What is a Dark Days Challenge?

The Dark Days Challenge was started by Laura McCrea at the Urban Hennery.
Unfortunately I couldn't get into her challenge, so I started my own blog.
The challenge is to try to eat one meal per week consisting of 100% locally produced food. I'm choosing to define "locally produced" as Washington State.
In my recipes I tell you the origin of the ingredients I use.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week Eight of Dark Days Challenge

It's January and cold. I keep reminding myself that winter doesn't last forever, and that many people have much more difficult winters than we do in Western Washington. 43 degrees and gray sky. Drizzle, and damp.
This dinner turned out to be a lot more complicated than I would have chosen. It's in the oven right now, and I'll let you know if the taste was worth the time. While it's cooking, I'll tell you how I did it.
In search of local grains:
Just what is local is a very good question.
Someone told me that PCC Markets had a larger variety of local products, so I drove the 20 miles to Edmonds from Everett to see if that was the case. I didn't find that to be the case But, anyway, as long as I was at PCC I had to buy something - right?
I bought some flour that was milled at Fairhaven Mills in Bellingham. They grow a lot of grains in Eastern Washington - why can't we get a product that is labeled as grown in Washington? I suspect that grains are mixed together randomly and their origin is not something that is noted. I also tried Manna Mills in Mountlake Terrace - I was sure that they would have some local grains since they mill flour there - but they told me they get their grains from Montana.
I think our local Sno-Isle Food Coop has at least as many local products as PCC, if not more - and they are getting better all the time at labeling them prominently on the shelves. Sno-Isle Food Coop is carrying an organic Emmer Flour that was actually grown in Eastern Washington. It's pretty expensive, though.
We just signed up for a grain CSA - Bluebird Farms grows organic grains in Eastern Washington. They have whole grains, cereals, flours and mixes like pancake mix. It sems to be a solution to obtaining locally grown grains. If you've found another source, please let me know!

So here is tonight's menu:

Vegetable pie with biscuit topping
Sprouts (a simple side garnish, grown in our kitchen from organic seeds)

Doesn't sound like much, but think of it as a "one pot dinner." Here is the recipe I started from:

I changed a lot about this recipe. What we basically have is a filling of cooked vegetables in a thickened white sauce, with biscuits topping it as a kind of crust. If there was more broth and we were cooking this on the stove, we would have dumplings.

Here is my variation of the recipe:

2 potatoes, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (from Klesick Farms Organic NW CSA Box)
2 Jerusalem Artichokes, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (also from the CSA box)
2 carrots, washed, trimmed, and cut into chunks (from our garden)
2-8 garlic cloves (from our garden, I used all 8, roasted)
olive oil
salt, freshly ground pepper
3-6 cups kale, thick stem trimmed out, leaves chopped into 2 inch pieces (from the CSA box)
2 cups vegetable broth or water (I made some from the vegetable trimmings)
1 onion, chopped (local to Washington)
3 Tablespoons butter (Golden Glen Creamery, Bow)
herbs, such as fresh parsley, dried oregano, rosemary (from my garden)
1/2 cup flour (I used organic whole wheat pastry flour, milled in Bellingham, Fairhaven Mills)
1 cup milk (Jackie's Jersey Raw Milk, Bellingham)
1 teaspoon salt

Biscuit topping
2 1/4 cups flour (I used the same organic whole wheat pastry flour from Bellingham)
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried herbs such as dill, thyme, oregano etc (optional)
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small chunks (Golden Glen Creamery, Bow)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (I used a combination of Jersery Farms whole milk yogurt and more of Jackie's Jersey Raw Milk, Bellingham)

The recipe says to cook the vegetables in the broth or water in a large pot until they are done. Then put them aside in a different container and use the same pot to cook the onions in the butter on medium low heat for about 10 minutes. Then add the flour and stirring constantly about 1 minute. Dump in the cooked vegetables with broth and the herbs, and add the milk (the recipe calls for cream but I just used whole milk), and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.

Here's how I changed it: I tossed the potato, Jerusalem Artichokes, carrots and garlic with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them in a 400 degree oven until they were done, stirring every 5 minutes (approximately 15-20 minutes). Then I cooked just the kale in the broth, and followed the rest of the recipe. You combine all the cooked vegetables, the flour, herbs, milk and salt, and cook about 10 minutes until the broth thickens, and everything simmers nicely. Then pour into a buttered 9x13 inch baking pan, and top the hot filling immediately with the biscuit topping, see below.

