Dark Days : red lentil coconut curry (from the freezer)

This challenge is getting challenging! Having used up my go-to recipes, I am now having to get creative and I just didn’t have it in me last week. So, I went to the freezer for our Week 9 meal. We had red lentil coconut curry, which sounds like it has nothing local in it at all, right? Wrong! It is the best recipe I’ve found for using the end-of-season CSA vegetables, and another favorite from Simply In Season: it’s chock full of onions, garlic, cauliflower, cabbage, and sweet potato. Throw in some frozen peas at the end and you’re done; preferably ones you set aside in spring, but fresh peas never make it to the freezer in our house so commercial organic ones will do. The tomato paste and coconut milk are clearly non-local, but I give them a pass since the recipe uses up such a whopping pile of veg as a whole. Since this was the from the freezer, there was little to document but I dug out some photos that I never posted (because of the poor quality, as you can see) of a batch in 2007. Good enough for freezer cooking!

The cabbage and sweet potato for the stew.

Pile o’ cauliflower.

Everything in the pot.

All cooked up and about to get peas.

Dark Days : red lentil coconut curry (from the freezer)

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 : 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 : tomatoes

A couple of things have contributed to my silence around here the past couple of weeks. One, it’s been godawful hot and sitting in front of our furnace of a computer is the last thing I want to be doing. Plus, the heat makes my brain melt so anything that requires stringing words together coherently is out. Two, we’ve been up to our eyeballs in fruits and vegetables, and it seems like I’ve been working around the clock to chop, peel, dice, slice, bake, roast, stew, and generally turn them into meals. It probably hasn’t been around the clock, it just seems that way because the kitchen gets so hot.

This year has not been great for tomatoes in our area, so we didn’t get as many early in the season as we usually do. In the past, we’ve been heartily sick of tomatoes by this point in the summer, and this year we’re just getting going. I’ve had sliced Purple Cherokee tomatoes on fried egg sandwiches and my partner’s been taking the assortment of cherry tomatoes to work with his lunch. That leaves us with several pints per week from our CSA (now quarts as the harvest picks up) of mid-sized red, orange, and yellow tomatoes to deal with, in addition to whatever odds and ends are given to us by our friends with the enormous garden. Two weeks ago the solution was deer chili. Yes, I said deer chili. I know that you couldn’t pay me to eat a venison burger during the nine years I lived in a deer-shooting-friendly state, but now that I’m a grown-up and the deer is free and leaner than beef, I’ve succumbed. It’s actually not that bad, and works really well in the recipes in which I’d previously used ground turkey. So, yeah, I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but that still doesn’t mean I’ll eat any of the meat that is reasonably easy to procure and cheap by way of coming from a CAFO. Mennonite-raised chickens and turkeys, wild salmon, and deer killed by a friend: that’s about the whole of it. I may branch out to Mennonite-raised pigs for the holidays this year; don’t hold your breath, though.

At any rate, the chili was good and used up a lot of tomatoes. We have another 2 lb. package of ground venison, but since we also have 2 containers of chili in the freezer, I probably won’t make another batch just yet. Last week I made ratatouille for the first time in order to use up some tomatoes and one of the two eggplants we had in the fridge. While I ate ratatouille growing up, I never buy eggplants of my own volition because I don’t really like them. Since subscribing to our summer CSA, I’ve had to adapt to receiving them as one of the semi-regular vegetables. The first year, I made all of the eggplant into baba ghanoush. Which worked out well, because many of our friends liked it so I could serve it to guests and didn’t have to really eat that much of the eggplant at all. Last year, the weather wasn’t great for eggplants and we didn’t get many (or, possibly, our farmer scaled back because we received so many the year before). This year has been a low-eggplant year, but in CSA terms that means I’ve only gotten a few of the Japanese eggplants and 2 decent sized standard ones. Thus, ratatouille, using the Simply In Season recipe. It was good, and my partner liked it well enough for us to allow for a repeat later this week. I did have to go out and purchase the courge, which I found kind of amusing. Our farmer is committed to not overwhelming us with the vegetable that everyone else is typically overwhelmed with in the summer, thus the summer squash shortage.

