As city-based CSA member, I'm on the receiving end of a long process. Vegetables, fruit, flowers and eggs just magically show up every week at my CSA drop-site in Brooklyn, leaving me with very vague notions of the machinations behind the mesclun mix.
A recent trip out to my CSA source, Garden of Eve Farm, finally unveiled some of the hard work and careful planning that go into each bulb of fennel and head of cabbage I nestle into my weekly totebag of goodies.
Since they're responsible for literally hundreds of families' vegetable deliveries on a weekly basis, Chris and Eve need to simultaneously tend to innumerable everyday details of running a farm (like all those little weeds sprouting up every week) and think through the larger farm-strategy issues (like scheduling their labor and plant-growth cycles).
Every week, they need to harvest enough veggies to supply their farmstand, stock the various farmers' market stands and make sure all those CSA members are happy and well-fed.
In this video, Chris talks a little bit about how he fills the weekly CSA orders and the why the September CSA shares are, surprisingly, some of the most challenging shares of the season.
If you'd like to see the whole tasty farm tour in photo form, click here for the Garden of Eve Farm flickr set.
One of the most interesting things I learned while visiting Garden of Eve Farm just recently is the way that small-scale organic veggie farmers like Chris and Eve are looking to the technology of yesterday to help them streamline their work today.
All-Crop Combine in the back, New Holland (a seeder, I think) up in the front.
When you really think about it, this makes sense. It wasn't until after WWII that American farmers started using industrial pesticides and fertilizers.
That brave new world made greater yields possible, and US food prices dropped. There was much rejoicing, and the decades since that time have increasingly been devoted to developing equipment for a different kind of farm altogether: the large-scale commercial farm.
I believe this one is an old mechanical spader from Celli, an Italian company
So these days, looking to the farm equipment of the 1930s, 40s and 50s really does seem like smart a way to give small family farmers access to the height of technology in those years when "organic" farming practices were the norm.
In this video, Chris talks about how he tracked down his All-Crop Combine, a machine that's remarkable for its ability to harvest everything from large seeds like soybeans to even itty-bitty flower seeds.
And I must admit, Chris' All-Crop is a pretty cool machine. If you want to learn more about it, there are groups devoted to the admiration of old combines like this one. I particularly like the antique advertising displays at this site.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was up at Coach Farm in Upstate New York last Friday. In the days since, I've been trying to wrangle all the video clips together into a watchable form.
Thus far, I've got a quick video that illustrates how they're doing a brand-new product: ricotta cheese.
If you're a cheese person, you already know that ricotta is a classically useful product for cheesemakers because it's made with the cast-offs of the cheesemaking process: the whey.
Coach Farm is doing their ricotta in the same old-fashioned way that Italy's alpine farmers do it:
1. Collect the whey in a pot and heat it to 180°F (they're also adding in some milk to make it creamier). 2. Add an agent (rennet or an acid) to help the curds form. 3. Collect the curds in cheesecloth and allow to drain.
Simple, right? So simple you could do it on the side of a mountain over an open flame... which is what I saw when I went to Italy last year.
In that case, the farmer first made pecorino cheese and then reheated the leftover whey to make a delicious ricotta. You'll notice the environs are a little different.
I'll repost that video below the Coach Farm one for comparison.
When you open an older coconut, you need to dig in the toolbox for a hammer. On the other hand, opening a young coconut (sometimes called "green coconut") is much easier: a sharp knife and a level surface usually do the trick.
In this how-to video you can watch me take a sharp knife (and a not-so-level surface) and open a young coconut.
Well, to be truthful... I eventually get the coconut open. There's some coconut chopping hijinks in the middle there.
Some people shave the white husk away to get at the nut inside. I usually have good luck with getting a wedge in, but I think extending my arms and working on a wooden tray rather than a cutting board were maybe not my best moves.
Thus, I have to stress the need for a steady, sturdy cutting surface. It's a must when using a knife. Nobody wants to their chop hands instead of their food.
Oh... and I owe beoucoup thanks to J, my steady-handed camera guy.
Once you actually get inside the coconut, the coconut water is cool and delicious, and the soft flesh is a sweet, creamy delight when added to coconut curries, blended into Thai-style coconut soup, puréed into smoothies/frozen drinks (daiquiris, anyone?) and mixed into the pretty green chutney I made last week.
This savory little treat is overdue, but tasty nevertheless... and since it's an ideal choice for New Year's Eve appetizers, I think now's the right time to unveil it.
Behold! Snazzy grilled cheese as done by Anne Saxelby, charming monger of the Essex Street Market.
This video was captured at this year's NYC International Pickle Festival, back when short sleeved shirts and light summer dresses were appropriate attire. (Oh, how I pine for the sun!)
