Farm living in NYC

cooking-with-faye-2-feb-07-wilkes-co-ga-067.jpgI’m not a farm girl. For one, I’m afraid of cows. A herd of them running towards me, each weighing in at about 500 pounds does not put me at peace. However, living on a farm even if for just a few days, makes you a witness to what comes out of the earth, goes back into the earth, not just into a trash can that gets carried away by a bigger trash can on wheels to somewhere that nobody likes to think about. Last week, instead of keeping a garbage bowl on the counter while I cooked, I had a goat bowl. Everything that could be chewed by a goat went in the bowl, and I think it was 50% of what got thrown away. If you have a place for paper and metal, that is very little garbage at the end of the day. I am also afraid of goats though. I let ten year old Nancy, who protected me from the oncoming cattle, feed the goats and I watched from a distance, waving. The goats are lawnmowers, (saving on gas), cheese makers, milk makers, and fertilizers. Even with a good sized backyard, I am not going to keep a goat, but I am thinking I have got to find a way to stop throwing away banana peels into plastic bags that get dumped in the ocean. I am going to figure out how to have a compost.

You can either just make a big pile out back of all the uncooked and meat free stuff and just keep turning it with a pitchfork (I know you have a pitchfork), making sure to get all your old grass cuttings and dead leaves in there along with it. Or instead of the stinky old coffee can that we used to use when I was a kid, you can buy yourself a pretty composting pail from backyardgardner.com, or even better an automatic kitchen compost machine from kitchencontraptions.com. They say to put that thing on your counter and every two weeks you have yourself a few pounds of black gold to sprinkle over your garden. I don’t recommend this in NYC. Keep it outside on your fire escape because I don’t care what you call it, the roaches are going to come and eat it if it’s edible and left out on a counter for two weeks.
I like the polywrap wastepaperbin these guys have as well, that works without plastic bags. You just unfold it after you dump it out, and wipe it clean.

To get myself inspired to grow something out there once I have the dirt, I’m going to make an herb oil. It’s beautiful tossed with pasta, dripped onto bits of bread, or drizzled over steak or even fish.

Get your best olive oil ready–any oil that tastes like at least the fruit of the olive, and leaves your mouth feeling clean without a greasiness left on your lips. Smash a big handful of fresh basil in a mortar and pestle, grinding instead of pounding. Add the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh marjoram, fresh mint, and even a little parsley. There is no exact amount of anything. Add a little kosher salt, and then once the herbs are ground to a paste, drizzle in the olive oil, drop by drop until you have about 1 part leaves to 2 parts oil.

Biscotti or whatever name you want to give them.

Ms. J. asked me for the recipe for my biscotti (aka cantucci, or mandlebrot), and I gave it to her, but somehow I have what she wrote down sitting next to me here by my computer, so here it is again. It is the best recipe I have ever known for biscotti. The truth is, all cookies in Italy are called biscotti. In Tuscany, these are called cantucci, and you wouldn’t put the raisins in them, and the recipe would be slightly different, but I like these the best. You want the batter to be thick enough to form into the logs, but not super stiff like a gingerbread.

2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
pinch of cinnamon
Mix these together.

5 Tablespoons of canola oil
4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Mix these together, then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add about a 1/2 cup of raisins and 1/2 cup of whole almonds with their skins. Form the dough into three logs on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until set, or for about 20 minutes. You want no squishiness in the middle. Cool slightly. Slice into 1/2 inch slices, turn the slices onto their flat side, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and bake again for another 5 or 10 minutes until they are going golden on the bottom. They will continue to harden when they come out of the oven.

