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It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician. — Meryl Streep

Fresh Chive Noodles with Early Spring Things

Fresh Chive Noodles with Arugula & Fiddlehead Ferns (More variations below)

On Sunday, my 8-year old niece, Sadie, and I popped over to my neighbor Ruth’s place to visit her parrot and chickens  and pick up a dozen fresh eggs. Black and white with deep red beaks, Ruth’s hens pecked grain out of Sadie’s small hands, while the rooster crowed and pranced about in this blue-black feathers. Now that her birds are outside in the Spring, foraging as well as eating locally grown grains, their eggs taste even better, more distinctive, with their rich orange yolks.

At home, we made egg pasta with garden chives, Sadie giggling as the wide flat noodles magically rolled out of my hand-cracked pasta machine.  She wolfed down hers tossed with butter and cheese, pronouncing them, “the best pasta ever.”  (No doubt, her pleasure was enhanced by their back story and a cook’s pride.) I tossed mine with fiddleheads and Equinox Farm’s baby arugula for a more adult version, but I liked them both ways equally. See more variations below. Serves about 4, easily halved

The pasta
2 large eggs
About 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
1 tablespoon chives

Just to coat
Butter and a grated hard or fresh cheese
Or
Olive oil with a little garlic simmered in it
Early spring things, variations below


1-Add the flour and eggs to the food processor, with the optional olive oil, if you are using it. Pulse JUST until it combines into a ball, but not more. Turn onto lightly floured work surface and knead for about 3-5 minutes, until smooth and elastic, adding a touch of flour if needed only to prevent sticking. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Making the pasta dough with fresh flour and eggs in the food processor

2-Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Cover each well. Set pasta machine to widest setting. Flatten 1 dough piece into rectangle; run through machine, adding flour if necessary to prevent sticking. Fold in 3rds, press down with finger tips, and run through again, open side first. Do this 8 times.

3- Work with one piece at a time, feeding it through, adjusting machine to narrower settings, and dusting with flour as needed to keep from sticking, at the lowest setting. (Or next to lowest if you prefer a more rustic pasta.) Place each sheet on very lightly floured work surface or towel, covered with a cloth. Repeat with remaining pasta pieces.

The rolled out chive egg pasta before it was cut into noodles.

4. Uncover sheets and let stand until slightly dry but still pliable, about 20 minutes. Fit machine with the thick noodle sized cutter and run sheets through, dusting with flour to keep from sticking if needed only. Cut noodles into desired lengths. With lightly floured hands, toss strands to separate; spread out on towels. (If needed, you can let these dry.)

5- Decide which variation you are using. Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Toss with butter and grated hard cheese or fresh cheese, freshly ground pepper, just to coat OR with garlic oil (anchovies optional), just to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Variations —
*Cleaned fiddleheads thrown in during the 1-1/2 minutes of boiling
*Baby arugula tossed with warm noodles to wilt slightly.
*Fresh peas thrown in during the last 30 seconds of boiling.
*Pea variation with chopped crisp bacon or pancetta
* Asparagus tips and diagonally sliced stems added to the boiling pasta. Add fresh lemon juice to the toss.
* Slivered or chopped young braising greens, to the water right before draining the pasta

The chive noodles before they were cooked.

A few tidbits this week:

What role should government play in local food? Love to hear what you think.

A funny riff on the way America eats and why we’re so fat.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution has helped wake America up to the tragedy of school lunches. If your school has lousy food, Oliver’s site, Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Coopers’ site, and my book, Massachusetts from to School Cookbook, which can be downloaded free from the lower right side of this link, are all great tools to improve school meals. And now it looks like Oliver wants to add farm fresh local food to his healthy food agenda, because last week his consultants called to my ask permission to use my recipes and link to my book. Cool.

Haston Free Public Library in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. Reading and signing of my new book, The Locavore Way. Part of a statewide community reading initiative, North Brookfield’s is titled: READ!, GROW!, EAT! – a celebration of Local Food, Farms and Gardens.

Fun from my facebook page...

A_29081173664_n* Home at last
Above picture is from the fabulous Grow Food Northampton: Welcome home. Crimson & Clover farmers have just purchased the original Bean Family farmhouse, so they finally able to live on the farm/ Congratulations Jen, Nate and baby Noah. Isn’t this house almost timeless?

