UW Club’s Farm to Table dinner: Beautiful lamb, beautiful wines!

Who doesn’t love an excellent dinner prepared with great skill from first-rate ingredients? But to appreciate it even more, just catch a glimpse of the complicated journey made by all those ingredients from the field to your plate. At the UW Club’s Farm to Table dinner, we got just that chance, to see our meal through the eyes of the family that raised our lamb and the family that made our wines. An eye-opener!

Paulette Lefever and her two kids Madison and Conor sketched a picture of life on the Lefever Holbrook Ranch: raising not just lambs but pigs, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and more; growing vegetables for sale; running a bakery; running a catering operation; and just cultivating as many varied revenue streams as possible, to get the most out of their land and to hedge their bets against losses.

Paulette explained that when you are working with 1% profit margins, pretty much everything is a threat, and you deal constantly with the tradeoffs and unintended consequences of “competing goods.” For example, we all value biological diversity and the protection of indigenous wildlife. And we all value humanely raised, naturally pastured farm stock. But guess what happens when that indigenous wildlife is a wolf, and the farm animal out there in the pasture up on the butte is a lamb. It turns out that I’m not the only one who loves leg of lamb. But even in the face of all the challenges, it was clear that Paulette, Madison, and Conor are committed to the choices they have made—humane ranching and the best stewardship of their land. And the quality of the result was evident right there on our plates!

We also heard from Takashi Atkins, the owner of Waving Tree Winery, just down the road from Paulette’s ranch. He contrasted his family’s small-winery approach to that of the larger players: not “I know you are going to love this” but “how does it taste to you? Tell me what you think!” Waving Tree produces small quantities and really values engaging in a  dialog with customers about how the wines are working for them. And the ones he brought for us were working very well indeed!

But now on to that meal. The first course, sliced lamb sirloin crostini with caramelized onions and fig relish, was so appealing that I forgot myself and ate it up before I took a picture for you! So you have to trust me on this: a succulent curl of lamb with sweet onions and small quartered figs nestled together on an oval of lightly toasted chewy baguette.  With it, we had Waving Tree’s 2007 Grenache, a rich red with (according to the owner of a better palate than mine!) notes of cherry, dark chocolate, and caramel. Great start!

Next up, a lovely salad with spring peas, house-made ricotta, and red peppers in vinaigrette. Fresh tender salad with peas straight out of the pod! But the big surprise for this course was the wine—a sweet (but not too sweet) 2011 Sangiovese rosé. I liked it so much that I bought a couple of bottles and opened one at home on Sunday evening. The mystery of pairings!—It was still very good, but just not as striking with my asparagus-chevre omelette. But then on Monday it went really well with a hot stir-fry of my snow peas with red peppers in sesame oil. Go figure.

So! Now on to the main event—the leg of lamb. I have to quote the menu: “nicoise olive tapenade rubbed leg of lamb stuffed with seasoned house-ground lamb served with a garlic lemon zest au jus.” The earthy duet of olives and lamb was balanced by the lemon, and the ground lamb stuffing was really unusual—don’t picture hamburger!—Closer to a smooth paté or dense mousse. Yes, there was a small salad there on the plate too—field greens in a vinaigrette with cute baby carrots cut lengthwise—and some roasted small potatoes, and a dab of kale, all lovely. But the lamb au jus!—To die for. We had a 2008 Barbera with it, which had the body and complexity to hold its own very nicely with the rich lamb.

Dessert? A fresh fruit Napoleon with a little scoop of sorbet, very refreshing! And it was paired with the 2011 Muscat Canelli, a sweet white wine perfect with the fruit and berries.

Another excellent meal from UW Club manager Alex Chordas, executive chef Jon Maley, sous chef Jeff Soper, and chef Mike Hoffman! I’ll have more to say in upcoming posts about Paulette, Madison, and Conor and the Lefever Holbrook ranch; stay tuned! And if you’d like to sample Takashi’s Waving Tree wines, visit the website or the tasting room in Kirkland (11901 124th Ave. NE;425-820-0102).

