Tuesday, January 24, 2012

dark days of winter, meal 6: one pot meal challenge

the dark days of winter challenge is starting to have some theme and challenge weeks here and there. this week's theme is soups and one pot meals. i decided to challenge myself to see if i could make this from what i already had in the kitchen with zero shopping or planning. sometimes i think i do better when there are limitations that force me to become creative.

on the menu
  • hearty winter stew with chicken and cabbage
  • rosemary beer bread

dark days meal 6, plated

local ingredients
  • whole chicken from fickle creek farm (efland, nc, 44 miles)*
  • wheat berries from singing turtle farm (dunn, nc, 54 miles)*
  • cabbage from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles) (CSA)*
  • homemade chicken stock from my freezer
  • sweet josie brown ale from lonerider brewery
  • bay leaves from east wake apiary (wake county, nc, exact mileage unknown) *
  • whole wheat bread flour from singing turtle farm (dunn, nc, 54 miles)*
  • rosemary from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic
  • onion
  • butter
  • baking powder
easy: honestly i thought this would be harder. i turn out to have a really well stocked fridge and pantry. lol.

challenging: the challenge here was staying local. there were some things in my fridge that needed to be used and were not local--i couldn't see the value of seeking out the local counterpart to something i already had if it meant wasting something. so--i used the half an onion in my crisper rather than try to find a local onion. for all i know, it WAS a local onion--either way--it went in the stew.


hearty winter stew with chicken and cabbage
this one's 100% made up.
1 whole chicken
1 cup wheat berries
1/2 large yellow onion
1 quart chicken stock
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic
2-3 bay leaves
1 small to medium head of green cabbage
1 cup dark beer
salt and pepper to taste

directions: about 6 hours before eating, cut chicken into 8 pieces, and place into a slow cooker. roughly chop onion, then add it, along with the wheat berries, to the pot. add chicken stock, water, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. cook on high for about 4 hours. while this is cooking, go ahead and roughly chop the cabbage. set aside for later. after 4 hours of cooking time, remove chicken, pull the meat from the bones. discard skin and bones, then return meat to the pot. add cabbage and beer. continue to cook from about 2 more hours until wheat berries are just starting to split.

beer bread with rosemary
this is based on the beer bread recipe on the food network's website. i changed the type of flour, added rosemary, and cut the butter in half, but the original concept is still theirs. :)
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
~1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
12 ounces dark beer
1/4 cup melted butter

preheat oven to 375 degrees. butter a 9x5 baking pan. sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. (note: when i sifted my locally milled flour, the sifter wanted to keep much of the wheat berry hulls and other bits of the rough flour. i did sift, but i also dumped those back in. my point was to aerate the flour more than to "strain" it, so to speak. if you wanted fluffier bread, you could leave those things out, but i wanted all the nutrition that comes with the WHOLE wheat berry being included.) whick 1/2 the rosemary into the dry ingredients. add beer, and stir just until mixed. pour into greased loaf pan. pour melted butter over mixture. bake about 1 hour until golden brown and crusty. cool in pan for 5 minutes, then move to wire rack. let sit for at least 10 minutes more before slicing.

family ruling
i knot that picture up there isn't the most stunning, but trust me, people. this. was. awesome. we had friends over for dinner, and the vote for awesomeness was unanimous. it was warm and comforting and delicious, as well as ridiculously healthy. the 8-year-old at the table ate two big bowls, and i think all the grown-ups did as well. this is one made up recipe i'll be hanging onto! the bread as well was a pleasant surprise. i had heard good things about the beer bread recipe, but i was a little reluctant to try it with the dark flour and beer--it was fantastic and went really well with the stew. also--it's worth noting that all of this held up very well--the leftovers i ate for lunch a few days after this was made were probably even better than the freshly made stuff. YUM!

further thoughts
a note on beer and broth. this is something i have never done--add beer to broth. i've read countless recipes for stews and soups that use beer, but for reasons i can't even begin to think, it never occured to me to actually make one before. but i was about to add the cabbage to the stew, and i kept tasting it, and thinking it was missing something...something to give it a little more kick and add to the heartiness of the dish...something a little bitter to balance the sweet cabbage i was about to add. BEER! it was right there in front of me, so i tried it--totally the right thing.

also a first for me: wheat berries. sharon, the farmer at my market who is growing wheat and milling flour had some of these for sale, and i was like, wha??? she assured me that they were delicious, and that you could add them to hot, long cooking cereals like steel cut oats, or to soups where you would normally use barley or brown rice or something like that. i admit, i was a little nervous about them. rice in stews can get mushy, and barley can make them too thick. but. i had them, i wanted something different, and i needed a starchy something in the stew for body. OMG, they are fantastic! they turned out like rice, but chewier, a tiny bit crunchy, and not mushy at all. after 6 hours on high, they were just starting to split and release a little thickening wheat germ into the stew. all of us really liked both the texture and the slightly sweet flavor they brought to the table. so. good. one of those foods i now wonder where it's been all my life. if you can get your hand on some, i can't recommend them enough.

