I Ran Away To The Fog

At the end of July, I started going a little bit crazy because I was working too hard. Plus it was about a billion degrees outside (and inside, too, since our off-the-grid barn doesn’t exactly have central air). So I ran away to the fog.

It was amazing. J. and I found icy cold creeks and went wading with minnows.

We had a picnic in the redwoods…

… and went to this awesome store with stuffed animals all over the walls and gold-mining equipment for sale, and an old dude that talked to me about hiking into the mountains of Alaska where he made $360,000 off of his gold claim in one week. 

We found treasure in the tidepools.

We camped next to the ocean.

which reminds me of this:

I have lost myself in the sea many times

with my ear full of freshly cut flowers

with my tongue full of love and agony

– Garcia-Lorca, Gacela of the Flight

We ate lots of things from the ocean, of course. Clams and oysters and other fish-related things.

We brought the cast iron dutch oven with us and cooked all kinds of lovely food at the campsite. It’s amazing how good a hot-dog tastes when it’s slow-roasted on a campfire next to the ocean. I highly recommend it.

Campfire Hot Dogs

Special Equipment: Firewood, a metal shovel, Cast-Iron Dutch Oven, or a stick will work too

Cooking Time: 2 hours or so

Serves: however many you want

Ingredients:

  • a pack of hot dogs (or Italian sausage, bratwurt, or whatever floats your boat)
  • a few tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
  • for serving: buns, sauerkraut, whole grain mustard

Build a fire. Wait awhile so the wood starts turning into hot coals (don’t just throw the dutch oven on the fire immediately).  Using your shovel, pull away coals from the main fire and make a small pile of the hot coals. Set the dutch oven on top of the coals.  Pour in a little oil and add the hot dogs once the pot is hot.  Cover, and check occasionally to make sure the pot isn’t getting too hot or cold. If the dutch oven gets too hot, just pull it off of the coals for a minute.

Cooking on coals like this is the equivalent of cooking on medium heat instead of blazing hot. Your pile of coals will stay hot for about 20-30 minutes. Keep adding wood to the main fire and pulling hot coals over to the pile for the dutch oven.  The hot dogs will eventually get all nice and browned on the outside and juicy and delicious in the middle. Serve with mustard and sauerkraut. Eat s’mores for dessert.

Make sure to take care of your fire (put it out with sand or dirt, or you can sit and look at the stars until it dies.) We don’t want to be burning down the forest or anything.

If you don’t have a cast-iron dutch oven, you could just use a stick. It will still taste super good.


Garden Fresh: Carrot Soup with Ginger and Coconut

Our summer carrot crop is finally starting to come in, and I’m starting to see lots of nice big carrots at other farmers market booths too. Unique varieties are popping up in gardens all over the country, from the incredibly vibrant cosmic purple carrots from Baker Creek Seed Company to the rainbow carrots from Johnny’s Seeds.

This soup is all about improvisation, with rich coconut milk and fiery hot thai chili peppers and lime juice and garden fresh veggies.

Everyone knows that I’m the Queen of Lazy when it comes to keeping my fridge stocked with anything to cook with.  (I could say that I am eating local and right out of the garden if I wanted to sound like one of the cool kids…)  It’s really also laziness though, and being way too busy to go shopping.  At the end of a long work day, who wants to stop by the store and buy stuff for dinner? Not me.  This ends in a whole lot of improvisation, which I encourage the rest of the universe to participate in. I could have called this Farmers Market Reject Produce Soup, because it’s really just my leftovers from our booth at the market. You could do something similar and make this soup with from a CSA share or your own garden.  Feel free to substitute yellow summer squash for the cauliflower, or even some of the carrots too, it will still be delicious. (To really get crazy, you could actually substitute any winter squash for the carrots and cauliflower. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, you name it.)

Learn how to improvise when you cook and you can be Queen Lazy with me.  Free yourself from the grocery list, you know you wanna…

