Category Archives: Winter

Quick Beef Stroganoff

Earlier this week, the San Francisco chronicle posted an article that claimed that it’s hard to find fresh, affordable food in Mendocino County. It was a ridiculous article, written by someone who ignored all of the local farmers markets which are filled with … um….. fresh, affordable food.  The girls at Eat Mendocino have already written an excellent response to the article, explaining why the Chronicle was completely wrong, so I won’t rehash what they’ve already written.  Their whole conversation made me want to share this beef stroganoff recipe with you.

This whole blog is about cooking with fresh, local, affordable foods, but a lot of the time I make the recipes affordable by making them vegetarian, since a lot of locally sourced meats can be prohibitively expensive. I love eating all this hippie crunchy food, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little bit more… meat and potatoes.  Maybe you’re cooking for picky eaters, maybe it’s cold out an you want some comfort food, maybe you’ve been slaving away all day in the garden and you’re craving something with protein and carbs. Whatever the occasion, this beef stroganoff is delicious.  Since this recipe makes a flavorful sauce to serve over mashed potatoes or noodles, you really only need a pound of meat to make a big pot of food.  Also, it cooks up in a flash. Also it’s cheap. It’s easily adaptable to different ingredients.  The leftovers (if there are any) make a great lunch the next day. beef stroganoffOh, and I realized after I started writing about this…. it’s basically just a homemade version of hamburger helper in the stroganoff flavor.  Because we like eating classy stuff like that.  beef stroganoff 2There are several ways you can adapt this recipe.  First, the meat: the cut doesn’t really matter. You can use ground beef, which is almost always one of the cheapest meats at the farmers market.  If you use a steak that’s more on the tender side (sirloin, ribeye, strip) keep the cooking time to 30 minutes.  If you want to use stew meat, an add extra cup of stock to the recipe and cook it for an extra hour or more. You can substitute mushrooms for the beef if you want something vegetarian. You can add all kinds of vegetables while you’re browning the beef: shallots, leeks, onions, some chopped swiss chard, peas, mushrooms. Whatever looks good at the farmers market that week will be great.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sirloin steak, sliced into thin strips, or 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • salt and pepper
  • a big splash of cognac or brandy, if you have it on hand
  • 2 c. beef or vegetable stock
  • 16 oz. sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • a few sprigs of fresh tarragon (or parsley is fine too)
  • optional add-ins: sliced mushrooms, sliced shallots, peas, chopped spinach, etc.
  • for serving: buttered mashed potatoes or egg noodles

Heat the butter in a large skillet.  Add the steak and garlic and cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat to brown the steak.  (If you want to add extra vegetables, now’s the time).  Season everything with salt and pepper.  Once the steak is browned, add the whole wheat flour and saute everything for another minute or two. Deglaze the pan with a splash of cognac, if you have it.  (If you don’t, it will taste good without it.  Just deglaze the pan with the stock instead). Add the beef stock, sour cream, paprika and tarragon and stir everything together. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Serve over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  We like having this dish with a big green salad or sauteed green beans.

How To Pull Off Your Own DIY Wedding, Pt 2: The Food!

When I saw all the boring menus offered on most wedding catering websites, we immediately decided just to cater the whole thing ourselves.  Other blogs talk about self-catering your wedding like it’s an insanely difficult task, along the lines of building a rocket ship or performing open-heart surgery, but it’s really not hard at all if you plan it right.  For anyone that enjoys cooking and is having a smallish wedding, I think it’s perfectly feasible. The key to doing this successfully is that you don’t want to actually cook anything on your wedding day.  I made virtually everything in advance and then just had my mom keep an eye on the oven while it all reheated. (We were outside trying to see if the dogs would sit still for wedding portraits.  They wouldn’t). wedding dog portraitIf you decide to go the self-catering route, there are a few things that you need to think about while you’re menu planning:

1. Does the dish hold well in the refrigerator for a day or two?

It’s perfectly fine to cook things several days in advance from a food safety standpoint, but will you be sacrificing texture or flavor? Steamed rice will dry out in the fridge, spaghetti is basically impossible to reheat without a microwave, mashed potatoes turn into one solid lump.  It’s better to think more along the lines of casseroles, braises, stews, curries and the like.  You can always do a test batch in the months leading up to the wedding and then see how it lasts in the fridge. Since we were cooking for such a large range of diets for our wedding day, we decided to go italian with everything. It tends to be a good common ground that will make everyone happy, from carnivores to vegans.

