November 19, 2016
Just back from the holiday farmers market in Great Barrington. Many fantastic finds, but my favorite is this fantastic apple cider vinegar from Carr’s Cider House; I bought an entire case, which just might last me through the year. Faintly sweet, it has a strong apple flavor; I think it’s the perfect vinegar for Roquefort salad dressing.
I’m also a big fan of their cider syrup; pour it on roasted carrots, and they really start to sing. (I also bought a whole slew of bright red carrots.) And you will never have a more perfect taste of autumn than this cider poured over pumpkin pancakes.
October 24, 2016
My brother came to town last week; he wanted me to drive him out to New Jersey to visit a chicken farm run by a friend’s son. He seemed to consider this a major treat for me.
The truth is, chickens hold very little glamour for me. Half my neighbors keep chickens (mostly for eggs), and the ones I’ve cooked have not been all that scintillating. Besides, this farm Bob wanted me to see was two hours away, in deepest New Jersey, and reached by my all time least-favorite highway. Not a pretty drive.
“But they’re raising Poulet de Bresse,” he insisted. Okay, now he had my interest; the blue footed chickens of France are pretty spectacular, and I’ve never heard of anyone in America who raised them.
Besides… it was my brother. So off we went.
Finding Voodoo Farm was not all that easy, but we lucked out; after driving around in circles, we stopped at the Blairstown feed store to ask directions. “They’re my neighbors,” said the woman who worked there, pulling up a chair to draw us a helpful little map.
Oren and Cybele Ritterband are very much back to the land people. Artists looking for something saner than city life – and a healthy way to raise their children – they’re urban people with a passion for animals. The couple do almost everything on their small farm themselves, and they’re so attached to their chickens that they applaud those who escape into the woods and hang around to enjoy a ripe old age.
Oren processes the birds himself – with a kosher blade – and then air chills them. Cybele does the butchering. They’re happy to show you where and how they do it.
The birds – both the elegant Bresses and the dowdier Rangers look plump, happy and prosperous, and the whole operation seems funky and fine. “We won’t have any Bresse til winter,” Cybele said as we were leaving, sending me off with some of her homemade pate (fantastic), jam (excellent), and an enormous frozen Freedom Ranger bird. I stuck the free range chicken in the freezer, thinking that one day I’d cook it, but not any time soon. Much as I admired what the Ritterbands were doing, I was sure the bird would be a disappointment.
Then I ran out of freezer room and put the bird in the refrigerator to thaw for a couple of days. When friends showed up unexpectedly for dinner last night, I told them, rather apologetically, that I was going to roast a chicken and not to have great expectations.
Let me cut to the chase: this was, hands down, the best bird I’ve eaten in America. And it was easy to cook. I simply removed the bird from the refrigerator, pulled off all the fat (there was a lot), and stuffed it beneath the skin on the breast, and let it come to room temperature. I put a lemon in the cavity and trussed the bird. I showered it with salt and pepper. Then I heated a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven for about a quarter of an hour, plunked the bird into the hot skillet and cooked it for 15 minutes before turning the heat down to 325 degrees. At that point I threw some tiny new (unpeeled) potatoes into the pan, along with some carrots, quartered onions and whole cloves of garlic.
I checked the bird’s temperature after an hour, cooked it for another half hour or so until the thigh registered 160 degrees, and let the chicken sit for half an hour.
Wow! The skin was crisp, the meat moist, extraordinarily flavorful and not the least bit gamy. If this ordinary free-range chicken was so spectacular, I can’t even imagine how that Blairstown Bresse will taste.
The beautiful bird at the top, of course, is the elegant Blairstown Bresse. The one Oren’s holding, below, is a Freedom Ranger.
October 21, 2016
I asked for Roquefort. The cheesemonger unwrapped the wheel and offered me a taste. I love this classic blue, and nodded happily as the salty bite of the cheese hit my tongue. Then, looking rather sly, he unwrapped another wheel, scooped up a small bit and held it out. “Now taste this,” he said.
The flavor was extraordinary, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was round, deep, rich, slightly sweet and fruity with that blue edge that hovers on aching intensity. The texture was tender as fudge.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Rogue River Blue,” he replied. “And don’t ask the price.”
Of course I had to. Choking a bit, I studied the leaf-wrapped blue-veined cheese, wondering aloud how it’s made.
“They make the cheese with summer milk then wrap it in Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in Clear Creek Pear Brandy. Then they leave it to age for a year.”
This special Rogue River Blue is remarkable stuff. It costs a fortune, but it’s a rare treat, available in limited quantities during the fall. Try to taste it now because it’s usually gone by Christmas.
You don’t want to miss this.
(If you don’t want to order an entire wheel, you can buy it at Rubiner’s in Great Barrington, Massachusetts or Murray’s Cheese nationwide.)
October 12, 2016
These days I find myself going into the refrigerator at all times of the day, chopsticks in hand, to snatch another bite of this chewy, sweet, spicy treat. It’s dried squid that’s been doused in red pepper sauce, sugar and sesame oil. A strange snack, perhaps, but once you start to like it, you can’t get enough.
I buy mine at H Mart on 32nd Street in New York, but you can find this at any Korean grocery. If you don’t have a handy Korean grocery, H Mart has an online shop.
Be warned, however; these chewy little bites quickly become addictive.
August 27, 2016
Just back from the Hudson Farmers’ Market. Bought a small mountain of garlic to put in a dark, cool place and save for the fall.
Bought tomatoes – they’ve been fantastic this year – and corn (also a great season), and prune plums. The late strawberries are in, and I bought those too, along with watermelon, blueberries and shishito peppers. I was on my way out when I saw the Rockerbox stand, and bought this bottle of dried, unadulterated garlic flakes. It will be perfect in the winter, when my hoarded garlic’s gone. Then I made the mistake of opening a jar of black garlic powder. The aroma came leaping out – the scent is insanely intense – so I bought that too.
I managed not to stop in at Bonfiglio Bakery for one of their irresistible lemon puffs. The bakery makes them only on Saturday, and they always sell out. Rich and flaky, with a heart of lemon custard, eaten warm they’re one of the best things on earth.
Now I’m sorry I skipped them.
But I did stop in at Little Ghent Farm for a loaf of their superb sourdough bread. This is the most picture-perfect farm you’ll ever see and I always end up buying more than I expect. Today: eggs, liver pate and sausage.
Now I’m about to slice the bread, salt the tomatoes, fry some bacon and make BLTs. They are never better than they are right now.