Carrot Ginger Soup With Coconut Milk And Lemongrass

Serves: 6 large servings

Cooking Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. roughly chopped carrots, about 3 small bunches
  • 2 small heads of cauliflower, preferably Cheddar*, cored and roughly chopped into large pieces
  • 1 tbs. unrefined peanut oil (or canola oil is a fine substitute)
  • 1 fresh onion, both the bulb and the greens, diced
  • 3″ section of lemongrass, left whole (to remove later)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 2″ section of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp. red mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 small dried thai chili peppers, crushed
  • 6 c. filtered water or vegetable stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • garnish: chopped scallions, basil, mint and cilantro (or whatever you have), a splash of tabasco sauce or hot paprika, and a big squeeze of fresh lime juice
In a large soup pot, heat up the peanut oil on medium-low heat. Add the coriander, mustard seed, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, lemongrass, and onion. Saute on low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. The spices will become very aromatic as they saute in the oil. If you need to add another teaspoon or two of oil to prevent things from sticking, go right ahead. 
Add the chopped carrots and sections of cauliflower and saute for another 4-5 minutes.  Then pour in the water (or vegetable stock, if you have it on hand), turn up the heat to medium and bring everything to a simmer. Cook on medium heat for about an hour and a half (or longer, if you get distracted and forget about it). Add water or stock to make sure the vegetables stay covered as they cook. 
After the soup has simmered for the hour and half, add in the cilantro and coconut milk. Remove the piece of lemongrass and discard. Puree with a hand mixer, in a blender or a food processor until the soup is completely smooth. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. If the soup tastes bland (this part is important, it makes it taste like take-out Thai food) add fresh lime juice, tabasco sauce, and salt, alternating in small batches until it tastes right.
Serve with chopped fresh herbs, hot sauce and limes. This soup is delicious with summer rolls or a small cabbage and peanut salad; it makes a wonderful light meal out of the garden or the farmers market.
*Cheddar is a bright yellow variety of cauliflower that is becoming more popular at farmers markets. The yellow color blends nicely with the carrots, but you could certainly use any variety.
P.S. I know that’s a long ingredient list for supposedly not going shopping before you make the soup.  Really it’s just spices and coconut milk, though. If you do one or two big shoppings a year and pick up a nice variety of dry goods you won’t have to worry about it after that.

Fusilli With Artichokes and Chevre

I’ve been up to my elbows in jam, getting ready for the Taste Of Mendocino event in San Francisco on Monday.   You should come! hell, even if you live in Kansas, it’s not too late! There are going to be so many amazing vineyards there doing wine tasting that the booze alone should make it worthwhile. Plus there will be meat, cheese, eggs, jams, and so much more.

Anyway, yesterday I got home from the kitchen, essentially covered head to toe in sugary goop.  I wanted real food that was totally devoid of anything sweet.  This lovely little dish is easy to throw together if your feet hurt and you’re really hungry, and tangy lemon, olives, artichokes and white wine will make you forget all about any intense sugar experiences that you may have had recently.

Fusilli With Artichokes And Chevre

As with most of my recipes, the point is not to hunt down specific ingredients but to make use of items in the pantry and the garden. Any olives or capers would be great in this recipe. Feel free to toss in some chicken or shrimp if you have some that needs using.  Roasted red peppers would work well too, but it’s not quite far enough into the summer for us to have peppers lying around.

Serves: 4 entree portions

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh fusilli pasta
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 or 2 small spring onions, sliced very thinly (about the size of a shallot or a pearl onion)
  • 1 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 2 tbs. spring onion tops, sliced thinly
  • 1 large asian mustard leaf, sliced into 1/2″ strips*
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh dill, minced
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 c. white wine
  • 1 quart of chunky tomato sauce**
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1/2 c. herbed chevre, crumbled (or whatever your favorite type of chevre is will be fine)
  • 1/4. c. shaved parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

2. While the water comes to a boil, cook the sauce in a large saute pan: Heat the butter on medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and artichoke hearts and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add lemon juice, white wine, dill, onion tops, and asian mustard greens and saute for 2-3 more minutes. Pour in tomato sauce and olives and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reached your desired consistency. If it is too thick, add a splash of white wine. If it’s too thin, cook for another 4-5 minutes.

3. Cook fusilli according to package directions. Drain, and return to the pot. Pour the artichoke mixture over the noodles and gently stir everything together. Top with crumbled chevre, parmesan and a few sliced onion tops. (Optional: If you’re feeling motivated, put the pasta in a small casserole dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese).

*Click here to see the greens that I’m referring to; I know this is a slightly obscure ingredient. Use any quick-cooking greens that you have around, like spinach or young kale leaves.

**We have lots of canned tomato sauce from last summer. If you don’t have it in your pantry, you can substitute any type of chunky tomato sauce that catches your eye in the grocery store.

Basil-Walnut Pesto

It’s been an aggravating week.  Normally I like to have my head in the clouds, thinking brilliant things like “strawberries are really pretty and taste good” and “i like flowers.” Yup. It is a conscious choice that I made…  if  my brain sounds like something that a second-grader might write as a caption for a picture drawn with crayons, it tends to mean that life is pretty damn good. (What this means about me as a person is something that I will worry about some other day).

Unfortunately this week has been an extravaganza of real-world headaches. It’s almost time to get the gardens planted, I have a pile of bills to sort through, and I need to get into the kitchen and make some spring jams for the farmers market. It’s the kind of week where, when I decide to cook something for the blog, my camera stops working and I almost burn out the motor on the blender.  Insert expletives here.

The solution? Fresh pasta, with a ton of cheese and olive oil.  Nothing like some carbs and a bottle of wine to cheer a girl up.

