Friday, October 30, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I don't mean to brag, but we had a pretty good pumpkin year. I don't know if it was the seeds (from Meadowlark Seeds, a Casselton, ND High School DECA group), the rain, the compost, or the fact that I was actually home to do a little weeding earlier in the summer, but we grew lots of pumpkins. Big pumpkins. The vines were crawling into the bushes; in fact, one pumpkin grew right in the midst of the bushes, hanging suspended in air, never touching the ground. Pretty cool.

As far as pumpkin pie goes, I've learned from experience that trying to make homemade pumpkin puree isn't worth the effort; it's one ingredient that I will happily purchase from the grocery store. We still grow pumpkins, though, if only for some good old-fashioned pumpkin carving.

Well, I guess not quite "old-fashioned" pumpkin carving.

Kent loves carving pumpkins. One of our first years together, he bought one of those pumpkin carving sets with the patterns and little saws - and a tradition was born. Every year he does up one of these jack-o-laterns, and every year the kids comment on how cool it is. Hey, a thumbs up from a 10-year old is still a thumbs up.

So while he carves, I sort through the pumpkin pulp and pick out the seeds. How I adore roasted pumpkin seeds, hot out of the oven, crispy and salty. I think I'm at the age now where I will pick hot pumpkin seeds over candy* as my favorite Halloween treat. I know, I'm showing my age when I pick seeds over sugar.

*Obviously, this does not include peanut butter cups - I will always partake in peanut butter cups.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pick out pumpkin seeds from pumpkin pulp. Place seeds in big bowl of water and swish around to clean and remove remaining pulp. Drain and pat dry. Place seeds on rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt; toss to coat. Roast in 325 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until toasted brown, stirring a couple times while roasting. Enjoy! Also great sprinkled on salads or squash soup.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Squash and Apple Bake

I remember driving through the country with my mom one day. I may have been fourteen, fifteen years old. She asked, “Would you ever marry a farmer?” Being a young woman with visions of business suits and briefcases, I scrunched up my nose. “No way!” Then she altered the question: “What about an organic farmer?” That made me pause, but in the end I was sure that the grass was a brighter shade of green outside the wheat fields and cattle pastures of the upper Midwest.

So I explored. I walked through the sandy soils of Spain, the Alps of Switzerland, the parking-lot-covered swamps of god-ridden Florida, the type-A personality-driven frenzy of Washington DC. My friends and family would wonder where I got my wanderlust, tracking my journey by each travel-worn postcard.

Then I came home. And then I met a boy. And then I felt my toes digging deep into the soil and rooting me to this spot. And in an about-face from that teenage conversation years ago, I’d like to be an organic farmer myself someday.

Well, not a farmer per se. Maybe “homesteader” would be a more appropriate term. A little land, a little cabin, a big garden, a few chickens – this has become my goal, a life of sustainability. I find myself browsing hobby farm websites and looking for land auctions, picking out favorite DIY home plans and pricing out windmills. Does anyone else do this? Or have I just been reading too much Wendell Berry?

I asked my mom to send me the recipe for one of my favorite dishes: squash and apple bake. I always request it for Thanksgiving dinner. Forget the turkey; just make sure we have squash and apples on the table. Since I have both squash (from my garden) and apples (from mom’s apple tree), I wanted to make this warm, comforting dish for myself. So she sent me the recipe with this notation:

Just a little history on this recipe. When my Mom was teaching at the country school near Grassy Butte in 1977, I was 'chief cook and bottle washer' for my Dad and brothers. During that time, I found this recipe in one of Mom's cookbooks, and it has been one of my favorites ever since.

Of course. How did I not realize this before? My mom was a farm girl. My grandma was a farm girl. Before that nearly everyone was some sort of farmer, if only having a garden for themselves. I’m a first-generation urban girl (if you can call Bismarck urban). The first generation to drink milk from a supermarket carton rather than fresh from the cow out in the barn. The first generation to not know how to saddle and ride a horse. The first generation to live in a house built by a stranger rather than family. And somehow, all these life “improvements” have left me unfulfilled. Somehow, I still want to go back to the land and the simplicity of chopping wood, digging potatoes, and feeding chickens. Somehow, I’d be happy to trade my J.Crew sweaters for a Carhartt jacket if it meant freedom in the Thoreauvian sense of the word.

I know I’m romanticizing it. I know that a homesteader’s life isn’t always a rosy one. Nonetheless, every day we make choices of voluntary simplicity, even if it’s something as basic as enjoying homegrown squash and apples. I like to think that a simple dish, much like a simple life, is not only sustenance – it’s an act of grace.

