• Venison Loin With Cherry Cumberland Sauce And Goat Cheese

    Venison Loin With Cherry Cumberland Sauce and Goat Cheese.

    Venison Loin With Cherry Cumberland Sauce and Goat Cheese.

    How can you turn pork into venison? Simple, just make your own bacon and then trade it for other tasty stuff. It works like a charm. In this case we were lucky enough to get a full venison loin (or backstrap, if you want to use hunter’s vernacular) in exchange for a slab of bacon. This is a trade we will make any time. Good venison is a treat. We don’t have it often, but when we do it’s a special occasion.

    venison5venison6How do you cook venison loin? Carefully and never past medium rare. This is a perfect use for a sous-vide cooker. We cooked our loin sous-video at 130 degrees for about 2 hours and then seared it in butter. If you don’t have a sous-vide cooker (and most people don’t) just brown the venison in a hot skillet, turning and basting often, until you get to rare to medium rare. It doesn’t take long. And remember to rest the meat after cooking to keep the juices in.venison7

    venison9Now for a sauce. We just picked our Bing cherries from the orchard, so it wasn’t a hard call for us to combine the cherries and venison in a dish. It was, however, hard to find a recipe for fresh cherries and venison (plenty of recipes for game and dried cherries). But we did find a good Venison with Cumberland Sauce recipe at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook (if cooking with game the website to visit, IMHO) and decided to riff on that.

    venison8venison4Cumberland sauce is a classic combination of currants (or other red fruit), port wine, citrus, beef stock (or demi-glace) and spices. Since we were using brightly flavored cherries, we omitted the citrus and went with shallots, thyme, a good dose of black pepper and finished with a bunch of butter (why not?). We also had heard of Norwegian-inspired recipes that combine goat cheese and venison, so we decided to crumble on goat cheese to add tang and creamy notes to the dish.

    venison3venison2And the dish was a big success. The venison was medium-rare with deep, but clean flavor and fine texture (like Filet Mignon, but with way more flavor). The sauce was sweet from the port wine, with rich flavors from the beef stock and butter, but the tart notes of the cherries and goat cheese and the kick of black pepper kept the dish in balance. The creamy goat cheese also added a welcome extra textural dimension. Yum. We like the sauce so much we will try it on lamb and pork as well.

    venison1Meanwhile, we will be curing more bacon and hope we can bribe tempt more hunters into trades. Maybe they will trade for some home-made jams or pickles as well…hmmm…

    Venison Loin With Cherry Cumberland Sauce and Goat Cheese:

    (Adapted, somewhat, from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook)

    Notes before you start:

    – You can use beef stock or demi-glace in the sauce. The demi-glace will be richer and is worth using if you can get it. Otherwise, just allow 5-10 minutes of extra time to reduce the beef stock.

    – You MUST trim any silver skin from the venison loin to assure easy cooking and eating. It is easy to find and trim. Don’t skip this step.

    Ingredients:

    (serves-6, depending on the size of the loin)

    Venison:

    • 1, 1 1/2 pound venison loin (backstrap), trimmed of fat and silver skin
    • Kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Butter, clarified butter or high-heat oil for browning

    Cherry Cumberland Sauce:

    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1 shallot, minced
    • 1/2 cup port wine
    • 1/4 cup demi-glace (or 1 cup beef stock / broth)
    • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 3/4 cup sweet cherries (like Bing or Brooks), pitted and halved
    • Kosher salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 oz. soft goat cheese, like Chevre, for garnish

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  • Weekly Cocktail #52: Boston Expat Punch

    Boston Expat Punch

    Boston Expat Punch

    We often say here at the farm that “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. But when living in Boston gave Carolyn lemons, she moved back to Norcal (I followed from Connecticut, if you are curious). We think it was a good choice.

    But we can’t say life in New England was a total loss. We ate plenty of good seafood, gained an affinity for the Red Sox (which continues, as long as they aren’t playing the Giants) and still have plenty of friends to visit. And the beaches of New England and Long Island in summer are as close to perfection as you can get…..outside of country farms in Northern California. 😉

    expat2Back when we were in Boston, it was not much of a cocktail town. Lots of beer, whiskey and attitude were served at most bars, and that was fine with us. Nowadays, Boston has quite the cocktail scene, and it is very well-documented by Fred Yarm at Cocktail Virgin Slut, among others. Plenty of creative, new-school cocktails from Boston have graced these pages, but for this week’s cocktail we are going dead simple and very, very old-school Boston.

