Saturday, November 29, 2008

There's a Chili In the Air...

Every year, I look forward to Thanksgiving weekend as a time not only to celebrate with friends and family, but also to begin the holiday season.

This year, things are moving along a little differently. I haven't pulled out the Christmas decorations as I usually do, though I've managed to make this year's (very simple) holiday cards. I haven't even started holiday baking, mainly because this year I have every intention of NOT baking cookies to send to friends. (Sorry!)

Instead, I'm trying to start the holiday season at a somewhat slower pace, and after two good days spent with family, I was ready this morning to attend to a few things around home. So before heading out into the frosty morn, I decided to start up a pot of chili for lunch.

I pulled out my trusty slow cooker and started by adding some dried carrots and garlic, a dried cayenne pepper, and a quart of canned tomatoes.

From cold storage, I unearthed a few potatoes to add to the mix...

...along with an onion and the last fresh red pepper, which I sauteed with spices. I also cooked a handful of my Tiger Eye Beans and added them to the pot before setting the cooker to high and letting it do its work.

By the time I returned from my errands downtown, the day had begun to warm, but that spicy chili still tasted very good, especially with some homemade cornbread tucked in the bottom of the bowl and a sprinkling of shredded local cheddar melted on top. It warmed me up enough to send me back outside into the sunshine so that I could add some straw to the compost pile.

Then, as I waited for the lovely Phoenix to stop by for a visit, I made a modified version of the hermit cookies found in Betty Crocker, adding the half-jar of my tomatillo mincemeat and spreading the batter in a baking pan for bar cookies.

The cookies turned out moist and spicy, with a little extra texture from walnuts and local raisins and the occasional sweet-tart bits of tomatillo. Phoenix arrived just in time to enjoy a slab of the spicy confection still warm from the oven.

I think it's safe to say we both approved.

By the time we headed out to walk downtown and spend the afternoon together, the weather had warmed a little more, but we were still both grateful to have something warm in our bellies to carry us through until dinner.

And I'm so glad I found some time during the long holiday weekend to get a little cooking done!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Cordial Welcome

I spotted a note on my calendar last week to remind me to strain and bottle the plum cordial I made this summer. Finally!

Last week, however, was more than a bit hectic, and I didn't get around to the task until earlier this week.

But it was worth the wait. The plums imparted a beautiful ruby red glow to the liqueur, and though I haven't yet tasted it, it smells wonderful.

It's a fitting welcome to the holiday season.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: November, Week 4

At this point in the season, now that you've put up a nice little stash of local food for winter, what can you do to celebrate?

Eat a little of it, of course!

As promised, I'm featuring our Thanksgiving feast as this month's local meal. My Wonderful Parents and I agreed to make our holiday feast with as many local ingredients as possible, and I think we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

I noted earlier that I would bring the cornbread dressing, so I pulled out a friend's recipe for a Southwestern version of the dish. The cornbread itself -- a three-layer cornbread from the Tassajara Bread Book -- included local cornmeal and wheat flour from the grist mill, local eggs from the co-op, and local butter and milk from the dairy. I baked it last night, then cut it up and toasted it before mixing it with sauteed onions and garlic from my CSA and celery from the farmers' market, more local eggs and milk, and a smidgen of homemade vegetable stock. It turned out perfectly!

Along with my dressing, My Wonderful Parents pulled out some green and wax beans from the freezer (more CSA goodies), steamed them, and tossed them with buttery toasted almonds -- one of my longtime favorite vegetable dishes.

More CSA produce showed up in the form of sweet sweet potatoes, dabbed with a bit of butter and brown sugar. And we splurged a little and enjoyed a superb cherry wine from the local winery.

I had decided to treat my folks to a local turkey this year and was able to buy a large half-turkey from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe. Though I'm uncertain of the breed, I do know that the bird was more meaty than fat, and the dark meat looked so much more tempting than the white (unlike most commercial birds).

The Chef Mother made her mother's roll recipe, and My Dear Papa cranked out the usual cranberry-orange relish (which actually contained some local heartnuts!), making our plates colorful, incredibly nutritious, and all the more satisfying for being from farmers we know and trust. Blessings abounded!

After dinner (in which we all managed to stick to one modest plate full of food and NOT overeat), I pulled out dessert: a maple-hican pie with local whole wheat flour in the crust, local hicans (cross between hickory nuts and pecans), and a rich filling made from local maple syrup, local-to-a-friend maple sugar, local eggs, and local butter. It had a slightly different taste than regular pecan pie, of course, but I thought it was richer, with a deeper flavor, and all the more satisfying.