* Fabulous tools for farm to school programs and their advocates here

* Vermont on its way to banning GMOs here. (The coolest state or what?)

* Best smoked fish in Oregon here

* Lunch anyone?
A lunch from the riches of Mexico. Organic tomatoes from Maya Monzies at the organic Saturday market tossed with black beans a handful of cilantro leaves from Rancho Toyan, along with Mexican oil oil, balsamic vinegar and plenty of salt. Cubed papaya and jicama,doused in fresh lime juice. All atop spinach and endive leaves, from Toyan and the market once more. It’s the kind of simple lunch that puts the froufrou stuff to shame…

lunch

Sucking down oysters

The 1st Annual Wareham Oyster Festival

eating oyster
Above: Me, sucking down a perfect oyster.
Below: Big Rock farmed oysters and wild clams

shucked oystersFor more about the oyster festival and oystering in general, see this post here.
Oyster recipe here.

Great oysters, but you’d have to a be an oyster nut to spend yesterday as we did and love it.

And we did.

We began our day with a 2-1/4 hour drive to the small town of Wareham MA — gateway to Cape Cod. Fueled by our in-the-car rock ‘n roll mix, but shivering in the miserably damp 42 degrees, we chose to look on the bright side: the rain had stopped.

After parking, we marched past the sweet craft vendors and non-profit tabling tents to the oyster parking lot, which featured two oyster farmers and their employees, shucking. Both were good, but the Big Rock Oysters ROCKED our world. So we sucked down 2 dozen, mostly standing up with a number of other food fanatics. (They get me high, how about you?)

Big Rock Oyster owner-oyster farmer Aaron Brochu, who I interviewed in an earlier post here, tells no lies. His oyster farm produces shockingly clean tasting oysters with just the perfect brininess. (Even better or at least equal to Wellfleet oysters.) But sadly we had to get in from the cold.

So, we walked past the kinda hot band and fragrant seafood bisque tent, which was almost impossible to resist, continuing on our way to the edge of tiny downtown Wareham. Really, it’s kind of Richard Russo setting by the sea. I mean that affectionately, as he does, meaning it’s small working class town peopled with characters that likely have known each other for years, each with an interconnected story.

We arrived, chilled, at Narrow’s Crossing Restaurant, which is right on the water. It’s more of a bar really, so we got Americana’d up, sitting two big sports-playing TVs, welcomed by sweet-as-hell waitress. We shared a plate of standard fries with superb fried oysters — hot and crunchy on the outside, soft with a taste of the sea inside. Wow.

Then home. A perfect outing, driving aside.

aaron with oysters
Aaron with his oysters

Join me for a May Cooking Class

A Mexican Feast

mole ingredients

Fixings for one of many kinds of mole. (Recipe here.)  This recipe, which I prepared in Mexico, was assembled using a combination of market mole paste and fresh ingredients. In class we’ll easily make it all from scratch.

Different Drummer Cooking School Northampton
Monday, May 19, 2014 6:15-8:45 PM
Sign up here
Fee: $69 including full meal

You’ll love my take on the flavors of Mexico featured in the full class meal. Inspired by my frequent travels south of the border, I’ll be sharing dishes you’ll want to make again and again — from Shrimp Quesadillas to the king of Mexican sauces, mole.

APPETIZER

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Seasonal tomatillos make a classic Mexican green sauce that will become a household staple, served with chips.

Shrimp Quesadillas with Cilantro Pesto
Cilantro, pecans, cheese, shrimp, chilies and more in tortillas, baked or sautéed until crisp.

MAIN COURSE

Chicken Mole with Mexicali Rice
Traditional mole sauce has many variations and a wonderfully complex flavor with ingredients ranging from chili to chocolate.

SALAD

Authentic Caesar Salad
Made right in the bowl, this Caesar will blow away the Caesar dressings you’ve been savoring.

DESSERT
Chocolate Smooches
Learn to make your own tin of imported chocolate treats, spiked with a touch of Mexico.

 

 

Oyster Festival!

 

images-2 I’m a sucker for local food-based small town events. So meet me at the 1st annual Wareham Oyster Festival this Sunday in Wareham, of course, which is in eastern Massachusetts.  (Info here.)

