Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 6: It's what's in the kitchen

This week's meal was one of those "look around the kitchen and see what needs to be cooked." We had Swedish Christmas sausage, mashed acorn squash with apples, lacinato kale sautéed with leeks, and steamed potatoes.

The sausage came from our local butcher shop, Bluescreek at the North Market, and contained potato and allspice. It was quite good, but since I am not the biggest sausage fan I am glad we only had one link to split. The lacinato (sometimes called dinosaur) kale was from our CSA farm, as was the acorn squash and Green Mountain potatoes. The leeks were from the garden and the apples from one of the local orchards. It was a fairly quick and healthy meal, since I was fairly restrained in my use of butter (for once!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 5 - good old spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs are on our rotation of winter meals here Chez Green Leanings. I've even made peace with the fact that the meatballs are never really round, unlike the ones I remember from my childhood. But lopsided or not, these are darn tasty!

The meal included fresh linguine from our favorite pasta shop (Pastaria in the North Market) along with homemade meatballs made with grass-fed beef and marinara sauce from the freezer. I topped the meatballs with fresh mozzarella (also from Pastaria) and served it with focaccia bread from one of the new winter market vendors, Black Cat Bakery from Pataskala, Ohio. I could eat that focaccia bread all day, every day!

The meatballs contained ground beef, fresh baby spinach, garlic and onion, an egg, herbs, and enough bread crumbs to make it all stick together. This batch of marinara sauce contained tomato skin and seeds, and I don't think I'm sold on it. I definitely prefer the more labor-intensive version that involves peeling and seeding the tomatoes.

Non-local ingredients were salt, pepper, and bread crumbs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 4 - squash soup (and the Slow Food Ark of Taste)

This week we had a lovely soup made from green-striped cushaw squash and caramelized onions, along with some homemade croutons.

My method for squash soup is very similar to the one for making potato soup. I start with aromatics, which in this case was simply onions. I decided that I wanted a very rich flavor from them, so I caramelized them until they were a rich brown color (to do this you must cook them slowly, use plenty of butter or oil, and have infinite patience. It always takes much longer than you think it will. Try to allow half an hour.) I added some garlic at the end (garlic will burn if you cook it too long or in too hot a pan) and also a chopped carrot. Carrots go very well in squash soup, and they have the added bonus of really upping the orange factor of the soup. This particular squash had pale yellow flesh, so the carrot really made it look more appealing.

I was using a larger squash so I roasted it beforehand; you could easily use peeled and cubed raw squash for this, but when it comes to tackling a big, hard-skinned squash you can save yourself a lot of trouble by washing it, poking a few holes in it with a knife, and roasting it whole at 400 degrees, checking it/flipping it at 15 minutes for a small squash, or 30 minutes for a large one. I usually put my squash in a pan or on a cookie sheet, but you can also put it directly on the oven rack. For larger squash an hour should do the trick; smaller squash will be done in half an hour. The squash should give to the touch. I split the squash when it comes out of the oven, then let it cool before trying to scoop out the seeds. Okay, so I don't always let it cool completely, but trying to scoop out the seeds while the squash is steaming hot is fairly painful, even with kitchen-hardened fingers. I usually hold the squash with an oven mitt and use the other hand to scoop away the seeds with a spoon. Once the seeds are removed I spoon the flesh into the soup pot.

At this point your squash is cooked and your onions are cooked, but they need some quality time together. I add stock or broth to just cover the squash, and let pot simmer for 10 minutes or so. If I am using raw squash, I do the same thing but allow the squash to simmer until tender, stirring frequently. I added some fresh thyme at the end of the cooking time, since it is my favorite herb at the moment (and you don't want it to cook too long.) I attacked the soup with my immersion blender, seasoned with salt and pepper, then served it with freshly-ground pepper and a sprinkling of Alaea sea salt, which is a traditional Hawaiian table salt with a beautiful red color.

The squash came from Pop and Judy, two of my favorite farmers (and also my source for local heirloom beans.) Pop told me a wonderful story about how the cushaw squash was his mother's favorite, and that the first year he grew them the plants only produced 2 squash. He gave one to his mother for Christmas, and she proudly showed it off to all of her friends and family. Apparently cushaw are a popular squash in the Appalachians, so my love for it is perfectly understandable (since I have a fair bit of Appalachian heritage.)

Both the sea salt and the squash are items in Slow Food's Ark of Taste Program, which is a catalog of foods that are being threatened with extinction. I'd become hooked on cushaw squash last year (when I roasted an enormous orange-striped cushaw), and the sea salt was left over from an Ark of Taste tasting I attended with my local Slow Food group.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 3 - Asian pork and cabbage

This week's Dark Days meal features some of the last of our CSA produce from Wayward Seed Farm. I shredded Napa cabbage, carrots, and daikon radish together, and cooked them with an improvised sauce made of honey, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ponzu shoyu. For protein I cooked a single pork chop (from our local butcher shop, which has its own farm) in a similar sauce, then sliced it into strips and tossed it with the cabbage. You could easily turn this dish vegetarian by substituting mushrooms for the pork chop.

