Dark Days Challenge 09

Dark Days Week 15: Huevos Rancheros!

For some reason I got all het up to make some sour cream this week. I followed this recipe, because I didn’t realize Mother Earth News had one too. But they are pretty much the same.

So once I had this sour cream, I froze 3/4 of it but we still needed to use up a half-pint of it that I kept fresh in the fridge. We also have a LOT of eggs (want eggs? email me!!) and Garth loves black beans almost as much as he loves ketchup. So: huevos rancheros, only mostly following the recipe (as usual).

  • Black beans from Alvarez Farm (150+ miles, but just barely), simmered for a long time with pre-fried Skagit River Ranch bacon and Laughing Crow Farm onions, and a bay leaf from our farmers’ market.
  • Fresh tortillas from the awesome tortilla-maker machine at Central Market! (Now that we have lard we might be making our own tortillas soon!)
  • Salsa: onion from Laughing Crow, organic storebought :( tomatoes, homegrown jalapeños, Laughing Crow hot peppers that we dried at home last summer (not sure what variety, but I thought they looked a lot like Bulgarian Carrot peppers). Obviously did not use cilantro, as it is, you know, February.
  • Homegrown eggs! as always. Fried in my happy cast iron pan with leftover tasty bacon fat.
  • Homemade sour cream with cream from Fresh Breeze dairy, also as always. I used Nancy’s organic full-fat plain yogurt as the starter.

Verdict: YUM. Will definitely be making this again. I usually order this when out for breakfast because I don’t eat meat whose origins are not intimately known to me, and it’s often one of the only vegetarian meals on a breakfast menu. But the addition of the little bit of bacon in the beans is fantastic and adds a nice depth to the whole thing. I also cooked the salsa for a good long while, which made it caramelizey, and neutralized the acids a bit, mellowing it out — though it still had some good heat from the peppers.

Homegrown: eggs, jalapeños
Island-grown: onions, hot peppers, garlic
Local (150 miles): cream for sour cream; bacon; bay leaf
Local (Washington): beans!
Locally-made from unknown ingredients: tortillas!
Unknown, organic: tomatoes :(

Dark Days week 14: Pork! Yay!

Our locally-raised pig was slaughtered a couple of weeks ago and was finally butchered and ready to pick up last Saturday. Yay! We put everything into the freezer but kept a package of 2 pork chops out for dinner that night, and grilled them up with my favorite not-very-local marinade — red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic (island-grown).

There had just been a Dark Days email list thread about what to do with winter squash, and I thought the squash mac & cheese sounded fantastic, so I improvised. We don’t have a pasta extruder (?) so I made some short wide pastas from organic flour (Utah) and homegrown eggs, and mostly followed the recipe … except I used a homegrown acorn squash*, a homemade chicken stock cube, half-and-half (Fresh Breeze Farms), full-fat homemade ricotta from Fresh Breeze cream, Tillamook cheddar cheese (non-organic but non-rBST too) and an artisanal parmigiano reggiano imported by an independent cheese company in California. The recipe turned out great — more of a casserole than a cheese saucey slippery thing, but that’s OK with me; I like casseroles.

Rounded off with a fresh salad of greens grown by Butler Green Farms, this made a lovely warm homey meal. And pretty, too; I should get back into the habit of taking pictures.

Homegrown: squash; chicken stock; eggs for pasta
Homemade from local ingredients: ricotta
Homemade from organic ingredients: pasta (flour); bread crumbs for mac & cheese (ground up by me)
Island-grown: pork; garlic; salad greens
Local: half-and-half
Local-ish: Tillamook cheddar cheese
Happy: parm
Unknown: red wine vinegar; soy sauce; salt; nutmeg; cayenne; olive oil.

* After I cut its top off, I doubted my original idea, as the recipe calls for peeling and cubing it, and acorn squash are so deeply grooved on the sides that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to peel it effectively without wasting lots of squashflesh. Here is my current method, which seemed to work OK: I peeled what I could reach (the peaks) with a vegetable peeler. Then after cutting the whole squash in half, I used the big heavy knife to cut it along the valleys — that is, I made several spears with half a valley on each edge and a (naked) peak in the middle. Then I used a paring knife to trim the skin from the sides of each spear. It worked pretty well, and wasn’t even as fraught with danger of stabbing oneself in the hand as I had worried.

