Do you in

All week, I've been baking. Not polite baking. No, there's been none of that. Not applesauce cakes and morning glory muffins and granola and bread. No, I've been measuring oil, sifting confectioners' sugar, creaming butter. I have really, really been committing some serious sins.

It's been so bad around here, that the other morning the fishmonger claimed he could no longer button his pants. I think he was joking, but in sort of a serious way that was kind of scary and told me I really, really have to stop. Luckily, I have an office to go to, and plenty of people to share with. I mean really, how hard can it be to get rid of a cake?

Not very, as it turns out. I brought half of the one above in for lunch the other day, and every slice was gone in a snap. There's not really a set of office etiquette around here for this sort of thing (we're quite an informal bunch) but I think the gesture went over fairly happily. I won't test anyone's patience (or their pant buttons), and I think it might be time to hold off of baking for at least a week, but it's good to know you have somewhere to turn when things get bad.

Really, though, if you can manage to limit yourself to just one deliriously sinful baked good, the week doesn't have to be like this. Even if you just make this cake, and even as rich as it is, you probably won't even get a bellyache, because I cut the recipe in half.

I wanted you to be safe. If you have six people at the table, you might even be able to finish it over a single round of after dinner coffee, or maybe even a bottle of wine. Really, it's pretty foolproof, as long as you don't do anything outrageous like double the recipe, or frost the sides, or something rash like that. That sort of behavior will definitely do you in.


1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnut oil or mild olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup stewed rhubarb or 1/2 cup canned pineapple, un-drained
1 cup grated carrots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add in oil, mixing until well blended, then add vanilla, rhubarb (or pineapple), and carrots and mix until everything is just combined. Spoon batter into a greased 6- to 8-inch tube pan and bake for roughly 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg

Cream butter until soft. Add in confectioners’ sugar 1/4 cup at a time, beating until combined before each addition. When butter and sugar are well blended and creamy, add in egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Spread evenly over cake top.

P.S. The carrots were fresh (or as fresh winter carrots can be), leftover from my winter farmers' market visit to Rhode Island. The rhubarb emerged in the dreaded freezer purge...


The Local Food Report: Lettuce Learn

When you were a kid, do you remember knowing where lettuce came from?

I think I knew that it grew in the ground, as a plant, using photosynthesis and all that, but the memory's a little fuzzy these days.

If you had the same idea, you should know you're fairly special. Or more importantly, that your parents and teachers were fairly special, for making sure you did. Because these days, if you ask a lot of American kids where lettuce comes from, they'll say the grocery store. And they're right; for the most part, it does, and that's the end of it. There's very little discussion.

But Dave Dewitt—who runs First Light Organic Farm in Truro—is trying to change that. He used to work for a non-profit out in California, encouraging community gardens and trying to make good use of not-so-desirable open space. In the process, he ended up writing a curriculum called "Lettuce Learn." The idea was to get kids thinking about food, and how it grows, and where it comes from, by integrating it into their everyday subjects: journal writing, science, math. There was a cooking and gardening component too, which the teachers got on board with, and which some kids even took home.

One boy, a tomato lover, saved the tomato seeds from his sandwich and planted them using hangers as trellises in front of his project building in the dirt. Clearly, he was a grower, but the best part about the curriculum was that not all kids had to approach it like that. Some could learn about their food through writing, others through math. And the more they learned, the more they got interested in eating the fresh veggies they were growing.

Broccoli? No problem.

Since his kids started school in Truro, Dewitt has been setting up field trips to the farm and helping the kids grow seedlings on their classroom windowsills. But he wants to do more—he wants to get all the schools involved, teaching about food and growing as a way to raise healthy kids.

In Wellfleet he's found a partner—Lee Wotherspoon, who heads up the Fit Futures program for Outer Cape Health. She works to stop the spread of childhood obesity, and agrees that getting kids to eat things like broccoli and lettuce by teaching them where it comes from is a good way to help them lead a healthier life.

Dewitt's still waiting to get the rights to his curriculum released from the non-profit in California so that he can share it here, but he says even if he doesn't get the okay, they're going to make it work. Heck, he'll even re-write it if he has to.

There will likely be some meetings coming up—the idea is still very much in the birthing stage—but when I get an update, you'll be the very first to know.

In the meantime, what's going on at the schools of your kids? Gardens? Healthy lunches? More?


Just a quick note

This is just
a quick note to say
don't forget about pasta
when you're cleaning out
your freezer.

It can do wonders for
tomato sauce
even things like
and frozen corn.

And all you need is
and water.

Imagine that.


This recipe came with my crank. It is simple and delicious, and it dries well for safe-keeping if you make a big batch. You can roll out the dough with a rolling pin if you don't have a crank, but the hand machines don't usually cost an exorbitant amount. Especially if you can find one on eBay, which you usually can.

