Coq au Vin, or, the magic the French use to coax the most inedible meat possible into something delicious

When we butchered our old laying hens a couple of weeks ago, we also butchered about six roosters who had been living among the hens, fertilizing eggs and maintaining the pecking order, as it were. We butchered them last. We should have done them first when our energy was freshest. Roosters are some tough mothas! Their skin is tough to cut, requiring constant re-honing of the knives, and their cavities are impossible to open up: it took the full-strength of both my arms to pull them open enough to remove their innards. You can actually see the striations in the bands of muscle tissue, the thought of which made my jaws clench in fear of excessive mastication and the need for dental floss. To look at an old rooster carcass, one imagines a meat that has more in common with rubber bands than with actual food.

Thinking of cooking these roosters, I remembered that Chef Linton Hopkins gave a fantastic talk at the Georgia Organics conference a few years ago: he discussed the merits of the "lesser" cuts of beef, such as tongue and heart. He suggested that when cooking these meats, one has to consider what that part of the animal did in life and prepare it using the complementary characteristics. A tongue or a heart is constantly in motion, working ceaselessly chewing cud, ripping out grass, or pumping blood day and night. Thus, these cuts need a lot of long, slow cooking at a low temperature. A tenderloin, on the other hand, is a muscle that is barely used, thus it is soft and needs only the shortest amount of cooking at a very high temperature.

A chicken is no different, only, instead of specific parts, the whole body is what we are concerned with. A young chicken, hen or rooster, has not had the chance to work its muscles for very long, and so, the meat is very tender. This is why most roasting birds are slaughtered at or before 12 weeks of age. Industrially-produced chickens are butchered even sooner (and at a much higher body weight due to inhumane breeding practices and concentrate feeds laced with growth hormone).

An old farm hen or rooster, though, has lived several years: pecking, scratching, fighting, roosting, nesting. Roosters are especially active. They have to service a lot of hens, provide them with protection from other roosters and predators (yes, a rooster can fight off a hawk or a raccoon if inclined), and maintain the social order of the flock through engaging in and breaking-up fights. They are big, muscly, and tough in life, and so they are also in death.

So, how do you cook a cock? Coq au Vin, of course! This dish is quintessential French peasant food. It is designed, through long, slow cooking in wine (which is highly acidic and thereby breaks down muscle tissue) to turn an otherwise inedible rooster into something that is, frankly, succulent. It is a food borne out of the frugality of farm life. While old roosters and hens in our modern food system are sold as dog food, or processed into thin, salty canned soups, or are otherwise lost to the industrial food machine, a small farm or farm hobbyist can access a traditional staple of French cuisine that just isn't the same when you use a store-bought fryer.

In fact, when researching to find a good recipe to work from for coq au vin, I could not find one that gave instructions for actually using a "coq." They all called for a regular fryer or pieces of a fryer. As if in lament for the lack of availability of roosters, Lynne Rosetto Kasper titles her recipe for coq au vin, "Coq au Vin Nouveau!" Gentle readers, this is not coq au vin. In fact, it is everything coq au vin is not: it has a short cooking time and relies on modern conveniences such as "canned, low-sodium chicken broth", "skinless chicken thighs," and bizarrely, "white wine."  Nouveau indeed!

I eventually found a recipe over at the Smitten Kitchen based off of the classic Julia Child recipe. It still called for a regular fryer, but the elements were all there: a whole bird, cut into pieces, browned with lardons, stewed in Cognac and good red wine, the sauce finished with a buerre manie, and served with browned mushrooms and caramelized pearl onions.

There, doesn't that sound better? I thought so.

 I was finally able to find a recipe that actually called for a "coq" or "cockerel" in my trusty Larousse Gastronomique, which connected up with what I found at the Smitten Kitchen, only it called for a longer cooking time and to thicken the sauce not only with the buerre maine, but with the cockerel's's blood as well. I wish I had saved some!

And so, I present to you, the coq au vin that I made with a couple of old roosters in the traditional mode:

A note on ingredients: I used old roosters, but old stew hens will also work well for this. Use a young chicken or hen only if you can't find old birds. Or better yet, make a different dish suited to a more tender meat!

Please also, do not feel constrained to use the standard button mushrooms for this. I used some fantastic oyster mushrooms from our fellow farmer, Michael over at Indian Ridge Farm, who has the most amazing, large, and beautiful mushrooms I have ever seen. Many recipes call for morels (which are expensive and hard to find), but I say this is one area where you should really play with what is locally and seasonally available: chanterelles, shiitake, hen of the woods, oyster, etc. Just remember, whatever mushrooms you use, fry them in batches with lots of space between them, otherwise they won't brown.


