Saying quite a bit

I don't know about you, but if I see another sticky bun/sugar cookie/apple pie/sugared pecan, I'm going to scream.

On Saturday, I sent my parents and sister home with an extra coffee cake and six sticky buns, and as soon as they left, I packed the rest of it—Mexican wedding cake balls and apple pie and caramels and chocolates—into the freezer, and slammed shut the door. Firmly. It felt very, very good.

Today, I thought it might be nice to talk about Swiss chard for a change. For starters, we just harvested the last of a July row of it from one of our greenhouse beds (the August planting is a little bit wilted, but still holding its own). Also, I convinced Alex to make the Swiss chard gratin from The Art of Simple Food on Christmas Eve, and although he told me halfway through that he thinks following recipes is way too similar to doing high school science experiments, it came out stunningly. In fact, it was one of my favorite dishes on the table that night, which is saying quite a bit. Especially considering it had one of Miss Scarlett's turkeys, a pot of gorgonzola and roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a bowl of sauteed cabbage, another of stuffing, one of creamed onions, a gravy saucer, and a loaf of rye/orange/fennel bread to compete with. Quite a bit, indeed.

The recipe was one I'd been meaning to try for a long time. It was one of those things that sounded homey, and warm, and like you could sit down with a bowl at dinnertime and eat just that. It also sounded like a good way to use up a significant amount of Swiss chard, which considering we'd been plowing through the same row, cutting and watching it spring back, for over five months, was awfully appealing. On Christmas Eve, when Alex made it, we all agreed that the greens were perfect, but that it might be a good idea to cut the breadcrumbs back. And since it was so nice, and disappeared so fast, I made it again this morning with a few tweaks, and we ate it with fried eggs and hot sauce for breakfast. It was even better the second time around.

And it was much, much better than any sweet.

SWISS CHARD GRATIN, with fresh breadcrumbs

adapted from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters

The first time we made this recipe, Alex used fresh chard from the garden. The second time around, I pulled out two bags I had frozen from our garden this summer, and used those. While the fresh chard was maybe just a little bit nicer, I'm not sure I would have noticed that the second batch was made from frozen if I wasn't on the look out. All in all, I think the fact that it was an excellent way to cook frozen Swiss chard more than made up for any slight difference in taste. Whatever you use, I think you'll be pleased.

3 bunches Swiss chard (or, if frozen, roughly 2 cups, drained)
1 and 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon room temperature butter
2 medium onions, diced
salt to taste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter an 8- by 8-inch casserole dish. Wash the chard and chop it into strips. Fill a large pot halfway with water, bring it to a boil, and throw the chard in. Cook the leaves until tender, about 3 minutes, then pour them into a colander to cool. Toss the breadcrumbs and the melted butter together, and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake them for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp and golden brown.

While they bake, squeeze the Swiss chard gently to press out any excess liquid, then set it aside. Then melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a medium-size pot, and saute the onions for about 5 minutes, or until they are translucent. Add the Swiss chard, season with salt to taste, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for roughly 2 minutes. Now sprinkle the flour over top, stir it in, and pour in 1/2 cup of the milk. You want the mixture to be creamy and moist, but there shouldn't be any liquid on the bottom of the pan, so add the remaining milk as needed. Continue cooking for a few minutes longer, tasting and salting as needed.

Spoon the chard into the casserole dish you prepared, spreading it around evenly, and then spreading the breadcrumbs on top. Bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until the gratin is hot and bubbling. Serve the gratin warm, maybe with potatoes and turkey or an over-easy pair of eggs.


Merry Christmas

Well. I have been meaning to get here, to pop in to say holy snow!, and happy holidays, and Merry Christmas, and just generally hello, but as you can see, that didn't happen very fast. Nothing has been happening around here very quickly since Saturday night actually, when the snow and my parents' and my sister arrived in a cloud of snowdrifts and confectioners' sugar and cheer, with the exception of time, which seems to be going by at lightning speed.

