Thursday, May 4, 2017

Announcing: North Woods Ranch is Moooving On!

Our fresh-air loving, beautiful bovines, and dirt-nosed porkers have outgrown our pastures.

And when a cattle herd's diet consists only of grasses, and you raise pigs with space to freely live outdoors, this is a big deal!

We scratched our heads and looked at our options.  Stay small . . . find new land?

Then, we had an opportunity to sell our herds to two pasture-based farms.  This was awesome.

We're excited about this change!

First:  We found our animals homes with caring farmers on expansive natural grasses, and woodlots where they can live in a healthy and humane environment. 

Second: Our amazing customers can still get amazing Pork, Beef and Chicken!

We have plenty of pork inventory.  Order now while we have it!

Plus, you can still get 100% grass-fed beef locally!
Our cattle are now in wonderful hands at Pittsburgher Highland Farm, on rolling, beautiful pastures just North of Kittanning.

Let us introduce our friends at Pittsburgher Highland Farm

Sign up for their emails & discover their pick up & delivery optionsContinue to order all of your favorite cuts of 100% Grass-Fed Beef.

Dana and Mark will be at the following farmers markets too!

Wed, 3-6 pm, starting June 14th

Sat., 9-1 pm, Starting May 20

Dana O'Conner and Mark Smith

Where did the pigs go, you ask?
Our pigs went to a pasture-based, family farm called North Mountain Pastures.  They run a great operation in Central Pennsylvania.  Learn about our pigs' new home 

Grateful to You 

We are sincerely thankful for your many years of support. Our countless positive experiences with committed customers like you have forever touched our hearts.  Thank you, we will miss you.

Oliver and I feel so fortunate to have had the experience of providing honest food to our community while raising hundreds of beautiful animals in the best environment possible.  We're proud of this important work and will always look back fondly at this special times in our lives.  

We are excited for our next journey!  We have 3 teenagers and many adventures ahead of us. We will enjoy the freedom to take new paths in the pursuit of life's many joys.

The Griswold Family

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Collard Green Stir Fry with Bacon Ends

Growing up, I would always have collards cooked low and slow in an enormous pot of water.  The process would start with stewing smoked pork necks (I liked the necks better than hocks, as they weren't as greasy and made great nibbling for the smoky meat).  The necks would stew for an hour, then the collards would go in for 20-40 minutes, depending on their age and thickness.
North Woods Ranch bacon ends
In short - this was no quick, weeknight side dish.  But collards can be an easy dish that doesn't require a great cauldron of pot likker steaming away on the stove all day.  To cut down the time and prep, I switch out the pork neck bones with bacon ends.

Bacon ends bring the fat, the smoky flavor, and meaty nuggets, but don't require the time commitment of neck bones or ham hocks.  Along with giving the collards a classic porky flavor, research suggests that dark leafy greens retain more of their vitamins when cooked with fat, locking in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (via NPR and CYWH for two sources).

While the bacon ends are rendering out their fat, strip the tough ribs from the collards.  This dish can actually be made with any dark leafy green, from mustard to turnip greens, or a mix, like collards and kale.  Stack the leaves on top of each other, then thinly slice the greens into strips.  This will help the leaves to cook quicker than wide, egg noodle-like strips.

When the bacon has rendered out its fat, turn the heat up to medium-high.  Add the collards and toss in the hot fat, layering the bacon pieces on top to weigh down and wilt  the greens.  Once the greens have shrunk about half-way down, pour in a 1/2 cup of pork or chicken stock.  This will deglaze the bottom of the pan and shock the greens with a blast of steam.

After about 15 minutes of total cooking time the greens should be fully cooked down.  If you have older or thicker leaves, give them another 5 minutes in the pan to become tender, tasting the greens to see if they need any additional salt.  Some people like vinegar on their greens, but I usually skip it and add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.
There you have it - weeknight collards in about 25 minutes.

Recipe at a glance
- 2 bunches of collards, kale, or mustard/turnip/beet greens
- 8 oz North Woods Ranch Bacon
- 4 oz chicken or pork stock 
-  Vinegar or red pepper to taste

Remove the stems from the greens. Roll the greens up and slice into thin strips, like fettuccine noodles.

Rough chop the bacon, then add to a skillet over medium heat.  Once bacon has rendered out the majority of its fat, 6-8 minutes, turn heat to medium high to crisp up bacon.

Add greens and toss in hot bacon fat. Work bacon on top of the greens to help with the cooking/wilting.  After a few minutes, add the stock and scrape up the bottom of the pan while the stock steams and boils.  This will cause the greens to cook down rapidly.

