This is a delicious spring soup that we enjoy on cloudy days when it is still a bit chilly. Remember that nettles are stinging…meaning if handled with bare hands they contribute a mild stinging, almost itchy sensation. This stinging property is neutralized when the nettles are steamed and fully cooked. To avoid it, handle nettles with gloves.
3 cups chicken or beef bone broth, low sodium, preferably homemade
2 tbsp. bacon grease or lard
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 bunch each or a combination, about 1/4 pound stinging nettles and watercress
fine sea salt and black pepper
3 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly slice
2 tablespoons butter
Bring broth to a boil on the stove.
Heat oil in a saucepan. When hot, add onion and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, around 5 minutes. Add nettles and stir to wilt. Add broth and potatoes, bring to a boil, and cook for a minute. Then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, around 10 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth. Stir in butter. If you have it, a add a little lemon zest.
I embrace the nourishing proprieties of high quality animal fats in our meals. We especially appreciate the French cooking technique of finishing nearly every dish on the table with a healthy pat of butter right before serving. Steaks, in my kitchen, are no exception. The ramp butter melts with the meat juices and lends a delicate flavor to the steak. For more punch make with green garlic, or skip the greens and follow the recipe with just butter. We used the extra butter to season our grilled potatoes and asparagus. Spring bliss.
Ramps are a native spring woodland flower in the Allium family – the same as onion and garlic. The small bulbs and stems of ramps have a unique subtle garlicy onion flavor that we only have the pleasure of enjoying for a few weeks each year. Get a few bundles from the farmers market this weekend!
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, submerge ramps and blanch for 30 seconds, then immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Dry in a towel. Mince ramps finely on cutting board or process in a food processor. Then add butter and mash together.
Store in the fridge or freezer.
Steaks: ribeye, porterhouse, tbone, rib steak, New York strip all work well
Bring steaks out of the fridge at least a half hour before you want to cook them. Season with salt to taste and let rest on your counter.
Light your charcoal or heat your grill. You want a hot sear side and a cooler cook side, achieved by piling many hot coals in one corner of the grill and a thinner layer next to that. The sear area should be too hot to hold a hand one inch over, the cook zone cool enough to have your hand over for two or three seconds but not longer than that.
Twenty minutes before you want to serve the steaks, place them on the hot side to sear, about two minutes per side. Transfer to the cook area to continue to cook another five minutes or so depending on your preference. It’s a good idea to get used to testing for doneness by poking with your finger. A medium rare steak feels like poking the space between your thumb and pointer finger when you’re making a fist.
Remove from the grill with tongs to a cutting board. Place a generous tablespoon of ramp butter on each steak and tent with aluminum foil. Let rest ten minutes, then serve.
It’s May and raining again. We had a bit of warmth and grass growth a few weeks ago but the recent cooler weather has slowed it down to a crawl. We are really excited for the warmer weather later this week and to get all the animals out in their normal pasture rotations. In the meantime, the nettles are growing, well, like weeds and we are chowing them down. Nettles are an amazing spring super food and delicious vegetable. Loaded with trace minerals and vitamins, they fill us up with nutrients while we wait for the garden to start producing. We’ve been eating them everyday either with eggs at breakfast, as pesto, or stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms. We are offering bunches of nettles as an add-on this month. They are wonderful steamed and stir fried, and can also be dried for a delicious and nutritious tea.
Also emerging this month were shiitake mushrooms from our ironwood mushroom logs. We (especially Tilia!) have been enjoying them every night sauteed with nettles and finished with a generous helping of pasture butter.
We brought out a sheep shearer to clip all of the beautiful wool off of our wooly sheep. The Rambouillet sheep are a type of Merino sheep that make the ultra-soft merino-type yarn for garments that can be worn next to your skin. They produced an abundant quantity of wool that we took to our friend Kathryn Ashley-Wright in La Farge. She owns Ewetopia Yarn Shop in Viroqua and now the Ewetopia mill. So all of our raw wool will be washed, carded and spun into yarn six miles from our farm. We will hopefully have some of that yarn available for purchase in the coming months. I’m already planning some sweaters and hats for my family….
