Friday, January 15, 2010

Venison via Cooperstown

The animal was shot with a bow and arrow in the upstate territory where James Fennimore Cooper penned, "The Last of the Mohicans."  A lot of hunting goes on in Cooperstown. My brother, who sent the frozen package, did not kill the deer, but if he becomes the last of the hedge fund managers, due to a scarcity of things to hedge, at least he won’t starve. It was his brother-in-law who felled the animal and offered the tenderloin, the finest cut.

Chef Donna and the inspector came for dinner. She peered at the cuts of venison, lying in a pool of red wine. "Tenderloin! Where is the deer from?" she asked. "And the wine?" Chef strapped on her apron, accepted a glass of wine and got to work. Chef is a pretty petite woman with blonde hair and big blue eyes. It would be just another Sunday night supper with friends. The inspector brought the produce. I provided the game, the wine and the place and chef would teach us a thing or two.

There were two pieces of meat; eight inches in length each, an inch and a half wide and more than an inch thick. It was purple. "Dry," she said. "It has to be very dry. Give me a paper towel or an old rag....."  Chef Donna is a talking-teaching chef.  "This," she said pointing to her rib cage under her left wing, "is where the tender loin comes from. Tenderloin doesn't get worked too much so it isn't tough but it is not flab either."

The inspector is a quiet man, for the most part. He works in agriculture. Once, when we were having a cup of coffee, I asked him what he was thinking about and he said, "Seed oil crops." 

Chef cried out for a skillet to sear the meat. We went for the big cast iron one. "Venison is so lean, look!" she said. "This is not the kind of meat that explodes with fatty flavor so you have to work it." And work it she did. Taking each piece with “Tongs!” and dredging them VERY lightly in flour, she seared each side until it smoked, An aroma seared meat filled the room setting off various smoke alarms. The inspector responded instantly and I followed his lead. When all of the windows and doors were open, it was time to roast. Now the oven was going full blast.

"Baking pan, no roasting pan," she cried and I produced a glass one. She shook her head grabbed a different one—metal with sides. Into the oven went the loins and chef bounced back to her reduction on the stovetop. "Here is pepper," she said adding some, "and here is bay leaf..." and then for some reason we all started arguing about Africa. Nobody could shut up. The inspector took a position and wouldn’t budge. Finally chef held up a wooden spoon. “There are some things that men and women will never, never agree on! It is that simple.” She invited us to taste the reduction, which was about half its original amount and agreed was perfection, although chef said, “It is not even a demi-glace yet!” 

Out comes the meat from the oven. She heaved the bloody roasting juices from the seared meat into the sauce. “Now it is demi-glace,” she said. Then she began to freestyle. From her purse, she fished out a plastic bag. In the bag was something red. “Pomegranate!” she said and halved the fruit to extract the seeds and juices. Bits of pomegranate flesh were painstakingly removed and the added to the demi-glace. We tasted it. Africa was replaced by Bali, or maybe heaven.

“Plate!” she cried and slapped each loin down and began to make a little tent for each piece of meat out of tin foil. "Now these will rest," she said. "They rest for the exact amount of time that they cook." We were about to experience an entirely, expect for the last minute fruit, early American repast.

In Colonial times, a woman was abducted by the Narraganset Indians in Lancaster Massachusetts and held hostage for three months.

During the ordeal, Mary Rowlandson ate with her captors traversed the state with her captors, and spent one night with a dead child in her arms. She fought off violence, exposure and terror but somehow survived.

In "A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson,” she described a local diet: "Their chief and commonest food was Ground-nuts," she wrote. "They would eat Horses' guts and ears and all sorts of wild birds which they could catch; Also Bear, Venison, Beavers, Tortois, Frogs, Squirils, Dogs, Skunks, Rattle-snakes; yea, the very Barks of Trees."

Our repast of venison and roasted roots; yea were the very elements of a feast.  The venison, roasted and pink on the inside was flanked with rows of beets, brussels sprouts and kale.  The vegetables tasted of sweetened earth and butter. The meat tasted of strength.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Deep Winter Acts of Love


Drove through town in deep winter watching a jogger run in place at the light, ear buds under his hat. It is a long light. He stops running and begins to play air guitar. Then the light changed and we all went back to what we were doing. Driving out to the river, looking for signs of life in the snow covered fields where corn was growing just months ago, I'm sure there's gotta be kale. 

I drive past what looks like a guy I know, on a bike and behind his bike is a box on wheels, a box large enough to transport at least 100 lbs of food.  He is dressed in orange and yellow, like the peddle people. The guy, a farmer I know, and I exchange glances and he spits. The thing about being a locavore is that all your food is foraged from nearby and you meet everybody who feeds you.  I know this guy is hauling root veggies to another farm or winter farmer's market or Serios or someplace like that.  Root vegetables and probably kale.....

There is a bumper sticker that people have that simply says, "I Love Kale!"  If you cook it right, the humble, wrinkled kale plant is pretty tasty and of course it is one of the only plants that are edible that is the last one standing in winter. You can go out in 19 degree temperature, pick some kale and bring it in to the house. It is hearty, like New Englanders.

Dino Kale Sunny Side Up

Grab some kale out of the snow or off the shelf at the store or off a dusty table at your deep winter storage CSA. Cut it up into ribbons, discarding the ribs. If it is at all possible, get what is called "Dino" kale which is so named because of its wrinkled form. Dino kale is sweet. This recipe calls for a nest of fried kale with a fried egg on top. Take the ribbons of kale and drop them directly into a fry pan of almost,  but not quite smoking oil. Remove after around a minute. They will be almost, but not quite, brown, yet nice and crispy. Blot to remove oil using a cloth, not a paper towel....not the Shroud of Turin either....and salt lightly. Fry an egg and gently place it on top of the nest of kale. Deep winter acts of love deserve bumper stickers.

NEXT WEEK:   Venison via Cooperstown

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Greens....Chef Myron Tackles a Tough Winter Staple


Get a little shimmer into winter with slow cooking and game sauce....

Cut greens up into rough "jullienne" or strips.
Slice an onion.
2-4 T pure olive oil in large sauce pan or skillet. (You can use extra virgin but it is not necessary and can turn bitter if overheated).
Heat under low heat until surface is just starting to shimmer (approx 300F).
Add 2 cloves coarsely minced garlic and cook slowly until just starting to caramelize (getting slightly tan).
Add onions and "sweat" (slow saute) until getting translucent.
Add Greens, stir & cover. Sweat greens until quite limp.
Uncover and increase heat to evaporate any water or juices quickly.
Add 2-4 Tbs of Chef Myron's Magic 20 Gauge Marinade and stir fry until sauce is glazed on and a bit "tightened."
For a nice but optional touch, garnish with some lemon or orange zest

(Also an excellent treatment for rapine (broc rabe), dandelion or turnip greens, kale or any other "strong" greens.......)

Bean Farm News - A Late December Ruling in Favor of Farming the Land


The latest news on the sale of 47 acres in Florence to the City of Northampton stands to benefit those who vote with their mud boots.

On December 28, 2009, The Historic Commission voted 6-1 meeting to endorse preservation of the Bean Farm primarily for agriculture, according to an e-mail sent by Grow Food Northampton, a grass roots organization dedicated to local food security.

The sellers of the farm, the Bean Family, have requested a deadline from the City of Northampton of early February to decide whether or not to purchase the property for an agreed upon sum of $910,000. It has been on the market for over a year. Farmers aren't the only factions interested in the property.

The City has formed a Task Force to examine the issues surrounding a potential purchase. The Task Force consists of representatives of the City's Preservation, Recreation and Agricultural Commissions, as well as an individual from the Zoning Revisions Committee. It is chaired by Ward 7 City Councilor-elect Gene Tacy. Upcoming meetings and public forums designed to impart and collect information from citizens will be announced periodically. (See "events" section of blog.)

The Grow Food Northampton e-mail also announced that farm experts have banded together to advise the City's Agricultural Commission. The group consists of Michael Docter, Food Bank Farm founder, Dan Kaplan of Brookfield Farm, Phil Korman, Executive Director of CISA, Ben Grosscup of NOFA and 3 others.

Members of Grow Food Northampton will be at Winter Fare on Saturday, January 9 in Northampton to raise awareness about the cause. More about the organization can be found at the Grow Food Northampton website.

For documentation on the Northampton Planning Department's interaction with the Bean Family family and others, as well as upcoming meetings, visit the Office of Planning website.

Photo, City of Northampton, Department of Planning