28 August 2013

The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook

There is an ongoing joke that in the South, we have our own word for "farm-to-table", we call it dinner.  Face it, the food on your table came from some farm somewhere.  The problem is, that farm might just be in Timbuktu.  We have lamented the fact that the cookbook world has been inundated with "farm-to-table" cookbooks.  When The Countryman Press offered to send us a copy of The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook by Tracey Medeiros we though, here's another one.  When we got the book, we were pleasantly surprised.  Why is this cookbook so different?

You will notice that The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook has no "to" in the title.  It is the Vermont farm table cookbook.   That distinction is important.   When I built a pair of tables for my house, they were based on my favorite farm table.  That table sat in the kitchen of my friend, Barbara, outside of Randolph, Vermont.   The table was huge.  Barbara's brother, Tim made the table with big 4X4 legs and a solid plank top.  That table sat in the same spot for years.  Kids grew up around that table, family was mourned, meal after meal was served, and more than a few drinks were downed.   The last time I was in Vermont, the table was gone.  A kitchen remodel had given way to a smaller table, but Barbara assured me it was safe in her studio after a nail-biting move involving heavy machinery.  I missed that table.

There are thousands of tables like Barbara's in Vermont.  It is the soul of a farm -- the place the farmer drinks a first cup of coffee in the pitch dark of morning; a place to order seeds for the garden, a place to shell peas, a place to feed a family and friends, a place to watch children grow, and more.  It is that table that is the soul of Medeiros' book.

The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook is about those tables and the people who sit at them, morning after morning, day after day, generation after generation.  Yes, the food is beautiful.  Yes, you want to cook it.  And, yes indeed, you want to eat it.  Most importantly, you will know then name of the person who set the ingredients on the table.  You will find four generations of the Shat family raising beef.  Six generations of the Conant's have been working Riverside Farm.  WhistlePig Whiskey is leading a new generation of drinkers to rye on a very old farm.   Misery Loves Co. fed people out of a 1976 Winnebago, and in 2012  they opened an actual bricks and mortar restaurant.  You will meet foragers and pie makers; cheese makers and cider distillers; chefs and teachers, all contributing a piece of their farm to your table.

Nothing makes our table happier than red meat and whiskey, so this recipe is a no-brainer.  Also, we have a whistle pig or groundhog living under our shed.  He comes out every morning and will sit out with the chickens. He is a bit of nuisance, but we have grown fond of him.

New York Strip Steaks with WhistlePig Whiskey Demi-glace Sauce

4 (10-ounce) New York strip steaks, about 1 inch thick, trimmed 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced 
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot 
1 garlic clove, minced 
1/3 cup WhistlePig whiskey 
1 1/4 cups demi-glace or beef stock 
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the steaks and sear 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the steaks to a baking sheet and bake until medium-rare, 6 minutes.

3. While the steaks are in the oven, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the empty skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and carefully whisk in the whiskey. Return the skillet in the heat and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the demi-glace and return to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the cream and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve.

All find and dandy, you think, but what if your table is in Timbuktu or Alabama or Idaho?  Don't let that stop you from grabbing a copy.  Within a hundred miles, or fifty or even one, you will find a farmer.  She might be making beer in a basement, he might have an acre of okra, they might own 1000 acres with a golf course and vineyard, but somewhere out there, and not that far out there, there are farmers with food for your table.  Take The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook as your inspiration and find them.  Find your local butcher who sources meat, find your favorite whiskey maker, find a dairy with local cream and sit down at your table.  You won't be disappointed.

27 August 2013

The Acorn House Cookbook

The Acorn House Cookbook is not your average "farm-to-table" cookbook.   You will find no pictures of content chickens running about, in fact you will find not pictures in the book.  It is old-fashioned in that way.  But that might just be a factor in making it timeless.  Arthur Potts-Dawson is a pedigreed chef. He made a name for himself at the River Cafe, which seems to be the incubator of renown British chefs as well a fine restaurant.  Fellow River Cafe alum, Jamie Oliver made Potts-Dawson the executive chef for Jamie's Fifteen restaurant.

Potts-Dawson, like many young chefs, didn't want to merely talk about sustainability, he vowed to put it into practice at The Acorn House.  His commitment for the environment stretches from the kitchen to encompass all aspects of his restaurant.  He has constructed an eco-kitchen, complete with wormery. 

The Acorn House Cookbook gives readers an outline of these environmental principals, from ways to make one's own kitchen environmentally friendly, to growing tips, shopping ideas,and even where to procure your own wormery.

