Chicken Soup

This is the chicken barley soup I made for dinner last night. Johnny and I managed to catch the same cold this week, and we’re desperately trying to shake it. I wasn’t feeling too excited about cooking anything, but it was actually quite easy. I sauteed two leeks, garlic, two carrots, and chicken breast in olive oil, added chicken broth, sliced mushrooms, dried thyme and basil, a tiny rice wine vinegar, and lemon juice. I wasn’t sure how much the barley would cook up, so I added a few handfuls and let it cook for about an hour.

I don’t know if it was the soup, or the yoga routine I’ve been following, but I’ve gotten over this cold much faster than usual. Chicken broth is basically bones that have the marrow cooked out of them. There’s lots of good minerals in there, plus it gives you extra liquids, and the steam is good for the sinuses…..I guess the belief that chicken soup is a cureall goes back to Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Greece. If it’s stood the test of time so well, who am I to argue?

As we were eating, Johnny commented that when he was a kid he thought Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup was as healthy as it got. It never occurred to him that a person could make their¬†own¬†chicken soup. His upbringing was so different from my hippy health food past! He’s a good barometer for me of how most Americans relate to food…… It’s interesting how many levels there are to diet. He was excited by home-made soup, andI was feeling guilty about using store bought broth!

Here’s the current produce line up on the dining room table. I’ve still got the Marina di Chioggia, the Turban, and the Long Island Cheese squashes. I’m planning on making gnocchi with the Marina and pie with the Long Island Cheese for Thanksgiving. It’s probably just be Johnny and I, but I’m not going to let that stop me from cooking. I’ll still get to blog about it!

The larger red apples are Galarinas from one of my favorite farmers in Blue Lake. They’re really pretty – so red with beautiful galaxy like patterns. The flavor is good – sweet, with almost a hint of spice. The little apples are Crimson Golds. We’re going to have these on sale over Thanksgiving, so I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them. They were developed locally in Ettersburg by Abert Etter. They are tiny, cute, and oh so tasty. They really have hints of wild honey……

And oh yes, the persimmons. These are Fuyus from Gilroy. I like the tops – there’s just something about them that makes me happy.

Persimmon Crazy!

I’m a little Persimmon crazy these days. They’re just starting to come into their own – the season will last at least another couple months. So many people think they don’t like Persimmons because they’ve only had them unripe. An unripe Hachiya is so astringent that your face won’t return to a normal expression for a good 5 minutes after eating it. Ripe, however, they are one of the sweetest fruits around. I guess I’m weird for liking the ‘ooey gooey goodness that is a ripe Hachiya Persimmon. You can just suck it out of the skin like pudding! The photo above is from Wikipedia. It captures the color and texture pretty well. I think a large part of the charm of these fruits is their color – it’s the same as pumpkin, but even deeper and more intense. Just what we need during these dark late autumn days!

This is another Persimmon picture from Wikipedia. It’s a Fuyu tree in Japan. The Fuyu are the most popular persimmons because they’re sweet and tasty even when they’re hard. You can eat them crunchy like an apple, but I prefer to wait until they’re almost as gooey as a Hachiya – there’s so much more intensely persimmony sweetness that way.

Back to my own kitchen now. Tonight we had a wild dinner – literally. The main ingredients were Scallops from the sea, Mushrooms from the woods, and Wild Green Onions from our yard.

Here are the Green Onions. They are incredibly annoyingly invasive plant here. They come up when it rains in the fall, bloom in the late winter/early spring, and die back in the summer. They’re pretty and good to eat, but boy are they hard to get rid of! I was weeding these out of a flower bed today and I snagged some of the “weeds” for dinner.

This is a Porcini mushroom that I bought at the farmers market this morning. I’m not sure where it was picked – somewhere nearby for sure. It’s really a nice one. It was one of the #3 grade mushrooms which were priced lower than the #1 and #2’s. This one looks pretty good though – no bugs living in the cap – that’s always a plus! It was $7.00/lb, and it weighed exactly a pound. $7.00 for such a big beautiful mushroom seemed like a deal – they’re usually a minimum $14.00/lb.

These are Chantrelles that I bought at the Co-op on Friday. They smelled fruity and spicy, had a vibrant golden color, and beautiful shape – all good signs! They were picked somewhere up in the Hoopa Indian Reservation by Larry Alameda, the best mushroom hunter around. He almost seems to have a mystical connection to the mushroom world…..