It looked almost exactly like traditional Thanksgiving meals of the past, but it meant so much more to us as we had a better sense of where all our food originated, and we could give thanks for all the hands that made the meal possible, from the sowers and the growers to the cooks. (Sharon has a wonderful post today about grace and giving thanks for just this thing; highly recommended!)

We still have plenty of food tucked away for winter, between all our freezing and canning and such, but this seemed the ideal way to kick off a season of simpler meals and stretching reserves: with full appreciation of all the good food we can find locally and of all the hard work that goes into bringing it from the farm to the table.

What better way to say "Thanks!" than to savor every bite?

Maple-Hican Pie

Based on a couple of maple pecan pie recipes found online, this is a nice local variation on the traditional pecan pie (which now generally contains corn syrup). If hicans are unknown to you or aren't locally available, try other nuts such as walnuts, heartnuts, pecans, or possibly hickory nuts (though I regret I can't vouch for that flavor). I've cut back on the sugar and syrup so that it won't be so sweet, but it's still plenty sweet for everyone!

1 9" pie crust (homemade, I hope!)
1 to 1 1/2 c chopped hicans (or other nuts)
3 eggs
3/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c maple sugar
2 T melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line pie dish with crust and sprinkle chopped nuts inside. Set aside.

Beat eggs until lemon colored. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined. Pour over nuts in crust.

Set pie dish on baking sheet and slide into oven. Bake 40 minutes, until filling is set and crust is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

We're On a Roll to Nowhere

Ah, Thanksgiving, you're here at last!

And yes, I'm up with the lark, cranking out my contributions to today's feast with My Wonderful Parents.

I'm in charge of two dishes: the cornbread dressing and the pie. So I made the cornbread last night and will get it toasted and combined with the other ingredients in a little bit.

I had to start the morning, of course, with the pie, and not just because life is uncertain and you should have dessert first. No, I try to make the sweet or neutral-flavored dishes ahead of the savory stuff because I know that things like onion and garlic can infuse other foods pretty easily.

So after breakfast, I rolled out the pie crust and lined the plate, then made the filling. Of course, I had several crust scraps left over -- more than it would have been seemly to waste.

In the past, I might have just set those scraps on a tray, docked them with a fork, and baked them as is. But the Renaissance Man, expert as he is at using things up, taught me a new trick recently: pull all the scraps together into a ball, roll out the dough, and make tiny cinnamon rolls.

It's incredibly easy, and you don't even need to measure as the dough is usually small enough for you to eyeball the quantities. Just brush with melted butter (I used what was left in the pan from the butter I melted for the pie filling), sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and roll it up.

They only take about ten minutes in the oven -- maybe fifteen -- and while the pie finishes baking, you can enjoy a nice little treat. Easy as -- dare I say it? -- pie!

And that's worth rolling out of bed early for...

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Carb Footprint

Well, that didn't take long. By mid-November, we've had our first significant (as in, the grass was all covered) snowfall, and in the past week, the snow has come and gone and come back again, keeping the temperatures low and chilly.

Just knowing how the economy and fuel prices are already looking this season, I've been keeping my furnace set at spartan levels, and thanks to the Renaissance Man, I have a new programmable thermostat that automatically heats my place (a little, just a little) for those few hours when I'm actually around and not swaddled in wool blankets.

Call me an eco-geek or eco-freak if you like. I really don't care, because I'm learning just how much is truly necessary for the way I live, and it's surprisingly less than I had expected. And while I think that any measure determining one's "carbon footprint" is inexact at best, I do think that the changes I've been making in my life to use less energy have been beneficial overall and have definitely made me happier.

As the weather gets colder, then, I'm finding that the food that satisfies me the most is often the simplest: seasonal fruits and vegetables or produce taken from the summer's freezing frenzy combined with whole or wholesome grains.

Welcome to cucina povera, the basic "poverty cooking" or peasant food known to most people throughout the ages.

Happily, I have not only a good tradition of simple cooking to draw on -- thanks to my upbringing and my own experience -- but I also have the added support and experience of the Renaissance Man to shape our shared meals. For someone who claims not to know how to cook, he's really very adept at making the most of basic and sometimes limited ingredients.

Since we've been busy this past week -- and I've been worn out from the whirlwind -- we've met up often for meals, and though I've contributed tidbits to the plates, he's done most of the cooking.

