Friday, December 31, 2010

Holiday Hiatus

I thought that I might have a bit of time to sneak in some blog work the over the holidays, but, as those of you following the blog may have noticed, I haven't.

I have had time to do some other wonderful things though. Like celebrate Christmas with my husband and daughter, hang out with my husband's family over at my brother-in-law's house, take my daughter on her for her first sled ride, and eat a lot of yummy food (including buckwheat pancakes). Some of the food was even local.

She likes the piano too,
but man that's a good box!

Taking time to focus on
the new toys.

Partying at the bowling alley with Grandma!
 With all the fun, I haven't had the chance to make any completely local meals for the dark days challenge since my cabbage soup (unless you want to read a post about scrambled eggs - local eggs and local butter, what could be better?) but I have been fitting in a few dark days side dishes here and there as I experiment with some new things at home and help out with the cooking at the in-law's.

The list is short, but here are my recent local food creations:

Roast squash (sweet dumpling and honey bear from Seeds and Spores in Marquette) filled with homemade lemon cheese (Made with milk from Kolpack's farm in Ontonagon)
Sweet and sour cabbage (Made with cabbage from a neighbor's garden and honey from Algomah Acres in Greenland)
Cabbage with sweet pickled beets and cauliflower (Made with cabbage from a neighbor's garden, beets and cauliflower we grew and pickled)
Roast brussels sprouts (From a neighbor's garden)

The squash were roasted plain, then filled
with a simple homemade cheese and baked again.

I did get to introduce several family members to the simple art of roasting brussles sprouts with olive oil, salt, and pepper until they just begin to brown. They loved them! Some were already brussels sprout fans, but I managed to convert my sister-in-law from a person repulsed by all things brussels sprouty to an appreciator of the roasted sprouts. Score one for the tiny cabbages!

The cabbage was stir fried with honey, dried jalapeno from
our garden,and non-local lemon juice (leftover from
cheese making), salt, and pepper.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cabbage Soup with Bacon and Caraway

A soup for every other Dark Days meal sounds about right to me. As I mentioned in my first Dark Days post, I do like to make soup.

Cabbage, bacon, and caraway soup before its final simmer.
The orange bits are rutabaga.
And why not? Soups are satisfying, simple to make, endlessly variable, and lend themselves well to my locally available ingredients.

This was, sadly, another almost local soup. I like to give soups quick flavor by starting with bacon, or sometimes sausage. There used to be a wider selection of local bacon and sausage at my co-op than there has been the last couple times I've shopped for them. This last time I had four options, bacon from Wisconsin that would have fit my broadest definition of local (we are very very close to Wisconsin) but had nitrites, non-local nitrite free bacon from far away, bison sausage from I know not where, and some apple chicken sausage from California. In the past I have been able to find bacon and/or sausage sourced within 50 - 100 miles of me.

I had to go with the nitrite free bacon option. I cannot say whether or not nitrites and nitrates are a food safety issue, but they give me migraines so I avoid them.

This was a weekend shopping trip so I couldn't speak with any buyers, but I will need to ask my co-op about this change ASAP. If I'm lucky, their past suppliers are still around and I can buy directly from them.

3/4 of a twelve ounce package of bacon, one medium onion, one rutabaga,
two turnips, a tablespoon whole caraway seed, and some dried jalapeno.
I deglazed this pan with a bit of water, added a medium cabbage, chopped,
one pint home canned tomato puree, and water to cover.This simmered
for about a half hour, until the cabbage was tender but not limp.
The rest of the soup, aside from the salt, pepper, and caraway seed, was local. The vegetables, which included cabbage, rutabaga, turnips, onion, canned tomato puree, and dried chile pepper were a collection from four different area gardens (including ours).

"Bacon Bits"
The highlight of the soup was the bacon crumbles I garnished it with. I used about 3/4 of the bacon for the soup itself. The remaining was chopped into bite sized pieces and fried with a generous pinch of whole caraway seed and a half a dried jalapeno pepper minced.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Building My Holiday Traditions

This is my first Christmas as the mother of a toddler. This is also the first Christmas that I've chosen to make cookies for my friends and family. Also, this is my first Christmas as a blogger. It makes quite a combination of firsts.

There are so many beautiful food blogs, and right now they are full of beautiful Christmas cookies. Cookies with qualities of deliciousness that I aspired to match during my week long cookie making marathon. But of course, no matter how many beautiful cookies I planned to make, I never stopped being the mother of a toddler.

Now that the marathon is complete, I feel I need to make a public service announcement of sorts. The snowflake cookies with only five points, the truffles that are as misshapen as their namesake, the candied lime with chewier-than-you-meant-it-to-be peel are all as delicious and loved by your loved ones as they would be if they were picture perfect.

Deep breath. Your cookies will be fantastic.

You see, I'm not really a Christmas person. I'm new to this Christmas spirit thing and I don't want to turn the love I want to share with those that have touched my life this year into a giant stress fest. And I don't want anyone else to either. I'm pretty sure Christmas traditions are meant to be enjoyable for everyone involved, even those with the role of Santa's elf.