    expat3expat7One of the complaints comments we often get about our cocktails is the use of random, geeky and hard-to-find “esoteric” ingredients. And we have to cop to that, we like playing with booze (in moderation, of course). But when we stumbled upon this simple recipe from noted cocktail historian David Wondrich, we figured it would be a fun recipe that we can adapt, and almost anyone can make.

    expat6expat1Boston Expat Punch is based on the traditional Boston Punch. Boston Punch is simply lemonade and dark, aged rum, sometimes with grated nutmeg. Back in the day, this was the stuff Paul Revere drank when he wasn’t brewing beer. Our version just uses the sweeter and less acidic Meyer lemons (very common in Norcal) for the lemonade and we heavily suggest using the nutmeg. Wondrich also recommends using a very flavorful rum like Smith and Cross, which is very good but almost too much for some. As the Meyer lemons have a notably sweeter flavor, slightly lighter rums like Appleton V/X or El Dorado 3yr also work well. And even lighter rums will play, but then the nutmeg really helps to add some depth.

    Boston Expat Punch

    Boston Expat Punch

    How does it taste? Like rum and lemonade with a whiff of spice. And since rum adds sweetness and funk, it compliments, rather than dilutes the flavor of the lemonade. And the better the lemonade, the better the drink. As a last bonus you can mix Boston Expat Punch as a single drink or make a batch to serve on a lazy summer day. Works for us….even in California.

    Boston Expat Punch:

    (Adapted from David Wondrich)

    Ingredients:

    • 2 oz. dark, aged rum (Smith and Cross or Appleton V/X)
    • 4 oz. Meyer lemon lemonade (see below for recipe)
    • Nutmeg
    • Lemon wheel, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the rum and lemonade. Shake until cold and then pour the liquid and ice into a highball or pint glass. Grate nutmeg over the top and garnish with a lemon wheel. Serve.

    —-

    Meyer Lemonade:

    Ingredients:

    • Peels of 6 Meyer lemons
    • 3/4 cup white sugar (superfine is good here)
    • 6 oz. Meyer lemon juice
    • 24 oz. water

    Assemble:

    1. Place the lemon peels and sugar in a large bowl. Muddle to extract the oils from the peels and let sit for at least 2 hours.
    2. Add the lemon juice and water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Strain out the peels, pour into a bottle and store in the fridge.
  • Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits

    Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

    Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

    “Umm…ok” is what I heard from Carolyn when I told her we were having shrimp and grits for dinner. The boys just looked confused. Then I said “think of it as prawns and polenta with butter sauce” and they all looked relieved. It’s funny, because Carolyn knows that grits and polenta are basically the same thing, but there is something about the word “grits” that (at least for many outside the south) has some negative culinary vibes attached.

    gritsgrits1And that’s too bad, because this is a killer dish that uses simple, readily available ingredients and is easy to make. Carolyn and the kids loved it. And that shouldn’t have been a surprise. We all enjoy polenta (cornmeal mush), so the grits were just a slightly more rustic version of the Italian classic. Basically the grits were polenta, but with bacon, onion and butter added instead of the cheese and pancetta we might include in polenta.  Either way, pretty hard to go wrong here. Just remember to stir (the only real work with grits or polenta is to stir often to keep it from burning).

    grits2grits3grits4We adapted the recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s cookbook “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. We are fans of this cookbook, it has 20 different ingredients, tools and techniques for the home cook and then provides recipes to match. Some of it is basic stuff like “salt” “roast” and “butter”, but it is always good to remember fundamentals like seasoning and cooking with butter.  So when we want to expand or refine our cooking, we often open “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. In this case we were looking for different ways to cook shrimp and Ruhlman had butter-poached shrimp with grits in the “butter” section. Good stuff.

    grits5grits6grits8The key technique here is to poach the shrimp in a butter and water emulsion over low heat. This technique is easy and gives you very moist, flavorful shrimp. Even at low heat shrimp still cook quickly, so it only takes 4-5 minutes. This is also a forgiving technique, so if you go a little over the cooking time the shrimp will still be good (unlike high-heat cooking methods). You also get the bonus of a very flavorful butter sauce to enhance the grits and drizzle over the shrimp. Add a little seasoning and some lemon and you are in business.

    grits9grits10So regardless of what we call it, we will make this dish a few more times this summer. So, once more, we say “thanks Ruhlman” for a successful recipe, we expect to say it again soon…

    Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits:

    (Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use white or yellow grits, just look for high-quality stoneground grits.
    • The recipe suggests you make the grits with water and then stock and/or milk. We like chicken stock, but feel free to experiment.