Mid-week, following a grueling day-long meeting at work, I trudged off to dine with him on a pot of hearty bean soup. While he started with a "mix" of dried beans and herbs, he added fresh potatoes, squash, and onions along with a jar of my home-canned tomatoes to make a wonderfully consoling meal. Our first encounter with the soup was accompanied by his homemade cornbread (he's a pro at this), but later in the week I suggested he add pasta to the pot when he reheated the soup, and we ended up with the satisfying mix seen above.

The Renaissance Man made a handsome loaf of whole wheat bread over the weekend, and though about half of it graced the table at a Sunday potluck, he finished off the loaf by making a very satisfying Sunday supper of French toast for us both.

Though I had planned to head home and make a casserole for dinner tonight, I succumbed instead to his invitation to share some homemade cornmeal mush. Bringing some steamed sweet potatoes, I arrived in time to sauté the vegetables with some chopped apple so that we had a little more nutritional kick to the meal. With a little local maple syrup drizzled on top, it served as both dinner and dessert on a cold night.

We did have a bit of a splurge over the weekend as My Fabulous Aunt had sent half a dozen rich chocolate cupcakes with dense coconut centers as a treat. But that was as fancy as we got in our culinary adventures.

The weather is expected to remain cold and snowy for a while -- not unbearably so, but enough to make comfort food the rule -- so I expect I will do some cooking this week myself. I've got my assignments for Thanksgiving dinner with My Wonderful Parents (and that will be this month's featured local meal, so stay tuned), and I hope to take advantage of the time away from work to get some other dishes made.

And I'll hope that all those good stick-to-your-ribs meals will keep me warm so my furnace doesn't have to work as hard!

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: November, Week 3

All of the food preservation methods and projects I've shared up to this point have involved the fresh fruit and vegetables found at the farmers' market, in my CSA basket, and in my garden.

But who expects to live on fruits and vegetables alone? If that were all I had to eat all winter, I'd probably go through it all very quickly because I wouldn't have enough substantial nutrition to keep myself going.

The very end of the harvest season, then, is an excellent time to think about the other things we need to store in the pantry for winter: grains, legumes, and basic ingredients or condiments for your favorite recipes.

Yes, of course, you can buy these things year round, and you often do just to refill supplies. But I find it very useful to start off my major baking season with full cupboards, knowing I have whatever I'm going to need.

Over the past couple of years, I've been very fortunate to build a good relationship with the kind folks at the local grist mill. When I placed this year's order, I asked the Miller if I could see his operations, so when the Renaissance Man and I showed up Friday afternoon, the Miller gladly spent an hour talking with us about his machinery (including the large hammer mill shown here) and about his travels to fairs in the past to demonstrate grinding.

So what did I bring home? Last year was the first time I placed a large bulk order, and this year I nearly tripled that order, requesting well over 100 lbs. of grains and flours. (The box on the left alone contains 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour.)

That's not all for me, though. I ordered flours, pancake mixes, and grits for the Chef Mother and rolled grains (oat and spelt) as well as flour, cornmeal, and pancake mixes for the Renaissance Man. After all, if I'm going to insist on good local grains for myself, I want to make sure my loved ones get the same (especially if they share the end results with me!).

Thanks to the Renaissance Man's resourceful hunting, I now have a small metal shelving unit in my studio/cold storage room to house the bulk of my grains. It's true that grains, especially those already ground into flour, should be refrigerated or even frozen to slow their descent into rancidity, but I figure that (A) this room's temperature is staying well below 55 F, almost to refrigeration temps, and (B) I will use up the flour before it spoils. Guaranteed!

On top of that, I have a 25-lb bucket of hard red winter wheat berries -- along with a new grain mill -- so that I can start grinding my own flour. I'm planning to add an experimental grain patch or two in the garden next year, but I'd eventually like to grow most of my own grains if possible. (Thanks, Emily, for the inspiration -- and thanks, Gene, for your years of experience and your multiple books that prove it's possible!)

As for other pantry items, since my crop of beans didn't yield quite as many dried legumes as I would have liked, I have recently stocked up on some of the beans I use the most, both in dried and canned form (canned in case of power outages, so they're ready to eat). I've also restocked my supply of sweeteners, from cane juice crystals to honey (not enough!) and maple syrup.

I've even bought a couple of two-pound rolls of my favorite local unsalted butter. To store these, I cut them into 1/2 cup sections, wrapped them individually in wax paper, and stored them in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer.

