Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, I got my pig. Well… WE got OUR pig. Part of it anyway. There was a mix up at the butcher, so I’m still minus ham, and ham steaks, and ALL THE BACON… but we’ll fix that soon enough.

Spareribs, baby back ribs, tenderloin, pork roasts, chops, shoulder steaks, sweet Italian sausage… I honestly cannot WAIT to try out all the recipes swirling around my head.

So, our visit to ION Farms in Nanjemoy was awesome! Lee and Tasha are super cool people who treat their animals a lot like pets. I got to meet a bunch of them, including the new breeding piglets. They’re all little redheads… good thing I didn’t meet this cuteness FIRST, I couldn’t stand it.

Look! Ginger piglets!

Goats, cows, chickens, guineafowl, rabbits, a mama cat and her kittens… Lee and Tasha have a cross between a menagerie and a petting zoo. As Lee puts it “we know the eventual purpose of these animals, but that doesn’t stop us from treating them like pets and spoiling them while we have them.” It sure shows too, as the animals are all just so calm, relaxed, and happy. Honestly, there isn’t a single iota of stress that shows on these animals. Also, they invite any of their customers to come and visit, see the animals, view their environment and their feed. It’s so refreshing to meet food producers with no secrets, no agenda, just the desire to bring wholesome delicious food from the farm to the table. You can read a bit about ION Farm at Eat Wild. Contact them, go see them, and enjoy your visit to the country. You’ll be impressed, I promise.

I realize also that I owe you a recipe for my ham with cabbage, apples, and carrot. So here goes… I took three organic carrots, peeled and cut them into rounds. I also peeled, cored, and diced three apples (one red delicious, one empire, and one granny smith since that’s what I had on hand). I heated up some bacon grease, and put the carrots and apples in there with some salt to let them soften. I cut half a medium cabbage into strips, and set them aside. When the carrots and apples just start to soften, I removed them, and laid the section of ham into the skillet. I laid the cabbage strips over the ham, spooned the apples and carrots on top, and then poured in enough organic apple cider to have the liquid come halfway up the sides of my deep skillet. I added a grating of black pepper and popping on the lid, I put the entire shebang into the oven at 350 degrees. I let the dish cook for a while, the liquid braising that cabbage until tender and luscious.

SO SO SO good! The apple cider, salt, and pepper added enough warmth and a hint of a spicy flavor that I didn’t need anything else. The carrots were sweet, the apples gave a tartness, and the cabbage just tasted earthy and had soaked up so much ham flavor it was incredible. It was also the perfect foil to my kale and ham hocks. The best news? There were enough leftovers that Mads and the Boy had some with mac and cheese for dinner tonight while Spouse and I went pig fetching.

OH! And in geek news, I got to help a fellow foodie @glutenfreefreak on tips to clean leeks! Look for her on Twitter and give her a follow. She’s the BOMB when it comes to gluten-free food finds. Oh, and feel free to follow me too, (@stacyo513) even though I tweet more about sports than food it seems.

Another work day awaits tomorrow, but you can believe I’ll be SO unproductive as I’m dreaming of ways to cook pork!

Our little piggie is going to market!

Got a call this weekend from the man who may become my #1 most favorite here in the next few months… my pig man! He does have a name, (it’s Lee) and he is wonderful. I found his farm listing (ION Farm.. short for “It’s Only Natural”, isn’t that CUTE?) on Eat Wild. Lee and Tasha raise Heritage Tamworth hogs, letting them forage through the woods and finishing them on acorns. Tamworth is known as “the bacon hog” because of its’ long body.

Bacon. More bacon than normal. Let THAT sink in for a moment. Are you smiling? It’s BACON.

So because our hog is going to the butcher tomorrow, the spouse and I filled out our cut sheet, so that the butcher knows what cuts we are requesting. We are splitting the hog with another family, so each of us will end up with about 85 pounds of pork. With any luck, a third of that will be bacon. I kid! I kid! But really… bacon.

