Archive for January, 2013

a home slaughter – guest post by my brother

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

 

My brother, Brad Atwood, lives in South Royalton, Vermont, in an old yellow farmhouse flanked by grand maple trees and shouldered by rolling meadows, in which stand his small herd of Scotch Highland cattle.  Brad recently invited me up to witness the finish of one of his steer.  Fascinated but squeamish, I chose not to go, but asked Brad to write a post about the experience.  Brad practices law in Hanover, New Hampshire when he’s not tossing bales of hay to the shaggy brood.  He also has four kids; the youngest, Bruce, is fourteen.

 

 

Bruce edited a school newspaper (Sharon Academy, Sharon, VT.) last year on the politics of local, national and global food policy, in which he presented the virtues of home-slaughtering farm-raised animals.  Bruce’s paper, written with his friend, Chris, is printed at the bottom of the blog.

 

Here is my brother’s account of his own home slaughter last Thursday.

 

 

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, please take your fight elsewhere. I am writing for the silent majority of omnivores who are not giving up meat any time soon, but who still care deeply about how this important food source is raised and ultimately slaughtered for our consumption.

Chet Miller and his son arrived at my Sharon, Vermont farm early one recent frigid January morning. The sky was blindingly clear and the snow squeaked in the subzero temperature as I marched across the farmyard driveway to greet them. Chet climbed out of his pick-up truck and pulled out the tools of his trade – sharp knives, block and tackle, electric chainsaw and a 30/30 rifle. He quickly got to work. “So, which one will it be?” Chet asked, looking over at my small herd of grass fed Scottish Highland cattle (known as “Hippie cows” by Vermont farmers for their long, hairy coats) who were otherwise interested only in that morning’s feeding of hay. “It’s the big red steer by the fence,” I answered uncomfortably, pointing to a large 2 1/2 year old male peacefully chewing on last summer’s grass crop. I was feeling uncomfortable, you see, because I had just signed the animal’s death warrant.

Chet belongs to what is really a noble and time-honored guild; a profession still actively carried out in Vermont and other rural areas across New England. Chet is the man you call to come to your farm to slaughter the animals you have raised, frequently since birth, for food. He is a consummate, skilled professional who kills your animal as humanely as possible, then skins, eviscerates and breaks it down into fore and hind quarters, ready to be wrapped in plastic sheeting and driven to the butcher for further processing. Chet and his son are very busy these days. In my area, on-farm slaughtering is a growth industry, as consumers become better educated about the meat they eat and how it was raised and slaughtered. All four of my own children have diligently read Michael Pollan’s highly recommended book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (my youngest, Bruce, now 14, read it in 5th grade). We, too, decided to “walk the walk” and raise and slaughter our own beef.

On-farm slaughtering is highly respectful of the animal. It avoids the real trauma of transporting a creature (who has known no other home but the pastures of your farm) by trailer to a “USDA approved” slaughterhouse where it lives out its last remaining days in the completely alien environment of dank, dark crowded holding pens. By contrast, the Highland steer Chet killed for me knew no fear when it died. There was no surge of adrenaline which can toughen the meat. It is never easy to take a life, but this cow had lived a very good one. Let’s face it, if you are going to eat meat, some animal’s death is inevitable. Doing so in a respectful manner is not only more humane, but arguably provides better quality meat. Chet dispatched my steer with a single point-blank rifle shot between the eyes. He literally never knew what hit him while quietly feeding in the same pasture, and with the same herd members, it had known since birth.

After Chet shot the steer, I raised the carcass off the ground with a tractor for clean, safe skinning and quartering. Asked whether I wanted the “hanger steak” (who would not?), I quickly said yes. So, too, the tongue, liver and heart. Chet took the hide and head. I hauled the remainder of the entrails in the tractor’s bucket to drop along the edge of the woods as a welcome winter feast for the coyotes, ravens and other local wildlife. Carefully wrapped in plastic sheeting, I drove the two fore and hind quarters in the back of my pick-up truck to the butcher, where the steer weighed in at 463 pounds. After hanging and aging for ten days, he will custom cut the carcasses into constituent steaks, roasts and hamburger (all individually wrapped and frozen) to feed my family until next year, when Chet returns and the endless cycle of life and death on a farm continues.

 

 

On-Farm Slaughter: Unclean or Pristine?

By Chris Gish and Bruce Atwood

Since the 1970’s, the meat industry has trended away from the traditional small farm towards fewer, but much larger, corporate farm complexes. Today, the Food and Water Watch reports that four corporations, Tyson, Cargill, Swift, and National Beef Packing process 84% of all beef in America in huge, mechanized slaughterhouses (Estabrook). However, some people wish to buck this trend and continue the old fashioned way of raising meat. An integral part of this method is slaughter and processing, and many see slaughtering on the farm as the most desirable technique.

