• 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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  • 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).