Marina di Chioggia Gnocchi

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything. I hate to admit it, but I’m just not as inspired to cook elaborate meals in the winter time. This time of year, other concerns tend to take center stage. Simple meals such as yams with feta cheese and salad or baked chicken and potatoes are all I’ve had the energy to create. Not that these things aren’t delicious, they just don’t seem exciting enough to blog about.

have been consciously trying to limit my diet to season items. both in my professional and personal life I’ve been advocating eliminating hot weather veggies from one’s menu. Zucchini, tomatoes, basil, bell peppers…..all these things are being trucked up from Mexico now. It just seems to me that we should enjoy them when they’re at their prime close to home, and not bother with them when they’re picked unripe and shipped such long distances. Not only does the shipping use unnecessary fossil fuels, but these things are way too expensive, and they just don’t taste very good. There’s plenty of things to eat that are seasonal if not local – chard, kale, salad mix, root crops, winter squash, kiwi, potatoes. All of these are delicious, and relatively inexpensive right now. All that said, I have been thoroughly enjoying the delicious Kent Mangos coming from Ecuador and Peru…..

A few weeks ago I finally summoned the energy to cook my Marina di Chioggia. I bought this squash way back in September. It was grown in Willow Creek, and weighed over 10lb. When I bought it it was all dark green, but as it’s aged it’s ripened into a dark orange color. Sitting on our dining room table for so long made it seem like a member of the family. I was a little sad to cut it up!

I didn’t save any of the seeds, although maybe I should have. This would be a fun one to grow. Marina di Chioggia literally translates to “Chioggia Sea Pumpkin.” Chioggia is the town in Italy near Venice where it came from – also the homeland of the Chioggia Beet. This squash is rare, but it’s said to be one of the finest Italian heirlooms, and it’s featured in Barbra Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Traditionally it is used for gnocchi (pronounced nyoki) or ravioli. A friend of mine lent me a wonderful book called The Complete Squash: A Passionate Growers Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds by Amy Goldman and Victor Schrager. It praises the Marina di Chioggia heavily and gives a recipe for gnocchi. I decided I had to try it.

Here’s just half of it cooked. I could barely fit the whole thing in the oven! We ate about 1/8 of it plain with feta cheese and Annie’s Goddess Dressing for dinner the night we cooked it. We eat this meal with either winter squash or yams almost once a week in the winter time. It’s easy, hearty, and healthy. The Marina di Chioggia was really good – very sweet and rich with an almost carmel-y flavor.

Another aspect of winter at our house is the annual ant invasion. This may be part of the reason we don’t cook as much: having to wipe ants off the counter before you begin cooking is just not that appetizing! I’ve done everything I could think of to get rid of them, but nothing seems to work. At least they have good taste – they really seemed to like the squash. This ant was trying to make off with a piece that was way too big for him… was pretty humerus to watch him teetering on the edge of the counter.

The next day we made the gnocchi. the dough was about the stickiest thing I’ve ever dealt with. It’s a mixture of mashed potatoes, squash, flour, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper. You roll the dough out into ropes, cut them into bite-sized chunks, and then press them on the tines of a fork to create these shapes. This sounds simple, but the dough was so amazingly sticky, that we had a hard time of it. I doubled the recipe to use as much squash as possible, but we ran out of time and energy to make it all into gnocchi, so we froze most of it in it’s raw dough form. We figured we could thaw it out and make gnocchi whenever we want to. The picture above is the gnocchi before it was cooked. It’s covered with flour so as to not stick to itself or the pan.

From there it went into boiling water to cook. You cook it in small batches until it floats to the top of the boiling water and then for about 30 seconds more. The whole process of making the dough, forming the gnocchi, and cooking it took about 4 or 5 hours. It seemed like a whole lot of effort for what we got, but it was really good, and we have enough frozen dough to make many more meals. I suppose the first time making anything this involved is always going to be a challenge…..

