Thursday, August 30, 2012

Asian Pork Tacos and an Oink Outing

Did you know that you now only have to cook pork to 145 degrees? I didn’t either, but it was one of the cool facts I learned when I was invited to go on an Oink Outing this summer.  Oink Outings…I just love saying it…are day-long events that are put on by the Minnesota Pork Board to help educate the public about how pork gets from the farm to the table safely.  Each outing consists of a small group of bloggers or moms who have some social influence, employees of the Minnesota Pork Board,  hosts from the farms that are toured, and executive chefs from some of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities.

My Oink Outing was held on a Tuesday in June (I know-I procrastinate). Our group, four bloggers and two moms that are part of a running club, were joined by hosts Mary Langhorst and her son Lincoln from the Peter Marcus Farm in Lafayette, Minnesota. We met at The Hilton in downtown Minneapolis, where The Hilton’s Executive Chef, Julian Grainger, first gave us a cooking demonstration and then a behind the scenes tour of The Hilton’s kitchens. Fascinating stuff! This place serves presidents and dignitaries from all over the world, from as few as 500 meals per day, to 8,000!

Chef Julian Grainger of the Minneapolis Hilton, giving us cooking lesson.

Chef Julian was amazing! He showed us how easy it is to make Banh Mi Pork Tian, and then he fed us a wonderful lunch. First, there was a cool Watermelon and Feta Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and a Balsamic Reduction--very refreshing--then the Banh Mi Pork Tian. Dessert was a scrumptious Candied Pecan and Bacon Ice Cream topped with, of all things, a Bacon Lollipop! I took copious notes, that I have yet to decipher. Luckily, Chef Julian was gracious enough to share the pork recipe and I made it into some awesome Asian Pork Tacos. I will share that recipe with you at the end of the post.

The first course.....

Banh Mi Pork Tian...the delicious entree served to us by Chef Julian.

Can you believe this ice cream? Candied pecans and bacon...then topped with more bacon. Pure pork love. :)

After such a great meal, we were ready for the main part of our Oink Outing. Chef Julian joined us, as we piled into a mini-van and made our way to the Peter Marcus Farm, an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities. Now, I'll be honest with you, I wasn't sure what to expect. There are so many concerns these days with the safety of our food that I wanted to see the source, but the skeptic in me had a few doubts that we would see the real deal. It turns out, there was no need for doubt. 

One of the main objectives of the Oink Outing project is to provide transparency as to what happens on a daily basis on the farm. The folks from the Minnesota Pork Board and our hosts, the Langhorsts, encouraged us to ask any questions throughout the tour, no matter how tough. We were allowed to use our cameras and nothing was hidden. 

The first thing that impressed me, upon our arrival at the farm, was that the smell was kept to a minimum. This is thanks to an air filtration system. With that, and the climate controlled building, the pigs are kept happy and comfortable.

Impressive also is the procedure for entering the pig barns. This was no casual thing. Questions were asked and answered (we had agreed beforehand, not to visit any other farms or zoos for at least 3 days before the tour), and then we were given coveralls, boots, and a bar of soap to wash up. The health of the pigs is of utmost importance--viruses travel quickly and can be devastating. So, we suited up (Mary Langhorst actually showered, since she had been in contact with other animals) and we started in the farrowing (or birthing) barn.

We left our dirty street shoes on the other side of "the bench" before we donned some boots.

We stepped into the farrowing barn just a few minutes short of actually seeing piglets being born. The sows were all comfy in their stalls and were in various stages of birthing. The surprising thing for me was all of the planning that goes into these births, from the conception (Lincoln Langhorst gave a pretty good explanation of that process--in the most scientific terms, of course), to the timing of the births, to the length of time the piglets are kept with their mothers. The tiny piglets we saw (and held!) were just a few minutes old, and they each had their favorite teat. Different colored stripes on the piglets' backs help to keep track of which shots they had been given.

The piggies clamor for food...the one with a blue stripe has already had a vaccination.

Here, I get to hold a twenty minute old piglet.

Cute at any age... 

