Butcher Dinner on the farm: A Southern Style Barbecue Picnic

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be part of an absolutely amazing dining experience. My favorite local butcher held a farm dinner on one of the farms that they source their meet from. Lara and I took a little drive out to Coopersville and arrived at Hehlden Farm last Sunday night, where we experienced real farm to table eating. The whole meal was styled after a southern BBQ picnic, and it all centered around an entire smoked pig that was raised right there on the farm. Words cannot describe how delicious this meal was. We ate right there in one of the barns, enjoyed appetizers on hay bales, and got to walk out into the fields and meet the chickens. The food was amazing, the atmosphere could not have been better, and the entire experience was one to remember. Anyone who lives in Grand Rapids, or is driving through, should check out Louise Earl Butcher on Wealthy St to get a little taste of the amazing work they do. Until you do that, enjoy some shots of the wonderful night!

IMG_0723.jpg

Apps! House made charcuterie, local bread, and a lovely selection of wine and beer. 



<-- Checking out the chicken coops


The Menu:

Pig Roast, mopped with a Carolina BBQ sauce, mac & cheese, collards with tasso ham, red beans & rice, fried gizzards, and cornbread with cultured butter and honey. 
 

 


So excited to eat!! Bring on the pig!!

A big thank you to Matt and Cindy and the rest of the gang from Louise Earl Butcher for putting on such a wonderful event, and Matt and Amy from Hehlden farms for hosting! It really was a special night!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

An unusual mid-week post today. I actually have some time off right now and am enjoying it immensely. This includes plenty of extra time in the kitchen! What I want to share today is not really much of a recipe, but a very simple method for preparing slow roasted tomatoes. I miss tomatoes so much in the winter, and every time I see them for sale at the grocery store I secretly want to buy them, but I resist because I know they will have no flavor and a poor texture. It's just not worth buying fresh tomatoes in the winter, unless that is, you want to do something like this to them. 

Slow roasting tomatoes is such a wonderful thing to do with those sad winter tomatoes. You're basically just drying them out and intensifying the sweet and savory flavor of the tomato. When these are done they are almost like candy they are so sweet. I think they are absolutely fantastic on basically anything, and so easy. All it takes is an afternoon in a low oven and you can have a whole tray of these sweet jewels. 

You can pretty much roast these for as long as you want depending on your desired level of dry-ness at the end. I went for 5 hours this time and they were pretty dried out and very sweet, but still had a little hint of juiciness left. Keep testing them from time to time as they roast until they seem to be right where you want them. If you're going to leave your oven on for 5+ hours one afternoon, I recommend roasting up a big batch of tomatoes, make it worth it. Cutting up a few more tomatoes doesn't take very long, and then you'll have a huge stash for the days and weeks to come. 

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
From Delectably Mine
Ingredients

  • 4 Roma tomatoes, cut into quarters, core removed
  • A few garlic cloves
  • Olive oil, 
  • Coarse salt, 
  • Freshly cracked pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 225-235 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle tomatoes and garlic cloves with olive oil and sprinkle with a nice amount of salt and black pepper.  Place tomatoes in a single layer on prepared baking sheet and roast for approximately 5 hours (or however long you want), rotating the sheet occasionally. Watch the garlic cloves closely, and if they appear to be getting too cooked remove them before the tomatoes are finished. Remove tomatoes from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days, or freeze indefinitely. 

Homemade Ricotta

I don't know if I've made it clear before, but if not, let's set the record straight, I absolutely love cheese. All kinds of cheese, it doesn't matter, I have never met a cheese I didn't like. So of course I've been interested in making my own. Now I know that making any aged cheese takes a lot more work, and is a bigger investment then I want to make right now, so currently I'm sticking to fresh cheeses that are quick and easy to make, and are ready right away.

Homemade ricotta is about as easy as it gets. You don't need any fancy ingredients or tools and it can be ready to eat in less than an hour. All you need to start is some milk and an acid such as vinegar or citrus juice. A thermometer of some kind and a small amount of cheesecloth are the only other tools that you really do need (and you can get by without the cheesecloth if you have too, that's what happened to me the first time!). After you have this all set, all it takes are some heat and a little time and you'll have a bowl of fresh, homemade ricotta, ready for anything you might imagine!

