Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge is underway!

This week is the beginning of the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge!

What exactly IS the Dark Days Challenge, you may be wondering.

It's a group of fabulous and talented bloggers who have banded together to cook and eat one meal per week that is completely sustainable, organic, local and ethical (known as "SOLE" in locavore speak) and then write about it. This goal is easy enough when the farmers markets and backyard gardens are overflowing with fresh veggies and fruits through the summer and early autumn, but it's a real challenge to do it through the winter.

The challenge will run from November 27th through March 31st. We'll have to rely on hardy winter vegetables and our freezers and larders to meet the challenge. However, along the way, I'm hoping to gain some recipes and ideas from other "Dark Day-ers" around the country. It's super-fun. Take my word for it.

Typically, "local" is defined as a 100-mile radius. However, the closest sustainable commerical dairy that I have access to is about 248 miles away, so I have defined local as a 250-mile radius in the past. Also, the Dark Days Challenge (as well as the Eat Local Challenge) allows for obvious exceptions such as salt, spices and oil, since it's hard to cook a meal without those, and for most of the country, those items cannot be sourced locally.

If you would like to play along, we'd love to have you! Sign up here, but hurry, as the first week of the challenge has already started. If you don't have a blog, no worries. You can leave a comment on the weekly wrap-ups of all the entries describing your Dark Days meal. The wrap-ups will be hosted by Not Dabbling in Normal on a weekly basis. Also, if you are a Facebooker, you can "like" Not Dabbling in Normal and post pics and blurbs of your meals on its Facebook page.

So. Down to the nitty gritty...

I mentioned that my definition of local is food sourced within 250 miles. I have made exceptions for oils, vinegars and spices.

Last night, I made Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. It. Was. Heavenly. But, in my opinion, when you add bacon, onions and garlic to ANYTHING, it improves it dramatically.

The butternut squash is from Spangler's Greenhouse, and the apples are from Morgan Orchard, both in Monroe County. The onion was from Kroger's but it was organic (I have some local onions, but I was trying to use up the older ones first). The bacon was from Sandy Creek Farm in Ravenswood, WV. The garlic was grown by my mom. The turkey stock was made from my Thanksgiving Tom, which I bought from Almost Heaven Farm in Monroe County, along with some vegetable scraps I keep in the freezer for making stock. I'm not sure where they might have been from, but I'm confident they were at least organic, if not local. I also added a little bit of 2% milk to the soup to make it creamier. The milk is from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA, which thankfully, my local Kroger's carries.

I got most of the ingredients for the soup from the Monroe Farm Market, which delivers twice monthly Charleston. The set-up is actually genius. The MFM has website where customers place their orders online, and the orders are delivered to a handful of locations twice monthly (every week in the summer). Farmers work with the market manager to have their items listed on the website with quantities available a couple days before ordering is open. The website pretty much works in real-time, so when something is sold out, it's just sold out. I have been a member of the MFM for three years, and am absolutely delighted with it. There is a yearly membership fee of $80, but the MFM experimented with having a $5 delivery surcharge vs an annual membership fee, and I think this is clearly the best way to do it. I would encourage anyone in the Charleston or Beckley areas to look into joining. It's totally worth it.

I also had a handful of kale leftover from the big bunch I bought a couple weeks ago, so I made it for dinner, too. It was from Spangler's Greenhouse, and I added a little bit of garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes and bacon grease to it. The bacon grease is from bacon I bought from Sandy Creek Farm. It's so nice to have fresh greens this time of year. Especially with bacon grease on them. Yum.

Here is the recipe, slightly modified by me.

Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon, from The Food Matters Cookbook

1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 slices of bacon, cut into pieces
2 Tb minced garlic
salt and pepper
3 Tb olive oil
1 Tb chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp dried (I forgot to add this)
1/2 cup of dry white wine
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk or cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread squash, onion, apples and bacon in a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Roast, stirring once or twice, until squash, onion and apples are tender (about 35-45 minutes). Add mixture to a large pot (including any juices), and add white wine and sage. Puree with an imersion blender (I left mine a little chunky). Place on medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add milk, stir and serve.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turkey Week wrap-up

Last week kicked off the busiest time of the year for the kitchens of home cooks and bakers. And eaters. Thanksgiving, arguably the biggest foodie holiday of the year, slipped by without me doing a post. I didn't take a lot of pictures of the food I was making or eating over the holiday, so all you're gonna be left with is a stream of consciousness and musings from last week.

The Christmas Creep
In modern life, many of the customs and observances of the holidays as we know them have evolved into a commercial passing. A money-making opportunity for every industry down to diapers. Yes, diapers. I saw a newspaper insert for a drugstore or grocery store advertising disposable diapers printed with big red bows and holly motifs. I wish I were kidding.

