Monday, November 28, 2016

Christmas Morning Muffins with Carrot, Cranberry, and Pistachio #Muffin Monday

This festive-yet-healthy muffin, with carrots, dried cranberries and pistachios, has a sweet surprise on the inside--cream cheese filling!

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I'm always looking to add vegetables into baked goods. I think they add moisture, flavor, and nutrition to my family's table. Muffins are an easy delivery method because they assemble and bake so quickly. My kids are happy to eat muffins for breakfast and for an after school snack. For this month's Muffin Monday, I bring you a recipe that is both festive--with the bits of red dried cranberries and green pistachios. This recipe is elevated above my usual muffin because of the sweet cream cheese filling tucked inside, but it's still on the healthier side because I don't really want to send my kids off to school with a bunch of chocolate frosted sugar bombs in their bellies.

a carrot, craisin and pistachio muffin with a sweet cream cheese filling

I got the idea for this muffin thanks to my daughter. We were walking the dog herd down to the local grocery store to buy a gallon of milk. [This is a bonus fitness and economic tip--over a year ago I started walking a mile to the store if the only item on the list was milk. It saves on impulse purchases and the dogs and I get a bit of exercise.] I left her with the dogs and went inside to shop, calling over my shoulder 'do we need anything else?' as an afterthought.  She requested a Killer Brownie. It got me thinking that I could use a treat, too. Since I was in the bakery buying the brownie anyway, I turned to the muffin case. This was the site of the Good Morning Muffin that inspired my Healthy {No Sugar} Carrot Cake Muffins. I was delighted to see a new version of the Good Morning Muffin with sweetened cream cheese in the center and decided that would be my splurge. After we got back home we enjoyed a snack of milk & baked goods and I put my thinking toque on. [That's a Bob & Doug McKenzie and Great White North reference, not some kind of chef thing.]

close up of a Christmas Morning muffin sliced in half to see the sweet cream cheese filling

I made two batches of these muffins, trying different ways to include the sweetened cream cheese filling. The first way, shown below, was to scoop the usual amount of muffin batter into the prepared cup, then use a small spoon to create some space and spoon in the sweetened cream cheese. This technique did not turn out well. The cream cheese oozed out onto my pan and the muffins were hard to serve in a mounded heap because the cream cheese on the top of them was sticking to anything that landed atop it. The second effort worked better--I used a smaller scoop to put in about half the amount of batter, then spooned in the cream cheese and topped with the other half of the batter.

Friday, November 25, 2016

How to Grill the Perfect Pork Chop with Oakview Farm

The secret recipe to a perfectly grilled pork chop from an Ohio hog farming family.

a panoramic view of Oakview farm

This post is sponsored by the Ohio Pork Council. They have compensated me for my time, arranged the visit I'm sharing today, enjoyed the delicious grilled pork chops, and supplied me with loads of pork products I'll be using in recipes to come.

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This time of year there's a buzz to shop locally and support small businesses.  I know that by choosing to spend my cash in a local business, nearly half of each dollar spent stays in my local economy. That money will keep on circulating around, supporting the people and places near me. That's why I buy local. Well, that and I think fresh food tastes better so I may as well enjoy it.

image showing recirculation of dollars spent at local businesses vs chain retailers

I want to challenge my readers to expand their support past a single day of the year, and commit to making one Saturday a month Small Business Saturday. I've got an idea for you--instead of just buying holiday gifts from small businesses once a year, what about staples? Can you think of an item you could source locally? How about food [this site is about food, after all]. Perhaps a condiment, spice rub, loaf of bread, honey, eggs or meat? Choose to buy that item exclusively from your local source for the next 4 months. What about gifts for other people--in the form of gift certificates to local businesses? Talk about a win-win situation!

shop small local businesses

I've been supporting my local farmers by participating in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share for over a decade. I started this website to help other folks like me make the most of the fresh produce both while it's seasonally abundant and by putting it by so I could keep on eating locally even in the winter months. Over the past couple years I'm learning how convenient it is to source my meats locally as well. Once my spouse decided to stop eating meat unless he knew where it came from, it became imperative for me to up my local meat game. When the Ohio Pork Council invited me to tour a local hog farm I immediately emailed my spouse and asked, "are you free next Monday to go visit a farm with me?" All photos in this post where taken by him.

a plate of perfectly grilled pork chops

Now, before I get to the farm visit, I'd like to share a little bit about Ohio Pork.  If you're buying pork at the farmer's market or at a farm store you can be reasonably sure it was locally produced. Did you know that by buying pork sold at grocery stores, like the Kroger down the road, you continue to support Ohio farm families? There are 3,500 farms in Ohio raising pork--for our region and for a lot of the East coast as well, as Ohio is one of the closest pork-producing states to one third of all Americans. Click here for more information about Ohio Pork.

Mark Runyan and I talking about something pork related.

Now I'll tell you a bit about the Ohio hog farmer I met, Mark Runyan of Oakview Farms, before getting to the title of this post--the Runyan family's secret to the perfect grilled pork chop.

the entrance sign to Oakview Farm Meats store

Oakview Farms is a 4th generation hog farm located in Urbana, Ohio. During our visit we met with Mark's parents, Bud and Ruth, as well as his son Myer. Bud and Ruth live next door to the store, Oakview Farm Meats, and we divided our visit between the 2 places. I learned so much and I am afraid I'll skip over some parts [I may know a tad more than a civilian about pork production thanks to my degree in Animal Science] and I don't know what you don't know, you know? For example, when you buy meat at Oakview Farm Meats, or at the farmer's market, that meat is frozen. Why? Just like Clarence Birdseye knew that freezing vegetables right after they are picked ensures the best quality product, freezing meat after it's harvested results in the best quality product. Yes, it makes me need to plan ahead to use move meat to the lower shelf of the fridge to thaw the day before, but it's worth it. You can't beat that kind of freshness.

