I spent most of last week with my fellow Meat Hook butchers up at Kinderhook Farm in the Hudson Valley. Kinderhook is one of three farms that raise beef for our shop, and it also happens to be one of the most beautiful, magical places in existence. I look forward to these farm trips every year as an opportunity to get out of the city with a group of my favorite people, to drink lots of beer and cook big meals and shoot the occasional gun at the occasional clay pigeon. More than that, though, these trips are an opportunity to learn about the animals that eventually end up in the shop, and to appreciate the massive amount of work and care and time that goes in to raising them.
As fun as these trips are, I would be lying if I said that they aren’t often difficult for me. Cutting meat nearly every day, I sometimes lose sight of the gravity of what is truly at the root of my job. These farm trips are important because they help to complete the picture. They allow me to see the process from start to finish, to learn about it from the smartest and most compassionate people in the business, and to think about it long and hard.
The Little House on the Prairie series was my first introduction to livestock farming, and I can’t help but think of the books every time I’m at the farm. I learned about grass-fed beef from this series (something I never knew about since all of the beef I ate growing up was grain-fed), I learned about bottle-raising a calf and how to properly milk a dairy cow without getting kicked. My favorite book in the series was Farmer Boy, which details the childhood of Laura Ingalls’ future-husband Almanzo Wilder. There was a really simple reason for this book being my favorite one in the series, and that reason is pie. There are meals in this book that consist only of pie–chicken pot pie followed by milk-fed pumpkin pie followed by apple pie “with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust” topped with cheddar cheese. Cheddar cheese! On a pie! This was insane to me as a kid. Almanzo eats his cheese-smothered slice of apple pie in the pasture, “smelling clover and eating the spicy apples and flaky crust in big mouthfuls. He licked his fingers, and then he rounded up the sheep and drove them across the dewy grass into the sheepfold in the South Barn.”
As an adult I routinely struggle with whether to top my pie with cheddar cheese or with ice cream (yes, I really used the word “struggle” there). This problem is easily solved by combining the two and making a cheddar cheese ice cream. It will change the way you eat your fall apple pie, I mean it.
Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream
Makes 1 Quart
1 ¼ cup whole milk
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided into two ½ cup portions
1 ½ cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar
First, prepare an ice bath and set a strainer and a metal bowl filled with the cheddar cheese aside (it’s important to have all of this in place before you start, you need to be able to get the hot base over ice right away). Place milk, cream, vanilla, salt, and ½ cup of sugar in a large pot over medium-high heat and whisk until combined. Cook until just before boiling (you will see steam rising from the surface of the milk and small bubbles forming around the edge of the pot). Turn off heat and in a large bowl, whisk egg yolks together with remaining half cup of sugar until they are thickened and pale yellow—about three minutes of vigorous whisking. Fill a measuring cup with 1 cup of the hot milk and cream mixture and slowly (slowly!) pour a steady stream of the milk into the egg yolks, whisking vigorously the whole time so that the eggs don’t scramble (you may need someone to hold the bowl for you). Continue this process until all of the hot milk is incorporated into the egg yolks.
Return the egg/milk mixture to your pot and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture reaches between 165F on your thermometer.
**If you don’t have a thermometer, bring the mixture to a rolling boil and boil gently, whisking continuously, for 4 minutes. You can also dip a wooden spoon into the mixture—if it leaves a thick coating on the back of the spoon, it’s ready. Obviously, neither of these methods are as reliable as using a thermometer, but they’ve done the trick for me many times**
Once ice cream base reaches 165F, pour it through the fine mesh strainer into the metal bowl filled with grated cheddar cheese and whisk until cheese is completely melted and incorporated. Place base over ice bath and continue to whisk constantly over the ice for 5 minutes, or until base stops steaming and is cool to the touch. Place base in the refrigerator to cool completely before spinning it, according to your ice-cream maker’s instructions.
“Farmer Boy” Skillet Apple Pie
Makes 2 9-inch pie crusts
2 ½ cups AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar + 1 Tablespoon for dusting
1 ½ cups unsalted butter (12 Tablespoons, 6 oz), cut into ¼ inch pieces and frozen
½ cup leaf lard or vegetable lard, cut into 6 pieces and frozen (don’t know what leaf lard is? Read up on it here!)
¼ cup vodka, chilled
¼ cup ice water
1 egg white and 1 TBS sugar for brushing
Put 1 ½ cups of flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a food-processor and pulse four times until ingredients are combined. Add frozen butter and lard and process for about 15-20 seconds, or until the dough just begins to collect and none of the flour is uncoated. Add the remaining 1cup of flour and pulse five more times. Transfer to a bowl and add water and vodka to mixture, using a rubber spatula to gently bring the dough together. It might seem stickier or tackier than you’re used to, but all of the vodka will evaporate when baked, so don’t fret!? Split dough into two even pieces and shape them into rounds, being careful not to over-handle, tightly wrap them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours.?After two hours, sprinkle a small amount of flour onto your work surface and roll each ball into 12 inch rounds. Put them back into the fridge.
4 Tablespoons butter (plus more for greasing skillet)
2 ½ pounds of apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly (I used a 50/50 mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp)
½ cup cider
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice of ½ a lemon (or 2 Tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon good vanilla
Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add your thinly sliced apples. Cook apples until they begin to soften and caramelize slightly—5-7 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cider, maple syrup, lemon juice, cornstarch and vanilla. Add mixture to sautéed apples and cook about eight minutes more over medium heat. Cider should be bubbling and reduced slightly. Allow apples to cool to room temperature in the fridge (should take 20-30 minutes). Once apples are cool, pre-heat oven to 500F and grease your cast-iron skillet with extra butter. Mold one of the pie-crusts into the skillet and pour cooled apple mixture in. Cut six slits in the center of your top pie-crust and place it on top of the apples, crimping the edges of the top and bottom crusts together until tightly sealed. Brush crust with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until crust is deep brown and juices are thick and bubbling—about 45 minutes (If your crust is deep brown but you don’t think the juices are thickened enough, just make a tent of tinfoil over the crust and continue to bake 15-20 minutes more). Serve with cheddar cheese ice cream.