• 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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  • 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.


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


    • 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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  • Beef Tri-Tip Roast: A Good Meal For A Small Thanksgiving

    Kobe Beef Tri-Tip Roast. A special treat.

    It may seem like sacrilege, but we don’t serve turkey at Thanksgiving. No ham either. Nope, we serve a version of our slow-roasted pork with apples and fall herbs and some kind of roast beef. If we have a big crowd, we roast a whole Tenderloin, but if we have a small crowd, we roast a Tri-Tip. And if we want to splurge, a Kobe Tri-Tip is one of our favorite roasts.

    The Tri-Tip is a triangular 2 to 2 and 1/2 pound cut of beef from the bottom sirloin primal of the cow. It has strong beefy flavor and, if cooked and sliced properly, is quite tender. Out here in California, “Santa Maria Style” Tri-tip, lightly seasoned and slowly cooked over red oak to medium-rare, is a very tasty regional specialty. And if you go into most butcher shops here in Norcal, you will find many custom Tri-Tip preparations and marinades (the black, ugly, but incredibly tasty “Fred Steak” is a local specialty). And as a special treat, most butchers feature a Kobe Tri-Tip. And this is a very special treat.

    While it’s expensive, the Kobe Tri-Tip is a great intro to Kobe beef. Kobe beef is a special type of beef with extra marbling of fat (fat is flavor) and very tender meat. Kobe is expensive, but the Tri-Tip is one of the more affordable cuts and is easy to prepare. The beefy flavor of the Tri-Tip doesn’t need much help, so we simply prepare a quick rub of olive oil, salt and pepper and let the steak marinate for at least four hours or overnight. Then you simply sear the outside of the meat for flavor and then slowly roast until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare.

    We use our sous-vide machine for the Kobe Tri-Tip, as we can exactly control the internal temperature (we target 131). We then sear in a cast iron pan, slice and serve. But you can grill Tri-Tip using a two-level fire, or roast in a hot oven. We include cooking instructions for each method. The key to any Tri-Tip recipe is to avoid overcooking, so regardless of method, be sure to pull the roast from the heat before it reaches the target temperature (it will still gain five to ten degrees) and allow the roast to rest at least ten minutes before you slice and serve. And be sure to slice across the grain for a more tender bite. And now you have a very tasty roast that is the perfect size for four to six guests.

    So if you have a small group of guests for Thanksgiving, we have a suggestion. Make all the traditional sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed spinach, stuffing, cranberries and pie. Pop open a good bottle of wine or cider, maybe make some punch. But save yourself a lot of time and cook up a Tri-Tip. And if you are feeling flush, try out a Kobe Tri-Tip. You won’t have to struggle with a turkey and you will have very happy guests. And if you just can’t bear the thought of beef at Thanksgiving, Tri-Tips are just as good for a casual weekend roast. Tri-Tip makes a good meal any time.

    Beef Tri-Tip Roast:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Tri-Tip is sometimes called “triangle steak”. If you can’t find Kobe Tri-Tip, ask your butcher, it is a popular cut and usually can be ordered.
    • Tri-Tip does not have a lot of intra-muscular fat and is not a good roast to cook past medium rare. If you need to cook a roast past medium, other cuts will do better.

    What You Get: A quick, easy, tasty and tender beef roast.

    What You Need: No special equipment required. But a digital thermometer, or meat thermometer reduces the risk of overcooking. We cook this roast sous-vide, but the grill or oven also work well.

    How Long? If grilling or oven-roasting this dish takes about 20-30 minutes. Sous-vide cooking will take 4-8 hours and then 2-3 minutes of searing the meat. The beef benefits from an overnight marinade.