I will probably end up buying some walnuts and pecans soon for holiday baklava baking, but otherwise I'm going to see how long it takes me to work through all the local nuts I recently bought and stored in the studio.

Other items I try to keep on hand in the pantry include: dried milk, spices, baking powder and soda, salt (essential!), pasta (for when I'm too busy or lazy to make my own), vinegar, oil, and tea. These items, aside from dairy and eggs, are what I tend to buy when I need to go grocery shopping in the winter (until produce starts running out). So why not stock them now, before the holiday baking rush at the stores?

If you follow Sharon's blog Casaubon's Book regularly (and you should, even though it's not largely about food, because it covers so much important information), you know that she has been touting the importance of stocking your pantry, even if you can only put $5 toward it each week. Five dollars may not seem like much when you think about ready-made food products, but it can buy a surprising amount of basic ingredients that will carry you through several meals at home.

Not all of these foodstuffs will be locally produced, so don't feel you have to make everything fit the locavore model. You might be astonished, however, to discover that there's more locally produced food than you realize, and this exercise could help you find some of it.

So go ahead. See what you can reasonably add to your pantry to prepare you for winter and to help you use the produce you put up over the summer.

It really is worth the effort now.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cellar Beware!

Having explored the topic of root cellaring earlier this week and expressed my desire to have a proper cellar some day, I couldn't resist sharing with you a potential model:

The Old House on the Farm has been partly deconstructed this year (before Mother Nature did the job for them), and only recently have the Renaissance Man and his brother removed the walls and flooring of the kitchen portion of the structure. Since they had cleared out the basement under the old kitchen, I was able to walk in and see the old root cellar tucked into the old stone foundation.

Granted, it's not in usable shape, and it's certainly not weather-proof or critter-proof. But there you have it: a cellar kept naturally cool with stone walls and dirt floors, with shelves and bins (to the left) for storing jars of home-canned produce as well as keeping vegetables and fruits through the winter.

Next year, the rest of the Old House will likely come down, and at some point a new structure will go up in its stead.

But you can be sure that a new root cellar will go into the plans.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Reliving Pasta Successes

I've been hankering for butternut squash all week. I have a few left from this year's CSA shares, and I'm just now getting to the point where squash sounds really, really good.

I had visions of making a rice and kale dish to stuff in the squash for roasting, but when the Renaissance Man proposed a movie night for this evening, I decided to fall back on an old favorite.

It's been nearly a year since I made Bri's squash macaroni and cheese, and it has been on my mind the past couple of weeks since her death because its combination of traditional comfort and innovative nutrition exemplified what she did in so much of her cooking.

So early this morning, while getting myself ready for work, I roasted the squash and then pureed it with plain yogurt to add to the eventual sauce. I pulled all the ingredients together and handed them off to the Renaissance Man before walking to work for the day.

After work, he graciously drove me out to the local grist mill so that I could pick up my grain order for the winter (more on that later). The mill owner, a mischievous but very kind and generous older fellow, teased me about the huge quantities of flour I had purchased, but he also filled bags with apples and pears from their trees to share with us. He even sent us home with some dried pears, which were so sweet and delicious that they almost didn't make it all the way back!

Once we settled back in, I whisked together the bechamel sauce and added both cheese and squash to make a rich, thick coating for a pan full of rotini pasta. I added a sprinkling of bread crumbs and cheese to the top and slid it into the oven before we started the evening's movie selection.

Half an hour or so later, we stopped the movie to pull dinner from the oven -- so fragrant! -- and to whip up a side dish.

I used the last of my farmers' market spinach and the last picking of kale from the garden, simply steaming it and tossing it with a little butter, for a striking side dish.

We sat back, picked up where we left off on the movie, and savored every bite of deliciously comforting pasta and vegetables, enjoying how they warmed us on a cool night.

Once again I ended up with sauce left over (not to mention the rest of the finished dish), so I'm sure I'll heat that up and toss it with some of the whole wheat pasta I have at home early next week.

And it was -- and will be -- every bit as good as the pasta time I made it.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Roast Wonderful Time of the Year

One reason why I love fall so much is that the weather so often calls for comfort food, warm and starchy and satisfying. And what food better exemplifies comfort food than potatoes? (Well, for me at least...)

As much as I love potatoes, though, it's surprising that I somehow missed celebrating the fact that this year is the International Year of the Potato. I've saved up links on growing and eating potatoes, but since I haven't done much cooking with spuds of late, what was the point?