We’re still spending a lot of time logging and milling wood from our old pine plantation. There are some big pine trees ready for harvest, and with the right thinning we can open up many smaller pines so they are able to get more sunlight and grow big for future building projects in years to come. We were able to borrow a really nice portable bandsaw mill from a friend and have been busy stacking up boards to dry and turning the tops into woodchips. The boards in the photos will be the panelling inside our future house!
There are a whole crop of new pullets (young chickens) in the chicken coop who are just about ready to start laying some beautiful brown eggs. We’ve been watching them chow down nettles and grass. Tilia has been socializing them so they are well used to full body hugs and trips around the paddock.They should start producing soon and we hope to offer them as add-ons next month
300 baby chicks are nestled in the bottom of our barn now growing fast. They are a breed called Freedom Rangers that thrive especially on pasture. In a few week’s they’ll be out running around eating grass and bugs. In a few months we will harvest them for roaster chickens, so stay tuned for chicken add-ons.
We got a couple litters of pigs a few weeks ago! We got them from an amish farm where they’d spent their whole life in a barn stall. They sure were excited to get outside! They spent their first hour on the farm, running in circles around their paddock. We’ve got them in the barnyard where we overwintered the cattle, and the pigs are happy digging around all the waste hay and mud. They’re a mix of Berkshire and Red Wattle. They’re really nice pigs and we’re happy to have them out on pasture.
It’s grilling season! It’s also ramp season! Here’s a recipe for grilled steaks with ramp butter we’ve been enjoying that combines two of our favorite foods. Enjoy!
3 green garlic stems or scallions, chopped including green parts
1/4 pound stinging nettles, soaked in water
1-2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add oil. When oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the mushrooms and stir to coat. Add a pinch of salt. Cook mushrooms, stirring frequently, about seven minutes. When nice and soft and browned, add scallions. Cook thirty seconds, then add the wet nettles. Place a lid partly over the skillet to steam the nettles, for a minute or so until very wilted. (The wilting gets all the sting out!). Add the butter to the pan and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper and serve with your grassfed burger.
It’s April and although it’s an early spring, it’s a soggy one. We’ve had plenty of rain the past few weeks and mud for the past two months. Fortunately, it’s now just now warm enough that the grass and clover are beginning to wake up and creep out of the ground. We wait to graze until they have really started to grow, like waiting for our grass to be a decent size before we mow it. This helps the roots of our pasture grasses get nice and strong and keeps us from clipping it too short.
We are in the middle of an early calf season. Ideally we’d like to calve a little later in the spring, but it worked out that the calves are a bit earlier this year due to an unintended early breeding with a very, um, robust and insistent (fence-jumping) bull. We still have many calves and lambs to go, so we are up and about all the time checking on the mamas and babies. We let our animals have their babies outside, so our job is making sure they have access to clean and dry areas to go, clean water and proper nutrition. They will continue to munch on hay for another month or so while we wait for the grass to get taller, so we make sure to give them good groceries.
We got out a little bit already to seed some prairie seeds into our field where there are still some bare spots. We’ve also been focusing on logging and milling from our pine plantation in preparation for our building project this summer. It’s been a challenge with all the mud! As the ground greens up the animals get a little more restless, so we are often working on fencing for those guys keeping them in just a little longer until we really have enough forage for them to chow down. We also will be building some extra tall fences to make sure we can keep our bull contained this summer.
Peter has been busy getting everything ready to build a house this summer. He’s been logging our white pines, milling timbers, and making wood chips with the branches. It’s quite a job!