This is the sauce I made for it. Spicy sausage, Arugula from the garden, walnuts, and cream. It was good, although the Arugula was really strong. I wasn’t expecting it to be since I had cooked some a few weeks prior and we had marveled at how mild it was. I guess the older it gets the stronger it gets. It wasn’t bad, but I wish I had used a little less Arugula.

Here’s the Arugula patch last weekend. It snowed here, which is very unusual on the coast. Big, beautiful flakes fell for more than 2 hours at our house. I don’t think it hurt anything since it melted pretty quickly, but it was fun to watch!

Thai Food and Mexico Excitment

The crocuses are blooming! At home in Wisconsin this is the first sign of spring, but here it happens in the middle of winter. We’ve had some really nice weather the past few days, and I can almost trick myself into thinking it is spring… least until the next big storm comes through…..

A friend came to stay with us last weekend, and we made one of my favorite meals – Tom Ka Gai soup and Pad Thai. I make this meal quite often since we don’t have any decent Thai restaurants in the area, and sometimes I just have to have Thai food. Certainly my methods of preparation aren’t traditional – I just kind of made it up as I went, and considered myself successful when it tasted right.

This is my friend Melanie doing a beautiful job of cutting the Galangal Root (aka Thai Ginger) into chunks. It’s pretty fibrous stuff, and cutting it takes some real arm strength!

Here’s the finished soup. We started by sauteing the Galangal Root with Onions, Carrots, and Potatoes in a little Olive Oil until they were almost cooked, and then I added Chicken Stock. I also put in some Lemon Grass and a few Kaffir Lime Leaves (I have a Kaffir Lime Tree on my front porch, and a Lemon Grass plant in the living room, which is lucky since both are a must for this soup, and they’re impossible to find in any markets in this town.) As all that was simmering, Mel chopped up mushrooms, green onions, and picked the leaves off of a whole lot of cilantro as I fried the tofu. I usually use chicken for this soup, but since Melanie is a vegetarian, we made it with Tofu. It’s really just as good. I cut the Tofu into triangles and fried it in a whole lot of Olive Oil and a splash of Fish Sauce (kind of like Thai Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce is salty and made from fermented fish – it’s totally essential for Thai cooking.) When the veggies were tender, we added the Mushrooms, a can of Baby Corn, and half of the Tofu, the Green Onions, and the Cilantro. Then came two cans of Coconut Milk. This goes in at the end since it curdles if you cook it too much. The last step is to season the soup to perfection by adding Chili Garlic Sauce (very spicy!) tons of Lime Juice, and more Fish Sauce. Mmmmmm…. I was suffering from a cold, and this soup totally hit the spot. I just love the coconut/lime/spicy flavor!

Here’s the Pad Thai. This dish is really easy since I use Thai KitchenPad Thai Sauce. Someday, I’ll attempt my own sauce, but so far I haven’t had the time. Making the soup at the same time is enough! This Pad Thai is a mixture of Pad Thai noodles, Mung Bean Sprouts, Green Onions, Cilantro, Peanuts, Tofu (or chicken,) Eggs (we didn’t use any this time, but usually I do,) Pad Thai Sauce, Fish Sauce, Lime Juice, and Chili Garlic Sauce. It’s handy that both the soup and the Pad Thai have Green Onions, Cilantro, and Tofu – we just used the other half of what Mel had already chopped. The Pad Thai Sauce is pretty sweet – Tamarind Paste, Sugar, and Fish Sauce as the main ingredients. It’s great with lots of hot sauce added at the table!

We’re leaving this week for a two week Mexico adventure! I’m really excited, not least about the food. I love going to open air markets in Mexico and checking out all the exotic tropical fruits and veggies! Here’s a map of where we’re planning on going:

The plan is to fly into Cancun and then make a large loop through Chiapas, and then back. I have hotel reservations for the first two nights and a car rental reservation for the whole time, but that’s it. I want to keep most of it unplanned….a real adventure! I made similar trips with my family when I was five years old and again when I was fourteen, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. We have a good road map and travel guide, so I feel comfortable trusting a lot to fate. We leave Thursday night – I can’t wait!

