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

food : Dark Days Challenge

What better way to kick off the month of December than join in a local food challenge! It’s dark, it’s cold, the growing season is over, right? Wrong! At least, not completely so. Thanks to Even’Star Farm‘s commitment to year-round farming, we receive a CSA through the winter. It consists of cooking greens, salad greens, and root vegetables (turnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, and radishes). As a result, we are cooking with local foods all through the winter; historically, the challenge has not been finding the food but rather finding new recipes to make that take us beyond our beans-and-greens rut.

For the purposes of the Dark Days Challenge, I am going to work on minimizing the non-local ingredients used in my cooking. The challenge is not only to use local food, it’s to keep as many ingredients as what the originator refers to as SOLE: sustainable, organic, local, and ethical. In this framework, the staples I buy that can’t be (easily) sourced locally fit the bill. Our organic oils are from Spectrum; I am particularly committed to their canola oil, in an effort to push back against the GMO-rapeseed that has become dominant in the United States. Sugar is certified fair-trade and organic, supplied by Wholesome Sweeteners; cocoa and coffee are also certified fair-trade and organic, from Equal Exchange. Organic spices are from Frontier, a member cooperative; butter is from Organic Valley, a regional farmers’ cooperative (milk, eggs, and cheese are from specific local farmers). Organic flour is from King Arthur, a regional company if you count Vermont as at all local to DC (I don’t necessarily, but still value East Coast products over West Coast ones); Bob’s Red Mill is another option for a (now) worker-owned company.

To supplement the vegetables in our CSA, I’ll visit the year-round farmers market in Takoma Park and shop the local items at My Organic Market (typically from Pennsylvania, from many of the same farms who supply our summer CSA). Already I know that I want to make a sweet potato pie, and am hoping that my favorite made-in-Philadelphia gingersnaps qualify as “local” for the purposes of the crust. Truly, with a new little person in the house, I don’t have the time or energy to go searching out more local sources for flour and grains and the like. For me, this challenge is about making the most of what we have readily available to us in the winter and instituting some regularity in blogging about it. For inspiration, I can always turn to recipes tried out by those who’ve done this before.

To start us off, I’ve compiled a list of the produce we already have on hand in the house:

  • sweet potatoes (orange, cream, and Japanese purple)
  • shallot, garlic, and onions
  • green tomatoes
  • Italian sweet peppers and Cubanelle peppers
  • potatoes (red and white)
  • squash (butternut and acorn)
  • greens (arugula, Chinese thick-stem mustard, salad mix, stir-fry mix, and parsley [more of them were destined for the composter than I realized])
  • turnips, carrots, and radishes
  • apples (Pink Lady, Gala, and Stayman)
  • mushrooms (cremini and shitake)
  • cranberries
  • lemons (organic, but not local)
  • pumpkin and squash puree [frozen]
  • persimmon puree [frozen]
  • tomato puree and juice [frozen]
  • chopped kale [frozen]
  • blueberries, cherries, rhubarb, and peaches [frozen]

There are probably things I’m forgetting, and we’re getting more tomorrow (our last summer delivery) and Thursday (our regular winter delivery). But that will do to get started.

food : Dark Days Challenge

food : apple time is here again

As in previous years, I could not resist the allure of apples in season. In deference to my dramatically diminished ability to process and can, we only picked sixty pounds of apples rather than the hundred-plus pounds that we typically bring home from Larriland Farm. Sadly, this was not a good year for local apples, and we weren’t able to get any Granny Smiths. Truthfully, we were only able to pick Pink Ladies and ended up buying some Stayman from the stand to complement the flavors (in order to follow the rule of always using at least two kinds of apples in any recipe). We still ended up with a fair number of apples, as we receive a bag of assorted eating varieties each week from the fruit share portion of our CSA.

