Monday, March 31, 2008

Dark Days Challenge - sliding into home plate

Can you believe it is almost spring? Still not a bud to be seen, and my crocuses haven't bloomed yet, but it is technically spring. My seeds are beginning to sprout, and I look forward to planting a new, bigger garden this year (but I am not looking forward to digging a new bed, nope, not one bit.)

Since the Dark Days Challenge ends this week, I have decided to slide into home plate with some old favorites and new meals. I have loved this challenge, and it helped me understand that it IS quite possible to eat locally year round, provided some advance planning is done. I did quite well, considering my putting up of food started toward the end of summer (I had to wait for a freezer and vacuum sealer to come into my life before I could start.) I must have frozen an adequate amount of food, because I am just now coming to the end of it.

Monday night's dinner: We had our favorite grass-fed burgers from Flying J Farm (Johnstown, Ohio) with bacon from Blues Creek (Marysville, Ohio) and garlic and herb cheese, made from grass-fed milk, from Meadow Maid (Versailles, Ohio.) I couldn't find my usual ciabatta buns, so I picked up something called "pan bread" at the local Italian shop. (It looks like a normal loaf of bread but the slices are quite thick.)As a side dish I just roasted some red potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Tuesday night's dinner: My first attempt to cook lamb chops! I felt like I was in a bit of a rut, dinner-wise, so I picked up some lamb shoulder chops and dug the remaining white kidney beans and tomatoes out of the freezer. What can you do with those ingredients, you might ask? Why, Tuscan lamb chops with a ragout of white beans and tomatoes! The lamb chops were seared off and then braised with a mixture of red wine, water, tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs (thyme and rosemary.) The beans and tomatoes went into a pan with some olive oil, chopped onions and garlic. Since the tomatoes were frozen they provided plenty of liquid for a sauce and I added some oomph with a little red wine. Thyme and rosemary were the main herbs here as well. When the chops were done I strained the braising liquid and added a little to the beans (which made them a little more lamb-tasting than I wanted, but oh well. For a side dish I quickly sauteed some green beans in butter.

Tonight's dinner: My last pasture-raised chicken is roasting in the oven. The leftover bread from Monday's dinner is well on the way to becoming stuffing, and the remainder of the green beans (I defrosted a big bag, the last one!) will be cooked with some bacon. I doubt I can resist making mashed potatoes and gravy!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dark Days challenge - Baby's first omelet

I occasionally phone my mom with new additions to my baby book; they tend to be things like "baby's first car wreck" or "baby's first therapy."

Today it was baby's first omelet.

Okay, so that is technically not exactly true. I ate a few bites of a very runny mushroom omelet when I was in France during high school, but it was accomplished with much gagging and the making of faces (I was serious when I said I don't eat egg yolks!) Les omelettes aux champignons are a big thing in France.

I've even made omelets before, always for somebody else. I usually just fry egg whites for myself, because the thought of egg white omelets never really did it for me.

Today I had 15 minutes before I had to leave for an appointment, and no leftovers in the fridge. I was starving. I had no bread and only 2 eggs plus some cottage ham. I decided to sacrifice an egg and try an omelet, reasoning that it was the quickest thing to make. I found some garlic and herb cheese and scallions to join the ham, and made myself a 1-egg omelet with lots of "stuff."

It was really good! The garlic cheese and chives were strong enough to drown out the egg yolk taste. (I didn't add any milk to the egg, just a little salt. Mostly because I couldn't remember whether or not you're supposed to add milk.) It ended up fairly browned, as I was trying to make certain the egg cooked through. And I used way too much butter. Mmmm, butter. And all of the ingredients were local, except for the salt and pepper.

I think I could eat that again. Maybe I'll even try a frittata or quiche (frittatas don't have a crust, right?) They are actually a darn easy local meal, and I can even make a Greek omelet with locally made feta cheese (which is sadly nothing like real feta cheese, so maybe I'll chalk it up to "terroir" and get some of the real stuff.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

dark days challenge

Yesterday I made what was almost chicken piccata.

I pounded the heck out of the chicken breasts from the North Market (they were a little too thin for butterflying) and dredged them in flour, cooked them to a lovely golden color, then made a sauce with the stock from the North Market, butter from Hartzler's and a lemon (not local, but from a local grocer.) I was set to add the capers when I decided that they looked... overly funky. They'd been in the fridge a very long time, and there wasn't much liquid, and they were strangely mottled. So I decided against using them, which was a shame because the sauce could have used the bite. The chicken was still lovely, the sauce good, and the mashed potatoes and green beans tasty. The potatoes, chicken, stock, green beans, and butter were local. Flour, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon were not. I did really enjoy the thinness of the chicken breasts - I will have to beat the heck out of them more often. Of course I usually buy whole chickens, so this means my raw meat preparation skills must improve.

Tonight is another local meal: pork chops marinated in apple cider, cooked in the cider with apples and onions; roasted redskins with rosemary; and the second-to-the-last package of corn from the freezer. It's hard to believe that all of the corn I cut off the cob is almost gone! I'll be using some non-local salt and pepper and olive oil.