We had a lot of information about the raising of pigs to discuss on our trip back to the cities. In the end, we saw the dedication and the care given to the animals at the farm, and  we were impressed with the operations of the entire facility and the openness of our hosts. Consider this: Our pork supply has never been as safe and as healthy as it has been in the last 15 years. That could not have been possible without ethical and humane treatment of the animals and strict safety measures.

A couple of facts:

1. Minnesota is the second largest pork producing state, second only to Iowa. Part of the reason for this is economics...the farms are located near corn producing farms, so feed is nearby.

2. The pig farm tours are just one of the ways the Minnesota Pork Board gets their message to the public. This year booths were set up at several farmer's markets around the Twin Cities with Pork Board employees answering questions. For each question asked, a pound of ground pork was donated to Second Harvest Heartland. This year 1860 pounds of meat was donated!

Our Oink Outing Group

I'll leave you with some links to some sites that have far more information about Minnesota Pig Farming than I can remember to provide. But first, let me share the recipes for Chef Julian's Sweet Soy Pork and Napa Slaw. I combined the two to make an incredible Asian Pork Taco.

Sweet Soy Pork (adapted from Chef Julian Grainger)

3-4# pork--picnic shoulder, butt, loin, or tenderloin
1 cup sweet soy
1/2 cup water

Rub the pork all over with the sweet soy. 
Place in a 10" baking dish
Add water to the pan, cover with plastic wrap (seriously! plastic wrap--it won't melt), and then foil.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 2 hours. Pork should shred when pulled apart with a fork.

This is sweet soy sauce. You can find it in the Asian section of your grocery store, or at an Asian market.

I chose to put the pork in a crock pot (7-8 hours on medium-low) instead of baking it and it turned out great. I did put the 1/2 cup of water in the crock pot, but it made the sauce a little watery, so I probably wouldn't use it the next time.

Napa Slaw

1/2 cup red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup rice vinegar

Combine all ingredients, toss, refrigerate.

The Peter Marcus Farm is part of a network of "farrow to wean" farms that make up Wakefield Pork, Inc. 
For more information on Minnesota Pork Producers visit The Minnesota Pork Board.
Keep up with future Oink Outing events by visiting the Oink Outing Facebook page or the Oink Outings Blog.

Disclosure: I was given a stipend to cover expenses for taking part in an Oink Outings tour. As always, my opinions are my own.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not So Impossible Veggie Pie

It's that time of year when I have a boatload of Summer vegetables that I need to make something with NOW. Last year, I actually bought myself a box of baking mix (or biscuit mix, if you will) and made an Impossible Zucchini Pie. It was really tasty, but even though I used a "heart healthy" mix, I wondered if making my own might be just a tad bit healthier. Tonight, I gave it a try.

Of course, I cruised around the Internet to check out homemade baking mix recipes, and there are quite a few out there, all pretty similar. The problem was that I didn't want a boatload of the stuff. I just wanted enough of the mix for one recipe. So, I concocted my own mini version. You will see a tablespoon of powdered non-fat milk in there...if you don't have it, I really don't think it will make all that much difference. I  like to keep it around for bread making, as it gives a little richness to the dough. All of my measurements were approximate. Feel free to substitute some of your favorite veggies...olives? shredded carrots? green peppers? The sky is the limit. You could even add some pepperoni or sausage, along with some Italian seasonings, for a pizza casserole. At any rate, I was happy with the way it turned out.

Not So Impossible Veggie Pie

1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil
1 cup reduced fat shredded cheese (I used a 3 pepper blend)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon non-fat dry milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable shortening
3/4 cup skim milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Spray a one quart casserole dish or a 9" glass pie plate with cooking spray; preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sprinkle the tomatoes, zucchini, chopped onion, basil, and cheese evenly in the casserole dish or pie plate; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, dry milk, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the coconut oil with a fork, until the mixture resembles small crumbs. Stir the milk and the eggs together in a measuring cup, then add to the flour mixture, mixing until well blended (some small lumps will remain). Pour evenly over the vegetables. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Don't worry about a few small lumps in the batter...they will disappear.

I'd say it was a big success! Now, I can't wait to try some of the other combinations I was thinking about. 