Basil-Walnut Pesto 

This pasta is also great on days when you’re not totally overwhelmed with life.  It’s actually really delicious pretty much all the time, even cold as leftovers. Pair it with some grilled chicken and an heirloom tomato salad and you’ve got yourself a summer dinner party. The key to this pesto pasta being so amazing is that is uses a ridiculous amount of cheese, with plenty in the pesto sauce but then a huge amount stirred in while the pasta is still hot.

Makes: about 1 1/2 pints (I use half for one meal and freeze the rest- this recipe makes about enough to coat 2 lbs. of fresh pasta).

Cook Time: about 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. fresh basil
  • 1 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 c. filted water
  • 1/2 c. walnuts (or pine-nuts, for tradition pesto)
  • 8 oz. parmesan cheese, shredded (4 oz. to go in the pesto, 4 oz. to stir into the cooked pasta when it’s hot off the stove)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 lb. fresh spaghetti noodles, for serving (although dry spaghetti is fine too- I just bought fresh spaghetti at the farmers market the other day and I wanted to use it)

1. Wash basil and remove leaves from the stems. Combine basil leaves, olive oil, water, walnuts, 4 oz. parmesan cheese, garlic, and pepper in a food processor and pulse to combine.  Scrape down the sides a few time to make sure everything is adequately blended together.

2. Cook spaghetti in salted water. Drain, and return to the pot while still hot. Pour half the pesto sauce over the noodles. Add in remaining 4 oz. cheese. Gently fold everything together with a spatula to combine.  Add a crack of black pepper and sprinkle of cheese if you want. 

3. Pour a glass of wine, eat noodles, and stop thinking about stressful things.


By the way, if you make this and want to save the other half of the pesto sauce, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of it so that it doesn’t turn brown. It will keep in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months. It might last longer than that, but I love pesto so it doesn’t really survive that long in our house.

Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

I’m about to embark on a few weeks of travels, which somehow means that I’ve actually planned in advance and finished the April Charcutepalooza challenge a whole week early.

By this point of the Meat Festivities, I pretty much sit next to the computer like a crazy person waiting for the next month’s challenge to be announced.  When I read “Hot Smoking”…. I groaned. Ugh. Really? J. just bought a new smoker a few months ago and it has been Smoke City at our house, with him literally emerging from a cloud of smoke to wander indoors and ask if we have any more meat in the fridge that he can smoke. It’s not that I don’t think the taste of a slow-smoked chili-garlic-brown-sugar rubbed pork shoulder that drips with juice and falls right off the bone isn’t amazing… I just drank a touch too much champagne one night, happened to eat a lot of these smoked goodies, and now, let’s just say that the smell of smoke in my hair and on my clothing can sometimes make my stomach turn. It’s a pungent aroma, to be sure.

Instead of tackling the more complex charcuterie assignments (curing and smoking a pork loin to make canadian bacon or a pork shoulder to make tasso ham) I opted for the apprentice challenge: hot-smoke a piece of salmon.

I have to rewind here, and explain how we go about the whole process of smoking at our house.  Making smoked meats isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming.  Instead of grilling at high temperatures with charcoal briquettes or gas, hot smoking uses aromatic woods to create an indirect, smoky heat.  The long cooking time  and low heat results in moist, incredibly tender meats.  A pork roast or a chicken will be very dark and smoky looking on the outside, but juicy and pink on the inside.

Using the Smoker


There are so many different methods for smoking (you can use a simple Weber grill too), but I want to explain a little about ours.  J. did a ton of research and ended up choosing the 22.5 ” Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker.  It’s a large smoker with lots of versatility without completely breaking the bank. (I did see him gazing wistfully at the massive $2000 metal beasts, but I don’t even know how we would have gotten one home.)  Learning how to use the smoker and get a good fire was much more challenging for me than actually smoking some salmon.  Here’s the general process that I’ve figured out:

Soak the wood chips.

Now put a pile of charcoal briquettes into the chimney starter. Crumble up a few pieces of newspaper underneath it.
Use a long match to light the newspaper, which will start the charcoal burning.

Don’t mess with anything until the charcoal is hot. It will look like this:

Now dump the coals into the metal ring on the bottom grill rack.

The basic concept of all this is to get a really consistent heat going first, and then put your wood on top of the coals after that.  Since you want the coals to burn for a long time, when you put your hot coals on the grill you should also put some new cold ones on top of these.  We also use added a few big chunks of lump charcoal that burn for quite a long time.

Now you can put the middle section of the smoker on top of the base.  Inside this section is a large metal bowl that needs to be filled with water, helping to keep the meat moist while it smokes.

Replace the front cover, put on the lid, and go do something else for an hour or two.  The goal is for the temperature to be around 200-250 degrees.  Don’t get all antsy and try to start cooking right away; If you wait for it, the coals will create the right kind of low heat that we’re looking for.

