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Delicious Dairy Round-Up and a Giveaway!!

In many ways, I’m an overly trusting person. I’m an optimist by nature and I tend to assume the best in people, almost to the point of foolishness. It’s the way my brain (and maybe my heart?) works and it can be both a benefit and a curse. Because my personal belief system comes from a place of trusting that most people are honest, moral, ethically-minded people, I sometimes fail to ask the questions I ought to ask. And when it comes to the food I feed myself and my family, I really should be asking more questions.

View from The Inn on the Lake – Canandaigua Lake, NY

Like most of us, I strive to feed my family a well-balanced, nutritious diet which is mostly composed of whole foods. I try to stay aware of current findings in nutrition research and I use that information to make the choices I feel are best for my family’s needs. But sorting through the vast amount of information, which is easily accessible in today’s modern technological age, can be positively confusing. You can find a strongly-worded, research-based article full of references and evidence, to support or refute just about any claim. Add that to the fact that as technology changes and new information becomes available, widespread belief systems about what’s healthy or not change. Remember when eggs were bad for you? Or margarine considered healthy? Or fat-free products the ticket to healthy living? It’s a moving target. On top of all of that, you then need to contend with the difference between what medical professionals tell you and what you heard from your neighbor’s best friend’s former schoolmate. It’s absolutely overwhelming, even to a well-educated adult with a background in biochemistry and an avid interest in food.

Canandaigua Lake

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to our family’s well-being. But in an age of way too much information, where it’s almost impossible to sort fact from fiction from personal preference, identifying that ‘right’ thing can be downright perplexing. You can’t win. In fact, I stopped trying to win. Ultimately, I end up basing most of our choices on the bits of information which seem the truest and our own personal evidence. If my family appears and feels happy, healthy, and well-nourished, I consider our choices a success. If something isn’t working, we look for the culprit and go after it with our fiercest ninja moves.

Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY

For myself and my family, dairy products have always been a part of our diet, which we all enjoy and thrive on…our personal evidence. The kids drink milk, we use it in our cereal, we love ice cream and yogurt, and you might as well crown me the ambassador of cheese. (Make it an extra sparkly crown, please!) Convincing me to like dairy was never an issue. So, when I was invited to attend a NY Dairy Farm to Table event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, which would involve touring an upstate NY dairy farm, followed by eating cheese and drinking wine, along with two uninterrupted nights of sleep in a comfy hotel room, nobody had to twist my arm real hard.

Mama cow and her calf, just a couple hours after the birth, comfortably resting in a clean stall.

I eagerly accepted the invitation, certain it would be an enjoyable (and yummy) experience. What I hadn’t counted on was how positively eye-opening the experience would be and how it would answer so many of the questions I hadn’t taken the due diligence to ask.

I walked into the experience thinking about cheese, delicious cheese. I walked out of the experience feeling absolutely blown away by the level of planning, thoughtful practice, and monitoring, that goes into producing the safe and nutritious milk which ends up on our store shelves and is used in some of our other favorite dairy products. (Yes, I’m thinking about cheese again.) I have a new found appreciation for the animals who provide us with the food that many of us enjoy on a daily basis and for the hard-working farmers who care for those animals in order to get a plentiful supply of that food to our families’ tables.

I’ve tried really hard to prioritize my thoughts, but there are just so many things I want to share with you. So, pour yourself an icy cold glass of milk (perhaps a few cookies on the side for dunking) and stay tuned until the end, where I’ll share links to my top ten favorite Gourmand Mom recipes featuring dairy and an awesome giveaway!

One of the long spacious barns at Noblehurst Farms

We spent the morning at Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY. Noblehurst is a large, modern, seven-generation multi-family dairy farm. They care for and milk 1700 cows to produce a daily yield of approximately 15,000 gallons of milk. Most of the milk produced at Noblehurst Farms is sold to Steuben Foods in Elma, NY for yogurt production or Sorrento in Buffalo, NY for mozzarella cheese. Mmmm….cheese.

Seventh generation dairy farmer, Kitty Noble Rudgers, co-owner of Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY, (who I should note is currently thirty-six weeks pregnant with the eighth generation of Noble dairy farmers), hopped on a hayride along with Noblehurst’s cow nutritionist and dairy manager to show us how Noblehurst produces those 15,000 gallons each day. We toured their vast property from where they grow the food which feeds the cows, to where they ferment and store the cows’ food, to the digester that turns the cow’s waste into energy which can be transferred back into the power grid. We visited a large barn where many of the cows are housed, the milking parlor, and the barn where calves are born and raised. (I pet a baby cow. He mooed. I considered adopting it.) Afterward, we had the opportunity to meet with the veterinarian who cares for the herd as well as the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) planner who works with the farm to ensure they are meeting or exceeding all standards for keeping our environment safe.

