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Recipe: Garlicky Leg Of Lamb

This week’s recipe is from Berkshire-based duo The Butcher & The Baker. The Butcher is Jake, a nose-to-tail butcher/artist, who loves to cook and grew up in the woody hills of Western Massachusetts where his passion for local, fresh food was first instilled in him. The Baker is Silka, a designer/crafter who loves to bake and grew up in rural Western New York where her parents are candlestick makers. Together they spend most of their time talking about, shopping for, making, and eating food. By sourcing locally and sustainably, and spending time with the producers of their food, they’ve learned that every meal tells a story.

One of our favorite springtime activities is taking Sunday drives to our local farms. Rich, just-turned soil, energetic baby animals—it’s a great way to take in the fresh, warming air. And one of our all-time favorite farms is Kinderhook Farm in Ghent, NY. If you’ve never had the opportunity to stop by this lamb and beef haven, you absolutely should make the effort. The incredible farm is something straight out of an English Romantic novel—rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, dotted with white lambs, black muscular steer, and a lovely English-accented shepherd.

Since we’re smack in the middle of two lamb-centric holidays, we took advantage of last weekend’s good weather and drove out to Columbia County to pick up a couple of legs. We got one of the higher-end cuts, but seeing as how Spring comes but once a year, why not splurge?

As is often our philosophy when going for such a beautiful piece of meat, its best to keep it simple. A quick and easy paste of garlic, rosemary and olive oil complement and brighten the delicate, gamey flavor of the meat. Served with some crispy roasted potatoes or creamy polenta and a fresh mesclun salad… well, nothing ushers in the season of rebirth quite like this meal does.

Garlicky Leg of Lamb

1 4-lb leg of lamb
2 small heads of garlic, minced (about 3-4 tbsp)
3 tbsp of diced rosemary
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp coarse sea salt

1. Let lamb come to room temperature and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix the garlic, salt, olive oil and rosemary together to make a coarse paste.

3. Pat the lamb dry and cover with paste.

4. Place a heavy skillet over high heat. When skillet is hot, sear the lamb on all sides—about two minutes a side.

5. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for about one hour, or until lamb is 120 degrees at its center.

6. Let rest for about 7 minutes before serving.

Serves 3-4 people

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/15/14 at 09:21 PM • Permalink

Recipe: Yogurt Cheesecake With Dates And Rosewater

Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers us dessert that’s Passover friendly, but good enough for all year.

I woke up this morning in the cloud of a memory.

I was young — maybe eight or nine, and my grandparents took me to a Passover seder at the home of their friends, Zev and Miriam. I imagine it was in one of the quiet side neighborhoods of Pittsfield. It was late, almost my bedtime even as we were just arriving. But we made our way down the basement stairs into a room packed to its edges with card tables and folding chairs. I was small and tired and excited, and the candles carry the memory forward to me now, creating a picture of what felt like 60 or more people. Zev, a rabbi, sang his way through the haggadah, and the meal lasted so late into the night, I fell asleep on my grandmother’s lap in the haze of warm chatter. It felt like a wild extended family all cobbled together to honor the holiday. And of all the seders in my life, that one has set the tone for the rest. It felt like everyone in the world was invited, and no one would be turned away.

I’ve been to more traditional seders where we stuck to every rule, and I’ve been to wide, expansive vegetarian ceremonies that focused on the need for marriage equality. I love both ends of this spectrum. I love how it’s a beginner’s holiday where everyone is invited to ask questions and learn. And most of all, I love how the food tells the story.

Passover desserts tend to go in just a few directions. Usually there’s a plate of macaroons, and, if you’re lucky, a flourless chocolate cake. This cake is an entirely different option for those who don’t keep kosher. It’s light, tangy, and smells like roses. The crust is gluten-free, so it’s a good one to have in your recipe box all year round.

Yogurt Cheesecake with Dates and Rosewater

For the crust:
¾ cup blanched almonds
¾ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

For the filling:
1 pound (2 bricks) cream cheese, softened
1 cup plain yogurt
3 eggs
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater

For the topping:
1 cup pitted, roughly chopped dates
¼-1/2 cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon rosewater

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay the nuts and coconut onto a baking sheet and bake for five minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes.

