Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some Pig

 In E. B. White's classic book, Charlotte's Web,  the compassionate heroine, a grey spider called Charlotte, does her darnedest to convince a farmer not to slaughter his little pig Wilbur by weaving messages in her web - "Some Pig", "Terrific", "Radiant", and finally "Humble".
Wilbur, of course is saved, and goes on to be a ribbon-winner at a local fair.

I was reminded of the good lives that animals can enjoy before they become our dinner when I visited Rob and Heather Kitchen's Pigasso Farms.   I drove into a parking filled with fat, clucking chickens enjoying dirt baths and laying their eggs wherever they felt comfortable.  As I got out of my car several juvenile pigs ran up to the edge of a fence to greet me, snorting and smiling.  I walked around to find huge fenced in areas, one populated with piglets in all sorts of stylish color combinations and another area for ginormous pregnant sows keeping themselves cool and comfortable in big, muddy puddles.  I got teary watching a mom, Fern and one of her babies nuzzle each other, lovingly looking into each other's eyes. My  emotion was two-fold - happiness at the scene I was witnessing and extreme sadness at other scenes of sows standing in areas so tightly closed in that they can't sit, turn around to scratch their backs - and never can kiss their babies.  That is the horror of factory farming.   Pigasso Farms is the living example of how things can - and should be done.   As Rob said of his animals, "they only have one bad day".   From the day Rob's pigs are born they are habituated to the trailer that will eventually bring them to the slaughterhouse.  For them it's one of their playgrounds.  This isn't a cynical observation - if you're a carnivore, the meat of humanely-raised animals is what you should search out.

At one point during my visit as I stood at the fence with Rob and Heather I felt a stinging sensation on my knee.  I looked at the plants in front of me and asked, "Are these nettles?".  "Yes" was the answer.  My first thought was - "yum" - these deep green leaves are very flavorful.   And I thought about this recipe recently published in the New York Times.  Is there a more perfect Pigasso Farms recipe?


4 - 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
salt and pepper
1 pound hot Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound farro pasta (or another type of dried pasta)
1 pound rinsed nettle leaves (or other greens like bok choy or mustard, roughly chopped)
ricotta salata cheese for grating (or Romano or Parmesan)

1.   Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.
2.   In a wide, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium-high burner.   Add the onion and a little salt, and let the onion begin to soften.  Add the sausage meat, breaking it into rough pieces with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned and the sausage is done, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir to well coat.  Turn off the heat.
3.   Salt the pasta water and begin cooking the pasta.  When the pasta is nearly ready, reheat the onion and sausage mixture over a high burner.  Add the nettles or greens to the pan along with 1/4 cup pasta water and stir until wilted and tender, about 2 minutes.  Check the seasoning.
4.   Drain the pasta when al dente and mix with the skillet ingredients in a large warmed bowl.  Serve with coarsely grated ricotta salata.

Go here for hints on how to handle the stinging nettles.

SUSANSIMONSAYS: Recently visited local dining spots that serve food made with locally sourced ingredients include:

Flatiron  in Red Hook, New York - upstate, not Brooklyn.  Chef/owners  Jessica Stingo and Craig Stafford are assiduous in their promise to keep ingredients local and seasonal.  As a result the kitchen turns out very tasting food served in a comfortable room.  I was happy with my asparagus crepes served with ramp aioli.  The aioli was my request as the dish is meant to be served with Romesco sauce and I have a BIG problem with the red peppers that make that sauce.  The chef was most accommodating with making the switch.

Local 111 in Philmont, NY - chef/owner Josephine Proul's restaurant - a reimagined service station - is named for the local ingredients  used in its kitchen and its address on the main street in Philmont.
Once again I chose a dish with asparagus - got to eat as many as possible while they're still around.  Warm asparagus with Hudson red cheese, bacon, almonds, parsley and poached egg was the perfect lunchtime dish - especially after a holiday weekend of non-stop eating.   The table shared a big bowl of home-fried potatoes which were delicious, and surprise - tasted like potatoes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Traveling Light

The subtitle of this blog is "adventures in food and travel" - For the most part  I talk about food with a description of an occasional side trip to NYC or Cape Cod or another town within a 50 mile radius of my present home in Hudson - but it usually involves food of some kind or other.  It has occurred to me that travel need not be defined as getting on an airplane and going to a country where the mother tongue is a language other than English, or going to a hot little island in the midst of a snow storm, or even going to a place inhabited by cartoon characters and It's a Small World..plays ad naseum.  Travel can simply mean going beyond your usual daily routine.  A little vacation of the mind .   I  managed to combine travel to an exotic spot and a change of atmosphere the other day when I went into NYC.   Friends from Italy were in town and I wanted to greet them right away (as I had done for so many years when I actually lived in that city) and there was a very special party thrown by Minimal Cucine on the roof top of their office building in way west Chelsea.   My breath is regularly taken away each time I walk on the Highline (the best thing to happen in the city in decades) with its spectacular views and native New York plants - but when it's viewed from 8 stories up aglow in the rosy sunset it's a whole other experience - so forgive my blurry photo, but hope you get the idea.   Walk to the other side of the roof and there you have the very same majestic river that's given my new hometown its name.