Having never done this before, Lee was amazing helping me through the process. When buying entire animals, you are quoted a price per pound. In this case, we are paying $4.75 per pound of pork. Hogs are sent to the butcher once they reach 250 pounds or so. The price to be paid however is on hanging weight. This is the weight of the animal after the butcher does his deal, removing the head and internal organs, etc. On average the hanging weight for a 250 pound hog will be about 164 pounds. So splitting with another family, each one of us gets about 82 pounds of pork. Paying $4.75 a pound for pasture raised, organically grown, no antibiotics, acorn finished pork is a STEAL. At my local Whole Foods I priced pork at well over $10 a pound.

Now do you see why Lee is at the top of my list?

We have also ordered a grass fed cow from a different farm. That is due to come in around the November time frame. SO glad we got another freezer! With our planning ahead, we should be set for the winter with the produce I’ve frozen and the fabulous meat we’ve ordered. Maybe I should host a dinner party and let some of my friends do a taste test on the “good” meat?

A lot of folks have asked, so here are my local sources for steroid free, antibiotic free, pasture raised, grass fed meat:
Pork: It’s Only Natural (ION) Farm, Lee and Tasha Anthony in Nanjemoy Maryland
Beef: Glen Mary Grass-fed Beef, Johnathan Schmidt in Park Hall Maryland
Chicken: Zekiah FarmI, David and Cindy Thorne in Bryantown Maryland

Visit these merchants, or order online from my non-local suppliers: US Wellness Meats, and TX Bar Organics. I guarantee that once you taste the flavor of organic pasture raised meats, you’ll NEVER want to buy from the grocery store again.

And until next time… BACON!

By request

I got a request via a Facebook friend who has recently been diagnosed with both corn and soy allergies (YIKES!) to list where I shop and get my vegetables and meats. You may be surprised to find out that Whole Foods isn’t even on my top ten … no offense to Whole Foods, I’m sure they’re lovely people, but I’d rather shop locally from farmers I have built a relationship with. I feel they are far more likely to give me the straight scoop on the food they grow and sell. With allergies being such a concern, that type of relationship and honesty really can be a matter of life and death for some!

My Saturday morning “go to” place is the Home Grown Farm Market in Lexington Park Maryland. Do yourselves a favor and “like” them on Facebook here. They post when they are open, and when new products are available. I get my eggs from Farrah and Brandon (They’re the first produce vendor on the left as you walk in), and whatever is fresh produce-wise from Even’Star Organic (across from Farrah and Brian) Trossbach’s produce (next to Even’Star) and Shlagel Farms. I also shop from WAG meats (all the way in the back, just past Shlagel Farms). I know these vendors, they know me and I enjoy spending my Saturday mornings saying hello to them.

WAG meats DOES grain finish their meats, meaning the cattle are pasture (grass) -fed for the majority of their lives, and then given grain for a short time at the very end. What this does is add a little fat to the beef (purely grass-fed animals are VERY lean). This is a good thing when it comes to hamburger since you need some fat to make luscious burgers. If corn is a problem for you, this amount of grain finishing shouldn’t be an issue since the cow processes the grain… but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make sure to mention it. I also get bacon here, since it’s uncured (no nitrites!) and deliciously thick cut. This bacon tastes more like MEAT without the artificial sweet/salty flavors you can get from the stuff bought in the store. Seasonally, I can also get dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter) from the Home Grown Market too. Yum.

I shop ALL the vendors at the market, in fact there’s a cupcake lady at the back who is working on a gluten-free cupcake. When she perfects it, and decides to sell it, I will DEFINITELY be purchasing from her.

I usually then head to the farmer’s market in the BAE parking lot on Rt 235 across from Wal-Mart. There, I always purchase from David and Jennifer at Sassafras Creek Organic Farm. Be sure to sign up for their weekly newsletter! Every week, they send out an email letting us know what’s for sale at the market (I am addicted to their arugula) and usually giving a recipe on how to use them. YAY! Trossbach’s also has another stand here and if I’ve missed out on peaches at my first stop, I’ll get them here.

