Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stone Barns and Blue Hill Cafe

Last weekend, while driving home from a family wedding in New York's Hudson Valley, we decided to take a short detour to Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. It was a bit of a struggle to get there, battling heavy rains and low visibility on the Taconic State Parkway, but as we pulled up to the farm, the rain magically stopped and we even saw a hint of blue skies.

Stone Barns is a non-profit farm, an education center, and home to
Blue Hill Restaurant and Cafe (the farm's biggest customer). Through public programs, the education center seeks to increase awareness of sustainable agriculture and to teach us where our food actually comes from.

We arrived in time to sign up for a
livestock tour ($10 per adult), an hour-long walking tour through the pastures and barns, allowing you to get up close with the farm's animals. As we were waiting for our tour to begin, we watched the young participants from the morning's egg gathering program skip happily on by, their guide holding an enormous basket of freshly collected brown eggs.

Our livestock tour began with a visit to the laying hens. Did you know that you can tell what color their eggs will be from looking at their earlobes? This breed of chicken lays brown eggs:

A group of naughty hens had escaped the fenced-in area (now that's what you call 'free range') and uncharacteristically followed us for part of our tour:

A flock of teenage
Bourbon Red turkeys (known for their juicy rich-tasting meat and their fondness for roosting in trees):

A proud
Broad-Breasted White turkey:

A 600 lb
Berkshire pig rooting around in the woods:

Grazing lambs:

We also saw geese, rams, wild turkeys, and some beehives.

According to Stone Barn's philosophy, their animals live humane lives on the farm. And though I'm not an expert in animal psychology, all the animals we met that day seemed genuinely happy, healthy, and good-natured.

From the egg mobiles to the oxygenated compost pile (which didn't smell bad at all), Stone Barns was everything I'd imagined after reading about the symbiosis of pasture-based farming in
The Omnivore's Dilemma (specifically the chapters on Polyface Farm). It was pretty amazing, actually.

After our tour we stopped at the farmer's market at the Dooryard Garden:

And checked out the 2 old silos:

Cleverly converted on the inside to a lounge and coat room:

We also snuck upstairs to for a peak at the
Hayloft (an old haybarn converted to a gorgeous catering hall).

And as we were walking through the silo lobby, we unexpectedly ran into
Chef Dan Barber (turning me into a stuttering starstruck fool, of course). Unphased by my ridiculous behavior, Chef Barber graciously invited us into the kitchen to take a photo with him:

As this was an impromptu visit, we tried not to lament too much about the fact that we were dressed far too casually in our t-shirts and shorts to dine in the main restaurant (never mind that we didn't have a reservation either), and instead enjoyed a light lunch at the
Blue Hill Cafe:

Vegetarian quiche:

A sampling of salads (heirloom tomato, green bean, and couscous):

Open-faced tomato and goat cheese sandwich:

The food was simply prepared but delicious, featuring quality ingredients from the farm. We especially loved the different varieties of sweet heirloom tomatoes.

After lunch, we walked through their impressive half-acre greenhouse:

The hi-tech roof automatically opens to cool the greenhouse when it reaches a certain temperature:

We plan on taking the greenhouse tour on our next visit, especially after spotting several seedlings we'd never heard of before:

All in all, a fabulous afternoon at Stone Barns. We're already planning a trip back to dine in the main restaurant (and next time, we'll be dressed to the nines). Highly recommended for foodies, families, and anyone interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-6200

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
(914) 366-9600


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Best Blueberry Pie EVER

Tired of fruit pies with overcooked jam-y fillings? Try this recipe for fresh blueberry pie, overflowing with juicy blueberries, bursting in your mouth with every delicious bite.

Kris and I tend to go overboard with blueberry picking every summer, requiring me to freeze several pounds of blueberries, which ends up destroying their flavor and consistency.

This year, I was determined to use up every single one of those gorgeous fresh berries, so I made three generously-filled fresh blueberry pies (2 for us and 1 for my in-laws).

Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and you have the perfect summer dessert.

And don't you dare try to use frozen blueberries in this recipe! There's still time to head out to your local farm and pick your own berries before the season's over. Enjoy!

Printable Version

1 prepared 9” deep dish pie shell, baked and ready to fill
(or use your favorite homemade pie crust recipe)

5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 cup cold water
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1 – 2 teaspoons)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan combine water, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice and 1 cup of blueberries. Stir until cornstarch dissolves. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to come to a boil. Lower heat and continue to stir, mashing blueberries with a wooden spoon. Cook until mixture has thickened and turned a dark glossy purple. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. When mixture is cool enough to the touch, carefully stir in remaining 4 cups of blueberries. Pour filling into prepared pie crust. Chill for several hours or overnight until filling has set. Dollop or pipe swirls of sweetened whipped cream (recipe follows) on top to serve.

Sweetened Fresh Whipped Cream:
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat at medium-low speed for 2 minutes, adding 1/2 of the powdered sugar in gradually. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for another 2 to 3 minutes, adding the remaining powdered sugar gradually, until soft peaks start to form. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 30 seconds until firm peaks form. Spoon whipped cream on top of blueberry pie slices, or if you want to get fancy, use a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to pipe swirls (or use a heavy duty gallon-sized freezer bag with a corner snipped off).