Thanksgiving, for a long time, was a holiday with little commercial meddling, save for Butterball and Eagle brand evaporated milk. But now, a new term has been coined to refer to the ever-earlier Christmas shopping season: the "Christmas creep." And this year, somehow, the Thanksgiving dinner, which is essentially what this holiday had become from a very solemn rememberance of the hardships of life as a colony and the charity of Native Americans, has now been reduced even further as just a day to ramp up to Christmas shopping sales beginning at 10 pm.

I'm not bitter. I swear.

My pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkey
The past couple years, I've bought the turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner with my brother and my mom. A couple months back, I ordered an 18-pound turkey from Almost Heaven Farm in Monroe County, via the Monroe Farm Market. Perhaps I should not have gone for such a big bird, but all that turkey meat that I still have left will make good dumplings and soup later this winter. Especially, in planning for the Dark Days Challenge. The turkey was pasture-raised, and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. However, it was not a heritage breed. I have been able to find a heritage turkey in West Virginia (or anywhere nearby) since White Oak Ridge Farms went out of business a few years ago. At least this guy was well taken care of and allowed to engage in some turkey instincts like pecking for bugs and stuff in the grass.

Pumpkin recipes and canned vs. fresh pumpkin
For dessert, I was going to make the pumpkin mousse recipe from the November issue of Martha Stewart Living, but I realized too late in the game that I didn't have any unflavored gelatin. So, this beautiful pumpkin that I grew, will go into the recipe for the Starbuck's pumpkin scones. I made these a few weeks ago, and I think I ate all of them but one. They haunt me. And they were so easy to make. I didn't make the glaze, but they were good without it, or with a little bit of apple butter, actually.

Everyone's got an opinion on whether canned or real pumpkin is better for recipes. I haven't used canned pumpkin puree in years. Simply because I haven't had to. I haven't bought a pumpkin for at least 4 years because people have given me pumpkins and I finally got one to grow this year. My boss had 3 grow from a volunteer vine last year that he brought me. And my mother-in-law buys a bunch every year to do some fall decor in her yard. After halloween, she gave me all hers a few years ago. And I figure why waste them? It's just cheaper to make your own pumpkin puree. And besides, I love roasted pumpkin seeds.

Christmas baking
Last week, I was picking up a bottle of wine from the Capitol Market for another Thanksgiving Dinner, and I happened to catch Cafe Cupcakes open. It recently set up shop in the Capitol Market, and I had read a really nice write up in the paper about it. Also, the owner and baker is a friend of a friend, and I've had her cakes before. I HAD to try a cupcake, despite the fact that I was in between the two Thanksgiving Dinners I was attending last Sunday. Especially since they had red velvet, aka "Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers." They were made of the darkest red velvet cake I have ever seen and copious amounts of cream cheese incing with edible silver beads and red glitter on them. And, they were unbelievable!

After eating Dorothy's Ruby Red Slipper, I've decided I'm going to make some red velvet cupcakes to take to my in-laws' Christmas gathering this year. I made so many two years ago, and last year I didn't make them at all. The recipe I used before is this Paula Deen recipe, and it's good, but not good like Cafe Cupcakes's. The cake isn't as dark red, which I really liked about Cafe Cupcakes's. And the Paula Deen cupcakes leach grease through the wrappers, which is kinda gross. They leave a greasy spot in my cupcake courier or when you put them out on a platter. I need a new recipe, and I might have to do some test runs to find it. (Oh, darn...)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dark Days Challenge is Back!

Hurray! It's back again!

Image credit: (Not) So Urban Hennery

That's right, kids! The Dark Days Challenge is back for a 5th year.

What is the Dark Days Challenge, you ask? It's a pledge to cook one 100% local meal a week, or at the very least, "SOLE". During the dark days of winter... hence the name. Eating local is easy in the summer, but in the winter, when you're left with what food you've put up or what plants can tolerate the weather, it's a true challenge.

Here's a link that explains the challenge better than I can. This is also where you sign up to join in.

After you cook your local meal, write about it on your blog and send the link to these lovely folks: Not Dabbling in Normal. They'll do a recap of all the posts on their blog so you can see what other people are cooking and get some wonderful ideas. Plus, who doesn't love to see their own name and blog referenced out there on the world wide web?

The rules are sorta similar to the Eat Local Challenge, if you're familiar. "Local" is a 100 mile radius. Or a 150 mile radius. Or, a 250 mile radius in my case, since there is a family-owned dairy that produced the milk I buy 248 miles away. Just define what you consider local at the beginning of the challenge, and stick to it. Also, there are exceptions for certain items we take for granted in our daily lives that we just couldn't do with out, i.e. oil, sugar or spices. Just define what will be your exceptions at the beginning when you start and stick to those, too. Remember, it's supposed to be a challenge. And it's fun to come up with dishes based on what you have available. Trust me!

