dark days #11: lamb shanks with root veg

Making stew or a very saucy pot roast is the easiest thing in the world.  You brown a couple pounds of meat with an onion, add enough liquid (wine, stock, crushed tomatoes) and a bay leaf or thyme and garlic if you have them, a few grinds of pepper, and then bake on 325 degrees for a few hours.  When the meat is getting tender, after a couple of hours, add salt and a couple of cups of root vegetables.  Before serving, skim off the fat that you see pooled on top in the picture.

It’s so easy, I put one together before I left for my conference this weekend.  This means this week’s Dark Days eating local challenge is not really something I ate, but I consider my husband a good proxy.

We had some lovely local lamb shanks in the freezer, and some not so lovely, gently wrinkling root vegetables in the crisper from a *mumble* ago.  I peeled up the turnip, rutabaga, and parsnip, and added them after the shanks had cooked.  The sauce was made from leftover duck fat/lard from my confit making, a cup of local merlot, and homemade local beef stock (also in the freezer), and a cup of my home-canned tomatoes.  I added thyme that I had dried last summer and frozen bay leaves from my garden, both because I was too lazy to go outside and pick fresh.

If I had been here, I would have made some local polenta to go with, but my husband just ate it plain in his bachelor quarters.  And there are leftovers for tomorrow!

happy birthday to culinaria eugenius!

Sometimes I think it might be fun to have kids.  I’ve had two close friends and other acquaintances recently have babies, and while they’re cute, I don’t feel any sparks of envy — or desire — brewing inside me when I look at them.

But when I see a picture like the above, then I think, hey!  This could work!

So until I buy some barrels and old-timey rags for my prospective sauerkraut-making urchins, I will just celebrate the natal anniversary of my own offspring:  Culinaria Eugenius is two!  It’s been such a pleasure to have the forum and reader interest in my little blog the past two years.  I hope to continue many more.  I have some changes in the works for the format of the blog, and even its mission, that won’t take place for some months.  But I’d like to announce, at least, that the blog is going to focus more on preservation techniques, since I’m more and more committed to using local produce and meats year-round.  Stay tuned.

By the way, the picture is one of many collected at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, a small regional museum currently raising funds to continue the digital archiving project of a huge collection donated by a local photographer, Doris Whithorn.  You can check out or order many images and books, all of which document the area around our first National Park, by clicking here.

dark days challenge #10: “foraged” salad with apple, walnut and quince dressing

The foraging was in my backyard!  To balance all the confit I’ve been eating, I had a keen yearning for a serious salad for this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal.  Now, I’m not talking about insipid heads of butter lettuce, or those pointless (sorry, fans) bags of mesclun greens that all taste the same, even though they look to be different species.  I’m talking about salad that bites back.

We had two — TWO!! — sunny days this week, so I did a bit of gardening between deadlines, pruning the cane berries and pulling back the mulch in some areas to allow for little chives and lovage and strawberry babies.  But I was really on the lookout for salad possibilities.  I learned in my Master Gardener training that one can eat our first ubiquitous early spring weed, the little Western bittercress, now making itself known in bare patches of my garden.  I pulled some of the largest ones, then found some tender dandelion greens (the second ubiquitous early spring weed), tore them up, and added them to the mix.

I love eating weeds.  It makes me feel powerful!

But I realized I had cultivated salad greens still in the garden, too.  The arugula is doing wonderfully, all the better for the cold wet weather, so I snipped off some of those leaves for the base of the salad.  I had given up on the plants cozied up to my peas because they were unbearably spicy and hot in summer’s dog days, but they have actually mellowed and become fresher over the course of the winter, weathering our cold snaps with gusto.

And my wild bronze fennel is up in two corners of the yard, sending out gorgeous feathery fronds that are sweet, fresh, and slightly licorice-y, so I sacrificed a few to the salad bowl.

I still have storage apples (Melrose, I believe) in the back from Riverbend Farms, so I added a couple to the salad, plus some delicious new Rogue Creamery cheese, Brutal Blue, and walnuts from Hentze Farm.  The lily still needed to be gilded, clearly, so I melted a couple of tablespoons of frozen homemade quince paste and whisked it into a vinaigrette made of (non-local) olive oil and my accidentally brilliant* Concord grape and star anise vinegar.  Amazing.  It was like eating spring.

* I wanted to make local raisins this year, but I realized too late that one shouldn’t dry tiny Concords (pictured on left) without taking out the seeds, because those seeds are big and hard, and they stick like glue to the dried grape.  So I took the lot, added a whole star anise, and covered everything in white wine vinegar.  Four months later, it’s incredibly delicious — better than the best berry vinegar because of the “foxy” flavor of the Concord grape, with just the right amount of spicy depth from the star anise.  I’ll make this one from now on.

confit party

I’ve been teaching myself the ins and outs of confit for the past few weeks.  Sampling it at restaurants, reading the classic preparations in cookbooks, testing recipes.  You’ll see the article soon.

But you won’t see me eating confit again any time soon.  The thought of more deep-fried meat is making me a little queasy.  Could it be I actually overdid it?!