For a long time I have been something of a Christmas observer. My husband and I would make sure to see our families during the holiday season, we would get presents for our nephews, we would try to find gifts for our respective siblings, but we just didn't get that into it. December is our quietest month farm wise, nothing is growing and we've just barely started planing for next year, so we've always liked to keep it laid back. The actual day of Christmas was generally just a nice day off from work that we could spend together. Our Christmas included no decorations, a few gifts, and a big batch of buckwheat pancakes with jam.

We'll take any excuse to make buckwheat pancakes with jam.

Last year our Christmas routine changed a bit. I suppose all routines change when you toss in a three month old. I was up at midnight on Christmas Eve, wrapping the world's greatest teething ring in shiny silver paper. I had thought I wouldn't want a tree, but at the last minute I even sent my husband out into one of our brushier fields for a tiny little Christmas tree to decorate our living room. I got a taste of what it is like to be a Christmas person, and I loved it. This year, I wanted more than that little taste.

Baby's First Christmas, or The Most Presents I've Ever Purchased
So, although I'm still not buying a lot of presents, I'm starting some new traditions. I've got cookies, I've got lights on a tree in my yard, I'm donating to three different charities on behalf of my parents and sister, and, of course, I'm taking a laid back day and eating buckwheat pancakes with jam on Christmas morning with my husband and daughter.

Maybe you would like to join us.

Buckwheat Pancakes

We got this recipe off of a box of buckwheat flour, I think it was Hodgson Mill, several years ago. It's the only 100% buckwheat pancake recipe I've run into. It is now written on a piece of loose leaf paper and taped to the inside of our plate cupboard door. That is how special this recipe is to us. It must be enjoyed with homemade jam, preferably blueberry or blackberry.

  • Two tablespoons butter, melted
  • One cup milk
  • One egg
  • One cup buckwheat flour
  • One teaspoon baking powder
  • Two tablespoons sugar
  • Half teaspoon salt
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients.
  2. Combine the egg, milk, and melted butter. Stir until well combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. It will be a little gooier than non-buckwheat pancake batter.
  4. Heat a griddle or shallow pan over medium heat.
  5. Grease the pan with butter, vegetable oil, or cooking spray. We prefer butter, but we're decadent. They all work.
  6. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter onto the pan, as many times as will fit.
  7. Watch the batter. When bubbles are just about to break the surface, flip the pancake over. This traps those bubbles in the pancakes and makes them nice and fluffy.
  8. Cook until the center is set and the bottom is lightly brown.
  9. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roast Duck with Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce

Plants. As a botanist, farmer, herbalist, and cook I study, grow, prepare, and consume them. Plants tie my passions together. Why? Some people are just plant people. We know who we are. My path to plant personhood is too long a story to share here. Actually, now that I think about it my plant story is basically my life story. I wonder if that is true of most plant people? I will say that foraging, or gathering wild plants for food, has been an important part of my life for a long time.

This meal, my second for the dark days challenge, (click here if you don't know what I mean by dark days) features the chokecherry. Chokecherries are easily found in the Western U.P. and are foraged, at least casually, by just about everyone who ventures outside around here.
How have I never taken a picture of the chokecherry?
Ah well, here is an old school one from the
to give you an idea.
The chokecherry, or Prunus virginiana, is an astringent (astringent food = unripe banana) little cherry that grows in racemes on scraggly bush/trees in brushy areas. A lot of folks pick it for jelly when it is ripe in late summer. It does make good jelly. It also makes an excellent barbecue sauce. You can find my chokecherry barbecue sauce recipe below. As a bonus, chokecherry bark makes a very effective cough syrup. It's a great "gateway" herb to convince non-believers of the efficacy of herbal remedies.

Chokecherries can be found in this Dark Day's dinner as barbecue sauce, which I made and canned last summer, and wine. We drank chokecherry honey wine from a vineyard called Threefold Vine Winery in Garden, Michigan, about 200 miles from me. That's a vineyard in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For real.
The duck was one of the Khaki Campbells we raised last season. We also ate sweet potatoes grown by us and Brussels sprouts from a neighbor's garden. I basted the duck with a mixture of half butter (from Jilbert Dairy, about 115 miles from me) and half barbecue sauce. The bird weighed about 3 pounds and I roasted it at 400 degrees for around 35 minutes. When I removed it from the oven I let it rest on a plate and added my vegetables to the pan of duck fat, butter, and barbecue sauce. I turned the oven up to 450, put my pan of sweet potatoes and sprouts back in, and let them roast while the duck rested and my husband did the fancy carving job you see in the photo here.

Everything was good, but the roast vegetables in duck fat were definitely the highlight of the meal. I seriously recommend this method of cooking Brussels sprouts if you have the chance to try it.

