Rooting Around

So it’s a new farm share season–a new year AND a new season, actually. The winter share is delivered only every other week, and it tends to be pretty much the same from week to week: roasted tomatoes (in jars), carrots, roasted and frozen butternut squash, spinach from the greenhouse, and root veggies if they’re around (turnips, rutabagas). Truth be told, these are some of my favorite deliveries, not least because everything other than the spinach will keep for quite a long time. I think I didn’t use the last of the carrots last year until into May, and they kept just fine.

I have several things on the cooking agenda, though no telling when I’ll get to them. First up is some kind of stew, using mincemeat, tomatoes, carrots, and garbanzos (I cooked up a bunch last weekend and threw them in the freezer), and possibly some lamb, maybe with spices that lean toward the middle east. I’ll look up the Moosewood stew I used to make to figure out what the spices were for that. I also cooked up some adzuki beans, which I had never made before, and I think I’ll make some quinoa to go with those, probably with some kind of greens to throw in as well. At some point I’ll make more bison bolognese sauce–my downstairs neighbor was gifted with some ground bison (it’s labeled beef but she said it’s really bison)–but given the vat I made last week, that can wait. I also got some more pork shoulder at the farmers’ market last Sunday, and I’ll likely make the shredded pork I made on New Year’s Day again. There’s venison to consume, too, and a bunch of baked goods–chocolate cupcakes (with flaxseed replacing some of the butter), the mincemeat cinnamon rolls, some ginger oat pumpkin bite-sized things, and several loaves of bread. Essentially, it’s time to work my way through the freezer and use stuff up.

I’ve also discovered a fabulous new cooking show. The NY Times made mention of it a few weeks ago, and it’s on PBS: the Great British Baking Championship, or something like that. It’s a bunch of regular folks competing against each other. Apparently the season I’m watching now is the fifth season, but I haven’t been able to run down the previous seasons yet. It’s really a lot of fun. Each week they do three bakes. The first is something that they make themselves at home. The second is the technical challenge, where they’re each given the ingredients and a basic version of the formula to use, but they have to have some know-how to actually make whatever it is because the instructions aren’t detailed. The third challenge is the “showstopper,” where they have to make something big and fancy in whatever category of baking they’re in. This past week was bread; last week was cookies (or biscuits, as the Brits called them).

What makes it especially fun is that they’re not professionals, and they come in all ages (which is particularly nice) and from all kinds of backgrounds. The critiques are serious, but not challenging in a Top Chef kind of way, and everyone has his or her own station, so the infighting is non-existant, too–they actually kind of cheer each other along. The other part that’s fun for me is that I can imagine competing in it, and would likely even enjoy doing so.

That said, I’ve been enjoying Top Chef this season, too. The challenges have been interesting without being stupid, and the cooking looks like it has been really amazing. The asshole quotient is pretty low, too; there was one, but he’s been gone for a few weeks. I have a much harder time imagining competing on something like that–I am not a professional chef, and I have never been one–but I definitely get the occasional food idea. Doug’s carrot soup, for example, sounded pretty damn amazing, and I might have to see if I can find the recipe for that one, given the mounds of carrots that will be taking over the fridge. Plus, carrot soup and homemade bread sounds like a fine lunch.

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It’s a Pie AND a Dinner!

In another clean-out-the-fridge dinner, with an extra helping of use-up-some-damn-mincemeat, I was, in fact, able to use some mincemeat. Things that went into the pot, in order:

  • three slices of bacon, chopped, and some of the fat cut off first; when the bacon was crispy/cooked, removed it for later use
  • finely sliced onion, sweated then cooked in the bacon fat until getting nice and caramelized; added pressed garlic and the bacon back into the mix
  • the last hunk of shredded wild turkey dark meat from the freezer (Friend throws the wild turkey legs and thighs into a slow cooker overnight, then shreds the result, removing the tendons and natty bits as he pulls it apart)
  • about a third of a jar of mincemeat
  • about two thirds of the diced and roasted butternut squash (the rest went in the freezer; it was probably the equivalent of 1.5 medium squashes)
  • a dash of apple cider vinegar to cut the sweet of the mincemeat
  • about 12 ounces of spinach (the last batch from the farm share)
  • a splash of the ginger sesame sauce from the Ginger People, and some shredded ginger from them as well

I served it over some wild rice, with a sprinkle of grated sheep’s milk cheese (something strong, again to cut the sweet of the mincemeat). Overall, it was pretty good–and I realized I managed to get three different animal meats into the pot (pig, turkey, and beef, the latter from the suet in the mincemeat), which is rather unusual for me.

