Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Big Beef Day

Beef. It's what's for dinner.

Well, the day finally arrived - thanks to Erin from Simply Frugal Mom, we got our delivery of 1/8th of a cow. We've been really looking forward to this and are excited to taste some of it. We received a few roasts, a bunch of steaks, some miscellaneous cut up bits, and a bunch of ground beef. Overall, I'm very happy with the haul, although we may want to tweak some of the selection next time. We let the purveyor pick what we were to receive this first time and I think we can do with a bit less ground beef. Don't get me wrong, I love ground beef, but I've become accustomed to grinding it myself and will miss that for the next few months.

The beef hasn't completely overrun our freezer, which was a pleasant surprise. For the past week, I would have day dreams about not being able to fit everything in and being forced to eat beef for every meal for weeks just so none of it would spoil. In reality though, it was no problem, and we could probably stack 1/4th of a cow if we wanted to. It helps that we don't have a lot in the way of frozen food, otherwise the situation would be a lot different. The only other thing taking up a lot of space in our freezer is stock.

Speaking of which, I made a batch of beef stock on Sunday. OK, so I had to make a little room in the freezer for the beef, so all those old beef bits I've been hording went into the stock pot. My stock always looks "dirtier" than the stuff I get at the store. There are more bits floating around in it, even after its been strained and it never looks as dark or rich, but in taste, it absolutely trumps store bought stock. For those of you home cooks out there who haven't started making your own stock, I would highly encourage that you start. Elevating the quality of your basic ingredients will pay off big time on your plate.

Back to the beef, it came from Wapato, WA, which is about 170 miles away from our place. When we first started trying to be locavores, I had high expectations about how close to home we could get. My grand ideas comprised mostly of having a network of local farms that would be an easy drive away. I would be able to go on-site and procure everything I needed and get home before dark. I quickly found out that the world worked much differently than I imagined. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the I-5 corridor is urban/suburban sprawl from Tacoma to Everett. That's about 60 miles north to south of uninterrupted concrete. Farms need space and within the "greater Seattle Metrosprawlitan area" that's getting harder and harder to come by. The second reason is because of property taxes. In the counties where you have those big cities and suburbs, property taxes are so high that would-be local farmers cannot make farming a viable way to earn money. If you head east from I-5, you can actually get to "country" after about 20 miles, but in those high property tax counties, namely King County (Seattle's county), you'll be hard pressed to find an actual full-time, working farm (if you do find one, you should probably go in and ask them if someone has to supplement that farm income with an outside source).

Some of my dreams were dashed when I found this out. Not only on the procurement front, but on the life front. I was hoping that one day, I could quit my day job, start a farm relatively close to "civilization" and have all the perks of rural and urban life. Alas though, the world does not work like that, which brings me back to Wapato. Wapato is great, it lives in the Yakima Valley, the breadbasket of Washington State, and just about the closest you can get to Seattle to start a farm. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I'm exaggerating, but only by a little bit. 170 miles. 3 hours away. Over a mountain pass. How "loca-" does that make us?

Regardless of the answer, it's just about the best that we have, and you can't really ask for more than that. Needless to say, I won't be taking an impromptu drive to find out what the name of my cow was before eating it. Maybe it would settle for being pen-pals.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Restaurant Re-creation: Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes and Caramelized Onions

Don't judge this book by its cover. It's not the prettiest dish, but it's super tasty.

Since moving to the suburbs, one thing that Aaron and I have struggled with is finding local eateries that satiate our desire for interesting, creative, and well prepared food. We know they're out there, but it takes a fair amount of trial and error to find them. And of course, a little bit more driving.

Recently, we discovered a little one-man establishment in Edmonds called The Eatery Works. It was a rather impromptu night that we ended up having a little free time and so we decided to make it a date night. Happily, chef Jim Taylor did not disappoint. The experience was slightly eclectic - Chef Taylor literally runs the whole show, hosting, waiting the tables, cashiering, and of course cooking. But the atmosphere was charming and the successful way that he pulled it all together was genuinely inspiring. As was the food.

