Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tired of vegetable anxiety? Try the CSA cure.

Do you lack confidence about your carrot-ability?  Are you puzzled about parsnips?   Are you squeamish about squash?  If the answer to these questions is Yes --  you have lots of company.  And there is nothing wrong with you.  I believe you are quite normal for a 21st century American.  And this vegetable anxiety did not come to afflict us overnight.  It has been growing for years.  Just watch a little TV and you will understand.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to encourage us to LUST for Oreos.  To NEED Fruit Loops.  To WANT cheesy meaty pizza right NOW.  To DESERVE a Big Mac.  When is the last time you saw a commercial about eating attractive asparagus or sexy celeriac - let alone how to cook and serve it at home.

The good news is that more and more people are growing curious about vegetables.  They wonder what they are missing.  But they don't know where to start.

Well, I say start the same way you start anything.  Take action.  Do something.  Make progress, one day at a time.  As Mary Poppins said, "Find the fun and SNAP the job's a game".

One way to confront your vegetable anxiety head on is to sign up for a community supported agriculture (CSA) share.   If you join a CSA you will receive a box of  lovely fresh vegetables, in season, for about 22 weeks in the summer and fall.  Many CSA farms also offer winter shares too. Since I work for Featherstone Farm I of course encourage you to check us out at   Sign up for the 2010 season is in full swing.

NOTE:  FEATHERSTONE IS ADDING TWO NEW DROP SITES IN SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA- at the Franciscan-Skemp Clinics in Caledonia and LaCrescent AND ONE IN LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN at the Gund Brewery Loft apartments.  If you are interested in signing up and using those drop sites - please e mail me at

Another good web site -  if you are interested in learning more about CSA's in general -  is

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sausage - you can try this at home!

A few weeks ago Frank and I taught a class on hog butchering (and a little pork cooking) at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center outside Lanesboro.   We got our half pig from Hilltop Pastures Farm, via Ledebuhr's Meats in Winona.  The intent was to take some of the mystery out of buying a half a pig and processing some or all of it yourself.

One of the topics we covered was sausage making. Sausage is a great food if you are a vegetable lover.  And it really is very easy to make.  You don't have to take on half a pig.  You can start with some pork shoulder and fat purchased from your favorite meat market or butcher.  You don't even have to stuff it in casings.  You can simply shape it into patties.

A little full flavored sausage can turn vegetables from a side dish into a satisfying meal.  Last night we made risotto with some homemade chorizo, onions, canned tomatoes and peas.  All we needed was about two ounces of sausage per person.

After the class we had a beautiful fresh pork liver along with some meat and fat.  For years I have wanted to try making liverwurst and now I finally had the right materials and equipment at hand. (Isn't is great to know some dreams can come true?) This was a little more advanced project - we did need to stuff the meat mixture into casings.

Mix in a large bowl:  3/4 pound pork liver, 1/2 lean, trimmed pork and 1/2 pound fresh pork fat (all meat should be cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled)
Add 1 cup coarsely chopped onion and 1 T. dry milk powder
Add the following spice mixture: 1/2 t. white pepper, 1/2 t. cardamom, 1/2 t. ginger, 1/4 t. mace, 1/2 t. coriander, 1/4 t. dried thyme, 1 1/2 t. salt, 1 t. sugar.

Grind meat, spices and onion with medium coarse blade of a grinder.  Stuff into a two or three large casings and tie off.  Poach in water about 170 degrees for 2 hours.  Will keep about a week refrigerated.  May be frozen but might get a bit mushy.  (that's ok - just call it pate)

You can get a perfectly suitable hand cranked (less carbon emissions) tinned or stainless steel grinder on Amazon for $30 to $100. If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer you can purchase a grinding attachment.

If you think you are ready to attempt even some simple sausages,  it is a good idea to purchase a book about sausage making.   There are a lot of them out there.  I highly recommend Charcuterie: The Craft of Smoking, Salting and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

I admit that dealing with that half a pig was a lot of work.  But now I can look forward to a year of good eating - for us and those who may share our table.  The picture on top shows the liverwurst after poaching.  On the bottom - sliced liverwurst with rye bread, red onions from our garden and mustard.  There are pickled Featherstone Farm radishes in the glass dish.   Lunch fit for a king.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cook thine enemy

I remember the first time my husband showed up at the back door with his prize.  He was proud and triumphant.  Eager and excited.  If he had been a dog he would have laid his offering at my feet, waiting for a good ear scratch and praise.  But as he is a human, he simply waved his gift before me... a freshly killed woodchuck.  I think I screamed or uttered some type of horrified sound.  I did not scratch his ears.

