Monday, March 21, 2011

Friday Night at River Cottage plus a recipe for carrot and cumin hummus

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is someone I hope our American readers have heard of and if you haven't, get to your library or bookstore and please open up some of his books and get reading. I've learned so much from Hugh and I am consistently impressed with the passion and intelligence he brings to food, farming, cooking and educating the public about these three things. He's labeled a celebrity chef in Great Britain and I personally think that label almost does him a disservice, somehow discrediting the good work that he does in the arena of food activism, policy and awareness. I'll touch on this more in a future post to come that is all about mackerel but today's post is about the delicious, amazing food at River Cottage.

Just over a week ago I had the good fortune of sitting down to a Friday Night Dinner at River Cottage HQ on Park Farm in Axminster, Devon, England. This was truly a destination meal as my boyfriend and I made a considerable effort and went a good deal out of our way to get there. Happily for us, it was worth it. Not only was the food inventive, impeccably sourced and delicious, but the experience was unique and memorable from our arrival by tractor to canapés in a yurt to meeting strangers that we were sat next to at one of two long communal tables. The flavors and conversations and sights and smells were worth the price of admission and I of course took detailed notes about what we ate and drank to be able to share the experience with you.

Kingston Black Apple Brandy

The canapés:
Chorizo and egg salad (egg mayonnaise) on toast
Carrot and cumin hummus on flatbread
Mushroom stuffed with spinach, feta and topped with chestnuts
Pan-fried squid
Potted pollack on toast

Stinger Organic Ale brewed with hand-picked Dorset nettles

First Course:
Cottechino sausage with cubes of pig skin inside the casing, which when cooked (simmered in stock) made the sausage gelatinous and sticky. Served with al dente puy lentils, celeriac puree and salsa verde. DELICIOUS!

Second Course:
Stinging nettle soup with a smoky fish stock made from cold-smoked pollock. Served with a poached egg and jersey yogurt and a slice of sourdough bread.

Main Course:
Slow and fast cooked beef from a Ruby cow. The slow element consisted of braised flank steak, shredded then combined with beef fat and sauteed onions and formed into a cake. The fast cooked beef was a couple of slices of roast beef, served pink. Roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary were served as well as roasted carrots, creamed leeks and cauliflower.

For Dessert:
Vanilla yogurt pannecotta with poached rhubarb and fragile, crumbly shortbread.

Cider brandy truffles made with Julian Temperley's Somerset Cider

Are you drooling yet? The meal was inspiring. I've already replicated the carrot and cumin hummus and flatbreads at home from memory and I'm keeping a close eye on my rhubarb plants, desperate to poach their stalks once they get a little bit bigger. Also the pairing of homemade chorizo and egg salad (egg mayonnaise) must be remembered and attempted in the future! Before the meal was over I wanted to apply for a job - any job - at River Cottage. It was the kind of place that oozed the energy and purpose that you just want to be a part of. I desperately wish I could have seen the place during the day and therefore a return trip is in order!

Carrot & Cumin Hummus inspired by River Cottage
1 can of drained and rinsed chickpeas
An equal amount of raw carrots, cleaned and peeled.
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1 tablespoon cumin
olive oil
chopped parsley, chives and scallions to garnish

Steam the carrots and the 3 garlic cloves together then add them to your food processor or blender with a can of chickpeas, a tablespoon of cumin, LOTS of olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon. Blitz this all together, adjust seasoning to taste and garnish with chopped herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

To make 6 flatbreads:
Mix 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour with salt and enough warm water to make a dry dough and knead for a minute. Separate into six balls of dough and let sit for 20 minutes. Roll these out to 1/4 of an inch thin, using just enough extra flour to keep them from sticking to the rolling pin or the counter. Then get a dry cast iron pan or griddle very hot and cook the flatbreads for 3 minutes or so on each side so they puff up and get brown spots.

