Author Archives for twistedbasics

About twistedbasics

Welcome! Food is my focus, livelihood, art form and my passion. My wife and I run a 5.5 acre organic vegetable farm. Join me fellow foodie as we explore the changing seasons and the food it brings.

Low and Slow

It’s official, all the ice is off our lake.  The yellow finches are turning color; the sand-hill cranes and Canadian geese have returned to nest along the reeds.  Spring is raising her head in triumph!  Although it might seem early, we have already planted 4000 hard neck garlic, and 6000 onions (only 20,000 to go)! Granted, there are many different varieties in that total, but call us crazy!

Once our growing season starts, our slow-cooker is a godsend.  You can take a shoulder roast, or some other muscular cut and turn it into something so tender, you can cut it with a fork.  We come in with aching muscles and are greeted with the smell of something luscious.  Hot shower, before dinner cocktail and dinner is ready…

Slow-Cooked Brisket and Onions:

Caramelizing onions in Val's grandma's cast iron skillet

Caramelizing onions in Val’s grandma’s cast iron skillet

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large yellow or red onions, sliced into half moons
  • 3-4 lb grass-fed beef brisket
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups homemade beef stock (you can use organic in a carton also)
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp tamari
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat with the olive oil.  Add the onions and cook on medium-low, stirring frequently, for about 20-30 minutes or until the onions are starting to turn golden and caramelize.
  2. While the onions are cooking, pat the brisket dry with paper-towels and season generously with salt and pepper.  When the onions are done, place them in a bowl and set aside.  Turn the heat up to medium-high (along with your vent or fan).  Sear the each side of the brisket until a golden crust has formed, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from skillet and place in the slow-cooker.
  3. Sprinkle the garlic over the meat.  Mix together the stock, Worcestershire sauce and tamari and pour into the slow-cooker insert.  Top with the reserved onions, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Beautiful golden crust

Beautiful golden crust

Garlic and brisket, ready for onions

Garlic and brisket, ready for onions

4.  When the brisket is very tender, turn your slow-cooker to the warm setting for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a warm  setting, remove the brisket from the cooker, place in a baking dish and cover with foil for the same amount of time.

5.  After you have let the brisket rest for 30 minutes, it should be tender enough to take a piece of it, and place in on a platter.  Take two forks and pull or shred the brisket, pulling in opposite directions.  Continue with the rest of the brisket until it is all shredded.  Top with onions and several ladles of au jus from the insert. Garnish with fresh parsley.  Serve of mashed potatoes or rice, with extra au jus on the side.

Succulent, tender, perfection!

Succulent, tender, perfection!

Serves 6-8

Note:  Don’t have a slow cooker?  Cook in a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid on 325 degrees F for 3-4 hours or until very tender.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt,”  —Margaret Atwood

Getting My Spring Back

I sometimes find it difficult to rest when there is so much work to do.  Spring is fast approaching with its intense and frantic schedule. We are poised to start greenhouse planting in two weeks; yet I have not regained the energy level I need to be a full and active partner on our farm.  Anemia is a process that can’t be rushed.  I sleep 10-12 hours each night, eat whole foods and…..wait.  My partner Val moves forward in her typical upbeat way without complaint, doing more than her share and then some.  I am held gently in the home that Val built, as I learn over and over the definition of patience.

There is a rhythm to the heart beat of life.  The ice on the lake doesn’t melt  at the first rise in temperature.  The buds on trees are set in the fall, waiting for the days to lengthen before they swell enough to expose their leaf or flower.  During injury or illness we must nurture ourselves with deep rest, so we can walk before we run.  This requires a certain level of trust in silence, in things unseen, in opening to the rebirth in spring.

Val and I put up a great deal of food during the growing season.  We roast and can dozens of quarts of tomatoes in their many forms, make jams for holiday gift giving, freeze assorted vegetables and fruit.  We do this partly to extend the season; a memory evoked each time we stir a sauce, eat a pickle or spread a jam.  It invites the warmth of the growing season into our home, while the land waits under feet of snow.

Although we are now getting low on our quarts of tomatoes, they were used in many dishes that were shared with friends and family.  In lieu of home-canned tomatoes, use Muir Glenn’s Diced Fire-Roasted which are a wonderful option. The following Lamb Ragu is savory and goes well over pasta (for those who can tolerate wheat) spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles or as we did yesterday sauteed diced zucchini.  Your choice.

