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.

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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.”

To Market, To Market

It’s been an interesting winter.  Powerful storms have dropped feet of snow, only to melt during the next cycle of upward temperatures.  Regardless of what goes on outside, I love this time of the year. We savor indoor activities like reading, contemplation, projects and weekend visitors.  We vacillate between soups or stews to gratins and roasts.

We eat differently in winter.  I tend to cook food that takes more time and intention.  Is there anything better than the aroma of Sunday dinner wafting through the kitchen?  One of my favorites is stuffing a pork loin with porcini mushrooms and dried apples.   So enjoyed by my family, it has replaced our traditional turkey at Thanksgiving.   It’s a perfect dinner for company, when you want to create something special.  Each spiral slice looks beautiful on a plate.

Fortunate for us, we have options for great grass-fed beef and milk-fed pork at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market in Grand Rapids, Michigan where we are seasonal vendors.  With high-quality meat, this is a entree worthy of the season.

Proscuitto-Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted Apples

Filling:

  • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup dried apples
  • 1 lb Tuscan kale, bottom stems removed
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp cognac (I use Hennessy)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb ground pork

Pork:

  • 1 trimmed and butterflied 2.5-3.0 lbs pork loin (have your butcher do it for you or follow directions below)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 medium apples (such as Granny Smith or Fuji), quartered
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup hard cider
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Filling:  

Place dried mushrooms and dried apples in separate bowls.  Add 1 cup boiling water to each bowl.  Let mushrooms and apples soak until very soft, about 30 minutes.  Strain mushrooms.  Cover and chill mushroom soaking liquid.  Drain apples, discarding liquid.  Finely chop mushrooms and apples, combine in a small bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, blanch kale in boiling salted water for 1 minute, until wilted.  Using tongs, transfer kale to a bowl of ice water.  Drain on paper towels, once cooled completely.  Remove any large ribs.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion; cook, stirring often, until soft and golden, about 8 minutes.  Add mushrooms and apples; cook, stirring occasionally until flavors meld, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme and rosemary; cook for 1 minutes.  Add cognac and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to bowl, let cool completely.  Add ground pork and combine well.

Pork:

Open butterflied pork loin, cover with plastic wrap. (If your pork loin in not butterflied, do the following:  Put pork loin on a work surface and beginning along one long side, cut 1/2 inch above the underside of the loin. Continue slicing slowly inward, pulling back the meat with your free hand and unrolling the loin like a carpet, until the entire loin is flat.)  Using a meat mallet, point to an even thickness.

Stuffing just before assembly

Stuffing just before assembly2.

Uncover pork, season with salt and pepper.  Place kale leaves on top of loin in an even layer, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1 inch border.  Spread filling on top of kale.  Roll pork into tight cylinder.  Wrap one layer of prosciutto around roast.  Tie roast securely with kitchen twine in 1 inch intervals.  Tuck rosemary sprigs under twine, spacing apart.  Roast can be made 1 day ahead.  If making ahead, cover and chill., then let stand at room temperature for one hour before continuing.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place apples in a roasting pan.  Melt 1 Tbsp butter with oil in a large skillet on medium-high.  Brown pork roast on all sides, about 5 minutes total, then set on top of apples in roasting pan. Add hard cider and 1/2 cup of water to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits in pan.  Pour mixture into roasting pan.  Roast pork until an instant-read thermometer reaches 140 degrees, about 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Let roast rest for at least 20-30 minutes.

Pork loin stuffed, tied and ready for searing

Pork loin stuffed, tied and ready for searing

Place roast on platter.  Reserve apples from roasting pan; spoon off fat from juices in pan.  Place pan on top of stove over medium-high heat.  Add chicken stock and reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind, and cook, scraping bottom of pan to release any browned bits, until slightly thickened; about 5 minutes.  Whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Strain sauce; slice pork.  Serve apples and sauce along side pork.

Serves: 6-8

 “As long as you have food in your mouth, you have  solved all questions for the time being.”  –Frank Kafka

Made For Each Other

Don’t we all know when certain combinations go together?  Like tomato and basil, greens and eggs, steak and mushrooms, bacon and everything!   Each day can be an adventure in eating!  When we eat the magic that each season offers there are combinations that are savory surprises.  This week we needed to use some of the acorn squash we were storing.  We thought a pairing with chicken thighs was a simple, yet delicious combination.  Quick, easy and satisfying, you can put this together in no time and your family will love the results.

ROASTED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH ACORN SQUASH:

  • 1 lemon, ends trimmed, halved and cut into wedges
  • 6 bone-in, skin-on chick thighs
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup local maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 medium acorn squash, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch rings
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Marinating chicken thighs

Marinating chicken thighs

  1. In a a large bowl, toss chicken thighs with lemon slices, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, sage, coriander, salt and pepper.  Let stand 30 minutes to an hour.
  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine syrup, butter, additional salt and cumin.  Simmer for 3 minutes.  Toss mixture with squash slices.
  4. Spread squash in a 9×13 inch pan. Nestle chicken and lemon on top of squash.  Roast for 30 minutes.  In a small bowl, toss scallions with 1 tsp of olive oil.  Scatter over squash;  keep roasting until chicken is no longer pink, about 30-40 minutes more.
Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Serves 4

“All the statistics in the world, can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”

Savory combination of squash and chicken.

Savory combination of squash and chicken.