Monday, September 22, 2008

Funny Sounding Food Night - Forfar Bridies and a Turk's Turban

We had one of those 'what the hell are we going to cook with this random mass of food in my fridge' nights. And we were saved by the culinary genius of my wife. She's wrapped the leftover sausage stuffing from last night's stuffed zucchini in pastry dough to make a kind of forfar bridie (think of it as the Scottish version of a samosa, but baked instead of fried and without the spices). And at the Silver Spring farmer's market we bought the coolest-looking squash I've ever seen, called a Turk's Turban. See image to the left. I thought it was a decorative gourd at first. Turns out you cook them just like acorn squash: cut em in half, bake em for 40-50 minutes, then throw on some butter and brown sugar or maple syrup or honey or whatever floats your boat. Not bad.

Was thinking on how much this whole 100-mile diet thing has opened our eyes to new foods. There are literally dozens of things we had never tried before that we've found we like, and especially winter vegetables since that seems to be creeping up on us. I never ate squash as a child, beyond the odd pumpkin pie. But summer squash and zucchini are household favorites now and we've experimented with all sorts of winter squash: acorn, spaghetti, butternut, hubbard, and now turk's turban. The next big leap is the winter vegetables that neither of us has really ever tried and liked: parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, etc. But I hold out hope. After all, Emily now has a number of cheeses she likes, something that I thought would only happen simultaneous with the apocalypse. So there's gotta be something good to make with rutabagas.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to Work Blues, and Stuffed Summer Sqush with Endive and Tomato Salad and Soda Bread

It's been two months since either of us posted. Not surprising, since we went back to work about two months ago. Doing the locavore thing when you're off during the summer and you can spend a lot of time on it. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing, because we took care of most of the major research and the steep learning curve for things like preserving when we had the time. And now, we're settling into things a little more, trying to find time in our busy schedules to keep up with the work. We've put up some tomato sauce, more peaches, froze some raspberries, begun to bake bread pretty regularly, found a recipe for crackers to satisfy my junk food craving, and planted some winter greens in the yard to give us fresh salad for the next few months. The endive's the only thing that's thrived despite being ravaged by rabbits and bugs so far, but the colder weather is killing off the bugs and the rabbit is starting to avoid us more since I starting taking the dogs out every time he showed up.

Still lacking sources for local oats, peanuts, and beans, all of which were staples of our pre-locavore diet. Our last can of pre-locavore chickpeas went into a soup last week. But there are a couple places we haven't tried yet, like the Takoma Park and Bethesda Farmers Markets, both of which last all winter. We're almost out of pre-locavore cooking oil, which means we're relying almost completely on butter as a cooking fat now. But, on the up side, it's fall now, which means prime time for apples (which we love) and winter squash (which we eat a lot of, and which in the case of spaghetti squash provides an alternative to pasta without the hard work involved in making pasta from scratch).

Anyway, tonight's meal, using some of the last of the summer produce we'll see:

Endive and Tomato Salad - 5 minutes
Chop endive. Lay down as the bed for the salad. Slice a fresh tomato. Sprinkle with a good finishing salt and red wine vinegar. Shave slices of a good semi-soft cheese over the top (we used Cabra La Mancha from the Firefly Farms stand at the Silver Spring Farmer's Market).

Stuffed Summer Squash - 30 minutes
Chop off ends and halve four summer squash and/or zucchini lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out inside seeds. Leave out to dry a little in the air. Chop one onion and a few cloves of garlic, saute in butter. Once onions are translucent, add one pound ground turkey (Roots Market carries organic free range ground turkey from Eberly Farms in Stevens, PA). Saute until turkey is done. Season to taste with cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Meanwhile, grill squash on stove or on grill until cooked through - about 5 minutes per side on medium heat. Preheat oven to 250. Fill squash with turkey stuffing, and bake for 10 minutes.