Dark Days Week 13: International local eating

Local food friends Anne & Ryan hosted a potluck for the Olympics opening ceremony this week, and the assignment was to bring an international dish (because it’s the Olympics, you know). I have an affinity with Belgium, having spent a year there on exchange in high school, so I violated the rules of going to parties and chose to make something I’d never made before: Gentse waterzooi. Waterzooi is a recipe from Gent (Ghent), a beautiful and ancient town in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. Belgium’s climate is very similar to the Pacific Northwest, and the food tends to be rustic and homey, not as fancy as French cuisine, but hearty and delicious. So part of the appeal of this recipe is that it’s extremely easy to make with local ingredients.

I found Julia Child’s recipe (login probably required, sorry) from a 1987 issue of the New York Times, and since Julia has never steered me wrong, I went with it, with some modifications, as noted below.

Julia’s ingredient list

2 large carrots
2 medium onions
2 tender ribs of celery (I omitted this as I do not have any growing currently)
2 medium-sized leeks, white and tender green parts only (I used several small ones)
.5 teaspoon dried tarragon
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
2.5 pounds cut-up frying chicken, legs or thighs or breasts (with bone), or a mixture of these (I deboned and chopped up the chicken into bite-size pieces — I didn’t want partygoers to have to try to remove meat from bones in plates balanced on their laps, and I didn’t want to deal with the degreasing required if using skin-on chicken parts. Also, because I use homemade chicken stock that has plenty of gelatin and flavor, I was not worried about losing that benefit of boiling the bones in the soup.)
1.5 cups dry white French vermouth (I omitted this because of a pregnant partygoer. I substituted about a third of a cup of lemon juice, for the acid, and more stock.)
1.5 to 2 cups chicken broth (I used the aforementioned homemade chicken stock, which we reduce down quite a lot and then freeze in ice cube trays.)
.5 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons cornstarch
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley. (I omitted this, because I forgot to bring the stems I’d just picked.)

The steps are simple, up until the end. Julienne the vegetables — I used a mandoline slicer for the carrots, but did the rest by hand, and actually just sliced the onion thinly rather than julienning it. Toss all veggie sticks in a bowl with some salt and pepper and the tarragon, and in your big dutch oven or stock pot, layer a third of the veggies, half the chicken, half of the remaining veggies, the other half of the chicken, and the rest of the veggies. Add your vermouth (lemon juice) and stock just to cover.

Julia says you can stop here and refrigerate for several hours to finish up later, so we packed up and took everything with us to finish at the party.

Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is done. At this point Julia says to strain it, degrease the broth, and season. I just poured most of it through a strainer into a bowl, and didn’t worry too much about the dregs left in the pot. (I could do this because I used skinned meat. If using skin-on meat, you’ll definitely want to degrease.)

While the chicken simmers, you whisk the cornstarch and cream together, and in a large bowl whisk the egg yolks. Add the cream mixture to the large bowl and stir. Gradually add the hot broth to the egg & cream mixture, whisking the whole time. I used a ladleful at a time, or if you have a helper or a container that’s easy to pour, you could just pour in a slow steady stream. Be careful not to dump it all in at once, lest you accidentally cook the eggs suddenly. When it’s all mixed, return it all to the pot with the chicken and veggies, and bring it up to heat, but do not let it simmer, or the eggs will curdle. Not that it’s a big deal if they do — but it spoils the perfection of the beautiful creamy rich broth (which is really more like a sauce at this point).

Serve with crusty bread, or over noodles or boiled potatoes. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

I wish I’d gotten pictures, as it was quite pretty as soups go. I will definitely be making it again, though, so I’ll try to remember to update then. It seemed to be a success overall, which is always a relief when cooking a recipe for the first time, for others.