Carrot and cumin hummus on flatbreads make an excellent lunch for 3 people, served with a side salad.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hudson Valley Seed Library - Where Seeds Come From And Why It Matters To Buy Them From Ken and Doug.

Dear readers of Eat More Butter - Jamie and I would like to introduce you to Doug Muller, Ken Greene, and the Hudson Valley Seed Library. Last fall, the guys graciously made time for us and allowed us to explore their farm in Accord, NY. We got to ask Ken a ton questions about their business and see it all first hand. It was quite an education! Being that winter is coming to an end and it's at last time to order seeds, do take notes!

Ken (seen at right) started the seed library while he was working for an actual library and he thought it would be a neat idea for the public to be able to "check out" seeds and then "return" seeds later in the season, harvested from the grown plants. Interest grew and more and more people were keen to be members of this seed library. Ken says, "The last year I did this at the library we had 65 people involved. The first year it went online we had 500 people involved. And then this last year we had about 700 members but then we had thousands of people just buying the seeds." Besides membership, growers can order individual seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library website, some retail shops and from farmers markets like New Amsterdam Market. The guys have a great thing going, and it's obvious when you hold their seed packets in your hand, plant the seeds, eat the resulting vegetables and save the seed for next year.

There's something unique and special about this seed company that makes you want them to succeed and thrive, not only because it is local and the vegetables are great, but because it's a throwback to the days when farmers saved seeds from one season to the next and grew varieties that were best adapted to their location. Ken put it this way, "Most seed growing is done in a very different climate. All the seed companies have moved out west basically because it's cheaper, it's a better climate for growing seeds in terms of diseases, you have a longer season, it's drier but it also means that we're losing the regional adaption of those things. They're still calling them a 'New York heirloom' but it's been grown in California for the last 20 years. It may have had history here but it's no longer adapted to here." It's a disturbing trend but I love that Ken and Doug are standing against this current and going in the opposite direction, to the way things used to be done. They are such a terrific, and indeed, crucial resource for growers in the Hudson Valley and beyond.

The guys live on a communal property under a high canopy of trees. It's a mix of dilapidated and new buildings, the dilapidated ones are relics of an old resort up in the Catskills. The seed library itself is housed within the old concession stand. I find it amazing that food still comes out of that concession stand, though instead of hot dogs, hamburgers and sodas, seeds emerge for Spotted Trout Lettuce, Piracicaba Broccoli, Ruby Queen Beets and New England Pie Pumpkins.

The workspace was tiny and yet I'm not sure what I expected. I had never seen a seed library before and my imagination thought that maybe there would be greenhouses, perhaps some file cabinets with seed envelopes arranged like card catalogs. At the Hudson Valley Seed Library, half of the concession stand was devoted to a couple of computers and a desk by the window. The other half of the concession stand was the seed refrigerator - an insulated space cooled by an air conditioner. There were row after row of glass jars filled with seeds and floor to ceiling shelves of seed packets.

When we walked in, Doug was at the computer frantically putting some changes into their website in anticipation of a NY Times article. Doug's mother sat by the window, loading small glasseine envelopes with sweet pepper seeds, a smile on her face. The guys were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the 2011 art packs from the printer. Every year they have an open call for artists, and from those submissions they select the new seed package artwork. Some of the older art packs were framed on the walls, opened up they looked like pressed flowers beneath the glass, and no doubt that design was intentional. I often buy these art packs to give away as gifts, and of course I buy some for my own garden. They beg to be planted and cherished.

In a field beyond the seed library is the farm where the magic happens. A carpet of arugula led us through the gate, a result of an accident when harvested seeds fell off a tarp on the way out of the field.