2. Do you have enough fridge space?

We were cooking for 25 people. We have a pretty average sized fridge and it was totally full of saran wrapped casserole dishes.  We couldn’t have fit one more thing if we tried.  Beverages were out in the garage and in coolers to stay cold. By this logic, I would estimate 1 refrigerator per 25 people. (You definitely don’t want to make a bunch of food and then realize you don’t have anywhere to store it…)

3. Remember food safety.

Remember to properly refrigerate the food you cook in advance. Make sure to reheat it thoroughly on the day of the event. When you’re cooking in the days leading up to the event, make sure you arrange your fridge properly and put vegetables and cooked food higher up than raw meats, which should be at the bottom of the fridge (so you don’t end up getting chicken juice getting on your raw vegan appetizers).

4. Menu Planning:

As with all local cooking, it’s not a good idea to get too set on a specific thing.  I knew what I had in the pantry and the garden, so I had some ideas, but I also shopped at the farmers market the week before the cooking.

With all that in mind, here’s the menu we figured out, doing our best to highlight the local foods we have available in February:

Friday Dinner:

We didn’t bother with a rehearsal or a rehearsal dinner, but for Friday night, when we had some friends over to help set up the space for the ceremony the next day, we had big pots of vegan curries that are simple to make and can hold on low for hours and hours.

 

and for Saturday, the wedding day:

Breakfast, self-serve for all of the guests that stayed with us:

Appetizers:

  • Vegan Summer Rolls stuffed with local greens, served with Peanut Sauce
  • Crab Rangoon, made with local dungennes crab and spring onions
  • Local Cheese Plate

Dinner:

  • Lasagna with beef & pork ragu, made with our home canned tomato sauce
  • Stuffed shells with local chard, ricotta custard and black pepper chevre from my friends at Shamrock Artisan Cheese, topped with our tomato sauce.
  • Vegan Polenta Casserole with Mushroom Ragu (The link takes to to a similar recipe with a different filling. Same idea though).
  • Garden Salad with greens from Floodgate Farms and Lovin’ Mama Farms

Dessert:

  • Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Buttercream Frosting

 

Since I can’t write a post this long and not share a recipe, I should probably tell you about my summer rolls and peanut sauce…. summer rolls with peanut sauceThis is such a great appetizer; they always make people super happy and taste great.  Plus, since it’s really mostly salad, your guests don’t end up eating a bunch of rich food right off the bad (….. because that means food comas and food comas don’t really make for a fun party).  Summer rolls are super labor intensive, but they can be made a day in advance as long as you cover each layer thoroughly with saran wrap.   My new sister-in-law and I rolled about 100 of them while we hung out together the day before the wedding and it really went pretty quick.

The Kitchn has an excellent post about wrapping summer rolls, so I’m not going to bother re-photographing everything they already did….

For the peanut sauce, I use an approximation of the following recipe. (I wanted to tell you an exact version, but I burned out the motor in my blender, so now I just have to estimate.  I’ve made it so many times that this should be really close, though.)

Peanut Sauce

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. freshly ground peanut butter, usually found in the bulk-food section of the grocery store
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2″ of peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 or 3 hot peppers, depending on your heat preference (dried or fresh will both work)
  • 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1  c. orange juice
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce

Combine everything but the peanut butter in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and blend again.* If the sauce is too thick for dipping, add some orange juice.  If it’s too thin and watery, add some more peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If it tastes too spicy, add some honey or sugar.  You can serve this immediately but it will hold in the fridge for several days.

*If you put in the peanut butter first, you’ll burn out motor in the blender.

Note: Next time I make peanut sauce, I’ll check the amounts on this recipe, but if someone else makes it first, please let me know how it goes.

 

How to Pull Off Your Own DIY Wedding, Pt. 1: Flowers

I just got married on Saturday. I’m pretty excited about it. first dance

Jason and I had been engaged for so many years that I can’t actually remember how long it’s been.  We’ve been together for ten years in May, and we had finally decided to set a date this last December.*  Neither of us was interested in a traditional big wedding, and we’ll all about DIY over here, so we pretty much did everything ourselves instead of hiring other people.