Happy Humboldt Cows in their Pasture

Happy Humboldt Cows in their pasture. They were grazing so picturesquely when I drove up, but as soon as I started taking pictures they proved what camera hogs they really are!

Here’s a few meals we’ve had in the past weeks…..

First, our favorite “quick and easy” meal – baked Winter Squash and salad with Feta Cheese and Annie’s Goddess Dressing.

The only work in preparing this is cutting the squash and putting it in the oven an hour or so before dinner. They we just use Goddess and Feta directly from the fridge.

The salad mix is local – it is simply amazing right now! The cool weather makes it heartier and more vibrant. Salad like this in January just seems too good to be true!

Beef Stroganoff was actually much easier than I had anticipated. First I browned the beef and set it aside, then added:

Garlic and local Shallots. I cooked these in the beef drippings for a while and then added:

Local Wild Hedgehog Mushrooms. Beef Stroganoff is traditionally made with wild mushrooms.Apparently many parts of Russia have a lot of them, much like we do here in the Pacific Northwest. When all that was pretty well cooked, I added the beef back in and cooked it for a while more. then I added:

Lots of organic Sour Cream, and salt and pepper.

Here’s the completed dish. Traditionally, beef Stroganoff is served with Kashi, a Buckwheat dish, but I didn’t have the time to figure that out, so I just used noodles. That’s how I’ve always had Beef Stroganoff anyway. It was delicious!

For another relatively easy weekend meal, we roasted chicken pieces with olive oil and….

Local Brussels Sprouts….

Meyer Lemon….

Fresh Turmeric. This is kind of an odd item that we sell at the Co-op. It’s a relative of ginger, but it doesn’t have the same bite. It has a mild yet noticeable flavor, and an incredible yellow color.

Local Yellow Finn Potatoes.

and here it is! The turmeric is shredded, but you can tell it’s there by how yellow everything is.

We made apple butter again this week. We had way too many apples to start with (they were seconds from wor,) so we made the biggest batch we had ever attempted. Both of our biggest stock pots were jammed full…..

We cooked it on low for 4 days. We usually process it sooner than that, but we were just too busy to deal with it. By the time we got around to it, it was thicker and richer than ever before….

Christmas 2007

The holidays have been a blur! I barely had time to make everything I did – finding time to blog about it was truly impossible. I didn’t want to give all my Christmas gifts away beforehand anyway. Now all the gifts have been given and I’m free to blog about them!

Along with the Lemon Curd, I gave Lavender Oat Cakes and jars of the tea pictured above. Sort of a tea party in a box…the tea is a mixture of Jasmine Tea, Lemon Verbena, Rose Petals, and Lavender Flowers. It was extremely fragrant and flowery – definitely a feminine blend, but delicious just the same!

Here it is all mixed together

The oat cakes are a Scottish recipe, I think. I remember them from when I was a kid.

The main ingredient is blended oats (pictured above.) Here’s the entire recipe:

3 Cups Blended Oats
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Scalded Milk or Table Cream

Mix Oatmeal, Flour, and Salt. Cut in Butter with hands. Dissolve Soda in Hot Milk (I used half and half,) and add to dry mixture. Roll to 1/8-1/4 inch thick. I used a glass to get the round shape. Bake in moderate oven (325-250) for 10 minutes. The hardest part about the recipe is rolling out the dough. It’s pretty dry and cracky, but I had it down by the last batch!

I added some lavender to the dough make them a little fancier. They were really good – crispy and not too sweet. The went perfectly with the Lemon Curd!

I packed them in cellophane, tissue paper, and in tins. Very pretty!

I also made Chocolate Covered Brandied Cherries.

These Cherries had been soaking in Brandy since July of 2006! We had an amazing glut of Cherries that summer, and I wanted to preserve some. Brandied Cherries seemed like a good idea, but we never used them. Their alcohol content was a little scary by this point! The dark ones are Bings and the light ones are Raniers.

After draining the Cherries, the first step was to coat them with this mixture of powdered sugar, water, and Cherry Brandy. It makes a Play-Dough like substance. You make a ball out of the sugar mixture……

….flatten it into a thin disc…..

and wrap it around the Cherry.