Squash and Apple Bake

2 lbs. winter squash (butternut or acorn)
1/3 - 1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. melted butter
1 Tbls. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 t. mace, allspice, basil, cinnamon, ginger OR cloves
2 baking apples, cored and cut in 1/2" slices

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove seeds and fiber from squash; peel squash; cut in 1/2" slices.
Stir remaining ingredients except apple slices together.
Arrange squash in greased 9x13” pan; top with apple slices.
Sprinkle sugar mixture over top; cover with foil.
Bake 50-60 minutes or until squash is tender.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chunky Apple Butter

Since I usually stick to the freezer to store the fall harvest, I’ve only canned twice in my life.

First time: sweet pickles last summer, right around the time I started that nauseous phase of pregnancy so delicately titled “morning sickness”, even though it’s not really a sickness and certainly not limited to morning. But I heard the pickles were good. I wouldn’t know, as I couldn’t stand the smell of pickles for a long time afterwards. But I digress.

Second time: this apple butter. My mom’s little apple tree produced an astounding amount of apples this year, bushels of perfection which she generously shared with us. And fortunately, this time around I can attest that I have tasted the resulting apple butter and it is indeed delicious – maybe more so just from the satisfaction a row of pretty little canning jars in the cellar gives me.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Canning - ugh, what a pain. Are you going to churn your own butter next?’ It’s not that making apple butter is difficult; it’s actually pretty easy. It just takes some time. Ask friends or family to help, coercing them with promises of fresh apple crisp if needed.

I wanted to make apple butter for little holiday gifts since it’s something that most people like, but don’t really buy for themselves – the definition of a good gift, I think. I don’t have special canning equipment, but from my limited experience it appears that there’s no real secret to it. As long as you have mason jars and lids, you can can (ha, can can) with a regular pot of boiling water (check manufacturer instructions since some foods like meat may require a pressure cooker).

Ah, the sound of popping lids - music to my ears.

Chunky Apple Butter
Adapted from Epicurious - spread apple butter on toast, add it to your cheese sandwich, top your oatmeal with it, heat it up as a topping for cinnamon ice cream – or just dig in with a spoon. I like the rustic chunkiness of this, but if you like a smoother apple butter, just chop the apples finely – they’ll break down in cooking. Makes approx. eight 4-oz jars (I doubled this recipe).

4 pounds apples, peeled and cored (approx. 10 large apples or 25 small apples)
1 cup apple cider
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp EACH ground allspice and ground cloves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Roughly chop apples. Chop about half of the apples into a smaller dice. Combine apples and cider in a large stainless steel or enamel pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half.

Stir in sugar, spices, and lemon juice. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and boil gently for about 25 minutes or until mixture is very thick. There should still be some tender apple chunks remaining. Remove from heat.

Ladle into sterilized jars and process as directed on the instructions that come with your canning jars/lids, or click here for canning instructions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beer-Can Wild Turkey

My husband turned 30 this week. He was his typical cool mellow self about it, no self-pity nor spontaneous purchasing of impractical motorized vehicles. He happens to be one of those people who only get better with age - I’m looking forward to meeting my debonair 64-year-old husband someday. I’m picturing Harrison Ford, but with Tom Brokaw’s graceful demeanor, wearing fly fishing waders.

Of course we threw a party. On the invite, I pulled a Letterman (no, not THAT kind of Letterman, ew) and made a top 10 list of reasons to come to the birthday party:

10. You like Kent and Kent likes you
9. You can DVR Grey's Anatomy
8. It's ok to be a little hungover at work on Friday morning
7. Kids are welcome - no need to hire a babysitter
6. We're eating his favorite foods - it's meat-tastic.
5. Door prizes for anyone who comes wearing something blaze orange or camo
4. Win fabulous prizes playing trivia - all about the birthday boy!
3. Yes, he knows about the party, so you can call him up and tell him how excited you are
2. You don't need to bring a darn thing - just your lovely self
1. Cake.

When you put a phrase like “meat-tastic” on a birthday invite, you gotta deliver, so the menu included barbecued ribs, jambalaya, and the piece de résistance – the beer-can wild turkey.

Wild turkey, much like venison and other game meats, is eschewed by some for tasting too “gamey” or having a dry, tough texture. Although some older animals may have tougher muscles to chew on, typically these problems arise from the cooking of the meat, not the meat itself. We like using the beer can method of cooking wild turkey because a) it keeps the meat moist and b) we get a few sophomoric giggles out of it. Maybe our guests were just being polite, but I didn’t hear a single one complain that our beer-can wild turkey was too "wild" for their taste. But then again, they were probably too busy laughing at our friend that came to the party dressed up as (ready for it?) a turkey. Hilarity.