On-farm slaughter, the practice of killing livestock in the same place as it was raised, has generated deep controversy between Vermont and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in recent years.  The state of Vermont has passed legislation encouraging on-farm slaughter, but USDA oversight prevented many of these reforms from becoming law. In 2007, Vermont passed the so called “Chicken Bill”, which allowed small scale poultry farmers to slaughter and process birds for sale to consumers without needing a state inspected facility (Farm Fresh Meat).  Vermont went a step further in 2008, when it legislated the Farm Fresh Meat bill, aimed at encouraging meat production on small farms.  This act would allow customers to buy meat animals live, though the animals would continue to live the rest of their life on the original farm.  These animals could then be slaughtered and processed on the farm, without the need for an inspected facility (Ancel). However, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, upon reviewing the Farm Fresh Meat bill, divested it of many key provisions. The revised law only allows on-farm slaughter under the individual and custom exemptions. One qualifies for the individual exemption if the meat is consumed only by the farmer, his/her family, employees, or un-paying guests. The custom exemption allows farmers to sell meat slaughtered on the farm if the animal is slaughtered by an approved custom slaughterer in a VTAA (Vermont Agency of Agriculture) approved sanitary custom slaughter facility (McNamara). The USDA revisions have taken away many of the benefits of on-farm slaughter for small farmers, as it is laborious and expensive to fund a certified slaughterer and facility.

The USDA cites safety as its main concern in restricting the legality of on-farm slaughter. The USDA and other food safety organizations claim that on-farm slaughter in an uncertified facility increases the risk of tainted meat. Traditionally, many small farmers slaughtered their animals in no facility at all, it was common practice to hang the carcass from a tree limb or tractor bucket and process it there, where it may have been exposed to flies and other undesirables. These operations were obviously not “clean” in the sense that they occured in a place that can be wiped down and sanitized, and the USDA could not inspect these activities to fulfill their role in ensuring the safety of the public’s food.  Because of this, the USDA decided to only allow on-farm slaughtered meat to be sold if the livestock was killed in a facility inspected to ensure its safety. Additionally, on-farm slaughter leaves one with the task of disposing the entrails from the carcass, a potential contamination hazard for surrounding land and waterways. Inspected slaughterhouses, on the other hand, must adhere to rigorous safety standards regarding proper waste disposal (Larson).

Many small farmers are frustrated with the USDA’s changes to this law, as it hinders their effort to make a profit selling local meat. Due to small size, it is often prohibitively expensive and laborious to operate an inspected slaughter facility on the farm, and to become a certified slaughterer. In such cases, the USDA suggests instead sending the animals to a larger, fully USDA certified slaughterhouse. However, many small farmers find this option less than ideal, for large slaughterhouses are often quite a distance from the farm.  Transporting livestock long distances is known to increase stress levels in the animals. Additionally, animals sometimes must stay a few days alive at the slaughterhouse prior to being killed. Often times this occurs in less than desirable conditions, adding even more stress to the animal (Estabrook). Many feel that the higher animal stress levels engendered by taking the animals to a slaughterhouse make this method less than humane. Conversely, killing the animal on the farm gives it the feeling of being perfectly at home and content before its life is quickly and humanely taken. Many also believe that raising an animal on pasture and slaughtering on the farm is safer and far less of a health risk than the methods of large farms and slaughterhouses.  It is common practice at these large factory farms for animals for the animals to spend their entire life amid their own waste, which often cakes onto the hide. Some also contend that slaughtering livestock on the farm is an integral part of promoting local food, for it cannot be very local if the animal was slaughtered 100 miles away, no matter how close to the consumer it was raised.  Moreover, many see the open, completely transparent nature of on-farm slaughter as one of its foremost benefits.  At a conventional slaughterhouse, killing and processing take place indoors, where it is invisible to the public, whereas slaughter on the farm would be completely visible to any customer.  This provides many with a certain peace of mind, being able to see for certain that your animal was killed and processed cleanly and humanely, instead of just hoping that the slaughterhouse processed your animal satisfactorily.

Our food system has changed more in the last 60 years than it has changed in any other time period. We move increasingly away from our tradition, always in an attempt to escape the reality of our food and where it comes from. However, what some people are finding is that maybe our ancestors had it right, and small, simple farms are the way to go.  To allow such small farms to flourish in providing meat to our population, some believe slaughtering on the farm must once again play a crucial role

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Ancel, Janet. “Legislative Documents.” Vermont Legislature. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2012. <http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/legdoc.cfm?URL=/docs/2008/bills/intro/H-749.HTM>.
  2. Estabrook, Barry. ” USDA Red Tape Stands in the Way of Humane Slaughter Techniques and Local, Sustainable Meat Production .” Politics of the Plate. N.p., 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. <http://politicsoftheplate.com/?p=212>.”Farm Fresh Meat | Rural Vermont.” Rural Vermont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. <http://www.ruralvermont.org/issues-main/ffmeat/>.
  3. “Farm Fresh Meat | Rural Vermont.” Rural Vermont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. <http://www.ruralvermont.org/issues-main/ffmeat/>.
  4. Larson, Jean. “Disposal of Dead Production Animals.” usda.gov. USDA, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2012. <www.nal.usda.gov/awic/pubs/carcass.htm>.
  5. McNamara, Katherine. “Update on On-Farm Slaughter.” Vermont Agriculture. Vermont Agency of Agriculture, 15 Dec. 2010. Web. 19 Jan. 2012. <vermontagriculture.com/fscp/meatInspection/documents/update_on_farm_slaughter.pdf>.