Saxelby's Snazzy Grilled Cheese Good sliced bread Olive oil for drizzling Puréed pickled peppers (Anne uses Rick's Picks Peppi Pep Peps) Thin slices of feta cheese
1. Lay out two slices of bread and drizzle olive oil on one side of one of the slices. 2. Spread about a tablespoon of pureed pickled peppers on that same slice of bread. 3. Stack two thin slices of feta cheese atop the pickled pepper puree. 4. Top the stack with the other slice of bread and toast the sandwich in a hot panini grill for 2 to 3 minutes. 5. Slice into quarters and serve immediately.
You may ask yourself, why would this sandwich make a good New Year's Eve treat? Good question!
Salty, rich foods often go well with drier bubbly sips, so when you crack open the Champagne (or maybe try a Spanish Cava this year... it's just as festive and waaay cheaper), I'd urge you to consider serving up a few wedges of Anne's Grilled Cheese as a cheesy, cheery pairing partner. Delight ensured.
May the new year be healthy, happy and even more delicious than the last.
I cooked with Dave Sclarow at Tabla back in the day. He was always a pretty handy guy and a solid cook (he's now running the kitchen at Lunetta in Brooklyn), but he recently got in the NY Times and various other publications for what essentially amounts to a novelty act: he built a wood-fired pizza oven on a flat-bed trailer.
Voila! It's porta-pizza!
Now you can catch him at the Brooklyn Flea on Sundays. Mom and I were there for the first pie outta the oven a couple of weekends ago. Here's the quick and dirty how-to video:
I swear I'll someday feature something other than cheese-based foods in my food videos.
It's not every day a girl gets to play with 600 pounds of meat and a smoker the size of a Humvee.
I'm going to back up for a second and tell you this: Every year at work — and this is a food company, mind you — we've eaten the same thing.
Burgers, dogs, chips and watermelon.
Not this year. This year, we were going to eat corn on the cob, saucy ribs, salmon grilled on cedar planks and pulled pork barbecue. Real barbecue. On a real smoker.
But for 1,000 people, one needs a lot of meat and a really big smoker, and as you may have noticed... those aren't available at every corner bodega.
Thus, the quest for real barbecue at our picnic wasn't looking good until someone noticed that Harry's Water Taxi Beach just happens to host a really big smoker.
You're going to need a lot of wood...
The game was on. We needed supplies. A lot of supplies. This turned into an Excel Spreadsheet. A thousand hungry people is nothing you want to tinker with. Details needed to be decided. Among other things, my boss (initiator and executor of this wild scheme) demanded:
200 lb Pork Butts 75 lb Pork Shoulder 50 lb Pork Ribs 40 lb Pork Belly 250 Packages of Potato Rolls 10 gallons of Barbecue Mop 2 Mops 1 Quart Kosher Salt 1 First Aid Kit...
And that's just a sampling. Simply planning out and gathering up the supply list was a monster proposition.
21 dry-aged steaks. You've gotta have snacks while you work.
Let yourself go... low and slow, that is the tempo.
The night arrived, the crew assembled, the supplies were delivered, the fire was lit, and... I'll just let you watch the extremely condensed version of our 12+ hour smoking party in this quick video.
And was it good? Was it worth it? Oh, yes. Best. Company picnic. Ever.
But you don't need 500 pounds of meat and a smoker of epic proportions to make good barbecue.
In my estimation, what you really need is a manageable smoker, a nice pork butt, a bunch of wood, a lot of free time and Paul Kirk's awesome barbecue book, full of recipes for barbecue mops, rubs, sauces and more. Kirk is the man.
Meanwhile, if you want yet more barbecue madness, you can see the full photo set at Flickr.
As surmised, last week Cupcake was visiting the handsome polar bear at the Musée d'Orsay. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Be the envy of your friends and the bane of your enemies by posting a guess in the comments.
Vertical Farms for Urban Areas Critics question zucchini-in-the-sky visions: “Would a tomato in lower Manhattan be able to outbid an investment banker for space in a high-rise?”
I'm afraid you'll start to believe I'm a bit cheese-obsessed. I assure you, the theme is entirely coincidental. I swear the next video will be about something other than cheese.
Meanwhile, I have to say, this is really my favorite clip yet, featuring some truly charming Italian sheep and goats I met in the mountains of Abruzzo while on a farm stay near Sora, Italy. They were excellent actors, all. Very cooperative.
You'll notice that, in making the cheese, the shepherd uses nothing more than milk in a big, black cauldron, a stick(!), some sheep's stomach and coarse salt. That's it. There's a campfire on hand for making ricotta, which is a byproduct of his pecorino processing.
Aside from the shepherd's snazzy threads, there's very little here that's any different from the way people have been making cheese for thousands of years.