A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole such as cast iron or enamelware (DO NOT use nonstick), long matches, a fine, mesh strainer, parchment paper


6-ounces bacon, cut into lardons
4 tablespoons butter
2 old roosters, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup Cognac, Armanac, or strong Brandy
6 cups (about 1.5 bottles) young, full-bodied, French red wine such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, or Cotes du Rhone
2 cups brown chicken stock or beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

For the buerre maine:
6 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons softened butter

1/2 to 1 pound caramelized pearl onions
1 pound sautéed mushrooms (see note above)


In your large, flame-proof casserole, melt butter until it is hot and foaming. Add the lardons and fry slowly until browned and crisp. Set aside the lardons, but leave the hot fat in the pan. Season the rooster pieces with salt and pepper, then gently brown, letting any bits of fat and skin turn golden and slightly crisp on the edges. Pour in the Cognac and carefully light it. When the flames die down, add the wine, tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Let simmer for a few minutes. Then, cover tightly with a layer of parchment paper and foil or oven-proof lid. Place in a 200 degree oven and braise for 3-4 hours (longer if you have time). After the braise is complete, remove the bits of chicken. They should be falling off the bone. Filter the juices through a fine strainer and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.

Meanwhile, make the buerre maine by kneading the flour and soft butter together until you have a homogeneous paste. Set aside.

Remove the layer of fat from the refrigerated sauce and heat. Whisk in your buerre maine until everything has dissolved. Reduce the sauce by about 15% , it should coat the back of a spoon nicely. Adjust seasoning.

Add the chicken back to the sauce. At this point, you can refrigerate your coq au vin for a few days before serving, if you wish.

For the accompanying mushrooms and onions (taken directly from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking):

Oignons Glacés a Brun [Brown-braised Onions]

For 18 to 24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons oil
A 9- to 10-inch enameled skillet
1/2 cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 3 parsley springs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth

When the butter and oil are bubbling the skillet, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the herb bouquet. Serve them as they are.

Champignons Sautés Au Buerre [Sautéed Mushrooms]

A 10-inch enameled skillet
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large
1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions (optional)
Salt and pepper

Place the skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating that it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.


Serve the coq au vin hot, with the mushrooms and onions scattered on top. Buttered egg noodles or boiled potatoes make an excellent and traditional accompaniment, as does a bitter green salad such as arugula, endive, or frissée.





How to Eat Lamb

We've had quite a lot of questions at farmers' market the past few weeks about how to cook and eat lamb. So, I thought I'd shed a little light on this insanely delicious meat for folks. I am unsurprised by the questions we get about lamb preparation. Lamb is not commonly eaten in the US (less than 1% of the total meat consumed per person, per year) and is even less commonly eaten in the South (where pork and chicken rule the day). Folks are curious about it, and certainly enjoy it (who doesn't love a lamb lolipop?!), but it is not a traditional part of our Southern foodways. Most of us didn't grow up eating it, and even fewer grew up cooking it.

In other parts of the world, it is a very different story. The most notable lamb consumers are the New Zealanders, who consume some 57 pounds of lamb per person, per year. There is not a child in that country who does not know how to prepare a lamb chop! Countries with a large Muslim population also tend to eat proportionally more lamb per person, per year. Indeed, the British Isles, Australia and New Zealand, and Mediterranean/Middle Eastern countries have had lamb as a centerpiece of their diets for centuries. As such, most recipes for lamb fall into two categories: 1) European flavors, such as rosemary, mint, sage, and other herbs, and 2) Mediterranean flavors, such as cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and other spices.

Nutritionally, lamb is an outstanding source of nutrient-rich protein . It is also an excellent source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and is loaded with vitamins and trace minerals (especially when it is grass-fed). Lamb is also a very flavorful meat. It tastes completely different from beef. Beef tends to be a very pure, umami taste, without strong or distinct flavors. Beef also derives most of its flavor from its fat content. This is why a lean steak is often not very tasty. Lamb, however, does not tend to marble, making it very lean, but still extremely flavorful. The meat itself picks up the flavors of the place where it was raised and feedstuffs it ate. According to one article, "Because Australian and New Zealand lamb is grazed on grass, it has a more pronounced flavor than most commercial American lamb, which is usually weaned to grain, then hay, and finally fed a formulated feed of sorghum, wheat, and vitamins." This, in part, is why many Americans find the taste of lamb unappealing. Very little lamb in the US is domestically produced; the vast majority of it comes from Australia and New Zealand. Generally, our American palates tend to prefer mild flavors: mild cheeses, white bread, white meat poultry, corn-fed meats. It's what we were raised on and accustomed to. So, if you're at a restaurant and order the lamb, whether or not you are going to enjoy it often depends on where it came from and if you prefer stronger or milder flavors. It also depends a great deal on the preparation. A good chef will be able to work with the intrinsic flavors of the meat to generate a dish that appeals to his or her clientele.