We happen to have a beer-can holder specifically made for turkey. I know, impulse buy with extra Cabela’s points, but you can make this without the special holder. Just use the turkey legs to make a tripod of support along with the beer can, shift it around to get the weight distributed evenly and you’ll be fine – but be a good boy scout and line the bottom of the oven with foil, just in case. If you really want to impress your friends and influence people, you can do this all on the grill. Turkey costume optional.

Beer-Can Wild Turkey
This isn’t beer-can chicken – you’ll need the bigger 16 oz. beer cans for turkey.

One wild turkey, thawed
16 oz. can beer

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup black pepper

1 Tbls brown sugar
1 Tbls paprika
1 Tbls Montreal Chicken seasoning

Mix up brine in a cooler large enough to hold turkey along with enough water to cover and soak bird in brine overnight.

When ready to cook, remove bird from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Move oven rack to lowest position, removing any other racks, and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix up rub ingredients and rub into the skin of the bird.

Cover a heavy-duty roasting pan with foil. Open the beer and drink about 1/3 of it (don't use a full can with the bird). Push the can up the bottom end of the bird, about halfway. Set the bird upright on the pan, the can and the bird legs making a tripod. Insert meat thermometer into turkey breast. Carefully place upright bird into oven and roast until meat thermometer reads 175 degrees, remembering to test in several places of bird to ensure same minimum temp throughout. With a wild turkey, roasting will take between 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Winter Squash Soup

Monday morning, 7:02 am – I go out the back door with keys in hand, baby gear packed on my back, making a trip to load up the car before waking the baby to get ready to go, and look what greets me.

When we get snow before Halloween, me thinks we’re going to have a long winter ahead.

It has it's positive side, though. No more lawn chemicals wafting through the air. No more “geez, I should really weed the garden” guilt. People suddenly drive more carefully – and those that don’t get a big dose of reality with crushed-up fenders. And a warm kitchen with a big pot of soup is never more inviting than this time of year.

We plucked over a dozen butternuts out of the garden before the snow flew – and I roasted every single one and made a big pot of puree. Be warned: I’m a squash-aholic. Forget sugar plums – I have visions of squash baby food, squash cookies, squash dinner rolls, and of course, squash soup dancing in my head.

I just wanted a basic squash soup – no spicy Mexi-Asian fusion cha cha in my bowl this time around, thanks. I found a French recipe with hundreds of four-fork reviews on Epicurious and now I see why it was so highly rated. It’s perfect: mellow, savory, creamy, the fresh herbs shining through. I even left out the cream from the original recipe since I didn’t have any and it still tasted great. This is just what I want to cozy up to on a chilly snow day…well, there are others that I’d like to cozy up to on a day like today, namely my husband or Gerard Butler. But if I have to settle for a bowl of soup, may as well be a good one like this.

Winter Squash Soup
Butternut or acorn squash works here. To make squash puree, simply split squash in half, scoop out seeds, and place cut-side down on foil-lined baking sheet, roasting at 400 degrees for one hour. The original soup recipe calls for gruyere and a baguette to make croutons to accompany the soup, which would be lovely, but I just used what I had on hand, broiling some farmhouse cheese and extra chopped herbs on a few slices of wheat bread as a side.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
About 4 cups squash puree
1 and 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 and 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh sage

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth, all squash and herbs; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Return soup to same pot. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn Harvest Oatmeal

Yesterday was the first snowfall of the season in Bismarck. Just a flurry, nothing that really stuck around too long, but enough to make you want to burrow your head in a turtleneck and invest in a Snuggie.

It’s a good thing I don’t own a Snuggie, because I’m pretty sure I’d wear it ALL THE TIME, considering how much time I spend wrapped up in blankets and quilts in the winter. Yes, I know robes serve a similar function, but old habits die hard. And if I wear a robe, Kent calls it a "house coat" and I feel like a 75-year-old. Although I think I'll make a great senior citizen some day, for the moment I'll stick with my blankets.

So on cold wintery mornings like today, wrapped up in a blanket with the fraying ends dragging behind me (look ma, no need to mop!), I rummage through the cereal cabinet for breakfast, looking for something…something…something more than raisin bran. Something warm, filling, hearty, earthy. That’s when I go to my old standby: oatmeal.