And the thing is, it isn't slowing down. So since they're only here for six days, and we still have to make two kinds of cookies (these and these), one batch of this coffee cake, and many, many jars of lemon curd, not to mention a long list of neighborhood goodie runs, I think if it's okay with you, I might just do a quick hi! bye! and pop back in a few days. I think we'll all be a lot more rested then, and full, and maybe ready to talk about something un-cookie-ish, like squash or even Brussels sprouts. So until Monday, enjoy yourselves, and your families, and the snow and the cookies, and I'll see you very, very soon. Merry Christmas, everyone.


The Local Food Report: Starving off the Land

Can you tell that I have my holiday baking blinders on? I have even found a way to turn my friend Tamar into a chocolate covered caramel sprinkled with sea salt.

Of course, if you know her and have a guess at why I might have been visiting with her in the first place, I suppose it isn't entirely surprising that she's covered in salt. Because, amongst many, many other things, that's what she does: churn out Cape Cod sea salt.

The habit came from a challenge that she took on with her husband, at the start of 2009. They were wondering, after moving here from Manhattan (just in time, proving their prudence, to sell off one house before it became very clear it was not a particularly good time to own two), if Marstons Mills might allow them to become self-sufficient. That idea lasted roughly ten minutes, even on New Year's Day, a day that, by all accounts, allows wonderfully far-fetched idealistic hopes to last for at least twice as long as they do on any normal day. Self-sufficiency, in the snow, with very limited experience in, say, soap making or procuring whale's oil and blowing glass lanterns or aging goat's milk, was not looking good. And so they settled for a middle ground: they would eat something, one thing, every day, that they had hunted, fished, gathered, or grown. Tamar took out a website, Starving Off the Land, and away they went.

Needless to say, it's been quite a ride. It is not every year that you build a chicken coop, attempt to start a small commercial mushroom spawn operation in your bathtub, give out your very own homemade sea salt instead of wine at dinner parties, and botch a batch of real, live sassafrass and yeast root beer. Did I mention that she also went lobstering, oystering, and ice fishing for trout?

The thing is, none of these projects are particularly outrageous on their own. I know other people with chicken coops, and Julie Winslow at the Orleans farmers' market grows mushrooms from spawn, too, and plenty of peoples had a hard time with their very own backyard gardens this year. It's more the frequency, and the range of creativity that is so impressive. For instance, Tamar came up with the sea salt idea one day while simply sitting and staring at the wide, shallow humidifier on top of her woodstove. She wondered what would happen if she filled it with sea water, went down to Sandy Neck to fill up a pot, strained the ocean water through a coffee filter, and a few hours later had a pan of pure white Cape Cod sea salt.

Another time, she found a sassafrass tree on her property. She got out a spade and a pair of clippers and dug down until she exposed a root, and she went home and washed it off. Then she boiled it up with wintergreen and ginger and juniper berries and sugar, and added a bit of yeast too. This, according to an 1832 recipe, was a sure bet for homemade rootbeer. (Apparently they stopped making rootbeer the old fashioned way because sassafrass was found to maybe be mildly carcinogenic, but that didn't scare Tamar.) Things were going pretty swimmingly until she tweaked the recipe, taking away some of the sugar because she thought it tasted sweet enough, but forgetting that the yeast would be eating the sugar in order to produce the requisite bubbles and boozy-ness. In the end, the rootbeer turned out a lot like cough syrup, but even that experiment she is willing to try again.

At any rate, I could retell you every single one of Tamar's stories, because really they are all very good, but that wouldn't make much sense. For starters, I have a lot more chocolate covered caramel making to do, and also, Tamar tells them terribly well herself. I think it would be a little silly for me to carry on. So instead, just click on over here and make yourself at home, and I think you might find yourself laughing out loud. You might also find yourself making your own sea salt, an activity that I can now, after trying it once myself, wholeheartedly recommend. I also recommend caramels, and chocolates, and especially the recipe below.


This recipe is of the cobbled together sort. It started when I found this recipe over here, but I didn't like the fact that the chocolate was mixed in to the caramel instead of wrapped around it. Then I spied this one over here, which I used for the base, but which still didn't solve the chocolate problem. In the end, I decided to just haul out my copy of Chocolate Epiphany, figure out how to temper chocolate, and pour it on top.

