Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A long time coming....

So, it's been over a month since either myself or Justin has posted anything. And finally after all of the snow has melted and the temperatures have been above freezing, we seem to be making headway on the organic front.

For what seemed like forever getting our beef from Well's Family Farms, we now have a freezer packed with (now less than) 70 pounds of grass fed beef. The majority of the haul was ground, which seems to be what Justin and I eat more than any other kind of beef. There were a few steaks and a couple of roasts and even some bones and shank pieces for the dog. Personally, I can't taste the difference between what we previously got at the grocery store and this beef, but I know it doesn't have hormones and other chemicals hanging around and it was humanely treated. Justin nearly went vegetarian thinking about how the cow had such a good life as compared to other cows living in deplorable conditions. I tried to relieve this concern by telling him that the cow was destined to die anyway and it wasn't our fault that the cow was slaughtered in the prime of its life. Anyway, beef. Check.

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig....
FINALLY, a "local" vendor for pasture raised pigs. I put local in quotation marks just because they are 157 miles away, but their pork is awesome! Schenker Family Farms is located in McCune, Kansas (not far from my home town of Chetopa). We met them at the Food Expo, first in Shawnee and then the following week in Independence. You can order directly from their website. They also have beef, chicken, lamb and an assortment of relishes and jellies. Last week we had their cheese stuffed Italian sausage and it was excellent. Last night we had the hickory smoked bacon. It had very little fat and was so flavorful and crispy. They offer meat bundles at an excellent price. They offer home/office delivery on a weekly basis to Kansas City, Wichita, Lawrence and Topeka.

CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
We've decided that joining a CSA is probably in our best interest. CSA has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. Hen House Markets in metropolitan Kansas City Area offer a CSA on a weekly basis, allowing for pick up at any of their KC Area Markets as part of their Buy Fresh Buy Local program. This is the one that we will probably join, since it is cost effective and relatively close to our house.

Last week I finally started getting my raised beds built. Despite the concern of Justin for termites in our back yard, I'm using wood. It is more cost effective and will eventually be replaced with stone. I just couldn't put it off any longer. I was overly excited when I discovered the chives, oregano, thyme, and mints were coming back from their winter hibernation. So, I transplanted them (except the mints) to a 2' x 6' bed of fresh soil, giving them plenty of room to grow. I purchased purple and sweet basil plants and cilantro and caraway seeds at the Food Expo in Independence April 3rd and added all four plants and planted a hand full of the seeds to the bed. Since the bed is next to the fence, I crafted a frost barrier, just in case of plastic and wood, to protect the little plants from harm. It also serves as protection against heavy rains and hail that have appeared already in the last couple of days. I have four rows of potatoes planted. This may sound like a lot, but there are only four plants for each row. Two of russet and two of reds. I'm hoping to find some gold that I can plant, for those make excellent soups. We've decided that  this year to plant what we use the most of, instead of a few plants of a number of things.

Hopefully we'll also have strawberries, rhubarb and blackberries this year. I planted a gooseberry bush, next to the blackberries and with a little nurturing next year we'll have gooseberries. We've also discovered that there is an apple "tree" of some sort in the back yard. What we thought was a bush, we learned is multiple trees sprouting from an old tree trunk that wasn't properly treated. We're thinking they may be crab apples, but only time will tell. To me, it's pretty exciting and I'm already looking at crab apple recipes, just in case.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

O Where for Art Thou "O Night Bovine?"

So due to a hold up at the slaughterhouse, we're still anxiously awaiting our delicious beef. It now appears that it won't arrive until Friday at the soonest. I hope it gets here soon. I love chicken, but I miss beef. It's been quite a while since we've had any. (Ok, so we broke our commitment to good food and had a burger at Chefburger the other night before a show. But it was terrible. That means, it doesn't count.)

Just a reminder: going local and organic is a pretty significant change. We can't just go to the store and grab eggs when we run out. If you want a hamburger, you can't just run to the store. It requires planning and some resourceful meal combinations. Particularly in the winter. I'm glad that Richard is able to come up with some ways to use what we have. Once summer gets here and we have a little more choice of groceries, I plan on assisting in the kitchen. If I can't cook, I'll serve as a flavor consultant, and try to come up with some interesting ways to put food together. I figure this will be like the car--Richard does the driving and I'll do the navigating.

