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Happy New Year!

It seems December for me was a bust.  I did a ton of cooking and very little blogging.  I blew right through Dark Days, Weeks 3 and 4.  Because of all the holiday plans, most of the food I made was a hybrid of local and not so local.  While in a crazed baking frenzy, making a double batch of blue cheese and walnut cookies, I did manage to throw together a quick lunch.  While it was cooking, I realized everything on it was local.  While it wasn’t anything special, I snapped a picture, since I knew I wouldn’t have much of a chance to do anything else between Christmas and New Years.  The Berkeley Farmers Markets were closed that week, which just contributed to my laziness.

So, here it is, my very local grilled cheese:  Olive bread by Acme (aka best bread ever), some cheese from Point Reyes (I didn’t write down the name), a slice of raddichio from the farmers’ market, and some Clover Stornetta butter.  Very easy, and very satisfying.

I really love my meat CSA, but one challenge it presents is finding new things to do with all the ground meat.  We get five pounds a month, usually 3 pounds of beef and 2 of something else.  There are only so many burgers and chili that I can possibly eat.  When I picked up my December shipment last week and tried to cram it all in my freezer full of meat, frozen cooking projects, and limoncello, I realized I was really far behind.  So I did an inventory and discovered I had about twelve pounds of ground meat in there, including seven of beef.  Oof.  Time to start using it.

Back in April, I made a Shepherd’s Pie with Spring Vegetables.  It was really good, and I made it a lot over the summer, often adding sweet summer corn into the vegetable mix.  I figured just because peas and carrots were no longer in season, there had to be a way to still make this.  So, I ventured off to the farmers’ market last weekend and basically bought one of everything, chopped it up, and threw it in my Shepherd’s Pie with Winter Vegetables.  And it was to die for.  It might even be better than the spring one, because while fresh peas are pretty delicious, nothing beats mashed sweet potato.

This is a pretty flexible recipe.  Nothing technical about it.  Everything in this is local – the meat is from Marin Sun Farms, the produce from the farmers market, dairy from Clover Stornetta, and the dollop of honey is from some dude in Oakland, who apparently sells his honey at my grocery store.  Who knew?

Shepherd’s Pie with Winter Vegetables

Ingredients
2 pounds ground meat (I used beef)
2 onions, thinly sliced
6 cups diced root vegetables (I used a mix of carrots, parsnip, celery root, and turnip)
lots of mashed sweet potato (I baked about 5 big ones)
2 cups of diced Brussel sprouts
a few tablespoons minced woody herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and sage.

Directions
Bake the sweet potatoes until they are soft.  Mash them up with a good pat of butter, salt and pepper, a splash of cream, and a good dollop of honey.  The honey really made these things, especially since the vegetables had some bitterness in them.

Preheat the oven to 400.

In a big saute pan, heat up some butter or oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Slowly saute until they turn golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.  Add the root vegetables and saute those.  You may need to add a splash of water to deglaze the pan if it starts to look like it’s going to burn.  When the vegetables start to soften up a bit, you add the meat.  If your pan is not big enough (mine wasn’t), just dump them out and add the meat.  Brown it, add the herbs, then add the Brussel sprouts.  Stir together and add to the root vegetables.

In a deep baking dish, add the meat and vegetables and spread it out.  Then start adding the mashed sweet potatoes on top and spread those out.

Stick it in the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes.  If you want your potatoes brown and carmelized on top (who doesn’t?), finish it off in the broiler for a few minutes.  Cut up and serve.

I’m alive and I’m back.  I have had a really busy few weeks and just haven’t had time to post anything.  But, I signed up to do the Dark Days challenge again this year, which should keep me on a more regular posting schedule.

The Dark Days Challenge is hosted by (not so) Urban Hennery, and is a winter-long challenge where participants commit to cooking one meal each week comprised of local, organic, and ethically sound food.  I did it last year and had a lot of fun discovering new ingredients, as well as local resources, like my Marin Sun Farms meat CSA and the super delicious Stonehouse blood orange infused olive oil.  All the meals I made last year can be found here.

And this begins my second year.  As my inaugural entry, I made a pumpkin chestnut soup.  Technically, a kabocha squash chestnut soup, I guess since that’s the gourd I had in the house.  And oh em gee, it might be the best soup I have ever made in my life.  It was nutty in the way that a peanut based soup is, but earthier than that.  And kabocha squash (aka my new favorite winter vegetable) is also a pretty nutty tasting vegetable, so it worked really well with the chestnuts.

I will say that the chestnuts were a pain in the neck to shell.  Usually, once I find out I like a soup recipe, I make a triple or quadruple batch of it and freeze it by the quart.  But, the idea of shelling three or four times as many chestnuts makes me want to cry.  So, I won’t tell anyone if you buy the jars of shelled or pureed chestnuts.

I found the recipe on Sunshine’s Kitchen, discovered by browsing Food Gawker, and it is an adaption of a Martha Stewart recipe.  The produce all comes from my local farmers’ market, the chicken stock was homemade from a Marin Sun Farms chicken, and the cream comes from Clover Stornetta.