Although it is helpful to have a candy thermometer for the caramel making, you can also make do by using a meat thermometer (which go up to 220 degrees F) to watch the temperature up to 220, and then above that, by judging the consistency using the water drop trick. This involves dropping little drips of the caramel into a glass of cold water every few minutes or so and stopping cooking when it reaches the consistency you want. In fact, even if you do have a candy thermometer, I'd use this technique, because depending on altitude and humidity and whatnot, even exact temperatures are not always reliable. The meat thermometer will also work for the chocolate, which only needs to get up to 125 degrees F.

One last word about tempering chocolate: do not let any drops of water get anywhere near the chocolate as you work. It will cause a complex chemical reaction that I understood earlier today but do not really care to get into again, so please, just believe me and keep the faucet and your water glass at bay.

For the caramel:
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter, cut into 5 pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Line an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper. In a medium-size heavy-bottomed pot, heat up the cream, the butter, and the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn off the heat, and set it aside.

In another medium-size pot, heat up the sugar, corn syrup, and water over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and bring the mixture to a boil, gently swirling the pan, and continue cooking it until it turns a deep auburn color. This takes much longer than you think, so feel free to drink a glass of wine, or maybe some eggnog, while you wait. Patience, lots of patience.

When the color finally does arrive, pour this mixture into the cream mixture—it will sputter and steam—and stir over very low heat until it comes together into a soft caramel. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for roughly 15 minutes, or until the caramel reaches the desired consistency. (This will definitely be over 220 degrees F, but after that point, you should start using the water drip test as explained above.) Pour the caramel into the baking pan lined with parchment paper and leave it to cool overnight. Cut it into squares before moving on to the chocolate.

For the chocolate:
1 pound very dark chocolate, preferably between 65% and 72%

Chop up the chocolate into little bits. Set aside one third of it (we will call this Chocolate 1), and heat up the other two thirds (Chocolate 2-3) using a double boiler, stirring frequently. When Chocolate 2-3 is melted and reaches 125 degrees F, remove the top pot from the heat and stir in Chocolate 1. This should melt Chocolate 1 and cool Chocolate 2-3 down considerably, but keep stirring it until all of the chocolate reaches 84 degrees F. Now put the top pot back over the boiling water, and quickly heat all of the chocolate back up to 87 degrees F. (This sounds like a lot more back and forth than it really is; it doesn't take very long.) At this point, your chocolate is tempered, and you should pour it immediately over the caramels in whatever pattern you like. I tried to really douse mine, but a drizzle would be nice too I think. After the chocolate has had 10 or 15 minutes to start to set, sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on top as a garnish, and allow the candies to cool for a few more hours before indulging.

For the record, wrapped up in tins, these caramels make excellent gifts.


Seven days to excellence

In precisely six days, my family will arrive for the holidays. And exactly five minutes after they arrive, my father will start poking around our fridge looking for a glass of eggnog.

I realized this yesterday on my way home from Woods Hole, at the same time I realized that the eggnog takes four or five days to make and at least six or seven days, in my father's words, to become excellent. I pulled off the highway so fast I think the cashier at the Eastham Spirits shop thought I was about to hold the place up.

The thing is, eggnog in my family is not optional. There could be Christmas without presents, there have been plenty of Christmases without snow, and I'm willing to bet we could even give up getting a tree for a year and still feel pretty holly-jolly-festive all month long. But it wouldn't even be December without a batch of Colonel Miles Cary's eggnog in the fridge, and it certainly wouldn't be festive at all. The eggnog goes back waaay too far for that.

My father is the one who usually makes it, but the recipe actually comes from my mother's side, from her great-grandfather Miles. He lived in Richmond, Virginia, where being a Cary was a big thing, and where having a secret family eggnog recipe was an even bigger thing. (Do not skip that article, and especially do not skim over the part where the New York Times blames Boxing Day headaches and cross dyspeptic feelings on turkey and plum pudding.) At any rate, according to my grandmother, when she first met my grandfather, the recipe was kept in a safe deposit box at the bank.