Biscuit topping:
While the vegetables are cooking, mix the flour together very well with the baking powder, herbs and salt. Mix in the butter with finger tips, rubbing them in until it resembles course corn meal. Stir in the buttermilk, or milk and yogurt and mix lightly with your hands. Drop by spoonfuls onto the hot filling, and pop into the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until the biscuits are done.

I think oven roasting the potatoes, Jerusalem Artichokes, carrots and garlic improves the flavor a lot however, it is a lot of work. I'm not sure I would go to that much trouble next time. You can see that you can substitute a lot of different vegetables, depending on what you have on hand - just get them cooked, and hot in the white sauce with some herbs for flavor and top with biscuits dough. You may have a favorite biscuit recipe which would work just fine here.

Now the evaluation: was it worth the 2+ hours of work? (OK, I'm minimizing. I really spent about 3 hours, but I'm reluctant to tell you because I don't think you'll try this!) YES! It's worth it! The Jerusalem Artichokes are sweet and earthy and lend a new flavor to this would-be ordinary potato-carrot filling. The biscuits are crunchy and mix well with the filling. I'll bet the leftovers are going to be great tomorrow, and I won't have to spend any time on dinner! Of course, this dish is a little unusual for me because it's not low fat, and maybe that's why I think it turned out so good!

Not local: olive oil, salt, pepper, baking powder

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week Seven of Dark Days Challenge

Tonight I’m doing more than just making dinner. I’m practicing for a local dinner on 2/19 and also trying to use up some of the produce in the fridge in preparation for our next CSA box. I’m sure a lot of you have gotten the hang of this CSA thing, but it’s new to me, so I really want to utilize all the produce that comes in the Klesick Family Farms Northwest Box, http://www.klesickfamilyfarm.com/main/.
We get our second box in two days and I think it’s more interesting than Christmas!

To use up our vegetables on hand, I made up a recipe for carrot, leek, mushroom soup. The carrots are from our garden, but the rest of the vegetables were from the Klesick box. I’m also practicing for a fund raising auction dinner, featuring local food. I think I’m going to bring a crustless corn quiche and an Irish Soda Bread, and I want to be sure I know how to make the recipes. I made the Irish Soda bread on 12/31/10 to go with a Moroccan vegetable soup. I’m going to re-name it Northwest Soda Bread because I changed most of the ingredients, and I got the recipe from this website, which is trying to preserve genuine Irish Soda Bread. Out of deference to their authentic bread, I’m going to change the name of what I made. http://www.sodabread.us/Recipes/sodabreadrecipes.htm

If this seems like a lot of food, it is! We should be able to eat leftovers in various combinations for several days for lunch and dinner. This spread took me about 3 ½ hours. But last night we got to hear Michael Pollen speak at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. He was inspiring – and cooking from scratch using fresh local ingredients has to be the healthiest way to eat. I know it sure tastes good!

Menu (recipes follow)
Salad: Spinach (Monroe) with Holmquist Hazelnuts, leeks and Cameo Apples (Eastern Washington)
With an olive oil vinaigrette
Northwest Soda Bread
With Golden Glen Butter (Bow), and local honey
Carrot-leek-mushroom soup
Crustless Corn Quiche
Dessert: frozen strawberries (from our garden last summer)

Northwest Soda Bread
2 cups Emmer flour, or Farro flour, (Eastern Washington)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
7/8th cup whole yogurt (Jensen Family Farms, Bow)

Mix the dry ingredients very well together. Add the yogurt and toss lightly. When it is mostly mixed, pick it up in your hands and knead it lightly into a smooth ball. Place it into a deep pan that has been greased and floured; use a knife to cut an “x” on the top. (I use my cast iron dutch oven, and it’s lid). Cover it with another pan, which helps it steam and bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Then remove the lid and bake another 10-15 minutes until the back sounds hollow when you tap on it.
Note: this is actually ½ recipe.

Carrot-Leek-Mushroom Soup
2 cups carrots, washed, trimmed and cut into chunks (our garden)
1 potato, peeled (unless it is thin skinned), cut into chunks (Klesick Farms)
1 tablespoon olive oil, or butter
1 large or 2 small leeks, washed, trim off the dark green and slice into thin circles (Klesick Farm)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (our garden)
1-2 cups mushrooms, chopped (Klesick Farms)
1 tablespoon chopped ginger root
½ teaspoon brown mustard seed
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seed
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
1-2 cups vegetable broth

First cook the carrots and potato in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover. Cook over medium heat until very soft. While these are cooking, prepare the rest of the vegetables, and heat the olive oil in a pan. Cook the leeks and mushrooms with the garlic and spices over low heat about 20 minutes. You don’t want them to brown, just be soft.

