IFBC

Demystifying Lamb: Advice Straight from the Rancher

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

“Agriculture was not always a source of pride for Sacramento.” Mary Kimball, Executive Director of Winter, California’s Center for Land-Based Learning shared that sentiment with an audience of food bloggers during an IFBC Panel on what it really means to be America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.

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That lack of pride changed when perspectives started to shift, thanks to a full on Farm-to-Fork campaign launched by the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. As consumers, farmers, and retailers started to feel more connected, and the story of Sacramento’s agricultural bounty was told, it became a shared experience for everyone involved in the local food cycle, from start to finish. These days, it’s a story most Sacramento residents will gladly share.

Pride in his product came through loud and clear as lamb rancher Ryan Mahoney showed us around Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. While the bloggers on the tour peppered him with questions about everything from the stock, to feeding cycles, to how the lamb gets to market, it was easy to see his sincere interest in making sure we all “got it,” and came away with a real education. Of course, because we’re food bloggers, we quickly started digging around about flavor and recipes we could share to help home cooks get the very best from the lamb they buy, regardless of the cut. A quick peek at Ryan’s Instagram account (@californiasheeprancher) shows he eats plenty of his own product, and from chops to meatloaf, he knows what he’s doing.

The first thing we all wanted to know—what’s the difference between American lamb and the product from New Zealand and Australia? American lamb is bred for flavor, as opposed to the Merino stock the imported product comes from, which was primarily bred for wool.  That means American lambs go to market about 30 pounds bigger than the imports, on average, with more even fat distribution and better platability, which refers to the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of the cooked product.

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I’ve heard people say they’re a little intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb at home. But I say, don’t be scared! While the flavor is different, the same basic cooking rules as the ones we follow for beef still apply.   Among the more tender cuts, Ryan says the easiest cut to cook is the center loin chop, seasoned with garlic salt, pepper and rosemary then grilled just like a steak.

Harder working, tougher muscles get lower heat with longer cooking time– think braising or stewing. He shared his family recipe for a leg of lamb.. Marinate the leg overnight in a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, lemon pepper and soy sauce. Braise it in low, moist heat in the oven, then reduce the marinade down in a pot on the stove to use as a sauce. Lamb shanks are even easier, and slow cooker friendly. His advice? “Throw ‘em in a Crock Pot with a bunch of stuff and they come out real tender and good.”

Just before sitting down to write this post, I noticed a picture of a lamb meatloaf Ryan posted to his Instagram account. I immediately asked for the recipe. He wasn’t very specific about some of the seasoning amounts, so I had to play around a little to find the right ratios. But, I think I figured out a version that worked well. We ended up with moist, juicy meatloaf that was packed with deep, complex flavor, and will make some excellent meatloaf sandwiches later in the week.  Give it a shot, and tell me what you think.

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Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowl
Rubber spatula, or maybe just a pair of disposable gloves if you’re mixing by hand
Loaf pan

Ingredients:
1 lb ground American lamb
1 lb ground beef chuck
1 C milk
1 egg
1 T Kosher salt
½ T lemon pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 T garlic, finely chopped
½ medium white onion, small dice
1 T fresh ginger, or ¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground sage
¼ tsp mustard powder
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3-4 shakes of your favorite hot sauce (I used Cholula)
Pan spray

Preheat your oven to 350°. Spray the loaf pan generously with pan spray and set aside. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until just evenly combined. Don’t overmix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan, evening out the top with the spatula. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160° on your meat thermometer. Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then slice and serve. Should make eight slices.

If you’re a beer fan, like me, pair it with a rich, malty Porter. Yum! Looking for other pairings? Check out this cool chart on the American Lamb Board website.

Wait, what? You don’t have a meat thermometer, you say? You don’t have a cutting board? You don’t really understand all those cuts I mentioned? Don’t fret, my pet! I just might be able to help. Thanks to the folks at the American Lamb Board, I’m going to hook up one of you with a fun little goody bag full of everything you need to get started exploring the wonderful world of American lamb.