Back in Hudson I participated in the weekend's New York Heritage Weekend by visiting the.
Dr. Oliver Bronson House and happily took the very thorough guided tour.   I was fascinated by the many details; brackets, gingerbread trim, octagon rooms within octagon rooms, a staircase to rival all others, windows, wallpaper, beautiful blue paint (or what remained of it), intricate moldings especially those that included rope molding, views where you could only imagine the Hudson River - that view now completely  concealed by tangles of green, remnants of fireplace mantles, (and even the sense of humor of a former resident - or, intruder?) - ah the glory that once was. Currently the house is being thoughtfully, and carefully stabilized.

I still have to eat - and nothing is quite as satisfying as a really good salad.  Sue Decker, out at Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant makes the possibility of that good salad an easy task.  Her delicious mixture of 11 different leaves comes washed (the most annoying part of making a salad is washing and drying the leaves) and ready to dress.  Her little packets of sprouting cress, and other sprouting, spicy leaves is just the right punctuation for a gratifying salad.   

I usually dress tender leaves, simply, with  peppery extra virgin olive oil, rice wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice, and flaky sea salt.  Basta.

When using sturdier, bitter leaves like chicory or young kale I like to make this dressing:

makes 1/2 cup

1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon pure honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 rounded tablespoon sour cream
freshly ground white pepper

1.  In a small bowl, whisk all the ingrediients together to combine fully.  Use immediately.

For salads that are combinations of quickly blanched vegetables - such as sugar snap peas that are just about to appear - I like this one:


makes 1 1/4 cups

1 rounded tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon powdered Chinese mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
grated zest and juice of 1 small lime
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 cup pure olive oil

1.   In a small bowl, mix the ginger, Dijon mustard, Chinese mustard, soy sauce, lime zest and juice, and rice vinegar.
2.   Slowly whisk in the olive oil to create a smooth creamy emulsion.  the vinaigrette can be stored for up to 2 weeks, refrigerated in a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Whisk before serving.


What do you say about a dog who picks his own strawberries?  Blue Star Farm's resident hound, Boonie does - ripe or not.  You say he's very smart - and very handsome.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Friday Night Bites

Just when a scintilla of doubt about leaving the NYC for Hudson passed through my being
The Red Barn, out on 9H in Ghent reopened it's doors - so to speak - as a proper food establishment and I was once again smitten with the Hudson Valley.   Owners, Chris and Bert call  what they serve at their new version of The Red Barn, roadside food.  And so it is.  There's Bert, dentist/chef behind the big grill using one hand to cook brats, dogs and burgers to order and he's frying State Fair-style potatoes with the other hand.   (how's all of that accomplished?).
Chris is always in motion, moving from the grill, to the red harlequin-patterned gazebo/bar - with a string of red & yellow banners - where a thirsty visitor can order a gin & tonic,  pink lemonade and vodka, a chilly glass of wine, or a frosty Stella just like that (the owners, fortuitously, kept up their NYS liquor license), to check on the vendors' and their tables.

Did I mention that on Friday night The Red Barn also hosts a mini-farmer's market?    So, if you think you won't be able to make it to the larger version on Saturday morning in Hudson - stop by on Friday between the hours of 4 - 7pm and pick up vegetables from two different vendors; cheese, yogurt and some Loaf bread from Cheese!; flowers from Cedar Farm, meat from Pigasso; and the Red Barn's own seasonal pies, cakes and those wicked good Wicked chips.  

I picked up two bunches of perfect little radishes so I could make one of my all-time favorite salads, Greek Radish Salad.
The recipe comes from Perla Meyers classic cookbook The Peasant Kitchen, A Return to Simple Good Food, published in 1975 way before it was stylish to talk about "simple good food".

Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 to 5 cups thinly sliced radishes
8 to 10 black Greek olives, thinly sliced
3/4 to 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
freshly ground pepper

1.   In a small jar combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and mustard.  Shake the jar to blend the dressing, then set aside.
2.   In a large serving bowl combine the radishes, olives, feta, parsley, and onion.   Add the dressing and a heavy grinding of black pepper.  Toss the salad and taste it for seasoning.   (Feta can be slightly salty, so the salad may only need a small pinch of salt.)   Chill for 2 to 4 hours before serving, then serve with French bread and a bowl of sweet butter.

