going dutch at the verboort sausage and kraut dinner

Nothing remotely gourmet about the 77th annual Verboort Sausage and Kraut Dinner.  Held at the Visitation Catholic Church in Forest Grove, Oregon, by a Dutch-American community organization that’s been going strong since the pioneers, the dinner is part of a sausage extravaganza.  They chop, stuff, and smoke over 17 tons of pork and beef each year for the sausage, and serve it up with mashed potatoes in sausage gravy, a mild sauerkraut, homegrown well-done beans, tart and sweet Gravenstein applesauce, a dinner roll, and a curiously good oniony cole slaw with macaroni pasta salad.  It was familiar food, the stuff I grew up with, heavy on the carbs, seasoned very simply with salt and a tiny bit of pepper.  Huge portions and all you can eat!

What in the heck am I doing in Forest Grove?  I know, I know.  Retrogrouch wanted to freeze his skinny little heinie off on a 100K bike ride, the Verboort Sausage Populaire Randonneur, so I came along, thinking I’d check out the soaking pool and work in the hotel.

And buy sausage, of course.

Five bucks a pound, bulk!  And don’t forget the sauerkraut, these giant barrels filled with fermented goodness.  They put the empties just outside the sauerkraut shack.  I overheard an organizer marveling at how much more kraut they had sold that year.  By the time I got there around 12:30, there was only one barrel left.  The sequoia tree to the left, by the way, is from seeds one of the founders brought back from Californ-i-ay after the Gold Rush.

See?  Real sequoias, courtesy of my nostrils.

I also briefly stopped in at the church bazaar Ye old BAKE SHOP to chat with the old ladies selling baked goods, pickled vegetables, and candy. I really love old church ladies.  There were some textile arts, too, but that’s largely lost on me.

Also lost on me: bingo in smoky tent, sad plant sale with gourds, beer garden that only served Bud and its derivatives (in Oregon? Really?) AND you had to take a bus there because, according to a fireman, the church didn’t want alcohol on the grounds (in Oregon? Really?), polkaesque Dutch music piped from the church on an endless loop, and the damn weather.  Because a potholder just wasn’t going to keep my not-so-skinny heinie warm waiting for 100K to end, already.

harvest

Such an odd year. Picked the rest of the green tomatoes, finally, which will turn into salsa, and will make ajvar out of the ripe peppers. Cooking down apples into butter in the crock pot. Ethiopian berebere peppers, which have a fantastic flavor, and a bunch of Hungarian paprika and others gifted by Jeff Eaton, who wanted to share the remainder of his crop (thanks, Jeff!) are drying in the dehydrator along with another gift, a tub of newly fallen walnuts (thanks, Lara!). Still haven’t figured out what to do with all those cranberries, but that’s next.

If you’re interested in going nuts, the filbert crop is in and walnuts are coming. I took some shots of the harvest at Thistledown Farm the other day. They close a couple days after Halloween, so if you want your store of winter squash, potatoes, onions, or apples, head out there soon.  It’s a time to be amazed by the bounty of our valley.  Even in a crummy year, we manage to pull it off.

those are pearls that were his eyes

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

It’s a weekend of catching up, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again, old friends!  So. Many. Awesome. Travel. Posts.  But appreciate, for now, the gorgeous rainbow trout my husband caught on a day trip on the McKenzie, before and after.  He was delicious, seasoned just as plain as can be with sea-change salt and olive oil, then grilled.

 

what’s black and white and needing to be buttered up?

Me!  I finished an article and a huge fellowship application at the beginning of the week (see above), and moved directly into grading an eight-inch stack of papers.  I’m pretty sure that if I poked a hole in myself, black ink would run out.

I’ve been thinking about how many blog posts I have half-written and percolating, but to be honest, the only fresh food I’ve really made lately, besides a stew or two, is popcorn.

But black and white heavens, what popcorn it is!  Because I try to match food to my own coloring, was absolutely delighted by Lonesome Whistle’s heirloom (?) Dakota Black popcorn.  It pops up in huge white kernels with jet black centers.  (Lonesome Whistle’s website seems to be down, but try clicking the link from their Willamette Farm and Food Coalition information page.) Who knew we could grow such glorious popcorn in Eugene?!

