• A “Year” Of Blogging. And Our Thanks To You.

    prep11It’s actually been about a year and a half on the calendar since I started blogging. Within a few months, it became “we” as Carolyn started both cooking and taking photos for the blog as well.  We looked at our stats the other day and WordPress tells us this will be our 365th post. I don’t think either of us really thought we would have even 100 things to blog about, but I guess we did. I also don’t think we expected to get as much out of it as we have, but it has been a great ride. And the ride will go on, but perhaps at a slightly slower pace.

    siesta3cherry10harvest2So after a “year” of blogging, what did we get? We are better cooks and better gardeners. Our kids eat healthily (mostly) and well. We also mix a decent cocktail, IMHO. And we discovered a shared love of photography that will last our entire lives. Sharing a love of art with your spouse is a special thing, a true gift. And for that I am eternally grateful.

    ahi1ap1

    Warm Mushroom and Arugula Salad.

    But what we are most grateful for is all of you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you. Your visits, comments and support kept this blog going and encouraged us to keep working, keep experimenting and see what we could do. We surprised, and sometimes disappointed, ourselves. Your guidance (and the occasional correction) make us much, much better cooks. Along the way we made some virtual, but very real, friends. Cooking is all about family and friends, and good cooks build friendships and connect with family for their whole lives. And there is a whole lot of living left.

    This is a peach blossom!

    mixology5ccake9We had a bunch of extra stats and blather about the site to share, but it seems too self-congratulatory. And really, who cares? Suffice it to say, if you are searching for a fennel recipe, steps on curing and smoking meat or old-school cocktails, you may end up visiting Putney Farm. And that is just fine with us. Instead of any more words here are some photo highlights….

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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).
  • The Viveka Cocktail And Homemade Limoncello

    viv

    The Viveka Cocktail.

    Many months ago we asked for our readers to guess the location of a photo we took in Kauai. The winner would get a cocktail named after them. The winner was our friend Viveka from My Guilty Pleasures, a blog about life with all it’s humor, delights, food and travel. It is also a blog about friendship. Viveka seems to collect friends, both in the physical and virtual world, at a very steady clip. She has a big, warm, generous heart.

    viv4viv5viv6Viveka is also patient. Because once she won our little contest, we knew we had to use a special homemade ingredient in her cocktail; limoncello. The only problem was that limoncello, while easy to make, takes a while. Like a few months. But we warned Viveka of the impending wait. And then we waited. And waited. But finally the wait is over.

    viv7Limoncello is basically a liqueur of lemon zest (with as little white pith as possible) soaked in grain alcohol (or strong vodka), strained and then sweetened with sugar syrup. You get a sweet, lemony liqueur without any sour notes. It’s good stuff. While you can make limoncello in just a few days, an infusion of 30-45 days is generally considered the best method. The you need to strain and filter the zest from the very-strong booze and add some simple syrup to get to about 60 proof and age it again for another 45 days (most people shorten this step). But since we are making cocktails, we took a slightly different path.

    viv3viv2Our one issue with limoncello in cocktails is that it is a bit sweet and not strong enough to lead a cocktail. It is good as an accent, but we thought it could fully replace gin or vodka if our limoncello was stronger and dryer. So rather than use a mix of 50% or more simple syrup, we went with about 35-40% syrup. And since we were using 135 proof Everclear as our base, we ended up at about 90-100 proof. The limoncello is a bit strong on its own, but has the juice to carry a cocktail and gives a slight warming feel as you drink it. Not too hot or boozy, but you know it’s there.

    viv8And that was exactly what we wanted for our special cocktail. Our friend Viveka is not a fan of dark booze like rum or whiskey, so we wanted to use a “clear” booze. We do enough gin drinks around here, so that was out. And since Viveka is from Scandinavia, we figured she knows her vodka. Boozy limoncello seemed liked a good fit. And we even had a recipe in mind.

    viv9The Viveka combines, boozy limoncello, Cointreau, lemon juice and muddled raspberries (or raspberry syrup, if you must). The drink is a riff on the 1934 Cosmopolitan (an older,  lesser-known- but IMHO better- version of the Cosmo), with the boozy limoncello replacing gin and fresh raspberries rather than syrup. (If using lower-proof limoncello, just add 1/2 oz. good vodka and a touch more lemon juice). What you get is a bright lemon sip that isn’t particularly sour, mixed with sweet orange and raspberry notes that almost seem to dance around. On the finish you get a nice warm kick from the limoncello. This drink has a warm heart, just like Viveka…..Here you go Wivi!

