Field Trip: Cricket Creek Farm

We tend to be a bit South County-centric in our food shopping and field trips, but there is one NoCo destination that we make an exception for, and that's Cricket Creek Farm.

CCF is a dairy farm in Williamstown, MA, that produces amazing cheeses, raw milk and butter, as well as fantastic beef, veal, and pork products. At their charming farm store, which is within eyesight of the milking parlor and cheese-making room, you can also pick up a host of yummy local food products like Hosta Hill kraut, Fire Cider, eggs, maple syrup, whole grains, and bread.

Our love and admiration for Cricket Creek started with the products themselves. Whenever we put together a cheese plate, we always serve their unctuous Tobasi, gooey and creamy Berkshire Bloom, and delicate alpine Maggie's Round. But then we visited the farm! We couldn’t get over how beautiful and transparent the whole operation was - the cows grazing, the young apprentices carefully forming cheese, the pigs slurping up whey, a stray cat, and smiles everywhere. At the helm is the lovely Suzy Konecky, farm manager, who enthusiastically works everyday toward building a stronger, thriving agricultural community in the Berkshires.

In our view, Cricket Creek is a model for the future of sustainable local food production - a vertically-integrated farm that focuses on the production of a well-made value-added product. While the farm's focus is on high-quality artisanal cheese production, they need to make good use of their waste products to remain sustainable. So they feed their whey to a small herd of heritage breed pigs, which are then processed and sold frozen from the store. They also sell fantastic beef, which comes from their culled cows and male calves. And looking toward the future, CCF is constantly experimenting with their herd, introducing different genetics and working towards finding the perfect cow for their operation.

But, of course, they don't stop there! Cricket Creek is also exceptionally community oriented. Between the community potlucks they host every Thursday, the farm's generous public open hours, the work they do with several other farms in the area to provide full diet CSA’s, and the educational workshops they host with organizations like NOFA, there's always something going on.

It's a dizzying array of systems and yet, through all of it, Suzy and her team maintain incredibly welcoming smiles - while buying eggs from local farmers, instructing apprentices on when to add rennet, experimenting on cheeses washed in Fire Cider, herding some mischievous calves, getting ready to open an all-local cheese counter at Berkshire Organics, putting together an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, and taking the time to explain how they make our favorite cheeses. It is so exciting to watch this visionary farm grow, and we are so lucky to be a part of its support system.


Recipe: Citrus Curd Layer Cake

There is nothing that captures the essence of a season quite like ripe fruit. Sweet berries in the spring, juicy stone-fruit in the summer, crisp apples in the fall, and tangy citrus in the winter. We always have an overflowing bowl of seasonal fruit sitting on our kitchen table, lest we waste one single moment of the limited-time-only bounty.

This is a bit of a new revelation for us, though. When we were living in New York City, doing the bulk of our shopping at the Union Square Farmers Market, we never bought much citrus – as you know it doesn't exactly thrive in the Hudson Valley or Northern Pennsylvania. But now, with Jake working at the Berkshire Co-op, we have fully embraced winter citrus, and all of the refreshing flavors and vibrant colors that come with it. Just because it's not in season here in the Berkshires doesn't mean it's not in season, and grown organically, somewhere else!

Along with our new love affair with winter citrus, we've taking up a healthy obsessed with making citrus curds. After much experimentation, and with a rainbow of curds sitting in our fridge, we realized we had to do something to show them, and our hard work, off. So off we went to make a open-sided, citrus curd layer cake. Using Smitten Kitchen's 1-2-3-4 Cake as a base, we stacked up stripes of Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange curds, and whipped cream. Finished off with a Pomello-Lime glaze and a sprig of mint, we created a show-stopper of a cake. If we do say so ourselves.

Citrus Curd
+ 3 to 4 Meyer lemons or 1 to 2 blood oranges
+ ½ cup sugar
+ 2 large eggs
+ 1 stick unsalted butter

1. Finely grate 2 teaspoons of zest and squeeze ½ cup of your chosen citrus juice.
2. Melt the butter, and let cool.
3. Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, butter, and eggs in a metal bowl and set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth.
4. Force curd through a fine sieve into another bowl. Cool, covered, in the refrigerator.

