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!

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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.

Vacation Food

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First things first – I have no idea how the interview went really.  The interview process in the Federal Government is a very one way thing.  The person being interviewed does all the talking, and the board just listens.  Very disconcerting.  I’ll let y’all know when I do.

However, in MUCH happier news, I am now on vacation.  The family is heading south to spend a week at our timeshare.  I will be visiting the local farmer’s markets and getting some good food to stock in the kitchen at the condo.  You can bet I will be searching out the freshest in vegetables, fruits, cage free eggs, and more!  I know it may sound silly, but I like cooking when on vacation.  First off it saves us money, and secondly, on vacation I have the opportunity to plan out my meals, and whip up a little something special.  I hope we’ll have a grill too, because nothing is better for summer vacation than grilled meat and fresh vegetables.  I’ll be packing a cooler with some stuff from my kitchen at home.

One of the most flavorful ways I have found to dress up grilled chicken breasts is to buy the breasts with the bone in and the skin on.  Then I mix up a seasoning mix or a compound butter and rub the flavor under the skin.  I’m all about tomatoes right now, and I have some sun dried cherry tomatoes in olive oil.  Those tomatoes (with a little bit of that flavored oil) and some finely chopped basil will make a superb flavoring for that chicken.  

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I have some compound butters that I made up with fresh herbs.  They’ve been chilling in my freezer.  One of my favorites is what I call “Greek Chicken” – it’s Greek Oregano, minced garlic, and lemon zest.  Another one is “Sunday Roast Chicken” – chopped rosemary and lemon zest.  I think I will HAVE to use the Greek butter and add some tzatziki on the side for one evening!  If you want to try your hand at compound butters, my main man Alton Brown has a recipe here.  Compound butters are easy to make, you can use whatever flavors you want, and they are SO PRETTY!

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A delicious way to use compound butter is with a hot “baked” potato off the grill, or by letting a wheel of herbaceous, garlicky deliciousness melt over a freshly grilled steak.  I’ve even done a compound butter with Old Bay seasoning as my “go to” butter for corn on the cob.  

Summertime, and the flavoring is easy!  

My love affair


Maybe I should title this “50 Shades of Yummy” because I really do have quite the thing for this condiment. If you have never tried chimichurri, you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

Think of chimichurri as the “South American Pesto” if you like, using parsley as the base rather than basil. It’s not as sweet as pesto, and the addition of red pepper flakes and a little jolt of red wine vinegar gives it a delicious “bite”. Chimichurri (at least the way I make it) is NOT hot. It is however, very flavorful and not a condiment content to sit in the background of food. I have come to believe that flank steak and London Broil (both beef cuts that absolutely NEED a marinade) cannot exist without this stuff. It is wonderful on beef, great on pork, may be the best friend of your boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, and as long as you’re not laying it on too thick, even works on seafood like shrimp, and scallops. I admit that I am not much of a fish eater, so I haven’t tried it on fish, and I refuse to season my crab with anything other than Old Bay, lemon, and beer, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Chimichurri started out in Argentina. If you’ve ever been to one of those Argentinian Steakhouses, (Think Fogo de Chao) then you’ve probably tasted meat using chimichurri as the marinade. If you’re jonesing for some and you don’t have the ingredients handy, the Latin food label Goya sells a jarred version. However it’s so danged easy to make, just whip up some of your own!

Start with a bunch of parsley, I use the Italian flat-leaf kind, but in a pinch ANY kind will do. You’re going to want to end up with about a cup of the leaves. Grab cilantro too, you’ll want about 1/4 to 1/2 the amount of cilantro to parsley. If your grocery is out of parsley or out of cilantro, you can also make this with just ONE of the herbs. Completely your choice. You’ll also need some fresh oregano. I have a boatload of it growing in my herb garden. I grab whichever kind (the Italian or Greek) is most ready to overtake it’s garden area. Again, about 1/4 cup of leaves is what you need.

You’ll also need 6-8 cloves of garlic, and a little bit of diced onion (red if you’ve got it!) – about 1-2 Tablespoons will do the trick. A pinch of red pepper flakes, some olive oil, red wine vinegar (about a quarter of a cup), some kosher salt, and the juice of a lime (optional).

Throw the garlic and the onion in the food processor and pulse until both are finely chopped. Then add the herbs, and again pulse until they are chopped a bit. Add a healthy pinch of red pepper (more if you want it hot, less if not), a healthy pinch of kosher salt, the red wine vinegar and pulse again. At this point, your herbs should be finely chopped, but not pounded into a puree. Now, pulsing gently, drizzle in the olive oil (about 3/4 of a cup) until it is all mixed in. Transfer the mixture to a bowl (get EVERY LAST BIT) and taste for seasonings. You can adjust here, adding more salt or red pepper if you want. If desired, squeeze in the juice of a lime. Stir, cover, and store in the fridge. It just gets better the longer it sits.

Now, I will use half as a marinade, and half as a sauce for whatever I’m grilling. The lime juice helps really bring the brightness of the herbs to the front, and the vinegar/red pepper cuts through the olive oil with enough bite to really wake up your taste buds. Try it with steak, or chicken, I’ve even had it slathered on potatoes, zucchini, and sweet corn that I have grilled. The recipe is quite flexible, if you like more oregano, add it, if you want less garlic (WHAT?) you can leave it out. Adjust to what makes your tongue go “Oh yeah… THAT’S the ticket!” It’s SO good, you may just end up having your own affair with this incredibly versatile condiment.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Sexy Meat

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How’s THAT title grab ya?

