Sausage and Squash Pastsa

Sausage, butternut squash, and sage go great together. Just add a little pasta, and it’s a meal!

  • 3 c. whole wheat rotini (uncooked) – more if you want a higher-carb meal
  • 1 lb sausage. If you use vegetarian sausage, add some extra oil when you brown it
  • 1 onion, sliced into quarter-moons
  • 4-5 c. butternut squash cut in 3/4″ cubes
  • 1 Tbl. dried sage, or a handful of fresh chopped sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbl cream or coconut cream (opt)
  • Parmesan or cashew parm (opt)

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Crumble and brown the sausage and onions, adding more oil, if needed. When it’s cooked, remove it to a bowl but leave any remaining oil in the pan.

Add the squash cubes to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes until the squash starts to brown.  Pour about 1/3 c. water into the pan, cover, and let cook 6-7 minutes until almost done. There should be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Add the cream (if using). Leave the lid off for a few minutes to evaporate and thicken the sauce – you’re looking for just a bit of liquid in the bottom of the pan, enough to coat the pasta. Add the sausage and pasta to the pot and toss to coat. Garnish with Parmesan, if desired.

Em’s food rules

Well, not really rules. More like guidelines.

Givens:

  1. Food serves biological, emotional, and cultural purposes.
  2. People have different biological, emotional, and cultural needs; therefore, there is no one “right way to eat” for everyone – even people in the same region, family, blood type, or other grouping.
  3. An individual’s food choices have an impact on others beyond the self: the beings one is eating, the environment in which those beings live and die, the ongoing health of the land and its ability to feed future beings.
  4. Generally speaking, the edibles of a place provide appropriate nutrition to survive and thrive in that place. Keep in mind the “edibles of a place” may include things you are not accustomed to thinking of as food: weeds, insects, blood, acorns, etc.
  5. Disasters happen: crops fail, vermin populations boom, warehouses burn, gardeners break arms.
  6. “Waste” is a human construct; in nature, all outputs are inputs somewhere else. Human choices can direct waste to benefit human endeavors.

Actions:

  1. Each person gets to decide her/his “right” way to eat. But please, folks, let that be a decision and not a default.
  2. The food economy needs to be both drastically more localized than it currently is, and needs to retain the ability to trade easily between regions in case of crop failure, destruction of stores, or other supply disasters.
  3. Food waste (at all stages of production) needs to be eliminated. And not just by feeding leftover coq au vin to the pigs.

Homemade convenience foods

Dinner tonight was accomplished in about 15 minutes, largely by opening cans and jars. Honestly – it feels like cheating. But it’s all good stuff: tomato sauce (commercial, but local from small farms), home canned diced tomatoes and smoked pork, and hominy (no idea where from, but it’s just corn – no weird ingredients). Oh, and a huge double handful of fresh spinach from the garden, and some chili powder and cumin. Bring to a boil, drop in the thermal pot sleeve, and let “steep” for ten minutes. Way yummy – and basically instant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about instant food lately, sparked largely by my tour of the Jiffy Mix factory in nearby Chelsea, MI. It’s an awesome tour – I highly recommend it if you like seeing how things are made. (Coolest factoid of the tour, for me: they build the box around the paper liner!) I also couldn’t resist buying the “Tour sampler pack” of 24 little blue boxes of mix. Muffins, cakes, cornbread, biscuits, pizza dough – all for 50 cents a box. I made the cornbread a couple nights ago as a snack – good gravy, that stuff is addictive! Light, sweet, with an amazing crackly crust because I baked it in cast iron. And it was so easy to make: dump in bowl, add an egg and a sploosh of milk, stir, bake for 10 minutes.

And it hit me: no wonder people buy this stuff. It’s so easy.

But…it’s sweet and airy because the flour is white, the corn degerminated, and a fair dose of sugar added. Seriously overpackaged. The muffins, especially, are full of artificial flavor and color – things I would rather not eat at all.