Young calf, resting with other young calfs.

Everyone we met was open and informative as our small group toured the farm’s operations. Here are a few of the highlights…

  • The vast majority of farms across NY and the nation are family owned and operated. This just makes me feel good when I’m thinking about the food I feed my own family. It sort of makes me think back to a time when every family owned their own cow for their family’s milk and eventually meat. Nowadays, very few people own their cow, but we’ve got these farm families who were born and raised on dairy farms and are now providing the rest of us with delicious dairy.
  • Anyone who’s ever nursed their baby can attest to the fact that comfortable, happy, and well-nourished moms make the most milk. Well, same goes for cows. Comfortable, stress-free, healthy cows produce the most milk, so if for no other reason than profitable business, it is in the best interest of the farmer to take darn good care of their cows. Cows are fed a carefully crafted blend of food which is optimized for their overall health, taste preferences, and milk production. Each cow eats approximately 90-100 pounds of food every day along with a bathtub’s quantity of fresh water. Holy cow…90-100 pounds?!?! I’m rethinking my desire to adopt a cow.
  • All dairy products are antibiotic-free. Sick cows on conventional dairy farms may be treated with antibiotics, when necessary, just as doctors may prescribe them for ourselves or our family members when needed. But milk from these cows is not allowed to enter our food supply. Multiple levels of safety screening occur at both the farm level and production plant level for every batch of milk to ensure that antibiotic-tainted milk does not end up on our store shelves. Loads of milk which test positive for antibiotics are dumped, at great cost to the farm, so it’s not something that anyone takes lightly.
  • The use of artificial growth hormones to increase milk production is a concern to many people, who worry it may enter the milk and cause adverse affects in our bodies. I hear ya! Though the FDA has found no significant difference in the quality of milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones as compared to the milk from untreated cows, I’d always rather lean towards the side of extra caution when it comes to my family’s safety. The good news is that while use of these hormones is currently still allowed in the United States, most dairy farmers (including Noblehurst Farms) are responding to consumer demand by eliminating the use of artificial hormones in favor of optimal nutrition practices.

Weeeeeeee…a carousel ride for cows!

  • Dairy cows are not over-worked milk machines. In fact, they spend a very small amount of time being milked each day. Cows at Noblehurst Farms are milked three times each day on a rotary carousel milker. They step onto the slow moving carousel, are examined for any signs of infection or health concerns, are sanitized, then hooked up to the milkers. The milkers automatically fall off once the cow’s flow reduces to a certain level. They finish their ride on the carousel, then step off and spend the rest of their day eating their carefully crafted diets and resting on comfortable beds in their stalls. The entire process takes nine minutes. Multiply that by the three milking cycles each day for a total of twenty-seven minutes spent in the milking process. And on average, they get about two months off from milking each year. Doesn’t sound like such a bad deal to me! I nursed my three sons and let me tell you…I spent a heck of a lot more than twenty-seven minutes being milked each day and I certainly didn’t get all of that time for resting and eating in between or the two months of vacation time!
  • Rotary milkers aren’t the only modern technology being used for efficiently milking large groups of dairy cows. We met a pair of local dairy farmers who use robotic milkers. With robotic milking, the cows roam freely and can choose to enter the milking stalls as they wish, as often as they wish. Once in the stall, the robotic milking system automatically cleans the cow for milking, attaches, and effectively milks the cow. It’s even capable of recording coordinates for each individual cow so that it can more easily identify the correct placement of the milkers each time that cow enters the stall! How cool is that?? But the funny thing is that apparently, some cows enjoy this process so much, they choose to enter the stalls for milking many more times than necessary each day! Silly cows!
  • All milk is healthy, wholesome, and nutritious. – Whether you choose organic or conventional milk, whole, reduced-fat, or skim, you’re getting those nine essential nutrients: calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus. And did you know that whole milk is actually only 3.3% fat?? Personally, I’m a skim milk girl, but if you prefer the fuller body of whole milk, there can certainly be room for it within the framework of a healthy balanced diet.

Milking machines on the rotary milker at Noblehurst Farms

I loved dairy prior to this experience. It would have put a serious damper on my love affair with cheese to have observed anything other than the remarkably well-designed, efficient and sustainable production they’ve got in place at Noblehurst. Instead I walked away feeling more confident than ever about the dairy products I feed myself and my family. Seeing it all firsthand, I am reminded to be mindful of where our food comes from. It’ll be hard not to think about those adorable and generous cows every time I enjoy some delicious cheese!

In honor of this awesome experience, I’ve put together a round-up of some of my favorite recipes featuring delicious dairy! Give them a try!

Spicy Bacon Mac and Cheese

Cannoli Ice Cream

Mixed Berry Mousse with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Quadruple Berry Muffins

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Three Cheese Fondue

Aged White Cheddar and Broccoli Soup with Chorizo

Spiced Fruit Bread Pudding

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Want to win this???

