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On the Table: Farm Stands of New York's Hudson River Valley

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My home away from home for my Hudson River Valley trip was the home of my brother-in-law Larry. Larry, who is also our Frog Commissary Director of Operations, still has a home in Tuxedo, NY, where he lives when not at our The Franklin institute headquarters with his wife Susan and daughter Sarah.

Our plan was to meet Saturday morning to continue shopping at a few of Larry's well-cultivated Hudson River Valley haunts. We would begin cooking together Saturday afternoon and evening in preparation for Larry's Sunday birthday lunch.

You don't get to pick your brother-in-law, but if I did, I'd pick Larry. We share several passions that include both loving Christina -- my wife and Larry's sister...and food. Larry is a wonderful cook and actually more a "foodie" than me. I do it and eat it whereas Larry does both those things, and also studies it. If I was the Slumdog and was down to my last "phone a friend" for my million and the subject was food, I'd call Larry! Included in At Home's recipes are several recipes from a select group of friends and family and include Larry's Sausage Stuffing.

After passable meal dinner in Beacon at the end of my Friday excursion and an uneventful night's sleep in a blissfully unremarkable hotel -- the name of which I cannot recall, I headed south to rendezvous with Larry. Larry's plan was to take me to Blooming Hill Farm and Fleisher's Meats.

This unremarkable sign by the side of the road in Blooming Grove was something akin to a faded photocopy on a pole near the Louvre announcing "Mona Lisa --> this way." Larry had mentioned Guy Jones, the social activist and pioneering farmer behind Blooming Hill Farm. But nothing had prepared me for what was by far the finest farm stand of my long summer of farm stands. I will not write much about Blooming Hill here. My visit to Blooming Hill, and the farm dinner we attended Saturday evening, will be the second to last post in my On the Road Farm Stands Series within the next few weeks.

Blooming Hill is the first farm stand that I visited that included a small commercial kitchen and wood burning oven. Larry's wife Susan joined us for an outdoor breakfast that included sourdough pancakes with peaches, plum sauce and yogurt, a broccoli & cheddar omelette with home fries, panini with ricotta, grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes & caramelized onion and a frittata. Pretty good way to start the day.

For Larry's birthday I had Padron peppers shipped from California as they are such a treat. I had never seen them at any of the hundreds of farm stands and farmers' markets that I visited this summer so California it was. But there they were at Blooming Hill. These Padron peppers would be an accent in the squash soup we had that evening at Blooming Hill's monthly farm dinner that we decided to join. Each month Guy invites a chef to prepare a multi-course vegetarian dinner. Saturday evening David Gould from Brooklyn's Roman's restaurant was preparing dinner. Gould's squash soup was the culinary highlight of the summer. The next weekend I would make this squash soup for my brother Fred's birthday after my South Fork of Long Island trip. I will feature my rendition of Gould's soup for you in a recipe post paired with my Blooming Hill post.

Next it was off to Fleisher's Meats in Kingston, NY. That's not Fleisher's Meats in Kingston pictured above. Rather that is Fleisher's Meats in Brooklyn, NY circa 1901. The early 20th century Fleisher's was opened by Wolf Fleisher. The 21st century Fleisher's was opened by Josh and Jessica Applestone in 2004. Josh is Wolf's great grandson. Those more foodie than me --- like Larry -- know that Fleisher's is a 2010 Martha Stewart Tastemaker. Josh writes The Butcher Blog for Saveur Magaizine. As far as Josh knows, his modern day Fleisher's is the only butcher shop that sells only local grass-fed and organic meats and poultry. Their business is both retail and wholesale to well-regarded locavare restaurants. On the retail side they also deliver to New York City.

Larry and I decided we wanted to grill, but something more interesting...and less expensive than the highly marbled aged sirloin steaks. Barbecue was more what we had in mind which is not really grilling. Some really fat beef short ribs caught my attention and so we had our meat for tomorrow's lunch. This choice would present a problem as it was now well into the afternoon and we were far north of Tuxedo and we had decided to go to the Blooming Hill farm dinner that night and...I had to first braise these big suckers and make a barbecue sauce from the braising liquid...all before we headed to dinner. So much for one relaxed hour!!! We added a pound of ground beef and bacon -- how could we resist something as decadent sounding as ground beef and bacon. To be clear, that's ground beef with ground bacon mixed in. These sinful future little burgers would become our hors d'oeuvres sliders.

The need to by-pass a serious traffic accident southbound on the New York Thruway caused us to scurry through back roads back to Tuxedo. Pictured above is the combination of my Friday farm stand purchases and our purchases from our Saturday "supplemental" shopping. Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday, with time-out for our farm dinner, this was transformed into Larry's Sunday birthday lunch. Christina, her mother Ginny and other brother Mike rushed up from Philadelphia early to join us for the Blooming Hill farm dinner and, of course, for Larry's birthday.

