Archive for the 'dark days' Category

dark dairy days

I have to say that I am not much of a milk drinker. Prior to the Dark Days Challenge, I can’t even tell you the last time I bought a quart of milk. We do use a bit of fresh goat milk (when it’s in season) courtesy of my favorite ladies at Sassy Nanny Farmstead Cheese. And every now and then we’ll open a box of rice milk to see us through. But the DD Challenge proposed a dilemma. Boxed rice milk is far from local, and the girls at Sassy Nanny weren’t producing during the darkest days of winter. I realized that although I may not feel the urge to sit down to a tall glass of cold milk, I might just start craving cheese, butter, and yogurt on local nights.
And so early last December, towards the beginning of the 50-mile radius foods challenge, I made a memorable trip to Tetzner’s – our local cow dairy. I bought 3 quarts of cream and 4 quarts of milk. It proceeded to sit in the fridge for a good number of days until I finally decided I had better do something with it. I went straight for the gold and made a tub of ice cream and pound of butter. Emboldened with my success, I moved on to yogurt and kefir. And I have been having a dairy heyday ever since. Jars of fresh cream and milk have become regulars in our refrigerator this winter.
I have a huge new crush on homemade kefir. I’ve had it store-bought from a carton many times, but it has always struck me as too sharp and too tangy. I never go out of my way for it. So I was pleased to find that my homemade version is bright and smooth. It’s so easy to drink and eat just plain with nothing added. I started my initial batch with a kefir starter that I ordered online. I have been using either that or a few tablespoons of existing kefir as starter, both with good results. But now I’m so infatuated that I want to want to take things one step further and search out some actual kefir grains. I learned in my research that the Turkish word “keif” translates to “feel good.” And now I know why.
Homemade ricotta was next on my list. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It took all of 15 minutes (plus 20 more minutes for it to drain through cheesecloth). The taste is so superior to store bought that I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Like most of these homemade dairy products, the price breakdown is comparable to store bought but with several other benefits –  it’s local, it’s fresh, the taste is outstanding, AND I don’t have to litter my cupboard (or landfill) with wayward little plastic yogurt, cheese, and ice cream containers.
Throughout all of my dark days dairy escapades this winter, I kept coming back to the butter. My inaugural batch was good, but that was all. Just good. I had a taste off with a few store-bought butters I had on hand and it didn’t compare. Mine tasted overly milky, and (for lack of a better descriptive) boring. Especially next to the newest love of my life – a butter from  Rochdale Farms, a small creamery in southern Wisconsin.
I discovered this marvelous, hand-rolled butter about a year ago at a food co-op in Minneapolis. I proceeded to became so addicted to it that I wouldn’t make a trip to the Twin Cities without a small cooler in tow so I could bring home several pounds for the freezer. I even went so far as to plan a trip to the cities (4 1/2 hours one way) based purely on the fact that we were out of butter – though I didn’t openly admit this scheme at the time. But it’s okay. I’m in recovery now. Mostly because I worked all winter to create a clone of Rochdale butter.
First I had to discern what is is about this butter that sets it apart from other butters (even really good butters). It has a tang and saltiness that is unmatched in other contenders (especially mine). I went online to do a little research. Sure enough, I discovered that Rochadle Farms adds a bit of cultured whey to each small batch of butter they make. That would explain the unique tanginess. I didn’t have cultured whey – and wasn’t sure how to go about making it, but I did have cultured kefir. Ding! I was onto something. A bit more research and I had formulated a recipe for cultured butter. After one or two attempts and tweaks, I successfully absolved my dependence on Rochdale Farms butter. Because now I can make it all on my own at a moments notice. Not, of course, without the help of the cows at Tetzner’s Dairy who have earned my enduring gratitude.
I haven’t tried this using yogurt as a culture, but I think it would work just as well. Just be sure it is plain yogurt that still has live cultures in it.

Cultured Butter

3 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasturized)
2 tablespoons kefir
1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon fine sea slat (optional)

Pour cream and kefir into a large glass measuring cup or bowl. Gently stir to combine. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rest in a warm spot (about 75 degrees F) overnight.

