Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Have a nice winter!

As of last week my outdoor market season is over. On Thursday morning, the Nichols Farm stand at Daley Plaza was set up to break down easily—the threat of rain and sharp wind taking a toll on early-rising workers. My fingers immediately grew cold as I picked through the apple barrels, wondering what to get in the absence of honey crisps that “weren’t good enough” to be brought to market. The plentiful offerings had dwindled, and, for a second, I wondered whether it would have been better to stop the markets at their peak, to spare us this desolate glimpse into the locavore’s future. “Have a nice winter!” my Nichols buddy called as I walked away laden with Jerusalem artichokes, apples, and cauliflower. Winter. Potatoes. And so it begins.

Here’s a look back at what we got this market season and what we’ll return to next spring when I reunite with my beloved Nichols produce. 
To avoid last winter’s failures, I’ve signed up for Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a CSA much like Peapod.com, but for local organic produce. Our first veg delivery will be Saturday morning and I’m excited for what’s to come. Even the potatoes. (It’s early yet.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Your meatballs are done cooking and you never put a pot of water on to boil? #Meatballproblems

Please don’t let that Jersey Shore reference keep you from enjoying this write up of our most recent Sunday lunch. We had spaghetti meatballs, and they were tasty. 
The meal started with a classic meatball recipe, but I subbed out the milk-soaked bread for ½ cup of whole-wheat breadcrumbs and went 100% beef for the meat. We used all fresh herbs, grown locally and picked that day, and I highly recommend doing the same. Fresh basil, parsley, and oregano each added brightness and subtle complexity to the meal. Grow an herb-an garden, or do your laundry at the house of someone who does. (This advice is getting very, very specific.)
Meatballs: Moist, cheesy, browned, and braised in tomato sauce, perched atop spaghetti! Bonus: these ones didn’t roll out the front door.
I guess that’s all there is to it—if I’ve learned anything from Jersey Shore, it’s that meatballs speak for themselves. And also that spray tans aren't the answer. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What I did this week (when I wasn't biking around and taking pictures of leaves)

It’s been a long, full week here. I started off in NYC with some bachelorette and bridal events—a lot of memberabilia make the hen party photos inappropriate for the Internet, so I can only show you the ceiling of the drag club where we met livin’ large advocate Patty LaBeef. You’ll have to imagine the blended cosmos, lemon drop shots, and sloppy karaoke. The shower was a tamer, tea-themed afternoon at Alice’s Tea Cup, complete with scones, cucumber and ham sandwiches, and champagne (not that the bridal party wanted it).
Yeah, it's blurry... I took it with one eye.
Later in the week, Alex and I hit half-price bowling, a standing dinner engagement on Wednesday, and then on Thursday we had the pleasure of attending a pumpkin carving party—to which I brought my new snack specialty: popcorn pretzel treats. 5 ounces of marshmallows melted into 3 tablespoons salted butter, mixed with 2-ish cups of pretzels and 5-ish cups of popcorn (1/3 cup unpopped kernels).  Spread on a cookie sheet and cut into bars. Salty sweet explosion!
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that Friday found us at PHB for the weekly fish fry, and Saturday morning was a stop at the Original Pancake House. Then we spent a lovely afternoon apple picking. (Or, throwing half-eaten apples at trees and hoping the high-boughed fruits would fall down to us. Turns out we’re those people.)
Fall rolls on!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Squish squash

I have a personal problem that I need to address today. I can’t love winter squash. I keep trying to make it (acorn, butternut, that one that looks like it should just be a pumpkin) and am continually underwhelmed.  This goes against two of my most important blog topics: eating seasonally and loving fall. It is very grave news.
Breaded squash, roasted squash, squash puree, squash pancakes from leftover mashed squash, squash soup—I haven’t loved any of them (and I didn’t even like some!).  Is it something about Muzgaash that won’t allow these overgrown gourds to sweeten properly? If we don’t like squash this time, I told Alex, I won’t make it again.
I decided to try one last squash recipe in an attempt to make myself into a squash person. Nut-stuffed delicata squash. (Skip the sage, use a smaller onion, and add some Brussels sprouts.) Oh good! A vegetarian recipe, that’ll be a nice change for me. Except. I decided to add bacon.

Great idea! I will stuff this squash with everything I love about fall and then I will like squash! Bacon, nuts, Brussels sprouts, let’s do this. Except. As I snuck a piece of bacon from the pan, I ran into trouble. Apparently, this bacon is from some other universe where they don’t make bacon salty.
I had to salt bacon on Tuesday, people.

I. Salted. Bacon.

This is so not okay.

I want to dance fight the person who made this unsalted bacon. You didn’t make this cured pork salty? Are you serious, bro? [Dance moves that shock you].