Even the scallops we ate for dinner tonight, delicious, tender, simple scallops, pan fried with a little ponzu and preserved lemon, seemed too…meaty.  Looks like it’s salads for me in the near future.

No, not that kind of salad…Help!

dark days challenge #9: frozen mush of summer pasta

Another rough week over here at Culinaria Eugenius.  And since Retrogrouch was away for most of the week, I didn’t really feel like cooking.  One more crazybusy week, then things will be a little better and I’ll be in the kitchen again.  So it was frozen food again for the weekly local dark days challenge.

One of the best, and easiest, recipes for using leftover cherry tomatoes in season is slow roasting them on a low temperature in olive oil, whole cloves of garlic, and fat slices of red onion.  We might even call it Mush Confit.  The stuff cooks down, but generally maintains its tomato-onion-garlic shape, and when frozen in quart-sized Ziploc bags, it can be used throughout the winter for pasta, meat sauces, and even as a spread on baguettes for a quick lunch.

My local meal for the week, therefore, was a chunk of slow-roasted summer vegetables tossed in fresh linguine made here in Eugene, and a bit of olive oil.  I added a scoop of frozen, homemade ajvar (red pepper spread) for a little pizzazz.  Some cream would have been nice, too, or sliced sausage, or some pine nuts and parsley (if I weren’t going local).  But even as is, it was quite good.  Can I tell you how happy I am that froze all the food I did?  I still have frozen fruits, tomato sauce, and a bunch of dried fruits and vegetables stored in the freezer.  Next year, my pledge is for more.

let them eat (home-baked) bread

February is bread baking month!  The MFP classes are up and running again, and we have a month full of carbs for those ready to learn to bake your own.  With local and PNW flour available from various sources, now’s the time to let other people eat cake.  To sign up for a class or learn about other future classes, call 682-4246 or 682-7318; a full schedule of classes and registration forms for spring is available on the OSU Extension – Lane County website.  I’ll be volunteering at and taking these classes from local experts, to play with my Christmas present, pictured above.

Word on the street is that Nellie Oehler, former long-time head of the MFP program and everyone’s favorite teacher, will be teaching the Bread Baking Basics class.  Our wonderful baker and teacher Laura Hindrichs (above), whom you may have seen manning the Eugene Farmer’s Market MFP sample booth this summer or teaching one of the many classes last year, will be teaching the others at Food For Lane County.

Did anyone take Laura’s Flatbreads or Artisan classes last year?  I was only able to stay a short while to take some pictures, but the classes looked fabulous.  Let me know if they were!

Bread Baking Basics

  • Saturday, February 13, 2010, from 9:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • OSU Extension Service Auditorium, 950 W 13th Ave., Eugene
  • Yum, the taste and smell of homemade bread! Come learn the basics of working with yeast breads. Find out how to make a variety of products using a basic yeast bread recipe as your starting point.
  • Cost: $30, includes lunch, bread to take home and recipes.

Bread Baking: Flatbreads

  • Saturday, February 20, 2010, from 9:30 to 2:30 p.m.
  • FOOD for Lane County, 770 Bailey Hill Road, Eugene
  • Learn to make various flatbreads like pizza, Turkish, bread sticks, sfincione, crackers and Sardinian music paper bread.
  • Cost: $30, includes lunch, bread to take home and samples.

Bread Baking: Simple & Artisan

  • Friday, Feb 26, 2010 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Feb 27, 9:30 – 2:30 pm.
  • FOOD for Lane County, 770 Bailey Hill Road, Eugene
  • Learn to bake delicious bread using a variety of techniques and equipment. Breads include: Ciabatta, white sandwich, whole wheat, German rye, no knead boulé and cloud rolls.
  • Cost:  $35, includes lunch on Saturday, bread to take home and recipes. This is a two-part class. Participants should plan on attending both classes.

dark days challenge #8: local fast food

For week 8 of the Dark Days winter local food challenge, I got nuthin’.  It was the first week of school, and I’m teaching a new class on the rise of culinary literature, so I was busy with all the new term stuff, plus a paper that was due on Friday for a conference later this month.  So we survived on whatever was in the refrigerator and pantry, plus more than usual dinners out.

But we did manage to pull together some almost local “fast food” meals, I’m satisfied to say.  A big YAY for all the food I canned this summer.

One lunch, we cracked open one of our dwindling supply of home-canned Oregon albacore tuna (the best tuna ever), mixed it with the rest of our local fresh celery, some of my homemade dill pickle relish, and a bit of mayo, and ate it on rolls baked locally.

And one dinner, we ate local Sweet Briar Farms beer sausage, stuffed with my sauerkraut made from Thistledown cabbage, and MFP-prepared mustard (made for my class and probably a tad too old, oops).  We ate both with a side of my vinegar pickles and dried Melrose apples my neighbor gave to me for Christmas.