Once the temperature gets around 200 degrees, open the front and put your soaked wood chips on top of the coals.  In a few minutes, a really impressive cloud of smoke will start billowing out of the grill.  You’re ready to cook.

And Now… A Recipe

Pigs are great and all, but you must try these fish tacos, with citrusy-spicy-smoky moist chunks of salmon, ripe avocado, sweet red onion, tomatillo sauce, roasted sweet meat pumpkin, topped with sour cream and fresh cilantro.  Not only will these totally blow your mind, but …. shhhh….. a healthy charcuterie recipe? It’s true. Don’t tell anyone.


Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

There are several components to this dish, which you by no means have to replicate exactly. Store-bought salsa would be fine, as well as a different winter squash.

Serves: approximately 8, depending on portion size

Cook Time: 1 .5 hrs, not including time to heat up the smoker

Ingredients:

  • Citrus Smoked Salmon (recipe follows)
  • 20 small corn tortillas
  • 3 ripe avocados, diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 large red onion, minced
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 4 oz. container of sour cream (creme fraiche would be good here too)
  • Tomatillo Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Roasted Pumpkin (recipe follows)
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • salt and pepper
  • about 1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil (for a quick drizzle before serving)

Heat corn tortillas.  You can do this several ways- either on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven, placed on the grill, or directly on the burner of a stove.  Each method only takes a few minutes, just to heat the tortilla and give it a light toast.  (about 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven, 2 minutes on a hot grill, or 1 minute right on the burner of the stove).

Fill heated tortilla with whatever looks good to you out of the ingredients listed above.  If you want to make them similar to what I did, one tortilla would have about 2 ounces of salmon, 2 tbs. sour cream, 1 tsp. red onion, 1 tsp. cilantro, 1 tbs. tomatillo sauce, 3 cubes of pumpkin, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper sprinkled over everything.

Serve with cold beer or lemonade on a hot day.

Citrus Smoked Salmon

Cooking Time: 1 hour (not including time to start the smoker)

Serves: 8 or more, depending how much fish you put in the tacos

Ingredients:

1 small side of wild salmon, about 2 lbs.*

approximately 1/2 lb. applewood chips, for smoking the salmon

Spice Rub:

  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper (feel free to use a little less)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed

Soak applewood chips and start the smoker.

Combine spices together, and rub onto salmon.

Put salmon on the smoker, skin side down, and smoke at 225 degrees for an hour.  If you want a more pronounced smoky flavor, leave the salmon on another 30-60 minutes.  Take the salmon off the grill. Cut into rough chunks to put into the tacos. (I like the skin, but you can remove it if you want).

*This happened to be the nicest piece of salmon I had access to; the size is really quite arbitrary.  Normally I would have bought just one small filet and made less of the spice rub.

Tomatillo Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 dried cayenne chili, crushed
  • 15 oz. can of tomatillos, including the liquid
  • 4 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the garlic and crushed chilis for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5-6 minutes (just to heat everything through and blend the flavors together).  Transfer ingredients to a blender or food processor and give the sauce a few pulses, but not enough to completely puree.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over the salmon, or chill and serve as a cold salsa.

Roasted Pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin pairs well with the salmon. It tastes clean and light but still has a rich sweetness.  I used Sweet Meat, which I think has a great texture.  You could also use butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 small pumpkin, with the seeds removed
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin, cut side up, on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Roast for one hour, or until the pumpkin is completely cooked through.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes (or until it’s comfortable to handle). Slice into 1/2″ cubes.

Kale and White Bean Stew

We’ve been busy… planting zinnias, carrots and camelias, getting compost ready for May planting time, making orange marmalade and so much more.

grow!

This stew is the “holy crap I’m way too exhausted to cook anything elaborate but I really want to eat something healthy with vegetables and not just pasta” dinner.  If you have a lot of kale in your life right now, this is a good dish to make. Also if you happen to be short on time, energy or money.  It’s can easily be made vegetarian or vegan if you want. Such a simple list of ingredients, too: greens, broth, noodles, beans, cheese.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Cooking Time: 30 minutes minimum, but you can let it simmer longer

Serves: 6

  • 1 slice of home cured bacon or pancetta, diced (store bought is fine too, but it sure seems like there are a lot of people curing there own bacon these days… you could absolutely omit the meat altogether if you don’t have any in the fridge that day)
  • 1 tsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2 medium bunches or 1 very large bunch of kale, rinsed and roughly chopped (any variety will do; feel free to substitute chard, collards, mustard greens or even dandelion greens, taking care to adjust cooking time for the specific greens that you choose)
  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz. shaved parmesan or romano cheese
  • 8 oz. of uncooked chiocciole noodles available from Bionaturae (substitute large macaroni noodles)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper

1. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil for cooking the noodles.  Season the water with salt.

