Romancing The Garlic

Hard-neck garlic drying

Hard-neck garlic drying

July is garlic time here at our farm,. We’re busy harvesting, cleaning, hanging and selling heady, beautiful hard-neck garlic. It’s an intense time for a small farm such as ours.  Each step of the process is by hand so although time consuming, it’s definitely a labor of love.  There’s nothing quite like fresh garlic and many of our customers buy large quantities. When stored properly garlic can last well into the following year, while adding that welcome punch to so many recipes.  One way to preserve garlic is to make a “confit”.  The French verb confit means “to preserve.” The term confit in our country has come to mean to poach something in fat at a low temperature for a long time.

Peeled garlic ready to poach

Peeled garlic ready to poach

During the growing season I am always looking for ways to preserve and extend each crop.  Many times while harvesting garlic we have ‘dingers’; heads that we accidentally sink a shovel into or rip the roots off by pulling a little too hard.  We collect these and rather than resign them to the compost pile, we turn them into a delicious garlic confit. These make wonderful hostess or Christmas gifts and can be used in a variety of ways. Try them as a dipping oil for crusty artisan bread, add them to bean soups, to pasta, mashed potatoes or even roasted red peppers for a great bruchetta.  The possibilities are endless, limited only by your imagination.  Who wouldn’t love a jar of this liquid gold?

Garlic Confit:

  • 4 cups whole garlic cloves, separated and peeled
  • Small handful of fresh woody herbs (approximately 8-10) such as thyme or rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf, 8 peppercorns, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (try different combinations, as these are entirely optional)
  • 3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Place garlic, herbs, oil and any additional ingredients you have chosen in a medium heavy saucepan.  Cover a cook over very low heat for about 30 minutes.  Don’t allow the oil to rise above 200 degrees F.  You may see small bubbles rise to the top.  To check for doneness, take a paring knife and test a clove.  It should be very soft; if not, poach for an additional 10 more minutes.

Remove pan from heat, keep covered and allow to cool to room temperature.  Using a clean spoon, divide garlic, herbs and oil among resealable jars. (I use 1/2 pint jelly jars)  Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

Garlic ready to slowly poach

Garlic ready to slowly poach

Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold

“The combination of olive oil, garlic and lemon juice can lift the spirits in winter.”

—Yotam Ottolenghi

Bad To The Bone(less)

Yesterday was hot and humid at market; today our windows are closed after 2.5 inches of rain, with a high of 58 degrees.  Welcome to Michigan!  We have been very busy this week on the farm with planting lettuce, spinach, squash and potatoes.  Today is indeed a day of rest.  I think I have been overdosing on asparagus, so when planning dinner I decided on something fairly easy, yet piquant.  The result:  Chicken Piccata.

Because cutlets are lean and cook in just a few minutes, they produce very little drippings to use in a sauce.  A light coating of flour will act as an emulsifier and thickener, while a simple addition of fresh lemon slices, dry vermouth and capers create the classic piccata flavors.  Because I am gluten-free, I used a 1 to 1 All-Purpose flour from Bob’s Red Mill. Quick, easy, delicious.  Add a simple salad with a homemade vinaigrette and you have a meal that’s healthy and flavorful.

Chicken Piccata:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded into cutlets about 1/4 of an inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. drained capers
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 6 fresh lemon slices
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, minced

Season both sides of cutlets with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.  Heat a skillet over medium-high, add olive oil until very warm.  Saute cutlets until golden on one side, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn over cutlets and saute the other side, covered for 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to platter.

Deglaze pan with vermouth and add minced garlic.  Cook until liquid is nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add broth, lemon juice and capers to pan.  Return cutlets to pan and cook on each side for about 1 minute. Transfer cutlets to warm plates.  Finish sauce with butter and lemon slices.  Once butter melts, pour sauce over cutlets.  Garnish with fresh parsley.

Melting butter with lemon slices

Melting butter with lemon slices

Bad to the Bone(less)!

Bad to the Bone(less)!

“It’s funny that day by day nothing changes.  Yet when you look back everything is different.”

Many Shades of Green

After working in the heat and humidity today, we decided it was high time to remove the storm windows in our screened-in porch.  It’s really our “family room” during the summer.  Our dining room table is temporarily retired and we open the french doors.  It is here that we have our morning coffee, our evening cocktail, eat our meals and play endless games of domino’s. Overlooking the lake, surrounded by trees and our flower gardens, it is our sanctuary at the end of a hectic farm day.