The festival will feature Wareham and other regional oysters, live music and artisans, as well as paddle boats and kayak rides on the beautiful Wareham River. Finish up your day at any restaurant along the oyster trail map — all serving oyster dishes. It’s here. (Gala tomorrow here. Read about the speaker series here.)
images-5
Tides out oyster farming.
(Busy oyster farmers out there, But better pictures are promised!)

Below are some fun oyster facts from farmer Aaron Brochu, owner and oyster farmer at Big Rock Oyster. He’ll be running one of the raw bars in Wareham at the Oyster Festival, where you’ll notice me (look for the redhead) slurping down oysters till I can’t anymore. (And clams of course too.)

So what’s the story with varieties?
These days, all east coast oysters, with rare exceptions, are the same variety, generally called the American or Eastern Oysters. So their distinctive flavor comes not from their variety but from their location, their terroir, literally giving them a taste of place. Aaron says his are tad saltier than most regional oysters with a clean taste that comes from tide turning over twice a day. (I look forward to tasting them.)

images-4Big Rock Oyster will be providing many of the festival’s oysters
Aaron Brochu started his business in 1999 when he says there weren’t many oyster farmers in the area. His beds are in Crowes Pasture in Dennis, a conservation area in Cape Cod Bay, where he raises 4-5 million oysters on 3 acres. (Yes, it’s packed.)

How do you farm oysters?
Aaron starts with baby oysters bought from a hatchery. Then the process is straightforward: Oysters are moved as they get bigger, first to mesh bags, then aqua trays and later to wire mesh cages.(The bigger the mesh the bigger they grow.)

In Dennis, the tide is such that these oysters spend lots of time out of water. So, strange as it sounds, trucks drive between the beds, using people and machines to cull and sort oysters by size. (Oysters grow better when they room with those the same size so they are all sucking water in and out similarly.) The oysters grow to edible size on this farm in 2 to 2-1/2 years, although in places where they’re in the water more, they grow much faster.

Today Aaron has 15 employees who work in 3 sections — farming, wholesaling and delivery. Meet the farmers here.

images-7How eco-friendly are oysters?
Oysters are nature’s water filters, each cleaning up to 15 gallons a day. Most carbon in the atmosphere is sucked into the sea. But oysters reduce some of it, using carbon to help build their shells.

Why is is hard to start up and/or expand oyster beds?
Aaron says one reason is: Oyster farming is always on prime real estate — oceanfront. Wealthy folks who live on the ocean are not interested in having their view obscured with commercial farming.

-Df0cVBj-LR3skwPIhFOq8L8-XkoK2cg1Bnr2DkMHdIvXizu9DdODDqkwB2uJHCbtycxxpo=s169-1

Video
From the Wall Street Journal. Not the typical oyster farmer, Jim Ferry moved from consulting, choosing outdoor life as a part-time worker at Big Rock Oyster. Video here.

Recipe?
Oysters with the last of the apples in a tart mignonette here.

 

 

 

 

Ramp it up!

Ramp Pesto

I bumped into two fellow foragers gathering ramps two miles from my house. Even from my car, I could see the woods were lousy with ramps as well as the red flowers topping endangered trillium. I scissored a large bowlful of ramp leaves, leaving their roots to regenerate next year’s crop, but also because I prefer the greens solo in ramp pesto.

A tad spicy and bright green with a slight edge of the wild, ramp pesto has become a forager’s classic. It’s extremely versatile, and freezes well in ice cube trays for later use, which is a good thing, because I’m just out of last season’s tomatillo salsa. 

Tips: If you can’t forage for ramps, many early farmers markets and hi-brow produce stores sell them. If you can, but live in an where there are ticks, take a shower and throw your clothes in the wash after your harvest. Lyme disease isn’t fun, but ramps are worth a walk in the woods. No ramps near you?  Some early farmers markets and high-brow produce departments sell them.

Makes about 2-1/4 cups

2 handfuls local nuts, walnuts or pecans halves or blanched almonds
2-1/2 ounces Parmesan or similar cheese, local if you can get it
2 very generous handfuls of ramp leaves (and some bulbs if you wish)
About 1/3 cup of olive oil
About 1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste

1-Toast the nuts in a dry skillet, over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until lightly aromatic. (Bend over them and take a whiff. They should smell toasted.) Don’t go too far, as nuts burn easily. Pulse in a food processor until well chopped but not blended. Set aside.