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Inside the reuseable lunch bag, you’ll find a meat thermometer, a flexible cutting board, a cute little tin of a wonderful seasoning blend you can use on just about any cut of lamb, a great collection of lamb recipes as well as a little “Curriculamb” education on lamb cuts, and a few other goodies.

All you need to do to win is leave a comment below telling me your favorite way to eat lamb. If you’ve never tried it, let me know that, too. The winner will be drawn randomly at 7pm MST on Saturday, August 13th and announced on my Facebook page, so be sure to go over there and hit that “Like” button to be sure you stay in the loop.

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“…anyway, that’s my goat story.”

This post is one of a series of posts I’m sharing about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog. This post, and the next one to follow, are about an excursion trip to a sheep farm just outside of Sacramento prior to the conference opening.

As many of us do in life, Ryan Mahoney plays a lot of roles. He’s a loving and attentive father, as evidenced by the concern he shows every time his seven year old daughter starts wandering around our moving tour bus as it bumps along the rocky, rural, Solano County, California farm roads. He’s a 5th generation lamb rancher, which is why he’s the guy leading a bunch of food bloggers around his family’s Brown Road Ranch in Rio Vista. Because his animals are grass fed, he’s a grass farmer, too.  And, at least today, it would seem the roles he was born to play are those of advocate and story teller.

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Each year, along with three days of tech, writing, and discovery sessions, the International Food Bloggers Conference provides its attendees the opportunity to attend additional excursions prior to the conference open. These trips could be anything from a visit to a flagship cooking equipment store, as in years past, to, as it was this year, a tour of one of the Sacramento area’s many farms and ranches that help make it America’s Farm to Fork Capital. Our tour, offered by the American Lamb Board, would take us through Solano and Yolo counties. First stop, Ryan’s family ranch.

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Almost as soon as we get off the bus, after a few brief introductions, Mahoney dives right into some deep waters. Perhaps recognizing that right now he’s not just representing the California lamb industry but rather all California farmers and ranchers, he explains just one of the reasons why small farms across his state are operating at a perpetual disadvantage–Federal farming regulations aren’t scaled to the size of the farm. Big, industrial operations and smaller, family owned ones like the Mahoney’s are obligated to follow the same rules.

“Smaller farms get hurt the worst…because they’re not equipped to just go hire out some person to do all their compliance work and their paperwork, whereas, the bigger guys, they’re able to. And so, you actually have a weird scenario where the economic pressures and the social pressures are forcing the smaller farms to go out of business.”

It’s not just paperwork and regulations that make running sheep a tough business. Wildly fluctuating market prices, an ever-shrinking talent pool of help qualified to work with sheep, and the animals themselves make this the kind of work not everyone is cut out for, or even wants to do. Mahoney himself didn’t start out life planning to be a rancher.

“When I was 12 years old, my grandpa put me on a thousand acre ranch. He gave me a shovel and bottle of water and he told me to cut all the stickers. And, so, I started, and was excited when he showed up at noon. I was thinking I was gonna get a relief, and he gave me a hamburger from Food Farm and a soda pop and then he turned around and drove away. And so, it was me and a guy who didn’t speak any English named Pancho, and he taught me to ask ‘Que hora es,’ which is ‘What time is it?’ in Spanish. We cut almost all the stickers on the hill. After that, I decided I didn’t want to work in agriculture because why would you wanna work that hard?”

But, life has a funny way of pulling you right back to the place you started. After high school, he headed off to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, where he pursued a degree in Religious Studies. Then, he was presented with a choice.

“Between my junior and senior year, my grandpa and my mom sat me down and basically gave me a job offer, and I looked at it, and I pretended like I had a big stack full of job offers, because, you know, Religious Studies majors, we get job offers all the time. And so, I said ‘I’ll take this back and think about it,’ and I went home and thought about it and realized, ‘Well, I’m gonna compare this to nothing, so I better try it.'”

Today, Ryan, along with other members of the Mahoney tribe, run about 1,500 head of cows, which are bred with Japanese Wagyu to create American Kobe stock that will be sold to Snake River Farms in Idaho, and of course, the sheep–5000 mother ewes, most of which will give birth to twins. The sheep are sold through a variety of market channels, but they all require the same amount of work, and for not a lot of return. And then… there’s the water issue.