All this ecology might fall on deaf ears if his food wasn't so good.  In an age of hugely overproduced cookbooks, this one a bit hard to get used to.   (We confess, we wanted to see the wormery in action.)  The lack of frivolity in glowing pictures, lets one concentrate on the beautiful, fresh foods offered up.

Ravioli of summer herbs and ricotta

250g fresh pasta dough
60g young herbs (chervil, mint, basil, parsley)
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
125g ricotta cheese
60g parmesan, freshly grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
60g butter, melted 25g flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped freshly grated parmesan

Roll the pasta into two sheets, thin enough so that you can just see the colour of your palms through them. Keep covered when not working with them. Wash and cut the herbs into small pieces, and place in a bowl. Grate in some of the nutmeg, then mix in the ricotta and parmesan. Season well.

Arrange one pasta sheet on the work surface. Place tablespoonfuls of the herb mixture at 2.5cm intervals on the pasta. Spray (use a clean plant mister) between the piles of mixture with filtered water; this is better than brushing, as it prevents the pasta from becoming too gluggy. Cover with the second sheet of pasta, and press down between the mounds. Make sure there is no air left in each, as heated air expands and will blow a hole in your ravioli. I always make square ravioli, as there is no waste. Press the edges of the pasta to seal.

Place the ravioli in a large pan of simmering filtered water for 3 minutes, until they bob back to the top. Serve with melted butter, the parsley, some more nutmeg and grated parmesan.

This may also be the only cookbook you will run across using the word "gluggy."  

23 August 2013

A Perfect Day For A Picnic

Don't get me wrong, I love fall.  But when I looked out yesterday and saw the leaves falling, one thing jumped into my mind -- picnic.    Even in the cool middle of Fall, one can find  A Perfect Day For A Picnic.  We do have an incredible soft spot for picnic books.  Truth be told, most anything can be stuffed into a picnic basket.  I confess, it is not so much the food as it is the photos of picnics that draw us to picnic books. 

A Perfect Day For A Picnic starts out pretty perfect.  The book's spine is bound with a lovely red ticking.   Along with picnics, ticking is one of our favorite things, so we really couldn't resist.  Tori Finch provides just the ting one would want in a picnic cookbook; easy recipes and great pictures.  Who could resist a knobby old bicycle rested against a tree? 

Tucked in the picnic box, this take on a traditional quiche, but in a crust-less frittata version.
Frittata Lorraine

8 rashers smoked streaky bacon
1 small shallot, finely diced
1tsp olive oil
8 eggs
200ml crème fraîche
75g grated Gruyère cheese
Sea salt and ground black pepper

 Preheat the oven to 180C. Scrunch a sheet of baking parchment into a ball and then flatten it out (this will make it more malleable) and use to line a 20x28cm roasting tin. Put the bacon in a large frying pan with the shallots and olive oil and cook over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until golden and beginning to crisp up.

In a large jug or bowl, whisk together the eggs and crème fraîche, then stir in the bacon, shallots and fat from the pan. Add most of the Gruyère (saving a little to sprinkle on top) and season well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35min until golden and set. You can eat it warm, or leave to cool, slice into wedges and pack into your cool box.
 I realize that it is still August, but September is looming, so get out there and picnic.

22 August 2013

The Newport Cookbook

Ceil Dyer's The Newport Cookbook is a look back to the glory days of Newport.  From its founding through the very early 1900's, Dyer gives a glimpse of the food and frivolity of Newport.

Beginning with Roger Williams who founded the Rhode Island colony and invited the Indians to join him in boiled fish and succotash, the book moves from the first settlers to yachts and private clubs.  The book begins with the boiled dinners served in places like the White Horse Tavern, operating in 1673.   Early Newport was the very picture of Americana with blueberry slumps, cranberry sauce, and rabbit stew.

As the years progressed, Newport became the great escape from the sweltering heat of Southern summers.  Plantation owners were quickly followed by the proper Bostonians as lavish boarding house sprung up.   Lured by the sea air, the boarding houses were soon replaced by larger and larger summer homes or "cottages" as they were often called by their owners.   The late 1800's saw the rich and powerful flock to Newport.  The American cuisine of original colonies was replaced by a continental haute cuisine steeped in the cuisine of France.

The following recipe for beef in a marrow sauce came from a menu served aboard William Vanderbilt's yacht, Alva.

Tournedos à la Moelle

8 small tournedos
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
8 toast rounds, about the same size as the tournedos
Moelle sauce
Watercress sprigs

Sauté the tournedos in the butter and oil over fairly high heat until done to taste. Place the toast rounds on serving plates.  Top with the tournedos and ladle the Moelle Sauce over each.  Garnish each serving with watercress sprigs.

