• The Best, And Easiest, Strawberry Jam

    straw

    The Best Strawberry Jam.

    straw1So what makes this strawberry jam the best? Well, it is just strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, so nothing gets in the way. If you have ripe, sweet strawberries, this is the real deal. And we use a technique that makes the process much, much easier. If you like jam, but don’t like all the specialized gear and the huge tub of boiling water, we have a solution: the oven.

    straw2It turns out you can sterilize your jars and lids in the oven, You can process the jam, too. (Just make sure your oven is true to temperature, they often are NOT, use an oven thermometer to be sure). Simply place your clean jars and lids on a baking sheet and heat in a 250 degree oven for at least 30 minutes. Remove the jars from the oven when you need them. Then fill the jars with jam, leave a 1/4 inch of room, wipe the rims clean, place the lids on, seal them and put the jars back in the oven for 15 minutes. Then take the jars out of the oven and they will seal as they cool. So. Much. Easier.

    straw3straw4The other fuss about making jam usually has to do w/ pitting and skinning fruit, or in the case of strawberries, hulling. There are specialized hulling tools, but we use strong plastic straws (flimsy won’t work here) and run them from the bottom through the center of the strawberries. It is the fastest way to hull the strawberries, and something anyone (read, your kids or guest) can be dragooned volunteer to do. It’s almost fun, and you can snack on a few berries along the way.

    straw5straw6As for the jam, we adapted the recipe (and the oven technique) from Blue Chair Fruit Company in Berkeley. Blue Chair has fine jams and marmalade, gear, classes and one of our favorite cookbooks. Worth a visit.straw8straw7

    Continue reading

  • Smoked Chicken With Peanut Coleslaw

    chix1

    Smoked Chicken

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    Peanut Coleslaw (before mixing)

    Here at the farm we normally post recipes with a mostly well-defined take on the ingredients and process. With this dish there may still be some work to do. But since this version was very good, and we will be tinkering with this recipe all summer, we decided to share it now. The reason for sharing is that the chicken came out incredibly moist and with a sweet, smoky flavor that was enjoyed by all. A winner. (Good enough that we ate it before we could take a shot of individual pieces. Oops.)

    chix3chix4chix5The reason we aren’t “done” is that we consider this a barbecue recipe (serious stuff in these parts) and these recipes require a lot of tweaking on the smoke, rub and sauce. But these pleasant diversions refinements are mostly to fit our tastes. Meanwhile, the fundamentals are already there for everyone to play with: brine the bird and smoke low n’ slow over fruitwood. If this seems like the same basic steps for pork barbecue, that’s because they are. Why not start from a strong foundation?

    chix6chix7chix8But there are a few differences worth exploring. Firstly, chickens don’t cook evenly due to an irregular shape and different target cooking temperatures for dark and light meat. This means you need to alter the shape of the bird for more even cooking (or cook it in pieces, which isn’t a bad idea, btw). You can either truss the bird into a bit of a ball or cut out the spine and flatten the bird as if “spatchcooking”. We flattened our bird, but trussed birds do cook evenly as well.

    chix9Secondly, rather than placing a dry spice rub on the bird, we use a liquid mixture of spice rub, vinegar, molasses and ketchup to baste the bird during cooking. This is traditionally called a “mop” and is rarely used on pork shoulder, but is often used on pork ribs to keep them moist, and this works equally well for chicken. You can also reduce any left over mop into a sauce, if you like. It is also worth noting that we use our standard pork rub on the chicken, but if you have a poultry spice mixture you like, we suggest you try it (this is the area where we will most experiment over the summer).

    chix10 Continue reading

  • 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
  • Weekly Cocktail #29: The Daisy Black (and a new cocktail book)

    Daisy Black Cocktail from “Drink & Tell”.

    Last week, Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut published his cocktail book “Drink & Tell, A Boston Cocktail Book“, and as Fred is one of the leading bloggers in the space, we happily ordered the book (any excuse to try more drinks is welcome here on the farm). There is something wonderful about the world we live in when a gardener in California can order a book about Boston cocktails and it arrives from Seattle in just a few days. (Fred, if you make the book into an iPhone / iPad App, that would be even cooler).

