Monday, September 28, 2015

Chanterelles: NW Forests, Golden Goodness

It's like an equation: Deep piles of Douglas fir needles plus cool Northwest rain equals…chanterelles! There's nothing like running across a patch of these unique and beautiful beauties while hiking in the woods, or even coming across piles of them in the produce section at your local market. Buttery, rich and tender, they're terrific plain or tossed with pasta. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food gets us started.

While the month's dry weather makes wandering through the forest looking for mushrooms very pleasant, some rain would make foraging more productive. But there are still plenty of chanterelles popping up, and if you don't find any in your favorite secret mushroom patch, head to the farmers market or a well-stocked produce department.

Funghi Trifolati

Trifolati means cooking in olive oil, garlic, and parsley, and mushrooms or funghi trifolati appear regularly on northern Italian antipasti tables. Mushrooms contain both fat and alcohol-soluble flavor compounds, so a splash of wine brings out even more mushroom-y goodness. And while it's not part of the Italian approach, starting off with a dry sauté concentrates the mushroom flavor and improves the texture dramatically.

I learned the method from an old mushroom-hunting guide called All That the Rain Promises, and More, and I always cook mushrooms like this:

Slice or tear the chanterelles into pieces and put them into a hot skillet, preferably cast iron, with nothing else. Keep the heat on medium-high, and within a few minutes the funghi will start releasing water (add a pinch of salt to help drive out the moisture). Cook, stirring frequently, until the water has almost disappeared; the time will depend on the moisture content. When the bottom of the pan starts to look dry, add a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil and a little chopped garlic.

Cook for a minute or two, then splash in a bit of white wine and let it cook down for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and add some chopped flat-leaf parsley and a few grinds of black pepper. If you're feeling Italian, eat these by themselves as an antipasto. Or spoon onto a slice of grilled bread, toss with a little pasta, or stir into scrambled eggs.

Read about one of my first mushroom hunts with Oregon mushroom guru Jack Czarnecki, and get links to more recipes at the bottom of the post.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Food News: Perdue, Carcinogens, Academia for Sale

Perdue Farms, the 800-pound gorilla of the poultry business, has bought the Niman Ranch brand in a move that's seen as its "transformation into one of the largest suppliers of premium meats," according to an article in the New York Times. You may recall that, in 2013, Perdue bought the assets of Washington state's Draper Valley poultry brand in a bid to expand into the "natural" and "organic" arena.

It was way back in 1969 that Bill Niman moved from Minnesota to California to accomplish what a rock anthem  of the time urged: "Got to get back to the land and set my soul free." Starting with a few pigs, goats and chickens, he gradually switched to raising cattle. When the property was bought by the State of California for a cool $1.3 million to make Point Reyes National Seashore, he began production in earnest, marketing his "natural" beef under the Niman Ranch label and taking on investors.

In 2007, Niman left the company in a dispute with his partners over the changes they were making in the animal husbandry protocols he had established. He returned to raising cattle on pasture and without the use of hormones and antibiotics under the new BN Ranch brand. (He was contractually prevented from using his own name on the new brand.) How the sale to Perdue will affect the Niman Ranch business, and its reputation, is a matter of speculation.

* * *

In a "notice of intent" issued in early September, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has said it plans to label glyphosate, an agricultural herbicide and the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, as a chemical "known to the state to cause cancer."

In addition, an article in the East Bay Express noted that research by the World Health Organization (WHO) recently found that glyphosate "is probably carcinogenic to humans" and linked it to "the steep decline of monarch butterflies." It also reported that there are "new alarms about potential negative health impacts tied to Roundup," including a recent study suggesting that "long-term exposure to tiny amounts of the chemical (thousands of times lower than what is allowed in drinking water in the US) could lead to liver and kidney problems."

So if you're walking down the street with your dog and notice your neighbor out with a sprayer attached to a jug of the stuff, maybe cross the street and avoid that place in the future.

* * *

And in more Monsanto news, this time about its products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the New York Times reports that—no surprise here— the company has been paying off academics to say nice things about them. The article said that an e-mail the company sent to an academic researcher gushed that "professors/researchers/scientists have a big white hat in this debate [about GMOs] and support in their states, from politicians to producers. Keep it up!"