Once the greens are tender, adjust seasoning and top with red pepper or vinegar, as your taste dictates.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Portobello Caps Stuffed with Grass-fed Beef and Potatoes

The snowy weather of February seems to have brought out a flurry of food articles referencing "meat and potato dishes."  I'm not sure if the phrase "comfort food" was worn out during January, but here's another meat and potatoes dish, but this one features the perfect trifecta of meat, potatoes, and mushrooms.
Beef stroganoff, beef Bourgignon, nuea pad num mon Hoi; from Europe to Indonesia the world celebrates the marriage of mushrooms and beef.
Each time I open a package of grass-fed beef from North Woods Ranch, it's like opening up a package full of possibilities.  In this case, I thought of a hearty mushroom/potato/beef dish that wasn't stewed down into oblivion.
Grass-Fed Scottish Beef from North Woods Ranch
But what about a shepherd's pie?  Could you make a shepherd's pie for one?  Thinking of another dish, I thought about stuffed peppers and substituting a large portobello cap for the pepper.

And from that leap-frogging thought process, I came to this recipe.  Clean the stems and gills from four portobellos (one for each person.)  To up the umami-packed mushroom quotient, I re-hydrated a half-ounce of dried porcini mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes.  In that time I peeled and diced two large floury potatoes, then put them in a pot of water to boil.  Next, I sauteed the beef in a little bit of lard until it was nearly cooked through, then added one medium onion to saute, along with the now softened porcinis.  As the onions cooked down I put the mushrooms on a greased sheet tray, gill side up, and baked in a 375 F oven for 10 minutes to soften and get the juices running.
Dried Porcini's Re-hydrating
When the onion was softened, I turned off the heat and added two minced garlic cloves, a half teaspoon of ground black pepper, and one-quarter teaspoon of dried thyme.  Then I packed the meat/onion mixture into the cleaned portobello tops.  I mashed the (now tender potatoes) with butter and milk, seasoning them with a bit of salt, pepper, and garlic.
Each mushroom received a dollop of the mashed potatoes right on top of the meat mixture.  I spread the mound of potatoes down the sides to connect with the edge of the mushroom.  Almost like a savory, beefy baked Alaska! 
Next the mushrooms returned to the oven and baked at 375 F for 15 minutes.  As the meat was fully cooked, the time in the oven is to allow the flavors to meld and the potatoes to begin to get brown and crusty on top.  If the potatoes aren't browning, add a pat of butter to the top of each potato/mushroom cap.
An optional, but very tasty step is to strain the porcini's soaking liquid into a small sauce pan and let it reduce at a medium simmer for the 15 minutes the mushrooms are finishing up in the oven.  It makes for a very tasty gravy!

Recipe at a Glance:
To Serve Four
1 lb North Woods Ranch Ground Beef
4 large portobello mushroom caps
2 large russet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
1 medium white onion
.5 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
1/2 C whole milk or buttermilk
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 minced garlic clove

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Bring a small saucepot of water to a boil.  When the water boils add the porcini mushrooms and let soak for 30 minutes, turning off the heat.  Put the potatoes into a pot with water and bring to a boil.  When the potatoes begin to boil, turn the heat down to medium.

Crumble the beef into a greased skillet over medium high heat.  Stir the beef, breaking up any lumps.  When the beef is nearly cooked through, add one chopped onion and the re-hydrated, chopped porcini mushrooms.  Cook for 4-5 more minutes, until the onion begins to soften.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Reserve the porcini soaking liquid.

Scrape out the gills of the mushrooms and pop out the stem.  Place them on a greased baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.  While the mushrooms are baking, mash the softened potatoes with the butter, milk, salt, pepper, and the minced garlic.

Bring the mushrooms out of the oven, then fill the caps with the onion/beef mixture.  Top each mushroom with a quarter of the mashed potatoes, spreading the mashed potatoes towards the edge of the mushroom caps.  Bake for 15 minutes at 375.  Strain and reduce the porcini mushroom soaking liquid in a small sauce pan, seasoning with salt and pepper at the end.