I found the wine at a gas station of all places. I was already planning the duck with chokecherry barbecue sauce and I thought it would be fun to try a chokecherry wine with it. A sommelier I am not. It was much sweeter than I expected and didn't work so well with the barbecue sauce. It was surprisingly good with the roasted vegetables though. I liked the wine overall, but I like sweet, fruity, spicy things. It probably isn't something that wine lovers would rave about, but I think that is true of all cherry wines. I am very excited to try more things from Threefold Vine Winery. Especially the wines made from the grapes they grow. There is another winery even closer to me in Houghton that I will be purchasing wines from during the challenge, but they don't grow their own grapes. I still can't believe there is a vineyard in the U.P. Already, I love the things this challenge is helping me discover.

As promised above, here is my recipe for a small batch of chokecherry barbecue sauce. If ever you spend a pleasant afternoon picking three and a half pounds of chokecherries this is the thing to do with them. We like it on chicken as well as duck. I'm sure it's good on pork too, we just don't eat a lot of pork. I use either honey or sugar depending on what I have on hand. This year I used sugar. It's good either way, but I like it a bit better with honey. This recipe makes about three cups of barbecue sauce.

Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce
  • 3 1/2 pounds chokecherries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp black mustard seed
  • 25 peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  1. Place the chokecherries and water over medium low heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Simmer until they have burst.
  3. Push the chokecherries through a strainer to make a thick pulp. You should end up with about two and a half cups of pulp.
  4. Return the pulp to a small heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat.
  5. Lightly crush the mustard seed, peppercorns, and cloves, tie them in a spice bag, and add the bag to the pulp.
  6. Stir the remaining ingredients into the pulp.
  7. Allow the pulp to barely simmer for about an hour.
  8. Remove the spice bag and puree the barbecue sauce with an immersion blender if you would like it to be very smooth. Leave it as is if you don't mind little chunks of onion.
  9. This can be refrigerated for about two months, but it keeps longer canned.
  10. Can half pints in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Defining SOLE and Making Soup

Some things are more difficult than others. Making soup is easy. I love it, do it almost weekly, and feel pretty darn good about it. Deciding whether or not I can consider my soup sustainable, organic, local, and ethical (the objectives of the dark days challenge) is a bit more difficult.

I actually made this particular soup last Wednesday, day one of the dark days challenge. I had planned for my first dark days dinner to be freshly killed duck glazed with chokecherry barbecue sauce paired with a local chokecherry wine (that ended up being the second meal, a post will come) but I had an awful cold on Wednesday and I didn't want to eat glazed duck. I wanted soup. I decided to wait until I felt better to make my dark days debut meal. I started to plan the soup.

I was already writing about our friend Marty and all the beans I had purchased in preparation for the dark days, so I had given myself a taste for beans. Our porch has a bag of lovely carrots our neighbor grew, so I had the requisite root vegetables. I have some dried sage hanging around that I harvested from the hoop house a few month back and dried in the fridge (a frost free refrigerator is a great way to dry small quantities of herbs by the way), so I had some herbs to accompany my beans. The soup would be simple, but tasty, and hey - the ingredients I had come up with would satisfy the dark days challenge after all. I could make my first dark days challenge meal on the first day of the challenge and still satisfy my "sick bed" cravings. 

Except...the stock and meat that I was planning to use came from leftover Thanksgiving turkey my husband had set simmering on the stove earlier in the day. Leftover turkey my mom bought downstate. It may have been local to her, she wasn't really clear on that, but I don't think so. She did try to get a local one, bless her, but I think she ended up with a nice, possibly organic, bird shipped in from parts unknown. It was a tasty one though.

I was left in a quandary. There was no question as to whether I would make the soup. I would, did, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. But, should I post it for dark days? I really want to take this challenge seriously. I want to consider the source of my food before it goes on my table, find the most local and sustainable options, and share my finds with other interested folks. The truth is though, I have given a lot of thought to the meat that I eat already. Non-local meat, especially poultry, is something of a rarity in my house these days. Other than the occasional ground beef purchase made when we are returning home late and hungry and need something substantial we can cook up fast, our meat is either raised (or sometimes hunted) by ourselves or by a farm about 10 miles away. The turkey was kind of an anomaly.

My mom always makes turkey soup after Thanksgiving, but my parents are getting ready to move so she wouldn't be able to. She gave me the carcass because she knew I would do it justice, though my soup didn't feature the rice and frozen mixed vegetables she favors. 

I had to make a decision about the challenge, how to define my parameters, and whether or not to post my soup.

The word sustainable is what finally made me decide that this soup, while not entirely local and probably not entirely organic, fits the challenge just fine. Using every last piece of turkey while it was still good was the most sustainable thing I could do in the situation. People, including me, waste a surprising amount of food, and, as a food producer, it makes me sad.

I know that this issue (and unforeseen others) is going to come up again in the challenge. I will need to decide whether to use items I already have (for example, 20 pounds of wheat berries grown in Montana) or purchase new items just for the challenge. As you can tell from my decision about the soup, I am leaning towards using the resources I have before buying new. Using the things on hand to nourish my self and family feels like the right thing to do, but maybe I am just taking the easy way out? I  would love to know how other participants plan to deal with this dilemma if it comes up for them. Please let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on the subject.

