Sunday, February 28, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins!

Time to share a breakfast treat! Banana chocolate chip muffins - from Bon App├ętit, March 1999. I like to substitute ½ whole wheat flour for a bit more substance (this makes it ¾ c. each whole wheat and all purpose) and ½ oil for the butter (making it ¼ c. each oil and melted butter). Also, I add vanilla or almond extract - not in the original recipe. ENJOY! Perfect for a Sunday morning with a great cup of coffee!

  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas; about 2 large (you can also add 1 T. lemon juice to bananas to keep from oxidizing)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ tsp. vanilla or almond extract (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line twelve 1/3-cup muffin cups with foil muffin liners (or just butter if you have no liners).
    2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.
    3. Mix mashed bananas, egg, melted butter and milk in medium bowl.
    4. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients just until blended (do not overmix).
    5. Stir in chocolate chips.
    6. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full.
    7. Bake muffins until tops are pale golden and tester inserted into center comes out with some melted chocolate attached but no crumbs, about 32 minutes.
    8. Transfer muffins to rack; cool.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Favorite All-Time Recipes #2: The Cake I Make

    There is one cake, when the occasion calls for it, that I always make. This is the one cake that really has all the flavors and textures that I really love all wrapped up into one nice neat package. It is a polenta, almond, olive oil and lemon cake that in our house is just called "cake". It is a Deborah Krasner (known for her book on tasting olive oil) recipe that was in Eating Well magazine years ago, and one that I am so glad I clipped and saved in my recipe box. Not being a very accomplished baker, this one always gives me confidence in my baking. I know you'll love it - especially with a nice raspberry sauce to smear each bite through! Enjoy!

    Lemon Almond Polenta Torta
    Preheat oven to 325° F - butter and flour a 9 in. springform pan
    • ½ c. coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
    • ½ c. all-purpose flour
    • ¼ tsp. salt
    • 1½ c whole almonds (7.5 oz)
    • 1 c. sugar
    • 1 large organic lemon, scrubbed
    • ¾ c. mild extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
    • ½ c. milk
    • 2 large eggs
    • ½ tsp. almond extract (I usually increase to 1 tsp.)
    • 1 T. powdered sugar for dusting
    • raspberry sauce

    Butter and flour a 9 in. springform pan

    First 3 ingredients in a bowl

    Sugar and almonds in the food processor

    Pulse to combine

    Halve the lemon - juice one half, cut into 4 pieces, then seed and cut the other half into 4 pieces. Add juice and lemons to the almond sugar mixture.

    Pulse to chop and combine - about 45 seconds.

    Add remaining ingredients - EVOO, milk, eggs, and extract.

    Looks soupy - time to add dry ingredients.

    All at once is fine.

    Pour into prepared pan, and put in preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

    Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, unmold when ready to serve.

    Dust with the powdered sugar and some raspberry sauce. For the raspberry sauce, I cook over medium high heat 1 c. frozen raspberries, ½ c. sugar, and usually some lemon zest if you have it, or some maple syrup. Cook down until saucy, then strain out seeds and there you have it!

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    The KTB Experience!