My partner asked me what sort of "method cooking" I used for this. I put this in the category of "mixing things that play well together." Carrots, daikon radish and Napa cabbage all make sense in an Asian context, and pork is another classic Asian ingredient. I was aiming for a lightly-cooked shredded salad, but ended up cooking it a little too long. It was still delicious, a good way to eat lots of veggies, and I was able to stretch a single pork chop into multiple (three!) servings.

As for the sauce, being able to improvise an Asian sauce is definitely a work in progress! My biggest tip is to balance out the salty flavor of soy with something sweet - I usually use honey, since there is always a big jar of local honey on my counter. And acid is a must, whether it comes from vinegar or citrus juice (either fresh citrus or strange bottled juices like sudachi from the Asian store. )

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dark Days Challenge week 2 - for the love of soup

Dark Days Challenge meal week 2: leek and potato soup, with freshly-dug leeks from the garden and green mountain potatoes from my CSA with Wayward Seed Farm.

This week's challenge meal was inspired by the bed of leeks that were unharvested until last Wednesday. The weather had been pretty mild, but I knew that I was beginning to push my luck. The fact that I had a ton of leeks meant that this soup had A LOT of leeks - probably 4-6 large, if I remember correctly. At one point I had equal amounts of leeks and potatoes in the pot, and I was very tempted to leave it that way, but I ended up adding an extra potato (since I'd already scrubbed it.)

So what exactly is in this soup? Leeks cooked in butter, potatoes, stock to cover said potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and a dollop of fresh whipping cream and a few snipped chives to finish. Simple, eh? I didn't even peel the potatoes. It was probably the best potato soup I have made to date, and I totally credit the ingredients. Good quality ingredients allow for simple preparations.

And as for a recipe... I can't imagine using a recipe for potato soup! Okay, I actually can't imagine using a recipe for most things, but potato soup more than others.

So what goes into potato soup?

Aromatics: I like mine with leeks, so that was my aromatic of choice. I could have easily used less leeks or even more and still had a great soup. I know I needed to cook the leeks before the potatoes joined the pot, and that butter and potatoes love one another - so I used butter for cooking the leeks. I could have easily used olive oil to keep it vegan. I could also use onions or shallots, and even added garlic to it.

Potatoes: I use whatever type I have on hand, and I try to estimate enough to serve four people. Sometimes I add a carrot to the mix and turn it into a type of potage bonne femme; it really lends a lovely color to it!

Stock: I either make my own or I use the soup base from Penzey's Spices. There's no shame in that. I use enough liquid to cover the potatoes, and add more during cooking if necessary.

Cooking time: Potatoes take about as long as they take. Seriously, it depends on how small you slice them, and probably what type of potato they are. And maybe the barometric pressure, and when the potatoes were dug. If you twisted my arm I'd say 10-20 minutes. I let the stock come to the barest boil and then cook, covered, on simmer.

Seasoning: Salt and pepper. I could have added thyme (which is good with most savory things) or even a little nutmeg (great with cream), but it was perfectly scrumptious with just french grey salt and pepper. I think chives taste good and make the soup look pretty, so as long as my chive plant is still producing I grab a few stems and snip them in. Chervil and parsley are other good options.

Mashing it all up: I'm a fan of smooth soups and I have an immersion blender, so I just go at the cooked potatoes with my immersion blender until I like the texture. You can also just give it a bit of a beating with a potato masher, or put it through a ricer or a food mill, or (carefully!) put it into a regular blender. Make sure the potatoes are fully cooked before mashing!

The finale: One of the classic ways to serve leek and potato soup is with a dollop of cream mixed in at the end. I leave my soup a little thick because I find that the cream thins it out a little. I like to put some fresh-ground pepper on top (I'm a huge fan of pepper), or put some snipped chives and/or chive blossoms on top, or even do a little grating of cheese (my favorite is a local aged gouda.) You could easily skip the cream and cheese if you want to keep it vegan, or add a pat of butter if you want to be extremely decadent.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week one

One of the best things about winter is the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, hosted by Laura at (not so) Urban Hennery. I love seeing what other bloggers are eating in the winter, and getting new ideas for my freezer and pantry stores.

This week I cooked a meal that debuted last year during the dark days challenge, and has become a favorite in our house. It also happens to be my number one comfort food: creamed chipped beef on toast! For this version I used dried, chipped beef from our butcher shop (Bluescreek at the North Market.) It is a little harder to work with than the dried beef from the grocery store, but with two pairs of hands we get the thin slices of dried beef pulled apart in no time. The beef is much less salty than the grocery store variety, but it can still benefit from rinsing, so once rinsed it joins a cream sauce made with milk from Snowville Creamery (best milk in Ohio!) and butter that's either homemade from Snowville cream, or from Hartzler Dairy. I still use commercial AP flour for the roux, because I'm not convinced that the local soft wheat flour can do as good of a job as a thickener.