Homegrown: chicken, chicken stock, leeks, carrots, forgotten parsley, eggs
Bainbridge Island: onions (Laughing Crow Farm)
Washington: Fresh Breeze cream as usual
Unknown: salt, pepper, tarragon, lemon juice, cornstarch (but it’s advertised as non-genetically modified!).

Dark Days Week 12: Is it a cop-out?

Or maybe this is the point of the challenge: we’re tired, we’re hungry, there are a bunch of leeks and cabbages in the fridge but we don’t have energy to think up what to cook, much less to actually cook it. So we end up making sausage and sauerkraut again, replicating that meal exactly — cabbage from Laughing Crow on Bainbridge, sausage from Skagit, buns homemade by me with organic flour from Utah.

Lazy? Sure. But still delicious.

Belated Dark Days Week 9: Doing the best we can

Oh no, I just found this post that I wrote last Tuesday (so, still late for week 9) and thought I published, but apparently didn’t! It was late already so I guess a week and two days late isn’t any different from just two days late.

We were out of town this weekend, in Reno to visit family. Reno’s always a bit hard for me as I have apparently-arbitrary criteria for the meat I’ll eat, and it’s always seemed to be not a terribly diverse town, food-wise. But this time, formerly-vegetarian friend Phoebe came over from Davis to hang out, and took us to the enjoyable Pneumatic Diner. While there, I asked the staff about the food co-op I’d heard existed. We got directions and headed over to try to figure out what to make for dinner for my dad’s household.

After wandering — pacing is more like it, really, given the store’s teensy layout — for a while, we ended up with the localest versions we could find of: potatoes; leeks; garlic; kale; carrots. I don’t know what was from Nevada and what from California, but I opted to bypass the versions with the purple big-organic plastic labels, and get the ones with no labels … somehow that makes me think that it’s more like what I’m looking for (I may be a sucker). We also snagged a nice-looking steak from a Nevada rancher, and some locally-bagged (i.e. not Earthbound) baby greens, and some little chunks of parmigiano imported by a California company, Cowgirl Creamery.

The whole grocery bag full turned into a delicious soup, except the greens and parm of course, which were a nice salad. Even the resident kid liked the “green thing” (the kale, which I had let him know he might not like, and that that was OK with me).

Anyway, I was pretty proud of with how we ended up, as well as with Reno’s apparently growing local food scene. Go, co-ops, go!

We also had a field trip to a farm, on which more to come later.

Dark Days Week 10 (?): Comfort Food (part 2)

Still no pictures, as my small camera is full and I am still too scared of the new big fancy camera.

We have been talking for years about making meat loaf, which Garth remembers fondly from his childhood. But his mom used the recipe from the back of the Quaker Oats box, and I wanted to do something a bit closer to home. I looked around a bit for recommendations, then mostly made it up as I went along, using what was on hand. I did have to compromise a bit though as he was not willing to give up the ketchup on top.

The mostly-local part: the loaf.

I caramelized some onions for a long time in butter (organic, co-op, non-local). When they were nice and brown I put a bottle of Pike Pale Ale, brewed at Pike Brewing, and let it sit on low heat for a while, just barely simmering, then dumped in the remains of a freezer bag of home-ground bread crumbs so they could get moist before mixing, to keep them from drying out the meat loaf.
While that was happening, I grated a giant carrot from the garden in the food processor, as well as a few cloves of garlic. I removed two Skagit River Ranch sausages from their casing and put them in a bowl with two pounds of ground beef from our cow. The beef is pretty lean so I also melted a spoonful of home-rendered lard from a local pig.
I carefully mixed everything together in a big bowl, stirring with a spatula instead of kneading with my hands, as I read that kneading dries it out also. I also added two little eggs from our hens as a binder.

Onion, garlic: Laughing Crow Farm, Bainbridge Island
Beer: Pike Brewing, Seattle
Eggs, carrot, thyme: the yard
Ground beef: from our quarter cow, raised by On the Lamb Farm in Arlington
Pork Italian sausage: Skagit River Ranch
Lard: home-rendered from a pig grown on Bainbridge Island
Bread crumbs: the last of several months’ worth of home-ground crumbs from both home-grown and store-bought bread, kept in the freezer

On a silpat-lined sheet pan (with edges!) I shaped it into one small loaf of about 1/3 of the meat, for dinner, and one large loaf, composed of the rest of the meat, for future sandwiches. Following Alton’s instructions, I put it all in the oven at 325° and set the timer for 10 minutes.

