December 30, 2011

Snowy walk at the farm

We're finally getting some snow, so we took a walk at the farm with visiting family.  Alex loved the ice and Penny even tolerated her new snow suit.
New discoveries: this sign and a scary trapdoor in the middle of the barn floor

December 27, 2011

DB Sad Sourdough

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

Jessica of My Recipe Project gave us the task of making sourdough bread.  I really wanted to try a gluten free sourdough loaf but a few failed attempts and a load of Christmas projects to finish pushed it from my mind.  So all I have to offer is a sad picture of one of my moldy starters.  I'd love if anyone could help me figure out why my rice flour starters got moldy and what I should do about it.  Should I vinegar clean the bowl, boil the water first, get a different batch of rice flour?  Oh well, maybe some other time I'll feel up to trying again.  For those interested, the recipes can be found at our host Jessica's site, My Recipe Project, or on this PDF.

My mold-spotted rice sourdough starter

Dark Days Pumpkin Soup

This week's Dark Days meal is a holiday detox one. Even though I didn't eat huge amounts, the refined sugar and rich food I did eat have me reaching for comforting vegetable dishes. Lots of parsley, arugula and kale salads and for lunch today this soup.

Usually I spice my pumpkin/winter squash soups with curry or warm spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc.  But in a search for "winter" books for Alex I found a gem of a cookbook at our library.  It's called The Winter Harvest Cookbook.  Way ahead of the current locavore movement this 20 year old book was reprinted last year and it is full of ideas on how to cook winter produce.  What I like the most about it is that even though meat, dairy and grains are present in the recipes the focus really is on bringing out the best of the seasonal vegetables.

So this time I made my pumpkin soup a little different by following a recipe in the book that called for juniper berries.  I cooked leeks and onions in turkey shmaltz, added cubed pumpkin and a little ground juniper berries.  These softened together for 10 minutes and then I added chicken stock and cooked it for 30 more minutes.  To finish I pureed the soup and tasted for seasoning.  All the vegetables were local and the chicken stock and turkey shmaltz were from local birds as well.  And the apple is from Rennie Orchards.  A perfect little lunch for a Dark Day.
Visit Not Dabbling In Normal on Sundays for the round up of Dark Days meals. You can also visit our coordinator at Unearthing this Life to see some of our Midwest group entries.  

The pumpkin I used was a Jarrahdale pumpkin
The kids on Christmas morning
Alex is showing Penny the gems he got and Penny is holding the doll I made her.  Alex's new rockhound paraphernalia surround them.

December 20, 2011

Dark Days Lamb and Kraut Salad

My lamb from Starlight Hill Farms arrived this weekend so for this week's Dark Days meal I made some pan-fried blade chops with kraut and kale salad.  The kraut and kale salad was inspired by Mother's Kitchen's recipe this week. I also used her kraut recipe to make my homemade sauerkraut, made this fall with cabbage bought at the farmer's market.  For the salad, I used Red Russian Kale and the sweetest little white turnips both from Blackbird Gardens, bought at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons' Saturday market.  I skipped the onion and carrot, used organic flax seed oil and added some anise seeds because I have become very fond of them with sauerkraut.  Thanks Cynthia for your Kraut and Kale Salad and Homemade Sauerkraut Instructions.
Visit Not Dabbling In Normal on Sundays for the round up of Dark Days meals. You can also visit our coordinator at Unearthing this Life to see some of our Midwest group entries.  

I noticed today that the star is even more crooked than it was when I first put it up and that we have a Christmas spider in residence.

Christmas Photo Outtakes

Yes Megan, it is "an impossible task" but that doesn't stop us from trying to get a decent picture of the kids for Christmas sharing.
There were "interesting" faces
And some sweet ones
In the end you have to *try* and enjoy the process as much as the result, in practice I'm still trying to figure that out.
But the sweet moments help.  She yelled "Huggies!" seconds before.

December 11, 2011

Dark Days Borscht with Goat

We went downstate for a quick visit this weekend.  While there my mother served us a delicious borscht that reminded me that I've been making roasted beets too often, some soup was overdue.  For mine, I added some goat meat we bought from friends.  Though the kids have mostly been uninterested in it, John and I were surprised how much we liked the goat.  I have a lamb order from Starlight Hill Farms that will be filling my freezer by the end of the coming week so I decided to finish off the rest of the goat before it arrives.  I'm sure this would be good done with lamb, beef or vegetarian.

Borscht with Goat
In a soup pot, brown goat stew meat (~10 ounces) in some bacon fat. (Did I mention I obsessively save animal fat?) Remove the goat meat with a slotted spoon and set it aside.  Soften an onion, two medium beets, and a small celery root in the bacon fat, seasoning them well with salt and pepper.  The onion I diced but the beet and celeriac I cut into small batons.  Of course wash and/or peel the vegetables first.  Add the goat meat back into the pot along with 4-6 cups of water or stock, a pinch of allspice, a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of dried dill weed.  Stir and adjust seasonings as needed.  Bring the soup to a simmer and cok for 20 minutes, or until the meat is tender.  Add a couple of cups of shredded cabbage and cook just until the cabbage is done to your liking. I like the cabbage still a little crunchy. Taste before serving and add more salt, pepper or vinegar if needed.

