dark days #20: southern greens and soft red wheat

I was in a Southern greens type of mood, so I thought I’d cook up some fresh collards in a smoked hambone stock for the very last Dark Days winter local cooking challenge.  And it’s good timing, too.  Spring is here!  We’ve been hit by a spring storm with some wild weather all week: sunshine, rain, hail, wind, and then it started all over again.  We managed to get the grill going, however, and Retrogrouch grilled up a couple of Biancalana Pork Growers shoulder chops seasoned with a peppery rub.  Frumento, soft red wheat berries grown by Ayers Creek, were simmered until split and plump with bay leaves and carrot, then turned into a pilaf with local carrots, filberts, onions, and barberries.  Farmer Anthony Boutard has this to say about frumento:

Most varieties of bread wheat have a tough skin and are not particularly flavorful as whole grains for soups, stews and salads. A couple years ago, we purchased a package of frumento from a grocery store in Rome. It was sold as a breakfast cereal. The grain appears to be a soft red winter wheat of some sort. It is very tasty and tender for wheat. It is a true winter variety in that it forms a low growing tuft over the winter, and then shifts its growth pattern in the spring. The heads are large, productive and easy to thresh.

I liked this meal, because I was able to turn the leftovers of two hardy bunches of collards and the smoky, porkulent stock into a wheat berry soup for the next day’s lunch.  A twofer!  It was just what I needed.

Today was the first day of our annual farmer’s market, running now until Christmas.  We’ve turned a corner.  I’ll post the gloriously un-dark day’s pictures later today.  Bright green spring greens, red and pink radishes, garnet beets, orange carrots, creamy white turnips, o my!

dark days #19: eat like the locals chili

For the penultimate Dark Days winter eating local challenge this week, I’m showing off an adaptation of one of my favorite winter recipes.  The chili recipe isn’t remotely authentic to places that eat meat stews with chili peppers, but it’s my souped-up version of the Midwestern-style chili enjoyed in my younger days. With our variable spring weather, it’s just the thing after a cold, wet day of mucking about.

I feel very attached to the original chili recipe; indeed, it was one of my earliest Culinaria Eugenius recipes.  But the additives (sugar, salt) to canned kidney beans and a whopping 3/4 cups of processed A-1 steak sauce, plus a bit of ketchup, always bothered me.  One of the main reasons I underwent the messy, time-consuming process of making homemade ketchup last summer was in hopes of modifying this recipe in sufficiently tasty, locally sourced way.  I think I was a success.  I use quite a bit more homemade ketchup (1/2 cup, but I’d even go up to 3/4 cup), so the chili has a slight sweetness, and the allspice and coriander in the ketchup add subtlety to the mix.  I also added some onion powder and cumin to add more nuances.  Using a spicy dark beer (I used a local Christmas ale) rather than a lighter beer helped, too.  I played with the idea of adding things like molasses, more dark soy (with its molasses taste), orange zest or raisins (both ingredients in A-1) to align the local version with the original, but you know what?  I think it’s good enough as it is.

Yes, I still eat my chili with non-local saltines (or salted matzoh, as the case may be), and several of the spices are not local — most notably, the chipotles en adobo.  I might try to make the latter myself this year, since I always have plenty of jalapeños, and can smoke the chilis with our Weber.  We shall see.  But it remains crucial to use chipotles in adobo, since they add a strong smoky, chili-fleshed, garlicky, vinegary taste that is not easy to replicate.

This stew is very spicy, be warned.

I cannot for the life of me remember which farm grew the beautiful local kidney beans I used for this recipe.  I bought them months ago at Sundance market, and uncharacteristically, I threw away the label on the little baggie before writing down the name.  So thanks, farmers, whoever you are, for such a lovely bean.  (Anyone know the farm? Lost Creek Farm!  They’re the folks who suffered the freak hail storm last year that wiped out all their tender veggies.)  It wouldn’t have been the same with pintos or black beans, but you can, of course, substitute any hearty, thick-skinned dried bean.

Now excuse me while I sit back on my local laurels and feel very well pleased with my own fine locavore self.

Almost Plebian Chili Eat Like the Locals Chili

(A)
2 lbs. hamburger meat (lower fat better) (1 lb. local hamburger meat — I used Knee Deep Farms)
1 large yellow onion, chopped (local farm, storage)

(B)
1 T. chili powder (non-local)
1 t. black pepper (non-local)
1 t. onion powder (non-local)
1 t. cumin (non-local)

(C)
1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes with puree (or substitute can of diced tomatoes and a half-can of tomato paste) 1 quart homemade tomato purée
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed (try to buy ones without added sugar) 4-5 cups cooked local dried kidney beans (under a lb. dried)
3/4 c. steak sauce AND 2 T. catsup (this is the “almost plebian” part) 1/2 cup homemade ketchup
2 T. Dijon (non-local)
1/2 lemon or lime, juiced a good slug of homemade lemon-garlic vinegar
3 or 4 canned chipotles in adobo, plus some sauce, chopped (don’t omit) (non-local)
1 T. sesame seeds (non-local)
1 T. dark soy sauce (especially if you’re not using beer) (non-local)
1 bottle beer or 1 cup water 1 bottle local dark, spicy beer (I used part of a 22-oz. bottle of Oakshire’s Ill-Tempered Gnome)

Note:  this recipe calls for cooked kidney beans.  Prepare the dried kidney beans by soaking them overnight, then cooking them in water doctored with a half of an onion, a carrot, and a couple of bay leaves until centers are creamy (1 hour or more).  Beans must be fully cooked before using them for this recipe.