I bought mine before it was fully dry, on the cob, back in the fall, and it had been hanging around waiting for me to de-hull it.  They may still have some left in much more convenient bagged form — try to grab it for a stocking stuffer by visiting their booth at the holiday farmer’s market at the Lane County Fairgrounds.  It’s the best popcorn I’ve ever had, and I’m a serious popcorn (buying-different-varieties-on-the-web serious) eater.  Thus, a special shout-out to all duck fat popcorn eaters!!  This is not to be missed.

thanksgiving action shots

Since I’m not furiously cleaning the house for guests for the first time in a while, I’m very happily available for photo opportunities, so I thought I’d share some of my No Turkey But None of that Vegetarian Crap Thanksgiving For Two preparations.

This blog, unlike my kitchen, is a no schmaltz zone.

Brining chicken with lemon and herbs de Provence that are actually de Langedoc (thanks, Rama!)

My counter after the brine bag opened and spilled all over it, necessitating an emergency clear and bleach and reoiling of the cutting board (o what tasks can be tasked if you aren’t having guests on Thanksgiving!).  Hm, maybe we should consider a vegetarian No-Turkey Day after all…

Freezer yields reserves for the gravy stock.

Counter back in business, guest-starring two ruby pears picked and delivered by my neighbor, who requested only a sheet of parchment paper, four cloves, and 1/2 cup of corn oil in return.  Vinaigrette by Retrogrouch.  Defrosting fresh cranberry juice for my Thanksgiving vodka-cran…come to Mama.

Oven in action: wild rice stuffing with wild mushrooms, chicken leg confit, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild mushrooms; bratwurst that I am pretending is kielbasa, and butternut squash with truffle butter.

Eating kabocha wild rice soup for lunch.

Spinning mesclun mix.

Masses of Brussels sprouts yearning to be free.

Bread and wild rice stuffing with local dried cranberries, chicken confit, and leeks waiting for the oven.

Testing pumpkin pie.

Thank you for your participation in our Thanksgiving meal, and hope yours was delightful!

squash and parsnip soup for the chill in the air

Elin England, Eugene author of the locavore cookbook, Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance in the Pacific Northwest, requested a recipe for a soup I mentioned a while ago, a thick, hearthy vegetarian winter squash, parsnip, and barley potage served at a friend’s Halloween party.  It would be a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table (or perhaps an after-Thanksgiving detox?) and good for any day that threatens snowflakes.

We ate the soup with a grating of romano cheese and some black pepper, while munching on nutty pumpkin seeds.  The cheese adds umami, the savory “fifth taste” that balances out vegetarian one-pot suppers.  As an alternative to cheese, I’d  suggest adding bacon or a drizzle of smoked paprika oil or truffle salt. I might even dry-roast the barley before adding it to the soup by warming it up on a cast iron pan until just very ever-so-slightly browned.

If you can’t find pomegranate vinegar, a good substitute is apple cider vinegar or a slightly sweeter vinegar, such as Riesling vinegar.

Stay warm; eat soup!

Squash-Parsnip Soup

Serves 6-8.

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaping cup leeks, sliced thinly
  • 2.5-3 lb. buttercup squash, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
  • 4 medium-large parsnips, peeled, sliced, and cut into small chunks
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 6 cups stock or water
  • 1/3 cup barley (I prefer dehulled to pearled)
  • juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate vinegar or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: parsley, chile powder, crème fraîche, grated romano, etc.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat, and add leeks.  Sweat leeks (cook slow and low, without browning) until soft.

Add squash and parsnips and cook 2-3 minutes.*  If using finely chopped ginger, add 1 tsp or to taste now.  Add thyme.

Add liquid and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add barley.  Cook 30-40 minutes or until vegetables have softened and barley is cooked.

Mash with potato masher until soup’s texture is uniform but still slightly chunky.

Add lemon and vinegar, aromatics (parsley, chile powder, etc.) if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust as needed.  Garnish as desired with spice, creme fraiche, and/or cheese.

*I add salt late and I like less than other people.  Conventional cooks [Ed: including yours truly, Culinaria Eugenius] would add some salt at the beginning, say 1/4-1/2 tsp, to help break down the vegetables.

cranburied: juice of the gods

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was the delighted recipient of 20 lbs. of freshly harvested Oregon cranberries this year.  At a dollar a pound, plus a few bucks for gas, how could I resist?

But cranberries are nothing but ill-timed for the academic.  I am plumb out of energy at the end of the term.  This is the first year in many we won’t be having a big Thanksgiving party, and my husband’s new diet means he won’t be wanting his favorite stuffing and mashed potatoes, so the chances of me making a Thanksgivingish dinner for us are slim.  Yes, a lean year chez Levin.