Dark Days Challenge Info:
The goat meat came from friends who raised the animal themselves.  The bacon fat is from either my homemade bacon or Gallagher Centennial Farm's bacon.  The onion, beets, celeriac and cabbage are from various vendors from the Saturday market at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  The vinegar I used is Eden Foods Ume Plum Vinegar.  Eden Foods is a Michigan company although I do not know where they source the ingredients for this product.

This Sunday will be the first Midwest roundup at Not Dabbling In Normal.  You can visit our coordinator at Unearthing this Life to see some of the entries so far.  

Penny has discovered a box of her brother's old animal figurines
And Alex got a haircut!

December 6, 2011

Dark Days Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables

My entry for this week's Dark Days of Winter Challenge is a basic meal for us: roast chicken with roasted vegetables, in this case roasted root vegetables.  The chicken is from Hubbell Farm.  The vegetables were all bought at this past Saturday's farmer's market at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.  This batch included turnips, beets, onions, rutabaga and celeriac.  They came from Birch Point Farm, Providence Farm, and Blackbird Gardens.  I seasoned the chicken with dried sage from my garden and rubbed it with molasses (not local but organic) and some more of my saved turkey schmaltz from Thanksgiving.  The vegetables were also roasted with sage, salt and turkey schmaltz.
Posts will be recapped starting this Sunday at Not Dabbling In Normal though it won't include my group (the Midwest) until the 18th. Until then you can visit our Midwest coordinator at Unearthing this Life or check out the blogs of the participants.  Here is a list of the other Midwest Dark Days bloggers:
Detroit Cooks
Dee Dee managing via comments and email

December 5, 2011

Chewy Molasses Cookies (redone grain free)

When I was younger I teased my mother for eating dried dates by saying they look like cockroaches. It had something to do with the translucence and papery skin, which I still find a little eerie, but recently dates have come to my rescue.  In this year's attempt to tackle wheat free baking I have found that dates, and date paste, are my favorite secret weapon for making good grain-free cookies.  This recipe is the first of two cookies that make use of my current favorite method. Using my ever evolving baking strategies I updated a favorite Christmas cookie of ours, the Chewy Molasses Cookie.  The flavor is still there though the sweetness is toned down to match our current tastes.  In my opinion this allows the zing of the spices and molasses to shine brighter.  I suppose I could still compromise and coat the outside of these in sugar but since they were so well received by both kids I think I'll keep them as is.   One experiment I would like to try is to double bake them at a low temperature like biscotti to see if I can get a crisp version as well as this chewy one.

Chewy Molasses Date Cookies 
Makes ~3 dozen small cookies, made using a 1 tablespoon scoop

7 ounces date paste (or ~1 1/3 cup packed pitted dates)*
3 ounces coconut oil (~1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon)*
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 cup almond meal*
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line your baking sheets with parchment.
-It is best to have all your ingredients at room temperature.  Add your dates, coconut oil, eggs and molasses to a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste.  If you are using pitted dates double check them for pits and expect this to take a little longer.
-In a small bowl whisk together all your dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients to the date mixture and process until combined, scraping the bowl as needed.
-Spoon tablespoons of dough onto your lined baking sheets leaving at least an inch and a half of spreading room.
-Bake for 8-10 minutes until puffy.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheets before removing.  It's best to release the cookies with an offset spatula before removing.  
-Baked cookies freeze well but I have found that coconut flour baked goods like these tend to not store well for long periods at room temperature.

*Ingredient information:  I get my date paste from Country Life Natural Foods.  It is relatively dry compared to most homemade versions I've seen but it's great for baking.  My kids prefer no coconut flavor and so we use the expeller pressed oil from Wilderness Family Naturals.  I've used both Bob's Red Mill and Honeyville almond flour/meal in these and both work fine.

December 3, 2011

Where's the snow?

Can you believe our area of northern Michigan is still waiting for a real start to the snowy season?  Living outside of Detroit I always complained that there was no point in living in the cold without it and now luck seems to have brought SE Michigan's weather here.  But I shouldn't complain too much because even though the days are getting much, much shorter we have been blessed with some beautiful sunny days.
Alex loves that the flocks of starlings haven't gotten all our autumnberries yet.
Penny likes chasing after kitties outside.
Nelson doesn't much care for this game.
We put up the tree early this year and with luck we will still have a white Christmas.  
Until then I'm doing some trial runs of Christmas cookies.  

November 29, 2011

Dark Days Fast Leftover Turkey Pumpkin Chili

A super quick version of pumpkin chili to use up leftover pumpkin puree from pie making and turkey from Thanksgiving.  This is made with local ingredients, except the spices.  It was a perfect way to make use of the turkey that we feel obliged to have every Thanksgiving but no one in our family really loves.