2. In a large soup pot, melt butter on medium heat. Add diced bacon and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Add the chopped kale into the pot and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until the kale begins to wilt. Pour in the stock and bring the stew back up to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until kale is tender. If too much stock cooks off, add some water to thin the stew out again. Gently stir in the beans, and cook on low for 10 more minutes to bring the flavors together.  Season with salt and pepper.

3. While you are cooking the kale, cook the noodles separately in the pot with boiling water (I cook them separately to avoid overcooking the noodles and ruining the consistency of the broth). Cook to al dente, drain, and set aside.

4. To serve, put hot noodles into soup bowls, ladle the stew over the top of them, and give a few stirs to mix everything together.  Top with a liberal amount of shaved parmesan cheese.  Sweet potato biscuits or sourdough bread are great with this if you’re feeling extra inspired, and maybe a beet salad.

Happy eating and have fun out in the sunshine!

UPDATE: 10/26/11

I wanted to update this post with a local source for my favorite beans in the universe. West Side Renaissance Market in Ukiah sells heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, a farm in Napa. They grow the best beans I’ve ever tasted- they’re meaty, rich, flavorful, and delicious simply simmered in some stock with few or no other ingredients.  Up until recently, I thought you could only buy their beans closer to the Bay Area, and when I discovered them at the WRM,  I bought a pack of their Cannelini beans and made this recipe.  The cannelini beans from Rancho Gordo are huge, the size of lima beans or butter beans. I don’t always follow the proper instructions for cooking with dried beans, but it never seems to matter. If you want to add dried beans instead of the canned beans the original recipe calls for, here’s the instructions:

Cooked Cannelini Beans

Soak dried beans for two hours. Drain. In a large stock pot, combine beans with a lot of water. I never measure…  I would estimate a ratio of about 1 part beans to 5 parts water. Keep an eye on the pot, if the water gets low you should add more water to keep the beans from burning. Add a liberal amount of sea salt and a few sprigs of fresh herbs like bay leaves or thyme.  Simmer the beans on very low heat for about 4 hours, or until they are completely tender but not falling apart. Drain, and set aside until you’re ready to combine them with the other ingredients in the stew recipe above.

The pound package of beans yields more than the two cans of beans called for in the original recipe, so I added another bunch of kale and a little more broth. Just eyeball it for whatever you’re in the mood for, though, and it will be fine.  If you don’t want to put in the full amount of beans, the Rancho Gordo website suggests puréeing the leftovers with some caramelized onions to make a spread for crostini, which sounds pretty divine. P.S. While I’m raving about Rancho Gordo’s amazing beans, I have to also recommend their Yellow Indian Woman Beans.  J. and I love making a huge stock pot of homemade chicken broth (the full deal, with bones, carrots, celery onion, leeks, and parsley) and then using the broth to make a big pot of the Indian Woman beans.  A nice loaf of bread and a salad from the garden complete the dinner, and we eat the leftovers with hot sauce and sunny-side up eggs the next day.

 

Wild Duck Cacciatore (Because It’s Freezing In The Kitchen, and I’m Not Going In There)

We’ve been having some real crap weather in Northern California.  I know I should be thankful for the rain since it means we won’t have to worry about a drought this year, but I’m not feeling it.  When I got home from the farmers market this past Saturday, we were getting pounded with freezing mix and high winds.  My “kitchen” (it’s a barn) has no hot water, no heat, no insulation, and poor lighting, and I was absolutely not going in there to start a cooking project….

Hence this delicious dinner, cooked in the warm, cozy “living room” (also a barn, but with insulation and wood stove):

wild duck alla cacciatora

I have a big cast iron dutch oven that I really don’t use very often, but on really cold days I can just throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot and set it on the wood stove, letting it simmer in my living room for the whole afternoon.  If I have the fire burning already, it’s such a convenient way to cook a big meal without a lot of trouble.  (I suppose this is really the pre-cursor to the electric crock-pot.) Whether you decide for the wood stove or a conventional oven,  I can’t emphasize enough that this dish is all about flexibility and convenience; no need to search out obscure ingredients and make life difficult.

If you do want to cook this on a wood stove, keep a good base of hot coals going to ensure an even temperature for your dutch oven.*

First you need a protein. I used wild duck, which is delicious.  It’s very low fat compared to farm-raised duck, so the stew doesn’t get greasy or feel too heavy; the duck adds a rich flavor vaguely like beef or lamb.

Season your meat with salt and pepper, and then sear in the hot dutch oven with some aromatics.  Since I was lazy and tired, (getting up at 6:30 a.m. picking lettuce in the pouring rain for the farmers market doesn’t always make for proper cooking technique) I didn’t mince the garlic, but it would be better if I did. I put the sprigs of fresh herbs in whole and pull them out later, before serving.