We’ve got some delicious beef roasts to hand out this month. There are a couple different types of roast: marbled pot roasts like chuck and arm, and lean muscle rump roasts. A couple of cooking suggestions for each:
Contrary to the chuck, the rump of the cow has lean muscle groups. The rolled rump roast comes from the eye of round, the middle of the cow’s rump. It is the cut of beef used to make roast beef sandwiches, and should be roasted with dry heat in an oven or a grill until medium rare or medium and sliced very thinly to serve.
Rub roast all over with 2 tablespoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Let it come to room temperature on your counter, about an hour.
Heat oven to 225. Heat your largest skillet on the stove. When hot, add 2 tablespoons tallow, lard or vegetable oil. Sear the meat on all sides until well browned, about ten minutes. Top with one spring fresh rosemary. Transfer the roast to a roasting pan or baking sheet, or put the entire skillet in the oven.
Roast for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the middle of the roast reads 135. Let the roast rest on a plate 20 minutes, tented with aluminum foil.
Meanwhile, make a sauce, if desired.
In your dutch oven or skillet (not cast-iron) where you seared the roast, heat 1 tablespoon tallow or vegetable oil. When hot, add one diced shallot. Cook until softened, about two minutes. Then stir in 3/4 cup low sodium (or homemade) beef or chicken broth, 1/2 cup red wine and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Scrape the bottom of the pan and simmer until thickened. Off the heat stir in 3 tablespoons melted butter, salt, pepper and a little fresh thyme if you have it.
To serve, slice meat very thinly, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and drizzle with sauce or pass at the table. Alternatively cool the roast and slice the following day for roast beef sandwiches, salads and snacks.
2 tablespoon rendered beef tallow or other cooking oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1.5 cups dry red wine
1 cup beef broth
Preheat oven to 325˚.
Pat roast dry and rub all over with two teaspoons salt and a half teaspoon black pepper.
Heat a large skillet or enameled dutch oven over high heat. When hot, add two tablespoons tallow or vegetable oil and brown roast on all sides, about ten minutes. Transfer meat to a plate.
Add onions to skillet and a pinch of salt and saute until translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste and herbs and stir like crazy to scrape the bottom of the pan and cook, about a minute. Add wine and broth and bring to a simmer. If using a dutch oven, add beef, cover and transfer to the oven. Or transfer liquids and beef to roasting pan, cover and place in the oven. After an hour, turn the roast.
Roast four to five hours or until the meat is very tender. Then uncover the pot and let the meat rest, in sauce at least 20 minutes. Cut into chunks, and slices and serve with the gravy and noodles or potatoes, and salad. Or shred the beef and place back in the sauce. The roast will be good served the day of but makes outstanding leftovers. Simply reheat shredded or sliced meat in the onion sauce and serve on a sandwich, with potatoes, however you like…. 🙂
Spring indeed. We’re a full month ahead of schedule. The ground is thawed, nettles are emerging, and birds are returning. Normally we don’t have green grass to graze until the first week of May, but this year, we’ll be grazing by April. Although we’ve enjoyed the warmth, the crazy weather has been tough. The extended freezing and thawing of the ground prolongs “mud season.” The animals make quite a mess walking around and driving the tractor to bring hay doesn’t help. Luckily for the ruminants, we’ve been able to get them top-quality fermented alfalfa hay, which they dive into like a pile of cupcakes. It smells and tastes delicious! We feed fresh bales out in the pasture and what the cows and sheep don’t eat they trample into the ground to make little hay beds where they have a warm and dry place to lie down. Which is good because we are now in baby season!
So far we’ve had eight lambs born, including one set of triplets! We’ve had three calves, all male, and one cow in her first pregnancy lost her calf in labor. It was a sad moment for us and her, but she seems to have recovered physically and is back up and eating and hanging out with her siblings. It’s often the case that first-time mothers have difficult calving, so it’s always a risk. All of our calves this year are second-generation Mastodon Valley Farm baby! Mom and dad were both born here, too. That’s quite a proud moment for us!
