• Bonus Cocktail: The Fourth Degree

    fourth10How do you know when you have officially become a cocktail geek? (Besides, you know…blogging about them.) Well, there are a few signs; multiple bottles of bitters, obsession with vintage glassware, too much gin and very little vodka, rum from at least 6 different Caribbean countries and the obligatory bottle(s) of absinthe are all reliable signs. Throw in some Falernum and Fernet and it is pretty clear that you, my friend, are a cocktail geek.

    fourthBut there is another major sign that you have gone over to the dark side (and, let’s face it, some of us enjoy it over here). Vermouth. If you have multiple bottles of vermouth and they are (hopefully) in the fridge, then you are probably a cocktail geek. And if you actually mix, match and test different recipes with different vermouth, then you are definitely a cocktail geek. Welcome.

    fourth2But even if you aren’t a cocktail geek (yet) we do suggest that all educated drinkers keep a good bottle each of sweet and dry vermouth. Keep them in the fridge, and use them often. Each brand has its charms and we suggest you experiment. And beyond the basic Martini and Manhattan, there are many experiments worth trying. We suggest the Fourth Degree be one of your first experiments.

    fourth8We will forgo some of the history (the drink, with differing recipes, is found in the Savoy and Imbibe!), but the Fourth Degree is a classic from the “golden age” of pre-prohibition cocktails. It lands somewhere between the Martinez (the proto-Martini) and the classic “wet” Martini. Not surprisingly, it uses gin and vermouth. But in this case, equal amounts of gin and both sweet and dry vermouth- along with a dash of absinthe and a lemon twist.

    fourth4Now you may say “meh”, but we suggest you try the Fourth Degree before you judge it. The drink is a bit sweet, but the flavors are deep, multi-layered and complex. You will get herbal and anise notes, but also surprising hints of fruit, chocolate and almond. The aroma of herbs and lemon peel is just as delightful. And, due to the large proportion of vermouth, the drink isn’t too strong. Go ahead and have another…

    fourth9The Fourth Degree is also a recipe that welcomes experimentation. Many have made the drink dryer with a larger proportion of gin, and that is very good. You can also play with the vermouth. Changing the sweet vermouth from M&R to Carpano Antica to Dolin to Vya will make for a substantially different drink. As will changes with the dry vermouth (we like Dolin and Vya here). But, of course, to truly experiment you need to collect a bunch of vermouth….hmmm….see what we mean?

    The Fourth Degree Cocktail:

    Ingredients:

    • 3/4 oz. dry gin
    • 3/4 oz. dry vermouth
    • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
    • 4 dashes (1 tsp.) absinthe
    • Lemon twist

    Assemble:

    1. Add all the liquid ingredients to a cocktail glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Garnish with the lemon twist. Serve.
  • Ugly, But Tasty: Japanese Eggplant With Miso And Sesame

    eplantHmm, what to do with all that eggplant? Every summer we plant them in the garden, and then we get a ton of ‘em. Both the big globe eggplants and the slender Japanese variety. So now what? Well, we certainly grill them and occasionally make the effort to fry the eggplant, but after a while we look for new recipes to explore, particularly for our Japanese eggplant.

    eplant1eplant2eplant3So when we found this recipe from Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and her excellent cookbook Japanese Farm Food, we had to give it a try. And it is a simple and flavorful recipe with sweet eggplant, nutty sesame and umami-rich miso. Yum. But there is just one little issue. Um…it doesn’t look all that good.

    eplant5eplant6And when you have a photo-heavy food blog, one is loath to post stuff that looks a bit gross “meh”. But that said, this is a great way to serve eggplant and it is delicious. The sesame and miso paste also keeps in the fridge (it also works with thinly sliced cucumber) so you can get a few meals out of it.

    eplant7eplant9eplant10There are only a few tricks to this recipe. Firstly, you do need some sort of mortar and pestle to make the paste (but you really need one anyway). Secondly, you can steam the eggplant in a steamer, but a microwave works just a well and saves some time. We use the microwave (one of the rare times we actually “cook” with it) but if you prefer a steamer setup, have at it.

    eplant11eplant12eplant14Otherwise, we suggest you remind yourself that beauty is only skin deep and give this dish a try. Japanese eggplant is a real summer treat, and this recipes does it justice…well, it does the flavor justice. Continue reading

  • Watermelon And Feta Salad With Mint and Radish

    feta7And back to blogging! It has been a nice few weeks off here at the farm. Not that we haven’t been busy cooking, but one of the few “downsides” of food writing (there aren’t really any downsides) is that we are often in search of the next new thing. Meanwhile, there are dozens of great recipes we want to revisit. So we spent a few weeks making some of our favorites. Lots of Caprese salads, barbecue, fish and rice bowls, summer corn salads and many a few Caipirinhas for the World Cup. All good.

    fetafeta1But we did try a few new things, including this salad of fresh watermelon with feta cheese and some mint and radishes. Now, watermelon and feta salads are nothing new, and they are very tasty. But we found this recipe to be an improvement on the original. Not that there is anything wrong with the surprisingly good combination of sweet melon and salty feta, but this is a recipe that you can certainly tune and tweak to your tastes.

    feta3feta4In this case we adapted a recipe in the Lobster Roll cookbook (from the Hampton’s fish shack of the same name) that adds some mint, radish and a balsamic vinaigrette. You get some herbal notes from the mint, heat and crunch from the radishes and the balsamic adds a welcome tang to the sweet and salty notes. More flavor, more texture…good stuff. And still a very easy salad to put together.

    feta5feta6The only issues with this recipe are in the details. Use only the best / sweetest watermelon, taste your feta for salt and adjust the seasoning, and definitely taste your radishes for heat and tune for your taste. A little kick from the radishes is a good thing, too much….not so good.

    feta8Otherwise, this is a perfect salad to serve with big, rich summer dishes like steaks, burgers and/or barbecue. The bright flavors cut through the fat and clean the palate for your next bite. Perfect for outdoor dining.

    feta9Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint and Radish:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • No notes, once you have a watermelon you need recipes. This is a good one.