 

 

Come to Paulette’s Slow-Food lamb dinner this Saturday!

I’ve been raving for some time now about Goldendale rancher Paulette Lefever and her kids Madison and Conor. Now’s your chance to meet them and feast on Paulette’s succulent grass-fed, hand-raised lamb! This Saturday June 16th, the UW Club is hosting a Slow Food dinner featuring lamb from the Lefever/Holbrook Ranch and wine pairings from the Waving Tree Winery, a small winery in Klickitat County down the road from the ranch.The UW Club’s fantastic chef Jon Maley and his staff have built a beautiful menu to showcase the products from these two Washington food artisans.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a house filled with the aromas of a lamb shoulder roast I got from Paulette slow-roasting in a thicket of rosemary sprigs and cloves of garlic. Two more hours before I can eat!—I’d like to go in there right now and swallow the meat, the pan, and the oven all together. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this chance to savor this beautiful lamb!

Not a member of the UW Club?–No worries! For this event, club manager Alex Chordas tells me that non-members are welcome to attend. (You can pay in cash when you get there. Note!—No credit cards.) Don’t miss it!—And if you’d like to sit at my table, let me know—Alex will make sure we make up a “party” (this will not be a hard task . . .).

Paulette tells me that “one of the best experiences for someone in food production is to share with others the fruits of their labor.” She and the Waving Tree folks are looking forward to sitting down to a great meal with you and a roomful of like-minded people.

Stats:  Saturday June 16th, $50+tax, starts at 6:00 pm, UW Club on the University of Washington campus. Call 206-543-0437 to make a reservation. I hope to see you there!

Here’s the blurb and menu, shamelessly copied from the UW Club website:

Lefever/Holbrook Ranch and Waving Tree Winery

This is a very special evening about Slow Food.  Grazed on native dry land hills and pastures of Lorena Butte in Klickitat County, Lefever/Holbrook natural spring lamb is free of added hormones and are never fed antibiotics.  Lefever/Holbrook Ranch focuses on achieving balance that protects the environment, promotes sustainable agriculture, practices humane treatment of food animals and supports the rural family.  Ranch owner Paulette Lefever will be at the Club to talk about her 30 years of experience in the food and livestock industry.

Waving Tree Winery is a small, family owned winery down the road from Paulette’s Ranch concentrating on red wines.  Their vineyard has the longest growing season of any area east of the mountains.  Don’t miss this wonderful evening celebrating Washington’s bounty.

Dinner begins at 6pm.  Cost is $50.00 + tax per person

Menu

Sliced Lamb Sirloin Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Fig Relish

Petit Green Salad with Spring Peas, House Made Ricotta and Red Peppers in Vinaigrette

Nicoise Olive Tapenade rubbed Leg of Lamb stuffed with Seasoned House Ground Lamb, served with a
Garlic Lemon Zest Au Jus

Fresh Fruit Napoleon

Rex the Rabbit (Cacciatore)

This week I once again found myself with that restless urge to cook up something new. Rummaging around in my freezer, I pulled out a package from my Lefever Holbrook Ranch meat delivery: “rabbit ‘Rex’ 2.5 lbs.” Poor old Rex!–I may have scratched his ears back in September when I visited Paulette and her kids on the ranch. Rex wasn’t his name, of course–it was his breed, developed in France in the early 20th century. And now that I think about it, the rabbit I met in Goldendale did have a Gallic air about him, holding me with his dark gaze as I stroked his plush velvet coat.

The whole rabbit family on Paulette’s ranch is pretty cosmopolitan; here’s Madison with one of the babies (“kits”), whose mother was a New Zealand (in spite of its name, first bred in Mexico, also around the early 20th century) and whose father was our friend Rex. (You’d recognize a New Zealand–a big fluffy albino white rabbit with ears that blush pink.) Since rabbits raised for meat are often harvested at two months old, and I got my order from the ranch at the end of November, I’m now thinking that my Rex was actually Rex fils, one of these September kits.

