• Spicy Caramelized Yam Wedges

    Spicy Caramelized Yams Wedges.

    Sometimes even the best cookbooks say things that make the home cook laugh out loud. And while we really like this recipe and the cookbook it came from, this recipe has an instruction that’s one of the silliest we have ever seen, “be sure to choose yams of even thickness from end to end”. (Oh, and please go find Bigfoot while you’re at it.) We have yet to find an evenly shaped yam, and don’t expect to any time soon, neither should you. But happily, this is a delicious recipe and is pretty good for you, too. So even if you can’t find a perfectly shaped yam, this recipe is worth making.

    And by “yam” we really mean the orange, soft sweet potatoes of the United States. The true yam is an African crop, usually with lighter colored flesh (here is a good link to explain the differences and terminology). But for whatever reason, we call some sweet potatoes “yams” and so does this recipe. Go figure (or don’t, this stuff can make your head hurt). But meanwhile, look for large, orange-fleshed yams / sweet potatoes at your grocery store or farmer’s market. Yams are cheap, nutritious and versatile. And their sweet flavor is a good way to sneak some extra veggies into your kids.

    This recipe is adapted from “Ripe, A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables” from Cheryl Sternman Rule. And the recipe is a real winner, and quite easy to make. You simply peel and slice the yams, make a paste of salt, pepper, brown sugar, chili powder and oil, coat the yam slices and bake in the oven for an hour, flipping them over halfway. But the recipe does have one more (albeit smaller) laugher, when it says, “cook all the yams for an hour, don’t pull them out earlier”. And we guess if we had “even-thickness” yams, that advice might work. But we don’t, so the smaller pieces need to come out of the oven a bit early, and not burn.

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  • Cocktail DIY: Stocking Your Bar At Home

    As we continue our exploration of cocktails, we are often asked “how do you get started at home and what should we buy”? We certainly have our opinions and we will share them, but there are no perfect answers (opinions, comments, disagreements and even outrage are welcome, feel free to share your thoughts!).  But here is how we would get started:

    “Short and sweet” version of the home bar.

    Here is the “short and sweet” version: Get a bottle of dry gin, a bottle of light rum and a bottle of whiskey (we like rye, but bourbon or Canadian whiskey are good). Get some Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters, sweet and dry vermouth (nothing fancy) and fresh citrus. Make a few basic syrups with sugar and honey. Get that old cocktail shaker off the shelf (we bet you have one somewhere) and start making drinks. And what can you make? Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Sours and Daiquiris along with dozens of other “classic” cocktails. Go to Cocktail DB to get more ideas based on ingredients in your fridge. You are off and running for about $100 bucks, and if you assume you will get at least 50 cocktails from these three bottles, the average cost per drink is about $2. Not too shabby (to borrow from Adam Sandler).

    But what if you want to take it up a notch? For about $250 you can stock a home bar that allows you to build literally hundreds of cocktails and with “professional” results. A few more spirits and bitters, a liqueur or two and a bit of extra gear and you have a “pro” bar at home. So here is the breakdown, with a focus on readily (and nationally) available ingredients:

    Spirits:

    • Dry Gin: All sorts of good options here, but stalwarts like Tanqueray, Brokers, Gordon’s and Beefeater are all under $20. If you are a gin fan, there are dozens of good artisan gins to try, usually around $30. And if you just can’t stand juniper, “new world” gins like Hendrick’s (cucumber) and Nolet (floral) focus on other flavors and are good options. Martinis, Rickeys, Gimlets, Sours and Collins’ are all based on gin. Try classics like the Pegu Club or Aviation.
    • Whiskey: We like rye whiskey and suggest Rittenhouse 80 proof for about $20. If you like bourbon, Bulleit at $25 is a good choice, but there are good options around $15. Good for Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sours. Try the Daisy Black for a twist on a Whiskey Sour.
    • Light Rum: We suggest El Dorado Light Demerara rum at $15. Great rum at a good price (their Gold rum is also excellent). Bacardi and Brugal are also solid choices. Good for classics like Daiquiris and Cuba Libre, also a component of many tiki drinks.
    • Aged / Dark Rum:  We suggest Barbancourt 4 or 8-year-old and/or Appleton aged rums, about $25 – $30. While very different, both offer the deep, funky sugar and vanilla flavors that make tiki / tropical drinks sing. Great for tiki drinks and for deeper versions of Daiquiris.
    • Tequila: Plenty of good blanco tequilas under $20, just be sure it is 100% agave. We like to use richer-flavored reposado tequila in most drinks and prefer Cazadores, it works in just about everything and is about $25. For most, tequila is still all about Margaritas, but let’s face it, Margaritas still rock. If you are looking to branch-out, try the Ernesto or Chica Facil.
    • Brandy: This is a tough one. Good brandy isn’t cheap and some brands are not widely available. You will need help at your liquor store. VS Cognac is ok, but XO or VSOP will be better but cost over $30. We like Armagnac, and you can get a very good bottle for $30- $35. National brands like Hennessy have VS Cognacs for under $30, domestic brandies will often be less expensive. If you want to make a good Sidecar, you need good brandy. Also, a key ingredient in classic punches, like Chatham Artillery Punch.
    • Vodka: While not a favorite of many cocktail enthusiasts, a lot of people like vodka, and you probably have a bottle somewhere in the house already. Plenty of good options under $20. Cosmopolitans and Lemondrops are good reasons to have some vodka in your bar.
    • Extras: If you want to add-on, blended Scotch, Irish whiskey, Genever (gin in a richer, maltier style), Laird’s Bonded Applejack (apple brandy), Cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirit) and Rhum Agricole are all worthy additions to your bar. Continue reading
  • Apple Cinnamon Muffins (And the sweet smell of victory!)

    Apple Cinnamon Muffins.

    So what do you do when your team wins their second World Series in three years? Well, you put your happily beaming children to bed, watch a few minutes of the post game, then mix up a tasty cocktail and smile….. and then you go outside and give up a seriously primal scream of joy and relief. UNBELIEVABLE!  And you know what you do the next morning? You sit down with a good cup of coffee and a tasty apple cinnamon muffin and read all the news on how your team kicked-ass won. Your kids are still beaming, the kitchen is warm and smells like fall. Happy days here by the Bay.

    And even if your team didn’t win the Series, you can still enjoy a tasty, spicy apple muffin. If you’re like us, we can get a bit “enthusiastic” when we buy apples. If we don’t eat them out of hand, we take the extra apples that may be getting soft and make applesauce or these muffins. And these muffins are exactly as advertised. They have a pronounced apple and cinnamon flavors and feature a crisp top with a very soft interior. Good for breakfast, but not bad as an afternoon treat, either.

    Like many baking recipes, these muffins come from a familiar formula, but a few tips and techniques do matter. Firstly, we grate our apples in this recipe. Grating provides a more uniform texture and gives you apple flavor in every bite. Secondly, we also butter (using cooking spray) the muffin tin, then the paper cups and the top of the tin. There is a method to the madness, the longer muffins cool in the tin, the tougher they get. If you heavily grease the tin and the paper cups you can get the muffins out of the tin as soon as you can handle them. This makes a big difference, the muffins will be moist and tender. And finally, we substitute half of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour for a “nuttier” flavor. We like the extra flavor, but regular AP flour will work fine.

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  • Weekly Cocktail #34: The Sawyer

    The Sawyer.

    With the Giants in the World Series and us trying to pick up the kids, get them to the game (doing homework in the car the whole way) and then drive back, it has been a tough week for cocktails around the farm. Not that we mind (Go Giants!). We do get to sneak in a beer now and then (thankfully they have decent beer and pretzels at the ballpark). But we still got to play a bit with cocktails and our focus drifted to using more bitters.