2-Throw the cheese into the food processor. Pulse until it is finely chopped. (If the cheese is already grated, skip this step.) Add to the nuts.

3-Puree the leaves together with the oil, stopping and scraping down the bowl as necessary to combine. (Work in two batches if you have a small food processor.) Add to the bowl and stir to combine with the salt.

Note: If you don’t have a food processor,  prepare by blending the chopped and grated ingredients in a mortar and pestle.

***

How do I identify ramps in the wild?
Ramps, which are wild leeks, are easy to identify. Look for them in mixed  hardwood forests. The root is scallion-like bulb, topped with two broad green leaves that may be slightly purplish at their base. Before harvesting, crush them to make sure they omit an oniony smell. They often, but not always, grow near Trout Lilies, Blue Cohosh, Dutchman’s Breeches or Squirrel Corn.

How do you use this ramp pesto?
You are only limited by your imagination, but here are some ideas. Add a dollop to a vegetable or potato based soup. Spread on a sandwich or wrap. Toss to taste on warm pasta, adding a little water, oil or melted butter, as needed to thin it. Drizzle the thinned pesto (or spread it) on grilled meat, fish, chicken or vegetables. Stir a little into a local goat fresh cheese or dairy-based dip. Spread on toasted French bread rounds then top with sautéed shiitakes….

What else can you do with ramps?
If you pull them up by their roots, they’re great with a touch of olive oil and a pinch of salt, either wokked up or covered with foil and smoked on the grill. Chef Matthew Schweizer, at Haven, in Lenox, Massachusetts, pickles them, which I’m sure is super in sandwiches. The leaves are lovely slivered into omelets or risotto.I love them layered into Pommes Anna, a rich potato dish, but that’s for another post.

My old pal, Naomi Alson — acupuncturist and expert in both Chinese and Western herbs — serves a Vichyssoise, using the ramps instead of cultivated leeks. (Cook the bulbs with the potatoes, then add the chopped leaves towards the end of cooking.) Naomi also conducts eye-opening nature walks to identify edible and medicinal plants in the wild. So, if you live in the Berkshires, grab a group of 2 or more and use her! (naomifalson@yahoo.com)

Ramp Pesto (ramps wild and with roots below)

Hot week for sustainability talk in my neck of the woods
On Monday, I got to hear from Cheryl King Fischer, Executive Director of the terrific New England Grassroots Environment Fund about the ground-breaking work being done in Hardwick, Vermont to develop a vigorous local food system model. (The Town that Food Saved)

Tuesday, The Darrow School gave a Sustainabilty Symposium, where classes were held in topics ranging from local food (me) to radical simplicity (Jim Merkel). Students were empowered to consider how sustainable work that resonated with them could fit into a better future. Great work Darrow!

And last but not least, on Wednesday, Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, gave a talk at Williams about farm to school work and held a tasty Slow Food Western Massachusetts powwow at The Nutrition Center in Great Barrington, where they also have a Wednesday farmers market all summer. At the meeting, members took a look at the direction of Slow Food USA as well as the local food system here in the Berkshires.

On the calendar?
Talk and signing on April 29, 7 PM
at Haston Free Public Library in North Brookfield. Part of a statewide community reading initiative, North Brookfield’s is titled: READ!, GROW!, EAT! – a celebration of Local Food, Farms and Gardens.

Ramps in the wild Please don’t ever over harvest!
We need to leave some for the next generation.

Cleaned ramps with their roots

Oysters on the Half Shell with Apple Mignonnette

Long live live food!

Pair oysters, long considered an aphrodisiac, with a dessert of chocolate for a romantic feast. Or, for a playful party, invite over a few fellow oyster lovers — only the most passionate. Shuck, giggle and slurp oysters from their shells. (And in the winter nestle them in a bowl of snow.)

Serve oysters with a choice of toppings — lemon wedges (my favorite), cocktail sauce  (ketchup, horseradish and lemon juice) and a mignonette, which is a vinegar-shallot combo. Here, I drummed up a locavore’s apple mignonette, a New England riff on the classic. Be sure to accompany it all plenty of sliced baguettes with sweet butter and your favorite bubbly, such as a regional sparkling  hard cider. A good time guaranteed.  This recipe is for at least 2 dozen oysters, if you use the mignonette on each. (We each easily ate 12 each.)