    And after playing with “Drink & Tell” for a few days, we think it’s an excellent cocktail book. As Fred himself points out, there are plenty of “basic” or “classic” cocktail books out there, and many are very good. But Drink & Tell goes a different direction and features new or evolutionary cocktails from bartenders all over Boston. What you get is 500 recipes, most you can make at home, that expand your repertoire and offer inspiration. If you feel like you’ve “tried them all”, “Drink & Tell” will suggest otherwise.

    While there are some very funky creations in the book, and we tried a few, our first favorite is a simple cocktail called the Daisy Black. The Daisy Black combines rye whiskey, honey syrup and lemon juice with a touch of mint. It is something of an evolution of a whiskey sour or smash, but a bit more refined. And as we just made Honey Syrup and are playing with rye, this drink was an easy choice. The drink comes from Dylan Black of Green Street in Cambridge Massachusetts. Black created the drink as an homage to his great-grandfather, who also tended bar. A noble profession.

    As for the flavor of the Daisy Black, you get a nice whiff of mint followed by the taste of lemon and honey (and who doesn’t like lemon and honey?) complimented by the spice of the rye. A tasty, soothing sip that is perfect for autumn. Imagine tea with lemon and honey, just better… a lot better. So if you are looking to expand your cocktail knowledge and try some new creations give “Drink & Tell” a try. We will make more of the cocktails from the book and share then over the coming weeks.

    The Daisy Black:

    (From Green Street and “Drink & Tell“)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. rye whiskey
    • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
    • 3/4 oz. honey syrup (recipe here)
    • 1 large mint leaf

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the whiskey, lemon juice and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Slap the mint leaf in your palm and them place on top of the drink. Serve.
  • Peach Lavender Jam

    Peach Lavender Jam.

    A bit of a “peachy” hue on the blog these days. But when you have a few hundred peaches with a limited shelf life, you work with the peaches (we are also giving them away to friends, whether they want them or not ;-) ). The only thing at the farm we have more of than peaches is lavender. It’s everywhere, and mostly for the bees. But since we have peaches and lavender, we are making Peach Lavender jam.

    We have lots of these…

    …and tons of this. Let’s make jam.

    This recipe comes from the excellent canning and pickling book “Tart and Sweet” from Kelly Geary and Jessie Knadler. We are by no means experts on canning and pickling, so this book is a great tool with both recipes and very clear guidelines for safe canning. But the key for any home canning / pickling is to use the base recipe and then follow your standard, safe processing instructions. Most setups will be similar, but some equip will vary. Just remember, sterilization is always a good thing.

    As for the actual jam, this is really a peach jam with a touch of floral, herbal and tannic notes from the lavender. The lavender keeps the sweetness of the peaches from overwhelming the flavor of the jam. But the key is just a hint of lavender. Too much lavender and your jam will taste like soap. In fact, you don’t actually put lavender in the jam at all, just steep some lavender in water, strain it out and the add the water to the fruit. Again, go easy with the lavender- less is more.

    The peeling and pitting dis-assembly line.

    This took a while.

    The process of making jam isn’t complex, but it is time-consuming. Making jam is a good activity to do with friends and/or a great way to put your kids to work. First you must sterilize and prepare your equipment. Make sure everything is good order before you start. As for the jam, you need to skin and pit 6 pounds of peaches. This involves cutting an X in the base of the peach, briefly blanching it in boiling water, plunging it in an ice bath and then skinning and pitting the peach. We take an assembly (dis-assembly?) line approach, but even with help, this takes a while. But we don’t do this every day either, so it was (kinda) fun.

    Steep the dried lavender and strain it out.

    Cook the fruit, lemon juice and sugar.

    Blend until smooth.

    Add calcium water, sugar and pectin.