5 eggs
1 pound all-purpose flour
water (as needed)

Pour the flour onto a kitchen table or counter top. Push it into a mound, then carve out a shallow well in the center. Crack the eggs into this well, and whisk gently with a fork to combine and break the yolks, trying not to whisk in any flour (a little bit is okay).

Slowly begin whisking flour into the eggs from the sides of the well, until all flour is brought in or the mixture becomes too stiff to mix. If this happens, add some water—the dough should be moist but not stick to your hands. Finish mixing by hand, kneading the dough until smooth and elastic. Flatten and shape as directed using a hand crank machine, or roll the dough out as thin as you possibly can, and cut it with a knife into thin strips.

If you cook the pasta fresh, remember it will cook much faster than dried pasta. Fresh pasta usually only needs a minute or two in boiling water. If you choose to dry some of the pasta, lay it in strips on a cookie sheet or kitchen drying rack. Let it sit for a day, then store in airtight jars.


Tack it on

I can't stay long today. There are too many post-its cluttering my to-do list, too many phone calls to make, and not nearly, nearly enough hours in the day. But before I go deal with all that, I have a task to add to your to-do list for the week.

Try your hand at a sourdough starter.

I know I implored you before, a few weeks ago, when I made my first loaf of sourdough bread. But it doesn't take much, and once you get going — oh! — the bread. We've gotten into a routine around here. One day you feed the starter to build it up, the next day you mix all but a bit of the wet starter with flour to make a firm starter. (You have to save some, so that you'll be able to bake with it again.)

After that's sat overnight, you mix it up with more flour, water, sugar, and a bit of salt, and knead it, and you have bread dough. It takes forever to rise—all, all day at least—and then you punch it down and let it rise again overnight. Then, finally, it's ready to bake, and while it's in the oven, you start the whole process over again.

That way, when you devour the first loaf, you have a new one in hand.

The whole process sounds a whole lot more laborious than it is, because all of these are little baby steps, sort of like emptying the dishwasher or making your bed. Once you have them down pat, they're really no big deal. Plus, unlike yeast bread, you don't have to sit around watching the dough rise. It takes its time, while you're out for the day at work, so you don't have to stay home all day simply to make a loaf of bread. It makes much more sense, if you ask me.

If I've convinced you to tack it on to your list, check out the hilarious chapter on making a starter in this book or read up here or check out the video here—everyone has a little something different to say. Good luck—and please, please keep me posted on what you discover along the way.


Taking stock

There comes a time in February when you have to deal with the contents of your freezer, or else. That time is now.

Paw through, and you will discover you have stashed away enough to feed a small army for many, many months. Yesterday, I took stock and discovered the following: chicken livers, turkey stock, chopped rhubarb, sliced strawberries, pesto, tomato sauce, pork sausage, green beans, corn, carrots, blueberries, venison, lobster mushrooms, steak, celery leaves, applesauce, homemade grape juice concentrate, tomato juice, and a ten pound box of blue cheese. I'm fairly sure I'm leaving something out, because you name it, we've got it. Oh! There was flounder. And bay scallops. I think we'll leave it at that.

When the inventory is this large, a mandatory shopping moratorium must be introduced. Ours went into effect last week, with the only exceptions allowed being butter, flour, sugar, and anything else necessary for making use of this monstrous heap of frozen goods. On the bright side, emptying the freezer is a sure sign that spring is on the way.

Not so incidentally, this is also a good time for a shopping moratorium based on the rather empty, sad state of many Cape Cod bank accounts (who knew winter could make you miss waiting tables so much?). On top of that, there is currently very little to buy locally when it comes to food, and I for one am not sure how many more bowls of winter squash and cabbage I can eat.

And so yesterday I did my weekly shop downstairs. Among other things, I picked up a pint of high bush blueberries, which ended up being just the thing for a batch of Saturday morning muffins. They don't pouf up like the big muffins you find at bakeries, which are coated in sugar and have such distinct regions as muffin and muffin top, but rather rise into small, peaked, more serving-sized-appropriate mounds. They are very much homemade and delicious warm with a little pat of butter.


adapted from Dishing up Maine by Brooke Dojny

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
2 eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups fresh or frozen high bush blueberries (If frozen, do not thaw. This will prevent the berries from bleeding juice into the batter and falling apart.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin (1/2 cup capacity per muffin) with butter or line with paper liners. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In another medium-sized bowl whisk eggs until combined, then whisk in milk and melted butter. (Be sure to let it cool down a bit, so that it doesn't cook the eggs.) Pour the dry ingredients into the wet, whisking until just combined. (Do not overmix, or the muffins will be tough.) Fold in the blueberries, and spoon the batter evenly into the muffin tins.

Bake until the muffins are golden brown and springy to the touch, roughly 20 minutes. Let them cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and enjoy warm.