What I usually do with all these apples is can a couple of batches each of sauce and chutney. This year, though, we don’t need sauce as we’re still working our way through a half dozen quarts from last autumn, and I don’t have the time to make chutney, what with all the chopping and stirring that entails. Instead, I’m making pies and muffins for the freezer and crisps for us to eat. We probably don’t need such a steady infusion of baked sugary goodness in our sleep-deprived state…oh, wait, of course we do! I plan to make a cake or two, possibly also for the freezer, but the big addition to the apple roster this year was apple butter. I used my crock pot for only the third time in ten years to slow cook the apple butter, which made it super easy to deal with. The canning is not onerous, now that we have all the supplies and have been through the routine dozens of times. With the slow cooker it’s not necessary to stir the pot constantly to keep it from scorching, and we set it up to cook overnight. I did end up letting it cook with the top off for an additional two hours, as it was still pretty runny in the morning. It’s delicious; I’ve been having it on toast and will probably make another batch this week. Once that’s done, the rest of the apples will be for eating; the beauty of the Pink Ladies is that they keep in the fridge forever and provide something fresh for my partner’s bag lunches for most of the winter.

As an aside, the chutney recipe I use is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply In Season. When I went looking for it online, I came across a person who spent last year cooking all the recipes in the book. She blogged about it , and it’s fun to read through and see how recipes I’ve made or thought of making turned out for her. I have to say, it’s also nice to see one of these make-everything-in-a-cookbook-in-a-year blogs that uses a regular cookbook rather than a coffee table book from a gourmet restaurant. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, they’re just not ever going to be what I use in my kitchen.

food : apple time is here again

food : blueberries

The echoing silence around here has been due to our absence. We were off in the Great White North last week, visiting family and collecting blueberries from the family farm. Usually when we arrive this time of year the bushes are laden with fruit, so much so that it’s impossible to pick them all. Along with the fruit, the bushes are typically crawling with all manner of wasps and hornets which feast on the berries as they become overripe. Despite our best efforts each year, we’ve never been able to pick the bushes totally clean.

This year the bushes were the barest I’ve ever seen them; oddities of weather meant that the crop was unusually small. The scarcity when we arrived was also due in part to the decision to allow pick-your-own folks to access the field without set hours; the easy to pick berries at eye and hand level were all gone. Berries remained at the interior of the bushes and at heights that required one of us to stand on a stool while the other held the bucket. In addition to these, some bushes were dotted with second round berries, those that were left to ripen after the bush was picked nearly clean earlier in the season. As a result, we spent more time in the field this year for fewer berries. The weather was gorgeous, clear and much cooler than home, even on the hottest days. It was nice to be outside, and I lost track of time each day as I usually mark the hours passing by the number of berries in the buckets.

Now that we’re back home we’re eating berries in our cereal, I’m freezing some for the winter, and I’ve made one pie and some sauce to go over the angel food cake we had for my partner’s birthday. There’s a recipe for pickled blueberries that seems to be something like a sweet relish or chutney that I’m interested in trying, but I may decide that we don’t have enough berries to spare for that. I remind myself that the berries will grow again next year; I’m sure I’ll be convinced, as I am each year, to share some with our friends.

food : blueberries

food : mojito pickle

One of my goals this summer is to use the produce I get from our CSA and the farmers’ markets in a greater variety of ways. In the past we’ve frozen baba ghanoush, cooked squash, diced rhubarb, blueberries, persimmon pulp, and sour cherries. We’ve canned applesauce, apple pie filling, apple jelly, apple chutney, and quince jelly. This year, I’m planning to branch out into pickles—using the mandoline slicer I acquired last year—and new types of jams, conserves, and chutneys.

Pickles ready to go in the freezer.

It was my intention to start the pickling with bread and butter pickles, using a lower-sugar recipe from The Joy of Pickling (of which there’s a new edition with fifty more recipes, which would explain why the one I have was in the bargain bin). Then my neighbor showed up at the door with armfuls of mint that she was ‘thinning’ from her garden, so I went with what we’re calling the mojito pickle instead. This is a freezer pickle, and uses lime zest and fresh mint as flavors (in addition to the traditional red bell pepper, onion, and garlic). As far as I could tell by sampling it as I packed it into quart tubs this morning, it’s pretty great. I’m still going to do bread and butters, and if I find other cucumber-based pickles that sound appealing I’ll pick up more at the farmers’ market on Thursday.

Equipment-wise, the mandoline turned out to be much less complicated and dangerous than I’d feared, and was a breeze to use for the cucumbers. We do need to sharpen our knives before veggie slicing season really heats up, but I couldn’t get 1/8 inch slices with a knife if my life depended on it. For the bread and butters, I might even use the ripple cut option.

food : mojito pickle