Lamb Ragu:

  • 2 lbs grass-fed ground lamb
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 32 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 6 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise, then diced
  • pecorino, feta or fresh chopped parsley for garnish
  1. Heat olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high.  Add carrots, onions and garlic; saute for 4 minutes or until onion is soft.  Add ground lamb, breaking up meat and incorporating into vegetables; cook for 8-10 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink.
  2. Add oregano, thyme, cinnamon, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.  Cook 3-4 more minutes.
  3. Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce; turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While the sauce is simmering, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in 12 inch skillet on medium-high.  Add diced zucchini and saute, stirring frequently until lightly browned.
Sauteing diced zucchini

Sauteing diced zucchini

IMG_1051

Hot and savory lamb ragu

5.  Place sauteed zucchini in individual bowls, top with sauce and sprinkle on garnish of your choice.

Warm and inviting

Warm and inviting

Serves 6-8

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” —Ovid

Slow Dance Perfection

The snow is melting.  The deck was warm enough for morning coffee.  Bleu chased his Frisbee with abandon.  The slow dance of spring has started.  I’m a turtle personality by nature.  I’ve always preferred slow to fast (except in cars!) and like the length and depth of things in general.  This applies to the transition of the seasons, as well as the time it takes to produce a meat that is tender and succulent.  Although I prefer slow-roasting in the oven during winter; you cannot beat the convenience of a slow-cooker. We even use it during the summer since it doesn’t heat up the kitchen.

There is something about pork shoulder that makes me salivate.  First of all, it’s versatile; change up the spices and you can pair it up with several cuisines.  My favorites are Cuban and Mexican.  The cut is affordable and you can locate quality milk-fed pork locally.  Karin Uebbing from Woodbridge Dairy Farm has pork shoulders that are a perfect size, running approximately 3 pounds each.  This assures me that the pigs aren’t ancient, and overly fatty. They fit perfectly into a average size slow-cooker and turn into something luscious after 8-10 hours on low.  Bring on the Margaritas!

Brickyard Farms Pork Carnitas With Avocado Lime Dressing:

Healthy milk-fed local pork

Healthy milk-fed local pork

  • 3-4 lbs milk-fed pork shoulder
  • 2 Tbsp bacon grease
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
  • 2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp green Tabasco sauce
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  1. Smear the bacon grease on the bottom of the slow-cooker.  Pour orange juice over pork. Combine sea salt, cumin, ancho chile powder and oregano and sprinkle on top of pork shoulder.  Sprinkle onion, garlic and green Tabasco over the pork.
  2. Turn on the slow cooker on:  Low for 8-10 hours or High for 4-6 hours.  Once the pork is fork-tender, use two forks to shred the meat into the juices.  Pull out pork with a slotted spoon and place on platter.  Top with chopped fresh cilantro.
  3. Serve over rice, turn into a salad with chopped avocado, tomatoes and black olives; or make it Paleo friendly and place it on romaine leaves with the toppings of your choice.
Beautiful, tender carnitas

Beautiful, tender carnitas

Avocado Lime Dressing:

  • 2 ripe fresh avocado, put removed
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup soy-free or homemade mayo
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp green Tabasco

Blend in a blender on low until thoroughly blended.

Flavorful carnita salad with avocado lime dressing

Flavorful carnita salad with avocado lime dressing

Carnita shell-less tacos

Carnita shell-less tacos

Perfect Margarita:

  • 1 1/2 oz blanco tequila of your choice
  • 3/4 oz Cointreu or triple sec
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice

Rim chilled cocktail glass with lime and salt.  Shake remaining ingredients with ice and strain into glass.

“Life without Mexican food is like no life at all!”  —unknown

Cabbage Rolls Revisited

I love cabbage rolls.  My mother-in-law Elsa made them for me the first time in the early 80’s.  she mixed beef and pork together with onions and rice, placed them in cabbage leaves and tied them with thread.  She called this peasant-food.  Her son John and I called it heaven.  The first time I tried making cabbage rolls I was surprise just how bad I was at getting the leaves separated from the head in one piece.  I kept saying, “It can’t be that hard!”  I decided to get out of the box and approach it differently.  Why not turn it into a casserole I thought?  It would be less time-consuming and we could enjoy it more often.  While I was getting out of the box, I decided to use ground lamb, different spices and feta for a different take on it completely.