The Local Food Report: Red Russian Kale

Kale, you are one tough cookie. February, the coldest month, and you're still going strong. Even under a blanket of snow?

You have some serious hutspa, that's for sure. From what I've gathered, it's a build up of sugar that makes you so strong. You use the sugar to push water from inside your cells into the extracellular zone, where it can freeze without doing you any harm. Now who came up with that?

Whoever it was, I think we both owe them a tremendous thank-you. You survive the winter, and we have charming winter greens. Hurrah!

The funny thing is, the person I met you through planted you by mistake. She meant to plant Eastham turnips, but picked your seeds up instead. I'm guessing you knew that all along, but chose not to say anything. I understand.

But the long and the short of it is, you turned out to be a wonderful mistake. Not necessarily financially, as you require quite a bit more work, but for those of us who simply can't take another day of root vegetables. In that department, you've been a miracle worker. Especially for the shoppers at Orleans' Phoenix Fruits. You get dropped off there most weeks—when the snow has melted for a moment or two, allowing your planter to pick—in a big, red, bushy case. She thaws you out in a bowl of warm water, lets you regain your strength, pats you dry, and you're off. You're Red Russian kale, after all, not just some everyday face. You could run out any day, any storm now, but that's okay. You're doing everything you can to see us through.

I like you especially in soups. The other day your planter left you for me in a cooler by her field, and I conjured up a big, burly pot of Portuguese kale soup: sausage and Maine kidney beans, stored potatoes, onions, and garlic, a bit of beef broth, and crushed tomatoes I'd put up towards the end of summer. It is one of my very favorite soups. You cooked down to the perfect consistency—hardly limp and lifeless like spinach—but instead soldiering on, limber and proud.

I can't thank you enough.


adapted from a recipe that Mac's Seafood serves at their clam shack on the Wellfleet Town Pier

1/2 to 1 pound (depending on which of these you choose, and how "meaty" you want the soup to be) sausage, chorizo, or linguica, in bite-sized bits
1 medium-sized white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red kidney beans, soaked overnight, or until soft (simmer in water before adding to soup, if needed)
3 medium-sized potatoes, diced
1 quart crushed tomatoes
1 quart beef broth
1 large bunch kale (I used Red Russian, but whatever you can find locally will work)
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté whatever meat you choose in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. When it has rendered a good amount of fat, add onions and garlic, and sauté until translucent. Next add potatoes, sauté for several minutes more, and then kidney beans. Keep stirring and season with salt and pepper to taste (but remember you will be adding beef broth, which adds salt).

Deglaze the pan with about a cup of the beef broth, let it reduce by about half, and add the rest along with the crushed tomatoes. Depending on how juicy your crushed tomatoes are, you may need to add a bit of water at this point. Bring soup to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Throw in the kale and taste again for salt and pepper, adding seasoning as needed. Continue stirring from time to time, and cook until liquid has reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2 and has formed a nice, slightly thick broth.

Serve hot. This soup is especially good peasant style, with a chunk of hard white cheese and a hunk of county sourdough.


Better news today

I have much, much better news for you today. I tried another experiment with an unusual ingredient, but this time, it was edible. Not just edible, in fact, but dare I say, delicious. And just the thing when the weather at the beach is looking very un-summery, like this:

This time, it was oat groats I was trying to tame. If the name makes you giggle, well, it does the same thing to me. Every time I hear it I think of some old man of the forest tending goats, which is very much not the picture you should be getting. In reality, oat groats look much more like dark, wild rice.

They also (and this still seems to me almost too good to be true, so I'm sending you a imaginary drum roll as I type) taste like rice. And act like rice. And chew like rice. And do just about every other thing rice does, except have to be cooked with the lid on, and grown far away. The only real difference is they cook like oats, with plenty of water and stirring, which is just fine with me. Better, really, for those of us who like to peek.

But the most exciting thing of all that is they came from as close as Maine. This is much, much closer than any rice I've found, so I think that fact in and of itself deserves a big hurray. While they're not quite rice—they get a little stickier around the edges, because of the stirring I think—they're awfully close. They're good with a stir fry on top, or in soups, or even (!) in rice pudding.

This last fact I discovered late last night, after a somewhat blah Monday. I was rustling around in the kitchen, and talking with my mother on the phone, and sort of wishing I were still on last week's vacation, sitting in my parents' kitchen in Maine. I was picturing the scene in my head, my mother rummaging through her recipe box, my father studying his wine chart at the counter, the fishmonger pointing out a vintage here, shaking his head there. It all seemed very far away.

And then I remembered. There would be a rice pudding recipe on that counter, floating around, talked about, but never made.