Soda Bread - 15 minutes prep, 40 minutes cooking time
A variation on the soda bread recipe from the New Vegetarian Epicure, which is a great cookbook I highly recommend. Beat together 1.75 cups milk (the original recipe calls for buttermilk, but who the hell has buttermilk lying around?), 1 egg, 2 tbsp melted butter. Mix 1 tsp baking soda, 3 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp salt, 1.5 cups white flour, 1.5 cups wheat flour, 1 cup precious pre-locavore oats. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry. At this point, the dough was VERY wet, maybe because of the milk substitution, so I continued to beat in more flour until the dough had firmed up enough to knead a little. But it was still a little wet, so I kneaded it in the bowl, rather than getting my cutting board goopy. Divide in half, freeze half the dough for use later. Put dough in round shape onto buttered baking sheet. Use a knife to slice a cross in the top, which looks cool when it finishes baking. Bake 40 minutes at 375.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Summer: the season of tomatoes and salad

What I absolutely love about summer is the ability to make a completely different salad every day of the week. It's so easy to just pull things out of the fridge and throw together a meal. This week, a paltry side salad would simply not do. Since I've been to a farm or farmers' market almost every day for the last week, I had plenty of fresh ingredients to use up. This antipasto salad included green-leaf lettuce and sauteed portabella mushrooms from PA, edible flowers, cucumbers, and roasted corn from Larriland Farm, and shaved goat cheese from Firefly Farms in Garrett County. I also added some sunflower seeds and artichoke hearts that were still in my pantry, but not local.

I'm also learning to appreciate heirloom tomatoes. They aren't just hype, they are fantastic! I don't usually really like to eat tomatoes by themselves, but I would make an exception for these. This week I've tried Cherokee Purples from Heyser's Farm in Colesville, and today I bought some Black Russians from the "Our House" farm at the Olney Farmers' Market (Our House is a program for at-risk young men, who work on a farm in Brookeville, and then sell the produce at the farmers' market and to local restaurants).

One other cool place that I went to this week was right in Ashton, called Blueberry Gardens. In addition to acupuncture, yoga, and massage, this place has Pick Your Own organic blueberries. Neat idea and the berries were perfect. At $8 a quart, it is more expensive than Larriland Farms and some of the other PYO places I've looked at, but it was worth it for the convenience.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Picking at the Farm

In my constant quest to "put up" enough food for the winter, I got my friend to come with me and Colin (my son) to a local Pick Your Own farm to get food to freeze/preserve. We made out like bandits!

We went to Larriland Farm in Howard County. The place looks like a postcard. Rolling green hills, rows upon rows of fruit laden trees, and a cute red barn to boot! Since we brought the babies, we had to decide how to best spend our picking time. While Emily fed Jack his cereal, I had my first experience picking beets. I thought you'd need a shovel to dig up beets, but when they are ready to be harvested, they pop up out of the ground. I picked a 5 lb bag in about 5 minutes.
Next, we picked blueberries. Colin was so helpful-he kept grabbing the branches and holding on to them while I picked the berries.
I picked the raspberries while Emily stayed in the car with the air on for the babies. Then it was off to the red barn to pick up some of the produce that the farm offers. I left with the 3 lbs. of blueberries, 1 lb of raspberries, 5 lbs of beets, 2 lbs of potatoes, a dozen ears of corn, 4 lbs of plums, 3 jars of honey from bees kept on the farm, some edible flowers, and some chocolate mint (chocolate flavored plants!). All for less than $70. What a bargain!
Then began the hard part. I spent the rest of the day freezing, preserving, and making jam. I froze the blueberries and the corn, and canned the plums (I forgot to ask if they were the freestone or semi-clingstone variety. Alas they were not, so I spent a lot of time cutting out the pits). I made jam from the raspberries. The recipe called for equal parts of berries and sugar (4 cups each), but I've used up my last sugar, so I substituted honey for the sugar. I only used half of the amount of sugar and I cooked the jam for twice as long. Some websites suggested using pectin if using honey instead of sugar, but I couldn't find local pectin. So, we'll see how the jam turns out. It might turn out to be more like raspberry sauce than jam. I'll test it before giving it away as gifts.

A good day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Running out of non-local ingredients...

I feel like I spent the whole day in the kitchen yesterday. As always on the weekends, I was trying to use up all of the veggies left from the CSA share before we get the new stuff today. So yesterday, I made zucchini bread. That used up the last of our sugar and chocolate chips. For lunch I made Alu gobi with my purple and green cauliflower. It was definitely the most colorful Alu Gobi I've ever seen.

