Jan 15 2009

Pancetta!!

It’s been awhile and I’ve kept this quiet in order to save embarrassment in the event of a complete failure, but alas, this wasn’t the case and the Pancetta has landed!

I cured this lovely belly for 7 days with a relatively conventional Pancetta cure and a few added extras (my secret). After the 7 day wait, it was rolled and tied in order to spend the next 6 weeks in my laundry room outfitted with a humidifier and thermostat so I could constantly monitor its progress. After pinching it everyday, I finally decided on January 14th to get up the nerve and slice it open, and to my surprise it hadn’t gone bad. Not only did it not spoil, but it’s delicious…. I wish I’d made more than just one!


Nov 26 2008

Bringing it to the Table

As we are off for a few days of cooking I just wanted to share how we got our Turkey this thanksgiving.  After much deliberation since I had to “process” 30 of my friends Turkey’s who I’ve been watching loiter on his property all summer, we ended up with a Broad-Breasted Bronze for its weight mostly but also its traditional shape.

You see, there were Black Spanish, Narragansett, Blue Slate, and Broad-Breasted Bronze. All are heritage slow growing lovely birds.  One exception though is the Broad-Breasted because it is a cousin of the Butterball Turkey’s we are all familiar with known as the Broad-Breasted White.  These guys have been selectively bred for decades for, well, thier broad breasts.  Unlike the aforementioned, the other heritage breeds look a lot more like traditional ame birds with higher breast bones and less meat.

My feeling is that when you’re bringing something new to the table, you have to ease people into it.  I have found that beating people over the head with ideals and theory on how they should live their life according to what they eat always ends in strong aversion to ones point. In any case, if you’re curious about the process or find it interesting to see where humane food comes from click on the photo below:


Nov 17 2008

Loafing Around


Had some time at home and finding ways to keep busy.


Jul 3 2008

late to the party….

It’s been a slow season for our first garden.  We’ve had to play a strong and clever game of catch up. After months of growing seedlings and realizing our green thumbs still lacked quite a bit of chlorophyll, we took our little children and planted them in the ground.  Along with some purchases (i.e. tomatoes, eggplant, squash, and more than we’d like to admit) and just good ole’ fashioned sticking seeds in the ground farming.

We are finally achieving some results and are very excited to see these budding flora come into their own.

This lettuce sprouted easily out of the ground and made us feel as though we knew what we were doing.

One of my most anticipated are beets.  Over the years I have gained a fond affinity for these tubers and can’t wait to be harvesting our Detroit Reds, Chiogga’s, and Yellow Mangel beets.


Jun 2 2008

Morchella

As the season wraps itself up, I’d just like to share a bit of the bounty discovered by us in the past weeks. The prize pictured below is a coveted Morel mushroom, delightfully edible and ever so evasive.

If you click on the photo you will be taken to more….

one of many little gems


May 16 2008

A sea of green…

One of my absolute favorite things about living outside of the city is that seasons finally really mean something. Winter is beautiful but very taxing on the soul and allows us to imagine balancing the weight of the world upon our shoulders in an endless drone of white. Despite the hardships of winter, what it really does is prepare us for the explosion of spring. There is no better way to want something so bad than to have been deprived of it for so long. In such a short time our landscape became dappled with colors that soothed our weathered minds and thawed our frost bitten hearts.

One of the first things to arrive amongst the avalanche of green are Ramps (a.k.a. Wild Leeks). They appear from one day to the next and scatter themselves across south facing slopes all over the countryside. Ramps are a spring treasure because they are one of the first forageable edibles of the year. They have a wonderful aroma of garlic and taste of tender onion. Recently I went out with a friend (Sean) in search of 30lbs of the stuff for a restaurant. They fetch a high price for a short period of time, in some cases they can go up to $10 a pound. In any case, the best thing about them is the fact that they come and then go. It’s a rare feat these days to only be able to enjoy something during the season it’s available. If they could be domesticated it would be the end of their luster.

field of ramps

ramps

ramps in hand

ramps 2

sea of ramp

sean 1

ramp scale

weighing ramp


Mar 6 2008

Excuse me while I powder my nose….