Puree the carrots and potato with the water they cooked in. I use my immersion blender, but you can also use a blender or food processor. Add the cooked leeks and mushroom mixture and 1-2 cups broth to the thinness you prefer.

Crustless Corn Quiche
4 tablespoons melted butter (from an organic local dairy)
1 cup milk (organic local dairy)
3 eggs (organic local farm)
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper and ½ teaspoon salt
2 cups corn (organic from our garden, frozen, thawed)
1 ½ cups grated cheese (Greenbank Farms organic)
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Crack the eggs into a blender and blend thoroughly. Add the milk then the melted butter and blend. Add salt and pepper.
Butter a baking dish. Squeeze most of the excess water out of the corn (save for soup stock), and place ½ of the corn in the baking dish. Sprinkle the 1 ½ cups of cheese over the corn and pour ½ of the milk and egg mixture on to the corn. Layer the remaining corn and pour the rest of the milk and egg mixture into the dish. Top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake 45 minutes until set.

Not local: baking soda, salt, pepper, olive oil, mustard seed, ginger root, Parmesan cheese

Week Six of Dark Days Challenge

It’s January. Not much left in the garden. Each year I set a goal to increase my winter gardening – but I have a long way to go before I would consider myself a successful winter gardener. This year I do have a few carrots and leeks and occasionally I can pick enough brussel sprouts for dinner for two. The chard and greens I put into our new greenhouse haven’t made it. It’s been very cold this winter. I am more hopeful for next winter. Last year 6 kale plants supplied all the kale I wanted all winter long. But this winter my few plants are only supplying a little kale, and I’m disappointed! I know I can buy it, but when you have had the experience of fresh tender kale, it’s hard to imagine it could be as good when purchased.

Last week we decided to order the NW Box (organic and local) from Klesick Farms http://www.klesickfamilyfarm.com/main/. This is a CSA, community supported agriculture. We got our first box this past week and I’m pleased! Great cabbage, leeks, potatoes and mushrooms. They also included a recipe for Potato Leek Cabbage Colcannon soup which I made for our weekly local dinner. I used homemade vegetable stock (instead of the chicken stock called for in the recipe) – after I washed the vegetables I trimmed them, and added some garlic, herbs and freshly ground pepper, and simmered them in water for about an hour while I fixed the rest of the dinner. To finish out the Colcannon, I didn’t use the bacon because I don’t eat pork, and I forgot to add the milk – and it was still great.

Steamed brussels sprouts (from our garden)
Potato Leek Cabbage Colcannon (from Klesick CSA NW box)
Bread (also included in Klesicks box)
Golden Glen Creamery butter (Bow)
Wild salmon roast, baked

Colcannon Soup with Potatoes, Leeks and Cabbage
Makes six 1 cup servings
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups cabbage, cored and shredded
1 pound red or Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut in ¾ inch chunks
2 small leeks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced in thin disks 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ teaspoon nutmeg or to taste
¾ cup milk
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
4 strips bacon, cooked nad crumbled for garnish (optional)

1. Place the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and melt it over medium heat. Add olive oil, and ¼ cup of water then the potatoes, cabbage and leeks. Cook over low heat, covered, about 10 minutes. The potatoes should be firm but almost cooked.
2. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, covered, about 15 minutes. The potatoes should be fully cooked but not falling apart.
3. Grate the nutmeg and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the milk and parsley.
4. Serve immediately, garnished with the bacon if desired, or refrigerate, covered, up to a day.
Note: like most soups, this one seems to improve if made up to a day ahead. To reheat, place over medium heat and warm, stirring gently, to serving temperature. Be careful not to allow the potatoes to start to break down when reheating.
From www.stephencooks.com

Not local: salt, pepper, olive oil,

Week Five of Dark Days Challenge

Last day of the year; time for a local feast! I found Emmer flour at the Sno-Isle Coop, organic and grown in Eastern Washington. According to the package, it can be used like rye flour. So I found a recipe for Irish Soda Bread and tried it – delicious. My guess is that this is probably more like the original Irish Soda Bread than what we make with refined white flour. A friend had brought Moroccan Vegetable soup to a potluck and we liked it so much I begged for the recipe. I love the combination of squash and parsnips, although I would not have guessed they would be compatible. I may make a variation next time with curry spices (freshly ground cumin and coriander, and curry powder) and perhaps some ginger. I also added chopped garlic in with the onions because I can’t resist.

Morocan Vegetable Soup (see recipe below)
Irish Soda Bread (see recipe below)
Slathered with Golden Glen Creamery butter and local honey
Cabbage & kale slaw

OK, I admit, I also added a nice chunk of halibut, which we buy from Troller Point Fisheries right off the boat at the Everett port. It’s so fresh and good it needs nothing on it, just microwaved until just barely done.

