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Pucker Face

Remember the dill pickles I made back in September? Well, we finally cracked the first jars open this past week. And they’re just as good as I remember from my childhood. My whole life, this is what pickles are supposed to taste like. Crisp and clean with a rich flavor and so sour that they almost make your face pucker. Yum!

Of course Mike thinks that they’re too sour and is requesting that I tone them down a bit next year. But this is a man that also likes sweet dills (gross) and bread-and-butters (ewwww) best of all. So I’m not sure how much weight to give his request. I think what I’ll do is make some for me and some for him. Pucker and Puckerless dills if you will.

Once we finish off the opened whole pickles and the spears, we need to try the hot dills and the bread and butters before we can call it a complete success. However, these were so easy to make, so much easier than I remember, that if you’re looking for a recipe to try as your first foray into canning, I’d highly recommend pickles. Of course, if you don’t like sour dills you might want to tone down my recipe with a little sugar…

September07-021

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I won’t bore you with a long list of where our ingredients came from or how far they traveled. But suffice it to say that we had a mostly local, very delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Things that weren’t local that made it to the table? Black olives, organic chicken broth, dried sour cherries, sugar, salt, pepper, Montana flour, Oregon wine, an extra California turkey and some other odds and ends. Everything else came from within 100 miles and it was all fabulously in season.

Our menu?

– cheese, salami and crackers
– dill pickles (homemade) & black olives
– 11 lb. free range organic Heritage turkey  (local)
– 13 lb. free range organic broad breasted white turkey (California)
– traditional bread stuffing
– sausage, apple, sage and caramelized onion stuffing
– mashed yukon gold potatoes
– cheese broccoli souffle
– arugula / spinach salad with hazelnuts
– cranberry / sour cherry chutney
– wheat “no knead bread” (1/2 local, 1/2 Montana)
– the best homemade gravy I’ve ever had
– cherry pie
– apple pie
– homemade vanilla ice cream

The most interesting parts of the menu were the turkeys, the cranberries and the no knead bread, so those are the only parts that I’ll expound on.

*****

Turkey | Leggy vs. The Traveler:

Nov07-041

For reasons that we don’t really need to go into, and that I’m tired of explaining, we ended up with two fresh turkeys and decided to cook them both. “Leggy”, shown on the right above, came from Stokesberry Sustainable Farm and was local, organic, free-range and a heritage breed. “The Traveler”, shown on the left, was an organic, free-range broad breasted white from Diestel Farms in California. I didn’t think to ask whether they were toms or hens.

Since we cooked them both, we prepared them slightly differently, so the side by side taste test wasn’t exact. We rubbed Leggy with salt, pepper and olive oil and let him rest for 4 hours before roasting. The Traveler was brined for 4 hours the night before. The two were roasted side by side in the oven until done – about 5 hours – basted with butter at regular intervals.

And wow, they were both good! Mike and I both preferred Leggy, my sister in law (hi Kris!) preferred The Traveler, and everyone else was undecided. Things that were obviously different? Leggy has a more prominent breast bone and less breast meat. He also was less compact even though they both weighed about the same amount. Finally, the muscle fibers in Leggy’s breast meat were longer, more tender, and tasted more like “Turkey” to me.

In the interest of full disclosure, Leggy cost me $5 per lb. and The Traveler was $3 per lb. To me the extra money was worth it to help preserve heritage turkeys and to support a local farmer that believes in sustainably raising poultry. But if you can’t get your hands on one I’d say that the Diestel was almost as good.

*****

Cranberries
Not a lot to say here, except that I used a new recipe for these that combined dried sour cherries with the cranberries. The recipe also added a hint of rosemary and substituted brown sugar for the traditional white.

Recipe at Roux Seattle

*****

No Knead Bread

Nov07-067 

This was the first time that I’d tried this. But I have to say that it really is as easy as it sounds. I made my loaves with 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 unbleached all purpose white flour. The bread turned out light and airy with a crispy crust. Definitely worth the minimal effort. I plan to keep practicing my bread and make this again soon!

Recipe at The Steamy Kitchen

*****

A parting photo from the day – the hens enjoying the scraps from my prep work. Once nice thing about all the rain we’ve been having? The grass is finally green again. Note the missing feathers on Lucy (black) and Agnes (white) – they, plus Pru, are all wishing the weather would warm back up or their feathers grow faster!

