• A Big Bowl Of Polenta

    pol2Well, winter never really made it here to Norcal, but there is nothing better on a foggy, rainy and/or chilly day than a bowl of polenta. And since we get plenty of fog, even in summer, polenta is a popular choice here at the farm. So popular, we didn’t think of it as something for the blog. But since Judy Rodgers passed, we think a lot about her and her polenta recipe. So we figured we would share.

    pol1pol4The key to making polenta (cornmeal mush) is that it just isn’t all that hard. You don’t need any special technique and you don’t need to stir every second. You just need to be mindful and take your time. You will hear all sorts of polenta making B.S. “advice” about stirring every second and how you drizzle the cornmeal, etc. Forget all that. Rodgers has you cook the polenta at low heat in a heavy-bottom pot, stir every few minutes to avoid scorching and hold in a double boiler to improve texture and allow quick service. And it works. We play frisbee and basketball with the kids while making this dish. We just duck in the kitchen every 5 minutes, give the pot a stir and then it is back to fun outside….nice.

    pol5pol6The only real “challenge” here is how to add flavor to the polenta. Just butter and seasoning makes for a way better dish than you might expect. Parmesan and/or mascarpone cheese are common additions, and how Rodgers served it at Zuni. But we like to go a bit further and make polenta into a 1-dish meal. We like stirring in the parmesan, adding a soft-boiled egg, crumbled bacon and then topping with a bright salad of parsley or celery greens. Other good additions are braised greens, prosciutto, sautéed mushrooms, tomato jam and braised short ribs (yum).

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  • Frozen Butter Biscuits

    froze9Make. These. Biscuits. If you take anything from this post, make the biscuits. Trust us. The extra step is a bit of a fuss, but the biscuits you get are just sooo much better. And they are still biscuits. Easy to make, easy to enjoy and welcome by just about anyone who can take some gluten in their diet. If bacon is the one reason many people can’t go fully vegetarian, we bet that biscuits keep a few folks from going fully gluten-free or paleo.

    froze1Biscuits are something of an obsession here at the farm, we always enjoy playing with new recipes and techniques (biscuits are one of the few dishes Carolyn and I both bake- and yes, hers are better). You can play with the flour (AP or pastry / “00”), liquid (milk, buttermilk) or fat (butter, shortening), but the real issue comes down to temperature and technique. In the end you want the fat to stay cold so it layers through the dough and to mix the dough as little as possible to keep from activating gluten in the flour. If you do it right, you get a moist, light and flaky biscuit. Pure alchemy. Joy….and then maybe a nap.

    froze2froze3So how do you do it right? One recipe we like is to use includes pastry flour and then chills the dough before baking (see here). The only bummer with this method is the extra wait before you cook. The other proven method is to grate frozen butter directly into the dry ingredients as you make the dough. This keeps the butter cold as you make the dough- and then you can go right into the oven. The only fuss here is making sure to keep a big chunk of butter in the freezer (we do) and the actual grating, which takes a few minutes and a little elbow grease. It’s worth it.

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  • Gluten “Optional” Buckwheat Pancakes

    Gluten "Optional" Buckwheat Pancakes

    Gluten “Optional” Buckwheat Pancakes

    Let’s start by making one thing clear, we certainly aren’t gluten-free here at the farm. Way too much baking going on. And grilled cheese sandwiches, along with pasta, are a constant fave with the kids (and the adults). That said, we don’t have any politics on the subject. We know a number of people who are gluten-free by choice, and that’s cool. We also have family and friends with celiac disease. And they need to eat when they stop by. So, with that in mind, we do some gluten-free cooking now and then, just to have some options.

    buck11buck10With savory dishes, we have plenty of good gluten-free recipes to work with. But with baking, it is more of a challenge. In our experience (and we are by no means experts on the subject), it is rare that you have a recipe that works with wheat flour but is then easily adapted to using non-gluten flours. So in the end you have a whole separate group of gluten-free baking recipes. And that’s a bit of a fuss. But there are exceptions- and this recipe for Buckwheat Pancakes is one of them.

