dark days #12 – slacker

Just couldn’t do the Dark Days local winter eating challenge this week, I’m afraid.  With the conference in California last weekend and Retrogrouch’s department ski retreat this weekend, plus a backlog of week squeezed in between and during, I had no time to shop or cook, much less seek out the rare, edible, non-moss, winter green in the Willamette Valley.  So let’s consider this my “vacation,” a foodie’s fast food foray into airport food and such:

(I love SFO.)

I came closest with the roasted vegetable and seed lasagna that I made for the ski trip potluck, but even that hardly qualifies, what with its commercially produced pasta, ricotta and parmesan, (already shredded!) mozz, and non-local fennel.  I did manage to use a local delicata squash, hand-harvested bronze and Italian fennelseed, and a jar of my tomato sauce, though.  So maybe I am a half participant.

The tricks to a good lasagna, by the way, are making the tomato sauce as thick as possible before adding it to the pasta, and using plenty of ricotta and sauce. I actually use a bit of paper towel (or bread) to soak up the excess tomato juice on the sides before I put the dish in the oven.

I roasted delicata squash, and a blend of fennel, fennelseed, and the squash seeds the day before making the lasagna, then layered the vegetables in between the pasta sheets.  I thought I had made a tactical error with the roasted squash seeds, but people seemed to like them for their crunch and nuttiness.  Unfortunately, layering the seeds inside the lasagna made them less crunchy and nutty, so I think I’ll just add them to the top next time.

Other news in Eugenialand involves citrus.  The Minneola tangelo crop is good this year, and I’ve been indulging myself with California fruits (what else is new, you might ask).   All I want to do is eat oranges.  I guess it could be worse.  I’d like to do a longer post on another (more local) citrus find — The Rabbit‘s delightful clear citrus juice cocktails — but I’ll mention it now for the earlybirds.  Check ‘em out.  Friendly bartenders Amy and Rico, who have taken over the Eugene cocktail scene as the hottest thing in black-and-white, have collaborated with creative chef Gabriel Gil to create perfectly clear citrus juices via some molecular gastronomic magic, and the ensuing cocktails are lovely.

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!

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.

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!

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.

dark days challenge #6: oregon crab soup

Keeping with the soupy theme of my Dark Days weekly local food posts, I thought I’d show off my adaptation of Maryland crab soup, one of my Baltimorean husband’s favorite treats.  We used the leftover crab from our dungeness crab feast on Christmas to make a spicy, tomato-based soup.

I have to say I’m not a fan of the ice-cold pre-cracked crab they think everyone wants here in Oregon.  I was a bit annoyed on Christmas Eve when I opened up my sack from Fisherman’s Market and found my crabs cracked and cleaned, the top shells gone.  Note to self:  always check bag, especially during holiday busy times.  I was planning to heat them up, crack them open at the table, and enjoy the slightly briny, slightly bitter mustard goop with Old Bay spice…in true Maryland fashion.  But instead, the crabs were opened, scraped free of mustard, and doused in ice, which makes the meat soggy and dilutes the flavor.  Grrrr.

Regardless, the crab meat was still delicious.  I hear and can attest to the news that the dungeness crab season has been an excellent one, so if you’re near Oregon, run, don’t walk, to your nearest fish market.

Maryland crab soup has as many variations as any authentic local recipe.  I rarely meet one I don’t like.  It’s a great day-after-crab-boil meal with the leftover crab.  My Oregon version is a combination of painstakingly homemade and convenience foods, and it’s 100% Oregonian.  Adapt as you see fit!  But if you plan to use the top shells of the crabs to enrich your beef stock, watch your fish market salesperson like a hawk.  Or a seagull.  Or something.

I still have a few stalks of local celery from a couple of weeks ago, thank goodness, since celery is crucial for the soup.  I should have added a local potato, since potatoes are delicious with the spice mix from Maryland called Old Bay that’s so important for the soup, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait. I did use my homemade celery salt (made with local celeriac) instead of my usual kosher flake salt, and it added a wonderful low celery base note.