1/4 cup apple cider (not too sweet)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons finely diced apple (I used Northern Spy)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
Pinches ground black pepper, or more to taste (I used 1/8 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons chopped parsley, optional
2 dozen of your favorite oysters or more, well rinsed

1. Mix all the ingredients but the oysters in a small bowl.

2. Shuck the oysters. It’s not difficult, but be patient. Think of the shucking as part of the fun. Set them in a bowl of snow if you have it on hand, crushed ice if you don’t or eat as you shuck.

3. Top each with a little of the mignonnette or another topping or eat straight. Eat immediately.

Where did I find my oysters?
We’re lucky to have some of the best oysters in the world in the Northeast, and you can pick them up almost anywhere.  I especially favor those from Wellfleet, which are as local as I can get in the landlocked Berkshires, but it’s fun to taste varieties and compare.  For my party, I ordered  Wellfleets, but they weren’t around, and so we shucked fabulous Maine Beausoleil, Winter Points, Norumbega , as well as Novia Scotias, which were small and especially glorious.

Shockingly, the oysters in my local supermarket were from California. But any good fish market should stock regional oysters. For our little Berkshire party, I ordered an assortment from Rubiner’s in Great Barrington. Each Monday, they email a list of available fish and seafood. You respond by Wednesday and pick up your order Friday. The price is high, but so is the quality, and the staff knowledgeable. I bought an excellent assortment that was well labeled. Regional oysters are also available at Guido’s.

Locavore Bites

Eliot Coleman’s perspective on the power of the small farm.

Watch Yes Men stick it to Archer Daniels Midland

Connie's Apple Coffee Cake

 

(Going, going, almost gone. One classic coffee cake, nutty and moist with apples.)

Last of apples!

Connie, my pal Eileen’s mom, may be gone, but her recipe is not. What better way to conjure her to join our intimate celebration than to bake her fabulous apple cake?

Plenty of local ingredients can be used here — apples, eggs, butter, yogurt, and if you are in the south, pecans. Connie’s delicious cake used the classic combo of walnuts and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, but feel free to improvise with ingredients for equally tasty results. I did, using walnuts for pecans and playing with the spices. Next try? A fall cake with roasted almonds, almond extract and local pears.

Serves 8-10

Spiced Nut Mix
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice

Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, whole milk or low fat
2 large tart apples, peeled and sliced thinly

1- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the ingredients in the Spiced Nut Mix. Generously grease a 9 inch angel food cake pan with a removable bottom.

2- Beat butter until creamy, gradually add sugar while beating until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla extract.

3-Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat into butter and egg mixture alternately with the yogurt until blended.

4-Spread 1/2 the batter in the pan and layer with the apples. Sprinkle with half the Spiced Nut Mix. Top with the rest of the batter and sprinkle on the remaining Spiced Nut Mix.

5-Bake 40 minutes, then let the cake rest for 30 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the sides of the cake. Remove the tube with the cake attached and let it cool completely before you remove it from the tube with two knives or spatulas.

 

April Bites

2-mex field lettuce

I dream of green.

A few bites of this and that….

Lasagna Gardening
I date myself when I admit that my gardening pre-date the now widely popularized no-till gardening. I’ve always hand-tilled my sloppy garden,which for a long time was 9 4X4 raised beds. This year, I’m short on time and working a small (10 X 20) community plot. So I’m gonna try lasagna gardening in some of it, which is new to me, double digging the rest, or so I hope. What do you think of lasagna gardening? Love the idea of not tilling….. Here for more.

Anyone heard of gutter gardening?
This looks cool, but I worry about the plastic. Does it leach? Had anyone tried it? Pictures here

Italian DJ fights to keep culinary traditions
Count me in and bring on that Italian food. Why don’t we put up more of a fight? Are our traditions too varied? Are we too young a nation? Read the article here.

Oh Caesar…
Remember the grape boycott? More here.

Apple-Cheddar Pie
This may be plugged as a fall recipe, but apples and cheddar are 2 local foods left time of year. Looks great. Recipe here.

Egg Salad Remoulade Wrap
No produce left, but there are local eggs! This old-fashioned recipe is better than ever with fresh eggs, eaten still a tad warm. I made these into a wrap cause they’re from my book, Wrap it up! But you could just as easily chop all the ingredients and serve it as a sandwich on toast.