The farm was spectacular to our eyes. There the seeds germinate, sink roots down into the soil, seedlings push up through the earth and reach for the sun and keep reaching and reaching. Leaves emerge, roots spread out and the plants gather enough energy from the sun and the soil below to give off flowers, which get pollinated, and result in fruit. Left long enough, the fruit become dried out seed pods, waiting to be collected for the next growing season. What an incredible place the field was - looking a little tired from a summer of production but still full of color and shapes and smells and flavors. Ken and Doug were growing some food for themselves, but mostly they were experimenting with new seed varieties and of course, growing seeds for the rest of us. We delighted in the rows of kohlrabi, kale, sting beans, tomatoes, mustard greens, fennel, okra, squash and cabbages. The rain misted down and clung to the vegetables, which looked quite happy to be in the Hudson Valley.

Nearby was an open building where the seeds were drying, hanging in big tarps from rafters, or drying on screens, with effort made to ensure that the seeds were out of reach of mice. Ken made the point that they love the seeds as much as he does. And he really does love the seeds - there's something inspiring about someone who ends up doing what he loves. And yet, it can be a struggle. "It's a mixed bag because when something is your side project it's really fun", Ken said, briefly imitating friends and family cheering them on as their fledgling business developed. "And then when you're in your third year of business and you're like 'we haven't made any money and we don't have any money and this year it needs to make money or else we can't keep doing this and then I'll have to get a job' and suddenly it becomes stressful. And so we've been really trying to make sure that we're still enjoying what we're doing."

Ken described the status of their business as "almost making it". Looking around at all he and Doug had achieved and thinking about the gardens around the country and world that grow their seed, we couldn't stomach the thought that they might fail. Open-pollinated heirloom seeds are precious. At my garden in New Jersey, we've taken the pledge to no longer grow hybrid seeds from big seed companies, and instead favor small seed companies like Hudson Valley Seed Library to encourage this trend back to the traditional, natural way of agriculture. Also, with each purchase it feels pretty good to take an active role in helping the guys go from "almost making it" to "making it."

The Hudson Valley Seed Library offers over 60 varieties of locally grown seed. Membership starts at $20 but is not required. Seed packets are $2.75 each and the art packs are $3.50 each. Discounts are available to members. Spread the word.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Edinburgh Clams a.k.a. Clams with Bacon, Onions and Cream Over Toast

A few weeks ago, Jamie and I braved the wind chill and took a stroll through the Greenmarket at Union Square in New York City and I was drawn to one of the three fish stalls. I can't recall if it had a banner or a name, but what I remember specifically was being enticed by the buckets of live crabs, chowder clams, razor clams, cherrystone clams and littleneck clams on the ground, freshly plucked at low tide at the end of Long Island and put up for sale on Manhattan island, still alive and awaiting their fate. Jamie and I had just talked about how in New York City you sort of forget that the ocean is right there. Somehow the salty air and sandy shores seem distant and far away but the clams were a gentle reminder that clean waters and fresh seafood weren't far away at all. I couldn't resist the freshness and the vitamin B12 and so, I forked over $6 for a dozen littleneck clams.

Would I make chowder? Initially I thought this was a great idea but that went out the window when I remembered the flavors of a fabulous dish I had last February in Edinburgh, Scotland at one of my favorite restaurants - The Dogs. It was such a simple, humble dish - cockles with leeks, cream and bacon over toast. Served in a bowl, the bread was swimming in the sauce. It was heavenly and as the memories of this dish came surging back, I knew that I had to try my hand at recreating it with the little neck clams.

I am happy to boast that I was hugely successful! This was my first time making clams and it surely won't be my last. The flavors came together brilliantly and were a treat to consume. If tempted with equally fresh clams, I suggest you take the plunge and give this recipe a try. It's the perfect thing for a hot meal on a cold winter's day.

Edinburgh Clams
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer.

3 slices of bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch segments
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (feel free to substitute leeks!)
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
a dozen littleneck clams (soaked in a few changes of cold water with a sprinkle of cornmeal, then scrubbed clean)
a small handful of chopped fresh parsley
a few slices of toasted bread (stale bread works great too!)

