Monday, September 26, 2011

Feast from the Fields 2011

What an amazing night. Last weekend I cooked for a fund raising dinner for 250 people at an urban charter high school with an organic farm. Most of the ingredients traveled only a few feet to arrive in the kitchen including the pig, the chicken, and nearly all of the vegetables. The honey, peaches and cheese were from other nearby farms, and only the oil, butter, flour, sugar, pasta and spices were purchased from afar. 
Another local chef, myself, and many students, teachers and kitchen staff from Common Ground High School cooked and served up this fabulous dinner. A wonderful accomplishment, a great learning experience for the students, and a real gift to the community in so many ways. The meal, the silent auction and live auction raised $40,000 for the school.

Unfortunately I do not posses the skill to cook, coordinate a meal like this AND photograph it, so the true essence of the night: enthusiastic, capable teenagers representing the diversity of our little city, cooking, cleaning, working, learning, serving, eating, and growing was not captured in photos. Jason Sobosinski from Caseus restaurant and "The Big Cheese" Food Network Show and I planned and cooked the meal. It was a fun mash-up of our two styles, and in the end it worked wonderfully. The unbelievably hard working coordinator of the event, Joel Tolman is a colleague and friend of mine: thoughtful, smart, collaborative, and an incredible force. Shannon, the new farmer for the school is working wonders with the land and supplied us with an abundance of food: cucumbers, beets, red onions, winter squash, salad greens, kale, chard, herbs, garlic, a 165 pound pig, and more than a dozen chickens.  And a big thank you goes out to Rhonda, Thea and Theresa, the Common Ground Cooks and all the students who helped to prep hundreds of pounds of produce from the farm and wash lots and lots of dishes!!!
Here are some snippets of the food from the night:
Cider Brined Slow Roasted Whole Pig
Poblano Pepper Apple Sauce

Buttermilk-Marinated Common Ground Fried Chicken
Fresh Thyme and Lemon Zest   

Mac and Beaverbrook Farms Cow & Sheep Cheese

Garlic Braised Common Ground Kales & Chards 

Common Ground Quick Pickle Red Onion &          Cucumber Salad with Basil and Tarragon

Common Ground Arugula and Mixed Greens, Roasted Delicata and Candy Roaster Squash & Shredded Beets
Roasted Scallion and Ground Pepita dressing
Beltane Farms Chevre

Warm Honey Bourbon Peach Short Cake & Homemade Creme Fraiche
Our fabulous student waitstaff for the night
 Scallions for the salad dressing roasting on the hot coals of the pig roasting box

Pickled red onions with tarragon and basil, waiting to be tossed with the cucumbers

The pig named "milkbottle" being brined and seasoned to go into the cook box. The students raised this pig, and many stopped by to say "hi" to it, or were fascinated to see how it would be cooked. A few students were sad, which is very understandable, but most were very interested in the process and they all knew he was being raised for food. I had the experience of raising and slaughtering a chicken once when I was a teen, and it gave me a life long appreciation and consciousness about animal rearing and the sources of meat in our country. I now only eat meat that is sustainably raised (which is more expensive and harder to find, so I eat a lot less meat than the average person).

 Thea and Jason cooking fried chicken, also raised on the farm. 
As you can see, they kept things lively in the kitchen!

I was very happy with how the salad turned out. The roasted scallions added a smoky depth to the dressing, and the ground pumpkin seeds gave it a nutty sweetness. The greens, a mix grown on the farm, had been harvested the day before, and it was topped with roasted delicata and candy roaster squashes, which can both be cooked without peeling them, which makes the prep time much quicker, and helps hold the squash together for a dish like this. To add some brightness to the dish, the beets were shredded raw using a fine shredding attachment to the food processor, and some delicious fresh chevre (goat cheese) from Beltane Farms rounded out the dish nicely.

Jason, as a master of all things cheese, made Mac and Cheese using a wonderful assortment of cheeses from Sankows-Beaverbrook Farm.

For dessert we wanted to use an end of summer fruit rather than the usual apples and pears of fall. The white and yellow peaches were the final harvest from near-by Drazen Orchards, a great family run orchard where they practice IPM - integrated pest management to greatly minimize the amount of pesticides and fungicides used. The peaches had to be harvested a few weeks before the dinner, and wouldn't have lasted in the fridge, so a group of students sliced and froze them on sheet pans (no need to peel them!), then transfered them to a large bag. Since they had been frozen we needed to cook them for dessert, so the were roasted with a local honey, bourbon and vanilla bean sauce.
The shortcakes came out great, thanks to the fabulous recipe from Caludia Flemming's 
incredible cookbook "The Last Course".

 The completed dessert: Warm Honey Bourbon Peach Shortcake with Homemade Creme Fraiche.