According to the California Water Science Center, California is now in its fifth year of what they define as “severe drought.” The state is still under water savings measures, and with yearly snowpack run off estimates coming in below average, some have questioned the amount of water being used by the state’s agriculture industry. While he recognizes the pressure California farming puts on the water system, from the farmer’s perspective, some of the information being given to the general public is a bit misleading.

“The first one, the easiest one, is whenever you read a newspaper report that talks about water and measures it in gallons is a really disingenuous report because water, as a whole, is measured in acre feet. One acre feet is 350,000 gallons. It takes four acre feet to keep the grass green. It takes five acre feet to grow a field of alfalfa for a year. It takes two acre feet to grow a crop of tomatoes, per acre. When you’re talking about using water to grow food, it’s not water that gets wasted.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by the year 2050, world food production will need to increase by 70% to meet global food demand. With so much of California’s agricultural product leaving the state, farmers like Ryan definitely feel the weight of, literally, feeding the world.

“It’s really important that we don’t forget that food feeds the world and really California agriculture…there’s a large percentage that’s exported out, so California really does a lot to feed the world. To ignore that when you’re looking at a water budget, it really hurts a lot of people without intentionally hurting them.”

Our visit wasn’t all serious faces, though.

I know, I know. You’re wondering, “But what about the FOOD, Jordan?” Yes, of course we got some cooking tips from Ryan. Who better to ask than the guy who grows the sheep? We also visited a local brewery to hear about beer styles that pair well with lamb. We’ll dig into the “meat” (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help that) of that particular matter in the next post.

Also, I mentioned the Mahoney family’s involvement in sheep and cattle ranching, but there used to be another animal in the mix–goats. I say “used to be” because Ryan refuses to run them anymore. Why? They are apparently troublemakers, or, in his words, “…just little boogers!” He shared the story of his brief brush with goat farming, which they tried because of a feeling they needed to diversify as much as possible. One year, he decided that if they were going to run goats, he was going to do everything possible to raise really great ones. He had an irrigated clover pasture set aside just for the goats, along with brand new fences, new gates, and good water. But unlike the cows and sheep, which pretty much stay exactly where you want them to, goats tend to have minds of their own. And, well, I’ll let Ryan tell you the rest…

#IFBC2016 Here I Come! (Also, a few tips from me to you…)

This post is one of (at least) three posts I’ll share about Sacramento IFBC 2016. In exchange for a discounted ticket, I agreed to share my own personal experience about IFBC on my blog.

I last attended IFBC (The International Food Bloggers Conference) two years ago, in Seattle. It was my first time going to any food blogger conference, and I was nervous as f*ckdge. I’d barely started writing, and was totally intimidated by all those other bloggers.

This year, the conference is in Sacramento. I’m still nervous, mostly because the last year of blogging hasn’t gone at all like I meant for it to, and because I am, once again, in a place where I’m looking for help in getting serious about doing this for real. Like, eventually, I’d like to pay the bills with it, for real.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the scope of what I talk about here on “I’m Gonna Cook That!” is evolving.  I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I really want this blog to be about… and the voice I want to have in The World– the world of food blogs, the food world, and the world at large. I believe this blog can be fun, and full of recipes, and reviews, and goofy conversation… but as often as possible, still tie in the overarching themes of how we connect to our food; our local, state, and national food systems; the future of food; and food justice issues.  I don’t want to get preachy, but I do want to take a stand. Out loud. On purpose.

So, as you can see, a Farm to Table themed IFBC couldn’t be more relevant.  This year, IFBC will address everything from sustainability, to reducing food waste, to alternative food sources. (Prepare yourselves. There will be more mentions of bugs on this blog.)

And now… a little advice to those bloggers who are in the place I was two years ago– pretty new to food blogging, definitely new to blogger conferences, and a little worried and overwhelmed about how to get the most out of my experience.

