Friday, September 28, 2012


Now where was I? Oh yes, genius and mad scientist chef/harvester Damon Baehrel was preparing us a meal at his home/restaurant in the Catskills. The third course of this elaborate affair was a baked wild daylily. In the wild, a daylily looks something like this.

Chef Damon battered the daylily in a golden fava bean flour, mixed with seltzer he made from well water. Even though the final result was amazingly crispy and light, there was no frying involved. Instead, the flower was baked on a mere film of grapeseed oil at a very hot temperature of 600 degrees.

The sauce was a purée of wild turnip, enriched not with cream or butter, but with rutabaga stock. The plate was dusted with fresh spring fennel. Divine.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Kale Chips

Every time I make kale chips, people drool over them and ask for my recipe. These are the crispy, crinkly, curly kale chips you see for sale in health food stores. Often they are labeled as "raw," which means they were heated at temperatures below 118 Fahrenheit, or thereabouts. They usually cost about 8 bucks for a few meager, crumbly leaves. I have to admit, they can be a little labor intensive to make yourself, but they are so inexpensive and totally worth the time and effort.

The most BASIC recipe can be summed up like this: Take a big bunch of curly kale (preferably two bunches, since it does shrink down a lot). Wash it well and dry it, and remove all the spines. Add just enough olive oil to very lightly coat all the leaves, and massage the oil into every nook and fold of the leaves. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful with the quantities of oil and seasonings, because they will all intensify as the kale heats up and shrinks down. Use just enough to relax the rigidness of the leaves. You don't want it to come out unpleasantly oily, salty or spicy.

It's rather important to use the curly kind, since the little curls crisp up so well, but you could any kind of kale, and in fact you could you use chard, spinach, or any other leafy green -- but in my experience, kale is by FAR the best, and curly kale is best of all.

Then, you cook it. This can be done in an oven at its lowest setting (about 200 degrees). It should take an hour or two at the very most, probably less. Just lay the leaves on trays in one layer. When they are wilted and starting to dry out, turn all the leaves over and put them back in the oven till they're totally dry and crispy. Keep an eye on them -- if you burn them, it's all over.

An oven is fine, but I MUCH prefer to use a dehydrator instead of an oven. This keeps the kale bright green, and also keeps it as a "raw" food with more vitamins and enzymes intact if you keep the heat under 118 degrees. It should be ready in about 3 or 4 hours, (including one turning). In my experiments, though, I found that the chips come out a bit tough if you don't heat it for at least an hour at a slightly higher temperature. So I usually go with 145 degrees for an hour then turn, then finish for another couple of hours at 115 degress. It's a compromise and yields the best results.

Now, for my REAL recipe: I soak about 3/4 cup of raw cashews in water for 2 to 4 hours. Then drain and put the cashews in a mini-blender. I add half a peeled red bell pepper, roughly cut, a clove or two of garlic, a tablespoon of nama shoyu or soy sauce, a tablespoon of olive oil, three heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a touch of cayenne or smoked paprika (optional), and a bit of salt and pepper. I blend all that into a creamy and smooth marinade, then massage THAT into the two bunches of kale leaves, in batches. It's amazing.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

DAMON BAEHREL, 2nd course.

As I was saying! The next course from chef Damon Baehrel was really many mini-dishes in one, arrayed in a beautiful oval on a gorgeous plate (Baehrel joked that his accountant told him he could have either a sports car, or his exquisite set of dishes). 

Clockwise from top center, is a radish with a sauce of flax seed oil, red pepper and sorrel vinegar, poised atop a nasturtium leaf.  The ball of cheese is a three-week-old chèvre with a dollop of red sugarbush sauce, topped with a pea flower. To the right of that is a blue cheese aged four months, topped with a wild chive flower, accompanied by pickled mulberry purée and baked fig leaf ash. In the 3 o’clock position is a five and half month old camembert-style cheese made with 80% cow milk, 20% sheep milk, dusted with dried cantaloupe seeds and paired with pickled peach purée and a bee-balm leaf. Below that is a tiny wild micro-strawberry. The triangular cheese is a cow cheese aged 7 months curdled with fermented apple and grape juices and rennet, paired with a carrot top.

The pink rectangular meat is cured Tamworth hog with fennel leaf. Still going clockwise, the next round meat is a lamb spicy salami flavored with pine needle powder. The next is a duck salami aged one and a half months, with bell pepper powder, garnished with sawtooth lavender. Then we have goose pepperoni with sea salt and tomato powder decorated with celery root flower. The last round one is guinea hen sopressata with sea salt, spiced with arugula powder in place of black pepper, and garnished with Russian sage. The bright red rectangular meat is venison leg, aged 14 months. This dish was the perfect way to warm up the salivary glands for what lay ahead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DAMON BAEHREL, 1st course.

I recently had a meal that can only be described as epic. It was a 5-hour, 14-course experience that I will attempt to document in stages, one dish at a time, since nobody can truly process it all in one sitting. I know I couldn’t.

After almost two years on a waiting list, our number finally came up. We booked a room in a bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York and made the three-hour pilgrimmage.
Damon Baehrel is a one-man show. On his 12-acre home in Earlton, New York, nestled in the Catskills, he has, for over 20 years, run a small restaurant out of his basement. Until recently, it was simply called The Basement Bistro, but now the restaurant bears only his own name.
Baehrel grows his own vegetables, forages for wild herbs, flowers and roots, taps his own trees, presses his own oil, grinds his own flour, makes his own cheese, and cures his own meat. On top of that, he creates his own radically inventive dishes, and – oh yes, he alone functions as the entire waitstaff. Call him eccentric or call him obsessed; either way, the man has a calling.
Everything we ate came from his property, except some meat and dairy products from a farm down the road, some seafood shipped live from Halifax, wine from Europe and sea salt from New England. That means that certain staples one has come to expect at every fine meal, like olive oil, black pepper, cane sugar, and other exotic tastes we have come to regard as our own, were inventively replaced by local substitutes.

Most ingredients are highly seasonal (some available merely several days a year), but some are preserved, pickled, dried or otherwise stored from seasons past.The restaurant had just finished a large lunch seating of almost 2 dozen people, and had a another dozen coming for a 10PM seating. Yet as chance would have it, we arrived at 5 PM to discover that the restaurant would be ours alone for the duration.  We felt like royalty, being pampered with such individual attention by the harvester/chef/waiter.
 The chef started us off not with a pitcher of water, but of iced sap from his birch and maple trees, flavored with crisp cucumbers. The sap was very watery and light, and had only a hint of a sweet, mineral taste. We began with a lovely Languedoc sparkling wine, Sainte-Hilaire 2010.
Two types of bread: focaccia brushed with grapeseed oil and specked with sea salt, ramp powder and garlic scapes, and also a round loaf made with homegrown wheat and white bean flour. Served with two kinds of local, sweet spring butter, including an incredible sheep butter with lavender. Oh, and by the way, the grapeseed oil is flavored with spruce shoots, cedar berries and wild tarragon.

Finally, it begins! The first of 14 courses to arrive was a beautifully presented wild violet ice, flavored intensely with grape powder and grape leaf powder, and sweetened with stevia leaf extract. The garnish was rhubarb powder.

Thirteen courses to go. Stay tuned!