While the pulling apart of the beef may take a little while, this is a pretty quick and easy meal. I could have added some vegetable side dishes to make it healthier, but this is comfort food, after all! We finished the meal with smoked chocolate ice cream with homemade marshmallows from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a true Ohio treasure, and I had a glass of Traminette wine from River Village Cellars (Ohio River Valley.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eat Local Challenge and Local Foods Week

October is a busy month! First of all, in Columbus we are celebrating Local Foods Week with the organization Local Matters. They have some excellent programs for food in schools and urban agriculture, and they are working to make fresh local produce available to underserved communities in Columbus. Check them out!

Also, the Eat Local Challenge has finally been announced (it started on October 1st) and I am participating. That participation will start on Tuesday, however, as I am currently at a hotel in Chicago for a family wedding and reunion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Summer of Meals

Wow, did I fall off the planet or what? Apparently blogging is like exercising, and once you fall off the wagon it can be hard to get back on. We've had a long, hot summer of delicious local meals though, so I will try to play a little catch-up!

I miss peaches already! This dish was simply pan-grilled peaches with a little honey and cinnamon, topped with golden raspberries. Simple and delicious. I wish I'd made this dish more often when peaches were in season!

Next we have magical pig fresh corn chowder, with bacon and ham as the meats of choice (along with corn, potatoes, cream, chives, and onions.) It was good, but I really prefer my chowder to contain both bacon and shrimp. Next time I may try a vegetarian version, because a tasty vegetarian corn chowder should be possible!

This was my first attempt at gazpacho, and as you may guess by the color, I went a little heavy on the onions. It was very good and very refreshing (despite the fact that the excess of onions made it kick like a mule), and I can see this becoming a summer favorite. Anything that doesn't involve turning on the stove is fine by me!

This next meal took a lot of work! The chicken thigh is covered with a ground cherry-apricot mostarda that I made in a fit of industry; it was good, but getting the balance of fruit/sweet/mustard was a little tricky. (A mostarda is an Italian condiment made of sweetened fruit and mustard.) I think it would have been easier with ground cherries alone. On the side were a few grilled apricots, chard with leeks and cherry tomatoes, and zucchini with Parmesan and balsamic vinegar.

This was the quickest and most healthy chicken soup I've ever made. I did cheat and use the chicken soup base from Penzey's, but everything else was local: shredded carrots, thinly sliced celery, and summer squash cut into ribbons as an alternative to noodles.

One local product we've been eating a lot of this summer is the Luna Burger. They are vegan, made from local ingredients, and pretty darn good as well! Our favorite is definitely the farmhouse chili burger. You can see that I managed to get bacon into the meal as sprinkles on the corn (though I resisted the urge to put bacon and cheese on the vegan burger.)

Everything, aside from the obvious (salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Penzey's soup base) was grown or produced locally!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

One Local Summer - Week 5

We had a little Fourth-of-July cookout this weekend, and my favorite part of the meal was the caprese salad in the picture. The tomato was from Wishwell farms, the mozzarella from Blue Jacket Dairy, and the basil from our CSA at Wayward Seed. (Non-local salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar completed the dish.)

The rest of the meal wasn't very photogenic, but was still tasty. Hot dogs from our local farm/butcher Bluescreek (natural casing even), zucchini from the CSA, and the first corn on the cob of the season. They were all cooked on our new charcoal grill, which we are slowly learning to use - there were only a few incidents involving flaming corn husks, thank goodness! Food grilled on charcoal is awfully good, and I use the residual heat to pre-cook root vegetables for later meals.

We won't talk about the ridiculous number of non-local marshmallows that follow every meal on the grill, though - I am like a little kid when you get me near a bag of marshmallows!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One Local Summer - Week 4

It's brunch again for week 4! The eggs (look at those amazing golden yolks! Gotta love pastured eggs!) were scrambled with herbs from the garden (sage, parsley and chives) and a little bit of gouda from Oakvale, bacon was from Bluescreek (as usual), biscuits were homemade with whole wheat from Flying J Farm, and strawberries were from our fruit CSA with Wayward Seed Farm. Honey from Barry's Bees (my favorite local honey!) accompanied both the strawberries and biscuit.

Eggs with herbs are my new favorite thing. I found a recipe for eggs with sage in an Anglo-Saxon cookbook (medieval cooking is an occasional hobby of mine), and I thought it sounded amazing - and it was!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Local Summer - Week 3

This week's meal celebrated our CSA pickup, with braised greens and roasted hakurei turnips from Wayward Seed Farm. The protein for the meal was a chicken breast from Speckled Hen farm, pan-fried and served with a pan sauce (the best part of pan-frying) that was full of winter savory (a truly wonderful herb, like a very mellow rosemary.) The "dessert" was a bowl of fresh shelling peas, gently cooked then tossed with butter and tarragon. Delicious!

Friday, June 12, 2009

One Local Summer - week 2

Friday night has become "use up the rest of the CSA produce so there's room in the fridge for tomorrow's pickup" night. I should have instituted this last year! Since the CSA is very radish- and greens-intensive I am making a special effort to use them all each week.

