Thursday, July 30, 2015

A French Classic Gets An Iowa Makeover

I love French food. In this day and age fussy classic French dishes have fallen out of favor for most people but there is something about the classic techniques, traditional flavor combinations and history that keeps me coming back. There have been so many masterful French chefs just in my lifetime that have influenced not only me as a cook, but untold numbers of professional chefs.

It's no secret, if you have been following my blog for any length of time you know I love Julia Child. I love to read about her, read her recipes, would love to visit her kitchen at the Smithsonian (is it weird that I think of that as a honeymoon destination?). Thomas Keller is another chef I admire greatly. He is well known for his amazing French dishes. I could go on and on but who needs a list- you get the idea.

My interest in French food goes all the way back to high school. As a French student we often had food days and I always made pate choux for cream puffs and eclairs, or crepes with sweet and savory fillings. I mastered quiche by the time I was 15, including pastry. Souffles and mousses came next and by the time I was 18 I was making French dinners for my parents all the time. As a new wife in Texas I made many fancy dinners for friends and even won a recipe contest with a savory application for pate choux.

Poring over many different cookbooks for inspiration I found some vast differences in how chefs make coq au vin. Some use only thighs, others use breasts, some whole cut up chickens. Some recipes called for cognac and I even found one calling for bourbon! Most called for pearl or cipollini onions, which I was unable to find in my little store, so I used a large onion cut into chunks. I knew I wanted something along those lines, but it didn't need to be a clone of the classic- after all, I am using pork instead of chicken. So here is what I came up with, and I hope you will like it.

Porc Au Vin

6 slices bacon

8 oz package cremini or baby bella mushrooms
2 lbs boneless pork loin
flour, salt, pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed and sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried savory leaves
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
cornstarch for thickening

Cut the pork into rectangular pieces, similar to a stick of butter but half the size. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

I liked this rectangular but cubes will work too- just
cut large cubes
Cut the bacon into lardons. 

Lardons. Fancy French word for little strips.
Place bacon in a dutch oven and cook over medium heat until browned and crispy. 

Remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat. I used a spoon to remove most of the fat to a small bowl and reserved it to use with the pork. Trim the ends of the mushrooms and place in skillet, tops down, and cook for several minutes until browned. Remove to a bowl and reserve for later.

My mushrooms were pretty big so I halved them and
decided to brown the cut side.

Place a small amount of flour onto a plate. Dredge the pork in the flour and add to the hot pan. Add some of the reserved bacon fat as needed. Brown the meat on all four sides and remove to a plate.

Don't crowd the meat or it will steam instead of brown.

I just use the upturned lid of my Dutch oven. One less
dish to wash later. Add juices to the pot also.
When the meat is done add the onion and carrots. Cook and stir until the onion is translucent and not browned. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Stir well.

Give the herbs a good stir to bring out the fragrance, then
add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two. You
want to cook out that tinny taste of canned tomato paste.
Add the wine to the pot, stirring to loosen the browned bits on the bottom. Return the meat to the pot, and the mushrooms, the chicken stock, and cover.

Smells so good already!!
Cook over medium low heat for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender. I leave the lid just barely askew to allow some evaporation and the sauce will thicken. If you like, you can thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh parsley before serving.

What do you serve with this French classic with an Iowa twist? The French influence hints at some steamed haricots verts with herb butter. Green beans, for us everyday people. A bed of buttered noodles rounds out the dish. Of course I had to get a lovely crusty baguette to go with it- can't have French food without a baguette!

Let's talk a little bit about the ingredients I used. Of course, fresh Iowa pork is a must have. At our house we like to buy whole pork loins and do our own butchering so we get exactly the cuts and sizes we want. I cut a nice size hunk of roast off a loin and cut that into my rectangular chunks of meat.

I chose an Iowa dry red wine to make this recipe, from Penoach Winery near Adel in Dallas County. Made from locally grown grapes Rustic Red is a very smooth and easy drinking red. It's dry but not wildly so, not as dry as a Cabernet, but not sweet at all- it's a great wine for a sweet wine fan to try as they expand their palate. Great with food, this wine is also lovely to have a glass in the evening, and with cheese or chocolate. Try it!