Pick out your favorite veggies, and dice them up for the stew pot while your meat is searing (or before you start cooking, if you’re into planning in advance).

i love me some parsnips

I wild-harvested these from the a forest grove in the product section of the grocery store. That’s right!  Whenever I shop at the grocery store I feel like a criminal, like I’m buying crack on a street corner.  I realize that this is totally irrational.  Anyway, though, the sweetness of the root vegetables pairs really well with duck, and the firm texture holds up really well in a stew.

Saute your vegetables in the fat from the meat for a few minutes. This develops the natural sugars in the vegetables and makes them taste amazing.  Once you’ve done that, you deglaze the pan with the red wine. (When you pour the red wine into the hot pan with all kinds of crusty pieces of duck fat stuck on it, you pull all of those intense flavors off the pan and into what will become the best sauce you’ve ever tasted).  Add some stock, and then some tomato sauce for body and thickness.

Throw a lid on the pot and let it cook, covered, for a few hours. This roasts the meat and cooks the vegetables.  Then take the lid off for another hour and let the sauce slowly reduce, concentrating the flavors and achieving the right thickness.  You can always add more red wine or stock if you need more broth.  Remember to re-season with salt and pepper before you serve the stew.  Serve over mashed potatoes, buttered egg noodles, brown rice, quinoa, or whatever you think tastes the best drowned in juicy stew goodness.  A loaf of bread good be a good thing here too.  I decided to make the Wild Stinging Nettle Spaetzle from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook instead of plain old noodles.  Spaetzle taste like a cross between a dumpling and an egg noodle, and are the perfect medium for soaking up the saucy good part of stews just like this one.   Hank Shaw’s recipe for nettle spaetzle paired well with my duck stew, with the brightness of the greens balancing out the richness of the duck.  If you want to give them a whirl, go here for my full post on how to process nettles and make the dumplings.

duck alla cacciatora on wild stinging nettle spaetzle

Wild Duck alla Cacciatora ….   Fire up that woodstove!

This is a cacciatore in the loosest sense of the word, meaning a “hunter’s style” braised meat dish with wine and vegetables.

Special Equipment: Cast Iron Dutch Oven, Woodstove*

Cooking Time: 7 hours, with 20 minutes of active cooking

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 California wild ducks** (enough for 1 1/2 c. shredded cooked meat)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh herbs: 1 sprig marjoram, 1 sprig sage, 3 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 parsnip
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced into rounds
  • 1 medium rutabaga, diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 garnet yam, diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 c. zinfandel, or whatever red wine you have open
  • 1 pint of chunky tomato sauce (I have this in my pantry, but you can substitute 1 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes. Just know that you’ll need to add some more seasonings, since my sauce is already seasoned in the jar)
  • 1/2 pint chicken stock (or 1 8 oz. can of low-sodium chicken broth)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper

Start a fire in the wood stove and set a cast iron dutch oven on top of it to preheat. (This is the dutch oven I use; It has feet on it so the whole bottom of the pot doesn’t sit on the stove.  It’s really meant more for cooking directly in the fire, but I like the low, consistent temperature that I get using this method.)

Season ducks with salt and  fresh cracked pepper.  Once the pan is hot, add in the two ducks, fresh herbs, and minced garlic.  The ducks will release fat into the pan, but feel free to add an extra tablespoon or two of olive oil if you think the pan is too dry and the garlic is burning.  Put the lid on the pan, and cook for 10 minutes.
The duck should be sizzling and starting to get a little color at this point (add more wood to the fire if it’s not hot enough).  Add in chopped root vegetables and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the red wine, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce, and parsley. Give the pot a stir or two to mix everything together, cover, and cook for about four hours. Open the lid and stir the stew every so often.  If the fire gets really hot and it starts bubbling like crazy you may want to add more stock to prevent anything from sticking.
Uncover the pot.  Remove the ducks.  (At this point I discard the skin because I don’t enjoy eating that much fat, but if you like it, leave it in). Pull the meat off of the bones and discard the carcasses (or reserve them for duck stock or soup). Shred the meat into smaller pieces, whatever size you’d like in your stew. Return the meat to the pot and cook, uncovered, for one more hour or until the stew reaches the desired consistency.  If the stew reduces too much, add some more stock or red wine to the pot to thin the broth out again.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve over spaetzle, noodles, rice or mashed potatoes.

*If you’re not the wood stove – cast iron type, this recipe will work with a conventional oven and any type of dutch oven.  Start the cacciatore on top of the stove to sear the duck and saute the vegetables, and once you add liquid, move the pot to the oven and cook at 300 degrees for 3 hours.