If you don't have a blog, no worries. Just cook right along with us and enjoy reading about what we're cooking. The challenge runs from November 27th to March 31st. The weekly deadlines for submitting your meal for the round-ups will be posted soon. There is also a Google group for the Challenge and someone is working on a hashtag for twitter.

I hope you all will join me. I can't wait to see what you will be making!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Making (and eating) Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza

I might have mentioned how much I love Chicago here before. I love the culture, the shopping, the sights, the views, and mostly the food. I think Chicago is the forgotten foodie city or something. Everyone always thinks of New York City or even Las Vegas, or maybe even Napa Valley, when they think of food destinations in the Lower 48, but they're overlooking one important place: the home of Italian Beefs, Red Hot dogs, and most famously, deep dish pizza.

There's one thing I love almost as much as I love eating my way through Chicago, and that's making homemade pizza. Seriously, I'll never go back to pre-made crust again (I can't say I'll never eat a frozen pizza again, cause they do serve a certain purpose of getting a hot meal in front of you fast... and I might have one in the freezer.) But homemade is SOOO much better.

For a long time, I had a fear of using yeast or making anything that had to rise. What if I messed it up? But I pizza dough was a good place to start learning the mysteries of leavening. It's flat anyway, so if it doesn't rise properly, it's easy to conceal it a bit.

I have been making my homemade pizzas for a while as thin crust pizzas, and they are pretty good. But after I was in Chicago last summer, and I think I might have also saw something on the Food Network or Travel Channel about Chicago-style deep dish pizza, I knew I had to give these a try. My first attempt wasn't bad, but it was a thin crust dough in a deep dish pan. Good, but not authentic.

There is a difference in the type of dough, actually. Chicago style has a bit of cornmeal in the mix, whereas thin crust (New York style, if you will) does not. But, as far as the dough goes, there's not much else that's different. I found a deep dish pizza dough recipe online. This one is pretty close to the one I actually use.

Making dough is exponentially easier with a stand mixer and a dough hook. It provides the "elbow grease" in kneading.

The hardest part about making homemade pizza is that you have to plan ahead a little bit and allow 1-2 hours for the dough to rise. I am terrible at waiting for dough to rise, and I tried my hardest to let it rise more than an hour, but I just couldn't.

Chicago style deep dish pizza is put together kinda reverse from thin crust. You put the meat and cheese in the bottom first before the rest of the toppings. I had half a zucchini leftover from somethign else and some carmelized onions. I actually sauteed the zucchini in the grease left from browing the Italian sausage so they would soak up some of that flavor. Then I topped the pizza with pieces of fresh mozzarella. On manager's special--Woot! Woot!
I added the sauce, which was a little bit of leftover arrabiata sauce I had in the freezer. Then I shredded some fresh parm over the top. You can't have too much cheese.

The finished product--mmmmmm. So yummy. Now, if I only had a Goose Island 312 to wash it down with... Too bad they don't sell those down here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

SOLE on SNAP Day 31

This is the last day, and at least budget-wise, I reached my goal. I think I did pretty decent at eating a balanced, healthy diet, too. I have done better at times over the past year, for sure, but I think I mostly got all my nutrients and met the recommendations of

I had a hard boiled egg. I wasn't really hungry because of the all the Chinese I ate Sunday night. Jeremy didn't eat anything either.
I had the end of the Butternut Squash and Bowtie pasta I made last week. It was so awesome, even leftover 3 or 4 days. Jeremy had a big salad that I grew, some BBQ almonds, some swiss cheese, a diet green tea, a greek yogurt and the rest of some pork rinds that he bought last Friday.
I had a greek yogurt, a small piece of swiss cheese and an apple. I also had a no sugar added hot cocoa after lunch. When I got home, I also had two of the little dried out cakes you get from the Chinese place complementary with your take out.
We made Connie's Zucchini Casserole for dinner and the Big Sweet and Sour Tomato Salad from the How to Eat Supper cookbook. I hate to admit that I have questioned the recipes from this book, but I should always trust Ms. Kasper. I don't think there's a bad recipe (or even a mediocre recipe) in this cookbook. We each had a glass of the Cold Trail Ale from the growlers we brougth back from Mountain State Brewing Company.
We both went to the YMCA to work out. I did 20 minutes of elliptical and 20 minutes on the stationary bike. Jeremy walked on the treadmill for 45 minutes. I burnt 345 calories.