In what it calls "a billion-dollar food industry war," companies like Monsanto and, to a much lesser degree, even some organic food industry companies have funded academic research to try to sway public and political opinion in their direction.

It quotes one academic as saying, "They want to influence the public. They could conduct those studies on their own and put this information on their website. But nobody would believe them. There is a friggin’ war going on around this stuff. And everyone is looking to gain as much leverage as they can."

Photo of a field of genetically modified canola in Washington County in Oregon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Braising Weather: A Pot of Beans

It's officially fall. The ash trees surrounding our house are turning golden, coloring the light that spills in the kitchen windows. The leaves that have fallen are dry and crispy, crunching under the feet of the neighborhood children walking to school. The urge to kick through the drifts of leaves on the parking strip is almost impossible to resist, and I can hear that most autumnal of sounds as the kids (and sometimes their parents) succumb to their siren song.

Willowood Farm Rockwell beans.

Nighttime temperatures are getting down into the 40s, requiring the addition of thick comforters to the beds, and mornings are brisk, with just enough of a chill to require pulling on a fleece jacket to walk the dogs first thing. The days warm up to the 70s by noon, and a glass of wine on the porch of an evening as the sun sets isn't out of the question just yet, warmth-wise.

This is what my parents used to call nigh-perfect Indian summer weather in the Northwest, though I'm beginning to think of it more and more as the onset of braising weather, time to pull out the Dutch oven for the season of low and slow-cooked meats and vegetables.

The finished beans.

This year's crop of dried beans have begun showing up at the farmers' markets, and I was recently gifted some Rockwell beans from Willowood Farm on Washington's Whidbey Island. This variety was originally grown by an island pioneer, Elisha Rockwell, in the late 1800s, and it was brought back into production recently by farmer Georgie Smith when she took over the land her family had been farming on Ebey's Prairie since the 1890s.

Beans don't need much besides water, onions and garlic to make a mighty tasty main course, served with a hunk of hearty bread and maybe a drizzle of olive oil, but I happened to have a pig trotter (top photo) from the Square Peg Farm pig I'd butchered last winter. Beans and pork are a natural pairing, and the fattier the cut of pig the better. Trotters are almost all fat, and over several hours it gave a porky unctuousness to the pot. A half pound of bacon works well, too, and can be chopped or shredded before or after braising. Even a pound of pork shoulder will do its work on the beans, and can be shredded afterwards to make a beany, porky chili.

Regardless of how you decide to cook them, grab a few different kinds of beans from your local farmers' market and take them for a spin in a pot. I guarantee you'll find one (or more) you'll love, not to mention they'll warm up your family's bellies on these crisp fall nights.

Basic Braised Beans

1 lb. dried beans
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. salt, plus more to taste

3 bay leaves
Pork (pig trotter, 1/2 lb. bacon, 1 lb. pork shoulder)

Depending on the type of bean, you may need to soak them overnight in water (cover by 2"). Check with the farmer or follow directions if they're packaged. Drain prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300°.

On top of stove over medium heat, add oil to pot and heat until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté until tender, then add garlic, sautéing briefly until it's fragrant but not browned. Add drained beans and cover with fresh water by 1". Add salt and stir briefly. Add bay leaves and pork if using.

When it comes to a simmer, cover the pot and put it in the oven for at least four hours or until beans are tender and meat (if used) is falling apart. Check occasionally and add water to cover if the beans have absorbed it all (the amount of water needed will vary with the type of beans and if they have been presoaked). If meat has been used, remove it to a cutting board and chop or shred it, then add it back to the beans.

This can also be done on top of the stove. Simply keep the beans on a low simmer, covered, and check occasionally to make sure all the liquid hasn't absorbed.

More bean recipes: Baked Beans Italian Style, Backyard Barbecue Beans, Mexican-Style Black Bean and Greens Soup.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Autumn in New York

This Sunday concludes Ayers Creek Farm's summer market season, and they will return on the 15th of November for four markets before their 14-year run at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market ends on December 6. This week contributor Anthony Boutard explains the upstate New York heritage of the farm's grapes and notifies us of a tasting event coming up on September 28.

The grapes this week are a touch of "Autumn in New York"—sparing you all a Billy Joel earworm, eh? Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and New York Muscat are the progeny of the New York Fruit Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York, part of Cornell University. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Geneva fruit breeding program was at its peak and as you taste these four varieties, we hope you will be impressed with the sheer breadth of their flavors. Even the apple, a paragon of diversity, doesn't come close to the grape. Interlaken, Canadice (top photo), nameless and Jupiter are chaste, lacking the biochemical events associated with seed development and maturation, so the flavors resulting from seed ripening, especially the bold spicy and floral notes, are missing. That is not entirely a deficit because other flavors are apparent, no longer masked. Be sure to compare the chaste varieties with the fecund varieties, New York Muscat, Steuben, Sheridan and Price. You can see how the seed creates a consistently larger and more complex flavor.


There is only a teaspoon of farms nationwide that offer such a broad array of such distinctive grape varieties. Due to the early season, this is the first time we have had eight varieties to enjoy as you watch the full eclipse of the "super moon." It is about two hours, so buy enough grapes to savor the convergence of an exceptional season for table grapes and a rare lunar spectacle. And put aside that pointless fussiness about grape seeds, just as you decided that kale is pretty delicious a couple of years ago after shunning it for decades; the seeds are an absolutely delicious dimension to the berry, as is the skin. A few years from now, some researcher will anoint the fecund grape the new superfood and you will feel a whole lot healthier knowing you were ahead of the science.


Interlaken, Canadice, Steuben, Sheridan and numerous other grapes from that period are named after towns in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a wonderful tradition that has fallen by the wayside as the station's public breeding program has stumbled into the morass of "club varieties" and the attendant cheesy commercial names. Club varieties are patented by the breeding program and released to a limited number of growers in order to keep prices high, avoid market saturation and, putatively, to maintain high quality, i.e. uniformity.


There is a tendency to pronounce Interlaken as though it is named after a city in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland. No, the Interlaken of the grape is, as noted, a New York Finger Lake town located nowhere near the Alps and the second syllable is pronounced with a hard "a" as in "lake." Goodness sakes, we don't say Loch Oswego, do we? Well, perhaps on the 25th of January after consuming a few too many wee drams in tribute to the great poet, and forgivably, but other times never. And Canadice is pronounced with a hard "i" as in dice. Don't Eurozone them.

The harvest of beans has started and Angelica, who is in charge of their release, has handed over black turtle, Tarbesque and purgatorio for us to package for this week's market. We have given Borlotti Gaston baby eyes, but she is adamant that they need more time. It is very important to defer to staff on these matters.


We produce our own seed for most of the crops we grow, and in the process we have also worked to improve the quality of those crops, and adapt them to our soils and climate. It is a long process, but the results reinforce our efforts. In first few years of growing Amish Butter, Linda Colwell helped us as we carved rotten kernels off the misshapen ears with the sharp end of a church key in order to salvage enough to sell. That tedium is now history, and this year's ears are magnificent in every respect, the result of repeated selection over a decade. Last year, we were frustrated by problems with the black radish and have started the process of selecting roots that have better frost resistance, and working with Ava Gene's staff we are bringing back the hard-skinned storage melons we used to grow about seven years ago. These are true melons, not winter melons of Asian cuisine.

This year we will feature those melons and the mixed barley at the 2nd Annual Variety Showcase put on by Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network. As amateur breeders, we need a bit more adult supervision, so Lane has assigned two restaurants to keep us in line. Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty Fifty is developing recipes to showcase the qualities of the barley mixture. We tried her "Triple Barley Cookies" yesterday. Made from flaked barley, barley flour and sprouted barley, they are wonderful. Sarah has a roasted barley ice cream in the works to accompany them. Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's will highlight the melon project called "Ave Bruma" or "behold the winter solstice," from the restaurant's first flavor selection. Later, around the solstice, we will bring in another pile of melons for his staff to taste and again put aside the seed from the best flavored.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Plummy Cobbler Pairs Perfectly with Plum Sorbet

When I think of making a fruit dessert, my mind naturally goes to a crisp, with its crumbly, granola-esque topping that's the perfect counterpoint to the sweet, cooked fruit beneath it. But some fruit, and I'm thinking of you, stone fruits, seem to pair much better with a cakey biscuit crust, the better to sop up the juices oozing from the warm fruit.

Damn gorgeous, those Damsons!

Recently, friends were due to come over for dinner, so when I got a couple of pounds of very ripe Damson plums and several pounds of Golden Gage plums from Ayers Creek Farm, it seemed only right to make a cobbler with the Damsons. Which inspired Dave to make a sorbet to accompany it, using the Gages for a little plum-on-plum action.

Plum Cobbler

For the filling:
6 c. plums, peeled and sliced
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. triple sec or other orange liqueur

For the biscuit crust:
2 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1 c. light cream or milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, combine filling ingredients and stir gently. Place in 9” by 12” baking dish.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter or margarine in pieces and pulse until it's the consistency of corn meal. Add cream or milk and process till mixed and soft dough forms. Using spatula, scoop out onto heavily floured surface. Roll or pat out, using flour as necessary to make sure it doesn't stick, until dough is the size of your baking dish. Carefully lift it up and lay over fruit.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is brown and fruit is bubbling around the edge. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

* * *

Plum Sorbet

3 lbs. plums
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. vodka (helps keep sorbet from getting icy)

Pit and quarter whole plums, leaving skins on, and place in food processor with lime juice and sugar. Process until it's a fine purée. Pour it into a fine mesh sieve (in batches if necessary) over a large mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, stir and press the purée through the sieve. (This step is super easy and not time-consuming, so don't let it put you off.) Stir in the vodka, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the purée. (This keeps it from oxidizing and turning brown.) Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours to chill completely. Put chilled purée in ice cream maker and process according to directions. Place in container in freezer for 2-3 hours, then serve.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Preserving Summer: Tomatoes

The avalanche started in mid-August, and now, in mid-September, it's pretty much over. The onslaught of roasting, bagging and freezing tomatoes that normally takes place in late fall—in posts from 2010-2013 it hit squarely in early October—began, as it did last year, in late August. If that's not enough of a hint about Oregon's "new normal," then just ask the vineyard owners who are experiencing their earliest grape harvest in history.

If you want to grab a box of tomatoes at the farmers' market, you can read about the Ayers Creek Farm method for making the planet's best tomato sauce or check out my lazy cook's version of oven roasted and frozen tomatoes. I'm (most likely) calling it quits with twenty-eight quarts of roasted lovelies resting comfortably in the freezer, so it looks like we're set for most of the coming winter's soups, braises and sauces. As Jackie Gleason used to say, "How sweet it is!"

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Farm Bulletin: The Farmer's Car

Back in the days of John Cage and Frank Zappa, and Stephen Sondheim finding his voice, there were families who had an uncle or neighbor who owned this weird car called a Citroën DS—maybe they owned one themselves. Viewed with either love or distain, the car grabs the eye and mind. The philosopher Roland Barthes in "Mythologies" (1957) discerned something profound about the car: "It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object." The 1964 Car and Driver review for the car had it parked under a billboard for Carl Reiner's "Enter Laughing." Ultimately, Barthes could not fully accept the Déesse's divinity where an automotive critic was converted. The two of us both come from families who had an uncle with a Citroën, and count ourselves among the faithful. Our courtship 39 years ago started with the purchase of 1972 Citroën DS21 Pallas. So what the devil does this obsession have to do with farming?

Anthony in his trusty steed.

The connection starts in 1936, when Pierre Boulanger, the chief of Citroën, started a project coded TPV for toute petite voiture, or a completely small vehicle. It was conceived as a car for farmers. The design team included Citroen's Italian sculptor, Flaminio Bertoni, and André Lefèbvre who arrived at the company with a background in engineering airplanes. The team was under the stern direction of Boulanger.

The so-called War to End All Wars had decimated the male population—a whole generation of French farmers were buried—so the efforts of women and their children were important for feeding the nation. Boulanger's design brief called for a car that could be "drivable by a woman or by a learner driver." The brief also called for a vehicle that could haul four people and a 110-lb. sack of potatoes at 36 mph, and travel 78 miles on a gallon. The sculptor was told that appearance didn't matter, merely an umbrella with wheels would suffice. Most importantly and famously, the suspension had to be gentle enough that the farmer could carry a market basket containing a gross of eggs (144) to market without breaking a single one, even after passing over the roughest farm roads and cobblestone streets. A fabric top could be rolled back to accommodate bulky items such as a ewe or calf. Early brochures featured livestock in the car, as well as eggs and baskets of vegetables.

Delivering 40 flats of berries.

The design was driven by economy, practicality and simplicity. The original was minimalist in every respect. The prototype started out with a two-cylinder BMW motorcycle engine. After several other sorts were tried, the air-cooled engine based on the BMW design was adopted, giving the car its characteristic whine. Every part was repeatedly weighed and pared to make sure it was as light as possible.

The gearbox reflects Boulanger's fixation on farmers. He was insistent on a three-speed gearbox, but his design team developed a four-speed box. He was indignant, what does a farmer need with so many speeds? Stymied for a while and on the verge of loosing the argument, the team came up with a farmer's story. After market, the load is light but a farmer needs to get back to feed the chickens and milk the livestock; night is hastening and she needs a supplemental speed to reach her farm by the last shred of light. The chief relented and the early models were marked 1, 2, 3, S, retaining a modicum of deference to his plan. The lawn mower style starter cord was dropped in favor of a starter, preferred by the team, when the women testers complained. Bertoni created a spacious car with an abundance of constant radius curves friendly and gentle in spirit, not an inkling of aggression. In various languages it quickly became known as the snail or duck.

Hauling equipment with co-pilots Nutmeg and Bella.

Development was interrupted by the war, and the first 2CV (Deux Chevaux) was finally introduced in 1948. The models in the 1950s had a 14-horsepower engine. The French authorities taxed cars by the engine's fiscal horsepower—equivalent to seven horsepower in the US and elsewhere – so at two fiscal horsepower it was very cheap to license. Despite the design emphasis on the farmer, the car was universally accepted and produced continuously until July 1990. That final car was still effectively an umbrella with wheels, with hammock seats and an underpowered, whining two-cylinder engine. Along with that artfully tuned suspension that would never hurt an egg. The car was still easy to service and repair.

There was a collective groan from 2CV owners when Richard Dreyfus in American Graffiti could not start his 2CV. All he had to do was open the trunk and pull out the hand-crank that Boulanger insisted should be included, and was until the very last car rolled off the line. When James Bond ignores the switchbacks and careens straight down a slope in a 2CV, escaping his would-be assassins in their fancy, high-powered cars, we chuckle approvingly. Indeed, Citroën produced a limited edition 007 model, and ignored the Dreyfus faux pas. A 2CV, a farmer's car, without a hand-crank, never.

Guard duty.

Although Citroëns are singular cars, ownership is not always so. In our case, a 2CV edged its way into our lives 25 years ago, and is still used by us at the farm. Chances are, the tomatoes, onions or other vegetables you all bought at market were hauled out of the field in that "tin snail," keeping Boulanger's vision alive in Gaston of all places. On occasion we make delivery runs to Portland in the car. Even though we use a piece of history to bring your tomatoes from the field, you still get them at the same great price. Imagine that.

Times have changed, though. The first decade we had the car, veterans would come up to us and recount a similar warm memory. They and a buddy borrowed or rented a 2CV, packed some sausage, bread and wine and took a trip into the European countryside with a couple of…the memory trails off into a wistful smile when it no longer relates to the car, nor did it ever. Shades of the Gary Gentry classic "The one I Loved Back Then": "…the old man scratched his head, and then he looked at me and grinned, he said son you just don't understand, it ain't the car I want, it's the brunette in your 'vette…"

Pantry Stock-Ups: Buy in Bulk Direct From Farmers!