Pumpkin and Chestnut Cream Soup
Recipe by Martha Stewart, as adapted by Sunshine’s Kitchen

Ingredients
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 small onion, minced
1 large carrot, diced
3 small potatoes, diced
About 1.5-2 pounds of pumpkin, cubed (or kabocha squash)
About 1/2 pound of chestnut purée, or the same amount of cooked and peeled chestnuts
4 cups water, chicken broth, or vegetable broth
a good splash  cup of cream
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Directions

Heat butter in a large pot and add onions.  Saute until golden brown.  add carrots, potatoes, and squash and saute for a few minutes.  Add thechestnuts, and water or broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, carefully transfer to a blender to puree.   Add back to pot.  Gently whisk in cream or milk, and add a bit more water if the soup is too thick.  Add salt and pepper to season and serve.

I served mine up with a cold glass of Lagunitas Copper Ale – perfect match. 

 

Carbonade Flamandes

Beef stew.  With Belgian beer.  Need I say more?  Probably not, but since I’m verbose, I will.  This is a really good beef stew recipe.  It’s a classic Belgian dish.  I’m sure it’s particularly delicious with frites, but I’m not quite that ambitious, so I served it with bread.  The person who recommended the recipe to me suggested I add in a couple diced, peeled apples.  Which I did, and which is what made it extra awesome.  So, I suggest you do the same.  The apples and the onions break down into a rich, thick brown sauce, that’s sweet and savory.  For beer, use a good Belgian brown ale.  I used Moinette Bruin, above, but Leffe Bruin would also work.

Carbonade Flamandes
Recipe from this website

Ingredients
4 pounds boneless stew meat,
such as chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
3 large onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
2 bottles (12 ounces each) Belgian beer
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 tablespoons red currant jelly (or brown sugar)
1 tablespoon cider or red wine vinegar
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and diced into 1 inch chunks (optional, but highly recommended)

Directions

Season the beef cubes with the salt and pepper and dredge with the flour. Shake off any excess.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter or oil in a large dutch oven or heavy, oven-proof pan over high heat until hot but not smoking.  Add the beef cubes and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Work in batches so as not to crowd the beef cubes, or they will steam instead of sauté.  Add additional oil or butter if necessary.  Once browned, set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter or oil to the skillet and melt over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally, until browned, about 15 minutes.  If necessary, raise the heat toward the end of the cooking time.  It is important to brown the meat and the onions evenly to give the stew its deep brown color.  The trick is to stir the onions just enough to avoid burning the but not so often as to interrupt the browning process.

Deglaze the pan with the beer, scraping with a wooden spoon to loosen any brown bits.  Add the beef back to the pan as well as the apples and bring to a boil.  Add the thyme and bay leaves.

The recipe recommended simmering covered, over low heat until the meat is very tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  I did this and it was fine, but if I do it again, I’d put it in the oven at, say 325, for longer – three or four hours.  It’s really going to depend on the meat used, but I think mine was a bit tougher.  Before serving, stir in the red currant jelly or brown sugar and vinegar; simmer for 5 minutes.   Adjust the seasoning as needed and serve, preferably with more beer.

 

I saw this vegetable at the farmers’ market and thought it was a pumpkin.  Turns out, it’s not a pumpkin.  It’s a red kobacha squash, also known as a sunshine squash.  The guy at the stand assured me it was delicious though, so I figured it would sub just fine in this recipe.  It’s also the closest thing to a Halloween recipe I’ve got.

If you buy one, a word of warning.  Sharpen your knives, clear your countertop, and summon  your inner Freddie Krueger.  This is quite a bit more difficult than cutting a sandwich in half.  By the grace of God, goddesses, Xenu, and the Flying Spagetti Monster, I got this thing cut open without stabbing myself or breaking everything in my kitchen.  I had a few near misses, but chopped it all up without incident

 This is the first Rick Bayless recipe I’ve ever made, and I’m definitely interested in trying more now.  This recipe was unusual.  I don’t usually cook vegan meals, so it was a nice change.  I served it over rice, making it also a gluten free meal, so this dish would be a great contribution to a potluck or buffet, if you have a lot of friends with various dietary restrictions.   The recipe took a while to prepare, so it’s not really a good weeknight meal, but it makes a ton of food, so your labors will be worth it.  The recipe says it serves four as a main course, but my husband and I ate it for dinner, then for lunch, and still had leftovers.  To mix things up a bit, we  the last of it as a taco filling, piling it on corn tortillas and topping them with cotija cheese – really, really good. 

Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin (or Squash)
Recipe by Rick Bayless, via Martha Stewart

Ingredients

Three to six 1/4-to-1/2- ounce stemmed, dried chipotle chiles, or canned chipotle chiles en adobo
3 large cloves garlic
5 medium (about 8 ounces) tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved
2 medium round, or 4 to 5 plum, ripe tomatoes, or one 15-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced Swiss chard
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 cups peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes fresh pumpkin, preferably from a 1 1/2-pound wedge cut from a tan or green Mexican pumpkin or a 2-pound pie pumpkin 
2 poblano peppers, cut into 1 inch chunks (not in the original recipe, but I had some and figured I’d use them)

Directions 

Make the salsa: If using dried chiles, preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add chiles and toast, turning frequently and pressing down with a flat spatula, until very aromatic, about 30 seconds.  Transfer chiles to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit until chiles are rehydrated, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking.