Brown (A) on high heat in a dutch oven, preferably in two batches, but I’m not lookin’. Drain meat of extra grease. Turn down heat to medium low and add (B) to coat meat. Stir in (C), then cook for about 1 hour, covered, at a simmer. Tastes better the next day. Add salt only if necessary (and it probably will be if you localized the ingredients) and add more beer or water if the chili is not as soupy as you would like. Usually doesn’t need it, but if you use low-salt kidney beans or use less processed substitutes for the steak sauce and catsup (which I don’t recommend in this recipe), you’ll need salt. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if that strikes your fancy, and/or pickled peppers. I prefer straight-up saltines and a beer chaser.

dark days #17: savory delicata squash leek bread pudding

My much-needed break this weekend turned into a ninth inning rally that found me in bed on Saturday with a stomachache, working on food.  A strangely felicitous combination.  I made progress on my proposal for a panel for a titanic conference that doesn’t accept many of these little rafts of folks clinging to one theoretical lifeboat; we’ll hope for the best.  Women and children first!

I finally got out into my garden on Sunday, armed with new spades, forks, and a vision of edible landscaping for the front yard.  Managed to get in two bare root ‘Cherry’ red currant bushes, two ‘Imperial Star’ artichokes to replace one withered ‘Green Globe’ in the back, ‘Cherry Red’ rhubarb, and a bunch of flowers and flowering bushes. Turned the compost (cooking nicely) completely, fertilized the struggling elderberry and the honeyberry hedge-to-be, and weeded the caneberries, rhubarb in the back, and strawberries.

This, of course, means I didn’t do much cooking, local or otherwise.  I did make one local meal for the Dark Days winter eating local challenge, though.  On Friday night, I had the smarts and leftover challah to make a big casserole of Thomas Keller’s leek bread pudding recipe, and we enjoyed that with a simple salad of arugula from the garden (it’s only growing more when I pick it!) and dried local Asian pears that a friend gave to me.  I added previously roasted delicata squash — our last saved local winter squash, yay! — to the leek bread pudding, which provided a bit more nutrition and sweetness to the affair.  I think, if I were to make it again, I’d also add more leeks.  I like leeks, and they’re in the market now.  We were also able to use my now flourishing chives and thyme, local eggs, cream, and milk.

dark days #16: springing for lamb

This week’s Dark Days winter eating local challenge is all about spring.  I sprung at the chance to attend a lamb butchering demo at Benedetti’s Meat Market this weekend and brought home some succulent grass-fed lamb loin and shoulder chops from Anderson Ranches in Brownsville.  (I’ll write more about the meat class later this week, but I wanted to squeak in under the DD deadline.)

Retrogrouch fired up the ol’ Weber, and I gave the ultrafresh, pliable lamb chops a sprinkle of fresh rosemary with blooming purple flowers and a slick of olive oil.  Just a hint of salt and pepper and they were good to go.  We served them as is, with some fresh mesclun salad greeens from one of the local farms patronizing our winter farmer’s market (outside Hideaway Bakery on Saturday mornings).  I’ve never had such wonderful lamb.

dark days #15: tangled in pasta

I’ve been on a fresh pasta kick lately.  Not making it, no, but buying it from a local company. :)  But local it was, and thus a fitting candidate for this week’s Dark Days winter eating local challenge.  (In my defense, I did make crackers last weekend with a pasta machine in my flatbread class.)  Fresh pasta is toothsome and has a pleasant bite if it has been made with premium ingredients.  I can really taste the difference, especially in lasagna.

I’ve had a bumper crop of arugula this winter, so much that I treated it like spinach and made a wonderfully cheesy arugula lasagna last week. It didn’t qualify as local meal because I used non-local cheese and tomato sauce, being out of my own, but it was delicious.  We’ve been eating heavy-on-the-arugula salads, too.  I even mixed some in to my salad served to the bread baking class participants this weekend.  We’re all so desperate for green at this point in the winter, the salad was more of a hit than I expected.

For the Dark Days challenge, I did manage to rustle up a delicious creamy spaghettini with arugula, onions sauteed only ’til pale gold, and local frozen peas from Stahlbush Island Farms, our Willamette Valley processing facility.  My idea was based on the French spring vegetable dish of creamed new petits pois with shreds of lettuce.  The sauce contained some frozen homemade chicken stock and local butter and cream, and was quite mild.  Loads of salt and pepper and the first chives of my garden finished it off.

