Monday, June 30, 2014

Simple Goodness on the Farm – Day 2

Note: This is the last post of a three-part series about Simple Goodness on the Farm, which is part of Land O'Lakes Kitchen Conversations. The first post is here and the second post is here. I also wrote a brief post about the event for the Land O'Lakes blog – you can read it here.

After a fantastic day at our farm and a wonderful dinner together, Day 2 of Simple Goodness on the Farm with the Kitchen Conversations bloggers was held at Land O'Lakes headquarters. So, it wasn't really on the farm, but it was a natural extension of what happens to milk after it leaves dairy farms. And it was just as much fun as Day 1.

The first part of the day was spent touring the Dairy Foods Research & Development facility adjacent to Land O'Lakes headquarters. As a member-owner of Land O'Lakes, it was really neat to see what happens behind the scenes and meet some of the employees who help develop some of the Land O'Lakes dairy foods made from our farm's milk.

We met with Susan (pictured below), who works in one of the kitchen/labs where recipes are developed. Susan is a food scientist who also happens to be a Minnesota State Fair blue ribbon winning cookie baker. She explained the collaboration between her lab and the Test Kitchen and talked about the steps involved in developing a new product.

After a recipe for a new product has been developed and tested in the kitchen/lab, the recipe is sent to what's called the pilot plant. The pilot plant has scaled-down versions of all the equipment in Land O'Lakes' full-sized dairy plants – everything from butter churns to cheese presses to evaporators. Carle (below) has been in charge of the pilot plant for the past couple decades. His passion for what he does truly made me smile.

New products also need to pass taste tests. Elizabeth and Alyssa (below) explained how taste testers are involved in the product development process and taught us how to be taste testers for a little while.

After training our taste buds with cream, we had to determine which milk sample contained more milk fat. Then we used our new taste description skills to evaluate Kozy Shack rice pudding and another brand of rice pudding. We also tested our inherited tasting ability and I found out I'm a supertaster.

One of the reasons Glen and I choose to be members of Land O'Lakes is the caliber of the cooperative's employees. Everyone we work with seems to genuinely care about their work and the cooperative. The employees we met in Research & Development furthered my belief that Land O'Lakes employees are top notch.

Following our visit to Research & Development, Becky gave us a tour of the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen. The Test Kitchen includes a restaurant-style kitchen, a home-style kitchen, a pantry, freezer and refrigerator big enough to get lost in, and a retail display. Below, Becky is showing us the difference between the sticks of butter sold on the west coast and the sticks of butter sold everywhere else in the nation. I had no idea sticks of butter came in any other size and shape than the ones I'm used to.

After our tours, we got to spend some time in the home-style part of the Test Kitchen – baking pies. Prior to this experience, I had never made pie crust; Glen is the crust maker and pie baker in our house. So I was excited to try my hand at pie crust, especially because there were so many kitchen experts on hand to lend advice.

Baking together with a kitchen full of people over the age of seven was definitely a treat for me. And so were the pies we made.

I made a strawberry-rhubarb filling for my pies. Some of the gals had never tried rhubarb before. Who knew? My mom had four rhubarb patches bigger than cows, so we ate rhubarb in nearly every summer baked least until the zucchini was ready.

The pie crust, made in the food processor with 100% butter, turned out great. We turned the crust and filling into these cute little pie pops. But they weren't just cute; they were delicious, too. And I'm not normally a big pie fan.

The pies were a tasty addition to another fun day and a great event – like the cherry on top of a sundae.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for writing about this event. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Simple Goodness on the Farm – Day 1

Note: This is the second post of a three-part series about Simple Goodness on the Farm, which is part of Land O'Lakes Kitchen Conversations. The first post is here and the third post is here. I also wrote a brief post about the event for the Land O'Lakes blog – you can read it here.

As I started to explain in my last post, June 10th was a very big day for our farm. Part of Land O'Lakes' Simple Goodness on the Farm event was held here at our farm. Our special guests for the day were food bloggers: Ree from The Pioneer Woman, Becky from Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen, Sommer from A Spicy Perspective, Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod, Brenda from A Farmgirl's Dabbles, Julie from The Little Kitchen, Brenda from Bake at 350, Jessica from The Novice Chef, Joanne from Fifteen Spatulas and Jenny from Picky Palate.

Me, Maria, Ree, Sommer, Jessica, Brenda, Joanne, Bridget, Julie, and Jenny

We started their visit to our farm with introductions, a brief overview of our farm and an explanation of how we got started farming.