I think a lot of us homesteader types value work and time-on-task because difficulty stands as a proxy for other values, like anti-commercialism, quality, and “homemade-ness.” But if I think about tonight’s dinner, I wonder, where is the balance between arduous doing-it-yourself and convenience?  Tonight’s dinner was not a lot of work…tonight. There was plenty of work that went in at other times, though: when I canned the tomatoes, when I stewed the pork. But you know what? It’s worth it. It’s not money in the bank; it’s time in the pantry. Sealed in a jar and banked for use on a night when I desperately need wholesome, high-quality food with a minimum expenditure of energy.

And that’s got me thinking about my own Jiffy mixes. Measure corn meal, flour, baking soda, salt, and maybe buttermilk powder into a pint jar…just add an egg and water and bake! Or vegan gingerbread: flour, brown sugar, spices, baking soda…just add oil and soy milk. You could whip up half a dozen jars in the time it takes to make the recipe once…and then you’d have it there and ready to go. No recipe, no thought, no measuring…and no artificial ingredients, white flour, or other things best left on the “treat” menu.

Maple Syrup Tasting!

Really fun Preserving Traditions event yesterday – maple syrup tasting! See all the details at the PT blog: http://preservingtraditions.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/maple-syrup-tasting-notes/

Unending Valentine’s Feast!

For a Valentine’s Day date, Scott and I went to La Marsa in Ann Arbor – and WOW, was it good! Feeling celebratory – and a bit ambitious – we got the “Sampler Platter for Two.”  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Fresh baked pita with garlic butter – divine! The store used to be a Cosi, and they bake, or at least warm, the pitas in the open hearth oven. Endless baskets are served with butter whipped with fresh crushed garlic. Ho. Lee. Cow.
  • Tabbouli – low on bulgar, heavy on parsley, with a nice dressing. Not my favorite Middle Eastern dish, but well-done
  • Hummus – very good, and not too acidic (a common flaw with a lot of restaurant hummus)
  • Baba ghannoj – perhaps the best I’ve ever had! Has a distinct grilled or roasted flavor – I wonder if they roast the eggplants in the big hearth oven?
  • Falafel – very good, crisp on the outside, with no uncooked bits inside
  • Grape leaves, both lamb and vegetarian – the veggie ones are very good; the lamb ones are absolutely luscious. Hearty, rich, and flavorful, and the leaves themselves are not too sour. Often the acidity of the pickled grape leaves overwhelms the other flavors of the dish, but these were just right.
  • Fattoush salad – lovely and well-seasoned with herbs, and not over-dressed
  • Grilled vegetables – good, though not the best I’ve had here. At other times, the vegetables have been cooked rather dry and at high heat until they were a little blackened around the edges – add a pat of the garlic butter, and you’d be happy eating just these. Tuesday’s were a little less stunning, but they were still quite tasty, and showed La Marsa’s deft hand with spices.
  • And we finally get to the entree, which was both chicken and lamb shwarma, shish tawook (skewered chicken), and shish kafta (skewered spiced lamb meatballs). It was all good; my favorites were the kafta and chicken shwarma; Scott loved the lamb shwarma and tawook.

<understatement>None of it was at all bad.</understatement>

There was also just a ton of food. It should have said “for six” – because after eating until we were stuffed, we took home (no kidding) three and a half POUNDS of leftovers.  I had two lunches out of the salads, spreads, bread, and some of the meat, and tonight, we chopped up the grilled vegetables, meat, some extra cabbage, and some cooked rice and had a really tasty stir-fry. Which will probably also be my lunch again tomorrow. 🙂

So, very tasty, and highly recommended. And hey – does anyone know if Halal rules guide how the animals were raised, or just how they are slaughtered?

Grain and root CSA

Hi folks – Wanted southern Michigan folks to know that there’s a new root and grain CSA starting up: Stone Soup CSA. The food will be grown organically by a cooperative of Amish farmers near Homer (Shettlers, who sell at the A2 farmers market are one of the families).

The CSA will include:

  • wheat berries – 60 pounds
  • oat groats – 24 pounds
  • rye berries – 24 pounds
  • corn (dried) – 12 pounds
  • onions – 30 pounds
  • potatoes – 30 pounds
  • carrots – 30 pounds
  • popcorn – 12 pounds

I don’t know the specific varieties, but all will be “good keepers.”