The cream mixture should be somewhat thick by this point. Pour cream into the bowl of a food processor or an electric mixer and process on high speed. It will thicken almost immediately, and then turn to whipped cream. As it continues to thicken, begin to watch for a slight graininess. Shortly after this it will become noticeably yellow, grainy, and butter will clump together in the bowl. Stop processing as soon as you see butter clumping together – it’s important not to re-integrate the butter back into the buttermilk. This whole amazing process takes a mere 2 – 4 minutes.

Pour the buttermilk off (you can use this in muffins, pancakes, fruit smoothies, etc.). Refrigerate the butter for about an hour to firm it up for final removal of buttermilk.

Press and knead the chilled butter using your hands or the back of a wooden spoon. The goal is to work out every last drop of buttermilk. This is also a great time to knead in salt if you want salted butter. I like a salty butter when I’m not cooking with it, so I use a half teaspoon. Rinse the butter several times in ice-cold water as you knead; once the water runs clear, the butter is done.
Roll into a sheet of wax or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes about 3/4 pound butter.

switching gears

I had my first Dark Days cooking flop of the challenge last week. I’ve been struggling to come up with a few more vegetarian options for our 50-mile radius meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love our local meat. I feel so lucky to have a freezer full of pork, chicken, beef, lamb, and bison – all raised by people I know, trust, and respect. But it seems like most of our weekly Dark Days meals are meat-centric. And as a former vegetarian, I still harbor a penchant for meatless chow. The DD challenge has got me realizing that with the exception of wheat, we don’t really have anyone in our neighborhood producing dry beans or other grains.

With that in mind I decided I had better embrace the one grain I can get locally. I set out to create a hearty wheat berry salad. Picture roasted pumpkin cubes dressed in maple syrup with pinches of cardamon and cinnamon. Mix in some garlic sautéed in saffron butter, toss with the warm wheat that has been simmering in homemade veggie stock all day, and top it off with a heap of caramelized onions. Oh, and maybe add a few little smudges of local chev to each bowl before serving. I was feeling pretty cozy just dreaming it up.
In an effort to try something extra good for us, I decided to sprout my wheat berries a few days before making the salad. According to Sally Fallon – who has yet to steer me wrong – spouted grains and seeds are substantially healthier for us. In her book Nourishing Traditions, she says that the process of germination produces vitamin C, increase vitamin B content, and can raise the carotene level up to eight times that of unsprouted grain. Reading this bit of news really got me going. It’s the middle of February in northern Wisconsin, bring on the carotene! Fallon goes on to explain that even more importantly, sprouting neutralizes the phytic acid found in the bran of all grains which inhibits the absorption of all sorts of good minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, coper, and zinc). And if that’s not enough, she also tells us that the spouting process creates a number of good digestive enzymes. What’s to lose, I think?
I soaked my canning jar of wheat berries over night, drained them in the morning, and proceeded to tend them diligently for the next 2 days. Which basically meant giving them a rinse a few times a day and turing the screen lidded jar back upside down to drain and breathe. Extra health benefits or not, it was absolutely thrilling to have something living and growing in the kitchen windowsill. And perhaps my zealous green thumb is what got me into trouble. I think I over sprouted.
I refrigerated the sprouts after just 2 days, even though the instructions said it would take 3 or 4. In retrospect, they did seem a little lanky, but when it came time for Dark Days Meal 10, I proceeded as planned and followed Fallon’s cooking instructions of a slow oven simmer. All afternoon a cross between the smell of freshly baked bread and simmering stew wafted up the stairs to my office. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I went down to taste the wheat. Here’s where the trouble started. The flavor was good, but the texture was chewy. I mean really chewy. No amount of masticating seemed to break down the sprouted ends of the wheat. Maybe it was just me, I thought, and hopefully returned the pot to the oven. But when Mark got home from work, I did the ultimate test. I gave the man who will eat nearly anything without complaint a bite and waited for his reaction. He was nice enough about it, but I knew I was going to have to switch gears for Meal 10.
We were down to the wire on time and I need something quick. So I made the culinary leap from Maple Hill Road in Washburn, WI all the way to South America and grabbed one of my favorite grains off the pantry shelf – quinoa. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s nutty, it cooks up in 20 minutes. Perfect. Except suddenly my sweet pumpkin, garlic, and caramelized onion concoction seemed too heavy. I had also roasted a tray of beets that afternoon, which were now quietly resting in a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. These seemed like a better fit. With the exception of the quinoa, I kept things mostly local, but I did get a little carried away with the dressing. Since I had to leave my big, bold pumpkin behind, I comforted myself with something tangier and more perky. Which means I added lemon juice and fresh ginger to the dressing. And then, at the last second, I couldn’t resist tossing on a few bright green pistachios that I had on hand. Just the sight of them mingled with the pink beets made me a little less glum about my sprouted wheat debacle.
I still plan to try my “pumpkin berry” salad and will even give the carotene packed sprouted wheat a second chance. I checked back and Fallon does say not to let the sprouts get beyond 1/4 inch. So I’m guessing that’s where I went wrong.
I felt like I should have jumped right back on the indigenous horse and done something particularly noteworthy for Dark Days Meal 11, but Mark and I were both rebounding from mid-winter colds. We were tired and unenthusiastic. Nothing sounded better than a plate of blueberry waffles with a side of thick, Hermit Creek Farm bacon. Even though I had local flour and milk on hand, I was feeling so lazy that I opted for the jar of Sturdiwheat pancake & waffle mix from the pantry – which is actually somewhat local, especially coming from my mom, who lives just down the road from Red Wing, MN where it is made. And I have to say that the mix beats out many of the recipes I have made from scratch. Sturdiwheat blends some of the outer wheat bran back into the mix, which yields an especially flavorful waffle. To make us feel even better, I served them on my grandma’s prettiest flowered plates.
Dark Days m.10
Not Really Local Warm Beet Salad
Beets and shallots (cold storage, via our garden), chev cheese (Sassy Nanny, 30 miles), quinoa (most likely South America), olive oil, ginger, lemon juice and coriander.
For the beets:
Wash and trim one pound of beets. Leave part of the top and skin intact. Put whole beets in a covered baking dish, adding enough water to cover the bottom of the dish to about 1/8th inch. Cover and bake in a 350º F oven until beets are tender – about 45 minutes to an hour. Uncover, cool, cut off what is left off the tops and slip off skins. Cut bets into wedges or cubes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar and a dash of salt. Let stand a bit and then toss with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil.