However, it was still a little sweet, so I think the next effort is going to be a tomato sauce/stew of some kind, with the thought that the acid of the tomatoes will also cut the sweetness a bit. I had a spaghetti sauce made with mincemeat at a dinner party a million years ago (i.e., when I was in college, so probably nearly 35 years ago), and I remember liking it, even though the thought of mincemeat kinda grossed me out at the time. There was a large wad of leftovers for lunches, and today I mixed a little of the pulled pork from new year’s day into the pile as well, and it was tasty.

Mincing Along

As with most of my cooking adventures, I started with a relatively simple thought. I was going to visit my parents over Thanksgiving, and I was determined to make a mince pie for my dad, and, moreover, I was determined to make the mincemeat that went into it. My father jokingly complains that he doesn’t get mince pie since my maternal grandmother died in the early 90s. My mother doesn’t like raisins, which is, of course, one of the major ingredients in mincemeat–she goes so far as to pick the raisins out of cinnamon raisin bread, which amuses me to no end. In other words, making a pie for my dad was an excuse to try to make something I’d never made before.

I rummaged around for a recipe (finding a surprising paucity of from-scratch recipes) and settled on one from David Lebovitz. I emailed the farm from which I have gotten some very good (and organically and sustainably raised) meat–what a friend calls “hippie meat”–and asked if they had any beef suet. Yes! and they would bring it to the farmers’ market near me the following weekend, the last outdoor market of the season. So, for a whole $3, I had not quite two pounds of suet. If you look at that recipe, you’ll note that you need a whole lot less than two pounds of suet–you need about four ounces for one batch of mincemeat.

Yes, well: mincemeat for the masses!

I made a large-ish double batch, using pretty much what Lebovitz recommends, and adding some cranberries, I think, and I think I used an extra apple or two because I had some around. I cleaned the suet a bit, removing membranes and such, and just chopped it very finely rather than trying to grate it. I put the resulting mincemeat in some clean quart jars and stashed it in the fridge. I still had half of the suet, though, so I bought enough raisins and currants and such to make another double batch. I hauled one of the containers (plastic rather than glass) to the east coast and made the pie, which was successful. Seriously, it’s basically a raisin pie with some apples in it, plus a bunch of tasty spices, so it’s hard to go wrong if you like the ingredients.

It’s not terribly boozy at all–I used some brandy remnants that Friend brought over, and some ginger liquer from a local distillery, and some bourbon from the same distillery. I added the bourbon because, after I had added the ginger liquer, I realized it had a lower ABV and thought that might affect the preservation qualities of the alcohol. I can’t really taste the alcohol, though, and I tend to be sensitive to it. I often left it out of recipes in pastry school because I thought it tended to overwhelm the other flavors, but there’s so much going on in the mincemeat I simply couldn’t taste it.

Okay, that’s all well and good–but now I have five more jars of mincemeat sitting around in the fridge, and I am going to do what, exactly, with all of that mincemeat?

For New Year’s Day, however, I finally found a use for some of it: I used some as a filling for whole wheat cinnamon rolls. I doubled the recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads and got 32 rolls out of it–obviously a substantially larger yield than the original recipe, which said 8 to 10 (or 16 to 20 for a doubled recipe). The result is interesting–it definitely has a bit of a “meaty” undertone to it–but they’re quite good. I threw most of them in the freezer (without frosting) so they’ll be nice to grab and take to work for a quick breakfast. I think even plain cream cheese would be a nice accompaniment if you don’t have extra frosting around.

While I had the oven on, I also diced and roasted the three butternut squash that were sitting around, but I didn’t do anything with the result. The menu on New Year’s day included homemade sauerkraut; pulled pork, to satisfy the spirit of my grandmother; and garlic smashed potatoes, as well as some venison ring baloney and some caramelized onions. But I’m thinking squash, and mincemeat, and maybe some shredded wild turkey dark meat, and maybe some spinach or kale; I have some spinach around, so that’s more likely. I’ll let you know what happens.