The other thing that pushed me towards posting this dinner was the beans. They were the star of the soup. I used some of the hutterites we grew. Hutterite soup beans are on the Slow Food Ark of Taste list, a catalog of food items Slow Food considers both delicious and endangered. This was my first opportunity to taste them, and I agree, hutterites are delicious. They are extremely soft and buttery with excellent white bean flavor. They were also really easy to grow and high yielding. I can't imagine why they would be endangered, perhaps there just isn't enough people out there growing heirloom beans. We got our seed from Fedco if you are interested in growing some yourself.

As the stars, the beans deserved special treatment. If you are intimidated by dry beans, don't be. Their treatment takes a little time and planning, but not that much, and the actual cooking of them is as simple as boiling water.

On the left is a series of pictures showing the beans through all the steps it takes to get them ready for cooking. Step one, pick over the dry beans and wash them, as you would any fresh vegetable. Step two, place them in a pan, cover with water, bring the water to a boil. Use about two cups water for every cup of beans. The beans will get wrinkly as the water heats up. Step three, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. This picture shows the beans through a glass lid, all saggy skinned in their steamy bath. Step four, soak the beans for at least an hour, or until you are ready to use them. the last picture shows the beans after about five hours of soaking.

That's it. All I did was boil water and the beans are ready to use in my soup.

Hutterite Bean Soup with Turkey and Sage

What you see below looks like a recipe, but it isn't really. It's more a description of some soup I made. This is simply how I cook day to day. I bring foods I have together to make something (hopefully) good. Often, that something is soup. If you want to do something similar chicken would be good in place of the turkey. Hopefully you have used up your Thanksgiving turkey by now.
  • 1 1/2 cups dry hutterite soup beans, prepared as above
  • 3 cups turkey stock and/or bean soaking liquid
  • 1 teaspoon (or more, depending on the strength of your sage) dried sage, crumbled
  • freshly ground pepper
  • two medium carrots, sliced into coins
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked turkey (mine had been roasted, and simmered as the stock cooked)
  • a handful of dried chard, or other greens, fresh is fine too, or leave them out.
1. Combine the beans, stock, sage and pepper. You could also add onions, salt, and other seasonings. My stock was extra flavorful because the turkey still had stuffing in it when it was put to simmer. I didn't need to add salt, onions, or much in the way of seasoning to my soup.

2. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

3. Add carrots and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

4. Add turkey, simmer for about 10 more minutes or until the turkey is hot and the beans are very tender.

5. Remove from the heat and stir in your chosen greens. I almost always finish soup with greens.

The finished soup (I like them thick). It served 2 adults and one toddler,
with leftovers for one lunch the next day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Magical Fruit

I have the bean problem figured out.

If you have been following the blog you know that I am participating in Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge (see the cute logo in the upper right corner?) and that I have plenty of meat, dairy and a fair amount of vegetables to get me through my season of locally sourced meals. You may also remember that I am on the look out for local grains and legumes, as all I have in that category is a jar of hutterite soup beans we grew in a test plot this year.

Our Hutterite Soup Beans. This is about half of what we harvested from our 15 foot
plot. The rest are soaking as I type this, getting ready to be made into soup.

Enter an old farming friend, Marty Heller, who's been trying his hand at heirloom bean growing in Traverse City.

I know, I know, at 380 miles away Traverse City is not exactly local to Ontonagon, but, for several reasons, I think that these beans fit into the spirit of the challenge. To start with, the challenge is pretty flexible and past participants have considered their whole state to be local to them, so I'm not really doing anything against a rule, though, overall, my goal is food grown within 150 miles of my home. Next, our trip to get the beans was a 40 mile detour along our Thanksgiving travel route, and the grower was an old friend of ours. So, while the beans grew 380 miles from our home, they grew only 40 miles from our lives (if that makes any sense). Finally, Marty grew the beans on land he rented from the Leelanau Conservancy. The Conservancy wants the land, part of the DeYoung Farm, to be maintained as active agricultural land. They hope to start a farmer in residency program to allow individuals who have experience farming (training, internships, and the like) a place to learn about farm management and, hopefully, build some capital so that they can start their own farms. It would be a sort of farm incubator program.

Farm incubator programs are an awesome local food promoting idea that I wanted to encourage in my tiny way by mentioning the Leelanau Land Conservancy's goal in the blog. If any of you know of similar programs I would love to hear about them.

Marty, who grew up in a farming family and has been involved in the operation of two CSAs, told us a little about his experience growing beans on the Conservancy's land. He grew over fifteen varieties on about two acres, didn't have the opportunity for as much weed control as he would have liked (this is pretty much a given for chemical free farmers), hand pulled the plants at harvest time, and threshed the beans using a 1940's Allis Chalmers All Crop 60 Combine. We were able to see much of the yield when we visited. He was storing them in burlap sacks in his garage that he allowed me to paw through so I could select my beans. I didn't think to ask what his overall yield was, though we did have a nice talk about beans, weed pressure, and the variable success we have each had growing dry beans under different conditions.