As the sun was setting over the mountains last night and I was beginning to settle in, an unsuspecting package arrived via UPS that I’d forgotten was coming so soon.

box

What could be lurking inside such a small corrugated cube other than a miniature arsenal of powdered Hydrocolloids that will allow me to begin the actual experimentation I’m looking for outside the conventional box of supermarket fare. Previously I’ve played around with Gelatin, Pectin, and Xanthan Gum which are pretty much readily available in most places. Now as I’ve broken out of the box I will be playing with Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride, Lecithin, and Caregeenan.

powders

First up will be Lecithin:

Leichtin

This substance has mostly been derived from egg yolks in the past but can also be found in plant tissues. Its most common use is in creating and stabilizing emulsions.

Carrageenan – Kappa

Kappa

A derivative of a Red Seaweed found in abundance off the coast of Ireland, Carrageenan is a powerful gelification device. What makes it unique is that you add it in cold and then bring it to a boil for the gel effect to begin.  Unlike like most gelatins, it can be served hot and still holds it form.

Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate

CalciumSodium

These two unusual products and very lab rat sounding indeed produce, in tandem, quite a unique effect known as Spherefication.  Sodium Alginate gels in the presence of Calcium and with such a reaction one can drop any liquid that has been thoroughly mixed with Alginate into a Calcium solution and you have spheres of any liquid that comes to mind.  The most well known version of this technique was developed by Ferran Adria when he made his own olive spheres.

In due time, I will have versions of all of these experiments including follies and successes.  In due time……


Mar 4 2008

Something to be eggstatic about…

After reading an article entitled “Chasing Perfection” by Francis Lam, I was happily comforted by the fact that I’m not alone in certain searches for “perfection”. In some ways when I think about why I left New York and moved into the country, at least a city dwellers version of it, my main motivation was perfection driven. There were greener pastures in my mind outside of the hustle of a concrete jungle, something greater but in many ways so much simpler. We all define ourselves, and our lives through multi-faceted definitions that are tirelessly arguable, and ultimately all correct to a degree…although, it’s the variations and combinations that make all these versions so interesting. That’s why this is just me, and my small shaken snow globe version of it.

The article that I found so close to heart was in search of a perfect omelet, this search only came about after having a truly great omelet for the first time. A moment like this can be quite startling, most notably because we often pride ourselves with the knowledge that we do certain things very well. Almost everyone has something food related they make “well”. This can be a pasta dish, sandwich, soup, cocktail, etc. But when all of the sudden we try something we’ve made a million times and it pulls the rug out from under us, there are usually two things that happen. Give in and accept defeat or enlist in a journey for the conquest of such an epiphany.

Eggs are a perfect example of such a subject simply because it’s almost impossible to think of someone who hasn’t handled an egg at one point in time. Not to mention, eggs may quite literally be one of the most versatile ingredients on the planet. Few things can tout being a paramount component at all meal times, and let alone stand alone doing it unlike such staples as salt and pepper. Whats even more satisfying, on a selfish note, is that we have access to some of the best eggs I’ve ever come in contact with here in the Berkshires. These are produced in a very small scale free range format by our friend Billie Best. She works tirelessly as an activist fighting to save our farming culture as well as tending to her pampered flock. Furthermore, after recently purchasing a book known simply as Egg with photographs by Grant Symon, I was blown away by some of the innovations using this beautiful ingredient by some of the worlds best Chefs. Just when you think you know something, you can still stand to be surprised:

All of the following photos are borrowed from the book Egg and were taken by Grant Symon:

Ferran Adria
golden egg

Wylie Dufresene

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Heston Blumenthal

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Eric Briffard

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Jaques Deruex

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Sam Mason

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***if you’d like a little more practical information on the subject of eggs and are comfortable in learning that you probably don’t eat good egg, check out what this little Birdy has to say.


Mar 3 2008

Gimmie!

If I could, I would go ahead and treat myself to many strange and unusual things. Money is tight right now and therefore I stare wide-eyed and dreamily into my laptop screen.

Thermal Circulator Thermometer

That magnificent and equally frightening looking machine on top is known as a Thermal Immersion Circulator. What it does, very expensively I might add, is keep water at exact temperatures for as long as you’d like in order to cook food that has been previously vacuum packed. What you end up with is food that is cooked to the exact, up to a fraction of a degree, temperature you were going for. This particular method of cooking known as Sous Vide has spawned an entirely new realm of cooking and has lent to some wonderful inventions. Many restaurants have adopted this technique, most notably there is El Bulli, Per Se, WD-50, French Laundry, and Blue Hill. Below the Thermal Circulator is a non contact thermometer which can take temp readings at pin pointed locations from safe distances….very useful.

