Monthly ArchiveJune 2010

Seasonal Cooking 27 Jun 2010 06:03 pm

What I was cooking last year: a Dave’s Kitchen Special

A big project at work has left me little time lately for cooking (or writing). So rather than let this blog go stale for another week, I’ve taken a look into the Dave’s Kitchen Archives for some photos of food I cooked around this time last year but never wrote about. Here’s some of what I found:

Grilled pizzas, with pesto, tomato and mozzerella
Horseradish Greens…
… which got stirred into a pot of risotto
Rhubarb Cobbler

And it was all delicious.

NYC Greenmarkets 17 Jun 2010 11:22 pm

At the Greenmarkets — Head to Head Strawberry Shortcake Eating Contests

Both of my favorite neighborhood greenmarkets are having strawberry shortcake eating contests this weekend. It’ll be loads of messy fun  — bring the kids and a pack of Wet Naps!

From Chelsea, market manager at McCarren park:

This Saturday at Greenpoint we are are having a strawberry shortcake eating competition for any customers or farmers who want to participate. There will be prizes for the messiest, cleanest, and fastest.

From David, market manager at Borough Hall:

This Saturday @ The BK Boro Hall Greenmarket, we will be having a Strawberry Shortcake Eating Contest!!!
The event starts at 11. Anyone can enter and our winners will recieve awesome Greenmarket bags filled with goodies from our local farmers!
This is the best time to eat strawberries, and this year’s strawberries are particularly tasty.

See you at the market

Seasonal Cooking 13 Jun 2010 06:52 pm

Ricotta Spinach Spread

I tend to be an after-work snacker.  This is potentially a bad habit – if I’m too hungry to wait for dinner, I’ll reach for something quick. And quick food, very often, is unhealthy food. So I like to have something on hand that’s both ready to eat not too bad for me.

This ricotta spinach spread fits that bill pretty well. I’m lucky that my neighborhood has a handy supply of excellent, fresh ricotta, made by nearby cheesemakers, and to this simply I add spinach that I’ve destemmed, steamed, squeezed dry, and chopped. I flavor the mixture with freshly grated parmesan, salt & pepper, sometimes basil or oregano, and sometimes a pinch of grated nutmeg. A dab of this spread on a slice of good Italian bread will keep me on my feet until I can have dinner on the table.

To steam the spinach, I simply pack all the leaves into a 2 quart saucepan that has an inch or so of water in the bottom. I cover it and put it on medium heat just until the spinach is wilted – only a minute or two after the water start to boil. When it’s cool I gather it into a ball and squeeze out as much water as I can. This method is very handy, and the resulting ball of spinach is easy to chop and mixes nicely into lots of different preparations. The  problem with it though is the green water that’s left behind. I’m sure It’s full of spinach nutrients, and I feel bad pouring it out, but I can’t quite bring myself to drink it as Michael Pollan admonishes I should do. Is there some recipe I can use it for?

Local Farmers 06 Jun 2010 11:52 am

Ben Shaw, Poultry Farmer, Garden of Spices Farm

Ben and Jeanette Shaw are proprietors of Garden of Spices, a poultry farm in upstate New York that’s selling in the New York City Greenmarkets for the first time this year. They sell pasture-raised chicken and duck, eggs, and a terrific chicken-liver paté. I spoke with Ben last Saturday at his booth in the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket. He can also be found at the Union Square market on Wednesdays.

How long have you been farming?
We started farming full time five years ago. This is our fifth season.

How did you get started in farming?
Back when I was working a corporate job, and we lived in the village of Schuylerville, we decided we wanted to buy a farm. So we purchased a farm but we didn’t know how we were going to make the transition from a full time, decent-paying job to farming.

And then as things came about, a friend of mine called and said ‘I got a whole bunch of poultry equipment, and the bank is foreclosing on me and will you come take it?’ For basically a gift, you know. And so we purchased it all and brought it to the farm and said ‘well what are we gonna do with it?’  And that’s how we got into poultry farming.