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  • Holiday Leftover Hash: Something Good For Black Friday

    hashhash4We thought about doing a Thanksgiving turkey recipe for the blog, but truth be told, we aren’t big turkey people. We will be making J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Sous Vide “Turchetta” (turkey breast made like Porchetta) and a beef roast for the Thanksgivukkah holiday. But we will give you an awesome, and easy, recipe to use up those Thanksgiving leftovers- hash. We suggest you forgo the shopping and serve hash for Black Friday Brunch.

    hash5hash6hash7We like turkey or ham sandwiches just fine, but when you can take the leftover turkey/pork/beef, potatoes and veggies, add some seasoning and crisp them up in some bacon fat…well now you are onto something. And that is the beauty of hash. A good hash elevates your leftovers into an entirely new dish, and since most of the ingredients are cooked, it doesn’t take that long or require many pot and pans. Nice. And if you just “happen” to top off the hash with a fried egg or a zippy horseradish sauce…well then you really will have something to be thankful for.

    hash8hash9The key with making hash is to use what you already have and balance flavors and textures. Think about a mix of savory, sweet, vegetal and spicy flavors and soft, creamy and crispy textures (the browning will crisp up the dish). Pretty much any leftover you have may be worth adding, so be creative. And pre-cooked food is better in hash, as you don’t have to worry about even cooking of various raw ingredients. The only “fresh” ingredients we use are bacon, (to get its fat) onions and minced garlic we soften in the grease before adding the other ingredients. We top the hash with either a fried egg or a quick horseradish sauce (prepared horseradish, sour cream, mayonnaise, a touch of mustard, salt/pepper) but steak sauce or simple ketchup are just fine as well.

    hash10hash12hash14For this hash we used leftover beef, roasted butternut squash and boiled Yukon Gold potatoes seasoned with a bit of thyme, cumin and chili powder. It was great. But if we had leftover turkey, sweet potatoes, mashers or even creamed spinach or roasted brussels sprouts, we could use them (most stuffings will also work). Hard to go wrong here, as long as you liked the dish on Thursday, it probably work in hash on Friday….except for the cranberry sauce, best to keep that out of the hash.

    hash15hash13So we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you cook your turkey in pieces (trust us!), have a few fun cocktails and enjoy time with family and friends. We also hope you stay home on Friday, maybe build a fire, and cook this hash for brunch. Enjoy the day…the “holidaze” are coming.

    hash2

    Holiday Leftover Hash:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • The best way to make hash is to mostly use cooked leftovers. Raw ingredients have different cooking times and can mess up your hash. We suggest just a few softened aromatics and then whatever leftovers you have.
    • Cooking in a cast iron pan or steel skillet will get you the best browning and a crispy, delicious hash.

    What You Get: An easy, delicious and warm dish using up those Thanksgiving leftovers.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About 25-30 minutes. A few minutes of chopping, otherwise this is as easy as it gets. Anytime dish.

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  • Berkshire Bacon Fried Rice

    frice6frice10frice13Ah, home-cured bacon. The culinary gift that just keeps on giving. Once you start making your own bacon, the possibilities seem limitless. So much flavor, so many textures, so many ways to use it. You can use bacon as a main dish, an accent for salt and/or crunch, a sandwich ingredient, or just serve it for breakfast. And the fat adds flavor to anything you cook with. Good stuff.

    frice2frice3And good stuff becomes great stuff if you use the right pork. Most pork belly will work for home cured bacon, and it will be much better than store-bought, packaged bacon. But if you spend a little more time and money you can order a Berkshire (sometimes called Kurabota) or Duroc pork belly from an artisan farmer. Not only are these pigs more humanely treated, but they taste a whole lot better than “industrial” pigs. While there are a number of artisan breeds, we prefer the sweet, dark and meaty Berkshire for bacon and barbecue.

    frice4frice5Making bacon with Berkshire pork is no different from using regular pork, we just follow our standard bacon recipe. But because this pork is so sweet we prefer to very lightly smoke with applewood or simply finish in the oven. The pork has enough flavor to stand well on its own. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a cook is leave the ingredients alone.

    frice1So what do we do with our Berkshire bacon? Actually, we sell some to friends. It helps cover costs and keeps us from eating too much. And we do serve bacon for breakfast on weekends. But usually we cook with bacon as an accent. And there are few better ways to use bacon than in fried rice. So simple, so easy, but soooo good.

