Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Good Eats Newsletter - August 13, 2008

Special Pick-Up Instructions
This week we have different products for the Localvore vegetarians and meat-eaters. If you signed up as a Vegetarian, (this is noted on the names sheets), you will be receiving Pete's eggs and Butterworks cornmeal, otherwise, we have bacon from Vermont Smoke and Cure.

Those who signed up as meat-eaters, please take a bacon. Vegetarians should look for a bag with their name on it that will contain the vegetarian substitutions.

Pete's Musings
We continue to weather wet conditions on the farm. For the most part the fields have handled the rain well, but we have more foliar disease than normal for this time of year. Our farm roads are a complete disaster-vast muddy potholes that are unfixable until it dries enough so that we can do a thorough grading. I am concerned about our storage carrots and beets. They have been planted for about a month and because of all the rain and relatively cool temps have not grown a lot. We really need some sun and heat for them in August so that they can get further along before September. They will grow significantly in the shorter and cooler days of Sept. and Oct., but need to be at a certain size before then in order to make a nice crop.

We are in the midst of an incredible sweet onion harvest. We're picking 35,000 lbs. of Walla Walla and Alisa Craig onions from .7 acres. This is equivalent to 50,000 lbs or 25 tons per acre. It's fun to consider the tiny packet of seed that generated those onions only 135 days ago. Growing vegetables can be a great way with minimal inputs to harvest the incredible productive capacity of soil and sunlight. -Pete

Bacon Fat Anyone?
To protect Pete's Greens from any liability concerns, I feel that I should make some sort of disclaimer that I am not a medically trained professional, that one should consult with their doctor before making any major dietary changes. Or, perhaps I should say that, "I save my bacon fat," without implying that you should consider doing the same, especially if you're a vegetarian. And yet, the fat rendered off of bacon is extremely flavorful, free for the taking and just such a shame to waste.

I started saving my bacon fat a couple of years ago in preparation for the first Mad River Valley Localvore Challenge. Local sunflower oil was proving impossible to come by and the drippings from all of the bacon I was preparing at our then bed and breakfast seemed an easy and inexpensive way to provide my family with cooking oil for the week long eat local celebration. During the challenge, in addition to using the fat for frying eggs, sauteing vegetables and greasing pans, I also used it to make salad dressing and added it to cornbread for both its flavor and fat properties. All around, the bacon fat proved to be a pleasure to work with. Moreover, it was almost easier to save the grease than finding a way to dispose of it that didn't involve pouring it down the drain.

Since we've sold the bed and breakfast, we no longer have the bottomless source of bacon fat for our cooking. Thus, I have taken to rendering my own lard from fatback. The lard doesn't have the smoky flavor that the bacon fat provides, but the fat properties are otherwise the same. We often use lard and bacon fat in lieu of other cooking oils now, though sunflower and olive oil are more popular options for our salads.

Before you make an appointment for me at the Cardiologist, consider that people ate bacon fat and lard for centuries before our current epidemic of heart disease. In fact, the explosion in the rate of heart disease didn't occur until after we traded our lard and butter for canola oil, margarine and shortening. While lard is composed of about 40% saturated fat, it also contains about 48% monounsaturated fat (commonly thought to be the "good fat"). Bacon fat and lard are also ideal for frying foods, as they aren't broken down by high heat.

In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan devotes significant time to talking about the state of scientific knowledge regarding the role of fats in human health. Surprisingly to many, there is not concrete evidence that fats touted as "cholesterol free" are actually better for you than traditional fats such as butter and lard. Sure, olive oil is believed by all to be one of the most healthful fats, and hydrogenated oils are now almost universally condemned. But, in between there is a lot of complex information to sift through. If you are interested in learning more about the different types of fats and their role in human health, I would urge you to seek out the following books in addition to In Defense of Food:

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice
Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck

In the meantime, if you want to save that bacon fat, here's what to do. After you've cooked your bacon, let the grease cool a bit in the pan. Pour the grease through a fine sieve into a heatproof container (a Pyrex container, ramekin or mason jar work well here), cover and refrigerate. Scoop and use as the need arises.

This Week's Share Contains
Mesclun; Head Red Cabbage; Head Garlic; Fennel; Bunch Leeks; Mixed Sweet Peppers; Tomatoes; Bunch Basil; Snap Beans -or- Eggplant.