But with my selection of fresh vegetables dwindling rapidly, and with a busy evening ahead, I decided that tonight would be an excellent time to celebrate the joy of potatoes by trying a new recipe.

In the very last CSA sheet, the Lady Bountiful included her recipe for oven roasted Parmesan potatoes. It sounded like a no-fail wonderful recipe, so I pulled the ingredients together.

Naturally, I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. Since I was out of unbleached flour, I opted to use local corn flour instead. And since I had a small amount of cauliflower left, I thought I'd toss that in for a little variety.

I ended up with vegetables that were tender and savory with a crisp outer shell, and the cauliflower especially tasted like a deep-fried but lighter version of the dish. I tossed a little fresh chickweed (from the garden) with the vegetables fresh from the oven, and it wilted just enough for its tangy taste to blend in with the comforting mildness of the others.

I saved the rest for lunches later this week, but for a cool night, this hit the spot.

And roast of all, I have more potatoes stored away to make this again!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: November, Week 2

As I've been planning out this series, I never dreamed that this week's method of food preservation would become such a hot topic.

But surprise, surprise, a quick trip to Culinate this morning revealed that root cellars or cold storage are now the hip trend in preservation, as noted by the New York Times and Culinate's own blogger Harriet Fasenfest.

So what are root cellars and cold storage? The terms are pretty straightforward. It used to be the case that every home had either a space in the cellar (usually with a dirt floor) or a separate room or building heeled into the earth where late-season produce that kept well could be stored through the winter. Now that root cellars aren't quite so common and basements aren't so cool and damp, modern householders can look to other methods of storing food at appropriately cool temperatures, whether in unheated rooms or buried pits or barrels.

My ever-useful copy of Putting Food By offers a two-page chart of the various kinds of fruits and vegetables that store well in an unprocessed form, along with the optimum temperature and humidity ranges for that storage. For example:

--potatoes keep well at 35-40 F, in a dark humid environment with slight air circulation
--sweet potatoes prefer the air a little warmer and dryer, with more air circulation
--squash keep best around 55 F and dry
--apples should be stored near freezing in a moist atmosphere

Because of the differing needs, each kind of produce should be stored in separate bins or crates from the others. Apples, in fact, produce ethylene gas, which can cause other fruits to ripen quickly, and a rotten apple (the proverbial one in a barrel) can encourage all the others to rot, too, so they definitely need to be kept separate (and checked regularly). And don't forget that potatoes need to be kept in the dark, or they'll sprout! (They might anyway, but the dark definitely slows them down.)

Now, since I don't own the place where I now live, I'm not going to dig a big pit in the backyard for my root cellar, and I don't quite trust the basement, so I've decided to close off my studio (a small back room) and keep it largely unheated (furnace vents closed).

I've taken a lesson from the fair Titania, who last year kept a large amount of CSA produce in big storage bins layered with straw. So I pulled out my cooler and tried it with my CSA potatoes. You'll note that they are spaced far apart: perhaps they can be closer, but this along with thick layers of straw should guarantee enough air circulation, moisture, and lack of contact (and potential rot). Each layer is topped with more straw, and the lid remains secure for storage.

I wasn't able to fit all my potatoes in the cooler, but I made sure that the newer ones were toward the bottom so that I can use older ones first (starting with the stash in a kitchen cupboard). And I definitely made sure that these spuds were unblemished before adding them to a closed container -- I do not want rotten potatoes!

The cooler then forms the basic of my still-evolving cold storage corner. I have pickles (and beer) in the left-hand box, squash (each individually wrapped in newspaper to avoid contact bruising or blemishes) in the next box, a gallon of local apple cider vinegar, a basket of sweet potatoes (again, packed in straw), and a bucket full of 25 pounds of hard red winter wheat berries (more on that next week!). In another corner, I also have a hanging basket made of plastic-coated wire mesh that is full of garlic bulbs, and my boxes of nuts (still in shell) also reside in the room. The Renaissance Man -- bless him! -- has offered to bring me a metal shelving unit so that I can get a little more organized.

Other items that could go in here but haven't are onions (stored in a lower cupboard), pumpkins (out for show), apples and pears (which just got used up), and grains (haven't picked them up yet). I don't have a good set-up at this point yet for root vegetables, so I'm leaving my carrots in the ground until I'm ready to use them. They'll even survive frosts with a layer of straw on top.

