Nothing like pushing your culinary limits. It’s easy for me to get lazy with cooking—doing the same things I’ve always done, especially if I can do them blindfolded when I’m in a tired or harried state. But God and circumstances and magazine editors are constantly presenting me with nifty challenges that keep me from getting too complacent. That’s a good thing. Lately I’ve been pushing on a couple fronts.
Yesterday it snowed here. A flurry or two wouldn’t be such a crazy thing in November, but the fact that two inches stuck to the ground, and was still hanging around here this morning, is a little strange. I took some photos of snowy nasturtiums to post on my Facebook page; they seemed so pretty in an incongruous kind of way.
I like snow days, because they force me to stay inside and do my house-y, kitchen-y (and okay, computer-y) stuff. In the case of yesterday, it was a very good thing, as I was right on top of my deadline to develop six recipes for Vegetarian Times. I mentioned this assignment a few weeks ago, but I bring it up again, because the topic definitely fell squarely into the culinary challenge (culinarily challenging?) department. My charge was to develop recipes featuring (or at least including) the often discarded parts of veggies, including carrot tops, broccoli leaves, radish greens, celery leaves, chard stems, and beet greens. As it happens, I’ve developed recipes with chard stems and beet greens in the past, but around here, most of the rest of these goodies go straight to the chickens. When a farmstand customer offers to remove her carrot tops and leave them for the hens, I am only too happy. The more green stuff the chickens eat, the better their eggs.
But now that I’ve made carrot top pesto (really delicious), stir-fried broccoli leaves (the new kale?), and lemon-ginger-ized radish greens, I’m all excited. Those broccoli leaves, I’m telling you, are delicious. I did have a brief setback, though, which got me thinking about food waste: Many of these veggies are not available in the grocery store in their “natural” state. In other words, the greens are removed. (On the Island, the extras are likely composted or donated to pig farmers, but I hate to think about how much of this stuff goes into landfill in some circumstances, just because the leaves are wilted.) Broccoli is especially denuded these days. You can hardly get it with the stalk still attached (and the stalk is delicious, too), much less with anything more than a few leaves on it. (Farm stands, farmers’ markets, and any natural grocery offering local produce will be a different story.) And if you’ve ever seen broccoli growing in a field, you know that it’s kind of all about the leaves.
Yesterday I went down to Morning Glory Farm and they ever so kindly sent someone out from the farm store to the (snowy) field across the street to cut two large broccoli heads—with stalk and lots ‘o leaves—for me to play with. They were so beautiful that I didn’t want to cut them up. In the end I only used a small amount of the leaves in my recipe (which I then tried to photograph in the snow—here’s an outtake!!), but I saved a whole bag of leaves from just one head to put in soups and stir-fries over the next week.
However, I’m not sure we’ll be having a soup or a stir-fry any time soon. In Part Two of my current culinary challenge, I am trying to make my way through at least one piece of pork from the freezer every week. (For those who don’t know, we raised two pigs this summer, which we unfortunately named. So now when we have pork chops for dinner, the question always comes up: Is this a Dozer chop or a Wilbur chop? Yikes.)
This week I’ve gone overboard. I made meatloaf with ground pork first, then finally got a huge pork butt (that’s actually shoulder meat) defrosted enough to cut it into pieces and concoct a chili-ish stew in the slow-cooker. Wouldn’t you know it, though, I’m not too crazy about how it came out—my spice mix wasn’t quite right. But we are eating it anyway—last night in burritos, and tonight in, who knows?
But the really good news is that I had enough sense to reserve some of the pork butt meat and pork fat to make breakfast sausage—and it turned out absolutely delicious. This is probably our best effort so far with the pork. Not that making our first-ever homemade bacon from the belly wasn’t very cool and fun (did that a few weeks ago), but it came out a bit salty, so there’s room for improvement there. But today I used Bruce Aidell’s Brown Sugar and Sage Breakfast Pattie recipe from his Complete Book of Pork, and it was perfect. I made the mistake earlier in the fall of trying to make sausage from already ground pork, but the grind and the ratio of fat to meat is all wrong for sausage. You have to start with some pork meat (preferably butt) and some (actually a little more than some) pork fat. You don’t need a grinder though; I chilled the meat and fat and chopped in the food processor as instructed.
Roy was pretty excited about the sausage, too. In fact, we’re both kind of surprised and delighted by how much of our own food we’re eating. Roy said to me last night that next year is canning and preserving year. Okey dokey, Roy. Now, all we need is the cow for milk, and we’ll never have to go to the grocery store again. (The cow and a whole lot more time.)
In the meantime, I’m reading more and more about the benefits of fermented food, so I may have to try making kimchi. But I think next up is something I can wrap my head around a little more easily—roasted pumpkin pie. The only problem is that the only ripe Sugar Pie pumpkins we have left are the ones from Libby’s garden. I’ll have to ask her if she’ll loan me one. Should be okay—Libby likes a good experiment in the kitchen!