I woke up this morning thinking about… no REALLY thinking about chimichurri sauce. Now if you don’t know what this incredible condiment is, Just look here. Delicious, garlicky, herb-y, with a little bite to remind you that it’s there. Seriously, this stuff tastes good on everything. I’ve had it on chicken, shrimp, scallops, it’s divine on pork and it is my absolute favorite marinade and sauce for flank steak. So yeah, I’ve got a THING for chimichurri.

Problem is, the heat and drought has really devastated my parsley plants, so I didn’t have what I needed to make good chimichurri. The spouse had taken out some delicious pork chops (pasture raised and acorn finished) and they were screaming for something special. So, after the usual dressing of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, I pulled from the fridge some Dijon mustard, and 100% maple syrup. Grabbing a glass bowl I poured in a bit of each, and added some fresh thyme. I played with the mix until I had this really nice balance of sharp and sweet. Basting the chops, I let them rest for a bit while I pulled out the rest of dinner.

Roasted squash and onions got sealed into a foil pack with some organic vegetable broth, and my head of organic Romaine lettuce got split and drizzled with olive oil. I LOVE doing a grilled Caesar salad. Something about the outer leaves of the lettuce getting a little charred, and the inside leaves still staying crisp and green just speaks to me. Plus, I grate good Parmesan on the salad as soon as I pull it from the grill, so the warm leaves soften that salty cheese just a little bit. It’s so delicious that a simple dressing of some lemon juice and another drizzle of finishing oil does the trick.

The squash and onions were doing their thing getting re-warmed, the lettuce is being charred, and my chops are developing these gorgeous grill marks. I flip them, baste them with more maple-mustard sauce, and let them continue to cook. As I am standing there, I realize how absolutely beautiful this meal is looking. The lettuce is crisp and green with just a little char on it, and my meat is…well… sexy. Gorgeous grill marks, the sauce is a beautiful golden color and kind of glistens on the tender pork. Seriously, it’s a feast for the eyes and I am totally responsible for this.

I think what I love most about cooking (besides the inevitable satisfaction of eating) is that all of the senses are involved. You eat with not just your taste buds, but your eyes, your nose, your ears. Seeing the food beautifully arranged on a plate, smelling the aromas coming from the contact of that pork with the hot metal grates, hearing that sizzle…. it’s very sensual. Taking beautiful raw WHOLE food (not something in a box or a bag) and putting together a meal that smells and looks as good as it tastes makes me feel powerful, accomplished…dare I say it? Sexy.

Yeah. I’m a chick with a grill, and I’m pretty sexy too.

As long as it works for my spouse, it works for me! Oh, and dinner did indeed taste as good as it looked. I’m so going to be looking forward to those leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

And I’ve already set a reminder to stop by the store for fresh parsley. My desire for chimichurri will not be denied.

I hope YOU had a delicious (and sexy) Wednesday too!

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The KISS of cooking

No, I’m not suggesting you do anything weird with your food! In this case, KISS is Keep It Simple and Satisfying (ok, technically that’s KISaS, but work with me here). A lot of folks I know are emphatic that they do not like to cook. They don’t like all the “fuss” that goes into dinner, or trying to be creative, or finding new recipes, etc… and I get that, I really do. However, I submit that if they took the boxes and mixes out of their life, and instead prepared good fresh food in a SIMPLE way, they would find their cooking and eating experiences to be much more satisfying and fun. Paleo eating, or any kind of eating for that matter, is really about satisfying your hungers. Not just that growling stomach, but the hunger you get when you want something GOOD, something to sink your teeth into. The food in my house is NOT fancy. I use quality ingredients and I season and cook them simply to bring out the best in the meal. For example, last night, I cooked dinner after working all day. Sound familiar? I had some quality pasture-raised pork chops, fresh yellow squash and zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, and cucumbers. (Oh, and those peaches too!) The pork chops got seasoned with some sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and the Dijon Mustard Rub from The Pampered Chef. The squash and zucchini were cut lengthwise, brushed with olive oil, and treated to the same salt and pepper. Then the pork, the squash and peaches all hit the grill. While dinner was cooking, I grabbed two tomatoes from my countertop (NEVER refrigerate your tomatoes!) and sliced them up. I also peeled and sliced up a cucumber, adding it to the refrigerator pickle container I always keep in my fridge. With one turn of the pork and squash I was soon done and the family was eating a meal that was simple, delicious, and satisfying. Time spent? Less than 30 minutes.
Sure, there are times when I want to try something new, or complex, or “fancy”. But most times, I keep it simple. Very few things are as delicious as fresh, local, IN SEASON, vegetables and fruit. Add in some quality hunks of protein that have met with the hot steel grate of my grill, and I am one satisfied woman. The right tools in my kitchen (knives, cutting boards, veggie peelers, and seasoning blends) make the work a lot easier and allow me time to enjoy COOKING my dinner as much as others enjoy eating it.
Cook real food, and cook it simply. I guarantee that’s a recipe for success.