 

note:  Chet told my brother that more than once he has returned to a farm a year after a slaughter, seen the cows lift their heads at his truck’s arrival, and they’ve turned and run.

All photos here by Caroline Atwood

 

baked Greek yogurt, poached egg and kale pesto

Friday, January 25th, 2013

 

This homey little dish – baked Greek yogurt with kale pesto and a poached egg – I saw the blog “All Things Considered Yummy;”  I think this is a little bit of genius.

Baked Greek Yogurt is a Greek thing; it didn’t come out of nowhere.  Top it with a poached egg, and kale pesto, and you have a West Village kind of breakfast: warm, spicy, unctuous, and so homey it’s hip.  The yogurt becomes a warm, crumby ricotta-like texture.  The pesto is a punch of vitamins and zest; the egg is the luxury.  I use no-fat Greek yogurt so check calorie-spare on this recipe box.  I shake smoked paprika and drizzle chili oil over all, and my daughters and I call it dinner.

Kale, by the way, is having its day.  Kale Caesar salad is everywhere, and kale “pesto” is right behind it.   But I’m happy for these kale updates, happy for anything vividly green and flavorful in January.

Of course, this whole idea begs to be adapted.  Change up the pesto how you like.  Use walnuts instead.  Go with basil if you can find some.  Sprinkle the Middle Eastern spice blend, Dukkah, now available at Trader Joes, and toasted sesame seeds over the eggs for a Turkish variation.

 

 

This is a small winter meal or a large snack begging to be eaten with a fingerless gloves, a scruffy wool cap, before you take the dog out for a walk on Washington Square.

 

Baked Greek Yogurt, poached egg and kale pesto

 

Ingredients

4 cups no-fat Greek Yogurt

4 poached eggs

1 recipe Kale pesto (see below)

smoked paprika (optional)

chili oil (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put 1 cup of yogurt each into individual custard cups.  Bake yogurt approximately 20 minutes, until hot and slightly firm.

Poach eggs according to your favorite recipe.  I heat two inches of water in a shallow pan, and add a tablespoon of white vinegar.  When water is simmering, I crack the egg into a custard cup, and then tip the egg down into the simmering water.  Cook to desired doneness.

Make the kale pesto.

To assemble dish:  remove custard cups from the oven.   Slide one poached egg upon each serving of yogurt.  Add a spoonful of kale pesto, and sprinkle with paprika and chili oil.  Serve immediately.

 

Kale Pesto

Ingredients

1 bunch toscano kale, about 8 ounces

1 garlic clove

1/3 shelled pistachios

juice of 1 small lemon

1/3 cup Pecorino cheese, grated

red pepper flakes

1/2 cup olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

Put all the ingredients except olive oil into a food processor and process until mixed.  With the processor going, slowly drizzle in olive oil.  Add more olive oil if you like it creamier.  Taste for salt and pepper.

 

 

 

 

Lemon Curd and Raspberry Cream Puffs

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

 

Cream puffs, a sweet, light, creamy filling hiding within a poof of architecture, never stop wowing.  They taste as beautiful as they look.  And remember this:  pate a choux – the “puff” in cream puffs –  is the easiest thing in the world to make; ratio of ease to ooooh!’s? – 1:10.

Valentines Day is less than a month away.  If you’re reading this blog, you will probably soon be thinking about baking for someone you love a dessert – something sensual, wonton, almost profligate, something Valentine’s Day-ey.   Cream puffs are all that, and they’re easy, a valentine in its way to yourself.

 

 

Filled with a simple stabilized whipped cream, into which is folded either raspberry jam or lemon curd, these cream puffs  are easier to make and lighter to taste than the traditional custard filling.   The whipped cream is just a billow of sweet raspberry or tart lemon wafting beneath the buttresses of the pate a choux structure.   They can be filled 2-3 hours in advance.  Wait longer and that wonderful egg, butter and flour edifice begins to sag, but they still taste pretty delicious.

Dust the lemon curd version with confectionary sugar; dust the raspberry cream puffs with both cocoa powder and confectionary sugar; the chocolate here may be light but it meets up with the raspberry in an important, even romantic, way.

 

 

 

Lemon Curd and Raspberry Cream Puffs

makes 10 puffs

Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup butter, cubed

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

filling recipe

confectionary sugar and cocoa powder for dusting

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil. Add flour all at once, stirring until a smooth ball forms. Remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture is smooth.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls – I use a very small ice cream scoop –  3 in. apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, or greased. Bake at 400° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks.