Our lamb at Many Fold Farm is closer in flavor to the lamb grown in New Zealand. The animals get grass and hay and that's it. The meat picks up plenty of the local flavors grass-fed meats tend to have, but it is also retains a mildness that most of our customers find appealing. The reason for the mild flavor is that we slaughter our lambs very young, typically around 6 months of age, sometimes younger. The meat from young animals is extremely tender and much more mild than older animals. But because our lambs are grass-fed, they still retain a unique flavor profile that we love. At farmers' markets we also get a lot of questions about specific cuts and their preparation. A whole lamb can be cut an number of different ways. Most commonly, a lamb will yield four shanks, 8-10 chops, 2 racks, 2 shoulders, 2 legs, and a bit of ground and stew meat. There are many other cuts too: leg steaks, neck chops, tenderloin, ribs, belly, just to name a few. There is an excellent app for the iphone/ipad/etc. called Pat LaFrieda's Big App for Meat. It provides a really great introduction to the various cuts of pretty much any kind of meat out there, lamb included. A quick google search landed me at Meals For You Guide to Meat Cuts that has great, basic information. Here is a standard chart of lamb cuts and their primals:   There are two general guidelines for cooking lamb. The first is that less is more. Lamb is best served rare to medium-rare (unless you are talking about ground, shank, or stew meat). The second is that lamb greatly benefits from a marinade. Either overnight or for a few hours, allowing some olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs and spices to infuse the meat beforehand is always recommended. Lamb does a wonderful job taking up the flavors of a marinade and the acids tend to break it down and further tenderize it.

As I mentioned above, seasoning can go one of two ways: European-style with savory herbs, or Mediterranean/ Middle-eastern, heavily spiced. I love both ways, depending on my mood and the weather. In the wintertime, I like the rich, warming, savoriness of European flavors, while in the summertime, I prefer the hot-on-hot zip of the Middle East. As for cooking methods, this depends on the cut. As a rule, legs and shoulders are best served slow-roasted to medium-rare. I prefer these cuts bone-in because I love the flavor the bone imparts in a roast. However, you can get them bone-out and roll the meat up with herbs and spices to roast, which is delightful. The cuts that come from the tenderloin: chops, rack, etc. are best grilled, seared, or seared and then very lightly roasted (this is often how a lamb lolipop is made).  Shanks can be well-done, and are perfection in a braise, as are neck chops and the belly. Ground lamb is extremely versatile. You can make it into burgers, meatballs, kibbeh, Bolognese or ragout, moussaka, shepherd's pie... the list goes on and on. Stew is also highly versitile: kebabs, stews, braises...

Here are some excllent online resources for lamb recipies:

Savour Magazine's lamb recipes

Gourmet Magazine's lamb recipes

Bon Apetit's lamb recipes

And these are my favorite cookbooks with outstanding lamb recipes:

Moro, by Sam and Sam Clark

Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

All of Nigella Lawson's books

Frank Stitt's Southern Table, by Frank Stitt


A word about mutton: Mutton is the meat from a sheep that is more than 12 months old. It is typically much stronger than lamb, and not nearly as tender. It is best cooked long and slow and heavily spiced, and as such it is very common in Indian cooking. It is wonderful!

A Simple Braise

I posted this photo of the meal Ross and I ate last night onto my Facebook page and the reception was so enthusiastic and the actual taste of the food so incredible and it had been so long since I posted a recipe on this blog and I thought it high time for an act of shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd go ahead and share: Braised lamb shanks has about a zillion variations, but this was by far the best way I have ever had them. And there's nothing to it. At. All. You'd think a food this good requires some kind of culinary finesse reserved for chefs at white tablecloth restaurants, and while the recipe itself comes from such a Chef (Frank Stitt), it is as wholesome, humble, and simple a dish as you can possible imagine. The keys are these:

1. Use really good lamb (try Many Fold Farm! I hear it's great!) and to give it a good browning. I thought I had been doing a fine job browning meat for years until I realized I was only getting halfway there. Let me be clear: you want the meat not just to "brown," but to caramelize. Use a good pan. Use a moderate temperature. Take your time.