We each had incredible dishes that were superbly innovative and we came home jazzed to attempt to fuse some of his brilliance into our own cooking. (Not to say that this would stop us from going there again. On the contrary, we'll definitely be adding this place to our list of regular haunts.) One of the elements that I'd gotten was a deceptively simple pasta dish in an oil based sauce involving sundried tomatoes and caramelized onions. So, we decided to give that one a shot.

We knew it would be a situation in which we'd have to combine several more basic recipes, so we referenced one of our cooking bibles, How to Cook Everything.

By the way, did all of you know that there's a free App called How to Cook Everything Essentials? It has a lot of the basic information and many of the recipes from the cookbook. And I repeat: it's free. You should download it. It will complete your life.

Or at least your cooking knowledge.

But I digress.

We looked up recipes for caramelized onions (found 2) and oil based pasta sauces. As we suspected, there wasn't a full on recipe (or variation) that specifically dictated what we were aiming for, but it got us far enough to improvise. We mixed the styles of the 2 caramelized onion recipes and used a basic oil and garlic sauce recipe and added our sundried tomatoes to it. Then we just tossed everything together with the pasta.

I have to say, the result was pretty dang good. Not 100% identical to what we had at the restaurant, but still delicious.

One thing that added to our version was the fact that the balsamic vinegar we used for the onions was infused with blackberry. (I'm sure that makes us sound like complete food snobs. But it was the only balsamic we had in the house! And besides, it's incredibly good. It's from The Oil and Vinegar Cellar in Leavenworth. It's especially delicious with Basil Olive Oil. Try it once and you'll be a snob about it too.) It added a unique sweetness to some of the dish that made it different from the restaurant version, but equally appealing. But I'm sure it would be good with regular balsamic.

But you really should try the blackberry infused kind.

Anyway, the recipe went something like this:

Caramelized Onions
One onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
2.5 - 3 tbsp sundried tomatoes

1 lb of your favorite thin pasta. Linguini or Spaghetti would work best. We prefer fresh noodles.

Thinly slice the onion. Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a saute pan. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and cook until they look mostly brown. Add the sugar and stir it in. Add the vegetable stock and turn the heat up to medium high. Let the liquid reduce off nearly completely (about 5 minutes or so unless you accidentally turn the heat down to medium low for 3 of it like I did. Then it might be closer to 8 minutes.) then add the vinegar. Mix the vinegar in and continue heating for another couple of minutes until the onions get syrupy. Remove them from the heat and set aside.

Begin prepping your pasta.

While the pasta is being prepared, heat 1/2 cup olive oil and the garlic over medium low heat. After approximately 2 minutes, add the sundried tomatoes. Heat until the garlic just starts to turn golden.

One note here: it's helpful to mince the garlic such that you have as much uniformity as possible in the size of your garlic chunks. If some are very small and others are quite large, you may end up over cooking some of it and getting a little bit of bitterness in your dish.

Drain the pasta and pour the noodles into a warmed serving bowl. Toss with the sundried tomato sauce and the caramelized onions. Serve warm with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snowed In: Turkey Pot Pie

Chrissie and I have finally emerged from the blizzard that hit our area last week. It was a doozy. It started Tuesday night, got bad Wednesday night, and maintained that level of badness until Saturday. Chrissie and I were holed up in our house the whole time, except for the occasional snow walks with our dogs. We never quite got to the "cabin fever" point, but another day or two may have done us in. All in all though, it was a very pleasant experience for us. It could have easily been the opposite - we knew of several friends who lost power for several days and saw a fair number of people on our street fail to maneuver on the ice and snow.

We had done pretty well on the food front. We had leftovers of a few things that held us over for a couple days, but on Friday, we had run out of pre-made food. In our fridge and pantry were some mismatched staples that needed to be creatively combined in order to put out something that would be palatable. Working in our favor was that we had carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, and some protein (ground turkey). Working against us was that we didn't have any eggs or milk, and only half a stick of butter. Things had the potential to be pretty grim.

I'll admit, I was the one stricken with despair. I blame it on a craving for french toast that had been "inceptioned" into my brain by a sports-radio talk show I listened to the day before the snow hit. Apparently, there had been a tradition in New Jersey to stock up on eggs, milk, and white bread right before a big snow and people would make french toast. I did not stock up on those things and by Friday I was paying the price. I couldn't stop being fixated on what we didn't have and concentrate on what we did have.