My father had made it once, last year, the night before we'd arrived on another visit. My mother'd had a particular hankering, and we'd shown up, after dark and hungry, and just in time to demolish the leftovers. It had been a rich, creamy pudding, flecked with raisins and topped with a perfectly sumptuous meringue, and with us it had lasted mere minutes, at most.

Yesterday, that was true again. Only this time we made it with oat groats, and a little bit survived until lunch. But after that, the pan was clean, and that was only with two of us. I'd hate to imagine the damage a family of five or six could claim.


A quick note about puddings and custards and ice creams with egg yolks, before you dive in. When you make anything like this, it involves tempering the egg yolks and a thickener (like cornstarch or flour) with the hot milk before simply adding the egg mixture in. If the milk is too hot, the yolks will burn and separate into little chunks, rather than getting creamy and smooth. If it's too cold, the only thing that will happen is nothing much at all. It simply won't get thick until everything gets much hotter.

If the milk and eggs are boiling and still the mixture isn't getting thick, try the process again. Whisk another egg yolk or two with a good dose of cornstarch or flour, temper them again, and add them in. This will almost always do the trick, and in most cases doesn't change the flavor much. Good luck!

2 cups cooked oat groats
2 cups milk
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dried cranberries, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine rice and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and heat to the scalding point. (The milk should begin to steam, but not quite boil.) In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cornstarch. When the milk is hot, add a bit of it, whisking constantly, to the egg mixture to temper it. Then pour the eggs and milk back into the saucepan, and continue whisking over medium heat. After a minute or two (depending on how hot the milk is), the mixture should thicken into a custardy pudding-like state. If not, use more egg yolks and cornstarch, and try again.

Turn the heat off, stir in the vanilla and dried cranberries if desired, and in a large mixing bowl beat the egg whites and sugar into a meringue (Egg whites should be stiff and glossy. If they're not getting there, try adding a pinch of cream of tartar). Pour the pudding into a greased custard pan, and spread the meringue over top. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Enjoy hot.
P.S. Don't worry. I put yesterday's naughty cookies out to think about what they'd done. And then it snowed, which melted into a cold, wet puddle. I think they've learned their lesson. Next time, I have a feeling they'll be plain.


Scottish shortbread

Road trips can give you wretched ideas. I mean really, really terrible ideas. For instance, they can make you imagine that lavender shortbread cookies will taste utterly delicious. They are dead wrong.
It's understandable that I was taken by this. There was a woman selling lavender sugar at my hometown winter farmers' market, and she offered to email me a cookie recipe. Delighted, I tucked it in my bag, a charming little four ounce sachet perfectly measured to the amount needed for a batch. Lavender grows in droves around here. What a wonderful gift idea this could make!

Needless to say, I got carried away. I toted the sachet here and there, up to a ski mountain and back down to my parents' house, then finally through Boston, out along the sand, and home to the Cape. I woke up very early Monday morning, in an effort to prepare something wonderful for you, but the instant the beaters released the scent, I knew. These were going to be awful.

In the end, they were not quite so terrible as I imagined they could be. But they were also not good. Every time you bite into a little lavender petal, your nose crinkles up and you are forced to run, hunched over, to spit them out in the trash can.

Luckily, a year or so ago, my grandmother gave me a fool proof Scottish shortbread recipe that I can offer you instead. It is much, much better than any shortbread made with lavender sugar, at least in my opinion, and it holds its shape better in the oven, too. With only three ingredients, it's also just about the easiest cookie on the planet to make. The recipe is from my grandfather's secretary Margaret, who according to my grandmother had Scottish ancestry and passed these down.

My grandmother annotated the recipe card: "I'm not wild about shortbread, but this is as good as it gets." Thank goodness! Starting with lavender, it couldn't get much worse.


1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
5/8 cup sugar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 and 1/2 cups flour

Mix together thoroughly butter and sugar. Add flour with a pastry blender, then mix with hands. Chill dough (just until workable, not too long or you will not be able to work it and will have to let it warm up again). Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Roll out to 1/3-inch thick on floured board. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters (imprints look especially good on shortbread). Place on ungreased baking sheets, and prick tops as you would a pie shell. Bake 20 to 25 minutes; they should not brown or change shape.


Away for a bit

I'm on the road this week. There's no Local Food Report—the station is doing a Valentine's Day pledge drive. You can show your love here if you'd like. Donations go to the station, not individual shows, but you can help support the Local Food Report by giving it a shout out in the comment box.

We'll be back late Sunday night the 15th, and I promise I'll have a story for you Monday. Until then, I hope you'll be patient. See you soon!


In response

Sometimes, bakers get a lucky stroke. They make an absolutely wonderful loaf of bread, parade it around like a show off, and forget about it for many months. Then, they are asked to repeat the experience.