Winter squash, however, is a different story. We are already starting to see the boom of winter squash, and I had two spaghetti squashes (one enormous, one normal) to find a use for. I’ve seen those weight loss shows, I know that you can do some weird thing and the squash gets all stringy and you can eat it with sauce if you’re on the Atkins Diet. I just really didn’t know what weird thing, or if this was a food that a person not trying to lose 10 pounds per week would ever want to actually put in their mouths. Since we had the squash we gave it a try, serving the ratatouille over it, and I am pleased to report that it was good. The other half of the (enormous) squash I used to make a cold salad with chunked fresh tomatoes (also chopped onion, minced garlic, and fresh basil). The salad was surprisingly good. I am not the best at cold salads; it rarely occurs to me to make them and I am always doubtful regarding their appeal. Last summer was the first year I made a cold salad other than bean or potato (and I haven’t made potato salad in years), a shredded beet salad from a recipe foisted on me at the farmers’ market by the guy who runs the nearby community garden farm. This year I tried a couple new combinations, and they were all nice so I shouldn’t really have been that surprised that a non-green salad was good. So good that we voted to use the remaining squash for another salad rather than with the ratatouille, even.

In addition to tomatoes, which another round of salad has the benefit of making a dent in, the item I most need to find a use for is chicken stock. Our winter CSA included two stewing chickens, and due to limited time I only ever stewed one of the chickens. (Yes, I don’t have a job, but that doesn’t mean I actually have a lot of time for all-day activities like making chicken stock.) Now, limited freezer space means that I need to use the chicken stock I have before I can thaw and stew the remaining chicken. One of the only recipes that I make regularly with chicken stock—Turkey Lentil Pilaf, also from Simply In Season—also uses up fresh tomatoes, so we’ll be having that tonight and probably a couple more times over the next few weeks. In fact, the recipe doesn’t use much more than chicken stock and tomatoes: lentils, turkey, rice, and fresh mint. Probably also some onion and garlic. Now you know.

After tonight’s pilaf and tomorrow’s ratatouille, I’ll assess the remaining tomatoes and decide if some of them need to be stewed and frozen. And then we’ll pick up our CSA on Thursday and start all over again.

food : tomatoes

food : CSA bounty and the gardens of friends

Our CSA is swinging into full summer gear, and we are overflowing with potatoes, basil, tomatoes, a variety of cucumbers, and two kinds of squash. To be fair to our farmer who works hard not to overwhelm us with what he perceives to be the less desirable of the summer vegetables (squash), this week’s surplus results at least in part from my choice to buy a second box at a discounted rate. Showing up exactly when the farmer is delivering has a few advantages, and being offered an orphan box is one of them. So I have twice as many tomatoes and squashes as usual, and am trying to decide what to do with them.

Although many people complain about squash, I like them and will probably just continue to eat them as a regular part of meals. So far this summer we’ve had yellow squash sautéed with olive oil and tarragon (my personal favorite way) and yellow squash fritters. The fritters were an experiment, the result of combing through Simply In Season and studying all the recipes marked with ‘summer squash.’ The fritters were quite tasty, but consistently soft. We’re going to have them again tomorrow—three cups of shredded squash is less than I thought it would be, so I have some squash pre-grated and ready to go—and I’m hopeful that smaller and thinner will lead to a crispier outcome. I’m also tempted by a pickle recipe that uses yellow squash, but not terribly motivated to hover over a pot of boiling water again so soon. Maybe later in the summer if we have another big yellow squash week. In the meantime, the green and white courge will go into muffins, and we’ll munch our way through the variety of cucumbers.

On the tomato front, I have a row of smallish red tomatoes lined up on the windowsill, two pints of cherry tomatoes in the fridge, and two large Cherokee Purples ready for eating. I’m thinking I’ll just stew and freeze the red ones, despite their suitability for sandwiches, which will save me the trouble of figuring out an actual dish to make with them once cooked. Freezer space is now at a premium, however, which means that recipes involving chicken stock need to start appearing on the menu forthwith. Not to mention that the actual chicken needs to be thawed and stewed, although that will do nothing to address the chicken stock surplus. It’s not exactly soup season, but I have some ideas involving rice and vegetables that could use some up.

We’re also getting a decent amount of lovely basil, but I’ve been too slow to use it and it’s quite wilted. It’s currently soaking in an ice water bath, which the internet assures me will revive it; I suspect that much of it has crossed the line from wilted to dried, so I’m unlikely to ‘revive’ enough for the pesto I was hoping to make. We did use the lovely lemon basil from the folks we know in Frederick for pesto last week, and I’m sure there will be more to come. I just hate to see it go to waste. Speaking of the folks we know in Frederick, they sent us home with some delicious selections from their garden. So far we’ve had dragon tongue beans and escarole, and are looking forward to the radicchio, which will be likely just sautéed as a side for salmon, and cabbage, which I’m going to make into Sweet and Sour Cabbage even though it’s white rather than red.

Not only is this making me hungry, it’s reminding me that there is a lot of chopping, dicing, stewing, sautéeing and baking to be done in the kitchen. Prepare for winter, indeed.

food : CSA bounty and the gardens of friends