Marty's baby bean plants at the DeYoung Farm.
Photo courtesy of Marty Heller.

For example, our experience at Wintergreen Farm has taught us that those hutterite soup beans I mentioned love black plastic mulch and king of the early beans hate being planted in our fields, no matter what we do for them. Marty found similar discrepancies with the varieties he grew. I guess that means bean farming, like all farming, is an endlessly interesting process of trial and error.

Even with weed pressure, Marty ended up with a spectacular bean harvest. Enough for a 13 variety bean tasting event that I very much wish I could have been a part of. I guess I'll have to be content cooking and tasting the six pounds of beans we bought from him and the hutterites we grew.

Three of the four varieties I got from Marty.
From left to right these are Low's Champion, Coco Rubico, and Peregion.
Photos courtesy of Marty Heller.

It's going to be a magical winter...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thinking Hard about the Dark Days

The upcoming Dark Days Challenge is heavy on my mind. In a good way. Winter is clearly upon us here in the north, the gardens are asleep, and I am trying to figure out exactly what my definition of local is.

Last night's snowfall on the office woodpile.
When you live in the U.P. you have an office woodpile. 

I really thought this would be easy. I'm a CSA farmer. I am local food, right? But there is so much more to it than that.

I live in a small community that is still very agricultural, so in many ways I am at an advantage. The local foods I have are varied and readily available. I have meat in the form of chicken, duck, turkey, and lamb my husband and I raised, beef from a nearby farm, and fish that we catch or purchase from a local market. I have a fair amount of fruits and vegetables canned, frozen or dried, some root vegetables in storage, and two good co-ops that will be sources for other local winter produce. I wish I had more stocked up in this category, but being beginning farmers means that we often sell the produce that we would like to can for ourselves and end up buying from bigger local farmers in the winter. It is getting better every year though. What I have put up is a mix of our produce and produce from other local growers. I also have eggs, from our chickens and other local farms. I have a milk share from the same farm that we get beef from, which is less than ten miles from our place. I can also get cheese and butter (and milk if we need more than our share provides) from a regional dairy that is located about 100 miles from us.

Sounds good, right? I thought I was pretty much set, until a tiny whispered question crept into my brain.

What am I going to do about grains and pulses?

You know, the staples of my diet. The quart jar of hutterite soup beans from our little dry bean test plot is not going to last through the winter.

Hmm...I am looking forward to a serious learning curve.

I'll leave you with that until after Thanksgiving. I'm planning a lovely holiday with the things I am most grateful for. My family and good food.

I hope you all find yourselves doing something equally wonderful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

In Praise of the Beet, and also Brownies

I am a woman who has dedicated her life to growing and eating vegetables. I like them all, but there are a few I love.

Among the loved are eggplants, gold ball turnips, baby spinach, and beets.
I love beets. I love that they poke from the earth like little grey rocks sprouting glossy green and red leaves. I love that they bleed when you cut them. I love the velvety texture they take on when roasted. I love that they taste like sweet garden soil.

So why on earth would I use them up in a recipe that promises to hide their splendor?

I am sure you've seen the recipes I'm referring to. Baked goods in which beets are used for their texture and moisture, instead of their overall grandness. Usually chocolate beet cake or brownies. They are always accompanied by an assurance that the beet will not be tasted in the final product.

I've never made one of these recipes.

This does not mean, however, that I am close minded as to the use of the beet. I recognize the beet's dessert potential. In fact, I'm inspired by it.

A few months back I spent some time contemplating the beet and was struck by how good it would be roasted and drizzled with caramel. I didn't try this, but made a note that I should come up with a recipe for some sort of bar cookie with beets and caramel sauce. The note reminded me of all those chocolate beet cake and brownie recipes I've never made. This led to a desire to create a brownie recipe that actually tastes like beets. Beet brownies.

You may notice that the brownies are not actually brown. I'm still calling them brownies because they do contain some cocoa powder and I find blondie to be a strange name for a food item. If you can't call them brownies, try beet bars.

Brown is what they are not. What they are is luscious. They taste like caramel, fall, richness and, most importantly, beets. The beets rise to the surface in the baking, and create a layer of soft, sweet, rooty goodness. You understand what I mean by rooty, right? I mean all the best parts of creating a new garden bed, somehow compressed into a flavor.

The walnuts and chocolate chips are optional. If you use them, the nuts will rise to the top and become crisp. They are buttery and cut the sweetness nicely, though I don't find the brownies too sweet without them. The chocolate chips sink to the bottom. The chocolate contrasts the deep beet flavor and, being chocolate, is simply yum. If chocolate is what you want, use them, but the brownies will not be lacking without them.

