Friday, October 29, 2010

Simpler Than It Seems

This will be a ridiculously short post because the dinner I made tonight was ridiculously simple.
Leftover Chicken - reheated
Green Beans - steamed
Potatoes and Onions - fried in a little butter
It was even simple on the ingredients as everything was so naturally tasty and flavorful, that the butter and some salt were all the accoutrements used.

Even the original cooking of the chicken was quite simple. Once I cleaned and trussed it, I just rubbed it down with salt and melted butter and popped it in the oven for a couple of hours. Voila! Amazingly delicious and simple chicken that will last me a couple of days.

True, some ready-made freezer meal that comes in a bunch of packaging would have been even easier to make, but I relish the taste of good food that can stand on its own.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Worms for Brains and Meat Hands - Halloween Delights

Halloween is always a huge deal at our house--complete with scary, Halloween-themed dishes to pepper our potluck dinner. Many of our guests go all out creating tasty appetizers, desserts, and main dishes that either gross or freak everyone out. Not to be outdone, we delve into our own creativity, and if nothing happens there, we search cookbooks and the internet for great ideas that do not consume too much time in the kitchen since Halloween parties also require housecleaning, decorating, and costume prep.

I'm delighted to report that not only are there some easy recipes out there, but they can also be made completely locally!

A couple years ago, a co-worker of mine (also an avid chef) shared with me the recipe for Worms for Brains from Taste of Home. This is simply an exercise in gutting bell peppers pumpkin-style and carving faces as if they were to be jack o'lanterns and then stuffing the little heads with spaghetti. The ground meat is optional and the pasta can be made at home either with or without eggs, so there's an option for everyone.

When we made this a couple of years ago, we made it even simpler by halving the peppers and laying them face-up on the serving plates which made the servings more conducive to a potluck-style party.

Another local Halloween treat option presented itself at notmartha. It's a Meat Hand. This concoction created out of meatloaf and melted cheese is a great main dish recipe that could feature ground lamb, pork, or beef and any local cheese that melts well. Find an onion for the fingernails and bones and puree some tomatoes to use in place of the ketchup in the recipe, and you're almost all set. Notmartha used a pretty nifty hand mold, but we are going to go low budget and try to shape the hand ourselves. Hope it freaks everyone out!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Using Up the Cucumbers

On Sunday I did some major garden clearing in anticipation of a potential frost. One of my strongest crops this year was the cucumbers. I grew both a regular-looking green one and a round yellow one. Yup, admittedly I am still working on getting to know my vegetable varieties better.

In years past I have pickled like crazy--making both dill pickles and bread & butters. I enjoy these, but my household just does not crave these enough to make all of the pickling work worth it. That means that we chow down immediately on the cucumbers while they are fresh. One of my favorite ways to enjoy cucumbers is in a creamy salad. It can be made locally all except for the vinegar, and I really do love the vinegar in it. I've been making this one for a long time--long before eating locally was ever on my radar.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tbsp vinegar
1/4 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups sliced cucumber
1 small onion, thinly sliced

Stir together all of the ingredients, cover, and chill 2-24 hours. Stir often and just before serving. Makes 6 side-dish servings.

Adapted from Better Home and Gardens New Cookbook, 11th ed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Seasonal Chicken

McDowell Family Farms is processing their last batch of chickens for the season this coming Tuesday. These are delicious, fresh, free-range birds. I'll be picking up my bird that day, but I'm already dreaming about my chicken dinner. Yummy, completely local options include chicken with sides of mashed potatoes and green beans or chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. A recipe that I made last night featuring pork would also work beautifully with chicken. The original recipe comes from Good Housekeeping's Step-by-Step Main Dishes cookbook. Here it is with adjustments to make it completely local--featuring chicken:
Chicken with Sauteed Apples
6 tsp clarified butter
1 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 chicken
1 tsp thyme
3 medium apples, cut into thin wedges
1 tbsp honey
3/4 cup apple cider
1 1/2 tsp flour

Thoroughly rinse the outside and inside cavity of the chicken with cold, running water. Dry with paper towel, inside and out. Rub salt all over and truss the bird. Roast chicken in 375-degree oven.
2 1/2 - 3 lbs for 1 to 1 1/4 hours
3 1/2 - 4 lbs for 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours
4 - 6 lbs for 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours
(These are just brief cooking notes. I strongly suggest visiting a cookbook you trust for more detailed instructions on oven roasting your chicken.)
Carve roasted chicken and plate it. Keep warm.

In 12-inch skillet, heat 2 teaspoons clarified butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender. Transfer to small bowl.
In same skillet, heat remaining clarified butter. Add apples. Sprinkle with honey and cook until browned. Transfer to warmed dinner plates already holding chicken.
Add any leftover chicken drippings to skillet. In small bowl, mix apple cider and flour. Stir this mixture and onion into skillet; heat to boiling over high heat, stirring. Boil 1 minute. Pour mixture over chicken and apple wedges.
Serve with pasta or mashed potatoes, if you like.