Place garlic and tomatillos in the skillet. Toast, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened in some spots, 3 to 4 minutes for the tomatillos and about 5 minutes for the garlic. Transfer garlic, tomatillos, and their juices to the bowl of a food processor or jar of a blender.

Drain chiles, either from the soaking water or their canning liquid, and discard liquid. Add chiles to the tomatillos and process to a fine-textured puree. Set aside.

If you are using fresh tomatoes, the original recipe recommends cutting them up and roasting them in the oven for a few minutes.  I didn’t see the point, and just skipped that step.  I don’t think it makes a difference, and the recipe is complicated enough as is.

In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Saute onions until soft and translucent.  Add the stems of the chard and the diced poblanos, if you are using them.  Saute for about 5 minutes or so, until they start to soften.  Add the chard and a few tablespoons of water. (I used the water leftover from soaking my chipotles.)  Add the salsa and tomatoes and stir to combine.

To make this dish ahead of time, cover and refrigerate sauce for up to 2 days, then continue cooking as follows.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place the diced pumpkin and squash evenly in a glass baking dish (the recipe said 9×9, but I had enough food for a 8×13).  Pour the chard mixture over the squash.   Cover baking dish with foil and bake until pumpkin is tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Dish can be cooled and refrigerated at this point, if desired, then continue cooking as followed when ready to serve.

To continue cooking, uncover dish and raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Continue baking until sauce has reduced slightly and top becomes crusty, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately, with rice, corn tortillas, or whatever you’d like.

 



Parsnip Chips

 

In the November 2010 Food & Wine, the magazine claims that vegetables are the next big thing.  Now, I love my Food & Wine, but seriously, how desperate were they when they came up with that line?  In any event, in promoting vegetables as the next big thing, they had a recipe for parsnip bacon.  I guess since bacon was the last big thing, they figured they had to work it in to help us ease the transition from one big thing to the next.  The recipe sounded good, so I thought I’d give it a try.

In a weird twist, the finished product looked nothing like the picture, but did look a lot like bacon.  However, it tasted nothing like bacon.  But it did taste like Terra Chips, which are pretty awesome, if not as awesome as bacon.  But since bacon is out, and vegetables are in, then that’s probably just as well.

Parsnip Chips

Preheat the oven to 300.  Using a vegetable peeler, peel a parsnip into thin strips.  Toss in vegetable oil (like the recipe) or olive oil (like me).  Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with smoked sea salt.

Bake at 300 for an hour and 15 minutes (like the recipe) or until they start to burn after about 35 minutes (like me).

Despite my issues with them, they were really good.  Crunchy and salty, they’d make for a nice party snack.  The long strips look really nice standing up in a glass, a lot nicer than a bowl of Terra Chips which just look like potpouri.


 

It’s a cold and rainy weekend here, so I wanted to make something comforting and satisfying.  In preparing the sausuages, I loosely followed this recipe from Food & Wine.  For the mash, I was inspired by this Martha Stewart recipe for mashed parnsip and apple, and this Ina Garten recipe for pureed celery root and apple.  Since there seems to be a bunch of recipes floating around online for mashed parnsip and celery root as well, I saw no good reason not to just throw them all together.

This is a pretty forgiving, easy meal, so I’m not going to bother with precise measurements or instructions.  Just throw things into a pan, and you’ll probably be fine.

Braised Sausages and Grapes

Add a few Italian sausages to a skillet and add water.  Simmer for about 6 or 7 minutes, longer if they are really big, turning a few times.  Drain. 

 Turn the heat down to medium and put the sausages back in the pan.   Add a splash of olive oil and some minced shallot to the pan.  Saute for a few minutes, turning the sausages, and allowing the sausages to brown. 

Add about 1/4 cup of wine (I used red).  I’m sure vinegar or broth would be fine too.  Scrape up the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan.  Pour the grapes into the pan and season with salt and pepper.  Allow the dish to simmer for a couple minutes, adding another splash of wine to help it all come together.  Remove from heat and serve.

Apple-Root Vegetable Mash

Peel a large apple, a 1 pound celery root, and a couple parnsips.  Chop into 1-2 inch chunks.  Put into a pan with about a cup of water and a good pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let the vegetables cook for 20-30 minutes, until soft.  Drain and add everything back to the pan.  Add a splash of cream or milk and a good pat of butter.  Mash with a potato masher until it reaches desired texture.  Add extra butter or salt if needed.

I served everything with some braised broccoli rabe, which I made by sauteing it in some olive oil, a few cloved of minced garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. 

To drink, some lovely Syrah from the fabulous Bonny Doon vineyards, a favorite of my husband’s.