This is important:  Immediately split puffs and remove tops;  Set puffs and tops aside to cool.  This will prevent the puffs from steaming, thus becoming soft.

Fill cream puffs; replace tops. Dust with lemon curd puffs with sifted confectionary sugar, and raspberry puffs with cocoa and confectionary sugar.

 

Fillings

ingredients

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon gelatin

2 tablespoons water

1/2 – 3/4 cup raspberry jam OR lemon curd

Instructions

Soften gelatin in water.  Warm water at low heat just to melt the gelatin.  Do not let it boil.  Let cool slightly.

Whip cream to soft peaks.  Pour in gelatin, and mix to combine.  Fold in raspberry jam or lemon curd.

Hoirino me Selino, Avgolemono soup becomes a stew

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

 

 

 

A delicious D’Artagnan Heritage ham, from a pig raised organically at the foothills of the Ozark mountains, has been feeding my family since New Years Day, when it generously served twelve, including a few very tall men.  Since then our ham has been the inspiration for at least four – if not five – family meals.  Today I made a ham version of hoirino me selino, a Greek pork and celery stew finished with the egg and lemon mixture that makes Avgolemono so lemony and luxurious.

 

 

I didn’t think I liked ham; I stopped eating the grocery store stuff long ago because is seemed to be nothing more than a fleshy load of calories, just a benign but fattening platform for mayonnaise in a sandwich or pineapple in a glaze.

Our ham is different.  To include even a modest amount of our D’Artagnan ham in a dish means to almost dangerously ramp up the flavor, adding a woodsy, nutty, sweet taste so bold it could use a leash.

 

Our ham’s palette ranges from pale pink to ruby red, meaning the pig moved in its life; it walked, rummaged, rolled, and rooted, therefore producing myoglobin in its muscles, which makes meat dark.  Experts stake happy nutritional claims on organically raised, additive-free pigs, claims like the meat is as good as olive oil at raising good cholesterol levels and lowering bad.  Like humanely raised, well-fed pork has plenty of omega 3‘s.  Like pigs that can move freely have leaner meat.  (My ham is lean; there’s almost no fat to trim, and there’s no almost fat left in the pan after it’s browned.)

My daughter said the other day, finishing a dinner of ham sauteed with broccoli over quinoa, “I love our pig.”

A well raised Heritage breed ham, although a little pricey, is still a great economic and nutritional purchase for a family.   It promises many quick, healthy dinners, flavor unleashed.

For a great book about everything pig, read Pig Perfect, encounters with remarkable swine and some great ways to cook them, by Peter Kaminsky.

Two excellent sources for a heritage ham are D’Artagnan  and Heritage Foods, USA  

For another great dish to make with your ham try this.

 

 

 

 

 

Hoirino me Selino

 

serves 4-6

 

Ingredients

 

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 – 3 cups chopped ham

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 leeks, quartered and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups chicken broth

2 eggs

1/4 cup lemon juice

salt (to taste, but be careful; you’re ham may be salty enough)

pepper (be generous)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

 

Instructions

Heat a large skillet to medium high.  Add olive oil and butter.  Let heat, and add ham.  Cook and toss until ham is browned. Remove from pan to a bowl or plate.

Add onion and leeks to pan, adding more butter if the pan is too dry.  Lower heat to medium, and saute onion and leek until soft, about five minutes.  Sprinkle in flour, and stir well.  Add chicken broth and celery, and simmer for ten minutes.

Stir ham back into dish, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes.

Beat eggs in a small bowl, and add lemon juice.  Pour a small amount of egg mixture into the ham, and stir in quickly.  On low heat, add the remaining egg, and stir well.

Add parsley, red pepper flakes and taste for salt and pepper.  Serve hot over white or brown rice.

 

 

 

The Appleton Farm Dairy Store: local milk, butter, & cheese

Monday, January 14th, 2013

 

“- until the cows come home,” means every afternoon around 2:30 in Ipswich.  A herd of thirty eight registered Jerseys come home to the dairy barn at Appleton Farms, the oldest continuously operating farm in America, a Trustees of Reservations Property.  The Appleton Farms Dairy Store, open to the public seven days a week, is now selling honest local terroir:  triple creme, cheddar cheeses, Greek yogurt, and delicate cultured butters, produced on the farm itself, with milk from the Appleton Farm Jerseys.

 

 

Heads bobbing, hip bones pointy from calving, full udders swaying, the gentle Appleton herd, anxious for the few cups of grain that rewards them as patient milkers, begin their languid march from pasture to barn at sundown, as dairy cows have done in paintings, prose, and poetry since we began eating cheese.  The slow pokes and day dreamers get prodded by Appleton Farm Dairy Manager, Scott Rowe (pictured below) and assistant Justin Sterling with a “hee-ah!” and a “git-up!”