Citrus Glaze
+ 1 cup of confectioner's sugar
+ ½ cup citrus juice (we used Pomelo and Lime)
+ 1 tsp citrus zest

1. Whisk ingredients together until smooth

1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake 
Adapted From Smitten Kitchen

+ 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
+ 2 cups sugar
+ 4 eggs
+ 3 cups sifted self-rising flour
+ 1 cup milk
+ 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy.
3. Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour.
6. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.
7. Divide batter equally between two 10-inch greased round pans. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4-inches above counter, then dropping flat onto counter. Do this several times to release air bubbles and to get a more level top.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Constructing the Cake
1. Allow all elements to cool to room temperature. Cut both cakes in half horizontally with a long knife. A bread knife works well here!
2. Here's where it gets fun! Over a cooling rack, or right on top of a serving plate, place the first layer of cake. Cover generously with a layer of curd, then place another cake on top. Cover with whipped cream, another cake, the remaining curd, then the last cake. Pour the glaze over top and allow to drip over the edges. Top with a few mint sprigs and you're done!


Recipe: Puerco Pibil

This can be a hard time of year to get excited about local, seasonal, sustainably-sourced food in New England. You can only eat so many grains and root veggies before you start thinking about bending your food rules. But then, just in the nick of time, winter's saving grace pours into the grocer's case.

That's right, we're talking about citrus! American citrus is at it's peak right about now, and while oranges and lemons aren't exactly local, they can can easily be sourced from responsible organic farmers throughout the country. And man oh man, does it add some zing and zest to our browning plates and greying days.

On our honeymoon this fall, we visited Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Along with azure Caribbean waters and spring breakers, the Yucatan has a vibrant farming community with a rich agricultural history. In every market we visited (and trust us, we sought out quite a few) we were stunned by the towering piles of limes, sweet and sour oranges, grapefruits and lemons. And in every restaurant we visited, we found ourselves coming back to the classic Yucatan dish: Puerco Pibil.

Peurco Pibil is pork shoulder which is marinated in sour orange and ground achiote then slow roasted in banana leaves, over an open fire. A prime example of Yucatan flavor and technique, the pork becomes soft and velvety, with a deep orange hue and a unique tang. If that wasn't enough, it's then served with fresh corn tortillas and bright red onions, pickled in sour orange and salt.

We've been reminiscing about this dish and decided to try our best to recreate the experience, taking advantage of all the great available citrus. Of course, we made a few substitutions to keep the meal as local as possible. Rather than buy tortillas we served the pork over polenta, and we used a mix of US organic Hamlin oranges and limes instead of the traditional Mexican sour orange. The pork came from Great Barrington's North Plain Farm, and the spices from El Punto De Encuentro Latin Market. And because it's winter and we don't have banana leaves, we tried to emulate the effect by doing a slow-and-low roast in a covered enamel pot.

Puerco Pibil
Serves 12

+ 5 tbs Achiote seed
+ 1 ½ tbs of dried Mexican oregano
+ 1 ½ black peppercorns
+ 1 ¼ tsp cumin seeds
+ ½ tsp whole cloves
+ 6 inches of roughly ½ inch thick Mexican cinnamon (canela) or 1 1.2 tbs of ground cinnamon
+ 1 tbs spoon of Salt
+ 14 garlic cloves, peeled
+ 1/2 cup of fresh oranges- 3 Hamlin oranges
+ 1 cup of fresh lime juice- 10 limes
+ 12 pounds of bone in pork butt (cam be split into two or three pieces)

Pickled Red Onion
+ 3 large red onions
+ 1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice- 12 limes
+ 2/3 fresh orange juice- 4 Hamlin oranges

1. Grind the spices together. You can use a spice grinder, a coffee grinder or a good old mortar and pestle – or just use pre-ground spices and herbs.

2. In a blender mix the spices, garlic and juice until the marinade has a slightly chalky texture between your fingers.

3. Place the meat in an enamel or cast iron pot and pour marinade over it. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

4. Heat the over to 200. Cook the pork, with marinate still on it, in the pot for at least 6 hours, or until it pulls apart easily.

