of some government agents desk in Schenectady, thereby resulting in the rabbits being detained or deported or worse.

So,  I checked and rechecked the requirements; bugged the registrar at the zoo, (who has done all sorts international shipments for advice and fact checking until she politely told me that she had answered the same question three times and would I please leave her office) but apparently I did indeed have all my bases covered.

A normal person would have relaxed and not worried further.

What you can't see, is the little guy standing up is serving as a lookout so the other rabbits can stash their hockey gear!

As you might expect, I am not normal.

Robert got the flight booked, we had all the info and we were ready to make the trip.  I checked the address and called four different people at the KCI airport to just make sure I knew exactly where we were supposed to be and what time we were supposed to be there.  I called the Fish and Wildlife department to make sure they hadn’t changed the regulations in the last five minutes.  I called the customs office at KCI to make sure the inspection was the only thing required and there wasn’t some form that needed to have been filled out 37.5 hours prior to the time of departure and signed by a goat by the light of the new moon on a Tuesday.

We arrived at the cargo desk and then had nothing to do but wait until the inspector passed everything and our rabbits were released to our custody.

Cool! Hare Canada serves meals on their flights!

And, yes, we were early.

But, while we were waiting for our Air Canada flight to arrive, the inspector got called downtown to check out another shipment at the downtown airport. So of course, our rabbits arrived while he was gone, and there was nothing to do but wait.

The rabbits were there, and I could see them through the swinging door every time someone else came and went receiving their stuff.  So close and yet so far…

One of the airport K-9 units came through checking stuff out.  I could see the rabbits sitting on the table inside the door.  The canine member of the K-9 unit thought the rabbits were pretty fascinating and jumped up to sniff at them.

My first thought was how offended I would be if they decided to do a cavity search on my rabbits, and the second was how much jail time would I get for squaring off with a police dog if he decided to have rabbit tartare for dinner.  Fortunately, as the K-9 member of the unit is better housebroken than I am, both members of the unit moved along, and that question remains unanswered.

"Bye, everybody! We'll send a postcard, eh?"

And then at long last, the inspector returned, went through the paperwork, and was ready to release the rabbits….

but…

“What’s the value of these?  There isn’t anything on the paperwork other than ‘donation’.”

Now, surprisingly enough I am able to learn from other peoples experiences, so rather than try to explain the whole reciprocal genetic trade thing and repeating Robert’s experience in Canada, I just blurted out “About $100.”  This seemed to be the right answer, because he signed everything and sent us on our way.  Truth is, you can’t put a value on new bloodlines, but it didn’t seem to be worth debating.

We got the new kids home, and they’ve settled in nicely.

The only thing missing is a haz-mat sticker!

Although they are a bit disappointed in the warm weather cutting into their hockey time.  (Oh, come on, they’re from Canada,  you had to know there would be a hocky joke somewhere!)

We are tickled to have them, and can’t thank Robert enough for setting things up and being such a great conservation partner!  And for providing the photos.

American Chins rule!

"Who is this chick and why does she talk so funny, eh?"

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Rare Hare Air Lift 2010

* This post was originaly posted on my blogspot blog, which died a terrible screaming death in August of last year.  I’m reposting it here because there is actually a part two to this story wich will be up later this week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rare Hare Air Lift 2010
Our latest adventure involved sending some American Chinchilla rabbits to a fellow breeder in Canada.Yep, Canada. We are now an “international incident”!

The logistics itself were an adventure, and I won’t go into too much detail about the headaches I got while working with the company we used to book the flight. I did decide that I can give myself headaches better than anyone else, so the next time, I’m taking it on personally.  If I’m going to be driven to drinking or swearing, I want to be able to blame myself.

Here are some photos of the process.
The crate looked like we were shipping rabid squirrels before we were done with it. 17 zip ties, three square feet of hardware cloth, a handful of washers and bolts, and these dangerous animals were ready to go.

The Gang of Three

The rabbits are eagerly anticipating their new adventure. I think.

And here they are arrived in their new home. The doe does look a bit jet lagged, doesn’t she?

Robert reports that they seem to be settling in nicely, none the worse for wear for an extra night on the road. We are super excited about exchanging these does for some of his stock later this spring. Our rabbits couldn’t be in better hands.
One interesting wrinkle that occured, when Robert picked his rabbits up at the airport, the customs agent was flummoxed by the notion that we had just given these rabbits to Robert. He didn’t even seem to get the notion that it was intended as a reciprocal trade.
As any of you that work with rare breeds knows, finding new blood isn’t an easy task. These little pockets of diversity aren’t around the corner, down the street, or often even in the neighboring states. Heck, even in the same country!

It involves a lot of planning, travel, and yes, money. It isn’t a task for the faint hearted, or the easily discouraged. It’s a commitment, in every sense of the word, because some days, you will wonder if you should be committed.

But, when you build relationships with other breeders, with like minded folks who get it, get the importance of genetic conservation, why it’s important, and why we have to do it, and are willing to go the extra mile with you, it makes everything worthwhile.
Here’s to another “international incident!”

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Beef Comparison: Pineywoods vs. grocery store

We picked up our first Pineywoods beef from the locker last week.  It looked really good,  with nice color appearing very, very lean, as you would expect grassfed beef to be.  But in the interest of science, we thought we would compare it to some beef bought in the grocery store to see if we could really tell a difference, or if it was just in our minds.