I explained that our farm is just one type of dairy farm. There are as many different types of dairy farms as there are ways to make chocolate chip cookies. Just as every baker has their own recipe and technique for making cookies, every dairy farm has a unique combination of methods for feeding, housing and milking their cows. And just as every baker’s goal is a perfect cookie, dairy farmers share common goals: to produce high quality milk, provide a comfortable life for our cows, protect our natural resources, and generate enough profit to allow us to continue to do what we love.

I also explained another commonality of dairy farms: 98% of all dairy farms are family owned and operated. Some farms have one small family, like ours, and some farms have multiple generations of a family working together in partnership.

After the overview, we gave everyone a tour of our dairy barn. We explained how the equipment in our milk house cools the milk and keeps our milking system clean. We showed them how we raise our calves using an automatic calf feeder. And we displayed some of the feeds our cows eat in addition to pasture grass – corn silage, haylage, fine ground corn, and a supplemental protein/mineral mix.

We wanted our guests to learn more about dairy farming and have fun at the same time, so we organized a hand milking contest and then helped each blogger milk a cow the modern way.

For the milking contest, each blogger picked one of the 11 cows we kept in the barn that morning. After we gave them some very brief instructions on how to strip milk from a cow, each blogger had one minute to get as much milk into the bucket as she could.

Ree milking Amore.

Ree won the hand milking contest, but all of the bloggers did a great job. The contest would have gone better if we had given the cows a little more time to let their milk down, but hindsight is always 20/20. Plus, we had milked the contest cows extra early that morning so their udders would have some milk in them, but not be overly full by the time the contest started.

Glen helping Bridget milk Penelope while Monika watched.

When the milking contest was over, we dipped each cow with iodine. Then the bloggers wiped the iodine off their cows with paper towels and attached the milking units to finish the milking.

Looking back, the contest and milking demonstration could have been organized a little better – it was a bit chaotic at times – but it looked like everyone had fun.

Here are all of the contest placings:

1. Ree + Amore
2. Sommer + Luna
3. Jenny + Marble
4. Maria + Divine
5. Bridget + Penelope
6. Brenda + Danara
7. Becky + Star
8. Julie + Thistle
9. Joanne + Mango

Jessica picked Sandy, but since Jessica is expecting twins soon, she didn't feel comfortable crouching down next to a cow for that long, so I milked Sandy for her.

A few other snapshots from the tour of the barn:

Luna during milking

Joanne milking Mango

Julie and me

Maria, Jenny, and our calves

As we were finishing up the cow milking demonstration, the milk truck drove in to load up our milk. It was pretty neat that everyone got to see what happens to the milk on our farm, from start to finish – from milking the cow to the milk driving down the road to the plant where it will be processed.

After a quick picnic lunch, which featured some of the bloggers' dessert recipes, we took a stroll out to the pasture to see the rest of the cows. If our time in the barn was a little bit crazy and chaotic, the peacefulness of the pasture helped make up for it. I think all of our visitors got a sense of the serenity I feel when I'm out in the pasture with the cows.

While watching the cows, we had time to answer more questions about dairy cows and the dairy farming lifestyle...

...and take another group photo.

And, then, Helen stole the show.

Helen, one of our cows, came wandering over, I suppose to see what all the commotion was about. She quickly became the center of attention – and I think she knew it, too. She posed this way and that while the shutters snapped.

Sommer got a good close up of Helen. (You can see her photo here.)

Then Ree sat down and started making calf sounds. Helen walked right over, I'm sure wondering why on earth this human sounded like a calf. Ree snapped a close up, too.

After checking Ree out for awhile, Helen moseyed over to Maria. She sniffed her boots. And then gave her pregnant belly a great big smooch. If I've ever questioned a cow's behavior, it was at that moment. It was the sweetest gesture; but for the life of me, I can't imagine what prompted Helen to do it. Plus, Helen is one of our more persnickety cows – not one that I would expect to come over and greet visitors. Everyone else was amazed, too.

The bloggers captured so many moments out in the pasture. Here are links to a couple more:

A close up of Helen kissing Maria's belly

A close up of Wailua

Our lovely yellow boots

The cows grazing on the hillside

When the tour of our farm was over, I hopped on the bus with the bloggers for the trip back to the Twin Cities so I could participate in Day 2 of the Simple Goodness on the Farm event.

After resting a little at the hotel, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at the 112 Eatery in Minneapolis. The cuisine was just as good as the conversation.

Thanks to Stacey and Brenda for these photos.

Glen and I have a rule about eating out: don't order something we can make at home. Almost everything on our menu met the criteria of something I haven't yet made or wouldn't usually make at home.

