Monday, February 15, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 13 - Vegetarian chili

Chili is one of those things that is always vegetarian in my house. Even though I am no longer a vegetarian, the veggie version is just so good that I see no reason to make it with meat. This is the first time I've ever made it from scratch (I confess I love the Fantastic Foods box mix!) and it came out quite well.

For a base I used onions, green pepper (frozen from last year's farmers market) and carrots. For tomato goodness I used the last of the stewed tomatoes from the freezer - boy, do I wish I'd put up more of those! For beans I used 5 different dried varieties from local growers Pop and Judy (these were Pink Floyd light red kidneys, Red Ryder dark red kidneys, calypso, black turtle, and appaloosa beans.) I added corn (frozen) for taste and texture. I topped the chili with shredded raw milk cheddar cheese from Meadow Maid.

Everything was local, except for salt, pepper, and chili powder. Making this chili was an all-day venture, but it yielded 3+ quarts, so there was plenty left over to freeze for a snowy day!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 12 - Chicken barley soup

We are both having colds here Chez Green Leanings, and we've just had a blizzard... so clearly, dinner is soup! Soup is one of those things I cannot in good conscience buy (unless it is at a favorite restaurant, of course!) It is just too easy to make, and really requires very few ingredients.

This week's soup was chicken barley, and it contained local chicken thighs, chicken stock, hulled barley*, celery, carrots and parsley. Non-local ingredients were shallots and poultry seasoning. As a side dish I served toasted semolina bread doused in butter, garlic, and Ludlow (a semi-hard aged cheese.)

I cooked the barley in chicken stock and a little water (it took about an hour.) I could have just throw everything into the pot together, but since the chicken thighs were bone-in/skin on I cooked them separately in a skillet. I set them aside to cool slightly as I sauteed the chopped carrots, shallot, and celery in the remaining chicken fat. Cooking things in chicken fat makes them extra-tasty! I left them a bit crunchy, as they were going into the pot with the barley. They joined the barley about 15 minutes before the barley was done. Once the chicken breasts had cooled I skinned them, shredded the meat and added it to the barley. I added the bones to the pot as well, since it seemed a shame to waste all that potential flavor. (I could have added them to my bag o' bones in the freezer that I save for making stock, but that was a little too ambitious for me today.) I added the chopped parsley at the very end, and it was the perfect finishing touch.

The chicken and stock came from North Market Poultry and Game at the North Market. Carrots are from Persinger Farms (and were purchased in the fall and stored in my crisper drawer.) Celery is from last year's garden, and was found squirreled away in the corner of my freezer. Bread was from Omega Artisan Baking at the North Market. Butter is from Hartzler's Dairy. Garlic is from H-W Organic farms. Cheese is from Blue Jacket Dairy.

*The barley came from a local Amish farm called Stutzman Farms. I *think* they grew it (my area of Ohio is in the range for commercial barley farming) but I'm not 100% sure. They do mill some non-local grains in addition to the wide range of grains that they grow. So I will describe this barley as "local as possible," because if anyone grows it in Ohio, it's Stutzman.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 11 - tired of potatoes!

This is the time of year when I get really tired of mashed potatoes. I've tried hard to avoid the meat-starch-veggie pattern of meals this winter, but sometimes it's just the easiest thing to fall back on. A recent episode of a cooking show by Nigella Lawson got me thinking about mashed beans instead of potatoes, and that brought me to this week's meal.

Dinner was a pan-fried pork chop, green beans with garlic and shallots, and mashed beans (stueben yellow variety) and cauliflower with garlic and shallots.

I used about twice as much beans as cauliflower, and I cooked the beans low and slow during the day. (Out of all the methods I've tried, low and slow seems to give the best results. I think these cooked for almost 4 hours on low.) When the beans were almost done I added the cauliflower (which had been blanched, frozen, and defrosted) and continued cooking until the cauliflower was soft. In another pan I sauteed the garlic and shallots in olive oil, then tossed the well-drained beans (reserving some of the cooking liquid) and cauliflower in the pan. I had this idea that I could just use a potato masher, but the cauliflower was a little too fibrous for that. So I ended up using the immersion blender, which resulted in a slightly chunky mash. I added a small amount of the cooking liquid to get the right texture (in the same way that you'd add milk or cream to mashed potatoes, but I didn't want to add dairy to this side dish.)

Everything but the seasonings and olive oil were local in this meal.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 10 - trout and veggies

This week's dark days meal still seems a bit exotic to me, living in the Midwest - rainbow trout! Farmed trout from Freshwater Farms of Ohio, to be exact. We stocked up on it during their Fish and Shrimp Festival in the fall (although, alas, they ran out of shrimp before we got there.)

I pan-fried the trout and served it over a medley of carrots, daikon radish and snow peas. The trout and all the veggies were local; the sauce (a homemade Asian sauce with soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh ginger and freshly-squeezed orange juice) was not. I am proud of the fact that I can now make my own sauces, even for Asian food - no bottled sauces with dubious ingredients and high sodium content here! The snow peas are one of the items we can usually get at the winter farmers market, and the carrots and daikon radish were unearthed from the crisper drawer, and were probably remnants of our CSA.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 9 - scrambled eggs and bacon

Some nights, the best you can do is scrambled eggs. It's one of those foods I'm just now learning to eat; as I child they were they were the bane of my existence. They were that one food I wouldn't eat, and I was once forced to sit at the table for hours with them, until I finally choked them down, ice cold. Fortunately my mom soon realized that I just didn't like egg yolks; I'd eat any number of egg whites, but the yolks were a no-go.