The not-local-at-all part: the glaze.
In my favorite tiny cast iron pan, I mixed the following:
Ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, sriracha, and I don’t even remember what other things, all from jars of indeterminate origin. Oh, and a little bit of local honey from Pike Place Market.

Alton said to brush the glaze on after it had been cooking for ten minutes, so I did. I did it again a little while later when I checked on the temperature. The little loaf hit temp first, of course, so we took it out and served it up while we waited for the big one to finish.

My verdict: Yum! Not dry at all — plenty soft and flavorful.
Garth’s verdict: “Not much like my childhood meatloaf. It was better. It tasted like food.”

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to come between him and his ketchup, though.

Sitting this week out

I missed a Dark Days meal this week — not because we weren’t eating delicious local food, just that there was no one big meal, and we were out of town for the weekend. We’re out this weekend too (and the next, ack) but I may write up a generic soup (“Piles part 2″) if I get a chance.

By the end of the month we’ll have a half a pig! I look forward to tasty pork recipes coming up.

(like posole!)

Dark Days week 7: Leftovers

The fridge was full and I was overwhelmed with options … How to divide up one serving of fried chicken, one serving of pot roast, four leftover egg whites, and 2+ servings of potato parsnip gratin? I was just starting to try to figure out how to decide who gets the pot roast sandwich and who gets the fried chicken sandwich, when Garth reminded me we could just split it all up and have a Very Trendy Small Plates meal instead of just leftovers. Hooray!

Fried chicken:
homegrown chicken fried à la Alton Brown, with Organic Valley buttermilk and organic, non-local flour and miscellaneous spices

Pot roast:
Made by Anne at Small Potatoes with a roast from the cow we shared; some carrots from our garden and some from the Bainbridge Island farmers’ market; mushrooms from BC; herbs grown and dried by Anne’s mom.

Scrambled eggs and cheese:
Four homegrown egg whites reserved from Ruhlman’s cooked egg nog, combined with two more whole homegrown eggs and a mess of grated (non-local, non-organic, but rBST-free at least) Tillamook cheddar.

Potato parsnip gratin:
Made-up recipe inspired by a meal at Agate Pass Café, with potatoes from Soup Garden Farm, parsnips and garlic from Laughing Crow Farm, leeks from Persephone Farm — all from the Bainbridge Island farmers’ market; homegrown parsley; and Fresh Breeze Organic milk as usual.

Dark Days week 6: Solstice

I was home not-quite-sick-but-not-great on Monday, the solstice, so we built a big fire in the fireplace and did our Solstice stockings at noon instead of after work as planned. And we cooked all day, which is what really makes it a holiday, I think.

Our pretty Blue Slate hen turkey met an untimely end back in October, about four weeks ahead of schedule, when she got over the fence into the neighbor dogs’ yard. Poor girl. They didn’t kill her, but we had to. Wanting to make the best of it, we were able to salvage about 3/4 of the meat, only discarding the portions with puncture wounds and bleeding.

After also checking Julia, Bittman, and some butchery books we have around, I consulted the one with the best photos — The River Cottage Meat Book — for info on breaking down a bird, since it’s not something I’m very good at. I’m the Evisceratrix, but a carver I am not. At the same time, also in the Meat book, I noticed the author suggested using turkey legs to make coq au vin rather than a, well, coq. So when I bagged up Poor Girl, I set aside the legs, thighs and drumsticks still connected, in their own bag, ready to be coqauvinified.

