Sunday, August 29, 2010

Outstanding Meal at Pete's Greens

Over a week ago my new husband and I were fortunate enough to attend a meal thrown by Outstanding in the Field at Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, VT. While I have spent alot of time in VT due to my folks having a condo at Killington and even lived in Shelburne for a year when I was 5, I've never taken much interest in the food there. We generally cook at the house when we are up skiing, and aside from VT cheddar and Maple Syrup I admit to ignorance when it comes to VT grown and produced products. The boy, being Canadian, also knew next to nothing about food from VT except for our favorite Long Trail beer. As we headed out on our honeymoon 12 days before the dinner, I even noted that I thought there was a chance the dinner would be a beer dinner based on the large number of microbreweries in VT and having had no knowledge of VT based vineyards. All that being said we knew we were in for a great experience and meal and our lack of knowledge just increased our anticpation.

Our host farmer for the dinner was Pete Johnson of Pete's Greens. Pete's Greens is an organic farm located in Craftsbury, VT. Our chef was Eric Warnstedt from Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, VT. Upon first pulling into Pete's Greens we are greeted by the most whimsical sight a small shedlike building whose roof was covered by plants a border of green with the center part covered in this lovely deep purple leafy plants. We later found out the purple plants were amaranth and the plant covered roof topped their farm stand. A shed chock full of Pete's veggies and pastured raised chicken and eggs, as well as tons of other locavore products. From locally made jams and honeys to locally grown flour, some even from Quebec, which even though it's a different country is only 30 miles away from Pete's. It pained me to not be able to buy some of the gorgeous tomatoes and baby greens, but as we were traveling and literally had no more room in the car or cooler I settled for a Pear Honey jam from Elmore Roots, some local honey and some VT grown white flour. The farmstand is completely on the honor system,w here you write down what you've taken and make your own change. Coming from a big city, it was so refreshing to be somewhere where you could trust people like that and made the whole thing even more special, if that was possible.

After I spent plenty of time in the farm stand we headed over to the cocktail hour, which was held in the backyard of Pete's neighbor. Being a fully working farm there were not many options for a cocktail hour and his neighbor loaning us his backyard is a generosity and sharing spirit that we came to find is common among people in the small towns in Northern Vermont.

But onto the food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find that contrary to my initial instinct this would be a wine dinner, with our our first wine coming from Shelburne Vineyards, their 2009 Lake View White. It was a bit sweet, but extremely refreshing as we stood in the sun chatting with other guests and sampling some of Chef Warnstedt delicious bites. These bits consisted of pork cheek croquettes with a blueberry maple jam, chiogga beets with a goat cheese vinaigrette and steak tartare on a homemade potato chip. We first tasted the croquette, as if a pork cheek isn't rich and delicious enough, the bite of pork cheek rolled in what I believe were panko breadcrumbs and fried turned it into this this deliciously perfect savory bite that was offset by the bit of sweetness from the blueberry maple jam. Next came the steak tartare, one of my favorites at any french bistro, but served in a field on a fresh made potato chip and made with beef that was raised just 60 miles away it was better than just about any other tartare I've had. Finally we had the beets, now beets are generally not my favorite but these just picked chiogga beets were diced so tiny and tossed in a delicious goat cheese vinaigrette and served on soup spoons. I couldn't resist and I'm so glad I didn't. The flavors of the beets paired with the tangy vinaigrette were like a party in my mouth. The flavors were perfect and might have changed my feeling about beets. I look forward to attempting to recreate something like this soon.

During the cocktail hour we ment a wonderful older man who is a CSA member at Pete's Greens who came to the dinner to celebrate his birthday. His wife was out of town so he came solo and as if the amazing hors d'ourves weren't enough we had a lovely conversation with him about local food in VT and about how he and his wife are able to almost chiefly subsist on the Veggie and Meat CSA from Pete's . It was enough to make me want to move to the area!

Next came the tour of the farm. It was here we learned about the sod covered farmstand. It is the pet project of Meg Gardner and she recounted to us how unsuccessful her efforts with the roof were last year. Where she planted edible flowers and herbs and then last minute threw down some sunflower seeds, hoping they would just bloom amongst everything else and be beautiful. It apparently didn't work out so well and not too much grew. So this year Pete took over and planted a border of greens and edible flowers with the bulk being the purple amaranth plants. We would soon learn what amaranth tasted like, we just had to get through the 1/4 mile tour through the farm and to the table.

As we took the walk through the farm, Pete talked alot about the techniques they use to ensure they can proved their CSA members with organic produce and local products year round. From their root cellar where they store potatoes, onions and cauliflower to steaming and freezing greens and other vegetables to get members through the winter months. As we walked by the greenhouses Pete spoke about how they move them. In the summer they are used to grow tomatoes, chard and other warm weather veggies, in the adjacent space they start to plant the fall veggies that can survive outside up until September/October outside. When the warm weather veggies are done and harvested, they slide the greenhouse along a track to cover the fall veggies that now need the warmth of the greenhouse. It is a simple way to lengthen their growing season and make the most of their resources. Throughout the tour what really stuck out is how passionate Pete and Meg are about what they do and what everyone in Vermont is doing. Going into the greenhouse and seeing how the tomatoes were grown and how tall they get was amazing and made my little heirloom plants at home look sad by comparison.