This, I'm afraid, is when the bubble bursts. They have only made it once, they try again, and the results are never quite exactly the same. Particularly with bread. Because it involves flour, and gluten, and yeast, and warmth, and draftiness, and all other manner of hazards, bread is difficult to repeat.

I would know, because I tried today. I tried making the whole wheat baguette I so happily paraded back in August, and was asked for advice about recently. I tried the recipe I'd had such success with before, only to find that this time, it was a flop. I retraced my steps, tried to remember the keys to my happiness, and this is what I've come up with after baking another slightly better loaf this afternoon. First of all, the type of whole wheat matters. I buy mine from Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater Maine, mainly because it's the closest reliable source I've found, but also because it's very good. It's especially good for baking, because it's a hard red wheat. Hard wheat is better for yeast baking, soft wheat is better for things like pancakes and banana bread. Still, I use it for both.

Secondly, it helps to add a bit of gluten flour to whole wheat bread. Gluten forms proteins that make bread springy and stretchy, and there's less of it in whole wheat flour than white. The general rule is about a tablespoon per cup, but don't add too much: I've found it gives the bread sort of a gross, fake, Wonder loafy-taste.

Then, there is the balance of salts and sweets. Salty, oily ingredients slow down rising yeast, while sugar and honey cause it to get a bit out of hand. So if you cut out the salt, be sure to cut down on sugar, too, otherwise your bread will rise to quickly and then grandly deflate.

There is also temperature to consider. If the liquid in a recipe isn't warm enough, the bread will take forever to rise. On the other hand, if it's too hot, it will kill the yeast. Same with the oven temperature. While "warm" is a very wide range, as a general rule things should stay below 110 degrees. Any hotter, and a major yeast die-off might take place.

Finally, there is always the option to add a little bit of white. The perfect whole wheat loaf is a very, very lofty goal, and though I had a lucky strike, since then I've had better luck with at least a little bit of white flour in the mix. One day, I very, very much hope to recreate the loaf I so happily happened upon this summer (maybe it was the warm house? the humidity in the air? a particularly intoxicating dab of butter and jam?) but until then, I plan to keep contented with this. Also, in the event of disaster, there is always this to make things taste good:

I'm sorry I can't be more specific. But I'm going to keep trying, and eventually, I promise, I will find a sure and steady way to recreate the perfect loaf. And you will be the first to know.


I think a good way to look at moving to whole wheat is to start out with a ratio of one cup whole wheat to 2 cups white (with 1 tablespoon gluten flour) and very slowly begin to turn the tables. Then, once you master the yeast, the temperature, the gluten, and all that, you can adjust the flours to taste, and eventually move to almost all whole wheat. At least that's what I plan to do.

Makes 2 loaves

1 and 1/4 very warm water
1 tablespooon yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon gluten flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Warm up oven. Combine yeast, water, and honey in a medium mixing bowl. Let stand 5 minutes until bubbly. Stir in all purpose flour and salt, and mix vigorously, until smooth. Add remaining whole wheat flour and gluten flour. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes, or until dough is elastic and smooth. Put in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in the warm oven for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Punch down dough and separate into two balls. Roll each into a 5 by 12 inch rectangle, then roll along the side to form a long, thin log. Pinch ends shut, slash diagonally several times with a sharp knife, and arrange loaves on a greased baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise again for about an hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, placing a tray of water on the bottom shelf. Bake loaves 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy hot, with butter.


The Local Food Report: rosemary fried lamb

It is very rare for me to encounter a meat dish that I think is literally finger-licking-good. Pastries, yes. Chocolates, daily. Cheeses and cookie dough go without saying. But meat, I hate to confess, really isn't my thing. It sounds very un-American, I know.

It's not that I don't enjoy a good bowl of wings while feigning interest in the Superbowl, or Gorgonzola Burger Night at work. I do. (Although even then, if we get right down to it, in both cases, it's really the hunky, melting cheese I adore.) But meat is so heavy, and such an endeavor, that is has to be just right for me to bother getting into it.

All this is simply a very long, round about way of saying that this recipe for fried lamb chops is good. Finger-licking-good, in fact. The only trouble with this it is that, if you want to make it with local grass-fed meat, well, you have to buy the whole lamb. And that, in turn, requires making the link between animal and plate.

If that sounds like an unhappy process, hear me out. I mean, don't you think this is a good-looking sheep? A bit skiddish, and camera shy, to be sure, but the type that would produce a very nice, respectable young lamb. The kind that is very good to eat. He's Icelandic, to be specific, one of those old world varieties known for his burly stance come cold weather and especially his beautiful wool. Not to mention his superbly juicy meat.

He belongs to Patrick Roll up in Pembroke—at West Elms Farm—where he lives along with a bunch of rabbits (yes, also to eat), and a llama, and a goat. Although you feel a bit out of place as you drive up—it's a bit of a farm in suburbia scenario—once you realize what Roll is doing and how the lambs eat, it's very cool. On only four acres, he's raising grass-fed lamb. Four acres! Just imagine that.