Nov07-060

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By request of a comment, I’m going to share my two favorite apple dessert recipes. I could in theory live on apples this winter and meet my Dark Days challenge without breaking a sweat – this is of course the apple state. But then that might be cheating, or at least it would be boring. But I can eat apple desserts all winter and enjoy every single one.

September07-105

*****

“a warm and crumbly apple tart”
serves 6 to 8
adapted from Nigel Slates “Appetite”

This is an amazingly easy, but yet so good dessert. And it keeps well, you can make it in the morning and serve it late at night

Pastry:

  • 1/2 cup butter, cold from the fridge
  • 1-1/3 cup flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbs sugar

Fruit:

  • 7 – 8 apples, peeled and quartered
  • 5 tbs butter
  • 6 tbs sugar
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg

To make the pastry, cut the butter into small pieces and combine with the flour with your finger tips or a pastry cutter, until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and sugar. Combine ingredients and form a ball of soft dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 F. While the pastry is chilling, make a caramel sauce with the butter in a metal pie pan, cake pan or frying pan (must be oven proof) over a medium burner. Once the caramel is a deep rich color, remove from heat and immediately press the fruit into the sauce. Crowd them in there, don’t be shy.

Sprinkle the fruit with cinnamon and nutmeg. Roll out the pastry to form a rough circle large enough to cover the fruit. Put it over the top and tuck it in around the edges – it doesn’t have to be pretty. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and fruit is bubbling around the edges. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Cover pan with a large plate and flip over so that fruit is on top and pastry is on the bottom. Slice and serve with ice cream.

*****

Laura’s favorite apple pie
serves 8 to 10

Same pastry recipe as above, but double the recipe and chill as two balls. I’ve been making apple pie since I was a kid. Nigel’s pastry recipe is the best I’ve found, but the filling comes from 15 years ago – Betty Crocker or Joy of Cooking, I can’t even remember anymore.

  • 7 – 8 apples, peeled and sliced thinly
  • dash of cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (or to taste depending on how sweet your apples are)
  • pat of butter
  • dash of lemon

Preheat oven to 400 F. Make the pastry dough and put it in the fridge to chill. Peel and slice your apples. Put in a large bowl and toss with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Roll your bottom crust and put it in a deep dish pie tin. Pack the apples in there – they’ll be really mounded up. Put a pat of butter on top and sprinkle with lemon juice. Roll the top crust, place over top, tuck in sides and crimp edges. Cut a few slits in the top for venting. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until it looks and smells done.

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Cookbooks are my porn. I love cookbooks and have to physically restrain myself from buying every one that takes my fancy. I own a surprisingly small collection for someone that loves them, and for that I can only thank the fact that visiting them at the bookstore gives me a fix that will last at least a week.

So this whole eating seasonally and locally thing has only made their siren call harder to resist. I find myself coveting books with “seasonal”, “farmers market”, “organic”, “local” and “seasons” in their titles. Wanting to justify them with my need for guidance on what’s in season and when. To offer me reinforcement of the things I already know.

Their beautiful photos, alluring titles, recipes that look leaps above those I’ve already got. It’s almost impossible to resist the urge to take them home and put them on the shelf. To pour over them with a glass of wine. Study them over coffee. Stain them with onion and oil and wine. But then I remember, I remember that I already have my kamasutra at home. That it’s been there for years.

When Mike and I first got together 8 years ago I was a competent cook. I could make basic meals, I could follow a recipe, and my food was edible. But I wasn’t an adventurous cook, I rarely strayed away from the familiar foods that I ate as a girl. I had no understanding of how to cook fresh fish, how to make a pasta sauce from scratch, how to combine spices and herbs to season a dish.

Now Mike proclaims me a great cook – and I think that I’m perhaps better than average. I’ve been pondering lately how that came to pass. Is it because I cook from better recipes now? Because I own nicer cookbooks and can afford premium ingredients? Perhaps. But really I don’t cook from recipes that often – usually the things I cook on an every day basis are variations or takeoffs from a recipe that I used a while ago. Adapted to what I have on hand, our preferences and what mood I’m in that day.