    (Serves 4 – 6)

    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1, 2 and 1/2 pound Tri-Tip roast, trimmed (Kobe, if you like)
    • Vegetable oil or bacon fat, for searing (if cooking sous-vide)


    1. Combine the oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Dry off the Tri-Tip and coat with the oil mixture. Put the roast in a container or plastic bag and then place in the fridge for 4 -12 hours.
    2. If charcoal grilling: Build a two-level fire. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side, on the hot side of the grill. Then move the roast to the cooler side of the grill. Cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    3. If gas grilling: Set up the grill for high heat. Sear the roast for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then move the heat to low, cover the grill and cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    4. If oven roasting: Preheat the oven to 425. Place the roast in a roasting pan (with a rack, if possible) and put the pan in the oven. Cook for 5 minutes and then lower the heat to 350. Cook cook the roast, turning occasionally, until you reach an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, about 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the roast from the heat and let it rest at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
    5. If using sous-vide: Set the sous-vide temperature to 131 degrees (or your desired temperature). Remove excess oil from the roast and seal in a vacuum bag. Cook sous-vide for at least 4 hours, 6 – 8 is preferred. When the roast is done, heat vegetable oil or bacon fat in a skillet over very high heat. Sear the roast 1 – 2 minutes on each side, or until well browned. Slice and serve.
  • King Salmon With Tarragon-Chive Butter (Sous-vide or Baked)

    Sous-vide king salmon with tarragon-chive butter.

    After an enforced absence of a few years, king salmon fishing is back along the California coast. Regardless of the sometimes difficult politics and economics of fishery management, it is always encouraging to see a natural fishery recover when it gets some time. And one thing we see here on the farm (and all over the world) is that nature often rewards patience and comes roaring back, if given the chance. And now our local community is reaping the benefits of its patience and we get to eat our local king salmon straight from Monterey or Half Moon Bays. And there are few fish as tasty, or pretty, as fresh wild king salmon.

    Wild king salmon has a beautiful color and deep rich flavor that, at least to local tastes, surpasses most wild and all farmed salmon. The wild salmon’s high fat/oil content and varied diet makes for big flavor and meaty texture, yet is still healthy (depending on how much butter you add to the dish ;-). The king salmon also lends itself to many different styles of cooking. You can serve king salmon as sushi or crudo, poach, roast, bake or grill it and even the crispy skin is a tasty treat. Great stuff, but with one caveat, the fresh wild salmon does not come cheap. It is best to make the most of the fish, so in this case we decided to cook our king salmon using our sous-vide cooker. (But there is a good oven-based method, so please read-on).

    Simple ingredients, but big flavor.

    As we mentioned in an earlier post, sous-vide cooking involves sealing fish, meat or veggies in a vacuum bag and cooking in a temperature-controlled water bath. It is a very popular cooking method in high-end restaurants, but you can buy sous-vide cookers and vacuum sealers for the home. Our inspiration for sous-vide cooking came from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog– and he has a great introduction and many good sous-vide recipes here. We cook sous-vide regularly with both meat and fish, but particularly like cooking fish in this way. The temperature control and doneness of the fish are quite exact and you can “build” a sauce in the bag while you cook the fish.

    As for the recipe itself, we simply adapted our basic oven-baked fish recipe to sous-vide cooking. Our approach is to season the fish filets, layer on a generous dollop of herbs and butter per filet and top with a slice of lemon. As the fish cooks, it bastes in the lemon/butter/herb mixture, and that mixture becomes the basis for a quick sauce. In the oven, we cook the prepared filets in a greased baking dish with a splash of wine at 425 degrees for about 10-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the filets and desired doneness. In the case of sous-vide, we simply seal the prepared filets in their bags and cook in the water bath for 30 minutes at our desired temperature. (Note: One drawback of sous-vide cooking is difficulty sealing liquids into the vacuum bag along with the fish. Using “solid” ingredients like cold butter, lemon and herbs solves this issue.)

    Simply season the filets then add the herbs and butter and cover with lemon slices.

    Cook sous-vide or in the oven. These filetes are vacuum-sealed for sous-vide cooking.

    While this is a simple dish to prepare with either cooking method, you get a lot of big flavors. The richness of the salmon and butter is matched by lemon notes and bright, vegetal herbs. If you cook the salmon rare to medium-rare the texture will be soft and juicy, if you cook to medium the texture will be flaky but still rich from the high fat content of the salmon. And here is where personal judgement comes into play. Many cooks will serve salmon rare at 109 or 110 degrees, medium rare in the mid-120 degree range and medium at 130 degrees. Tastes vary and we prefer rare to medium rare fish, but to be fully “cooked” many references suggest cooking fish to at least 130 degrees and even up to 145 degrees. Again, use your judgement based on tastes and the freshness of your fish. And a digital thermometer is a big help if cooking in the oven.