The way he does it is by rotating the sheep. They get a few days here, a few days there, and then are hustled along by the threat of the electric fence. (Roll says the lambs are actually very smart, but always bump into the fence the first day. Needless to say, it never happens again.) This is actually good for the grass, because it allows for constant trimming without total destruction, which in turn strengthens the roots and prevents the tops from going to seed. Plus, the lambs are forced to eat everything on their plate, even the less tasty things (weeds always go first), which means more food, on less land, and so more fat, healthy lamb to eat.

If it sounds complicated, it's not. The most important thing, in fact, is simply that you know when you buy local, grass fed meat that you are eating a happy, healthy animal, and hopefully end up feeling the same way. I know for me, it's one of those warm, fuzzy moments inside.

Especially when it is lamb chops I am eating, and they are battered and fried. This recipe is not only good, but it's easy, and though it will use up nearly a year's supply of olive oil, at least the other ingredients are fairly routine. All you need is flour, and baking powder, and club soda for the batter, and a bit of salt and pepper to give the meat a rub down. Then you grab a few sprigs of rosemary, presuming you still have some surviving in a sunny corner or maybe even (!) outside, and fry those, too. All this should explain why it's a good idea either to be predisposed to finger-licking-good meat, or to have a napkin handy nearby.

So without taking up any more of your time, I'll leave you to it. Enjoy—


adapted from Olives & Oranges by Sarah Jenkins and Mindy Fox

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 and 1/2 cups club soda
olive oil (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
8 small lamb chops (From the ribs, not the loin. In other words, a whole rack.)
4 sprigs rosemary

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and club soda. Pour olive oil into a large, deep skillet and heat over medium flame. Rub chops with salt and pepper, and let sit for several minutes. When oil is hot, dip chops one at a time in batter and carefully toss into oil to fry. Fry as many as you can fit in the pan at one time, for about 2 or 3 minutes per side. Remove with tongs and let dry on a paper towel to soak up the fat. When all chops are fried, throw in the rosemary, turning it quickly, until it becomes a little bit crackly. Place lamb chops on a serving plate and crumble fried rosemary over top. Serve with a garlic aioli dipping sauce if you'd like, or with a drizzle of lemon.

For more information on managed intensive grazing, the rotational grazing described above, go here or here. If you want to know why we care whether or not cows and sheep eat grass in the first place, I highly recommend checking out this book. Turns out it's more important than we think.


The good with the bad

I have very, very good news to report. Not only did I recently come into a large inheritance of chocolate chip cookie dough, but even better, I learned to make ice cream with it. There. Now you have it, the news of the day.

In case you can't tell from the picture, the cookie dough I've inherited came in industrial tubs, rescued from a dumpster behind an upscale grocery store in Truro. If that sounds kind of gross, well, it is and it isn't.

They do this every year—chuck out whatever's left in the store come Labor Day—and the fishmonger has learned to dumpster dive before anything starts to melt or de-refrigerate in an unsanitary way. This year, he saved an unopened box of Dove bars, not to mention the cookie dough: a whole case. Until just recently, however, they were safely tucked away in the freezer of his store. Then came cleaning day, and he willed it all to me.

Unfortunately, it seems the good always comes with the bad, and in this case it was accompanied by a trip to the dentist. I have a cavity. This really shouldn't come as a surprise, given the way I feel about sweets, but I'd never had one before. I feel sort of like I did after I got my first speeding ticket, like I wish I could just rewind a few minutes, and wipe the record clean. Not to mention avoid the trip back, for the terrific filling event. Mouths and drills should not go together in my opinion.

As I wallow in this discovery, I have decided it is best to comfort myself in the way I am familiar with. Namely, by eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and drinking a cup of black coffee. Surely (?), this will bring back the glory days for my teeth.

The ice cream, I should say, didn't come without a bit of trial and error. The first recipe I tried was from Ben & Jerry's, and the base had far too much heavy cream in my opinion, and not nearly enough egg, and simply refused to freeze. It was very stubborn, that recipe. But it didn't matter too much, as all I really needed once I had the instructions for adding the cookie dough (you have to freeze it in chunks first, and then throw it in at the very last minute, according to the ice cream gurus) was a good recipe for vanilla. I learned that from Alice Waters ages ago.

Basically, you just make a nice, thick, eggy custard, let it cool down in the fridge for a bit, and then whip it into a creamy, delightful freeze. It's actually a lot like making the pastry cream for the apple tart I showed you the other day, only you go on to put the whole mess in an ice cream machine. Provided you have that, it's really no fuss at all.

