Dark Days Dining – Passing the Husband Test


My husband has declared my most recent creation straight out of the garden to be, “The perfect vegetable soup.” (You can see why I keep him around.) But the secret was actually a little trick I borrowed from his mother.

Vegetable Soup

The "Perfect" Vegetable Soup

I took my harvesting basket and a knife into the garden to see what I could find. We have dozens of broccoli shoots on plants I would have pulled out after the first head if the folks at Full Circle Farm hadn’t taught us better during our volunteer work day this winter. There’s also a nice crop of snap peas and snow peas–if you happen to find a time to pick them when the kids aren’t in the garden. ;-) I found beets, rutabagas, turnips and three or four different kinds of carrots. I am especially partial to the yellow ones in my winter cooking. They are a bright spot in the bowl that is surprisingly cheering this time of year. I also found plenty of oregano, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary. And celery loves the wet weather we’ve been having.

I started with the traditional olive oil, carrots, onions and celery in the big stock pot and added in the rest of the root vegetables as I chopped. I also had some potatoes that needed to be used and I tossed in some sweet potato, trying not to waste that either. When the vegetables started to soften, I added in some chopped garlic. A few minutes later, I added two cups of chopped tomatoes, with the juice, half a cup of cooked kidney beans, the herbs, salt, pepper and four cups of chicken stock.

I let that simmer for half an hour while I cleaned and prepped the peas, broccoli and greens. Some of my broccoli plants are perfectly clean and healthy, but some of the flowerettes I have been picking are over-run with aphids, requiring a good wash and even a quick soak in salt water to clean them. I need to get out there with some soap and then go buy the kids a tub or two of ladybugs. ;-)

After the flavors had settled a bit, I brought the soup to a low boil and added in the rest of the vegetables and covered the pot for two minutes. But it still tasted too tomato-y. It was a bit harsh like Summer Sauce when you haven’t cooked it down yet. This is where my mother-in-law comes in. I consult with her on all culinary mysteries. She told me to slowly add some more herbs and red wine, tasting in between each addition until the soup was more balanced. Well, certainly never noticed *that* on the back of a Campbell’s label. I had a nice Cabernet in the cupboard that served well.  Three pours and some oregano later, I rested the soup overnight in the refrigerator.

And then I fed it to my husband. The same husband who, when presented with my recent homemade creamed chicory, burst out with, “That is truly awful!” Luckily the vegetable soup went over better. He liked it, Hey Mikey!

Dark Days Dirt to Dinner Hunter’s Stew

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Everything But the Huntee

For some reason the holidays and all the local eating have brought out a craving for Hunter’s Stew. I originally intended to do it with venison, but had a hard time finding the cuts that I wanted and the buffalo I was offered instead admittedly looked fabulous. It may have come from just outside the 100 mile radius we’re shooting for, but the duck and the rabbit were both local, as were all the vegetables.

The stew started with Dirt to Dinner garden-grown onions, carrots, potatoes and pumpkin, seasoned with thyme, rosemary and parsley, also out of the yard. I planned to add in the shallots we grew, but forgot and used garlic instead. I would have happily added parsnips or celery, but neither of them are ready yet. The peas you see in the picture never made it into the kitchen. They were delicious straight out of the pods.

Garden Snack

The stew will be served with a turnip-rutabaga mash to soak up the delicious broth. It has eight hours in the crock pot to go, but I’m not sure I’m going to make it that long. I was worried that the duck would give the stew a greasy feel to it, so I only added the browned duck legs and it is smelling just right.

Dark Days Dirt to Dinner Week 1

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Big Soup from the Garden

The Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge began Sunday, November 15 and goes through March 31, 2010. Basically the idea is to make at least one meal each week with 90% local, sustainable, organic, ethical ingredients. I’m trying to cook as close to home as possible using ingredients that come straight out of the Dirt to Dinner garden.

Chinese CabbageThis weekend, to get warmed up, I took a few small liberties with Alice Water’s “Winter Minestrone with Turnips, Potatoes, and Cabbage” recipe from The Art of Simple Food. But I like to think that Alice would approve. It was fresh, organic and as local as the front yard after all. Some friends came down from San Francisco, and the enthusiastic audience set the tone.

I had to improvise right from the start with the soffritto because I don’t have celery ready yet. Our celery started from last year’s seed is still tiny. What we do have a bit of in the Dirt to Dinner garden is gorgeous ‘Rainbow’ chard. We fought the leaf miners long and hard this year to get that chard, so I’m making the best of it. Not only did we add it to the “Massaged Kale Salad” the last time the group met, I also used it for the soup. I took two long beet-red stalks of chard and chopped them as I would have the celery and tossed them in with one of the last “White Globe” onions and a variety of carrots ranging from ‘Yellowstone’ to ‘Purple Dragon’ which I snuck out of our carrot Fort Knox as thinnings. When the soffritto had colored nicely, I tossed in garlic, a handful of fresh thyme & some dried Italian parsley that we had growing all over in the spring.

Then I added a pound of ‘Tokyo Market’ turnips, with the greens, the leftover chard leaves, a handful of last tomatoes from a volunteer plant out back, a couple handfuls of our ‘All Blue’ potatoes and sliced up rings of two small leeks. The turnips have been growing in a low bed in the front garden for about six weeks now and they are wonderful. Germination rates have been amazing for this variety and they are small, sweet, tender turnips that even the kids eat happily. The leeks are slow growing and much thinner than I had hoped but they still taste good and the kids often prefer them to onions. The ‘All Blues’ are a story all their own!

The night before I had soaked some of the drying beans we grew this summer with kombu and toward the end of cooking, I added in about 3 cups of these along with the softened piece of kombu. All of this was topped off with a head of chopped Chinese Cabbage pulled from the garden and thoroughly rinsed to remove the slugs hiding in many of the leaf folds.

The bowls of soup were finished off with a splash of nice olive oil and a heaping spoonful of, admittedly not local, Parmesan. I could have finished them with homemade/homegrown pesto, but the cheese was a lovely addition. If you know how I can get some made within 100 miles, I’d love to try it.