Our narrow apartment kitchen at home is perfectly efficient and built for one. It does not lend itself to in-kitchen snacking, drinking and schmoozing. Larry and Susan's kitchen, on the other hand, is the epicenter of their home entertaining. Our mostly room temperature hors d'oeuvres were laid out on the kitchen counter. They included counter-clockwise from center: the wonderful Spanish white anchovies -- Boquerones, that are an entertaining staple at Larry and Susan's table, lightly roasted little tomatoes with fresh mozzarella on crostini, grilled flat beans, sautéed Padron peppers (the one's flown in from California), pickles, grilled sweet peppers and the ground beef and bacon sliders -- ketchup on the side.

Coach's Note: This meal is not something I would suggest you try at home with limited time. My plan was a leisurely Saturday afternoon and evening of cooking and good wine. We would do some finishing Sunday after spending time with the Sunday New York Times. This is not how it worked out. I had not planned for the long excursion north or the Thruway traffic south and certainly not the last minute decision to attend the farm dinner. Preparing all this was hurried, harried and stressful. Everything I advise against. As Sunday noon approached, having been at it without rest for some hours, I was repeatedly asked by a family member I will not identify, "When are we having lunch?" It was as if a party of seven wanted to know when there table would be ready. Not the most relaxed cooking I have done -- akin to a particularly hard night I remember at City Bites cooking on the line many years ago. This was the price I paid for going to Blooming Hill for dinner...and I'd do it again!

I made the these quick pickles Sunday morning -- inspired by the pickles served Saturday night at Blooming Hill, using fennel flower and heirloom garlic from Blooming Hill. There is a blog recipe for Quick Pickles in the blog's recipe index.

This was late August and I encountered all manner and color of small tomatoes. Even though there was to be an heirloom tomato salad with lunch, you can't have too many late August tomatoes.

These broad beans were blanched, tossed with garlic and olive oil and lightly grilled and finished with flaky sea salt. There is a recipe for Grilled Green Beans in At Home.

Here's a bowl of sautéed Padron peppers. I have also written a post about these peppers. I am having a dilemma about cooking these peppers. First, it always seems to take longer for them to puff up, lightly brown and shrivel than I expect and I have to remind myself to be patient. Second, I like them with some garlic, but you can't add the garlic in the beginning because the garlic would burn, but when I add garlic at the end, it immediately browns and sticks together. While these clumps of browned garlic taste wonderful, garlic does not effectively infuse the oil and peppers. I could cook some garlic in oil and remove the garlic before I cook the pepper, but that feels like more trouble than it is worth. I just received two pounds of Padron peppers -- probably the last of the California season. I will try again. My plan this time will be to take the cooked peppers off the heat, allow the oil to cool down a bit and toss garlic into the peppers while the oil is not so hot as to immediately brown the garlic but still hot enough that the garlic cooks, mellows and infuses the peppers. Cooking is an art...though I know there is a science behind this technique issue.

Late August is also pepper bonanza time and since the grill was stoked, we grilled rather than roasted these beauties.

As Larry grilled our little ground beef and ground bacon sliders outside, I grilled the our potato flour slider rolls inside on a grill pan. Grilling rolls -- especially soft burger rolls makes them so much better. Making medium rare burgers requires a grill-cook's attention so it's handy to have a partner to handle the roll toasting.

Following our hors d'oeuvres grazing in the kitchen, we sat down in the dining room to a plattered, family-style lunch. Most everything was at room temperature. Above are beautiful red and yellow beets that were simply roasted while sealed in foil - essentially steamed in their own moisture, peeled, sliced and dressed with diced red onion, chives, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

I collected a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes on my Hudson River Valley farm stand jaunt. This platter is a bit more crowded than I recommended in my post about plattering heirloom tomatoes.

This photo does not do justice to our barbecue beef short ribs. They were big -- but in my rush to get them done Saturday afternoon before our farm dinner I did not let them cook long enough and they were a bit tough. That was a shame as Fleisher's meat had a wonderful flavor. But it's just a meal and hardly the end of the world. I'll make them better next time.

Our grilled corn was inspired by corn that I had at Greensgrow's Farmers' Market in Kensington. The corn is slathered in a mix of butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, red pepper flakes, ancho chili powder and salt. Delicious!

Dessert included great Hudson River Valley cheeses.

And Hudson River Valley fruit that included an heirloom melon, raspberries, the best red grapes I ever tasted and fennel and honey grilled apricots, plums and white doughnut peaches. I infused the fennel flowers by heating the mix of honey and fennel flowers in the microwave before basting the fruit with honey and a little olive oil. I also grilled the fruit on a grill pan rather than the outdoor grill. On the grill pan you do not have to worry about the fruit falling through the grill grates.