Traditionally, ricotta is actually made from the whey that is leftover from cheesemaking. But since I don't generally have a lot of whey sitting around ready and waiting, this alternative using milk does the trick. I've heard some people complain that this is not actually ricotta then, but in the end I don't really care. Call it whatever you want, but it's close enough to ricotta for me. All I know is that it is easy to make and absolutely delicious to eat! If you've ever been interested in making your own cheese, this is definitely the place to start!

Heating the milk and vinegar over medium heat

You can see some nice curds forming

Straining the cheese in a cheesecloth lined colander 

(or in my case, an old cotton t-shirt lined colander, definitely 

not ideal, but sometimes you have to improvise!)

All strained with the salt mixed in

A beautiful bowl of cheese!

(don't look too closely at the 6 ounce measurement, 

I actually lost some cheese down the drain while I was

straining it :( so you should actually get more than this!)

Ready to eat!

Homemade Ricotta

Adapted from

One Hour Cheese

by Claudia Lucero 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (can also use lemon juice)
  • 6 cups whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized (I highly recommend whole milk, you can use other milks, but they will result in a less creamy final product and a lower yield, whatever you do, don't use skim milk)
  • 1/4 teaspoon flake salt

Directions

Pour the milk and vinegar into a large pot and set over medium heat. Heat the milk and vinegar mixture to 190 degrees, gently stirring occasionally to prevent a skim from forming and to prevent any milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Don't stir so vigorously that the curds are not broken up. Some curds will begin to form right away, and will begin to form more rapidly as the milk approaches the target temperature of 190 degrees. It should look like thin oatmeal. 

Once the mixture reaches 190 degrees, turn the heat off and take the pot off the burner. Allow the curds to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. They will release more whey this time. 

While you wait, line a colander with cheesecloth  and either set over a large bowl (if you want to save the whey) or in the sink. 

After the 10 minutes are up, pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth lined colander. Allow the whey to drain for about 10 minutes, or until you get the creamy smooth texture of smooth mashed potatoes. 

Gather the cheesecloth into a bundle and give it a gentle squeeze to remove the last bit of whey. Place the clothe of fully drained ricotta back in the colander and add the salt. Stir the salt into the ricotta gently until thoroughly mixed. The salt will help release more whey, but air will dry out the cheese so if you stir too long the cheese will become crumbly instead of creamy. 

The ricotta is ready to eat. It will be loose and creamy while warm, but will firm up after being chilled in the fridge. 

Yield: about 7-8 ounces cheese

Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice

This may not look like a very exciting recipe to some people, but honestly it's one of my favorites. Over the last couple of years I have grown to absolutely love brown rice. It is extremely healthy, it's super versatile and I think it's absolutely delicious. If you've ever looked up directions on how to make brown rice, you may have noticed that there are so many different methods. Each with it's own ratio of water to rice. Now I'm sure most of them will turn out a fine batch of brown rice, I personally am not too picky as long as it's cooked through. However, once I found this recipe I never turned back. Not only does it turn out a perfect pan of brown rice every time, it also makes a really nice big batch so I can have it on hand all week long. This is the only recipe I ever use so I wanted to share it in case anyone else is looking for a foolproof method of cooking brown rice. Well look no further, this is it. 

My favorite part of this recipe is the fact that it's baked in the oven, not cooked on the stovetop. This means I throw it in the oven and can completely forget about it for the next hour. It does take the whole hour to cook, so if you need something at the last minute, this isn't going to work. But you only need to think ahead a little bit and you can have fresh, perfectly cooked brown rice on the table for dinner. 

The actual hands on time in this recipe is so minimal making it super easy and quick to throw together. You can get the rest of your meal ready while it cooks, or get a couple of chores done, whatever. I also make this rice ahead a lot so that it will be ready for me when I need it. Sprinkled with a little water for moisture and zapped in the microwave for a couple of seconds and it's pretty much as good as new! If you couldn't already tell, I highly recommend adding this simple recipe to your repertoire. I can guarantee that you'll use it over and over again.  

Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice

Adapted from 

A Veggie Venture

, originally from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups long-, medium- or short-grain brown rice
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter or vegetable oil (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread rice in 8-inch square baking dish or similar size casserole dish with lid. Add salt and give it a quick mix. 

Bring water and butter or oil to boil; once boiling, immediately pour water over rice. Alternatively, bring a kettle to boil. Once boiling, measure out 2 1/3 cup and pour over rice. Cover baking dish tightly with a layer of aluminum foil or place lid on top of casserole dish and place in oven. Bake rice 1 hour, until tender.

Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork, then recover dish and let rice stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let rice stand 5 minutes longer; serve. 