    I have long dreamed about working in a professional kitchen. I love cooking and prepping and above all - feeding people delicious food. I knew that if the opportunity ever came along, I'd snatch it up. Well, last December that's exactly what happened; and I couldn't be more happy with the experience! I feel like I know what goes on in the front of the house of a restaurant - at least as a diner, I know how the back of the house looks - because I deliver at the back door, but I have been fascinated by what happens there in the middle - the important step... that step where chefs take my carefully grown produce and transform it into something that will thrill a diner - that was what I was interested in learning, and was so happy to have the opportunity to close my farm-food loop a little more; to get the big picture of what happens to all these seeds that I buy in the deepest time of winter - they get planted, they grow, get harvested, get transformed into something delicious, and customers demand more. I couldn't wait to get started! By way of some background, Spencer and I have a great partnership with Steve & Lara Atkins at The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond, VT. Steve used to come to the Burlington farmers market on Saturdays, buy as much as he could carry from our stand, and repeatedly mention how happy he would be if we would just deliver to his restaurant. This went on for a couple of years, and then,
    finally, we gave it a try..... and have never looked back! We love working with chefs like Steve & Lara because they only work with quality ingredients, truly care about who they work with, and have an incredible seasonal menu that features the best that the region has to offer. It was a perfect fit, even from the very beginning. Since then, we have been partnering to create farmers' dinners that feature Half Pint produce - the most extreme of these endeavors being the Outstanding in the Field dinner we did together last August; we even grew cornish game hens for that meal! It was at one of these farmer dinners, I think the heirloom tomato dinner, when the meal was completed and we were sitting with Steve talking about how much we enjoy our relationship that I let it slip that I would be interested in working in a professional kitchen someday. Steve was instantly supportive and intrigued! He promised to let me know as soon as he thought it could work on his end. This past December he was short someone to help with garde manger (cold salads, etc.) duties, and asked if I could fill in - I said that I'd be honored, as long as he understood that I'm a definite newbie and will need instruction, but I relished the opportunity to work with him in this new capacity! It was decided that I'd work from December 1-31 - it was going to be a busy month, because there are company parties, families getting together for the holidays, and they were going to be open on Christmas Eve AND New Year's Eve as well. Talk about learning on your feet! Day one, I was shadowing the outgoing garde manger - a NECI intern at the end of his term. I was immediately impressed with how strong of a team Steve had at the back of the house! Everyone communicated so well, and every plate came together at the perfect time and temperature - a carefully choreographed dance that was always so satisfying to see come together with each table we cooked for. One confusing thing (to me) that still makes me smile is that the waitstaff would drop off the ticket, Chef would read off the items that needed to be assembled first, and everyone at all of the stations would spring into action - I was poised and ready to make my first salad, but I never heard the word "salad" on the first day, though we made plenty of salads! I had to learn the lingo and learn quickly that it was always a "caesar", or a "greens" (salad, implied), or a "beet" (again, salad implied - which was really an arugula salad with cubed roasted beets on the top). I was definitely unprepared for the lingo of the kitchen, but it would prove to be a very utilitarian language that I pretty much picked up in a week. I was so fascinated with the disconnect between the kitchen and the diners - I never quite got over the intense care and love each dish was made with and sent into the dining room... and that plate would invariably make its way back to the kitchen completely devoured and seemingly enjoyed - but we very rarely got feedback from diners. It was as though we were putting all this energy into a plating, and sending it into the void, hoping it all went over well! I am so used to getting instant feedback when I cook at home - this was such an interesting difference. There were those cool moments, though, when a diner would poke their head into the kitchen and thank us all for a great meal; now that felt good! It also became clear immediately that this was a perfect learning kitchen for me - there was no yelling, it was extremely clean (we cleaned the kitchen top to bottom after every service!), there were interesting dishes using lots of techniques, and good humor was maintained all around. My station, as I mentioned above, was the garde manger station - "keeper of the food" (a fitting moniker for me, I think!) - all things cold on the plate came from my station: hand-chopped beef tartare, house-cut potato chips, all salads, all garnish salads, I made all the dressings, croutons, candied nuts, grated cheese, crumbled cheese, pate, butters, as well as assembling desserts! It was a very busy station, and completely to my liking! I feel like I took to it like a fish to water - and would be happy to do it again someday. My favorite evening by far was the New Year's Eve dinner - my last night, but not for that reason at all - I was sad about finishing my stint! It was my favorite evening because we had so many cool things on the menu - sweetbreads, fried oysters, blood orange parfaits, stuffed quail, smoked salmon salad, and some dishes even had components of Half Pint products that Chef had processed in-season to use later - like the Wapsipinicon Peach tomato puree! So cool. Here's some pictures I took from that night - thanks staff of KTB! I had a blast, learned a lot, got to know all of you better, and appreciated your patience with this newbie!

    I had nothing to do with these quail, but they sure looked yummy!

    Hand-cut tartare, salad, potato chips (HPF radishes still!)

    The delicious and addictive fried oysters!

    Arugula salad with house-smoked salmon and blood orange supremes

    Greens with blue cheese dressing, roasted golden beets and candied pecans

    Halibut with summer corn succotash and Wapsipinicon puree - YUM!

    Chef giving the lowdown on each of the new dishes to the staff before service

    Staff diligently taking notes on the changes, while the rest of us stood by with forks poised to sample everything - my first taste of sweetbreads! Everything was of course delicious!

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    Farm Planning 2010

    Sitting here reading through all the seed catalogs - what a great feeling! THIS is the beginning of our farm season. We are just getting the farm maps, seed selections, chef meetings, equipment orders, and dreams for 2010 finalized. We are six weeks away from firing up the greenhouses! Huzzah!

    Monday, February 01, 2010

    Favorite All-Time Recipes: #1 Szechuan Chicken

    Happy 2010, and happy February! I know I've been away for some time, but I am back, and full of ideas and visions for the new year of blogging! So - let's get started!

    It seems fitting to me somehow for my first blogpost of 2010 to be focused on one of my favorite all-time recipes; szechuan chicken. I credit this recipe to awakening the fire in my soul for good, flavorful food presented with love and inspiring me to be more adventurous in my palate, which is ultimately what drove me to farming. This recipe is one of dozens that I see as my hallmark recipes - recipes that have shaped me as an eater, a cook, a farmer, and person that tries to live intentionally. This year, I want to share several of my favorite all-time recipes with you - the first installment is Szechuan Chicken.