    We have been enjoying bitters in sparkling cocktails like the Seelbach and Rochelle-Normande, and started to look for more “bitters-heavy” cocktails to try. And if playing with bitters, then one of the better sources for recipes is Brad Thomas Parson’s cocktail book “Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All“. The book has lot’s of history and data on bitters and dozens of classic and new recipes to try. We “sampled” most of the classics, with the Pegu Club being our favorite, so we drifted toward the more modern cocktails.

    And it didn’t take long for us to find the Sawyer. The Sawyer combines gin, sugar and lime with a full blast of over 25 dashes of bitters. It’s basically a gimlet with an almost radioactive amount of bitters. But we like gin and lime, so we are always happy to see riffs on the theme. In this case, the Sawyer has 14 dashes of Angostura, 7 of Peychaud’s and 7 of orange bitters (Regan’s #6 and/or Fee’s West Indian). And not only does the drink taste great with layers of spice, cherry, anise and orange, over a core of juniper and lime, but this recipe pretty much represents the “core” bitters you should have in a bar at home (we have more, but we’re geeky that way). And bitters usually cost anywhere from $5 -$15 bucks and last forever, so they are a worthwhile purchase. So here is a bit of info on the bitters:

    • Angostura: The #1 bitters you need in your bar. Many classic and tiki drinks use it and many recipes sub Angostura if you don’t have more exotic bitters handy. Angostura is dark, bitter and spicy with cinnamon and tamarind flavor. It adds a detectable “zing” to most drinks and a bit of a tannic finish.
    • Orange Bitters: After Angostura, orange bitters are the most common, particularly in classic cocktails. Regan’s #6 has deep, spicy orange peel flavors while Fee’s West Indian bitters have brighter, fresher citrus notes.
    • Peychaud’s: Is the bitters of New Orléans and the key to a good Sazerac and many other classic, whiskey-based cocktails. Peychaud’s has pronounced cherry and anise flavor.

    The other cool thing about the Sawyer is that is comes from Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC, one of our favorite places. In typical fashion, Don Lee the bartender created it and named it after the daughter of Wylie Dufresne, another famous NYC Chef. Got all that? This is all sort of “inside baseball”, but the Sawyer is a very tasty drink and features layered, spicy flavors and aromas while still managing to be light and refreshing. A very pleasant surprise, and a good excuse to go get some bitters.

    The Sawyer:

    (From Brad Thomas Parsons and Don Lee)

    Ingredients:

    • 2 oz. dry gin
    • 1/2 fresh lime juice
    • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
    • 14 dashes Angostura bitters
    • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
    • 7 dashes orange bitters (split of Regan’s #6 and Fees West Indian Orange bitters, if you can)

    Assemble:

    1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass, cocktail glass or coupé.
  • Potatoes a la Boulangere: The Best Potatoes You Will (Almost) Never Eat

    Potatoes à la Boulangere.

    Let’s start by saying these are some of the best potatoes and onions you will ever eat. Sweet and salty, with a touch of herbs, and a soft texture with a little crunch on top. And a very pretty dish, too. Every bite is a delight. So you, or our family, may ask, “why don’t we make this more often?” And then you remember all the work you just put into making this dish, and you know exactly why this is for special occasions (or masochists). Such is the challenge of Potatoes à la Boulangere, really good, but a pain in the posterior real effort.

    Potatoes à la Boulangere is a simple combination of potatoes, onion, butter, thyme, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Layered and cooked together for at least an hour in the oven, the ingredients meld into a truly lovely dish. So what’s the problem? Well, there are two ways to make this dish. The “easy” way, which is good. Or, the “hard” way, which is truly great. If you go the “easy” way, you simply slice and layer the raw onions and potatoes, add some seasoning and herbs, cover with the stock and cook, and it will be tasty. But if you want the dish to truly sing, it is best to caramelize the onions and slightly brown the potatoes before you layer the ingredients and cook in the oven. The extra flavors from the caramelized onion and the browned potatoes add whole new sweet and savory dimensions to the dish. It also adds an hour of work and some dishes. We often choose the “hard” way, but won’t hold it against anyone for choosing the “easy” method.