Looks easy, no? But before you go and get yourself a herd of your own, know this: the shepherd and his wife get up before dawn every day to do this. Weekends. Holidays. Every day. There's no vacation from a herd of sheep and goats.
Meanwhile, I secreted a wheel of this very cheese back to the states in my luggage and am going to ask Anne Saxelby to nestle it in her cave to age for a bit. We'll see how it tastes after it's had a few months to rest.
Spotting a fine sale on washed spinach last week, my thoughts turned to darkness... as in the rich green darkness one finds in a pot of long-simmered spinach.
"Great Scott!" I cried, "It's a sign from the food gods! I will make palek paneer!" (I'm sure this sort of thing happens to everyone, no?)
I realize that for those who haven't spent a lot of time staring at Indian take-out menus, palek paneer might sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. For zealots (myself included) it translates more like this: "really tasty spiced and slow-cooked spinach (palek) with cubes of very mild, creamy white cheese (paneer)"
The real problem with palek paneer is the spinach. If you've ever cooked creamed spinach, you know that a big pile of it wilts down to practically nothing. For this dish to be worth the effort, you need a bushel of spinach.
But one large produce sale and three bulky 10oz bags of spinach later, the fridge was stuffed with greenery and I was ready to get my simmer on.
First, the Palek
If you have a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that can be put into service as a spice grinder), it's really best to use whole spices for Indian dishes. They're more flavorful, and we're looking for flavor when we add spice to a dish.
That said, if you can't grind your spices, go with pre-ground, but keep in mind that you might need to use extra spice to flavor the dish properly.
So-Simple Palek Paneer (Feeds six, if served with rice)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric 1/2 tsp ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (if you like it spicy)
Heat in a heavy bottomed stock pot or skillet:
1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil (or ghee, if you prefer)
Add the spice blend to the pan and allow it to heat for 30 seconds.
Add to the pan:
2 small onions, diced (about 1 cup) 1 jalapeno pepper, halved and sliced thin 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or minced) 1 tsp salt
Saute until onions are translucent, and add to the pan:
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 1 28oz can diced tomatoes)
Bring the mixture to a simmer and add (in several batches, if the spinach is fresh)
30 oz fresh spinach (washed and chopped) OR 2 8oz boxes frozen spinach
Simmer mixture, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. While this cooks down, make the paneer. (See paneer how-to, below.)
Uncover pot and season the mixture to taste.
At this point, you may wish to make your palek smooth by using an immersion blender (or cool off the mixture and blend it in a traditional blender.) I don't mind a little visible fiber, so I generally skip this step.
If the mixture seems too thin, simmer another 15-20 minutes to reduce to your desired thickness.
Before serving, gently fold paneer cubes into the palek. Heat 2-3 minutes more.
Serve with a basmati pilaf, assorted chutneys and naan or chapati, if desired.
Variations: Chickpea lovers (you know who you are) may wish to add a 14oz can (drained) while the spinach simmers, and those who aren't dairy-eaters can certainly substitute tofu cubes for the paneer — though they'll miss out on all the fun of making paneer, of course.
All About Paneer...
A coworker recently asked me about making paneer. It took about 15 seconds to explain the process. "And that's it?" was his incredulous response. Yup. That's it.
The fact is, paneer, like all farmer cheese, is embarrassingly simple to make. I say "embarrassingly" because once you make it yourself, you'll be mortified at the thought of ever having paid money for someone else to make your paneer. That's how easy it is.
Paneer-like farmer cheeses can be found wherever milk is found (as it turns out, people all over the world come to roughly similar conclusions when confronted with surplus milk) and considering how simple (and frankly, how fun) it is to make fresh cheeses, I'm a little surprised it's not a part of everyone's standard home-cooking routine.
I learned how to make paneer using coconut vinegar, but honestly, any tasty acid will work just fine.
I've made a video to demonstrate the process, but in case you're one of those rare people who enjoy reading, the instructions are written out below.
Warning: This is my first cooking video. It's hand-held and done without a prepared script, so it's a bit rough. I promise these will get better...
So then, you'll need:
1 quart of whole milk the juice of two lemons a triple-layered sheet of cheese cloth (or a clean, thin cotton towel)
Rest the towel or cheese cloth in a colander.
Heat the milk in a saucepan to hot, but not boiling (it will steam).
While stirring the milk, pour in the lemon juice. The mixture should clot as you stir. Drain the coagulated solids through the cloth in the colander. Gather the hot curd into a packet, and when it's cool enough to handle, press it into a block, squeezing out any excess liquid. Cool down your block of paneer and slice it into cubes for use in recipes. (You may wish to weigh it down beneath a cutting board to extract excess liquid and make the paneer more firm.)