so yeah. success.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

dark days of winter, meal 5: gettin' experimental

i seem to be skipping a week here and there. again, my meal# isn't matching up to the actual week the dark days of winter challenge is on, but i swear i am doing the best i can! :)

this week, the meat was super basic, but i got a little experimental with the veggies. i had some turnips left from my fall CSA (those things last forever!), and a couple of big bunches of kale. the hippie is always talking about trying some green smoothies, so i get extra greens for him. however, it takes us a while to start following through on intentions like that, so i sometimes end up with the extra greens lying in the fridge begging for mercy! suffice it to say, we've had a lot of turnips and kale this year. time to try something new with them!

on the menu

  • grilled smoked pork loin chips
  • creamed turnips with bleu cheese
  • kale chips with french grey sea salt

dark days meal 5, plated

local ingredients
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • cream(organic, but not local)
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • cloves
  • french grey sea salt
easy: this week's meal was thrown together pretty quickly from things i already had in the house--no real planning till i was ready to start to cook. i LOVE when that happens.

challenging: i was a little disappointed that i failed to buy local cream and butter for this week. i've been trying to favor those, but a) i can't get them at the farmers market, and b) not all grocery stores have them either. if i don't make it to the places that do, which are a little out of my way, then i can't get local. i always get organic, but it would sure be nice if local were as easy to find.


grilled smoked pork chops
recipe is a strong word for this--we don't do a thing to fickle creek's smoked pork chops other than heat them on the grill. i unwrap them and hand them to the hippie, and he grills them about 3 minutes per side on high heat. let them rest a few minutes, and eat them up!

creamed turnips with bleu cheese
~2 lbs salad turnips (these are small white turnips with a milder flavor than the big purple kind)
2 whole cloves
2 cloves of garlic
~1 tsp fresh thyme
1 oz good quality bleu cheese
1/4 tsp white pepper
heavy cream to texture
salt to taste

directions: peel and chop turnips to about 3/4-inch cubes. place in saucepan with both whole cloves and garlic cloves, cover with water, and bring to a boil. reduce heat slightly and continue to boil just until turnips are tender, about 15 minutes. drain well and remove cloves (leave garlic in!). mash turnips slightly with a potato masher and drain again. i discovered that turnips contain a LOT of liquid--drain them a lot so they don't become soupy. add thyme, bleu cheese, white pepper, salt, and a tiny bit of cream, and whip. add cream in increments and by tiny amounts--you don't need much.

kale chips
(recipe from use real butter, one of my absolute favorite food blogs)
a bunch of kale
olive oil
sea salt

preheat oven to 350. wash and dry kale thoroughly. remove the hard center stems, and roughly tear or chop it into manageable sized pieces. toss with a small amount of olive oil. line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lay the kale out in a single layer. sprinkle with sea salt. bake for about 12-15 minutes until crispy.

family ruling
this whole meal was YUM city, ESPECIALLY the kale chips! those were just fantastic. i've wanted to try them for a long time after having so many friends rave to me about how good they are. i was skeptical, but delighted in the end. i can't recommend it enough. (note: our 3-year-old was NOT as impressed. he was game and tried them, but HATED them--so much that i gave him a cookie to make up for the level of horror he experienced. it's rare for us to have such a mega-fail with him, but there you go--this was right up next to cauliflower on his PLEASE-MAMA-NOT-THAT list, which is saying something. his statement? "mama, i don't really like kale chips." lol)

now. the turnips. turns out they have about 12x the amount of liquid in them as potatoes. so, while the creamed turnips TASTED awesome, they were far more soupy than i intended. i should have done a better job of draining them before i added the cream, so i adjusted the directions accordingly. that said--this was a delicious amalgam about about 15 different recipes i read. i will definitely do this again--i will just know next time to drain better and use less cream.

further thoughts
i forget how much i like playing in the kitchen. this, and the one-pot meal i made for next week's challenge are the first couple of truly creative things i've done in the kitchen in a while. i miss it! for some reason in winter, i seem to stick more to the tried and true than i do in the summer. i think this has something to do with the variety of available produce for sure, but i have also realized that i tend to feel pressed for time when it gets dark so early, too. i need to shake that feeling off and continue to get creative on the winter veggies.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

dark days of winter, meal 4: keepin' it simple

i skipped a week of the dark days of winter challenge because of the holidays and ensuing chaos. that said, i made a LOT of local food over the holidays, including the main showcase of the christmas eve feast i cooked for friends: a pair of lovely london broils from smith angus farms in snow camp, nc. so very delicious!

anyway--onto what is my meal #4, although i have lost count of what the actual week is...