Morocan Vegetable Soup

I actually made some homemade vegetable stock because I really wanted to be local with this. For the soup, I used Washington parsnips (unfortunately none of the parsnips I planted came up, maybe they will next year), Washington onion, and a Washington golden beet I had on hand, our own garden carrots, squash and garlic.

Irish Soda Bread
This site is actually called Society For the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, I used their recipe for “Brown Bread.” As I mentioned, I used Emmer flour instead of the wheat flour called for. Instead of buttermilk, I used Grace Harbor Farms Guernsey yogurt. It comes with cream on the top, and I scrapped it off and included it in the bread. This made an excellent fresh bread, which I ate entirely too much of!

Cabbage and kale slaw
Use your favorite recipe for cole slaw with local cabbage, and add about 1 cup of chopped very fresh kale into it. Fresh kale is tender and sweet. If you buy it in the store, make sure to use it immediately. Better yet, grow it, pick it and eat it right away. You’ll be amazed at the difference in flavor and tenderness.

Not local:
Oil (I used coconut oil and olive oil), salt, pepper, mayonnaise, baking soda

Week Four of Dark Days Challenge

This was a mid-week meal, so I enlisted Dean’s help with it. He loves oysters, so I convinced him to go to the Waterfront Fish Market (where I have never purchased anything that was anything but excellent!) and get a jar of Washington oysters – we’re too lazy to shuck them, and it’s so convenient to get them in the jar. He even cooked them for me!

Fried oysters (Willapa Bay, by way of the Waterfront Fish Market, Everett)
Baked potato (Washington), topped with butter (Golden Glen Creamery, Bow)
Corn (organic, our garden by way of the freezer)
Green Beans (organic, our garden by way of the freezer)

Fried Oysters
Serves 2
Make bread crumbs from local whole wheat bread by pulverizing 2 pieces toasted bread in the food processor or blender, place in a small bowl
1 egg, beaten, in a small bowl
1 jar oysters, drained and patted dry
oil for frying

Dip oyster into beaten egg and then roll in bread crumbs, set aside on a plate until you have breaded all of them. Heat oil over medium heat, and fry oysters about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Not local:
Oil, salt, pepper

Week Three of Dark Days Challenge

What I like the very best about this meal is that I did not do it intentionally! It was Saturday morning and I was planning my weekend. In my mind I inventoried what we had on hand and tried to think of a dinner featuring local food. I looked down at my plate and said to Dean, “THIS is a local meal! And I didn’t even try!”

Scrambled eggs (from local chickens)
Toast (bread made in Arlington)
Golden Glen Creamery butter (Bow)
Blackberry jam (made by a friend)
Salad sprouts (a seed mixture from the Sno-Isle Food Coop, grown in my kitchen)

Eating Locally

Second week of the Dark Days Challenge. I’m rationing my beans – I grew shell beans as an experiment this year, and was pretty successful. I have 3 quart jars, each ½ full of colorful beans – that’s why I’m rationing them: there’s only a precious few. Next year I’ll plant more for sure! California Etna beans are white with pink spots – beautiful in the jar. They cook up to be a light pink, and taste substantial. I was able to pull a couple carrots which are still surviving in the soil, even after our week of snow and freezing weather. Many of the potatoes froze and we turned them into compost, but there are a few left.

Bean soup (recipe below)
Grilled cheese sandwich with Old Mill 100% whole wheat bread (Arlington), and Creamery Farmstad cheese (Bow)
Salad sprouts (grown at home)

Bean Soup
1 ½ cups dried beans, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 Tablespoon oil
½ onion, chopped (Washington st.)
3-4 cloves garlic (our garden)
1-2 carrots, chopped into ½ inch dice, about 1 cup (our garden)
1 large, 2 medium potatoes, chopped into ½ inch dice, about 1 cup (our garden)
1 28 oz can fire roasted whole tomatoes (Muir Glen, Sedro Woolley)
½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, from my yard)
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot on medium heat, and add the onion and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the potatoes and carrots, cook about 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Drain the beans from the soaking water and add them, the can of tomatoes and the herbs to the pot. Add water until everything is just covered. Increase the temperature to medium high, and bring to a boil. Turn the temperature down to low, put the lid on, and simmer 1 to 1 ½ hours. The length of time will depend on how old and dry your beans are. You’ll have to just keep testing until they are done. You can test them by smashing them with the back of a spoon against the side of the pot. When they are very soft they are done.