The Farmers in Chief + Turnip & Potato Gratin

The Farmers in Chief + Turnip & Potato Gratin

I am nominating Eero Ruuttila and Liana Eastman (from Nesenkeag Farm, Litchfield NH) as Farmers in Chief!
If you wonder what I am talking about you must read Michael Pollan excellent article published in the New York Times Magazine : Farmer in Chief and/or listen to Michael Pollan interview on Fresh Air.
Pollan article is an open letter addressed to: Dear Mr. President-Elect
“As most of us already know the next president’s food policies, will have a large impact on a wide range of issues, including national security, climate change, energy independence and health care”.

Indeedy! If you follow my blog you know that I was at Nesenkeag Farm Day last week end.
I will try to keep the account of the event concise, but the colors, tastes, warmth, inspirations are still so vivid that I am having a hard time sorting out what to write.

The trip started by collecting a few things to bring to the farm:
Spicy olives from Aunt Alime’s Halal meat market in Bay Ridge & a big Balthazar Pain de Seigle.
Then I met Simon Pettet at the Fung Wha bus terminal and we hopped on the bus to Boston. The conversations and the gorgeous colors of nature made the 4:30 hours ride go like a flash. Once in Boston we transfered to North Station via subway where we caught (almost didn’t) the train to Lowell. It was my idea to have cocktails to make good use of the 20 minute wait… we barely made it to the train but broke a big sweat and had great laughs. Pierre (Joris) was waiting for us at the Lowell station and we drove to our destination: Nesenkeag Farm in Litchfield NH.

We were greeted by Erick Ruutilla, the bright and handsom younger son of Eero and Liana; the farmers still had many errands to run to get ready for the next day. We settled ourselves in the house, opened wine, beer, bread, olive, cheese, did a little cooking prep until the farmers arrived for a splendid dinner of -never so fresh- stir fry greens, bacon & potatoes. After dinner we took a walk on the farm grounds. The night was bright & cold under an 89% Full Hunter’s Moon. While Lydia the dog takes a swim in the Merrimack river -Thoreau stopped here in September 1839, see One week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers- we watch the reflections and Eero tells us about the three “one hundred years floods” he experienced in the last eighteen months, the damages he had to face and how red clover is a better green manure/cover crop for climate change. I was fast asleep when I hit the sack, the warm wooden fire took me away in minutes.

When I got up Saturday morning everybody was buzzing around getting things in motion for the visitors. My assignment was to make a Turnip and Potato Gratin. Liana and Karen -the catering coordinator for the event- provided me with a recipe that I loosely followed because I had to make it for a bigger crowd. Pierre assisted in the cooking and Simon peeled potatoes.

Nesenkeag Turnip and Potato au Gratin:
5 medium Yellow Finn or Russet potatoes
10 medium turnips
2 cups of grated Dubliner cheddar or Swiss
2 cups of Heavy Cream.

Preheat oven to 375ºF
Peel & slice potatoes & turnips (only if skin is tough) 1/4 inch thick.
Butter the sides & bottom of dish.
Layer potatoes and turnips seasoning each layer and dividing the cheese.
Pour cream, cover with the rest of the cheese, disperse small nuggets of butter on top. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes & rotate the dish if your oven cooks unevenly.

The gratin was for the evening gathering so we headed back to the event location for the -daylight- farm tour and delicious food cooked by the Cambodian farm workers that have their imprint all over the farm. I particularly liked the sour chicken soup. Then came poetry & music. The readers were Nancy Henry and Joseph Torra. Nancy read funny personal poems and Joe, after treating us with a few Chinese farm/food related poems, lifted us off to Boston; the intensity of his performance was a true act of deterritorialization. Then Vincente Lebron, Russ Gershon and their friends accompanied the sunset to Latin rhythm. The next day was Chef’s Day. Nesenkeag Farm delivers their gorgeous veggies to the best Boston & New Hampshire restaurants (click here for list). One of the chef brought a 150 lbs pig that he smoked all night long. Another restaurant owner barbecued Lamb Kofte that he served in warm pita bread with stewed shredded tomatoes, yogurt sauce and a dash of mint oil on top. That was so tasty! Then there were salads, soups, wines, cider, pies, apples to die for…and the company. Poets, farmers, musicians, chefs, young people, older people all mingled and feast. Eero’s older son Jesse brought a horde of young brooklinites that were a lot of fun to hang out with

Thank you so much Eero and Liana for the splendid and inspiring weekend.
View all pictures and video at :

Quick Rognons d’Agneau à la Moutarde

Quick Rognons d’Agneau à la Moutarde

Before I take off to Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day for a long week end, voilà a quick & easy recipe that I am very fond of: Mustard Sauce Lamb Kidneys .
The most important is to make sure you purchase very fresh kidneys. I buy them from the Aunt Halime’s Halal Meat on 3rd Avenue and Ovinton in Bay Ridge. To insure freshness kidneys have to be firm, with a rich and even color and no strong odor. It is recommended to use them the day of purchase. Lamb kidneys are single-lobed while veal kidneys are multi-lobed.

2 to 3 kidneys per person.
– 1 cup of diced shallots or of sweet onions.
– Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a skillet and sauté the shallots or onions until translucent.
– While the shallots cook remove the fat around the kidneys. Cut them in the middle, remove the white tougher part in the middle, and cut into four pieces.


-Add the kidneys to the pan and sauté on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Overcooked kidneys will get tough, they should be a little pink in the middle.

-Reserve kidneys in a covered shallow dish so they can stay warm and juices can be collected.