5. While meat is cooking slice onion thinly, and place in a bowl. Bring a pot of water to boil and pour over onions for 10 seconds then drain. Place onions in a small bowl with juice and salt.

6. Take the meat out of the oven and shred. Serve with pickled onion and corn tortillas or polenta.

This recipe can also be found on Rural Intelligence.


Recipe: Candy Cane Ice Cream

If you're as obsessed with cooking, eating and entertaining as we are, the post-holiday weeks can be a bit of a food letdown. Some use this time to cleanse and purify, eating sprouts and celery sticks and carefully avoiding all the fatty, sweet and salty foods they've stuffed themselves with for the last two months. But not us! We say “pshaw!” to that. Carpe diem! Look around – we're deep into winter here in New England. It's dark, it's cold and the only way to stay in high spirits is to spend our short days in front of a hot oven and the long nights by the fire, nibbling on rich treats. Summer is the time for raw veggies and grilled fish - let's indulge while we can!

In the spirit of extending the festive food period, we present one of our favorite post holiday desserts: Peppermint Stick Ice Cream. Though ice cream may seem counter intuitive given the recent sub-zero temperatures, trust us: nothing beats this yummy dessert, covered with some home-made hot chocolate sauce or accompanied by a steaming cup of cocoa. If you need even more justification, this recipe is a great way to get rid of all the candy-canes you've accumulated from the holidays. And peppermint is one of those flavors, just like citrus, that cuts through fat. How could you resist?

Peppermint Stick Ice Cream
Adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

Note: We like to use a simple “Philadelphia” style vanilla base for our Peppermint-Stick Ice Cream. You should feel free to make a french, custard base instead, though we find the Philly style to be a bit brighter to match the flavor of the candy-canes.

+ 3/4 cup sugar
+ 1/8 teaspoon salt
+ 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise in half
+ 3 cups heavy cream
+ 1 cup whole milk
+ 10-12 candy canes, crushed

Special Equipment
+ Ice Cream Maker

1. Combine 1 cup of the heavy cream, the sugar, and the salt into a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the cream mixture, then drop the bean shell in as well.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. 

3. Pour the cream mixture into a bowl and stir in the remaining 2 cups of heavy cream and milk. Refrigerate until cold, overnight if possible. 

4. Remove the vanilla bean and seeds and discard. Pour the mixture into your chilled ice cream maker then let'er rip. While it's working it's magic, crush your candy canes into small chunks. We like to put them into a plastic baggie wrapped up in a dishtowel. Then we go over it a couple times with a rolling pin.

5. Once your ice cream mixture is almost at the desired texture, throw the crushed candy into the mixture, letting the machine incorporate the chunks.

6. Serve immediately or put in the freezer for another hour or so. Philadelphia style ice cream – well, any homemade ice cream, really - is best when served within a few hours.

This recipe can also be found on Rural Intelligence.


Recipe: Whole Grilled Fish

With Jake's new job as Produce Manager at the Berkshire Co-op Market we have been eating a lot less meat. Instead of bringing home thick pork chops, or a beautifully marbled London Broil every night, Jake is now carting home green and white striped zucchini and deep purple tomatoes. His working at the Co-op has also given us access to something else we've never really ate a lot of: fresh fish!

The main reason we weren't eating a lot of fish is that we never felt sure we were getting the full story - was it fresh? sustainably caught? how far did it travel? do we even know enough to ask the right questions? It's hard to feel like there's full transparency around seafood - sometimes even at the green market.

But now we have Austin Banach and Wes Mazlone! Around the time Jake was hired at the Co-op, so was our friend and fellow Monument High School grad, Austin. Austin is a fish and cheese monger who is just as passionate about his craft, and issues of sustainability and the local food economy, as we are. Lucky for us, he fills his case every week with bounty from Wes. 

Wes grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, a prominent fishing community, and now lives in North Hampton, MA running BerkShore. Twice a week he drives to Scituate and picks up fish from the dock just caught by guys he grew up with. He then drives the fish back to the Berkshires and delivers it to the Co-op and other local restaurants and markets. On the days that Wes drops his fish off at the Co-op, we almost always take advantage. And now that it is full-on summer, we have become obsessed with grilling his beautiful product whole.