We scanned the grocery store meat aisle, and found a package of comparably sized patties.  These were ground chuck, but the interesting thing was in the same bin were two packages with COOL (country of origin labeling) one from the USA, the other from the USA, Canada, and Mexico.  Hmmm.  Needless to say for comparisons sake, we chose the more “local” patties.

Sterling Silver beef patties

Pineywoods beef patty

Pineywoods Steakburger patty

We cooked both sets of patties in the cast iron skillet under the same heat.  The store bought patties were quite a bit thicker and took longer to cook, which wouldn’t have been too much of an issue, but dang, they smoked the heck out of my kitchen!  I was waiting for the smoke detector to go off.

The store bought patties were still pretty lean, so I have no clue where all that smoke came from, but it was pretty nasty.

The Pineywoods patties were thinner, and cooked in about half the time, and absolutely no smoke.  There was also no grease left in the skillet.

Side by side, guess which one is the Pineywoods?

So then it was time to taste them.  We cooked these both with no seasoning at all, just to get a good flavor of what the meat actually tasted like.  I’m not a professional food critic, so my vocabulary isn’t the greatest, but the only way t0 describe it was that the store bought patties tasted really washed out.  There was also a kind of aftertaste that while it wasn’t awful, just wasn’t pleasant.

The Pineywoods, on the other hand, tasted very clean and fresh, and had a really nice meat flavor. 

There was a marked difference in the patty shrinkage, also.  The store patties weighed 5.2 oz before cooking and 3.2 oz after cooking.  There didn’t seem to be that much grease in the skillet though, so one oz must have gone up in smoke.  The Pineywoods patties weighed 4 oz before cooking and 3 oz afterwards.  So the total weight of both cooked patties was the same, there was just less lost to…well, smoke.  And I’m pretty sure nobody wants to pay for smoke.

Skillet after store bought patty.

We cooked the rest of the patties of both species, with a little salt and pepper, and again while seasoning improved the store patties, it really didn’t cover the washed out taste.

So we have learned a couple of things here:

1.  In the unlikely event we buy store beef again, Eric is not allowed to cook it inside. Period.

Um...Ew! Thats on my curtains now!

Skillet after Pineywoods.

2.  There is indeed a favorable difference in both flavor and leanness in grassfed Pineywoods beef.

Can’t wait to try the T-bones!   Go Pineywoods!

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Rabbit Recipe: Rabbit Pot Pie

This was a recipe I found in a magazine a while back, that is actually a recipe for a chicken pot pie, but as you might imagine, we don’t eat a lot of chicken in this house.  Many chicken recipes can be modified to work with rabbit, the main thing is to remember that rabbit is even leaner than chicken and care has to be taken to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

This being a slow cooker recipe it promised to be relatively simple and easy and that is what I need most days. It promised to take only about 15 minutes of “active time” so if it turned out okay, this would be a keeper.

The Recipe:

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 TBSP all-purpose flour

Kosher salt and pepper

4 medium carrots cut into 1″ pieces

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 onion, chopped

1 1/2 lbs deboned chicken RABBIT cut into 1″ pieces

1 cup frozen peas

3 tbsp fresh dill sprigs

1 sheet frozen puff pastry thawed, and one egg beaten. *

Seems simple enough.

I started by deboning the rabbit, which to be blunt, I suck at.  First off, I’m not that good with a knife, and rabbit is easier to debone when it’s still slightly frozen, but my fingers get colder and even clumsier and you can imagine how that usually winds up. I’m trying to learn, but out of respect for the poor rabbit, Eric bailed me out and helped me finish deboning. He makes it look so easy.  (This would be a good place to plug the new boneless rabbit meat product available from The Rare Hare Barn!)

Anyway:

1) In 5-6 qt. slow cooker, whisk together wine, flour, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. I didn’t have any dry white wine, because I don’t like to drinkdry white wine, so what’s the point of having wine in your house that you don’t like to drink?  I used Reisling, which is not as good for cooking and gave the recipe a sweeter taste, but left almost an entire bottle to sip while waiting for the slow cooker to do it’s magic. Win Win!

2)  Add carrots, celery, onion and chicken and toss to combine.  Cook covered, until rabbit is done, 6-7 hours on low, 4-5 hours on high.  My crock pot is apparently a little hot, it took 4 hours on low.  It was a small amount of filling, though, so that might have made a difference too. 

 

Yummers! Smelled pretty good too!

 

3)  When rabbit has 30 minutes left, begin cooking puff pastry according to directions.

*  I didn’t have any puff pastry, never seen it before in my life, but it sounds yummy.  I decided since I didn’t have any, I would use biscuit dough instead, turned out I didn’t have any Grands or Bisquick, so I had to make some from scratch using a great recipe from Grit’s Guide to Baking.   I’m sure either of the other options would work just fine, but I like the satisfaction of pummeling the dough into submission making bread from scratch.

Ready for baking!

4) When the rabbit mixture was just about done, I poured it into a baking dish and  covered it with the dough, and baked it according to the biscuit recipe.

Voila!

Wow! Someone dove in before I could get a picture!

One thing I did notice was that the biscuit dough absorbed a lot of the moisture from the rabbit mix, which made it take longer to cook, but wound up with the sopped biscuit dough having a delightful texture and flavor.

Verdict:  Very easy and three clean plates!

Apparently, it was edible!

Notes for next time: Eric said he thought it was missing something. (I forgot the dill!) I think the sweeter wine probably affected the flavor but he also said he thought my Cheddar Parmesan biscuits would have been better.  Regardless, this recipe was very easy and came out very nicely, so I would definitely recommend it!

Let me know if anyone tries this and how it worked for you!

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