2. Let the juices really reduce, like, to a syrup. I tend to get impatient with this part of braising. With a braise I feel like I've been waiting hours and hours as it is and the juices have all been reducing over that time anyway. Why can't I just tip everything into a serving platter and be done with it, dammit?! Well, you can't. Those flavors have not been reducing over all those hours so much as they have been extracting. The slow cook pulls water and flavors out of the meat. Lots and lots and lots of flavors in lots and lots of water. Do not let those yummy flavors remain watered down. Simmer that water out and you get to enjoy some highly intensified sugars and flavors. It is absolutely, unquestionably worth it.


oil of your choice (olive oil, bacon grease, NOT vegetable oil)

3-5 lbs lamb shanks (or any other boney, sinewy, tough cut such as neck chops)

salt and fresh, ground pepper

1 onion, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 cup white wine (I prefer something a little sweet more than dry)

1 bouquet garni (I use any combination of aromatic herbs I have around at the time: thyme sprigs, bay leaves, parsley, oregano or marjoram, celery leaves, leek tops)

3 cups chicken stock (c'mon people, let's get serious and use home-made!)

2-4 sprigs parsley

2-4 sprigs thyme

2-4 sprigs marjoram

12 really good carrots, peeled and blanched

8 little potatoes (New, Fingerling, Rose, etc.), boiled in salted water



Get your braise on! Season the meat with salt and pepper and then brown the meat on all sides in the fat/oil until caramelized (see note above). Then preheat your oven to 375ºF. Remove the meat from the pan and set it in one, snug layer in a good, heavy ceramic or cast-iron baking dish (you want something that is going to hold heat well). Then add your chopped veggies to the pan (this is where I cheat and toss the lot of them into a food processor). Let the veggies turn soft and add the cup of white wine to deglaze. Let that simmer for a moment and add your chicken stock and your bouquet garni. Let that come to a boil and then remove from heat and pour the liquid over the resting meat. Cover everything with a layer of parchment paper and either foil or a tight-fitting lid. Braise for about 20 minutes and decrease the temperature to 325ºF continue to braise for 1.5 hours or longer. You want the liquid to barely bubble while its cooking and you don't want to take it out until the bones are brown and seeping their marrow and the meat is meltingly tender. Meltingly.

When the meat is meltingly tender, remove it from your backing dish and strain the veggie bits out of the liquid. Reserve the liquid and discard the veggie bits (compost, pet, baby food, adventurous muffins?). Put the liquid into a saucepan and reduce until it is almost, almost, almost like a runny syrup. Think maple, not honey (see note above). Adjust for salt and pour the reduced liquid back over the meat and add the peeled, blanched carrots and the boiled potatoes. Make sure everything is well-coated in the sauce and sprinkle everything with fresh parsley, marjoram, and thyme leaves.

You'll lick your plate. I promise.







What's an egg worth?

Over the past few weeks, we have been selling eggs from our wonderful chickens to the community around our farm. We've used several outlets, including selling at a local CSA pickup location, our local farmer's market, our own CSA subscription program, a few dozen to our fabulous local farm-to-table restaurant, the Hil, most recently at the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, and on a call-us-if-you-want-some-and-we'll-drop-them-off-for-you basis. The eggs we have been selling thus far can be classified as "pullet eggs" meaning that they are the eggs from immature, adolescent chickens. These eggs are of irregular, and often smaller size, and have other irregularities, such as double yolks. While the majority of folks have been really happy with their eggs, we've had a few balkers. Some don't love the small size, while others don't love the large price (we sell our eggs for $6, retail). Being someone who aims to please, I've considered how I could alter the price of my eggs to be more agreeable to these customers. I could compromise and stop buying organic feed, I could not sell my pullet eggs and simply wait for the size to become more regular or otherwise sell them for a lower price. However, I cannot, with good conscious, do these things. Sure, there is a point where you have to put your ideals aside for the benefit of the business, however, in my case, I simply can't afford to sell my eggs for less, and furthermore, most of my customers appreciate these eggs, both for their overall quality, as well as for the benefit of supporting a small, sustainable farm.

There was a week there where I fretted a lot about the eggs. I had a pretty serious backlog of unsold eggs. I've got my local CSA customers, whom I love and have allowed me to see first-hand the real benefits of the CSA model. However, I had several bad days in a row at my local farmer's market, the worst of which I sold only five dozen in three hours. Right now we're getting about 35-40 dozen per week from our 145 or so hens. Chickens take a while to get to the point where they are all laying every day, and in the record heat we've been having, it takes even more time. I knew that if I couldn't sell them all now, what on earth was I going to do later? I frantically began searching for other options, trying to figure out what I could do to either entice the customers I had further, or to get more of them.