My pasta choice is another Iowa-made product. Zaza's Artisan Pasta comes from their Italian market in Iowa City and homemade pasta is their specialty. I don't live near their shop but luckily I am able to get it at the nearby aquaponics farm, which also carries Iowa-made products in their tiny shop. They have several different flavors of pasta, I had beet pappardelle and it was so delicious. The texture after cooking was firm and just perfectly tender. The edges had that "rough" look that only handmade pasta has. Very delicious. I can't wait to try more varieties.

This recipe is great for entertaining, and serves 6 to 8 people. Since only two of us live here, I have plenty for leftovers!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Iowa Blogger Tour Part 4- Char Brenneman's Hamballs

Well we have been wined, dined, cooked and showered. It's been an incredible two days of learning and networking and making friends. I've tried to think about how I would answer if someone were to ask me what my favorite part was. All of it. Every activity was so different and so rewarding and I feel like I have gained so much. I am inspired to try new cooking techniques using pork and exploring more wines again. I have been slacking off in that department lately.

I'm inspired to continue to learn about where our food comes from. Maybe a beef farm or a food crop farm should be next on the agenda for me. Tour a dairy or other food plant. There are so many opportunities in Iowa alone.

Feeding my obsession- isn't this the cutest kitchen towel?
Chef Dom's pork dinner was definitely a highlight. Being able to try a couple dishes that have been cooked in the sous vide method makes me really want to try this technique. Looks like I have some research to do and possibly look into some classes or maybe- imagine this- a new cookbook on the subject.

An assortment of artisan cheeses

Can't wait to play with this stuff !!
Cooking with all the ladies at Chef Terrie's Country Club Market was so much fun! It's not very often that I get to attend blogger events so getting to hang out with these incredible women was for sure a highlight. I love cooking classes of all kinds and really do my best to attend as many as I can- even if it's something I already know how to make, I am still going to learn something- a new knife technique or get to try out an ingredient I am not familiar with. Living in the country can be a little isolating so classes are also a great way to make new like-minded friends.

Sadly our two days have drawn to a close, and it's time to say goodbye to new friends and head back to reality. Shawnie and Josie have one last surprise for us before we go. The girls have assembled fabulous gift baskets for us! It's HUGE and filled with all kinds of wonderful Iowa products. Four kinds of cheese from the W. W. Homestead Dairy, "Pig Powder" meat rub from Allspice, candies from Chocolate Storybook including chocolate covered bacon, a maple bacon cupcake from Scratch Cupcakery, the cutest piggie cookie cutter, a kitchen towel (they must have known about my obsession!) and a bottle of wine from Penoach Winery, all packed in a really cool wooden box, plus a t-shirt, snack bag, and an apron with our names embroidered on. Brenneman Pork sent me home with a thick and warm hoodie sweatshirt and Chef Terrie gave us all a very handy silicone scraper. Quite a lovely assortment of goodies. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

And now, because you have been so patient, waiting, and sticking around through all four promised........hamballs.

If you're not from Iowa, you might never have heard of, or eaten, a hamball. The hamball is a uniquely Midwestern dish that has graced many many many dinner tables over many generations in Iowa. Every church cookbook has three or four different recipes. Everyone's grandmother makes the best hamballs. Potlucks and holidays wouldn't be the same without hamballs. In some grocery stores you can even buy already mixed up "hamball mix" out of the meat counter- just roll into balls and bake at home. What is it about hamballs that makes us love them soooo much?

You just have to have one to get it. They are simply meatballs made with ham and ground pork. Tender, delicious, a little smoky, a little salty, a hint of sweet, usually baked in a sweet and sour type tomato sauce they are amazing with mashed potatoes. Heading out to Brenneman Pork on Tuesday we were expecting pork burgers on the grill. Hey, I love a good pork burger, and anything on the grill is good with me. Instead of burgers thought, Char Brenneman changed it up on us and made hamballs instead. 

Happy happy tummies all around- all the food blogging girls love hamballs. Char knew we were going to ask so she printed off the recipe ahead of time and shared, and I am going to share with you! Get ready to have some friends over for dinner- this is a pretty large recipe and makes quite a few hamballs.

