No, this isn't the ginger growing in my garden, but it is from the same source.  Patchworks Farm was selling some of their first crop of Pennsylvania-grown ginger today!  I had to pick up at least one stalk...or rhizome....not sure how to identify my purchase.  But it did come with the more familiar ginger rhizome root, plus the stalks and leaves.  One of the women working the stand told me that while the leaves are best as a garnish she likes to run the fibrous stalks through her juicer - something I never considered.
It almost looks too beautiful to cut up.  The plant in my hands just seems so different from regular ginger.  The base is bone-white, the tips a flushed pink color, and the stalks give off a spicy aroma whenever you brush them.
I think I'll use this in Ma Po tofu, using the root in the sauce and the leaves as a garnish.  I love the idea of full utilization of the plant, so I may have to see if I can reassemble the juicer Carla found at a garage sale a few years ago.
Heirloom Tomato with Smoked Chicken
Carla has been doing a 60 day challenge at her gym that involves a new exercise routine, as well as a good number of changes to her diet.  The new diet has been an exciting change of pace for me, as the challenge to work within her diet’s parameters has produced some delicious dishes.  An added level of difficulty is that the diet changes slightly over time, so it requires a bit of adapting on my part when the dietary guidelines change.

The first week was all about lowering the stored glycogen in the liver, so the foods were primarily low in carbs and high in protein.  My favorite dish for this week was an heirloom tomato filled with a base layer of pureed mushroom, then topped with hickory smoked chicken breast and Welsh scallion.  Cilantro oil added the necessary healthy fat, along with great color and flavor.

This diet has also been an education in food nutrition for me; a large tomato is low in carbs, while a handful of string beans are much, much higher in carbs.  On the healthy fat side, I’ve also become much more comfortable in making a wide range of infused oils.  Just blanch a large handful of herbs for 10-15 seconds, then plunge into an ice water bath.  Buzz the herbs with an equal amount of olive oil in a blender for 30-45 seconds, then strain out the woody bits and stems.
Tofu and Portabella Polke Polke
Coconut oil continues to elude me.  I know many people swear by it (even half of Outkast was featured in Bon Appetit for using it to saute collard greens), but I find it very limited in use.  I buy unrefined coconut oil, and it imparts a very strong coconut flavor to dishes.  Its fine for curry or a Thai dish, but the coconut flavor overwhelms many other dishes.  Perhaps refined coconut oil would be a better choice, but due to the heat treatment and stripping of nutrients that occurs in an oil refinery I think I’d get the same health benefits from buying canola oil at half the price of refined coconut oil.

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Garlic Chips and Spinach
Initially my major concern with doing a diet like this was pricing, as protein can be expensive.  But I found that organic chicken was about half the per pound price as a 4 oz protein bar, which could range from $2.75-$3+ per bar, or  $11+/lb.  Surprisingly fish was one of the solutions that we have been very happy with.  IQF, or Individual Quick Freezing, technology has allowed frozen fish to reach new heights of flavor retention.  For $4.49 a person, we had wonderful mahi mahi filets that had none of the watery texture or strong fishy flavor typically associated with frozen fish.
Zucchini with Swagu and Charred Scapes

As the challenge progressed, we began to use new ingredients with higher carbs, but high-carb/high-fat  items like nuts, nut butters, and avocados were still off the shopping list.  To be honest, I loved the vegetable-bowl idea, as it really filled out the plate and allowed for a very satiating portion.  Now that summer squash and zucchini were available, I hollowed out a globe zucchini and filled it with a mixture of grass-fed beef, tomatoes, grilled garlic scapes, and infused oil.
At this point, we’re nearing the finish line and the local PA farmer’s markets are in full swing!  With increasing exercise intensity Carla has a higher carb count available, so I’ve been able to introduce items like beans and artichokes.  Taking a nod from haut cuisine, I’ve found that a plate of small portions of several mixed vegetables is much more exciting than one scoop of a single varietal.   

Goat Tongue with Salad Legumes
Carla’s recent favorite was poached goat tongue served with a mix of wax beans with chives, fresh fava beans, fried sage leaves, and heirloom fingerling potatoes.  Rich, chewy tongue, crunchy yellow beans, delicate favas, and crispy/creamy potatoes made for a tour de force of flavors and textures.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit John and Janine Putnam at their farm in North Pomfret, VT.  The Putnams own Thistle Hill Farm, where they make the extraordinary Tarentaise cheese.  Back in my cheese mongering days I regularly ordered from John, who was also extremely generous with his experience and advice when I began to make cheese at home.