So here's the recipe. I have to go upstairs and brush my teeth.


adapted from Alice Waters, the Art of Simple Food

This recipe uses a lot of eggs, but I have found that for truly excellent ice cream that is the key. Don't worry about wasting the whites: simply save them for a fritatta the next morning. If you whisk one whole egg into 6 egg whites and bake it with some veggies and cheese, no one will know the difference.

If you have unhomogenized milk, use it instead of half and half. Don't shake it up: just pour the creamy part off the top. This will result in a fat content that is almost the same as the half and half you'll find in the store.

Also, Waters calls for a vanilla bean, but I just stir in extract at the end. You can tweak this recipe to make anything—mint, etc.—that's the beauty of it. And the best part is, if you're making homemade cookie dough, you will likely have enough to make a batch of cookies, too. Which means ice cream sandwiches, in my book.


1 and 1/2 cups cookie dough
6 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups half and half or unhomogenized whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream

Cut cookie dough into chunks, pile into a bowl, cover, and put it in the the freezer to harden up.

Separate eggs, saving whites for another project. Whisk yolks just enough to break them up, and set aside. Pour half and half or milk into a heavy bottomed pot along with sugar and salt. Warm over medium heat until steaming and very close to boiling, but don't let it actually begin to roll. Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg yolks to temper them (in order to warm them up, so they won't cook immediately when they hit the pot and get chunky and not thicken properly), then whisk the egg mixture back into the milk in the pot.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes to maybe 10, depending on how hot you let the milk get initially. Just be patient, and if it seems like nothing is happening, gently turn up the heat. When it coats the back of a spoon and has the consistency of custard, remove from heat, stir in heavy cream and a bit of vanilla to taste (maybe a teaspoon or two) and pour into a metal bowl. Chill thoroughly.

Pour the custard into an ice cream maker, leaving room for the cookie dough. (Depending on how much your machine holds, you may want to adjust the ratios of custard to dough.) When the cream is thick and stiff, add the frozen cookie dough chunks. Allow the machine to churn for just a minute or two longer, then transfer the ice cream to the freezer and let it harden a bit more before serving.


Brilliant like that

When you have a great deal of leftovers piled up in the fridge, the time has come to make a lasagna. Lasagna is brilliant like that, because it can be made out of most things, so long as a bit of cheese and tomato sauce jump in. The only trouble is when you don't even have lasagna noodles on hand.

Then it is a good night for baked spaghetti.

Baked spaghetti is not an elegant dish. It does not cry out to be photographed or served on a white porcelain dish. It is made for eating late at night, after a hockey game or perhaps a trip to the gym, sitting on the couch with a glass of red wine. It is especially good on nights when your hot water heater is broken, and though you could have chosen to shower at the gym you decided to come home and take a nice, long, luxurious bath. It is very helpful on an occasion like that.

Also, if you want to dress it up, it is something you could make from scratch. But then, you would probably opt for wide, lanky lasagna noodles if you did that. They're much, much simpler to make. And they make much less of a mess.

Last night, I am sorry to say I did not have the wherewith all to accomplish anything like that. What I did have, I am happy to report, was a pint of leftover tomato sauce (which, in turn, was made from a jar of crushed tomatoes I'd put up and a heap of leftover meatloaf from last week, though I'm not sure that's something I should admit) and a full tub of ricotta cheese from Narragansett Creamery, which just so happens to be some of the best stuff on earth.

Now you might think that's an exaggeration, but really, it's not. Not at all. In fact, it won some sort of World Cheese Championship, so a few other people think so too. It's also made in Rhode Island, where I picked it up along with some delicious soft, moldy white cheese and a bit of salty feta at the Providence winter market the other day. If you buy it online, you can get a whole sampler, which I highly recommend.

But the point is, when you have The World's Best Ricotta in your fridge, boiled spaghetti might seem like sort of a lame way to use it. Normally, I would agree, but when there is no warm tub to be had, throwing your ricotta into a pan of baked spaghetti is sometimes the only way out. And naturally once you try it, the ricotta is so good that you really don't regret the decision at all. (Until the next day, when you spot the jar of sun dried tomatoes in your fridge, and you reach for a loaf of bread and the ricotta, and poof! it's gone.) In fact, the baked spaghetti goes down so smooth and disappears so quickly, that you really don't have time to regret anything at all. Not even the fact that you still haven't showered.

And the next day things are even better, because when you awake in a hurry to get back to the gym for hot water, you have already made your lunch and the last bits of baked spaghetti and Award Winning Ricotta are already packed up for the office just like this:

And even though the weather is stuck in some sort of strange limbo between rain and snow, you know it is going to be a very good day.