If I have time, I then head north to Charlotte Hall, to the Amish Farmer’s Market on the southbound side of Rt 5 (corner of Rt 5 and Rt 6 in front of the library). The Amish and Mennonite farmers always have not only fresh produce, but baked goods, noodles, canned preserves, eggs, flowers, herbs, etc. Or I’ll stop at Russell’s in Clements or Rt. 4 across from Fairgrounds road.

PLENTY of places to get produce in St. Mary’s County. Let’s talk about meat though shall we? This year, the spouse and I have decided to go all in and order half a pasture raised cow, and a half of pasture raised pig. The beef is going to cost us about 4.50 a pound, and we’ve ordered it from Glen Mary Farm, in Park Hall, MD. Our pig is going to cost only slightly more a pound and is coming from It’s Only Natural Farm in Nanjemoy, MD. You can find information about both of these wonderful farms at Eat Wild. We will get our meat in late October or early November from each of these farms. Chickens are a different matter, since chickens are a lot of work for not a tremendous amount of return, especially free range chickens! Luckily for me, while on my visit to the Loveville Produce Auction I met David from Zekiah Farms and he has the best prices on free range, antibiotic free chickens. David is a great guy, he was VERY helpful, and I’ve owed him this shout out for a couple of weeks now. PLEASE visit his website, and go visit HIM at the farm store.

When I’m in beautiful Calvert County, my go-to place is Chesapeake’s Bounty off of Rt. 4 in St. Leonard. I swear my car automatically knows when we are in Calvert and it leads me to their door. I ALWAYS find something delicious here. Produce, seafood, locally produced meats, and dairy… this shop is enough to make me want to move to St. Leonard so they can be my grocery store. All of the produce is grown organically, the meats sold are all raised humanely without antibiotics, and the dairy animals do not receive hormones! All great things.

For those pantry staples that I want to be gluten-free, I USUALLY order online due to price, but I’m finding that my grocery stores in the area are doing really great things expanding their gluten-free and other special diet departments. Plus there’s always the wonderful folks at The Good Earth Natural Food Company in Leonardtown. Be sure to stop there on the weekends when they are trying out new recipes in the kitchen!

So there’s my list of where I do my shopping. Some weeks (like this week) I don’t get to go to the market on Saturday mornings, so I’ll shop during the week. If I’m up in the big city, I HAVE to go to Trader Joe’s, since I love their Persian cucumbers. I’ll go to Whole Foods or Wegman’s on a special occasion, and I haven’t found enough time to make my own detergents and cleansers, so I still hit up Target, or Giant, or Shoppers, or whatever store I happen to be close to in order to do those supplemental grocery runs.

Hope this helps out, for those of you who are wondering WHERE to purchase. Here’s the secret…whenever possible, buy what is LOCAL and in season. You get a ton of food at wonderful prices. I (and my family) eat BETTER for LESS money by purchasing seasonally.

Hope you all had a delicious weekend… here’s to a very produce-tive (see what I did there?) week!

Party Animals

I mentioned celebrating my grandson’s (I am not old enough to have a grandson. Seriously) 5th birthday this week. He’s starting school next week, so his circle of friends is pretty limited at the moment. Nonetheless, I wanted to throw him a party/dinner that was fun and kid friendly without it being at one of those fast food or chain restaurants. The food is better for him, and for us, and surprisingly enough, by sticking to keeping it simple, turned out to be popular with the kids and adults alike. We ended up having 15 guests for his birthday dinner, ranging in age from 71 to 2. Luckily, a good time was had by all.

Jake’s Menu:
Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers
Raw baby carrots, cucumber rounds, and celery sticks
Assorted dips: tzatziki, roasted garlic and eggplant, roasted red pepper and eggplant
Refrigerator pickles
Heirloom cherry tomatoes and mozzerella cubes
Potato and tortilla chips with salsa, guac, and onion dip
Sliced canteloupe and watermelon

Of course we had ice cream and cake too. Unfortunately for me, not gluten-free cake, but the ice cream was delicious.