Serve the baked mushroom caps with a splash of the porcini gravy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Berkshire Breakfast Hash

Hearty winter breakfasts are a wonderful way to kick off the weekend, but I realize not everyone wants to start their morning slicing and dicing through a recipe.  A good time saver is to ditch the knife and pick up a box grater.
Here is a simple Berkshire Breakfast Hash that takes about half an hour to serve up a skillet full of crispy/creamy potatoes, pork, and eggs.
Berkshire Pork Sausage from North Woods Ranch
To start, open up a one-pound package of North Woods Ranch's ground Berkshire pork sausage.  Warm up an oven-safe 12" skillet and crumble the pork into the pan.  While the sausage is browning in the pan, shred two large potatoes (peel on) and one medium onion (peel off) on the coarse teeth of a box grater. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
When the sausage has cooked through (5-7 minutes), dump in the potatoes and onion.  This mess of shredded root vegetables will act as the structural weave holding little nuggets of savory sausage.  Season with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, thyme, and a dash of cayenne.
While the potatoes cook, keep flipping the bottom layer of potatoes on top, so all the potatoes get the direct heat of the skillet.  Slip in a few pats of butter or lard to keep the potatoes from sticking.  If you get a lot of potatoes sticking, scrape away any loose potatoes from the sticky area, then splash on a few tablespoons of water to release the potatoes, scraping up the crusty bits with a spatula.  Don't worry - the water will evaporate into steam and won't make for a soggy breakfast.
A Broken Yolk is Still a Yummy Yolk
After about 10 minutes the potatoes should be browning in spots and shrinking down as they lose their water.  At this point pack down the potato/sausage mix against the bottom of the skillet.  Put in the oven for 15 minutes.  Refill your coffee cup.  Remove and dig four little holes in the potato mix.  Crack an egg into each hole, then return the skillet to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Serve with plenty of your favorite hot sauce.  If you like this recipe, try a sweet and savory version using grated sweet potatoes and a drizzle of maple syrup at the table!

Recipe at a Glance:
Serves 4
- 1 lb North Woods Ranch loose ground sausage
- 2 large potatoes, scrubbed
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled.
- 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- 4 Free Range eggs
- Salt and Pepper
- Lard or Butter for greasing pan

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Heat an oven-safe skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage, crumbling it and stirring up any large chunks.  Season with salt, pepper, and spices. 

Grate the potatoes and onion on the coarse side of the box grater.

Once sausage is cooked, add in the grated potatoes and onion.  Add a little butter or lard to keep the potatoes and onion from sticking.

Stirring often, let the potatoes begin to brown and soften, about 10 minutes.  Pack down the potato and sausage in the skillet and place in the oven.

After 15 minutes the potatoes should be tender with a crispy bottom.  Make four wells in the potatoes and crack an egg into each.  Return skillet to oven and bake until whites are set but yolks are runny, about 3 minutes.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Isolating the Coppa on Berkshire Hogs

One question I've been asked is where exactly the coppa comes from on the hog.  The coppa is a mix of muscles in the pig's neck and supports the head.  As you move from the head to the middle of the hog, these muscles taper off and leave you with the solid loin muscle, which can be cut into pork chops, a loin roast, or turned into Canadian bacon.

In comparison to the lighter, leaner meat of the loin, the coppa is a deep burgundy color and striated with dense, white fat.  As the hog roots and snoots for food, the coppa swings the great weight of the head, producing plenty of intramuscular fat.  This constant exercise gives the coppa a great flavor and dense texture.
The Trimmed Down Coppa
Now, I'm using the phrase "coppa," relating to the process of salting and drying the coppa in the Italian tradition.  Besides dry curing, you could rub down the coppa with chiles, salt, and sugar and poach it for a capicola ham.  Or brine and smoke the coppa for delicious cottage bacon.  Lastly, the coppa can be simply braised for my wife's favorite application, a pork neck pot roast.

The Shoulder Blade inside the Boston Butt
Once you remove the coppa, the rest of the shoulder can be braised for pulled pork, ground into sausage, or cubed for stew.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Cast Iron Seared Ribeye a la Faviken

While watching the PBS show "Mind of a Chef" season 3 with Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, I saw an act of culinary heresy:  Magnus put a steak in a pan, then immediately began to move it around.  As a cook there are a boundless possibilities for creativity, but when you put meat in a hot pan you just let it sit there until it develops a nice crusty sear.  Failure to do this results in a flabby, crustless piece of meat, along with the risk of tearing the meat as it sticks to the hot pan.  It's an unchallenged rule.
The resultingly beautiful steak, however, that came out of Magnus' pan blew my mind.  By moving the steak constantly, he explained, you keep the pan from cooling down, so the meat is always in contact with the full heat of the pan.  Two things in Magnus' favor was a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and the tiny-but-frequent dabs of butter he added to the pan.
Dissecting this process, the cast iron will retain it's heat better than any other cooking vessel once preheated, and those small pats of butter will help keep the steak lubricated and sliding easily along the pan.
I was a little nervous the first time I tried this, as it went against everything I knew.  But the logic made I dived in.  Oliver and Jodi have these beautiful grass-fed Scottish Highland ribeye steaks, which seemed perfect for this cooking method.  Grassfed steaks offer a world of beefy flavor, but don't come with all the fat you'll find in a commercial cow.  The flavor of these heritage steaks shines brightest at rare to medium rare.
So I greased up a large cast iron griddle and preheated it to smoking hot.  For a smaller steak a regular cast iron skillet would work just fine.  Dabbing on some butter mixed with minced garlic and thyme, I dropped the steak down and heard a hearty sizzle.  Grabbing the bone-end with my tongs, the steak slid easily around the hot griddle, coasting on a film of garlicky butter.  Peaking on the cooking side, the steak had a beautifully even crust.  I flipped it over, and added a few more pats of butter around the edges of the griddle.
Use a Sturdy Pair of Tongs
After about ten minutes of swishing the steak around on the griddle, it was just peaking into a beautiful medium rare.  Served with some griddled zucchini and herbs it was a very quick and delicious meal - plus one with a technique that I'm eager to repeat.

