• Orange Cake With Dark Chocolate Chips

    Orange Cake With Chocolate Chips.

    Orange Cake With Chocolate Chips.

    It’s January (frankly, a pretty crummy month) and we face a choice, should we start making resolutions or help people break them? Since most resolutions seem to involve people enjoying less food, drink and fun we favor “breaking” resolutions. (Unless you resolve to do more good things for yourself and others, in that case- carry on!) But if you are trying to rid yourself of an otherwise harmless and / or pleasurable indulgence and feel a bit of weakness, or lack of shame, or just admit that you want to live life without regret…well come on over, have a snack, grab a cocktail and enjoy some cake. We will be waiting here at the farm with open arms and a warm kitchen, always. And if you happen to amble by the farm in January, then you might be lucky and get some orange cake with dark chocolate chips.

    ocake3ocake4And thank heaven for citrus this time of year (and good chocolate any time of year). Just when you slog through that last bite of heavy (albeit lovely) holiday food, the oranges and lemons arrive to bring a burst of bright flavor back to winter. The Meyer lemons, cara-cara and blood oranges seem to save the light and bring it back to our houses, right when we need it the most (yeah, yeah, we are in California it isn’t that cold, but whatever ;-). The winter citrus gives us sorbet, cocktails, savory sauces, confections and this cake that combines fresh oranges and dark chocolate. Hard to go wrong.

    ocake5ocake6And very hard to go wrong if you use the best dark chocolate you can find. As a special Christmas gift, the boys and I gave Carolyn a big bag of Mast Brothers dark chocolate chips. The Mast Brothers hail from Brooklyn and have some of the best chocolate we have ever tasted. We are all for local chocolatiers, and many do excellent work- but great is great, and we can’t do better than Mast Brothers chocolate. Simply awesome, and worth a mention all the way out here on the left coast. We usually reserve our best chocolate for eating out of hand, but this cake combines chocolate chunks and a chocolate ganache glaze with sweet, bright orange flavor and a light “cake-y” texture. It is a perfectly balanced bite, and the better the chocolate, the better the cake.

    ocake9ocake10As for the recipe, we adapted it from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), who adapted it from the famous Hampton’s bakery and caterer Loaves and Fishes. Good recipes tend to travel well and this is no exception. There are no special ingredients or techniques in this recipe, it just asks for a bit of extra effort and good chocolate. The recipe for the cake is mostly standard, as is the recipe for the chocolate ganache you use to “glaze” the cake. The only extra step is to create an orange syrup and brush it into the cake. But this step does make a difference. Every bite explodes with the sweet oranges and a blast of deep, dark chocolate, but the acid of the oranges and slight bitter edge of chocolate balances the flavor. Good from beginning to end.

    ocake2So when you decide to give up on that resolution about cake, or sugar, or chocolate, or fun…try this recipe out. If you’re gonna break the resolution, it may as well be worth it. Or, even better, just bake the cake and share. No resolutions required (ever).

    Orange Cake With Dark Chocolate Chips: Continue reading

  • Roasted Parsnips With Thyme

    parsnipNow that it’s January and we start to cleanse ourselves of the holidays, we seem to fully embrace winter vegetables. Not that we don’t like our winter vegetables, we just like spring and summer produce better (we like spring and summer better than winter, period). But when we do revisit winter vegetables we always come back to parsnips and wonder why we  took so long. Parsnips aren’t just a decent winter vegetable, they can be sweet, flavorful and a lovely compliment to the roasts, braises and stews that make up so much of our cold weather cooking. And, believe it or not, when you roast parsnips with a little fat, salt and thyme you get a snack you can enjoy at any time.