STATS: Gold star for me today!!!
Calories 1,471 (1,816 total less 345 exercise)
Fat 64.2 g
Sat Fat 24.2 g
Cholesterol 347.2 mg
Sodium 1,200.2 mg
Carbs 195.4 g
Fiber 14.8 g (def could have done better here)
Sugars 65 g
Protien 55.7 g

I didn't meet the recommendations today on protein and fruit. I don't eat a lot of fruit, I've noticed, since I started looking over the MyPlate report on LoseIt! It's not in season now, except apples. I eat what's in season. I'm eating apples and frozen blueberries. Maybe I should make more of an effort? I also didn't get the recommended servings of protein, but there's too sides to every coin. It was Monday, and I did go Meatless for Monday. On purpose.

Stay tuned for a recap of the whole project post.

SOLE on SNAP Days 28 through 30. No diary but a foodie road trip.

I didn't track much of what I ate over the weekend because we were out and about. Nonetheless, here's my recap.

Friday, October 28th
I had a half a cup of old fashioned oats with about 3 Tb of half and half, a few walnuts, frozen blueberries and about 1 tsp of honey. I also made both Jeremy and I a cup of coffee, mine with half and half from Homestead Creamery, and his with Coffeemate Natural Bliss creamer.
I had leftover Bowtie Pasta with Butternut Squash and Kale from dinner two nights ago. I was just as amazing leftover. Jeremy had lunch out with some coworkers at McDonalds because one of them had a hankerin' for a McRib. Gross.
I had a small apple and two peeps that I brought into work to share. When I went to the Halloween party monday night, someone gave me a package of peeps. I'm not crazy about them, so I figured I'd spread the love. I also had another small apple and a stick of Sargento snack cheese. Before I left for Princeton, I had a handful of BBQ almonds and a Fiber One 90 calorie bar.
I had to go to Princeton to an event for a community group I belong to. I was going with a group from Charleston, and we were leaving pretty much as soon as I got off work. There was a reception after the event, that was pot luck. It was typical fare for potluck receptions, I suppose: finger sandwiches, meatballs, veggie and fruit tray and cake. Jeremy went bow hunting in Clay County, and went to his parents for dinner. He had chilli.

I didn't put anything I had at dinner in my LoseIt! App, so I didn't include my stats here since they were incomplete.

Saturday, October 29th
We decided to take a road trip to Thomas on Saturday. We had a hankering for some Hellbender Burritos and some Moutain State Brewing Co. beer. A long way to drive for a craving, but we had no plans and we absolutely love visiting that part of the state.

I had "The Admiral" and Jeremy had the "Hellbender" with shrimp. This is a great place for vegetarians because all the burritos can be made with seitan substituted for the meat. And they also have several vegetarian offerings on th menu. We got there right before the start of the WVU game, and the place was filling up fast. Jeremy's burrito looked awesome, but I'm not a big fan of buffalo sauce, so I didn't try it. He said it was off the meat rack. They also have on tap beer from the Mountain State Brewing Co., which is just up the road. We had a couple of their IPAs while we watched the game and ate our burritos.

This burrito was ginormous.

After we finished our food and beers, we left and headed a few miles away for Moutain State Brewing Co. to get our growlers filled up. They also had the game on, so we watched the rest of the first half there. They had a seasonal pumpkin ale on tap, and I tasted it. The girl behind the bar said a lot of people had been mixing it with the Miner's Daughter Oatmeal Stout, which is one of their permanent offerings. It was pretty bangin. But since it was a limited offering, they wouldn't sell it in a growler and they didn't have it at their other locations. I felt pretty lucky to have gotten to try it. We got growlers filled with the IPA, their Amber Ale and Cold Trail Ale. I can't decide which is my favorite of the four permanent offerings. Unlike some other micro breweries, they only have 4 beers. But they do all 4 REALLY well. I think I might be partial to Cold Trail Ale, which is saying a lotl, since I am a dark stout and porter kinda girl. Cold Trail Ale is a Belgian oat and wheat beer. It's good in summer especially, but also good in winter, as I discovered. There was about 3 or 4 inches of snow on the ground in Davis/Thomas.

At halftime, we headed for Morgantown to stay with my BFF through Preston County. It's not too far, distance-wise, but the road is curvy, so it was a nice roadtrip drive. It was absolutely beautiful, too, with all the snow.

Sunday, October 30th
Sunday morning, er, afternoon-ish, Erinn made us a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and pumpkin muffins and saw us off. When we got back to Charleston, we called in to our favorite Chinese place, Main Kwong, and got take out for dinner. Because this is a food blog, I should note that I reached a milestone on Sunday when I picked up my Chinese food. The lady who owns Main Kwong called me by name when I came through the door, "Ms. Jones." For those of you in Charleston, you'll appreciate the signifigance. She notoriously knows most of her customers' names. And hundreds of people eat here. It's like the best place to get Chinese in Charleston. I had been waiting for her to address me by name when I walked in, so I was stoked. Of course, this probably means that I order from there way too much.