This week I had a full head of Napa cabbage, a bunch of tiny scallions, and half a bunch of radishes. There was also a package of oyster mushrooms, a head of green garlic, and some lovely goat feta. I was thinking Asian, and cabbage... why not Asian stuffed cabbage? A google search showed me that Martha Stewart had published a recipe, and after a quick glance I tried to drive it out of my mind. I came up with my own recipe, which does have some of the same components as Martha's (and that tip about the rolling pin rocks, I must confess.) I'll include the recipe, such as it is, below. Can't wait to try a vegetarian version of these!

For a side dish I made a salad of radishes and feta cheese, tossed with a little mint and a ponzu vinaigrette. (I keep a bottle of ponzu on hand for citrus emergencies. Good stuff, and citrus and radishes are a good combination.) The feta is from Blue Jacket Dairy, and it is really, really good.

Since the oven was already on, I made a batch of cream biscuits from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food. I substituted local soft wheat flour for some of the AP flour and used local butter and cream. A little homemade whipped cream and the last of the serviceberries made an excellent dessert!

Non-local ingredients for this meal were limited to seasonings, vinaigrette ingredients, baking powder, and the AP flour in the biscuits.

Asian Stuffed Cabbage
1 large head of Napa cabbage
1 pound of ground beef (or pork, or a mixture of the two)
1 small bunch scallions, sliced
1 head of green garlic (stem and head), minced
1 package mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used oyster mushrooms from a local grower, and I can't for the life of me recall the size of the package. 7 oz, maybe? Or 5? I would have used whatever I had on hand, no matter what the quantity. This recipe is elastic!)
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp ponzu or lime juice
1/2-1 tsp of thai chili paste
1/2-1 tsp sesame oil (I actually forgot to add this and drizzled a little on top)
*one egg, lightly beaten
(I didn't actually use an egg, and I regretted it. Learn from my mistake!)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash & separate cabbage (You can finely chop the smaller leaves and add them, raw, to the filling), and blanch the leaves briefly in boiling water. Drain them well, and roll out the center vein with a rolling pin to make it pliable.

Assemble the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, and mush it together with your hands. No really, that's a technical term. You don't want to over-mix it, but you do want it to come together into a cohesive, erm, blob. Since I didn't use an egg, I had quite the chore of trying to get all the vegetable bits to stay inside. You may also notice that I didn't use rice - I really wanted to keep this all local (and didn't want to cook rice anyway.) I planned to use oatmeal as a starchy filler, but I didn't feel like it really needed it. (It did, however, need a binder like an egg. My bad!)

Assemble a vaguely-cylindrical blob of filling, and place it along the vein in the center of the cabbage leaf. Roll it up as best you can, trying to make it as tight as possible. I folded the top and bottom of the lead up, then rolled the sides over. I may do it differently next time. Imagine it is a leafy green burrito and go from there.

Place your cabbage rolls in a pan, seam-side down (I found an 8-inch square pan was perfect) and add about a cup of water to the pan. Cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and bake for 30-40 minutes (until the filling reaches 160 degrees F.)

Eat them up, yum. This made 4-5 servings.

And hey, your oven is already on. Why not make some biscuits, scones, or a cake for dessert?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

One Local Summer - week 1

Our meal for week one was brunch, which is possibly my favorite meal of the week. This one featured serviceberry pancakes (more on the serviceberry below) with bacon, early cherries, and of course maple syrup!

The pancakes were made from a mix from Quiver Full Farm (~33 miles) along with buttermilk leftover from making butter with cream from Snowville Creamery (~107 miles.) The bacon is from Bluescreek (~30 miles) at the North Market; maple syrup from Pleiades (~42 miles), and serviceberries and cherries from Rhoads (~42 miles.)

So what, you may ask, is a serviceberry? I'd never heard of them either, but my mom has a painting of a cedar waxwing on what must be a serviceberry tree (I spent my childhood trying to figure out what kind of berry it was. I am all about the berries.) They grow on small trees/shrubs and have a crown like a blueberry, and the taste is a bit similar. They are also known as shadbush, saskatoon, and juneberry (although the name seems to depend on the variety, of which there are many.) The city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is named after the plant (saskatoon is a Cree Indian word); they are called juneberries because they ripen in June, and shadbush because they flower when the shad-fish spawn. There are a few stories about why they are called serviceberries: either they served as a signal that the ground was unfrozen enough to bury the dead, or the blooms were gathered for church services, or they bloomed (in April) when it was finally mild enough weather to travel to church. Or maybe it's because there is a related berry in Europe called "sorbus."

I saw them at the farmer's market on Saturday and couldn't resist bringing home a pint. I've never met a fruit I didn't like, and the serviceberry is no exception. You can eat them raw or use them as you would blueberries in any recipe. They were quite good in pancakes!

Friday, May 22, 2009

One Local Summer!

