We’re Moving!

ImageSo I have spent that past three weeks running two blogs simultaneously to see which program I preferred (one through Blogger, the other, here, through WordPress). Although I really like the behind the scenes at WordPress, I feel I have much more control over the look and content with Blogger.

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many of you here on this site! Be sure to stop by http://valamb.blogspot.com and follow my feeds.

I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding the two.

Thanks ~J

Grilling the Perfect Steak

Stock Photo

Last spring I gave a presentation on how to grill the perfect steak. Two things became immediately apparent. First, most were surprised that I, a woman, was giving the talk. Ha! Although Corey is our in-house grill master, I too like to experiment with recipes on the grill. Anyone and everyone should give it a try. It keeps the summer heat outdoors and typically results in very easy clean up. Secondly, it really surprised me how many people are nervous about grilling steak. I get it. Steak is expensive and no one wants to waste a good cut of meat. But really, there is nothing to fear and with a few quick and easy steps you too can become a grill master. So let’s begin.

Right Cut for the Job

It is crucial that you choose the right cut for the job!

First, all cuts are not created equal. It takes roughly two years to properly grow out and finish a steer. So it is natural that cuts from the chuck (shoulder) and round (rear leg) are going to have had the most exercise. This is not bad when cooked correctly, but their tendency to be tougher is not a good fit for the dry heat of the grill. Ideal steaks for the grill include Rib-eye, New York strip, T-bone, and Porterhouse.

You also want a steak with plenty of marbling (those thin streaks of fat running through the meat).Cover fat, the fat around the outside of the steak, can often indicate the level of finish on the steer but not always, as it is often trimmed by the butcher.

The USDA’s grading system is one of the best ways to assess quality. The three most common grades are Prime, Choice, and Standard. Prime has the highest level of marbling but is only produced in small quantities in the United States as it requires feeding cattle much longer than is cost effective.  Although Choice has less marbling than Prime, it is a good balance between adequate amounts of internal fat and leaner, heathier cuts. The least amount of marbling is found in the Select grade which is not recommended for quality steaks.

Room Temperature

It is very important to always let your steak come to room temperature. A cold steak will contract when it hits the high heat of the grill making it toughen unnecessarily. I recommend bringing your steak out of the refrigerator at least 40 minutes to 1 hour before you plan to grill.

Grill Good and Hot

When you are ready to grill, preheat the barbecue and coat with non-stick cooking spray. Get the grill good and hot as you will be grilling one side for six minutes or so and then turning only once.

Enhance, Don’t Hide

I personally season my steaks with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper minutes before they hit the grill. My father in-law, who is a top notch griller, seasons with garlic pepper and Lawry’s season salt. With so many great rubs available now, the options are endless. However, as much as I love marinades, I never marinade a good steak. With all the care we take in growing our cattle, I want to taste and appreciate the flavor of the meat…  and nothing tastes better than a farm fresh steak!

Use the Right Tools

So now you have chosen the right cut, let it come to room temperature, seasoned it, and placed it on a good hot grill. When it is time to turn that steak DO NOT stick a fork in it. No, drop that fork and step away from the grill! To be a true grill master you are going to have to purchase just a few tools. One tool is long handled tongs. The last thing you want to do is puncture that beautiful steak and watch all the juices run out onto the coals.

Hurry Up BUT Be Patient

The object here is to cook your steak to the desired doneness as quickly as possible. The longer the steak remains on the grill, the drier it has the opportunity to get. Make sure the grill is nice and hot, but not so much so that it burns the surface of your steak.

After placing the steak on the grill, relax and let the grill do the work. Don’t keep touching and turning your steak. After six minutes (for medium rare) to ten minutes (for well done) turn the steak once and only once and cook the other side.

Is it Done Yet

Remember the few tools I mentioned? The second tool to add to your arsenal is a reliable meat thermometer.  The internal temperature will allow you to know exactly how done your steak is. (I recommend pulling the steak off the grill at the lower end of the range as it will continue to cook and increase by another 5 degrees.)

Rare – 120-125°F

Medium Rare 130-135° F

Medium 140-145° F

Well Done 160° F

Let it Rest

You are in the home stretch now so listen closely. The most important step to cooking a juicy, delicious steak is to let it rest.