3049

Assembling the ingredients

Doing the cabbage ‘rolls’ as a casserole allowed me to follow my own whimsy.  I could shake it up a bit with non-traditional spices and be able to enjoy more cabbage in the process.

Lots more cabbage!

Lots more cabbage!

Cabbage and Lamb Casserole:

  • 1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 lbs), core removed, halved and sliced into 1/2 inch sections
  • 1 lb grass-fed ground lamb
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large farm-fresh egg
  • 8 oz (1 cup) crumbled local feta
  • 1/2 cup short-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (11/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (I use our own canned tomatoes)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (I also used homemade)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 13×9 inch casserole dish with ghee.
  2. Cut cabbage in half, core, then slice in 1/2 inch wedges.  Place the wedges in casserole dish so they overlap each other in two rows.
  3. In a large bowl, use your hand to combine the lamb, onion, egg, rice, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, feta, cumin, fennel, salt and pepper.  Place mixture on top of cabbage, leaving a 1 inch space round the sides of the casserole so that the cabbage shows through.
  4. Combine the tomatoes and chicken broth in a medium bowl, then pour the mixture over the meat.  Cover with foil (shiny side down).
  5. Bake covered for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes.  Let stand 15 minutes.

Serves 6

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

New Traditions!

New Traditions!

“A smiling face is half the meal.”  —Latvian quote

Love Me Tender, Chuck

Although we are vegetable farmers, there are few things we enjoy more than a tender succulent roast, slow cooked in the oven (or crock-pot) that yields multiple meals. We are so fortunate to have easy access to beautiful grass-fed beef and lamb, along with milk-fed pork at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market where we are seasonal vendors.  In fact, Karin Uebbing from Woodbridge Dairy Farm in Byron Center, Michigan and I have decided to collaborate on a cookbook.  Bits, Bones and Pieces  will highlight the many ways to enjoy beef and pork; even those unusual cuts that sometimes baffle us.  During this process, I am learning a great deal about dairy farming and raising healthy livestock, and Karin (not to mention her family) are expanding their culinary horizons.  It certainly seems like a win, win!

Karin, who is known for her straight forward assessments of how she sees things has said, “All farms are like humans; no two are exactly the same and one type vs. another type is not good or bad, simply different.” Woodbridge Dairy Farm is one of the many farms going the extra mile by making the decision to build a sustainable, well-run farm that uses traditional methods that include the elimination of chemicals and pesticides, and utilizing pasture rotation for an environment that produces healthy livestock.  As a customer, I enjoy knowing where my meat is coming from, as well as the satisfaction of supporting another farmer in their quest to produce a quality local product.

Farmers are often passionate people to love to share their commitment to their farm and the customers they serve. They patiently answer question from folks who don’t necessarily know what they do, or how they do it.  For them, big is not always better.  In fact for many, quality is far more important than quantity.

Love Me Tender Beef Chuck Roast:

  • 3-5 lb grass-fed chuck roast
  • 3 Tbsp ghee
  • 1 1/2 cups whole shallots
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and separated
  • 6-8 whole carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 3 cups whole small potatoes
  • 1 cup good red wine
  • 3 cups homemade beef stock (unsalted commercial in a pinch)
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Beautiful 4 lb grass-fed beef roast

Beautiful 4 lb grass-fed beef roast

Seared to perfection

Seared to perfection

  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Dry roast with paper towels.  Generously salt and pepper.
  2. Heat ghee in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add  the whole shallots to the pot, browning them on all sides.  Remove the shallots to a plate.
  3. Throw the carrots into the same very hot pot and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so.  Reserve the carrots with the shallots.
  4. Turn the burner on high and add a bit more ghee to the very hot pot (make sure your fan is on!). Place the roast in the pot and sear it for about 2 minutes on each side until it is nice and brown all over.  Remove the roast to a plate.
  5. With the burner still on high, deglaze the pot with a red wine, scraping the bits from the bottom with a whisk.  Add the beef stock.  Place the roast back into the pot and top with the shallots, carrots, garlic, potatoes and herbs.
  6. Cover and place in oven for 3 hours.  The roast in tender when it’s fall-apart tender. This can take up to 4 hours total.  Serve with vegetables.  Pass sauce.

Serves 4-6

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

“Never eat more than you can lift.”  —Miss Piggy

Liquid Gold

It’s March 1st and winter still has us in her clutches, with no sign of letting go anytime soon.  I tell myself “no problem” and head into our basement to see what vegetables are still holding up.  I find both white and orange sweet potatoes and carrots still in good condition.  I dig around the freezer and find a quart of homemade chicken stock.  I grab some onions and garlic and head back upstairs.