To order a McDowell chicken, e-mail

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Crock Pot Time

I love when the weather cools down and warm, soupy meals feel just right. The crock pot comes out of hiding and life becomes a bit simpler. As a new mom I'm learning that the slow cooker is not only a great convenience but also a life saver!
Last night I chopped up and prepped as much as possible all of the ingredients for vegetarian chili. This morning I boiled and simmered the last of my Anasazi beans from the Four Corners region and threw them in the pot with all of my veggies. My house smells delicious, and dinner is almost ready!
Here are the ingredients for my Local Vegetarian Chili:
Anasazi Beans
Green Bell Pepper
Chili Pepper
Chocolate Pepper
Tomatoes - Black Plum Paste and Chianti Rose

The omnivore version could include ground beef, pork, or lamb--all locally available.
Consider topping this with fresh onions and cheese.
A side of local biscuits could round this out.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Gluten-Free Dinner

Right now we have a house guest which usually has us bursting with great ideas for local meals to share. We love to show off to our out-of-town family how delicious our local food offerings are. However, this time we have been faced with one of our biggest local eating challenges yet. Our guest has a large number of food allergies. One of these allergies necessitates eating gluten-free. After much fretting, I realized that our seasonal bounty was all the inspiration I needed. Last night we ate Spaghetti Squash with Basil Pesto. Here's how we made it:
Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti Squash is super-easy to prepare and works with so many different meal ideas. Just treat it like pasta and have fun!
Prepare squash by cutting in half lengthwise and removing seeds. Pierce skin several times with a fork and choose either microwave or oven methods. (I prefer the oven--it tastes the best!)
Oven: place squash cut-side down in a large baking pan. Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.
Microwave: place squash cut-side down in a microwaveable baking dish. Add 1/4 cup water and cover with plastic wrap. Fold a corner of the plastic wrap back to allow steam to escape. Cook on high 7-10 minutes.
Let squash cool enough to handle. Using a fork, remove spaghetti-like strands of pulp. Discard shell.
Save the seeds and cook them up like pumpkin seeds!

Basil Pesto
Pesto is so easy and versatile. It can be made with other leafy greens such as arugula, and almost any kind of nut works. Our basil came from our garden. The parmesan comes from Gold Creek Farms. We bartered for the walnuts since we heard about someone with walnut trees. Melted butter can be used in place of oil, and we bought the garlic from the farmers market.
Follow the link above to find a recipe for making the pesto.
Note, if you don't have a food processor, just finely chop the ingredients.

Spaghetti squash is always good with extra cheese, so grate a little extra!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Preparing to Live without the Farmers Markets

The weather changed, I looked at my calendar, and I realized that I really do have to face the fact the local offerings are about to become greatly reduced. Since my tomatoes are ripening at a maddening snail's pace, and my winter squashes are only the size of little apples, I decided that I must hit the downtown farmers market tomorrow to pick up items that I can either can or put into cold storage.
Here's my shopping list and what I plan to do with the bounty:
freeze as pie filling
dry (mostly for oatmeal)
cold storage
can as sauce
cold storage
puree and freeze for baby food
puree and freeze for baby food
Winter Squash
Do I trust my garden to come through or not?
If I do buy this, I'll can using a pressure canner, freeze, and store.
Bell Peppers
Eat them!
Green Beans
Pressure Can

I have never really tried cold storage before, but I figured that I have successfully managed to keep my winter squash for 5 months in my pantry, so finding a little more controlled space for my apples should be doable. Here is a write-up by Wasatch Community Gardens that includes all types of food storage techniques. Scroll almost all the way down to find Cold Storage.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Preserving for the Winter

I haven't posted in a while because the change in the weather recently served to remind me that I lost a good deal of my garden harvest last year due to my denial that frost was really setting in. This year I will not be caught with my plants out. While weather reports indicate that I am safe for at least another week, I am taking heed of the fact that food preservation, unlike frost, does not happen overnight. Every day or two I set myself to a new task--drying peaches, canning peaches, canning peach salsa, drying pears, drying tomatoes, making pesto. I still hope to can tomatoes, can tomato sauce, dry herbs, make more pesto for freezing, make and can pickles, can salsa, and freeze green beans. (Oh dear, that's a big list!)

I certainly did not used to preserve so much. In fact, if I had been shown the above list a few years ago, I think I would have had heart palpitations. About 11 years ago I started with dehydrating. We had received a plug-in dehydrator as a wedding gift (awesome!) with the intention of drying foods for backpacking--thus saving tons of money over purchasing those ready-made dehydrated meals. We used it faithfully for that purpose. Years later, as I started to garden, I learned that I could save the harvest in this very, very simple way. Since then we built our own dehydrator that works with the sun's energy and warm summer days to create fossil-fuel-free dried treats. Since that time I have added freezing and canning to my repertoire. The website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation has been a great guide for me as I increase my preservation prowess.