Then you let them cool for a half hour or so in the fridge. Then I double dipped them in chocolate, but that was just too messy to take pictures of! They were a little overwhelming in your mouth, but delicious none the less!

Last, but not least, I made this trail mix – mostly for my brother, who is a student and sometimes forgets to eat. Chocolate Chips, Almonds, Pistachios, Salted Cashews, Pumpkin Seeds, Banana Chips, Raisins, and tiny little pieces of Crystallized Ginger. Not exactly healthy, but it’s all organic and not too unhealthy….

Before I left to go home for Christmas, we ate the last of the local broccoli. It was really dark green, and really good. It’s frosted a few times here this fall, but nothing too heavy. We rarely get a hard frost, even in the winter. The hardest part about growing things in the winter here is that there’s just not enough daylight hours for things to put on much growth. Plants tend to survive, but just sit there without growing. Anyway, this broccoli was delicious! It was the last available from the local farm who supplies the Co-op, but I’m sure there’s home gardeners out there who will be eating it year round.

OK, now just a few pictures from Christmas in Wisconsin. I was home for about a week visiting family. Madison is drowning in snow!

I forgot to bring my camera, but my brother was good enough to take a few….

These are the last tomatoes my Mom had picked before the frost killed the plants in November. They were mostly rotten, but I managed to salvage a a little for our salad. She had been keeping them in the basement…..

This is the Coffee Cake she made for Christmas brunch. I should have watched more carefully how she shaped it…. It’s filled with a raisin/brown sugar mixture. Mmmmm….reminds me of childhood….

Here’s the Brunch spread: Coffee Cake, Roasted Potatoes, (with rosemary, garlic, and capers!) 3 kinds of quiche, a citrus-y fruit salad, a green salad, and don’t forget the catchup! The whole thing was truly delicious – a good variety of flavor and texture, but somehow it all complemented itself really well.

Christmas dinner was Guinness Beef Stew made chiefly by my brother and I. My mom made Irish Brown Bread and Salad to go with it, and my Step-dad made Cheese Cake for dessert. It was quite a scene as we all tried to cook in the same smallish kitchen!

We dredged the beef in a little flower and browned it. We set that aside and cooked onions, carrots, and potatoes in the meat drippings. We poured 2 cans of Guinness in and let it cook for a while. We asked Mom what spices she thought would be Irish, and surprisingly, she said she remembered Curry in the food when she visited Ireland. We decided to give it a try and added just a smidgen of Curry Powder, Salt, Pepper, and Bay Leaves, added the Beef again and some Beef Stock and let the whole thing cook down.

This is just the vegetables in beer. I don’t have a picture of the finished stew, but I have to say, I was pretty proud of it. It was thick and rich and meaty – very hearty, and perfect for a cold Christmas night with my family of Irish descendants. The Potatoes, Carrots, Onions, and Beef were all local, I believe. Thank goodness for root crops, meat, and dairy! Without them life in the upper Mid-West would have been impossible a hundred years ago.

That’s it – Happy New Year!

Pomegranates and Lemon Curd

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. The Holidays are closing in, and like a lot of other people, for me that means not only holiday cheer, but a whole lot of extra stress too!

This year, I’m making quite a few food gifts which I’m sure I’ll document on this blog. The only thing I’ve done thus far is make lemon curd. I cooked it this weekend and canned it so it’ll last till Christmas. Lemons are in season now, although I’ve heard that the supply this year from Southern California (where most lemons grow) is very short. The hard frosts that hit the state last year have a lot to do with it I guess.

I used fresh lemon juice (and some organic bottled juice when I ran out of fresh lemons,) sugar, butter, and eggs (more yolks than whites.) Here a link to the recipe I used. Basically, you cook all of those things in a double boiler till they reach 170 degrees F. The recipe says to then filter out the zest, but I left it in since I kind of like the texture and the bitter contrast to the sweet lemon curd. I poured the hot mixture into half pint jars and “processed” them in boiling water for about 15 minutes. That really amounted to about 45 minutes in the hot water bath since it took the water so long to boil after I put the jars in. Here it is in the hot water.

