Handmade burgers on homemade buns
It was a blind date. All I had was a name—and the deep down feeling that this time it was going to be something special. And from the moment we met, I knew that we were destined to spend the rest of our lives together.
It was immediately apparent that we share the same likes and dislikes, the same dreams and desires, the same unabashed devotion to naturally raising sheep. I felt connected as I never had before. Right from the start it was as if we were reading each others' thoughts.
If Cooking With Shelburne Farms: Food And Stories From Vermont had been a person instead of a publication, I have no doubt that our first meeting would have ended at an all-night wedding chapel in Vegas.
That's how in love I am with this wonderful new book.
I knew fate had brought us together when the first page I randomly opened to was a chapter called Caring for the Flock. It perfectly expressed how I feel about raising animals for meat:
"The Shelburne Farms' Children's Farmyard is an educational farm within the working farm, where visitors can milk a cow or goat, collect eggs, and learn how to carefully pick up a chicken, feed the animals, and maybe even witness a sow or a ewe giving birth. The natural cycle of a farm also, undeniably, includes the other end of life. A poster on the wall of the Farmyard carefully explains the life of a Shelburne Farms lamb and finishes with a photograph of a beautifully plated dish from the Inn.
It is true that lambs are about as cute as food gets, and that makes some people uncomfortable, but, 'we raise animals for human consumption here,' says Sam Smith plainly, a farmer and educator at Shelburne Farms. 'People need to recognize where their food is coming from.' "
It is most important to Sam—and to Shelburne Farms—that the flock be managed to the highest environmental and humane standards, leaving the animals on pasture and the lambs with their mothers as long as possible. 'I raise them in the best way that I can, and I try to educate people,' Sam says. 'You can't force people to do anything, but you can educate them. And I think the farmyard is probably the best place in the world to educate people about what they're eating.' "
Shelburne Farms is a 1,400-acre nonprofit environmental education center, working farm, Inn, and National Historic Landmark on Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont. As part of its mission to cultivate a conservation ethic, Shelburne Farms is a dedicated supporter of local agriculture and is itself a creator of sustainably produced food, including their award-winning Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese.
Cooking With Shelburne Farms is, in turn, a celebration of Vermont-grown food, and also of the farmers, cheesemakers, foragers, hunters and fishermen, and maple sugarmakers who cultivate, harvest, or craft it.
The book contains stories from farmers and other food producers along with more than 100 recipes featuring nine iconic Vermont ingredients: Milk and Cheese, Maple, Early Spring and Summer Greens, Lamb, Wild Mushrooms, Game and Fish, Pork, Root-Cellar Vegetables, and Apples. The dishes deliver rustic flavors with a "fresh, comfortable cooking approach."
And while the ingredients and recipes are grounded in Vermont, authors Melissa Pasanen and Shelburne Farms Chef Rick Gencarelli offer variation suggestions to "encourage those of you in other parts of the country to make similar connections in your communities and develop your own sense of place through the food you cook and eat."
Recipes range from the everyday—Sausage Rolls and Deviled Ham & Cheddar Spread—to the extraordinary: Roast Duck Legs with Sour Cherry Sauce and Sage & Garlic Pan-Roasted Quail. Classic dishes are given fresh twists, and unexpected ingredients are paired in contemporary ways.
Crispy Pork Chops with Lemon Parsley Sauce takes a traditional schnitzel preparation and spices it up with coriander and cumin. Lasagne is made with mushrooms, kale and blue cheese, and buttermilk is combined with juicy plums to create a beautiful blushing sherbert.
The recipes are well written and easy to follow. Each one offers a "Before You Start" paragraph that gives helpful advice on everything from sourcing the best ingredients to making substitutions, and the Prepare-Ahead Tips make preparation even easier. The sections of sumptuous, full-color photos will no doubt have you drooling all over your beautiful new cookbook.
Cooking With Shelburne Farms (Hardcover, 296 pages, 2007 Viking Studio, $34.95) would make a very special gift for anyone who loves cooking and food. Ask for it at your local bookstore or order online from order online from Amazon.com for $23.07 with free shipping. April 2012 Update: Used copies are available from amazon for as little as $1.68.
My short list of recipes to try includes Shepherd's Pie with Caramelized Onions & Cheddar Smash; Mexican Venison Chili made with cinnamon & chocolate; Smoked Cheddar Crackers and Tomato-Cheddar soup; Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash Puree; and Chocolate-Sour Cream Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting, which, the authors warn, is "not a cake for children."