Perla has some good advice about feta cheese included with the recipe:  
If you want to reduce the saltiness of feta cheese, place it in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator and use the cheese a day or two later.  The cheese will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.
As an additional garnish you can serve a plate of sardines dressed in a little lemon juice and olive oil

Oh joy.   A late spring or summer afternoon spent out at The Red Barn in the glow of the setting sun might be a reason to live.   And, from the the reactions of the shoppers and diners who arrived in jeeps and antique cars from all points in Columbia County there was universal agreement that this was - as one well known man-about-Hudson offered, "It's heaven, isn't it?"


Last - but certainly not least - among the The Red Barn's delectable offerings - an absolutely scrumptious lobster roll worthy of the finest roadside stand in Kennebunkport, Maine.  Guess which dog waited, in good faith, for a chunk of succulent lobster to fall?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cinco de Mayo and then Some...

There were so many things happening in Hudson NY on May 5th that I almost forgot that it was Cinco de Mayo - a celebration of Mexican heritage  and their pride in the fact that their puny army defeated the more sophisticated French army at the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  So that's why we drink frozen Margaritas and eat guacamole and chips all day.  Maybe a mint julep too  - after all, it was Kentucky Derby day as well .
I digress.   First thing in morning - which for me means around 10:30 or 11am - I went to the Farmer's Market, open in its permanent outdoor location for the first time this year.  While not yet overflowing with goods, the market had a nice selection of fresh, local products.   Actually, I picked up assortment of groceries that will take me through several meals this week.

.  Assorted salad leaves, and a bag of assorted spicy sprouting leaves from North Star Farm. 
.  A big hunk of Adirondack Cheddar from Cheese!
.  Sweet Italian sausages, and chicken from Pigasso
.  Quinoa bread from Loaf.
.  Baby bok choy from the Farm at Miller's Crossing

I had enough food to make interesting salads, tangy grilled cheese sandwiches on the friable quinoa bread whose crumbs load up with cheese and become other-worldly, chicken for many meals cooked in several ways - and, dinner; grilled sausages with tomato sauce and roasted baby bok choy.


I still haven't picked up gas for my outdoor grill - so I grilled the sausages in a grill pan - which does a real nice job but makes an ungodly mess in the kitchen  as the fine mist of fat coming out of them knows no bounds.   While the sausages grilled, I roasted the bok choy, rubbed in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt, in a thoroughly preheated 400 degrees F. oven for about 20 minutes or until the leaves were almost charred and the bulbs were tender.  Be sure to rinse the bok  choy in copious amounts of water over, and over again.  The leaves near the root hold lots of teeth-chipping pebbles.

I try to keep a container of my simple, go-to tomato sauce ( saute garlic with a bit of hot pepper in olive oil, add hand-crushed pelati - peeled Italian plum tomatoes of the highest quality - and a shower of your favorite herb - I choose dried oregano in the chillier months) in the fridge at all times for emergency meals of spaghetti al pomodoro or a simple pizza.   Or, as in this meal as a sauce for the sausages.  I purposely  buy sweet sausages when I really like spicy because I like to add my own fresh (from the freezer - but grown by me last summer) little Thai peppers and a few fennel seeds to the (already made) sauce that will eventually nape them and lend  multi-dimensional flavor.

I garnished the dish with quinoa toast triangles because I find them irresistible - but Loaf's walnut bread is a very close toast runner-up.

The Farmer's Market, a children's book fair (which I did not attend), and the 2nd Annual Ramp Fest held in at the Basilica were the major events of 5 May 2012 in Hudson.  

I loved every bit of ramp-included food that I ate - which was about 7 different things - even although there were maybe 15 or so food establishments offering their finest interpretations of the ramp.  I arrived at the event - billed as noon to 4, at 1:30 - about 5  places had already exhausted their supplies.    Note to self - get there at noon next year.

This is what Gabriele Guglielmetti, Rachel Sanzone (pictured), and Sissy Onet of Loaf offered.

By the time I reached their table, I got some beer battered deep fried ramps.  That's all that was left. They were wonderful.  More please.


I couldn't have written my guidebook, Shopping in Marrakech (yes,  the same city spelled in different ways ) without the extraordinary help of Maryam Montague.  Her own book - that will help you bring the dizzyingly colorful and intricate design of Marrakesh to your home -  has just been published and she's touring the US talking about it and signing copies.  ATTENTION friends in California and New York  go here to find out when she'll be at a venue near you.