For the quinoa:
Bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until water is gone and quinoa is tender. Set aside.

For dressing whisk together:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely minced shallots

In a large bowl, stir together the quinoa and beets, pour dressing over stir to combine. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios and crumbled goat cheese.

Dark Days m.11
Waffles for the Queen of Heaven
Sturdiwheat (Red Wing, MN, 208 miles – or 18 miles for my mom), blueberries (Blue Vista Farm, 2 miles), yogurt and cultured buttered (homemade from Tezner’s milk and cream, 15 miles) maple syrup (Andy and Linda’s sugarbush 19 miles), bacon (Hermit Creek Farm, 29 miles). 

Top piping hot waffles with butter, yogurt, blueberries, and maple syrup.

whole hog

My mom called a few weeks ago on a cold, grey January morning. She had frequent flyer miles to burn. Did I want to go with her to Charleston, SC for a few days to visit friends? Let’s see…free flight, free place to stay, fresh seafood, mile high biscuits, creamy grits, humid salt water air, temperatures well above freezing, and hanging out with my mom for 4 days? Uh, yeah. Sign me up.
And so it was that I escaped this winter’s coldest weekend yet. We touched down last Saturday evening to meet a balmy 51º F. Cold by most South Carolinian’s standards, but a welcome reprieve for us northerners. After a glass of wine and a taste of homemade pimento cheese (a southern comfort food specialty) our host sent us to bed with a stack of maps, magazines, and books about historic Charleston. “We can do whatever you like,” she said. “The only thing planned is Sunday brunch at Husk.” My eyes lit up. Husk is Charleston’s new localvore restaurant. I had googled it before I left. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says chef Sean Brock, who has even bannished olive oil from the kitchen. As he explains, the resulting cuisine “is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food.” Their menu, which changes daily based on what the market has to offer, had me drooling on my keyboard. Dark Days eating never looked so promising.