Moelle Sauce

Beef marrow from large marrow bone
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1 sprig thyme
1/2 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup concentrated beef stock or broth
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Have your butcher extract the marrow from the bone and dice it.

Place the marrow in simmering water until soft.  Remove with a slotted spoon.  Drain and set aside.

Place the wine, shallots, thyme, bay leaf, and salt in a saucepan over low heat.  Let come to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until reduced to about 1/3 cup.  Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.

Melt the butter in a second saucepan and stir in the flour.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture takes on color.  Slowly add the beef stock or broth,stirring as it is added.  Continue to stir until thick and smooth.  Add the strained wine and stir to blend.

Just before serving add the marrow and parsley. 

 Like many haunts of the rich and famous, Newport roared through the 1920's right up until the stock market crashed in 1929.  While the heyday of Newport society might be behind us, The Newport Cookbook is reminder of a lifestyle long gone.

19 August 2013

The Ethicurean Cookbook

I have no real desire to visit Noma.  The restaurant I would travel across the ocean to visit is The Ethicurean.   After reading their cookbook, I am more convinced than ever that this is my culinary destination.   The Ethicurean is one of those places that seems to be plucked from the mind of writer, a satirical writer at that.

What if the people who produce Portlandia decided to go to England and make it parody of pretentious foodie restaurants.  First you would pick a name -- something that sounds made-up -- let's call it The Ethicurean.  You would set your imaginary restaurant in a very British setting, like Downton Abbey.  Not actually Downton Abbey,  but a decaying country estate.  Not in the actual estate but in the decaying walled garden.  There would be an old orangerie, with missing glass, this would be the restaurant.  The walled garden would be the farm-to-table variety.  The head gardener, unlike his Victorian counterpart, would look like he ambled out of a J. Crew shoot.   The vegetables would be washed, then dusted with organic dirt.   The waitstaff would look exactly like they have walked off the runway in Milan or as one reviewer stated, "it's as if they're putting in a bit of work experience before getting engaged to Prince Harry or something."  The  restaurant would be out-of-the-way so it will be a difficult to get there which would encourage people from all over the world to make a pilgrimage.  You would construct a menu so the gorgeous waitresses would say things like, "Tonight, we have lacto-fermented carrots."  or maybe, "The bar has a lovely hay infused apple cider,"  or, "Do try our goat bacon."  It would all seem so funny and witty, but....

The reviews are in.  They keep coming in and The Ethicurean knocks it out of the park or the walled garden, as it were.  The cookbook follows in this same exquisite vein.  Every time you pick it up, you just can't seem to put it down.  When you do set it aside, you think about it and soon you are leafing through the pages, again.  The Ethicureans are a team consisting of brothers Matthew and Iain Pennington, Paûla Zarate and Jack Adain-Bevan.  This merry band keeps the walled garden humming.

The cookbook leaves you humming with a strange sense of vertigo.   You see a recipe and it seems familiar.  You look at it again and it seems totally original.  The brownies have elderflowers.  The steamed pudding is stuffed with rabbit.  There is goat bacon.  Or this:

Fennel Seed and Ginger Hot Chocolate

400ml milk
100g dark chocolate with 70-73 per cent cocoa solids, grated plus a little extra to finish
1 tsp ground ginger
20g dark muscovado sugar
a pinch of salt
2 tsp fennel sugar
100ml double cream

Gently heat half the milk in a pan and add the grated chocolate, ginger, muscovado sugar, salt, and most of the fennel sugar (save a pinch for sprinkling). Stir until the chocolate has melted into the milk, then whisk in the remaining milk and the cream.  Do not allow the mixture to boil but bring it to a comfortable drinking temperature.  If you have a hand blender, substitute this for the whisk; either way, for a frothy head a good amount of whisking is needed.

Sprinkle with he remaining fennel sugar and a few shards of chocolate.

Needless to say, the cookbook is beautifully photographed by Jason Ingram and in keeping with that ethicureanism, it is printed on certified, forest managed paper.  I love cookbooks and this one is magical.  I love walled gardens, and The Barley Wood Walled Garden is both practical and ever so romantic.  Far from being pretentious, ethicurean is a lovely word, like yo, get out your dictionary every now and then.   In the end, it is always about the food and this food makes you long for a kitchen and a walled garden.  The Ethicurean is my pick for Cookbook of the Year.

16 August 2013

Seasonal Recipes From The Garden

For a long time my cable provider didn't provide a PBS station.  It seemed weird, no PBS, but I learned to live it.   After changing providers, I suddenly had PBS again.   I started taping P. Allen Smith and watching his gardening show.  