I have come a long way since that first woodchuck.   I know I am lucky to be married to a man who belongs to the endangered species of hunters and gatherers.  A man who can kill a woodchuck with his bare hands,  gut it, skin it,  remove the7 to 9 small kernel like scent glands under the forelegs and quarter it up for cooking -- just like chicken!

Let me make clear - my husband is not some kind of caveman or macho gun nut who likes to kill four legged furry creatures just for fun.  He is a serious gardener and open minded eater.  Also frugal.  So woodchucks who mess with his garden must meet their fate on a plate.

You are probably thinking about now that this is too weird for you -- that I am a total outlier because I have a little woodchuck in my freezer.  But you would be wrong.  I admit woodchuck is not yet a mainstream meat.  But did you know that there is a recipe for woodchuck in the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (page 615) ?  In the world of American cuisine, I don't think you can get much more mainstream than The Joy of Cooking. And did you know that woodchuck cuisine has even made it to the venerable New York Times? 

Follow the link below for the recipe for Woodchuck au vin.
This recipe is quite similar to the process I used for the woodchuck fricasee pictured in today's blog along with a picture of two hindlegs ready to saute and braise.  I did not use vermouth but did use plenty of red wine.  I used woodchuck stock, not beef stock, because that is what I had.   Because it is February and I had lots of great Featherstone Farm root vegetables on hand, I used parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas and turnips in addition to the carrots.  I took a pass on the olives because we don't have those in the stores in Fillmore County.  A few capers would be nice if you have them.

If you don't have a woodchuck hunter in your house,  you could make this wonderful winter vegetable stew with rabbit, chicken, pork, beef or lamb.  You could even make it without meat.  If you do that I suggest using a few cups of white beans for protein.

We are getting in touch with our inner carnivores.  I think my next post will be about homemade liverwurst.  Talk to you later.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is there a right way to cook a pork roast?

My sister from New York City was in town last week to help with preparations for moving our Dad to my house.  One night we catered a dinner for Dad, who is still in his apartment.  We even talked him into having a martini.  (One of his favorite things but he seldom indulges.  Don't you think at age 85 a person could let go of the deferred gratification imperative?)

We enjoyed a beet (roasted) and feta salad.  Also braised red cabbage (from the freezer), baked acorn squash and mashed potatoes.  And pork roast.  A two pound boneless pork loin. I was going to show you a picture but my camera battery died.  Oh well.  You will just have to believe me.

I don't often cook hunks of meat and my sister and I were a bit insecure about the details.  So we consulted the 1997 edition of Joy of  Cooking, the 1962 New Better Homes and Garden ("cherished by over 9,000,000 women"), the 1986 Betty Crocker Cookbook, Country Tastes by Beatrice Ojakangas (one of my favorite cookbook authors) and last but not least The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters - published just a few years ago.

What did we learn?   The path to good eating is not always clear.   Opinions diverge.    Recommendations for oven temperature ranged from 325 to 500 degrees.  Recommendations for internal temperature as measured by a meat thermometer ranged from 130 to 185 degrees. Roasting time was all over the map too.

After some consideration based on the size of the roast and the sum of our life experience we settled on a plan:  400 degrees and internal temperature of 160 degrees.  I think it took about 45 minutes.  We also rubbed some chopped fresh garlic,  salt and pepper and dried rosemary on the roast prior to cooking.  It turned out just fine.

Take home message for anxious cooks:   There is usually more than one way to skin a cat - or roast a piece of pork or cook a vegetable.   Don't be afraid to jump right in and find the ways that work for you.   Use common sense.  Trust your judgment.  Perhaps consult more than one reliable source - books, websites, your favorite blogs, your mother.  Make a few notes when you have success.  And pretty soon you will be cooking the right way - your way.