Since then, my grandmother's copied it down, and my mother and father, and more recently my sister and I have our own print-outs, too. There are stories that come along with the recipe, starting with the year my grandparents kept the eggnog pot in their garage and, when my grandfather went out to stir it up one day, discovered a dead mouse floating on top. This did not end, like a sane person might imagine, with my grandfather throwing the batch out. No, he looked around, fished it out, and, praying the alcohol was strong enough to kill anything ugly, brought it inside to finish up. Another year my grandfather held a Christmas party for his congregation in Younstown, Ohio, where he was the minister for the local Episcopal church. My grandmother, making sure to do the rounds that Mrs. Reverend Hunsdon Carys ought to, peeked into my grandfather's study and found the visiting English sexton, Sparky, passed out in the chair with a newspaper over his face. Both my mother and my aunt Elizabeth admit to having had a little too much eggnog at a certain holiday party when they were twelve or maybe even only ten, and to have learned from an older cousin that it was very helpful, instead of lying down, to keep one foot on the ground when getting tucked into bed. And after my grandfather had passed away, one year at my parents' house in Maine, my grandmother and my father made a four-dozen-egg batch of the Colonel's eggnog and drank several glasses before realizing they'd forgotten to put in any of the twelve cups of milk.

You see now why without the eggnog it just couldn't be a real, honest-to-goodness holiday. I have a feeling that if the pot weren't already chilling by now, my father wouldn't bother to come until at least next Tuesday. There are seven days to excellence, which means that until you start, eggnog worth bothering for is always a week away. Thank goodness for Silverbrook Farm eggs and Sunday night milk pick-ups and a steady supply of Jim Beam.

The only hitch—and it's a very big one, unfortunately—is that I've been sworn to secrecy. I can no more give out Colonel Miles Cary's 19th century eggnog recipe than I could pull out a gun and shoot the squirrels that steal our birdseed, or become a Wall Street banker, or make February first be the official start of spring. I ran the idea by my grandmother last year (Hi, Biee! Don't panic!), and she just about took my copy of the recipe back to be inked out, shredded, and burned in an undisclosed fireplace.

So all I'm going to say is this. Not that it means anything, but I am very fond of the eggnog recipe in the 1975 Joy of Cooking. I am also fond of multiplying it so that instead of using one egg, you use thirty-six, and so that instead of using 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of whole milk and 1/4 cup of bourbon whiskey, you use 2 and 1/4 cups and 9 cups and 9 cups. So, not for any particular reason, but just in case you think you might be fond of it, too, I figured I'd type it out, and here it is.

Happy ten-days-before-Christmas, everyone.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, 1975 edition

The best part about this recipe is the quote the authors offer at the beginning. "Too much of anything is bad, but too much whiskey is just enough." Well said, Mr. Mark Twain, and like a true Tennessee man. The worst part about this recipe is that it leaves out the most important part that everyone should know about making eggnog in general, which is that it gets better as you wait, preferably over a span of days.

1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup bourbon whiskey

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with an electric mixer until it becomes pale and light. Slowly beat in the sugar and the milk, and then, in a slow but steady trickle, add in the whiskey, beating all the while. (Don't do this too quickly or it will ruin the consistency of the eggs, sort of like how adding olive oil to an egg yolk too quickly when making mayo upsets the whole batch.) In a separate bowl, whip the egg white until it's stiff, and fold that into the other ingredients gently. Chill the eggnog for at least a few hours before serving, and preferably more like four days.

Now if you make a big batch (multiplying quantities as I mentioned above), keep it in the fridge and use an electric mixer to beat it once a day. (There will be foam on the top; this is normal, but you have to beat it back into the liquid.) Keep this up, scraping any foam with a spatula down off the sides of the pot (lobster pots work very well as far as quantity goes), and in four or five days take the first sip. Also, if you're going homemade this year, eggnog in Mason jars makes a top-shelf gift.