    Once you have the peaches peeled and pitted the work is easier, but still requires time. You need to bring the peaches, some sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large pot and cook the fruit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile you need to steep some dried lavender flowers in 1 cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Strain the lavender from the water and add the water to the peaches. Then blend the peaches with an immersion blender, or in batches on a stand-up blender. Then add calcium water, pectin and sugar to the fruit and cook until you get a jammy consistency. To finish the jam, put it in hot jars and process for 10 minutes. Then cool and eat. Continue reading

  • Cooking Sous-Vide At The Farm

    Sous-vide cooker for the home. It works.

    The more we cook, the more we understand that time and temperature are the keys to good cooking. And it has always been this way in the kitchen. For generations good cooks understood that, for many dishes, low-and-slow transforms even the lowliest ingredients into the best meals. And we use our dutch oven, slow cooker and smoker in many meals to take advantage of low-and-slow, particularly for larger, tougher cuts of meat. We do like our beef brisket and pork shoulder.

    Temperature-controlled water bath with racks to manage space.

    But when cooking steaks, chicken pieces or fish, the slow cooker or smoker are usually not practical options. Most of these meats are fried, seared or roasted in the pan and/or oven, or grilled on the barbecue. The problem with these high-heat methods is that the heat is applied unevenly on the meat. So even with good technique  you get a well-done exterior that moves towards the desired doneness in the center of the meat (assuming you don’t overcook the whole thing). The only real bonus of high-heat cooking is the extra flavor you get from browning / caramelizing. Most traditional cooking methods can’t fully overcome a fundamental challenge- how do we cook and brown this irregularly shaped food without overcooking it?

    Grass-fed ribeye steaks. These are real good- best not to screw it up.

    Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking is a solution to this challenge. Basically a slow-cooker for individual cuts of meat, fish and poultry, sous-vide cooking gives the home cook exact control of cooking temperature that’s applied uniformly to the meat. And it works pretty much every time- as long as you have the time. The approach here is pretty simple, a water bath is heated to a specific temperature and the protein (or vegetable) is vacuum-sealed into a bag and the bag is placed in the water. The bag keeps the meat from leaking juices or breaking apart into the water bath. The proteins slowly, and uniformly, cook to the temperature in the water bath. Once done, the protein can be briefly seared to add the tasty browned flavors and improve appearance. It is a neat trick and it really works. If you ever wonder how busy high-end restaurants get their steaks or fish right every time, sous-vide is often the answer.

    Vacuum-sealing the steaks. This takes less than a minute.

    We’ve been reading Stefan’s Gourmet Blog and his results cooking sous-vide always looked great. And as we recently purchased 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from Stemple Creek Ranch, we wanted a cooking method that made the most of the flavor of the beef. So we took the plunge and bought a sous-vide cooker (we got one on sale, but expect the setup to run somewhere between $350 – $500, so it’s not cheap). So far we have tried cooking halibut, salmon and Stefan’s cod recipe. All were perfectly cooked.

    Cook for 1.5 – 2 hours at 125 degrees.

    The next thing we tried was making a good steak using sous-vide. Not ones to be cautious, we went right to making ribeye steaks. We followed the new procedure, sous-vide cook at desired temperature (in this case 125 degrees for rare-to – medium rare) for 2 hours and then sear the meat briefly to brown the surface. Frankly, the meat, while perfectly cooked, is very unattractive unless you brown it. You can use a hot skillet, grill or even a blowtorch, but we just went with a rocket-hot cast-iron skillet. This browning method worked with just 30-45 seconds of searing on each side. Then we rested the meat for a few minutes and cut it into slices to serve. The first thing we noticed was that the meat was seared on the outside but then the same pink color all the way through, no gray layer, just perfectly cooked meat. So we found the sous-vide approach to cooking steaks was a real success, as long as you have the extra time. Our standard cooking method is here, and that takes 20 minutes. But with expensive, high-quality steaks, we think the extra time is worth it. And if you are entertaining, you can hold the meat at the perfect temperature and then sear just before serving, so sous-vide is a good tool when cooking for a group. Continue reading