We continued our walk passed the chickens that were feeding on the old strawberry plants and through a field of baby greens that couldn't have been more beautiful. Up ahead was a flowering field that we soon learned was buckwheat and as we got closer we saw the lovely and simple table was actually set right in the middle of the field. They had cleared out a section in the middle of the buckwheat field for the table. We got to walk passed the makeshift field kitchen where Chef Warnstadt and his crew were working and even got a peak at our first course in the first stages of plating and our third course on the grill. We happily ended up at the end of the table and were seated with a fabulously interesting and eclectic group. A group of women on a girl's trip from Minnesota, Leigh from Laughing Moon Chocolates and her husband, Macy Mullican from Shelburne Vineyards and Amy Skelton from Pete's Greens and her husband who funnily enough attend University of Toronto. We felt so fortuante to be sitting with some of the amazing people who contribute to the local food movement in Vermont.

Once we all sat down, the wine and food started. We began with East Shore Vineyard's
Frontenac Rose. A local VT wine, that while not my favorite paired quite nicely with the course of heirloom tomatoes with grilled prosciutto and red amaranth (I believe from the roof of the farm stand). The prosciutto wasn't local to VT but was made by La Quercia in Iowa, an authentic Italian prosciutto made in the US. After this course I'm pretty much dying to go to Iowa. The freshness of the tomatoes paired with the crispy salty goodness of the prosciutto made for a perfect start to the sit down portion of our meal.

The next course was paired with a wine out of Oregon that Hen of the Wood has labeled specifically for them. It's from Annie Amie Vineyards and was a 2008 Muller Thurgau. This was a lovely wine that I thoroughly enjoyed although I will admit not nearly as much as the food. The course was radicchio fresh from Pete's Greens (as all of the vegetables the entire day were), first-of-season Paula Red apples, buttermilk, Jasper Hill Farms Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, candied pecans and house cured bacon. Jasper Hill is an amazing farm and cheese cellar wherethey not only produce their own cheese and amazing cheese at that (I covet the Constant Bliss) but also offers small producers a cellar to age their cheeses, yet another example of how all of the small producers in Vermont work together. About that apple salad though, the first thing I smelled was the bacon, of course and I am a firm believer that bacon makes everything better. Without waiting for any other smell to register I dove right in. From the crisp sweetness of the first fresh apples to the slight bitterness of the radicchio to the perfect blue cheese all dressed in buttermilk it was amazing and then to have the little bites of candied pecans and of course bacon. I wanted to just dive into the serving dish savor each bite and not share it with the rest of the table. I did restrain myself. But this is a dish that I will be attempting at home because I loved everything about it.

Next up was a porchetta style pork loin wrapped in pork belly, with wild chanterelle and black
trumpet mushrooms that were foraged by Eric Swanson & Paul Moore. The side dishes were crushed potatoes with aioli and grille broccoli with anchovy butter. I was all paired with another wine from Annie Amie Vineyards, labeled for Hen of the Wood, a 2008 Pinot Noir. At this point I was pretty full having gorged myself on everything up to this point. But the fresh potatoes with the garlicky aioli were amazing (and now just thinking about them I think I'm going to make my own version tonight) and the broccoli would have been delicious on it's own but the anchovy butter just elevated it with a salty richness, making it so special. Enjoying the sides so much I nearly forgot about the main dish, the pork. We had seen this on the grill as we first walked to the table and I could tell from that first glance that it would be delicious. And I was not let down. The pigs for dinner were grown on Pete's farm and Amy, who was sitting with us was responsible for getting them to the butcher and butchered properly for Chef Warnstadt. Well, let's just say she did an excellent job. The flavor was completely reminiscent of an Italian porchetta, with garlic and herbs and made that much better by the complete freshness of the meat. The wild mushrooms added an earthiness that completed the dish perfectly.

As we sat and let the meal thus far digest, out came the dessert wine. An Ice Cider from Eden, I'm admittedly not a fan of ice wine so I was initially skeptical. But on first sip it was sweet without being cloying and even as full as I was was perfect. So perfect in fact that my half of our table downed ours quite quickly hoping for a bit more. Luckily the fabulous Leah from OITF came by and Amy requested a bit more for us. It came just in time to go with our dessert. A Maple Walnut upside down cornmeal cake topped with candied bacon (remember what I said about bacon making everything better) and maple ice cream. The cornmeal for the cake came from a local grain company called the Nitty Gritty Grain Company. I loved this dessert, it's not normally something I would go for off of a menu, but for me it was the prefect finish to this delicious meal. The maple ice cream and the sweetness of the walnut topping on the corncake and even the candied bacon all went together wonderfully. It was of course made all the better by the beautiful sunset.

All in all it was an amazing meal made all the more special by the fact that almost all of the vegetables we ate and even the pork all came from our host farm. And that the host farm was beautiful and made for the perfect surroundings. And everything else, unless specifically noted all came from Vermont too. As I said at the top of this post, if you haven't been to an OITF dinner, try to get to one this year or at the very least get on their mailing list for next year they post the schedule on the first day of spring.

I took far too many pictures of the night to post, you can see them all over at the Piccante Dolce Facebook page.


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