If you haven't stocked up on these items yet, you can still find plenty of fall fruits and vegetables at local farmers' markets, farmstands, orchards, and even some grocery stores. Clear some space and fill it with produce like this, and you'll be amazed at how far you can stretch these foods into the winter, especially when you incorporate frozen or canned or dried goods into a meal with them.

Now, isn't that a cool idea?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's for Soup-Pear?

After a chilly, gray day slogging away at work, I headed home this afternoon determined to warm up the place in the most fragrant way: cooking.

I was ready. I mean, all I had in the refrigerator were ingredients: some vegetables, a jar of stock, condiments, but nothing ready to eat.

But I lucked out in finding a recipe in my collection that would use some of the produce lingering from my last CSA pickup, namely an eggplant, a red pepper, and some tomatoes.

This soup recipe, called Armenian lentil stew, combines cooked lentils with a touch of simmered dried apricot (I used dried ground cherries instead), then adds sauteed onion, eggplant, pepper, tomato, and spices like cinnamon and paprika. When it's all done, you add a bit of fresh parsley and mint to liven it up a bit.

In short, it's a good hearty soup for a chilly night. I would have loved to have some warm crusty bread with this, but I haven't baked bread in a while, so I just slurped this down, satisfied with the comfort it provided.

While the soup simmered, though, I also pulled out baking ingredients and threw together a spicy gingerbread with the last of my CSA pears (a dish previously made for guests at the Inn).

I used whole wheat and local spelt flours, a local egg, homemade applesauce, nonfat yogurt, local sorghum, and a host of delicious spices to make the batter -- which I poured in the pan atop the arranged pears, some melted butter, brown sugar, and walnuts. Not too sweet, with a warming kick of ginger, this simple cake made a wonderful finish to the meal.

I've almost cleaned out my fresh produce (aside from the keeping vegetables), and I can tell that the day is near when I will start eating from the freezer or the pantry.

But with such a souper start to winter meals, I don't think I'll mind.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, November 09, 2008

But I Congress...

You'd better sit down. I have shocking news to tell you.

I didn't cook or bake all weekend.

I know, I'm pretty astonished myself. But I've had a lot going on, and it still largely revolved around food.

On Friday afternoon, I headed up to Hiram College for the Northeast Ohio Food Congress, not really as a delegate for Wayne County but rather to report on the event for the Ethicurean. (I hope to have a report on the congress posted there soon.)

For Friday evening and all of Saturday, I drifted in and out of conference rooms, ballrooms, and dining rooms to hear people from my corner of the state talk about programs they have already implemented to promote "healthy, equitable, and sustainable" local foods in their areas as well as to hear others raise questions and concerns and seek out advice from their peers.

We heard from people who are already doing amazing things to serve their communities and from people with a burning desire to do the same. I met several passionate food advocates -- including my blogging "neighbor" Kelly of Her Able Hands! -- and found myself swept up in their enthusiasm and energy. (Not that that was that great a leap for me, as you might imagine...)

I came home exhausted but bubbling over with thoughts and dreams, so I couldn't quite bring myself to focus on mundane things like cooking. (Like I said, shocking, I know.) So I'm very thankful to the Renaissance Man for making sure I didn't go hungry in the meantime, especially for having me join him for a friend's birthday party featuring delicious local produce in French dishes. What a way to end a weekend!

But I digress... and I'm sure I'll be back in the kitchen soon.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Stirred, Not Shaken

It's been a busy week, what with the election and all, but I managed to get over to the garden to start cleaning up.

The carrots are growing nice and big, and I've left them for the Southern Belle to harvest when she wants them, but other than that we cleared most of the garden, taking out the wilted drape of nasturtiums, the withered tomato vines, and a bunch of other not-so-greenery.

Surprisingly, I ended up with a good little harvest. The gai lan came back with yet more growth, even after I had harvested the seeds, and I also pulled some scallions and plucked more kale leaves. On top of that, I had a little more chickweed and stinging nettle to harvest, too.

And as our lovely spell of Indian summer is coming to an end tonight or tomorrow, I celebrated the beauty and hope of this week by tossing together a quick stir-fry of the gai lan and scallions along with garlic, carrots, and red pepper from my CSA shares and combining it all with some whole wheat pasta. It made for a simple but satisfying front-porch picnic.

How wonderful it is to extend the growing season this long!

Labels: ,

Monday, November 03, 2008

Tomatillo Talk

My last CSA produce is finally starting to dwindle, chiefly because I finally have time to cook again! But even though I had thought myself clever for finding ways to use tomatillos (the gift that kept on coming), I still ended up with more than I ever expected.

