Monday, December 19, 2011

dark days of winter, meal 3: Southern Q

this week's post is horrifyingly low on decent pictures, due to distractions in the form of friends showing up to meet the new dawg and staying for dinner. in lieu of a plate shot, i give you ginger, our new puppy:

ginger is growing fast!

now, on to business.

this week's meal is all southern, and very old school, with the exception of the fact that i used my crock pot to make BBQ instead of digging a hole in my back yard to smoke it.

on the menu

  • pulled pork BBQ
  • old school braised greens with indian dumplings
  • honey glazed roasted carrots
  • sweet josie brown ale from lonerider brewery
    (there's a keg of this local brew in my garage--i thought i'd feature it along with the food.)
local ingredients
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • red pepper rib rub made by my friend karen
  • apple cider vinegar
  • liquid hickory smoke (real, not chemical--cause, ew)
semi-local ingredients
  • bone-suckin' sauce - made in north carolina, but i have zero clue from whence the ingredients come. it's as local as i can get BBQ sauce without making my own, which is a challenge in the winter.
  • bacon fat - from holland brothers bacon, not local to us, but local to the grandparents who live in PA. bacon from this place is a yearly gift from our family, and it's awesome.

: as always, meat and produce are the no-brainers.

challenging: the semi-local ingredients here are my compromise. things like apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, and salt i KNOW i can't get locally, but the other things? well--i guess i am just trying to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible on things like that. it doesn't make sense to me to buy bacon that's local to me, when i already have bacon that was a gift from someone for whom that bacon IS local. does that make sense?


dark days meal 3, pulled pork

pulled pork, crock pot style (made up on the fly):
boston butt or pork shoulder roast
your favorite rib rub
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
20 or so drops of real liquid smoke
BBQ sauce

cover pork roast liberally with spice rub, and put into your crock pot. add apple cider vinegar. cook on low for 8 hours. remove pork and pull from bone with 2 forks or tongs. drain off most of liquid (reserve for soup stock or beans--trust me--keep that stuff). (note: if you are going to make the greens below, reserve a couple of ounces of meat at this stage.) return the pork to the crock pot. add a little of the cooking liquid, maybe 1/4 a cup. add the liquid smoke, and about 1/3 a cup of BBQ sauce. mix well, and cook another hour on low to mix flavors and caramelize the meat. serve with more sauce or on buns or you know--however you like to eat BBQ.

dark days meal 3, honey glazed carrots

honey glazed roasted carrots (made up on the fly)
~2 tablespoons butter
~2 tablespoons honey

directions: preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). peel carrots and cut into sticks. put into a baking dish with some butter. roast for 8 minutes, then stir. roast for 8 more minutes. add honey and stir in. roast for 16 more minutes, stirring one more time half way through. carrots should be starting to caramelize when they are done. best use of fresh carrots in the world!

dark days meal 3, greens and dumplings

braised greens with indian dumplings (adapted from bill neal's southern cooking)
2.5 to 3 lbs cooking greens (collards, kale, chard, etc.)
8 cups water
~4 tablespoons bacon fat
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz pork meat or a small ham hock
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup cornmeal
1.5 tablespoons butter or bacon fat or lard

in a large stockpot or braising pot, add water, bacon fat, salt, finely chopped pork, and red pepper flakes. bring to a boil, then boil on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. add the greens, cover tightly. return to a boil, stir down the greens, and then simmer, covered, for about 50 minutes if you are going to add indian dumplings, or an hour if you're not.

for the dumplings, place cornmeal into a small mixing bowl. steal 1/2 cup of boiling liquid from the greens, and slowly work it into the cornmeal with the back of a wooden spoon. work fat in with your fingers while the cornmeal mix is still warm. shape into small biscuit-like disks, about an inch wide and 1/2 an inch thick--it should make 16-18 of these. when the greens have been cooking for about 50 minutes, give them a final stir, then lay the dumplings on top to cook. let them cook for about 10 minutes, and voila, you have delicious little dumplings in your greens.

note: indian dumplings are like a cross between hushpuppies and gnocci. this was the first time i'd made them, but they were surprisingly easy and fast--i will most certainly make them again. i can imagine they would be delightful with soups and stews as well as in greens.

note the second: after you serve the greens, you will have quite a bit of liquid left. if you combine it with the reserved liquid from the pork, you have an EXCELLENT soup base on your hands. i generally throw this in the fridge overnight, so i can skim the fat off easily in the morning. then i put it in the freezer to use whenever. i recommend this as a base for my white bean and kale soup.

dark days meal 3, ready to eat

family ruling
everyone at our house loves all this, and the friends we spontaneously had over for dinner last night agree. the 11-year old had 2 helpings of the greens, so--win.

further thoughts
southern cooking is my kitchen comfort zone, as it turns out. i feel more free with recipes and restrictions in this area than any other, and since i live in the south, it makes sense that these are the ingredients that are easiest for me to get locally. i am guessing you will see more southern food from me before this is challenge is done. meal #3 i am calling a resounding success. yay for BBQ!