Recipe at a Glance:
- Grass-fed Ribeyes (1 per person)
- 4 oz butter, room temperature
- 4-5 minced garlic cloves
- A few sprigs fresh thyme

Mix the garlic and thyme with the room temperature butter.  If you're only cooking a couple of steaks, you'll have some leftover, which is perfect for sauteing vegetables.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle to high heat.  Dab in a small pat of butter, moving it around to grease the skillet.  Place the steak on the skillet and let sear for a few seconds.  Now begin to move the steak around the skillet with a pair of tongs.

Keep adding a few dabs of butter to the skillet as you move it along, placing the butter in the next region of the skillet you plan to move the steak into.

Flip the steak and continue to move it around the pan, greasing the skillet with butter.  Remove the steak when it hits 120 F for rare, 130 F for medium.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Grass-Fed Cube Steak Paprikash

Not all braising cuts require hours and hours of slow and low simmering.  For a braised dish that needs to stew for less than an hour, look no further than the cube steak.
North Woods Ranch Cube Steak
These "steaks" are actually cut from the top and bottom round of the cow.  Normally cuts from the back and hips of the animal are very tough, but the "cubing" action severs the tough fibers and sinew of the meat.  To make these steaks, the butcher passes thin cutlets through a roller equipped with dozens of narrow blades that punch through the meat and give it a surface filled with cubes.  Along with tenderizing, this process also increases the surface area of the meat, helping the cube steaks to cook quicker than a dense, whole muscle roast.
Cube steak is generally braised in a small amount of liquid, which soaks into all the nooks and crannies of the meat.  For this dish, I chose to do a Hungarian style paprikash.  As the name implies paprika is a big component of this dish, so make sure your paprika is fresh and not some ancient jar from six years ago.
Some people like to dust these steaks in flour to help with browning and thickening the sauce, but I skip the flour.  Along with paprika, Hungarian recipes often use sour cream, so I thicken the sauce with two tablespoons of sour cream.
Brown the steaks in hot butter on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Once the steaks are browned, set them aside and add sliced onions and quartered mushrooms to the hot pan (adding additional butter if needed).  The moisture from the vegetables will help deglaze the beef drippings, so be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan well.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions are browned and the mushrooms have given up their moisture.
Add the meat back to the skillet along with some minced garlic, thyme, and 1/4 cup of sweet paprika.  Toss to coat everything in the paprika, then add two cups of beef stock.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 45-60 minutes.  Note that other cube steak recipes will say 20-30 minutes, but with grass-fed beef you need to give it a bit more time to coax out the tenderness and rich flavor of the meat.
Right before serving, add two tablespoons of sour cream to the pot and whisk to combine.  Serve over roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

Recipe at a Glance:
2 lbs North Woods Ranch Cube Steak
3 tbsp butter, cut into 3 pieces
2 medium onions, sliced
12 oz container white button or baby bella mushrooms, quartered
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup sweet paprika (you can also add 1 tsp of hot paprika to perk up the dish)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp sour cream (or more for a thicker sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up a deep skillet and add two cubes of butter.  When the butter is sizzling, add the steaks and season with salt and pepper.  Brown on both sides, about 2 minutes a side.  Remove the browned steaks and set aside.  Add the last cube of butter and all the onions and mushrooms.

Cook down the mushrooms and onions for about 10 minutes.  Add the beef back to the skillet, along with the paprika, garlic, and thyme.  Toss the ingredients together to coat with paprika, then add the beef broth, again scraping up the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for 45-60 minutes, until the beef is tender.

When the beef is tender, whisk in the sour cream.  Serve and enjoy!