    What You Get: An excellent shrimp dish and some very tasty grits. A good introduction to a southern classic.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 45-60 minutes, most of it active. This is an easy dish but there is plenty of work to do. Anytime dish if you find cooking therapeutic after a long day. Otherwise, best made on weekends.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4 as a main course)

    • 4 oz. bacon, diced
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • Kosher salt
    • 1 1/4 cups stoneground grits
    • 2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or milk (or water)
    • 2 cups water
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 cup butter, cut into 12 chunks
    • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • Lemon wedges
    • Smoked paprika, for garnish (optional)
    • Italian parsley, for garnish

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  • Caramel Cake

    Caramel Cake.

    Caramel Cake.

    caramel13So here is the good news, this is one tasty cake. The caramel frosting has a crystallized, almost maple candy-like outer shell and a creamy, caramel-flavored interior. The yellow cake is moist and delicious. The combination is a perfect bite. You don’t even want ice cream with this cake. Just enjoy it as it is.

    caramelcaramel1So here is the bad news. This is a hard cake to make and not one that welcomes any messin’ around with the recipe. Caramel frosting is tricky stuff and you need to make a sturdy cake to handle such a heavy frosting. But if you follow the formula you get a delightful dish. And it is worth the effort.

    caramel2caramel5And we do use the word “formula” here. As we (and others) often like to note, baking is a form of chemistry. And in many cases you simply can’t play with the basic formula and get good results. To be fair, baking is hardly as exact a science as “real” chemistry. Humidity, inconsistent ingredients, finicky ovens and variations in cookware make baking a very inexact science, even in the best conditions. But we suggest that if you make this cake you stick with the recipe (at least the first time you bake it).

    caramel7caramel8We adapted the recipe (barely) from a Cook’s Country recipe. Cook’s Country is Cook’s Illustrated’s less  ridiculous? obnoxious?  “overbearing” cousin, and tends to feature recipes that you can make and actually work. This is one of those recipes. They do add some technique and tuning to a traditional recipe, but in real terms the big addition is using all-purpose flour in the cake and not softer cake flour. Using AP flour makes for a firmer, but still moist, cake that can handle the thick, heavy frosting.

    caramel9caramel11Otherwise, the other key technique is to beat extra butter into the frosting just before you apply it to the cake. Butter does make everything better, and if it makes the frosting easier to work with, then we are all for it. The bigger challenge will be keeping your fingers out of the frosting. It tastes so good, you can lose quite a bit as it makes its way to the cake. But we do encourage a little patience. When you combine the frosting with the cake, it is even better.

    caramel10caramel14So if you have the time this Memorial Day weekend, this is a cake worth making. Is it a bit of extra fuss? Well….yes. It it worth it? Without a doubt.

    Caramel Cake:

    (Adapted from Cook’s Country)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • No extra notes. Just follow the recipe and take your time.

    What You Get: A crowd-pleasing, sweet and flavorful cake with awesome caramel frosting. Yum.

    What You Need: A stand mixer (or electric mixer) and 2, 9-inch cake pans.

    How Long? 3 hours, with about an hour, maybe a little more, of active time. Details matter here, so taking your time is advised.

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  • Pulled Pork For Memorial Day

    Pulled pork sandwich with the works.

    UPDATE: This is a reblog from last year. But Memorial Day is coming and this is still our favorite BBQ recipe. Enjoy!

    We’re posting a number of summer food and cocktail recipes for Memorial Day weekend, so let’s get going. We will start with our favorite “summer” dish, pulled pork. Also simply known as pork barbecue, pulled pork is one of the most tender, succulent and flavorful meat dishes you can find. Nothing feeds, and pleases a crowd, like a brined, rubbed and slowly smoked pork shoulder. And it is pretty easy to make. You just need one ingredient: time. Lots of time (some planning and patience help too). But it is worth making this dish, particularly for a holiday weekend.

    Pulled pork sandwich.

    In case you are unfamiliar with pulled pork, it is a pork shoulder (also known as Boston butt) that’s smoked at a low temperature for a long span of time. Usually, though not always, the pork is also brined and a spice rub is added for extra flavor. The long, low-temperature cooking breaks down the fat and connective tissue in the shoulder into gelatin that bathes the meat and provides the tender “finger-licking” flavor of great barbecue. Pulled pork is cooked everywhere in the US, but its spiritual home is the southeast. Texas has beef brisket, the Mississippi river region has ribs, but the Carolinas have pulled pork. We like the Carolinas.