2. Combine the nuts, coconut, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse a few times until the ingredients come together in a wet, buttery dough. Gently press the mixture into a greased 9-inch spring form pan. (You can also line the bottom with parchment, but be sure to grease the sides as well.) Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until it darkens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the crust from the oven and let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

3. While the crust cools, make the filling. Combine the cream cheese, yogurt, eggs, sugar, and rosewater in a blender or food processor. Blend until the mixture is smooth.

4. Surround the bottom and sides of the cake pan with aluminum foil. (You’re going to be baking the cake in a water bath, so you want to make sure the spring form pan is watertight.) Fill a kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Place the spring form pan in a larger baking pan, and pour the filling into the crust. Transfer the whole larger baking pan into the oven, and then, with the door open, pour boiling water into the larger pan so that it comes a few inches up the sides of the spring form. Bake until the cake is just barely solid in the center and slightly puffed, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the water bath, and let cool. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. You can add the date dotting before or after chilling, depending on your schedule.

5. For the topping: Combine the dates with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the dates soften and absorb the water. Add more water as the mixture gets dry. After about 15 minutes, the dates should melt into a jammy consistency. Remove from heat, stir in the cardamom and rosewater, and cool. Pour overtop the cake.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/07/14 at 11:59 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Matzoh Ball Soup

This week’s recipe is from Berkshire-based duo The Butcher & The Baker. The Butcher is Jake, a nose-to-tail butcher/artist, who loves to cook and grew up in the woody hills of Western Massachusetts where his passion for local, fresh food was first instilled in him. The Baker is Silka, a designer/crafter who loves to bake and grew up in rural Western New York where her parents are candlestick makers. Together they spend most of their time talking about, shopping for, making, and eating food. By sourcing locally and sustainably, and spending time with the producers of their food, they’ve learned that every meal tells a story.

Passover is one of our all-time favorite holidays. Come on — it’s a night on which we use food to tell a story about justice! What could be more up our alley? Every year we gather around Jake’s parents’ dining room table with familiar faces for a long night of singing, eating, drinking and telling stories. It’s something we look forward to all year, so it’s no surprise that we’re already in menu-planning mode.

Our (semi-) traditional seder dinner consists of eco-kosher certified VerMatzoh, hard boiled eggs, parsley, charoset, horseradish and matzoh ball soup — but instead of brisket, we like to serve a leg of lamb. It just seems more fitting to spring — and especially on this holiday in which the paschal lamb looms so large. The whole meal comes together so perfectly.

In our family, the matzoh ball soup is the anchor of this leisurely multi-course meal. And like any good Jewish boy, Jake knows his mom’s recipe is the best. The recipe is borrowed from A Little Jewish Cookbook, literally a pocket-sized book that Jake bought for his mom on a childhood trip to Ellis Island. It makes the lightest, most (heart) warming matzoh balls we’ve ever had.

Matzoh Ball Soup 

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
½ tsp. ground ginger
6 Tbsp. of freshly melted schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup of sparkling water
1½ cups of matzoh meal
6 eggs, beaten
2 quarts of chicken stock
4 large carrots sliced into ¼-inch thick wheels

1. Stir parsley, ginger, salt, pepper into schmaltz.

2. Add eggs and sparkling water and beat to blend. Stir in matzoh meal.

3. Refrigerate for one hour. In the meantime, bring the chicken stock to a boil.

4. Wet hands and form chilled matzoh mixture into golf ball sized balls. Drop into boiling chicken stock, along with sliced carrots.

5. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until balls float to top. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 04/01/14 at 11:31 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Roasted Asparagus With Three Sauces

Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers us simple steps for grilling fresh asparagus and three easy sauces with which to spice it up. Whether you prefer your veggies spicy, salty (heretofore known as “yummy”) or mild with a yogurt base, these sauces are perfect for dipping or drizzling.

Let’s be honest. Around here, asparagus season starts not in the garden, but in the grocery store. There I am, stomping the snow off my boots, clutching a shopping list filled with cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and whatever other winter vegetable I’m turning into this week’s “warming” stew that makes my kids groan. I reach for another sweet potato, and then I see it: Asparagus: $1.99 lb

A month ago, asparagus was $4.99 a pound, and it looked like a teenager just home from a European backpacking trip. I didn’t give it a second glance. But this is totally different—bright, velvety green, with each layered top tight and alive. There’s not a withered or droopy stalk in the bunch. I take off my gloves and pick up a bunch so I can feel its greenness. I know it’s not time yet. I know that soon, there will be asparagus in my very own garden. It will be as local and virtuous as it can get. There will be piles of stalks on the counter, and I’ll find ways to put it in every single meal. Soon, soon!

