Dear friends,

I miss you. Between working and taking care of Miss Sally, the garden, the house, and the never-ending loads of laundry and diapers, it's been hard to get here. We've been spending plenty of time planting and cooking, but I haven't had time to tell you about it or snap a picture. Finally, here's an update on what's been going on in the dirt and the kitchen around here:


We harvested the last of the greens planted in the hoophouse last summer. The big haul was 10 small heads of Savoy cabbage and several pounds of Rhubarb chard. Unfortunately, we lost a row of Chinese cabbage to spring temps and a cabbage moth infestation—the flowers and florets are edible, but not when they're covered in insect eggs. 

We cleaned out the hoophouse, turned over the soil, and added a layer of compost, and the rows are now housing 16 tiny tomato plants and 6 green pepper seedlings. Fingers crossed for early hot weather fruits!

Outside, arugula, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and carrots are up. The strawberries and peaches are in bloom, the asparagus is up, and I think we're getting very close to a rhubarb pie. 


As you can imagine, we've been eating...cabbage! My mom turned me onto this Asian-inspired Martha Rose Shulman recipe for spicy stir-fried cabbage, and the other night, Alex added littlenecks and served it all over pasta—delicious. We've also made several batches of this Rustic Cabbage Soup for lunch, friends, and the freezer. I added ham to one batch—a nice variation.

We did manage to cook a few spears of our asparagus and use up some of the chard with this Balthazar Cookbook recipe for warm lentil salad with asparagus, greens, and grilled fish. I subbed halibut for trout and chard for spinach and we were in business! I think mackerel might make an even better fish switch.

I'm still trying to make all of our own bread in an effort to use up the grains from our grain and bean CSA. If anyone has a recipe for a good all-rye bread please share—this one was a total flop, although that could definitely be related to the fact that I subbed maple syrup for dark corn syrup, which I just couldn't bring myself to use. We've been eating a lot of Darina Allen's brown soda bread, and I've found that if I make it with whole wheat flour from our soft winter wheat as opposed to hard winter wheat (soft is supposed to be better for pastry baking, hard for yeast breads), I can use all whole-wheat flour and it's still very light. Last night I made a loaf of my mother's cornbread to go with a pot of chili inspired by a Melissa Clark recipe.

Sally pulled herself up to standing, and one of these days, I'm going to get her to do it for long enough to take a picture. (Update 4.25.12—success!)


And that, my friends, is the news from here. I'd love to hear what's going on in your neck of the woods if you're in the mood to share.



This recipe is adapted from Melissa Clark's recipe for beef, bean, and hominy chili from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I've been meaning to try making hominy from the dent corn in our grain CSA, but I haven't gotten there yet. In the meantime, I just added more beans—if you try the original, I'd be curious to hear how it is with corn.

2/3 cup dried kidney beans* 
scant 2/3 cup dried black beans
3 tablespoons olive oil or beef fat
2 pounds ground beef
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 quart crushed tomatoes
1 (12 ounce) bottle dark beer
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
optional: sour cream & cilantro, for serving

Soak the beans for at least a few hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and put in a medium pot with plenty of cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender—about 45 minutes. Set the pot aside—do not drain the cooking water.

Warm up 2 tablespoons of the olive oil or beef fat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add the meat and brown, stirring often. It will take 5-10 minutes to cook through, then season it with salt and pepper and transfer it to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining olive oil of beef fat to the pot. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beer, the beans and 2 cups of their cooking liquid, oregano, and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn the heat down, and simmer for about an hour, or until it reaches the thickness you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot. Sour cream and cilantro make a nice garnish.

*Note: If your beans are already cooked, you want two cups of kidney beans and two cups of black beans. Since you won't be able to use the cooking liquid, add 2 cups of chicken, beef, or vegetable stock to the recipe instead.


The Local Food Report: pork kidney

Welcome back to strange meats! Today we finish with pork kidney, fresh out of a Truro pig. The hunt for a local kidney aficionado was difficult, but I found one. Her name is Cammie Watson, and she buys her pork from the same place we do—the Mooney Farm in Truro. A few years back she and her brother decided to split a pig. Each family got a shoulder, some belly, some sausage, and so on. And of course, since there are two kidneys, they each got one.

