Dark Days : spiced chicken, cornbread, and roasted turnips

I have to admit, I am struggling with the Dark Days Challenge at the moment. Things would be a lot easier (I tell myself) if I were eating dairy: I’m imagining turnip gratins and all kinds of quiches. However, dairy is not to be until sometime next year, so we’re making do. The Week 8 meal is not that creative, but it’s entirely representative of many of our winter meals: a favorite recipe for spiced chicken breasts, the cornbread recipe from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (adapted to use white whole wheat flour, whole grain corn meal, and rice milk), and roasted turnips and radishes (a white and green kind that is new to our CSA this year). The only new thing about this meal is that I actually ate some radishes this year, instead of just letting them wither in the crisper until they were ready to become compost!


Roasted turnips and radishes.

Spiced chicken breasts.


Dark Days : spiced chicken, cornbread, and roasted turnips

Dark Days : venison chili

For Week 7 of the Dark Days Challenge, I relied once again on the venison in our freezer. I made chili for our meal, which was a first for me. I used: tomatoes from the freezer (grown by the wife of the person who provided the venison and processed and frozen by my mother on her early autumn visit); the sweet Italian peppers from our CSA that I packed in oil and stored in the fridge during the first week of this challenge; and some of the Garlic Fire Sauce that comes in our CSA every winter (we have an open bottle in the fridge and two in the cupboard as we are not big hot sauce people). I supplemented that local foundation with organic onions and garlic from the store, Frontier chili powder, some local honey, and two cans of Eden organic black beans. (I drooled over the beans article in the most recent issue of Organic Gardening, and am definitely going to seek out sources for local dried beans this year. In the meantime, I rely on the Michigan company that uses BPA-free cans.)

The tomatoes and peppers.

Chili pot.

Chili bowl.

The chili was really tasty: we had it for dinner and I froze a couple of containers for later. Just pretend (again) that I made cornbread to go with it.

Dark Days : venison chili

Dark Days : frittata

I was a little bit creativity-challenged for the Week 6 dinner for the Dark Days Challenge, so I made a frittata. I used the mixed kale from this week’s CSA delivery, my favorite local pastured eggs, garlic from the store, dried mushroom salt from last winter’s CSA, and shallots from our summer CSA that are still kicking around. Sauté the shallots, garlic, and greens together with olive oil; lightly beat the eggs with seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper; add the veggies to the eggs; return everything to the pan with some more olive oil; cook on the stovetop until nearly firm, and then finish off under the broiler.

Most of the ingredients.


Greens, shallots, and garlic sautéeing.

Dinner: half a frittata each.

I had the best intentions of serving the frittata with roasted turnips and/or cornbread and/or salad greens, but I didn’t plan ahead so none of that was ready when the frittata was and I was too tired and hungry to make it happen. So we just each ate half a fritatta and called it dinner. Imagine it with roasted turnips, salad, and cornbread: I’m sure that would have been a lovely meal! As it was, the frittata was pretty darn tasty, so I’m not complaining. There’s always next time.

Dark Days : frittata

Dark Days : venison stew, Moroccan-style

One of my favorite types of meals is the one-bowl meal. Dal and rice, curry and rice, chili over baked potato: anything that can be served up as a nice hearty meal in a single bowl will do me just fine. One of our favorites is the Moroccan-style stew from Simply In Season; while we started off using ground turkey, over the past couple of years it’s become one of the ways I use our annual venison allotment. Yes, I said venison. I know that when I was growing up I would have gladly gnawed off my own arm before eating deer, and certainly never forgiven someone I knew who actually shot a deer themselves and foisted it upon me. What can I say: things change. More than just me eating meat again, what’s changed is that venison is lean and free, thanks to the generosity of my partner’s boss who is always looking for ways to share the bounty (and not piss off his own partner by filling up their freezer with too much deer). In the past we’ve taken maybe ten pounds of ground venison at most over the course of a season and used it in the Christmas pies and a few batches of this stew. This year I said I could take about forty pounds, since I now have a chest freezer. Expecting a bunch of vacuum-packed lumps of meat, I was fairly disconcerted to be presented with a sack of ground meat held closed with a binder clip. I dutifully packed it away into quart-sized freezer bags, and then did it again the next day with the second sack. I tried to just be thankful I wasn’t the one to have to carry it on the metro and move on. Thank goodness for latex gloves!

The venison as it arrived at our house.

Since all of our greens went bad last week, I was a bit stymied for the Week 5 meal for the Dark Days Challenge, and decided to fall back on this stew, which is something of a staple here. I figure you don’t get much more local than deer shot by someone you know and transported in a sack via light rail, right? I also had turnips and stewed tomatoes from our CSA and was willing to have a sweet potato (Japanese purple variety) stand in for a potato. Everything else is not local (although the canned beans are Eden brand which is local to Michigan which is where I used to live, so that kind of sort of qualifies). And, I already had the ingredients in my house, and using up things already in the pantry is fairly sustainable. (I know, it’s a stretch: I will do better next week.)

Vegetables for the stew, sweet potato not included.

The last of the summer’s tomatoes from the freezer.

The stew stewing, minus chickpeas and raisins.

The stew was really good, and the sweet potato added a funny (in a good way) flavor. It was a sweet juicy little surprise lurking in the savory stew; I think the potato is better in terms of the integrity of the overall dish, but the sweet potato was yummy and I’ll gladly use one again if that’s all I have on hand. I look forward to the best part of one dish meals (since we do have a dishwasher): having it for lunch again the next day!

Week 5: venison stew dinner.

Dark Days : venison stew, Moroccan-style

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner: the table.

Christmas dinner: roasted chicken.

Christmas dinner: roasted sweet potatoes and squash, apple, and cranberry bake.

Christmas dinner: cornbread sausage stuffing.

Christmas dinner.

The meal for Week 4 of the Dark Days Challenge was surprisingly easy to come up with: it was our planned Christmas dinner. Because there were only three adults eating this year, I roasted a chicken instead of a turkey (although I was tempted at the last minute by some local heritage turkeys still available from a local farmer). The chicken was from Smith Meadows Farm in Virginia, and we added sides of roasted sweet potatoes (on hand from our CSA), butternut squash and apple bake (with the last butternut squash from our CSA and some of the remaining apples from Larriland Farm), and pecan-sage cornbread stuffing (with pork from Smith Meadows, Maryland cornmeal and eggs, and organic veggies, herbs, and nuts). The meal was rounded out by home-canned cranberry sauce and pickled beets from last year’s stores.

Christmas desserts: Mom’s dark fruitcake, Gran’s light fruitcake (made by Mom), jam thumbprints, mince tarts, molasses cookies (very soft wafers instead of chewy discs because I forgot half the flour), and lemony roll cookies (unglazed since that just never happened).

Two things that didn’t last long: my aunt’s toffee and our mince tarts.

We didn’t have local bread, but the desserts were on target: the mince tarts were made from home-canned mincemeat (one of last year’s projects) and included pear brandy made and estate-bottled by our friend’s German uncle. Need I say that they were delicious? The jam thumbprints were also reasonably local, using blueberry jam from our trip to Maine last year that had been languishing in our cupboard waiting for a good reason to be eaten. Besides those two contributions, organic and sustainable and using ingredients mostly from the Northeast is the best I can say for dessert. Well, and also that everything was addictively good!

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner