Best Dessert Ever

Balzano

Seriously, this may be my favorite dessert ever. After cookies and cream ice cream, that is. No really, I have taken this don’t-take-your-mother’s-advice thing way too far. She, I mean my mother — (Liza hates to be referred to as a pronoun) — has been telling me to make this cake for years, well at least since 2004, when the New York Times printed the recipe.

I baked this cake this morning, ate one quarter of it for lunch, and another quarter for dinner. I’m tempted to include a picture of the half-eaten cake in this post, but am too embarrassed. I don’t know what else to say. It’s moist, delicious, seasonal and can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or dinner. I mean it. Make it!

Balzano Apple Cake
Adapted from New York Times 2004
Serves 8

1 stick butter, plus more for greasing pan
parchment paper
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

4 Fuji apples
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt such as fleur de sel
½ cup milk at room temperature
powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nine-inch-circle pan with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and place inside pan.

Melt butter in small saucepan. Set aside. Beat together eggs and half of sugar in a bowl. Continue to beat while slowly adding remaining sugar until thick — it should form a ribbon when dropped from spoon.

Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into the egg-sugar mixture and add pod to melted butter.

Peel apples and cut straight down around the core into four big chunks. Discard the core then slice the apple pieces thinly.

Remove vanilla pod from butter and discard. Stir butter into sugar-egg mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking powder, then stir into batter alternating with the milk. Stir in apples, coating every piece with batter. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, until cake pulls away from pan and is brown on top. (A thin-bladed knife inserted into the center will come out clean when it is done.) Cool 30 minutes, then cut into wedges sprinkling each with powdered sugar if desired.

Mandy’s Spaghetti Sauce

pasta8

For the past few weeks, I’ve neglected to bring my husband any of his favorite treats when I visit him. No brownies, no cookies, no granola, no power bars, no quick bread — no sweets at all, in fact, for my favorite Marine (who just graduated from The Basic School … yay!). And I hate to admit it, but if ever there were a time when he needed that extra brownie, it’s now.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, Mandy, however, a weight-lifting, football-watching, Gamecocks-cheering fireball from South Carolina, who gave me her spaghetti sauce recipe, I have been able to bring Ben Tupperwares filled with pasta and meat sauce. Mandy makes this recipe in bulk for a number of reasons: For one, with a six-month old running around — almost running around — she has little time to make dinner every night. Second, she doesn’t love to cook (although she’s a culinary whiz), so having this sauce on hand minimizes the time she spends in the kitchen. And lastly, she has to feed not only herself and baby every night, but also her professional-powerlifter husband, John. (John holds a world record in his weight class for a dead lift and squat combination score.)

This recipe yields two quarts of sauce and freezes beatifully. For one pound of pasta — spaghetti, macaroni, shells or any other pasta variety — one quart of sauce works perfectly. With tons of fresh basil and a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, this spaghetti makes a wonderful dinner. Thanks Mandy!

Mandy’s Spaghetti Sauce
Yield = 2 quarts

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the meat and brown, stirring occasionally. Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic, and sauté until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, 1 cup water, and seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste, add more salt or sugar if necessary, and serve over pasta immediately, or let cool until ready to serve.

Note: This sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer. For a simple healthy meal, cook whole-wheat spaghetti, add lots of chopped fresh basil and a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.

Pawpaws

pawpawcropped

If you’ve never heard of a pawpaw, don’t feel bad — I only learned about them a few weeks ago myself. Well sort of. I’d actually been hearing about them for months from Sam Consylman, one of the farmers at the Livengood Family Farm stand at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market. And when pawpaw season finally arrived, Sam invited me and another loyal South- and Passyunk-market goer to go foraging for this rare fruit in the Susquehannock State Park.

So, on a sunny September morning, Christine and I trekked out to Lancaster to learn about pawpaws. We shook trees, dodged snakes, avoided groundhog holes and tucked into this unknown fruit, tasting almost like a cross between a mango and a banana. Learning and hunting for pawpaws — a fruit indigenous to this area — was memorable to say the least.


It turns out that pawpaw flesh, like bananas and apple sauce, takes well to baking. I made pawpaw cookies first, which were good but cake-like, and so, I experimented with a quick bread. I replaced the banana in my mother’s delectable banana bread recipe with the same amount of pawpaw flesh. Success! Moist and fruity, the pawpaw quick bread tasted better and better with each passing day. Now, because pawpaw season is over, use bananas instead — it is a wonderful recipe, and the bread, when baked in small loaf pans, makes a nice gift.

Pawpaw Quick Bread

butter or spray oil for greasing
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 scant cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups pawpaw pulp*
*An equal amount of mashed ripe bananas can be used in place of pawpaws

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a bundt pan or 2 standard-sized load pans (8 x 11) or 5 mini loaf pans. Set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Add the pawpaw pulp, and beat to combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix only until the flour is incorporated — don’t overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pans and place in the oven. (If using mini pans, place them on a sheet pan first.) Bake for 40 to 45 minutes for mini pans or 45 to 60 minutes for the bundt and larger loaf pans. Cake should be brown and should start to leave the sides of the pan.

Let cool on rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

Pica Peppers

Newbottles

It began with a dare. Challenged by a friend to make a sauce “too hot to handle,” James Jean-Louis set to work. Before heading to the kitchen to toast and roast habaneros, however, he hit the books, researching peppers and their affects on the human body.

And the more he learned about peppers, the more interested in making hot sauce he became. Seeing little point in enduring the pain inflicted by a fiery sauce that lacks flavor, Jean-Louis experimented until he created something that offered as much taste as heat. In the end, Jean-Louis won the bet and pursued his new passion by making a variety of other sauces.

This saucier first tested his creations on his co-workers at Deutsche Bank. Jean-Louis kept a stash on his desk, and at lunchtime, those seeking to jazz up their rice and beans or beef and veggie stir-fries could help themselves to a splash of the cilantro sauce or a drizzle of the “dark roast.” To say the least, the sauces were well received: Some colleagues described them as the Grey Poupon of hot sauce; others admitted to picking a sauce first and then the food to match it. Today, Jean-Louis keeps these bottles locked up — they had been mysteriously disappearing — but fortunately, the lock has deterred no one: The die-hards still stop by every day.

In response to high demand, Jean-Louis partnered with Marven Wamwright and created Pica Peppers.Though the Web site is still under construction, Pica Pepper sauces can be purchased by contacting Jean-Louis at james@picapeppers.com.

Yesterday, I topped a poached egg with the Pica Pepper “Picalese,” a condiment inspired by a spicy Haitian slaw, picoese, Jean-Louis’ mother used to make with shredded cabbage and carrots. Jean-Louis has improvised a bit, preparing his picalese with julienned habaneros and garlic. And boy, does a little go a long way! This sauce puts Dave’s Insanity Hot Sauce to shame. That said, never have I experienced such intense heat coupled with such vibrant flavors. Anyone who prides themselves on temperature-tolerance must give the picalese a try … and I can think of two people off-hand that won’t refuse this challenge.

Four years ago, my friend Amy Koch, known for eating hot salsa out of the jar until she breaks a sweat, participated in a “hot-off” with friend Peter Shanley. The competition continued for hours. When both competitors began munching on raw jalapenos, bystanders feared not what it would take to end, but that it might not ever end. And ultimately, this extremist duel concluded with a draw: To the horror of all witnesses, before accepting a title as co-champions, both Koch and Shanley snorted lamb vindaloo.

Below are the four flavors I have in my possession, three of which I still need to try. From left to right: Original, Lemon Pepper, Cilantro, and Dark Roast

Lemon Pepper
Bright citrus flavors distinguish the Lemon Pepper variety from any traditional hot sauce. Jean-Louis combines freshly squeezed lemon juice, hand-picked habeneros and garlic to make this dynamic sauce, an accompaniament designed for shell fish such as oysters, mussels and clams, but widely enjoyed on chicken, steaks and hamburgers.

The Perfect Poached Egg

My grandmother says my husband makes the best poached eggs, so I’ll describe his method: Fill a shallow saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add a spoonfull of vinegar (a light-colored vinegar such as white or apple cider or rice). Reduce heat to very low so that only the tiniest bubbles dance on the surface of the water. Crack an egg into a ramekin. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, swirl water to create a mini whirlpool. Slowly slide the egg inside and let cook for about 2 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary to maintain the gentle bubble: If you add more than one egg, likely you’ll need to increase the heat.With a slotted spoon, lift the egg from the water, jiggle spoon to test doneness of the yolk. If too soft, return to water. If just right, place on top of toasted bread and serve with salt and freshly cracked pepper, or one of Pica Peppers tasty hot sauces.

Though I still haven’t tasted all of the sauces, I have finally broken each one of the seals. It was hard – the bottles are just too pretty. Much to my surprise, however, the bottles, fitted with an elegant cork stopper, retain their beauty even without their wrapping.

Rosemary-Butternut Squash Bisque & Challah

RosemaryButternutBisque-1

In the beginning of the growing season, I promised to document each CSA I received. To say the least, I have been negligent, especially recently. For this soup, I think I used the contents of three separate CSAs. I definitely roasted two butternut squash and two delicata squash, and I swear I roasted a pumpkin too, but I can’t find any documentation of actually receiving a pumpkin — I’ve written down each week’s content, and pumpkin is no where to be found on my lists. Am I going crazy?

Anyway, this soup couldn’t be simpler to make, and the recipe really is just a guide. I set the oven to 400ºF or 450ºF, cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, placed the squash cut-side down, and roasted them until they were tender (maybe 45 minutes or an hour). Once cooled, I scooped out the flesh, combined it all in a bowl, froze 2 cups of the mix for a later use (maybe ravioli filling) and added the rest (about 2 quarts) to a pot. I filled the pot with chicken stock, added salt, pepper and chopped rosemary, and simmered it for 30 minutes. I used my immersion blender to purée the mix, and in no time I had made a delectable soup.

The recipe called for orange zest, which I didn’t have and so didn’t use, but I remember it being a nice flavor when my mother used to make this soup for us. The recipe also calls for cream — which I guess justifies the title, though I would hardly call this purée a bisque — which I also didn’t use.

I happened to have some frozen challah on hand and it turned out to be a nice dipping bread, though any bread will do. Little Lindis and Mr. T. are heating up a bowl of this soup as I write…they can be the judges.


Rosemary-Butternut Bisque
Adapted from a Molly O’Neill recipe printed in the New York Times Magazine, Nov. 06, 1994
Yield = 2 quarts

2 medium butternut squash
olive oil
6 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and discard. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on the baking sheet. Place the halves cut side down, rub in the oil and place in the oven. Roast until knife tender, about 45 minutes. Remove squash from the oven and let cool.

Scoop the flesh into a saucepan (discarding the skin), and add the broth, rosemary, orange zest, a big pinch of kosher salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth. Alternatively, transfer to a food processor or blender, and puree until smooth. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary and adding the cream if desired. Serve with crusty bread.

Measuring ingredients with a weight scale, just as professional bakers do, will more accurately reproduce this recipe than will volume measurers. While more accurate than digital scales, mechanical scales are expensive, take up space and are perhaps unnecessary for the home baker. Salter brand makes several good, reasonably priced, easy-to-store scales available at Fante’s, Kitchen Kapers and Williams Sonoma. For normal baking, a six to nine pound capacity will suffice.

Challah
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (Ten Speed Press, 2001)
Yield = 1 large loaf

4 cups (18 oz.) unbleached bread flour
¼ cup (2 oz.) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (.25 ounce) salt
1 1/3 teaspoons (.15 ounce) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks, (whites reserved) lightly beaten
¾ cup plus 2 T. water
sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, yolks and water. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed for six minutes using the dough hook, adding a touch more flour if necessary — dough should gather round the hook (not be stuck to the bottom of the bowl), but be careful not to add to much additional flour. (Alternatively, knead on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes. While this method works fine, using a mixer helps prevent adding too much additional flour to the dough.)

When dough is soft and supple (not sticky), transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, rolling the dough to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise for one hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl, knead for two minutes to degas. Shape the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for another hour, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into three equal pieces. (If using a scale, weigh each portion.) Roll each portion into a ball, place on a work surface, and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll the pieces into long strands, each the same length, each with tapered ends and a slightly thicker center portion. Braid the dough starting from the middle: On a work surface, place the three strands perpendicular to you and parallel to one another. From the left, number the strands 1, 2, 3. Beginning in the middle of the loaf and working toward you, follow this pattern: right outside strand over the middle strand (3 over 2); left outside strand over the middle (1 over 2). Repeat until you reach the bottom end of the dough. Pinch the end closed to seal and rotate the dough 180º so that the unbraided end is facing you. Continue braiding but now weave the outside strand under the middle strand until you reach the end of the loaf. Pinch together the ends to seal.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and transfer the loaf to the pan. Beat the reserved egg whites until foamy and brush the dough with them. (Set aside whites for later.) Mist the loaf lightly with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature until it is one-and-a-half times its original size, about 60 to 75 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF with the rack in the middle shelf. Brush again with the egg whites, and if desired, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180º and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or longer. The bread should be a rich golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool at least one hour before slicing.

California Here We Come

CA

Yay! So we just found out. Ben has been assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. We’re moving some time around the New Year to Camp Pendleton, just north of San Diego.

While there are many things I will miss about Philly — pretzels, the Fair Food Farmstand, the Tuesday South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market, Ding Ho and The Bulletin, to name a few — I am so excited to have the chance to live in California for the next three years. My sadness about leaving certainly hasn’t settled in, but I cannot wait to finally see if all of my West Coast roommates’ digs at East Coast Mexican food have been valid, and if it really doesn’t rain in their perfect state.

Homemade Granola Bars

granolabars

Ben, my husband, about to begin his third phase of training as a Marine Officer, has one more obstacle to overcome: a 14-hour “field exercise.” Although I can’t say I know all the details, I do know he’ll be hiking through the woods of Quantico while periodically being attacked and ambushed. Ground fighting will ensue. At 0500 tomorrow, the madness begins.

Luckily, he has the proper fuel — some homemade granola bars. While I’m not sure he’ll actually be able to take these with him tomorrow — I believe the early morning swim would ruin them — he always has a few on hand for when his daily activities interrupt mealtimes.

For these bars, I first have to credit my sister, Little Lindis, for being an exhausted fourth year medical school student with little time during the day for even a snack, let alone time in the evening to make herself more than popcorn and boiled hotdogs for dinner. Upon hearing about this demanding schedule, my mother of course would not stand for it and decided to make for her firstboorn a delectable and portable snack. Lindis’ overwhelmingly positive response encouraged my mother to make some for Ben too, also often in need of a quick boost in the middle of the day.

Alas, the middle child could only experience this delicacy by testing the recipe herself. (JK Mom, you make me lots of goodies too…just not granola bars.) And I’m glad I had to learn the recipe myself for a few reasons. For one, I had never cooked with brown rice syrup or natural cane sugar — two sweeteners that enter the bloodstream more slowly than refined sugars, causing less of a spike in blood sugar levels. Second, the recipe requires no baking — it couldn’t be simpler, really. And finally, the flavors in these bars can be adapted in so many ways: any nut or dried fruit can replace the almonds and the cranberries, and while I haven’t tried this yet, I think a few chocolate chips or chopped pretzels would make nice additions as well.

My sister stores her granola bars in the freezer, but then again, she freezes everything — the door can barely stay shut. Also, I think the Quantico mail system proved freezing these bars to be unnecessary. My mother once mailed Ben a package filled with her homemade powerbars, and he received them, no joke, a month later. The bars tasted delicious nonetheless. (My mother had wrapped each bar very tightly in plastic wrap, but still, a month is a long time.) Ben gobbled them up.

Cranberry-Almond Bars
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s 101cookbooks.com
Yield = 16 bars

1¼ C. sliced almonds
1½ C. puffed brown rice cereal
1¼ C. rolled oats
1 C. dried cranberries, chopped
½ C. oat bran
3 T. finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 C. brown rice syrup
¼ C. natural cane sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and place in the oven for about 9 minutes, until fragrant and golden. Let cool, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a large bowl, and add the cereal, oats, cranberries, bran and ginger. Toss well.

Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a small saucepan, combine the brown rice syrup, cane sugar and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the syrup into the rice-oat mixture and toss to coat thoroughly. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and pack lightly with a spatula greased with cooking spray. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before cutting into 16 bars.

Note: The original recipe called for walnuts instead of almonds. Any nut can be substituted for the walnuts as can any dried fruit for the cranberries. The bars can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap, and stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days. They freeze well also.

End of Summer Recipes

CornChowder

I know it’s officially fall, but with the temperature in the 90s and the humidity at 80 percent, it still feels like a Philadelphia summer. And while the tomatoes and the corn have passed their prime, most farmstands still abound with each, along with many other goodies: peppers, zucchini, squash and basil.

So while the days of steamed corn and fresh tomato salad may be numbered, the summer produce can still be enjoyed in many ways: This roasted potato salad, my mother’s recipe, is perhaps my favorite — and the easiest — of the bunch. The warm potatoes soak up all the flavors of the dressing — a mustard vinaigrette seasoned with rosemary and chives — making a wonderful side dish. The strata feeds many people, for a potluck perhaps, or one for a week — I’ve had a piece each night for the past seven days. My mother also introduced me to this corn pudding recipe, featured in Gourmet earlier this summer, a nice change from corn on the cob. And the chowder, filled with bacon, peppers and potatoes, should be saved for some colder weather, but savored before the hearty-chili season really begins. Enjoy!

Corn Chowder
Yield = 2 quarts

3 slices bacon
4 cups chicken stock
5 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 lb Yukon Gold or red Bliss potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
kosher salt and pepper to taste
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1½ cups whole milk
grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese

Place bacon on a double layer of paper towels on a plate. Cover with another layer of paper towels and microwave on high at two-minute intervals until crisp, about 6 minutes. Meanwhile place chicken stock, corn, peppers, onions, celery and potatoes in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Add the scallions and the milk. Break the crisp bacon into the soup. Stir, taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with grated cheese if desired.

Summer Vegetable Strata
Summer Vegetable Strata
Serves 6 to 8

6 slices white sandwich bread
kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, julienned
2 small yellow squash or zucchini
1 cup of roasted red peppers, julienned
2 cups milk, (1%, 2% or whole)
5 large eggs
½ cup pepper jack cheese
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup of basil leaves
¼ cup of chopped chives
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch thick slices to yield about a ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Remove the crusts from the bread and crisp lightly in the toaster. Once cooled, arrange in a single layer in the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until soft and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the ends off the squash, cut them lengthwise into quarters, and then crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices. When the onion is slightly brown, add the squash and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the peppers and cook for a minute longer. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, half of the cheese, pepper flakes, basil, chives and a big pinch of salt. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the baking pan, spreading them evenly over the bread. Pour the milk mixture over top. Scatter the remaining cheese and mozzarella over the top. Bake for 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Corn Pudding with Scallions
Corn Pudding with Scallions
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish

4 cups corn (from 6 ears)
4 scallions
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups 2% milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350ºF with rack in the middle. Butter a 2½-qt shallow baking dish or individual crème brulee dishes or ramekins.

Pulse half of the corn in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the scallions, flour, sugar, salt and remaining corn. Whisk together milk and eggs and add to bowl with the corn. Stir until just combined. Pour into baking dish or ladle into individual dishes.

Bake until the center is just set. About 35-40 minutes for individual dishes and 45 minutes to one hour for one large dish. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Roasted Potato Salad
Roasted Potato Salad
Serves 6 to 8

2½ lbs. small red Bliss potatoes
2 garlic clove, chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1½ tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon minced chives
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 475ºF. with racks in the upper and middle levels. Wash the potatoes, dry and cut into ¼-inch thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Scatter one clove of garlic and one tablespoon of oil over each sheet. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes with your hands to evenly spread the oil and garlic, then return slices to a single layer. Place pans in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are knife tender.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, remaining three tablespoons of oil, chives and rosemary. When potatoes are done, remove from the oven and add to the bowl of dressing. Toss and serve immediately or at room temperature.

Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm

Joel

I have to admit I am very excited to say I have finally visited Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA. Not only did I get to hear the charismatic Joel Salatin describe his innovative farming techniques for nearly three hours, I got to stand in the barn where Michael Pollan had his epiphany during his week-long stay at Polyface.

In the picture above, Joel Salatin stands in the open-sided shelter where his cows spends a portion of the winter. During the winter, the cows eat hay (dried grass accumulated throughout the growing season), and live on a bedding consisting of woodchips, sawdust and old hay to absorb the cows’ excrement. When the heavy cows tread on their nitrogen-rich manure and on the carbon-rich bedding, packing it together, they allow the mixture to ferment (anaerobic composting). By adding corn to the bedding, Salatin entices his pigs to turn the bedding into compost: When the cows return to pasture in March, the pigs dig through the densely packed bedding, searching for the tasty fermented corn, aerating the pile and turning it into compost for the spring.

Here, in this barn, Salatin says Pollan realized how Polyface contrasts so sharply with conventional farms.

Salatin considers himself a grass farmer: a farmer who relies on the free energy of the sun to grow grass and in turn feed animals, ultimately enabling all parties involved — animal, land and man — to prosper. For example, through controlled grazing, Salatin allows his ruminants to spread and fertilize grass seed, creating a healthier and more productive land, which in turn produces healthier and more productive cows, and in the end provides him with more meat.

But at Polyface, that’s just the beginning. With inventions such as the Eggmobile, Gobbledygo, and Raken house, everything is connected. The grass, after grazed by the cows and sanitized by the chickens, will grow back thicker and healthier. The grass doesn’t need fertilizer to grow because the cows spread and fertilize the seed with their manure; the cows don’t need grain — a food their ruminant stomachs can’t digest without the help of antibiotics — because they have grass; the laying hens require little purchased feed, because they dine not only on grass, but also on fly larvae and insects in the cow’s manure; the land doesn’t need pesticides to protect against pathogens because the hens thoroughly sanitize any land the cows have grazed; and the land furthermore doesn’t need artificial fertilizers because the hens fertilize it with their nitrogen-rich manure.

By relying on the sun, Salatin needs little oil and purchased food to grow his healthy, tasty, pastured meats — not only a wise business move, but also a boon to the environment.

After reading Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma in March, Ben and I have been dying to visit Polyface. To say the least, the weekend was memorable. View all of the photos here, and many of the highlights below:

Ben loves the pigs, and the pigs love Ben:

Ben and I stand with Joel in the barn where Michael Pollan had his epiphany about Polyface Farm. This open-sided shelter is where his cows spends a portion of the winter. During the winter, the cows eat hay (dried grass accumulated throughout the growing season), and live on a bedding consisting of woodchips, sawdust and old hay to absorb the cows’ excrement. When the heavy cows tread on their nitrogen-rich manure and on the carbon-rich bedding, packing it together, they allow the mixture to ferment (anaerobic composting). By adding corn to the bedding, Salatin entices his pigs to turn the bedding into compost: When the cows return to pasture in March, the pigs dig through the densely packed bedding, searching for the tasty fermented corn, aerating the pile and turning it into compost for the spring.

Pigs on Polyface Farm are “finished” in the forest. They spend their final weeks feasting on high-protein nuts and tree bark. This diet purportedly gives their meat great flavor as well as makes their fat healthier — Salatin calls this meat “olive oil pork.”

Rabbits and chickens coexist in the “Raken House.” Rabbits live in cages suspended from the ceiling. Chickens roam around on the ground below, scratching the bedding, performing “sanitation” duties.

Salatin, surrounded by his laying hens, explains the cow-chicken symbiosis on his farm. Salatin refers to his laying hens as his “sanitation crew.”

Meat birds live on grass under floorless pens. Every morning Joel Salatin drags the pen to a fresh patch of grass. Each patch of grass rests 364 days before a group of chickens feeds on it again. In these structures, moreover, the broilers get air, exercise and sunshine.

The eggmobile houses laying hens. It follows the herd of cattle, arriving to grass they’ve grazed on four days earlier.The hens peck at the four-day-old cow pies, eating various insects, larvae and parasites – rich sources of protein – and accomplishing a whole lot more along the way: By eating the fly larvae and parasites, they rid the land of potential pathogens and disease; by scratching through the droppings and spreading them across the grass, they enable the manure to sink into the ground and fertilize the soil; and by eating the pesky insects, they reduce the presence of one of the cows’ biggest irritants.

The group of people we toured with for three hours walk with Joel towards the barn:

In the “Raken” house, Joel shows a baby rabbit to a girl:

Oktoberfest

Oktober

Wanting to prepare a traditional Bavarian dish in honor of Oktoberfest, I wandered through the Italian Market in search of sausage. From Cappuccio’s Meats, I purchased a pound of apple and cinnamon pork sausages, assured by the butcher they wouldn’t be too sweet.

While these South-Philly links unlikely resemble those served in German pubs, they work perfectly in this recipe: The cinnamon in the sausage pairs nicely with the grated apples and juniper berries in the braise. After 30 minutes of gentle simmering, the sauerkraut absorbs all of these flavors as well as all the juices from the sausage, becoming a tasty condiment for these hoagies.