This means my old standby, punchy cranberry sauce, a long-cooked version treasured by me, myself, and I, may not make it to the table this year.

Going into my crazy cranberry glut, I had figured on that.  I planned to turn most of the little darlings into dried cranberries for year-round use in salads and sweets.   Which I did, making a holy mess in the process.  They stubbornly refused to dehydrate and I stubbornly refused to cut each of them in half, so we battled for several days until some were sort of dry, then I boiled me up some simple syrup (a 1.5:1 ratio of sugar:water) and plunged the Rebels in to meet their sweet maker.  I had received the advice from someone who had achieved “perfect Craisins” from this method, but whomever she was, she forgot to tell me that it also made sticky, drippy, half-smushed berries that had to be pried off the drying mats not once but twice.  And I am almost positive she hadn’t battled with 10 lbs. of cranberries when achieving such perfection.  My stove looked like something alive had exploded all over it.  Something syrupy and gluey and alive.  Bah.

And you can see from the above picture that my judgment was seriously off when I decided to make cranberry juice out of another 4 lbs. of berries.  It would be a tight squeeze, I had thought, but I could make a double recipe of kissel, a Russian cranberry juice inspired by that made by Vitaly Paley’s grandma, in my biggest stockpot. I was so taken by the lovely image of kissel in a crystal pitcher nestled among bottles of vodka on the Paley family holiday table, I didn’t calculate the volume properly.

One of those tactical mistakes that you realize immediately after it’s done: cranberries float.

Cue more red, dribbly juice all over everything.

But the juice is absolutely wonderful: dense and crisp and crimson and silky.  The pectin in the berries and unfiltered pulp make it slightly thick and filling.  I doctored my juice with a couple of cups of unsweetened quince juice (frozen last year) and a healthy sprig of rose geranium.  There was enough to freeze (or can, had I not fled town for that conference immediately after making the juice).  I highly recommend making cranberry juice if you have never done it.  Just use a big enough pot.

The recipe below was inspired by The Paley’s Place Cookbook recipe and another in the Ball Blue Book.  It is so safe to can the BBB doesn’t even bother with exact measurements over a 1:1 ratio of cranberries:water, noting you can add sugar if you like.  Cranberries are highly acidic little monsters, so no need to worry about botulism.

And because the juice is so lovely and pectin-rich from the cranberries and quince, I may just make a cranberry jelly after all.  I think my stovetop still has a couple of clean places left.  And if I hit the vodka-cran hard enough, the bloodshed won’t bother me a bit!

Important note: you might want to add more sugar to the recipe below.  I wanted to keep it as low sugar as possible for my husband’s diet and flexibility with cocktails.  You also might choose to add a few teaspoons of simple syrup to the juice before drinking if you like it sweeter.  Serve it ice-cold, preferably with vodka and a thick slice of orange peel whose oils have been urged along with a quick flame from a match.

Fresh Cranberry Juice (Kissel) with Quince and Rose Geranium

(makes 2.5-3 quarts)

  • 2 lbs. fresh cranberries (9-10 cups), sorted
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 cups unsweetened quince juice (optional, substitute orange juice)
  • 1 sprig rose geranium leaves (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar (original recipe has 1.5 cups)
In a very large, non-reactive stockpot, combine all ingredients and bring to boil.  Decrease heat to medium low and simmer about 30 minutes until berries burst and release their juicy goodness into the liquid.* (You might use a potato masher to extract more pulp, but beware: this will prevent any possibility of having a clear, thin juice later.)

Strain juice through a colander to remove the pulp. Discard rose geranium sprig, if using.  Solids can be frozen, turned into a cranberry sauce of sorts, and/or spread thickly on a drying sheet with your drying cranberries, dripping juice all over the dehydrator and making even more of a mess that will result in a delicious cranberry fruit rollup to eat with cheese.

Taste juice and add more sugar as necessary.

Strain again (and yet again depending on your patience) through double-layered cheesecloth or a jelly bag to remove remaining solids.

If you have hopes of clear juice, place juice in refrigerator overnight and let sediment settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully ladle only the top layers from the bowl.

Juice will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks or frozen for 12 months.