On a cold and rainy day in winter, there's nothing like reaching into your pantry and pulling out some of the summer harvest that you squirreled away, then letting it fill your kitchen with the scent of something bubbling away on the stove. Think a pot of beans slowly simmering in the oven with onions, a slab of bacon and dried bay leaves, or a big, hearty vegetable stew to dig into for dinner (if you can wait that long, that is).

If you're like me and your garden wasn't quite prodigious enough to keep your family fed through the winter, there are three upcoming events where you can buy bulk quantities of staple and storage crops directly from farmers. Stock those pantry shelves for the winter with dry beans, grains, flours, nuts, honey, root veggies, garlic, onions, winter squash and more. You can even order ahead online and pick up your bulk goods at the event!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Smoking the Perfect Brisket

Ask my husband what he'd like to grill for any given event and, barring Thanksgiving and Christmas when he smokes a whole turkey, there is only one answer.

His birthday? Brisket. Friends gathering for barbecue? Brisket. Anniversary dinner? Brisket. Our son's birthday (assuming we can get him to agree…)? Brisket.

Six hours in the smoker, many more to go.

There's something about that giant piece of meat that calls his name, that sings a siren song of smoke and meat and juicy perfection like no other. He's grilled and smoked dozens of them over the years, and they've all been deliciously satisfying. Smoke rings, that little red line just inside the surface of the slices that signals smoke-infused perfection? He's had them.

At 170°, ready to wrap.

But recently he read a recipe by Julia Moskin in the New York Times that piqued his brisket-loving soul. It called for a very simple crusting with peppercorns and salt, smoking the brisket for several hours—and here's the part that got him salivating—then it said to wrap the meat in unwaxed butcher paper and return it to the grill for another several hours.

Further research revealed that this method, called the "Texas crutch" by purists, allows the meat to cook in its own juices and better break down the collagen so that it melts into the meat. The brisket is then wrapped in foil and deposited in a closed ice chest to rest.

Wrapped, tied and going back in the smoker.

We happened to have friends coming for a Labor Day barbecue, so I called our new favorite meat source (and advertiser on this blog), Ben Meyer of Old Salt Marketplace, requesting a full brisket from Bill Hoyt's Hawley Ranch grass-fed cattle. A full brisket includes the flat, the meatier end of the cut, and the point or deckle, which has more fat. It also includes a thick cap of fat, which adds moisture when smoking or grilling for long periods.

The result? Smoky perfection, a big hunk of heaven that was meltingly tender yet still intact enough to slice and serve. And one that was crowned "Best Ever" by a very discerning group of carnivores.

Here's Dave's adaptation with his own step-by-step instructions.

Dave's Perfect Brisket
Loosely adapted from Julia Moskin's recipe in the New York Times.

I used an 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, for which these instructions apply. The Times article tells how to do it on a kettle grill.

1 whole beef brisket, 10-12 pounds
1/2 c. black peppercorns
1/3 c. coarse kosher salt
Hardwood briquets
Several chunks of oak wood

The night before smoking:

  • Grind the peppercorns very coarsely. Sift through a fine sieve to remove the fine pepper dust. Use only the coarse peppers. Mix the salt and pepper. Trim the brisket fat to 1/4 inch if necessary. Rub the salt and pepper mix on the brisket. Wrap in plastic and place in a baking sheet in refrigerator overnight.
  • Put a half dozen small chunks of oak in a pan of water to soak overnight.
  • Cover outside of smoker’s water pan with aluminum foil to make cleanup easier.
  • Clean cooking grates.
  • Fill the charcoal ring to an inch or so from the top with charcoal.

On smoking day, flip the charcoal chimney upside down. Put 20-15 briquets in the upended chimney. Place paper in the chimney below the charcoal and light it. When the coals are flaming and are covered with ash, spread the lit charcoal over the charcoal in the ring. Open the bottom vents all the way.

Assemble the rest of the smoker. Fill the water pan 2/3 full with hot tap water. Oil the top cooking grate. Remove the brisket from the refrigerator and place on the top cooking grate. I had to place it very carefully so that it would fit.