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  • BBQ Brisket, Franklin Style

    brisketbrisket2Brisket+Salt+Pepper+Smoke+Time= East Texas Barbecue Beef Brisket, perhaps one of the greatest American dishes. If you get it right, you get true alchemy. A very humble piece of cow turns into a rich, luscious and flavorful meat you can eat just with your hands and really doesn’t need sauce. A little piece of heaven. And it seems so simple…

    brisket3…but it isn’t. Barbecued brisket, at least really good barbecue brisket, is hard. Really hard. Even pros regularly turn out dry, over-seasoned, poorly smoked failures. And while we aren’t pros, we take pride in our ‘cue. But where we succeed with barbecued pork shoulder or ribs, we often fail with brisket. And it is even more frustrating that we can make a great Jewish-style brisket in a dutch oven or slow cooker. Aargh. And after many failures, we were about to throw in the towel.

    brisket4But just as we had given up, we heard about Aaron Franklin and his YouTube barbecue series. Aaron Franklin, it turns out, is considered one of the best (really, the best) pitmaster in Austin Texas. People we trust (friends and pros) sing his praises, and his brisket is the standard by which others are measured. We haven’t been to Franklin’s (yet) but he was kind enough to provide a step-by-step video series on how to make his brisket. So we decided to try just one more time…

    brisket6And it worked. The steps are simple, but detailed. You need to customize for your gear / setup, but if you get the spirit of it, you will have some very tasty brisket. We heavily recommend suggest you watch the series, but here are the basics: get a good piece of brisket (whole brisket, Creekstone or Certified Angus, don’t worry about the cost, this dish feeds an army and is affordable), trim it well, season it evenly with salt and pepper, smoke it over oak for about 12 hours (depending on the brisket), keep water pans in the smoker, wrap the brisket in butcher paper (or foil, the “Texas crutch”) about halfway through cooking, when done let it rest and then slice pencil thick and serve. And if you just have to have sauce, Franklin gives you a good recipe.

    brisket7Oh, and do it 3 or 4 times over the summer. Each time you will get a bit better, and each time your family and friends will eat a bit more. A good project.

    brisket8Now, we will cop to making some changes to deal with our Big Green Egg smoker. We use charcoal and wood chunks, and not just wood. And we use local red oak, rather than Texas post oak (and just a touch of local apple wood as well). And since we smoke on a Green Egg over somewhat direct heat, which can dry out barbecue in long cooking, so we decided to wrap in foil and finish the last few hours on the oven. Many will consider this sacrilege, but we know our Green Egg, and finishing in the oven works better (sorry purists, it does). But if you have a an offset smoker, you should be able to wrap the brisket and finish it on the smoker.

    brisket10What do you get? More flavor than you would ever expect. And the juiciest, tenderest meat you can imagine. The magic of smoke never ceases to amaze. The bark has the complexity of good wine, the meat is sweet and the fat like butter (but way better). It may have taken 12-14 hours, but it will be time well spent. Now just slice and serve with some slaw, maybe some white bread, and sauce if you like. Then serve the large group assembled around you…and take a nap….you deserve it.

    brisket1BBQ Brisket, Franklin Style:

    (Adapted from Aaron Franklin video series)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You need a “full packer” brisket that includes the “point” and “flat” sections of the brisket. It should be at least 10-12 pounds, if possible (and they go much bigger). Franklin uses Creekstone Farms beef (you can order online) and we do as well. This is the good stuff and worth the money.
    • If you trust your butcher to trim the brisket to your specs, have him (or her) do it. Otherwise, follow the steps in the video.
    • While you can use any wood for smoking, this style really works best with oak. Maybe a touch of fruitwood. But heavily flavors like hickory or mesquite will dominate the basic salt and pepper rub.
    • Always use a water pan (or two) while smoking to keep humidity in the smoker.