And while I have only tasted one of the 12 seasonal beers I picked up at the Foodery — the Hofbraü, one of the six local beers served at the Munich festival — I think they all have been inherently designed to taste good with pork or any of the other Oktoberfest fare — roast ox tail, rotisserie chicken, spaetzle.

Heartier than a Pilsner but lighter than a Bock, the Hofbraü is a great fall beer, and tasted even better with my Bavarian hoagie. This Sunday, cheer the Eagles to their first victory while savoring braised sausage with sauerkraut and imbibing in an autumn-spiced Dogtoberfest (Flying Dog Brewery), a pumpkin-spiced Punkin (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) or any of the other fun Oktoberfest brews.

Read all about the tradition of this renown Munich festival below:

Tapping a keg before a crowd of thousands at noontime tomorrow, the Lord Mayor of Munich will commence the festivities of Oktoberfest, a centuries-old tradition attracting revelers from across the globe. In the next two weeks, more than six million visitors will relish classic German fare such as sausages, sauerkraut, roasted ox tails and spaetzle, while enjoying traditional song and dance. Some will watch the legendary crossbow competitions, others the various parades, but all will celebrate the beer — a dark-colored, high-octane brew, made specially for the occasion.

The first Oktoberfest began on October 12, 1810, when the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese organized a festival to commemorate their marriage. On a meadow outside the city gates, the citizens of Munich celebrated with singing, dancing and feasting, a five-day event ending with a large horse race. The townspeople named the field “Theresienwiese” (after the bride) or “Wiesn” for short, a term that has lasted for nearly 200 years.

As each successive festival became longer and more elaborate, the royal couple eventually pushed the start date back, taking advantage of the warmer September weather. Historically, however, Oktoberfest has always ended on a weekend in October.

Over the years, this occasion has deservingly earned the title the “Largest People’s Fair in the World.” Pitched across the 100-acre Wiesn, fourteen tents — some large enough to cover 10,000 seats — form a mini village. Under these tents, 12,000 employees including 1600 barmaids annually serve over 200,000 pairs of sausages, 450,000 rotisserie chickens, 100 roasted oxen and 6 million steins of beer.

Oktoberfest has not only inspired cities all over the world to organize similar festivals, but also breweries to create special concoctions, some honoring the “Marzen-style” brew, the style enjoyed by Germans at the original Oktoberfest. Marzen means March in German, and before the invention of refrigeration, March marked the last month beer could be brewed before the hot weather moved in. Brewers stored their beer in ice caves until October when the cool air returned, welcoming these brews and inspiring harvest festivals, the immortalized Bavarian wedding being one of them.

In 1872, the Munich brewery Spaten created the first Oktoberfest beer, and today, only six local breweries (Spaten, Augustiner, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbraü and Löwenbräu) have permission to serve their seasonal brews at Oktoberfest. Each of these companies abides by the “Reinheitsgebot” or German Purity Law enacted in 1516, stipulating that beer may be brewed with only four ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast.

In general, however, the numerous beers created each fall in honor of the festival tend to be amber in color, medium to full-bodied in alcohol, and malty in taste. Some Oktoberfest brews such as Sam Adams, Brooklyn Brewery, Stoudt’s, Saranac, Flying Dog and Flying Fish use only imported European ingredients (hops and malt). Some brewers age the beer slowly in the tradition of those made for the Munich festival, and others add seasonal flavorings: Weyerbacher Brewing Company of Easton adds pumpkin as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves to its Imperial Pumpkin Ale; and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Milton, Del., adds pumpkin and brown sugar to its Punkin Ale.

Sausage And Sauerkraut

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 fresh sausages*
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
10 whole juniper berries
kosher salt and pepper
1¾ cups chicken stock
2 lbs. sauerkraut, rinsed
2 apples, such as Granny Smith or Honey Crisp, peeled and grated
* Cappuccio’s on the Italian Market makes delectable homemade sausages (215.922.5792)
* The Fair Food Farmstand sells several wonderful varieties as well from Country Time Farm and Jamison Farm

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the sausage on all sides, then transfer to a plate. Add the onion and juniper berries and sauté until the onions are tender, about five to seven minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock, sauerkraut and apples, and stir to combine, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Nestle the sausage back into the sauerkraut mixture, bring to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat until the sausages are cooked through and some of the liquid has evaporated, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve with a variety of mustards and hoagie rolls if desired.