We started researching it and we realized that we could make a full-time living doing poultry. There was a need especially for a facility to slaughter poultry so we ended up building that on the farm.  And every year we raised more and more of our own poultry to the point where today that’s where the majority of our income comes from.

Did you make the jump all at once or did you keep your day job for a while?
I think I worked part time for maybe a month or two because I had to train someone new for my position, but it was pretty much a full jump. The biggest thing we had to overcome was making that transition from full-time employment to farming, where the weekly paychecks stopped.

What was your career before?
I was a teacher at a vocational school for a while, then from there I went to being a human resources safety director at a construction company.

Where did you go for research into poultry farming?
Mostly I talked to other people who were doing it. Other farmers. I went to different local farmers markets and found out who was doing it and how they were doing it.  Who was making a living, who was doing it as a hobby, what their needs were. We started slaughtering for farmers at the farmers markets which is how we got our foot in the door initially.

How did your farm get its name?
My wife had always wanted to grow herbs so we kinda named the farm for that.

Where is the farm? Can you tell me a little about the area?
East of Saratoga Springs about 10-15 minutes. Near a little town called Schuylerville. We’re technically in the town of Greenwich. Right where the Hudson and Battenkill rivers come together.

The area is most well known as a turning point of the Revolutionary War, so there’s a lot of history on the farm itself. Different battles and all sorts of things like that, arrowheads.  The farm itself is about seventy acres and we have probably I would say about thirty acres that’s tillable, all flat. Of course we don’t till it, we have it as pasture for our birds. And we’re right out in the country, no neighbors nearby.

Tell me about the pastures
We’ve planted all the pastures down in clover and chicory. Clover & chicory are high-protein grasses, and they’re sweet so the birds love to eat them. Chickens won’t graze a lot on their own just on green grasses. If you just put them out on your lawn they won’t eat a lot of greens. But clover is sweet, and they love to eat it, so we encourage them to eat that by planting it. And we’ll move them continually on to fresh pasture. We don’t even have them in portable coops – we just have them so they wander. We have livestock guard dogs to protect them so we really don’t have too much of an issue with predators.

Do you have to re-plant the pastures each year?
They’ll last a few seasons before we have to reseed them. One area where we’ve pastured fairly heavily right now is a very large garden. We’ve tilled it under and planted it.

Did you come from a farming background?
My wife’s great grandparents and my grandparents were farmers. So my father grew up on a farm but I didn’t.  We basically chose farming because of the lifestyle and the family values that come from it. We saw it as a way that we could work together and be together as a family.

Both of us grew up in the country. When we met we both lived in the village of Schuylerville, and we thought it would be nice to stay and be around people but we realized it just wasn’t us. We had a nice, large house in the village and once the children got to be about five or six years old we realized that there just wasn’t enough yard for them.

Does your farm follow a seasonal pattern in the way a produce farm does?
Everything we raise is raised on pasture. So we’re limited for our growing season. We slaughter our first birds some time in late April and we’ll slaughter our last birds in December at Christmastime. January and February are down months for us and then the first of March we get new chicks in. So that’s kind of the cycle: two months that are pretty much down.

No birds at all on the farm in those two months?
We’ll have laying hens, but other than that there are no meat birds. We try to stock up in summertime. This time of year we’re putting more into the freezer. And then that’ll diminish and in the fall we’ll be busy with sales, and then wintertime we’ll sell birds until we’re out. Depending on the demand is when we run out. What we have in December is what we have.

Do you have particular breeds that you favor?
I’ve tried different breeds of birds and the Cornish Cross is pretty much the bird that we’ve chosen to raise. The heritage chickens that you can get into… consumers are not really used to seeing a meatless bird. That’s what a lot of the heritage breeds are. Even though you might raise them for twice as long as you would a Cornish cross, and for twice the price. So you have twice the price for half the bird without the meat on it and there just isn’t a demand there.

