Posts Tagged 'local eating'

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)

Toppings:
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.

Dumplings
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)