The Local Food Report: on inheriting a dream

What if, instead of having a dream, a dream had you? What if it grabbed you one day, picked you up on the street, took you by the horns, and told you what you were going to do every day for the rest of your life? Would you hop on board, or would you run?

I recognize that I sound like I'm writing song lyrics for Selena (Dreaming of You, anyone?), but that's the sort of story I want to tell you today. I met this woman, Myrna Cook, at the Falmouth Farmer's Market a month or so ago, a few weeks before we left. I didn't have time to tell you about her then, but she's the kind of woman you can't forget. She's quiet and sweet and a little bit private, too, and eight years ago, she and her husband bought a house. Or, they thought they bought just a house. Turns out, it came with a dream.

It was an abandoned house—somewhere in Barnstable—and just a little bit ramshackle after two years of empty rooms and an overgrown lawn. People told them they were crazy to buy it, that it needed more love than two people could possibly give, but they went in anyway. There were fruit trees here and there and it was in a nice, quiet neighborhood, and at any rate, it would be a fun project to have a fixer-upper, to do some renovations as time went on. They learned that a Ukranian woman and her husband had owned it before them, and that she had passed away young and unexpectedly before he sold. Then one day, when they were ripping through the attic in the midst of a project, they found a plan.

It was an orchard plan—a plan to have a business selling and putting up fruit. They realized that there were 48 trees and not just a few, and that the storage shed out back was for keeping pears and apples to overwinter in. They uncovered other traces—a stainless steel work table, more and more varieties of apples, peaches, plums, and pears. Myrna decided that if the woman who'd planted the trees hadn't had time to live out her dream, then she would have to live it out for her.

She started by collecting fruit samples from every tree. She sent them to the UMass Extension program, and they sent her back a 30-page color report on what kind of trees she had inherited, and how to keep them alive. She bought books on horticulture and fruit growing and combed the internet for workshop dates. She even enlisted the help of Spooner Ornamental Care, a plant health care provider in Hatchville, and hired a landscaper to help with pruning and year round maintenance. Of the 48 original trees, 30 survived, and this year, for the first time, Myrna had fruit healthy enough to sell.

When I asked Myrna if the dream had somehow, along the way, become her own, she hesitated. It wasn't really her dream, she said, but she had learned to love it over time. It was a labor of love in the most immediate sense—in the sense that fruit farming means sore knees and heavy lifting and probably a flare up of carpal tunnel syndrome here and there. Fruit wants to be picked when it wants to be picked—and to inherit this sort of dream, there isn't any way around the nitty-gritty of that.

This time of year, Myrna's wrapping things up—selling the last of her hardy apples and pears, and getting the orchard ready for a cold, hard winter—making sure not too many branches and buds tumble to the ground. She's ready for a break, ready for pie-baking and apple butter and the hubbub of the holidays, ready, for a few months at least, to lay the dream down. But underneath that readiness, she's incredibly proud. She's proud that she's been able to rehab the trees, proud and amazed to have fruit shiny and sweet enough that people actually want to buy it. She can hardly believe that this dream has taken off so well in her hands.

The phrase that's stuck with me the most, though, is something she told me after we first talked, something she murmured over the wires of the phone. I asked her why she did it—why she was so open to living this woman's dream out, this woman who she'd never even met. She thought for a second.

It was like picking a message up off the street, she said. Suddenly, my whole direction changed.

One day, I hope to be as open to life as that. In the meantime, I think I'll settle to being open to cake—to cake even the second time it's baked, even after the first try went so terribly wrong.

Like Myrna's fruit, some things just need a chance—the chance to be given a second time around.


This cake is adapted from a recipe I found in September in Bon Appétit. I didn't mean for it to be an adaptation, really, but the first time I baked the cake I didn't read the directions all the way through before I made it. Also, I didn't have any parchment paper.

This, unsurprisingly, lead to the discoveries that a) there was a reason the ingredients for the pear compote came first, namely, that the compote was supposed to be ready when the cake was only half baked, and that b) because I had not lined the pan with parchment paper, even if the pear compote had been ready, the cake still never would have ended up intact upside-down on top of it as it was supposed to.

