Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Days are Dark Indeed - It's time for more Soup

I hope that no one thinks the title of this post means that I find soup dreary. Just the opposite! A nice pot of soup brightens the darkest winter evening, which is why this is my third Dark Days post featuring soup.

Plus, this is an especially exciting soup because it features one of the beans grown by my friend Marty Heller. You may remember him from the post I wrote about his beans back in early December.

I used two cups of his lovely peregion beans.

Do you think beans can be serene? These look serene to me.

Last time I made a bean soup for the blog I used (and photographed) a quick soak method on the hutterite soup beans my husband and I grew. This time I did a long soak. A long soak is so easy. All it requires is a minuscule amount of thinking ahead. (I know, sometimes thinking ahead is actually very hard.)

A long soak is simply an overnight soaking of your beans. If you want to make a bean soup tomorrow, cover some beans with water and pop them in the refrigerator while you're making dinner tonight.

Here is what will happen:

2 cups beans + 3 cups water.
This is what they look like going in.

A few hours later I decided the soup also needed wheat berries.
Into the fridge they went. 1 cup wheat berries + about 2 cups water.
 Notice the beans have already plumped a bit.

This is about 24 hours after the first picture. The beans are huge!
The wheat berries aren't too much bigger, but they've obviously done something.
Look how golden their water is. Time to make soup!

I started the soup by caramelizing some onions (grown on our very own farm) with garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. To the onion I added the wheat berries and beans, both of which had been drained, and about two quarts of turkey stock made from turkeys we raised. Once I had that boiling, I added three sliced carrots, grown by our neighbors the Peterson's. Thanks Peterson's! The soup simmered for about an hour, and it was done. That's it. The long soak made it that simple.

I inherited the Navy spoons from my grandparents, who uh...borrowed them
when my grandpa was on a submarine in WWII.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that the wheat berries are not in any way local. I am using them for the Dark Days Challenge anyway for two reasons. First, it would be silly (and not at all sustainable) to buy new wheat berries just to fit the challenge. Second, I have tracked down a local source for them which I will use once I have finished the wheat berries I have on hand.

I also have to say that I loved the wheat berry and bean combination in this soup. It was something I had never tried before and I found that I really enjoyed the nutty pop of the wheat along side the creamy beans. Just look how lovely they were together.

I was amazed by how well the peregions held their color.
These beans are beautiful and delicious.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's pie is not a staple at my house. I knew what the components should be - a lovely lamb stew and mashed potatoes. Those things are staples in my house so I was able to put them together without consulting any sort of recipe. My ingredients and methods are below if you would like a consultation.

The finished dish. I could not have asked for a better winter meal.
The brown flecks are potato peel. I like peely mashed potato, proceed
as you prefer.
However, while the potatoes were boiling and my family was getting hungrier, my husband asked me how long it would have to bake. That I did not know (you can tell I always plan ahead in the kitchen), so I waded into the trusty internet to retrieve an answer. I found, to my surprise, a roaring debate about the proper components for a shepherd's pie. Mostly it was a lamb vs. beef issue. There is also a lot of contention about cheese.

It's all semantics and personal taste; things not worth actually arguing over. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to weigh in. My thought is: of course shepherd's pie is made with lamb. It's called shepherd's pie. Shepherds are people who raise sheep. Therefore their pie is likely to contain lamb. Right?

Debate on about the cheese though. I didn't use any (apparently this is the English way that purists tout) but I am sure it would be delicious with some grated Parmesan or cheddar on top (we Americans do like to cover everything with cheese).

Authentic or not, it was very good. I think this will become a staple at out house. Also, it was local. We raised the lamb, and the turkey in the stock. The potatoes came from nearby in Wisconsin, the carrots from our neighbor, and the dairy was all from the U.P. I even managed to use up some garden kohlrabi that I had lost in the freezer two years ago. Winter vegetables you have on hand, such as rutabaga, parsnips or celeriac, can be substituted for the carrots and kohlrabi.

Shepherd's Pie

Stew Ingredients:
  1. Two teaspoons olive oil
  2. One pound lamb, cut into one inch pieces
  3. Salt and pepper
  4. Two cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  5. 4 or 5 whole allspice berries, ground (or about an 1/8 tsp ground allspice)
  6. One cup stock (I used turkey, any good meat stock will do)
  7. Three carrots, sliced into half to one inch pieces
  8. Two kohlrabi, cut into one and a half inch chunks
  9.  One tablespoon whole wheat flour

The stew, ready for a topping of mashed potatoes. Don't worry if the lamb
isn't quite tender at this point. It will finish cooking in the oven.

