A Movable Feast
Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners are gloriously fresh and friendly collaborations with local farmers
When Bella the vintage school bus rolls onto a farm, you know good food is coming soon. The retired and retrofitted bus (purchased on eBay from a school district in Indiana) is a mobile prep kitchen for Meadow Lark Farm Dinners, and between late May and the end of September, Bella and her merry band of traveling chefs turn farms into feasts.
Meadow Lark Farm Dinners were first served in 2008, thanks to the enthusiasm of a group of four well-traveled friends (Veronica Volny, Aaron Hirsh, China Tresemer and Nate Ready) with a shared love of food and a great respect for farmers. Veronica explains, “we really wanted to reveal the taste of the specific farm, to give people the opportunity to actually see what the crops look like, talk to the farmers and eat it at the source.” Each year, Meadow Lark works with a small number of carefully chosen Boulder-area farms, developing close relationships with local producers.
Menus are based on what’s available on the particular farm that day, and they can change up until the last minute. Meals are several courses, yet they are simple, and recipes are uncomplicated. “Our goal is to honor the ingredients and reveal what they have to offer,” Veronica says. “We’re constantly playing with the menu.” Any meat, cheese, fruit or vegetable not produced by that evening’s farmstead is sourced from trusted local food artisans.
All of the advance work is done on the bus, which is equipped with a refrigerator, stainless steel work tables, sinks, a water hook-up and custom-built storage racks to safely transport the team’s old-fashioned china and stemware. “I scoured every antique shop from Denver to Fort Collins,” Veronica recalls.
Once the bus is parked in the field, the cooks and crew (who come from all over the country for the experience of working with Meadow Lark) set up a wood-burning grill and get started. White tents are set up and one long table is assembled to seat 42 for dinner. When guests arrive, they are welcomed by their farmer-hosts and offered a local craft brew and a tour of the farm before sitting down to enjoy the meal.
“It’s an extremely rewarding way to go about eating,” Veronica observes. “We get to know the people who are behind the food that we put on our plates. There’s more exchange, more dialogue, more deliciousness.”
Here, Veronica shares some Meadow Lark recipes:
Crostini with Egg Salad
Egg salad can be fresh, light and savory—and a vibrant marigold-yellow—but more often than not, it gets suffocated in too much mayonnaise. The key is to use excellent eggs and to boil them till the yolks just set—somewhere between seven and eight minutes. This way, the yolks will remain creamy. Coarsely chopped, the eggs need nothing more than a dollop of Dijon mustard and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt to come together. This is the departure point for any number of culinary directions: the addition of fresh herbs, young shallots or ground spices will make this egg salad fit right into the day’s menu.
Fines herbes are very much at home here: parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil and even leaves of sorrel or celery, or frilly dill. These herbs can be added in combination, or one at a time. Give them a rough chop and mix them in among the eggs, saving a fistful to scatter on top before serving. Minced shallots that have marinated in some nice vinegar will give up their edge; drained and used in measured quantities, they will provide some welcome lift. Minced capers will do the same.
Cumin or coriander seeds that have been barely toasted, and ground in a mortar, can be sprinkled over these egg salad crostini, giving them an altogether new identity. A red streak of smoky paprika takes us toward Spain; purplish sumac reminds us of Morocco.
At Meadow Lark, we make our crostini—thin, toasted slices of bread—by cutting a baguette on a bias; we arrange the slices on a sheet tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toast them over our wood fire. A hot oven, or even a toaster oven, works just as well.
An Early Summer Salad
salads provide a chance to forage through farmers’ markets, your garden, the pots of flowers and herbs on your window sill, the grassy banks of a creek during your Sunday stroll, and to fill your basket and your plate—what grows together in the field will go together in a salad. We’ve served many a composed salad at our farm dinners; they are a fresh, crisp and colorful way to begin a dinner.
From the farm, we might get baby carrots, which we peel and keep whole if very little, or slice lengthwise, almost translucently thin, using a mandolin. Carrot thinnings from the garden can end up in this salad, complete with frilly greens still attached. Radishes, cut into thin rounds, add crescents of color and a nice bite. Bright white baby turnips are
wonderful here—to mix it up, we might cut these into thicker slices, and then into matchsticks. The tips of pea shoots with their curling vines add whimsy, and if you can spare a few pea flowers, you’ll have yourself a very beautiful first course.
This salad should be dressed very lightly, with a mild olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and only a tiny bit of salt. For creaminess, you can add a few morsels of the most delicate chèvre you can find, or a swipe of creamy mustard vinaigrette. Once the salad is arranged on individual plates or a large serving platter, tuck the pea flowers or other flowers—borage
blossoms, violets, tufts of baby-breath-like flowers of chervil—here and there, or shower chive blossoms—not the entire pom-poms but the individual, little flowers the balls are composed of—over the entire plate.