Sunday morning found us oceanside at Isle of Palms beach. If it weren’t for our brunch reservation my mom and crew would have a heck of a time trying to pry me away from the waves, the crisp salt water breeze and the blazing sun. I couldn’t soak it up fast enough. Lucky for them, brunch was calling, and I was hungry.

Housed in a historic Charleston mansion, the interior and decor at Husk was everything I expected – spacious, high ceilings, wood floors, tall double-hung windows, uncramped tables, warm, and inviting. The entryway boasts an oversized chalkboard that lists dozens of ingredients and their sources. We were seated upstairs overlooking the type of grand southern style balcony that I wistfully long to somehow tack onto our little northwoods cabin. I kicked things off with a Bloody Mary. Fully expecting a proper southern garnish of shrimp and okra, I was completely charmed when my drink arrived cloaked with a dainty slice of country style ham draped elegantly over the rim and a sole dilly bean afloat. It was one of the tastiest bloodies I’ve ever had. Did I detect a hint of creole spice?
It’s a good thing I had a drink to nurse while perusing the menu. This was going to take some serious thought. Wood fired clams with sausage and sweet pepper cream? Duck leg confit over farro and greens with red eye gravy? Or maybe the cornmeal dusted catfish with field peas and bacon jam. In the end, I went whole hog (literally) and ordered the Honey-Benne Lacquered Pork Belly served over Johnny cakes with a poached egg and spicy hollandaise. Memories of the morning beach romp faded and were flawlessly replaced with a taste bud frenzy. I was so full after my meal that I barely had room for a bite of my mom’s dessert. Which is too bad. The Black Bottom Pie was was served up in a small Mason jar with layers of chocolate mousse, bourbon vanilla cream, and crumbled molasses shortbread cookies. In a pinch, the dessert could have fallen back on its cuteness alone.
Our sharp hosts quickly picked up on my love of food and kept us well satiated for the duration of our visit. Crab cakes, pulled pork sandwiches, and creole style beef over parmesan grits were highlights. They also caught onto my fascination with visiting local grocery stores and markets. My mom and I wandered the aisles, oohing and ahing over southern staples. White Lilly flour, collard plants the size of small trees, fresh seafood, Carolina gold rice, sorghum syrup, and gorgeous pecans. I couldn’t resist. I packed my carry-on full of black eyed peas, fresh ground grits, Gullah spice (the core of traditional African-American low country cuisine), and benne wafers (a Charleston original – thin sesame seed based cookies, said to bring good luck). Some good old-fasioned soul food is in our future: Hoppin’ John, Charleston Red Rice, Shrimp and Grits, and maybe even a Buttermilk Pie.
Needless to say, the rest of our local Dark Days meals for the last half of January sort of paled in comparison to my southern Honey-Benne Lacquered Pork Belly. There were juicy burgers with local beef and crunchy oven fries. My husband Mark made a batch of cat-approved burritos stuffed with broccoli from the freezer, potatoes from cold storage, and local feta and eggs, smothered in homemade tomatillo salsa. And to kick off my southern cookin’ escapades, last night’s menu featured slow baked local ribs in our home canned apple cider and barbecue sauce with a side of buttery mashed potatoes and tangy slaw of garden cabbage, carrots, celeriac, and shallots.
I’m more inspired than ever to wait out the dark days in the kitchen!

kale crunch

Time for another Dark Days Challenge local foods report. Our last two meals were classics – grilled chicken and grilled pork chops. We do a fair amount of grilling in the winter. It’s oddly satisfying to stand on the snowy deck, fully bundled up, dreaming about about summer barbecues and cold drinks. And in fact I was in so much of summer mood that I couldn’t help myself. I cheated on local night. Once the thought of my all-time favorite summer bbq chicken recipe entered my head, I couldn’t shake it. I had to have it.

The bird itself came from just down the road. But the brine I soaked it in was anything but local. I e-mailed Mark at work and asked him to pick up the interloper on his way home – a liter of coke. Mixed with a half cup of kosher salt it makes a splendid bath for the butterflied and pierced chicken to soak in. After a quick towel off, I slather the bird with a paste of honey, olive oil, garlic, salt pepper, paprika, and dry mustard. Then onto the grill it goes, where it is promptly flattened beneath a few fire bricks. And it never fails to come off the grill crispy, salty, sweet, and juicy. For local night I made a honey mustard dipping sauce. It is also quite tasty with a bourbon based sauce, but I thought one non-local sin was enough for the night. We rounded out the meal with a baked butternut squash from the garden and roasted kale also from the garden, via the freezer.