With Rex now defrosting on my kitchen counter, I feel an unexpected pang. I know the usual things about him that I want to know about the food that I eat: where he came from, who raised him, how he was raised. But this time I know him.

Why am I a carnivore? Like you, I’ve read any number of articles about the need to eat lower on the food chain–much less meat and more fruits, grains, and vegetables. For one thing, it’s easier on the environment; it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and methane gas from farm animals accounts for around 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Also, we’d show some shred of solidarity with the other seven billion of us on the planet–we can’t all eat this way, so maybe none of us should. And then of course it’s easier on the animals!

But eating meat runs deep. When I was growing up in South Texas, we had meat at almost every meal. Ham and bacon. Plenty of beef–pot roast, steaks, hamburger in all of its chameleon forms. Chicken, the noble yard bird!–I remember helping my grandmother slaughter and clean them for Sunday supper.

We got some of this meat by hunting. I went a few times, but my father and brothers went every year. My dad had an old Scout (precursor to the now ubiquitous SUV!) welded and bolted into a hunting machine–braces for standing up to scan across the mesquite brush for quarry, gun racks, a ball-mount tow-hitch to pull his beat-up old jeep behind them. In early fall, before the break of day, they would load up the bird dogs and head out to their lease to hunt quail and white-wing dove. In November, they went off for long weekends to the hunting camp, getting up early every day to hike out to their stand and sit silently for hours watching for a deer to emerge from the dawn shadows and mist.

If they got their shot, on the way back home they would stop at Gafford’s grocery store to leave the dressed animal in a rented freezer locker. It was a tradition in our family that my dad would share his deer with a Mexican woman who worked with him, and then a few days before Christmas, she and her family would bring us venison tamales!–Dozens and dozens of them. To this day, when I am home for the holidays we have chili and tamales for our Christmas Eve meal.

So eating meat, for many of us, is part of who we are, where we came from, how we savor the earth’s bounty together. Do we need to become vegetarians or even vegans? I can imagine getting there (or at least getting close) some day, but for now I just try to choose and prepare my food as thoughtfully as I can.

So, I’m still a carnivore, though I hope a more minimal and mindful one. And today I braised poor Rex alla Cacciatora (hunter style). He was delicious!

Rabbit Stew (recipe from the New York Times, January 4th, 2012)

  • 1 whole rabbit (2 1/2 to 3 lbs.)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, for dusting
  • 2 cups onions, finely diced
  • 2 cups leeks, finely diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften drained and finely chopped (save the liquid to add to the sauce)
  • 8 oz. cremini or portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used portobellos)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
  1. 1. Cut up the rabbit; the directions were complicated, but basically you want more or less the same pieces you’d get with a chicken–a breast (you can split it into two pieces), two front legs, a back, and two back legs (possibly split into two pieces each–thigh and drumstick, more or less).
  2. Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep, wide heavy skillet over medium heat. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour. Lightly brown the rabbit for about 3 minutes o both sides, working in batches. Drain on kitchen towels, then transfer to a baking dish in one layer. Heat over to 375 degrees.
  3. Pour off the used oil, wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons fresh oil. Heat to medium-high, add the onions and cook till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, rosemary and mushrooms. Season generously with salt and pepper; add red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and wine, and let the mixture reduce for 1 minute. Add the broth and mushroom liquid, bring to a simmer, taste and adjust the seasoning (but remember that the red pepper flakes will get hotter).
  5. Ladle the mixture evenly over the rabbit. Cover the dish, and bake for 1 hour. Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

I ate my first serving on a bed of fettucini. Tomorrow I might serve it on rice. Or potatoes? Or just a big slice of beautiful rustic bread.

“Gimme five”? Try seventeen!–A feast from many hands

Do you remember that I asked for five volunteers to help me make some Thanksgiving dishes for the Plymouth Housing Group? Well, seventeen people came over on Wednesday afternoon to get the job done! (Actually, 27 people–lord, count ‘em!–had signed up to help, but, because of crazy work schedules, colds, flu, etc., ten weren’t able to join us. We missed you; we’ll look forward to seeing you next year!)

