Friday, May 11, 2012

Locavores Who Lunch

By Vanessa DeSantis

A deliveryman cradling three crates of farm fresh eggs passes my table. It’s brunch rush at the Iris Café – a coffee shop located on a cobblestoned side street in Brooklyn Heights.

A medical quote comes to mind as I examine the Iris menu, “first do no harm.” The food comes from small farms within 500 miles. The meats are from Dickson’s Farmstand, a New York supplier of meats from local, sustainable farms. The coffee is fair trade; they use Stumptown, roasted in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. Some of the farm-fresh fare, such as dairy and eggs, is even available for purchase in a small “grocery” case by the Café’s cashier.

The vibe of Iris is more carefree and dare I say it – prettier – than the average hipster coffee joint. The glass door has a cluster of purple and blue iris flowers painted on it – a design also stamped lovingly on each to-go cup. Chalkboard menus in ornate golden frames hang against an exposed brick wall. Each small square table is freshened with roses in recycled glass. (Mine was a Sanbittèr bottle – an aromatic bitters once produced by the San Pellegrino Company.) The beige muffin pouches are made of silky lightweight craft paper.

The brief and not-too-varied menu is divided equally into food and drink items, and the coffee options are many. Baristas swirl heart-shapes and leaves into foamy espresso drinks.  

My brunch date ordered the French dip ($10) and I went with the Ploughman ($9), a sandwich with a tangy Surryano ham — a domestic version of the Spanish Serrano – apple slices, pickles, sharp cheddar and Dijon-mayo, all packed into a baked-onsite baguette. Delicious.

The French dip differs from the LA area original. The tender roast beef is served pink not well done and is accompanied by Blue Brie and Dijon mayo. The au jus is an earthy brew of beef broth and coffee. Purists might frown. I enjoyed the embellishments as a charming nod towards the French side of things. In the northern region of France where Brie originated they dunk wedges of the cheese into their café au lait.

The food might be big on quality, but don’t expect giant servings. Sandwiches arrive solo on craft paper – only the French Dip gets a plate (that au jus can get messy!). Sides are ordered separately.

My baguette devoured, I ordered biscuits with berry jam to go along with a second round of coffee. They had a soft and airy texture, and the jam tasted homemade good (it’s made from scratch at the café).

Owner Rachel Graville apprenticed at Slow Food USA, an organization dedicated to defending food biodiversity, and previously worked at Edible Brooklyn, a magazine covering the local food movement.

Graville is one of this era’s young restaurateurs updating the trend of using sustainably farmed local ingredients. Berkeley’s Alice Waters and New York’s Dan Barber pioneered the effort decades ago in fine dining. By incorporating a similar concept into the brunch culture of the casual café, proprietors like Graville are making organic fare a little more accessible, and for the Brooklynite – that much more local. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Big Apple Autumn!

By: Vanessa DeSantis

Have a Honeycrisp! Eat an Empire! Grab a Granny Smith – or why not try a Winesap?  The truth is, in New York we can have our pick. Travel to any of the many upstate farms to find your favorite apple varieties. Apple picking is not only fun, it’s full of beauty benefits too! Drink in delicious draughts of autumn air while plucking fruit straight from the tree. Your cheeks will be as fresh and full of color as the apples in your cart.

But if you’re like me you’ll get carried away. You’ll forget all about your pint-sized kitchen with its countertop the size of a subway seat. Every year I come home with more apples than I can possibly eat, share or give away. What to do?!

The answer is as easy as…  pie.

Try this pie recipe with its farm fresh apples and buttery crust. The filling is sweet with a bite, incorporating equal parts Pink Lady (sweet rose-colored apples) and Granny Smith (tart and tangy light green apples). 

The crust is a pâte brisée using only pure (and preferably locally made) butter. Shrugging off the need for sugar or any artificial sweeteners, I added a spicy twist by grinding in fresh cinnamon instead.  

Serve with a scoop vanilla ice cream or fancy it up with a dollop of crème fraîche.

“Farm Fresh Apple Pie with Cinnamon-Butter Crust”



2 1/2 flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
optional: scant pinch of ground clove
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into dice sized cubes
1/2 cup ice water


6 farm fresh organic apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick – use 3 sweet apples (Pink Lady or others) and 3 tart apples (Granny Smith are the best)
¼  cup + ½ teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
optional: sub-in 1 teaspoon of honey instead of the white sugar


Cook’s note – This recipe makes use of New York’s diverse range of apple choices – the sweet and the tart – and combines them to make a fresh and flavorful apple pie with an unabashedly buttery crust!

Preheat oven to 425F

Place oven rack on lowest level. Place a baking sheet there and cover with tin foil (the pie will sit on top of the baking sheet, so that it will catch any juices as the pie bakes).

The crust:
In a food processor, place the flour, salt and cinnamon and process until combined. Add the chilled cubes of butter and process until the mixture resembles cornmeal (10 seconds or more).  Slowly pour ¼ cup of the ice water through the feed tube until the dough holds together (15-30 seconds tops).  Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Divide in half, and flatten to two discs, wrap and refrigerator for at least one hour. (This is the time to prepare the filling –
see below). Remove the discs and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll each into a 12-inch circle, constantly lifting and turning it a quarter as you roll the pin from the center outward. You are now ready to shape the dough into the pie pan. Add the filling at this point, covering with the second circle of 12 inch rolled dough, pinching tightly at the edges, so that the two outward layers of dough crimp together securely. Using a knife make four two inch vents in the top crust.

The filling:
In a large bowl combine the sliced apples with the sugar, lemon juice, ground cinnamon and salt. Let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes. This softens the apples. Pour the filling into the bottom crust, dotting the top with small pieces of butter (no more than a tablespoon’s worth).

Place on the center of the baking sheet positioned on the bottom rack, and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and place a foil ring around the outer edges of crust to prevent browning. Place the pie back in the oven and continue to bake for 20 more minutes (or until the juices begin bubbling through the slits and the apples feel tender).

Let the pie cool on the rack at room temperature before serving.  Enjoy!