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And I can give a big chunk of the credit for my learning how to cook without a recipe, to improvising with confidence, to feeling good enough about the meals I cook to love to entertain, to Nigel Slater. He’s a Brit with attitude – more popular in the UK than here in the US by far.

About 4 years ago I got a copy of his most popular book “Appetite” as a gift from my aunts – I think it was a wedding gift, or maybe it was a Christmas gift, I can’t remember any more. And from the opening sentence:

I want to tell you about the pleasure, the sheer unbridled joy, of cooking without a recipe.

I was hooked. He offers no exact measurements (except for baked goods and some liquids) – instead offering guidance like “2 or 3 peppers”, “noodles – a small handful”, “a small bunch of parsley”. Each recipe begins with a discussion about why the recipe is included, what season it’s most suited to and what it can be paired with. Each recipe is followed by several variations along with commentary about how to decide on other directions that it could go.

The first 150 pages are dedicated to pantry basics, shopping for produce, tasting food, winning flavor combinations and fundamental techniques. Also included in the intro is a month-by-month discussion of what’s in season, what’s at it’s peak, traditional and non-traditional menus.

My copy is tattered. It has sticky pages, gravy stains, turned down corners. If you rifle that pages it falls naturally open to my favorite parts. It’s the source of my pie crust recipe, favorite potatoes, mouth-watering roast chicken, herby pork chops, pasta with attitude, upside down apple tart and hollandaise sauce. Most of them now cooked without consultation as my beloved version only vaguely resembles Nigel’s original recommendations. I have made his recipes my own, I have taken his lessons to heart. I have learned to cook without them.

In our recent quest to own seasonal local cooking, we’ve embraced some fabulous new, and old, cookbooks and authors. But we shouldn’t forget that long before it became trendy to be seasonal, there were already solid chefs out there offering great advice for how to take advantage of the best that nature is offering at any given moment. And at the same time, teaching us how to cook as opposed to telling us how.

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Hmmm, so before I decided to announce a personal eat local challenge and hold myself accountable, we had our first all local meal of the fall season. The search for ingredients was pretty painless, between the steer in the freezer, my trip to the Edmond’s market and a stop at the grocery store, we had everything we needed.

Our friend Kevin was up for the evening, so we fed him too. He even kept my wine glass full while I cooked – now that’s a true friend!

The menu included meatloaf – possibly the quintessential American comfort food. Of course I think I was in college when I had it for the first time. I’m not sure why, but my mother never made meatloaf for us. Why mom, why? Anyway, I’ve been on a quest for the past few years for the perfect meatloaf recipe and I think that I’ve finally come up with it after much trial and error.

Our menu for the evening was meatloaf, mashed spuds, roasted acorn squash and salad. I had a bottle of local Washington wine to go with it, and the guys had some sort of local Canadian whiskey. All of the ingredients were from within 200 miles except for the following: ground pork (pastured, organic, Wisconsin), salad dressing (organic, California), beef gravy (non-organic, jarred) and the condiments (salt, pepper, oil, ketchum, vinegar – all of which were already in our cupboards).

*****

40 Minute Meatloaf
Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 lb. ground beef  (Whidbey Island)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 medium onion – chopped  (market)
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced  (market)
  • 1/3 cup milk  (Bow)
  • 1 extra large egg yolk  (backyard)
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs  (stale bread, Everett)
  • 1/3 cup parsley – chopped  (front step)
  • 2 tbs oil  (used butter, Bow)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees, heat oil in non-stick skillet until shimmering.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, pork, onions and garlic. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, yolk, bread crumbs and parsley;
  3. Combine milk mixture with meat mixture, mix well. Form meatloaf mix into 6 small loaves, about 4″x2″x2″.
  4. Put the loaves into the skillet and brown on top and bottom.
  5. While the loaves are browning, whisk together ketchup, vinegar and sugar. Place browned loaves on broiler pan, top each with 1/6 ketchup sauce and put into oven.
  6. Cook at 500 for 8 minutes, adjust heat to 450 and cook an additional 10-20 minutes until thermometer inserted into center of loaf reads 170.
  7. Let rest 5 minutes and then serve.