A third meal was leftover pasta with frozen tomato sauce I put up this summer, a bit of local milk and some local shiitake, and a few frozen pesto cubes made from another neighbor’s basil.  Nothing fancy whatsoever, but still better than McDonald’s!

facebook page up and running

I finally have a Facebook page for Culinaria Eugenius!  All signs point to yes that it will be automatically updating the feed.  There’s a rather unattractive badge in my sidebar that will take you to the page.  (I also have a Twitter account, but I rarely use it, so it’s hardly worth mentioning.)  I have also installed a widget that allows you to receive Culinaria Eugenius posts via email.  If something goes awry, please let me know.

And, in other news, I am very proud to announce the birth of my Dissertation Draft Memorial Raised Bed.  It reclaims part of our lawn for vegetables, and one of the sunniest spots in the whole yard!  The perimeter bed is also greatly expanded this year.

The DDMRB was made using the cold composting lasagna method.  Several months before you plan to plant, combine brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) sources in a pile, then wait as it slowly rots down.  I combined mixed leaves from the city delivery, pounds of paper shreds made from my dissertation drafts, food scraps, coffee grounds, and blood meal.  I think it’s a fitting tribute to the blood, sweat, and tears shed over my dissertation.  And if we can grow something from it, it will have been worth it.

I was going through some old photos a moment ago, and found this one.  I hope it’s an inspiration for everyone who is thinking about growing a garden but doesn’t feel like getting out there in the rain/cold to prep the beds.  My mom has gardened for many years, but last summer she doubled her efforts and had a huge garden, growing all sorts of things she hadn’t tried before.  It makes me miss that good Michigan soil to see that big ol’ cabbage and the celery.  I hope my garden is half as good as this next summer!

dark days challenge #7: savory white bean and frumento wheat salad

My husband’s favorite foods are white and mushy.  He hates it when I say this, but it’s true.  Mashed potatoes, sour cream, vanilla ice cream, macaroni salad, cream cheese, etc., you name it, he likes it.  I didn’t think I’d fool him with a healthy, off-white alternative when I made a hearty winter salad of white beans and frumento wheat berries for lunch, but he dove in happily.  It made a satisfying entry for this week’s Dark Days winter local food challenge.

The pot beans (tarbais from Ayers Creek Farm) were soaked in water, then simmered with onion, celery, and bay.  When they were finished, I tossed them with olive oil, homemade chili pepper vinegar, garlic, winter savory and arugula (the only greens in my garden that survived our recent cold snap), and frumento cooked in a second pot in a similar fashion.

The frumento, soft red wheat berries that also hail from Ayers Creek, split and become full and nutty when boiled in well-salted water with aromatic vegetables and herbs.  I swear they tasted as if I had cooked them with bacon, but the dish is a completely vegetarian concoction.  And all local, except for the salt and olive oil!

I’m going to have fun trying more recipes with frumento.  I think it would make a lovely local alternative to bulgar wheat for tabbuleh.

once in a blue moon

Happy 2010!

We ushered in the new year at the opera, a thoroughly pleasant rendition of The Marriage of Figaro, with a bunch of old people in glitter, Eugene patricians, and disheveled graduate students.  We fit somewhat awkwardly among them, jostling.  Wasn’t a big fan of the hollering of “GO DUCKS!” or the redundant supertitle with the same sentiment, since I’m a jerk like that.  But the evening was really lovely otherwise.  Could this be because we started off with a round of Blue Moon cocktails?  Indeed, I think it was.

I saw her standing alone…unwrapping some golden Rembrandt cheese…and couldn’t resist the photo!  (I love my friends for being so patient as I take pictures before anyone eats or drinks anything, and then cutting off their heads or feet.  Thanks, guys.)

Married…with Dinner, one of my favorite food blogs, revisits the history of the Blue Moon, a lovely vintage cocktail now blasphemed with sugary, cheap blue curaçao.  I was on the prowl for lunar recipes for my pre-opera cocktail hour when I came across her post.  I knew immediately it wouldn’t contain a single drop of blue curaçao or similar villainy.  I rushed down to the liquor store to buy Rothman Crème de Violette, thinking the few bottles we might have in town would be already snapped up by the few cocktail enthusiasts we have in town, but I got lucky.  Thanks to “some bar” that had abandoned its stash, I scored a hidden bottle in the store archives.

And with luck like that, I knew the evening was off to a good start for our casual, pre-opera nibbles.  Of many good things, I’d like to note that Oregon’s award-winning Rogue Creamery’s Brutal Blue cheese, a new offering for the creamery, is fantastic: smooth and full-bodied with a sweet finish.  I couldn’t stop eating it.  There doesn’t seem to be any information on the internets about it, but it’s available in town at Market of Choice on 29th.

Blue Moon Cocktail Menu

  • Caviar spread with good sour rye, sour cream, minced red onion, and hardboiled egg
  • Puff Pastry Full Moons stuffed with Rogue Creamery Brutal Blue cheese, brandied cherries, and chesnuts
  • Anellini (little rings) with homegrown rocket, pine nuts, and golden raisins
  • Pickled fig lunar landers
  • Golden and blue cheeses
  • Spiced pecans

If last night was any omen, the year is going to be a great one.  Hope you ushered it in with the same kind of vibe.

(And oh yeah, GO DUCKS!)