Over the next few weeks (meaning, when I have time to write everything), I’m going to share a series of posts about the various elements of the wedding, what we did, and how to plan it all in advance so that you don’t actually have to work on your wedding day.  The only thing I should really mention, though, is that we had such a tiny wedding that I know this information won’t really apply to a lot of couples who are having hundred(s) of people show up for their wedding.

For this post, I want to tell you about what we did for the flowers, with more to follow about the rest of the decor, our sweet little vegan wedding cake, how to self-cater everything in advance for a small group.  bridal bouquetWe got almost all of the food from local farms, but unfortunately there aren’t many local flowers to be had in Mendocino County during February.  Our farm just has a few random calendula blooms, nothing that you could turn into a bridal bouquet.  If it were the summertime, I would have absolutely just grown my own.  True, if I had planned in advance, I could have forced some bulbs in the greenhouse or something. I got my wedding dress four days before the wedding, though, so obviously growing my own flowers was just not in the cards for this.  The next best thing? The San Francisco Flower Mart. It’s a huge wholesale market for flowers that’s open to florists in the early morning hours, but then opens to the public at 10:00 a.m. The flowers are incredibly fresh, as local as I think is reasonable to expect in February, and the selection is fantastic.  Oh, and it’s dirt cheap. And there’s a parking lot right at the building. (You have to pay, but it’s only a couple bucks). bridal bouquetI live two hours away from San Francisco, out in the sticks, and I think it was totally worth the drive to go down and get a couple hundred bucks worth of flowers for bouquets and to decorate the house.   If you’re getting married, live nearish to SF, and want to arrange your own flowers, this is absolutely the route to take. During the summers, I would also suggest local farmers markets, but you probably knew I would say that.

Remember, if you’re shopping for flowers at a market like this, it helps to bring a couple big buckets with water in them so that you can keep the flowers fresh while you drive them back home.  If you get really fresh flowers, they’ll probably last about a week if you keep them in plenty of water and in a cool space.

As far as making your arrangements look nice, it really is up to you. I like a combination of lots of shapes, sizes and colors, but sometimes a bunch of all one variety can look beautiful too. You have to just keep a really open mind when you’re shopping and pick out things that you think look pretty. _MG_2685The day before the wedding, my sisters and one of my girlfriends put together bouquets and decorated the house.  Obviously, they were all in mason jars, (which is potentially an overused trend, but when you make jam for a living and have shelves and shelves filled with jars, it certainly seems like an obvious choice).  As stereotypical as it was for a bunch of girls to sit around playing with flowers, I don’t care, because it was awesome. Of course, it might not be right for all brides, but I could never imagine paying someone else to sit and arrange flowers for me. wedding flowers

So, that was the simplest bit of information to tell you about…. I have a bunch of really great recipes that I can’t wait to share for all the delicious food we made.  I need to go sleep some more, though, since apparently I’m still hungover, two days later.

*If you have a long engagement and then randomly decide to get married, everyone is going to think you’re pregnant. True story. FYI: I’m not pregnant.

My Freezer Is A Wall Of Jalapenos: How To Preserve Hot Peppers, Pt.2

Right before the frost this past year, I stashed a lot of hot peppers in my freezer. I already wrote this post about preserving peppers, which included the whole idea of just stashing them in the freezer for later in the winter instead of rushing to deal with all of them right away.  Since “later in the winter” is officially here, I’m trying to deal with this ridiculous wall of peppers when I open the freezer door, and I thought I’d share a couple of the recipes that I’m making.  chilis!Before you say it, I know, hot pepper jelly is always my absolute favorite idea for using chili peppers, but I already have enough hot pepper jelly to last through several apocalypses. And since people always ask for a good recipe for hot pepper jelly, here’s my tip: I’ve tried almost all of them, and in the end I decided my favorite is just the recipe in the sure-gel box.  The high sugar one. It turns out awesome.