Preserving Summer - Canning Tomatoes

Growing up, there was a day or two every August set aside by my mom for a marathon canning session. She would spend all day in the kitchen canning jar after jar of beautiful Red Haven peaches to have on hand all winter long. It seemed like whatever day she decided to can was the hottest day of the whole summer. There she would be, spending all day in the hot, hot kitchen, stove burners on high, boiling water steaming up the entire room, sticky peach juice everywhere. It was worth all the effort however when, in the middle of the winter, she would head to the basement and come back up with a jar, one of these labors of love, adding peaches to the dinner menu and reminding us of the joys of summer produce. 

Over the last few years I've started to do some canning every summer. I've been trying out different recipes, deciding what I find worth while, and what I don't. While I haven't followed in my mom's footsteps by canning peaches, I have found some of my own favorites. My top food to preserve so far has been tomatoes. Tomatoes are probably my favorite fruit/vegetable (however you want to classify them). They are so utterly versatile and fantastically delicious when perfectly ripe. You can use them in so many different ways and in all kinds of different foods from countries all over the world. I just love them, so preserving them via canning has been a no brainer. 

Canning tomatoes is not a difficult task, but it definitely takes some time, and involves quite a few different steps. Just know ahead of time that you'll be spending a few hours in the kitchen, but that's okay because it will all be worth it in the end, on those cold winter days when you can pull out some preserved summer produce and enjoy the product of all your hard work. It brings  a little bit of light to some of those long, cold, dark winter nights. 

Tomatoes Whole, Halved or Quartered - Packed in Juice

From 

Ball

Ingredients

  • 2-­1/2 to 3-­1/2 lb ripe tomatoes (about 8 to 11 medium) per quart 
  • Water
  • Citric Acid or bottled lemon juice
  • Salt, optional 

Directions 

Prepare  boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside. 

Wash  tomatoes. Dip in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately dip in cold water. Slip off skins. Trim away any green areas and cut out core. Leave tomatoes whole or cut into halves or quarters. 

Add  1⁄2 teaspoon citric acid or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each hot quart jar, or 1⁄4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice to each hot pint jar. 

Pack  tomatoes in hot jars until space between tomatoes fills with juice leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar, 1/2 teaspoon to each pint jar, if desired. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight. 

Process  filled jars in a boiling water canner 1 hour and 25 minutes for pints and quarts, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Soft Flour Tortillas

I have now past the point of no return. I have finally found the perfect homemade tortilla recipe, I will never buy tortillas from the grocery store again. For the past year or two I have been wanting to be able to find a good tortilla recipe. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on a package of flour tortillas? If not, let me warn you now, it's not a pretty sight. Knowing that fantastically fresh and delicious tortillas can be made with just 5 ingredients (one of which is water), it disturbs me when I see the list of 20+ ingredients on the packages at the store, most of which I can hardly pronounce. This recipe makes it possible to never again pick up one of those packages of chemicals again. 

Ever since I found this recipe a few months ago, I've probably made it at least once, if not twice a week, ever since. It is just so good and easy. There are so many things you can fill tortillas will; some of my favorite ideas are eggs and cheese, sweet potato black bean, hummus and veggies, not to mention the basic seasoned ground beef with cheese, sour cream and salsa. I really think you can put anything at all in a tortilla, and it seems to always taste good! So grab your rolling pin and get to work, be creative, and have some fun! 

Soft Flour Tortilla

From 

King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus additional as needed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lard (traditional); or butter, shortening, or vegetable oil
  • 7/8 to 1 cup hot tap water (about 110°F to 120°F)

Directions

To make the dough: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the lard (or butter, shortening or oil). Use your fingers or a pastry blender to work the fat into the flour until it disappears (I used vegetable oil which didn't completely disappear, but left small lumps of fat; this didn't seem to have any effect on the finished product so don't worry). Coating most of the flour with fat inhibits gluten formation, making the tortillas easier to roll out.

Pour in the lesser amount of hot water, and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add a bit more flour.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly, and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes. If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering; this ensures the dough doesn't dry out.

While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8" in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Wrap the tortilla in a clean cloth when it comes off the griddle, to keep it pliable. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.