Consider the pea.  I’m kind of smitten.

dark days #14: crabby

Supplies are gettin’ low down at the ol’ homestead.  Which is a shame, ‘cuz I managed to squeeze in a few nights of cooking this week.  Next week, I’m hoping I can cook AND blog.  There’s a light at the end of my tunnel of lo…work.

So, cursorily: this week’s Dark Days winter local eating challenge used up some (of the many) dried foods I put up last summer.  Speaking of love, we had freshly steamed dungeness crabs for Valentine’s Day, then used up the leftover crab meat to make a gorgeous, silky, spicy crab soup.  The soup lacked my customary Old Bay (I had used up the very last bit) and home-canned tomatoes (I’m plum out).  Instead, I fortified the dried vegetable-and-crab-leg-shell stock base with a couple of cups of half and half.  A jar of homemade pepper salsa and just two tiny slices of dried habanero gave the soup plenty of kick.

As for the other dried vegetables, I used about two cups of mixed dried corn, peas, carrots, green beans, butternut squash, onions, red peppers, celery and garlic to six cups of boiling water.  The vegetables were a combination of my own garden produce and frozen vegetables from Stahlbush Island Farms, our local organic processing plant.  At the end of summer, when vegetables are overflowing the trucks, even the organic frozen vegetable outfits will put their products on sale, so I snapped them up and had a drying fiesta.  And thank goodness, because they come in handy.

I let the vegetables rehydrate for a couple of hours, then added the salsa and habanero.    While the vegetables were plumping up, I sauteed a small yellow onion and a few stalks of celery.  I had my doubts about the dried celery, since I hadn’t dried it properly.  I suspected it would be tough, and I was right.  Next year, celery chips?

Just before serving, I removed the crab shells flavoring the broth, added the crab and Noris cream, and was good to go.  The celery-crab combination is one of those magic flavor connections.  I highly recommend it.

By they way, if you’re craving fresh local vegetables, there is already a nice selection at the Winter Farmers Market in the Mazzi’s parking lot on Saturday mornings.  You can pick up greens, leeks, onions, potatoes, squash, salad materials, and other good stuff, including dried fruit, eggs, and olive oil.  I also scored a wonderful gallon of winter apple cider from Riverbend Farm and some excellent pork chops from the Biancalana family.  Yum.

dark days #13: choucroute feast

Retrogrouch and I dined on the dish I’ve been waiting all year to make, choucroute garnie, for this week’s Dark Days winter eating local challenge.  I’ve been saving my homemade sauerkraut and stocking up on sausages just for this day.  Choucroute garnie (garnished sauerkraut), an Alsatian specialty of baked pork and sausages served over a mound of Riesling-braised sauerkraut, is enjoyed in France on grey, rainy days just like the ones we’ve been having in Eugene.  With our local dry Riesling both in the pot and in the glass, what could be nicer?

This recipe is best, of course, if you make your own choucroute.  This particular batch was made with cabbage from Cinco Estrellas Farm in Junction City.  We used andouille sausage  from Sweet Briar Farm and peppered pancetta was from Biancalana pork growers out of Springfield.  The smoked pork loin chop, hrmm, were from somewhere I don’t recall — I think Long’s — and I’m willing to bet they’re local.

One of the nice things about this dish is the great flexibility in the meats served as the garnish.  You simply need a mix of smoked and mild pork.  I’ve made it with ham, a world of sausages, and even a small hunk of pork shoulder.  I most often use kielbasa because I’m Polish.  Maybe we should call it à la Polonaise?  Yes, maybe we should.

We ate the choucroute with some baked russet potatoes from Ladybug and mustard that was as French as the Marseillaise.

Choucroute Garnie à la Polonaise

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

Serves 4 – 6, because someone at the table will surely have an agenbite of inwit and stop eating too soon

2 T. rendered duck or chicken fat
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 lbs. sauerkraut
10 juniper berries
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 c. dry Riesling (use one from the Willamette Valley or from Alsace, France)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp coriander
4 boiled yellow Finn or other waxy potatoes
1 kielbasa or other smoked pork sausage
4 mild sausages, such as boudin blanc or bratwurst, cooked
2 smoked pork loin chops or 4 slices of ham
4 slices of pancetta (or cured pork belly)

Preheat oven to 350.  Heat duck fat in a large pot.  Add the onion, and cook until translucent and slightly golden. Add the sauerkraut, juniper berries, garlic, wine, and spices. You might also add some freshly ground pepper.  Cover and bring to a simmer.

Add the pancetta and smoked chops or ham. Cover and bake in oven for about an hour to meld the flavors.

While the sauerkraut is cooking, boil water for potatoes and to heat up the already cooked mild sausage.  Peel potatoes, leaving them whole.  Boil until just fork-tender.  Remove the potatoes and heat the sausage in the cooking water, about 5 minutes, just before serving.

To serve the choucroute garnie, drain the sauerkraut, if necessary, and mound it in the center of a large serving platter. Arrange meats and boiled potatoes around the sauerkraut. Serve with a variety of mustards, including Dijon and whole-grain.