To can juice instead of freezing:  prepare pint or quart jars and lids and heat jars.   Heat juice for 5 minutes at 190 degrees (don’t boil).  Ladle hot juice into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.  Wipe rims carefully and adjust lids and rings, turning rings until finger-tight.  Process pints/quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

*I had a note about the possibility of gelling, but I haven’t successfully boiled the juice to a gel set, so took it out. I have canned quarts of the finished product, and did not achieve a gel in 15 minutes, so perhaps this instruction was too cautious or relied on using more sugar.

simmered kabocha squash

I recently enjoyed a squash soup with barley at a friend’s house.  She had purchased a squash that was being sold as kabocha, a Japanese winter pumpkin with hard green skin and vivid dark orange flesh.  Since I cook often with kabocha, I immediately recognized that she had been a victim of mislabeling.  The soup was still quite good (the barley an inspired addition), but it didn’t have the characteristic denseness and sweetness of my favorite winter squash.

If you haven’t tried kabocha, get thee to an Asian market and pick one up.  Buttercup squash is rather more light and fluffy, with a more subtle taste.  Its relative, kabocha, has drier flesh, and it isn’t at all stringy.  Another tip-off is the seeds — kabocha seeds have very thick skin and can’t really be eaten with pleasure like buttercup squash seeds can.  They look very similar, like squat green, striped/speckled pumpkins, but the buttercup sometimes (not always!) has a protrusion on the top that looks like an overturned cup.  Both are a pain to prepare, as they are rock hard and solid.

We grow more buttercup than kabocha in the Willamette Valley, but sometimes you can find some at a market stand.  It’s worth growing your own or finding a local vendor, as home-grown kabocha is particularly delicious.  And I would know, because my squirrels ate all of mine last year while they were still on the vine.

Next recipe: squirrel stew.

Although kabocha makes a wonderful soup and the best, creamy, rich, deeply flavored pumpkin pie in the world, I most often simmer my kabocha as “nimono,” a class of Japanese dishes often translated as “boiled things.”  I will often add ground pork and just eat the kabocha with a bowl of rice, as generations of Japanese home cooks do.  Sometimes I add a bit of miso to the broth, as Japanese home cooks don’t.  When I was living in Japan, I’d make what I termed “fortified miso,” which was a big pot of miso soup with kabocha chunks and tofu in it. Yum.

With any boiled preparation, kabocha is filling, low-fat, nutrient-dense, and delicious.  It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world, but looks aren’t everything.  Often, the skin is partially sliced off prior to cooking, creating a mottled effect, but it’s also left intact to help keep the chunks together and add more fiber.

Kabocha Nimono (Simmered Japanese Pumpkin)

Serves 4-6 with other dishes.

  • 1 small to medium kabocha
  • 1/3 lb. ground pork (optional)
  • 2 cups dashi*
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • finely chopped green onion as garnish (optional)

Wash the kabocha well.  Peel the kabocha in an irregular pattern with a sharp, sturdy vegetable peeler. Kabocha are very hard, so be careful with your peeler and knife.

Using a cleaver or other thick, sturdy chef’s knife, maneuver a good slice off the bottom of the squash.  This will steady it for the next step. Next, keeping your fingers well out of the way, whack the kabocha in half with a confident blow to the middle of the squash.  Wriggle and saw your knife down into the middle, and crack open the squash to reveal seeds.

Remove seeds and discard.  They’re too tough for roasting.  Scrape inside of cavity with large serving spoon to smooth out jagged bits of flesh.

Cut the kabocha into wedges, then into two-bite-sized pieces.  Don’t cut them too small, or they will fall apart when simmering.

If you are using it, fry the ground pork in a medium-sized pot on medium-high heat with a bit of vegetable oil.  When the pieces are browned, add dashi and bring to a gentle boil.

If you are not using pork, bring dashi to a boil.  Turn the heat down to medium, and add mirin, sugar and soy.  Taste liquid with spoon — if it tastes too much like washwater, add a bit more salt and/or sugar.  Do not add more soy, as it will darken the squash too much.

Add the kabocha pieces, skin side down.  Bring to a gentle boil, then turn heat down to low.  Cover pot with lid (or if you have one, a Japanese wooden drop lid or other disk-like lid that can submerge the squash down into the liquid).

Let simmer for about 20 minutes, allowing the liquid to soak in to the kabocha until it is less than half the original amount.  Poke with a sharp knife.  The pieces should yield easily.  When simmered properly, the squash will not be falling apart, but will be soft and cooked throughout.