Luckily, as you know, Fisher ate the first cake, but the second time around, I decided to go without parchment paper again and keep the pears on top. The end result was not exactly what I'd imagined on the beach the day I was paging through the magazine—but somehow, for today, it seemed right.

Pear Compote:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 pound firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, cored, and sliced thin

Combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, and thyme in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat down to medium, add the pears, and simmer until the fruit is tender but still intact, roughly 10 minutes. Transfer the pears from the saucepan to a cookie sheet using a slotted spoon. Continue cooking the remaining liquid for about five minutes, until it thickens into a syrup.

Buttermilk Cake:
1 heaping cup all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter and beat in the egg and then the egg yolk. Add the vanilla to the buttermilk, and then add the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients alternately to the egg mixture until everything is just mixed.

Spoon the batter into a buttered and floured 8-inch round cake pan with at least 2-inch high sides. Bake the cake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is just set. Leaving the oven on, take the cake out. Arrange the pear slices over the top of the cake in a circular pattern (or really, whatever pattern you like), and pour the syrup evenly over the top of the whole cake. Return the cake to the oven and bake it for another 10 minutes or so, or until the edges are just golden brown. Let it cool for several hours before serving it, maybe with some buttermilk ice cream, at room temperature.

Kate's, from Maine
Garelick Farms, purchased before we got our milk, which has finally—hooray!—returned
eggs, pears:
the December 6th Provincetown farmers' market
our garden

P.S. The UMass Amherst website has a ton of information on growing fruit, in case you're interested. There's so much there, in fact, that if you're just trying to get a feel for whether or not you're up for planting an orchard, it's hard to even know where to start. This page, put together by Fedco Seeds in Maine, has a little bit more broad information. (Scroll down to where it says "Choosing a Site For Fruit Trees and Berries.")


Down to earth

Sadly, I think I have come back down to earth. Not that where I've landed is such a bad place, because it's pretty wonderful actually, but you know, it's just a little bit more real down here. As in, deadlines and thirty-six-degree rain and our-dog-ate-your-cake real.

No really, he did.

He has sort of a track record with this kind of behavior, but yesterday's episode was particularly un-amusing, because it was the end of a two day streak which involved, amongst other crimes, fishing the pork butt bones from the trash, demolishing them, giving them back to us in a most unsavory form on our bedroom floor, and finally, stealing my still-hot buttermilk cake, every crumb. Luckily, I hadn't put the lemon-thyme infused pears on top, or he would probably be at the pound right now. At any rate, he wanted me to tell you that he is very sorry about your cake, as am I, and that we promise to make it for you again soon, before all the pears disappear. In the meantime, you will have to settle for pâté de campagne, which, who are we kidding, is not really settling at all.

Pâté de campagne, in case you've never tried it, is one of the very best specialties of the French. It is a country pâté, made from ground pork butt and pork liver and onions and garlic and parsley and spices bound together with a panade and baked in a water bath in a terrine mold. It is a lot more rustic than some of its more famous pâté counterparts, like foie gras or liverwurst, which are smooth and spreadable and a lot more like butter than meat. Instead, pâté de campagne is smooth on the outside but rough hewn in the middle, sort of like a very dense, extra moist meatloaf that you cut into slices and devour on toasted baguette. We had it in Paris, several times, and this weekend, we made it again at home.

As you can see up there, we actually tried to recreate everything from Paris this weekend at home—the baguette with butter and radishes, the spicy arugula bedding, the side of sauteed mushrooms with toast, too. Our three days in Paris, if we're being entirely honest, consisted mostly of eating and walking and stopping to eat again, and we haven't really seen any particular reason to stop just because we're back home.

We have some challenges ahead of us for sure, like recreating the Dover sole with champagne butter and the gnocchi with escargot we had at Au Bon Accueil, a fancy restaurant near the Eiffel Tower where my mom's friend from college sent us, and that Alex claims changed his life. We have our work cut out with the chocolat chaud, too, and the way it's so thick it almost feels like warm chocolate pudding in your mouth. The soupe à l'oignon will be difficult, and I have not met anyone around here just yet baking Paris-status croissants, but we will find a way.