Char Brenneman's Hamballs

2 lbs "ham loaf" mix (2/3 ground ham, 1/3 ground pork)
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 egg
2/3 cup milk

Mix together in a large bowl. Form into balls and place in baking dish. Think tennis ball size when making the balls.

1 can tomato sauce
1 can tomato soup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
couple squeezes yellow mustard

Combine in a bowl and pour over the hamballs. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for one hour.

You need mashed potatoes with these guys, you really do. Peas. Some good bread for sopping up that delicious sauce....... heaven!!!!

Hey, thanks for hanging out with me these last several days. I hope you enjoyed the Iowa Tour de Pork as much as I did. Maybe you learned something new, I know I sure did, or maybe relived a memory of summers spent on a farm, or just piqued your interest in really amazing food and wine. I appreciate your thoughts and would love to hear what you think about the stories shared from this tour. Now, back to our regularly scheduled cooking! 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Iowa Blogger Tour Part 3- Country Club Market and Main Dish Media

Shawnie and Josie, from the Iowa Pork Producers Association really put together a fantastic agenda for our group of bloggers. After yesterday's tour and incredible dinner at Splash we spent a quiet night relaxing at The Wildwood Lodge in Clive. The hotel was great, with a cabin in the woods theme. Wednesday morning we had a leisurely start to the day and around 10 a.m. headed over to Country Club Market in Clive for some awesome cooking with Chef Terrie Kohl, the owner of Country Club Market and a food styling workshop with Sue Hoss from Main Dish Media.

Jenni and Chef Terrie
Chef Terrie reads through a recipe
Chef Terrie is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute with an impressive resume of culinary positions and experiences. She is living her dream, and mine. She runs this awesome business from her home, and holds cooking classes and demos for clients, and caters events. She has been a judge at the Iowa State Fair for the past fifteen years, and is a cookbook collector like me. Her collection, however, makes mine pale in comparison- she has over 3,700 volumes! 

Our afternoon with Chef Terrie was going to be a blast! She greeted us with a trio of appetizers and nice cold beverages, including local wines from Penoach Winery. We nibbled on Marinated Chilled Shrimp, Tomato and Cheese Tortellini Skewers; Fresh Fruit and White Cheddar Skewers, and Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus with Parmesan. We heard about Chef's culinary school years, her meeting Julia Child (I died... I melted.....I did!!) and learned a lot about Country Club Market and why Chef enjoys sharing food with so many people. 

Yes, it's a picture of a picture. I'm a dork like that. But look
at who it is !!!! Chef Terrie and Julia Child !!!!
So, four fantastic recipes with, you guessed it, a pork theme, a bunch of very experienced cooks and loads of cameras clicking away made a very exciting class. The menu included Maple Bacon Wrapped Pork with Rosemary Cherry Sauce; Cabbage Apple Salad with Maytag Bleu and Bacon Dressing; Portobella Risotto with Bacon, Manchego and Asparagus, and Chef Terrie's Famous Bananas Foster Flambe with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. We paired up to make the recipes, with Kristin and Kelli working the salad, Alicia and Cristen made the risotto, Jenny handled the Bananas Foster, and Jenni and I tackled the pork loin. Talk about fun! It was really a great experience cooking with so many other talented cooks. 

Between the chopping, prepping, sauteing, sizzling, laughing we all really had a great time. Many of us have never met in person before so this was a wonderful way to get to know each other doing what we all love. Some of the girls made short videos and live streams, loads and loads of pictures were taken, and before we knew it, lunch was ready!

Jenni and I worked on the bacon wrapped pork loin

Tart dried cherries, rosemary, garlic, onions- such
a delicious combination!
Slicing the pork and getting ready to plate it

"Keep it casual" according to Sue
This is where our food styling workshop comes in. Like we all do in our own homes when we make a recipe for our blogs, we cook, we plate, we take pictures, and then after all that- we eat. So Sue Hoss came armed with her toolkit of brushes, cotton swabs, tweezers, skewers and a kitchen torch, ready to show us how to make our food photography better. Sue works with lots of clients and some really big names- Better Homes and Gardens/Meredith Publishing and HyVee. Sue talked about the importance of keeping our plates casual, so they are more appealing to the readers we are trying to connect with- real people in real homes we hope will cook our food.