Thankfully, Chrissie managed to take the bull by the horns and pull us through dinner that night. She managed to formulate a plan for turkey pot pie, improvising ingredients where we didn't have any. We found this for the base recipe on Tasty Kitchen. We didn't have any turkey gravy, so we substituted it with a can of Cream of Chicken soup. We didn't have enough butter to make the crust, so we used Crisco instead for one half and Krusteaz mix for the other. The end result was delicious and a testament to the power of improvisation.

The top layer of crust broke up as we served it. It held up better in leftover form. No, it doesn't look like much, but it'll make point five past light speed.

Recipe - Snowy Day Turkey Pot Pie
Adapted from Zina via Tasty Kitchen

  • 2 recipes worth of pie crust
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
  • 1 whole Carrot, Sliced Or Cubed
  • 1 stalk Celery, Chopped
  • 1 whole Small Onion, Diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Thyme Leaves, Chopped or a dash of dried thyme
  • ½ pounds ground turkey, browned with salt and papper
  • ¼ cups Flour
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 whole Small Potatoes, Peeled And Cubed
  • ½ cups Frozen Green Peas


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pre-prepare your pie crusts. Line your baking dish with one, refrigerate the other until it's time to put the pie together.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet and saute the carrots, celery and onion until until tender. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, but not brown.

Add the thyme and turkey and add salt and pepper as desired. Cook several minutes until heated through.

Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter and the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes, being careful not to burn.

Stir in the cream of chicken soup and the chicken broth and heat to a simmer. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and add the frozen peas. Stir to combine.

Pour turkey mixture into the prepared pie crust and cover with the other pie crust. Slit top in several places to let steam escape.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, depending on your oven, until top is golden brown. Remove pie from oven and let stand a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snowpocalypse (ish)

I like the snow. More than a little. I love the tranquility it implies. I adore the way a fresh layer of snow can make the world transform into a beautiful empty canvass. And yes, I am no stranger to the fact that enough snow can still shut down my place of employment and I can still get snow days. (Though like the kids, I do have to make it up later.)

It's pretty amusing to watch ourselves and the rest of the country react whenever it snows around here. Conversations like those depicted in the Oatmeal abound:

And even California decides to consider us a bunch of snow wimps. (Seriously? I know a girl in Cali who tried to dry her car engine with a hair dryer when it rained for fear it might not work while it was wet.)

In general, the snow reminds me of some of the reasons I've chosen to live in the suburbs to begin with. I love the city, especially Seattle, but it never stops. I like to have moments in time to appreciate the calm. To watch the hummingbirds outside my window. To turn my brain off and just be. All that is easier to do here on any given day, but for me, it's that much better with 8 inches of snow outside my window.

My snow-wish for the city is simple. Let it allow life to slow down. Rest a little. Decrease the intensity. There's a pretty good chance, most of what you're bustling about will still be here tomorrow.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Slow Cooking - Pot Roast

With how much I love slow cooking, it may be a surprise to hear that I had never made a pot roast before. That's right, never. In fact, I didn't really even know what one was until about a year ago. It sort of fell off of my culinary radar until I wanted to expand my repertoire with something new. You may get rave reviews with your roasts and your stews, but you have to mix it up - variety is the spice of life!

I have loved braised meat since my childhood. My mom and grandmother both made great dishes of the sort. Those dishes always filled the house with pleasant smells and then tasted good when they were served up. My favorite thing to do was pour the juice over the ubiquitous white rice that we had with every meal. Meat and juice - good stuff.

These days, I try and keep the spirit of that alive, even if it's using a western flavor profile. Fill the house with good smells, serve a moist piece of meat, and leave plenty of juices. Here's the first pot roast I attempted, straight out of our handy cookbook, "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman.

The dished up product.

I marinated the beef in red wine vinegar and spices for a day and then used same liquid to cook the pot roast. The result was yummy and not too sour. Pot roast is definitely delicious as left overs and a word to anyone who wants to get the most out the remaining liquid - reduce it so that it is thick and saucy. Just for good measure, here are some extra pictures of the work in progress, enjoy!


Searing the beef, to keep the juices in.

The accompanying vegetables.