    parsnip1parsnip4If you are unfamiliar with parsnips (or had a bad experience and tried to forget), they are a root vegetable that looks like a large ivory-colored carrot (some varieties are less uniformly shaped). Parsnips combine some of the sweetness of carrots and a bit of the earthy flavors of potatoes with a slight “rooty”, sarsaparilla-like note. Parsnips play very well with heavy fats like cream, beef drippings and bacon fat, so they tend to go with heavier dishes. But you can roast, mash or purée parsnips with just a bit of added fat (or sugar if you are so inclined) for a healthier dish. The only issue left to deal with is texture.

    parsnip5parsnip6parsnip7The big issue with parsnips is in many dishes they are either undercooked and/or have stringy and woody sections. Nigel Slater once noted that most people experience their first parsnip in a roast or stew when they think they just ate a “woody potato”. First impressions often last a lifetime, and this is no way for people to discover parsnips. (It isn’t an accident that most chefs love parsnips, but mostly serve them pureed.) But there is a simple trick that takes care of any textural issues, just cut the parsnip in thin wedges and steam it before you oven roast. The smaller pieces cook in less time and the steaming allows the rest of the parsnip to cook evenly. It does take a few extra minutes, but what else do you have to do in the dead of winter?

    parsnip8parsnip9Otherwise, this is a very easy dish to make. Peel and cut the parsnips into wedges, halve the thin ends and quarter the thicker ends. Steam for ten minutes and then toss the parsnips with a mixture of butter and bacon fat or beef drippings, salt, pepper and thyme (olive oil doesn’t seem to love parsnips, just a FYI). Lay out the wedges on a baking dish and cook in a 350 degree oven for one hour. About halfway through the cooking turn over the parsnips so they caramelize on a few sides. And they will caramelize and give you a sweet, slightly crispy outer crust that gives way to a sweet, earthy and creamy center, simply delicious. You can serve these with almost any meat dish, but we garnish the parsnips with a bit of coarse salt and some chives and start snacking…they never last more than a few minutes.

    parsnip10 Continue reading

  • Gingerbread Cake For Christmas

    Gingerbread Cake. Merry Christmas!

    Gingerbread Cake. Merry Christmas!

    Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to all! For all the stress of the holidays, it is still a magical time of year. At it’s best, Christmas is a celebration of hospitality and generosity. While we hope it is never a necessity for anyone, it is good to have an annual reminder that giving to others (or baking, or cooking, or mixing a cocktail) is its own reward. We wish you peace.

    ginger3ginger4While Christmas does have deeper meaning, we also enjoy the food and drink. We already shared some Christmas cocktails (and remember there are twelve days of Christmas to work with), but we also want to share our favorite dessert, gingerbread. We enjoy gingerbread any way we can get it, in cookies, sheet cakes or this beautiful ring cake. We love the deep spicy flavor of gingerbread and the smell says “holidays” to just about everyone. The funny thing, though, is that we think that you could just as easily call it “molassesbread”. This recipe features a big splash (does molasses splash?) of molasses and oatmeal stout beer. When combined with a full slate of holiday spices, the funky molasses and roasted maltiness of the stout make for one seriously moist and flavorful cake. Once you have this gingerbread, it’s hard to go back.

    ginger5ginger2The recipe comes from the Gramercy Tavern in New York City and was published in 2008 by Smitten Kitchen. We are lucky enough to have dined a few times at the Gramercy Tavern and it is simply one of our favorite restaurants anywhere in the world. As for Smitten Kitchen, it is one of the best food blogs out there (great cookbook, too). And we get to visit Smitten Kitchen any time we want, we don’t even have to be in New York. In any event, when one of your favorite blogs posts a recipe from one of your favorite restaurants, the dish is likely to be good. We made this recipe for the first time a few years ago, now we can’t wait for Carolyn to make it as a Christmas treat. Oh, and did we mention you can make French toast with this gingerbread? (And if there is any left over, you should.)

    ginger6ginger7Making this gingerbread is, happily, pretty standard baking. (We will note this is another very moist cake that uses oil, rather than butter, hmmmm…) The only real trick here, and it is a BIG deal, is to thoroughly and completely butter and flour the bundt or loaf pan. And we mean completely. If you miss a spot, the cake will stick. Take your time and if you see even a tiny open spot, you need to fix it. This won’t take long, but no one likes a cake with chunks missing, even if it is one of the best tasting cakes they have ever had. And we are betting this will be one of the best cakes you’ve ever had. Merry Christmas from all of us here at Putney Farm!ginger8

    gingerGingerbread Cake:

    (Adapted from Gramercy Tavern and Smitten Kitchen)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use a bundt-style pan, a ring pan or use loaf pans for the cake.
    • The cake is better the second day and should keep a few days. It is very good toasted or made into French toast.