Sue discusses all kinds of photo ops with food- like catching
your dish fresh from the oven and still a little messy,
more realistic and readers can identify

Sue had an entire tool bag of tools used for arranging
food or garnishes to get the right look.
Overdoing it can put off some readers, making the recipe look too fussy and complicated. I completely understand this. Because I often "think like a chef" I see that as a challenge but if I am making dinner on a weeknight, it might be a deal breaker for me. Sue worked with all of our dishes, except dessert, and gave us loads of hints on making each course look the best on the plate, in the bowl, and in the photo.

Now it's time to eat! Everything was so so delicious! The apple and cabbage salad was fresh and crunchy- loads of texture with a warm bacon dressing and bites of creamy bleu cheese. 

The risotto was perfect- the mushrooms were left in large pieces for a more substantial bite, the asparagus was still slightly crunchy and the Manchego cheese was creamy, salty and even better than Parmesan.

The pork loin was so tender and delicious, wrapped in crispy bacon, draped with a sauce of dried cherries, sauteed red onions, garlic and rosemary. The dried cherries plumped up perfectly in the sauce. A splash of red wine vinegar adds the acid we needed to cut through the richness of the bacon.

Dessert was pretty fantastic. Chef Terrie's Famous Bananas Foster is everything I expected it to be- rich, decadent, creamy, buttery, rummy.....naughty!

Chef Terrie says keep the banana slices thick so they
don't break down during cooking.

That rum was some high octane stuff!

Beautiful! What a wonderful party dessert
These dishes were both elegant and homey at the same time, and would be equally wonderful for a holiday meal, or a weekend dinner at home. We all got a copy of every recipe so we can recreate this menu for our families.

Not surprisingly, we are, once again, too full to move! Country Club Market, and Chef Terrie, are a wonderful resource to have here in central Iowa, and would make an awesome outing for a group of friends, a team building activity for a group of coworkers or a great way to meet new friends if you join an existing class. As lunch draws to a close we say our goodbyes to some of the girls who have to head out, and the rest of us head back to the Iowa Pork Producers office to end our day, so stay tuned. We'll have a wrap-up of this fabulous tour and those amazing hamballs!

Remember, please visit the blogs that all these wonderful women devote so much love to. There is something for everyone- crafts, fitness, farming, and of course, food!

Food and Swine by Cristen Clark

Fit and Farm by Alicia Schmitt

The Gingered Whisk by Jenni Ward

Make the Best of Everything by Kristen Greazel

In The Kitchen With Jenny by Jenny Unternahrer

Midwest At Its Best by Anna and Sam Konchar

The Sustainable Couple by Kelli Lane

Don't forget- stick around for the tour wrap-up, some odds and ends and, as promised, those hamballs!

**photos by the girls from Iowa Pork Producers, all the blogging girls, and myself

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Iowa Pork Blogger Tour Part 2- Iowa Bloggers Tour Dinner

Bet you have never heard the term "porkcentric" before, have you? Executive Chef Dominic Ianarelli made porkcentric happen for all of us lucky lucky Iowa food bloggers. After our long roadtrip and tour of Brenneman Pork we joined fellow food bloggers Cristen Clark of Food and Swine and the husband and wife blogging team Sam and Anna Konchar, who blog at Midwest at Its Best at the gorgeous downtown restaurant Splash for this amazing 6 course dinner and wine pairings event.

If you are not familiar with Chef Dom, you need to get to know him. He is the Executive Chef of Splash Seafood Bar and Grill in the heart of downtown Des Moines, and a owner/partner in the hugely popular Jethro's family of restaurants. Chef Dom is a very well respected chef in the Des Moines culinary scene and was one of the chefs "fighting" to raise money for Central Iowa Shelter Services during the Culinary Fight Night event. 