Tarentaise is an organic, raw milk Alpine-style cheese in the tradition of Beaufort or Abondance.  Speaking with John he explained that his family chose to make this style of cheese after touring Switzerland, Italy, and France in '99.  They found themselves in Savoie, France, in the Rhone-Alpes, and felt that they could create a similar cheese at their home in the mountains of Vermont.
Wheels and Wheels of Tarentaise Cheese
This would be a reoccurring-theme in talking with John: what could they do with the land and raw resources available to them at home?  While fir planks were regularly used in France, John uses local spruce to age his wheels of cheese.  To help the humidity, he uses absorbent soapstone from a quarry to line the bottom half of his aging-room walls.  They even set the milk into curd by using a batch of whey from the previous day's cheese making, rather than using a commercial rennet. Heck, the Putnam's built one of the barns and the aging room.  I think the only thing imported at Thistle Hill is the enormous copper cheese vat from Switzerland; a giant gleaming bowl in the center of their cheese making room.
Jersey cows at Thistle Hill Farm
When we arrived in the late morning the barn was almost empty, aside from a few cows and calves.  John explained that the cows spent most of their day and night working their way up the hills, grazing on the new growths of grass higher up in the movement of transhumance.  In the early morning the cows would come back down to the barn to sleep.  In the barn, the cows had access to some hay for fiber, but primarily their diet came came from grazing.
New Recruits
A Unique Way to Add Humidity to the Aging Room
The entire herd is made of Jersey cows, which are known for their rich milk that produces an exceptionally bright, golden cheese.  Tarentaise is only made in the spring, summer, and fall when the cows have access to plenty of fresh grass.  During the winter the cow's milk is sold commercially, while the cows and wheels of cheese rest and age.

Seeing the aging room was a real treat.  Wheels and wheels of Tarentaise and a delicious, savory aroma greeted us when we opened the door.  As John walked through the wheels he carefully eyed up his cheese, inspecting this year's new batches and the batches from the previous year.  Living a few yards from the barn and aging room, John is able to keep a close watch on the progress of the wheels.

There are lots of cheese operations in Vermont, but Thistle Hill is one of those rare truly farmstead cheeses (what the French would call a fermier cheese). The day before we visited, John and his sons were making hay from their fields to feed the herd in winter. 
From start to finish, every aspect of what makes Tarentaise an exceptional cheese is tied to the land, the cows that feed off that land, and the labor of John and his family to care and support both the land and the animals.
Tarentaise Cheese: Look at that Color!
In a funny twist, the next day I visited the Cabot Cheese visitor center and took a factory tour.  As much as I like Cabot cheese, it was hard not to notice the absence of any cows.  In their place, I saw large trailers holding 7,000 gallons of milk and towering silos holding an unfathomable amount of milk.  Granted, one thing Cabot did have that John was lacking is an "Everything Bagel" flavor cheese.  Perhaps in the future the Putnam's will reconsider their stance of "One Farm, One Cheese," and churn out an Everything Bagel Tarentaise?

I bought a ginger plant today!

I heard rumors about growing ginger in Pennsylvania, but I've never seen the plants in person.  This little guy came from a local farm that usually sells ginger root at the end of the summer.  This is the first year they've had enough extra rhizomes to offer ginger plants for sale, so I had to snap one up.

The vendor said that ginger should be grown like potatoes: plant the ginger, then mound more earth up around the stems to encourage the growth of new rhizomes.  She also mentioned that the leaves and stems are edible, with a mild ginger flavor and spicy aroma.

Our soil is pretty thick with clay, so I'll lay down a base layer of sand in a hole before planting.  This should help with drainage - it's worked very well with our blueberry bush.

In the wake of my modest-but-exciting success with hunting morel mushrooms this year, I’ve had a gnawing hunger for more morels.  Sadly, the season is over, something reinforced to me two weekends ago when I saw a single wizened, decaying morel on the side of a trail.  Still, I wanted to ride that mushroom high again.
Morel Trees Dot the Ground Pork Landscape
At the beginning of the year, I sampled some amazing morel-studded pork liverwurst made from the liver of my friend Jim’s pigs, along with his own dried morels he foraged last season.  The taste of the morels was amazing and perfectly stood up to the rich, minerally taste of the liver.

While my freezer was short on pork liver, I did have plenty of pork, plus some (sadly purchased) dried morels.  This inspired me to make a morel kielbasa.  See photos of Jim’s wurst-making, I was surprised that Jim added the morels dry to the forcemeat mixture.  When conventionally using dried morels, I would reconstitute them in hot water, then use the soaking liquid to create a sauce for the dish.

Morel-Studded Kielbasa Before Smoking
My thought is that adding the mushrooms dry to the raw meat helps to capture all the morel flavor in the wurst.   But by putting the mushrooms in dry they get evenly mixed with the meat in the grinding phase, and then slowly reconstitute by pulling moisture from the meat.

I followed this example, adding just over an ounce of dried morels to 7 lbs pork shoulder, along with white pepper, thyme, and a bit of garlic.  From there it was a straightforward kielbasa recipe: grinding and chilling the meat, casing it into 36-38 mm pork casings, then letting it dry overnight before smoking.

Hot from the smoker, the kielbasa was delicious!  But then, it’s hard to beat the taste of anything fresh from the smoker.  I didn’t get much morel flavor, but the smoke was so intense that I wasn’t worried.  The next day I sautéed a ring of kielbasa for dinner, but still wasn’t getting that rich, earthy morel hit to my palate.  The smoke flavor was milder, but the mushroom taste just seemed to be a muted accent.

Today I went a very different route and poached one of the links, as I’ve been thinking the kielbasa meat mixture might be too dry?  If you’ve ever ground up liver, you know it’s a wet, sqooshy  meat.  The additional liquid from the liver may have helped the morels to reconstitute a bit more and boost the flavor.
Unfortunately poaching did not help the kielbasa.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s delicious, but I would never guess there were morels in there.  Perhaps the issue is that many people don’t buy morels in the grocery store?  I could have bought old stock that had faded in flavor.  I’m still not sure…I’d like to try this again, but I’ll probably start with a much smaller test batch.