This week Austin had some gorgeous black sea bass in his case. We took the fish, a lemon, some local corn, a few heirloom tomatoes and zucchini, and headed home. After getting the grill going we went out to the herb garden and got some tarragon and parsley out from under the serious weeds that have settled there. Next, easy as one, two, three, we stuffed the cavity of the fish with the herbs and lemon, sprinkled some salt on both sides of the fish, drizzled a little olive oil on top and tossed it on the grill. After four minutes on each side, we were sitting on the porch eatting a stunning, fresh, flavorful meal.

Grilled Whole Fish

+ 1 whole fish (scaled and gutted). Right now we like Black Sea Bass and Porgy. 
+ A handful of fresh herbs (tarragon, parley, cilantro, chervil, and dill are all good)
+ 1 lemon, slice one half, leave the other half intact
+ olive oil
+ salt

1. Stuff the cavity of the fish with the herbs and the lemon slices.
2. Coat it with salt and drizzle a little olive oil on it
3. Put it on the grill and cook for 4 minutes, than flip and cook for another four minutes.
4. Take off the grill and let rest for a few minutes. Before serving squeeze some lemon on it.


Field Trip: Berkshire Food Guild's Midsummer Feast

So we haven’t posted for quite a while (sorry!)... but we have a good reason! We swear! We've really dove head-first into our new lives here in the Berkshires, both personally and professionally, and that's kept us pretty busy. That's why it's fitting that our first blog post in a looooong while should be about the Berkshire Food Guild. 

Since making the big move, we've become deeply involved with the local food culture in the Berkshires, which is incredibly vital and a huge part of why we moved in the first place. In all of our buzzing about, we've been fortunate enough to connect with so many like-minded, energized and talented people. One of things that we love about our new friends is how unfailingly dedicated they are to their respective crafts. They share our belief that revitalizing food-craft traditions is crucial, and inextricably connected to supporting our local foodshed.

And so was born the Berkshire Food Guild, was founded this April by Jake, Jamie Paxton, Jazu Stine, and Jill Jakimetz. 

For their premiere event on June 29th, Jake suggested a Midsummer Feast inspired by our time in Sweden and our love for all things Scandinavian. The BFG was lucky enough to find a partnering farm right away- Mill River Farm, an organic and educational farm right here in New Marlborough, started by our friend Jan Johnson. 

The Midsummer Feast was everything we dreamed it would be. The menu was unusual and exciting, rooted in traditional Scandinavia food, but using all local ingredients. The night started with BFG beverage master Brian Heck pouring biodynamic, natural wines that he imports directly from producers in France. (He later poured coffee he had roasted at his day job: Head Roaster at Barrington Coffee Roasters.) Then, Jan led a tour of her farm, all the while talking about the challenges and joys of sustainable and organic farming. Next, Chef Jamie sent out tray after incredible tray of inventive appetizers like Indian Line pea pesto served on knackebrod that Jill baked using grains from Hawthorne Valley Farm - where she lives and works - that she milled herself. For the main course, Pitmaster Jazu spit-roasted a whole lamb from Kinderhook Farm stuffed with spruce and juniper, while Jamie grilled baby turnips, garlic scapes, and fennel.

The food was delicious, the setting was beautiful, and everyone was in a festive mood... but there were a couple of moments that really, truly made the night a success for us. When Jake and Jazu pulled the lamb off the spit, all of the guests rushed over to watch and ask questions. As Jazu carved the lamb, pointing out the different cuts, and describing what made this lamb so special, the shepherd who had raised the lamb stood proudly by his side. We were blown away by the complete transparency of the meal, and the guests' enthusiastic response to it. 

And then again, at the end of the evening, when Jake asked a departing guest how she felt the event had gone, she said: "Amazing, I have learned so much tonight!" In the end that is our real goal - to further dialogue around the local sustainable food movement. What an inspiring night!

For more photos of the evening, take a look at the BFG's Flickr album full of fantastic shots by the talented Diana Pappas and Tom Bland