**Meat substitutions that I would recommend: two chicken quarters, 1 lb of beef stew meat, pork tenderloin, or 1 lamb shank or 1 lb. of lamb stew meat. Be creative though, this is just a stew with meat, wine, and root veggies.

Featured Recipe: Stinging Nettle Spaetzle from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook

These spaetzle were the side dish that I made with my wild duck cacciatore the other day.  The recipe is from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook, one of my favorite sources for information about hunting and foraging.  Hank Shaw creates beautiful, upscale recipes for wild foods, and has a book coming out that you can be sure will be on my kitchen shelf.  Finding the Forgotten Feast is on pre-order at Amazon.com here.  His recipes are for dishes that you’d except to find in a high-end restaurant using expensive ingredients, and it never ceases to amaze me that the ingredients are actually all around us, waiting for us to find them.  If you take some time and learn what to look for, anyone can make forage and cook this food.

Wild stinging nettles are high in Iron, Vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals.  They grow throughout the United States in a variety of areas, often in the woods with filtered or full sunlight.  I’ve seen them in growing in open fields and among the Eucalyptus trees near the beach, too.  This website has some good pictures of nettles in the wild.  Don’t forget- when you’re foraging for wild plants, make sure that the area hasn’t been contaminated in any way, whether by pesticides, run-off from a nearby road, or, if you live at my house, pets (dog pee isn’t toxic, but it sure it gross to think about eating it).

There are only a couple of ingredients for this recipe: flour, nutmeg, a little salt and sugar, fresh eggs and some stinging nettles.  The nettles function very much like spinach, so if you really can’t get your hands on any, you could substitute either fresh spinach or frozen chopped spinach.

Whenever I tell people about nettles, I get a lot of comments along the lines of “Yeah, you’re insane, have you touched those things? No way am I eating that.”  I swear to you though, as long as they’re cooked, you’re totally fine and will NOT end up going to the hospital with stingers in your throat.  I promise. It is, however, incredibly important that you protect your hands and arms when you pick them, because those little suckers inflict some serious pain if you touch them when they’re raw.  I wear heavy gloves and a long sleeved shirt or coat and it works fine.  After you pick them, put them straight into some kind of container where you won’t touch them, like a tupperware or a thick bag.  From there they go straight into boiling water.

You’ll want to have two pots of water boiling.   First you blanch the nettles for about 3 minutes to remove the stingers and clean off any dirt or bugs that might be hiding in the leaves.  The nettles are now safe to handle with your bare hands.  In between blanches, shock them in an ice bath to keep the greens from overcooking and maintain their bright green color. The second pot of boiling water finishes cooking the nettles.

The nettles I was able to forage were on the older side, but it doesn’t mean they’re unusable. Their stems were tough and fibrous and they had started going to seed.  If you run into this, just run your fingers along the stem to separate the leaves from the stem (just like cooking with big kale leaves).  The seeds might get mixed in with your greens, but you won’t notice in the final product.  Feed the stems to the chickens or put them in the compost.

kind of messy at this point...

Once you’ve actually got the nettles processed and ready to cook with, you can either puree them or chop them up finely.  The original recipe on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said to puree them with the milk, but my blender just broke, so we’re not doing that.

Squeeze out the water with a clean dishcloth or a paper towel.

Now combine the nettles with the other wet ingredients, milk and beaten eggs.  I happened to be out of cow milk when I made these and so I used soy milk instead.  I know, I know, eew, soy.  The recipe turned out fine though.  I also was distracted and put in three eggs instead of the two that the original recipe called for, and the recipe turned out fine.

dry ingredients combined in one bowl, wet ingredients combined in another

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, forming a sticky, moist batter.  It reminded me of the consistency of a wet biscuit dough.

Transfer the dough to into a colander.

The next step sounds a lot simpler and cleaner written down in a recipe than it actually is.  Hold the colander over the pot of boiling water, and push the batter through the holes so that little pieces fall off into the boiling water.  You probably will end up with a big sticky mess, like I did:

The problem was that the individual piece didn’t want to fall off the colander (maybe it was the accidental extra egg?)  It still works though, just take a small knife and flick the individual pieces into the water.  It will be sloppy.  The point of spaetzle, though, is not to have perfect, uniform dumplings.  The irregular, rustic shapes adds to the charm of this rustic dish.  Just roll with it.

The spaetzle will float to the top when they’re almost done cooking, almost like gnocchi or other fresh pastas. I worked in batches, pulling out the cooked spaetzle and putting them in an ice bath while I waited for the other batches to finish cooking.

Drain off the ice water.  The spaetzle will hold well in the fridge for several days at this point.  To serve, I give them a quick saute in some butter with garlic and fresh cracked black pepper.