The common denominator in this menu is the plethora (how’s that for an SAT word, kids?) of raw or no-cook ingredients. Veggies and melons that only needed cutting and arranging on a platter are easy, beautiful, and delicious. Pairing them with different dips makes them interactive and fun for the kids. All I needed was a sharp knife and enough platters to arrange them on. Chips aren’t exactly HEALTHY, but it’s a birthday, and I did use organic Greek yogurt and locally grown ingredients for the tzatziki, guac, salsa, and eggplant dips. I grilled hot dogs from Applegate Farms and beefed up (ha! I kill me…) my grass fed burger with vegetables to make delicious and savory patties.

Mushrooms and onions always find a way into my kitchen. I add them to all sorts of things. Since raw mushrooms aren’t a huge favorite amongst the family, I usually cook them very soon after purchase. The notable exception to this rule is those delicious portabello caps, which belong on a hot grill. I had previously purchased some criminis, and had sliced and sauteed them in olive oil and garlic. Those garlic mushrooms and a red onion made the perfect addition to those burgers, adding moisture, flavor, and best of all, enabling me to stretch out the beef to make more patties.

Birthday Burgers:
3 pounds ground beef, straight out of the refrigerator (grass-fed! Trust me it makes a difference)
3 eggs, cold (again, get the good eggs)
1 large red onion
16 ounces (raw) packaged “Baby Bella” mushrooms, sliced, sauteed in olive oil and garlic. After cooking, the mushrooms will shrink down quite a bit, so don’t let the thought of a pound of mushrooms stress you out. Also, you want these cold or room temperature. Warm mushrooms will cook the meat and make it difficult on your hands when it comes to mixing!
Salt and pepper

Break up the beef into chunks, emptying into a LARGE mixing bowl. Finely chop (I used my Food Chopper from Pampered Chef) the onion and then the mushrooms and add to the beef. Season simply but liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Add the eggs. If you are using very large eggs, you may only need 2. The egg is there for moisture and to help bind everything together.

Mix with wet hands ONLY until things are combined. Seriously, this is the key to a good burger – the LESS you play with it, the better your burgers will be. You want to mix as little as possible, and use your hands so that the ingredients are combined but not packed together. This is the difference between tough and tender when it comes to hamburgers. Keep that thought in mind when forming your patties as well. Don’t grab and MASH the burgers into a patty, form them in your hands by rotating the ball of meat, using your thumbs to dimple the center, and using your fingers to form the rest of the patty. That dimple in the middle will keep your burger from puffing up in the center and give you a nice flat surface for all your burger dressings.

Usually a pound of beef gives me 4 patties, but the addition of the onion and mushrooms allowed me to stretch that a bit. I ended up with 16 truly adult sized burgers from this batch. Once my burgers were formed and loaded in layers onto a parchment lined sheet tray, I put them back in the fridge while I turned on the grill. Unlike other meats, ground beef cooks best when it is cold. I use a hot, clean grill, and I flip my burgers only once. Here is a handy list of tricks to making the perfect burger. I topped these burgers with local cheddar cheese, however they are so danged good you can top them with anything – or leave ’em naked – and they’ll be just as good.

So that was the party menu. Everyone had a great time, the food was a hit and my little buddy turned another year older. Happy Birthday Jake – your Gigi loves you very much.

Wow, y’all really love your meat!

No surprise, my “Sexy Meat” post was the most popular in the ten days I’ve been blogging. It says a lot about my friends, that’s for sure!

In keeping with my “we ❤ our meat" theme, I want to talk a little bit about grass-fed beef, pasture raised pork, and free range chickens.

I had been happily purchasing meat from the grocery store (steaks and pork on those Styrofoam trays, ground beef in shrink wrapped cylinders) like most of America. I shopped for bargains, I bemoaned the cost of bacon, and I grabbed boneless skinless chicken breasts every time they were on sale. Oh how foolish I was.