But now, I can’t bring myself to let go of this bunch. I have no idea where it’s from. New Jersey? California? I’m not reading the label. My fingers are already aching to snap off the tough base of each stalk. I’m thinking about herb butters, homemade mayonnaise, olive oil and lemon. I’m already in those five minutes before dinner when I’ve hollered that it’s time to set the table. I’m transferring the asparagus from the hot baking sheet to a plate, tasting as I go (one for me… one for the plate). My family finds me in the kitchen, juice running down my arm, the glimmer of Spring in my eyes…

Local, schmocal. It’s local to somewhere, right? I grab three bunches and run for it.

Roasted Asparagus with Three Sauces

This recipe requires as much asparagus as you think you’ll need, plus an extra bunch. I promise you’ll want more, and if there’s extra, it will be a secret weapon in the fridge to use in pasta, quiche, scrambled eggs, salads, and whatever else you can dream up. Each of the sauce recipes make quite a bit, but any extra sauces can be repurposed as dips and salad dressings in the week ahead.

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Rinse the stalks thoroughly under water, and let them drain in a colander. Snap off the tough end of each stalk by gently bending it—it will break at the natural place. You’ll feel like you’re wasting a lot of asparagus, but this eliminates the tough chewy bite of each stalk. Compost the ends, save them for vegetable stock, or slice them to use in scrambled eggs. If the stalks aren’t dry, give them a quick turn in a clean dishtowel as you go. Transfer each stalk to a lightly oiled baking sheet, laying them out in as close to a single layer as possible. If you have too many stalks to fit into one sheet, start a second.

2. Squeeze half a lemon over the stalks. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over that, and then finish with a generous snowsquall of salt. Roast for 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalk. The asparagus is done when it’s bright green, tender, and the feathered top has a slight kiss of blackening on it.

3. While the asparagus roasts, make the sauces. You can serve it with any of these three sauces poured over it, or you can make all three and set them out as dips on the side.

Salty Butter Sauce a.k.a. “Yummy Sauce”
adapted from the Spring Hill Cookbook

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (not baker’s yeast!)

1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

Melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic, yeast, and tamari. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it all comes together and thickens, about 7 minutes.
 

Creamy Tarragon Sauce

½ cup mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, and lemon juice. Stir in the onions and tarragon, and add salt and pepper to taste.


Bagna Cauda
adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter

2 tablespoons chopped anchovies (about 5 of the salt-packed kind)

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

½ dried chile de arbol, minced or ½ teaspoon dried red chile flakes
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves

heaping ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over very low heat. Add the anchovies and chile and stir with a wooden spoon until the anchovies melt into the sauce, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, take off the heat, and let the garlic finish cooking in the hot olive oil. Add the salt, taste, and add more if necessary.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/24/14 at 09:13 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Welsh Scones

This week’s recipe is from Berkshire-based duo The Butcher & The Baker. The Butcher is Jake, a nose-to-tail butcher/artist, who loves to cook and grew up in the woody hills of Western Massachusetts where his passion for local, fresh food was first instilled in him. The Baker is Silka, a designer/crafter who loves to bake and grew up in rural Western New York where her parents are candlestick makers. Together they spend most of their time talking about, shopping for, making, and eating food. By sourcing locally and sustainably, and spending time with the producers of their food, they’ve learned that every meal tells a story.

Nothing takes the chill off a sleepy early-spring morning than a big cup of coffee and something freshly baked. The problem with this equation is that, in your pre-pastry haze, you have to actually “freshly bake” something. Enter scones – the easiest thing ever to make, a catch-all for aging pantry staples, and the perfect not-too-sweet, not-too-savory vessel for butter, cream and jam. Seriously, you could make these in your sleep – which is basically what we did last weekend.