We started by cubing and frying Garth’s home-cured bacon, made of Skagit River Ranch pork belly. Removed that from the pan and added one chopped shallot, organically grown by Alvarez Farm just outside of the 150 mile range, over near Yakima. Removed the shallot and then pan fried the turkey legs, separated into thighs and drumsticks, which we’d lightly rolled in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

And then! We have hit a milestone in our cooking lives! We added a quarter cup of vermouth (it called for brandy, but we had none) and lit it on fire, on purpose! It was neat. Whoosh! Then chicken and vermouth were removed, and wine went in to deglaze, and then some stock. The whole mess — bacon, shallot, and turkey legs, plus chopped homegrown carrot, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and market bay leaves, and homegrown and -canned tomatoes went in to the pan. At that point it just simmered in a 250° oven until the turkey was fally aparty — a couple of hours at least. Then we put it back on the burner, removed all the solids from the broth, and added some butter and a couple pinches of flour and whisked to make a thick, delicious gravy.

I also made some quick oven fries from Yukon Golds grown by farmer Laura at the Soup Garden here on Bainbridge — just toss the cut potatoes with some oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic (Laughing Crow, as usual). If the fries are accompanying burgers or something less rich and flavorful than coq au vin, I often also add ground cumin and cayenne. I cook them at about 425° until the fattest fry is cooked all the way through.

Happy Solstice

Coq au vin and oven fries, garnished with homegrown parsley, and served with island-grown and -produced wine, made for a fantastic Solstice meal and celebration of the past year and the year to come with the returning light.

Homegrown: turkey, carrots, tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, thyme
Bainbridge Island farms & market: garlic, potatoes, bay, drinking wine
Local-ish: shallot (Alvarez)
Organic: butter (Organic Valley)
Unknown: the usual (salt pepper oil), cooking wine (from somewhere in France), vermouth

Dark Days week 5: Sausage and sauerkraut

We were both off our game this week as far as cooking went, so there was a lot of “what’s in the freezer? what’s in the cupboard?” One of the things in the cupboard was a crockful of homemade sauerkraut, made with cabbage from Laughing Crow Farm, that needed to be decanted (?) and put in the fridge. Only about 3/4 of it made it to the fridge, though, as several tongsful of it went into the pan with some seared Skagit River Ranch sweet Italian sausage, braising until the sausage was done. (I don’t know if Italian sausage and sauerkraut go together historically, but we decided to just go with it and call it a Swiss meal.)

Skagit River Ranch Italian sausage and homemade sauerkraut

I made some quick sausage-shaped buns from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day — get this book if you eat bread! — omitting the steam step so the buns were not too crusty. The whole mess, sausages and kraut, piled onto the buns to make a quick and easy and delicious wintertime dinner.

Homegrown: none.
Bainbridge market: cabbage, onion, garlic (in the kraut)
Seattle market(s): sausage
Organic: non-local wheat
Unknown: spices in the sauerkraut (mustard seed, peppercorns, etc.), salt, the usual.

Belated Dark Days Week 4: Piles (part 1)

… another “part 1″ because we eat piles so much, I am pretty sure they’ll come up again.

Looking for something easy early last week, I fell back on the category of meals that we call “piles.” Food piles generally consist of leftover meat if there is any, whatever veggies are available, and one of the following:

  • Potatoes — a potato pile is a hash (sometimes served with a fried egg on top)
  • Rice — a pile on rice is stir fry
  • Eggs — a pile built in a cast iron pan easily turns into a frittata or faux-frittata
  • Pasta — a pile tossed with pasta is a variant of carbonara (we often do the thing with the raw egg on the hot pasta)
  • Stock — a pile built in a stock pot becomes soup.

Feeling possessive of our potatoes*, since our crop basically failed this year, we have been eating less hash and more of other types of piles. This week I was inspired to make pasta, so pasta-pile it was.

I made homemade pasta with homegrown eggs (thanks ducks) and organic wheat from Utah, following local food friend Anne’s recipe more or less (I haven’t used olive oil, but I intend to try).

While the pasta dough was resting, I peeled and cubed a medium-sized delicata squash that we grew. I sautéed it in olive oil (not organic) at medium-high heat to get some nice caramelization on the cubes. Towards the end I sprinkled some organic sugar on them to see what would happen, and it made an even nicer brown crispy sweet crust on the cubes. Non-local, but so tasty! I removed the squash cubes from the pan and set them aside.