At any rate, with that many volunteers to wedge into my small house, I went into planning overdrive. I made recipe packets. I made shopping lists. I did walk-throughs. As it happens, I have lots of party paraphernalia–folding tables and chairs, leaves for my dining room table, platters, bowls, you name it–so I dragged it all out and converted my living room, dining room, and kitchen into food-prep stations. I asked my volunteers to come in two shifts, one for 4:00 and one for around 6:00. Tuesday evening, I roasted the turkey, saved the pan drippings, and boiled the giblets (ready to make gravy!). Then Wednesday afternoon, I put out munchies, poured a glass of wine, and called myself ready.

We had five recipes to make: cranberry-orange relish, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet-potato casserole, and giblet gravy. I tried to split the recipes into two stages; the idea was that the 4:00 crowd would get things going, then the 6:00 crowd would finish up. I pictured people arriving maybe a little bit late, snacking, chatting for a while, and eventually getting down to work. Then Mr. Reality came through the door, and my plans jumped out the window. These people showed up on time and ready to go!

Here’s the Vlachos family making short work out of my cornbread dressing recipe. Darivanh (that’s her in black) turned out to be a power chopper; Vasili (seven years old) and Suriya (three years old) pulverized bread slices and cornbread, stirred eggs, poured broth, and kept us smiling. Laki (in tee shirt) kept everything going in the right direction and did plenty of boy-wrangling. The result?–The dressing in the pan (two pans, actually), ready to bake, before the end of the first shift!

My mashed-potato, relish, gravy, and sweet-potato teams were right behind them. Here’s Charlotte Lee and husband Marcel Blonk on sweet-potato prep, Libby Hanaford making relish, and Kristin Roth in clean-up mode. (They say good cooks clean up as they go; if so, all these guys were very good cooks, lucky for me!)

So-o-o, here comes my new 6:00 crowd of nine people, and I am standing here with five finished dishes!

We stared at each other blankly for a couple of minutes, then did a quick inventory and figured out that we could make another round of relish, mash, and sweet potato (thank heavens for warehouse shopping–a ten-pound bag of spuds goes a long way). Here’s Regina Derda and husband Michael Coleman finishing the relish (oh say 30 minutes after they got here), and my sweet-potato guys (Brian Espinosa, his sister Gretchen, and Thuy Duong)– also all done with cooking and dish-washing.

I didn’t get shots of the Gravy Amendment Team (Liz Diether-Martin and  Diedre Girard), who figured out how to stretch the giblet gravy into a whole second batch while keeping it thick and flavorful. (How did you do that?) And I also missed getting a shot of Julie Brunett (thank you for the extra pans, Julie!) and her six-year-old son Soren, who proved to be a mighty stirrer of mashed potatoes (and who cleaned one of the mixer’s beaters the old-fashioned way–and pronounced the potatoes very tasty).

(Intermezzo!–Midway through the afternoon, the folks from Lefever Holbrook Farm delivered my community-supported agriculture (CSA) meat order–half a lamb, rabbits, and a heritage Christmas turkey.  This stuff filled up two coolers! Here’s Conor with one and Madison with the other. What a treat to have them join us, if only briefly!

By 8:00 Wednesday evening, my gang was gone and everything was in the fridge. (Or I should say fridges; to make everything fit, I had to colonize my stepson’s fridge downstairs as well.)

Early Thursday morning, I baked the two pans of sweet potato casserole until the marshmallow topping browned and bubbled, I warmed up the other dishes, and boxed everything up for delivery (here’s less than half of it; it took me three trips to get everything in the car). We made a real feast!–two cartons of cranberry relish, two pans of sweet potato casserole, two cartons of giblet gravy, two pans of cornbread dressing, four pans of mashed potatoes, and one roast turkey!

Plymouth Housing Group asks volunteers to drop off their dishes at specific apartment buildings; PHG employees Brian Hatfield and Alan Berliner took my delivery at the Gatewood Apartments downtown by the Pike Place Market. Success!