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council is offering a gift bag of dairy-themed items for one lucky reader! It’s an awesome bag of goodies, including a cow print apron and oven mitt, a gorgeous wooden cheese board, cow cheese spreaders, a cow wine cork, little squishy cow toys, a sturdy cow-print lunch bag, and a Taste of New York cookbook! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite cheese or favorite use of dairy products. The contest will close on Saturday, November 3 at 12:00pm EST, at which point a winner will be randomly selected. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 18 years or older please. 

Good luck, friends!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council hosted the NY Dairy Farm to Table event. As part of this event, they provided me with accommodations, compensation towards travel expenses, a gift bag of dairy-themed goodies, and a delicious evening at the NY Wine and Culinary Center. I was under no obligation to the ADADC, Noblehurst Farms, or any other agency to write this post or in any way share my experiences.

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Tropical Smoothies

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Apparently, when your child turns four, their inner menace is instantly activated. With this activation comes such inexplicable behaviors as hurling oneself at a moving swing, superman-style, with such force that said four-year-old flies directly over the swing, head first into the gravel. Ouch!

Pulling down one’s pants and walking around the produce section of the grocery store, butt cheeks fully exposed, is apparently another new behavior triggered at age four. True story.

Oh, the list of things I never imagined myself saying goes on and on…

Pull up your pants! You’re in the middle of a grocery store!

Stop licking your brother’s feet. 

The baby doesn’t want your underwear on his head.

You shouldn’t be eating any type of boogers! I don’t care which ones taste better.

Sometimes, the only response I can muster is Why?? Why would you do that??

But with this new mischief also comes a deeper passion for favorite things. And my four year old has a deep passion for smoothies. Lucky for him, I happen to love them too, so I’m more than happy to fire up the blender for a daily smoothie. We’ve enjoyed all sorts of smoothies this summer, but these are the smoothies which brought my son to tears. Literally, to tears. They’re really that good!

Tropical Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas, chopped and frozen
  • 1 mango, chopped and frozen*
  • 3/4 cup pineapple yogurt
  • 3/4 cup mango yogurt
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
(Click here to see my photo guide for how to dice a mango.)

Directions

Blend all ingredients together until smooth.

The coupon for FREE Dannon Activia Selects yogurt is still available for a few more days. Get it while you can! Their new French-style yogurt comes in both the mango and pineapple flavors needed for this recipe! (Check your grocery stores’s coupon policy before redeeming, as some stores will not accept printable coupons for free products.)

Visit the Activia Selects Facebook page to get your FREE coupon now!

This sponsorship is brought to you by Activia Selects who we have partnered with for this promotion.

FREE coupon offer good 8/3 /11 – 8/15/11, up to 1 million coupons, on any Activia Selects Single Serve, up to $3.00. One coupon per household. Offer valid in the U.S only. VOID IN LA, NJ, CA. Coupon valid until 8/15/11.

Residents of LA, NJ, CA will be given a ‘$1 off 3 Activia Selects’ coupon.

Apple Pie A La Mode Smoothie and a FREE coupon!

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As you know, I love food. Food is so much more to me than just sustenance and nutrition. It’s more than just putting a meal on the table and feeding my family. It’s an experience. It’s a pleasure-inducing event. It satisfies me in a manner much deeper than just quenching my hunger. But this love of food comes at a great cost, not only to our waistlines, but also to our piggybanks.

I admit that, in the past, I have never been very conscious of shopping grocery sales or monitoring the prices of individual ingredients. I typically plan our grocery trips based on what we feel like eating or what looks fresh and delicious in the store, rather than basing our meals on sales or what we have in the pantry. This approach is deliciously satisfying, but puts our normal grocery spending off the charts. Lately though, I’ve been trying to become more conscious about our grocery spending; buying meats in bulk, planning a few less expensive meals each week, and even using coupons!

Now, couponing is something I’ve attempted in the past and never had much success with. I’d diligently clip my coupons, only to arrive at the store with a stack of savings on things I wouldn’t normally purchase anyway or things which would end up costing me more than other similar items, even after the coupon was applied. But, this time has been different. This time, I’ve started following a few couponing blogs, which have made things so much clearer. I get it now. Not sure why I didn’t get it before, but I get it now!

My Coupon Binder

I’ve learned about sale cycles, stocking up on items at their lowest prices, and matching up manufacturer coupons with store coupons and sales to get things for mere pennies or even for free. Yes, free! Why in the world have I been paying full price for toothpaste and toothbrushes when stores are giving away my preferred brands for free almost every week???  Silly, silly me!