Localvore Share:
Champlain Valley Plums; Elmore Mountain Bread; and Either:
Vegetarian: Butterworks Farm Cornmeal & Pete's Eggs
Meat Eaters: Vermont Smoke and Cure Bacon

Storage and Use Tips
Red Cabbage: Striking in a slaw, salad or wilted by cooking, red cabbage came on to the seen later than its green counterpart. Red cabbage is likely to turn blue when cooking if there are any alkaline ingredients present. To stop this from happening, add a bit of acid to the pan in the form of lemon juice, vinegar or wine. Red cabbage can be stored loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for weeks. If the outer leaves wilt or turn spotted, just remove them and use the good leaves below. Once cut, keep the remaining cabbage in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer.
Leeks: Like onions, garlic, shallots and scallions, leeks are a member of the allium family. They have a milder flavor than onions and cook beautifully into tarts, soups and gratins, just to name a few. For cooking, use just the white and light green parts. A bit of investigation reveals that the light green color extends farther up the stalk on the interior of the leek. Thus, to prepare the leek, cut off the dark green sections leaf by leaf, working your way towards the center of the stalk. You'll discover 2-3" more of the light green as you work your way inside. To clean the leek, cut it lengthwise from just above the root end all the way up through the top, making sure to keep the root end in tact. Turn the leek a quarter turn, then repeat. You'll end up with four long sections of leek still joined together at the root. Now, swish the leek around in a tub or bowl of cold water, keeping the root end higher than the stem, so that the dirt flows out the "top" of the leek. Once thoroughly rinsed, cut the leek for your recipe as desired. To store, loosely wrap unwashed leeks in a plastic bag and keep in your crisper drawer.

Localvore 'Lore from Heather
Last week I went to pick up the bacon at Vermont Smoke and Cure in South Barre. That was the easy part. For several weeks we went round and round here at Pete's, back and forth with Chris Bailey at VT Smoke and Cure, about what ingredients would be acceptable. The pork used for this bacon is 100% Vermont raised. The cure brine is made with celery juice and seasonings, including a minute amount of sugar. What we decided was that the source of the pork was the most important, and that they make it without a nitrate brine sealed the deal. There is other locally raised pork bacon out there, but many are processed with nitrates. This bacon is my family's favorite, after having tried many nitrate free, all natural, local bacons.

The Vermont Smoke and Cure facility is wedged into the back of a convenience store gas station! To say the quarters are tight would be a gross understatement. The entry way is a long hallway stacked with flat shipping cartons and a couple of shelves of product labels, amongst other packing and shipping necessities. Part way down the hall is an alcove with a desk. At the end there is an actual office, plus another desk/computer station. Behind a big commercial cooler door is where the real production happens. I watched them making summer sausage from a pork beef blend. They had huge tubs of the filling that went into the top hopper of a machine that filled casings. While one guy was operating this, another woman was removing the sausages in a rope of 6 and hanging them on a rack. The summer sausages contain nitrates to be shelf stable. They are cooked after fermenting a few days. They have 2 production rooms, one for raw products and another for cooked. What impressed me was how only 9 employees make all of their products, in a very labor-intensive operation.

Even more impressive is how they do it in such tight quarters. They have a cooler and freestanding freezer on-site. Two more freezers are located off-site, with a third to be ready shortly. They are seeking investors to help them relocate.

Chris also told me about their pork sources. They used to buy whole pigs, but then had to find a market for the fresh pork that they couldn't use. Now all of the whole pigs go through Black River Produce. Vermont Smoke and Cure buys all the parts for bacon and sausage. Black River has restaurant and retail customers for the fresh pork. Several Vermont farmers and slaughterhouses are involved in the process. It sounds a bit complicated, but Chris is pleased with the arrangement. I hope you'll be pleased with the bacon!

We are glad to be back in the bread business again! Pete was feeling like the share was incomplete without it. I asked Andrew and Blair at Elmore Mt bead if they could work out a 50% local flour bread for us. They were glad for the opportunity and the challenge. This week you can enjoy the results. A couple of weeks ago they visited Ben Gleason to buy flour. Andrew says they learned a lot about wheat farming and milling:

"So, it was really neat to see Ben's operation last week. He brought us throughout the whole operation, starting with a walk through the wheat fields, to the place where the wheat berries are stored, to the millhouse where he explained the complete milling process. He shared with us his history, his mission and tons of information ranging from his farming practices to his philosophy on sustainability. We're really looking forward to working with his product and have a bunch of ideas to work on for the future bakes. It was huge for us to see the process from start to finish and has provided us with a new appreciation for the other half of making bread."

Also in the localvore share are plums from Champlain Orchards. Bill and I both had our reservations about the plum delivery last time. I messed up on the delivery and we ended up with no plums here in Craftsbury. I saw Bill at the Vermont Fresh Network dinner last weekend. He told me the plums were even better the following week as they ripened. The later pickings were sweeter, fuller and juicier than what he shipped for Good Eats. He wanted another chance to send out the really excellent plums. The plum trees are about nine years old, and this is the first year to yield. He said the trees are over-planted and, therefore, a bit crowded. He's not sure how much bigger they can grow. Bill says it's a matter of trying new things and learning as you go. He thinks perhaps they will have bumper crops every other year.