We had friends over for dinner, so I made Swiss Chard and Chevre Philo pockets (instead of spinach and feta Spanakopita) for an appetizer. For dinner, it was seared corn salad with the last of our canned beans, sauteed onions and sweet bell peppers, with a little Chipotle Pepper for spice.

So far, I'm loving the culinary challenge of using only local ingredients. We're getting more zucchini today from the CSA, so I'm thinking I'll modify the zucchini bread recipe (from to the following...

2 Loaves

3 eggs
1 cup applesauce or yogurt (instead of vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups honey (instead of sugar)
3 cups grated zucchini-I used 2 cups this time, but I think I could add more...
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried local fruit

Preheat oven to 325 degree (lower temp because of hone)

Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in applesauce and honey, then zucchini.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as dried fruit

Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake loaves for 45 minutes, plus or minus ten, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

We'll see how it turns out...

Once I run out of baking powder and baking soda I can always make zucchini yeast rolls.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why I love CSAs and Farmers Markets

Before we decided to go all local, Eric and I had joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group for the spring/summer. Basically, every week we pick up a box with fresh, organic fruits, veggies, and herbs. Whatever is ready for harvest is what we get. So we have tried some things that I never thought I would cook, including beets, garlic scapes, and swiss chard. Sometimes we get quite a lot of the same thing for a few weeks. Lately it's been zucchini.

Zucchini really is a marvelous vegetable that I never really appreciated before. In the last couple of weeks, I have grilled it, roasted it, sauteed it, put it in salads, and served it with pasta. I haven't pickled it yet, but that's the next thing to try. Last night I sauteed shredded zucchini with finely chopped onion and served over whole wheat pasta with toasted walnuts. I still have one zucchini left for this week, what should I do with it tonight?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am obsessively hoarding away food for the winter. It takes WAY more fresh fruits/veggies than you would think to get 6 pints of the canned good. So in addition to our CSA share, we also go to the local farmers' market in Silver Spring, and to farms in our areas (my favorite is Heyser's Farm on New Hampshire) to get massive amounts of the food that we want to pickle/preserve. Today we picked up some purple cauliflower, more nectarines, micro-greens, organic free-range local chicken, and an italian style goat cheese (the farm where the goat cheese is made is about 115 miles away in Garrett County, MD, but I didn't know that until after we bought it)

A note on goat cheese-I never liked it, but I had only tried some very sharp varieties. If you have the same problem, try Chevre; it's so light and creamy and very mellow.

So for lunch today I made a potato and onion frittata, green beans sauteed with garlic and tomatoes, and a micro-green salad with crumbled goat cheese and pecans.

The only problem so far is that I'm starting to seriously crave a Hershey's chocolate bar...

Why I'm A Pickleidiot

Let's start out by being honest - Emily is a much better cook than I am. She doesn't think that's true, because she uses recipes a lot and I tend to cook freestyle, but the fact is that I'm good at making a dozen things that way, and she's good at making pretty much anything she tries. But even though she may disagree about who the better cook is, she's smart enough to be wary when I try something new (she learned that in a disastrously failed experiment involving a soup that included both beer and cinnamon, which I conceived after a number of beers).

Anyway, so I made pickles. Regular pickle spears. No big deal. Cut the pickling cucumbers, put them in the sterilized jars, make pickle juice with vinegar, sugar, and a few spices, pour it over the cucumbers, put on the lids, and then boil them in the water bath canner. Simple.

Except I'm an idiot. So, instead of using narrow-necked jars, I used wide-necked jars, and the pickles floated up to the top. I kept pushing them down. And then they would float up. Down. Up. Down. Up. And somewhere in there I began to feel very, very stupid. So I just put them in the canner anyway, sticking up above the juices. Now, I'm not sure whether they will last less long this way, but erring on the side of caution means that we'll have to eat them within two months, instead of saving them for the winter. Which sucks, and it wasn't until today that I realized the problem was the type of jars I used. Emily, meanwhile, immediately assumed that they would be mushy and terrible because, well, she remembers the cinnamon beer soup. Luckily, they turned out to be pretty darned good.

But I'll have to do the pickles over again. Luckily, pickling cucumbers are really cheap.