Mashed Potato Ingredients:

  1. 2 pounds of potatoes (four to six potatoes), each cut into 6 to 8 pieces
  2. Butter
  3. Milk
  4. Salt
Preheat the oven to 400 F
  • In a pot large enough to hold all of the stew ingredients, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat.
  • Add the lamb, salt and pepper (to taste), garlic, and allspice.
  • Stir and turn occasionally until the lamb is browned on all sides.
  • Add the stock, vegetables, and flour to the pan, stir well.
  • Allow the stock to come to a boil, turn the heat to simmer, cover the pot.
  • Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.
  • Boil until the potatoes are very tender, about 10 or 15 minutes, drain, and return the potatoes to the pot.
  • Mash the potatoes with a potato masher, adding milk, butter, and salt to taste.
  • Spoon the stew into a deep nine inch pie plate, leaving most of the liquid behind in the pot.
  • Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the stew.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • While the pie is baking, simmer the remaining stew liquid, uncovered, to make a gravy. Add a bit of cornstarch if it needs some help to thicken up. Serve this gravy with the shepherd's pie.

This was all I could rescue for lunch the next day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fast and Local

A lot has happened since my last post. It has been kind of a crazy, non-stop week. A few of the highlights include:

Slaughtering five turkeys that hadn't quite made it up to size at thanksgiving time.

Grinding said turkey meat with our new kitchenaid grinder attachment (best Christmas present ever!).

Negotiating with my boss to go down to part time at the day job - and getting a pretty hefty raise out of the deal. I'm one step closer to the goal of full time farming.

Then Saturday I wrapped the week up with a day long grocery shopping trip to the "big city" of Houghton. That is how we small towners roll. We don't run to the store. We have huge grocery shopping marathons once or twice a month, braving white out conditions (seriously) to stock up on toilet paper and organic potatoes.

So, when I got home Saturday I was tired and a little bristled that my husband hadn't made dinner. Clearly it was an omelet night. My first thought was cheese, but all the cheese had been eaten in my absence. So I poked in the fridge and came out with seven eggs from Byler Family Farms in Pelkie, Michigan, butter from Jilbert Dairy in Marquette, Michigan and two jars containing remnants of the ginger scallion sauce I made last fall.

I had the omelet almost done before I even realized I could use it for a Dark Days post. The picture shows it just after folding but before the flip - a few minutes before it was fully cooked.

Since deciding to participate in Dark Days, I have been paying more attention to how many of our meals come from completely local sources. I've been pleasantly surprised by how often it turns out that those quick "grab whatever is on hand and make something tasty" types of meals turn out to be 100% local. I think that means we are doing something seriously right.

We finished off the meal with some homemade applesauce made with apples grown in our front yard.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lamb, Eggplant, and Becoming a Real Farmer

A lot of farmers, the kind with 100's of acres of a single crop each year or thousands of beef cattle, don't consider us CSA farmers to be "real farmers". While I don't agree with them, I can totally understand where they are coming from.

CSA farmers are different from other types of farmers. We fill a different role for our customers, we have a totally different business model, and even the daily work we do can be dissimilar from that of other farmers. I usually describe CSA farming as tending a giant garden. 600 acres of soybeans can hardly be described as a garden. Many of us are new to farming, and we often start out with unrealistic ideas of what we can accomplish. Also, unfortunately, many CSA farmers seem to place a higher value on the the CSA model of farming and forget how much we can learn from other farmers.

All that being said however, we are real farmers. We grow nourishing food for our communities, tend our land lovingly, and plan our lives around the needs of our animals and crops.

But even real farmers face challenges. Though those with thousands of beef cattle probably faced and overcame the particular challenge I am going to mention here long before I had to.

I find it difficult to raise animals for food. It isn't a huge surprise. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. I was very removed from the sources of my food. As a teenager I was a vegetarian and even went vegan for a year or so because it was the thing to do among the crowd I hung out with. I had some issues eating meat.

When I was twenty I went to culinary school and the first class I took was butchery. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it but instead found that it helped connect me to the idea that it is natural for humans to rely on animals for food.

But raising them myself does add a whole new dimension to things. Sheep, and even roosters, have personalities. They don't want to die any more than anything else does. And, for most of their lives, I don't want them to die either. What is especially embarrassing about it is that it's harder for me to eat cute animals.
I was sad back in September on sheep slaughtering day. Really sad. I was thinking that maybe deep down I am not a real farmer.

Then I ate some. And it was seriously good. We raised two sheep last summer and, not only did they help us clear out some unwanted plants and fertilize our fields while they were alive, they helped us fill our freezer with flavourful, tender, healthy meat.

So, while I'm torn by some aspects of it, I love being a real farmer. But I will still be sad on sheep slaughtering day 2011 - though maybe not really sad.

And of course, the meat our sheep provided us is the perfect thing to cook during the dark days challenge. So, here it is, a dark days dinner featuring lamb we raised, eggplant we grew and pickled, and kale given to us by a neighbor that we dried for the winter.

From sheep, to lamb, to cast iron pan.

Eggplant, pickled according to the method in
The Joy of Pickling.

Kale, dried in our electric dehydrator.

There is no recipe to share because unless you have pickled eggplant on hand you really can't duplicate the dish. I sauteed about a pound of cubed lamb in some of the oil from the pickled eggplant, then allowed it to simmer until it was tender, adding a bit of eggplant and a cup of crumbled kale to the meat towards the end of the cooking time. We ate it with some entirely non-local rice because my lack of planning left me without a local starch option and this dinner needed a starch.