Back home, I ignored the task of putting my house back in order to sit, feet up, cup of tea in hand, and enjoy the event again in hindsight. It had been a simple day, really; some people came over to my house and we cooked some dishes for other people to eat. For the most part, we hadn’t known each other before, but the conversation was easy, the humor ready, and the hands willing and skillful. No spills, no breakage; only one Band-Aid dispensed.

Not TV-worthy; no shoving or throwing elbows. Just a houseful of people taking a few hours out of their holiday to make life a little sweeter for someone else who was having a rougher go of it. There are many ways to get lucky!–but this time I hit it big. Thank you, my wonderful volunteers, for giving me a great Thanksgiving!

Locally grown meats–Get to know your rancher

I got the word late last week that Paulette Lefever Holbrook was making another run to deliver her meat products in Seattle last Saturday, so I signed up fast and scored my third community-supported-agriculture order this year from her ranch in Goldendale (about four hours east of the mountains and down near the Columbia River).

Paulette and her kids take service seriously! They wheeled my order not just to my door but to my open freezer. Here are Conor (thirteen years old now) and Madison (fifteen), about to lug the cooler up my front steps. (I introduced you to Conor a while back in a post about Lefever Holbrook Ranch lamb riblets.)

After we got the meat in the freezer, I got a family shot of Paulette, Madison, and Conor in my kitchen. This time, they brought me country ribs, baby back ribs, bacon, pork shoulder roast, and lamb shanks. Here’s my new stash in the basement freezer (with a few items left from before as well). And just to be nice, they brought me some cherries and a bag of gooseberries!

These people know how to work hard. In addition to the pork, lamb, duck, beef, and bison that I’ve bought from them so far, they raise turkeys and have just added rabbits. They raise all these animals, manage the slaughtering, and bring the meats to market. Not busy enough? They’ve added The Little Sheep Bakery, turning out artisan breads, cakes and cookies. They have garden beds with horseradish, shallots, garlic, and French string beans ready for harvest now. And lots of raspberries! Oh, and the catering business. (I think I’ve left out a few things.)

We sat out back and chatted for a little bit, and the conversation turned to leaf lard (fat from around the pig’s kidneys; remember my rendering exercise?). Paulette tells me that they are harvesting another pig this week; she will talk to the butcher about cutting me some of this “gold standard” lard.

I still haven’t been over to visit the ranch, but we talked about my coming over in September. (By then I should be able to pick up my next lamb order.) Stay tuned.

If you live in this region, look into participating in the CSA program that Paulette, Conor, and Madison offer. Don’t picture a side of beef hanging in your basement!–You can scale your participation to your family’s needs, and the meats arrive either paper-wrapped or vacuum-sealed in plastic. You will love the products and enjoy getting to know these great folks. Here’s how to get in touch with them:

  • Lefever Holbrook Ranch, 1098 Hwy 97, Goldendale, WA 98620, 509-773-3443
  • papa_pklh@yahoo.com

Lamb riblets from Lefever Holbrook ranch

These lamb riblets!–Plump, juicy, deeply . . . lamby. I did almost nothing to them–seared them, made a mirepoix and braised them over it, and ate them with wild rice. Melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

My riblets were once part of a lamb grazing on the “dry land hills and pastures of Lorena Butte” on the Lefever Holbrook Ranch across the mountains in Goldendale. Paulette Lefever sent me this photo; maybe you can taste that sunset in her meats. I bought the little fellow from her last October (after his one bad day, of course), and she and her 11-year-old son Conor delivered him right to my kitchen. (You’ll hear more about Conor; I gather that the hog operation is his, and I’ll be getting several pork products from him soon.)

They do the slaughtering on the ranch and use Buxton’s Meat Co., in Sandy, Oregon, for the butchering; what actually arrived on my kitchen counter (lugged up my many front steps by Conor himself) was a big cooler full of well-labeled packages for my freezer.

The ranch is a member of the Gorge Grown Food Network, a nonprofit that “connects local people to local foods and local farmers to  local markets.” I heard about Paulette’s wonderful products from a friend in my book club–haphazard! It’s great to know that they have an organization devoted to getting the word out.