Tag Archives: Lubbers Farm

When There’s a Blizzard, Make Lamb Shanks


I’m a fan of a four-season climate so when it’s winter, I love winter. I’m about the only one in West Michigan who seems to feel this way but maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up here so I appreciate it more than the locals do. I love snow. And I love being snowed in. I guess it’s just the introvert in me.

So with my freezer full of meat and a blizzard at the doorstep, I decided to plan a dinner to celebrate the snow because I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere today.

Bill and I buy a whole lamb from Lubbers Farm and we request that our butcher packages the lamb shanks in groups of two.

Tonight’s dinner was Braised Lamb Shanks, a recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma.

Because I was using two shanks instead of six, I had to do some math to alter the recipe. And, instead of beef stock, I used lamb stock that I had in the freezer after boiling down a shoulder from my favorite recipe for lamb shoulder. It lends an herbes de Provence essence to the lamb that is delicious.

On the side we had Wild Rice with Butternut Squash [Red Onion instead of Leeks], and Corn from Bon Appetit. (No corn, because Bill is allergic.) We got the wild rice from Native Americans in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on our trip there last summer.

Here’s the fun part about being a freelance writer: We started the evening with a bottle of champagne to toast the blizzard. Then we enjoyed some Pinot Noir (used in the lamb recipe) with our dinner, and finished the meal with some leftover flourless, dairy-free chocolate cake (substituting palm oil for butter) and raw milk ice cream with raspberry sauce–made from last fall’s fresh, local raspberries I preserved in the freezer.

Bring on the snow. All we need is a little food and a little booze, and we’re pretty happy.

Prime Rib for the Holidays


When you get a mixed quarter of a cow from Lubbers Farm, the butcher asks how you want the ribs—ribeye or prime rib? Bill and I opted for prime rib. Just once a year, I love making roast beef. It’s usually around the holidays…either Christmas Eve or New Year’s. This year, I made it for Christmas Eve.

I followed this recipe from Bon Appetit: Rib Roast with Thyme-Mustard Jus. One reason I picked this recipe is because it’s so easy. I’ve been pretty busy lately and needed some simplicity in my life.

Since we don’t have honey-Dijon mustard, I made my own by combining Grey Poupon Dijon mustard with one teaspoon of unfiltered honey, purchased locally from J & J Bee Service in Gobles, Michigan. (I picked this up earlier in the summer at the Holland Farmers Market.)

You just mix the mustard and honey together with fresh thyme, which I found in my local grocery store. It’s from a farm called Michigan Fine Herbs in Shelby, Michigan, which produces organic herbs.

Then you rub the mustard-honey-thyme marinade on the beef.

Roast the meat for about an hour and 15 minutes. Then let it rest on a platter, covered with foil.

Meanwhile, pour some dry white wine in the roasting pan and deglaze the pan to make the jus. There’s not much grease from this cut of meat because grass-fed beef is much leaner than feedlot meat.

We enjoyed our roast beef with potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper and roasted in the oven along with the meat.

Happy Christmas!

Crane Dance Farm’s Mobile Meat Market


Yesterday, when I was at the Holland Farmers Market stocking up on produce for the winter, I stopped by the Crane Dance Farm booth to pick up some stew meat for Beef Bourguignon. Owned by Jill Johnson and Mary Wills and located in Middleville, Michigan, Crane Dance Farm is one of Bill’s and my favorite choices for meat when we need to supplement our stash from Lubbers Farm.

Mary and Jill from Crane Dance Farms

In the winter, we usually buy meat from Crane Dance Farm at the West Michigan Co-op, but yesterday Tim and Stephanie Pierce, two of the farm’s apprentices, gave me a flyer advertising their winter schedule. I was thrilled to learn they will be setting up their Mobile Meat Market at the Holland Civic Center one Thursday afternoon a month from December through April! (Check out their Winter Delivery Schedule on the farm’s website.)

So if you’re looking for a healthy, happy source of meat–from grassfed beef and lamb to pastured pork, poultry, and eggs–visit the Crane Dance Farm Mobile Meat Market in Holland. The bonus? They’re Animal Welfare Approved.

Preserving the Harvest: Freezing and Canning 101


The first time I tried canning, I had a huge garden out in the country with hoards of Roma tomatoes that I wanted to preserve. So I bought a pressure cooker, read the directions, and followed the procedure, placing my finished product in their Ball jars on a shelf in the pantry.

I don’t know how long it took,  but eventually I saw mold on top of the tomatoes and had to throw them all out. After that, I was discouraged–let’s even say afraid–to ever try canning again.

So when my friend Tammy asked me if I wanted to go to a canning and freezing workshop at Lubbers Farm in September, I thought this was the time to conquer my fear. Get back on the horse. After all, I’m the one writing a food blog about how to make the most of using what you grow yourself or procure locally. And one of the best ways to preserve the harvest, especially if you live in a climate that gets sub-zero temps like Michigan does, is to can.

Lubbers Farm is where Bill and I buy all our pastured meat. We just picked up a mixed quarter of beef in October, and our pork and lamb are at the butcher as I write this post. Lubbers is the perfect example of a farm with a philosophy toward happy food. (Check out my blog post from September, 2009, when we went to their open house.) Not only are they advocates of the humane treatment of animals and a sustainable environment, but they also make an effort to educate people and create awareness about food by hosting workshops right at the farm.

In mid-September, Tammy and I attended “Preserving the Harvest Naturally: Freezing and Canning 101,” which was led by Kathy Rafter, a Natural Health Practitioner and a founding member of Nourishing Ways of West Michigan.

The workshop was held on a Saturday, and it was both a demo as well as hands-on participation.

First Kathy talked about the history of food preservation in general, and then covered some basic processes for canning and freezing, as well as which fruits and vegetables are appropriate for each method.

For example, freezing–for which most of the equipment you need can be found in your kitchen–is best used for vegetables such as: beans, greens, broccoli, peppers, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, scallions, peas, corn, eggplant, and tomato sauce.

Fruits that freeze well include: berries, cherries, peaches, applesauce, rhubarb, mash, and jams.

Canning, as I learned when I tried those Roma tomatoes many years ago, requires more specific equipment. Although many people use the water bath method, I was happy to learn from Kathy that it’s safe to use  a steam canner. (And she used to be a civil engineer specializing in hydraulics, so I know she knows what she’s talking about!)

Here’s the steam canner she brought, by Back to Basics, which you can get on Amazon for about $45.

Vegetables and fruits appropriate for canning include: all fruits (applesauce, plums, peaches, pears, apricots, jams), tomatoes, and sometimes veggies with vinegar, such as salsa. These are considered acidic, and therefore canning works well.

You can also can low-acid vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood.

Here’s some of the equipment you’ll need for canning:

A few volunteers helped during the workshop as Kathy demonstrated how to make raspberry jam in the steam canner.

It’s important to sterilize the jars and lids first.

Raspberry jam is one of the easiest jams to can.

After creating a mixture of (washed) raspberries, sugar, and Pomona’s Universal Pectin, it goes into the jars, which are arranged in the steamer.

Acid-based foods need to be heated to 212 degrees F to kill bacteria and form a vacuum in the jar. When using a steam canner, you need to maintain an 8-inch plume during the steaming period. (Refer to a Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for recipes and canning times.)

Here are the steamed jars with condensation on top. They pop as they cool–that’s how you know they’re sealed and that the food is safe to eat.

After the jam was done, Kathy showed us how to freeze green beans by blanching first and then cooling them in an ice bath.

You can store vegetables for freezing in either freezer bags or freezer jars. For bags, freeze them flat, then you can easily store them upright like books to save space. For jars, make sure to leave room at the top for expansion so the jar doesn’t break.

No blanching is needed for veggies such as peppers, green onions, celery, or leeks–anything you might use for flavoring. Just wash, dry, slice, and freeze. Because freezing doesn’t kill bacteria (just makes it dormant), it’s important to cook these vegetables when you use them.

You can also freeze herbs by chopping them and putting them in an ice cube tray with water or oil. Then you have “herb cubes” to use as needed. Store them in a freezer bag once the frozen cubes are ready.

Here are a few other tips, as well as references:

  • Canning jars come in 1 cup, 1 pint, 1 quart, and 1/2 gallon sizes.
  • Wash produce first before canning or freezing.
  • Fruits and tomatoes need to be stored in a liquid, either blanching water or a light syrup.
  • Muffin pans are a great way to freeze 1/2 cup quantities. (Just like with the herb cubes, remove from muffin pan when the produce is frozen and place in freezer bags.)
  • Keep good records of the canning or freezing date, contents, etc.
  • Don’t reuse seals for canning.
  • Store jars without the bands on the lids, especially if kept in a humid place such as the basement, to prevent rust forming.
  • If a seal is broken, don’t eat the food.
  • Use your nose when you open a jar for the first time; if it doesn’t smell good, don’t use it.
  • Assess what food you want to preserve and the best method for preserving it.

References:

At the end of the demo, we got to sample a variety of Kathy’s delicious preserved fruits and vegetables.

Although your garden produce is probably finished by now if you live in the North, there’s still time to make the most of the harvest by canning and freezing produce from your local farmers market!

Thanks to Lubbers Farm for hosting this wonderful learning experience, and to Kathy Rafter for giving me the confidence to try canning again!

Stocking Up for Winter: One Mixed Quarter of Grassfed Beef


I get lots of questions when I tell people Bill and I buy our meat in bulk. How much does it cost? Where do you get it? What’s the process? Where do you store it?

So I thought I’d share our beef purchasing experience with you since today’s the day I picked up our quarter of a cow and stored it in our freezer.

First of all, all farmers have their own process, but in general, you put in an order for meat way in advance, paying a small deposit, so they can raise your animal. In our case, last March we ordered beef, pork, and lamb from Lubbers Farm, which we visited last fall (in Grand Rapids, Michigan) so we could learn where and how the animals were raised. We were pleased with what we saw.

To find a farm that raises pastured animals where you live you can search on EatWild.com.

A few weeks ago I got a call from Mike at Mike’s Deer Processing in Allendale, Michigan. He said our cow was going to be slaughtered soon so he wanted to take our order for processing. That means answering questions like “Ground beef or stew meat?” “How many steaks per package?” “How many pounds per rump roast?” It does help to have an idea of the cuts of meat a butcher is referring to before having the conversation, so if you need a reference there are many charts and posters available online. But butchers are really good at walking you through the process.

So what’s a mixed quarter? Picture a cow (see above). If you want half a cow, you get all the parts on one side of the animal (not the front end or back end), but if you only want a quarter you would sacrifice certain cuts if you took the front right quarter or the rear left quarter. That’s why it’s called a “mixed” quarter, so everyone who’s buying quarters from the same cow gets an even distribution of the different cuts. It all fit into two boxes in the back of my car.

We chose to get a lot of ground beef because Bill makes a mean grassfed beef burger.

Everyone always asks, how much do you pay per pound? That’s because most of us have been raised to consider cost first on anything we buy. But for Bill and me, we draw the line at food. So here’s the breakdown for the beef:

One mixed quarter of beef: $336.60 (includes $20 kill fee)
Butcher’s processing fee: $87.80
Deposit paid in March: $25 
Total: $449.40

Up front, that’s a lot of money. If you divide the total by the 113 lbs. of beef we received, it costs $3.98 per pound. That’s still a lot of money from many points of view.

But think of it this way: While our ground beef may have cost $3.98 per pound, so did our prime rib, chuck roasts, short ribs, rump roast, t-bones, sirloins, and porterhouse steaks. And in the long run, that’s good for our health because we know we’re eating healthy, grassfed meat, locally raised without stress, hormones, or antibiotics. So we might have fewer trips to the doctor’s office as a result. Plus, we don’t eat beef every day. We vary our meals with vegetarian options so the meat lasts quite awhile.

Where do we store 113 pounds of beef? In our 11-cubic-foot upright freezer in the basement (sort of like this one), along with the soon-to-come half a pig, whole lamb, and various chickens. It’s a bit smaller than those huge chest freezers that most people buy. We like an upright one for ergonomic reasons.

If you don’t have room for a freezer or a big enough kitchen freezer, consider these options:

  • Store the meat at a friend’s or neighbor’s home and give them a roast or two for the favor.
  • Share the meat among a group of people.
  • Make room in the basement or garage by getting rid of that old rusty MG convertible that you’ll never drive and don’t have time to fix.