    What You Get: Very moist, spicy and funky gingerbread. If you like molasses, you will love this cake.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? About 90 minutes with 30 minutes active time. With planning, an anytime dish.

    Continue reading

  • A Few Christmas Cocktails


    The Back Word Cocktail. Maybe we can add peppercorn “ornaments” next time.

    The big day is almost here, and in the moments between shopping, gift wrapping, partying, pulling your hair out, decorating and cooking we suggest you take the time to have a well-made cocktail with special family and friends. Taking a few minutes to put on some music, pick the recipe, pull out the glasses and mix the drinks will soothe your soul. And you get a tasty drink and good company out of the deal, a very merry Christmas indeed! (And if Hanukkah is your gig, then please try the Bees Knees.)

    backword4So what to drink? It all depends on your taste. We like gin and it is the holiday season. Gin does taste a bit like a Christmas tree (all that juniper), so we may toss in some winter citrus and mix up a classic like the Aviation or a Pegu Club. We also like champagne and spice, so a Seelbach is an almost perfect holiday cocktail, and a good choice for bourbon fans. If you like rye whiskey and deep flavor, then the Sazerac, with it’s bright red color and strong kick will bring out your inner Rudolph (2 or 3 Sazeracs will make you think you’re Rudolph, but you’re not).  Cold? Try a toddy like the Tammany Jack. If you want a lighter, aperitif-style cocktail then a Calla Lily, Chrysanthemum, or our variant, the Flowers For Sonja would be a good choice. And if you just need a cold, hard dose of booze (and sometimes we do), then a dry Martini will always do the trick.

    martini3But what if you want to experiment? Maybe impress your guests with a secret ingredient? Well, there are plenty of places to look. Fred Yarm’s Cocktail Virgin Slut is one of the leading cocktail blogs with literally hundreds of innovative recipes from the best bars in Boston. He also has a companion book, Drink and Tell. If you get a few good bottles of booze, pick up Drink and Tell and mix away. Other good web references include the Mixology Monday series of themed online cocktails parties, Drinks at Serious Eats, Liquor.com, Saveur and Cocktail Chronicles all have large libraries of new and old cocktails. And CocktailDB has a huge list of classic drinks, just be ready to sort through a lot of recipes!

    dback3Before you start, remember that making cocktails is just like making a good dinner for family and friends, just faster (and slower, if you follow). Look at the booze you have, your fridge and your spice drawer. Maybe you have a few herbs in the garden, or some fresh fruit? Seek out a little inspiration (or a challenge), think of what you and your guests like, and then get going. You will be glad you did.

    Required summer reading.

    Required holiday reading.

    And if you need a little help getting started, here are a few of our favorites that encompass the old and the new, the simple and complex. And we have one new recipe, The Back Word, that we think clearly fits the holiday theme. Have fun and Merry Christmas!

    backword5The Back Word:

    (From Drink and Tell and Backbar in Boston)


    1. 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
    2. 3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
    3. 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
    4. 1/4 oz. Luxardo cherry jar syrup (or brandied cherry syrup)
    5. Lemon peel, for garnish
    6. Rosemary, for garnish


    1. Combine the liquid ingredients with ice in a cocktail glass or shaker. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe.
    2. Cut a small slit in the middle of the lemon peel and insert a sprig of rosemary in the peel. Float the peel on the top of the drink and serve. Continue reading