A quick (because it was COLD out there!!) check outside revealed that our homegrown kale was either uncovered so frozen, or covered so under a sheet of frozen plastic — so, figuring that frozen kale is frozen kale, we grabbed some we’d blanched and frozen this summer when our market boothmates, Terra Bella Farm, had surplus. I added the chopped kale to some chopped market leek from Persephone Farms (Indianola, just off the island) in the same pan I used for the squash.

As the veggies were sautéeing, I boiled the pasta and dug around in the fridge to find some smoked peppered salmon I bought at my favorite fishmonger, Pure Food Fish at Pike Place Market. I don’t know how local the fish is, though it is surely Pacific salmon. I should’ve asked, but it was the end of the day and frantic, and I was trying to catch a ferry …

Pasta pile: market leek, market kale, homegrown delicata squash, market smoked salmon, homemade pasta

I suppose I also could have left the smoked salmon out of this dish, but when the pasta was done and I tossed it all together, the soft, smoky, peppery salmon turned out to go really well with the sweet squash and leek and the toothy kale and pasta.

Homegrown: eggs, delicata
Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market: leeks, kale
Seattle market(s): Smoked salmon
Organic, non-local: wheat, sugar
Unknown: olive oil, salt, spices on the salmon. And the parmigiano cheese obviously, but we just can’t manage to give it up.

* We have since secured plenty of storage potatoes from other farmers, and are feeling well-armed now.

Dark Days Week 3: Comfort food (part 1)

It’s Part 1 because I am sure this won’t be our first display of cozy comfort food this winter.

My mom often made something she called Swiss steak, which I remember fondly. I was afraid that when I went to find a recipe, her version would be nothing like the canonical Swiss steak, but actually something with variations that moved it beyond recognition as Swiss steak — and therefore that every time I spoke highly of the dish in the past, I was either talking about something that didn’t exist, or leading people astray to a dish that was not tasty.

I should have realized that something with only like three fundamental ingredients is not only very hard to screw up, but also absolutely invites and encourages variations. So I went with memory, the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook recipe, a phone call to my mom, a version published by one of Accidental Hedonist’s guest bloggers, and my current ideas of what tastes good.

Starting with two top round steaks, originally from On the Lamb Farm in Arlington, most recently from the freezer (one from last year’s cow, shame), I cut them into pieces and dredged them in flour (organic, non-local) spiked with salt, pepper, cayenne, and Hungarian paprika (from a great local spice store) and seared in canola (organic) and then olive (non-organic) oil when the canola ran out. After removing the steaks from the pan, I added two sliced onions from Laughing Crow Farm here on Bainbridge, and then after that cooked partway, several cloves of chopped garlic, also from Laughing Crow. When the onions and garlic were soft, I dumped in a quart jar of home-canned, homegrown tomatoes, as well as a couple bags/half jars of homegrown tomato product (some pizza sauce, some roasted and frozen) that I found in the freezer when I was looking for the meat. In went a splash of wine, an ice cube of homemade beef stock, an ice cube of homegrown oregano and another of parsley, and a bay leaf from the farmers’ market. Turned it up to simmer and left it until the meat was fork-tender (about a hour and a quarter).

Soupy mashed potato disaster recovery plan
Soupy mashed potato disaster recovery plan

Garth set out to make mashed potatoes (potatoes from Laughing Crow) but added too much milk (from Fresh Breeze, within 150 miles) so quickly added one of our eggs and some organic flour to make a batter for fried potato pancakes.

I quickly steamed some market green beans — also found while on freezer investigation — then drizzled with organic bottled lemon juice and served with a pat of organic, non-homemade butter.

Some brown stuff on a plate, with green beans

Some brown stuff on a plate, with green beans. AKA Swiss steak (foreground) and potato pancakes (background).

While the meat was cooking, I made Anna’s simple plum torte with home-canned, homegrown Italian prunes, canned according to Food in Jars’ recipe, in honey (local, bought at Pike Place Market). The prunes weren’t solid when they came out, so instead of halved plums arranged on top of the torte, there is a sort of a thick smear of chunky jammy prunes across the whole thing. I ain’t arguing though; it tastes fantastic.