The answer to my woes came, as so often it does for many of us young Georgia farmers, in the form of Judith Winfrey of Love is Love Farm. Judith is our very own rock-star farmer, food activist, leader, and general liaison to anyone and everyone in the farm-to-table world in Georgia. She answered my Facebook shout out looking for a farmer's market that was looking for eggs. Judith manages the super-duper-awesome East Atlanta Village Farmer's Market, where I have been selling out of eggs at my $6/doz price every week.

Having successfully crossed my first business hurtle (thanks to the powers that be that it was a small one!), I got to thinking more seriously about the value of food, and specifically, what an egg is worth.When I discussed egg pricing with Judith, she said that she's stood by Love is Love's $7/dozen price, despite the turned-up noses. She said, "I guess people really are getting to know the true cost of food." She's right, I think, and there's a fair few of them who aren't happy about it.

Recently, Time Magazine published an article based on a USDA study that showed that an organic egg was not appreciably different from a regular, industrial egg, and thus asserting that the price difference is bunk. However, what Time Magazine fails to mention is the tools the USDA used to measure egg quality in its study, the Haugh Unit. This tool is used to measure the physical characteristics of an egg, primarily with regard to freshness (the height of the albumen directly correlates with freshness). Of course, almost all eggs, industrial or organic are no more than a few hours to a few days old when they are graded. They are therefore, always fresh at the time of grading and get to bear the Grade A stamp (provided they have a reasonably uniform shell, and show a white and an in-tact yolk when candled), no matter how fresh they are by the time they arrive at your supermarket. Infuriatingly, the Time article also asserts that factory farm eggs are "safer" than organic eggs 1) without siting the claim, and 2) without noting that the organic eggs in a grocery store are industrially produced as well, and are therefore subjected to the same standards and regulations as non-organic factory eggs. One article I came across in responce to the Time article works to redress the mis-measurement of organic eggs and, quite rightly, asserts that the Haugh Unit is not a measure of nutritional value. While I applaude this, I can't help but think that there is some real value in debating the differences, nutritional and otherwise, in a typical industrial egg and an industrially-produced organic egg. This value is not just for the sake of debate, but really and truly because I do not believe that the differences are in fact appreciable and I think that is something worth exploring and pointing out.

What neither the Time article nor the USDA research address is the existence of small-scale producers who direct-market their eggs, many of whom manage their hens on pasture.  Pasture, folks, not "free range" and not "Organic". "Free Range" has a specific USDA definition that in no way includes grass nor guarantees that the birds will actually find their way outside. "Organic" likewise, has a specific USDA definition that primarily addresses the feed and drugs given to an animal. A pasture-raised hen actually lives on fresh, green grasses with access to sunshine and insects that she wants to leave her nest box to enjoy. If she eats a certified organic feed to supplement her intake on pasture, all the better for the health of your chickens and your customers who can be assured there is not chemical residues or other funky stuff in their eggs. I am stunned at the fundamental lack or research going into showing the public that it is this, this egg which you can ONLY get (as far as I am aware) directly from a farm, farmer's market, or supermarket that has a direct relationship with such a farmer, is not only ethically superior, but a nutritionally superior product.

Studies from the Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of Animal Science point in this direction, but unfortunately, only publications such as Mother Earth News (while wonderful, it is not scholarly and not widely read by nutrition "experts") have published anything that seeks to find direct links. We have to understand that until the USDA starts to look at an egg from a nutritional standpoint and conducts the research that will allow it to have real nutritional data on different egg production methods, we will be stuck with, frankly, lame comparisons of "freshness" of eggs laid in one style of factory farming versus another style of factory farming. The really good egg, unfortunately, gets left by the wayside while customers are left unaware of the real value of their egg.

Michael Pollan, in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, lays it out plainly:

We've been conditioned by artificially cheap food to be shocked when a box of strawberries costs $3.

But it's important to know that farmers aren't getting wealthy. When you see strawberries being sold for $1 a box, picture the kind of labor it takes to pick those strawberries and the kind of chemicals it takes to produce those kinds of strawberries without hand weeding.

Eight dollars for a dozen eggs sounds outrageous, but when you think that you can make a delicious meal from two eggs, that's $1.50. It's really not that much when we think of how we waste money in our lives.