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One of the best benefits of having a 1/4 steer in the freezer is steak any night you want it. When we ordered our steer we asked the butcher to maximize the number of steaks and minimize the amount of ground beef that we got. So we have a lot of border line steaks in the fridge which we’ll be eating later this winter. For the moment tho, we can still take out a nice steak on a Wednesday night and enjoy every bite of it.

Tonight was Wednesday London Broil and it was excellent. The meat from our steer is really, really lean. So I marinate the steak for about 45 minutes before we grilled it to medium. We ate it with some of the last fresh green beans of the season and a local salad. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. Just what I needed at the end of a long day of work.

I’m also not sure how I ever survived without a garlic press. I just bought my first one about a month ago. There is nothing to compare to freshly minced garlic that you didn’t have to mince with a knife. The aroma and the taste are about a million times better than that of either garlic in a jar or garlic powder. Well worth the $12 it cost me.

*****

Wednesday Night London Broil
Serves 3 – 4

  • 1.5 lb. London Broil
  • 1/2 c. soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • The greens from 6 green onions (in season)

1. Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic. Put the steak in a stainless skillet and pour mixture over the top.

2. Let rest for 20-45 minutes.

3. Grill steak to medium-rare or medium depending on your preference. Reserve the marinade.

4. Meanwhile bring the reserved marinade to a boil and add the green onions. Simmer until steak is done or sauce is reduced.

5. Slice steak thinly and top with poached green onions and a bit of marinade (careful, it’s quite salty).

6. Serve with rice and a vegetable.

Notes: tonight we skipped the rice and had salad instead. We also skipped the green onions as there weren’t any at the farmer’s market this week.

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It was a great if exhausting weekend. The Sustainable Ballard Festival was fun – not quite as busy as the Seattle Tilth fest, but pretty good considering it was blustery, overcast and raining for much of the day. I met Jim McDermott, as mentioned before, and he said helow to my hens. The girls also got their picture taken by a photographer from the Ballard paper, can’t wait to see if they actually get published.

 Saturday night the girls camped out in the car while I went to dinner with my friend Mia at Olives in Edmonds. The food was tasty, except for dessert, and the wine was great. They even let us taste a couple of options before choosing the wine we wanted with dinner.

Sunday was the last day of the Everett farmer’s market. Only about half of the usual vendors were there, but all of my favorites made an appearance including Frog’s Song Farm, Gypsy Rows Co, Tonnemaker Orchard, Tiny’s Organic Fruit and the Snohomish Bakery. I picked up enough produce for the week plus a few extras. It was pouring, so while I would have loved to stay and chat, I wanted to get home out of the rain even more.

Mike and the rest of the brave hunting men got home late in the afternoon. It was a successful hunt for deer, they got a total of four mule deer. Unfortunately they didn’t have an opportunity for any elk which is really what they were after. Mike passed on most of the deer he saw, holding out for a big one, and then missed the one he wanted. So no venison for our freezer this winter. Well, maybe a bit from the other guys. But really, neither of us is that big of a fan of venison. We much prefer the taste of elk.

We had our first wood fire of the winter yesterday – I was chilled and lit it to take the edge off and welcome the true beginning of fall. We roasted a chicken and enjoyed it with wild rice, salad and apple tart. The chicken was amazing if I do say so myself. It was juicy and tasty just like a chicken is supposed to be.

Tonight we took the leftover chicken and wildrice and made soup with it. Wow – talk about the taste of winter from my childhood. I enjoyed every bite and I’m in total anticipation of having it for lunch tomorrow as well. In case you want some winter warmth in a bowl as well, here’s the recipe. All of the ingredients for the soup were local and/or from the farmer’s market except for the chicken broth (organic) and the dried herbs (bulk organic).

 *****

Wild Rice Soup
Serves 6

  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
  • 3-4 cups wild rice, cooked
  • 1 sliced leek
  • 3 chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushroom
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
  • dried oregano, parsley and thyme to taste
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour

Melt the butter and saute the leek, carrots, mushroom and bell pepper until soft.

Add the flour and stir in until warm, do not let it brown.

Add the herbs, broth and chicken. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.

Add the wild rice. Simmer 15 minutes until hot and slightly thickened. Serve with warm rolls.

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