This is less of a recipe and more of a guideline of sorts, as you can mix and match and throw just about any sort of cheese or tomato sauce in. I recommend using ricotta for the pasta and the layers, and grated cheddar on top, as it forms a thick, chewy sort of skin. So here goes:

to toss:

spaghetti, dry or fresh
grated, crumbled, or spreadable cheese such as mozzarella, feta, or ricotta (tossing cheese)
1 garlic clove, minced
olive oil

on top:

tomato sauce (preferably with meat)
kalamata olives, pitted
grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Bring pasta water to a boil; cook spaghetti as your prefer. In a large mixing bowl, combine salt, garlic, olive oil, and a little bit of the "tossing" cheese. Drain pasta and dump immediately into the bowl, tossing with tongs so as to melt cheese and coat the pasta with all the bowl's ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a Pyrex baking pan (the size will depend on how much pasta, cheese, sauce, etc. you have to work with) and spread half of pasta mixture evenly over the bottom. Layer remaining "tossing" cheese over top, along with kalamata olives and any other goodies you want to throw in. Spread remaining pasta mixture over this layer, then pour tomato sauce over top of everything.

If the tomato sauce you are using is meaty and dry, it's a good idea to pour a bit of tomato juice or chicken broth over the whole thing at this point, so it won't dry out as it bakes. Sprinkle grated cheese over top and bake 15 to 2o minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.


A very, very good attempt

When your parents come to dinner at the house where your fiancé grew up, it is a very good idea to volunteer to cook. The thing to do is to buy a new cookbook that day, and get very excited about a recipe or two, and then disappear to the store and finally into the kitchen for the afternoon. That way, the fathers and mothers can all pour themselves a glass of wine and head into the living room, leaving you and your fiancé to work happily on a marinade while they do the work of getting to know each other for a bit.

At least this is what I decided yesterday. The book I found was The Food of France, part of a Williams Sonoma collection. I found it in the city, and we decided on a menu of salt and pepper crusted rib-eye, braised endive, gratin dauphinos (a fancy term for scalloped potatoes), and an apple tart for dessert. The apple tart was especially important, as it required quite a bit of concentration and everyone shooed out of the kitchen for a bit.

It also, incidentally, is one of my absolute favorite things to eat for both for dessert, and for breakfast in the car the next day. I first had it in Spain, and spent many evenings sneaking into the kitchen (which very handily had glass doors, closing out the creak of the refrigerator and the noisy scraping of forks on china) with my host sister late at night, after everyone else was asleep. Of course we were chastised in the morning when our mother noticed the edges of the tart slowly creeping in, but we did it every time she made it all the same.

Now this tart is not quite like that one (I am still trying to get the recipe, and translate it, as the measurements are in grams and that sort of thing) but for now it is a very, very good attempt. Maybe it's because it is French, but the pastry cream seems a bit softer, and the crust a little bit less dense, but the apples and the apricot glaze are just the same.

It is also just as delicious the next day, if not better, especially if you have a drive to make. I recommend setting it up on your lap on a bit of tupperware, and without even bothering with forks, eating up every last bit. Just watch out for the pastry cream, as it tends to sneak out and mess things up a bit.

Other than that, I don't have too many tips. I do recommend making it for family gatherings, as it goes very well with wine, and seems to make everyone sort of drowsy and content, always handy for squashing familial discontent. If there are politics or other dire subjects to discuss, I think it would be an especially good bet. I know the election is over and all, but you might want to start practicing for next time, so as to have it in your bag of tricks.


from The Food of France, Williams Sonoma collection

for the crust:

2 and 3/4 cup flour
small pinch of salt
1 stick plus 2 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs, beaten

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix butter with your fingers, until soft. Then add sugar, followed by eggs. Gradually incorporate dry ingredients into wet. Knead to make a smooth dough, warp in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

for the pastry cream:

6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons flour
2 and 1/4 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla or rum
1 tablespoon butter

Whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, and flour in a medium sized mixing bowl. In a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan, mix milk and remaining sugar. Bring just to a boil, and pour a small amount of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pot of milk, and whisking constantly, bring back to a boil. Once it begins to thicken, cook for two minutes longer. Stir in butter and vanilla and scrape the cream into a mixing bowl. So that it doesn't form a skin, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream, and put the bowl into the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

for the tart:

4 sweet apples
1/4 cup apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out pastry dough. Press into a greased 10 inch tart pan, trimming excess dough from top. Line dough with tinfoil or parchment paper, and fill tart center with rice, coffee, or other dry beans. Prebake for 10 minutes, remove weights and foil or paper, and bake several minutes more, or until just cooked through.

Remove from oven and fill with pastry cream. Peel and core apples, and cut into very thin slices. Layer around the top of the tart into two circles. Cook tart 25 to 30 minutes, or until apples are golden and pastry is dry and cooked. Let cool completely, then melt apricot jam in a pot with a bit of water, and spread with a pastry brush over top. Chill or serve immediately. This tart is just as good, if not better, eaten the next day.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.