 

 

Doe-eyed, soft cupped ears at attention, these chestnut beasts live well.  Except for milking (4:30 in the morning and 2:30 in the afternoon), they spend their time outdoors, eating a diet of 100 percent Ipswich hay, baled either on the 1,000 Appleton acres or on farms nearby.

“The goal is to make the cows as comfortable as possible, and to give them choices – when they can lie down, eat and drink,” Rowe explains.  Smelling of clean wood and sweet hay, the “tie-stall”-style barn allows enough room for the cows to lie down if they choose; it was once believed that prone cows produce better milk.

 

 

A particular Appleton Farms problem, the stalls, built originally for guernseys, are a little too high for the smaller Jerseys, who make a good show of hopping eight inches up to their places at milking time; some are more graceful than others.

Grass-fed, comfortable cows, Rowe says, translate into delicious milk.

“Our milk is tested by the state and by independent agents for protein, fat, and somatic cell count,” or the white cell count that indicates infection, classically mastitis, which plagues dairy farmers.  The Appleton herd’s somatic count is regularly 86,000 parts per million; “100,000 parts per million,” Rowe says,”is excellent.”

Milk from grass fed cows is considered nutritionally superior to their grain-fed brethren, as cows are basically machines translating the vitamins, linoleic acids (known to fight cancer) and omega 3 fatty acids of local grasses into cold glasses of sweet milk.  According to Appleton farms, Jersey cows metabolize hay more efficiently than larger breeds, allowing the highest yield of milk with a smaller carbon footprint.  (Appleton Farms, using a variety of methods – solar, electric vehicles, and organic farming –  prides itself on being almost carbon-neutral.)

 

 

Arlene Brokaw, Appleton Farms master cheese maker, rules the new stainless steel-plated creamery, separating curds from whey, pressing, salting, and then delivering the fresh milk tommes to the caves, dark rooms where mold, moisture, and time alchemize all into sharp, winey, crumbly cheddars and chalky, velvety rounds of triple creme.

 

 

 

Milk production varies but currently Brokaw is producing 600 to 700 gallons of cheese and yogurt a week.

 

 

Nine generations of Appletons farmed this 1,000 acres of rolling pastures ribboned by old stone walls and woodlands since 1636; Joan Appleton, heir-less, in 1998 donated the property and multiple buildings to The Trustees of Reservations, who promised to restore it as a working farm, “to engage people in real work,” Holly Hannaway, TTOR educator, told me.

“Appleton Farms always had a history of a dairy; in the 1860‘s, James Fuller Appleton had been instrumental in introducing the Jersey breed, valued for its high butterfat content, to the United States; we wondered, can we be a small American dairy again?”

In 2011, Appleton Farms, through the local Puleo dairy, began bottling and distributing its own milk in those cherished glass bottles.  The dairy processing operation was the last piece to being economically viable; what to do with a surplus of milk?  – what dairy farmers have known for centuries: transform it into valuable cheese, all of which can be purchased at the new dairy store on the Appleton Farms property.

Hannaway reminds that the store will be focused on dairy.  “It’s not to compete with but to compliment local agriculture in the community.  The cheese operation teaches how you can use land to compliment community.”   – those beautiful Appleton Farms meadows have economic and cultural value beyond the pleasures of landscape.

Along with Appleton Farms milk (skim, 1%, and whole) and staple dairy products – triple creme cheese, cheddar, cultured butter, and non-cultured butter, herbed rounds, and occasional surprises like fresh ricotta or Asiago –  the store will also support local vendors:  Topsfield cheesemaker, Valley View Farm, will be represented, maple syrup, honey, and A&J King fresh bread.  Local artwork hangs on the walls.  Of course, grass-fed beef, the other herd at Appleton Farms  – the White Park steer grazing out in the Great Pasture – is available in the dairy store, also.

 

 

Appleton Farms, 219 County Road, Ipswich, MA. Dairy Store Hours:  Monday – Friday, 11-6 and Saturday – Sunday, 10-4

 

Weeping Tiger, Som Tam, and The Flavor Thesaurus

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

 

Jumping, waving arms, screaming, I recommend this book to you:  The Flavor Thesaurus, A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook, by Niki Segnit, published by Bloomsbury.

 

 

I don’t even remember ordering it, but just after the blur that was the holidays, I found The Flavor Thesaurus on my bookshelf, sat down to browse, and haven’t let go of it since.

What I love about this book, besides the fact that is is smart, sharp, and useful, is that it begins with an ingredient.

 

 

Got sage in your refrigerator, but are exhausted with the usual chicken-filled or pasta-and-browned-butter themes?  Look up sage, and a list of things that go well with it appears:  anchovy, apple, bacon, blue cheese, butternut squash, chicken, egg, hard cheese, juniper, liver, onion, pineapple, pork, prosciutto, and tomato.