    What You Get: A true American classic.

    What You Need: A real smoker of some form. A Webber won’t really work here. An offset smoker would be the best choice.

    How Long? Expect about 14 hours for a 12 pound brisket. But it could be more, or a little less. Get started very early in the morning and have beer ready for an all-day event.

    Ingredients:

    • 1, 10-12 pound “full packer” brisket
    • 1/2 cup salt
    • 1/2 cup fresh ground pepper, finely ground
    • Oak wood, chunks or chips, for smoking.

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  • Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares

    spelt2spelt1speltWhen life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And when bananas turn black, might as well start baking. In fact, for many (ok…me), old bananas baked into desserts are a much better way to leverage the soft, sweet fruit than raw preparations. And if you happen to add some dark chocolate and some spice, well then you are onto something. Something good. Something called Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares.

    spelt5spelt6Happily, Carolyn hates to be wasteful, so when those bananas get black, the boys and I get this treat. But Carolyn is still a Mom (with a capital M) and that means if we get sweets, something healthy often gets snuck in as well. Usually this means some whole wheat flour in baked goods. And while we like whole wheat flour, sometimes it makes for dense and somewhat bitter-flavored dishes. That is OK for bread, but for sweets, a total bit of a bummer. But Carolyn has an answer (doesn’t she always?).

    spelt7spelt8In the case the hack solution is to use spelt flour rather than whole wheat. Spelt is an ancient “proto-flour” that behaves in similar fashion to whole wheat but with softer flavor. So you get some of the nuttiness of whole wheat, but very few bitter notes. In fact, other than slightly denser texture, it would be hard for even a trained palette to notice and bitter flavor at all. And since you get a big dose of the sweet bananas and chocolate, along with spice, all you will really notice is how good these squares are. And if you add in some vanilla ice cream, it is even better. Think “banana split as it should have been” and you might be close.

    spelt9spelt10Like many of our recipes, Carolyn adapted the basics from King Arthur Flour (no, we aren’t on the payroll yet, but one can always hope…). The main adaptation is substituting white chocolate chips for chopped walnuts. Our kids don’t love walnuts in baked goods, so why not add more chocolate? And besides, we are using spelt to avoid bitter flavors, so why risk it with a tannic ingredient like walnuts?

    spelt11Nope, we will always take more chocolate. And like we said, if you serve this with ice cream, the dish goes from good to great. Now maybe we need to add some burnt caramel sauce…maybe even a hint of salt…hmmm….

    spelt4Banana-Chocolate Chip Squares:

    (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Nope, get cooking.

    What You Get: Something like a Blondie, but much better. A good use for over-ripe bananas.

    What You Need: Old bananas.

    How Long? About an hour, or so. Mostly inactive time. You can make this dish any time you have the over-ripe bananas.

    Ingredients:

    (Makes 2 dozen, 2-inch squares)

    • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 1/4 cups (9 3/8 oz.) dark (or light) brown sugar
    • 3 very ripe medium bananas, about 8 oz. peeled
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 3/4 cups (6 1/8 oz.) whole spelt flour
    • 1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1 cup (6 oz.) white chocolate chips

    Assemble:

    1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
    2. Cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Beat in the bananas, lemon juice, vanilla, baking powder, salt and spices, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the egg, beating until smooth and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, again. Stir in the flour, mixing thoroughly.
    3. Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan. Allow the batter to rest for 15 minutes, it will thicken slightly. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the batter.
    4. Bake the squares in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the center is moist, but not liquid. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a rack.
    5. For the best texture you can cool the squares overnight (if you have the patience). Cut and serve with vanilla ice cream, if you like.
  • Weekly Cocktail #58: Embury’s Larchmont

    larch2Well, summer is “over”, at least in the family sense. Kids are back in school, work cranks up, and the holidays are already an insidious little whisper in your ear. So it starts again. Good thing Autumn also brings the harvest, the fall colors and (in Norcal) some good waves. And a few cocktails always help to re-acquaint oneself with “real life”.