Kale Crunch
I have many favorite ways to prepare kale, but my latest fixation is to simply coarsely chop it, spread it out on a heavy baking sheet, splash a little olive oil, salt, and pepper on it and roast it in a 250º oven for about a half hour until it is crispy. The result is something so crunchy and salty and earthy tasting that I have to seriously hold myself back from eating the entire tray of it in under 5 minutes. Kale? What kale? If it does stick around long enough to make it onto a serving platter, I generally give it a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for a little zing. It’s also quite magnificent to hold the leaves up to the light before popping them in your mouth – a visual and a taste sensation.

Meal seven of the challenge is somewhat of a winter standby for us – and one of our favorites. We always get a few extra packages of chops with our pork share, specifically with this recipe in mind. The original rendition came from a neighbor and friend of ours, Tony Thier. His is a skillet based version, but we generally prefer to cook our meat outdoors if we can. So we salt and pepper the chops and throw them on the grill. But instead of taking them off onto a serving plate, we put them in a pre-warmed heavy skillet and loosely tent them for a bit so some of the juices run of into the pan. The chops get moved to a warm plate and the pan juices are gently heated with a few generous spoonfuls of homemade sauerkraut. And to really knock it out of the park we stir in enough plain yogurt to make a creamy, tangy slurry to spoon back over the chops. Add in some warm buttered mashed potatoes and garlicly roasted brussel spouts and suddenly a 7 degree winter night doesn’t seem so bad.

Here’s to more darks days ahead!

local trifecta

When I think back on the last few weeks of eating, there are three meals that stand out. Three little respites amidst all of the holiday parties, gatherings, and feasts. And to think I was actually a bit skeptical as to how I would fit these particular meals into our hectic December schedule. I’m so glad I managed. These noteworthy delights were our weekly, Dark Days Challenge, 50-mile radius, local meals.

And in fact, the first of these three meals – Curried Root Vegetable Stew with Dumplings – wasn’t only a standout in recent memory, but one I’d claim as a top runner for all of 2010. It will certainly make the rounds at our table again. The recipe is from Molly O’Neill via the Essential New York Times Cookbook and originally appeared in the Times in 1994. It has that perfect blend of sweet and savory, light and hearty. My one conundrum was making the dumplings using my local flour, which is 100% whole wheat. They worked, but they were definitely on the sturdy side and not the most attractive dumpling I’ve ever had bobbing in my stew. It made me ponder how the cooks of my great-grandmother’s era managed to pull off lighter flour based goods. Maybe they didn’t. Or maybe they hand separated the wheat bran and germ to yield a lighter flour. I wasn’t that ambitious.

I also baked a rustic and flavor filled Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake from the same cookbook to accompany the stew. It was a welcome departure from the overly sweet treats that December typically offers up. Again, I used all whole wheat flour, but in this particular cake, I think it worked well. The whole wheat added structure and a nuttiness that I appreciated. I also substituted honey for the white sugar the recipe called for.

Our fourth meal of the Challenge celebrated the much anticipated arrival of our local bacon. We get a pork share each winter from Hermit Creek Farm in Highbridge, WI. In addition to the most incredible tasting bacon I have ever had, the share includes a wonderful assortment of chops, roasts, sausages, fresh ham, and pork steaks. The thick, meaty bacon arrives a few weeks after everything else to allow for a good, slow cure in the smoker. So the afternoon we picked up our bacon, dinner was a no brainer – bacon sandwiches. Quick, easy, and hard to beat. They featured dried tomatoes from the summer garden, a homemade garlic aioli, and spicy micro greens on local cracked wheat bread.