Whenever I want to make soup using root vegetables, I find I like to roast them first.  It always gives the soup much more depth, not to mention those warming smells in the kitchen.  As I’ve mentioned both in my previous blog Basics With A Twist, and this one, I always lean toward the savory,  I enjoy herbs and spices and love what they do to food.  It’s really ethnic cooking at its finest.

With this soup I’ll roast the sweet potatoes and carrots to make a puree for the base.  While they’re in the oven I will toast cumin and coriander seeds.  Toasting whole seeds releases a flavor far superior to purchased ground spices; you’ll find the scents exotic and sensual.  Although you can grind them in a spice mill, I prefer to use a granite mortar and pestle. I also use shallots, rather than onion, and brown them slightly.  I like how the sweetness of the root vegetables pairs with the intensity of the spices.  Puree it altogether with a bit of apple cider vinegar and it really comes alive.  I enjoy topping it with toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and chopped cilantro.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup:

  • 6 cups sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups carrot, peeled and sliced into 2 inch sections
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 3/4 tsp cumin seed, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed, toasted and ground
  • 1 1/2  cups shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 Tbsp ghee
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2  tsp ground cayenne
  • 1 14oz can full-fate coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Perfectly roasted veggies

Perfectly roasted veggies

Toasted cumin and coriander seeds

Toasted cumin and coriander seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and cut sweet potatoes and carrots; place in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt.  Toss until well coated; place on large sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Place in oven for 40 minutes or until soft; turning vegetables halfway through. Cool.
  2. While vegetables are roasting, place cumin and coriander seeds in small dry skillet over medium heat and toast until lightly brown.  Grind in mortar and pestle or in spice grinder.  Set aside.
  3. After vegetables are cool, place half of them in a blender with some of the chicken stock and puree until smooth;  pour into large bowl and set aside; repeat with remaining vegetables and stock.
  4. Melt ghee and olive oil in large pot.  Add sliced shallots and pressed garlic.  Saute on medium until soft.  Add ground cumin, coriander, salt and ginger.  Stir for 1 minute.  Add cinnamon and cayenne.
  5. Pour half of vegetable puree into pot with shallots and blend with stick blender until smooth.  Add remaining puree and coconut milk.  Heat on low until warmed through.  Add apple cider vinegar and mix well.
  6. Ladle into bowls, topping with a few pepitas and chopped cilantro.

Serves: 6-8

Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold

“Soup is a lot like a family.  Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor.”  —-Marge Kennedy

 

Little Things Mean A Lot

Initially, when we went grain-free, we thought it might be a difficult transition.  Being foodies, we were anxious to understand the perimeters of this life-style approach and how we might use our creativity to still make food that excited us.  When looking for inspiration, I often go to my collection of ethnic cookbooks.  I was not disappointed; we love Middle Eastern, Indian and Mediterranean food.  I was soon mixing up a concoction of ground turkey, shredded zucchini, herbs and garlic into small meatballs that were first browned in a pan, then finished in the oven.  Topped with a soothing sauce of homemade yogurt, sour cream, lemon juice and sumac, they are perfect as an appetizer or served on top of a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, feta and sunflower sprouts.

Moral of the story:  change doesn’t have to be difficult, and little things mean a lot.

Zucchini and herbs at the ready

Zucchini and herbs at the ready

Turkey-Zucchini Meatballs With Lemon Sumac Sauce:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp cumin seed, toasted and ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp ghee

Lemon Sumac Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup homemade or Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sumac (found in Middle-Eastern grocery stores)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Browning in ghee

Browning in ghee

  1. First make the lemon-sumac sauce by placing all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Stir well and chill until needed.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the ghee.  Mix with your hands (you will really get a better result) then shape into small meatballs about the size of golf ball.
  3. Melt the ghee in a 12 inch skillet on medium-high heat.  Add meatballs, making sure to leave room between them.  Saute on each side until browned, about 4 minutes per side.
  4. Place browned meatballs on a cookie-sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place in oven and bake for 7-10 minutes.
  5. Place on platter and pass sauce; or place on top of salad.
Delicious and savory

Delicious and savory

“THE SECRET OF
CHANGE lS TO FOCUS
ALL OF YOUR ENERGY
NOT ON FIGHTING THE
OLD BUT ON BUILDING
THE NEW.”