As an adult with a steady supply of pasture-raised eggs in my fridge, it seemed silly and wasteful not to eat the yolks. I still need something to distract me from the taste (either herbs or marmite, generally) but I can now make a meal of scrambled eggs or an omelet (provided I have toast on the side.)

This week's meal is scrambled eggs from Speckled Hen farm, bacon from Bluescreek, an apple from Gilogly Orchards, and 7-seed bread from Andelain Farms. The butter is from Hartzler's Dairy, and the seasoning in the scrambled eggs is non-local (but is "Sunny Paris" from Penzey's, and is really fantastic in eggs!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dark Days Challenge week 8 - Welsh rarebit and tomato soup

We've had January weather in earnest this week - plenty of cold and snow. I decided to stay on the comfort-food theme, so this week's meal featured caws pobi, or Welsh rarebit. Beer, cheese, bread - what would be better? In an attempt to add in some vegetables, I whipped up some homemade cream of tomato soup with stewed tomatoes from the freezer. I fully intended to add a salad as well, but in the end I was too tired and hungry to bother. I have definitely learned that I should make the salad first if I plan on serving it!

Welsh rarebit: this was made with raw cheddar cheese made from grass-fed milk from Meadow Maid, along with butter from Hartzler's Dairy, milk from Snowville Creamery, and a little mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and beer (the beer was decidedly not local, being from Wychwood brewery in the UK. But it was probably my favorite beer thus far for Welsh rarebit. You can actually skip the beer and just add milk or cream, but I like it with beer.) I'm still working to perfect this dish, and I have trouble keeping the cheese and other liquids together in a unified whole. I begin to suspect that the cheese is the problem, but even though it tended to separate, both the thicker cheese goo and the beer-milk-mustard liquid were completely delicious. I served the dish over focaccia bread from the farmer's market (as it was the only bread on hand), and it was a surprisingly good combination.

Cream of tomato soup: I'll admit that I didn't actually add cream - just a little 2% milk at the end to give the soup a little body. This was the first time that the soup didn't come out tasting like marinara sauce! I used a base of onions, garlic, and carrots, sauteing them as I would for any soup. Next I added a pint and a half of stewed tomatoes from the freezer, then added chicken stock to cover. (You could easily use a vegetable stock and keep it vegetarian.) I let the soup cook until the stock reduced (about 30-45 minutes I think), then hit it with an immersion blender. I let it cool a little before adding the milk at the end. It was a far cry from the velvety-smooth canned tomato soup of my childhood, but it had a robust texture and great taste. The only seasonings were salt, pepper, and a little thyme (which I seem to put in everything these days.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dark Days Challenge Week 7 - beef burgundy

With temperatures in the 10's and 20's F, it has definitely been "a big pot of something bubbling away on the stove" weather. I decided to use stew beef this week, and made beef burgundy over mashed potatoes and turnips with a side of Brussels spouts. This version of beef burgundy had grass-fed stew beef from Long Meadows, leeks and thyme from the garden, carrots from Wayward Seed CSA, Cabernet Franc wine from River Village cellars, Ohio-made beef stock, and non-local cremini mushrooms. I used slightly more potatoes than turnips in the mash, since the turnips were incredibly pungent; next time I will use a 50/50 mix, I think, or perhaps slightly more turnips than potatoes. My fridge is still overflowing with turnips, rutabagas and beets from my CSA! The Brussels sprouts were from the very last holdout vendor at the North Market farmer's market.

I'm not sure why I decided to make beef burgundy; it was most likely inspired by the (not local) package of mushrooms that followed me home from the store. I knew I wanted red meat, red wine, and mushrooms together. I used no recipe and have never made this before; in fact, I'm not even sure how I knew what beef burgundy is. I used to read recipe books while I ate, so I'm assuming it was a remembered thing. Also, I know that red meat, red wine and mushrooms all go together very well, and I know the basics of stew-making.

I started by dredging the meat in seasoned flour and browning it. There are a lot of theories behind both the dredging and the browning; I dredge because I like the resulting texture of the meat, plus the slight thickening property of the flour. I brown because once you've dredged something in flour you pretty much have to brown it. Grass-fed beef is lower in fat than regular beef so it needs to be cooked - and browned - at lower temperatures (I never go above medium.)

The thing about stew beef is that it is notoriously tough, and tough meats really need to be braised (which will break down all that chewy connective tissue that makes it tough.) Once the beef was browned I added red wine (the acid in alcohol and fruit can also help tenderize tough meat) and a bit of stock. I put the pot and low and let it cook for a little over two hours, and took my time chopping and adding the leeks, carrots, and finally mushrooms. When the stew was finally done it was a bit more liquid-y than I'd wanted, so I pulled out a few cups of the liquid and reduced it in a saucepan (which isn't as much work as it sounds; I just let it do it's thing on medium-high while I cooked the Brussels sprouts and mashed the leeks and turnips.)