...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.


Countdown to Turkey Time

I started cooking yesterday afternoon.  I'm trying to manage not only my oven space (different dishes need to be baked at different temps., of course), but also to get part of the mess out of the way so I can relax a little with my family tomorrow.  The biggest challenge has been coordinating space in the fridge for the bulk of ingredients from a Thanksgiving CSA share I picked up last week, the last of our garden harvest (which I frantically harvested yesterday after the overnight freeze), and the staged and finished dishes for Thursday's meal.  I find this thrilling!  I just realized I should have posted my Thanksgiving menu and recipes earlier than today in case someone was still looking for ideas, but since many of these dishes aren't exactly traditional, one could prepare them for any feast especially other upcoming holiday meals.  I am happy to say that most of the ingredients are from local producers and our own garden.  My parents are bringing wine from a winery they recently visited near their home in east-central Illinois.  A feast we will have as we give thanks for the many fortunes and much happiness we've had this past year.

Brined and Roasted American Heritage Bronze Turkey
Turkey Gravy
Cornbread Stuffing with Fruit and Polenta Bread
Classic Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Brined Brussels Sprouts with Lemony Mushroom Melange
Gluten-Free Sesame Bean Buns
Jellied Cranberry Salad with Spiced Apples and Pecans
Maple Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Gluten-Free Quinoa Walnut Crust

Shelled Acorns
My first acorn experiment is complete.  I patiently took these nuts from tree to meal/flour in about two days.  The initial attempt was a bit tedious, but I feel if I repeated it, I'd get my cracking technique down pat, which would save loads of time.  With some minor changes and adaptations, I referred to the instructions in The Urban Homestead book I referenced in a previous post.  This guide suggested that one soak the acorns first--which I did--then discard the ones that float.  On the contrary, I learned that the ones that float were the good and all that sank were rotten.  Then I got out the Vise-Grip and cracked away.  Of course Ben always walks into the kitchen at the most appropriate time.  He said, "this looks like the 'Black Walnut Experiment,'" referring to another urban adventure we had at our apartment downtown.  A co-worker had given me a grocery sack full of black walnuts after I excitedly inquired about them to make nocino (pronounced "no-CHEE-no"), a bitter black walnut liqueur I'd tasted on a culinary tour outside of Bologna.  This intensely flavored alcohol is made from nuts traditionally collected between June 24-25 because of the magical powers of the dew on that specific eve.   Well, these nuts sat there from June 24 to approximately December 24 before I finally got around to cracking them open.  In the cold, we set up some tarps on our tiny balcony and went to town with hammers, tweezers, and toothpicks doing our best to draw out as many nut meats as possible.  Most flew off the balcony with every whack of the hammer, much to the delight of the squirrels waiting below.  We ended up with a 1/2-pint of nuts, but it wasn't for naught as I'm determined to find some lesson in all of my urban homesteading trials.  I developed a much greater appreciation for small-scale (and I mean very small scale (like the elderly man who sells hand-shelled hickory nuts at the Dane County Farmers' Market) nut processors.  Now you can imagine the hesitation of Ben's expression when he saw I was at it again with these acorns.  After cracking them all I put them in my classic Osterizer, covering the nuts with water.  I soon realized this machine wouldn't cut it so I transferred them to the hand-be-down vintage Vita-Mix from my mother-in-law and that made quick work of these nuts.  The VM never fails!  I was left with acorn "mash."  Acorns contain lots of tannins (very bitter, astringent components also found in red wine) that must be soaked out before the nuts can be consumed.  Older wild foraging guides call for boiling the mash several times and dumping the water.  This takes a lot of energy so my guidebook suggested soaking in a bowl of water instead.  I tied the mash in a piece of scrim (you can use cheesecloth) and filled the bowl with water.  When the water became dark and cloudy I dumped it and filled it again.  I repeated this step for about 24 hours (leaving it to sit overnight) and finally the astringency was gone.  I spread the mash on a silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet and dried it at a low oven temp.  Then I whizzed it in the spice grinder to make a dark, sweet-nutty smelling meal/flour.  It can be added or partially substituted in savory baking recipes.  
Never Fails!

Soaking out the Tannins
Dried Mash

Final Ground Acorn Meal

On that note, I used some of my sunchoke flour yesterday to make cornbread for our Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing.  I indicated my substitutions in the recipe below so you could make it without these odd flours.

Polenta Cornbread
Serves 6

Use in place of your favorite cornbread or take it a step further, turning it into cornbread stuffing.

Sunchokes add a lovely earthy, nutty flavor to this bread.
5 large eggs, whisked
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 lb. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. finely sliced scallions
1 1/2 t. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/4 c. APF, 1/2 c. sunchoke flour, 1/4 c. wild rice flour)
1 1/2 c. fine grind polenta
2 T. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1 c. grated Asiago cheese (or other cheese of your choosing)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly butter 9x13-inch baking dish.  In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, butter, scallions, salt.  Set aside.  In large bowl, combine flour(s), polenta, baking powder, baking soda, cheese.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until there no large lumps.  Do not overwork.  Spread batter in baking dish.  Bake 30-35 min. or until golden brown and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on rack.  

Jump, Jump, Jump!
Just in time for more Thanksgiving meal preparations today, an early holiday delivery arrived from Grammy and Papa for Vera yesterday.  I call it "Mommy's Little Helper."  You may have seen these towers.  They are meant for kids to be able to reach the countertop to observe or help prepare meals.  Vera's always asking to go "up and down," which in this case mean's "up" when I'm cooking.  She's curious about what I'm chopping, mixing, and sauteeing.  Now she can stand beside me--in her little apron--and view her own personal cooking show every day.  So far she's just used this piece of equipment as a jungle gym under my supervision, of course.  Oh my, the hysteria (or "high-steria" as my Boston-bred father-in-law would say)!  But that will no doubt wear off and hopefully she'll want to help me "cook."  Apparently it can double as a puppet theatre.  I'm expecting to see some Tony Award-Nominated sock puppets shows before she leaves home.  In the meantime maybe I can get her learning about cooking early on. 

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