Remove the steak from the heat of the grill, placing it on a plate to rest for ten minutes. Grills cook with very high heat constricting the muscles of the meat. Giving the steak time to rest allows the muscles time to relax and the juices to redistribute. Cutting the steak too soon will result in a plate full of wasted delicious juices.

That’s it! Now you too can become a grill master. Enjoy!

What’s In Season?

Fruit and Vegetable Seasons

Dupont Circle Farmers Market

Happy 4th of July everyone!

While planning today’s cookout I began to reflect on all the great food we will be eating. In honor of farmers everywhere, here are a few photos from last summer highlighting the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. We know first hand that farmers are often overworked and under appreciated…. so from all of us Thank You!

Farm at Sunnyside

Farm at Sunnyside

Spring Valley Farm & Orchard

The Wall of Sweet Corn

Spring Valley Farm & Orchard

Endless Summer Harvest / Solitude Wool

Keswick Creamery at Carrock Farm

Blue Ridge Dairy


Buster’s Seafood (We miss you!)

Peppers anyone?

Gardeners Gourmet

Smith Meadows

Sunnyside Farm and Orchards

Gorgeous Heirloom Tomatoes

Sunday Bluegrass Music

Peaches, Peaches, Peaches!

I love this time of year and the ample supply of fresh food off the farm. It begins when asparagus first peaks out of the warming soil and strawberries are begging to be harvested and then continues through dirt grown tomatoes, juicy ripe peaches, and the smells of autumn ushering in the apple harvest.

Until I break down and finally plant our own small fruit orchard, I am blessed to be spoiled by Emily at Black Rock Orchard. This past Sunday the boys brought home a bushel of gorgeous peaches from the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. So Jordan and I cleared our schedule and spent the day canning peach halves and peach jam. We even had enough to freeze a little peach sorbet.

In my experience, late season cling free peaches make the pretties jars of canned peach halves.  Whenever I work with a batch of peaches, I always start out making canned peach halves and am ready to adjust to peach jam if I find it difficult to pit the peaches.

Canned Peach Halves

Add water to canner, cover, bring to boil. Keep water simmering. Heat jars and lids in hot, not boiling, water until ready to use. (I wash my jars in the dishwasher, timing it so it hits the dry cycle when I am ready for jars. Then I simply dip lids into hot, almost boiling, water I keep simmering on the stove to sterilize.)

In a separate pan, mix together 2 cups of sugar with 4 cups of water to make light syrup. Bring to a low boil and keep warm.

Wash and peel fruit. Dip peaches into boiling water and then cold water for easier peeling. Halve and pit peaches. Prepare enough to pack and fill one jar at a time. Add 1 teaspoon of Fruit Fresh per quart. Cover fruit with syrup leaving ½ inch of head room. Clean rim using a clean, damp cloth to remove any syrup. Place lid on jar and apply band. Adjust until fingertip tight. Repeat with remaining fruit.

Add prepared jars of peaches to water bath and process pints for 20 minutes, quarts for 25 minutes. Make sure water covers top of jars by at least 1-2 inches. Remove from water bath and set on counter to cool.

After cooling, test seals by pressing the center of each lid. If lid does not pop up and down it is sealed. If any lids do not seal properly within 24 hours, refrigerate and eat promptly.

Peach Jam

Add water to canner, cover, bring to boil. Keep water simmering. Heat jars and lids in hot water until ready to use.

Dip peaches into boiling water and then cold water for easier peeling.  Combine 4 cups of chopped peaches (about 9 regular size peaches), 1/3 cup of lemon juice, and 7 ½ cups of sugar in heavy bottom pan. Mix well. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down) over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Add liquid pectin. Continue hard boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ½ inch head room. Clean rim using a clean, damp cloth to remove any jam. Place lids on jars and apply bands. Adjust until fingertip tight.

Add prepared jars of jam to water bath and process for 10 minutes. Make sure water covers top of jars by at least 1-2 inches. Remove from water bath and set on counter to cool.