These have lots of butter and eggs, very little flour, and no leavening agents. Had they more chocolate, they would most definitely be described as fudgy.

A beet jewel.

Beet Brownies

The baking time will vary for these brownies. It seems to depend on the moisture content of the beets. The most important thing is not to over bake them. They go from perfect to burnt in a flash. So start checking at 25 minutes and check every five minutes until they are done. The butter that I can get locally is salted so this recipe was created with salted butter. If you are using unsalted I suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon salt when you add the sugar.

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Butter and flour a 9x13 inch pan
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 - 3 medium beets
  • 1 cup walnut halves (optional)
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (optional)

This is how your diced beets should look.

  1. Dice the beets very small. They should be about the size of chocolate chips. I don't peel mine, but you can if you prefer. Do it by hand because a food processor makes the beets too juicy and changes the texture of the brownies. 
  2. Combine the butter, honey, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in a saucepan large enough to contain all of the ingredients. Place it over low heat.
  3. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted and it looks like chocolate sauce.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar.
  5. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time.
  6. Add the flour. Stir just until the ingredients are combined.
  7. Fold in the diced beets, and the walnuts and chocolate if using
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and bake at 350 F for 25 (or more - see header) minutes.
  9. The brownies are done when the surface is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out with crumbs stuck to it, rather than wet with batter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sweet Potatoes Revisited

So, as you can probably tell, I am completely new to this blogging thing. I wrote my first post about a month and a half ago. I've been surprised to find that I have a few readers that are enjoying the blog as much as I am, and I'm excited to see where it goes. Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest and read along with me so far.

Highlights from the 2010 sweet potato harvest.

The above mentioned first post was all about harvesting sweet potatoes from our hoophouse. I wrote it on a whim while I was in bed for a few days with some back pain that has been bothering me on and off since my pregnancy, which is why it has such an engrossing opening. I think the posts have gotten a tiny bit better since then, hopefully they will continue to do so.

Things do tend to get better with time.

My daughter, playing with the giant two pound sweet potato.
It's been in storage two months now. This one's destined to become Thanksgiving pie.
We had our first snow this weekend, hence the snowman jammies.

The sweet potatoes certainly have. They were respectably tasty right after we harvested them in mid September. They had a lot of sweet potato flavor, especially in the skin, and wonderful fresh earthiness, but they were also a tad starchy. We weren't worried about the starchiness though. Starchiness is to be expected in an uncured sweet potato. We ate a lot of them and gave each of our members five pounds (it was a good harvest) with instructions to store them for a while so that their sweetness would develop. We also stored several pounds in our unheated porch. We just started pulling out some of the stored sweet potatoes and popping them in the oven about a week ago and, oh man, they are like little roasted honey pies.

I also included a recipe in that first post, for sweet potato curry. Um, it wasn't really a curry, but it had a simple to make masala and I didn't know what else to call it so I went with curry. Sweet potatoes with warm Indian inspired spices just sounds kind of froofy to my ear.

The recipe improved with time too, and repeated preparation. So I'm sharing it again, with improvements, just in time for Thanksgiving. In our house the sweet potato "curry" is served with brown rice as a main course. But if you take away the rice, add some turkey, cranberry relish, and cornbread stuffing I'm pretty sure you'll have a perfect Thanksgiving side. My, this is a versatile recipe.

Revamped Sweet Potato Curry

I've added some carrots, parsnips, and apples to the dish which has made it crunchier, earthier, and sweeter than the original version. I've also changed the peanut oil to coconut oil, which brings out the nutty flavors of the root vegetables. If you don't have coconut oil, don't let that stop you from making this. Peanut oil (the fat used in the original version) is delicious too.

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, with or without seeds (to taste) minced
  • 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • masala, recipe below
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes (to total 1.5 pounds), sliced 1/4 inch thick, large rounds halved
  • 2 large carrots (to total 1/2 pound), sliced into rounds about 1/2 as thick as the sweet potatoes
  • 2-3 parsnips (to total 1/2 pound), prepared as the carrots
  • 1-2 apples (to total 1/2 pound), cored and chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
  1. In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, jalapeño, and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has broken apart and is becoming translucent.
  3. Stir in the masala. Continue to stir until it is very aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips and stir to coat with spices.
  5. Turn the heat down to low, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, 20 - 30 minutes.
  6. Stir in the diced apple, cover and cook until the apples are heated through but still firm, about 5 minutes.
To make the masala: 
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all of the spices and the salt and grind them with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. The final product does not need to be super fine, just broken up into small enough pieces that it will be pleasant to eat. I like a little texture to my spice, but big pieces can be bitter if you bite into them in the final dish.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Homemade Condiments: Preparation for the Dark Days Ahead

If you are a CSA member, there are a few things that I would like you to know about your farmers.

1. They are busy.
2. They love ugly vegetables, leftovers, and the leavings that get pulled out of the field at season's end.
3. They appreciate you a lot.

A bit of what we shared with our members this season. Thank you
CSA members of the world.