What is artificially cheap food? Food that is subsidized. A single egg may cost $0.50 to produce (which is what ours cost), but when you start feeding them corn that is subsidized and providing housing that is subsidized, and drugs that allow them to live in cheap conditions that are subsidized, and disposing of the toxic waste chickens produce in an industrial setting that we don't pay for, you have a veritable cornucopia of costs that you and I, taxpayers, cover that I promise you, ends up being more than $0.50 an egg. I recently had a conversation with Owen Masterson (of GROW!) where we thought somebody out there needs to do the research (or if it's been done, let us know where), add up all the costs, and let us all know what an industrially-produced egg actually costs. It would be powerful, powerful knowledge.

Last week at market, I watched a woman with three young children pay for grass-fed steaks and ground beef with food stamps. I wanted to cry with joy. Some folks might be annoyed. They'd say this woman could get a whole lot more food for that money if she shopped at Kroger. But hold on a moment my fellow taxpayer and let us ask: how much more? What kind of more? More calories? Probably. Probably in the form of processed sugar and refined carbohydrates, leading her and her children a few steps closer to obesity. The meat she would be purchasing at Kroger would certainly be corn-fed, contributing to heart disease and other serious degenerative illnesses linked to corn-fed beef consumption, and because it's cheaper, she could buy more of it, filling bellies a little longer now, and costing thousands in healthcare and suffering later.

And so I implore you, farmer's market shoppers, when you're at market, buying good, clean, and fair food for your family, realize that, unlike the supermarket where you're paying very little for a whole lot of bad stuff (yes, even if you're buying organic), you're paying a little more for a lot more of the good stuff.

A quick update: Take a look at these stats from today's New York Times. My favorite part of the article is, "Many people don't approve of cage confinement, but they're 'basically asking for the cost of their food to go up' said George L. Siemon, the CEO of Organic Valley Farmers cooperative, 'you're not going to produce eggs that sell for $1.50 a dozen without cages." Indeed, Mr. Siemon, customers are asking for the price of their food to go up. It seems, contrary to the designs of industrial agriculture, that the consumer is in fact motivated my more than cost.

Blueberry & Melon Salad

I harvested my garden's first melon this week. It was perfect. This recipe is a bit of a mutt. It was inspired by a desert served at the CSA Members Potluck Saturday of blueberries, melon, and mint, mingled with a few ideas lifted out of Star Provisions' peach and mint salad. I was pretty pleased with the results. I know you're thinking "pepper and fruit?" but go with me here. The mint and lime make it refreshing and cool while the black pepper balances it all out by paying a kind of homage to summer's heat:

I perfectly ripe, orange-fleshed melon (like cantaloupe)
1 pint fresh blueberries
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh mint
juice of one lime
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Remove the mint leaves from the stem and cut into slivers (my favorite technique is to stack the leaves and roll them up like a cigar, then cut the roll horizontally). Put in a bowl with the lime juice, salt, black pepper, and olive oil. Give the mixture a little stir and let the flavors marry while you get on with the fruit. Remove the rind and seeds from the melon. Cut the melon into small cubes, about one centimeter and toss into the mint and lime juice mixture. Add the blueberries and mix well. I enjoy this dish best at room temperature, but it's lovely cold as well. Serves 6, generously.

A Country French Supper for Two

Here is a lovely and simple recipe based on a superb meal we were served by Karen Gros at Foundation Farm in Arkansas. It is classic country French cooking at its best. I made a few alterations, for which I hope she will forgive me. You are welcome to make your own puff pastry, which, though challenging is well worth it. I achieved the feat for the first time in a college dorm kitchen, so I say to you, if it can be done there it can be done anywhere. Otherwise I highly recommend Dufour Puff Pastry which can be found at your local Whole Foods or specialty market. Do not substitute phyllo for puff pastry. They are NOT the same thing. Mushroom Napoleon:

Puff pastry, cut into two 4x4 inch squares 1lb shiitake mushrooms 1/4 lb crimini mushrooms 1/4 cup cream 1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg 1 tbs dried thyme 1 tsp sea salt 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper 3 tbs butter 1/2 1 large shallot

Sauté the shallots on medium heat with the butter, thyme, and salt until golden and caramelised. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until tender. Add the cream and nutmeg and stir. Leave on heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms and cream have emulsified. Meanwhile, put your two pieces of pastry into the oven around 350 degrees. Bake until puffy and golden. Do not underbake, otherwise they will collapse.

Slice each pastry square in half lengthwise and place a bit of the mushroom mixture onto the pastry so as to make little sandwiches. Serve immediately with the soup below.