Homemade Marshmallows

A couple of summers ago I made a batch of homemade marshmallows that were really quite tasty, but the texture wasn't what I had been hoping for. They had been incredibly soft, delicious but soft. I had been hoping to be able to roast them over the campfire for a s'more, but there was not way they were going to not immediately melt off the stick and into the fire. But recently I've been wanting to try them again. Not because I'm a marshmallow fanatic, but just because I thought it would be kind of fun to try again. Since it was Christmas I thought that they would also make a fun gift, alongside my favorite homemade hot chocolate mix. A couple of soft and creamy homemade marshmallows floating on top of a mug of rich, decadent hot chocolate sounded divine. 

I searched around for a recipe that sounded good to me and settled on this one from King Arthur Flour. The recipe stated that these marshmallows were more on the 'stiffer' side which was exactly what I was looking for. So I whipped a batch together and was extremely pleased as to how they turned out, stiff, yet still creamy and soft, just not oozingly soft which I did not want. They were exactly what I was looking for. And I have to admit, I did try some of the leftovers in a mug of hot chocolate, for quality control of course, and it was an outstanding combination. With a recipe like this, I may have to make marshmallows more often. 

This recipe really couldn't be easier. It does require a candy thermometer and an electric mixer, but all the steps are very simple. I'm definitely not a candy maker, and they still turned out great. You will also need a package of unflavored gelatin, not something I normally have lying around, but easy enough to get your hands on. Other than that all you need is some sugars; granulated sugar and light corn syrup. Throw in whatever flavor you want after that (I stuck with straight vanilla for a classic taste, but I think some peppermint extract would be wonderful). That's it. Heat it up, mix it together and let it cool. Then you can cut it into whatever size or shape you want. A fun project for the holidays, or really any time of year!

Homemade Marshmallows 

From 

King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 3 packages (1/4-ounce each) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) cool water, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (11 ounces) light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) vanilla extract
  • Confectioners' sugar, to sprinkle on top

Directions

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup cool water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup cool water in a small, deep saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.

With mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase the speed to high, and whip until the mixture is very thick and fluffy, and has cooled to lukewarm, 3 to 10 minutes (depending on the mixer and attachment you use; a stand mixer using the whisk attachment will work more quickly than a hand mixer equipped with beaters). The mixture should be cool enough that you can spread it into the pan without burning your fingers, about 95°F. Add vanilla towards the end of the mixing time.

Spread the marshmallow mixture into a greased 9" x 13" pan (glass or ceramic is best). Use your wet hands to smooth and flatten the marshmallows. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over the top, and let sit for several hours (or overnight) before cutting. Use a greased knife or cookie cutters to make squares or other shapes. Yield: about 100 1" squares.

Veggie Spring Rolls

If you're looking for something light and healthy for lunch or for a snack sometime this spring I have just the thing. Spring rolls are so much fun, they can be filled with just about anything; any veggie you can think of, meat if you want it (I like shrimp the best, but chicken works well too), noodles, or anything else you feel like wrapping up. Whip together a sauce for dipping and you have a meal! My favorite part is the chewy and stretchy spring roll wrappers, I just love the texture. I don't claim to know much about Asian cuisine, so I have no idea how these compare to authentic spring rolls, all I know is that I like them, and in the end that's all that really matters, right?

When I decide to make spring rolls, I head to the produce department at the grocery store and pick out a few favorite vegetables. I usually grab either some rice noodles or cabbage for some volume and I make sure I have hoisin sauce to use as the base of my dipping sauce. Once at home I slice up my veggies, cook the noodles, make a sauce and then get ready to assemble.  Wrapping up the rolls isn't too difficult, it's kind of like wrapping up a burrito. You need to soak the wrappers in water to get them nice and pliable, I've found that 20-30 seconds works best for me, if I do less then this they are too stiff to fold well.

Once your wrappers are pliable, start to fill. Grab a few pieces of each vegetable, a couple pieces of meat if you're using it, and some noodles or cabbage. Lay it all down on the wrapper and fold it up nice and tight. The wrappers can rip once in a while, but don't let that worry you, they will still taste great.

Finish wrapping all of your spring rolls, grab your sauce and start eating! You won't be disappointed!

Some of my favorite fillings: red pepper, carrot, cucumber, 

onion and rice noodles

Dipping Sauce for Spring Rolls
The proportions in this recipe are kind of a guess, I usually just eyeball everything and then tweak it until it tastes how I want it too. So use this as a starting point, and adjust the ingredients and amounts until it tastes good to you!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter 
  • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sweet chile sauce
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Chopped peanuts (optional)

Directions

Mix it all together in a small bowl until smooth. Adjust quantities as needed. Enjoy with spring rolls!