I'm really looking forward to summer. We plan to stock up on veggies so we can freeze them for out-of-season use. We'll probably look into some other natural and fun food saving methods too. (We have a smoker now!)

That's all for today. The next post will probably be a joint beef and cheese post since the beef should be here really soon and the cheese should be ripe today or tomorrow!

Monday, February 8, 2010

O Night Bovine!

We place our first quarter beef order! I've never bought so much meat in one purchase! I'm excited.

I'll update with a proper post once we get the meat. I just had to share my excitement.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Winter Sucks

Trying to find things to write about during the winter has been a challenge. However, it has allowed us to plan even more and do more research. So far, we have stopped buying eggs from the grocery store and have switched completely over to local, organic milk. I've started trying to replace sugar with local honey and have been using non-GMO flour and kosher salt. We have also really started thinking about where we're eating and where their food came from.

Where's the beef?

In Justin's last post he talked about Wells Family Farms and how we met with Kim Wells at BADSEED. I had noticed after Kim updated their website that their butcher wasn't certified organic, which really had me concerned. I wasn't about to purchase good beef from someone only to have it ruined at the butcher. I sent an email to Kim asking if their butcher used filler in their ground beef (since this is the main portion of beef that we consume). Luckily, their butcher doesn't use filler, and in fact, she refuses to let them use parts of the cow that would include large amounts of gristle and tendons. Boy, am I a happy camper now, since the last thing I want to find in my ground beef is a piece of something I can't chew. Their cost per pound for split quarter (cuts from the front and back of the cow) is $5.50 per pound totaling roughly around $400. This may seem a little steep for ground beef, but when you consider that $5.50 per pound is also what you're paying for t-bone steaks and filets, it's a REALLY good deal. Once we place our order, make room in the freezer, and get our beef, I'm sure there will be a post about how it is.

Farm fresh eggs vs. "factory" store bought eggs

Last week I was making pasta (first time and yes, I made a mess), and I had the brown eggs from Alice at Western Hills Produce sitting out ready to be mixed with the flour. I stop and remember that I still have some eggs that I bought from Wal-Mart a few weeks back. I really should compare the two side by side. These are both considered large eggs, and I actually think that the store bought egg is considered extra-large. Please note the difference in the picture below. In case you were wondering, the farm egg is on the right. Cost: $3.00 a dozen.

Cheesus Christ!

Exactly what I thought at 4:00 in the morning when I finished the 12 hour cheese process. I attempted to make Gouda without a real cheese press. My concocted press consisted of a cookie sheet, two small springform pans, another cookie sheet, two miniature pie tins and a pile of bricks. The fun part was when the sheet holding the bricks decided to slide off of the counter and bounce across the floor. Surprisingly, no one was injured and nothing was damaged. Making cheese is really not difficult, but very time consuming. I am currently on day 12 of my 25 day aging process, flipping it every day to ensure that the rind forms evenly. The consistency is that of cheddar, which disappointed me a bit. Although, the cheese smelled very good the first couple of days, it has lost it's smell more recently. I am hoping that all of the cheesy goodness is still inside waiting for the tasting. I may attempt to smoke one of the rounds (I did some research on cheese smoking, seems pretty easy) and wax the other, just for a variety of flavor once the cheese has completely aged.

The lovely cheese curds swimming in their whey bath.

Cheese curds being strained out of the whey.

The cheese round after a few days of aging.

All things crusts

I have been trying to find the right bread recipe for light, airy bread that mimics the softness of the commercially produced bread to which we have gotten so accustomed. The few I have tried all taste good, but are very dense. It may be something that we just have to deal with. I found a few recipes that Justin really likes for certain situations and may end up posting the recipes here at some point. Last night, I made a three cheese bread using a recipe from Panera. The inside was interesting and had almost a sourdough flavor. The outside, however, was a bit hard and the cheese had a slightly burnt taste. I followed the recipe and cooking times exactly. Next time I will lower the cooking time and watch it more closely. (Man, I really need that oven with a window!) I have plenty of bread recipes to keep me busy for weeks, but since we don't eat a lot of bread on a regular basis, it tends to be difficult to make without wasting. I need to get my baking stone back out and start making some rustic style breads. I have been reading more about using the natural yeasts in the air to make bread, but haven't yet got the courage to have the flour and water mixture fermenting on my counter for weeks.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Farmers We Met This Weekend and Other Things

Justin here.