Mark Runyan and I with a bountiful basket of pork products

I was expecting to see some pigs on this tour, but I didn't and I'll tell you why: biosecurity. The Runyans care more about the health of their livestock than they do about my desire to take a picture with a pig, and that is how it should be. We all carry germs with us, and if my germs were to get a pig sick, they'd need antibiotics. To avoid needing to give hogs antibiotics it's just easier to make the barn a secure facility. So, no piggie pictures. Check out this barn quilt, instead!

the Oakview Farm Barn Quilt--on a silo

In addition to routine antibiotics, do you know what else these pigs don't get? Hormones! Hormones are not permitted for use in growing pigs. Period. This is a federal regulation. Pork producers don't use hormones. End of story. What about GMOs? There are no genetically modified food animals on the market. What about hogs being indoors vs out of doors? The answer to this question makes sense to me--as pigs have skin similar to ours, pork producers do their best to keep their livestock comfortable. That means keeping hogs cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That way, the pig's energy is used towards growing, not to regulate its temperature based on changing conditions. After all, the most efficient way to get the pig to a market weight is the most cost effective for a pork producer, and we're all looking for value.

a wall of plaques won by Oakview Farms

Each time I talk with farmers I come away impressed with the breadth and depth of knowledge in their chosen fields and amazed at how small our planet is. Earlier this year I visited with John Ludy, a cheesemaker in Wisconsin (and my Dad's high school classmate) who has travelled to Eastern Europe and South America sharing new ideas in cheesemaking. Mark's been to Sweden, Mexico and China in efforts to produce a quality pork product from the ground up, so to speak. You see, when folks began breeding hogs to be more lean and muscular, that carried with it a piece of DNA known as a stress gene--the animals didn't fare well when handled. When Mark Runyan shared how his family emptied their farm and started from scratch with Swedish hogs 20 years ago it just reinforced the fact that farmers are constantly trying to improve using the best research available. By starting over with the Swedish hogs, which do not have the stress gene, Mark is helping pork producers improve throughout the world. His son Myer is a recent graduate of OSU so I'm interested to see what the future brings.  From the DNA of the animals to their living conditions, care is taken by the Runyan family to produce the best pork that they can at Oakview Farms.

chatting with Mark Runyan and Pam Bowshier of Hippie and the Farmer

Mark's newest venture is with Pam Bowshier, of Cosmic Charlie Breads and Threads. I first saw Mark & Pam two years ago at the Montgomery County Food Summit, where they spoke about their virtual farmer's market (I wrote about it here). Together they've formed Hippie and the Farmer. This started when Pam was selling her vegan breads and Mark was offering samples of grilled Oakview Farm meats. They put their products together [like peanut butter and chocolate in a Reese's cup] and the result is a savory success. In the summer months they offer a Harvest Moon subscription box with produce, meats and breads. In the winter they offer a Cucina Rustica box--farm fresh frozen dinners. That's a great way to make eating locally-sourced food accessible to a wide variety of folks.

the Ohio Porkette Cookbook
Stay tuned, I've got a bunch of recipe ideas from this gem!

In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing another one of the Runyan family's favorite ways to enjoy pork, but for now I wanted to share what we ate for lunch. Bud grilled up these absolutely perfect pork chops, and Ruth supplied delicious side dishes (as well as breakfast at the beginning of the visit--bacon inside the cinnamon rolls? You bet!). When I asked for a favorite recipe to share, all three generations suggested these pork chops. We certainly enjoyed them, and I hope you do as well!

the Runyan family's supper spread.

Perfect Grilled Pork Chops (recipe from the Runyan family of Oakview Farm)

Ingredients (per person)

  • 1 ribeye pork chop, about ¾ inch thick
  • Lawry's seasoned salt


  1. Preheat grill to direct medium heat, about 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sprinkle Lawry's seasoned salt on both sides of the chop.
  3. Grill for about 5 to 8 minutes, then flip to the other side.
  4. Continue grilling until the internal temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit, another 5 to 8 minutes.
  5. Serve, and if you're lucky enough to have some of Ruth's hash brown potato casserole and sweet sausage bread you're lucky, indeed.

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The secret recipe to a perfectly grilled pork chop, from an Ohio hog farming family.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chocolate Pecan Chess Pie {Small Batch Thanksgiving}

Gooey chocolate and chopped pecans in a small serving size pie crust for a dessert that's just enough when you are fewer around the table.

A recipe for chocolate chess pie chock full of pecans. Gooey chocolate in a small serving size pie for a dessert that's just enough when you are fewer around the table.

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For the past few weeks I've been sharing recipes and tips for when you are fewer in number around the table. My Small Batch Thanksgiving series includes a couple of side dishes (Dairy Free Corn Pudding Casserole and Small Batch Sweet Potato Casserole) as well as a list of tips to help you have a successful small holiday meal without resorting to a bunch of frozen single serving side dish bags. [Though if you'd like to have a bunch of frozen single serving side dish bags as your main event I won't knock it. You do you--but save room for dessert!]

close up of chocolate pecan chess pie

To round out my Small Batch Thanksgiving series, I'm ending--as all good meals should end--with dessert. This Small Batch Chocolate Pecan Chess Pie was inspired by Laura of Mother Would Know, coupled with a dash of All Recipes thrown in for good measure. I knew I wanted pie--and Laura's chess pie looked so luscious--but I wanted to use the small graham cracker crust and cocoa powder I had in the pantry so a little bit of creative number crunching and recipe adapting took place. Necessity is the mother of invention after all.