I looked for a way to detox my system, to rid it of all the wheat and other things that had been wreaking havoc with my digestive system and I came across the Whole 30 and Paleo Diet plans. Basically, both plans eliminate grains, legumes, sugar, processed foods, dairy, and encourage the consumption of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits as well as free range eggs, and pasture raised (grass fed) meats. You can read more about the Paleo diet here, or here or here.

In researching the Paleo diet, I read a LOT about the way our meat animals are raised in most commercial operations. The cows we eat may be pasture animals when they are young, but once they reach a minimum weight they are transferred to feedlots where they cannot roam around, and instead stand there being fed a diet high in grains. This diet causes stress to the animal’s liver, and producers have to administer antibiotics as a routine course of action to prevent illness. I remember seeing feedlot cattle when I drove across California’s Central Valley region, and I can tell you, those “happy cows come from California” commercials could NOT be filmed there. Wikipedia has an article about feedlots, or do your own research. It isn’t pretty.

The same kinds of practices are in place for pigs. In fact one of the cruelest practices in the food industry is the use of gestation crates for sows. Many big companies including McDonald’s and just today, MEGA GIANT wholesaler Sysco announced it is no longer going to purchase pork from pigs raised in gestation crates. This isn’t just a victory for the pigs, it’s a victory for us as well.

You can see where this is going. Industrializing doesn’t exactly work with animals. You take the animal out of it’s natural state, give it cheap, poor quality food it isn’t used to eating, put it under stress, and heavily dose it with mega antibiotics to keep it from falling deathly ill… how healthy do you think that animal is really? How healthy is the meat that comes from that animal? Why would you feed it to your family? The meat from stressed animals is high in Omega 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are indeed essential but an overabundance of them, especially in proportion to the preferred Omega 3s can have serious negative impact on our health.

Plus, it just skeeves me out to think of eating a sick animal. Really.

So I discovered the wonderful world of grass-fed and pasture raised meat and poultry. It didn’t take long before I realized what I had been missing. I had beef that tasted like BEEF. No seasoning needed except a little salt and pepper. How did I not realize that the meat I had been eating was all but tasteless? I had been compensating with seasonings, rubs, marinades, sauces, and the meat itself was nearly flavorless. The grass-fed beef was amazing. A steak tasted like STEAK. My husband made hamburger patties and added just a teeny bit of Old Bay to the burger mixture… I could have died and gone to heaven. Bacon, nitrite free and coming from pasture raised pork tasted like all that is good and right. I said goodbye to bacon that was mainly fat, very little meat, and mostly tasted like salt and fake smoke flavoring. Instead, breakfast became an almost religious experience….and it was GOOD for me. ALL HAIL THE BACON!

AND EGGS! Let us not forget the eggs. An egg from a free range, cage free chicken who is given high quality feed, and allowed to eat grass, and scratch for bugs, and eat what a chicken would eat in the wild is something to behold. The white is clear and thick, and the yolk is so dark yellow it is nearly orange. The taste is fresh, rich, not at all sulfuric, and anything you make with that egg is going to taste so much better. The next time you eat a pale yellow scrambled egg, rest assured that chicken did not have a happy chicken life.

I urge you to do the research yourself. Read articles like this one and this one. Then, either seek out a source for grass-fed, pasture raised meat and TRY it. One of the best local sources I have found is Eat Wild where you can find local sources in nearly every corner of the US. If it’s convenience you want, I can personally vouch for US Wellness Meats and Fossil Farms. I can guarantee you, your relationship with meat will NEVER be the same.

Feel free to drop me a comment letting me know where you get YOUR meat. I believe in sharing the tasty love!

By the way, I haven’t forgotten, tomorrow is Farmer’s Market Friday, and I’m going to celebrate by going to the Loveville Produce Auction. I’m not looking for pallets of food, but definitely in the mode to start looking for what I’m going to fill my freezer with. I’d like to have enough frozen produce this winter to stay away from the grocery stores. I admit that I’ve gotten spoiled, we’ve got incredible farmers here in Southern Maryland, and for that I am eternally grateful. I think I’ll base tomorrow’s articles and recipes on what I score at the auction. Only one guarantee: It won’t be cucumbers.

And it just might be meat.