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

Dark Days : birthday tourtière

My Week 3 meal for the Dark Days Challenge was a bit of a surprise: we ate one of the Christmas tourtières for my birthday! Never fear, there is a whole pie in the freezer for Christmas Eve, which will be more than enough for three people. I always planned to make the pies this week and use the Christmas Eve dinner as my local dinner next week, but we just couldn’t resist the smell of the pie and went ahead and had one for dinner.

Day 1: Potatoes and meat filling cooking on the stove.

Day 2: Pies ready to go into the oven.

As with the beef stew, this was also a two-day meal. On Friday I made the filling with local pork from Smith Meadows, local venison from our friend in Frederick (which arrived over the course of two days in the form of giant sacks of ground meat, which probably deserves a post of its own), organic spices from Frontier, and onions, garlic, and potatoes from our CSA (the last of those; we’re back to buying from the store). On Saturday, I took the dough that I had made the weekend before out of the freezer and assembled and baked the pies. The recipe makes two, and since we are only having a small gathering this year, I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with the second one. Eat it for my birthday, apparently! We had it with last year’s home-canned pickled beets (made with beets from Larriland Farm), cranberry sauce, and Farmer Brett’s Garlic Fire Sauce, and it was delicious.

Dinner: tourtière, pickled beets, and cranberry sauce.

Dessert was another imperfect gingerbread. What can I say: babies are hard on cakes! Last time, the pan didn’t get properly floured because I was foggy-headed and used the wrong flour. (It didn’t help that I was rushing through it to get the cake in the oven before I needed to feed the baby again.) This time, I just need five more minutes to butter and flour the pan and mix everything together and…the baby needed me for an hour. Sitting on the counter for an hour is not good for the rising properties in cake ingredients (just a note for the future, in case there were any doubts). This cake fell down in a ring through the middle. Now I know why people think making cakes is difficult: they have children! It was still a perfectly good gingery gooey delight, and we loved it. I’m hoping that our friends who are having some tonight will agree.

Dark Days : birthday tourtière

Dark Days : beef stew and (more) roasted potatoes

For Week 2 of the Dark Days Challenge, I decided to make beef stew. This was a big step for a former vegetarian of 15 years: I had never before cooked beef of any kind, nor allowed it to be cooked in my house or my pans. It was really the last frontier meat-wise, as we’ve cooked pork, venison, chicken, turkey, and fish since I started eating meat again. While the chickens were sometimes roasted or baked, almost everything else was ground and made into sausages, stews, or pies; this was the first time I’d handled chunks of meat. Given all this weighty history, I wanted to use a recipe I knew would yield a good result, and the New York Times one fit the bill: how could you go wrong with 5 1/2 cups of wine and cognac?

Day 1: beef, wine, and cognac.

Day 1: vegetables.

Day 1: the whole shebang, combined and heading into the fridge for 24 hours.

Since I was using a fairly authentic French-style stew recipe, meal construction required two days. On day one, everything went into a bowl in the fridge and sat there for 24 hours. In this case, “everything” meant the (thankfully pre-chunked) stew beef from Smith Meadows, the chopped vegetables, and the spices. I was even required to make one of those little bags out of cheesecloth to hold cloves and peppercorns! Almost all of the vegetables were in our fridge from our CSA: onions, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms (which don’t come into play until day two). We had to buy celery and an orange; I considered leaving out the orange, as it really didn’t fit the requirements of the challenge at all (definitely not local, sustainable, or ethical, and I am quite sure it was also not organic since my partner picked it up from the Giant on the way home from the metro), but after all of the effort involved in assembling the stew I was pretty invested in seeing how the recipe came out. For the alcohol, I foraged in our house, which I consider to be a very local and sustainable way of obtaining ingredients. The wine was a Mondavi Pinot Noir that my mother-in-law brought down on a previous visit; the double bottle was just enough for the recipe with one glass left over for my partner to have with dinner, and the pinot seemed to meet the “like a cotes de Provence” guideline of the recipe. The cognac was one of those teeny bottles of Courvoisier that I had received in my stocking a couple of years ago, which was all I was able to turn up and also exactly the right amount (1/4 cup, in case you ever wondered how big those little bottles are). I did make a note that we are sadly lacking in the cognac department, although brandy, port, and scotch make fine after-dinner alternatives. So, on day one I combined the meat, wine, cognac, vegetables (except mushrooms), and spices in my biggest bowl and put it all in the fridge; this happened fairly slowly over the course of the morning, as I was working with the baby strapped to my front and during a brief nap time.

Day 2: meat and vegetables separated again.

Day 2: the rest of the ingredients.

Day 2: final batch of browning meat.

Day 2: cremini and shitake mushrooms.

On day two (today) all of the actual cooking took place. Again with a baby strapped to my front, I separated the meat from the vegetables from the liquid, boiled the liquid with a couple more cups of wine, and browned all the meat in rounds before adding it to the pot. The vegetables were then sautéed over high heat and went into the pot; the mushrooms were sliced, similarly cooked, and set aside. The stew then simmered for the rest of the day, filling the house with a delicious winey meaty smell. The recipe called for the stew to simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, but the meat didn’t really get tender until five hours had passed. And then, for reasons beyond our control, we didn’t eat it for another hour, by which point the meat had flaked apart and created a nice thick stewy mush. We both liked it that way, and if I repeat the recipe I will definitely plan to allow for the extra time. To go with the stew, we roasted the last of the yellow potatoes from our CSA (following last week’s successful meal, we proceeded to roast enormous amounts of potatoes and eat them with a number dinners, so we ran through the stash at a prodigious rate). Not only was the stew delicious, it allowed me to use up a number of things that were hanging around the house, notably the two types of mushrooms we received from the CSA (cremini and shitake) and the enormous bottle of pinot noir. The only thing lacking was crusty bread, and I’m going to pick some up at the farmers’ market for when we have stew again tomorrow night. If this stew is anything like every other stew, it will be even more delicious then!

The final pot of (delicious) stew.

Dinner: beef stew and roasted potatoes.

Dark Days : beef stew and (more) roasted potatoes