Hopefully, this information sheds a little light on how to buy grassfed beef from a local farmer. For more information about the benefits of grassfed meat, check out the NRDC’s Top Ten Reasons to Eat Grassfed Meat.

Lamb Souvlaki with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Greek Salad


Okay, so it’s not really souvlaki because the lamb’s not skewered, but that’s  the name of the recipe so I’m sticking with it. This recipe came from ABC Hobart, a radio station in Tasmania, Australia.

As usual, I improvised. For one thing, it’s hard to find good pita bread in West Michigan at the last minute without going to Mediterranean Island in Grand Rapids, so I actually used flour tortillas as a substitute. (These also work well to accommodate Bill’s wheat allergy; even though the tortillas are made with wheat, his reaction to tortillas is less severe than for pita bread.)

Where’s the lamb, you might ask? It’s hidden under the salad. Basically, the tortilla (or pita) serves as a holder for the halloumi and the lamb; then you pile the Greek salad on top. It’s a great dish to make in the summer because of the cool salad components. And, there’s not much cooking to do. I included this recipe in my “Food Over a Fire” category because all you need is an iron skillet for cooking the lamb and browning the cheese. Bill and I actually prefer making this dish with ground lamb, which doesn’t need to be marinated. This lamb is from Creswick Farms, via the West Michigan Co-op, until our lamb order from Lubbers Farm is ready in the fall.

Once it was browned, I drained the fat and continued frying it until was nice and crispy, then added ground cumin and a dash of cayenne pepper. (I omitted the oregano in this step because I planned to add fresh oregano leaves to the salad component.)

Next, I heated up the tortillas on a griddle and put them on plates, covered, to keep warm. (You could do this in a skillet over a campfire or wrap them in foil to warm them slowly.) Then I cut the halloumi cheese into slices between 1/4 and 1/2 inches thick (so they don’t fall apart) and fried them in a very light coating of olive oil until nicely browned on both sides.

Then I cut the cheese slices down the middle in order to distribute them on the tortilla.

Next, I squeezed some fresh lemon juice on the cheese and sprinkled the ground lamb all over the tortilla.

Meanwhile, I combined tomatoes, olive oil, salt, fresh lemon juice, cucumbers, fresh chopped oregano, and fresh chopped mint in a bowl to create the Greek salad. The herbs came right from my garden and the vegetables are from the Holland Farmers’ Market.

For the final assembly, I put mixed greens on top of the tortilla-halloumi-lamb mixture and added the Greek salad, garnishing with kalamata olives.

Stay tuned for my next lamb recipe showing how I used up the leftovers!

Pork Steak on the Grill


During oven season, which–in Michigan–runs from about September through May, Bill and I like to braise pork steaks, which we have been buying from Creswick Farms through the West Michigan Co-op until we get our meat order at Lubbers Farm later this summer.

Now that it’s grilling season, I wondered how I could cook pork steaks outside, since they are a relatively new entity in my world. (I’d never heard of them until I bought half a pig a couple years ago). 

Last weekend I got this idea: Why not grill a pork steak the way we grill a ribeye? Both steaks are from grassfed animals so the key is to grill them for a short period of time. Bill insists the one-minute sear per side is key, and I agree–that’s how it stays moist.

At first I was inspired by Muzzy’s Magic Texas BBQ Rub, which is made of: sugar, chili pepper, paprika, salt, garlic, onion, celery, cumin, and black pepper. With sugar as the lead ingredient, it was a bit sweet for me, so I decided to use the rub in combination with the Grilled Grassfed Ribeye Steak recipe I posted in March. Here’s how I improvised:

I mixed the rub with about a teaspoon more paprika, then added some more salt, cumin, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. After rubbing the meat with garlic and olive oil, I sprinkled the spice rub on both sides.

For the pork steak, we seared each side for one minute on a very hot grill (around 500 degrees) with the center burner off. Then we cooked each side for 3 minutes (for a one-pound,  3/4-inch steak). After that, we let it rest, covered, for at least 5 minutes.

Instead of the balsamic-caper vinaigrette from the recipe, I simply squeezed some fresh lime juice on the meat before serving. We couldn’t believe how juicy the meat was!

For sides, we had saffron risotto and roasted asparagus (done in foil on the grill before we put the meat on).

Voila!