    larch4But before summer was over I did get to do a full read of David A. Embury’s famous 1950’s cocktail book “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks“. Embury’s book is unique for a few reasons: he was a lawyer not a bartender and rather than simply list recipes he tried to design a way to classify cocktails in a more orderly fashion. And the book does succeed in giving any home (or pro) bartender a foundation for creating thousands of drinks. (Just ignore the often hilarious heath and medical advice, unless you are the type who thinks smoking is still good for you, then by all means, listen to “Dr.Embury”).

    larch3Embury makes the case that almost any cocktail is simply a base (the spirits) and modifiers (sugar, citrus, aromatic wines, bitters, liqueurs, etc.). He also classifies most cocktails into two families. The first family is “aromatic” cocktails using spirits with aromatic wines (vermouth, quinquina, sherry) and bitters, think Martinis and Manhattans. The second family of cocktails are the “sours”, drinks with spirits, citrus (usually lemon or lime) and a sweetener (sugar, syrups, liqueurs), think Daiquiri, Whiskey Sour, or (these days) a Margarita.

    larch5This system certainly works for most cocktails and other writers, most notably Gary Regan in the “Joy of Mixology“, expanded on these basic concepts. Good ideas and tools do seem to travel through time. But some of Embury’s concepts (along with his medical advice) have not aged quite as well. And in this case, we mean the proportions of his cocktails.

    larch6You see, Embury liked his cocktails dry. And we mean dry. For aromatic cocktails, he often liked a 7 to 1 (base to modifier) ratio, which fits many current tastes. But for sours, Embury suggests 1 part sweet, 2 parts sour and 8 parts spirits. Embury, it seems, liked to taste the booze in his cocktails. And while most of the drinkers here at the farm agree, we usually go 1 part sweet, 1 part sour and 2 parts spirits (and we see some recipes suggesting 1:1:1). But before we wrote off Embury’s ratios, we gave them a try in a few recipes.

    larchHow did it go? Well, the drinks are very dry and we would prefer both a bit more sweet and sour. But we were surprised, particularly if big fans of the base spirit, how much we liked the drier cocktails. They don’t always work, but when experimenting with a recipe you like, we suggest trying an “Embury-esque” version, you may be surprised…..besides, you get to try another drink.

    larch1Interestingly, Embury has a recipe for one of his favorite sour cocktails, the Larchmont (a town in Westchester), that is a bit of a hack on his 1:2:8 ratio and is a good “gateway” into his style of mixing. The Larchmont, a Daiquiri variant,  combines 1/2 part simple syrup, 2 parts lime juice, 2 parts Grand Marnier and 6 parts white Cuban rum with an orange peel garnish. Since we think of Grand Marnier (not a common mixer) as mostly sweet, this recipe does balance sweetness with what is still a very spirit-forward cocktail.

    The Larchmont Cocktail.

    The Larchmont Cocktail.

    But a very, very good cocktail. Both Carolyn and I thought this was a truly well-balanced sip. We did use white Demerara rum and perhaps a few more drops of sugar than Embury would like, but the flavors were delightful. We got orange on the nose from the twist and Grand Marnier, a smooth lime sip with just a touch of heat from the rum and a slight cognac-ish note at the finish. The drink was sour, but had just enough sweet to let the other flavors lead. So if you want to try Embury’s dry style of sour cocktails, we suggest you first try the Larchmont. It softens the transition to come….

    The Larchmont:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 1/2 oz. white rum (El Dorado)
    • 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
    • 1/2 oz. lime juice
    • Scant 1/4 oz. simple syrup
    • Orange twist, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well-chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Twist the orange peel over the glass and add to the cocktail. Serve.