I’ve become a little obsessed. I’ve even set up a binder to neatly organize my coupon collection. I refuse to sacrifice the quality of the foods we eat for savings, but why wouldn’t I try to save money on the things I’d normally buy anyway…money which I can put in my vacation fund for some grand, luxurious trip to a tropical locale, where I’ll overindulge in food, drink, and naps. I’ve already picked the place.

So, when I was contacted recently, by Foodie Blogroll (in partnership with Halogen Network), inviting me to help promote some new products from Dannon Activia Selects, with the opportunity to invite my readers to receive a coupon for free yogurt, I was immediately intrigued. When it comes to coupons, it doesn’t get much better than FREE!

My family goes through yogurt like it’s nobody’s business and Dannon is a brand I’ve loved since childhood. I was initially a bit hesitant about using this site to promote new products, but Dannon is a brand I can stand behind and this particular promotion gives me the opportunity to share my love for yogurt, coupons, and delicious smoothie recipes, so I agreed.

Dannon Activia, a yogurt with the added benefit of helping to regulate your digestive system, has recently introduced two new lines of yogurt. The first is a collection of smooth and silky French-style yogurts, which come in cherry, mango, blackberry, and cherry flavors. They’re also offering the French-style yogurt with fruit on the bottom in strawberry and mixed berry flavors. I’ve got to say, I’ve always been a big fan of Dannon’s Fruit on the Bottom yogurts, so I’m really excited to try these products.

The second is a line of thick and creamy Greek-style yogurts, which come in vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, and pomegranate berry. Greek yogurts are all the rage these days, and for good reason! They’re thick, smooth, and packed with protein. I haven’t had the opportunity to sample these yogurts yet, but the new Greek-style yogurts are top on my list to try!

You can try these new yogurts too! Simply enter a few pieces of information on the Dannon Activia website or Visit the Activia Selects Facebook page to get your FREE coupon now!

Now…you know I couldn’t let this post go without a recipe! One of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy yogurt, aside from straight out of the container, is mixed into smoothies. And this smoothie is a good one! So, use your free coupon to pick up some of this new yogurt and then give it a try in this fantastic smoothie which has the taste of a delicious slice of apple pie a la mode! (Dannon Activia’s Greek-style vanilla yogurt would work perfectly in this recipe!)

Apple Pie A La Mode Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 4 granny smith apples
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

Directions

Peel and core the apples. Cut the apples into small pieces, then toss in the lemon juice. Freeze for a few hours in a covered container. To prepare the smoothie, blend the frozen apple pieces with all other ingredients until smooth. Garnish with a fresh slice of apple and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

This sponsorship is brought to you by Activia Selects who we have partnered with for this promotion.

FREE coupon offer good 8/3 /11 – 8/15/11, up to 1 million coupons, on any Activia Selects Single Serve, up to $3.00. One coupon per household. Offer valid in the U.S only. VOID IN LA, NJ, CA. Coupon valid until 8/15/11.

Residents of LA, NJ, CA will be given a ‘$1 off 3 Activia Selects’ coupon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post! Would you enjoy future opportunities to hear about new products and potentially receive free coupons or samples? Or should I just stick to the recipes and leave the advertising elsewhere?

Quadruple Berry Muffins!

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Have you seen my belly lately?? It’s seriously impressive. I suppose that is what happens when you’re a month away from expecting your third baby! A belly this big requires plenty of delicious treats. And these muffins totally fit the bill! These quadruple berry muffins are bursting with all of the sweet flavor and delicious nutrition you’d expect from fresh berries and yogurt.

Yes, you caught that right… QUADRUPLE Berry Muffins! We don’t mess around with plain old blueberry muffins ’round here. Our muffins are exploding with the flavor of four different berries. A sweet and buttery, cinnamon streusel topping adds the perfect finishing touch. It’s a fantastic way to start a beautifully sunny spring morning.

The recipe which follows is slightly tweaked from the one I actually baked. In my original recipe, I incorporated fresh strawberries into the batter, along with the blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. What I quickly discovered is that fresh strawberries get kind of wet and mushy when baked. In my book, that was a less than ideal texture. So, I traded in the fresh strawberries for some creamy strawberry-flavored yogurt. Now the only thing missing from these muffins is a bit of cranberry! Maybe next time we’ll go for quintuple berry muffins!!

Quadruple Berry Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup strawberry yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup raspberries, coarse chopped
  • 1/2 cup blackberries, coarse chopped

For the Streusel

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare muffin tins with liners. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, egg, yogurt and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir, just until combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the fresh berries. Fill each muffin liner with a generous 1/4 cup of the batter.

For the streusel, stir together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients. Stir until evenly moistened. Use your fingers to press the mixture together into large clumps. Break the large clumps into smaller crumbles over the muffin batter. Gently press the crumbles into the batter.

Bake for about 25 minutes.

Makes 12-15 Muffins

** Adapted from Alton Brown’s Blueberry Muffins

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