Here’s the completed dish. First, I started the pasta water boiling. I cooked the stem of the Porcini with the scallops in white wine, olive oil and butter. I added a zucchini, garlic, the Porcini caps and the Chantrelles and cooked it all for just a minute or two. I combined the scallop/mushroom mixture to the drained vegetable rotilli which was just done cooking and added the diced Green Onions, Sundried Tomatoes, a little more Butter, Salt, and Pepper. We ate it with grated Romano Cheese on top. Mmmmm…… The Porcini was especially delicious – melt in your mouth delectable. It’s good that it’s so good – we have tons of left overs. Oh how I love left overs!

Meditations on a Squash

This is what the rodents who live close by are eating! They’ve been gnawing on the last few apples in our tree and knocking them down one by one. Every morning when I leave for work there’s one or two more on the sidewalk. At least we can be sure that none of the apples are going to waste, and no rodents are going hungry!

To make up for my lack of imagination on Thanksgiving, I decided to make an elaborate meal this Sunday. I had a very large Long Island Cheese squash that was beginning to develop spots that would eventually turn soft, so I took the opportunity to to cook it. I wanted three separate courses that all featured the squash, but were different enough to still make an acceptable meal – Kind of like the Iron Chef, except I took my time. I think rushing things the way they do can only lead to compromised results.

Johnny had to cut the squash. It was just too big for me to handle. He cut it into quarters and I baked three of them. I could hardly fit them in the pan! The texture of this squash is nice – It’s a tiny bit fibrous, but very creamy at the same time. It’s a nice dark orange color, with a relatively mild sweet taste. It’s an heirloom from Long Island – named “cheese” because it looks like a cheese wheel. This one was grown on Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley (about an hour North of Sacramento.) Unfortunately none of our local farmers grow this squash – perhaps next year I’ll convince one of them to.

Coordinating the three dishes was a bit of a chore. I basically made all three recipes at once. I’ll describe them in the order we ate them.

For the first course I used the quarter of the squash that I hadn’t baked. I peeled it and cut it into bite-sized chunks. I tossed them with a little flour and deep fried the squash chunks in batches for about 5 minutes per batch. They cooked up really nicely – there wasn’t much breading so they weren’t too greasy, but the little bit of flour that stuck to each piece gave it just a touch of deep fried goodness.

Here they are right out of the fry oil. I laid these out in a pie plate and sprinkled sliced garlic, chopped anchovies, chopped sage sage, olive oil, and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar on top.

I mixed it all together lightly and let it marinate for a few minutes while I quickly browned a few pine nuts in a skillet. Once the pine nuts were added it was done. The whole thing was unbelievably delicious. The recipe I started with called for mint instead of sage, but I decided I’d rather have sage. It was such a great taste combination with the spicy garlic the salty anchovies, and the sweet squash. Mmmmmm……

For the main course I made an Italian potato squash “pie” (I’d call it more of a casserole, but maybe I’m being too picky.) I pureed 1 quarter of the squash (already cooked) in the food processor with about the same amount of boiled potatoes. Into that, I mixed butter, 4 egg yolks, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper (yes this is a decadent recipe!) I cooked up a little sausage into tiny bits and added that too. Finally, I whipped the egg yolks until they were stiff and folded them in. I spread bread crumbs on the bottom of a pan and added half the squash potato mixture on top. I sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on that layer and then added the rest of the mixture. I topped it off with more mozzarella and Parmesan and baked the whole thing.

Here it is coming out of the oven. It was like the lightest, most buttery, creamy mashed potatoes you’ve ever had. The squash is mild, so it didn’t overpower, but it did add a nice twist. It was very filling. We only ate about a quarter of it – we’ll be eating it all week!

For dessert I made pumpkin flan with the third quarter of squash. I’d never done it before, but it worked amazingly well. The first step was to make the caramel. I didn’t have any white sugar, so I used Sucanat, which is unrefined. The recipe said to warm the sugar over a burner till it caramelized. I did, and at first nothing happened. I got nervous when I started to smell burned sugar and it had still not changed texture at all, so I added just a touch of bourbon (which I was planning to use as flavoring anyway.) Immediately the sugar liquefied perfectly. I poured the carmel into the pan I would bake the flan in and set it aside while I mixed up the flan: pureed squash, eggs, brown sugar, and cream. I poured that on top of the carmel in the pan. Finally, I filled a large pan with hot water and baked the flan in its pan within the hot water pan. I have no idea why that’s how you do it, but that’s what recipe said, so that’s what I did.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but this is the flan going into the oven…..