I love oatmeal. I grew up on oatmeal, eating it every morning as a teenager, huddled over the stove for the residual heat many a winter morning…yes, wrapped in a blanket. That ritual must be hard-coded in my bone marrow now since ten years later, I’m still doing the same thing - but my tastes have grown up a little bit. Oatmeal is a blank canvas for all sorts of wonderfulness. You can put nearly anything in it – Mark Bittman is a big fan of savory oatmeal. Plus, oatmeal fills you up, not out. The following recipe is my favorite way to make oatmeal. Trade your flaky Special K for a bowl full of this and I guarantee you’ll feel better, have more energy, better digestion, clear up your skin, suddenly know how to tap dance…well, you get the idea.

Autumn Harvest Oatmeal
Makes two hearty servings. Please use the old-fashioned oats, not quick-cooking. Quick-cooking oats remind me of what it must’ve been like eating gruel every morning at an English orphanage in the 1800s. Unfortunately, nearly every restaurant uses quick-cooking oats nowadays, a poor excuse for oatmeal that only contributes to its unearned reputation as dowdy and unappetizing. It’s a travesty, since old-fashioned really doesn’t take that much longer to cook and gives a much more appealing taste and texture.

3 c. water
1 and ½ c. old-fashioned oats
1 small apple, peeled and chopped
A handful of raisins
1 Tbls. flax seeds
A small handful chopped walnuts
Pure maple syrup or brown sugar

Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add apples, raisins, and oats; reduce heat to medium and simmer until oats are thickened, about 5 mins. Divide oatmeal between two serving bowls. Top with flax seeds and walnuts. Serve with maple syrup and milk.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Baby Food Carrots

My baby is six months old and eating carrots. C-A-R-R-O-T-S, yayyyy carrots! I'm a happy mama. Happy (half) birthday, Benny Bear!

Baby Food Carrots
Chop approx. one pound cleaned and peeled carrots. Boil in a saucepan with a little bit of water until softened. Puree carrots and cooking water together in food processor. Pour puree into muffin tins to make individual servings and freeze. When frozen, pop out of muffin tin (may need to run warm water on back of pan to loosen) and store in freezer-safe container. Will keep for up to three months.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Roasted Tuna with Green Beans and Asian Cilantro Sauce

I’ve been splurging a little bit lately. I can blame it on stress, seasonal changes, or motherhood, but frankly, sometimes a gal just needs a new pair of boots. I wanted these boots, but found a pair I still liked at TJ Maxx for 1/3 of the price. Um, yeah, I’ll take those then, and throw in a couple sweaters and a lovely red purse – you know, since I got such a deal on the boots. It all evens out, right?

You may be thinking, ‘Beth, be sensible. Pinch those pennies! Don’t you watch the news?’ But I think of the sand-in-the-hand metaphor: the tighter you grasp, the less you actually hold. Then I think of people I know who literally think of nothing but money – and how miserable they are always focusing on what they don’t have. Then I think that I’m thinking too much and notice my baby is gnawing on a lamp cord. Few things bring a person back into the moment than seeing their six-month old chewing on electronics.

Another little treat: store-bought fish. Most people splurge on sirloin; I splurge on salmon. As you well know by now, most of our meals come from the fields and waters of ND, but every now and then I can’t resist a couple tuna steaks. Add in the fancy mushroom mix that costs twice as much as button mushrooms (but they’re so darn pretty) and the last of mom’s garden green beans and you can have a gorgeous dinner on the table in fifteen minutes -which gives you plenty of time to do some more bargain hunting.

Roasted Tuna with Green Beans and Asian Cilantro Sauce
Totally ripped from Epicurious. You must make the sauce - it brings everything together. In fact, feel free to skip the fish and veggies and just make the sauce. Pour it over your leftover chicken. You won't be sorry.

2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves (from 1 large bunch)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 green onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 jalapeño chile with seeds, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
3 teaspoons soy sauce, divided

2 8-ounce tuna steaks
2 cups green beans, halved
2 cups stemmed shiitake or oyster mushrooms

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place first 5 ingredients, 3 tablespoons safflower oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce in processor; puree. Season sauce to taste with salt.

Place fish, beans, and mushrooms in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons safflower oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons soy sauce in bowl to blend. Pour over fish, beans, and mushrooms; toss beans and mushrooms to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until fish is opaque in center and beans are crisp-tender, about 8 minutes. Divide fish, vegetables, and sauce between plates.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fresh Tomato Sauce

How to make a farmer happy: buy 10 lbs of plum tomatoes from him at the farmers market.

How to make Beth happy: fill her freezer with fresh tomato sauce, storing away a taste of summer for those arctic mid-winter days.