Monday, December 12, 2011

dark days of winter, meal 2: dinner with a friend

this week, i ended up cooking a last minute dinner for a good friend who came into town unexpectedly. this means i had less time to think about what to make, and had to rely on what i already had in the house. as a result, this week's meal has more non-local ingredients than last week's, but i am happy with how much of it IS local, with very little effort!

dark days meal 2, plated

on the menu

  • chicken and 40 cloves
  • whipped sweet potatoes with ginger
  • salad
  • rosemary olive oil bread

dark days meal 2, local ingredients

local ingredients
  • whole chicken from fickle creek farm (efland, nc, 44 miles)*
  • thyme from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
  • butter from homeland creamery (julian, nc, 57 miles)
  • honey from our family's bees (20 miles)
  • sweet potatoes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles)*
  • fresh ginger from redbud farm (burlington, nc, 62 miles)*
  • milk from maple view farm (hillsborough, nc, 34 miles)
  • french breakfast radishes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles)*
  • lettuces from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
  • cucumber from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
* purchased at western wake farmers market

dark days meal 2, non-local ingredients

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil (organic)
  • celery (organic)
  • grape tomatoes (organic)
  • garlic
  • red bell pepper (organic)
  • cinnamon
  • rosemary olive oil bread (not pictured) (baked locally, but sourced from ???)
as always, the meat and produce is mostly easy for me to get locally. everything you see here i already had in my house with no planning at all.

this week i was traveling and very busy, so there was not as much time to plan my meal. as a result, this one is mostly local--all the spotlight parts are local. but it still feels a little cheater-y to me. this is especially true for the non-local salad produce, the bread we had with dinner, which was a last minute purchase, and the salad dressing, which was whatever we had in the fridge. i didn't even think about dressing until dinner was made and on the table.


chicken and 40 cloves:
this is a tried and true recipe from alton brown. it's posted on the food network website, so i think posting it again here might be a copyright violation. you guys know how to click a link though, right? go make this right now! it's awesome!

whipped sweet potatoes with ginger (made up on the fly)
9-10 small sweet potatoes
~2 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons honey
~1.5 tablespoons chopped gresh ginger
(note, i used uncured, super-fresh ginger from a local supplier, and NOT the ginger from the grocery store, which is much stronger. if you use that, i'd recommend cutting this amount in half.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
milk to texture (added gradually while whipping)

preheat oven to 450. bake sweet potatoes for ~40 minutes until soft, piercing with a fork after 20 minutes. remove skins and place in a large bowl. add butter, honey, ginger, cinnamon, and about 1/4 cup of milk, and mash with a potato masher until well mixed. then, using a hand mixer, beat until fluffy. add milk if necessary to obtain the right texture/moisture.

um--i can't say i have a recipe for a salad. i just put everything i can find in the fridge that looks like it would be good in a salad. this one contained mixed lettuces, celery, radishes, red pepper, grape tomatoes, and cucumber.

dark days meal 2, ready to eat

family ruling
everything was awesome, especially the sweet potatoes. my friend who was visiting seemed stunned that this is what i ended up with when i just threw something together, so that's a good ruling as well--he ate everything with gusto.

further thoughts
cooking on weeknights is a challenge for me. i work full time and have two small (hungry) children in daycare. i have to leave work, get them, drive home in a boatload of traffic, and THEN address dinner. i get around this most of the time by planning ahead and cooking and prepping as much as i can ahead of time. some weeks it's great--others, it falls apart on me. this past week, i had the added travel stress on the table, and then my friend showed up out of nowhere--this was literally the best i could pull off. i am not as proud of this as i was of my sunday brunch last week, but then i didn't have the time for the same level of planning and thought as i did for that meal. i will say this, however: i am very proud of my pantry and my freezer for getting me this close to an all local meal absolutely on the fly.