After a shower and Bloody Mary, I wanted to make something in contrast to the heavy humidity of the past several days.  Remembering I had purchased beautiful English cucumbers from Real Food at the farmer’s market on Saturday; it was time to turn them into a refreshing chilled soup.  This is super easy and just right for those night’s when your tired but want something quick and healthy.  The olive oil gives this soup a creamy texture.

Tangy Cucumber Soup:

  • 3 Persian or English cucumbers, ends trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh dill or cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (omit if you choose to drink this as a smoothie)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a blender.  Puree until smooth.  With the blender still running, gradually add the olive oil until incorporated.  Transfer to a bowl and chill for at least an hour.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional dill or cilantro.

Serves 4

Chilled soup or smoothie, you be the judge

Chilled soup or smoothie, you be the judge

 

“Live within your harvest.”  —Persian Proverb

Cream Of The Crop

Spring seems to be dragging its feet around here.  One day it’s warm, the next day it’s cool, while the night’s plunge into the low 40’s and occasionally the 30’s.  It looks like our tomato planting is put off another week. Those 2600 little darlings will just have to wait it out in the hoop house until the night temperatures warm up.

The good news is that the rain and warm daytime temperatures are wonderful for glorious spring asparagus!  Do I see a pattern here?  Wasn’t I just making a pronouncement last week that it’s one of the few vegetables I will only use fresh?  Well, that was last week.  We bought 10 pounds to put up, taking full advantage of fresh Michigan asparagus while it’s plentiful now; and boy is it ever!  Nearly every stall at the farmer’s market is overflowing with the stuff.  I know that we will be reminded of our favorite veggie in this wonderful cream soup long after the season is over.

There are many approaches to asparagus soup, but typically the essentials involve asparagus, onions or leeks and chicken stock.  With spring leeks available, that choice was a no-brainer.  However the addition of garlic, fresh spring tarragon and vermouth kick it up a notch.  And of course there’s the cream.  Honestly, it’s decadence is worth the calories!

Cream of Asparagus Soup:

  • 2 lbs. fresh asparagus
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 small leeks, using white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Directions:

Snap off the tough stem ends from the asparagus spears.  Cut the tips off a dozen or so and set aside for garnish. Chop the remaining asparagus into 1 inch pieces.

In a small saucepan, blanch the asparagus tips for 2 minutes, then plunge into ice water.  Let drain on paper towels.  Reserve for later.

In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the leeks and garlic and saute until tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

Fragrant leeks and garlic

Fragrant leeks and garlic

Getting better all the time

Getting better all the time

Add the asparagus and 4 cups of chicken stock.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low.  Add the chopped tarragon.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth, about 2 minutes. Alternately, you can puree the soup in batches in a blender, then return to the pot.  Add lemon juice and heavy cream.  Reheat the soup to serving temperature.  Ladle in shallow bowls and garnish with reserved asparagus tips.

Tip:  This soup is also great cold, so pack it for your next lunch if you’re luck enough to have leftovers.

Serves: 4

Spring never tasted so decadent.

Spring never tasted so decadent.

“Worries go down better with soup.”

Crazy Love

Certain foods simply go together; peas and mint, tomatoes and basil, apples and pork, mac and cheese, fries and ketchup.  Ooops, I digress.  For me the first spring asparagus inspire endless combinations for salads, soups, omelettes and tarts.  Asparagus have always been my favorite veggie; one of the few that I will only use fresh.  In asparagus, texture is everything!  I have found the combination of asparagus, leeks and pancetta to be down right decadent; I mean who needs chocolate?  Ok…maybe for dessert!

I was taught at a young age, that you “eat with your eyes”, meaning all the visual elements in a recipe matter.  The tender-crisp asparagus, smokey pancetta, the buttery leeks;  the dish is greater than the sum of its parts.  The citrus adds a counter-balance to the richness.  Bingo…seasonal, local and delicious.

Perfect asparagus from our neighbors at Fulton Street Farmer's Market

Perfect asparagus from our neighbors at Fulton Street Farmer’s Market

Crazy Love Asparagus:

  • 4 oz pancetta, cut in 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
  • 1 1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 3 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a large non-stick skillet, saute pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.  Drain on paper towels.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan.  Add asparagus and leeks to pan and saute until asparagus is crisp tender, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add in the drained pancetta, garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and saute for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and salt.  Serve immediately.  Swoon.
I just can't stop making this!

I just can’t stop making this!