I don’t have a whole lot of experience canning – I’m a little intimidated by the idea, but this seemed easy enough. Here’s the finished jars – I got a total of 9 half-pint jars. This weekend, I’ll make a bunch of other stuff to go with it.

Pomegranates were on sale at the co-op last week, so I decided to try something creative with them over the weekend. They were small – not the best quality, but organic and super cheap. I’m not exactly sure where these particular pomegranates are from, but mostly they grow in The Central Valley in Southern California. Not local, but not too far.

Pomegranates are an incredibly ancient fruit. They originally came from Persia (Iran.) Since they have the most experience, I figured the Persians would have some of the best recipes, so I decided lookes for Persian pomegranate recipes for a small dinner party I had on Sunday night.

Unfortunately I didn’t get too many pictures of the main dish: Ash-e-anar, a Persian pomegranate soup. Here’s a link to the recipe I loosely followed. I didn’t have a few of the ingredients, and I added some others. This picture is pretty early on in the process:

The final soup consisted of onions, green onions, a beet, garlic, yellow lentils, rice, parsley, cilantro, pomegranate juice, and beef meat-balls. I would have loved to use lamb, but unfortunately there was none to be had at the co-op this weekend. I also really wish I had had the turmeric that the recipe called for. I didn’t realize until too late that I needed it. The recipe also calls for Angelica Powder, which I couldn’t find anywhere. I guess it’s a spice used in Persian cooking. There are definite drawbacks to living in such a small town!

The soup reminded me a lot of Russian Borscht. It was rich and very warming. It gave me a good idea of how versatile Pomegranate juice can be.

We sprinkled fresh pomegranate seeds in the soup, and I also used some on the salad. They provided a great color contrast. This is our super awesome locally grown organic spring mix from Little River Farm- truly one of the joys of living in Arcata – especially this time of year when the local scene consists mainly of root crops.

For dessert I went with the Middle Eastern theme and made stuffed dates. I used to do this when I was a waitress at a Middle Eastern restaurant. These are organic Medjool dates. It’s quite easy to do, and really good. You just make an incision in each date, pull out the pit, and put a few almonds in its place. I sprinkled pistachios on it just for fun. Dates are delicious, but they’re almost too sweet. I can’t eat too many of them in one sitting – but I guess that’s not really a bad thing!

Just a few more quick pictures that I’ve taken recently:

This is the very last of the local lettuce. It’s been frosty this week and it finally did in the last of the G Farms lettuce. In some ways it’s sad to see the season ending. It feels like a final passage into winter. Even if the frost hadn’t killed it, the lettuce was practically done anyway: The lack of daylight this time of year practically stops its growth.

This was dinner last night. It just looked so good, I had to take a picture. It’s a hamburger, but instead of a bun, I chose to have extra cheese, grilled onion, and greens. Mmmmm….delicious, especially with the oven fries. I like finding ways to eliminate wheat from my diet without missing it too much – this was even better than a hamburger with bun! I regret buying the Mexican tomato – it tasted like mushy cardboard. It’s just not worth buying tomatoes this time of year – they get more expensive and less tasty – why do we buy them?

Speaking of non-local food, this is the asparagus that Johnny brought home a week ago. It’s from Argentina – flown up to the US in a cargo plane. This really is some of the most environmentally unsustainable food on the planet – it’s organic, but that doesn’t make up for all the diesel fuel and jet fuel it used to get here. It tasted good, but not good enough to take away the guilt I felt eating it….

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.

Garden Produce

I’ve been displaying my non-refrigerated produce items on our dining room table like this for a while now. It’s turned into a seasonal food altar that I sit and contemplate while I eat dinner. I love the way it changes with the season: in the beginning of September I had plums, peaches and tomatoes; now it’s winter squash, onions, apples, and garlic. The limes are the only thing that aren’t grown regionally, but I just can’t seem to live without them! I think someday I’ll have to move to Mexico just so I can have local limes and mangos……

We had the perfect week-long leftover experience this week. I’m really getting into using leftovers throughout the week in new and exciting ways. It’s a way to use the time I have on the weekend to make quick delicious meals all week.