Cammie is a New Englander. She was not going to let that kidney go to waste, so she called her friend Janet—the one who had raised the pig. Janet said to stew it up Portuguese-style with tomatoes and onions and potatoes, and Cammie did. To her surprise, she liked it! The next time she came across a kidney she sliced it thin and pan-seared it in butter and pepper, and she was hooked.

There is no getting around the fact that kidneys filter the animal's urine. A kidney from a very old animal or a kidney that is not fresh (or frozen immediately after slaughter) will not taste good. It will get an "ammonia tint," as Cammie put it, which I'm pretty sure is a polite way of saying it will taste like urine. So! If you're going to eat kidney, make sure it's from a young animal and very fresh, and be sure to soak it first. Most recipes I've read recommend soaking it overnight in either milk, buttermilk, or water. I think buttermilk would be good.

I've only cooked kidney once, a few weeks ago. The one I had on hand was a beef kidney, and I cut it into bits and mixed it with steak and scalloped potatoes. It cooked in the oven for several hours over low heat, and when it emerged, it was delicious. My parents were here, and my sister, and there were no upturned noses. In fact, several people asked for seconds. Success!

Cammie says she thinks the flavor of pork kidney is a little bit like chicken liver, which sounds delicious. The texture is similar to heart—firm and smooth, and not at all fibrous. And size-wise, a set of two pork kidneys weighs anywhere from three quarters of a pound to a pound. 

Cammie also told me that kidney fat is what you use to make leaf lard. I've been wanting to do this for a long time—I have packages of fat tucked away in the freezer waiting for a good day—and her description of perfect white fat for pie crust might just have tipped me toward action.

What do you think—have you ever cooked with kidney or kidney fat? 


Thank you, Darina Allen, for another wonderful recipe. I wasn't entirely onboard with kidney, but you got me there. 

1 beef kidney, about 1 pound
salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 pound boneless beef chuck or round
3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and thickly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 and 1/3 cups beef stock, preferably homemade

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Trim the kidney—you want to remove the skin, or membrane, and cut out the white core. Cut the remaining flesh into 1/2-inch cubes and put them into a bowl of cold water with a pinch of salt to soak. 

Cut the beef into 1/4-inch cubes. 

Get out a large, heavy-bottomed pot—I used a big Le Creuset soup pot with a lid. Rub a little oil on the bottom, then cover it with a layer of potato slices. Drain the kidney cubes and mix them with the steak, then scatter on a layer of meat and chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper and dot with butter. Add another layer of potatoes, then another of meat and onions, and so on, seasoning each layer as you go. Finish with a layer of potato.

Pour the hot beef stock over top. Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and cook for 2-2 and 1/2 hours, or until the meat and potatoes are cooked. About 10 minutes before the dish is done, take off the top and turn on the broiler to brown the potatoes. Serve in deep bowls—biscuits make a nice accompaniment to mop up the juice.


It's up !

Year three, and we can finally have a taste. So far, it's a garden snack. It hasn't made it into the kitchen, or onto the stove—not a single spear. We're watering the garden, spreading compost, and Alex pulls out his knife, and we eat. No need for a recipe.


The Local Food Report: rabbit liver

Onward & upward! And so we carry on with our parade of strange meats. Today, rabbit livers.

Twenty-seven years ago, my friend Nancy was living in Italy. She'd married an Italian, she was a vegetarian, and she was getting very anemic. Her mother-in-law, a woman named Valeria Giacotti, started getting on her case about eating liver. Liver is incredibly high in iron, and the type of iron found in meat (heme iron) is much easier for your body to use than the kind you find in plants (non heme). (I once had a hemoglobin of six. Normal is twelve, so I know the iron drill.) Nancy was reluctant, so she went to the doctor. He prescribed some low dose iron drops, and then proceeded to order liver and spinach. 

As it turned out, Nancy loved it. She now eats every kind of liver there is—beef, chicken, pig, whatever. But her favorite, the most delicate, she says, is rabbit.

Valeria taught her how to make it with sage and garlic, and the other day, Nancy showed me. She starts with a whole rabbit. That up there is the liver. Look how big it is in comparison with the tiny heart!

Once she cut the liver out, she rinsed it in cool water, patted it dry, and sprinkled it with salt. Then she poured about a third of a cup of olive oil into a big cast iron skillet and let it get hot. She sliced in two cloves of garlic, dropped in a handful of sage leaves, and added the liver.