My spin on this: I would like to organize the use of grain mills for members. I have two mills, and am hoping others would be willing to bring theirs, to a central location (probably the Pittsfield Grange) on pick-up days to mill grains into flour. So don’t let your lack of a grain mill impede keep you from getting in on this winter staple CSA! If there is interest, I might also pick up an oat roller (to turn groats into oatmeal).

Please let me know in thecomments if you are interested, if you can bring a grain mill or roller/flaker, and what you’re interested in milling.

I imagine on pick-up day, we could also arrange swaps of popcorn for wheat, onions for corn, etc.

Please note: I AM NOT ORGANIZING THE CSA. I’m just organizing grinding for members. Contact Shana at http://www.localharvest.org/stone-stoup-grains-and-roots-csa-M49390 for information and sign-up.

Comparing duck eggs and chicken eggs

Last week, my friend Tony gave me two dozen duck eggs to try. I’m really glad to have had a chance to try them – I’ve often wondered how comparable the taste is.  The short version? They taste almost exactly the same, though the yolks taste…yolkier, I guess.

I must confess: I was a little leery of them. Especially when I opened the carton and got a strong whiff of duck pond – but that was just because the eggs were not fully washed.  Tony assured me they wouldn’t taste “gamey,” so I tried them a couple different ways: fried over-hard, in pumpkin bread, and in an almond cookie recipe that called for beating the yolks and whites separately.

Over-hard: Like all really fresh eggs, the duck egg yolk “stands up” far out of the whites.  I like to break my yolks and cook them all the way through, and when prepared this way, the egg cooked exactly like a chicken egg.  The yolk didn’t spread out evenly, so one end of the fried egg was almost entirely yolk.  I’m actually not a big fan of egg yolk, and I ended up not eating that last couple bites.  I may or may not have eaten it if it were a chicken egg.  It wasn’t that it tasted bad; it just tasted very much like yolk, and I’m not terribly fond of that flavor. (In my world, hot sauce, goat cheese, and olives were invented to cover the taste of egg yolk.)

Baking: The duck eggs were great in baking, once I figured out how many to use. Several of the eggs were as big as my palm and had double yolks – easily equivalent to two full chicken eggs.  Some were the size of a small chicken egg.  So I fiddled and estimated, and they worked fine, both as whole eggs and as separate yolks and whites. The whites beat up into a nice meringue. (Wait…is that the egg white spelling or the dance? Bah.)

The only other drawback – and it is slight – is that they don’t break neatly.  The shells are less brittle than chicken eggs.  Breaking them is tough; you crack them, and then really have to stick your thumbs in to pierce the membrane.  This invariably detaches bits of shell, which then try to head for the bowl.  The whites are also…ropier? You know on a chicken egg, right at the end, there’s that stringy bloop of egg white that you either have to sever, wait to drop, or throw away? That’s much more pronounced on the duck eggs.  It’s stickier, and when you try to smoosh it out with your finger, it sticks to your finger, and pretty soon you’ve got a cat’s cradle of egg yolk between your fingers, the egg shell, and the bowl.  You can sort of wind it up with the egg shells and pitch it all on the compost, but it seems like a bit of hassle and waste. Only a bit, but still.

The verdict: If I had a choice, I’d pick chicken eggs.  If I didn’t have a choice, I’d take duck eggs and be very happy to have them.

Thanks, Tony! It was a fun experiment!

Michigan non-GMO soy oil available at Meijer

Zoye OilI just found Zoye soy oil at Meijer. It is “identity-preserved,” which guarantees the non-GMO soybeans are not mixed with GMO soy at any point during processing.  The company uses a lot of methane for energy (landfill gas) and their office is LEED certified.  It is grown and produced in Michigan (in the Thumb region), making it pretty much the only commercially available, certified local, non-GMO cooking oil available here.  I am pretty sure it’s the same oil as the one I reported on in 2008 with a sexy new label – but the good part is, you no longer have to drive to Frankemuth to get it.

It’s $5/liter and there’s a $1 coupon on their web site. I don’t get any kind of perqs for blogging about this product – just thought you should know about it.

