...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Local Food in Early Spring

We made it through the winter with plenty of local food still in tact.  It's not December and January that concern me when planning how to stock our larder, but late February and, especially, March.  Even the beginning of April is rough in that time between last year's preserves and new greens popping out of the ground.  We managed to store own our pumpkins and garlic all winter on a wooden, open-slatted rack in the basement, my preserve pantry is still bursting with pickles, jams, and canned fruits, and for the first time I've kept up with working through the food in our upright basement freezer (see, the time I spent creating an inventory checklist to hang on the freezer door wasn't for naught.)  This year we've also continued to support farmers we know that grow spinach all winter in hoophouses and have frozen local meats and poultry.  I love the challenge of putting together a locally sourced meal in the depths of late winter and early spring.  But enough talk about winter, that's in the past.  Now the garden displays tiny rows of green sprouts soon to be salad mix and mustard greens and the red and golden beets finally showed themselves yesterday.  Even though the news season's veggies are in sight, I am cooking the memories of last fall.  I haven't shared any recipes lately so I wanted to post a couple that I've made recently.

Plan ahead to forage for wild grape leaves this spring.  June is the ideal time, before the leaves get too big and tough.  I found these along a pathway near the lake.

Stuffed Grape Leaves
Serves 8
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  This recipe and more details about wild foraging will be featured in my column in the May issue of the Outpost Exchange magazine (see "Links I Like" for more.) 

About 3 dozen grape leaves, home pickled (see recipe to follow) or store bought, preserved in brine
1 lb. ground pastured lamb
3 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 T. grapeseed oil
2 c. cooked brown rice or bulgur wheat
1 c. fresh dill or 1/2 c. dried dill
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1 bunch green onions or chives, chopped
3 T. toasted pine nuts
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste

Spread grape leaves on paper towels to drain.  In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook lamb thoroughly and set aside.  Saute onions in oil until soft.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients plus lamb.  Place the grape leaves on a board, shiny sides down, and put 1-2 T. rice mixture in the center of each leaf.  Fold the sides of the leaves to the center, then roll them up tightly, starting from the stem end.  Place in a bamboo steamer or other steamer basket and steam for 30 min.  Serve with lemon wedges and yogurt sauce.

Preserved Grape Leaves

Yields 1 pint
Recipe from the Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series from the UW-Extension

About 3 dozen tender, light-green grape leaves, stemmed
2 t. canning and pickling salt
4 c. water
1 c. water plus 1/4 c. bottled lemon juice

Measure 2 t. salt and 4 c. water into a large saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Add grape leaves, and blanch them for 30 seconds.  Drain.  Stack the leaves in small piles of about 6 each, and roll the stacks loosely from the side.  Pack into a clean, hot pint home canning jar, folding the ends over if necessary.  In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 1 c. water and 1/4 c. lemon juice.  Pour the hot liquid over the rolled leaves, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Remove bubbles with a rubber spatula.  Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth.  Cap jar with a pretreated lid.  Adjust lid.  Process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes for pints.

Note:  These leaves are not salty and will not have to be rinsed before stuffing.  If you choose not to process, keep them in your fridge after they've cooled.

Our neighbor dropped off a grocery bag of Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) last night.  They grow at their cottage and she gave me some a few years ago.  I planted them in our yard not realizing how prolific (and potentially invasive) they can be.  They are native--related to sunflowers--but can still take over in an unhealthy way.  Last spring I harvested about 12 pounds from a tiny corner of our yard, but vowed not to let them grow back.  I don't see any new growth this year so I think I managed to finally eradicate them.  Of course, now I miss them.  I may end up planting one or two from this special delivery.

Roast Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes, Celeriac, and Tarragon White Wine Sauce
Serves 4-6 with leftovers
Adapted from the MACSAC cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce

a 4-lb. local chicken
salt and freshly ground pepper
several sprigs fresh tarragon
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
2-3 T. butter, well softened
1/2-2/3 lbs. Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
1/2 lb. celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2-2/3 c. dry white wine
1 T. chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 c. half-and-half or 1/4 c. water mixed with 1 T. flour (optional)

Rinse bird inside and out with cold water; pat dry with paper towels inside and out, then let stand until it comes to room temp., about 1 hour.  Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Sprinkle chicken generously inside and out with salt and pepper.  Tuck tarragon sprigs and garlic inside the body cavity.  Spread butter all over outside of bird (be sure to get some under the skin too.)  Place chicken in a roasting pan just big enough to hold it and the vegetables (but don't add veggies yet.)  Place it in the oven with legs toward the back of the oven.  Roast 20-30 min., then baste and scatter the vegetables around it, coating them with pan drippings.  Continue to roast the chicken with the legs toward the back, basting every 20-30 min.  After each basting you may also, if desired, turn the chicken in the pan a quarter-turn to brown all sides.  It will take a total of about 1 1/2 hours to get it nice and brown and fully cooked.  Remove from pan and let it rest on a cutting board.  Let the veggies and pan drippings stand for 5-10 min., then skim off excess fat.  Add wine and chopped tarragon and simmer 10 min.  Serve the sauce as is, enrich with cream, or thicken it with the water/flour mixture.  Carve and serve with the veggies and sauce.  Enjoy with a bottle of cold white wine.

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