Place top dome on smoker. Open the top vent all the way. Close bottom vents to about 25 percent open. Put three chunks of the wet oak on the charcoal.

In a half hour check the temperature and adjust the bottom vents as necessary to keep the smoker temperature to 225-240. Add the remaining wet oak to the charcoal.

I checked the temperature about every hour or more frequently if necessary. The charcoal should smolder for hours without needing a refill.

I put the brisket on the smoker at 6 am.

At about 11 am the internal temperature was 175-180. I then wrapped the brisket in butcher paper, tying it with string, and put it back on the smoker.

After an hour I began poking it with my finger, testing to see if it was becoming more soft and jiggly as the fat, meat and collagen softened. At 3:30, 3 1/2 hours after wrapping the brisket and 9 1/2 hours after putting the brisket in the smoker, I pulled it from the smoker and wrapped it, paper and all, in aluminum foil. I then placed it into a cooler to await dinnertime. At 6 pm it was still hot.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Is Sugar Toxic?

When I was growing up, sugar was already being demonized because it was considered fattening, providing a major impetus for the movement to diet (so-called "lite") products. It's interesting to consider this now, especially in light of the huge influx of processed foods containing sugars (mostly HFCs, or high-fructose corn syrup) into the American diet. In this essay, contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food takes on the subject.

Since Gary Taubes asked that question in the New York Times more than 4 years ago, many people concerned about what they eat have decided the answer is yes. And it's clear that too much sugar is used to give highly processed food some flavor and too many people drink more sugary drinks than they should. But there are many who argue that the issue isn't quite so simple.

Caffé con zuccero.

I'm not about to give up sugar, though. My approach is to avoid highly processed foods, the source of most of the added sugars in modern diets, and use moderation when it comes to eating sugary treats. We're hardwired to like sweet things, after all, and I think the benefits of the pleasures of the table are just as important as getting enough sleep and all the other things we're told are good for us.

Raw Sugar

The raw sugar I get from Three Brothers Farm in Louisiana comes from sugar cane grown without any pesticides. After harvest, the cane is crushed to extract a milky, sugary liquid that's boiled to remove the water (after about 12 hours you get cane syrup, perfect with cornbread). Eventually the liquid is completely evaporated and sugar crystals form. Dark, moist, and with a caramel-y flavor, this is raw sugar. Additional processing is required for white, free-flowing refined sugar; molasses is a by-product and gets added back to refined sugar to make commercial brown sugar.

I start every day with a shot of espresso sweetened with raw sugar (photo, above left). I like the complex flavor, more than just the jolt of sweetness I get with refined sugar. I've been baking with it, too, and it's less sweet than a comparable amount of refined sugar. My olive oil cake tastes better. I've also been making jam with it, and I use a mixture of raw sugar and sea salt as rub for pork (Momofuku pork shoulder!).

Eating sugar is fraught, but it's part of what makes us human. Life is sweet.

Details: Real Good Food can be found in Jim's warehouse store on most Tuesdays from 4-7 pm on the corner of SE 9th and Main at 833 SE Main, space 122.

Photo at top of sugar cane from Three Brothers Farm.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Field Peas on the 45th Parallel

For well over a decade, we were stymied by the genus Vigna, our efforts figuring as one of the farm's major nonprofit endeavors. The best we could achieve was parity, a ratio of one pound sown to one pound harvested, and we were almost celebratory about that pathetic achievement, seeing it as a hopeful sign. Most efforts failed even this slight measure of hope.

The adzuki in the field.

Indigenous to tropical Africa and Asia, this genus of legumes has a complex of vernacular names, including field peas, cow peas, chickpeas, southern peas, mung, dal, gram and adzuki. They have a distinct gamy flavor relative to the garden beans. They were also one of the original "beans," along with the fava, of southern Europe—a character in Annibale Carracci's classic 'Mangiafagioli' (~1585) was tucking into a bowl of black-eyed peas, not the American garden beans we associate with Italians today.

Fresh adzuki.

