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We got a glimpse of Jack Frost earlier this week, but tonight he’s making his big entrance. He’s fashionably late this year, and we are ready to greet him. All the squash and pumpkins are in, plus all we could glean from the tender plants, and the field corn is as big as we could have hoped for. Goodbye, basil, peppers, and green tomatoes. Hasn’t it been a good run? Feedback from members confirms my own opinion that the produce was exceptionally tasty this year. Mark always says that a dry year will do that, on the same principle that makes fertilizer-pushed greenhouse-grown produce taste wishy-washy: making plants struggle a little bit concentrates their nutrients and flavor. Like character in people, perhaps.
I got lots of good feedback from last week’s note about cooking from the share, so I thought I’d do it again this week. This time, we’re going to discuss what-shall-not-be-called leftovers. That word has yucky connotations, and rightly so. Nobody really wants to see the same meatloaf for three dinners in a row, no matter how good it was the first time. On the other hand I don’t know anyone who has the time to build 21 meals every week from the ground up. (If you do, have him come help us harvest the potatoes instead.) Which leads to this idea of cooking large amounts of certain things, and repurposing them throughout the week. I usually have a week’s worth of cooked beans in the fridge, ready to be used for chili, bean dip, refried beans, hummus, veggie burgers, or on their own for a side. If they are there you will find a way to use them. Here’s another example. This week, I roasted a load of squash, plus a whole bunch of eggplant all at the same time on Monday morning. (Remember that 30% of food’s total energy bill is spent after you get it home, so it’s good to fully optimize big-ticket energy items like oven usage.) The first day, we had hot roasted squash with butter and sage as a side dish. The next day, I featured squash bisque. The day after that, I scraped the remaining squash into a batch of croquettes, which leant them an appealing sweetness and bright color. I didn’t use the eggplants for a day or two after they were cooked, but they were perfectly happy in the fridge until they got transformed into a rocking roasted eggplant curry. No leftovers there, and an almost-instant meal to boot.
One of my favorite ways to recombine different elements from the fridge is the fritter or croquette. Actually, the way I make them, they’re not technically fritters or croquettes, but more like savory pancakes. I serve them for a hearty breakfast, for a main course at lunch, or for a fast dinner. Believe me, no matter what you call them or when you serve them, nobody in the family is going to complain when you make these. As a bonus, they are easy, forgiving, and endlessly versatile. Begin with what you already have in the fridge. For me this week, it was a bit of wheat porridge, some meatloaf, cooked broccoli, a little finely chopped raw kale, and the aforementioned squash. Mix your own leftovers elements up in a big bowl, and add enough eggs, flour and buttermilk to make a batter, plus enough baking soda to give it a bit of fluff. (As a rough guideline, I’d guess that for every three to four cups of elements, you’ll want two to three large eggs, a cup of flour, a cup of buttermilk and a teaspoon of baking soda.) Now, the key to making these puppies sing is all in the seasoning. Without seasoning, they are bland and boring. No matter what you’re starting with, I think onion is essential. Half to one grated onion would work for the example we’re using. (That’s grated, not chopped. These won’t cook long enough to get rid of raw onion flavor if it’s chopped.) Add plenty of salt (taste the batter before you cook and correct if necessary!) and some pepper. And if you have them, add some finely chopped fresh herbs or chives for color and flavor. If this whole thing sounds too potluck-hodgepodge for you, remember to unify the theme with your seasoning. E.g., go toward India with turmeric, garam masala, ginger and garlic, costal with Old Bay seasoning, Mediterranean with fines herbes, etcetera.
Cook these just as you would pancakes, but with a more oil or lard in the skillet, since there is no fat in the mix and it’s nice when they get a little crisp. Err on the small side, and spread the batter out with your ladle so it cooks through. Wait for the edges to dry and the bubbles on the surface to pop before you flip. If it’s getting too dark on the first side before that happens, your skillet is too hot. Serve them with an interesting topping. Sour cream is a favorite at our house when we have it, and chutneys or compotes work well too. This is pretty dense food, so a light side is all that is necessary – bitter greens salad or grated carrot with vinaigrette would be perfect. If you make awesome fritters this week, send me a picture and a description.
In other news, Mark and I would like to run an idea by you members to gauge your interest. We’re planning to start an Essex Farm firewood share next year. We envision a windrow of split, cured wood from which you can take your supply when you need it. It will be free choice, with price for your share based on your estimated usage for the season. We are still working on numbers, but figure about $300 per cord. The logs will come from the farm and be pulled out by the horses. If we have some interest on this we’ll use first revenues for a horse-powered splitter. You can see one powered by Jason Rutledge’s Suffolk on You Tube, here: http://tinyurl.com/97klo7t Please let us know if this share is something you think you’d be interested in. We will need to start now, to cure wood for next winter.
