• 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.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • Weekly Cocktail #60: The Stone 75

    The Stone 75 Cocktail.

    The Stone 75 Cocktail.

    Ah, cocktails. Just when you think you’ve had enough….they pull you back in. And in this case, “had enough” meant that we recently hosted Mixology Monday and had seen our fill of cocktails and photos. We were a bit tired. Time for some tea, maybe a sip of wine, new kegs on tap (an IPA and a crisp golden ale), and perhaps some hard cider to celebrate the season. Cider? Hmm….

    stoneAnd this is what happens once you start mixing drinks and catch the bug. We got a few different bottles of hard cider to play with and suddenly the gears started grinding turning and we were mixing away. This time the inspiration came from a bit of internet research into different styles of cider. While looking at dry vs. sweet cider we saw a recipe for the Stone Fence, one of America’s oldest cocktails and perhaps our original highball.

    stone1stone2The Stone Fence is the simple combination of a big glass of hard cider and a shot of rum, applejack or whiskey. This drink is literally hundreds of years old and the variety of hard liquor simply reflects what was available at any time or different regions. Applejack in New Jersey or rum in Massachusetts, gave way (somewhat) to whiskey, but all still work. At some point, most people added ice to the mix and we get this “proto-highball”. A good sip, particularly if feeling a bit lazy. But as you may have guessed, the big issue is that this is a strong drink. We will forgo the “fell face-first into a Stone Fence” jokes…but you get the idea.

    stone7We decided to play with the basic recipe and craft something with a bit less booze (but just a bit) and a slightly more elegant presentation. We also had some old-school sugar to play with (a piloncillo of Mexican sugar that would be similar to colonial-era sugar) and decided to include it in the cocktail. As for inspiration, we looked to two of our favorite sparklers, the citrusy French 75 and the bitters-heavy Seelbach.

    stone3After some very pleasant experimentation, we came up with the Stone 75. The Stone 75 combines muddled lemon peel and sugar with lemon juice, Cointreau, Jamaican rum, applejack, tiki bitters (Angostura also work) and dry hard cider. Served in a coupé or flute and topped with a lemon twist, this is a very pretty cocktail.

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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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