    Some of the best California has to offer…

    As the local king salmon season is short, we enjoyed this dish a few times in the last week or so. We can’t get enough of the salmon, and our kids love it. We take every chance to make sure our kids enjoy eating good fresh fish (think of it as selling healthy eating habits). And the king salmon is more than good, it’s a real treat. Sometimes patience truly is rewarded. Let’s hope we have another good season next year.

    King Salmon With Tarragon-Chive Butter:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • If you don’t have California king salmon, a trip to California is in order…;-) Otherwise substitute your fresh local salmon or other firm fish filets. This basic recipe works for most fish.
    • Salmon usually has small pin-bones you can remove with tweezers or pliers. Remove them before cooking or ask your fishmonger to do it for you.

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  • Cooking Sous-Vide At The Farm

    Sous-vide cooker for the home. It works.

    The more we cook, the more we understand that time and temperature are the keys to good cooking. And it has always been this way in the kitchen. For generations good cooks understood that, for many dishes, low-and-slow transforms even the lowliest ingredients into the best meals. And we use our dutch oven, slow cooker and smoker in many meals to take advantage of low-and-slow, particularly for larger, tougher cuts of meat. We do like our beef brisket and pork shoulder.

    Temperature-controlled water bath with racks to manage space.

    But when cooking steaks, chicken pieces or fish, the slow cooker or smoker are usually not practical options. Most of these meats are fried, seared or roasted in the pan and/or oven, or grilled on the barbecue. The problem with these high-heat methods is that the heat is applied unevenly on the meat. So even with good technique  you get a well-done exterior that moves towards the desired doneness in the center of the meat (assuming you don’t overcook the whole thing). The only real bonus of high-heat cooking is the extra flavor you get from browning / caramelizing. Most traditional cooking methods can’t fully overcome a fundamental challenge- how do we cook and brown this irregularly shaped food without overcooking it?

    Grass-fed ribeye steaks. These are real good- best not to screw it up.

    Sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”) cooking is a solution to this challenge. Basically a slow-cooker for individual cuts of meat, fish and poultry, sous-vide cooking gives the home cook exact control of cooking temperature that’s applied uniformly to the meat. And it works pretty much every time- as long as you have the time. The approach here is pretty simple, a water bath is heated to a specific temperature and the protein (or vegetable) is vacuum-sealed into a bag and the bag is placed in the water. The bag keeps the meat from leaking juices or breaking apart into the water bath. The proteins slowly, and uniformly, cook to the temperature in the water bath. Once done, the protein can be briefly seared to add the tasty browned flavors and improve appearance. It is a neat trick and it really works. If you ever wonder how busy high-end restaurants get their steaks or fish right every time, sous-vide is often the answer.

    Vacuum-sealing the steaks. This takes less than a minute.

    We’ve been reading Stefan’s Gourmet Blog and his results cooking sous-vide always looked great. And as we recently purchased 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from Stemple Creek Ranch, we wanted a cooking method that made the most of the flavor of the beef. So we took the plunge and bought a sous-vide cooker (we got one on sale, but expect the setup to run somewhere between $350 – $500, so it’s not cheap). So far we have tried cooking halibut, salmon and Stefan’s cod recipe. All were perfectly cooked.

    Cook for 1.5 – 2 hours at 125 degrees.

    The next thing we tried was making a good steak using sous-vide. Not ones to be cautious, we went right to making ribeye steaks. We followed the new procedure, sous-vide cook at desired temperature (in this case 125 degrees for rare-to – medium rare) for 2 hours and then sear the meat briefly to brown the surface. Frankly, the meat, while perfectly cooked, is very unattractive unless you brown it. You can use a hot skillet, grill or even a blowtorch, but we just went with a rocket-hot cast-iron skillet. This browning method worked with just 30-45 seconds of searing on each side. Then we rested the meat for a few minutes and cut it into slices to serve. The first thing we noticed was that the meat was seared on the outside but then the same pink color all the way through, no gray layer, just perfectly cooked meat. So we found the sous-vide approach to cooking steaks was a real success, as long as you have the extra time. Our standard cooking method is here, and that takes 20 minutes. But with expensive, high-quality steaks, we think the extra time is worth it. And if you are entertaining, you can hold the meat at the perfect temperature and then sear just before serving, so sous-vide is a good tool when cooking for a group. Continue reading