So, if you’ve already made enough hot pepper jelly to satisfy the cravings of your friends, relatives, and hungry neighbors, here are a few more ideas:

Escabeche Vegetables, from Canning For A New Generation, by Liana Krisoff-

I’ve had pickles similar to these in lots of taquerias in San Francisco. They’re addictive, with the kind of spicy heat that makes you almost want to stop eating them, but they’re so good you just have to have one more, even though you’re starting to sweat.  They’re perfect with a beer and a burrito, and I’m so excited to have my own jars in the pantry now.

escabeche vegetables

Fermented Sriracha, from The Hungry Tigress

I haven’t actually tasted it yet since the peppers are still fermenting on the windowsill, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna end up doing a monster batch once I taste this first one (because sriracha is inherently delicious and there’s no way one small batch is gonna do the trick).

fermenting chilis

Candied Jalapenos, seen in many places around the internet, but I used this recipe from Foodie with Family:

I’ve never tried these before, but I’ve heard people go absolutely crazy about them, and I can’t wait to see how they taste.

candied jalapenos

Jalapeno Bread and Butter Pickles, from Simply Recipes:

I’m really excited for these, because I generally like bread and butter anything.  I can hear them screaming out to get put on top of a burger, fresh off the grill, or maybe diced and put in egg salad if you wanted to get really crazy.

jalapeno bread and butter pickles

I haven’t actually tried any of these yet since pickles need a few days to mellow out after you make them, but I’ll report back when I do.  Can you think of any recipes that I’m missing? If you have something you love to make, please leave a link in the comments. I still have ten huge bags of jalapenos in my freezer and I really need to get them outta there!

Winter Vegetable & Lentil Stew

I think the easiest way to make something good out of whatever vegetables you have on hand is to make soup.  And it’s great, because I really like soup. I like cooking it. I like eating it. I like that you can make a big pot and put the leftovers in the fridge and have lunches for days. I do a fair amount of professional cooking, and soups and stews are the most obvious choices when I need to feed a mixed group of carnivores-vegetarians-vegans-gluten free – whatevers. It’s pretty simple just to make a big pot of veggie stew, maybe serve it with a green salad and a grain.

Really, one of the main things I like about soup is that its a huge pot of vegetables, so when I have a bowl, I can pat myself on the back for eating healthy things and not Doritos.

These were the vegetables I decided to turn into soup today: winter vegetablesSomething about the sweet, nutty flavor of the parsnips really made this recipe worth righting about here. It was delicious.

We had it for lunch, topped with some parmesan cheese, with a few slices of bread.   winter vegetable and lentil soup

Winter Vegetable and Lentil Stew

Cook Time: 2 hrs.

Makes: a big batch!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced in half, rinsed, and then sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, tops included, diced
  • 4 parsnips, diced
  • 1/2 sm. buttercup squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, roughly chopped
  • 2 c. crushed tomatoes with juice
  • about 13 c. water or stock
  • 1 lb. lentils
  • salt and pepper
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, for serving

 

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, on medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, leeks, parsnips, and buttercup squash.  Saute for about ten minutes, til the onions start looking translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients- the tomatoes, water, swiss chard (stems and all!) and lentils, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the cider vinegar and cayenne if you think it needs a little kick.  To serve, top with grated parmesan.

Chicken Tikka Masala, Because I Miss All the Restaurants In San Francisco

I am a country girl, through and through.  I love living wayyyy out in the sticks. I love it that if I want to wear my work boots with manure on them and dirty old jeans and carhartt jacket into town, no one looks at me funny.  My mud-covered pickup truck fits right in here. I love that I only have to brush my hair if I feel like it.  I can butcher a chicken but if you asked me for tips on applying eyeshadow I would be utterly clueless.sunny valley

BUT: boy oh boy oh boy, sometimes I really miss the days of living right in the middle of San Francisco, where I could walk just a few blocks and have my pick of some of the best (and cheapest) ethnic foods I’ve ever tasted, anywhere. Cities are awesome like that. One of my favorite spots was an Indian restaurant called Chutney, on Jones and O’Farrell.  When I’m in the city I make a beeline there and get the paneer tikka masala, saffron rice and garlic naan. It’s the stuff of dreams.

I like to be very self-reliant and DIY here in our homestead kitchen (remember last year’s Cook it! projects? we made our own pasta bread butter cheese and so much more), and one of the categories that I haven’t written about yet is: Cooking Exact Replicas Of My Favorite Restaurant Foods.  This is one of my favorite categories because I get to eat my favorite foods whenever the craving hits, all without ever having to change into real pants or figure out where I put my keys.