Rounding out the trifecta was our last meal of the year. We had several tentative options for New Year’s Eve, but in the end we chose what I would almost always pick – we stayed in. Which felt like an especially fine choice once we heard the sound of freezing sleet beating against the windows. Earlier in the day I had ditched my fancy menu ideas in search of something more simple and grounded. Going local felt like the right thing to do. I settled on a crisp, clean, subtly sweet, parsnip soup to ring in the New Year. And it was the perfect choice. I based the soup on a recipe I bookmarked ages ago from the passionate cook’s blog. I dressed it up for the holiday with a bit of milk and cream and I topped it off with a hearty squeeze of fresh lemon juice (my non-local vice) and slivered roasted chestnuts (local via my mom in Lake City, MN).

We got the night started with some local chev topped with friend Linda’s homemade plum-delicious chutney and we closed out just past midnight with a dish of honey-nutmeg ice cream that I had made earlier in the day. Oh, and I guess I should mention the very fine bottle of bubbly that made its way to our table all the way from France. Not the least bit local, but we appreciated it for what it was – a true and rare treat.

Creamy Parsnip Soup

3 cups peeled and chopped parsnips (about 1/2 inch dice)
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons butter
2 – 3 teaspoons honey
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups milk or cream (or a combination)

fresh squeezed lemon
roasted, slivered chestnuts

Melt the butter in a heavy soup pan, add the garlic and parsnips and cook for about 10 minutes until they both start turning a nice caramely brown. Add the honey and the stock, and continue to cook for about another 10 minutes or until the parsnips are tender. Purée the soup (either using a blender or immersion blender) and add the milk and/or cream. Heat through gently and taste for sweetness, adding a touch more honey if necessary (the lemon balances the sweetness perfectly). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To roast chestnuts:
Score an “x” in each nut with a sharp knife. Roast the nuts on a baking sheet in a 350º F oven for about 30 – 45 minutes. Nuts should be fragrant, soft, and a bit chewy. Let cool slightly and peel away the outer shell. Slice thin.

Top the soup with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a scattering of chestnuts. Serves 4 as a first course, 2-3 as a main.

The nitty-gritty…

Dark Days m.3
Curried Root Vegetable Stew
Onions, garlic, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash – a substitute for sweet potatoes (our garden), celery root from Hermit Creek Farm (29 miles), chicken stock (homemade with garden vegetables and a local chicken), butter – homemade with Tetzner’s Dairy cream (15 miles), whole wheat flour from Maple Hill Farm (14 miles), curry powder (spices from a far, but handmade at our annual local curry making party), salt and pepper.

Whole wheat flour from Maple Hill Farm (14 miles), milk from Tetzner’s Dairy (15 miles) baking powder, salt, and mace.

Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake
Apples from Bayfield Apple Company (4 miles), apple cider (pressed an preserved from our apple trees), whole wheat flour from Maple Hill Farm (14 miles), honey (my bees), eggs from a farm near Delta, WI (50 miles), olive oil, baking powder, and salt.

Dark Days m.4
Bacon Sandwiches
Bacon from Hermit Creek Farm (29 miles), re-hydrated dried tomatoes (our garden) spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles), garlic aioli (homemade from our garlic, a local egg, and olive oil), whole wheat bread made using 100% Spring Hill Farm wheat from Coco’s Bakery (12 miles)

Dark Days m.5
Chev Crisps with Plum Chutney
Herbed goat cheese from South Shore Chev (30 miles), plum chutney (homemade by my friend Linda with her plums), lavash flat bread from Coco’s Bakery – not really local ingredients, but a local business nonetheless. Homemade crackers are my next endeavor! (12 miles)

Creamy Parsnip Soup
Parsnips and garlic (our garden), butter – homemade with cream from Tetzner’s Dairy (15 miles), chicken stock (homemade with garden vegetables and a local chicken), milk and cream from Tetzner’s (15 miles)

Honey-Nutmeg Ice Cream
Milk and cream from Tetzner’s (15 miles), honey (my bees), salt and a dash of nutmeg

Curried Root Vegetable Stew with Dumplings
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

2 teaspoons butter
1 onion, chopped
3 or more cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
4 cups vegetable broth
2 medium carrots, chunked
2 large parsnips, peeled and chunked
1 small celeriac root, trimmed and chunked
1 1/2 – 2 cups winter squash, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
ground pepper

Melt the butter in large stew pot. Add onions, cook for a few minutes. Stir in garlic and curry powder and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in broth, carrots, parsnips, and squash and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the celery root and cook about 10 more minutes.