Last Sunday morning (okay, okay, afternoon) after a rousing, late-night game of Pictionary (we’re waaaay cooler than we sound), Silka rolled out of bed desperate for our favorite scones. And as she slowly rummaged through the pantry, we realized that we’d been holding on to just a handful of raisins, almonds and walnuts – never enough for a full recipe of anything. Score! The nuts went into a pan to roast and the raisins into a hot water/left-over whiskey bath to plump up. After an easy mix of some simple ingredients and a quick cooking time, we were on the couch contentedly snacking away and watching bad movies on HBO. Who could ask for more?! 

Welsh Scones
from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces
1 large egg
½ cup milk

Optional:
½ cup raisins, soaked in a mixture of hot water and whiskey for 30 minutes
½ cup nuts, roasted and coarsely chopped

1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is mealy but dry and powdery.

3. Invert the bowl of the food processor over a mixing bowl and carefully remove the blade. If you are adding raisins, nuts or both, gently stir them in now.

4. Quickly whisk the egg and milk together and use a fork to toss the egg mixture into the flour mixture, continuing to toss until all the flour mixture is evenly moistened.

5. Gently knead the dough 3 to 4 times, until it is smooth. Divide the dough in half and press and pat each half into a disk about 6 inches in diameter. Place the two disks of dough a couple of inches apart on the prepared pan.

6. Use a floured bench scraper or knife to mark each disk of dough into 8 wedges, pressing straight down, and cutting no farther than halfway into the dough disk.

7. Bake the scones until they are a very deep golden and firm, 12-15 minutes.

8. Slide each disk of baked scones onto a platter and use a knife to cut them completely along the markings into wedges.

9. Serve with butter, whipped cream and jam!

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/17/14 at 12:07 PM • Permalink

Recipe: Baby Spinach with Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts

Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she finds the sweet spot in some hearty spinach that’s endured this wild winter right along with us.

Sometime during the weekend, Joey and I leave the kids to their own devices and take a big walk. Usually we walk down the hill towards Main Street in Great Barrington and turn off at the railroad tracks. We follow the tracks until they lead us to the cemetery across from the fairgrounds, and then we walk through the cemetery to the supermarket to pick up a few groceries we used as an excuse for the walk in the first place. These walks have been the first time I’ve really spent time in that cemetery, and it’s become one of my favorite places in Great Barrington. The view of the mountain over the fairgrounds surprises me every time, and watching it change with each month has helped me get through this long, cold winter. The hills never look quite real, and the weight and texture of it all feels soft and painted.

Last weekend, we walked in sweaters. The temperature hovered right around 35 degrees, but the sun was warm on the back of my legs. I’d forgotten the feeling of it. We haven’t gone anywhere warm this winter (every year we say we’ll do it, but we never seem to be able to make it happen), and my Instagram and Facebook feeds have made me feel like we’re the only ones who haven’t escaped to Mexico or Florida. But this weekend, with that quiet warmth on my legs, I felt grateful for the ability to feel the baby steps of the seasons. It was the contrast that made it feel so sweet. Only a winter like the one we’ve been through could make me so happy for a little bit of spring sun.

Of course, there’s still time before the ground thaws and begins to grow. The farmers’ markets are a few months off, but if you know the right people, you can find yourself with real, fresh greens. A few weeks back, my friends Jen and Pete brought over a bag of spinach so sweet, it outshined the cake I’d made for dessert. Pete explained that it was the extreme cold that made it so sweet. Those tender leaves had to fight to grow, and that process made it taste so much better.

If you can, search out some good, local spinach for this salad—leaves that have pushed and fought through this cold winter. We’re almost there, and hopefully, we’ll all emerge sweeter and stronger. Soon, soon.

Baby Spinach with Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnuts
Serves 3-4 as a side, or 2 as a main dish

1 small head cauliflower
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt
1/3 cup hazelnuts
4 ounces baby spinach
3 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the cauliflower into small florets, and toss it with the olive oil and a heavy pinch of salt in a mixing bowl. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast until the edges of each floret are brown and crispy, 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F.

2. Transfer the cauliflower to a cutting board, and lay the hazelnuts out on the baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the kitchen smells like hazelnuts when you open the oven. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly.

3. You can remove the skins from the hazelnuts if you like, or you can leave them intact—it’s a matter of preference and time. To remove the skins, transfer the hazelnuts to a clean dishtowel, fold the towel over the nuts, and rub them back and forth. Whether you skin them or not, roughly chop the nuts. Separate 2 cups of the cauliflower out, reserving the rest for another meal. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and combine it with the nuts and spinach in a serving bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the top of the greens.