My most recent success story is this chicken tikka masala.chicken tikka masala

I won’t bother re-writing the full recipe, because it’s just from Serious Eats, but I want to add a few notes….

1. The recipe calls for a lot of lemon juice. You may have noticed that it’s winter and there’s tons of lemons hanging around on the trees these days. I made meyer lemon marmalade the other day, but I still have a big bowl of meyer lemons, so what better way to use them up than curry?meyer lemons

2. ….obviously…… this is the perfect recipe to make use of that epic stash of canned garden-fresh tomatoes from last summer.empty jar!

3. I was all excited about using my cast-iron grill pan to grill the yogurt-marinated chicken, but I promptly set off the fire alarm. So instead of actually grilling the chicken first, I just threw the raw pieces right into the tomato sauce.  I’m sure I was missing some charred flavor, but I also didn’t have to cook dinner in a cloud of smoke. It turned out totally delicious and didn’t really matter that I skipped this step.

4. To serve this properly, it’s best with steamed basmati rice and naan or chapatis, but since we’re lazy and had tortillas we just used those instead.

Citrus-Quince Marmalade with Fresh Rosemary

I’ve been having a bit of trouble finding inspiration for preserves this winter.  I went a whole month without canning a single thing, which I think has to be a record since I started canning.  I realized that the reason this had happened is that I started getting my fruit sourcing really dialed in last summer; I used mostly wild berries and plums, stone fruit from our own farm, the fall apples and quince from abandoned orchards were right on the hill where I live, I was gifted a bounty of ripe, juicy bartlett pears right from Redwood Valley.  When it came to citrus season, the idea of actually having to buy fruit seemed so unappealing. In past years, I’ve gone to big farmers markets in San Francisco and bought fruit directly from the growers. I know I would have fun making the trip, and I still think this is a great way to support local farms, but…. I kept hoping some lemons would just fall into my lap.

And they did.

I’m so happy I waited.  Some friends from the city brought us up a lovely shopping bag filled with meyer lemons from their tree on their last visit, and after a record breaking canning dry spell, I was back in the kitchen slicing fruit.  citrus-quince-rosemary marmaladeOver the past few years, I’ve really fallen in love with the whole process of making marmalades.  For my summer fruit jams, I’ve been wanting to keep them really simple: just ripe fruit, sugar, a touch of lemon juice, nothing else.  Good marmalades are often the polar opposite, with ridiculously complicated multi-day instructions (if you want to read more… check out Shae’s post about Why Good Marmalade Takes Time).  The thing is, it seems complicated at first, if you’re not experienced making marmalades, but the process is actually really straightforward and once you get the hang of it, I find it almost meditative — the tedious knife work to get perfectly sliced rinds, the patience involved in waiting for everything. Winter can be dark and dreary, but having the house smell like fresh citrus for several days does wonders.

This marmalade takes two days: day one is for making the quince juice and slicing the grapefruits, day two is for slicing the meyer lemons and cooking off the marmalade. Since the process might be complicated for less experienced jammers, I’m including some detailed instructions first, but scroll down to the bottom for the quick recipe with the measurements included.

Day 1:

Step 1: Make Quince Juice

quinceI was lucky to still have a case of quince in my pantry that I picked all the way back in October.  If you don’t have access to fresh quince or any frozen quince juice, you could substitute apple juice in its place (good quality juice, not the cheap stuff from concentrate).

To make the quince juice, first run the quince under water and scrub the gray fuzz off the outside with a clean sponge. Then remove the leaves and slice each quince into quarters. (Don’t remove the cores). Put the sliced fruit in a large pot with 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice, cover with water, and simmer for an hour or two. Drain the cooked fruit through a jelly bag for eight hours or so.  The juice will freeze very well, or can be used fresh for a variety of recipes.

Step 2:  Slice grapefruit for marmalade
I had a few organic grapefruits that I’d bought at the store that were so sweet, I couldn’t help throwing a few into this recpe.  Oranges would work equally well, or a combination of the two.