We’ve welcomed a new canine to the farm family, Ada. She’s a Spanish Ranch Mastiff/Italian Maremma cross. These are European dogs bred to guard livestock. She is living in the sheep paddock and will assume the sheep flock as her pack instead of us humans.
She will live full-time protecting the sheep, and eventually have babies with our other guardian dog, Odum. She is a really sweet puppy and it’s hard to not bring her into our house to snuggle, but she’s got a job to do and we have Travis, our Australian Shepard for all the muddy dog snuggles we need.
Beef is back in our farm shares after our brief hiatus due to the closing of our primary meat processor Driftless Meats and More. This month we sent two beefs to Richland Meat Locker, a state-inspected facility about thirty minutes East of our farm. It’s an old fashioned place with good folks working there who’ve been in the business a long time. When we grazed at Mark Shepard’s farm, we used this processor. They’ve always been super nice to the animals and do a nice job cutting. You’ll notice the different packaging, but don’t worry, it’s still our beef!
One benefit of the early thaw in the ground…we are breaking ground on our new house! Apparently construction begins now. We will be pouring the basement in the next couple months and harvesting timber from an old pine stand to supply all of the wood. It’s a lot of work, but we should be moved in by the end of 2018.
Everyone loves ground beef. It embodies all of the flavor of grassfed because it’s a blend of the whole animal. We love ground beef that’s been allowed to simmer one to two hours on the stove, lending tons of flavor and texture to the dishes and really getting tender beef. Check out our Ultimate Chili Recipe – a stand-by in our house because I can prepare it earlier in the day and leave it on the stove, and with tons of garnishes it’s a fun meal. Tilia absolutely loves it.
Another great savory meal with ground beef is this Simple Meat Tomato Sauce Recipe for pasta or pizza. Sometimes we just put it on a bed of greens for a light carb-free meal.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add onion and cook until softened, 6 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Crumble ground beef into pan as finely as possible with your hands or a fork. Cook until no longer pink. Add tomato past, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of liquid from the diced tomatoes. Stir vigorously and let the liquid partially cook down, for about a minute. Add tomatoes, wine, and oregano. Simmer partially covered one to two hours, stirring occasionally and monitoring levels of liquid, adding more water or wine if it gets close to burning.
This is a smoky, complex, mild chilly, thick enough to almost be a called a stew, but a beautiful showcase of our ground beef. If you desire more heat add canned chipotles in adobo sauce. We like it without beans but those can be added as well. Be generous with the simmer. A simmer of at least an hour really allows the flavors to meld. If you don’t want to do this stove top, the stew can also be placed in a slow cooker as well.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons lard, beef tallow or other cooking oil 2 onions, diced 6 cloves garlic, minced 2 pounds ground beef 1 teaspoon allspice 2 teaspoons oregano 2 tablespoons chili powder 2 tablespoons cumin 2 tablespoons cocoa powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 can tomato paste 1 dried chipotle pepper (or 1 tsp. diced canned chipotle in adobo..or more, to taste) 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes 2 cups beef bone broth (or other meat broth) 1 cup water optional: 1 can drained beans garnish: avocado slices, onion, sour cream, tortilla strips, lime wedges, lime juice Method: Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium flame. Add onions and a pinch of salt and saute until soft, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add ground beef and crumble with a spoon or fork. Cook until no longer pink, around six minutes. Add tomato paste, spices, cocoa, and salt and stir vigorously to coat meat. Add pepper, tomatoes, broth, and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for one and a half to two hours. Towards the end of cooking, add the can of beans and canned chipotles if using. Remove chipotle pepper. Adjust seasoning. Serve with avocado slices, lime wedges, sour cream and fresh onions or scallions. Make your own tortilla chips by frying in lard or use the store-bought variety. Tuck in! Recipe adapted from Mel Jouwan’s My Favourite Chili from Well-Fed Paleo