The eating is good in Georgia

cooking-with-faye-1-feb-07-wilkes-co-ga-062.jpgI was standing out in the middle of a field on the farm yesterday morning as the sun was coming up, and the sky was glowing pink and I was breathing the warm Georgia wind, and the earth and bare trees and long grasses were holding me in a hammock of memory and history that I have never known, but that I could feel. It is something when the earth speaks to you. There is nothing to do but stand there and take it in. I cried when I left. I don’t know if it was the cat called Little Kitty that found her way to my lap and loved me even though I am a known cat shunner, the group of students I had who were all so full of life, or Miss Linda and her family and Miss Sandy who are such amazing pillars of family and work and love. I don’t know. But I feel honored to have been there and nourished.
I ate. We had an onion tart the last day with a whole pile of onions that had been thinly sliced and sauted in olive oil and butter and a good pinch of kosher salt and a bay leaf until they were golden brown inside and out, and then cooked a good two hours more with spoonfuls of homemade stock ladled in bit by bit. At the end I tossed in some crispy bacon and gave it a little drizzle of heavy cream before baking. We had a torta ripiene with cornmeal added to the pasta sfrolla. We stuffed it with thinly sliced prociutto cotto, fontina cheese, sauted and squeezed spinach, roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, a skinny frittata and then sealed the edges with grated parmesan and a good egg wash. We had a spicy salad of baby bitter greens and a selection of stinky cheeses and dessert until it was not possible to eat another thing except a few chocolate orange slices, a sliver of fig and almond cake and candied ginger.
I didn’t leave without a little something Southern though. Miss Linda made homemade sausage, Miss Caroline and Miss Nancy took me to Big Chick for a fried chicken filet sandwich with tomato, onion, mustard, mayo and pickle, fried okra, fried sweet corn, and fried onion rings, and Mr. David went out to buy me two kinds of grits, and thick sliced country ham to fry so that I could make an honest breakfast when I got home.
You put all that together, and boom, before you know it, the cook is crying.

Still alive and made the ribs

We nearly lost me yesterday.  I woke up feeling like I was good for nothing but using my remains for library paste, and when I called home for advice, my husband said, “you’ll rally.”  He is forever the optimist, but meanwhile the whole morning was gone, I was well into the afternoon, and I felt my chances of rallying were no where near hopeful.  I called the ladies who were touring the lovely downtown of Washington, GA. and told them about my emergency.  While I was on the phone, I could hear somebody in the background saying they knew how to make the ribs that were on the menu and could take over, and someone else was saying she could make a mean grilled cheese, also known as croque monsieur.  I think it was their kindness that healed me.  The first thing on their agenda they said was to be sure I was all right, and within half an hour, two of them were back at the farm with medicines for whatever ails a stomach.  I always complain about my husband sounding like an unconvincing football fan for the losing team when I’m down in the fight, but he is right–I do I have a history of pulling myself up by the shoelaces and getting back out there.  It was a little bit of miracle, some cream filled cookies, and a lot of ginger tea.  We made baby back ribs that were braised in garlic, white wine and fresh rosemary, roasted fingerling potatoes with La Macchia olive oil, black eyed peas, wilted swiss chard with more garlic, an appetizer of waldorf salad with a homemade mayonnaise and pate, and then for dessert, strawberries sweetened with a spoonful of sugar, layered between crespelle, and whipped cream (about one third mascarpone folded into freshly whipped cream (loosen the mascarpone first with a little of the whipped cream before folding in the rest, sweeten with sugar, and add a little fresh lemon zest.)

This morning I made scones for breakfast and we tasted them with eight different kinds of homemade jam.  I fed a baby calf a half gallon bottle, and then we went looking for cow bones in the boneyard.  I got myself a nice jaw with the teeth still in it.

Get yourself to the farmer’s market in Dekalb

I have my short sleeves on to come outside this morning.  There are daffodils running havock through the grass, and sky everywhere.  I am about to make breakfast, and then I’ll go right into lunch, and from there to dinner.  There are about fifteen cows standing outside the barn where I am cooking. I see horses in the fields below, and I have been told that a goat or a goat and his family is nearby.  On the menu tonight is homemade pasta with sauce, but a city girl who has spent too much time in Italy forgot that not everyone has a pasta machine.  And I don’t think there is a pasta machine store anywhere too close.  I’ll make bringoli.  We’ll roll each strand out by hand like they do at the fest of Lisciano Niccone.  Just pile up some flour in a bowl, add water until you have a dough and then knead for about five minutes.  Let it rest, then pull off tiny bits and roll them into skinny snakes.  When your sugo is ready, throw the bringoli into boiling water for about two minutes, and then sauce it up.