Then last Monday, I had an email from the fair Titania waiting for me, and it started with a simple yet bold statement: "You need my tomatillos recipe."

This dear friend, finally catching up on my blog in the midst of her hectic life, spotted my conundrum regarding tomatillos and decided that I needed to know how to make a simple but delicious dish she had made for me a few years back.

Every good recipe needs a good occasion for its debut -- after all, why not celebrate even the little things in life? And today, I had plenty of reason to celebrate and share some good local food.

First of all, I enjoyed a full and inspiring weekend in which I met one of my farming and literary heroes, Gene Logsdon, along with his beautiful and equally knowledgeable and kind wife, Carol. I could gush for hours about what a wonderful experience it was, but suffice it to say that I was sky-high for the rest of the weekend! (And I have plenty more of his writings to read!)

Then today I came home to find a couple of packages waiting for me: one contained my first ever review book, a pre-release copy to review for the Ethicurean, and the other came from My Fabulous Aunt and held two loaves of her fabulous pumpkin bread. Heaven!

So I packed up my dinner preparations, a small loaf of pumpkin bread, a book, and a DVD and headed over to join the Renaissance Man for dinner so that we could share our weekend experiences. While I worked on dinner, we nibbled on the first slices of pumpkin bread, which held up to the usual high standards of quality and taste.

We continued to talk while I started to saute and then simmer a pan full of potatoes (three colors) and tomatillos, along with a salsa verde made of vegetable stock, cilantro, garlic, onion, and chili powder. I also added a few crumbled strips of dried red pepper to add a bit of color and a little extra tang.

Of course, as tomatillos cook down, they lose their lovely lime green hue, and even the purple potatoes dimmed a bit, but overall the food tasted wonderful and filled us up nicely.

We weren't too sated, though, to turn down slices of the apple pie I had baked last evening. Really, I think this is probably my best apple pie to date as the half-whole-wheat crust was very flaky and I filled the pie with a whopping five big apples (plus the usual sugar and spice).

For a meal designed to clean up some of the produce lingering around my kitchen, this turned out very well, and we were both pleased with the results.

And while the fair Titania might be a little jealous that I ended up with so many tomatillos in my CSA share this year when she had none, I think she would be pleased that we enjoyed her recipe.

Perhaps you will enjoy it, too!

Papas In Salsa Verde

The fair Titania learned this recipe the summer she took an intensive Spanish course, and she loved it so much that she translated it, even with the occasional poetic turn of phrase: "I always loved the instruction to add the ingredients when the oil was 'sparkling' in the pan."

6-8 medium potatoes
10-14 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
half an onion
10 sprigs cilantro
1/2 to 1 tsp chili powder
1/2 c vegetable broth
1 T olive oil
up to 2 c more broth
salt to taste

Boil potatoes, skins on, for about 15 minutes, then remove them from water and let them cool. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Slice tomatillos into quarters, set aside.

Puree garlic, onion, cilantro, chili powder, and 1/2 c broth.

In large sauce pan or skillet, heat 1 T oil until "sparkling." Toss potatoes and tomatillos in the oil, then add puree and extra broth. Boil until tomatillos are grey green and the sauce has thickened as the potato starch is released. Add salt to taste. "Yum."

Serves 2-4

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Preserving the Seasons: November, Week 1

As autumn's brilliant colors begin to fade, the calendar slides into November and signals a change in the weather. (As we've already seen!)

Daylight Savings Time rolls back at the start of the month, and while a few people appreciate the earlier sunrise and the precious chance to enjoy peaceful frosty mornings, most folks find that earlier sunsets challenge their notions of time and of what activities can be crammed into the space of an evening.

The onset of colder weather persuades us to bundle up in thick sweaters, to pull out warm coats and hats, or even to stay home and curl up under a toasty blanket. Despite frigid winds, though, there's work to be done outside -- raking leaves, cleaning up the garden, one last round of mowing -- before succumbing to inertia becomes a real option.

Out in the fields, the farmers are still busy harvesting, though their crops are dwindling and the farmers' market may have already closed for the year. Farmstands and orchards still have bins full of autumn-hued squashes, potatoes, and apples, but the selection of available produce shrinks rapidly as the weather turns downright cold.

November, then, invites us to slow down: to slow the pace of our living, to take the time to see the world around us in a new way, to savor the brief respite before the holiday whirlwind, and to rest.