Using a large frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the bacon until some fat has rendered and the bacon starts browning, about 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic cook these gently for about 5 minutes until translucent. Bring the heat up to medium and pour in the white wine, scraping up bits of onion or garlic that stuck to the bottom and let the wine cook down to almost nothing. Add the heavy cream and a few splashes of water and mix everything up. When the mixture comes to a boil, tuck the clams in and cover with a lid. Check in on your clams occasionally, giving the mixture a stir. The clams are done when they've opened up. Turn off the heat and throw in the chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you think they are lacking. Put your toast in the bottom of your bowl and top with the clams and sauce.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Afternoon Snack: Bone Marrow on Toast

I just had the most delicious, satisfying and let's face it, PRIMAL snack this afternoon - bone marrow on toast. I knew as I was eating it that I would be upset when I finished it, desperate to rewind and start my snack over. You see, the snack took me back to February, to a wonderful lunch at St. John in London, a beloved restaurant headed by beloved chef Fergus Henderson of Nose to Tail Eating fame.

We had an amazing meal there launched by two pints of smocked bock from Meantime Brewing and then we feasted on briny Colchester oysters, a salsify, leek and watercress salad, a pork terrine with rabbit, duck tongue and pheasant offal served with a pile of small cornichons, snails with chickpeas and chorizo in broth, and then, we had the show stopper. We had the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad - The bones were served sitting upright like cylinders and we were given these awesome long scoops to reach in and get the bone marrow out. Sea salt was piled up next to the bones, and beside that were two slices of toast and a parsley salad with shaved shallots and capers. I spread the bone marrow on the toast, sprinkled it with sea salt and piled on the parsley salad. The salt and capers brought the flavor of the marrow to levels of the sublime and the parsley salad refreshed the palate and cut through the richness just as it should. I loved having to assemble each bite and I fondly recall noticing a family with young children sitting nearby, with a young boy enjoying the same dish, not squeamish at all, simply enjoying his meal, sure to scoop out every last bit of the bone marrow.
The meal as a whole is a great memory and I haven't been able to forget the flavors I was introduced to at that table, particularly those of the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad. And so, today, after simmering marrow bones overnight to make stock, I got the bright idea to bring those flavors back together for an afternoon snack. I fished out the bones, scooped out the marrow, put it on toast, sprinkled on sea salt, and then mixed a quick salad of parsley leaves, capers, lemon juice and olive oil and put it on top. I was instantly transported to the bright, airy dining room of St. John, the flavors were right there, this time on my tongue instead of stored away in a memory. I highly suggest you try it yourself...

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's in season now? WINTER EDITION - plus a very handy gardening tip.

A couple of weeks ago I took a pitchfork out to the garden and looked with pride at all the celeriac, rutabagas, turnips, beets, radishes, parsnips and carrots we had grown, their leafy tops looking somewhat worse for wear in the cold weather but otherwise they were pretty impressive. And then I stuck the pitchfork in the ground next to the turnips and the pitchfork refused to go into the soil, and even after putting all my weight on the pitchfork, nothing happened! Had I missed my window? Had the ground frozen solid and would it take all our root vegetables as hostages into the frigid, dark New Jersey winter? I felt a little surge of panic - the celeriac seemed like the biggest potential loss, we had 27 of them in the ground, all of which I started as tiny seeds back in early March - to not be able to taste them and eat them all winter would be catastrophic! I took a deep breath, angled the pitchfork so just one tine would have contact with the ground and then I put all of my weight on it - the ground mercifully gave way, and I was able to get some leverage and break off a big chunk of earth. With it came a few turnips. A couple of hours of unnecessarily difficult labor ensued and finally all of our winter root vegetables had been freed of the frozen ground. I learned a critical lesson that day - harvest your root vegetables before the ground freezes!

On that note, here's a handy guide for what's in season right now as we head into winter - it's a mix of great storage crops and fresh greens and herbs: celeriac (celery root), rutabagas (swedes), turnips, beets, radishes, parsnips, carrots, dried beans, grains, potatoes, winter squash, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, arugula, kale, escarole, lettuces, mustard greens, mâche, brussels sprouts, fennel, kohlrabi, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme and sage.