While the stew simmers, prepare the dumplings. Combine 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground mace in a mixing bowl. Work in 2 tablespoons cold butter until a coarse meal forms. Mix in 1/4 cup dried currants. Stir in 6 tablespoons milk and mix until everything is just combined. On a lightly floured surface, shape the dumplings into 1-inch balls.

Back to the stew…remove 1/4 cup of the simmering stew liquid and mix in 3 tablespoons flour to make a smooth paste, then stir back into the stew. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place the dumplings in the simmering strew, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

dark days

My friend Julie and I recently decided to participate in the fourth annual Dark Days Challenge – which calls for us to prepare one fully locally derived meal per week from now until mid-April. We are indeed facing some dark days ahead. And thinking about food, where it comes from, how it is raised, and fun ways to cook what’s available locally is a sure way to distract me from the grey and darkness. Plus, Julie is a pro at this. A few years back, she engaged her family of four in six months of eating EVERY meal local. So I know I can turn to her anytime for inspiration and advice.

Here’s my set of self-determined rules. “Local” for me means anything grown or raised within a 50-mile radius. I gave a bit of thought to my radius and settled on a distance that I could self-propel myself. I have to admit that biking 50 miles to retrieve a fresh chicken is not exactly on my list of things to do, but if push came to shove, I could. Although I might have to spend the night at my destination before biking back – or at the very least stay for lunch!

My exceptions are olive oil, coconut oil, some spices, vinegar (although this has inspired me to make my own, but it won’t be ready in time), and butter (again, I have plans to churn my own using cream from our local dairy, but it will be Christmas time before I can borrow my grandmother’s old butter churn from my mom. In the meantime, I’ll continue using a fantastic hand rolled butter produced in Richland Center, WI – some 200 miles straight south of me.) And even though I know I could forego fresh lemon juice one night a week, there are times when I might give in. For me, a squeeze of fresh lemon is often the crowning touch that turns a good dish great. Were I to go completely local in my eating, I would go to great lengths to maintain an indoor lemon tree in my northern Wisconsin home. I am an occasional home brewer, so there will certainly be a batch of porter fermenting soon to help see us through the winter. I buy my grains from Northern Brewer in St. Paul (230 miles) but I suspect the grains’ actual origin is even a little further west than that (I’ll check). If other exceptions come up along the way, I’ll be sure to note them.
I’ve participated in a handful of local eating initiatives and for me the key is to focus on the things I CAN find locally and not dwell on the things that I can’t. Having to really think about where the food I am cooking has come from raises an awareness that I appreciate, and one that I too often take for granted. I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a midwestern, rural area and still have access to an amazing array of beautifully and happily produced food. In addition to the pounds of berries and vegetables (frozen and canned) and root crops from our garden, I know I’ll be able to find: fish, pork, chicken, beef, lamb, cheese, milk, cream, sprouts, kimchi, sauerkraut, maple syrup, honey (sort of a given), pop corn, wild rice (although it was a poor year for ricing and supplies are meager), wheat berries, and whole wheat flour. And I’m looking forward to a winter of discovering even more. Here’s a recap of our first two Dark Days, local meal. I’m happy to share recipes if anyone’s palate is piqued – just drop me a note.
Dark Days m.1
Broiled Lamb Chops
Lamb chops from Morning View Farm (37 miles), garlic (our garden), olive oil, lavender pepper, salt, and butter (Richland Center, WI)Sauteed Potatoes
Potatoes (our garden), butter (Richland Center, WI), oil, salt, pepper, spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles)

Warm Beet Salad
Beets (our garden), feta cheese from South Shore Chev (30 miles), spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles), vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper

Dark Days m.2
Trout sautéed in Brown Butter
Lake Superior lake trout (caught around the Apostle Islands, probably within a 20 mile range), butter (Richland Center, WI), garlic and shallots (our garden), topped with spicy micro greens from Paradise Meadows (12 miles)

Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
Sweet Dumpling squash (our garden), wild rice (50 miles give or take a few – hand harvested by friends near the Bayfield County line), feta cheese from South Shore Chev (30 miles), dried apples (our land), turkey broth (homemade with garden vegetables and a local turkey), scallions and garlic, (our land)


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