Straining Spoon iSi

The straining spoon above comes from Ferran Adria’s company FACES. Not many people carry this line and everything they make is quite extraordinary. Ferran Adria is a revolutionary chef who has teamed up with a Swedish industrial designer in order to create high end cooking gear. Following the spoon is a classic siphon used mainly for whipped cream, but these days finds itself in professional kitchens creating foams out of just about any flavor with the help of Hydrocolloids.

sousvide.jpg

Lastly, so I can actually learn to bring some of these things into practice, I would love this book.


Mar 2 2008

Slaughter Redux

It’s been brought to my attention that in a previous post concerning the nature of slaughter, that I was a bit crass and may not have explained the process thoroughly enough. In essence, what I was trying to convey was the fact that one should proudly eat meat, if and only when they have learned to be honest about their relationship with it. Before we get ahead of ourselves, I am not a preaching fanatic and by no means have I been this way my whole life, but after learning a few things and experiencing that much more I can’t help but feel that I’ve been lied to my whole life.

For some reason, after reading Michael Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma”, something inside me changed. There was something brooding inside me yearning for change and it was as though a veil had been lifted from my face, allowing me to see clearly for the first time. We make decisions everyday of our lives that impact us greatly and eating has to be one of the most significant and most undervalued decisions there is. Ironically, we’ve developed and nurtured a culture where we rely on corporations to make food choices for us. This system could be fine and hum harmoniously alongside this great engine of a society that we’ve created if it weren’t for the fact that we let the corporations treat it like any other capitalistic business model.

Food production in the United States is controlled by the USDA, which has commissioned a food business that worries more about numbers and subsidies than actual quality and taste. The USA alone produces around 9 billion chickens a year. We have a pork and cattle industry that has been dumping so much waste into our water systems that we’ve created a toxic wasteland the size of Massachusetts in the gulf of Mexico in which no life form can be sustained except algae and bacteria. These are only a few examples of food production atrocities that go so deep, most people will never know or would prefer not to know what they really put into their mouths on a daily basis.

It makes me furious and sad when the USDA recalls 143 million pounds of beef, not because they deem it unsafe to eat but because a video on youtube surfaced showing cows being tortured at what is considered a humane industrial farming cattle operation. The video was so disturbing and horrific, that the embarrassment endured by the USDA caused it to issue the largest beef recall in history. What most people fail to realize is that the atrocious abuse of those animals is by no means unique and practically a standard in our food industry. If that doesn’t say something about the priorities towards the way our food is produced in this country than I don’t know what does. I even saw a commercial the other day from McDonalds which touted the fact that now they were actually serving 100% Beef as though we were supposed to assume that in the past a hamburger was something other than all beef. I can’t even begin to imagine what was in the last Big Mac I ate 15yrs ago.

In any case, back to my original point concerning slaughter. We all eat, and we all make choices about what we eat. I personally wanted to get in touch with what I ate and even more so understand what I was eating. Therefore, I set out on a mission to find meat that was produced under conditions that satisfied my requirements for humane and healthy food. In the galleries below, which are viewable after clicking on each link, I participated in two slaughters that were extremely humane and honest. The animals you see here have all gone to families that have raised and nurtured them through their entire life cycle.

You can say what you want about the notion of slaughter, and yes there is nothing pretty, fun, or easy about it. Although, there is something honest, rewarding, and humbling about it. Most of my experiences in this field have begun with a shot of whiskey around 8am and this is mostly due to the fact that it is very difficult to play God with something you’ve put so much time and effort into. In one instance, after deliberating for awhile because one lamb had witnessed another as it was in the throws of death and had become frightened, we decided to spare it for the time being because our primary concern was that the animal never suffered in the slaughter process and that hopefully death went unnoticed. Another interesting note, concerning the slaughter of a cow, was that after shooting it in a field grazing happily amongst its peers in order to make sure it wasn’t expecting is final moment, all the other cows didn’t flinch as though they didn’t notice at all. Somehow this made me feel better.

Please click on the links below if you’d like to see how something like humane, small-scale slaughter is done. The photos could be considered gruesome so beware, but I would just like to say that I only consider them to be honest.

CHICKEN SLAUGHTER

COW SLAUGHTER