After cooling, test seals by pressing the center of each lid. If lid does not pop up and down it is sealed. If any lids do not seal properly within 24 hours, refrigerate and eat promptly.

Peach Sorbet

4 lbs of peaches (roughly 15-16 regular size peaches)

3 cups simple syrup (see below)

Juice from two lemons

Dip peaches into boiling water and then cold water for easier peeling. Pit peaches and rough chop. Puree peaches in a food processor or blender. Stir in simple syrup and lemon juice. Taste and adjust to your preference. Freeze in ice cream maker as instructed by manufacturer.

Simple Syrup: 2 cups water + 2 cups sugar. Bring to boil. Let syrup cool before using. Leftover syrup can be stored in glass jar.


Breakfast Sausage Pizza


  • 6 ounces pork sausage, bulk
  • 4 slices Bacon, thick cut, cut in half (optional)
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 10-inch ready made pizza crust
  • 1 cup Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


In a large skillet cook sausage, bacon, and onions over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).  Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.  Remove all but 1 teaspoon of drippings from pan.  Add eggs, parsley, and seasonings, stirring to scramble.  Stir while cooking for 2-3 minutes or until eggs are just set.

Meanwhile, place pizza crust on a pizza pan or baking sheet and top with 1/2 cup of the cheese. Place in a 400 F degree oven for 3-5 minutes until cheese is melted.  Remove crust and top with eggs, sausage, and onions.  Top with bacon and remaining cheese.  Return to oven until cheese is melted and bacon is crisp.

Prep Time: 10 minutes / Cook Time: 25 minutes

Serves 6-8

Visit http://www.porkbeinspired.com for more great recipes.

Hatching Eggs… Again!

The chickens here on the farm are definitely a Mom project. Yes, everyone helps with feeding, watering, and collecting eggs, but I am the one who can sit for hours reading Backyard Poultry magazine or surfing the internet for pictures of chicken tractors. So when we decided to look at making our chicken enterprise more sustainable, I was all over it. I spent hours choosing breeds that would fit our production needs and more hours finding breeders with bloodlines that mirrored our own goals.

For the past ten years, every spring I would pour over the hatchery catalogs, placing my order for pullets (young female birds). Two questions I chose to ignore: First, how close where the chicks I was buying to the original heritage breeds? Think about it. Hatcheries are interested in selling chicks which translates into hens that lay the most eggs. Good when it comes to egg production, but what about other traits, where they being lost? And more importantly what happens to all those male chicks? I didn’t really *want* to think too hard on that question.

So was this sustainable? If our economy as we now know it drastically changed, could I continue raising chickens on the farm without help from outside my local community? Hmm… I didn’t own a rooster and many of my chickens where hybrids at best.  Yep, it was time to establish our own breeding flocks.

I set our very first hatching eggs in our brand new incubator (the Hova Bator 1588 Genesis) in early December. Since then I have done twelve batches of eggs, expanded to an incubator and designated hatcher set-up, and purchased the very best eggs I could find from Vermont to Florida, Pennsylvania to British Columbia, Canada. I have hatched out Coronation Sussex, Light Sussex, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Black & Lavender Ameraucanas, and French Black Copper Marans.

Welsummer Hen

So how’s it going? Let’s see. I have had hatching rates as good as 88% and as dismal as 0% (you read that right, zero%!). Overall my hatch rates run between 55-65%. And it’s a good year for the rooster as roughly 68% of the chicks born have been males.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

As expected, it was definitely cheaper and easier to order my spring chicks from hatcheries.  Establishing a quality breeding flock has been a bit tougher than I expected, like taking the long and winding road to an anxious-to-get-there destination. But there is something exciting (borderline addicting) about placing fertile eggs in an incubator and 21 days later having a brood of baby chicks. So I am back at it again — 19 eggs due to hatch July 21st and 18 more due July 24th. Both of these batches will be Welsummer chicks, a beautiful breed known for their dark speckled eggs.

There are still a few breeds and breeders out there on my purchasing list. Unfortunately with the heat of summer fast upon us, they are going to need to wait until next year. But with any luck, next year I will be hatching out our very own eggs. The next step, finding a broody hen to take over the chore of incubating!


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