• Fennel al Forno: The Next Best Fennel You’ll Ever Eat

    fornoAh, fennel. We have a special relationship with this spring veggie here at the farm. Not only do we grow it, but our Caramelized Fennel recipe somehow ended up as one of the most popular on the web and brings us plenty of visitors. Why? Dunno…but we are certainly happy about it (again, thanks to Alice Waters, we really just riffed on her recipe).

    forno1It’s funny, but as far as Google is concerned Putney Farm is a place where people mostly eat fennel and mix drinks. And while that doesn’t sound all bad, we can assure you there are other things going on than cooking fennel…

    forno2forno3Regardless, we do love our fennel, and while caramelizing is our go-to cooking method, there are other ways to enjoy these funky anise-flavored bulbs. The key thing to remember about fennel is that it loses much of the anise flavor when cooked, and the same cooking will bring out some of the fennel’s natural sugars. In the end, you often get flavors and textures that will remind you of roasted or fried eggplant. And we think that is a good thing.

    forno4forno5So it shouldn’t be a surprise that along with caramelizing fennel, an approach like eggplant parmesan will yield very tasty results. And we found a recipe to adapt from “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison, that heads in just this direction, Fennel al Forno.

    forno6In this recipe you cook fennel and aromatics in a broth of fennel seeds, thyme, saffron, tomato paste and chicken (or vegetable) stock. Then you put the fennel in a gratin dish, add some mozzarella and parmesan cheese and bake the whole thing. Sounds good, huh?

    forno7And it is good. Very good. The rich tomato-saffron broth accents the sweet fennel, the cheese adds more richness and texture while the slight anise notes balance the flavors. This dish works very well as a side, but you can also serve it as a light lunch on toasted brown bread (this is now a household favorite).

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  • 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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  • Five-Spice Baby Back Ribs

    spice14So say you made some southern collard greens, what should you serve them with? Well, collards are a natural with barbecue, so how about some ribs? But what if it is cold outside (or, like me, you are just feeling lazy) and you don’t want to fire up the smoker? Easy, just make some Asian-inspired ribs in the oven. Takes about the same amount of time, doesn’t make much of a mess (until you eat them), and you get to play around with some interesting flavors.

    spicespice1And in this case the “interesting” flavor is Five-Spice, a Chinese spice mixture that usually has star anise, cloves, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon and fennel seeds. It may also contain just about any other Asian spice, but you get the idea. Five-Spice is a lovely mixture of spice, heat, bite and funk that works particularly well with rich ingredients, accenting flavors but cutting through the fat. Not surprisingly Five-Spice is often used with duck or pork. A perfect fit for rich, juicy ribs. Just don’t use too much spice…a little goes a long way.

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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.

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    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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  • Mushroom Ragout With Fried Duck Eggs

    Mushroom Ragout with Fried Duck Eggs.

    Mushroom Ragout with Fried Duck Eggs.

    Happy Halloween! Go Sox! And way to go Koji! My kids have a new favorite (non-Giant) player. What a Series…now back to business.

    Most of the time when we blog about a dish it was a success. We make plenty of good, average or just “meh” dishes that don’t merit sharing, or at least need some serious tuning before we unleash them on the blogosphere. Over time, we’ve become a very self-critical bunch (the kids can’t help it, if they don’t like something it is very clear). This is a good thing, a little truthful feedback goes a long way, and we continue to improve as cooks. However, this means the bar for a dish to be “blogworthy” grows ever higher.

    shroom4shroom5So while we are sharing this dish, we will say up front that it may or may not be worth the work (it depends on how much you like mushrooms). But we will share the recipe because one of the major components of the dish really did sing, and we will use it again. That part is porcini mushroom stock. With Thanksgiving coming up, we will use this stock for a number of dishes- and they will rock. Someone is bound to say that “this gravy goes to eleven”….;-)

    shroom6shroom7shroom8And the porcini stock did help with this adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe. Basically a deconstructed / modernized Stroganoff, this dish combines browned mushrooms, garlicky croutons and a sauce of porcini stock and sour cream. Topped with a poached or fried duck egg (we like to fry the eggs, your choice), you get a rich, flavorful dish with a range of textures. Good, but a bit of a fuss for what ends up in the bowl.

    shroom9shroom10The fuss here is that you have to soak dried porcini for the stock, then make your own croutons (good but 15 minutes), brown the mushrooms in batches (better browning, but a pain in the a**), make and reduce the porcini stock, fry the eggs, finish the sauce and serve. A simple dish made not so simple- Ottolenghi does this to you sometimes. And sometimes it’s worth it and sometimes…..not so much. Such is life.

    shroom12shroom13shroom14But we did get the Porcini stock, and that made everything worthwhile. All you do is soak 1/2 ounce of dried porcini in a cup of hot water for 30 minutes, strain the liquid (discard the porcini), add some water, mirepoix, thyme and a bit of seasoning. Simmer for about 20 minutes and then adjust seasoning. What you get is a balanced, sweet and flavorful stock with clear umami notes. This stuff beats any veggie stock and is better than most chicken or beef stock. And it takes a lot less time to make than most homemade stock.

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