Based on the answers I received to last week's questions, it seems that some of you still have onions that you would like to use up. Thus, the first two recipes call for a good amount of onions, the second two call for the leeks in this week's share.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage and Fennel
Adapted from Serves 10.

2 TB bacon fat or butter (1/4 stick)
4 cups thinly sliced onions
1 2 1/2-pound head red cabbage, cored, thinly sliced
1 pound fennel bulb, cored, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable or beef broth
6 TB balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup maple sugar or maple syrup

Melt butter or bacon fat in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add cabbage and fennel, sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Saute, tossing occasionally, until cabbage begins to wilt. Add remaining ingredients except fennel fronds. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until cabbage is tender, stirring occasionally, about 30-35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium-low heat.) Transfer to bowl. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and serve.

Bacon and Goat Cheese Free-Form Tart
This is one of my favorite recipes from Cooking with Shelburne Farms. One could call it "onion and goat cheese tart," however, as it calls for a lot of onions and is also delicious made without the bacon. Or, try adding sliced fennel while cooking down the onions. Though the recipe calls for all-purpose flour, you could substitute 1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour in the crust. Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer.

For the crust:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
½ tsp coarse salt
3 ounces cream cheese, cold and cut into 4 chunks
2-3 TB ice water
milk to brush the crust

For the filling:
½ pound bacon
1 TB olive oil
2 pounds (about 4 large) onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp coarse salt
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
¾ cup (3-4 ounces) crumbled fresh goat cheese

To make the crust, cut the butter into small cubes and freeze for at least 15 minutes. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add the cream cheese and process for about 20 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the butter and pulse until no butter is larger than the size of a pea. Add the ice water and process for about 30 seconds, or until a pinch of the dough holds together. If it doesn’t, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Knead just until it holds together in one piece. Shape the dough into a flat disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough is chilling, cook the bacon in a sauté pan or skillet until it is about halfway cooked. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Put the pan with the remaining bacon fat (or 2 tablespoons of butter, if you are skipping the bacon), over medium heat. Add the olive oil and then the sliced onions and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the onions slowly, stirring occasionally, until they are deep golden brown and caramelized, 35-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F with a rack in the second-lowest position. On a nonstick baking mat or piece of parchment paper, roll the chilled dough into a rough circle about 1/8 inch thick and 14-16 inches in diameter. (The edges do not have to be smooth and neat.) Lift the baking mat with the crust onto a cookie sheet. Spread the caramelized onions over the crust, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge. Coarsely chop the bacon and sprinkle it evenly over the onions, followed by the thyme leaves, and finally the goat cheese. Fold the edges of the crust in over the filling, pleating the edges as necessary. Brush the crust with milk. Bake the tart for 30-35 minutes until the crust is golden. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Savory Corn Cakes
Excellent with a tomatillo or pico de gallo salsa. Grate a little cheese on top while still warm, if you'd like. Serves 4.

1 TB oil
1 cup thinly sliced leeks
3 cups fresh corn kernels, about 3 ears worth
1 jalapeño, minced, to taste
salt to taste
1 TB lemon juice
2 eggs
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
oil for cooking

Saute leeks, corn and chilies in oil with a sprinkling of salt for about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and set aside. Whisk together eggs and yogurt. Blend together dry ingredients. Add corn mixture to the eggs and then fold in the dry ingredients.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle over medium high heat. Spoon batter making 3" rounds. Cook until golden on both sides, flipping once, about 7 minutes total.

Tomato Toasts with Bacon & Blue Cheese
For the bacon eaters, an over-the-top BLT! Serve with mesclun on the side. Serves 6.

4 slices bacon
6 slices bread
6 TB oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup minced leek
3 TB vinegar (sherry is nice here)
3 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/2" thick rounds
30 small basil leaves
1 1/2 oz crumbled blue cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Cook bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towel to drain. Crumble when cool. Reserve bacon fat. Grill bread slices 3 at a time in same skillet, turning once, until golden brown. Add a bit of oil as needed. Remove to a cooling rack, season with salt and pepper.

For dressing heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat and 3 tablespoons oil in small heavy saucepan. Add leeks and cook about 2 minutes, until soft. Whisk in vinegar and salt and pepper until well combined. Cover and keep warm.

Arrange toasts on a platter or individual plates. Layer tomatoes, blue cheese, basil and bacon, ending with a sprinkling of blue cheese on top. Spoon warm dressing over it all and season with fresh ground black pepper.

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