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...


Jes said...

I love the simplicity--roast chicken works amazingly well with almost anything. Perfect for these chilly nights!

emilysincerely said...

Jackie - I am big into cooking simple meals, so this meal looks right up my alley. I had big smiles about the grilled fennel. Thought that was a great way to cook it and serve it, then i rad your comments on it. funny. I have 3 fennel that are ready to pick and I never would have thought to grill them. Maybe I will grill them with bunching onions too. that may do the trick. Great meal. Emily

jackie said...

emily, i have to say--i think the reason the fennel was a dud was a) we didn't cook it quite long enough, so it was a tad tougher than it should have been, and b) i really think it would benefit for being mixed in with other grillable vegetables. one of us ate it with gusto, and the rest were like--meh, it's ok. we have a standard grilling mix that includes asparagus, portabella mushrooms, onions, red peppers, and squash--i think the fennel would make a nice addition to that mix.

Susan said...

I love fennel. Never thought to grill it, but it would be nice in your grill mix. I usually carmelize it: butter, fennel...a perfect combination!

The roast chicken looks great too. I bet your house smelled amazing while all this was cooking.