It's that time again! I'm looking forward to another summer of unique meals and inspiration from other bloggers! The sign-up period ends on May 1, and the challenge runs from June 1 to August 30.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

She's back!

Wow, I've really been neglecting the blog! I've been a little preoccupied with continuing shoulder pain/mobility issue (turns out my minor surgery in January left me with a severed spinal accessory nerve, so my trapezius muscle is pretty much paralyzed. Desperately seeking a surgeon to do nerve repair in the short window of time that remains for that type of surgery, or looking at a major tendon transfer surgery next year) and honestly haven't been cooking very much.

The wheels of local eating have been turning, however. We've enjoyed ramps, morels, and asparagus, and the regular market season has mostly begun. In the garden, the shallots and fava beans are growing nicely (and fava bean flowers are very beautiful!); peas aren't doing so well (most of the ones planted directly failed to germinate); leaf lettuce is almost ready to harvest, and the new herb garden is planted and slowly doing its thing. I have cowpeas, roma beans, and cannellini waiting to be planted, as well as leeks and scallions.

The freezer is still astonishingly full! We have corn, green beans, berries, peaches, marinara sauce, Brussels sprouts, celery and green peppers all still in stock. It's hard to eat out of the freezer when fresh food is available, but I am planning some tasty treats like corn chowder to tempt us.

Our CSA's start next month, and there will be extensive blogging about how many meals you can get out of a CSA share ( we have both vegetable and fruit shares this year.)

My stores of dried beans have been replenished, as well as my treasure trove of red ruby popcorn (thanks Pop and Judy for both!) Looking forward to trying the dried crowder peas (which are strangely misshapen, due to to the crowding in the pod that gives them their name) and appaloosa beans, as well as the variety whose name I have totally forgotten (but don't worry, I wrote it down somewhere!)

Tonight's woefully unphotographed dinner featured marinara sauce from the freezer, augmented with fresh asparagus and shitakes and herbs from the garden; it was served over fresh pasta from Pastaria at the North Market. I bought A LOT of asparagus this week, so I am trying to come up with new ways to serve it! (Roasted and topped with fried cheese is a current favorite.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

First Farmer's Sighting!

I must confess that we aren't responsible for discovering the first farmers this year - I knew there were farmers showing up because of Twitter. (Yep, I'm a twitter-head. You can follow me here if you are into that sort of thing.) With the winter markets still going strong, and with my Saturday morning writing group, we just haven't been haunting the market in search of early produce.

But we got up early today and headed to the North Market, and were not disappointed. There were two farmers outside: Toad Hill and Somerset Herbs. We put off buying herb plants (my pot of herbs seems to be dead, but I want to give it another few weeks before writing it off and buying new ones) but picked up a lettuce mix, eggs, and dried tomatoes from Toad Hill.

Inside the market we found some duck legs from North Market poultry (a back-up Easter dinner, since my mom has laryngitis and may not feel like company tomorrow), bacon and pork chops from Blue's Creek, the obligatory cinnamon roll from Omega (along with some day-old cross buns, since they hadn't baked the fresh ones yet), Honey Vanilla ice cream from Jeni's, and a few local products at the Greener Grocer: ramps (yay!), milk from Snowville Creamery, and shitake and cremini mushrooms (we also picked up some spinach, but I can't remember where it was grown.)

Market day means market lunch, so we had a Greek omelet with the eggs, spinach, and dried tomatoes, as well as some feta cheese from an earlier winter market. I am slowly but surely learning to like egg yolks, and this was my second omelet in two days. It was pretty darn good!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Turning off the lights for Earth Hour

In about half an hour we'll be participating in our second annual Earth Hour, which involves shutting off the lights (and the computers, and unplugging electronic devices) at 8:30 PM, regardless of time zone, for one hour. It is part of a global warming/climate change awareness campaign by WWF.

People argue that shutting down for one hour doesn't make much of a difference, but its goal is to raise awareness (rather than suddenly save a bunch of energy, which it also accomplishes.) Video footage from last year left me breathless and teary-eyed, especially seeing the whole-hearted participation of cities across the world. There are already some great photos up on the web page, and I'm sure folks will be putting plenty of videos on youtube as 8:30 PM marches across the world. Here is a video about the event, including lots of footage from last year. Australia, where the event began, has really proven to be a leader in this.

Now I just wish I had some like-minded neighbors with whom to share some wine and candlelight!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 17

I guess this is the last week of the challenge, which officially ended yesterday. Wow! I've had a great winter of really good, interesting local meals, and the rest of the challengers have been endless sources of inspiration. Thanks everybody!

My final meal has fallen back into the meat-vegetable-vegetable-starch pattern, but at least it features a new and interesting local product! The protein was a pork chop (Blue's Creek), topped with a mixture of diced apple and paw-paw chutney from Integration Acres of Albany, Ohio. The chutney was seriously hot, so the apples helped cool down those habaneros! Side dishes were a roasted sweet potato (Carousel Watergardens Farm) with butter (Hartzler's Dairy) and maple sugar (Pleiades's Maple Farm); corn (I bought from several local farm and froze it, so exact origins are unknown) with more of that butter from Hartzler's; and Brussels sprouts with butter and onions.