In the meantime, though, I think we will be perfectly content to subsist on pâté.

Pâté de Campagne

adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Rhulman and Brian Polcyn

You will need a meat grinder to make this recipe. Having just acquired a KitchenAid from my godmother, we used the meat grinder attachment on that, but you could use any sort, so long as it has large die and small die blades.

Once you've found a meat grinder, the best way to tackle this recipe, I think, is in two phases. In the early afternoon maybe, do all of the prep work—chop the onions and the parsley and the mushrooms and mince the garlic and mix the spices so they're ready to go—throw the bowls and the blades in the freezer, make sure the pork butt and the liver are ready to rock, and get your pots and pans out. Then, take a walk or read a book or lounge around in the tub for a few hours, and while you're getting ready to make dinner, do the meat grinding and the mixing and the baking. That way it doesn't seem like such a daunting task.

Then of course, after the
pâté has cooled for a day or two, get it out along with a baguette and a jar of pickles and squeal with delight.

2 pounds pork butt, cut into long thin strips
4 ounces pork liver
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon
pâté spice, made by mixing: (1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon ground white pepper)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup sauteed mushrooms (I used shiitakes sauteed in butter), diced

Put two nesting metal mixing bowls, one medium size mixing bowl, and either a KitchenAid bowl or another large mixing bowl in the freezer along with the meat grinder's blades. (Don't skip this step, as the cold will help the
pâté bind together.)

Once everything is frozen, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Fill the larger of the nesting mixing bowls with several trays of ice cubes and nestle the smaller one on top. Grind the pork butt through the large die of the meat grinder into the smaller bowl.

Put about a third of this ground pork butt into the medium size mixing bowl. Add the liver, onion, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and
pâté spice and mix. Fit the grinder with the small die blade and grind this mixture into the remaining coarsely ground pork. Put the bowl of meat into the refrigerator.

In a small (room temperature) mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, brandy, and cream. (This is called a "panade.") Take the ground meat out of the refrigerator and mix this into it for about a minute, until everything is combined and sticky. Fold in the mushrooms.

Line a terrine mold (or, if you don't have one, a loaf pan, which works just as well) with plastic wrap, leaving enough of an over hang on the two long sides to fold over the top. Fill the pan with the
pâté mixture and press it down firmly to make sure it doesn't have any air bubbles. Fold the extra plastic over the top and cover the pan tightly with foil.

Place the
pâté pan in a slightly bigger casserole dish, and fill the dish with very hot tap water until the liquid reaches halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake the pâté for roughly an hour, probably a little bit longer, until the inside of the pâté is 150 degrees F. Take the pan out of the water bath and put something heavy, like a tin of olive oil or a brick or a few pounds of butter, on top of the pâté while it cools. Once it's room temperature, put it in the refrigerator and leave it to chill for at least twelve hours, and preferably several days, before serving.

P.S. I wanted to try something new today, which I am going to try to do from now on, which is to tell you where (most) of the ingredients I mentioned in the post are from. It's sort of hard to list this on the sidebar I've realized, since where I find things changes all the time, so even though I might not remember all the time, for today here goes:

arugula, baguette, eggs, onions, pears, & radishes:
the last Provincetown farmers' market, which was, very sadly, on Saturday
from a winter braid we bought in Maine at the Common Ground Fair
heavy cream:
Garelick Farms, because we haven't gotten a milk coop pick-up yet since we came home
Crow Farm in Sandwich, which is open until Christmas

from our friends in Truro, George and Janet, who very kindly raised us half a pig
from Julie Winslow in Orleans, last summer, and then we dried them


The Local Food Report: something rare and expensive

I might not be fully capable of this, but just for a second, let's forget about the wedding, okay? Let's fast forward through Paris and Florence and Panicale and Perugia and jump straight into a muddy truck with no seat belts going 80km an hour down a windy road that leads out of Montepulciano and into the little Tuscan foothills of the town. Alex is in the front, with a guy named Moreno Mencarelli, and I'm in the back sitting with my two cameras, an extra pack of film, my recording gear, and three caged dogs. For the next hour, Mencarelli has agreed to let us tag along. He and the dogs will be looking for truffles, white truffles, underground.