At least those things are true of me and my husband.

I think that most people understand that growing vegetables is a lot of hard labor. It is, of course, labor that we love or we wouldn't be doing it, but it cuts into our time for doing other stuff. Like eating and sleeping. And canning.

Canning is what I am actually getting at here. I make some preserves to sell at the market, but I don't have time to can much to put on my shelves during the growing season. Most of our produce goes to the shares, the market, or our dinner, and most of my energy goes to growing said produce, working my day job (yes, I still have one), and loving our one year old daughter.

So, when fall comes along and other people are sitting back admiring their well stocked pantries, I start to fill mine. The CSA season is over, the fields are getting cleaned out, and I have time to can stuff (and love my daughter) almost to my heart's content.

Cold weather goodies we just cleaned out of the garden: parsley, green tomatoes,
and scallions. I'll assume you knew that we didn't grow the ginger.

This year I am particularly excited to get canning because I am going to be participating in Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge, which is a challenge to eat local through the winter months (December 1st through April 15th) when finding food produced in your community can be especially tricky. I want to be able to rely on items that I have prepared ahead of time for some of this challenge.

To that end, I have been making condiments.  Condiments have been my favorite thing to can since I started canning. They allow for creativity in flavor combinations, unlike tomato and apple sauces - which we eat but aren't exciting to make, and we eat them - unlike jams and jelly which sometimes sit on the shelf indefinitely. I make a mean crabapple ketchup that my husband and I love on meatloaf (and hotdogs - it's cool if they're local hotdogs from Vollwerth's, right?) and I have been trying to perfect a chokecherry barbecue sauce that I use on chicken for a few years now, but this year I have been branching out.

From smallest to largest: ginger scallion sauce, green tomato relish, chimichurri.

My green tomato relish recipe is still under construction, so I'm not going to post it right now. I mentioned it simply because I made a whole lot of it (along with salsa verde and pickled tomatillos) so you can expect it to turn up frequently during the coming dark days.

My green tomato relish recipe has been posted and can be found here.

I am going to share my ginger scallion sauce and chimichurri recipes though. They're both pretty easy, especially if you employ a food processor, and they are extremely useful condiments worthy of having on hand. Happily, the main ingredient of each also happened to be lingering in the fields when we cleaned things up for the season and survived my neglect while I dealt with the more perishable items.  I'll start with the simplest one first.

Ginger Scallion Sauce

My brother in law introduced me to ginger scallion sauce earlier this summer. He discovered it via Francis Lam's writings on It only has four ingredients so I haven't changed it much from the way Mr. Lam presented it, but I'm still going share how I do it because that is what the internet is for. I do make it with a lot less oil than Francis Lam's version. I just like it better that way.

When I made the batch pictured above my coat was hanging on a hook in the kitchen near where I combined the oil with the ginger and scallions. It has smelled like a Chinese restaurant ever since. To me this is a seriously good thing.

The coat, not yet ginger scallion scented, out and about on Halloween.
This quantity of ingredients makes about two cups of sauce. It is best with rice, vegetables, eggs and fish.

  • 12 ounces scallions, white and green sections
  • 4 ounces fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  1. Chop the scallions and ginger very finely, until they have formed a paste. The only practical way to do this is with a food processor.
  2. In the meantime, heat the peanut oil until it is smoking hot.
  3. Transfer the ginger and scallions into a high sided, heat proof pot. The pot must be large enough that the hot oil can safely be added to the vegetables in the pot. Allow for boiling oil and splattering.
  4. Stir the salt into the ginger and scallions.
  5. When the oil is smoking hot, pour it in a steady stream over the vegetables, stirring as you do so. Continue stirring for a moment to incorporate all of the oil.
  6. Cover and store in the refrigerator. 

I just sort of stumbled upon chimichurri. It's origins are in Argentina, someplace I have never been and have no particular connection to. I'm not sure where I first read about it. I do know that when I ran across it I thought the flavor combination sounded heavenly. It is the kind of recipe that everyone makes their own way, so I read as many versions as I could, tried a few out, then combined the best of everything I had found to my liking. Feel free to tweak it as you see fit.

These quantities make a generous quart. It is fine to halve or quarter the recipe. This is great with red meats and sausages or with vegetables. Keep in mind that all of the listed measurements of minced or chopped things are after mincing. I do all of the chopping for this recipe with the food processor.

  • 2 cups finely minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup dried oregano
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, or to taste, minced
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 20 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 4 teaspoons whole cumin, lightly crushed with a rolling pin, mortar and pestle, or something similar
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  1. Combine all of the ingredients.
  2. Stir well to make sure that everything is well mixed.
  3. Cover and refrigerate. This is really best once it has sat for at least 24 hours.
Refrigerated, both of these keep for at least a few months, certainly they keep as long as we can keep from eating them all up.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Too Many Tomatillos?

Just a few of the many.
November may seem an odd month to be buried in tomatillos. Normally November is more likely to see us buried in snow than garden fresh produce. Nevertheless, we've got tomatillos. This state is a testament to the fabulous hoophouse. We in the north do appreciate season extension.