Behind the Scenes

This is my brother-in-law Larry at his grill working on the corn. Naturally, Larry only uses hardwood charcoal.

Corn slather precariously balanced on the deck railing. (Note to self: Get Larry a good grill side table for his next birthday!)

The beef short ribs were fully cooked as all ribs are before glazing. In the background are the small sweet yellow peppers.

Here's the barbecue sauce precariously balanced on the deck's railing. (See Note to self above.)

Here's a Photo Montage Making Pickles

Key pickle ingredients -- little Kirby cucumbers, fennel flower and garlic.

Part of the farm stand adventure is that I never know what I will end up making when it's all over. It's like buying lots of puzzle pieces and when I'm all done, figuring out how to put the puzzle together. This is sort of like when they give those Iron Chefs ingredients and tell them to start cooking...quickly. Except my way has far better scenary, more fresh air and usually less stress. Also, the food is usually pretty good.

When I started my Hudson River Valley farm stand tour, I had no plan to make pickles -- though I am a big fan of pickles of all sorts. But somewhere along the line I saw these tiny Kirby cucumbers -- about the size of a big thumb. They just sort of called out to me. Likewise the garlic. Adjacent to the path leading down the hill to Blooming Hill's farm market was a wide plot of fennel flowers -- also for sale in the market. I am a big fan of fennel. The Guy Jones served pickles at the farm dinner as an hors 'doeuvres.

I started by cutting garlic into slivers and after giving the cucumbers a quick scrub, cutting them in half.

I made an infused brine with white vinegar (depending on the pickle you can use other vinegars), sugar, salt -- but not too much salt, some black peppercorns and coriander seed, garlic and fennel flower. This steeps over very low heat for about 15-20 minutes. It could be longer but as we know, I was in a rush.

When the brine has picked up the flavors, I increase the heat until the brine approaches a boil. I off the heat and add the cucumbers or pour the hot brine over the cucumbers -- either way. Once it cools, I transfer to the refrigerator. We ate most of them a few hours later, but they can happily sit in the refrigerator for a month. They loose a bit of crispness, but are still great. Serve chilled.

Lightly Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

Cut tomatoes in half and combine with thin slivers of garlic and thin-sliced red onion. Lightly coat with good olive oil and roast in 350 degree oven until tomatoes just begin to soften and "melt" - maybe 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Add salt and pepper.

A Short Course in Braising Short Ribs of Beef. For a complete explanation about braising, there is a two-page "Mastering Braises" on Page 228 of At Home.

Make sure the short ribs are well-dried. I use paper towel.

Here's sliced red onion, garlic and a quart of flame-roasted plum tomatoes from McEnroe organic farms. My plan was to make the barbecue sauce with the beef's braising liquid.

In olive oil, brown short ribs well on all sides. Don't rush this. The ribs were left un-floured as they were ultimately going to be removed from the braising liquid and glazed with barbecue sauce.

Remove short ribs and add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to wilt.

Add back short ribs on top.

Spread around the tomatoes - breaking them in your hands as you go. Add some thyme, a few bay leaves and some red wine.

Lightly cover -- but don't seal. You do not want the braise to steam, but to gently cook in a moist aromatic environment. Place in 225 degree oven for about 3 to 4 hours or until beef is very tender and nearly falling off the bone. This is what I did not do long enough.

Here's the cooked short ribs.

To make the barbecue sauce, remove bay leaves and add remaining juice from flame-roasted tomatoes, brown sugar and a touch of molasses, balanced with some cider vinegar, as you want this to be slightly sour rather than sweet. Simmer slowly until very thick.

Puree in blender and add back to pot to adjust thickness and seasoning including sweet-sour balance. Add salt and pepper and as much hot sauce as you like. I use Siracha - a Thai hot sauce that has plenty of heat without the sour element present in most American hot sauces.

And of course, the birthday cake.

Susan baked a wonderful layered chocolate mousse cake decorated by edible flowers crafted by daughter Sarah.

There are lots of ways we could have celebrated Larry's birthday that were easier. Certainly skipping the Blooming Hill farm dinner would have been a big step in that direction. Certainly I could have done a simpler menu and that's something I need to work on. I have a tendency to get carried away - to be a Home Entertaining Over-achiever. We could have gone out to a restaurant. That certainly would have been easier...and noisier and more expensive. It is hard to image a nicer, more personal and memorable birthday than the one we had with Larry in his home.

Happy Birthday Larry.

Coming Posts
On the Road & On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island's South Fork. Look for these post next week.

On the Road: Nova Scotia Farmers' Markets - Lunenburg and Halifax.

On the Road: Blooming Hill Farm My visit to Blooming Hill's farm market and the Saturday evening farm dinner.

The final installment of the Farm Stand Series will be reflections on and highlights of my summer's farm stand journey and thoughts on how to make the farm stand and farmers' market experience even better.

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