I don't know if you've ever had a truffle, but if you haven't, hooey are you in for a treat. You find their essence a lot in nice American restaurants—truffle salt and truffle oil and truffle butter and sometimes even truffle cheese—but very rarely do you see the real deal. That's because truffles come from Europe, France and Italy mostly, and cost in the neighborhood of $1000 a pound. Where we stayed in Italy, in a region that sort of straddled the Umbria/Tuscany border, there were truffles in just about every restaurant. Some places made truffle cheese, or truffle polenta, or truffles in scrambled eggs. If they were really brilliant, they did things simply—fresh pasta sauced with a little bit of butter and the pasta water with truffles shaved over top.

At any rate, even there, where truffles are a dime a dozen, they commanded a lot of respect. We saw signs posted at the edges of the woods all over the place, warning people that stealing truffles was a crime. And at nice restaurants, a plate of that pasta-white truffle combo I liked so much cost about a hundred bucks. Which is all to say that it was very nice of Signor Mencarelli to let us in on the adventure.

The woods he took us into he rents—sort of like renting farm land, except for this particular farm is one square kilometer of oaks and poplars with a muddy stream ravine running down the middle. White truffles like this sort of spot—old forests with plenty of water and shade to keep the moisture and temperature more constant. They grow off of the roots of the trees, or actually off of the root hairs, and people say that which tree they grow on influences their particular scent. It's hard to say what exactly they smell like, except that they have a musky, fierce kind of scent, the kind that is at the same time alluring and a little much. (Mencarelli gave us a small, cherry-sized truffle to keep, and when we made the mistake of leaving it in our hotel room, the smell was so completely overpowering, even in a jar, that we could hardly breathe until we took it out to the balcony and locked the door.) Apparently female pigs are very attracted to the smell, which is almost the same as the male pigs' come-and-get-me pheromone, which is why they are sometimes used as truffle hunters as well. The only snafu is that they like the smell so much that they tend to eat the truffles before anyone else can get one. Mencarelli's dogs do that sometimes, too—Luna ate three in the course of about twenty minutes while we were out—but they usually only do it with the very small ones, and most of the time, they're content to step aside for a snack of bread.

It was absolutely amazing to watch them sniff the truffles out. When Luna or Bottone or Cosco got on the scent, they started digging at a mile a minute. Luna and Cosco, both Lagotto Romagnolos, an ancient Italian breed of water dog, look like small poodles, and they seemed to be better at catching a more general whiff. Then Bottone, a Braco pointer who looked sort of Beagle-esque, would do the pinpointing, flinging dirt at Mencarelli while he tried to push him aside and start carefully extracting the prize with a long, thin, spade-like shovel. The whole thing was pretty hilarious, actually, with Mencarelli yelling at Luna for eating the truffles and Cosco falling down a steep bank into a mud puddle and Bottone looking at us all sideways when he wasn't quite sure where to go.

But the payoff—the payoff was amazing. After an hour of traipsing through the woods and sliding down banks and even trying to choke down a cigarette to prove our worth, we walked away with one perfect little piece of gold. We still haven't used it yet—we've been waiting for the right weather or the right pasta or maybe just the right reason to celebrate, but one night soon, I think it will be time. Apparently, we don't have much more before the smell tapers off and the flavor runs out. At any rate, I've been hunting around for recipes, trying not to blow our only chance, and just in case you ever come into possession of a white truffle yourself, I wanted to share.

For starters of course there's this, Lynne Rossetto Kasper's version of my favorite dish, but I think if we did it we'd want the pasta to be homemade. Also, she doesn't use any of the pasta cooking water in the sauce, which every Italian chef said was critical to the whole thing. There's also everything over here, and that first tagliatelle in particular. Or, swoon, there's this. If only, people, if only.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.