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, February 13, 2011

Week Eleven of Dark Days Challenge

Creamy Root Vegetable Stew
And homemade soup stock

I made this for the Transition Port Gardner Potlucks With A Purpose, today at Everett United Church of Christ. We had a great movie called "Garbage: the Revolution Starts At Home." It was part of a mini film festival developed by Gary Sell. Gary does a great job of entertaining people while getting the message across that we are creating too much garbage in our country! We try to make our Potlucks With A Purpose a Zero Waste Event, so I think we're at least moving in the right direction.
The stew turned out to be popular, with hardly any left. It is an unfortunate gray-brown color, but the flavor is really good. I would attribute that to the Jerusalem Artichokes, or Sunchokes. I think they give it the earthy, nutty flavor.
Because this was served at a potluck, it's not technically a totally local meal. However, it embodies the values of sharing local food together, and talking about how we can change our behavior to better treat our planet.

Serves a crowd!
About 1 gallon of prepared (washed, peeled, chopped into cubes) root vegetables. I'm giving you what I used but take this as a guideline, not an absolute. Turnips and rutabagas would be good in here as well.
4 potatoes (organic, local from Klesick Family Farms)
3 parships (organic, local from Klesick Family Farms)
Jerusalem Artichokes about 2 cups chopped (also called sunchokes, organic, local from Klesick Family Farms)
3 carrots (organic, from our garden dug up yesterday)
1 onion, chopped (organic from Klesick Family Farms)
1 cup chopped leeks (from our garden, dug up yesterday; if you slice leeks lengthwise they are easier to clean the dirt out of, then slice into 1/2 circles)
2-6 garlic cloves, chopped (from our garden, dug up last fall)
Olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground corriander
2 teaspoons dried thyme (maybe next year I'll have it together enough to have my own home dried herbs for flavoring; this year I rely on Sno Isle Food Coop)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable stock to barely cover (see note below)
4 cups whole milk (local dairy)

Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook slowly about 6 minutes. Add the leeks and cook another 6-10 minutes (you don't want any of this to brown).
While these are cooking, prepare all the root vegetables you are going to use and place into a slow cooker. Add the onion/garlic/leek mixture and all the spices. Barely cover with vegetable stock and put on high 4-6 hours or until vegetables are soft. Using an immersion blender or a blender, blend about 1/3 until smooth. You want to leave chunks but have a thick broth.
Add the milk and heat until it's all hot (if you're in a hurry, you can heat the milk in the microwave. Adding hot milk to the slow cooker of hot food will make it all ready to serve immediately.

Not local: olive oil (you could substitute butter), salt, pepper & spices

Something For Nothing
Homemade Soup Stock

The one thing I remember from my UW Economics class (too many years ago to remember) is that you can not get something for nothing. It's true that your labor is not nothing, but other than your labor, homemade vegetable stock is virtually something for nothing. And you don't end up with empty cartons that have to go into the land fill!
The only trick to this is planning and organizing your cooking.
Dump all the vegetables you are going to use into the sink and scrub them thoroughly. While you are doing this, get the biggest soup pot you have and start heating water (buy a big one if you don't have one, and get the best quality you can afford. You'll never regret it).
As you are trimming and peeling the vegetables, trim out the dirt and the really bad spots, but everything else can go into your soup pot of water. For instance, the green tops you trimmed from the leeks, the onion peeling, carrot fronds, the ends you chopped off the parsnips, the core of a cabbage, potato peelings, (potato water from other dishes), the carrot that is too puny to chop up, the misshapen vegetables that are too tedious to peel, the vegetables in the refrigerator that are too old to eat but not moldy, leftover vegetables from last nights dinner etc. You can toss these into the pot as you prepare them - timing is not critical. Don't put in potato vines or rhubarb leaves, they're poisonous. You can add flavorings if you wish and if you are inspired, for instance dried herbs, whole garlic cloves (crushed) pepper corns, etc. Recipes for vegetable stock will have you tossing in whole quartered onions and carrots, but if you're like me and buying organic onions you don't want to spend that much money on just stock. If you have a garden you'll have plenty of ingredients for stock. You can add salt if you wish, but its probably better to salt your final dish, not the stock.
By now your pot is probably boiling, turn the temperature down to a simmer, put the lid on and let it simmer away 1-3 hours, adding water if needed. It's not too picky!
Strain this into a large bowl, and toss the cooked vegetables into your compost or chicken pen. You were going to do that anyway, weren't you? So why not squeeze a little more flavor out of those vegies before you toss them? Use this right way if you can, or freeze into blocks amounts that you are likely to use.
You can also do this with fish bones, but that's another recipe.

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