Many plants have highly sensitive biochemical chronometers which trigger various functions such as growth, dormancy and flowering according to the dark period of the day. Plants with this requirement are called photoperiodic, and field peas possess that characteristic. In some crops agricultural cultivars have been selected for a very tight photoperiod. For example, onions and cabbage are not useful if they go to flower, or bolt, willy nilly. In Oregon, crops adapted to southern latitudes do not set flower until the nights lengthen in August or September, and there is not enough time to set and ripen their fruits. This is why okra, limas and field peas are not successful at this latitude, and as yet have no commercial cultivars suitable for Oregon. We have wasted a great deal of time and treasure on all three; hope springs eternal.

Experimenting with other crops gave us an appreciation of the challenges farming at the 45th parallel. One of the fascinating entries in the Tokyo Foundation is about Longfellow flint corn originating in New England that is grown on the island of Hokkaido. The northern part of the island lies on the 45th, which is why that variety grew well. We realized we needed to understand the crops of the island better, and that led to our Hokkaido Project. Both soy and adzukis are grown on Hokkaido, so we started trying varieties from the prefecture. Adzukis are the one Vigna, or field pea, that has commercial potential here in Oregon. We are also working on two traditional soy varieties, more on that later.

Fresh adzuki ready for market.

Initially, adzukis didn't sell well. We had licked the biology only to confront a marketing challenge. Despite the hesitant reaction, four customers gave us the spine to plant more. Mio Asaka (Mio's Delectables) and Naoko Tamura (Chef Naoko) used them in a traditional Japanese way as red bean paste. Last winter, David Sapp of Park Kitchen asked us if we could suggest one of our beans as a substitute for black-eyed peas in Hoppin' John. A light bulb lit up and we suggested using the adzukis. We warned him they are different, but of a kind, whereas the other beans we grow are definitely not of that kind. He was happy with the result, and encouraged us to plant more. Sarah Minnick was the other person who brought them into her kitchen with a variation on their traditional use in sweets; at Lovely's 50/50 they ended up ice cream.

A couple of weeks ago we got the idea that perhaps adzukis would be tasty as fresh shelled beans. We asked people who might know and poked about a bit online, but no one seems to share our idea. Then again, no one had ever suggested grinding popcorn and cooking it for polenta, or steeping it in slack lime for hominy, so there is no harm in trying an unshared notion. Bear in mind there are a host of ideas that have been discretely buried and forgotten in the Ayers Creek compost pile as well. As it turns out, fresh shelled adzukis make a tasty dish, just like one of the southern peas. Not quite the perfection of a Lady pea, but up there with next tier field peas. We will have some at market this week, a one-time event, and then you all will have to wait for the dried adzukis.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Portland Kitchen: Knife Skills and Life Skills

To get to The Portland Kitchen you have to travel to what is often called a fringe neighborhood of the city, code for a place where the houses are smaller and less well-kept, where dead grass sprouts up between abandoned cars and there are no sidewalks for children to ride their bikes on. Far from the hipster enclaves of Alberta, Hawthorne or Mississippi, this neighborhood is not the future location of a Portlandia episode because there's nothing twee, quaint or amusingly quirky about it.

But down in the basement of a church, in a small, worn kitchen built sometime in the seventies for church ladies to host teas and wedding receptions—no stainless steel appliances here—there is magic happening, with sparks flying and some young lives taking a turn for the better. Ostensibly a free after-school program for high school kids to teach them culinary skills, what The Portland Kitchen really does is give them a safe, supportive place to be themselves, or maybe discover who that self might be.

They're also learning some wicked knife skills, and that there's more to food than take-out pizza and sugary soft drinks. To some it's a shock that vegetables like beets come with leafy fronds and that, when roasted, those dirty roots taste amazingly like candy. Or that a pork chop comes from something other than a styrofoam tray.

The real deal is not that they get their food handler's license or can whip up a mean crème brûlée or even that they might actually go into some aspect of the food business. As one young student puts it, it's the first time she's had people believe in her, "thinking that I can do really beautiful cooking, which I can now."

That's a big thing to learn in a small basement kitchen.