    As for making the pulled pork, it can be a 1-day or 2-3 day operation, it simply depends on the time you have. The most basic approach is to get a pork shoulder and rub it with salt and pepper. Then smoke it with hickory or applewood at about 210 degrees for at least 8 hours or until the internal temperature of the pork is at least 190 degrees (shortcut included below). Let the meat rest for an hour and then “pull” or chop it. The meat will shred easily. And this will be good, real good. But it can be so much better.

    Pork shoulder ready to brine.

    To take pulled pork to the next level requires a few extra steps and a few extra days. The frist step is to brine the pork shoulder. Pork isn’t as fatty as it used to be, so added moisture is a good thing while cooking, as is extra flavor from the brine. The brine is just a combination of salt, sugar and water (plus seasonings if you like). Pork will benefit from as little as 6 hours of brining, but up to 48 hours will help without making the pork too salty. 12-24 hours is about right. And making the brine is as easy as boiling water with sugar and salt and letting it cool. Once the brine is cool, you place the pork in the brine and keep it in the fridge.

    “Rubbed” pork shoulder, note the liberal application of dry rub.

    The next step is to add a dry rub to your pork shoulder. Spice rubs add flavor to the meat and develop an attractive and tasty, “bark” on the outside of the meat while cooking. And if you let the rub sit on the least overnight, the flavor will penetrate deep into the pork and add a new dimension of flavor

    There are literally thousands of pork rub variations, and you can make most of them at home. While purists my scoff, you can also buy pork barbecue rubs at the grocery store. We make our own, but also use store-bought with success. We include a recipe based on a combination of a Alton Brown’s and Steve Raichlen’s (good BBQ writer, btw) rubs with a few tweaks of our own. But, in general, if you like a flavor like thyme or cumin, add a little more.

    Pork shoulder in the smoker. Grab a beer this will take a while…

    So once you brine and rub the pork, you are ready to smoke. If you have a dedicated smoker, that is great (we use a Big Green Egg- very good tool). If not, most grills have instructions for smoking, please follow them. Weber kettle grills are easily adapted to smoking and do a great job. Gas grills also work. The key is to cook low and slow and get good smoke. We use a mix of 50/50 applewood and hickory and soak the woodchips or chunks for at least 30 minutes. Soaking the wood is critical, you want the wood to smoke, not burn. The other critical element is temperature control. You want to keep an even temperature at about 210 degrees. It usually takes some time to control the airflow on your smoker to reach, and maintain, the right temperature, but it’s worth it. The goal is to slowly build the internal temperature of the pork to at least 190 degrees- this is what gets you the “finger-licking” texture of great barbecue. Normally this will take 8-10 hours, but there are other ways that save you a little time.

    Optional shortcut- finish in the oven. Just get to at least 190 degress internal temperature.

    Again, traditionalists my be horrified, but it is generally accepted science that the pork will absorb most of the smoke flavor in the first 3-4 hours of smoking. So after 3 hours of smoking you could move the pork shoulder into a lidded Dutch oven or covered roasting pan and cook in a 300 degree oven for 3-4 hours, or until you reach 190 degrees internal temperature. If we have time we will smoke the full 10 hours, but we use the oven method quite often. And if you are entertaining, the “finish in the oven” method is much more convenient and lets you control the timing.

    “Pulling” the pork just before service.

    There is one last step that cannot be ignored, regardless of how you cook the pork. After reaching the desired temperature the pork needs to be covered, or wrapped in foil, and rested for at least an hour. The pork will keep cooking but the juices will set in the meat for a better, juicier texture. After the hour is up, just “pull” the pork apart with 2 forks or lightly chop with big knife. The pork will fall apart easily.

    Tasty, easy sauce. Lots of acid, sweet, sour and hot flavors to cut through the rich pork.

    To serve the pork we place a big pile of the meat on an everyday hamburger bun, add some sauce, pile on some cole slaw and finish with a few bread and butter pickles. As for the sauce, we use an adapted North Carolina-style vinegar sauce that is very piquant, but is a bit sweeter and not as bracing. But we suggest you use a style of barbecue sauce you like. And, if you are so inclined, an ice-cold beer is a nice compliment to the pork. In the end, you can serve the pork almost any way you like, you and your guests will be very happy. There is no other dish that says “summer is here, and the living is easy” like pulled pork.

