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. )