I have never seen such a market as I saw yesterday in Dekalb.  They had everything from fresh bread, to every green known to mankind, wild and otherwise, and fresh turmeric and a whole section of goat.  The place is as big as a few football fields, and I think should be on everyone’s list of what to see when they are shouting distance from Atlanta.

 

The cook won’t be working at home tonight

I’m about to get on the plane. In a panic yesterday I bought roasted chicken and five apples to leave behind, and 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate to take with me.  I start worrying that Jonathan is going to forget to feed Ferdinand, which he has never done, and wouldn’t be possible since Ferdinand gives unmistakable clues like “can I have something to eat”.  I also worry they will eat cereal until I get back on Sunday, which they have never done, and wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if it did happen, and there is no where near enough to cereal in the cupboard to last that long anyways.  They will miss me, but the truth is, they don’t need me.  I can’t talk about though right now, because I’ll start crying and I just cleaned my face and I only have about five minutes to go.  I don’t know what they are going to have for dinner tonight.

Georgia

I’m flying to Georgia tomorrow to teach. I haven’t been to Georgia since I fell in love with the preacher’s son when I was 17, and he was living in Augusta to go to school. The preacher’s son and I didn’t get along that well afer a while, but he stole my heart there for a minute, and I loved Georgia. I had some of the best food I’ve ever had, barbecue and beautiful biscuits and cakes that weren’t fooling around, and were the definition of tenderness. I am hoping that the menu that I put together will do justice. I seem to have a way of marching myself into places where my only tangible connection is an old boyfriend that came from there, and thinking that’s enough to give me the right to teach people how to cook. The thing is, it can help. When you really fall in love, you fall in love with the whole thing, the whole package–be it man or country–and if it’s a man, then it’s who the man is and where he comes from, how the man smells, how he speaks, his touch and the food that makes him who he is. And so that your heart doesn’t break into bits when you leave him, you memorize all of that, and if you love him enough, it becomes forever a part of you, in one way or another. I know that sounds like some kind of bad B horror movie that they wouldn’t even put on television, but it’s the truth. And I have memorized just a little bit of Georgia and locked it into my DNA somewhere.
Solid cooking skills get you just so far.

Here are two of the menus I’m taking with me:

To start: waldorf salad with a homemade lemon mayonnaise, pate with bruschetta
Dinner: ribs
roasted potates
garlic greens
black eyed peas
Dessert: Stacked crepes with strawberries and fresh cream

And I always take some Italy everywhere I go:

Starter: Fresh pea, mint and mascarpone frittata
Dinner: Oven roasted artichokes with lemon zest, garlic puree and parsley
Pan Seared salmon with papa al pommodoro
Roasted asparagus with fresh fennel and nicoise olives

Chocolate souffle

Risotto is in the house

blogff0326.JPGSometimes, it’s not that you can’t think of what to make because you have no options–sometimes, it’s because there are too many. I open the cupboard, I see a little fat pack of carnarolli rice, and a thick fog rolls in. My mind goes totally numb, because all the possibilities start charging in like men from a French footbal team. There is seafood risotto with langoustine and mussels and sea bass or a deep red wine risotto, haunted by Valpolicella, a roasted cherry tomato and leek with a ricotta salata, or an innocent risotto with a bit of crisped pancetta and peas with just a tease of rosemary and butter at the end. If there were a menu involved, plates waiting to be matched up in front and in back, then that can help, but when it’s a one shot deal dinner, I don’t know. You could meditate as I sometimes do on what do you really, really want–what’s going to increase your production of red blood cells–but on a Monday, I don’t always have it in me. On days like these there’s nothing wrong with sticking to whatever you made the last time. Even then, risotto is perfect for making a dinner into a feast with one dish; it needs no major accessories, no detailed courses or a date with an overpriced piece of meat. Just a little salad, maybe two or three cheeses that you never tried before and a bottle of good wine.
I’m making my risotto mushroom:

You have got to get the love thing going before you start your risotto. The difference between a risotto made with love and a risotto made with a spoon alone, is something that makes you hungry for more, and a bowl of rice.
You can use a mushroom stock for this, which would just be mushroom stems, a carrot, a celery stalk, a large onion, a piece of garlic, parsley, thyme, a few peppercorns, and possibly a fennel frond, but I like to use a chicken stock instead, because it makes for a more delicate mushroom flavor. For chicken stock, use exactly the above, but instead of the mushroom stems, use a pack of chicken bones. You want to bring just the bones to a boil first, then throw away the water and start again. This gets all the weird stuff out of the stock. The trick with stock is to skim it. Whenever you pass by the stock pot, or happen to think about it, skim it. You can let it simmer for anywhere from twenty minutes, to four hours. The longer you cook it, the deeper the flavor.
For six people, I use a pound to a pound and a half of fresh mushrooms, of any combination, and 3 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for about twenty minutes, then drain them, using a cheesecloth, or strong paper towel. Strain the liquid again, so that you can use it as well. The dirt the dried mushrooms leave behind is very fine, and you want to avoid getting it into your risotto. Rinse the mushrooms carefully, under running water, and set aside. Wipe, and thickly slice the fresh mushrooms. Cover the bottom of a dutch oven with olive oil, and add enough mushrooms to the pot, so that they cover the bottom, without overcrowding them. Let them sit for a minute before stirring, or seasoning, and then sprinkle on some salt, a fresh sprig of thyme or marjoram, and stir around until the mushrooms are cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the fresh mushrooms. Get a piece of garlic going in a little more olive oil, and toss in the porcini. Stir them around, a about a quarter of a cup of their liquid, and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated. Mix all the mushrooms together, and set them aside. Give some color to 3 garlic cloves. Throw in a chopped red onion, and let it soften. Stir in a cup and a half of risotto, and mix around with the onion until the rice grains are clear. Begin adding the hot stock, a ladle full or two at a time, and stir gently. You want to do this lovingly. There is no rushing a risotto that is made this way. If you do, everything breaks down on the outside, and hardens in the middle, which is no good at all. As the rice absorbs the liquid, continue to add stock, until the rice is al dente, with some liquid remaining. Stir in the mushrooms, and a few Tablespoonfuls of vermouth. At this point, you want to stir the risotto as little as possible, so fold in 4 Tablespoons of butter, and a cup of grated parmesan. Serve immediately. People should already be sitting at the table, with their forks in their hands.