Like most of those "gardening" shows, there is more looking at gardens than actual gardening going on.  Smith shows fields where he planted thousands of crocus bulbs.  I once planted 200 crocus bulbs with  two friends.  We planted for about three hours.  You do the math!  Smith has a small 600 acre farm that he keeps beautifully manicured.  Seriously, all by himself?  Well, that is the way of garden television. 

Anyway, Smith published a cookbook several years ago, Seasonal Recipes From The Garden.  Truth is I might have been more interested in the pictures of the 600 acre farm than the actual recipes and I do have a bias as Mr. P. and I share a birthday. 

Seasonal Recipes From The Garden is exactly what it bills itself as, a collection of recipes cooked from ingredients that might come out of any garden.   It is a solid, simple cookbook featuring recipes from Smith's family and from many of the chefs and cooks that he know around the Little Rock, Arkansas area where he is located.   Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with solid, simple recipes.    Martha Hall Foose described recipes as being "approachable as a handshake."  "This is not a cookbook that will leave you thinking, "Wow, why didn't I think of that!"  It does offer up solid recipes with a garden flair.

On a trip to California, Smith found a merlot and pomegranate juice.  He loved it, brought it back to Arkansas, ordered more, convinced his local grocer to carry the product and then it was discontinued.  He set about to recreate that lovely flavor and turn it into a sorbet.

Pomegranate Merlot Sorbet

3 cups bottled pomegranate juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cu water
1 cup melot wine
1 cup sugar

   Combine all the ingredients in a medium nonreactive saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Continue to boil the mixture for approximately 45 minutes, reducing it by about half to a syrup consistency.  Remove the syrup from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Transfer the syrup to an ice cream maker, and process according to the manufacturer's directions.

Transfer the sorbet to and airtight container and store in the freezer.  Remove the sorbet from the freezer and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

We love sorbet and fruit and wine so this is a win win win.

01 August 2013

The Icecreamists

We all have a story about THAT kid.  The mean, rolly-polly boy who makes your dog bark.   The kid who is always trying to sneak a peak at the girly magazines in the 7-11.  The kid who always manages to be first in line at the ice cream truck, even though he was the last one to arrive.  He can turn the most simple phrase into a dirty joke.   He scores a near perfect in the epistemology of a serial killer.   You look at him and think, "One day he will be in jail and I pray I am alive." Now, imagine that very kid becoming obsessed with that ice cream truck and turning it into a passion, a deranged and magical passion.  Meet Mark O'Connor.

Like French cookbooks, I am a sucker for ice cream books.  They all tend to follow that siren's call of summer; bright colors, sun-drenched backgrounds, piles of ripe fruit, blond children.  You know the drill. There is not a single blond child in The Icecreamists.  The ice cream is dark and rich and decadent, with whiskey and cigars instead of picnics. 

I am fond of ice cream in winter filled with pumpkins, cranberries, and eggnog.  I never met an ice cream that I didn't think would be greatly improved with a libation.  Mark O'Connor is a kindred spirit.  He became renown for an ice cream called Baby Gaga, made with human breast milk.   Lady Gaga was not amused.  Neither were the London health inspectors.   At roughly $28 a scoop, however, it quickly sold out.  Before you ask, the answer is, Yes! the recipe is included in the book, but with the new name, Baby Googoo and the proviso to have the proper blood tests done before consuming breast milk.

No we are not giving you that recipe, but this rather lovely elderflower sorbetto.


1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup superfine or granulated sugar
1/2 cup elderflower syrup, plus extra for drizzling
juice of 1 lemon
sprigs of mint to decorate

1 pour the water into a saucepan and add sugar.  Place over low heat and bring to a boil, whisking often, until the sugar dissolves.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, continue to whisk until the liquid turns to a syrup.

2. pour the sugar syrup into a heat proof bowl and set aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooled to room temperature.  For more rapid chilling, fill a sink halfway with cold water and ice and place the bowl of mixture in it for 20 minutes.

3. Whisk the elderflower syrup and lemon juice into the sugar syrup.  Cover and refrigerate, ideally overnight, until thoroughly chilled (at least 40 $.)

4.  Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufactures instructions,

5.  When the churning is complete, use a spoon or spatula to scrape the sorbetto into a freezer-proof container with a lid.  Freeze until it reaches the correct scooping texture (at least 2-3 hours.)

6.  Drizzle a little elderflower syrup over each portion and finish with a sprig of mint before serving.

Seriously, who is he kidding, toss a shot of  St. Germain over the top and enjoy.

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