Stinging Nettle Spaetzle, from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook

To read the original recipe, written by Hank Shaw, go here. This is my very slightly adapted version.

serves: 6

cooking time: about 40 minutes, with 10 minutes of active cooking time

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. blanched stinging nettles, finely chopped
  • 1 c. milk (soy milk will work as well as traditional cow milk)
  • 3 medium eggs, beaten (the original recipe calls for 2 eggs)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. salt
  1. To process the nettles: Bring pots of water to a boil to blanch the nettles.  Liberally season the water in both pots with salt.  Put about one pound of unprocessed nettles into the water, being careful to transfer the nettles from their holding container and into the water without touching them (to avoid being stung).  Cook for 3 minutes.  Drain the nettles, and transfer into an ice-bath.  Wait 1-2 minutes to let the nettles cool.  Remove from ice water, and wring out any excess water.  Put the blanched nettles into the second pot of water, and cook for 2-5 minutes depending on the age (cook young nettles for just a few minutes, older ones need more time to become tender).  Drain, and rinse with cold water.  Strip the leaves from the stalks and discard the stalks, and pat dry with a paper towel or dish cloth.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.  Whisk together finely chopped, dried nettles, eggs, and milk in another bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. The dough should be wet and sticky, but hold together.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the spaetzle. Transfer the dough to a colander.  Holding the colander over the boiling water, push the dough through the colander so that little pieces fall into the water. Use a small knife to flick off any stragglers that don’t fall right away.  The spaetzle will float to the top of the water, let them boil for another minute, and then they’re done.  It’s easiest to work in batches, pushing through about 1/3 of the batter into the water at a time.  Remove the spaetzle from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ice-water bath.  Keep going until all the batter is cooked and all the spaetzle is in the ice-water bath.  Drain the spaetzle and hold in the refrigerator for up to three days before serving.  The quality, of course, will be the best if you serve them that day.
  4. To serve, heat a tablespoons of butter in a saute pan with some minced garlic, add in the spaetzle, and cook until heated through.  Feel free to add mushrooms, scallions, cream, or anything else that’s exciting to you. These are delicious little noodles and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Three Bean-Three Dollar Chili

I cooked a lot of tasty stuff this week (about 900 different marmalades!), but I thought I’d share this recipe since it was cheap, used a lot of preserved items from this summer, and used a whole lot of dry goods from the pantry.  The only thing I purchased specifically for this dinner was some ground beef and a bunch of fresh cilantro (a whopping three dollars).  It’s a delicious pot of chili, with three different kinds of beans, lots of garlic, dried chili peppers, pickled jalapenos, and a jar of crushed heirloom tomatoes.

garlic and chilis from our garden, canned tomatoes from our garden, onions that we traded eggs for with one of our neighbors down the road, and dried beans from the pantry

This recipe makes a ton of food, with plenty for leftovers, freezing, or a big crowd.  The ingredients are also very flexible; don’t feel like you have to find dried thai chilis specifically, if you have something else similar, that’s fine. Same goes for the dried beans – whatever you have in your pantry will be fine.

dried azuki beans

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 dried thai chili pepper  (minced with a knife or crushed with a mortar and pestle)
  • 3 dried cayenne chili peppers (prepare same as thai chili pepper)
  • 3 pickled jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 1 lb. 96% lean ground beef (or ground turkey, or Gimme Lean, or nothing, depending on your meat preference)
  • 1 16-ounce jar crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 c. dried azuki beans
  • 1/2 c. dried black beans
  • 1 c. dried kidney beans
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • approximately 10 c. water (or stock, if you have it around)
  • 1/2 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (for garnish)
  • 1/2 c. loosely chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish; optional)
  • 1/4 c. sour cream (for garnish)

1. I soaked my kidney beans and cooked them in advance, which I would recommend. Put the kidney beans in a mixing bowl, cover with water, and soak overnight. In the morning, put the beans in a medium sized pot, add about 6 cups of water, and cook on low until they are tender, but not mushy. During cooking, add water as necessary to keep beans covered with plenty of liquid. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

2. In a large pot, bring the olive oil to medium high heat. Add garlic, onions, cumin, and dried chilies. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until onions are translucent and spices are aromatic. Add ground beef, pickled jalapenos, garlic powder, and paprika, and continue to cook until ground beef is nicely browned.

3. Pour in the jar of crushed tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, and about 6 c. of water. Stir everything together. Add in dried black beans and adzuki beans. Cook, uncovered, on low heat,  for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary.

4. Add the cooked kidney beans that were set aside earlier, stir everything together well. Add another few cups of water and cook on very low heat for another hour or two. Season with salt and pepper and sugar (we added sugar to balance out some of the heat, you can also use honey or leave this step out altogether).  During cooking, a lot of liquid will reduce off, and you should adjust how watery your chili is according to your own preference. Most of the water cooked off of ours and it was fairly thick.

5. Serve hot, with cornbread, and garnished with cheese, sour cream, and fresh cilantro.