Our evening started with an absolutely  sublime selection of artisan hams. The first ham was a 400 day aged Surry-ano Serrano style ham. It had a drier texture than the ham most people think of- almost a jerky-like quality, intense ham flavor and moderate salt. It was worth every minute of those 400 days. The second ham was Benton's Smokey Mountain Country Ham. This ham had a tender texture like we are used to, beautiful flavor and pale pink color. It was dry-aged for 18 months. Chef Dom tells us he has been on a waiting list for a year and a half to get this ham! The third ham was produced right here in Iowa, La Quercia Prosciutto Americano. If you like prosciutto at all you need to try La Quercia. It's truly a treat. The hams were served with a house-made lemon parsley pickle and a blend of Dijon and grainy mustards. I really enjoyed tasting first the ham by itself, then with a bit of mustard. The pickles were sensational and acted as a palate cleanser between hams.

Wine pairings were part of the evening's festivities as well and Splash's sommelier, Andy Crounse, has chosen the perfect wines for each course. To accompany the hams Andy chose LaMarca Prosecco. If you aren't familiar with prosecco, it's basically a Italian champagne. It is fermented a little differently resulting in a lighter wine with bright flavors.

Our first course was a stunningly beautiful Roasted Beet Salad with Pork Pate, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Crisp Bacon. Don't get too excited about that bacon. Chef Dom's goal was to create delicious pork dishes that were NOT heavily baconized. The bacon on this plate was nicely subdued. The beets were tossed in a dressing that was made with Jasper Winery's popular All Night White wine, served on top of baby lettuces with the creamy pate on the side. Don't be squeamish about pate either- you need pate in your life. This was phenomenal.

The salad was paired perfectly with my favorite of all whites, Riesling, in this case Julien Frey Riesling. Made in the Alsace region of France this is a dry Riesling with an earthy minerality and green fruit notes. It's nothing like it's cousin sweet Riesling, but very refreshing.

Cheeks are the new It Girl of the meat world and the second course was a flawless presentation of this trendy cut. Braised Pork Cheeks with Shrimp Tortellini, Local Peas and Goat Cheese Fondue. I am almost at a loss for words to describe this dish. The pork cheeks, which were braised in milk, were cooked to the perfect tenderness- they weren't braised to mush, they had a short rib quality to them. The shrimp tortellini were stunningly beautiful as well as delicious. Pork and seafood is the new surf and turf according to Chef Dom and if this dish is representative of that, I'm all in. The goat cheese fondue was creamy and decadent, very mild and was the perfect compliment to the meat and pasta. This dish was a favorite of many of the bloggers!

The second course was paired with my favorite of all red grapes- Grenache- which is blended with Syrah and given only a brief time with the skins to create Commanderie de la Bargemonie Rose. This wine was so elegant, with all the big fruit notes of a full-red Grenache or Syrah but with a lighter touch. I am not normally a big fan of rose wines but I will be looking for this one for myself to enjoy at home.

This dinner took place at Splash, after all, and that of course means lobster. Cooked sous vide for 22 hours, the Lobster Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Maytag Havarti New Potatoes, Corn Sauce and Green Bean Succotash, our third course, was a beautiful dish to look at. The lobster was sweet and tender, wrapped in the gorgeous cut of pork, cooked so gently in that sous vide until it's just the perfect temp. So tender and delicious, I just can't describe it. Rolled up in a red cabbage strip and presented atop the potatoes- oh the potatoes....they reminded me of my mom's scalloped potatoes but kicked up about 300 degrees- creamy with Havarti (who knew Maytag also made Havarti??), golden brown and crusty on top, smooth and melt-in-your-mouth creamy inside and the succotash was so fresh and still barely crunchy, just how I love it.

For this course we are venturing into the reds with the perfect red for pork, Pinot Noir. Andy's choice this course was Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir. Raptor Ridge comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and is filled with juicy red fruit notes- cherries, pomegranate, berries and plums. A little hint of warm spice is in there too. Beautiful wine, just beautiful.