The fates were telling me something: This isn’t going to work, they said. You can’t trick yourself into liking squash. We won’t let you. We will ruin bacon first!
Except. The squash was pretty tasty. The stuffing was creamy, with a nice crust. The nuts were crunchy, the Brussels sprouts tender. The squash was sweet—though not as sweet as I imagined. Maybe I need to start imagining squash this way. (Maybe I need to roast the squash for a little bit first, before adding the filling—giving it more time to get candy sweet. (Maybe I need to add maple syrup!)) Maybe I need to make this squash again.

(I should confess, when I think about making this recipe again, I imagine it without the squash—with some cubed cornbread, browned sausage, and a little chicken stock—that stuffing would be an outrageous side dish!)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chicken and dumplings, one-pottedness continues

My days of throwing a tomato on a plate with some cheese are over—with autumn comes heavy food, and my man is ready for it. It’s man food season, ladies. I guess this is nature's way of balancing out the thousands of festive gourds I make Alex suffer through his meals with.
Man food! Wow, it’s been a while since we talked about that! And what did we learn last time? Anything cooked in beer will do. 

Cold weather means hot meals. While I understand having to give up the fresh summer veg, I’m less keen on the idea of a many-plated meal. If you are all about the one-potters right now, check this out: Chicken and dumplings! Borrowing a technique from chili-bottomed cornbread, this dish sees veggies and chicken coated in a thick gravy and topped with fluffy cornmeal dumplings. It’s a one-pot wonder! The Oneders’ newest single, “That Thing You Cook.”
And you should cook it. Not only for ease of preparation, but because it’s a very therapeutic meal to make and eat: Methodically chopping the onion, carrots, and bell pepper as the chicken sizzles on the stove. Thyme and butter wafting about the house—those classic home-cooked smells and flavors. Soft, slightly sweet dumplings, that puff up and sink down into the gravy at the same time. Warmth for your belly and your soul.

One(pot)-derful Chicken and Dumplings (adapted from Martha Stewart (obviously))

         Olive oil to coat pan
         2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
         Coarse salt and ground pepper
         1 onion, diced
         1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced medium
         2 medium carrots, diced medium
         4 pinches red pepper flake if you like a little heat
         2 tablespoons unsalted butter
            1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
         1/4 cup all-purpose flour
         1 bottle of light beer (we used Oberon...surprise, surprise)
         1 cup of chicken stock
         1 can whole or diced peeled tomatoes
         Splash of red-wine vinegar
         Dumpling batter

Brown two chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized cubes and seasoned with salt and pepper) in a Dutch oven or large pot. Chop an onion, chop two carrots, chop a bell pepper. Remove chicken from pan, and add the chopped veggies in with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes. Let them get soft, then add flour and thyme. Cook the flour for a minute, then add the chicken stock and beer to the pan, whisking to incorporate the flour and enable thickening. Add in the tomatoes, breaking them apart with a wooden spoon if they are whole. Simmer stew uncovered for 30 minutes. After it has reduced and thickened, splash in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and add corn meal dumpling topping to the stew. Cover and cook for 9 minutes more. Serve. (Careful, it is hot!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Intelligent input, darling—why don’t you just have another beer, then?

Oktoberfest may be over, but Alex and I kicked off our own October beer-drinking extravaganza this weekend with a full-on rainstorm of autumnal activity, starting with a legit fall-time festival and a clan-baked trip to, not one, but two pumpkin farms. 
For our third “Top Chef” sighting of the year, Team Festober headed down to the Chipotle Cultivate festival in Lincoln Park yesterday afternoon to see Richard “Liquid Nitrogen” Blais make fun of foams while preparing chorizo chips, salsa jelly, and liquid nitrogen margaritas. 
Cultivate featured a number of chef-lebrities doing demos, live music, local produce, and beer tents—along with many be-striped and be-plaided patrons, we sampled all that was on offer and I’d bet we’ll be back next year.
After Cultivate, we hit the road Michigan-bound to celebrate the four-year-olds turning five. Despite the afternoon beer, we were able to remember both the presents and the caramel apple cakes. Yeah. Caramel. Apple. Cakes. I reversed this shutterbean doughnut recipe back into muffins, then topped the mini-cakes with caramel and salty ground peanuts. 
The cakes are packed with fresh, local honey crisps and the topping is rich and nostalgic. It’s like turning a perfect autumn treat into a perfect autumn treat.
No October weekend in Michigan is complete without pumpkins, in oranges, whites, and greens—a harvest lush with patterns and shapes. We developed a thirst hunting through the squash crates and taking rides on tractors, horses, and wagons. The thirst was quenched by Greenbush Brewing Company, with a flight that included Undertow, Anger, and Bantam. Craft Beer has the best names. The request also went in with a note for “no Closure.” Oh fo reals.
The coming frost means one real problem for our household: the season for our beloved Oberon is over. We were pleased when we managed to get the final six-pack of the brew from our local liquor purveyor. We were even more pleased to find that summer rolls on in Michigan, where we scored a whole case of the stuff to keep us through winter. Never fear, prairie-style stockpiling is still very much alive in the Midwest.