Place in small bowls (2-3 pieces per serving as a side dish), garnish with green onion slices, and serve with rice and other dishes.  Pieces of leftover kabocha can be cut into smaller pieces and added to miso soup with leftover liquid the next day, or added to a bento lunchbox.  Keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, and it is good at room temperature as well as hot.

*Dashi soup stock is traditionally made of flaked, dried bonito fish and kelp, but is usually purchased as a powder (dashi-no-moto) to add to water (like a bouillon cube, I suppose).  There are also liquid dashi-no-moto.  Both may contain preservatives, so choose wisely, and follow the instructions on the package.  You can substitute chicken broth or water, but it won’t have the same flavor.  Dashi provides umami and depth to the dish.

poisoned halloween candy?

I grew up long ago and far away, in a land where we sifted through our Halloween candy to cull the razor-blade apples and poisoned nibbles, identifiable by their opened wrappers.  My mom took the extra precaution of keeping Yuck Mouth at bay by making us give up all the “pure sugar” hard candy and soft, chewy, cavity-inducing candies.  We could keep the chocolate, because it had at least a tiny bit of nutritional value.

Now, it most likely doesn’t.  Most of the sugar has been replaced by high-fructose corn syrup.  But there’s even more frightening stuff in your Hershey’s minis: child slave labor. After being reprimanded with other chocolate companies years ago, Hershey’s decided not to take significant steps to change labor practices in Africa, where they source their chocolate.

So even though (because?) I’ve celebrated my freedom from the oppressive regime of my own childhood, where even the kittens needed to be taught to fake smile, I’m done with mass-market Halloween candy. No Hershey’s for me this year.  Because of the deprivation* of the Great Cull, I never thought I’d be the kind of person who gave out raisins or pencils or (quelle horreur!) UNICEF change, so I’m going to go for another candy alternative. I’m not sour enough to give out crummy toys or office supplies yet.  Yet.

We don’t get many kids, so I can spend a little more on fair trade chocolates.  Dagoba, an Oregon organic chocolatier, has spendy tasting squares [Dagoba is now owned by Hershey’s — thanks, Carol, for the comment and see more info here], and there are other fair trade options here and here.  Euphoria Chocolate Company, based here in Eugene, also has cute Halloween chocolates by the half-pound, but I don’t know anything about where they get their chocolate.

What are you giving away for treats?

* No, Mom, I’m just kidding.

…but first, the news.

I think I’m done with my summer canning, finally.  It being October 17 and all, that’s a good thing.  There’s still a batch of green tomato pickles to come, but I’m ready for fall.  It took me a while, but I’ve squeezed in preservation breaks over the past couple of weeks.  I taught some friends how to make sauerkraut and put up 10 lbs. of cucumber pickles to replace the last batch that rotted in the fridge while I was working around the clock a few weeks ago.  I’ve also pickled my garden hot peppers, made from all my Eastern European pepper varieties. The pickled peppers are a much better option  for those preservative-laden jalapeno slices my husband adds to nachos and tunafish sandwiches. I really like fishing out different kinds of peppers in the jar, and tasting their differences.

So now it’s fall canning time, yay!  I foolishly (?) reserved 20 pounds of gorgeous cranberries grown on the Oregon coast, so I’m going to have to get crazy with cranberry recipes this year.  I’m also planning to put up pounds and pounds of dried beans, since I don’t cook with beans as often as I should because I always forget to soak dried ones, I don’t like the texture of frozen ones, and the commercially canned ones have preservatives and too much salt.  And I just bought a big sweetmeat squash for pies and other pumpkin goodies this year, so I’m going to can cubes of the bright orange flesh for the very first time!

I’m also in the process of buying a freezer.  I’ve been unable to buy bulk meat or freeze anything in quantity, since my regular refrigerator freezer is stuffed to the gills.  I love the pleasure of digging into the depths and finding perfectly good sauerkraut beef stew, for example, or roasted poblanos, or realizing I still have 2 cups of quince juice left.  But right now, I can’t find anything.  Every time I open the freezer, a container of tomatoes or posole or ham hock jumps out and tries to smash my foot, vengefully.  I need a better tomb for these zombies.

After years of halfassedly looking on Craigslist and finally deciding to break down to buy a new old-fashioned non-frost-free chest freezer, I casually mentioned my search to a friend who said she had an extra one!  I’m very much hoping this works out.  Then I’ll just need to take care of the easy stuff, like, you know, finding a place to plug it in.

Soon, we’ll be eating homemade Hungry Man tv meals 24/7!