It's been a great winter. I didn't succeed in all of my goals (thanks to surgery with debilitating complications) but we have managed to enjoy fresh and frozen local food in new and interesting ways, and we've really enjoyed the journey. Thanks so much to Laura for all her hard work, and for her brilliance in starting this challenge. Winter local eating has been way more fun these last two years, thanks to the Dark Days Challenge!

SO now that it's over, that means spring is automatically here. Right?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 16 vegetarian

This week we had a vegetarian meal that was pretty darn good. For this week's bean dish I decided to try my hand at rajma (kidney bean) curry. I used light red kidney beans (variety: pink floyd) from local growers Pop and Judy, along with local butter, onion, garlic, cilantro, and tomatoes from the freezer. The salt and spices were the only non-local ingredients. I served it over locally-grown spelt berries, which was tasty but not texturally the best combination (there was a little too much popping going on!)

The side dish was a simple all-local slaw of apples and carrots, dressed with local apple cider vinegar and honey. I was in the mood for something crisp and fresh, and this was definitely a winner! Thank goodness for my Benriner mandoline slicer, which made the slicing quick and easy. (I've owned a number of cheap mandolines over the years, and the Benriner is definitely the best.)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - Week 15!

It was Mardi Gras week here at Green Leanings - not that we celebrate it in any way except for King cake. I have a huge weakness for very gaudy King cakes, and this one was both colorful and delicious. I didn't bake it, but it did come from Columbus' very own Piece of Cake, a lovely bakery in the Short North. It is an adorable shop that smells like the bakery of your dreams. Can't wait to try their whole menu!

For my actual Dark Days meal, j'ai laissé les bons temps rouler with a simple Creole Chicken. I used two chicken thighs (Speckled Hen Farm, Cardington), celery (my garden), green pepper and tomatoes (Honeyrun Farm, Williamsport) from my freezer, and onion from H-W Organic Farm (Sullivan, Ohio.) I won't vouch for its authenticity but it was very tasty, and a nice change of pace! Non-local ingredients were a bit of chicken soup base from Penzey's Spices and some random hot sauces and cajun spices from the cupboard and fridge. I had planned to serve it over local spelt berries, but my shoulder/arm had other plans, so it was served over non-local couscous.

I have to say that I enjoy having whole frozen tomatoes on hand in the winter. It's best to work with them while they are still partially frozen (as they get quite mushy) but they are a great addition to soups and stews, and they sound like cue balls when they are frozen solid. I usually freeze one or two gallon bags of them, and that sees me through the winter.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dark Days Challenge - week 14

Week 14! Surely it must be time for spring, right? I am very envious of my friends in the south who are working on their gardens and enjoying warm weather. Here we have cold and flurries.

This week's meal is unencumbered by photos, because they came out quite poorly. I decided that it was time to institute my own bean night (after Laura of Urban Hennery)since I have a cupboard full of heirloom dried beans that haven't seen much use this winter.

The brown dutch beans won the bean lottery (meaning they were the first ones I grabbed), and into the pot they went. I soaked them overnight, and it took 2 hours to cook them. I added a ton of veggies (and ended up with more veggies than beans!), including garlic, onion, carrots, celery (from the garden via my freezer), and curly kale. I especially loved the addition of the kale - really brightened the pot. I did add some chicken chorizo at the end (cooked separately for fat-reduction purposes) but the dish could easily stay vegetarian and be just as good.

The only seasonings I added were salt, pepper, and thyme. No stock, no bouillon - it was perfectly tasty and full of flavor without it. I think a little wine would have been good in it, but I used wine in my last bean dish (and I'm trying to make each one different than the last.)

The seasonings and a little olive oil for sweating the onions and garlic were the only non-local ingredients in this dish.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 13

I had great plans to make a very healthy meal this week - plans that were slightly foiled by the amount of butter I used, alas. It was tasty, though!

This meal featured locally farmed trout from Freshwater farms of Ohio. I pan-fried it with fresh lemon juice (not local) and herbs. My second attempt at cauliflower puree was fantastic! I used two small potatoes along with the cauliflower, plus cream and butter and caramelized shallots. Sadly, that was the last of the cauliflower from my freezer. Other side dishes included corn with shallots and butter, green beans with even more shallots and butter, and carnival squash with, you guessed it, butter (along with maple sugar and curry powder. And without shallots.) I've been experimenting with flavorings for roasted squash, and I have to say that maple and curry is a definite winner (cumin is also pretty good, and cumin with coriander is on deck for the next batch.)

So how are your supplies holding out? My freezer is still packed to the gills, and we've been getting fresh lettuce and greens and the odd potato (sweet potatoes this week!) from the winter farmer's market. I have a ton of small, slightly wrinkly and sad potatoes that I bought in the fall, so hopefully they will become soup this week. And plenty of squash are still around, of course - it's about time to roast one of the big ones (probably a marina de chioggia.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 12

Week twelve already! Look, we're getting closer to spring!