I love this idea of filling the larder, socking away bits and pieces of summer's harvest for the long winter ahead. Maybe I grew up reading too much Little House on the Prairie, but I'd love to have a pantry lined with mason jars of corn, peaches, apples, tomatoes...and although canning isn't as intimidating as it appears, the freezer now makes it so easy to store food for winter. Buy in bulk at the farmers market and put it away for the winter - it's such a joy to find a bag of frozen green beans or a bowl of this fresh tomato sauce in the freezer in the middle of January.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Fine Cooking, I'm not usually one to be picky about tomato peels and seeds, but I'd suggest biting the bullet and taking that extra step to peel and seed - resulting in a better-looking sauce with more consistent texture.

10 lbs. plum tomatoes, such as Roma
1/4 cup EVOO
3 cloves of garlic, crushed (not chopped since you'll remove them later)
2 tsp. kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water separately. Rinse tomatoes and cut an X into the bottom of each with a paring knife for easy peeling after blanching. Lower about 10 tomatoes into boiling water, leave them for 20-30 seconds, then with a slotted spoon transfer them into the ice water. Repeat until all tomatoes are blanched and in ice water.

Remove the tomato cores (the hard top part) and then skin from tomatoes - it should peel off easily. Slice each tomato lengthwise on one side so it opens like a book; push out seeds with your thumbs. It's ok if the tomatoes squish in your hands. Chop up any large tomato chunks and transfer all peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes to a bowl.

Heat oil in large pot and add garlic cloves over medium heat until garlic starts to sizzle and turn slightly brown, about 3 mins. Carefully add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Stir in salt, reduce heat, and simmer stirring occasionally until tomatoes have broken down and sauce is thickened, 1-2 hours.

Remove from heat, discard garlic, allow to cool. Use some fresh for pasta or pizza that night, and store the rest in sealed plastic containers. Label, date, and freeze.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bessy's Best Cheese and Yogurt

Can you believe there was a time that I didn’t like cheese? I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I was practically a vegan for a few years there, but alas, life without real ice cream is not much of a life at all. After college, I spent a few months in Switzerland and that sealed the dairy deal. I returned home with some new H&M garb, a couple German dictionaries, a suitcase full of chocolate, and a renewed appreciation for cheese – thank goodness.

Although we are an agricultural state here in North Dakota with cows galore, we don’t have much dairy – and even fewer cheesemakers. Actually, the only time I had local cheese was picking up cheese curds from the old Bridgeman milk store on Main in Bismarck. Not exactly artisan and the little store always smelled faintly like…well, cows, I guess, but the cheese was delish nonetheless. Why didn’t the Wisconsin cheese zeal make it here? ND should hitch its wagon to the WI cheddar train, creating economic growth AND making my taste buds happy. Win win.

Well, we have a start thanks to Bessy’s Best. The little local dairy out of Sterling is now retailing farmhouse cheese along with, yes, the ubiquitous cheese curd. I haven’t cracked into the farmhouse, but the curds are great. Resist the urge to eat them all in one sitting as your colon will have its revenge. But that’s another story for another day…

Bessy’s is also making yogurt. It comes in a plastic milk bottle, the flavor is good, not super saccharine, and the runny texture is PERFECT for granola since it gets into every nook and cranny. I ate this yogurt w/ granola and chopped figs for breakfast all last week and I like to think I’m a better person because of it.

Check the organic dairy section of Bismarck grocery stores for new Bessy’s Best products. If you know of any other ND cheeses – or maybe just favorite cheeses in general to try - I’d love to hear it!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pear Crumble

This is our second pan of pear crumble in the past three days. I guess you could say we're fans of pear crumble. Perhaps admirers of pear crumble. Or maybe devotees...

Regardless, this is what happens when you decide to purchase a 14 lb. lug of pears in a burst of overzealous enthusiasm to start making homemade baby food - and then realize if you puree 14 lbs of pears, your baby will be eating pears everyday until they are seven years old.

"More pears, honey? No? But you like pears..."

So I've been eating pears for the last couple weeks. Finally, they were at the ripeness point where it was bake 'em or freeze 'em. With autumn in the air, I turned on the oven and we started peeling. Fall baking! Yes, bring it on!

Pear Crumble
It's pretty fool-proof to make a fruit crumble. Trust your judgement and add more/less of whatever if it suits you, or substitute whatever fruit you have on hand.

Fill 8x8 pan with peeled, sliced pears (about 8 medium pears). Sprinkle with 1/2 c. raisins, a couple Tbls. flour, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and enough sugar to coat fruit (about 1/4 c.). (If you have lemon, squeeze a little lemon juice in there too). Toss fruit to coat and mix in raisins. In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 c. oats, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. flour, and 1/4 c. butter (1/2 a stick). Mix until crumbled, sprinkle over fruit, and bake until bubbly and browned, about 40 mins.