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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

So,...Where does this meat come from?

Last week, a long time friend posted a question on Facebook "Do you know where your food comes from?"  The answer for my veggies was very simply ... "Yes!" The problem came when I looked at where I buy the protein portion of my meals. For three generations, my family has been buying from a small town, local butcher, Zimmerman's Meats, but the last few years, I have not been so consistent in buying my cuts of meat from there.

My father actually went to school with a Zimmerman, remembered going to the shop with his mother, and insisted that I drive the 45 miles from my house to pick up his favorite cuts when he lived with me. After his death, we still picked up cuts from the store, but I also picked up meat at the supermarket. After the big outcry against "pink slime," I started thinking, what am I actually giving to my family. Then I heard about the "meat glue," and this made me think that running the 45 miles was not such a bad trade for better meat.

I would like to say that I feed my family nothing but organic everything all the time, but I really can't afford to pay $8.99 a pound for Chicken, or $14.00 for enough ground beef to make a decent meatloaf. I try to buy the healthiest foods, without losing my home, and that is why I make a 45 mile drive to a good, honest butcher that my family has trusted for 74 years.

Unlike supermarkets, or those discount "Meat Markets," Zimmerman's cuts their own meat every morning, they will even cut special for you. I call and order a few months supply, and they package it properly for the freezer. The cost is no more than the supermarket, but I know that they are adding nothing to the meat, they are not "gluing" sections together or anything else you might find elsewhere. The butcher may not know exactly which farm or farmer the meat came from, but he can assure me that they are the best cuts, from a quality distributor, and nothing from outside of the U.S.

You may not live by Zimmerman's, or even close enough to drive, but you can certainly look around for a decent butcher in your location. I asked questions on what to look for in a good butcher, and here are the tips from a butcher:

  1. Don't trust a seller that is underpricing the meat. If something is being advertised as several dollars a pound less than everywhere else, this meat is probably imported from Mexico or another country, and is not quality. 
  2. Find out how long a business has been around, and then ask locals what they think. If it is a new butcher, where did they learn the craft. 
  3. Ask to have a special cut made for you. If the butcher is unwilling to do it, this is not a good butcher. If they are willing to make a special cut, then they take pride in their business and service.

Cleanliness! (This is my rule) Tiptoe and peek at the floor behind the counter, look if you can through the door into the back, look at the hands and nails of the butcher. At Zimmerman's, the floors are spotless, the counters are always clean, the butchers are immaculate, and the whole shop has a nice smell of faint rub spices. I have a pretty keen nose, and I only smell fresh when walking into the shop. Make sure that any shop you buy from is clean with no off-putting smells.

If you can afford the organic, local grown beef and pork, your best bet is to look for a farmer that will sell 1/2 or 1/4 sides of meat. There are butcher shops that will cut the meat for you, (the same as if you bring in a deer...hunters will know where to go!) or you can make the cuts yourself. This way you know exactly where your meat comes from, and buying in bulk will be less expensive that buying individual cuts, but you will not get to choose your cuts, you will get what comes from that side of beef or pork.

In the end, ask questions! The best way to take care of your family is to be informed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pickled Radishes - A Delicious Addition to the Table

This spring during planting I ran out of carrot seeds, so I sent Robert to the garden center to buy more seeds while I finished planting the beans.  I am partial to organic, so he went with specific instructions on what to buy. When he came back home he handed me a package of radish seeds with a big smile on his face and asked me to find a spot for them in the garden. I was a little surprised, because after almost 10 years of marriage, I had never seen the man eat a radish. I did carve out a row for his radishes, and after they were planted I mentioned the fact that I had not a clue that he liked radishes. He then admitted to me that he really didn't care too much for them, but wanted to grow them because they have a 29 day growth period, and he gets so impatient with waiting to harvest that he thought it would be fun to grow them just to harvest them. He then threw me his biggest smile and I set out to find something to do with his radishes.

Radishes sandwiched between the beets and the garlic

I decided to try pickling them because of a comment from a friend, Becky, who was also contemplating what to do with all the radishes in the garden at Firestone Farm.  She first mentioned pickling them, and I became determined to try it as well.  I tried to find a recipe in one of my historic cookbooks, but no real luck.  So I decided to do a table pickle, the type we used to do at the farm with fresh veggies right out of the garden.  This is a super easy recipe, and we have used it for cucumbers mostly, but it works great for radishes too!

