Archive for June 30, 2009
Lesson number 2 was just as enjoyable and informative. There are no complex cooking techniques here, just simple, fresh ingredients cooked to elevate their inherent tastiness. We pulled herbs, thyme and rosemary, from the garden after feeding the rabbits celery and the horse and donkey apples. The personalities of these animals are cracking me up. My fav rabbit who I’ve affectionately named Koala falls asleep 2 seconds after you start to pet its head.
Back to the food: The bases of the recipes are very similar, starting with butter and olive oil, garlic and shallots. Herbs, vegetables, broths/wines, are added in layers over time to create a well-balanced and blended finish. The success of these dishes lies in the fresh ingredients and careful rationing of flavors during the cooking process. The asparagus soup is one example of infusing each layer perfectly. The broth is made from water and the throw away, bottom stems of asparagus. The middle parts of the asparagus are flavored along with the potatoes and onions in the beginning stages, and the asparagus tips are placed in after the blending process so you have crispy, semi-raw heads floating in your soup. Bravo asparagus!
On an aside, It is obvious that I will need to buy some kitchen staples when I return; blender, coffee grinder for spices, heavy cream, cooking wines, fresh herbs.
Any proper retreat requires a transformational journey. This morning I drove from Asheville, NC to Banner Elk, NC, home to the Mast Farm Inn. Starting on a well-groomed highway, I ascended the appalachian mountains on increasingly narrow and less manicured roads. I passed stores called “hank’s salon” and “country general store”. Instead of a compact rental car, I wished I were in a maserati taking the narrow twists and turns in James Bond fashion.
Finally, I arrived at a modest looking country inn and adjacent inn farm. Charmed from the instant I walked into the main house, it has only gotten better. They upgraded me from the Aunt Leona room that I reserved to a cottage of my very own, called the “Loom Cabin”. (not Loon, mom) It is a 200 year old cabin that smells like old wood in a good way. It is a paradox of new and old, internet, running water, and cell phone reception in a space that looks like the home of Abe Lincoln. Cozy amenities abound such as folk music playing on a stereo when I walked in, a coffee maker and bean grinder, and a wall hanging wine uncorker.
My first cooking lesson with the Big and Little Chef! Danielle and Marie are a daughter/mom team that serve up slow food, fresh meals at the Mast Farm Inn. The mom known for her messiness and daughter for her clumsiness were adorable to work with in the kitchen. We tasted everything at every stage of cooking from the herb mix for the roasted tomatoes to the champagne for the chicken which we indulged by the glass. Everything in their cooking is super fresh and about 75% of their ingredients are from their own garden. At the end of 4 hours, after prepping both my meal (delicious) and breakfast for about 15 guests tomorrow morning, Danielle wrapped everything up so that I could dine in my cabin. Needless to say, after gobbling grits, chicken and such, I took a long, digestion nap.