Molecular gastronomy was at play in the fourth course, as pork shoulder was disassembled, and reassembled with "meat glue" to create Reworked Pork Shoulder Steak with Creamed Zucchini and Smoked Peanuts. Oohs and aahs accompanied this beautiful dish which was garnished with a Parmesan tuile with black truffle. The pork was beautifully cooked with crispy edges, layers of fat that was reminiscent of pork belly, browned and crispy on top. Chef Dom remarked that in the summer too much zucchini forces a little creativity and this creamed zucchini was a unique way to use this squash, accented with oyster mushrooms, ricotta cheese and mint. The smoked peanuts added a subtle crunch and salty flavor. This was just so delicious, and we were all complaining about how full we were- but we wanted MORE!

Our last wine was just as spectacular as the rest, this red was Qupe Syrah. Dark, dark red fruits and a hint of white pepper make this wine spectacular to drink. I love deep bold reds with those spicy tones. I think they are very warming, and with this pork shoulder steak, as hearty as it was, this wine was the perfect pairing. 

The Chef has quite a sense of humor, and as dessert was being served he told us he thought after all those courses it would be best to finish with something "a little light"..........and then we were each presented with a SLAB, yes, a slab, of Chef Dom's version of Christina Tosi's Confetti Birthday Cake, topped with house-made white chocolate ice cream and crunchy cereal brittle. I could have cried, because the cake was so perfect, so memorable, and I had no more room!

After dinner we headed back to the hotel for a night of much-needed rest, but our "Iowa Tour de Pork" is not over just yet- lots more enticing pork cuisine to come tomorrow, and stay tuned for those hamballs I promised earlier. They are coming up soon!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Foodie Field Trip- Iowa Pork Blogger Tour Part 1- Brenneman Pork

I never cease to amaze myself. Going into this Foodie Field Trip I had some basic ideas for a great post. Post. Singular. One. What happened over this two-day tour was so much more than one post can ever represent. So folks, please stick around for the continuing series. I promise it will be worth it.

Have you ever seen where your food really comes from? I don't mean the grocery store, I mean where your pork chop or bacon is born, nursed, weaned and raised? Not a lot of us have, including me, but that has all changed, thanks to the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Last year I received an invitation to participate in a blogging promotion hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. The requirements were simple- browse their recipe collection, pick a recipe, grab some fresh Iowa pork, prepare the recipe, write a post and hold a giveaway for our readers with the prizes courtesy of the I.P.P.A. It was a great promotion. Up for grabs was a grilling pack including utensils,  a selection of barbeque sauces from Jethro's Restaurants, a grilling apron and $50.00 in free pork coupons. 

I look dazed, but I am so smitten
It was hard to choose a recipe but I settled on Carolina Riesling Pork Chops. Of course I chose Riesling- it's my favorite white wine! The winner of the giveaway was Tracy Carlson, from Ames, Iowa.

The I.P.P.A., originally known as the Iowa Swine Growers Association, has been around since the 1930s, working to improve all aspects of pork production and today they share information with close to 12,000 pork industry leaders in Iowa. Their home office is in the city of Clive in Polk County.

Jenni gives a newborn pig a powder bath

So here we are a year later and the I.P.P.A. has again extended an amazing opportunity to the Iowa bloggers who participated in last year's event. I get to spend 2 days with Jenny Unternahrer from In The Kitchen With Jenny; Kristen Greazel from Make The Best of Everything; The Sustainable Couple's Kelli Lane; Jenni Ward from The Gingered Whisk; Alicia Schmitt of Fit and Farm, and Food and Swine's Cristen Clark. What are we going to be doing? Having a blast!!!

This lil guy is perfectly content in Jenny's arms

Our day starts bright and early at the I.P.P.A. office with a welcome breakfast and presentation. After we enjoy breakfast and getting to meet each other we board the bus for Brenneman Pork in Washington County. It's a bit of a road trip but that gave us lots of time to get to know each other. All I can seem to think about is........will I get to hold a little baby piggie? Typical city girl, right?

Erin is giving a brand new baby pig a good rub down
after a powder bath.