You’ll get lots of advice from other bloggers, all good and valuable, about bringing business cards, maybe a media sheet if you feel like you’re ready for that, dressing comfortably, getting your “pitch” ready, and all that jazz. You should read their advice, too. It’s worthy. But, I’m also going to share what I did to help just feel a little more in control, and a little more mentally and emotionally prepared.

  1. It’s ok to be nervous about all those new people. I have pretty major social anxiety, and it definitely takes effort to put myself out there and talk to strangers. At my first IFBC, everyone seemed to already know someone and I’ll admit to feeling a little out of place. So, start small. Just say hi to the person standing next to you. Every single blogger, vendor, chef, and speaker I worked up the courage to speak to was friendly, warm, gracious, and genuine. I promise you’ll get more out of your IFBC experience if you make a connection or two, if for no other reason than it gives you a friendly face to find in the crowd in those moments when you start feeling a little shaky. On the flip side, don’t feel bad about stepping away from the crowd… Get a drink of water, take a few deep breaths, do some positive self talk, and remind yourself that you are here to learn and grow, just like everyone else. You deserve to be here.
  2. That making connections thing? There’s another reason to do that. You will, invariably, find yourself feeling like you’re making Sophie’s Choice at some point in the conference, trying to decide between two sessions you REALLY want to attend. If you make “notes buddies” with someone who is attending one of them, you can agree to swap notes afterwards so neither of you feels like you missed out on some great information.
  3. On that note, try to have a plan about which sessions you’d like to attend and what you’d like to write about when you get home, but prepare to change your mind. In Seattle, at least twice I felt 100% committed to a particular session, only to come out of the one before it feeling led toward something totally different. Again, you can always ask someone to send you their notes later. If you feel called to a certain session, listen to that call. I don’t regret switching it up either time.
  4. Even if you don’t feel ready to dive head first into the world of big time marketing and vendor sponsorships, still take time to introduce yourself to the vendors whose products interest you. You never know what they’re looking for, and maybe your voice will turn out to be one they find valuable. I recommend doing your research about any vendors that stand out to you ahead of time to learn a little more about them. That way, you can decide exactly how you want to connect before you ever walk up to their booth or table. Plus, having specific questions to ask or observations to share always makes me feel a little less awkward.
  5. Finally, and maybe I’m being Captain Obvious here, but remember to have fun! The organizers of IFBC do a great job of not only putting together an informative, varied program, with lots of great speakers and teachers, but they also manage to make it a really good time. Learn everything you can without wearing yourself out, but don’t forget to exhale. Relax. Enjoy the food, and the drinks, and the opportunity to hang out with people who are just as obsessed with food as you are.

 

 

I Get SWAG, You Get SWAG!

Happy Monday Morning, Ya’ll! Normally, my brain doesn’t really function this early, but I was so excited to do this post I just couldn’t wait anymore.

A group of food bloggers (10 of us) who all went to IFBC cooked up a little Multi-Blog SWAG giveaway for our readers. Every single one of us is sharing one or more of the SWAG items we were given by vendors at the International Food Bloggers Conference. Cool, yes?

I just recently learned that SWAG stands for Stuff We All Get, and in this case, that’s really true!

I’m giving away this cool 4-in-1 citrus tool from Crisp, a company that makes kitchen tools specifically for fruit and vegetable prep.

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They also gave me one of their paring knives, which has a sharpener built right into the cover. I used it in class last Monday night, and I was really impressed. It cut through every veggie like butter. Very cool!

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. For an extra entry, just Tweet about the giveaway, like this:

I just entered the @CrispCooking 4-in-1 Citrus tool #giveaway on @GonnaCookThat! http://wp.me/p4kgZ8-eo 

After you’ve entered here, head over to A Mama, Baby & Shar-pei in the Kitchen blog to enter her giveaway (it’s a good one!) and find out where to go next.

Good Luck!

This giveaway is sponsored by I’m Gonna Cook That! and is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook or Twitter. Giveaway will end on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 at 12:00am MST. One winner will be selected at random and will be announced in another post. Winner will have 24 hours to respond to notification of win or a new winner will be chosen. Prize will be sent via US Postal Service so you’ll need to provide your mailing address if you win. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Open to US residents only including APO & FPO addresses, must be 18 years or older to enter.

