Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dark Days Challenge week 2 - old patterns die hard

Okay, after saying I was going to avoid the meat-squash-veggie-potato pattern of meals, my next Dark Days meal falls into that category. Almost. (No pictures because they were *really* terrible.)

A protein did take center stage, and it was boneless sirloin pork chops in an Asian marinade. I seared them with a heavy coat of five-spice powder then added some soy sauce, ginger, and citrus juice (sudachi) as it cooked. Good stuff.

The side dishes did not, in fact, include a potato. Nor rice, nor any other starchy thing. They did involve great fun with ratios, however. I broiled a kabocha squash with a soy/ginger/honey glaze, and cooked carrots with a honey/ginger/soy glaze (yes, I used the same ingredients for the sauces, but in different ratios)I braised pac choi in a soy/citrus combination, and to do something new and different I had an adventure involving a quick pickle of daikon radish.

One thing I have learned about quick daikon radish pickles: when the first step says to toss your sliced radish with a small amount of salt to draw out some water, do not use a very large amount of salt in hopes that it will work more quickly. Especially if that radish has been sitting in the fridge awhile and gotten a bit porous. Porous radish soaks up salt like crazy, and all of your rinsing and soaking won't help it.

Ah, how I love trial by error.

Fortunately, I had recently received some good advice about seasoning, the gist of which is this: there are three main components to seasoning, which are salt, sweet, and acid. If there is too much of any one of those, you can balance it out by increasing the other two. While this wouldn't work with every recipe, it was great advice for pickles. They went from being too salty to being too acidic (I tossed the rinsed, drained radish with rice wine vinegar) so I added an extra dose of sugar (which is actually an ingredient anyway) and it was all okay. And pretty darn tasty.

Lest I forget: Kabocha squash was from Just this farm. Carrots and pac choi from Wayward Seed Farm. Daikon radish from Sippel Farm. Pork chops from Blue's Creek. It's funny how I can remember a story about every single thing I buy. The teenage girl who waited on my at the butcher shop was sunny and cheerful; there was very little pac choi to buy that week but I managed to score some anyway; the kabocha squash is called sunshine squash. I had no idea what to do with a daikon radish, but they were really lovely and I carried it around the market like a baton. Don't you just love food with stories?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dark Days Challenge - Week 1

Wow, I really am behind! The Dark Days Eat Local Challenge started on the 15th, eep! Fortunately I have a fantastic and brand-new meal to rave about, complete with a strange and (almost) artfully blurry photo!

This simple and delicious meal featured the autumn sausage (with apples and maple) from our local farmer/butcher shop, Blue's Creek. It was "loose" (or whatever you call casing-free sausage) so I browned it into crumbles in a skillet then gave it some time on paper toweling for fat drainage (because here at Green Leanings we are trying to watch our waistline.) In a separate skillet I braised some wonderful lacinato kale from the good folks at Wayward Seed Farm in apple cider. I was not at all in the mood for vinegar (a normal seasoning for kale and chard), so the kale (which was just past the "baby" stage, nice and small and tender) was only seasoned with the cider, garlic, salt and pepper, and a wee touch of olive oil. I tossed the sausage in at the end and had one of the tastiest meals ever, and one that I made up on the spur of the moment! The sweetness of the apple cider and the slight bitterness of the kale were perfect together, and was a delicious counterpoint to the sausage. The side dish was a mysterious variety of white acorn squash (peyton or some such thing, no idea how to spell it) from Just This Farm. It had a little salt, butter from Hartzler's Dairy, and maple sugar from Pleiades Maple Farm.

One of my goals for the Dark Days Challenge is to come up with new and interesting recipes. It is easy to fall into the meat-starch-squash-vegetable pattern, so I am hoping to find new and exciting ways to combine them. You'll notice that squash gets its own category, along with vegetables and starches. That is because I have a squash problem (I love to buy them), and probably own a good 20-30 right now. I don't serve it with every single meal, but I am trying hard to make it part of every other meal at least.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Woefully behind, and the state of my cupboards

I am woefully behind in blogging. I still have meals from the October challenge to dig out of the camera or from the dim reaches of memory, along with any number of other things I've meant to post about. Life has been a little too exciting in the Chinese sense, and I hope things will get sorted out soon.

Local eating fell a bit by the wayside in the wake of various health issues, and I did a few things I almost never do. The biggie is that I went shopping for food at the regular grocery store. It was an odd experience, having to pay attention to whole sections of the store that I normally bypass on my way to the cat food or pharmacy. And despite the fact that I was sick, hungry, and desperate not to cook, I could barely find a thing I wanted to eat. Prepared foods looked unappealing, except for some spicy California rolls (spicy crab is a big weakness of mine.) Canned soups also failed to tempt me. Frozen dinners were right out, even the vegetarian ones. I ended up with a loaf of multi-grain Tuscan bread (another weakness of mine - makes incredible stuffing!), a very small wedge of cheddar cheese (I had used all the local stuff to make Welsh rarebit), and a can of Heinz baked beans (the English import.) I also had a package of Archway frosted gingerbread cookies (that were stale! How tragic!) which are a holiday tradition in my house, and two boxes of holiday ice cream novelties in my cart (snowmen faces and christmas trees, also a holiday tradition.) The snowmen faces aren't very good, but I stand by the minty christmas trees.

I looked through my cupboard and freezer to see how well I have practicing what I preach. The following lists the things that were not put up by me or otherwise produced locally. In the freezer: aside from the newly-purchased ice cream novelties, there was an open package of garlic naan from Trader Joe's. That's it. The cupboards contained some Kashi cereals, hot cocoa mix with extra marshmallows, ovaltine, one can of black beans, a couple of sauces from Trader Joe's, and a package of instant miso soup. I think there is some instant oatmeal and a can of tomatoes knocking around in there, plus a box of farina. There are some lentils, couscous, brown rice, bulgur wheat and Asian noodles that aren't produced locally, but I still put those in the category of whole or almost whole foods.

You'll notice the heavy emphasis on cereals. While I do enjoy my local oatmeal with apples, some mornings you just want to grab a bowl of cold cereal or something quick and instant. And cold cereal is our favorite food for those late-evening munchies.

So despite some slacking in the cooking department, I am pretty happy with how our eating is going.