Our hoophouse is a little wonky, we bought it used and discovered (through some serious trial and error on our part) that it is not sturdy enough to withstand the winter wind and snow of Michigan's Upper Peninsula with the plastic on. Whoops. But we put it back together and, as our end of the season harvest proves, it still works just fine, wonky or not.

Here you see hoophouse wonk and happy tomato plants.
A few days ago my wonderful husband performed one of his many annual hoophouse related tasks. He converted it from a tropical oasis growing structure into a temporary chicken and duck housing structure.

Basically that means he picked the last of the fruits, put all the plants into the compost pile, and blocked off the doors so the birds could spend a month in there eating up tasty tidbits (aka cleaning up and fertilizing for us) before the plastic is removed and they are put in their winter home. We are going to try a straw bale house for them this winter.

We love giant compost piles!
That's the west end of the hoophouse off in the distance (in the upper left corner).

The result of all his labor, other than the replenished compost pile, is a kitchen full of solanaceous goodies. When I say full, I mean very full. I mean we are in serious danger of losing the toddler under an avalanche of vegetables full. How will I use everything up?

I have one grocery bag of eggplants. This is an awesome quantity of eggplants considering we live five miles from the shore of Lake Superior. No worries there, I love eggplant and can easily use them up.


I also ended up with a box of red tomato stragglers (to be made into more sauce) and three bags of green tomatoes. I have finally perfected a fried green tomato recipe and will try valiantly to use them up through frying. When I am sick of fried green tomatoes, however unlikely that sounds, I will can the rest. I suppose I can consider it an opportunity to retry the blueberry green tomato relish, albeit without the blueberries. See my post on failed blueberry green tomato relish.

The pepper plants had four remaining banana peppers and one sweet pepper that we missed earlier in the season. Those were eaten and added to pickles almost as soon as they made it inside.

And now I must return to the topic of this post, tomatillos. So many tomatillos. I can't even tell you how many tomatillos because they are spilling out of every bag, box, and spare container that we could find in the kitchen. And we waited all season for these tomatillos. Seriously, we were out in the hoophouse every other day this summer pinching the papery husks, waiting to squeeze the plump yellowish green fruits within.

Tomatillo flowers are pretty,
but we wanted fruit!

A tomatillo husk, no fruit inside.

A few ripened in the hot months, but we had kind of given up on getting a sizable harvest. So it was a surprise when he pulled the plants and there they finally were. I don't know what took them so long, but after all of our anticipation I do not want them to go uneaten. These are good tomatillos. They taste like tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and pineapples all wrapped up in one unassuming package. So I have been finding uses.

First I pickled five pounds. Then I made soup. Then I gave away five pounds. I've located a few salsa verde recipes that will be utilized this weekend - hopefully that uses up another ten pounds. My husband has discovered that our daughter can get about ten minutes of entertainment and eating pleasure from one nice big tomatillo. But that leaves us with more. Lots more. And it's fall, which isn't really the time of year I want to eat salsa verde anyway.

What fall is is chili time. Hmm...tomatillo chili.

Here it is, with lentils. My new favorite thing to do with too many tomatillos.

Tomatillo Chili with Lentils and Chicken

Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. The first eight things (over half the list!) are there to build a spicy and earthy base upon which to make your chili. The other seven ingredients are there to make your chili saucy and chunky, just as it should be. It's really a very simple recipe.

Chili spices.
You can grind them in a spice grinder
if you don't have a mortar and pestle.

  • One Tablespoon Butter
  • One Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • One Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • One Teaspoon Coriander
  • Two Teaspoons Cumin
  • Three Cloves Garlic, minced
  • One Medium Onion, roughly chopped
  • Two Jalapeno Peppers, sliced in rounds
  • One Cup Green Lentils
  • Three Cups Chicken Stock
  • Two Carrots, sliced to make about one cup
  • Two Pounds Tomatillos, husked and quartered
  • 1/2 Pound Tomatoes, chopped into one inch pieces
  • Two Cups Roasted Chicken Meat, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Milk

The first eight ingredients well on their way to becoming chili.

  1. Melt butter and oil over medium heat in a large heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Grind the cumin, coriander, and salt together.
  3. When the butter is foaming, add the ground spices and stir for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add the garlic, onion, and jalapeno.
  5. Stir frequently until the onion is just soft and translucent.
  6. Stir in the lentils, making sure they are coated with fat and spices.
  7. Add the carrots and chicken stock.
  8. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  9. Stir in the tomatillos, tomatoes, and chicken meat. It may look like there isn't quite enough liquid. Don't worry, the tomatillos will release a lot.
  10. Return the pot to a simmer and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until the lentils are as tender as you like.
  11. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the milk.
  12. Serve immediately or store and reheat. It is even better after it has sat a day.

We were eating greens too so I used a few as garnish.
The traditional cheese and oyster crackers also work nicely.