Friday night, we visited BADSEED, the organic farmer's market near the Crossroads. It's a small but very communal market. This time of year, they obviously don't have a lot of fresh produce, but there were some goodies there. They had lamb, sheep cheeses, breads, preserves, beef, heirloom pumpkins, and eggs. We didn't buy much, just some beautiful eggs and delicious strawberry-apricot preserves from Alice of Western Hills Produce. (Richard, could you confirm that I have her name right?)

Although we didn't buy any beef, we talked to Kim Wells (no relation) of Wells Family Farms in King City. Besides having some very reasonable prices on her organic, grass-fed beef, she was a very entertaining and interesting person. After hearing about her experiences with diatomaceous earth, Richard asked her about buying half and quarter cows, and we were really pleased with how they do the quarters there. Instead of making you pick a front or back quarter, they give you a quarter of every kind of cut you'd get in a whole cow. (This variety makes a quarter purchase much more appealing for us.)

Richard also asked about casings for sausages. Sadly, the slaughterhouse they used isn't able to do that. But Kim was quite excited to let us know that they're going to be opening their own slaughterhouse and that they'll be able to offer even better cuts of meat and more options such as casings! Kim's excitement was infectious, and I'm really wishing her family the best on that adventure. I'm really looking forward to doing some business with them in the future.

Saturday we met up with Sheri from Skyview Farm to pick up some cow milk, goat milk, and chicken livers. We had hoped to get some eggs and cream, but Sheri didn't have enough to go around this time. Instead of being disappointed, I realized that this is how it sometimes will be when buying food from small farms. Sometimes there won't be enough to satisfy everyone. When you're not farming like a factory, you're going to have fewer product to sell. I don't mind that. Plus Sheri has a very fair method of tracking who was short and what they were short on each week to make sure that they get taken care of first next time around.

The milk from Skyview Farm was beautiful, with a good pint or so of light cream on top. It smelled heavenly. The goat's milk had a kind of earthy smell to it that persuaded me that I would not be using it on my cereal. The chicken livers were frozen and some of them kind of fell apart, but for the most part they looked great, and more importantly, they were delicious. (I'm sure that Richard played a hand in that too!) I think we'll be doing more business with them in the future too. The prices were fair and besides the dairy, they sell beef and chicken as well. Sheri's also teaching a cheese-making class at her farm. It's on President's Day which means I can't go, but I hope Richard can make it.

On the homefront, Richard started his gouda. He started it at nearly 5pm Friday, not considering that it's a 12 hour process that doesn't have a clear stopping point anywhere in the middle. It was a long night, but there's cheese sitting in the fridge waiting to age into amazing Gouda, so he must have done it right. I assume Richard will probably share more on his cheese making experience once it turns out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mayonnaise and Ranch Recipes

Below are two recipes that I have made so far. I am planning on attempting a homemade version of Miracle Whip, which just incorporates a few more ingredients into the mayonnaise. The ranch I made uses the mayonnaise recipe. The ranch recipe is a replica of Hidden Valley butter milk ranch, the kind that comes in packet and you mix with butter milk an mayonnaise. I'm almost positive if you replace the mayo and buttermilk with sour cream you will have their ranch dip.  Enjoy! The MyPoints line of the nutritional information section is equivalent to Weight Watchers points.

Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1 pinch dried thyme

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.
2. Cover and chill for several hours before using.

Servings: 4
Yield: 1 Cup

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/4 of a recipe (1.4 ounces).
Percent daily values based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition information calculated from recipe ingredients.

Amount Per Serving
Calories 59.12
Calories From Fat (80%) 47.06

% Daily Value
Total Fat 5.32g 8%
Saturated Fat 1.12g 6%
Cholesterol 9.76mg 3%
Sodium 323.99mg 13%
Potassium 55.18mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 1.87g <1%
Fiber 0.07g <1%
Sugar 1.57g
Protein 1.18g 2%
MyPoints 1.64



1 1/2  cups soybean oil
2 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2  teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/16 teaspoon paprika
1/16 teaspoon garlic powder
1/16 teaspoon onion powder

1. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature.
2. Mix together all ingredients except oil.
3. Using a hand held mixer. Slowly add oil, mixing constantly until all oil is incorporated. If you mix the oil too quickly it could separate and be really disgusting. If that occurs, stop adding oil and mix until all the oil has been incorporated, then continue adding oil. The finished product should be light in color and stand up on its own.