I haven't done much cooking lately - my minor neck surgery left me with nerve damage in my neck and shoulder, and my right arm isn't entirely functional (and we won't even talk about the pain. Nerve pain is way beyond anything I could have imagined.) And I am right-handed, of course, which makes this all so very interesting in the Chinese sense.

I did manage to make one nice (and almost all local) meal this week: beef stew with roasted tomatoes and braised curly kale.

The beef stew featured grass-fed stew beef from Long Meadows (tossed in flour, seared, and braised), the last of the purple potatoes from the garden, a carrot (Persinger Farms; Jamestown, Ohio), and an onion and fresh parsley (H-W Farms). I had to use boxed stock and red wine from Trader Joe's, because I am currently in no shape to make stock.

I sliced the grape tomatoes in half and drizzled them with olive oil, then sprinkled on salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. I cooked them on parchment in the toaster oven (I think it was around 250 degrees for one-half hour, then briefly broiled at the end.) I both braised and stir-fried the kale (I start out with stir frying, then add a little water and put the lid on the pot, stirring occasionally until it is done) with garlic and butter and it was very, very tasty! The tomatoes and kale were both from H-W Farms.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 11

This week's dinner featured spiced ground lamb with pine nuts from this recipe by my friend Lisa at Kitchen Chick. I use about a pound of lamb in the recipe, and I adjust the spices to taste. Allspice and lamb are fantastic together! This recipe has become a standard in my house, usually served over a little bit of (non-local) rice. The lamb I used is from Northridge Farm in Johnstown, Ohio. Onions were from H-W Farm, butter from Hartzler's Dairy, non-local pine nuts (because nothing can really replace pine nuts.)

The side dish was my first attempt at a cauliflower puree. It came out a little runnier than I would have liked, but it tasted very good and the texture was interesting and grainy, which I happen to adore. Next time I make it I will try adding a potato to the mix to thicken it up and make it a little creamier. The cauliflower was also from H-W Organic Farm, the butter from Harztler's, and the milk from Snowville Creamery.

In other news, we visited the Worthington winter farmer's market today and stocked up. We spent $15 at H-W Organic farm: grape tomatoes (that are actually red, not pale orange!), spinach, parsley, curly kale, carrots, and onions; $2.50 on hydroponic lettuce; $17 on a chuck roast and stew meat from Long Meadows Grass Fed Beef (and had a nice chat with our friend Ed); ~$6 on pork chops from Curly Tail Organic Farm; plus we bought some cookies and a croque-monsieur croissant for lunch (and it was really good!)

Friday, January 30, 2009


My partner and I attended a "meet the farmers" night at the incredibly lovely TehKu Tea Company in Dublin, Ohio. We were able to chat with some local farmers, including our friends Adam and Jamie of Wayward Seed Farm. There were food samples from the farmers as well, including the most delicious squash soup I have ever tasted (made with seminole squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, and some sort of tea in the stock.)

More importantly, we signed up for both the fruit and vegetable CSA programs at Wayward Seed. We were members of their fruit CSA in 2007 and greatly enjoyed the experience; plus we buy their lovely heirloom vegetables every week throughout the market season. We had a nice long talk with Adam about their farming plans and visions of the future, and we are completely enamored of both their projects and enthusiasm.

I am looking forward to cooking from my CSA shares and plan to blog it fairly extensively. We have really come to a good place with our local eating, and we've had great fun exploring local markets and finding locally grown and produced foods. That isn't going to stop, of course, but we're going to try a CSA focus and see how we come out, both financially and food-wise. I am certainly eager for the cooking challenge that a CSA box will provide!

We have toyed with the idea of getting a meat CSA share as well, but since I am a little particular about how my meat is raised we are not doing that. We don't eat that much meat anyway, and it will be easier to stick to our "less is more" plan by buying it a little at a time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 10

Week 10! Only three months until asparagus! (I hope - spring can be fickle in the Midwest.)

This week's meal was one of my attempts at keeping meat portions small and vegetable portions high. The starch portions were a little high as well, but homemade stuffing is one of the great joys in life.

The meat portion was one boneless chicken thigh (I pan-fried it with the skin on for flavor then removed it for waistline issues.) It was just okay; I am so used to using fresh chicken that I found the frozen stuff a little weird. (Next time it will go in a stew.) It was from Speckled Hen Farm in Cardington, Ohio.

Next up was the pan gravy. I had some of the gnarliest chicken stock imaginable (from North Market Poultry; it was made from chicken feet and came from their own kitchen, as they were out of the usual stock in the butcher case.) It made a tasty and delightful gravy, as you might imagine.

Vegetable dishes were corn with butter and adobo seasoning (I am currently crazy about the combination of corn and adobo!) and green beans with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Starches were mashed green mountain potatoes (skins on of course!) with butter and milk from Hartzler's Dairy, and homemade stuffing (the bread was baked at the grocery store, but the celery was from my garden and the onions from H-W Organic Farms.