Very quickly, it started to brown around the edges. Nancy says the most important thing about making liver is not to overcook it—you want medium-high heat so that you get some brown crispiness on the outside, but you want the inside to stay pink. It should be medium-rare, she says, and that happens in less than five minutes. You cook it about two minutes on the first side, flip it, add a few last sage leaves for perfume, and turn the heat down to low. Give it another minute and it should be done. 

Nancy served us each a plate with half a liver, a pool of oil, and some of the browned garlic and toasted sage. 

It was absolutely delicious. We mopped up the oil and herbs with a slice of crusty bread, and we both cleaned our plates. Nancy says she also makes rabbit liver with sautéed onions and a little balsamic-brown sugar glaze, which sounds delicious. Or she roasts a whole rabbit and throws the liver in with the pan juices for the last few minutes. 

She gets her rabbits from a farm in Concord, Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds. This year, for the first time, the animals will be raised on pasture! We've got one in our freezer, and I have a feeling the liver will disappear first.

If you're looking for local rabbit (be sure to ask if the liver and other organs are included; they aren't always), check out the list of local farms that sell it over here.


When Nancy made this for me, we also cooked the rabbit kidneys and the tiny heart. I liked the liver best, but the other organs were also delicious.

1/3 cup good olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and with the green hearts cut out (Nancy calls this the "anima")
8-10 sage leaves
1 rabbit liver

Warm up the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once it starts to get hot, slice the garlic in, and throw in all but 2 or 3 of the sage leaves. Add the rabbit liver. After a minute or two, it will start to brown around the edges. This means it's time to flip it. Cook it for another minute or so on the other side, then serve hot with a slice of crusty bread and the cooking oil and herbs.


Sally says

ma-ma-ma-MA! have you ever had lamb shank? 

Open your eyes wide and gnaw on that bone and oh the way it feels on your un-gummed teeth makes you want to shout and breathe in quick through that little nose. There is fat and meat and what are those—tomatoes? beans?—rosemary and a little hint of something sweet. Anchovy and garlic, melting meat, food and quiet and a slow, soft sleep.


Can you tell I'm on a Darina Allen kick? I am determined to cook my way through this book. I did some liberal adapting with this recipe; usually, Darina's recipes are simple, but this one was way too fussy for my taste. I cut out lots of ingredients, but this dish still has plenty of flavor. The meat just about melts as it hits your teeth.

4 lamb shanks
a head of garlic, divided
8 sprigs rosemary, divided
4 anchovy fillets
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fat (I used beef fat; I imagine olive oil or butter would also work well)
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 cup good red wine
3 cups lamb or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 quart crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked overnight and then boiled til soft

Have you boiled the beans yet? Get to it if not. Then preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. 

Make along, deep incision into each lamb shank along the joint. Peek the garlic, break off two cloves, and halve. Stuff each incision with a small sprig of rosemary, an anchovy fillet, and a half clove of garlic. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Warm the fat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on all sides, then remove the shanks from the pot and set aside. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and remaining garlic to the pot and sauté until slightly browned, about 5-8 minutes. Use the red wine to deglaze the pan, then add 1 cup of the stock, the bay leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and bring to a boil. Place the lamb shanks on top, cover the pot, and transfer to the oven to cook for about 2 hours.

At the 2 hour mark, pull the pot from the oven and add the crushed tomatoes, pinto beans,  remaining 2 cups of stock, and remaining 2 sprigs of rosemary. Cover again and return to the oven for about another hour.

When the lamb is done it should be falling off the bone. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings as needed. If there's too much liquid for your taste, you can always simmer the dish uncovered on the stove a bit longer. Serve hot with biscuits, cornbread, or nice homemade whole-wheat bread and plenty of butter.

Lamb from Border Bay Junction Farm in Barnstable, beef fat from homemade stock from bones from one of Joe Beaulieu's animals, frozen celery from Boxwood Gardens this summer, homemade chicken stock from one of Drew's birds, crushed tomatoes from our garden, pinto beans from Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain & Bean CSA.


The Local Food Report: beef heart

Hi. Are you are squeamish, vegetarian, or otherwise wary of strange meats? If so, today is not your day. Today around here is for the gung-ho, the slightly crazy, and the old-fashioned. Today we are going to talk about heart. And eating it! 