Fast Leftover Turkey Pumpkin Chili
Makes about 3 servings

3 cups cubed roasted turkey meat
1 1/2 medium onions, diced
~1 green pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tablespoon turkey schmaltz (or oil)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 pint jar crushed tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
smoked salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

-Cube your turkey meat into ~3/4 inch cubes.  All dark meat would be my preference but I used both white and dark meat in this and was surprised that the white meat was saved by the chili spices.
-Soften the onion, green pepper and celery in the turkey schmaltz along with salt and pepper.  If you're not like me and don't almost religiously save fat from roasting meat then by all means use a neutral oil.
-Add the spices and cook about a minute until fragrant.  Add the pumpkin and tomatoes. Season to taste with smoked salt and black pepper.  The smoked salt really does add depth and improve this quick dish.
-Add the turkey meat and bring to a simmer.  Do not let it boil!
-Simmer for 10 minutes, check seasonings and serve.

I'm adding this to the Dark Days of Winter Challenge.  Recipes will be recapped on Sundays at Not Dabbling In Normal.  Also visit our Midwest coordinator at Unearthing this Life.

Dark Days Challenge info: We got our turkey from Hubbell Farm.  The onion and green pepper are from my garden (I actually used two tiny peppers left from a bunch that I saved right before the hard frost and were left neglected in the crisper). The pumpkin and the tomatoes were both from the farmers market but I don't remember who grew them, the tomatoes I canned in August.  The celery stalk and the spices are not local but all but the cumin was organic.

Other pumpkin chilis I've bookmarked lately:
Primal Pumpkin Madness
Pumpkin chili with venison

The kids were reading Christmas books together.  I love this time of year!

November 24, 2011

DB Filipino Desserts

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

Filipino desserts were chosen to be this month's Daring Baker challenge.  Already wheat-free with lots of eggs and low dairy these recipes were a fun adventure that began with making salted duck eggs.  Raw duck eggs sat on my pantry shelf, curing in a salt brine, for over 20 days before they were boiled and used as a garnish for the sweet rice cake, Bibingka.  The salted eggs weren't that strange in flavor but the texture was unusual.  To complete the authentic flavor, the rice cake bowl was lined with a banana leaf I clipped from my own banana plant.   It was an interesting combination but not something I loved.  The Sans Rival was a more familiar recipe for a chocolate nut meringue, cashew in the original recipe/almond in mine, layered with French butter cream.  The meringue was wonderful, chewy and nutty and a tad crispy.  The lack of real butter in my butter cream was disappointing but mattered little to the kids who haven't had anything frosted in a while.  It was fun to try some new things.  Thanks for the challenge Catherine!

-For the complete challenge recipes visit our host, Catherine, at her blog Munchie Musings.  The Sans Rival recipe is her creation.  For the original Bibingka recipe and more Filipino food take a look at the site Jun-blog.
-My alterations this month were simple.  Coconut oil in place of the butter in the Bibinka and no cheese.  I used Spectrum Butter Flavor shortening in the butter cream, remember that it is unsalted and so you need to add salt to the egg yolks so that it will dissolve.  The butter cream was flat tasting without any salt and added later it didn't dissolve.  If I were to try this butter cream again I would try  adding a single tablespoon of milk (almond or coconut) to cut the waxiness of the shortening.  It did pipe beautifully though!

The chocolate Sans Rival
A vanilla frosted version requested by Alex
My banana plants
Their sacrificial leaf
My flock feasting on $1ea after Halloween pumpkins.  
They graciously provided the eggs for this challenge.
Our dog Perfect, I'm recently trying to get her out with the poultry with the hope that I can train her to help in some way.  Of course I have no idea what I'm doing but she is smart and obedient and starting to get over her puppy craziness.

November 12, 2011

"Gremolata" Balls for the Freezer

To stash the last of my fresh parsley from my garden I made this. It's only sort of gremolata because I added lemon juice and olive oil in an attempt to have it last better in the freezer.  I tried it out on top of roasted beef marrow bones and it was fantastic!  The verdant and piquant flavor cut through the richness of the marrow.  I plan on using the rest of my stash to garnish stewed meat or soup, similar to the uses for gremolata on osso bucco or like pistou in soup.

"Gremolata" Balls for the Freezer
Take a couple of cups of fresh parsley and pulse in a food processor with a couple cloves of garlic.  Add the zest from one lemon and the juice from 1/2 lemon with enough olive oil to moisten.  Salt and pepper to taste and add more garlic or oil until you like the flavor.  Scoop tablespoons onto a cookie sheet, freeze until solid, then store in an airtight container (zip bag, etc).  Serve on top of stewed meat or as a last minute addition to perk up a bowl of winter soup.  To serve: place a still frozen ball in soup or allow one to defrost slightly and then spread on top of stewed meat.  Also very good in place of parsley salad with roasted marrow bones.