I wouldn't want to cook a meal like this every day, but it's nice to eat like this every once in a while. Especially if someone else does the dishes!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 9

Is it week 9 already? I still have a freezer full of food and a pile of squash, so things must be going okay.

This week's meal was the grumpiest brunch ever, as I learned that people who are feeling poorly after surgery shouldn't try to cook brunch before taking their pain medicine. Duh.

The stars of the show were blueberry pancakes with a blueberry/maple syrup that I made with the extras (I cooked them down a bit in a sauce pan, mushing some of them for juice and adding maple syrup toward the end. It's a great way to use the juice left over from frozen fruit!) There was a very nice blueberry farmer at one of the markets this summer (in Westerville, Ohio), and I managed to put a fair bit up in the freezer. The pancake mix was from Quiver Full farm (who grow and mill corn and soft wheat) and the syrup from Pleiades Maple farm. On the side was our usual pepper bacon from Blue's Creek.

I expect to repeat this same brunch with raspberries, blackberries, and more blueberries. I've been making pancakes with apples (I still have a fridge full!) so the berries have remained in hiding until now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 8

I'm blogging in a bit of a post-surgical fog this week; I had a lymph node in my neck excised for a biopsy on Wednesday, and I didn't anticipate how much recovering from it would, well, suck. Fortunately I made my dark days meal on the night before surgery!

This week I have returned to last year's favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs. I've made it a dozen times at least and the darn things still aren't round, but I can live with that. The ground beef is grass-fed (which is the only beef we buy) from Long Meadows; the marinara sauce is from my freezer (tomatoes from Honeyrun Farm); the pasta is from Pastaria at the North Market.

This particular marinara sauce was very rich and red; it was a batch I made with my Foley food mill this past August. I nearly cried when I realized that the output from the food mill was more like tomato juice than sauce, but after it cooked down all day it made a respectable sauce.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dark Days of Winter Challenge - week 7 (vegetarian)

Since the new camera I got for Giftmas is having some issues (why on earth would it require Windows XP?!) I have chosen a meal from the old camera. This one was a vegetarian delight with candied curried squash, bean ragout, and spinach sauteed with garlic.

The curried, candied squash idea came from my friend over at Hungry Woolf, who conveniently blogged her recipe so I was able to borrow it. I modified it a bit as I had already roasted the squash, so I cooked it for a shorter time and I also used regular curry powder (although I think something a bit hotter would be wonderful in this dish, as sweet and hot are a wonderful combination.) I look forward to making this dish again, since my squash population is still quite large. The combination of brown sugar and curry and apple cider was completely ace. The squash I used was an orange-striped cushaw from Wayward Seed Farm, and it was quite enormous - probably 6-8 inches wide and a good foot and a half long.

The spinach was a random bag from one of the last farmer's markets of the season, and it survived in the fridge for who knows how many weeks. I was surprised and delighted to see that it was still good, so I sauteed it with some sliced garlic and olive oil.

I completely forget what variety the beans were. We purchased a good 8 or nine varieties from Pop and Judy, a delightful couple of farmers in their 80's. Pop enjoys the challenge of growing shelling beans (although he says you'd never make any money off of them) and brought a small amount of dried beans to market in both the spring and fall of this year. I *think* these were Peregion beans, a lovely little heirloom bean in mottled shades of browns. I based the recipe off of the fresh shelling bean ragout (ragoût de haricots à égrener) in A Provençal Kitchen by Suzanne McLucas. I pre-cooked the beans, because I never know when the darn things are going to be ready. I always do a quick soak during the day - bring the beans to boil in plenty of water, then turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot, and let sit for a couple of hours - then drain them and refill the water before actual cooking, allow about 2 hours for them to cook. You can also par-cook the beans the day before, or soak over night. I always discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before actual cooking, at least since I learned about red kidney bean poisoning.

Anyway, here is the recipe for the dish, which of course involves wine. I am a big fan of this style of sauce.

Shelling bean ragout, Provençal-style

For the beans:
1 cup of dried beans, more or less
1 large bay leaf
1 large garlic clove, smashed
a couple of fresh thyme twigs of 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
more water than you'll think they'll need

Cook them until they are done using whatever dried bean cooking method you prefer. (There are many!) Be absolutely sure that they never run out of water; you may need to add more throughout the cooking time. Add an extra hour to however long you think they'll take to get done, because dried beans can be cantankerous. Drain the beans and set aside.

For the sauce:
2 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 t flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup bouillon or broth
2 teaspoons tomato paste
salt and pepper

Melt butter in a heavy skillet or saucepan; add onion and saute over medium heat until golden. Sprinkle with flour and stir; add wine slowly and stir to blend; add bouillon and tomato paste and stir. Cook over medium-low heat for a good 10 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. It should be fairly thick. Add beans back in and stir until heated through, and there you have it! The original recipe suggests a puree can be made by running the dish through a food mill (most specifically not a blender.) I may try that with the leftovers next time.