    What You Get: A light, flavorful and refreshing summer salad. Something to do with the watermelon you bought at the farmers market.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About 15 minutes, mostly cubing watermelon.

    Ingredients:

    • 4 cups (3-4 pounds) of watermelon, cut in about 1 inch cubes
    • 8 red radishes, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
    • 12 mint leaves, finely chopped
    • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • Kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper

    Assemble:

    1. In a small bowl, mix the oil and vinegar.
    2. Add the watermelon, radishes, mint and feta to a large salad bowl. Add half the dressing, toss well and taste. Add more dressing and seasoning as needed. Serve.
  • Perfect Asparagus, Every Time

    asp10We don’t like to throw around terms like “best” or “perfect” much here at the farm. Firstly, when food is concerned, things can get very subjective. Secondly, most dishes can always be improved with the right recipe, special tools or techniques. But once in a while, we find a combination of ingredient, recipe, tools and technique that yields a seemingly perfect dish every time. And that is what we can say about this asparagus. It is perfect every time (at least when asparagus is in season).

    aspSo what’s the trick? Here is the cool thing, there is no trick. Nope, there is just a process. It takes a little more work and a few steps, but when the spring asparagus is so good, isn’t it worth some extra time? We think so.

    asp1The other cool thing here is that while you can go very high-tech and use a sous-vide cooker (we do), you can also hack a sous-vide or just steam the asparagus and it will still work. The key is in the other steps.

    asp3So here are the steps: break off the woody ends of the asparagus, peel the last inch or so of the stalk, cook the asparagus at about 190 degrees for 4-5 minutes (depending on thickness), immediately stop the cooking with an ice bath or running under very cold water, dry the asparagus and then sear for 30-60 seconds in a rocket hot pan. Season and serve with butter or a nice salsa verde. Perfect.

    asp4asp6The most important step here is to stop the first cook in the ice bath and then finish the asparagus in a hot pan (or even hot grill). Most other methods either cook asparagus too long (and it keeps cooking), or with uneven heat. You get mushy or tough asparagus (sometimes both at once). And just steaming the asparagus gets you close, but you get none of the sweet caramelized flavors of high heat cooking. By using a combined method you get the best of both worlds, and the asparagus stays green and crisp.

    asp6asp7 Continue reading

  • Winter Never Came, But We Still Have Spring

    springWell, we never really got winter this year in Norcal. We did get some rain, and may get some more, but what we call “cold and wintry weather” (but really isn’t) never arrived. I guess it was sucked in by the polar vortex. Once the rains came, the plants came roaring back to life. The bees are working the wisteria, the roses are about to burst, hummingbirds are sprinting from flower to flower and the bluebirds flicker in the sun. We will take it.

    spring1spring2spring8Meanwhile, in the garden the greens look beautiful (taste good, too) and the blueberries are in flower. We have fennel everywhere and the artichokes are sending up canes. The herb garden seems to double in size every day (at least the mint). Excellent.

    spring3spring4spring5spring6In the orchard, this is our favorite time of year. The citrus is at its best, with Meyer and Eureka lemons and Cara-cara oranges all looking and tasting lovely. Some seem to make their way into a few cocktails. And the stone fruit trees are starting to flower. Nothing prettier in the world….So much for winter. We will gladly take the spring.

    spring7

  • Orange Sour Cream Pound Cake

    poundThere are few things easier to make than a pound cake. (Few things better to make, for that matter). And you can find pound cake just about anywhere. But that doesn’t mean pound cake isn’t blogworthy. Far from it. Like a blank canvas, the basic equal-proportion pound cake recipe is a worthwhile place for bakers to riff and create tasty new treats. And this recipe is a perfect example of how a few substitutions and/or additions to the traditional pound cake can make something entirely new (and good).

    pound8pound7This recipe uses most of the equal proportion of flour, sugar and egg, but then splits the fat between butter and sour cream. This adds more tang while keeping a rich flavor. Meanwhile, that tang is enhanced by a little orange zest. Topped with two different citrus-sugar glazes, you suddenly have a very rich cake, but with a tangy and slightly acidic core that keeps you coming back for another bite. If you find basic pound cake a bit cloying, this type of recipe is a good place to play.

    Pound5pound4Carolyn adapted the recipe from “Sweet” by Valerie Gordon. Sweet is a solid cookbook by a well-known pastry chef / confectioner. Beyond the recipes, the photos are beautiful. Our sons, drawn by the photos and the thought that “maybe Mom will make some of this for us” gave Carolyn the cookbook for Christmas. Smart kids.

    pound3pound2 Continue reading