You might be surprised to read that greens and herbs are in season but protected in the garden by row covers or cold frames, they will continue to yield. The winter greens are delicate and tender and smaller in size than their summer counterparts, but they are extremely delicious and the novelty of going outside to a frozen and seemingly dead garden and returning with fresh, alive greens and herbs for a meal is considerable! Don't underestimate too the value of having a few pots indoors on the window ledge - we have rosemary, mint, cilantro and watercress all growing right here in the kitchen!

Our plan this winter is to make lots of stews, soups and braised joints of meat that are slow cooked so that the meat falls right off the bone. Add lots of these great winter vegetables and we have some stellar meals that await. So, bring on winter! We've got plenty of delicious things to eat.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving Wrap-up

Thanksgiving already feels like a distant memory but the contents of my fridge tell a different story. As Wednesday rolled around and my kitchen was still overflowing with the remnants of our holiday meal (and my tolerance for more turkey and brussels sprouts was rapidly dwindling), I set to work transforming them: leftover-cranberry-sauce muffins, white beans simmered with the ham bone, turkey stock. My favorite creation was a catchall soup that is perfect for stretching (or gobbling up) the last remnants of meat, using up whatever odds and ends are left lying around and extracting the wealth of flavor residing in the scraps of turkey and ham still haunting your fridge.

The basis for this soup is a few onions, cooked down until golden and richly flavored plus some garlic and a cup or so of lentils and rice. From there, you can play with whatever is left in your fridge, enriching it with a bit of wine, stock, vegetables, scraps of meat and/or bones and herbs. You could go out and buy the necessary ingredients – this soup is tasty enough to be worth it – but if you just treat the recipe as a guideline and put the contents of your kitchen to work, you can create a big, hearty pot of soup for practically pennies.

Thanksgiving Leftovers Lentil Soup

Olive oil/butter/pork fat – a few tablespoons of any one or a combination

2 large yellow onions, diced

1 carrot, diced, if available

1-2 stalks of celery, diced, if available

3 cloves of garlic, minced

½ tsp cumin seed (or ¼ tsp ground cumin)

White wine (or red wine or beer or water)

16 oz canned tomatoes, chopped (or 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste)

2 quarts stock (I used 1 each of chicken and veggie, as it’s what I had leftover but any type of stock would be fine. This is a great place to put your turkey carcass to use – make stock from it and use that here. And if all you have is water, that’s okay too, because the turkey and/or ham bones will add plenty of flavor to the broth)

1 cup dried lentils (green or brown, or whatever you have)

Fresh thyme – a few sprigs

1 bay leaf

Parmesan rind, if available

Turkey wings and/or drumstick(s)

Ham bone and/or ends (My family always has a smoked ham on Thanksgiving in addition to the turkey, so I used the end scraps that didn’t have enough meat on them to slice and put out with the rest of the meal. If you don’t have any smoked ham on hand, lightly sauté a half pound of cut-up bacon with the onions in the beginning – the smokiness is a nice addition to the soup’s flavors)

½ - ¾ cup of rice (I used brown but whatever you have is fine. Just keep in mind that white will take less time to cook)

1 bunch greens, if available

Salt to taste

Juice of 1 lemon or a few tablespoons of vinegar


In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, heat fat over medium heat and sauté onions (and carrots and celery, if you have them) until well colored – 10+ minutes. Season with salt.

Add garlic and sauté a few minutes more.

Stir in cumin and cook for another minute.

Deglaze with a bit of wine, water, etc. and cook down until almost dry.

Add tomatoes with their liquid, stock, lentils, thyme, bay leaf and parmesan rind. If using tomato paste, you’ll want to add it just after the cumin and cook it for a few minutes before deglazing in order to remove the raw tomato flavor.

Once the liquid and lentils are in the pot, bring it up to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Add the turkey and ham pieces plus the rice (if using white rice, you may want to wait 20-30 minutes as it cooks more quickly than brown rice).