Creme Fraiche, a french style sour cream, is very easy to make at home, rather than buying an expensive container from the store. 
2 Tablespoons of cultured butter milk or yogurt
2 cups of heavy cream (pasteurized is better than ultrapasteurized)
  1. Mix the ingredients together well. Cover with a towel and let sit out on the counter for 12 to 24 hours, until it is as thick as sour cream. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. For dessert it can be served straight or sweetened and whipped.It can be used in savory dishes as you would use sour cream.
I will post recipes for the complete shortcake dessert, and the salad in the near future, 
so check back soon!
And, if you live anywhere near New Haven, CT go check out Common Ground School, there are lots of opportunities to visit during open farm days and festivals!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Between the heat of late summer, bugs, and hurricane Irene, my garden has seen better days. While September is prime harvest season on a farm, the offerings from my backyard are meager this year, with one exception. The tangle of tomato plants in one raised bed, generally referred to as "the tomato forest" managed to blow flat without snapping, and so survived the hurricane. The cherry tomato plants are prolific, and just when I think I've picked the last of the fruits, another wave of tomatoes arrives. This year I have Sungolds (which yield a ton of sweet orange cherry tomatoes), a red standard cherry tomato, large heirloom Brandywines for slicing, and some seeds from last year called michael's wedding that sprouted up around the garden, and I let a few of them grow (those are tiny red tomatoes  that spit when picked, so I didn't buy them again, but they are fine for eating right off the vine).

Every few days we pick a bowlful, about a pint of cherry tomatoes, often they are eaten in the distance between the garden and the kitchen door and don't make it into a meal. With the weather turning colder last week, a warm dinner was on my mind.  Simple and quick, I boiled some whole grain pasta, and started slicing the cherry tomatoes in half for roasting. I then turned my attention to finely chopping a large amount of onion and garlic, which cooked at a low heat in plenty of olive oil until they were tender and fragrant. The tomatoes were added, sauteed for a moment, then stuck under the broiler to blister and release their juices. The rest of the dinner came together mostly as an after thought; some spinach leaves got tossed in with the pasta and black beans were added for protein. I'd had illusions of fish joining this meal rather than beans: some canned salmon left over from our hurricane provisions, but fish from a can just wasn't doing it for me that night. Lastly, I snagged a handful of marjoram on my way out the backdoor, tossed it with the pasta, and we had a meal. My kids complained that this was not what they thought I meant when I said we were having pasta with tomato sauce for dinner, but they grudgingly ate it anyway, and I was content with the tangy juices of the fresh tomatoes, and the olive oil, thickly laced with sweet onion and garlic. Nothing fancy or magnificent about it, just a simple good meal.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
4 servings
1pint cherry tomatoes or 3/4 pound other tomatoes
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
any fresh or dry herbs you like such as marjoram, basil, oregano, thyme, mint etc...
  1. Finely dice onion and mince garlic. Saute onion in olive oil over low heat in a large wide skillet. Season well with salt and pepper. When tender, add garlic. Saute until garlic is fragrant, do not brown.
  2. While onions are cooking, slice cherry tomatoes in half, or cut larger tomatoes into a large dice.  Set oven to broil on high.
  3. When onion and garlic mixture is very tender, add tomatoes and toss to coat with oil.  Place under the broiler and cook until tomatoes are blistered and browned on edges. Remove from oven and toss with pasta and herbs, adding any ingredients you like: spinach, zucchini, beans, fish, etc...a fine grating of cheese is always good too.  Enjoy!
 What are you making with the end of summer produce?

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Live Food

    Live Food.
    If your mind conjured an image of you biting into a live fish, it's tail flapping water in your face, you can relax. When I talk about live food I mean plant based food that has the energy used to grow itself still inside of it. I know this might sound hokey, but compare a fresh green bean to one from a can, or think about how good a recently picked carrot is compared to one that's been sitting in your fridge for 2 weeks. 

    Live food is a little different from raw food, which may be uncooked, but not "living". As an example, an almond is raw if it has not been roasted, but an almond is a seed, and if you soak it in water over night it will start the process of sprouting and starting to grow into an almond tree, this makes it live, not just raw. I often hear myself telling my kids they need to eat something fresh so they can get  "growing energy from their food", that they need to grow their own bodies. I like thinking about food this way, rather than just telling people to "eat their vegetables" I try to focus on eating enough fresh live food to balance out all the rest of the food in my diet. (Check out this fun recipe for Almond Milk using "live" almonds.

    As for me, well I love carbs for breakfast. Toast, cereal, muffins, scones are all high on my list of favorite early morning eats. The thing is, if I eat too much of them I get tired. This summer during my dance camp vacation, I discovered a wonderful new breakfast treat that walks a perfect line between carbohydrate and live food, making it better balanced once it is digested, so I feel great after eating it, not ready for a nap. 

    Live Museli, you are my new favorite breakfast!
    Credit to one of the great Dance New England cooks (not sure which cook though...)

    Live Museli
    Makes 4 servings
    1 Cup  oat groats
    1/4 Cup  raw sunflower seeds
    1/4 Cup  raw pumpkin seeds
    1/4 Cup  raisins
    1/4 Cup raw almonds
    Fresh fruit such as peaches, plums, apples, pears or berries - (about 2 peaches or apples and or one cup of berries)

    1. Place all ingredients except for fresh fruit into a bowl or pot. Fill the bowl or pot with water, about two inches above the grains. Cover with a towel or pot top and let sit over night or for 6-12 hours. 
    2. Drain off the water. Scoop about 1/2 a cup of the live grain/seed mixture into a bowl. Add some cut up fresh fruit, yogurt and honey are also nice additions if that sounds good to you.
    note: I didn't have any almonds when I made this batch, but it is so much better with them!!

    This breakfast always leaves me feeling satisfied and energized. I hope you enjoy it too!