I nestled into my bed at the hotel with a very full tummy and a very big smile. It was so much fun to meet all of the bloggers, show them our farm and enjoy dinner together.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for writing about this event. All opinions are my own.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Simple Goodness on the Farm – The Recipes

Note: This is the first post of a three-part series about Simple Goodness on the Farm, which is part of Land O'Lakes Kitchen Conversations. The second post is here and the third post is here. I also wrote a brief post about the event for the Land O'Lakes blog – you can read it here.

Last week, I participated in Simple Goodness on the Farm, which is one of the events in Land O'Lakes' Kitchen Conversations program. Kitchen Conversations was started to help home cooks and bakers (like me!) develop more confidence in the kitchen. The program features a series of conversations – some online and some at events. I participated in a couple of the online conversations last year; Simple Goodness on the Farm is the first event I've been part of.

The other bloggers who were part of the Simple Goodness on the Farm event are:

Ree from The Pioneer Woman
Becky from Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen
Sommer from A Spicy Perspective
Maria from Two Peas and Their Pod
Brenda from A Farmgirl's Dabbles
Julie from The Little Kitchen
Bridget from Bake at 350
Jessica from The Novice Chef
Joanne from Fifteen Spatulas
Jenny from Picky Palate

Here's a little sneak peek at all the fun we had during Simple Goodness on the Farm. Only part of the event took place on a farm, but I'll explain all of that in my next two posts.

Day 1 – A tour of our farm and dinner in Minneapolis {read more here}

snapshots from farm toursnapshots from dinner

Day 2 – A tour of Land O'Lakes headquarters and baking in the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen {read more here}

snapshots from tour our Land O'Lakes headquarterssnapshots from Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen

Being part of this event was so much fun! From getting to know all of these fun ladies to learning more about Land O'Lakes to taste testing all of the bloggers' recipes, it would be impossible to choose my favorite part. But sampling all of the recipes would rank right up there!

Here are the recipes each of the bloggers shared for the event:

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes from A Spicy Perspective
Pineapple Coconut Bundt Cake from The Novice Chef
Stone Fruit and Raspberry Cobbler from Bake at 350
Miso-Butter Grilled Vegetables with Basil-Mint Pesto from A Farmgirl’s Dabbles
Mediterranean Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas from Picky Palate
Summer Vegetable Pasta from The Little Kitchen
Cheese Ravioli with Lemon Basil Butter Sauce from Two Peas and Their Pod
Grilled Peaches with Bourbon Brown Butter Sauce from Fifteen Spatulas
Rhubarb Pie on a Stick from Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen

And here's the recipe I shared: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. The name doesn't sound nearly as exciting as these cookies taste. These are, hands down, our all time favorite cookies. The recipe was inspired by Julie's Doubletree Hotel Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies. But after I saw how fast we gobbled these up, I played around with Julie's recipe to convert it to whole wheat. Seriously, Glen will eat these for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so I figured a whole grain cookie would be a better meal.

Now, I make them with white whole wheat flour, which has a much milder taste than regular whole wheat flour – you won’t be able to tell that these cookies are 100% whole grain. (They can also be made with regular whole wheat flour, but the cookies will be darker and have much more of a whole grain taste. If you use regular white flour instead of white whole wheat flour, omit the milk.)

Just be sure to serve them with a big glass of milk!

whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 30 large cookies*
Prep time: 20 minutes
Chill time: 2 hours (minimum)
Bake time: 14 minutes per pan

½ cup rolled oats
2 ¼ cups white whole wheat flour (lightly spooned into cup and leveled with knife OR about 310 grams)
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) LAND O’LAKES butter (I use salted)
¾ cup brown sugar, packed (I use dark brown)
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon milk (I use whole milk)
2 large eggs
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts

In a small food processor, grind oats until fine. Combine oats, flour, soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars. Blend in vanilla and lemon juice. Then blend in milk. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping sides of bowl. Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix together with a sturdy spoon just until mostly combined. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts just until combined.

Using a large cookie scoop (I use a #20, which is about 3 Tablespoons), scoop cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Chill cookie dough in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I chill them overnight). You must scoop cookie dough before you chill it.

Place scoops of chilled dough on lined baking sheets at least 2½ inches apart and bake at 350°F for 14 minutes, rotating pans after 7 minutes. Cool on pan for 7 to 10 minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely.

*I always make a double batch of these cookies. Whether you make 30 or 60, these cookies disappear quickly!

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative member-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for writing about this event. All opinions are my own.