In case you don’t know how to slice fruit for marmalade, here’s a little reminder on the method I think most people are using… (again, I have to credit Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven for teaching me this. She is the marmalade goddess).  You may notice that I’m cheating and using a serrated knife- I couldn’t find my steel for my chef’s knife, and this really doesn’t work with a dull knife. You really have to have a sharp knife to get the proper slices and not just squish everything.  Serrated is a decent backup, althought it makes the process take even longer. grapefruitcut off the blossom endsnotch out the white pithy centerslice the fruit into eighthtsslice each eighth into thin wedges

and then you cover the slices with water to soak overnight.grapefruit slices soaking
Day 2: You’ll slice the meyer lemons the same way as the grapefruit and then cook off the marmalade, then it’s into the jars…

Citrus-Quince Marmalade with Fresh Rosemary

The finished marmalade is pleasantly bitter, perfect spread on a crusty slice of whole wheat sourdough bread.

Cook Time: 2 days

Makes: about 12 1/2 pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 5 c. prepared grapefruit slices (from 5 medium grapefruits)
  • 6 c. water (or quince juice)
  • 3 c. prepared meyer lemon slices (from 9 meyer lemons)
  • 4 c. quince juice
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 9 c. sugar

Day 1: Combine grapefruit slices and water in a nonreactive container.  Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.  At the same time, make quince juice using instructions above.

Day 2: Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Prepare jars and lids.

Combine meyer lemon slices with quince juice in a medium nonreactive pot.  Transfer the grapefruit slices to a large, nonreactive pot. Cook both mixtures until the slices are tender, about 15 minutes (the grapefruit slices may take a little bit longer than the lemon slices).  Once both batches are tender, combine them.  Add the sugar, lemon juice and rosemary sprigs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer or passes whatever gel test you like…. I still just use the spoon test, shown here.

 

Skim any foam off the top of the marmalade, remove the rosemary sprigs, and then ladle the hot marmalade into hot jars using 1/4″ headspace, then process for 10 minutes, remembering to adjust for altitude as necessary.

Oh, and one note: While I was cooking this batch of marmalade, I actually ended up splitting it back into two pots. I was afraid that the cooking time would be too long with this larger batch size and that the finished product would taste caramelized. You might want to do this too.

marmalade

 

Pomegranates Are Pretty

I really like pomegranates.pomegranates_MG_1995

They make me feel like I’m eating a bowl of rubies for breakfast.
pomegranatesI’ve made pomegranate jelly and pomegranate syrup in the past, but there’s something so lovely about the juicy crunch of fresh pomegranate seeds that I’ve just been using them fresh this year.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts

This is the best soup that I know how to make. Since I like you guys so much I wanted to share the recipe with you since it’s perfect for the holidays.butternutsquashbisqueMy mom has been making a version of this to serve on Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  I think she got it from either Sunset Magazine or Bon Appetit (an educated guess based on on the huge stacks of Sunset magazines she has in the front closet, years of subscriptions from a time before the internet). I never saw the original recipe, and it’s evolved a lot over the years as I tinkered around with it. This version that I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve settled on and have been making for quite awhile now.squashWinter squash always is a staple in our house since it’s so easy to preserve. We’ll grow a rainbow of different varieties during the summer and then keep them in bins in the pantry for the cold months. My favorites types are butternut, kabocha, and buttercup, although there are so many different varieties that it’s hard to really narrow it down to just those. This soup will work with any combination of what you have, though I have noticed that it doesn’t come out quite as good with pumpkin. Try to stick with varieties with drier, solid flesh, like butternuts. Sweet potatoes or yams will work just as well if you happen to have those.

Oh, and a note to any gardeners who were unsure about this: To preserve winter squash, just cut it off the vine when it’s ripe, leaving the stem attached, and store in a cool, dark place.  Ideally you’ll get them before they’ve gotten frosted on and left out in the rain for days, but I’ve also found some hidden out in the December garden that are still just fine.  Usually they’ll keep for months, but it’s a good idea to check your stash every so often to see if there are any that have soft spots or tiny bits of mold popping up.  That’s all you have to do. They really just preserve themselves.snowy trees

This recipe would be a wonderful light lunch for Christmas or New Year’s, a great for a weeknight supper when it’s freezing outside, or, if you’re busy and haven’t got a lot of time for cooking, make it in advance by a day or two when you have time and then reheat it. It may thicken a bit in the fridge but just add some water to thin it out and check the seasonings again.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 12 c. cubed winter squash (peeled and seeded first*)
  • 8 c. water or stock
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the winter squash and water (it should be enough to cover the cubed squash, but feel free add more. Turn the heat to low and simmer everything for an hour or two. Remove from the heat and puree with your tool of choice (blender, immersion blender, etc.). Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat and stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, topping each bowl with a few tablespoons of blue cheese, a sprinkle of nuts, and some fresh parsley.