3 large eggs
1/3 cup store bought or homemade mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 whole wheat mountain bread
12 spinach leaves
2/3 cup coarsely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons dill
6 cornishon or gherkin pickles, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

l. Place 3 eggs in a small pot and cover with l inch of cold water. Cook over high heat, and bring just to until it starts to boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let sit for 15 minutes. Run under cold water ( or let side in ice cold water until well chilled) Peel. Slice.

2. Mix the mayonnaise and mustard in a medium bowl.

3. To assemble: Heat the mountain bread, one at a time, in a large cast iron skillet or directly over a gas flame, turning frequently, until warm and pliable, for 15-20 seconds each. Spread each with about l tablespoon of the mustard mayonnaise. Toss the egg into the bowl and mix. Top each bread with 4 spinach leaves spread out evenly, then top the center with about l/3 of the egg mixture, red onion, dill and cornishon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the sides and roll.

IMG_3277Blog subscriber Terri Brennan sent this picture of lasagna gardening. It works!

Beer Braised Brisket with Onion Sauce

In this issue
(in order)
Brisket Recipe for Passover  (or whenever!)
Alternatives to Brisket from Roving Butcher Jake Levin.
Sustainable Meat Primer — the works


My Grandma Rose didn’t like to cook much, but she made a mean holiday brisket that’s better than it sounds — foil wrapped and braised tender with a package of Lipton’s soup and a diced green pepper. Times have changed and so has my palette, but the principle remains: slow cooked brisket with lots of onions, in this case real.

This version also includes guilt-free organic beef from McEnroe Organic farm in Millerton, New York and beer from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. (And if you have it, use home dried thyme from the fall and the first of the garden chives.) This year, as I moved to Northampton, MA,  I’m buying my brisket from the new “clean meat” butcher, Sutters’s Meat Market. Serves 8

Tips: Cook at least the day before it’s eaten, but it’s tasty prepared up to 3 days beforehand. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes, plain or lightly buttered.

1 5 or so pound brisket, first cut if possible
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried)
A generous amount of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup beer, dark is great, but any good beer will do
1 cup beef or chicken broth
10 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds onions, preferably large sweet onions, chopped
1 tablespoon dark unsulphured molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or to taste

Optional garnish:
2 cups diced root vegetables, such as carrots and turnips
1 tablespoons first of the season chives, chopped

1-Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim brisket but leave some fat on.

2-Rub the meat with the salt, thyme, pepper and flour. In wide pot or large skillet with sides, sear the meat in hot oil over medium-high heat until well browned, about 5 minutes each side. (If you don’t have a large enough pot, just cut the meat in half.) Remove the meat to a plate.

3- Add the broth to deglaze the pot, scraping up any browned goodies from the bottom. Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the beer and 1 teaspoon molasses. Add the meat back to the pot with the garlic and onions, plastering them on top of the meat. Turn the heat up to boil the liquid, then turn it off.

4-Immediately cover the meat and liquid thoroughly with parchment paper, pressing down to completely cover both. Place the lid on top. Cook in the oven, turning about once an hour, and making sure the meat and liquid are very well covered with the parchment. Remove from the oven when the meat is fork tender, about 3 hours but up to 4. Remove the meat from the pot and refrigerate separately from the gravy overnight or for up to 3 days.

5- About 1 hour before eating: Skim the fat off the top of the gravy and reheat in the pot until hot but not boiling. Season with the cider and remaining 2 teaspoons of molasses. (Taste. If needed, adjust the seasonings with more cider, molasses and salt.) If you are using the vegetables, remove about 1 ladle’s worth of gravy to a small pot. Bring to a boil and add the carrots and turnips. Reduce to a simmer and cover until the vegetables are well cooked, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the meat thinly across the grain.

6-Shingle the meat on an oven proof platter with a sides. Cover with the gravy, pouring the onions over the meat. Cover very well and heat in the oven for 30 minutes or up to an hour. (If you don’t have an oven proof platter with sides, heat the meat in the gravy together over low heat, then arrange on the platter with the gravy before serving.) If you are using them, right before serving, spoon the warmed vegetables and their juices over the meat. If you like, garnish with garden fresh chives.