In a related note, Chad Vogel, our erstwhile farmer and ax man extraordinaire, is offering horse powered logging, lumber, and firewood services. Chad, Fern and Arch give free assessments. You can reach Chad at 540-270-7610 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that is the news from Essex Farm for this nippy 41st week of 2012.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball
Plenty of news from the farm this week, but the note is dedicated to some tips for making your kitchen run smoothly when you’re cooking exclusively (or nearly so) from the share. Some of you have been doing it for years, but we have a lot of new members who are just beginning to make that swing from grocery store to farm food. It’s a big transition, but it doesn’t have to be arduous. These ideas may sound obvious, but they are some of the habits that have survived the long haul in my kitchen, and ones I find really useful.
1. When you are cooking whole food, the week needs to have a rhythm. Mine starts on Friday, when I clean out the fridge, toss anything that has made its final showing, repurpose anything that is still delicious and move it to the front of the shelves. Then I assess what I have in the fridge, pantry and freezer. I write down what I need to refill, like flours, eggs, beans, etc. I pick up our share on Saturday. After I unpack the food I make a list of what I think I’m going to cook for a main dish each day and write it on the calendar. This is subject to change, but it gives me a fallback plan if I need it. I also write down what I’ve brought in for vegetables and post it. Sunday and Monday I try to cook more than we need so we have things prepared for the rest of the week, when our schedules get busier.
2. I have a set of 5 mesh produce bags to remind me how much to take at pickup. This one simple thing took me years to figure out. Before the mesh bags, I would just grab a handful of plastic bags of all sizes, and get so excited about the latest delicious-looking vegetable that I’d usually take way too much and then watch it rot in the fridge for a while before throwing it in the compost. Now I use the same mesh bags for vegetables every week, fill them all up, and resist the temptation to take more. While filling them, I’m already thinking about what they might become. For our family, five bags is generous, and more is just fridge clutter. Also, the bags remind me to use what I’ve got. If I get toward the end of the week and I still have a lot of vegetables in the bags, I begin focusing on them, so they get eaten. For example, this week, I used zucchini for a main course one day and added chopped kale to the meatloaf another day because I could see I had a lot of it left. I like these: www.flipandtumble.com. Herbs, however, get washed when they come in, then stored with a piece of paper towel in an open ziplock storage bag so they stay fresh.
3. The days need to have a rhythm too. Cooking really starts the night before. Before I go to bed, I decide what I’m making for breakfast and lunch the next day. (Those are our big meals – supper takes care of itself with minimal effort.) That way, I can soak the beans or the grains, pull out meat to defrost, and if I know I’m going to have a really busy morning, I’ll even get some of the prep work done. I like to do this after the kids are in bed, so I can just turn on the radio, drink a thimbleful of port, mellow out and enjoy it.
4. When I first met Mark I used to get freaked out by what I saw as severe breakfast rigidity. He posted a chart of what he’d make in the morning each day of the week. It made me feel wildly claustrophobic, and I destroyed it. For years, “Oatmeal Thursdays” was shorthand between us for our differences in that department. Enter children, and the need to get everyone calmly fed and out the door in time for school, and without any boxed cereal. Now, guess what? I have a breakfast schedule. Pancakes every Monday, rye/wheat porridge or oatmeal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and biscuits or muffins on Wednesdays. We wing it on Fridays and Saturdays and do waffles on Sundays. Eggs, yogurt and granola are available every day. Like I said, breakfast is a big meal at our house.
5. I always have a few things ready to eat, in the freezer and on the snack shelf, for the inevitable surprises. Whenever I make chili or soup, I make extra and freeze it. I had a cold this week and was so happy to stay in bed one morning, knowing that I had some excellent chili in the freezer that I could just pop in a pan and warm up for the girls for their lunch. Snack-wise, I always have a bag of homemade whole grain crackers in the pantry, plus a jar of homemade granola. That way the sweet-crunchy and the salty-crunchy joneses can always be satisfied, and the crackers are something to offer unexpected guests. Last year’s popcorn is also in the pantry, and I must say it pops better now than it did when we harvested it. Popcorn plus butter and salt is almost-instant gratification, and about the best snack you can ask for.
6. Make sure you keep it fun. If your counter is cluttered, your knives are dull, or you have a cruddy peeler, you’re never going to have a good time in your kitchen.
If you have other general tips about how you manage a farm-based kitchen, shoot me an email, and I’ll include them in another note. And finally, a few little announcements. Please remember that though we love them, dogs (other than our Jet!) are not allowed at the farm. Make your quarterly or monthly payments if you haven’t done so yet, and for members who pay weekly, please remember that if you miss a week’s pickup, you still need to make your weekly payment. And that is the news from the kitchen for this drippy 40th week of 2012.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball
-Kristin & Mark Kimball