We arrive at the farm and are treated to lunch- Char Brenneman's homemade Iowa Pork Hamballs. Since RTK is all about the food normally I would stop here and share the recipe (don't worry, that will come later) but this tour of the farm was so much more than just amazing hamballs. As a life-long city resident this really was an incredible day for me. So we enjoyed lunch with Erin Brenneman. Rob and Char Brenneman popped in to visit with us but they were soon off to the county fair to look at the 4H winning hogs. Rob shared loads of information about raising hogs. I had no idea how "much" there was to all of it, such as pigs eat between 13 and 16 different diets during their lives. The farm also raises their own grain to feed the pigs (they still purchase grain from other farmers as well) and use the manure to fertilize their own fields. He talked about antibiotic use and changes over the years. The Brennemans are not afraid to tackle the tough subjects, and they are very transparent about farming. I had no idea there were so many facts that I had ever even thought about. Erin shared her story about how a lifelong Chicago girl went off to college, met a man with a work ethic just like hers, common interests, and the rest is history. Today she is absolutely thriving at the farm. You'll hear more about that in a bit. After a video presentation we are ready for the next part of our visit. The tour. Which also means it's time for the unglamorous stuff- shower in. Yep, you heard it, shower in. Times like this naturally curly hair is a great asset. Biosecurity is critical in livestock farming and in order to keep the pigs, and us, safe, showering in and showering out is required. Honestly, for all the dread I felt beforehand, the showering in and out was a piece of cake. 

Josie has a cute lil friend!

The buildings that house the pigs are massive. Incredibly massive. We toured the farrowing portion of the farm and being so close to the pregnant moms and newborn babies (literally newborn.......) really drives home the importance of biosecurity. Like human babies, new baby pigs are susceptible to illness and infection and need and deserve that protection. It's worth giving up our makeup and mascara and hairstyles. 

Jenni was brave enough to pull a pig. What an experience!

This massive barn was divided into a perfectly synced series of sections- the sows who are actively giving birth, the next section over has the sows with piglets just a few days older, another section the piglets are close to weaning. One area houses all the gestational sows and beyond that, the former moms doing what lady pigs do when they don't have kids- eating, fighting over who's the boss and laying around, in big pens. They were fun to watch, how they interact, and they do bicker and fight like a bunch of crabby women! The sows in the gestational pens were very content and comfortable. The sows with piglets were just as you'd expect- moms and babies doing what nature intended. What really surprised me was the air quality inside the barn. Let's be honest, pigs poop. Since they live in the barn, they poop inside the barn, but the carefully engineered ventilation systems in place very effectively take care of any odors. Is it fresh and floral scented like a spa? Of course not. We got the occasional whiff of fertilizer-to-be but overall it was very comfortable inside the building.

I think Kristin was a little smitten as well
Erin was hoping to have us experience the birth of a piglet, and that we sure did. We saw several pigs born that day, including some members of the group who were brave enough to "pull" pigs- literally reach inside mom and ease out a baby pig. I was not that gutsy! After they are born the piglets are given a powder "bath" to dry them off, and rubbed down with a towel. According to Erin this stimulates the baby and gets them active. The babies are introduced to mom's colostrum just like human babies, and I have to say, they are as precious as I hoped. I got to hold a couple different piggies and I was totally smitten.

Farm life is not all happiness and wiggly babies and smiles. While we were there we also experienced death in the pens, when one of the moms rolled over and suffocated a piglet. That lifeless little baby was a heartbreaking moment, but as they say- that's life on a farm.

Piggy love 
Erin's commitment to her animals and their well being is so obvious. She definitely exudes enthusiasm when talking about the farm, like during lunch, but once we entered that barn she was like a proud mom herself. The phrase "lit up" seems so cliche but she truly was when talking about and handling the sows and piglets. Farming isn't for everyone, that's for sure, but for Erin it's not a job, it's her life.

Brenneman Pork is truly a family farm. Formed in 1980 by Rob and Char Brenneman, the farm is very progressive, changing and growing all the time. It was clear listening to Rob when he was talking with us that he feels a deeply rooted passion for farming and raising hogs. Several members of the family work there including parents, sons, daughters and spouses.

So now that I have seen up close and personal where and how pork is produced it's time to get back to the city for the next part of our amazing journey- an artisinal ham tasting followed by four courses of pork awesomeness. You DON'T want to miss out on that........

**All photos inside the farm were taken by Erin Brenneman. Picture in the bus taken by Josie McQuillen

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."