    Happily, this is not a hard dish to make. It may take time, but the steps are very clear. And if you have a food processor or mandolin, the process is that much easier. Thinly slice two large onions and caramelize them over medium heat with a few tablespoons of butter. Stir often and wait, and wait, until the onions are soft and deep golden brown, about thirty minutes. Meanwhile peel and slice five pounds of potatoes and then caramelize them with butter, in batches, for about five minutes per batch. This will take another twenty to thirty minutes. Then check for seasoning and layer the potatoes, onions, and herbs in a heavy pot or baking dish. Add the chicken stock and cook for about an hour, or until the potatoes absorb all the liquid. And then, finally, you’re done.

    But what you get is good enough to make you forget all your labor. These potatoes work with almost any roast beef, pork or chicken dish, and will usually outshine them.  You can serve these potatoes immediately and they will taste great, but the potatoes may fall apart. If you let them cool for ten to fifteen minutes, the potatoes will set and you can serve the potatoes in wedges that show off all the pretty layers. And since you just spent two hours making the potatoes, what is an extra fifteen minutes to show them off in all of their glory? (And you can enjoy a well-deserved cocktail).

    Potatoes à la Boulangere:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • We use Yukon Gold potatoes for this dish, but some recipes suggest waxy “new” potatoes like Red Bliss. Either will work, but baking potatoes like Russets will fall apart.

    What You Get: Incredibly rich, sweet potatoes and onions with both soft and crunchy texture.

    What You Need. No special equipment is required, but there is a lot of slicing. A food processor or mandolin will be a big help.

    How Long? Over two hours if you do it the “hard” way, with about forty-five minutes of active time. This is a special occasion dish, but the results are worth it. Great for big holiday meals where you can plan ahead and/or get free labor from family. Continue reading

  • Brined And Spiced Pork Tenderloin

    Brined and Spiced Pork Tenderloin.

    GO GIANTS!

    Ok, now that we got that out of the way….If you’ve read this blog a bit, it becomes pretty clear that we are big fans of low-and-slow pork dishes here at the farm. And while we would smoke and pull pork every week if our schedules and waistlines allowed, sometimes we need other options. And for quick(er) pork dishes we look to chops and tenderloins. There are few easier dishes to prepare than pork tenderloin. Put a quick sear on it, pop it in the oven for a few minutes and you’re done. And sometimes it’s pretty good, and sometimes it bone dry and lacking flavor. And there are a number of reasons why things don’t always work out. Basic overcooking is the obvious reason for dry and flavorless pork, but also the size, shape and liquid content of the tenderloin come into play. But there is a simple way to make leaner pork cuts tasty and tender every time, brining.

    A brine is simply a combination of water, salt, sugar and your choice of herbs and spices. But when you add meat, the brine performs some pretty cool magic chemistry that greatly improves the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of almost any cut. (Here is a good link that describes the science without getting too geeky). The only issue with brines is that they will dry out meats if you brine them for too long, but as long as you follow the recipe or the standard times for brining, it isn’t a  risk. Many cooks think of brines helping with large roasts like turkey or pulled pork, and the brining lasting for days. But for small cuts like pork tenderloins, even 45 minutes will help, and a few hours will do wonders.

    Opinions on the times for brining pork tenderloins vary from forty-five minutes to four hours. The shorter times will still make the tenderloin juicy and tender, but not impart much extra flavor. The longer times will add some salt and flavor, perhaps too much salt for some. Two hours is a good starting point. The other variable in the brine is adding extra flavors. Technically, all you need is water and salt, but sugar, herbs and spices will boost flavor. We suggest you tune the brine based on the type of meat and your tastes. But, in general, sugar, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf seem to work in most brines. Black pepper and chili peppers add some extra bite. We do suggest caution with strong or “piney” herbs like sage, oregano or rosemary- as they may add bitter notes to the brine. Best to save them for any rub or marinade you put on the pork.

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