Simmer, partially covered, until the lentils and rice are cooked through and tender, about an hour. If using greens, add them during the last 15 minutes or so and make sure that they, too, are tender. You could also use leftover cooked greens – simply add them at the very end so they have a chance to reheat.

Remove the turkey and ham from the soup. Tear up the meat, disposing of any skin and bones, and return the meat to the soup.

Adjust seasoning with salt to taste and finish with lemon juice or vinegar. Be careful with the acid -- you don’t want to taste it, but the addition should help brighten and pop all of the other flavors in the soup.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

For the last few years Jamie and I have been regular drinkers of raw milk from grass-fed cows and there are few foods as nutritious and satisfying is a nice big glass of the stuff. It's so good we drive hours and hours to go get it at farms in Pennsylvania and New York and are sure to bring mugs in the car so we can guzzle some on the way home. The term "raw" means the milk is unpasteurized and unhomogenized - two adjectives we like attached to the dairy we consume, along with organic, whole and delicious.

The only downside to this formerly commonplace and now controversial whole food is simply that it has a shorter shelf-life than its pasteurized form. This is usually no problem - we know we have 9 days or so, sometimes 14, before the milk starts to get "farmy" - a term we think hits the nail on the head for what the milk begins to taste like. It doesn't get rancid and off-putting like pasteurized milk gets when it goes bad, raw milk just starts changing into another food, like yogurt or cheese. When I know I'm not going to be able to finish all my milk, I anticipate this transformation and turn it into ricotta cheese. It's extremely easy and can be very handy when you've got a recipe that requires ricotta and you don't want to run out to the shop to get some. Besides, it tastes better anyway.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese (makes about 2 cups)
4 cups raw milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sea salt
Juice of one whole lemon
1 teaspoon white vinegar

In a medium saucepan, gently heat milk, cream and salt until mixture is boiling. Turn heat down to simmer and add the juice of one lemon and the white vinegar. Mix for a few minutes until curds separate from the whey. Take off heat and strain mixture in a fine sieve or in cheesecloth and leave the curds to drip dry for 1 hour, then consume or refrigerate cheese. Reserve the whey for use in bread baking (substitute it for all the liquid in the recipe).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sweet October Raspberries

Raspberries in little plastic packages in grocery stores don't get my attention. Raspberries directly from a farm I could make an exemption for, but I know that shortly after they've been picked, delicious raspberries start deteriorating quite quickly. I say all this because really the best way to enjoy raspberries is to pick them one by one off the plant and eat them right then and there in the garden, as I've been lucky enough to do my entire life.

As a little kid I learned early on to look inside and all around the freshly picked raspberry to see if any ants had clung on to the fruit, and if there was one or two, I'd blow them off as if I was blowing out birthday candles and then pop the raspberry right into my mouth. The flavor! The darker the raspberry, the sweeter it would be, but once the darkest ones were eaten sometimes I couldn't help myself from eating the raspberries that were lighter in color. It was the best after-school activity... walk home from school and pause in the garden for a quick gorge - it was the ultimate after-school snack.

Raspberries grow on canes covered in mild thorns. Grown unchecked, they can take over half your garden in just a few years. That had happened to us and I have great memories of my parents dressed in long pants and long sleeved shirts wading into the raspberry patch and coming back out with great big metal bowls full of raspberries, their clothes stained with bits of sweet red juice. The resulting jam would last us through the winter, spread on toast with butter or blended with yogurt and a banana and orange juice for a smoothie. It was divine.

Our raspberry plants have a long lineage. I have no idea what variety they are but I do know that they fruit twice a year, once in the summer and again in the autumn. They've been in the garden all 28 years of my life and the original plant here came from my grandparents' house, where raspberries were growing before they moved in back in the 60's! You get the idea. These plants want to grow and they want to produce and they are easy to transplant and grow for yourself and for your family with very little fuss. It's a wonderful investment for future generations!