With each combination there is a short explanation, and recipe, or more like a description of a dish, in surprisingly entertaining prose.

 

 

Still refusing to cook from the Western hemisphere, I flipped to “Limes.”  Lime pairings according to the thesaurus are:  anchovy, avocado, basil, beef butternut squash, chicken chili, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, coconut, cumin, ginger, lemon, mango, mint, oily fish, orange, peanut shellfish, tomato, watermelon, and white fish.

“Lime & Anchovy” stopped me, by which I learned the author really means lime and Vietnamese fish sauce, or nuoc cham, made with fermented anchovies.  Segnit describes a Thai salad dressing made with lime and fish sauce, “ – lime will always be the underdog trying to shine a light on fish sauce’s dark thoughts and failing beautifully.”

At “Lime & Beef” Segnit recommends the beautiful Thai Salad “Weeping Tiger,” in which sirloin steak is briefly marinaded, broiled, and served with the same sweet, salty, cool, and spicy “Lime & Anchovy” sauce from above.

In the same “Lime & Anchovy” paragraph, the author directed me to the “Mango & Apple” pairing, describing an addictive Thai salad of sliced mango, apple, green beans and tomato tossed in – yet again – the lime and fish sauce.  Attesting to som tam’s guile, (It holds the four main elements of Thai cuisine in perfect balance:  heat, sweetness, sourness, and salt.) Segnit says, “When I first discovered how easy som tam was to make, I got through a bottle of fish sauce faster than an unwatched kid gets through ketchup.”

 

While this salad is only a shadow of the true som tam, in which finely sliced papaya or green mango is tossed with a dressing of lime, chilis and fish sauce all pounded together in a mortar and pestle, this is cool, sweet, and refreshing, an excellent antidote to January.  Double the sauce recipe and serve it with Weeping Tiger.

These are exactly the light, fresh, colorful foods I want to eat right now, but I stumbled upon them not looking for a recipe, but beginning with an ingredient.  To Google “limes” means to be instantly overwhelmed.  Look up limes in The Flavor Thesaurus and be prepared for a manageable, educational and fulfilling trip down a shallow lime rabbit hole.

 

 

 

Weeping Tiger

 

serves 2-4

Ingredients

2-3 good-quality, preferably organic, grass-fed sirloin steaks

 

marinade:

3 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Lime and Anchovy Sauce:

2 garlic cloves

1 piri chili, or other dried red chili, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

pinch sugar, or more to taste

handful of fresh coriander leaves and stems, chopped

 

Instructions

Stir marinade ingredients together in a small bowl.  Put steak in a shallow glass baking dish, and pour marinade over all.  Turn the steaks several times to ensure they are covered with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.

While steak is marinating, make the accompanying sauce. Place all sauce ingredients together in a bowl and stir. Taste for a balance of spicy, sour, and sweet. Add more fish sauce if you’d like it saltier, or more sugar if too sour for your taste. Set aside.

Preheat Broiler.

Remove steak from the refrigerator, and place either on a broiling pan, or on a regular baking sheet lined with foil.

Broil steak approximately 3-5 minutes, then turn and broil another 3-5 minutes on the other side, depending on thickness. For this recipe, the steak should still be pink in the middle.   Of course, if you choose to grill the steaks the same timing applies.

Remove steaks and allow to rest for ten minutes.   Slice thinly on the bias.  Fan out several slices, and top with Lime and Anchovy Sauce.  Sprinkle liberally with fresh cilantro.

Mango & Green Apple Salad, or Som Tam Variation

serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 cup green beans, stemmed and blanched

1 green apple, thinly sliced

lime juice

1 mango, peeled and sliced

10 cherry tomatoes (approximately) halved

2 tablespoons salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1 recipe Lime and Anchovy Sauce above

Instructions

Toss the apple in lime juice to prevent discolorations.  Put all the ingredients except the dressing into a medium size bowl, and toss together.  Then toss with Lime Anchovy Sauce, and serve.

 

 

 

Ceia Kitchen & Bar Cooks at The James Beard House

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

 

(photo from Loring Barnes)

The Thursday night between Christmas and New Years Ceia Kitchen + Bar, the pearl of a restaurant from Newburyport, Massachusetts, prepared dinner at the The James Beard Foundation in Greenwich Village, New York. The provincial Cinderella, created and owned by Nancy Batista-Caswell, had received their invitation to the ball.

Ceia’s executive chef, Patrick Soucy, and his team Corey Marcoux, Andrew Beddoes, and Ian Thomas arrived at The Beard House a half hour early that day, too excited apparently to stay away any longer.  The Beard House staff later reported they had not seen the place packed so well in weeks (The Ceia dinner sold out), nor had they seen such an enthusiastic kitchen.