for this week's meal, and after all the madness of the holiday eating, i decided to keep things very simple. again, we ended up with friends spontaneously over for dinner. it seems we do that a lot. and as usual, the number and quality of my photographs drops in direct proportion to how many people are in the house when i am cooking. this post is the lightest one yet for pictures--sorry!

on the menu

  • simple roasted chicken
  • baked sweet potatoes
  • grilled fennel
  • a big salad

dark days meal 4, plated

local ingredients
  • whole chicken from fickle creek farm (efland, nc, 44 miles)*
  • thyme from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
  • oregano from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
  • rosemary from our yard (apex, nc, 15 feet)
  • sweet potatoes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles) (CSA)*
  • butter from homeland creamery (julian, nc, 57 miles)
  • fennel from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles) (CSA)*
  • lettuces from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
  • cucumber from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
  • tomatoes from screech owl greenhouse (moncure, nc, 19 miles)*
  • watermelon radishes from ben's produce (clayton, nc, 33 miles) (CSA)*
* purchased at western wake farmers market

non-local ingredients
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • cinnamon
  • yellow pepper (organic, but not local)
  • celery (organic, but not local)
  • salad dressings
easy: really, just about everything here was easy. this is how i cook all the time, and i've gotten used to buying as much locally as i possibly can. in the light of the busyness of this time of year, i think i also accepted the limitations better this go around.

challenging: as usual, the exceptions are spices, oils, and the things that aren't frown in my local greenhouses. also, it was a little harder over the holidays, since some of my farmers also took actual vacations to see their own families. how crazy is that??


simple roasted chicken (adapted from recipes from home, one of my favorite cookbooks):
3-4 lb chicken
6-10 sprigs of fresh herbs (i used thyme, oregano, and rosemary since that's what i had on hand)
salt and pepper

preheat oven to 450F. rinse the bird and pat dry. salt and pepper inside and out. add herbs to cavity of chicken, and tie legs with twine or linen. place chicken on roasting rack in pan, and roast for ~40 minutes. turn oven temperature down to 350 and continue to roast for 30 more minutes or until juices run clear when the joint between the leg and thigh is pierced. (note: the actual recipe calls for 10 basil leaves, 3-4 sprigs each of thyme and rosemary. it also specifies half a lemon, cut in half, with which you rub the insure of the bird's cavity. this does bring something to the table, but i find that the chicken is still delicious without it. as long as you have a good quality, free-range, non-fatty or water heavy bird, this is fool-proof!)

baked sweet potatoes ("recipe" is a strong word for this!)
sweet potatoes

directions:wash and dry the sweet potatoes, and, as long as they are fairly petite, just throw them into the oven with the chicken. when you turn the oven down to 350, pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork. these were small enough that they were perfectly cooked by the time the chicken was done. if they were larger, i would have started them in the 450-degree oven about 15 minutes before i put the chicken in, and i think they still would have been fine. we're all about efficiency around here. we served them with cinnamon and butter.

grilled fennel (again, not really a recipe)
3 bulbs of fennel
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

remove stems from fennel bulbs. slice vertically into 1/8 - 1/4-inch slices. toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. grill for about 3 minutes a side or until desired texture.

this one contained:
2 small heads of red oak leaf lettuce
1 head green bibb lettuce
1 large watermelon radish
2 stalks celery
1/2 large english cucumber
1 very large heirloom red tomato
1 yellow pepper

directions: chop everything into bite sized pieces. toss. apply favorite salad dressing, and eat as much as you want--salad is awesome!

dark days meal 4, fennel
dark days meal 4, watermelon radish
dark days meal 4, lettuce
family ruling
the chicken was awesome, as it always is, and everyone at our house loves sweet potatoes and salad. the fennel was the dud of the meal. disclaimer: i HATE fennel and didn't even eat it, although i DID force myself to try it just to check to see if i had changed my mind about it. (i hadn't.) but even for the other folks who love it, it was just kind of lacking something--i think i should have maybe grilled it with some other veggies--maybe an onion or a pepper or something. people ate it, but no one relished it. i won't do it again on it's own...

further thoughts
i am so grateful for fresh lettuce in the winter. the new greenhouse guy at my farmers market has been a godsend with his cucumbers and lettuce and peppers and LOVELY tomatoes. i read something recently about the incredibly high carbon footprint of shipping greens, and i am so very glad i can still get them, virtually guilt free, even in the dead of winter. i didn't realize how addicted to salads we had become until we started trying to eat closer to home.

in addition to the greens, i am still in love with the way my farmers market is always showing me something new--the watermelon radishes in this particular salad were a delight. since my farmers market started, i have also tried lemon cucumbers, english cucumbers, french breakfast radishes, black spanish radishes, kohlrabi, poona kheera cucumbers, baby ginger, kale (many kinds), mizuna, tatsoi, savoy cabbage, fresh elephant garlic, and so many other things i never knew i was going to love. the variety in what we eat is ever-increasing, which is an incredible gift from the local farmers to us. so thankful...