Monday, December 05, 2011

dark days of winter - meal 1: sunday brunch

this is the first official week of the dark days of winter local cooking challenge, so i decided to start with the first real meal of the week: sunday brunch.

dark days meal #1: on the plate

on the menu

  • blueberry buckwheat pancakes
  • spinach and cheese frittata
  • sausage patties

dark days meal #1: ingredients

local ingredients
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • baking powder
easy: meat, eggs, and produce are no problem for me to get, given the awesome nature of my farmers market. in addition, the market vets its vendors carefully, and while not every farm and food producer there is certified organic, all of them are local to us and follow extremely ethical farming practices, often going beyond the requirements of organic certification. the animals are all free range, and none are given any unnecessary antibiotics or growth hormones. most of the farms are very small operations and family farms, and we have gotten to know these vendors over the past couple of years. we are extremely fortunate to have this place, which is open all year, available to us.

challenging: what do you do about things like salt, baking powder/soda, vanilla, and other pantry-type things you use in your cooking without thinking about it? i am trying hard to keep these things to a minimum, but i admit, i forgot all about baking powder when i was thinking about making pancakes. i guess i am trying to look at this from the point of view of a pioneer person--in days of old, you would have traded for these items, right? this is stuff that has almost never been available locally, anywhere. some small carbon footprint is, i suppose, not avoidable in everyday cooking.


blueberry buckwheat pancakes (adapted from here):
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
5-6 teaspoons of honey
2.5 tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
1 cup blueberries, fresh, or thawed from frozen

in a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. set aside. in a larger bowl, beat the two eggs until frothy, about 2 minutes. add honey, butter, and then buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. gradually stir in flour mixture until smooth. gently stir in blueberries. note: batter will be very thick. let sit for a few minutes. cook on a lightly buttered griddle or in a flat pan over medium-high heat, about 1/3 cup of batter at a time. after 2-4 minutes, when edges are set and blueberries are starting to crack, flip over and cook on other side, about 2-3 more minutes. makes 10-12 pancakes. serve with honey.

spinach and cheese frittata (made up on the fly)
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
2 cups spinach, cleaned, de-stemmed, and roughly chopped (packed tight!)
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 fresh ancho chile pepper, chopped fine
2/3 cup shredded fresh mozzarella
10 eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

directions: preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). grease a 9x9-in pan with 1/2 tablespoon of butter. melt the other tablespoon in a skillet. saute the spinach just until wilted. immediately remove from heat and allow to cool. in pan, layer herbs, chopped peppers, and cheese. evenly distribute cooled spinach over this. in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until very well mixed. i usually add salt and pepper in this step. pour egg mixture over the other ingredients. taking care to distribute evenly. bake for about 25 - 30 minutes until the center is set. let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

sausage patties
no real recipe here. i bought a pound of local sausage, made it into small patties, and fried it up in a pan over medium heat until it was well browned and delicious!

dark days meal #1: ready to go

family ruling
absolutely delicious--i would make every bit of this again, and eat it happily. children and man agree.

further thoughts
i am very grateful that we thought to buy a lot of extra local blueberries this summer and freeze them. our children eat them straight out of the freezer, but they are also mightily awesome to have around for this sort of application and for the random pie craving. if you decide to do this, don't wash them--just throw them straight into freezer bags. wash them when you are ready to use. also, if you use them for pancakes, make sure you thaw them completely first. if you don't you will have nasty, gooey globs of uncooked pancake batter surrounding every blueberry--GROSS!

there's been a lot of discussion in the group about local flours on the east coast and how difficult they are to obtain. i've been discussing this a lot with local millers and bakers to see where people source their wheat. most people are sourcing from the midwest, which is no real surprise. however, i was delighted that sharon funderburke from singing turtle farm in dunn, nc is growing her own wheat. she's growing both hard and soft red winter wheat, and she has just in the last month started grinding her own flour. she sells wheat berries for both varieties as well as bread flour and pastry flour. she also sells chicken feed made from the wheat and from her oats, as well as a small amount of baked goods. her crops are 100% organic, and her practices are beyond sustainable. she is a second of third generation farmer, looking for ways to improve her family's farm. she's been a joy to learn/buy from the past couple of seasons.

first meal of this challenge went well, i think. i'm pretty proud of the fact that everything is local but the stuff i really can't get locally, plus i am happy that it was all delightful--i didn't feel like i was cutting corners anywhere. in fact, the local butter especially felt like an indulgence--talk about GOOD! now onto thinking about my next meal...