june 20, 2016
…and a visit to Dragonfly Farms
When you have the opportunity to see where and how your food is grown and raised, there comes an acute appreciation for the valiant efforts by farmers and ranchers to bring that food to market, and to your table. Bruce Johnson and his wife Katherine are the hardworking team of Dragonfly Farms bringing grass fed beef, lamb and goat to Richmond area farmer’s markets.
My first taste of Dragonfly Farms grass fed beef was at my neighborhood market Little House Green Grocery. The Johnsons came to the very first Sunday Supper hosted at Little House, and I used their beef in the entree and proudly introduced them to the guests as the source of our local fare. Now their products are available at several local farmer’s markets.
Grass fed beef simply tastes like the best and most real beef, with no added flavoring agents or fillers. It is higher in nutritious fats and vitamins. Best of all is that the cattle are raised the way nature intended, grazing on natural grassland. Some beef labeled grass fed is either from cows initially fed grain then finished on grasses, or grass fed initially and then fattened up on grain. Dragonfly Farms cattle are prepared for market later than most commercial operations (generally at about 22 months), so that these ethical farmers can state their beef is fed on natural grasses from start to finish. Grain-finished cows are sent to market at half that age, thus reducing the farmers’ obligation to raising high quality meat.
The Johnsons came to cattle ranching serendipitously. Cattle came with the farm they purchased in Beaverdam, Virginia. Katherine, an equine veterinarian, offers horse boarding and other services at the farm; they broadened their scope of knowledge to include raising cattle, and now also raise goats and sheep on the home farm and on the local farmlands they rent. Bruce, with a background in landscaping and nursery services, has mastered the art of caring for the land upon which the cattle feed. Cows are allowed free range on native grasses and fragrant weeds and once their impressive jaws have mowed down one green area, they are coaxed gently to a nearby lush field for the next meal.
The Johnsons raise Belted Galloway (oreo cows) and Black Angus, both hearty types which require little except fresh grasses, plenty of water and open fields in which to roam. Harmony in nature is practiced fervently by Bruce and Katherine, who use no artificial products like hormones or antibiotics for the animals. Bruce was kind to let me tag along recently at Dragon Creek Farm in bucolic Louisa, Virginia, one of the farms rented for natural pasture. When the cows roused from their midday slumber to enjoy a meal of fresh grass, the sound of 100 jaws chomping with pleasure was music to the ears. Blue skies, birds chirping, insects buzzing and contented cows doing what nature intended. Harmony and peace. Hard work by the Johnsons, with satisfaction in raising food the right way – it means better local food for you and me.
For a terrific and more thorough interview with the Johnsons, please read Happily Ever Crafter’s recent farmer profile.
Grass fed beef makes a mighty tasty burger and is tremendously versatile in the kitchen for all manner of domestic and ethnic dishes, from pasta with meat sauce to Thai beef larb with lemongrass. Today, we’ll go the TexMex route with a homey beef tamale pie.
A soft corn masa crust is topped with a spicy tomato tomatillo beef sauce and crowned with queso fresco for a comforting south of the border casserole which satisfies. When you make this (and I know you will – it’s easy, delicious and great for feeding a small crowd) I hope you find locally raised grass fed beef and dine on something great, and great for you, too.
Beef Tamale Pie
makes four to eight servings
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
neutral oil like canola
finely ground white pepper
1 pound ground beef, preferably grass fed
4 medium tomatillos, diced (about 8 ounces total)
2 large garlic cloves, zested or finely minced
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chile powder
2 shakes ground chipotle pepper
1 28 ounce can chunky crushed tomatoes
2 cups corn masa (masa harina)
1 ⅔ cup best quality beef, chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons baking soda
10 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
- In large heavy sauté pan, combine onion and 1 tablespoon oil with pinches of salt and pepper over medium heat; when this begins to sizzle, turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until onion begins to get soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.
- Add beef, pinches of salt and pepper, and turn heat to medium high, breaking up beef with wooden spoon, and cook until no longer pink, about 4 to 6 minutes, taking care that onion does not brown deeply.
- Add chopped tomatillos and cook, stirring, until they become translucent, about another 5 minutes.
- Add garlic, oregano, cumin, chile powder and chipotle and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
- Add crushed tomato, stir well, then simmer uncovered over low heat about 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In mixing bowl, combine stock with baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and ⅓ cup oil, whisking well; gradually whisk in corn masa until thick and smooth.
- Pat this mixture into well greased deep 2 quart baking dish.
- When beef tomato mixture is done, pour this evenly atop the masa crust.
- Bake for 15 minutes, top with crumbled queso fresco and bake another 15 minutes.
- Allow casserole to set about 15 minutes before serving.
- Can be made ahead up to 4 days and freezes nicely.