Servings: 12
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 of a recipe (1.2 ounces).
Percent daily values based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition information calculated from recipe ingredients.

Amount Per Serving
Calories 183.21
Calories From Fat (97%) 178.53

% Daily Value
Total Fat 20.17g 31%
Saturated Fat 3.8g 19%
Cholesterol 34.14mg 11%
Sodium 585.05mg 24%
Potassium 17.42mg <1%
Total Carbohydrates 0.63g <1%
Fiber 0.01g <1%
Sugar 0.2g
Protein 0.5g 1%
MyPoints 5.35

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Market, To Market

Justin here:

I'm sure Richard will want to weigh in on this too, but I figured that I'll go ahead and share some of my thoughts on grocery shopping with this project.

Convenience is a thing of the past. Our normal grocery outing would involve buying a cart of food to last us for a few weeks with the occasional trip to get a specific ingredient that we want/need for something. It was fairly an in and out affair. Now, the grocery shopping involves going to a specialty store or farmers' market. There we have to inspect the produce (and some of the other foods such as cheeses) that may have gone bad while being transported or sitting on the shelves. We also need to read the labels and sometimes even ask employees for information regarding the food's point of origin. You can't purchase as much unless it's something you can freeze or naturally preserve in some other way. Of course, with the increased cost of these organic foods, we actually have to really plan what we're buying, when we're going to use it, and how much we need (as opposed to how much we want.)

This past week, we decided to check out a couple local organic grocery stores. The first we checked out was a little place here in Independence called Nature's Pantry. It's a bit smaller than the typical suburban grocery store, but they had an adequate selection of foods. The air was thick with a spicy, herby smell that seemed to originate from the natural supplement and health and beauty section.

We started with the produce section. The produce looked a little lackluster, but I was prepared for organic produce to not look as fantastic as its non-organic siblings. What actually disappointed me was this: not a single item in the produce section was locally grown. Not even the winter greens and root vegetables! Most of the fruits and veg came from California and Mexico.

Nature's Pantry didn't have a butcher's counter, but they did carry some locally raised meats from Harmony Farms in their frozen food section. The prices were significantly higher than the non-local, non-organic stuff from our local Hy-Vee. The only local dairy was from Shatto Farms, and the only local eggs were from Campo Lindo in Lathrop. They also had one local variety of honey from an apiary in Raytown.

After Nature's Pantry, we went to Whole Foods. Knowing that Whole Foods was a much bigger operation, we were hoping for more variety and a larger local presence. The store was definitely bigger--much more like the grocery stores we usually visit. There was also a much larger overall selection of products. Sadly, this larger selection didn't include much along the lines of local. Once again, I couldn't find any local produce. I also was saddened that there were no local eggs or meat. We did find local dairy in the form of Shatto milk, butter, and cheeses though. After visiting Whole Foods, I told Richard that I'd probably rather buy any non-local produce we need to buy from them since their produce looked much more robust than the stuff at Nature's Pantry.

I want to point out one more organic option that we didn't give much thought to until we visited the other places: our local Hyvee. We decided to check out their organic offerings because they are two blocks away, and we figured that maybe what we're looking for could be right under our noses. Hy-Vee had the same brands of local meat (Harmony Farms) and eggs (Campo Lindo) as well as the same option for local milk (Shatto). We were also pleased to find that they carried some non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows. It wasn't exactly local--it comes from Iowa--but until we find a local dairy provider, it'll do. If you aren't concerned with the local aspect and just want to eat more organically grown foods, check out your local Hy-Vee. Ours was very competitively priced and had many of the same brands as Nature's Pantry and Whole Foods.

Our plan is to hit some local farmers' markets this week. We'll be going to The Bad Seed after work on Friday. (Let us know if you want to tag along!) Saturday morning, we're going to see if anyone is at City Market and the Brookside Farmers' Market too. Hopefully, we'll have lots of useful information after that. We are also still planning on visiting farms, but that may not be until the weather improves.

Oh, and Richard needs to post some recipes! He's trying to learn to make processed foods from scratch since it will probably be cheaper than buying organic stuff from the store. (I guess we'll also know exactly what we'll be eating.) So far Richard has made some ranch dressing/dip, milk caramel sauce, bread, and mozzarella cheese.