4. Make the dressing: Heat the walnut oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, and allow to cook until it softens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Pour the warm dressing over the salad, and toss to combine. Taste a leaf, and adjust salt if necessary.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/10/14 at 10:55 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Moules â la Marinière

This week’s recipe is from Berkshire-based duo The Butcher & The Baker. The Butcher is Jake, a nose-to-tail butcher/artist, who loves to cook and grew up in the woody hills of Western Massachusetts where his passion for local, fresh food was first instilled in him. The Baker is Silka, a designer/crafter who loves to bake and grew up in rural Western New York where her parents are candlestick makers. Together they spend most of their time talking about, shopping for, making, and eating food. By sourcing locally and sustainably, and spending time with the producers of their food, they’ve learned that every meal tells a story.

Because we feel so conflicted about seafood, we don’t eat a lot of it. But there are a few maritime creatures we feel good about eating. Oysters, for one. But there’s another bivalve that tugs at our heart… mussels. Particularly mussels steamed à la Julia with white wine, shallots and parsley. So the other night, tired of our usual chops, roasts, pasta sauces and grains, we decided to take a stab at the bistro classic. 

We picked up some mussels from the Berkshire Co-op Market, a few fresh herbs, some shallots and —  equally important as the shellfish — potatoes, to attempt some french fries. As it turns out, Moules â la Marinière is a super fast and easy dish to make. By far, the hardest and most time-consuming part is scrubbing the mussels clean, which we were maaaaybe not quite patient enough for. So if you have never cooked mussels before, we suggest reading up on how to clean them and sort them before you dive in.

But once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the mussels, there is little else to do. After a little chopping and some quick steaming, you have a beautiful, filling and incredibly healthy meal. Just add bread, pommes frites, and a nice Muscadet. Bon appetit!

Moules â la Marinière
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
(serves 6-8)

2 cups light, dry white wine
½ cup minced shallots & parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/8 tsp. pepper
6 tbsp. butter
6 quarts scrubbed, soaked mussels
½ cup chopped parsley

1. Bring the wine to boil in a large pot with the rest of the ingredients. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes to cook off the alcohol and reduce its volume slightly.

2. Add the mussels. Cover tightly and boil over high heat.

3. Frequently take the pot with both hands, holding the cover clamped, and toss the mussels in the kettle with an up and down slightly jerky motion so the mussels will change levels and cook evenly.

4. In about 5 minutes, the shells will swing open and the mussels are done.

5. Fish the mussels out of the pot and place in wide soup plates. Allow the cooking liquid to settle for a moment so any sand will sink to the bottom. Then ladle the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle with more parsley and serve immediately.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 03/04/14 at 09:39 PM • Permalink

Recipe: Pear Chocolate Almond Muffins

Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers us a breakfast treat full of the good stuff, to keep us going through a day full of blustery weather.

You never know what’s happening in the hidden corners of the Berkshires. The rolling hills provide perfect cover for people creating all sorts of wonderful things, and it’s hard to predict when you might drive over the crest of a hill to find yourself in the middle of a film set or improvisational theater piece. I love this, and I love how the arts are so wound up in the history of the Berkshires, too. After decades, it seems that I would have gotten used to it, but I still pause and take an extra deep breath as I drive by Edith Wharton’s house on the way to pick my girls up from school. Even if it adds time to my drive, I’ll take Holmes Road from Lenox to Pittsfield, just for another glimpse of Melville’s north-facing piazza.

Over the last month, a friend of mine has been hard at work on a film, mostly out in Sandisfield. You probably haven’t seen them, but if you caught a glimpse of a camera here or there and looked around for someone famous (nope, mostly locals—but just you wait!), that was probably my friend’s crew. I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for the cast and crew, which means that my kitchen’s output has been at an all-time high this month. They’ve been out in this epic snowy February, day after day, so I’ve been filling them with soup, stews, and a steady supply of roast chicken. And every morning, I’ve gotten up long before the sun to make sure there are warm muffins for that first slow hour of the cold day.

These seemed to be the favorite of the crew, and they were certainly mine. They’re full of chocolate and butter, two essential tools to making it through February in New England. This recipe is based around the basic muffin formula in Joanne Chang’s Flour, and it makes a dozen muffins that have such lofty and expansive tops, they spread across the muffin pan.