Note: The gorgonzola cheese sounds weird if you haven’t tried it before but it’s vital. Don’t skip it or switch to a different cheese unless you’re allergic to moldy cheese or something. I’ve tried it with goat cheese and it’s not the same at all.

*I feel like there are already a million places on the internet that explain how to prepare winter squash. If you need help, just google. The main thing is to have a sharp chef’s knife and just to go for it — it really only takes a minute.

Happy Holidays!

Jam Vinaigrette from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market Chef Demo

I’m pretty excited about this.

So, a couple weeks ago at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market, my friend Amanda from Fairall’s Farm Fresh Eggs & Produce did a chef demo using some of the wonderful items available at the farmers market that morning.  She set up a delicious taco bar with chipotle sausage hash, a zesty salmon taco filling, and a big veggie and egg scramble, which you can find the recipes for here. She also made a huge farmers market salad with a jam vinaigrette that was so damn good I knew I had to write about it here and try to convince everyone on the internet to make too.

I’d never actually bothered making salad dressing with jam before, and it was so tasty that I went home and promptly made huge batch.  I guess  that when I thought about jam for salads, it sounded like it would be too sweet and overpowering.  I still think if you were having a really delicate salad of baby lettuces and sliced radishes, it would be a questionable idea at best.  Amanda’s salad was killer, though, and it’s because she didn’t just use lettuce, but also incorporated sliced cabbage, raw kale and chard leaves, summer squash and salad turnips.   These big, hearty vegetables stood up so well to the flavor of the jam.

Floodgate Farms grew the salad mix used as a base for everything, which in itself was outstanding.  It has more fresh produce than I’ve ever seen in any salad mix, ever, with fresh mint leaves, onion blossoms, sprigs of dill, nasturtium blossoms, purslane leaves, and more.  I’m not always much of a salad girl- I usually would rather have a big bowl of vegetable stew, like a ratatouille or the braised kale and white beans, but this salad mix is so beautiful and full of flavors that…. well, it makes me want to go buy more from them, even though I have a huge garden with plenty of my own vegetables.

Jam Vinaigrette

Cook Time: lightning fast

Ingredients:

  • jam:  I really like the flavor of dark berry or plum jams with the kale and cabbage, especially if they happen to be tart or low-sugar jams, but really, anything you want to use up will be good.
  • oil: I used hazelnut oil when I made it at home,  but anything you have will work.
  • vinegar: apple cider, champagne, sherry– again, whatever ya got.

In a half pint jar, combine two parts jam with two parts oil and one part vinegar. Shake it up. Pour over your salad. Eat.

Amanda’s Farmers Market Salad

In a big bowl, combine as many good salad things as you can find:

  • Salad Mix: different kinds of lettuce, diced onion blossoms, sprigs of fresh dill fronds and dill flowers, edible flowers, roughly chopped mint leaves, cilantro, parsley…. and any other things you can think of.Dark Leafy Greens: like shredded green cabbage, roughly chopped kale leaves and roughly chopped swiss chard leaves.  The more the merrier.  The key to growing really nice greens is to keep them well picked, so go out to the garden and pick any random leaves you can find.
  • Chopped Vegetables: summer squash, salad turnips, and cucumbers, etc.

Dress with jam vinaigrette, top with crumbled chevre or feta to make it even better, and serve.  My little brother ate a huge plate of it and said: “this salad is awesome, and I hate salad.”  So, it’s that kind of recipe, where you get to eat a really good meal, but then you get the added bonus of laughing when your family members who claim to hate kale end up eating a whole bunch of it — and liking it.

Amanda, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful cooking with everyone.  It was delicious!