IFBC: When The Universe screams in your ear, you better listen.

When I headed to Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), I expected to be educated. I expected to eat some great food. I expected to try some interesting wines. What took me by surprise was the validation.

I know, I know, that sounds just a teensy bit melodramatic. Validation? Really, Jordan?

Hear me out. Let’s recap what happened in the weeks leading up to this trip. I said, out loud, that I wanted to quit my corporate gig and go work in food for real. I did the first thing, and got a job that fulfills the second thing. I said I wanted more time to focus on school and the blog. The new job gives me that. I’ve also had the chance to work with and talk to some really great local chefs over the past month or so. Once I made the decision to finally follow my bliss, The Universe answered.

And then I went to IFBC. I had the sessions I wanted to attend all mapped out, and then I ended up going to completely different ones that turned out to be exactly where I needed to be, hearing speakers that so loudly echoed all of my most recent decisions that I had no choice but to pay attention. Two sessions really spoke to me on a pretty personal level.

It started right off the bat with the Keynote from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and the soon to be released Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

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If you  had been watching the IFBC tag on twitter, you’d have seen the same quote tweeted out from nearly everyone in the room at once:

“Being a good writer has to do with living an authentic life.”

Seems like that message hit close to home for a lot of us. Page and Dornenburg encouraged us all to follow our chosen path regardless of how popular/unpopular it might be, and to keep walking it no matter how many times we fall or get pushed down. They showed us samples from rejection letters they received from publishers telling them that their first book idea was too narrow, and wouldn’t reach a large enough audience to be marketable. They kept trying, and eventually they got that book deal. Needless to say, that book (Becoming a Chef) sold well, and won a James Beard Award.

They also encouraged us to taste everything. Every taste, every texture, every smell goes into our taste memory, ready to be called up, “like a song in a jukebox.”

The next big food trend? Vegetables! More and more people are moving to a plant based diet, and chefs are paying attention. They’re treating veggies like meat– braising, smoking, grilling, and curing them, just like they would meat. For vegetarians and vegans that’s good news, especially when they go out to eat. They won’t get stuck with some boring rice and veggie skewer dinner. It’s also pretty great news for us omnivores, because it means that we can order veggie based dinners and get the same kind of satisfaction that we’d get from one with meat as the main event.

They closed out their session by reminding us how powerful we can be as food writers, and leaving us with an important question, one that’s really got me thinking, “What kind of world do you want to create with this power?”

Joe Yonan, Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, was another speaker whose message resonated with me. His story, one that started with a confluence of not so wonderful events, led him to make some big changes in his life and his approach to writing.

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He took a year off from the paper to write a book and spend time working on his sister and brother-in-law’s homestead in Maine. He spent mornings working on the farm, doing just one task at a time. It was difficult at first, he said, to focus on “uni-tasking,” and to avoid the temptation to constantly check his phone. But over time, he found that he began to enjoy the opportunity to focus, and when he set out each afternoon to work on the book his head was clearer.

I really loved his sense of humor. While telling us about his obsession with keeping the chicken coop clean, he likened it to “being a Lilliputian in the world’s biggest catbox.”

Well, maybe you had to be there. 🙂

When he went back to work, he continued making changes, and decisions, that helped him keep his perspective. He encouraged us all to think about the changes we can make to keep ourselves happy and passionate about what we’re doing, to give ourselves time away from the craziness (whatever that craziness is for us), to pick a day to unplug from all our technology and just be in the moment, and to learn new things by doing, not just by reading about it or watching a video about it.

I feel like there was so much more covered, but I’m still ruminating over all of it and trying to figure out how to apply all of this great advice. I’ve already picked Sunday as my “unplug” day. I’ve never considered myself a social media addict, but as a food blogger every time I’m around food, or someone cooking, or the farmer’s market, or a hundred other places, out comes the phone so I can take a picture and try to turn it into a writing opportunity. I feel like much of what I heard over the weekend said, “Don’t force it. Be yourself and there will be plenty to write about.”