Okay, now I'm hungry! I thinking I'm going to declare it "close enough to dinner time" and get started on those potatoes.

Oh, and the deviled eggs were wonderful! I've finally found a way that I can tolerate the taste/texture of egg yolks. I couldn't find the older batch of eggs so I ended up using most of the fresh dozen (SO hard to peel!) but as I was putting them in the fridge I found the older eggs. So I made a second batch. I'm amazed at how quickly they disappeared at the potluck! At least now I understand the allure (I ate my first deviled egg ever on Saturday night, right after I finished the first batch.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

winter farmer's market report

We got up early this morning and headed to the North market, in part to get in practice for the farmer's market season, and in part to see if anyone had ventured out yet (The market starts in April, but a few farmers had mentioned coming before that for a Saturday or two.) They hadn't (except for the guy from Gypsy Bees, who had a table inside) but we didn't let that slow us down.

We started with a cinnamon roll and hot cross buns from Omega Artisan Baking. I procured a latte from the coffee shop (the price jumped up by almost $1, thus removing its "cheapest latte in town" status. Le sigh.) and after demolishing the cinnamon roll we jumped right into shopping. Cottage ham and pork chops from Blues Creek. A boneless, skinless chicken breast and stock from North Market Poultry (for chicken piccata; since I forgot to have it butterflied I guess I will be learning to do that myself.) Grape tomatoes, a cucumber and lemon from the Greener Grocer (not local, sigh.) Sugardaddy's brownie cream cheese ice cream from Jeni's. Angel hair pasta from Pastaria.

Next we headed up to Worthington for the winter farmer's market. It was pretty much the same as usual, but 2silos were there with eggs (unfortunately I bought some from Raven Rock before I saw them) and the vegetable people (H-W Organic) had snow pea pods! I spent $22 on veggies: four huge onions, 2 bunches of scallions, potatoes, snow peas, baby lettuce and baby spinach. I bought 2 blocks of cheese from the Ohio cheese people (raw milk jack and garlic and herb) and a 1/2 gallon of apple cider from Gillogly Orchards. You can probably guess that pork chops with apples, onions, and apple cider will be on the menu this week. I also picked up a small rosemary plant. I hope I don't kill it!

Can it be spring? Can it be strawberry season, or at least asparagus season? We have kept vegetable and fruit buying to a minimum this winter, and I am starved for fresh fruit. Tasty fresh fruit.

There are no big Easter plans here at Green Leanings. I will be making deviled (local) eggs and a pasta salad (with local cheese and spinach) for an early potluck, and possibly some chicken piccata for us later in the evening. I don't like egg yolks so making the deviled eggs should be... interesting. They always look so pretty; maybe if I add enough flavoring I'll find them to be edible. I love egg whites, but have never liked the taste and texture of yolks.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Snowed in, day two: more Dark Days meals!

Yup, it's easy to eat locally when you're at a level 2 snow emergency. I didn't manage to take pictures today, as we were busy with shoveling. Okay, so I couldn't do much of the shoveling, but I tried! It warmed up today so the snow was all heavy and wet, and having a cold/asthma/out-of-joint collarbone is not conducive to shoveling.
No snow blower here at Green Leanings!

We only had two meals today (unless you count the time spent with a pint of Jeni's Pear Riesling Sorbet as a meal) because of late sleeping/the time change/sheer exhaustion from trying to manually clear 20.4 inches of snow from the driveway.

Brunch was the aforementioned peppered bacon (Blue's Creek) and eggs (Raven Rock) with toast (I forget who made the bread, but it was from a Farmer's Market last month.) Eggs cooked in bacon fat are the best thing EVER. Well, aside from the bacon itself. We are big fans of bacon here.

Dinner involved more pork because it was the quickest thing to defrost (it didn't feel like dinner time, what with the extra daylight, so I had to cook at the last minute.) I warmed up some cottage ham from Blue's Creek with honey from Gypsy Bees; with it I served colcannon (red potatoes, leeks, and green cabbage with butter and milk), corn (with butter), and green beans (with shallots, olive oil, and lemon.) Non-local foods were the salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil (I was a little tired of drenching everything with butter!)

I confess that I was tempted to get pizza for dinner, but it seemed silly to risk the roads without a pressing reason. I'll be out of town for much of the next week, so there won't be much in the way of local meal reports.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

dark days challenge - being snowed in has its advantages

We've had 20.4 inches of snow in the last two days, plus drifts. I'll try to get some pictures tomorrow, if I can stop coughing long enough to shovel. Where are the money-hungry flocks of children with shovels when you need them?

I was very sad that the snow storm coincided with our winter market (which was apparently canceled.) Now I must wait 2 weeks for more spinach and lettuce and onions (which I am out of again! Eek!)

Anyway, today was a cooking kind of a day, and the advantage of being trapped at home is that you must use what is in the freezer and pantry. So we've had nothing but local meals today.

