A Different Lens . . . Culinary Discovery
November 21, 2010
One of the charming features at the farm is the culinary program. World-class chefs come to share their culinary talents by teaching a class right here in our farmhouse kitchen, helping to fulfill the farm's mission of bringing people closer to their food and arming them with the culinary skills to make farm-to-fork eating a reality.
Within the first few weeks of my internship, Chef Phil McGrath of Pleasantville’s Iron Horse Grill taught “Cooking Basics 101.” The timing of his visit was not a minute too soon for the safety and welfare of my colleagues here on the farm. Just one week before, I had sent everyone including Lisa running out of the kitchen in order to escape the toxic fumes I generated by using the wrong kind of pot for boiling water on our stove. “Didn’t you know that was the top of a double boiler??” I had to admit I didn’t.
Embarrassed, I still knew at that moment that another dream of mine was about to come true - my learning sabbatical had just forked (as in the good ol’ days, when one’s stock split). Not only was I in a position to leap from amateur gardener to experienced sustainable farmer, I was also about to be blessed with the opportunity to REALLY learn how to cook. Literally and profoundly, I couldn’t get any closer to the farm-to-table phenom. As my mother would say, “It’s not a coincidence, it’s yet another way of g-d remaining anonymous.”
During that first week, Lisa and I surveyed the kitchen, mapping out its proper mise en place. I realized the bigger picture, a chef’s feng shui to “better living” in the kitchen. Participating in four classes within my first month, from a pickling and canning class taught by Chef Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of “Put’em Up!” (check out the pictures here) to a gluten-free class with Chef Diane Forley, author of “Anatomy of a Dish” and founder of Flourish Baking Company - to assisting Chef Nicki Sizemore’s private cooking class, I was well on my way to eliminating the last of the “not knowingness” and was now learning beyond the basics. From cooking classes to GREAT LEFTOVERS, these were a golden plus that I realized only after moving onto the farm.
Another gem of farm life here is the farmers’ market held once a week right here in the farmhouse kitchen, where our CAP (Community Agricultural Partnership--see what it looks like here) members congregate to share family recipes and talk shop about the latest harvest of the week with the farm’s oh-so-brilliant agricultural director, Sir Isaac Jahns. Isaac always takes the time to introduce us to the culinary connections to what is currently featured on the racks, usually followed by a taste test. Kohlrabi, parcel, lovage, ground cherries, purple broccoli and miniature Mexican gherkins are just a few more exotic examples of the farm’s current landscape, harvested just before the frost. We'll add pictures and explanations for these in an upcoming update.
With all the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, a fridge purge is a frequent activity around here. And for those who know me, nothing goes to waste in my household. Chef Phil, who teaches his class sans any recipe, reminds us that we can be inspired by our own imaginations when we open up the fridge or go to the grocery store. Left over from a cheese/wine pairing party the night before, slices of Chevre Log, Mont Vivant, Meridian, and Chevre Lait were waiting to be had. A bounty of veggies not visually fit for sale, but just as delicious as their sisters, are embraced by the farm's brilliant “added value” cooking team, who come weekly to cook up a storm with them. Still there are always not so beautiful veggies left over, which were now begging to be consumed. So, the fridge cleanse cook-out culminated into a goat cheese laden, veggie melange grand frittata.
My interdisciplinary curriculum was now beginning to take root. A few evenings ago, Blair, another farm intern and very recent graduate from Harvard, pulled from the fridge some craggy and warty-looking celeriac the size of a very used softball. Blair had been waiting to “address” this celeriac for two weeks, post a divine meal of chops and celeriac purée at a cafe in the next town over. Blair had been chomping-at-the-bit to attempt to replicate that purée since that dinner.
Equipped with laptop, Blair began researching for a recipe to work from. Nothing we found online sounded exactly right, but combining efforts and recipes, we made something completely our own. I had just finished making a chicken soup, so we had a very fresh broth to start with. One recipe called for crème fraiche, but since we didn’t have that on hand, Blair chose to swap that out for Lisa’s special “Chef’s Choice,” a cheese she sells exclusively to local chefs. So delicious, the celeriac’s fleshy base is delicate, the front end tasting of celery stock and the back end finishing with the essence of celery leaves. The texture, after boiling, is like a cross between parsnip and potato. I recently read Raymond Blanc’s description of celeriac: “Its flavor is an archetypal taste of British winter and a low maintenance winter warmer.”
Swirling the purée over roasted root vegetables just mined from the garden a few yards from the kitchen, we had a feast for the eyes and stomachs. Ruby and diamond sun chokes. Golden beets. Red, white and yellow carrots. Purple potatoes and parsnips, oh my. And for dessert – nutmeg-infused, goat milk-soaked raisin bread chunks swelled up and runneth over the bread pan, making for a hot crusty bread pudding. These two dishes rose to the category of “panic” food. You know, when food tastes so good you just can’t contain yourself!
Celeriac & Roasted Chestnut Puree Recipe
Great as an additional dressing for turkey stuffing, slathered on any kind of chop, drizzled over any fish, pheasant, rabbit . . . you get the drift. Enter your culinary imagination!
One celeriac root, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 – 2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock, or chicken stock
Salt, pepper, and garlic (to taste)
¾ cup roasted chestnuts
2 Tablespoons butter
½ cup soft, fresh cheese (Chef’s Choice, crème fraiche, Neufchatel, etc.)
Chop celeriac “root” into ½ inch cubes and simmer in stock for 20 minutes or until soft. Add garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Add chestnuts to soften about 10 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and drain, setting aside liquid. Transfer solids to blender, gradually adding back drained liquid to blender until purée consistency is gained. Return mixture to saucepan, and add 1-2 Tablespoons of butter, and up to ½ cup soft cheese, gently simmering and blending mixture until smooth. Enjoy!