    For this dish we adapted a recipe from “Breakfast for Dinner” a fun cookbook that, not surprisingly, uses breakfast-related ingredients for dinner. While sometimes a real stretch (yes, fried rice has bacon and egg so there is some “breakfast” there…sorta), the recipes are fun and supply some good ideas. That’s enough for us.

    frice11The recipe combines fried brown rice with a mixture of bacon, onion, frozen peas, green onion, a little mirin (or water), garlic and ginger. You can top with a fried egg (our preference) or scramble the eggs and mix them in. Garnish with some carrot ribbons, green onion or sesame and then season with soy and Sriracha. Then you are in business…

    frice12How does it taste? Soft and crunchy rice with nutty flavors, crisp, sweet and salty bacon, savory onion, garlic and ginger, sweet earthy peas and rich eggs. Hard to go wrong here. Just be sure to make your own bacon, or use the best artisan bacon you can find. You won’t be disappointed.

    Berkshire Bacon Fried Rice:

    (Adapted from “Breakfast for Dinner”)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • If you don’t cure your own bacon, look for slab bacon or artisan bacon that is meaty and lightly smoked with applewood. Hickory-smoked bacon will work here but the flavor will dominate the dish.
    • We use left over brown jasmine rice in this dish, as the nutty flavors work well. But any long-grain rice (or really any leftover rice) will work. You need day old rice for this dish- as it will not turn mushy when cooked.

    What You Get: Tasty, easy fried rice at home. What else do you need?

    What You Need: No special equipment required, and you may have the ingredients in your fridge right now.

    How Long? If you already have the rice cooked, about 20 minutes. Anytime dish.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4-6)

    • 2-3 cups day-old cooked brown jasmine rice (or leftover rice)
    • 1/2 pound bacon, diced or cut into lardons
    • 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
    • 4 green onions, thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
    • 1 cup frozen peas
    • 3 tablespoons mirin (or water)
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 medium carrot, sliced into ribbons
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • Soy sauce, to taste
    • Sriracha, or hot sauce, to taste

    Assemble:

    1. Place a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until slightly crisp and the fat renders. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan, and reserve. Add the onions and cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Then add the peas, green onion, and ginger. Cook for 2-3 minutes than add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring frequently (don’t burn the garlic). Add the mirin, stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and our the mixture into a large bowl.
    2. Place the pan back on the stove over medium-high heat and add the reserved bacon fat. You should have 2-3 tablespoons of fat (add oil if needed). Spread the rice in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown crispy spots form, 6-8 minutes. When done, add the rice to the bacon mixture and stir to combine.
    3. In another pan, over medium-low heat, cook the eggs until the whites set but the yolks are still runny (or to your preference).
    4. To serve, place the rice mixture in a bowl. Add an egg to the top and garnish with the carrot ribbons. Season with soy sauce and/or Sriracha. Serve.
  • Mystery Fig Jam

    fjamWhile gardening tends to require some attention to detail, sometimes it is simply best to roll with things. And our figs are a good example. A few years ago we had a Black Mission Fig Tree put into the orchard. We cheated a bit and bought a tree that was a few years old and already a few feet high (hey, we wanted figs sooner, rather than later). But that tree didn’t last long, the gophers ate the entire root ball and the tree literally fell over. Nature often gets the last laugh, and your best plans are laid to waste.