Broccoli and zucchini soup:

1 litre veggie stock 1 large head broccoli (about a pound) 2 medium zucchini 1 tsp sea salt 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper 1/2 1 large shallot 2 tbs olive oil

Roughly slice the zucchini and broccoli, discarding the main stem of the broccoli. Sauté the shallot in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the vegetables and salt and pepper and cook until tender. Pour the stock over everything and allow to simmer and meld for about 20 minutes. In batches, pour the veggie mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. If the soup is a little thin add cream to taste. Serve piping hot with a dollop of the horseradish butter below.

Horseradish butter: 1 cup best salted butter 1/4 cup best fresh horseradish

Allow the butter to come to room temperature. Put the horseradish in the butter and blend with either an electric beater or with a wooden spoon. Serve spread over meats, vegetables, bread, whatever suits your fancy.

Super Spiced Spare Ribs

I’m a fan of ribs, low-country mustard, high-country tomato, I just love slow cooked meat infused with hot, vinegary flavour. Ribs are wonderful for a July 4th picnic, and are a destination for my husband and his family every summer at Sweatman’s Barbecue in South Carolina. There’s something about the spiciness of ribs that intensifies the summertime; like somehow, the utter embrace of heat on top of heat makes the southern summer more sultry than stifling. But in the cold winter months, I crave a different kind of heat; something deeply warming rather than sweat-inducing. These ribs are my answer to this urge. Note: I’m generally a big proponent of what a marinade can do for meat, but I don’t always have the time. Then again, ribs aren’t exactly a fast-food, but to allow for spontaneity, you can drop the ribs in the marinade for an hour or two before you are ready to cook it, just give it a roast in the marinade alone for the first half-hour of cooking.

For the marinade: 3-4 lbs pork spare ribs 1 cup apple cider or juice (not apple juice that’s more sugar than apple, but the real stuff) 1/2 cup dark molasses 1 tbs chilli powder 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 2 tsp salt 2 tsp pepper dash of Tabasco, or a couple of slivered hot peppers, if they’re handy

For the braising sauce: 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup soy sauce 4 tbs of your favourite Worcestershire sauce 4 tbs dark molasses 1 tbs ground ginger 2 tbs ground cinnamon 2 tbs ground dry English mustard 1 tbs chilli powder 1 lemon, plus juice 1 tsp coriander seeds 1 tbs bourbon or whisky (I use Southern Comfort or Maker’s Mark)

Make small incisions on both sides of the ribs and put the bits of crushed garlic inside them. Mix all the other ingredients for the marinade together and rub into the meat. Let sit overnight, or for a couple of hours (see note). Bring meat to room temperature and drop it with all the marinade dregs into your roasting tin. Then mix together all the ingredients for braising sauce, and brush onto both sides of the meat. Roast for about 2 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. If you have more time, turn the temperature down to 250 and give it another hour or so. The longer the meat cooks, the more tender it will be. You could cook it for 6 or 8 hours at around 200 degrees, but despite my inner slow-foodie, practicality rears it’s head. About every 20 to 30 minutes brush meat with the braising sauce. After the first hour of cooking, turn the meat and roast the other side, remembering to faithfully brush this side as well.

Allow to sit for a few minutes before cutting and serving. Serves 4, generously.

December Stuffed Shells

Stuffed shells were a staple of my childhood. I spent many hours helping my mother stuff the gooey, spinachy ricotta mixture into pasta shells. She always covered hers in her amazing, home-made tomato sauce that would infuse itself, after a day or two, into the ribs of the pasta in a way that is still miraculous to me. We would have them year-round, it was an ordinary dish in our house, and yet always a special treat. This take on stuffed shells is quite different, but no less comforting. It's rather heavier, I certainly wouldn't have it in the summer as the rich béchamel evokes a queasiness in just the thought of August heat. Nutmeg is wonderful in anything creamy: it lends the shells a warming, earthy quality that is perfect for a cold, blustery evening. 24 oz fresh Ricotta 1 lb fresh spinach, washed in two changes of salted water 2 eggs 11/2 tsp salt 16 oz large shell pasta 1 1/2 cup whole milk 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup flour 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup grated Fontana cheese generous pinch fresh grated nutmeg salt and pepper to taste

Cook the shells in salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Mix the ricotta, eggs, and salt in a mixing bowl. Chop and add the spinach and mix well. Set aside and make the béchamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the milk and cream, then whisk in the flour, a little salt, the nutmeg, and the grated cheeses. Allow to bubble gently but not boil. Add more flour or milk to achieve the desired consistency. Your béchamel should not taste floury. Generously stuff each cooked shell with the ricotta mixture and snug up in your 9x9 baking pan. Pour the béchamel over the shells and pop in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden and bubbling.

Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving, or make the day before; it's better after it's sat overnight. Serves 4-6.

Rack of Lamb Version 1.0

for the lamb:2 cuts rack of lamb 5 sprigs fresh rosemary 3 cloves crushed garlic 1 shallot, sliced thinly 1/4 cup red wine 1/4 cup olive oil 6 tbs butter best, aged balsamic vinegar

for the potatoes: 1 lb fingerling potatoes 2 sprigs rosemary 4 cloves garlic olive oil salt and pepper to taste

Take the rosemary, crushed garlic, sliced shallot and butter and melt all together in a pan. Allow the aromatic herbs to infuse in the butter and let stand at a low heat for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into smallish cubes, drizzle with olive oil, and toss in the unpeeled cloves of garlic and rosemary sprigs. Go ahead and pop them in the oven at about 400 degrees. While the potatoes are roasting, dredge the lamb in the now cooled butter mixture until well-coated. Rub lamb with salt and pepper. Pour the rest of the butter mixture into a frying pan, get the pan very, very hot and sear the lamb, no more than about 30 seconds on each side. As soon as you turn off the heat, pour the red wine into the pan to deglaze. Once the potatoes are tender, pull them out of the oven and arrange the lamb on top of the potatoes, make sure to pour in the jus from the pan. Turn the oven done to about 275 degrees and put the lamb and potatoes in the oven and roast for 5 to 10 minutes, for rare to medium-rare meat. Pull the pan out of the oven and allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes. Drizzle a little balsamic on the lamb before serving.

Serves 4 generously.

Shrimp and Grits the Quick and Dirty Way

1 lb fresh local shrimp (NOT frozen), shelled, deveined, head and tails removed (and reserved     for more yummy fish stock later!)2-2 1/2 cups fish stock (chicken stock if that's handier, water only if you must) 1 cup stone ground grits 1/2 cup butter 2 large shallots, chopped finely 1 tsp salt 1 tbs Old Bay Seasoning

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the grits in the hot stock or water until done, about an hour. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet and heat until foaming. Toss in shallots to brown, once browned, add shrimp and the Old Bay and cook until done. Salt the grits and pour into the skillet with the shrimp and seasonings. It's okay if it's a bit liquidy. Cook together for 5 more minutes and serve.

Serves 6 generously.

Pig 'n' Peppers

12 Long, sweet peppers, any variety available, so long as hey have enough room to stuff (not bell-peppers)2 cups uncooked rice 4 cups hot, salted water 1 1/2-2 cups pork sausage 2 large shallots 1 small hot-hot pepper 6 oz queso de campo (Mexican farmstead cheese) 1/2 cup molé sauce

Cook rice in the water until a little al dente. Chop shallots and the small hot-hot pepper finely. Place shallots, hot-hot pepper and pork sausage in a large pan and cook until shallots are translucent and the pork is done. Pour the cooked rice into the pan with the sausage. If there's a little cooking water left, that's fine. Cook until the rice is tender, all water has evaporated and everything is well mixed.

Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF. Cut off the tops of the stuffing peppers and remove the seed head. With a small spoon, stuff as much of the pork and rice mixture into the pepper as you can, using the back of the spoon in a circular motion. It's okay if the pepper tears a bit. Just stop if it does and be gentle. Place the stuffed peppers in a roasting tin with a little lard or other handy oil. Cover peppers with the cheese and the molé sauce. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the peppers are hot and the cheese bubbles. Serve hot with a few sprigs of cilantro and/or slices of avocado, if available.

Serves 6.


So, since we are here to talk about food, I think there ought to be a few recipes involved. I will henceforth post successful culinary experiences. Measurements are very general here. Really, it's all to taste (as cooking should be). Also, all ingredients are the absolute best quality available, as should be yours.

2 pounds ground lamb 8 oz feta cheese 2 tbs ground cumin seed 1 tbs ground coriander seed 3 tsp sea salt 1 bunch fresh mint 1 large shallot 2 whole eggs, beaten (optional)

1/4 cup whole, plain yogurt

Finely chop the mint and the shallot. Crumble feta into a bowl. Mix all ingredients together (it's fun to squish meat between your fingers!) and form into patties, approx. 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. Fry in a large skillet or charcoal grill until done, but still slightly pink inside. Sprinkle with a little chopped mint and drizzle with plain yoghurt. Serve hot alone or with warm pita bread.

Makes about 12 burgers.