Grilled Flank Steak
At Meadow Lark, we get our flank steaks from Frank Silva, who raises Scottish Highland cattle. Instead of adding salt to the marinade, we salt the meat directly to ensure it gets just the right amount: an even shower on both sides.
Here’s what goes in the marinade:
red wine vinegar
For a single flank steak, you might start with three or four tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon. Then whisk in a steady stream of olive oil until you have what looks and tastes like the beginning of a vinaigrette. Add a few cloves of crushed garlic. Similarly, bruise the rosemary and oregano: lay them on your board and give them a few whacks with the back of the blade to release their essential oils. Crush a couple of bay leaves and
a dried cayenne chili in your fist and let them crumble into the marinade. Add a couple of twists of black pepper and a few strips of lemon peel. Let the salted flank steak rest in the marinade, in your fridge, for the better part of the day, or overnight. And be sure to allow the steak to warm up a bit on your counter before you head for the grill, otherwise it will cook too unevenly. When your grill is hot, remove the steak from the marinade—you don’t have to brush off any excess, but be sure that no stray pieces of garlic remain, or they will burn and turn very bitter.
As with any cut of meat that has been grilled as you like it, make sure you let it rest in a warm place for five to ten minutes, protected from any breezes. Slice the steak across its grain, and serve it on a warm platter, perhaps on a pillow of robust greens that will benefit from the steak’s juices.
Apricot Frangipane Tart
Apricots are hard to grow in our Colorado climate—spring snowstorms, high winds, and the late arrival of honeybees in the orchard are only a few factors that can go wrong. So when everything comes together and you get your hands on some perfect Colorado apricots, set this recipe aside, rinse the apricots under cool water, set them in your prettiest bowl, and serve them—unadorned—for dessert. The rest of the time, this tart will add the sweetness that is lacking from an abridged growing season. This dessert is best served warm—but you can get most of the preparation done beforehand.
There are three parts to this tart: the pre-baked tart shell, the frangipane—a combination of eggs, sugar, butter and ground almonds that makes for a pillowy backdrop in this tart—and the apricots themselves.
Start by making a pâte sucrée, a sweetcrust pastry:
1/4 pound butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup flour
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat 1/4 pound (one stick) of unsalted butter with 1/3 cup of sugar until the butter is whipped and creamy. Then add a pinch of salt, a few drops of vanilla extract, and one egg yolk, and keep mixing until everything is combined (you may have to pause the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl). Finally, turn the mixer to its lowest speed and add 1 1/4 cups of flour—watch closely, and stop the mixer as soon as the pastry dough has come together. In our dry climate, you may need a few drops of water to encourage everything to come together. Peel the dough off the paddle, gather any loose crumbs of dough, wrap the ball in plastic foil, and press it into a disc just over an inch thick. This dough likes to rest for as long as you can let it—all day if possible, or even overnight if you plan ahead.
When you are getting ready to pre-bake the tart shell, let the dough warm up and soften a bit on your counter. Then roll it out while keeping both sides dusted with flour to keep it from sticking. Transfer the rolled-out dough to a tart shell with a removable bottom, and press it into place. Don’t worry if the dough cracks and crumbles—you can patch any holes with extra pieces of dough.
Stick the lined tart shell in the freezer for 15 minutes or so before transferring it to a hot oven (somewhere around 375˚F). Bake it until it’s just golden, not more—remember that it will spend more time in the oven once it’s filled.
Prepare the apricots by cutting them into little wedges. Sprinkle them liberally with sugar, toss them around, and let them get a little juicy as they sit in the sugar. A squeeze of lemon juice will keep them from browning too much.
For the frangipane, prepare:
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
6 tablespoons butter
Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat assertively until the frangipane looks light in color and a bit fluffy. Cover the bowl with plastic foil and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble and bake the tart. Make sure the tart shell has cooled completely before you do.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the frangipane on the bottom of the tart shell in an even layer. Then use a slotted spoon to remove the apricot wedges from their juices, and scatter them across the surface of the frangipane. Use the back of the spoon to gently press the wedges into the frangipane—just a little bit. You can use a generous amount of apricots, but be sure to leave some spaces of frangipane peeking through here and there. Bake the tart in a hot oven until the frangipane has puffed up around the apricots and has turned a deep golden brown, and some of the wedges have caramelized a bit around the edges.
Once it’s out of the oven, let the tart cool ever so slightly before removing the rim of the pan. You can simmer the sweet apricot juices until they are thick and syrupy, and use this reduction to sweeten some loosely whipped cream. A splash of almond extract in the cream will add a nice perfume.
The 2014 Meadow Lark Farm Dinners’ season runs May 31 through the end of September, with twice-weekly meals at select Boulder County farms on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Dinners often sell out, so advance reservations are essential. farmdinners.com