Lima beans are often used in this soup, but we don’t grow them that much here, and I didn’t want to rely on non-local limas.  Frozen vegetables were going to be necessary, so I used frozen Stahlbush Island Classic Mixed Vegetables, our Willamette Valley purveyor of frozen organic local fruits and veggies.  The green beans were dried by me last summer, and briefly reconstituted in hot water before adding them to the stock.  The onions were from the larder and my frozen tomato sauce was added to provide tomatoey goodness.  The beef marrow bones I used to make the stock were from Market of Choice, and I’m just going to hope they were local.  The bacon was from Sweet Briar Farm.

As for the Old Bay seasoning, this Baltimorean spice mix is found at fish markets and premium grocery stores, and it doesn’t really have a substitute.  I was going to try to make a slightly more local version with leaves from my bay bush, but felt too lazy.  If you’d like to give it a go, here is the recipe I was planning to make.  Of all the recipes I perused, it looked like it had the greatest chance of having similar proportions to the original.

Oregon Crab Soup

Makes four portions.  Does not keep well past a day or so.

  • bacon fat or butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 2-4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 4-5 cups homemade beef stock
  • 2 clean, boiled, top shells from dungeness crabs (optional, but it adds depth to stock)
  • 1 cup stewed tomatoes or pureed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup fresh dungeness crab meat
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen (corn, peas, carrots, limas, cabbage)
  • 1 cup green beans, in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small waxy potato (a Yukon gold, for example), diced into small pieces
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Prepare the soup base: sauté the onion in some bacon fat or butter.  Add the bacon pieces.  Pour in the beef stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the crab shells, tomatoes, Old Bay, and bay leaf.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes to meld the flavors as you are preparing the fresh crab meat and vegetables.

Remove crab meat from its crustacian home and chop vegetables.  If you are using frozen vegetables, measure them out.  Home-dried vegetables will also work.  Reconstitute them at this point with hot water.

Add mixed vegetables, green beans, and potato dice to soup.  Cook for another 1o-15 minutes to soften vegetables, then remove crab shells and add crab meat just before serving.  Adjust for taste, adding more Old Bay for spiciness, and salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.  Be careful with the Old Bay, as it has salt in the mix.  Serve immediately.

dark days challenge #5: popover for some vegetarian caldo verde soup

I’m really into soup this year.  I fell off the soup bandwagon a couple of years ago during a manic soup episode because my husband decided that he no longer cared for soup.   Heartbreaker.  Ah, but this year, soup is his favorite thing, and my own soup nuttiness is also back.  We’ve reached a synergy of soup.

For winter soups, I rely on homemade chicken stock most of all, substituting it for water in most preparations, and beef stock in others.  It’s what I have on hand, and it never fails me.  But really, all you need is a big bag of dried mushrooms from an Asian market, or a bag of russet potatoes.

Since I had an abundance of the latter, and a friend coming over for a quick dinner, I thought I’d make my Dark Days challenge for the week a local caldo verde soup, chock full of potatoes, leeks, and lacinato kale. The leeks and kale I had purchased as seconds the week before at River Bend Farm, and the potatoes were a mix of waxy and floury russet that I had bought from Groundwork Organics and another farm (Cinco Estrellas?) via Eugene Local Foods.  I used up my German butterballs and red potatoes, and threw in some red garlic from Ayers Creek Farm for good measure.

Potato soup relies on its own stock for a clean, potato-y flavor.  I don’t even like to add onion when I’m making potato-leek soup, but since caldo verde soup, a Portuguese concoction involving potatoes and kale, needs punchier flavors, I tried to pump it up.  Often, the soup contains smoky linguica sausage, but I wanted to keep it clean.  I thought I’d sauté a half an onion with two fat leeks, a head of kale, and some garlic before adding the potatoes, a few fresh bay leaves, some winter savory (untouched by the freeze, btw), and heavily salted water.  When the potatoes had cooked through, I adjusted the salt, added some white pepper and a  splash of Datu Puti Spiced Vinegar (not even remotely local), and used my trusty immersion blender to purée it to a thick, delicious, pea-green soup.  I added some Noris Dairy milk at the very end, just to thin it out a bit.

Meanwhile, my friend had brought over popover batter made with local eggs, butter, and milk, and flour she had personally brought back from a trip to Butte Creek Mill in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.   She gave the batter a final stir, and popped them in the oven to bake while the soup simmered and we snacked on my homemade vinegar pickles and pickled prunes thoughtfully left by a friend from Thanksgiving.

Could it have been a nicer meal?  I think not.  I count this as one of my happiest local cooking successes.