    fjam1fjam2But that doesn’t mean we stopped fighting. We got another fig tree, wrapped the root and planting area with wire mesh and planted again (insert Monty Python’s Holy Grail “Swamp Castle” joke here). And this time we beat the gophers…..sweet! Oh, except the figs were green, not black, and now we have no idea what they are. Kadota? Adriatic? Greek Royal? Who knows….we just know they ain’t Black Mission. Ah, nature.

    fjam3Regardless, we got a decent spring crop and an excellent fall crop of these green figs. When ripe, the figs are soft on the outside and have beautiful bright red flesh. And they taste great, too. The only problem is that the figs don’t keep well. You need to eat them quick. And we do. But when you have a couple hundred figs, it is time to make some jam.

    fjam4fjam5fjam6And fig jam is a treat (even if it isn’t the most attractive thing going). It works simply on toast, but the rich sweetness is an excellent foil for cheeses and charcuterie. In fact, if you want a perfect sandwich, make a good grilled ham and sharp cheddar sandwich with fig jam. A perfect dish.

    fjam7fjam9fjam10The recipe we use is adapted from the Blue Chair Cookbook, one of our favorites. It is just figs with sugar and lemon juice and a splash of Yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine for herbal notes. Being the cocktail nerds “cocktailians” we are, we actually have Chartreuse and Benedictine, but If you don’t have them, ignore or use some candied ginger (or go buy some and mix some drinks). The only bummer with this recipe is that it takes a while. Nothing really hard here, it is just that you are making jam and need to do some boiling, reducing, stirring, etc. But since the figs go bad quickly, this is your best option if you grow or buy a lot of them.  Now if we could just figure out what kind of figs they are…

    fjam11Fig Jam:

    (Adapted from The Blue Chair Cookbook)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use any ripe, thin-skinned green figs here, but Adriatic are suggested. Kadota or Greek Royal also work.
    • If you have thicker-skinned figs, you want to precook the fig slivers in a little simmering water until tender, then use as directed.

    What You Get: Delightfully rich and sweet jam that works with sweet or savory dishes. A way to use your ripe figs.

    What You Need: A jamming setup. What? You don’t have one? Well, now is the time…

    How Long? Forever. Well, not quite. But free up a few hours.

    Ingredients:

    • 2 1/2 pounds plus 3 pounds Adriatic figs, stemmed
    • 3 pounds white sugar
    • 6 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 2 ounces yellow Chartreuse
    • A few drops of Benedictine

    Assemble:

    1. Place 5 metal spoons on a plate and put them in your freezer for jam testing.
    2. Slice 2 1/2 pounds of the figs into 6ths or 8ths, depending on their size. Place the fig slivers in a large heatproof mixing bowl, add the sugar and mix. Let the mixture macerate while you make the rest of the recipe.
    3. Place the remaining 3 pounds of figs in a Stainless steel pot or kettle big enough to hold them in one layer. Add cold water up to 1/2 inch depth in the pot. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir and decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook another 5 minutes. Then, using a potato masher, crush the figs to release their juices. Stir, cover, and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the figs are mushy and translucent. Stir often to avoid any burning on the bottom of the pan.
    4. When the figs are done, put them through the a food mill with the finest setting and add to the slivered figs and sugar. Add anything that does not go through the food mill into the mixture as well, breaking up any large chunks. Stir everything together to dissolve the sugar, then add the lemon juice, Chartreuse and Benedictine. Transfer the mixture to a large nonreactive pot or kettle.
    5. Bring the jam to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula. When the jam boils, lower to an active simmer. Simmer 7 more minutes and then mash again with the potato masher. Continue cooking another 25 minutes, stirring regularly and lowering heat of the jam starts to stick.
    6. Test the jam for doneness on the frozen spoons. Place the jam on a spoon, put it back in the freezer for 3-4 minutes, and then tilt the spoon. If the jam is gloppy and runs slowly, it’s done. If runny, cook a few more minutes and repeat the test.
    7. When done, pour the jam into sterilized containers and process per your manufacturer’s instructions (although we suggest processing in the oven, it’s much easier).