“It is spring again.  The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”

—-Rainer Maria Rilke

Spicy Chicken Little

Spring in Michigan is often a practice in patience.  Just when you think she’s here for good, you wake up to a hard frost or an inch of snow.  Our tomato starts in the greenhouse struggled against stiff north winds and low temperatures.  Yet hope for spring returns when you step inside that greenhouse and are greeted by a bright green hum.  You plant seeds with the hope that each one produces the miracle called a plant.  It’s an exercise in faith.  I could never live in an area of the country where the seasons never change.  Seasons remind me to pay attention to the earth’s rhythms. As farmers, we are hyper-sensitive the many signs that nature provides; our livelihood depends on it.

Today, after helping our neighbor Lynne start rehabbing her pontoon, I wanted something simple and fast for dinner.  I love recipes that use ethnic flavors with common ingredients. Inspired by a recipe from the NY Times, I made some slight alterations and came up with a dish that balances warm spices with cool yogurt.  The arugula sprouts and baby potatoes, reminded me of the newness of spring.  You can adjust it to feed a few or a crowd.

Roasted Chicken With Baby Potatoes and Spicy  Yogurt:

  • 2 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1-2 lbs. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2  tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. sriracha or thick hot sauce of your choice
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, plus 6 lemon wedges
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not Greek)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1-2 cups arugula sprouts
Spring fresh, arugula sprouts

Spring fresh, arugula sprouts

  1. Combine chicken and potatoes in a large bowl.  Season with 1 tsp. of the salt and all of the pepper.  In a small bowl, whisk together the sriracha, cumin and 3 Tbsp. of olive oil.  Pour over chicken and potatoes and toss to combine.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.  Arrange chicken thighs and potatoes on sheet pan in a single layer.  Roast for approximately 40-50 minutes, or until everything is golden and slightly crisped.
  3. While the chicken cooks, whisk together the yogurt, chives, garlic and lemon zest.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. To serve, spoon yogurt sauce over chicken and potatoes.  Scatter arugula sprouts over mixture.  Drizzle remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and squeeze a few lemon wedges over the whole thing.  Pass extra yogurt sauce.

Serves: 4

Contrasts in flavor

Contrasts in flavor

“Each experience leaves an imprint, its transformation into something useful is a choice.”

Low and Slow

It’s official, all the ice is off our lake.  The yellow finches are turning color; the sand-hill cranes and Canadian geese have returned to nest along the reeds.  Spring is raising her head in triumph!  Although it might seem early, we have already planted 4000 hard neck garlic, and 6000 onions (only 20,000 to go)! Granted, there are many different varieties in that total, but call us crazy!

Once our growing season starts, our slow-cooker is a godsend.  You can take a shoulder roast, or some other muscular cut and turn it into something so tender, you can cut it with a fork.  We come in with aching muscles and are greeted with the smell of something luscious.  Hot shower, before dinner cocktail and dinner is ready…

Slow-Cooked Brisket and Onions:

Caramelizing onions in Val's grandma's cast iron skillet

Caramelizing onions in Val’s grandma’s cast iron skillet

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large yellow or red onions, sliced into half moons
  • 3-4 lb grass-fed beef brisket
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups homemade beef stock (you can use organic in a carton also)
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp tamari
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat with the olive oil.  Add the onions and cook on medium-low, stirring frequently, for about 20-30 minutes or until the onions are starting to turn golden and caramelize.
  2. While the onions are cooking, pat the brisket dry with paper-towels and season generously with salt and pepper.  When the onions are done, place them in a bowl and set aside.  Turn the heat up to medium-high (along with your vent or fan).  Sear the each side of the brisket until a golden crust has formed, about 7-10 minutes.  Remove from skillet and place in the slow-cooker.
  3. Sprinkle the garlic over the meat.  Mix together the stock, Worcestershire sauce and tamari and pour into the slow-cooker insert.  Top with the reserved onions, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Beautiful golden crust

Beautiful golden crust

Garlic and brisket, ready for onions

Garlic and brisket, ready for onions

4.  When the brisket is very tender, turn your slow-cooker to the warm setting for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a warm  setting, remove the brisket from the cooker, place in a baking dish and cover with foil for the same amount of time.

5.  After you have let the brisket rest for 30 minutes, it should be tender enough to take a piece of it, and place in on a platter.  Take two forks and pull or shred the brisket, pulling in opposite directions.  Continue with the rest of the brisket until it is all shredded.  Top with onions and several ladles of au jus from the insert. Garnish with fresh parsley.  Serve of mashed potatoes or rice, with extra au jus on the side.

Succulent, tender, perfection!

Succulent, tender, perfection!

Serves 6-8

Note:  Don’t have a slow cooker?  Cook in a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid on 325 degrees F for 3-4 hours or until very tender.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt,”  —Margaret Atwood