Buying a 1/4 beef: what we got

I bought our beef from Family Farms Co-op, a group of farms in SW Michigan that practice rotational grazing a la Polyface Farm.  The cattle lead very bovine lives, eating very bovine food, the farms are not too far away and make regular deliveries to our areas, and the quality of the meat is outstanding.

We were charged for 195 lb hanging weight. From that, the cuts we got broke down into:

  • Ground beef: 54 lb
  • Steaks (Delmonico, NY Strip, and “sizzler”): 29 lb
  • Roasts and stew meat (round, rolled arm, swiss steak, stew meat): 45
  • Misc (short ribs, brisket): 9 lb

Total: 137 lb; we lost about 30% of the weight in processing.  I asked for soup bones, and got one knuckle bone and one package of marrow bones. I really, really wanted more bones – stock is one of the chief reasons I buy beef, and you can’t make fabulous stock without some bones in each batch.

So, at $2.95/lb hanging weight, our finished price was about $4.20/lb for all cuts.  My friend Ken’s magnificent spreadsheet tells me these roasts are $3.20/lb, ground is $2.80/lb, and steaks are about $8.30/lb.  I usually pay between $4-5/lb for ground and roasts; steaks  are $10 on sale and more like $13-15/lb regular price.  We don’t generally eat a lot of steak, though.

The bigger problem is…wow, this is a lot of beef! Due to a miscalculation on my part, I vastly underestimated how much space this would take. (I think the hanging weight of our 1/2 pig was about the predicted finished weight of beef – meaning 1/2 a pig puts under 100 lb in the freezer). Whereas a 1/2 pig fit neatly into our 7cf chest freezer and some in the top-of-fridge freezer, with room for a winter’s worth of veggies, this steer takes up all that space…plus most of a large picnic cooler.  UPDATE: I shuffled stuff around and packed things more compactly (if less conveniently) and suddenly, it all fits now, with room to spare! It’s still more meat than 1/2 a pig, but I can actually get it into the chest freezer and top-of-fridge freezer.

Food prices at Ann Arbor market skyrocketing!

Having been thinking lately about the lack of summer veggies in my garden, I pondered a few summer recipes and went to the farmers’ market on Saturday to stock up.

Yikes!

The thing that jumped out the most was the price of sweet corn.  I had finally wrapped my brain around corn being $3/doz, and 50 cents an ear for organic…but every stand was selling their corn for 50 cents and ear, usually without any discount for buying a dozen. I’m sorry, but $6 for a dozen ears of corn? Holy cow.  Mike, the farmer at the produce stand around the corner, said his seed corn prices went up 40% last year so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that much.

On the up side, I found corn was $4/doz at the Dexter market, and only $2/doz at Jenny’s Farm Stand.  So maybe it’s as much a matter of “what the market will bear” as actual increases in prices.

Other shocks: raspberries $7/qt, cabbages $3 each for a small head (usually $2).  Glad I put in a raspberry bed this year, and we have enough raspberry jam to last until next summer.  And given the way this year’s kale crop is going, I might swap out some kale in favor of growing my own cabbage next year. Well, if this year’s crop comes to anything…

Nightshades and quinoa

Um...it tastes better than it looks...

Here’s what I made with my market haul today:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 Tbl minced garlic
  • 1 lb ground beef (optional)
  • 3 Japanese eggplant – large cubes
  • 1c breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 summer squash – large cubes
  • 6 tomatoes – large cubes
  • Olive oil, salt, and Italian spices

Sautee the onion, garlic, and beef until brown; set aside. Beat eggs with a fork in a large bowl.  Add the eggplant and coat with egg.  Add breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, and salt and toss to coat.  Brown this mixture. (If you get any eggy rafts of breadcrumbs, fish them out as a snack for the cook.)  Set eggplant aside.  Brown squash, then add tomatoes.  Simmer until the tomatoes break down and start to thicken.  At this point, you have two choices: cook this until it’s thick, add the beef and eggplant at the end, and serve as-is or as a pasta sauce.  Or, add the beef/onions and eggplant plus 2/3 c of rinsed quinoa and let the tomato juice cook into the quinoa.

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