Just as the overworked gardener looks forward to the end of the harvest season and the constant need to check on ripening produce, the home cook who has spent the preceding four or five months laboring over steaming pots views November with a heaving sigh of relief. Food preservation may continue, but at a slower pace, and if the dedicated locavore isn't flat on his or her back after all the peeling, chopping, blanching, freezing, drying, and/or canning -- well, it's cause for a celebration.

By a happy coincidence, November provides the perfect opportunity for celebrating the bounty of local foods as well as the hard work of the cook. When Thanksgiving rolls around late in the month, everyone is ready to gorge themselves on a feast to end all feasts. And though an all-American Thanksgiving often exemplifies excess and can draw heavily on processed or industrially produced pre-packaged foods, its origins as a harvest festival gives us every reason to showcase the glorious cornucopia of local agriculture.

Among the edible treasures we can still find around northeast Ohio at this time of year are:

--a variety of apples

--onions, garlic, leeks
--potatoes and especially sweet potatoes
--squash of many shapes, sizes, and colors
--root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, and rutabagas (all of which seem sweeter after frost)
--dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, chard
--nuts, including chestnuts, hazelnuts, and the other delicious nuts I recently found
--honey, maple syrup, and sorghum molasses

Many of these can be stored in a root cellar or a simple makeshift cold storage bin or room. (I've closed the heating vents in my studio and stashed my cold-storage foods there.) If you have any room left in your freezer, you might freeze a quart or two of cider for the holidays (though many orchards will still have cider for sale for a couple months to come). If you can find local grains or flours, butter, eggs, and even maple sugar, you might want to consider stocking up on those items for your holiday baking.

You'll want to continue checking your already-preserved food, especially canned goods, throughout this month, and you may even want to start adding preserved food into your menus. Stews and stir-frys make simple, hearty dinners at this time of year, and if you have a slow cooker, it's time to pull it out and fire it up. If you have any produce left from the farmers' market (and I still have plenty of tomatoes and peppers sitting around, as well as a final eggplant), now's the time to pull out a good recipe to make the most of that fresh flavor since you may not be able to enjoy it again until next year.

Though the coming cold weather might make you a little anxious about eating good, healthy local produce throughout the "dark days" of winter, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that no matter how much or how little you put up this summer, those preservation efforts will add a little touch of summer to your winter meals.

There's so much to be thankful for at this time of year!

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, November 02, 2008

It's Butternut to Ask Why

I like to experiment in the kitchen.

I know, that statement of fact has probably completely eluded you if you read this site regularly, right? (Riiight...) But I do think that that is one of the many joys of cooking. Once you've learned the basic techniques and understand how flavors combine and heighten, it's so much fun to think, well, what if I try this with this? How would that taste?

On very rare occasions, that kind of thinking can get me into trouble. Normally, though, you can hold the two ingredients side by side and inhale deeply to test the mingling of flavors and aromas. (Comparing textures and other qualities helps, too, when you're thinking it through.)

Sometimes, though, it isn't the immediate thought of flavors that persuades me to experiment. Sometimes the wordplay alone amuses me enough to send me into the kitchen.

Ingredient number one: butternuts. My Wonderful Parents, having bought a sturdy nutcracker for the harder-shelled nuts, graciously filled my request for about 1/2 cup of these walnut cousins.

Ingredient number two: butternut squash. I've stocked up on good butternut squash from my CSA shares and from extras bought from the Lady Bountiful.

You can see where I'm going here, right? Squash, being related to pumpkin, can be used in baking with spices to enhance its rich flavor and moist texture. And butternuts, like walnuts, should be a good addition to those same baked goods.

So I took my pumpkin maple praline muffin recipe and tweaked it this morning to use these two main ingredients (along with other local ingredients: spelt flour, egg, maple syrup, and butter).

They turned out beautifully and smelled delicious, and though the actual flavor was a little unusual (both butternuts have a distinct flavor that differs slightly from their more well-known cousins), they tasted very good. I would note that I'm not sure I would use butternuts in a streusel again as they develop an odd flavor when toasted, faintly reminiscent of asafetida but not as potent or unpleasant. (Just... odd.) They're great inside the baked goods, but not overly toasted.

So as experiments go, I'd rate this as successful, though the verdict is out yet as to whether I would use this same combination again. Still, it gives me additional information to use in working with each of those main ingredients, and that then deepens my working kitchen knowledge.

And that's nut a bad thing at all.

Labels: , , , ,