 

I was there, and am certain Soucy, Marcoux, and Beddoes never stopped smiling; they shifted great pans of butter-poached lobster and walnut-smoked rack of lamb buoyed by joy and the honor of shucking Chatham oysters in the kitchen of the first champion of American regional cuisine and local ingredients.  While Julia Child (a great friend of James Beard) was teaching Cambridge wives the how-to’s of coq au vin in the 1970’s, Beard was writing cookbooks on the beauty and value of Maine shrimp, three-bean salad, and Election Cake.

( photos from The Beard House and Eileen Miller.)

 

For many people James Beard symbolized a shelf of honest cookbooks packed with trustworthy American recipes and intelligent culinary history.  For me, being in the James Beard House was tender; my mother had most of his cookbooks, and they all came out for special dinners and holidays.  There were so many passages and stories about Beard, his friends, and his entertaining in those books that I heard his clippy, definitive voice as soon as I stepped off the Greenwich Village sidewalk into the narrow, gently lit foyer.  I could hear Beard’s words on Prune Whip:  “A classic over a long period, related to a souffle.  It’s good hot or cold, and is nostalgic, to a point.”

Or Baked Alaska:  “This has become a signature for elaborate dining in this country and is a dessert that causes ohs and ahs wherever it is presented.  I think it is greatly overrated, but it is a part of American life.”

It seemed as if much of the Henry James-style townhouse – the fireplaces, bookcases, and Americana wallpaper stamped with an ear of corn – was intentionally preserved as Beard’s home, but, like the grandmother’s house that never gets new furniture or fresh paint, much of it now just feels worn, which in fact makes Beard feel that much closer, as if the great man – a little older – were just upstairs adjusting the bow tie on his tux.

And yet for the much younger generation of cooks, for Soucy, Marcoux and Beddoes, the Beard Foundation is about the awards which began in 1991, and which crowned the cooking industry with credibility.  As Soucy says, The Beard Award, the Oscars of professional cuisine, made cooking “ok;” The Beard House, Soucy said, his voice still charged with awe when I spoke to him a week later, “is where all the big boys come to play.”

Along with the crested awards – distributed to a variety of professionals, from chefs to cookbook authors to restaurant designers –  The Beard House invites restaurants from around the country to prepare dinners in the Beard home, “a performance space for chefs,” Peter Kumpf who was one of the original conceptualizers of the Beard Foundation, described it.  The dinners are open to the public, and reservations can be made through Open Table; you can follow the Beard website, and see which restaurants from around the country will be showing up to cook;  This means you can dine at that great little Milwaukee restaurant featured in Food and Wine last month without having to fly to Milwaukee.  The hosted restaurant provides food, beverages, and their traveling expenses; the Beard House provides the kitchen, waitstaff, and linens.  Ceia’s night, the waitstaff rippled through the dining rooms, stacked on two floors to accommodate the town house architecture, answering  questions about Beard’s mirrored bathroom, and the odd placement of his shower, one wall of which was once all glass, opening up to his Greenwich Village neighbors.  At one point Nancy Batista-Caswell asked one of the Beard House waitstaff, “so, is this your gig?”  To which the waiter explained just how good the gig is:  “At the end of the day we interact with top American chefs; they’re making the best food, and there are no complaints.”

Petite, brunette Batista-Caswell, just thirty years old, had already quietly earned solid footing in the culinary world when she opened Ceia two years ago:  Johnson & Wales, work with Chris Schlesinger at The Back Eddy in Westport, and then developing and opening Bin Osteria for The Bin Hospitality Group.

Ceia’s wine list, Batista-Caswell’s personal creation, has gained the tiny restaurant a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, which hangs beside a few more “best of’s,” including Boston Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2012.  Much of Ceia’s “Coastal European” inspiration borrows heavily from Batista Caswell’s Fairhaven, MA Portuguese roots; Ceia means “supper” in Portuguese.  Her mother often shows up to advise the kitchen.  The maitre D’ at the Beard House, also Portuguese, was delighted by Soucy’s elegant translation of some traditional dishes:  The first course, Sopa de Alentajo – a black garlic soup served with Iberico ham-wrapped crouton and topped with a poached duck egg, set the tone of the menu, re-interpreting the old world, retaining the best of it.

Soucy prides himself on being a farm-to-dinner chef, a challenge when preparing a serious dinner in December, but the five-course meal beautifully reflected both place and season: Iberico Porchetta with grilled clams, heirloom apples and a leek and cabbage vinaigrette.  Oxtail raviolo with root vegetables.  Walnut smoked rack of lamb with preserved lemon-stuffed olives.  A Musque de Provence Frittelle, that beautiful pink squash revered by Italians, made into a light pancake, and served with pumpkin seed ice cream, for dessert.

 

At my table butter-poached Maine lobster tail served with a corn sformato elicited the loudest mumbled mouthfuls of approval.  Soucy, knowing this dinner may be on the calendar, had picked the super sweet corn from Tendercrop farm in Newburyport at the peak of last summer’s season, and flash froze it.  He offered a brief table-side tutorial on how careful farmers space corn to allow the sun to hit the roots of the plant, resulting in the “super” to super sweet corn.  Soucy kindly provided the luscious sformato recipe.