What kind of Not So Impossible Pie would you make?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Skinny Lemonade Shake-Ups and Mixed Berry Mojitos with Sweet 'N Low

Some of you may remember that my husband was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this Summer. While we are both so thankful that he made it to the doctor in time, it has been a bit of a struggle for him, learning the ins and outs of carbohydrate maintenance and having to give up some of his favorite sugary foods. It doesn't help that I've made a hobby out of baking said sugary foods. As a matter of fact, you could say that it has been a struggle for both of us. So, it was with impeccable timing that I was given the opportunity to experiment with some Sweet 'N Low® Sweetener, those perfectly pink little packets of sweetness that don't have any carbs or any calories.

This Thursday will mark the start of what we in Minnesota call "The Great Minnesota Get Together", aka, The State Fair. The hubby and I do plan on going, but it will be just a little different, since I've lost my eating partner. I do feel sorry for hubby, though, as he won't be able to enjoy some of his yearly treats. One of his favorite treats each year is a big cup of icy lemonade. You know ones..the Shake Up Lemonades made with fresh lemons and lots and lots of sugar. To ease his pain, I decided to make a copy cat lemonade, using the charming Sweet 'N Low® packets that I got in the mail.

The Sweet 'N Low® came all snug in a cocktail shaker, complete with recipe cards and a pink ribbon....

The recipe for homemade Lemonade Shake-Ups couldn't be any easier (I've adapted it from one on found on theKitchn). For each lemonade, simply squeeze the juice from two small lemons (about 1 /4 cup) into a big plastic cup. Add two packets of Sweet 'N Low®, ice cubes to the top, and water. Pour the lemon/ice mixture from one cup to another several times, or until thoroughly mixed. Add a straw, if desired, and enjoy! No carbs for hubby and no calories for me. Big thumbs up! 

The lemonade was good, but for myself I wanted something with a little kick. Hubby can't have any alcohol, but I can, so I brought out my mint leaves, some berries, and some lemon flavored rum, and I made myself a Mixed Berry Mojito. The original recipe can be found at My Life as a Mrs....I simply swapped the simple syrup for the Sweet 'N Low®.

This is also an easy recipe. For each mojito, you will need 1/4 cup mixed blueberries and raspberries, 4-5 fresh mint leaves, 2 packets of Sweet 'N Low®, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 1/2 oz lemon flavored rum, ice and enough club soda to fill a tall glass. Simply place the berries, mint leaves, Sweet 'N Low® and lime juice in a small bowl. Using a wooden spoon, muddle the mixture until the berries have released their juice. Put the muddled mixture into the bottom of a tall glass. Add the rum, ice cubes, and club soda. Stir well with a long spoon and garnish with additional berries and a few mint leaves.

Holy Smokes! You can't tell it's a "skinny" cocktail. The Sweet 'N Low® is an awesome sugar substitute.

Whether you have a need to cut back on sugar for your health, or whether you just need to cut back on some calories, Sweet 'N Low® makes it possible to enjoy your drinks with no loss of flavor. Go ahead and indulge--just don't drive afterwards!

Disclaimer: As part of the DailyBuzz Food Tastemaker Program, I was given samples of Sweet 'N Low® Sweetener and a stipend. As always, all opinions are my own.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sourdough Waffles

I have been uninspired this week. Really, there was no reason for this. Last Monday, I split a case of fresh peaches with some co-workers. I had every intention of making it a peach kind of week. Alas, it didn't happen. I also scored fresh sweet corn, banana peppers, potatoes, carrots, onions, and kohlrabi. Kohlrabi. I'm still not so sure what to make of it, but it's kind of cool looking. Ah, well, something for next week. :)

So, while I haven't been very productive, cookingwise,  I did make waffles! Sourdough waffles. They were terrific. Thank you, King Arthur Flour, for providing the recipe. Not only easy to make, they turned out nice and crispy. Of course, I made way too I froze them.

Leftover waffles with peanut butter and jelly....quick breakfast food.

I did play around with my picture apps...

So, while you're waiting for some inspired dishes out of me, check out that King Arthur recipe for Sourdough Waffles. It won't disappoint.