    And a nice cold beer, too….

    Pulled Pork:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use bone-in or bone-out pork shoulder. Bone-in may be a bit juicer, but you can get rub into the center of the bone-out shoulder for more flavor.
    • If you order the pork shoulder from your butcher, tell them not to take off too much fat. It will mostly render during cooking, but helps keeps the meat moist.
    • If you see a red ring near the outside of the meat, this is OK. In fact, it means you did a good job smoking the meat. The red color is a chemical reaction to the smoke.

    What You Get: An American classic and one of the best pork dishes in the world. Period.

    What You Need: A smoker or grill that adapts to smoking.

    How Long: At least 1 day and if brining and rubbing the pork, at least 3 days. Pulled pork is a “special occasion” dish that requires planning. We posted on Monday so you can get ready for the weekend.. 😉

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  • Mixology Monday LXXIII Cocktail: The Strawberry Witch

    The Strawberry Witch cocktail.

    The Strawberry Witch cocktail.

    Wow, time flies. It’s Mixology Monday again. It seems like we just made our CSA Gin cocktail for the last MxMo and here we are. Happily, we have another theme that is close to this wannabe farmer’s heart, “the witch’s garden”. Here are the details from this month’s host Cardiff Cocktails (an excellent site, worth a visit):

    mxmologoAs far back as we can look, the use of fresh herbs have been prevalent in the world of mixed drinks. From the early days of the julep, through Williams Terrington’s 19th century Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, to Don the Beachcomber’s ahead of their time Tiki drinks, fresh herbs have always been at the forefront of mixology. So lets take influence from the bartenders that once ruled the world of mixology, raid your herb garden that too often gets neglected, and start mixing. I don’t want to put too many limits on this theme so get as creative as you please, want to use roots, spices or beans as well? Sure thing. Want to make your own herbal infusions or tinctures? Sounds wonderful.

    witchwitch1Well, we certainly have herbs here at the farm. Mint, thyme, basil, tarragon, oregano, sage, marjoram, lemon verbena, parsley and rosemary are all in full swing. But we also have strawberries that need to be used and we wanted to play with Strawberries and thyme for a while. So we chose these as the basis for the cocktail. We also took the name of the challenge to heart and immediately looked at our bottle of Strega (“Strega” means witch in Italian) as a potential ingredient.

    witch2witch4If you are unfamiliar with Strega, it is an herbal Italian digestif that features a rich yellow color (from saffron) and sweet herbal flavors. Strega, is usually enjoyed by itself, but we have been trying to get it into our cocktails. To our tastes, Strega has mint, juniper and citrus notes, so gin seemed like a good match (and one more herbal ingredient). But we were a bit concerned about too many herbal notes, so we added some lemon juice and a splash of sparking wine to brighten, and lighten, the overall flavor of the cocktail.

    witch5So how does the Strawberry Witch taste? In a word, herbal. But in a good way. Strawberries and thyme play very well together, the Strega sweetens without being cloying and the gin, lemon and champagne add the expected bright notes. The sip is tart, with mint and thyme flavors followed by some of the lemon and sweet notes of the Strega. The strawberries do more for color and aroma than flavor, but we are OK with that.The finish is very clean, almost dry.

    witch6(One last note here. Thyme can be strong stuff. At first we muddled it along with the strawberries and some lemon peel. This was a bad idea- the thyme got harsh and bitter. The next time around we muddled the strawberries and lemon first, then added the thyme and gave it just a few nudges. This worked way better, plenty of thyme flavor but not too much. Fresh herbs vary widely in strength and flavor, but be warned, you may want to do a quick test run before you muddle your herbs.)

    witch8Thanks again to Cardiff Cocktails and Fred Yarm at Cocktail Virgin Slut for another great MxMo!

    The Strawberry Witch:

    Ingredients:

    • 3-4 medium strawberries
    • Lemon peel
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus some extra for garnish
    • 1 1/2 oz dry gin
    • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
    • 1/2 oz. Strega
    • 1-2 oz. sparkling wine or Champagne

    Assemble:

    1. Place the strawberries and lemon peel in the cocktail shaker. Muddle until the strawberries are a smooth purée. Then add the thyme springs and lightly muddle a few times.
    2. Add the gin, lemon juice and Stega to the cocktail shaker. Add some ice and then shake until well-chilled. Double-strain the mixture into a coupé or flute. Top with the sparkling wine and garnish with a thyme sprig. Serve.