We’ve raised some heritage turkeys in the past, but there’s just a very small demand for it. We’ve raised some broad breasted white turkeys out on pasture and we have found that customers are pleased with those, but for the heritage breeds we just haven’t been able to get any quantity of customers that really like them.

Is the farmers market your primary business?
Well it changes from year to year. I would say this year it’s increased dramatically when it comes to the farmers market, because this is our first year coming to the city for the farmers markets.

You’re also at Union Square?
Yep, on Wednesday.

Aside from farmers markets, who else do you sell to?
Restaurants — we supply Blue Hill both in the city and up at Stone Barns with all their duck. They would be our largest restaurant customer. We have some restaurants up near us in Saratoga Springs, and another restaurant up in Lake George similar to Blue Hill — the chef there was trained at Stone Barns, then he basically went up to Lake George with that same philosophy — growing a lot of his own goods right there.

How would you describe the difference between the birds you raise and the birds in the supermarket?
I would have to say that ours have a distinct texture. They’re not tough but they have more of a texture to them. And they also have a lot more flavor. When you cook them they’re not dry — of course you can dry them out by cooking them too much – and they really hold in a lot juice. That would be the taste difference.

Oftentimes consumers think that free-range is free-range. But really when you see “free range” in a store it means the birds are given access to the outside but it does not necessarily mean they’re out on pasture. Ours are truly actually out consuming  green grass. They’re out in the sunshine. The other major difference is that the fresh birds that we sell are sometimes literally hours old, sometimes less than 24 hours from slaughter when we bring them to market. In the store you’ll never see that. It’ll be what’re called ‘fresh-frozen,’ which means held at approximately 28 degrees for up to 90 days — and you’re buying, quote-unquote, fresh.

Are your birds organic?
We’re not certified organic, no.  They’d be I guess what you’d call ‘organically raised’ but they’re not certified organic.  To feed them certified organic grain is more than twice the price. There’s a balance when it comes to consumers of what they want and what we can provide. For most people it would put them out of the price range of what they’re willing to buy. We’re constantly looking to do the most that we can but where people are still willing to purchase what we’re providing.

There’s some things you can argue on a, I suppose you could say, moral level. We could do something that’s the best morally and ethically but we couldn’t make a living doing it. It’s that constant balance where the reality is I have to make enough to support myself. We’re always trying to do the best that we can balancing those two out. That jump to organic grain… I’d love to make that, but until consumers say ‘yes this is what we want, and we’re willing to pay that price,’ I really can’t. It puts it right out of the ballpark.

What percentage of the birds diet is grain? And what percent is pasture?
It’s hard to say. They’re constantly consuming clover all day long. I’d have to say,  volume-wise, one-fourth to one-third is grains.

Tell me about Farm Camp – how did you get involved with that?
Well we’re located not too far from Flying Pigs. We started working with Flying Pigs probably 3 years ago — they raise chickens in the fall of the year and so we were slaughtering their chickens.  And so back, oh, two, three years ago, Mike & Jennifer (of Flying Pigs) had the idea to create Farm Camp and bring people up from the city to get the experience of the farm. They wanted to get different farms involved so that people got a well rounded picture of what it’s like on farms. So we took the poultry component of that. People come up on a Sunday around noon and they’ll castrate a pig at Flying Pigs, tour a milk-bottling facility on a farm that bottles their own milk, tour a maple syrup producer and a goat cheese place in Vermont. When they come to us we actually do a hands-on where they catch a chicken and they take it and slaughter it — they take it all the way through. We do lunch at our place with everybody on Monday. It’s really a great time.

Is it primarily for chefs?
I would guess that probably the majority of people are chefs. But there’ve been individual consumers from farmers markets who said ‘hey I wanna come on up.’  So, a wide assortment of people.

Anything else you’d like your customers to know?
If you haven’t tried our paté, try it!