A few updates:  Ceia has moved across the street to the former site of the Rockfish Grill, 38 State St., Newburyport, MA.  In February, Batista-Caswell will debut Brine, “a contemporary oyster, crudo, and chop bar with a market vibe” in the former Ceia location, 25 State St.

 

Preserved New England Corn Sformato

makes ten 4 ounce servings

Ingredients

1 quart bechamel sauce

1 1/2 cups ricotta (Soucy makes his own.)

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup fresh frozen corn puree

1 cup fresh shaved corn kernels

freshly grated nutmeg to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

pinch fleur de sel or gray salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons grated Parmigiana Reggiano

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Slightly beat eggs and ricotta cheese.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Pour mixture into 4 ounce buttered and breadcrumb-dusted ramekins.  Place ramekins in a roasting pan, and pour in hot water so that it reaches half-way up the sides of the ramekins to create a hot water bath.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until set.  Turn over onto plate and serve.

 

 

 

Simple Cilantro and Peanut Noodles

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

 

January 6th, and I’m still not tired of the comforting simplicity of a bowl of steaming noodles, only now I’m leaning hard on simplicity.

 

 

 

 

Billed as a Vietnamese kind of pesto, this dish is simply a handful of loosely chopped cilantro and a handful peanuts tossed with any kind of noodles in your cupboard, along with a bit of sesame oil, fish sauce, red pepper flakes and citrus.  I say citrus because I only had a lemon in the refrigerator.  Along with refusing to cook complicated food, I’m doing my best not to run to the store for a missing ingredient.

My lemon was excellent, but a purist would use lime.

(One of my favorite jokes:

“Honey, we’re having Chinese food again?  Three nights in a row? Who does that?!

“The Chinese?”)

 

 

Cilantro and Peanut Noodles

 

serves 4 – 6

ingredients

1 lb. noodles, Asian or Italian

approximately 1 cup loosely chopped cilantro (some reserved for garnish)

1 cup loosely chopped dry-roasted, salted peanuts (some reserved for garnish)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon (or to taste) red pepper flakes

juice of 1/2 lemon or lime (or to taste)

 

Instructions

Prepare noodles according to directions on package.  Drain and return to pan. Toss in all ingredients, and gently warm again.  Serve immediately, topped with reserved cilantro and peanuts.

 

 

Restoration Noodles

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

 

Like most of us, kitchen inspiration and appetite came to a screeching, brakes to the floor halt yesterday, January 1st.  I didn’t think I could eat another thing, forget imagine and prepare another meal.  At the same time I couldn’t bear seeing leftovers being hauled out and called dinner.

This happens every year, and every year I begin January with Asian soups, those wonderful great soothing bowls of broth piled high or low, depending on your appetite, with noodles, vegetables, flecks of protein, sesame oil, soy sauce, cilantro, chilis – all the tastes that have been absent from dinner in the last month if your last name is Atwood.

 

These are loosely inspired by dan dan noodles,  also called “peddler noodles,” noodles with pork and peanuts, because not only did all the sentiments above apply to my dinner ideas, but I have a gorgeous bronze D’Artagnan heritage ham in my refrigerator.  One of the most versatile proteins to take with you to foreign recipes, a heritage ham is like a good suitcase, it can carry almost any cuisine.

 

This is basically two very simple parts: noodles and boy choy cooked together in a seasoned broth, topped with browned ham, dry chiles, garlic, shitake mushrooms, and peanuts.  That’s the chart, but substitute away:  Any kind of noodle.  Collards or swiss chard for bok choy.  But reserve the pork, chili, garlic and peanut combination; It has the light deliciousness to create culinary amnesia, erasing all memory of too much tenderloin and trifle.

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Restoration Noodles

serves 4

 

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups salted dry roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 dried chili pepper or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cups chopped ham

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms

3 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos (divided)

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

8 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon sesame oil

8 ounces birds nest style egg noodles (or 2 nests per person)

1 medium head bok choy, washed and chopped

chili oil to taste

 

Instructions

Coarsely chop the peanuts.  Heat a large saute pan to medium high.  Add peanut oil.  When hot, add chili pepper or red pepper flakes.  Do not let burn.  Add ham and garlic, and saute until the ham begins to sear.  Stir in shitake mushrooms, and cook until all beings to caramelize, or get dark brown.  Stir in 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or Bragg’s) and brown sugar and cook to combine all, about a minute.  Stir in all but 1/4 cup of the peanuts.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a simmer.  Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s.  Add the noodles and cook according to directions.  Add the bok choy five minutes before the noodles are done.

In each bowl, put a few drops of chili oil.  Lift noodles and bok choy into the bowls, ladling broth over all.  Cover with ham and peanut mixture.   Sprinkle a light dusting of reserved peanuts over all.