Friday, December 26, 2008

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 6

Happy holidays!

This week's dinner was quite spur-of-the-moment; fortunately that moment happened at the North Market around lunchtime, so I had plenty of time to implement it. We'd gone to pick up some ice cream from Jeni's as a present for my mom, and our walk around the market took me past North Market Poultry. I was struck by the loveliness of the duck, so despite a small qualm as I remembered the pet ducks of my childhood, I purchased a couple of duck legs for our Christmas eve dinner. Never having cooked them before, a Google recipe search seemed to indicate that braising or confit were my best options. I selected this recipe from Epicurious because I had the ingredients on hand. The fruits were a raisin medley and dried cranberries, both from Trader Joe's - not local, but purchased for the mince pies I didn't get to make.* I used herbes de Provence instead of the thyme sprigs, because my thyme is currently frozen and I am patently incapable of following a recipe to the letter (except for baking.)

Side dishes were all local - All Blue and Desiree varieties of potatoes roasted in rendered duck fat; roasted Brussels sprouts from the freezer with homemade butter (from cream from Snowville Creamery), and mashed carnivale squash from Toad Hill organic farm with maple sugar from Pleiades. A nice glass of syrah from Ohio winery Kinkead Ridge (under their River Ridge Cellars label) accompanied the meal.

*All baking was put off because of the knife wound I sustained to my right thumb while trying to remove a new chef's knife from the package on Monday. I didn't really want to wrestle with dough with such a wound. I hereby lodge my complaint with the adage that "more injuries come from dull knives than sharp." As my brother (a former sous chef) says, "sharp knives just keep going." (It's healing nicely, thank goodness.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 5

This week's entry is my very first patty melt. I think that a patty melt is what happens when you realize that ground beef will be the quickest thing to defrost for dinner, and while you haven't got any hamburger buns there is a loaf of bread that will do just fine.

The patty melt was made of ground beef from our friend Ed at Long Meadows Grass Fed Beef in Utica, Ohio (~43 miles) and cheddar cheese from Meadow Maid (grass-fed milk!) It was more of a "what's in the fridge" version than a classic patty melt. The sides were spaghetti squash and homemade potato chips (which are very easy to make, and with a mandoline you can slice the potatoes very quickly! I don't use a deep fryer either, just a shallow layer of canola oil in a frying pan.) Not a bad meal, and it went from idea to the table in around 30 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 4

This week's dinner has become a regular menu item for us - Asian lettuce wraps. Fortunately we have a local grower with a hothouse, so the heads of romaine should keep coming our way this winter.

The meat of this dish is usually pork or chicken; I have some locally-made tempeh in the freezer that is awaiting its turn as well. This week I used 2 chicken thighs, and marinated them in soy sauce, ginger, citrus, and honey before pan-frying them with some 5-spice powder.

The base of the filling are sai fun noodles, also called bean threads. They aren't local, but some trial and error has shown that this dish isn't as good without them. The lettuce leaves are washed and dried (don't try leaving them damp. It will end badly. Trust me on this.) and filled with a healthy dollop of sai fun noodles. On top of the noodles goes some shredded carrot, julienne snow pea pods, cooked chicken (I cook the thighs whole, then slice them and return them to the pan to soak up extra sauce) and sliced scallions. Then you bundle it up as best you can and get it into your mouth as best as you can. It's not really a meal you want to eat in public, but it is darn tasty. Just be sure to have a napkin handy!

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 3

Oops, I am behind in posting! I blame it on Neverwinter Nights: Storm of Zehir. I've been glued to it for days.

This week's meal is my number one comfort food: creamed chipped beef on toast. My mom always made it from scratch when I was a kid, but in recent years I have come to rely on the Stouffer's version. I know it violates the "no processed food" rule, but I usually only eat it when I'm sick, or recovering from being sick. Comfort food has its own set of rules.

This dish was actually inspired by the restaurant Alana's, which is arguably the best restaurant in Columbus. We ate there a few weeks ago, and one of the starters was my old standby, listed as: Blues Creek Farm Chipped Beef 'Shit on a Shingle' with Gravy on Toast. Once I picked myself up off the floor from all the laughing, I promptly ordered it, and it was delicious. Since Blue's Creek is the butcher shop I frequent, I decided to try it at home.

The main problem, as you can see, is that I made the roux way too thick. I was starving and didn't feel like playing the too thick/too/thin/just right lotto, so I quit fussing with it and served it. The chipped beef was astonishingly not salty - I actually had to salt the dish! The beef, bread, milk and butter were all local; the flour was not.

How did it stand up to the classic? For one thing, it had much more of a beef flavor. The meat tended to shred, so the texture was a bit different as well. Still, it was delicious, and I could easily get accustomed to this new version of my old favorite.