In the meantime, I've already made the scrumptious Grilled Lamb Burgers With Red Pepper, Parsley, and Kalamata Olive Relish three times. Last week I made them for my foodie mom who's been visiting from California, and I don't think she stopped moaning with pleasure until her burger was gone.
As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients; they really do make a difference.
Fresh from our farm
Grilled Lamb Burgers with Roasted Red Pepper, Parsley, and Kalamata Olive Relish
from Cooking With Shelburne Farms [My notes in brackets]
Authors' Notes On Lamb:
We recommend searching out local lamb that has been raised on pasture. Although people often think of lamb at two ends of a spectrum—either very delicate or quite strong and gamey—most lamb raised today has sweet, earthy, and light gamy notes. If the flavors are too strong, most likely the lamb is not as fresh as it should be.
We have found that ground lamb is especially variable, and because it will often have a fairly high level of fat, it can develop strong flavors. If you have access to a good butcher counter, it is always best to ask for your lamb to be ground fresh to order. The leanest (and priciest) ground lamb will be from the leg, but a well-trimmed shoulder is often your best bet. Good ground lamb can also come from the neck or a well-trimmed breast.
You just can't beat freshly ground meat
[Susan's note: For these burgers, we used the grinder attachment on our KitchenAid stand mixer to turn some of our own grass-fed lamb stew meat into freshly ground burger. If you're a burger lover, there's simply no comparison to freshly ground meat,whether you do it yourself or have your butcher do it for you.]
Before You Start:
We allow for a 6-ounce burger because even lean ground lamb will shrink quite a bit on the grill. If you don't have time to grill or broil the peppers yourself, the jarred roasted red peppers often found in the Italian sections of well-stocked supermarkets make a fine substitute; just make sure not to buy the marinated kind and to pat them dry before using.
If you can't cook the burgers on a grill, use a good, heavy frying pan, preferably a ridged grill pan, on the stove; lamb burgers can cause dangerous flare-ups in a broiler. [I used my grill pan the last time I made them, and it worked great.]
For the relish:
[A word of warning: If you're the type of person who nibbles while you're cooking and tends to devour condiments as if they're side dishes, this recipe will not serve 4 people. It served me, with a little bit leftover, but it can easily be doubled. This marvelous stuff is truly addictive.
I felt that it was crying out to be paired with some juicy garden tomatoes, either chopped and mixed into the relish or served sliced on the burger alongside it. It would taste just as wonderful on a beef or turkey or even pork burgers, and I plan to use it as a base for all sorts of salads next summer. You could even toss it with pasta.]
Adapted from the original recipe:
1 cup coarsely chopped red bell peppers that have been grilled or broiled until charred and then skinned and seeded (see Tip below) [I used red and golden peppers from my garden and charred them over a gas stove burner. The flavor was out of this world and definitely worth the few minutes of extra work.]
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, pitted, vinegar-marinated black olives, such as kalamata
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar [they called for lemon juice]
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic [my addition, optional]
Coarse kosher salt to taste [I used semi-coarse mineral salt]
For the burgers:
1½ pounds lean ground lamb
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper [I omitted]
2 Tablespoons finely minced garlic [doubled from 1 Tablespoon]
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt [I used semi-coarse mineral salt]
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare a barbecue grill to cook on medium-high heat.
2. Prepare the relish: In a small serving bowl, stir together the peppers, olives, parsley, vinegar, olive oil, and salt. [This tastes even better if made several hours ahead or the night before.]
3. Prepare the burgers: In a large bowl, gently mix together the ground lamb, parsley, red pepper, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Form the mixture into four burgers, flatten them to about 3/4 inch thick, and gently press your thumb in the center of each one to help them cook evenly.
4. Grill or panfry the burgers carefully for about 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Be forewarned that the fat in lamb can cause flare-ups. Serve the burgers on really good, lightly grilled soft buns, topped with the relish. [I put mayonnaise on mine. Aioli would be tasty, too.]
Tip: After grilling or broiling the peppers, put them in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Leave the peppers for bout 8 to 10 minutes and the skin will be much easier to remove. [Resist the urge to rinse the peppers under running water, as you'll end up sending much of the flavor down the drain. Don't worry if there are black specks of skin remaining on the peppers; they taste delicious. Click here for a great tutorial by my foodie friend Elise on how to roast peppers over a gas flame.]
Excerpts and recipes are from Cooking with Shelburne Farms by Melissa Pasanen with Rick Gencarelli and reproduced with permission from the publisher. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2007 by Melissa Pasanen and Shelburne Farms. Article and photos © 2007 FarmgirlFare.com, the well fed foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote acres.