Breakfast was a big pot of oatmeal from Stutzman Farms with a granny smith apple from H-W farm, sweetened with maple sugar from Pleiades. Salt, cinnamon and nutmeg were non-local additions (and I grated the latter from whole spices.)

Lunch was another rendition of pasta and meatballs. The angel hair pasta came from Pastaria at the North Market; the marinara sauce was made from scratch from frozen tomatoes from the freezer (it came out quite well, but there was a lot of liquid that I drained off), and the meatballs were again with grass-fed beef from Long Meadows (plus local bread soaked in local milk, local herbs, local egg, local onions and garlic.) Non-local ingredients were salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese (terroir, from the local Italian market.) It was quite tasty, and just the thing for a snowy afternoon.

While the oven was on from the meatballs, I cut up my one rouge vif d'etampes pumpkin and roasted it for soup. I sweated garlic and the last of the onions, then added the roasted pumpkin and some veggie stock from the freezer. As it cooked I grated a GIANT carrot from the root cellar project (it was buried in sand in a cooler in the garage, and aside from some sprouting was still quite fresh-looking and tasty) and cooked it with some ginger and curry powder. Eventually it joined the rest of the soup and the whole lot got punished with the immersion blender (aka The Punisher, after a very amusing blog post by A Hunger Artist, aka Bob del Grosso.) I added a little more ginger and a healthy dose of thyme, and it was quite good. If I'd had cream on hand I would have mixed a little in at the end, but instead I just grated some Parmesan on top and served it with crostini from Whole Foods (I made crostini last week but they didn't toast quite enough and went stale.) Non-local foods: seasonings and cheese and crostini.)

While the soup was simmering I made a batch of scones using 1/2 local (soft) wheat flour, and local butter, milk, egg, and raspberries from the freezer. The combination of raspberries and whole wheat made them a very strange color (purplish grey) but they were quite tasty and rather light. I look forward to having one for breakfast.

Brunch tomorrow will be more local peppered bacon and eggs (cooked in bacon fat, my favorite.) You see what a hardship this eating locally thing is?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Dark Days Challenge - breakfast for dinner, and too much excitement at home

Life has been a little too exciting chez Green Leanings. First of all, we both have contracted the plague, aka a really nasty upper respiratory bug. I am pretty much coughing non-stop, and my partner is just getting sick. Yesterday evening a guy from the gas company came out to investigate "a non-flammable intensity gas smell" near the meter (that was mentioned 4 months ago by a meter reader.) No detectable gas with his equipment, but we could both smell it. Then he dug into the ground, and bingo. Gas at 10 times the flammable level near the foundation of the house. He turns off the gas. I have a panic attack.

Repairmen come out today. The area with the leak is covered by a deck, and they won't touch it. So my partner manages to rip out the decking single-handedly while the repairmen attend to another house on our street. Did I mention the blizzard? Yes, we are in the midst of what some people are calling "the blizzard of '08." The repairmen return and manage to fix the leak, despite the worsening of the weather. The gas company tells us they can turn the gas back on... on Monday. At this point it is about 55 degrees F in the house. We mention that we are at home and freezing, and they tell us maybe tonight... maybe tomorrow. Maybe. Miracle of miracles, the same guy who turned off the gas is on duty, and recognizes our address. He tests the line (took about an hour in the heavy snow), turns the gas on, and makes sure the furnace and hot water heater are working properly. And he's a cat person, so a few of our curious furkids get a scritching in the process.

I had been planning to go to a nice, nearby Embassy Suites hotel for the night (and enjoying their manager's reception, hot tub, and cooked-to-order breakfast) but the roads were getting worse and worse, and suddenly we had hot water again. So I pulled out the (local) bread I was defrosting, cut a few slices for toast (with local butter), and cooked up some (local) peppered bacon and eggs. Since it was a celebratory dinner we had a little more bacon than usual. This batch is really fatty, and the joys of lightly crisped fatty bacon cannot be underestimated. For dessert I enjoyed some lapsang souchong with armangac prune ice cream from Jeni's (as a lover of things smoky I find it quite fabulous.)

It was rather nice to have a totally local meal in the face of adversity. And having hot water to clean up the bacon grease? Priceless.

Plus there's enough bacon left for breakfast. Life is good (except for the coughing, and the gaping hole where the deck used to be, and the foot of snow. But since I have heat, I'm not complaining.)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dark Days challenge brunch - mmm, peaches!

It is with great sadness that I report that we have eaten the last of the peaches. They were tasty, though. They somehow managed to be both brown and over lemon-juiced, though (I suspect I didn't add the juice until too late; it was the first batch I put up.)

However, they made an excellent brunch. I mixed up the last of the pancake mix from Quiver Full Farm (Asheville, Ohio) and added a few peaches (normally I add the fruit once the batter has been poured onto the griddle, but these peaches were sliced thin and falling apart so they went right into the batter.) I poured the rest of the peaches and their juice into a pot and reduced them, adding maple syrup once the pancakes and bacon (peppered bacon from Blues Creek, Marysville, Ohio) were done. Peach pancakes topped with peach/maple syrup with peaches, and crisy-chewy peppered was a delicious brunch!