Pear Chocolate Almond Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

1 cup milk
1 cup yogurt
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1¼ sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 small Bosc pears, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch cubes
¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
¾ cup sliced almonds

1. Measure the milk and yogurt, and leave them out on the counter to warm a bit while you prepare the other ingredients. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center and a baking sheet in the bottom of the oven to catch any drips. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, taking care to grease the space between the cups as well.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk. Slowly whisk the sugar into the eggs. Then whisk in the melted butter, milk, yogurt, vanilla, and almond extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and gently fold with a wooden spoon until most of the dry is incorporated into the wet. Add the pear and chocolate, and again, lightly fold the ingredients in, taking care not to over mix or crush the pear.

3. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, fill the muffin cups to the brim. (Note: if your muffin tin has cups that are on the small side, you may have a bit of extra batter. Don’t fill overfill the muffin cups, as these really spread.) Sprinkle each muffin with almonds, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick, when inserted in the center muffin, comes out batter-free. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the muffin tin upside down to release them from the pan. Let them continue to cool upside down until you’re ready to eat them.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 02/24/14 at 11:45 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Borscht

This week’s recipe is from Berkshire-based duo The Butcher & The Baker. The Butcher is Jake, a nose-to-tail butcher/artist, who loves to cook and grew up in the woody hills of Western Massachusetts where his passion for local, fresh food was first instilled in him. The Baker is Silka, a designer/crafter who loves to bake and grew up in rural Western New York where her parents are candlestick makers. Together they spend most of their time talking about, shopping for, making, and eating food. By sourcing locally and sustainably, and spending time with the producers of their food, they’ve learned that every meal tells a story.

February is the most difficult culinary month of the year. We’re desperate for warm weather flavors and some brighter color on our plates, and a gnawing craving for ramps, asparagus, and fiddle-head ferns becomes an everyday occurrence.

The other night we tried to think of some meals that might trick us into thinking spring was more within our reach, or at least bridge the long gap between now and then. After much deliberation, we ended on borscht—and we knew it would deliver on the color front. So much of what we’ve been cooking is a brown, muddy red or yellow color. Borscht promises a shock of magenta, complemented by a dollop of bright white creme fraiche and a sprig of fresh, green parsley.

Borscht is often thought of as a heavy and thick soup. But it doesn’t have to be — and that wasn’t what we were looking for. Inspired by an incredibly simple and light-sounding borscht recipe on Food52, we left the large Red Fire Farm vegetable chunks swimming in a light broth. To beef it up (don’t we always?) we decided to throw in some Whippoorwill Farm cubed chuck. Na zdorov’ya!

Borscht
(serves 4-6)
Note: The meat in this dish is totally optional. This would be a perfectly flavorful vegetarian soup, as well!
 
1 lb. cubed beef
8 cups of chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons of olive oil or lard
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 medium sized beets, cubed 1”
3 medium sized carrots, cubed 1”
3 medium potato (like Yukon gold), cubed 1”
salt
1 tablespoon creme fraiche or sour cream (per bowl)
1 sprig of parsley or dill

1. Pat the cubed beef dry, and salt heavily.

2. Place a large heavy pot or dutch oven on high heat. With the lard or oil, brown the beef in batches. Set aside.

3. Lower heat to medium-high and cook the onions. When they begin to soften and become translucent, add the beef back along with the stock or water and bay leaf.

4. Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover for 45 minutes.

5. After 45 minutes add beets. Bring to a boil again, and turn down to a simmer.

6. After another 15 minutes, add the carrots and potatoes. Let cook for another half hour, or until a fork goes through the potatoes.

7. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprig of parsley or dill in each bowl.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 02/18/14 at 11:53 AM • Permalink

Recipe: Breakfast Tata

Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. When she learned that this week’s recipe was to land in an issue featuring egg sandwiches, she knew exactly the recipe she wanted to share: her family’s egg sandwich.

There’s a link between the Berkshires and Santa Fe. I didn’t know it when I first went out there. I was nearly twenty, sick of working on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, ready to go. I always say that the Berkshires are a good place to be a kid and a good place to be a grown up, but the worst place to be in between. When I drove my little car over the New Mexico border, I knew I had gotten out for good. I was a long way from home.

