Michigan Food Finds

Local Animals

On a snowy Saturday January morning, the Field Farm Table butcher shop in Ferndale hosted a hog breakdown class. We watched Matt Romine, chef and expert butcher, perfectly deconstruct a 195-pound heritage hog. What else is a girl to do on a winter weekend in Michigan? I texted my teenage boys a picture of this enormous animal on the table with the knives and hacksaw captioned, “this is what mom does for fun on a Saturday morning.” Somehow, I got no response—I think I’m starting to scare them.


As Chef Matt walked us through a four-hour butchery lesson discussing the cuts, where different parts come from and the ideal way to prepare each cut, I realized there is remarkable little waste of anything—meat, bones or fat. The science geek in me was fascinated by the anatomy lesson and the culinarian in me couldn’t wait to get home to prepare dinner.


Chef Matt Romaine removing the shank from the leg of the hog

Every participant took home about 15 to 20 pounds of almost every part of the hog. We each received small cuts of: pork belly, pork porterhouse, leg fillet, jowl, sirloin tip, boneless pork chop, boneless picnic ham, pork coppa, tomahawk chop, ground pork and bones for stock. One participant took home the brains (which are only the size of two golf balls) and another took all the skin to make chicharrones. I decided to pass on both those items.


Pig head after jowl removed

My first culinary adventure with the pork was simply seasoning 4 or 5 pieces with salt, pepper and dried thyme and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I heated my grill to medium and grilled each piece to perfection. Different cuts took slightly longer due to their thickness but generally cooked up in less then 10 minutes. Served with some grilled vegetables and pasta to create a quick and delicious meal.


I think people are a little surprised when they find out I’m a dietitian and participated in a butchery class. It is actually a very natural fit. Buying and consuming animals from a smaller, more local farm is healthier for our bodies and our planet. Farm Field Table uses the entire animal—meaning little waste—and often can direct you to a cut that is more economical. A shorter supply chain (i.e. local farm) decreases the toll on the environment.

By eating less industrialized meat, paying a little more for local meat, using all of the animal and knowing where it comes from, we will have a healthy people and healthy planet.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Note: We had a bit of leftover grilled pork after dinner and prepared pork fried rice the next day. Nothing goes to waste.

Michigan Food Finds

Storing and Freezing Garden Harvest

It’s getting close to closing down my vegetable garden for the season. Now is the time to process the bounty of herbs and produce for canning and freezing to enjoy during the winter months. My fresh basil grew like crazy this summer and fall so I started with making and freezing pesto.


Basil Pesto

3          cloves garlic, unpeeled
½         cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2          cups packed basil leaves
¼         cup pine nuts, toasted
¼         cup grated Parmesan cheese
½         teaspoon kosher salt
¼         teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place garlic cloves in small piece aluminum foil, drizzle with 1 teaspoon oil, loosely close and bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly before squeezing garlic from skin.

Add roasted garlic cloves, basil, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper to food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, scraping down sides as needed. Drizzle in remaining oil while processor is running until well combined. Toss with cooked pasta, use as a condiment for grilled meats or a marinade.
Yield: 1 cup pesto

Cook’s Tip: Place pesto in ice cube trays, cover with a thin layer of olive oil and freeze overnight. Remove from ice cube tray and place in a zip top freezer safe bag  or container for up to 6 months. Also, I have skipped the step of roasting the garlic and it is just as delicious with a more pungent garlic forward flavor.

basil plant

Lately, we have been eating our grape tomatoes as fast as I am picking them. Including our dogs (did you know dogs love tomatoes?!) In the past, I have roasted them on a sheet pan with garlic, basil, salt and pepper and froze in freezer safe zip top bag.

Roasted Tomatoes

4              cups grape tomatoes
4              cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2              tablespoons olive oil
¼             cup thinly slice fresh basil
½             teaspoon coarse salt
¼             teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss all ingredients together on a sheet pan. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring once, or until charred in spots. Cool completely and place in a freezer safe zip top bag. Consume within six months.

Cook’s Tip: Toss roasted tomatoes with hot pasta for a quick dinner.  Or, try baking roasted tomatoes a pie plate topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. They can even been pureed for a smooth sauce.

Even though it can be exhausting transforming basil and tomatoes into freezable feasts, it is so worth having that taste of summer many months from now.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

A Winning Recipe

I’m a recipe geek. I read cookbooks, watch cooking shows, write recipes and cook constantly. Because of my passion for all things food, I also enter recipe contests frequently. My latest shot at a winning recipe was via the Food and Culinary Professionals practice group from my professional organization The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

polenta (2)

The contest was “the sweet bites challenge” sponsored by Splenda® Naturals. And, I was the winning appetizer category with my date and ricotta cheese polenta bites. It is a quick and lean appetizer that offers a bit of sweet and savory. You can also make this recipe with any local, seasonal fruit in place of the dried dates. Though, here is Michigan, we will have to patiently wait until our first summer fruits arrives.


Date and Ricotta Cheese Polenta Bites


1 ½ cups water
½ cup corn grits (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
¾ teaspoon Splenda® Naturals Sugar and Stevia Blend

12 pitted dates, fine diced
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon Splenda Naturals Sugar and Stevia Blend
Pinch coarse salt
Pinch ground black pepper

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted lightly salted almond

Spray a mini muffin pan lightly with vegetable cooking spray; set aside.

Place 1 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil. Add corn grits and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes; stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in ¾ teaspoon Splenda®. Spoon 1 tablespoon of polenta into 18 mini muffin wells and press down middle of each to make an indent. Place in refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes to set.