Still there? Excellent. That up there is the heart either of a cow or a lamb. Our freezer labeling is a little suspect, and we buy a lot of whole animals from local farmers, so I can't say for sure. But I think based on size it was lamb heart, and I can tell you for sure that it is the heart of a grass-fed local animal, and it was delicious.

I learned how to cook it from a farmer in New York, Ron Kipps. He was at the Union Square Greenmarket when we visited last weekend, and he's been raising grass-fed beef and bison for fifty-seven years. His farm is in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, not far from Amish country, and he's eaten his share of hearts.

He says the best way to cook it is over low heat. You glug some olive oil in a pan, brown some garlic, then cook the heart in quarter-inch strips. It wants to be sliced thin, he says—it's a muscle, with a consistency that is firm and smooth. Some people compare the taste to liver, but he says it has a taste all its own. It's chock full of iron and all sorts of other nutrients, and it's incredibly lean.

After 7 or 8 minutes on low, Ron says the heart is ready to eat. He says the Amish take the recipe one step further—they use the fat in the pan to make a gravy, then serve it with the heart over noodles. 

I decided to take this tact. I added shiitake mushrooms—the dish seemed like it needed a little more texture to me—and a bit of grated Parm on top. I was wary, but you know what? It was good—firm, meaty, and delicious. I've also seen it braised and ground up and added to ground beef or ground lamb to add iron. We have two more hearts in our freezer. Who knows what we'll try next!


If heart is a new experience for you (it certainly was for me!), there's a good tutorial on trimming it over here. I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I really did. It has a very intense flavor—very meaty—and a very firm texture. We ate this dish alongside steamed bok choy—it needs a light accompaniment. 

1/2 pound egg noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to drizzle the pasta
3 tablespoons pastured butter
4-5 small cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lamb heart, about the size of a fist, fat and ventricles trimmed and meat cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups cold beef stock
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used shiitakes)
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
grated Parmesan, for serving

Put on a pot of water to boil and cook the noodles. Drain them, reserving a half cup of the cooking water, and return them to the pot. Drizzle with olive oil, toss well, cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. When the pan is warm add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until it starts to get fragrant. Add the heart slices and cook, flipping occasionally, for 7-8 minutes, or until they're just cooked through but still tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the heart slices to the pasta pot with the noodles. Cover it back up to keep everything warm.

There should still be a fair amount of butter and some garlic in your pan. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the flour, whisking constantly, until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Add the beef stock gradually, whisking after each addition. Slowly, the paste should start to thin into a more gravy-like substance. Add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, season with salt and pepper, and taste. Adjust as needed. Simmer the gravy for several minutes longer, then pour it over the heart and pasta. Again, cover the pot back up.

Give your saucepan a quick rinse, then add the olive oil. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the mushrooms. They absorb oil pretty fast, so as you sauté, add glugs of the reserved pasta water as needed to cook them until they soften. 

Finally, add the mushrooms to the pasta, heart slices, and gravy. Mix well, adding more pasta water as needed to thin the sauce to the consistency you like. If the mixture's started to cool, bring it up to a simmer, then serve hot with grated Parmesan.

P.S. If you're interested in buying meat from local farms, here are a few of the places we get it:

Border Bay Junction Farm, Barnstable (lamb)
Cape Cod Organic Farm, Barnstable (pork)
Hillside Farms, Truro (poultry)
Mac's Seafood, Truro (pork, poultry, & beef via several Truro farmers and Northeast Family Farms)
Miss Scarlett's Blue Ribbon Farm, Yarmouth Port (pork & poultry)
Paskamansett Farms, Dartmouth (poultry, pork, & beef)
Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds, Concord (rabbit)

There are lots of other places to shop, depending on where exactly you live. SEMAP has a great online tool where you can enter your zipcode to find the farms closest to you. Check it out over here!


I'll stay

I just wanted to pop in to say hello! from under a mountain of work. I'd rather be here, on our honeymoon, shopping for dinner.

But then again there's no Sally back then, or in Rome. And our little saltbox is full of hole-y Savoy cabbage and our Swiss chard is looking good, almost perfect. And Sally's six months and a day, clamoring for applesauce and egg yolks and anchovies.

I think, after all, I'll stay.


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