Make some tiramisu for yourself

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, and without warning, I miss Italy. I can feel my heart ache for even just the smell of it. I want to be shopping at Trabalza, the butcher, sitting on their little red stool while I wait for all the old ladies to go first, (because in Italy your place in line doesn’t count for much; what are going to do, fight with an old lady?), I want to eat Parmigiano Reggiano that is just taking on hint of the first Spring grass, and I want a coffee and bloated cornetto from Bar Centrale. I want to trudge up to my friend Caroline’s house on the hill, past the ducks and the chickens and sit by her fire.
Chicken parmesan has nothing to do with Italy, but make it anyways. Any good American will be transported immediately with the first bite. For a starter have asparagus with a poached egg, and for dessert a tiramisu that will separate the women from the girls and the men from the boys.
Put three whole cloves of garlic in a heavy pan with a spill of olive oil, cutting the garlic in half, and letting them go golden. Add four or five whole fresh basil leaves. Over low heat, wait until they are translucent. Turn off the heat. Add one 28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, squished well with your hands before they go in the pot. Get the heat back on. Sprinkle in a few red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Cook for 30 minutes at a simmer. Cut some chicken breasts in half horizontally, and then pound them out to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Season lightly on both sides with kosher salt. Dip in flour, then egg, then Panko bread crumbs (you will find them in the asian food section of the grocery store). Let them rest a minute or two, then add them to heavy pan that has been glistened with olive oil. They should cook without disturbing, until they are nicely browned, and then flip to do the other side. Remove and rest them on a paper towel or brown paper. Ladle in some sauce into a lasagna pan, so that the bottom is just covered. Lay the chicken breasts in a single layer. Spoon a little more sauce on top without drowning them. Add slices of fresh mozarella, and some grated parmesan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, just to melt the cheese.
For the asparagus, boil salted water, drop in the asparagus, and cook for 4 minutes. Drizzle with a little of your best olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss them around in a bowl, and then arrange them on a plate. Bring another frying pan halfway full of water to a simmer, add 1 spoonful of vinegar per egg, and then drop in as many eggs as there are people, cracking the egg onto a plate first, and then sliding it into the pan. When it has just set through the white, but not the yolk, (spoon a little hot water over the top of the yolk), remove with a slotted spoon and rest on paper towel. You can keep these in ice water until you need them, just redry them on towel. Lay the eggs over the asparagus and then add shavings of parmesan, and some fresh chive.
For the tiramisu, separate 6 eggs. Beat the yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar (add the sugar gradually) and when it is thick and creamy, add 500 grams of mascarpone. Beat the whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Fold them into the mascarpone mixture. sweeten 1 1/2 cups of coffee with a few spoonfuls of sugar, and add 4 tablespoons of vin santo, or marsala. Dip the pavesini or lady fingers into the liquid, quickly and just til moistened. Lay them into your dessert dish (a flattish one) in a single layer. Spoon on the mascarpone. Another layer of cookies, and more mascarpone. Over the top, right before serving, sift unwsweetened dutch process cocoa.
Pour yourself a glass of prosecco and float some crushed strawberries in there.

hook, line and sinker

My last little valentine of what to eat in NYC. In my week as a tourist in my own town, I stumbled across a chocolatier that I might have never seen if I weren’t the type to look to the side and behind and above, as much as I look in front of me when I walk. It isn’t always good for staying up on two feet, but the payoff can be huge. On Thompson street, tucked into the old neighborhood bit of Soho, is Kee’s chocolates. You know how you feel when you have just fallen absolutely and completely in love, your heart beats with the vigor of waves after a hurricane and everything has a deeper color and a purer note and life is only lovely? You can smell and taste and touch in a way that was unknown. I innocently bit into a chocolate made by Ms. Kee on Tuesday, and I have been able to think of nothing else since. My goal in every minute, if I’m honest with myself is to get back to Kee’s and have more.
Each chocolate is handmade by the owner in a shop no bigger than two large elevators. The flavors change with the seasons and ingredients that are available. They last no longer than a week, and have to be kept in the refrigerator. You are best to eat them in the minute; some things just can’t be kept. They are creme brule or thai chile pepper or honey saffron, almond ganache covered with slivered and toasted almonds, or balsamic in a dark chocolate truffle. They are a gift in every sense of the word.
Meanwhile, for dinner, my car broke down on the BQE, I have not a grocery item in the house, and the city is sinking into a deep freeze.
Make a veal shin and that way you can knaw on it for a few days and you don’t have to leave the house. Season the shin with plenty of kosher salt. Sear it in butter that has a drop of olive oil in it to keep the butter from burning. Make sure the meat is well browned on all sides. Remove the meat fromt he pan. Wipe out the butter with a spatula. Put the meat back in. Add a whole head of whole garlic cloves, some sprigs of fresh thyme, and a cup of good dry white wine. Set the meat in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, covered with the lid askew, or with heavy foil that has been slit in a few places, pouring over the pan juices about every five minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees, and keep cooking for another 2 hours, basting about every 15 minutes. Add wine as you ned it. At the end of the 2 hours, take off the cover, and allow the meat to brown.
Serve with celery root mashed into potato, a salad of bitter greens, and oven roasted carrots. For your salad make black olives and 2 inch bread crumbs that you toast in the pan or oven with a little olive oil and garlic.