When polenta is cooling, add dates, ¼ cup water, vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoon Splenda®, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer 4 to 5 minutes or until thick and reduced. Remove from heat; set aside.

Remove polenta from mini muffin pan to a serving dish. Top each evenly with date mixture, ½ teaspoon ricotta and chopped almonds. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 6 (3 per person)

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

Beer and Salsa

Essence on Main in historic downtown Clarkston has a beer tasting the third Thursday of every month. I usually have grand plans to attend and life jumps in the way with kid’s events, work travel or our adult league sports (yes, my husband and I still get out there and play). But, last night we escaped for an hour from the mayhem of our family’s schedule to sample a local beer and snack.

A great proponent of local foods, Essence on Main is my go to place to pick up local honey, beer or a sweet treat and has been in the community for almost a decade. They also have a full take out menu headed by Chef Joan Donnay with house made salads, soups, sandwiches and Crust baked goods.


The local beer being poured for the tasting was from Boatyard Brewing Company out of Kalamazoo. We tasted four beers: Kalamazoo Cream Ale, Frosted Harbor Raspberry Wheat, Midnight Star Black Cream Ale and Haze Sunset New England IPA. Boatyard is a true craft brewery that uses traditional ingredients in innovative ways. Ingredients like Waimea hops, caramel and black malt produces tastes and aromas that are specific to the brewmasters creativity. While all were very drinkable, we agreed upon a four pack of cream ale to take home.


My Salsa was our snack for the evening. Launched in 2016, My Salsa is a garden vegetable, no added sugar salsa offered in a variety of heats. We sampled all five flavors ranging from mild to x-hot. I braved all the heats with the promise that the x-hot—made with Carolina Reaper and Scorpion peppers—wouldn’t “melt off my face.” I did survive the x-hot with my face intact though took home the mild spicy for my family to enjoy

At the end of the event, I found my husband over by the wall of wines. He wasn’t aware of the great selection of wines at Essence on Main. I’m thinking that our next night out should be for Essence’s monthly wine tasting.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds

FullSizeRender (6)


The Food and Nutrition Test Kitchen from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a monthly collective cook-off. This month we cooked Butternut Squash Arugula Pizza. I swapped out a few ingredients to put my own local Michigan twist on the recipe.





Butternut Squash Pita Pizza

3  cups peeled and chopped Michigan butternut squash
1  small onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1  tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon MSalt
2, whole wheat Lebanese style pita bread (Paramount Baking Co.)
½ cup pizza sauce
2  teaspoons olive oil
1  cup fresh baby spinach, rough torn
2  ounces Idyll Farms goat cheese
2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400o. Combine squash, onion, 1 tablespoon olive oil and MSalt on a rimmed baking sheet. Place squash mixture in oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until just golden and soft; set aside. Place 2 pita breads on a baking sheet and top each with ¼ cup pizza sauce. Evenly distribute squash and onion mixture on each pita and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top each evenly with spinach, goat cheese, vinegar and pepper. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

Yield: 2 servings

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Michigan Food Finds


Cranberry Pumpkin Seed Simply Smart Bar


The 10th annual Making it in Michigan Conference and Marketplace Trade Show was this week. It was the perfect place to learn about Michigan food products and a great way for local businesses to expand their market.

One product in particular that spoke to my dietitian thinking was Simply Smart Bar. It is a whole food bar made from plant-derived foods. Made right here in Oak Park, Michigan, these bars are a great on-the-go meal replacer that you can feel good about eating. With ingredients that are easy to recognize—flax, almonds, apricots, raisins and pea protein—you know what you are consuming.

Most Americans could benefit from eating more plant foods as they are essential for good health. Plant foods produce thousands of phytochemicals—a compound produced by plants—that is proven to have health promoting properties. Simply Smart bars are chock full of plant foods while also full of fiber and protein making them satisfyingly filling.

Simply Smart Bars contain sustainable ingredients, are nutrient-dense and delicious to eat. Support made-in-Michigan products for your next snack.

—Pam Aughe, R.D.

Test Kitchen Recipe


Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters


The Food and Nutrition test kitchen program’s collective cook-off recipe this month is Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters. This is a perfect recipe for Michiganders—70 to 75% of the Montmorency tart cherries consumed across the nation are produced in our fine state. Michigan is nationally recognized for its prized cherry production though fresh cherries aren’t quite in season yet. Our cooler climate only allows us to pick fresh cherries from late June through August.

The test kitchen’s original recipe uses fresh cherries which will be fun to try during the summer months. But, for now, I switched out fresh cherries for dried. Michigan dried cherries have a 6 to 12 month shelf-life in the pantry allowing us to eat Michigan cherries all year long. Though, being so delicious, they are typically eaten long before any expiration date.

Fresh cherries can be frozen, canned, dried or concentrated, and are abundant in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give cherries their ruby red color, sour-sweet taste and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Full of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, eating cherries in any form is an easy choice.

Once you make a small batch of Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters, you will want to double the recipe and share this delicious and nutritious treat.

 Cherry-Chocolate Almond Clusters

¼ cup sea salt, dry roasted almonds, rough chopped
¼ cup dried pitted tart Michigan Montmorency cherries, chopped
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine almonds and cherries in a small bowl. Place chocolate chips in a separate small microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir with a rubber spatula and repeat until chips are melted. Pour melted chocolate into cherry and almond mixture; gently stir until evenly coated. Place heaping tablespoons on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Yield: 6 clusters

—Pam Aughe, R.D.