    One of my mother's friends Karen was an aspiring gourmet cook around the time I was 10 years old. Since she was single, she generously chose our family to share her new-found skills with - thank goodness! Researching it even just a little bit taught me that the old spelling of the province where this fiery cuisine originates is Szechuan, but in recent years, the spelling has been changed to Sichuan, so I suppose that I should be proper in calling it Sichuan chicken. However, my mom's recipe card clearly shows the spelling as Szechuan, and since I respect tradition, I'm gonna stick with what I've always known it to be.

    I clearly remember Karen hauling all the ingredients into our kitchen, preparing all the yummy and exotic (to me at the time) smelling sauces, then the final tossing of it together and spooning the mixture over hot rice. YUM! In my adult years, I tried to reproduce this recipe based almost completely on my memory of how it smelled, since I didn't know if the recipe had ever been written down. To say the least, my attempts, though tasty, always fell short of my taste memory. That is until I went home to Denver for my Grandma's funeral this past July. I inherited her recipe box, and was pleased as could be to find that my mom had written down the recipe for
    my Grandma! Now that I had the crucial ingredient list, I couldn't wait to make it! I was thrilled to find that with the first mixing of the sauces, my taste and smell memory was triggered and the result was exactly as I remembered it. What a boon! Now I could tweak it and play with adding flavors, and what I have here is the recipe I'm currently settling into. Thanks, Karen, for the original inspiration - thanks, Mom, for writing it down - thanks, Grandma for keeping it safe for me to find, and thanks, Spencer for going to see your brother in China and experiencing the peppercorns! Enjoy! It is sure to become one of your staples as well!

    Szechuan Chicken:
    Serves 4
    • 1 pound boneless-skinless chicken meat (thighs or breasts), cut into bite-size pieces.
    • veggies you like (blanched broccoli, snow peas, eggplant and carrots are great)
    • 2 bunches scallions, sliced into 1-inch pieces on the bias
    • 1½ T. chile paste (like sriracha, sambal oelek or chili garlic sauce)
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 2 inches ginger
    • soy sauce
    • sherry cooking wine
    • sugar
    • vinegar
    • sesame oil
    • cornstarch
    • dried red hot Thai chiles
    • Szechuan peppercorns
    • Grapeseed oil, or other oil for cooking the chicken
    • rice for serving

    The 4 sauces - mix together separately in 4 separate bowls, they will be added one at a time to the cooking veggies and chicken:
    1. Whisk together 3 T. soy sauce, 3 T. sherry, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. cornstarch. This is the marinade for the chicken.
    2. Blend 1½ T. chile paste, 2 cloves garlic, 2 inches ginger - both minced or grated.
    3. Whisk together 2 T. soy sauce, 2 T. sherry, 3 tsp. sugar, 1 T. sesame oil, 1 T. vinegar.
    4. Whisk together 2 T. water and 2 tsp. cornstarch.
    Marinate chicken pieces in sauce #1 for at least ½ hour, but can sit in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.

    Heat 2 T. grapeseed or other oil in a hot wok - on high. Grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, so is great for using with high temperatures.

    Strain chicken off of marinade - discard marinade. Add to hot wok all at once.

    Stir immediately and allow the chicken to cook through while occasionally stirring - this will only take around 5 minutes.

    Be careful of spattering! When chicken is done, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon.

    In the hot oil, add 2 T. peppercorns, a handful of hot peppers, stir to release the fragrance of the peppercorns...

    ...then add the vegetables (in this case it's scallions and grilled eggplant) to instantly cool the situation down - do not burn the peppercorns or chiles!

    Once veggies have started to cook a bit - about 1 minute - return chicken to pan and stir to combine.

    Now, in order, add the remaining sauces: #2, stir - and stir well until you smell the warmed garlic and ginger start to cook.

    #3, the flavorful liquids: stir to coat.

    #4, the cornstarch and water to thicken the whole thing. If you wish for a saucier mixture, you can add up to ½ c. water and it will thin out a bit. Stir until you can't stand it anymore, and then serve immediately over rice with a nice cup of jasmine tea!

    One note - you don't need to eat those chiles - they're mostly for flavor, but they do pack an incredible punch if you decide to eat them! Spencer usually fishes them out, and I usually eat about half that make it onto my plate.

    • We use a lot of our crops from the farm in this great dish; eggplant (grilled and frozen at the peak of freshness), garlic, chiles (in the chile paste), scallions (in season), and chicken - what a great recipe that I'm sure you're going to love!
    • One last note: the US FDA banned Szechuan peppercorns for their ability to carry the bacteria responsible for citrus canker - a serious disease that could threaten the US citrus industry. The solution was to raise the temperature of the peppercorns to 160 F to kill the bacteria. This procedure now is standard on all imported Szechuan peppercorns, and the ban was lifted in 2005. Thank goodness! They provide a numbing-hot sensation particular to this plant, and aren't related to black peppercorns at all. They are fabulous!