The Veggies

It isn’t essential, but I’ve topped this tasty dish with local root vegetables. Use what you can find; celery root and parsnips would work well too. Here, I steamed the last of my produce from Farm at Miller’s Crossing, carrots and turnips from their end of season sale last November. They were stored on the farm all winter long, a great service, but I should have picked them up earlier, because they had sprouted. Still, I count Katie and Chris’s wintered produce as a blessing. Early spring has always been hard in the north country, a season with no crops to harvest and larders running low. But these vegetables are organic, local and tasty enough, especially the turnips. And stored in their flavor is the memory of fall, and of rosy cheeked Katie hanging outside the storage barn with a couple of dogs bounding around her.

Alternatives to Passover Brisket from The Roving Butcher, Jake Levin.

“Brisket is still an option when considering local grass-fed meat. Others great braising cuts are short ribs, chuck roast, and beef shank.

In my family we always roast a leg of lamb as it seems more symbolically appropriate for the pascal holiday; plus we are always sick of braised meat by this time of year.” (Lucky Jake, says I.)

“I tend to buy meat directly from farmers. For lamb I like to go to Kinderhook farm, and for my beef I usually go to North Plain Farm. But, of course, meat bought directly from farms are almost always frozen. If you are looking for some well cut local and pasture raised meat I would go to the Meat Market in Great Barrington, MA or Sutter Meats in Northhampton.”

butcher jake leven_24Jake Levin of the Roving Butcher

Sustainable Meat Primer

Conventionally raised beef consumes enormous resources to produce, as well as staining the earth with endless toxins. That’s why many locavores who are carnivores, including myself, try to lower our meat intake. When we do eat meat, we try to eat animals that are raised humanely and sustainably. (Replenishing rather than depleting our resources.) Happily, this relatively guilt-free brisket was make with certified organic grass fed and grain finished beef from McEnroe’s Organic Farm in Millerton New York. (Link above)

What’s the Story with Grass Fed Meat?

When people ask what grass fed-and-finished meat tastes like, Keith Swanson of Thundering Hooves meat buying club tells them it’s stronger and richer tasting, that most people like it, but that it isn’t for everyone. “It’s real beef flavor,” he says. It takes skill to raise tender grass-fed meat. Farmers raising animals on pasture have to be patient because more time is needed to fatten them on grass than grain, and fattened animals produce tender meat. The end results depend on factors consumers can’t control, like the breed and age of the cow, method of slaughtering, and importantly, the quality of the grass (which is why many ranchers who raise cattle this way call themselves “grass farmers”).

The bottom line is that the farmers have to know what they are doing and set high standards for their grass-fed meat, or the meat will be tough. While grass-fed-and-finished beef can be world class and eye opening when it comes to taste, it doesn’t have the same kind of marbleized fat many of us are used to and so requires more attention during cooking. Less plentiful tender cuts, like filet, should be seared and served rare or medium-rare. Less tender cuts are better braised or roasted slowly. Burger can be cooked as usual, and grass-fed burger is extremely flavorful, delicious, and distinctive. Note that many farms finish pasture-raised animals on a little to a lot of grain for a more familiar flavor and to increase marbleized fat for tenderness. So if you can’t find grass-fed-and-finished meat, look for pasture-raised meat that’s finished minimally on local grain and,when possible, sustainably raised.

Where do you find sustainably raised meat?

Look for sustainably raised meat at farmers markets, farm stands and coops. Check your local farm advocacy group or try Ethicurean, which lists some regional meat buying clubs (also called meat CSAs) and have a video about meat, The Meatrix.

Create your own meat buying club, splitting animals with a group on a regular basis, or form an ad-hoc club, as I’ve done many times by contacting a farmer and getting friends together to split a pig, lamb or cow. You pick it up cut, packaged and frozen.

Last year, I bought beef from Billie Best in Alford. There, I learned where my food comes from first hand, starting when I heard the shot and saw her cow drop. (My heart stopped.) The experience isn’t for everyone, but the cow, Lisa, was fed on local grass and grain, treated well and killed humanely.

Juggling Supply and Demand

Demand for sustainably raised meat is growing. But, there simply aren’t enough meat processing plants, especially in the Northeast. That’s making it hard for small sustainable farmers to get their meat to market, slowing up supply. The concern that demand would outpace supply has concerned me for a long time. It’s not as sexy a problem to solve as increasing demand, but it’s essential and heating up fast.  Our system is built for huge industrial farms, but it needs to be scaled down to support small eco-friendly regional food sheds. Start by working to make your community farm friendly.