Dreams are free; what about chickens?

Should bloggers accept freebies in exchange for reviews?

This is question being discussed on many a UK food blog at the moment and it looks like most of us are in agreement – yes to freebies with a number of provisos:-

* Free products or services do not guarantee a positive review; this should be made clear to the person/ organisation providing the freebie.
* The blogger should disclose that they received the product or service for free in the resulting blog post.
* The blogger should do their best to assess and write about the product or service as objectively as possible.

To that, I add the following:-

* Rather than accepting freebies indiscriminately, it is best to stick to products and services that the blogger would genuinely consider purchasing and which fit well with the everyday content of their blog.

Abel & Cole
Abel & Cole‘s PR people have been busy bees indeed having recently approached a broad assortment of UK food bloggers asking whether we’d like to review Abel & Cole products. Many of you will no doubt have read several of the resulting blog posts already.

Certainly, Pete and I are the target audience for such a scheme to have organic food produce delivered directly to our door. Only recently we purchased a box of organic meats from The Well Hung Meat Company and are planning to trial other similar suppliers before deciding which one, if any, to place an ongoing order with. Infact, we’re so much the target audience that we were long term paying customers in the past. We stopped buying from Abel & Cole because of repeated quality issues with the produce we received.

I explained this to the PR and said that, provided A & C were ok with my having been a customer before, I’d be willing to receive fruit and veg, to assess whether the quality issues we experienced previously are a thing of the past. But that I’d be far more interested in trialling their free-range and organic meat products, given how this fits into what I’m exploring at the moment.

Back when we first ordered a veg box, several years ago, there weren’t that many companies delivering such produce to London addresses. For us, one of the things that drew us to A &C’s over their competitors, was the flexibility of their Dislikes list. Instead of being able to list only 2 or 3 things we didn’t want to receive, A & C allowed us to provide a list of up to 20 things not to send. On the surface this sounds like a lot but their full list numbers in the hundreds which puts a mere 20 blocks into perspective. So I logged in with the new ID and password provided. The interface has improved since I was a paying customer and it’s even easier to specify items you don’t want to receive (for the next order only or ever) and even what you particularly like and would be happy to receive often.

I also provided information on where the box could be left if we were not home, together with a comment that at least one of is working from home most days, so please ring the bell.

The first black mark came when we discovered the box had been delivered on Friday morning without ringing the bell and left in the specified place in our side alley. With four people in the house, two of whom were awake pretty early, not to mention one of the loudest bell ringers known to man, this was disappointing.

Still, I was excited to see what we’d been sent. Safe in the cool embrace of a polystyrene box and nestled within ice packs was my free-range chicken with giblets. Weighing in at 1.9 kilos, 300 grams over the specified weight, the meat appeared dense and nicely coloured and went straight into the fridge to be cooked over the weekend.

My chicken!

As it happened, the contents of the last week’s medium mixed organic fruit & veg box corresponded with a number of items on my dislike list so there were a few swap outs.

Altogether we have: apples, carrots, green cabbage, jersey royal potatoes, a punnet of nectarines, spring onions, a mango, mushrooms and two large bags of spinach.

The fruit seems to be in good condition, assuming the mango and the nectarines ripen properly. The apples feel a touch softer than I’d like, but at least they aren’t wrinkly, as occured in the past.

For some reason, I got two huge portions of spinach, which, given the aged yellowing appearance of a few of the leaves, is probably going to lead to wastage. The leaves are picked much larger than I prefer too – to the extent that I didn’t even recognise them as spinach until I checked the contents list on the side of the box!

The potatoes, mushrooms and spring onions looked fine.

The worst items in the box were the carrots. These were so old they were rubbery. One was already broken in half and the rest I could bend almost double without snapping! Comparing this with a carrot we pulled up from our garden the same day, these were clearly not remotely fresh, nor had they been well stored.

Slow Cooker Chicken
I posted about borrowing my mum’s slow cooker before deciding whether to buy our own. Our greatest success came with cooking a whole chicken over several hours. What I particularly liked, as well as the succulence of the meat, was the large quantity of excellent stock and leftover meat, which we used for a number of additional meals. As mum’s slow cooker has long since been returned, we finally bought our own on Saturday, ready to cook the chicken on Sunday.

As the carrots were so unappealing, I decided to relegate them to stock making duties – scrubbed and chopped, with manky bits discarded, they went into the bottom of the pot. With them I threw in a small onion, peeled and quartered, a few bay leaves and then the chicken itself. (Giblets put aside in the fridge). Over this I poured water and half a bottle of white wine. After an hour and a half on high, I turned the slow cooker down to low for the next 5 hours.

In the slow cooker

Cooked this way, the chicken becomes so incredibly soft and tender that, no matter how careful you are, it disintegrates as you lift it out of the pot. Pete plonked the resulting pieces into a large dish and I picked and pulled every last scrap of meat away from the carcass while he sieved the utterly delicious stock into a container for the freezer. The meat was enough for four portions (for the two of us) of which one was set aside for dinner that evening, another for the next evening and the rest into the freezer as well.

Given the heat of the day (not to mention a large lunch at our local Italian) we decided to keep it light. For dinner we made a simple salad, similar to one I posted about last week. Chopped raw sugarsnaps, thinly sliced red onion, halved cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves with the addition of the soft, shredded chicken meat. All mixed with a simple dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and honey. Delicious!

The finished chicken salad

And for dessert, while Pete had some fresh fruit, I went for a savoury of fried chicken heart and chicken liver. Absolutely delicious!

Using the same carrots and onions, I threw in the chicken carcass and skin plus the bird’s neck and covered with more water and the rest of the bottle of white wine. Left to cook overnight, a second stock was produced. Before I tried this, I would have been convinced that the second stock would be weak and insipid but, having done this three times now, I can assure you that it’s still full of flavour.

We’ll be using this second stock, some of the chicken meat and the spring onions from the box to make a simple, delicious and filling risotto for our Monday night dinner.

So far, it’s top marks on the quality of their meat, but a detention for the quality of some of the fruit and veg. I’ll report on the risotto later in the week and let you know how the rest of the fruit and veg are soon.


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