Start with about 4 - 5 radishes, not too large, and wash them with a veggie brush, and then slice them thin.  Place them in a bowl and pour half water and half white vinegar over them until they are covered.  If you like less vinegar, just make it 2/3 water and 1/3 vinegar. Add a pinch or two of salt and a couple pinches of pepper.  This can set out for a few hours, either on the counter or in the fridge, and then taste and adjust the vinegar, water, salt and pepper to your liking. This dish can last quite a while in the fridge, but we have only had them last a day before they are gone!

A Quick Radish Pickle

The pickled radishes turned out so delicious! The flavor is quite changed in just a few hours, and they add an awesome flavor to grilled burgers, fresh salads, and are exceptionally pretty as a garnish. I was also pleased when our neighbors tasted them and then accepted when I offered the whole bowl to them. (The bowl was returned empty the very next day!)  My brother-in-law just kept eating them and polished off half the bowl before the burgers were even on the grill. I am really glad that the radish is such an easy veggie to grow, because I am going to have to plant more, as our one row has been depleted only 4 days after my first dish of quick table pickles.

Now if I can get a whole couple of rows, I will have to see how they do as jar pickles...wish me luck!  

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Garden is up and running!

It has been quite some time since I have last posted.  Winter is a hard time for me to get motivated to do much.  I love my summers and my garden and I can barely sit inside for long, but I am a hibernating kind of girl. Around February I actually rouse myself from my slumber, though not my warm house, and begin to prepare my tomato seeds.  I have a couple green lights, just little ones from Home Depot, not the kind that will get me tagged by the ATF.  I set the seeds in the furnace room, and set the lights at about 4" from the planter.  As the seedlings grow, I keep the lights about 4" above. The furnace room stays at about 76 - 78 degrees, warmer than the rest of the house, which is really too cold for me or the tomatoes.

This year, because of a Senior graduating, a second-grader doing 1st Communion, and a flooded basement getting a complete overhaul, I decided to start my tomatoes be seed, but not my peppers.  Instead, I went to the Pontiac Farmer's Market and bought my peppers, eggplant, rosemary and squashes from an awesome lady who is local and organic.  The beans, corn, broccoli, beets, onions and peas were all started by seeds on May 12 - 15.

Before planting, the garden had to be prepared.  For Valentine's Day two years ago my wonderful husband bought me an awesome gas-powered tiller.  After the last of the veggies are harvested, and the largest plants removed, but before the ground freezes, we till the garden over with the compost and straw from the chicken coop.  The first warm and dry days in March, or early April, we till again, and when I say "we," I really mean Robert.  This year I was able to get my 18 year old to pull all the weeds out too!

I am a big fan of the Farmer's Almanacs, and they have not failed me yet. The recommended day for planting was May 12, and about a week before, Robert tilled the ground again, and I raked it smooth, pulled out weeds, and let the chickens have at all the bugs that were emerging from winter.

Ethel working in the Garden

Buttercup taking a break from feasting

 I also started hardening my tomatoes a few weeks before. I bring them out for a few hours, in the shade, on warm days, and extend the time and sun exposure until they are out all day in full sun. It is amazing how much faster and greener they grow with real sun. After the garden is smoothed again ... (Chickens can make some large holes and mounds as the dig.)

Rolling and digging in the fresh tilled soil

 ... I lay out the garden with sticks and twine.  I use grid paper with the measurements of my garden drafted out to make a map first of where my veggies are to be planted, and measure out all the plots from one specific corner. I save all my garden maps from years past so that I can keep track of crop rotation.

Plotting out the garden with sticks and twine

 Rotating helps keep plants safe from specific types of insects, like cut worms. If you plant your tomatoes in the same place year after year, you are just inviting the insect to cut down your stalks. Moving beans around also helps with soil nutrition.

Now that everything is in, I am getting excited about all the fresh meals I can make.  Over this past winter, I took several classes at  Schoolcraft College of Culinary Arts.  The classes are great, inexpensive for the quality of instruction, and you do not need to be enrolled in the Culinary program.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, one of the three days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)  that the Pontiac Farmer's Market is open, and it is strawberry season in Michigan!