And here it is just out of the oven. I put it in the freezer to cool. After we were done with the rest of the meal, I made a simple warm cranberry sauce with just fresh cranberries, bourbon, and brown sugar.

I pulled the flan out of the freezer and flipped it upside down so that the carmel on the bottom (which had liquefied again as it cooled) dripped down over the flan.

The only problem was that I didn’t quite get it centered on the plate….ah well, next time…..

Here’s my portion with the cranberry sauce on top. I love cranberries with sweet things – they added such a great sour to balance the carmely sweetness.So this was my 3 course meditation on the Long Island Cheese. It was one of the most satisfying (and time consuming) meals I’ve had in a while! We still have one quarter baked squash left… we’ll probably just eat it plain. What a versatile thing winter squash is!

My Marina di Chioggia is changing color!

My Marina di Chioggia is changing color! When I brought it home it was very dark green, and it’s slowly turning a dark orangy pink. It’s name translated means “Chioggia Sea Pumpkin” – it looks like something from the sea. Soon I’m be making gnocchi from it……I’ve just got to find the time!

Life has been busy this past week, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to cook, but I still managed to collect a few pictures….

The satsumas are here! It is truly incredible how many of these little oranges are consumed in ?Arcata this time of year! Last week, we sold about 600 10lb bags, 200 5lb boxes, and about 1500lb of loose satsumas at the Co-op alone! They really are good – so sweet, juicy, easy to peel, and almost no seeds. They’re perfect for this time of year too – extra vitamin C when the cold season is starting to set in. I’ve certainly been eating a lot of them, but I think I prefer the stronger flavored pixie and honey mandarins that come later in the season.

This is a Matzutake Mushroom that my favorite mushroom picker brought in to the co-op for the produce staff. No one else wanted it, so I got the whole thing. The Matzutake is a very expensive symbolic mushroom in Japan. The can be over $500.00 per pound! Lucky for us, they grow wild here and this year there have been tons of them.I had a few friends over for dinner last Sunday, and I wanted to use the Matzutake. I had been wanting to roast a chicken, so I decided to have a pre-Thanksgiving meal: roasted chicken with matzutake stuffing.I used some old bread for the stuffing, and added sauteed onions shallots and celery, hazelnuts, Matzutakes, a few eggs, and salt and pepper. I cooked some of it in the chicken, and some separately in a pan. One of the guests was vegetarian, and I was a little nervous having a vegetarian over for roast chicken – but she loved the stuffing! The mushrooms were good – they held their own, but didn’t overpower.

Here’s the chicken right out of the oven. I cooked it to 185 degrees. It was very well done, but still moist – it practically fell apart when Johnny tried to cut it.

These are New Zealand Guava that one of our guests brought. She has a tree in a pot that lives on her porch. They were really good – like huckleberries with a tropical flavor.

The food was good, but these margaritas were the star of the night. Our group of friends had discovered Passion Fruit margaritas a while back, and we wanted to experience them one more time before the passion fruit season ends. There’s a Portugese lady in Arcata who grows Passion Fruit in her greenhouse and sells them to the Co-op. She brought in her last load of them this week. The margaritas were tequila, orange liquor, lime juice, and Passion Fruit. A friend brought strawberries, so we added them too, shook them in a shaker, and drank them. A good time was had by all!

Later in the week, I decided to take full advantage of the left over chicken and make soup. This is the chicken bones starting to cook into broth. first I stripped all the usable meat from the carcass, and then boiled all the bones for a few hours. I drained the broth from the bones and used it as a base for chicken soup. It ended up being Thanksgiving day before I had any time to make the soup, so that’s what we had for Thanksgiving dinner.

Since it was Thanksgiving, I decided to make the meal kind of special and we made dolmas to go with our soup. This is the filling: rice, ground lamb, roasted yellow pepper, oregano and lime (to tie in with the soup.)

Here they are rolled up in the grape leaves. Johnny did the rolling – he did well! They were delicious! We only ate about half of them, and the leftovers are great for lunches.