Last Saturday we had a friend over for tacos. Earlier in the day I started black beans soaking and made tomatillo salsa (the details of which are in the last post.) Towards dinner time I turned the beans on to cook. While Johnny cooked and seasoned the ground beef to perfection, I made fresh corn tortillas. We added grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, fresh lime, chopped tomato, and avocado to make one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Fresh tortillas really make all the difference – The tequila we drank with it didn’t hurt either!

The next night it was just the two of us and I made another very delicious time consuming meal. I had two thick steaks and I wanted to try a Tuscan Style Braised Beef recipe that’s in The Big Book of Italian Cooking. I’ve never cooked beef this way, and it seemed the perfect thing for a chilly rainy Sunday. I had to bastardize it a bit since I didn’t have all the right ingredients, but it still worked well. First I made incisions in the steaks, filled them with chopped rosemary and salt, and tied them closed with string. It called for “kitchen string” which I didn’t have, so I used hemp twine that I have for jewelry making. Then I browned the steaks on both sides and added potatoes, a carrot, an onion, and some sage and cooked that for a while with the meat. I then added a lot of wine (more than the recipe called for since I had a bottle I wanted to use up) and canned plain tomato sauce and let the whole thing cook for about 2 hours. the recipe said 2.5 hours, but we were just too hungry and couldn’t wait. Here’s what it looked like when it was done – the beef was so tender and delicious!

Now for the leftovers part. We had quite a bit of food left over from both of our weekend meals: black beans, a little cilantro, ground beef, and a lot of the cooked vegetables and sauce from the braised beef. On Monday we combined all of these things with the right spices to make some of the best chili I’ve ever had. I was a little concerned that the wine and herbs in the braised beef sauce would make it weird, but it wasn’t overpowering at all. We made some cornbread to finish the meal. We had enough chili and cornbread to feed us on Monday night and again for two lunches during the week. Genius! And we didn’t even plan it that way!

Now back to the items on my dining room table. Right now I’m totally enamored with apples. At other times of the year I go for months without eating any, but this October I’ve probably eaten an average of 3 or 4 a day. We have over 25 varieties at the co-op, so trying them all keeps me busy!

This is my current line up. On the left are two Spigolds, a beautiful crunchy variety that’s grown locally in Blue Lake. The next two are Hudson’s Golden Gem – an heirloom from Oregon. It’s a little soft, but the flavor is great, and I love the russetting. Last year we all swore these tasted just like buttered popcorn jelly bellies, but this year it’s not as intense. They’re grown in Mendocino County, not too far away. The next two are Blushing Goldens from Fortuna. I don’t know much about this variety, other than that I was surprised that they’re so much crisper and tangier than a gold delicious that I had to buy some! The last two are Ashmead Kernals which is a very old English variety. They’ve got a great flavor and the same russetting that I like so much. They’re grown at the same heirloom orchard in Mendocino as the Hudson’s Golden Gem.

The other item of interest on my table right now is my turban squash:

This will probably sit for a while by the Marina di Chioggia while I contemplate its beauty and what to do with it. I’ve heard that it makes a good soup that you serve in the shell. We’ll see if I have the time or energy to get that fancy! Johnny’s been calling it a “Spaceship Squash” which it certainly looks like when stood up with it’s stem on top:

Lastly for my garden update. It’s been raining all week and it’s stayed relatively warm, so my seeds have germinated beautifully. Still no sign of the carrots or garlic yet, but I’m not worried. Here are some of the salad greens. I plan to harvest most of them as babies, so it’s OK that they’re so close together.

Our project for the weekend is to make apple butter. We made our last batch in early September and it’s almost gone. We have apples on the tree by our front door that aren’t that great for eating but will be perfect for the occasion. They’re at the peak of ripeness right now.