It only took a few months for me to have my first Berkshire run-in. It was someone I knew just a bit, but enough to stop a few paces past our crossing point on the sidewalk, to turn around and say, “Don’t I…?” I was surprised, and I felt a little found out, like my secret hiding place had been uncovered. Over the four years I lived there, it happened so frequently that the shock of it wore off, and although the other participant in the run-in would exclaim on the smallness of the world, isn’t this wild, and all of that, I’d nod and smile and peek at my watch and beg having to run off to work or class. It didn’t take me long to learn that the two places are connected in a way no one can quite explain. It might be the beauty, the culture, the gentle rolling artistic draw of both the landscapes. Or maybe it’s something deeper, some light and dark versions of the same home.

When I lived in Santa Fe, I dreamed of the Berkshires. Especially in August, when the fires would push in from two sides and the ground would harden and crack, I’d wake up in the dry, early morning with my head still in the lush and shaded green of my parent’s house in Monterey. It’s been years since I’ve been back to New Mexico, but now that I’m settled back in the Berkshires, Santa Fe is usually where I go in my dreams. I’ll wake up and report on the feeling of the air blowing through the arroyo, the smell of chiles roasting at the farmers’ market. And my husband, Joey, listens to all the details and responds with his own. It’s in his blood too, and for all we love and feel at home here, it’s clear that Santa Fe doesn’t let go so easily.

The first Fall after we moved here from Santa Fe, Joey was working at the Berkshire Coop Market. At the time, there was a company that sold big jars of organic green chile sauce. We’d spend most of our grocery budget on cases of it, and that chile sauce found its way into every meal. It was a year of beginnings and firsts—we had a wedding, a baby, our first full year together. Neither of us knew much about cooking, but we found dishes we both loved that we could cook together. Joey’s breakfast specialty became a breakfast quesadilla of sorts, scrambled egg with cheese and (if we were feeling lush) bacon or chorizo, all tucked into a tortilla with a slather of green chile and cheese to hold it together. When our first daughter was old enough to ask for it, she gave it the title that stuck: Breakfast Tata. 

Of course, if there really is a link between the Berkshires and Santa Fe, the path between them is smothered in green chile. That mystical chile (not chili!) only grows in New Mexico, and we go to great lengths to bring them here. Our original chile source petered out long ago, and now we order them directly in cases from Hatch in August when we remember. The last few years we’ve gone in on a case with friends, and we all get together and roast them on the grill before sliding them into freezer bags that keep us in chile through the winter. But in a pinch, those cans in the supermarket do the trick. They’re cheap and small and mixed with chiles from other places, but if we close our eyes and think about the smell of pinon filling the cold New Mexico winter air, we can infuse those sad little cans of chile with just enough memory, love, and heat to make them taste like the real thing.

Breakfast Tata
(serves 4)

Optional: 3-4 ounces chorizo or bacon
Butter, for the pan
6 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water
3 ounces cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, grated
4 8-10-inch flour tortillas
½ cup chopped, roasted green chiles

1. If you’re including meat, heat a large skillet. For chorizo, squeeze the sausage out of its casing and fry, breaking up the sausage, until slightly brown. For bacon, chop the meat into small pieces, and fry until crispy. Remove from the skillet, set aside, and gently wipe out the pan.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, salt and water in a bowl. Heat the pan that scrambles eggs in your kitchen, add a touch of butter, and pour the eggs into the pan. Sprinkle the meat and two-thirds of the cheese over the eggs. Let the eggs cook on medium-high heat without agitation until they start to solidify, then scramble them into large pieces. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

3. In a large skillet (ready to go if you used it for meat), melt enough butter on low to medium heat to cover the surface of the pan. You are going to be cooking two tatas at a time. Put one tortilla in the pan and shuffle it around so that it is coated with butter. Spread a quarter of the scrambled eggs on one half of the tortilla, then fold the other half over. Put the second tortilla in the pan, shuffle, fill it with eggs and fold it over. One at a time, lift up the top layer, spread a quarter of the remaining grated cheese over the egg, spoon a bit of green chile in there with the cheese, and put the top layer down again. After two minutes or so, flip both tatas. Let them cook for a few minutes more before transferring to their plates. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Cut in half and serve hot, with additional chile if needed.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 02/10/14 at 02:51 PM • Permalink