-Flambé the pan with an Armagnac/Cognac type brandy, that will loosen up the caramelized bottom.
-Add 3 heap soup spoons of Dijon Mustard into the pan, stir well.
-Pour 1/2 pint of heavy cream into the pan and bring it to boil. When cream starts thickening add the kidneys and the rendered juices.
-Add fresh ground pepper.
Attention : before adding any salt taste your sauce. Some mustards are already salty enough, others are not, you will have to make a decision about adding salt or not.
-Bring it back to a boil, then lower the flame and watch the consistency. The sauce needs to thickens until it coats the back of a wooden spoon evenly & smoothly.
-I served it with boiled new potatoes cut in half around the rognons. it can also be served with rice of fresh tagliatelles.
-On the picture you will notice that I have added some parsley and few pink peppercorn for garnish. This step is not indispensable.

Bon appetit et bon week-end!

Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day

Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day

An important message from Eero Ruuttila:
Nesenkeag’s Annual Farm Day

Saturday, October 18th 11- 5:30 pm

Poetry reading
& grand raffle drawing

An all day even (check out the schedule) and at 3:30PM:
The 8th Annual Nesenkeag Poetry Reading, featuring Nancy Henry (Westbrook, Maine) and Joseph Torra (Somerville, Mass) and will be followed by live music featuring Vicente Lebron & Friends, with Russ Gershon.

Nesenkeag Farm is located on the eastern bank of the Merrimack River, in southern New Hampshire (Litchfield). Henry David Thoreau once camped at the farm next to the mouth of Nesenkeag Brook and wrote about his Litchfield passage in his One Week on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit farm, Nesenkeag’s recent funding support includes grants from Share Our Strength and NH Catholic Charities, and our own spring Plant-A-Meal Fundraiser. Nonprofit income supports production of organic vegetables for the NH Food bank, whose distribution network includes soup kitchens and food pantries throughout New Hampshire. For 23 years, Nesenkeag has provided specialty produce to some of the finest restaurants in Boston and Southern NH. Its skilled Cambodian farm workers commute daily from Lowell.

Nesenkeag is well known for its innovative organic production & marketing strategies, developed during the past two decades by farm director & field manager, Eero Ruuttila. This past winter Eero completed his 5-year tenure as a “Farmer-Educator” for the USDA’s SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program. This position supported numerous summer field tours and winter conference lectures.

Pierre Joris, Simon Pettet and myself will be there, will you?

ps: for more info check out my March 24th blog

My Petit Déjeuner (mon breakfast)

My Petit Déjeuner (mon breakfast)

petit dej

I have to share my enthusiasm for my breakfast. I even think about what I am going to eat for breakfast before falling asleep! And I got an acute case of breakfast obsession since my good friend Chef Pierre Landet gave me a jar of his homemade divine plum jam. Pierre is executive chef at the NYC Tribeca restaurant Cercle Rouge. He made the jam with his mother’s recipe for a very special occasion that we will discuss another time. But let me tell you about my breakfast routine, indeed a routine because the format is always the same, only the fruit and the topping of the bread vary.
I wake up early, make myself a cup of tea and get into my daily yoga practice. These days I am brewing a “Russian Caravan” tea from the Park Slope Food Coop. This pleasantly dry & flowery blended Chinese tea gets my taste buds off to a right start. When I am done with tea and practice, I make coffee; always organic and always light roast (also called American roast). I usually get whatever is on sale in that category at Porto Rico Importing Co. I like that company, their quality is consistent and their prices fair. Do not ever offer me French Roast coffee, I will turn it down, I dislike it with a passion, i consider it an aggression to my taste buds!


Nicole’s Tartine à la Confiture de Prune de Pierre Landet
(recette Madame Landet mère!)

Anyhow, while coffee is percolating I toast my thick slices of rye bread and I eat a seasonal piece of fruit. I either get the Pain de Seigle from Balthazar or Amy’s Organic Miche at the Park Slope Food Coop. They both are a combination of wheat and rye organic flours, I find the Balthazar crustier and more complex, the taste stays in your mouth long after you have eaten the piece. Then, before the toast is cold but not while it is too hot, I apply a thin coat of either pasture butter, or Ben’s cream cheese or fresh goat cheese followed by the careful and even spreading of the sweet toping.
Pierre’s jam arrived at a really good time; I had just finished my special jar of raw honey made by my friend & Bourg d’Oueil mentor Joseph Garcès. So Pierre’s luscious plum jam provided not only the gusto satisfaction but also the emotional ingredient missed from Joseph’s honey. Voilà ze story:

Chef Pierre Landet

Pierre Landet is from the Toulouse region, but his brother Benoit & wife Laurence own the Hotel-Restaurant Le Faisan Doré in my hometown of Luchon (you know the center of the Pyrenées and possibly the center of the world!). It is my brother Jean-Louis’ favorite hang out and mine too when I am in town.

Pierre is a great chef, he cooks genuine Southwestern French country food. His homemade patés and terrines are outstanding, especially his Terrine de Foie Gras which is out of this world. I also have a soft spot for his funny chicken wings, the REAL French fries and I have to mention the stuffed suckling pig; that is a fire work of flavors and texture.

But let’s return to my tartine (though it is a French specialty to talk about a past or future meal while eating); the very slightly caramelized plum jam, flavored with vanilla and brandy, became a marriage in heaven when it encountered the crunchy, but still moist bread. I usually have 2 slices but sometimes I need 3 to complete the ritual properly!

Alright, merci to Pierre Landet pour la confiture and merci to his maman! It is quite late I must go to bed, tomorrow is the 2nd Bay Ridge Farmer’s market and I have to go early, last week it was all sold out by 11am! I have to make sure I can have breakfast without rushing! I forgot to mention that I really don’t like having breakfast out, nothing beats my petit-déjeuner bi-continental!

Ah! and in case you wonder:
YES, I dunk my tartine into my coffee!

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