Local Food Resolutions for 2010?

As the year draws to a close and the seed catalogues arrive in the mail, my thoughts have turned to the garden. Though I wouldn’t exactly call them resolutions, I do have plans to expand my intake of local food, such as adding at least one more garden bed (hopefully two) so that I can grow potatoes and a lot more basil. If this year’s grapevine survives the winter, I intend to give it company. The biggest step of all: chickens!

I’ve subscribed to Backyard Poultry, whose purpose is self-evident. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll brooder the chicks or have someone else do that for me, and no, I don’t have a coop, but I’ve looked at plans. Small steps. Even though I have found local sources for eggs, I can’t always get them when I want them; there’s the inevitable appointment scheduling to pick them up, etc. I want my own eggs. Yes, I still want a pair of dairy goats, too, but you’ve got to start somewhere!

What are your local food resolutions for next year?

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Fresh Brioche Cinnamon Bread

A fresh loaf of brioche cinnamon bread

I made this loaf of cinnamon bread with leftover brioche dough, which I had used to make my Christmas-morning sweet rolls.  It makes fantastic toast!

Brioche is a sweet French bread made with butter and eggs, and makes good sweet rolls and French toast. This recipe comes out of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book; it will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Brioche

1 ½ cups lukewarm water

1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast

1 ½ tablespoons salt

8 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup honey

1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

7 ½ cups unbleached flour

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix the flour without kneading using a spoon or a large capacity mixer or food processor with a dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands in work in the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled; don’t try to work with it before chilling.

Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours, until dough rises and collapses on top.

The dough can be used as soon as it’s chilled after the initial rise. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze the dough in 1-pound portions for up to 4 weeks. When using frozen dough, thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours before using, then allow usual rest and rise times.

On baking day, grease a 9x4x3 loaf pan. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit sized) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

Elongate into an oval and place in prepared pan. Allow to rest for 1 hour and 20 minutes. If making cinnamon bread, roll dough out into an oval or rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Brush top of dough with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and then roll into a log. You may have to cut of the ends to get it to fit into the loaf pan (that’s what those funny little buns are in my photo). Since I had rolled it out, I allowed it to rest and rise for at least 1 ½ hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush top of crust with an egg wash if you wish.

Place bread near the center of the oven and bake fore 35 – 40 minutes or until a medium golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing.

 Because I made my loaf with more than a 1-pound piece, mine was probably 1 ½ pounds (cantaloupe sized), I baked it for an hour at 350 degrees. This makes fantastic toast!

Potato Leek Soup

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite nights of the year for many reasons, one of them being my family’s (and possibly yours too) traditional meal of oyster soup. Yes, I’m aware oysters aren’t local on the Northern Plains; at least the mollusk variety — there are others… But I digress, back to soup. As much as I love those briny little creatures, not everyone does, and like many folks, I end up making two soups. So I figured today was a good day to publish my recipe for potato leek soup.

I call it “my” recipe because it’s the one I use; however, it came to me from Nancy Hartenhoff several years ago. The amounts aren’t hard and fast; this is a very forgiving soup, and I honestly never measure anything when I make it. It always turns out tasty!

Potato Leek Soup

 2 or 3 Leeks (onions also work well if you don’t have leeks)

Olive oil or butter

4 Cups (approximately) Chicken broth (or vegetable)

4 or 5 medium potatoes

Milk, half-and-half, or cream

 Sauté the leeks in oil or butter (I use olive oil) until they’re soft and translucent. Add the broth and potato chunks, cook until potatoes are soft. Add the milk, half-and-half, or cream and heat through but do not boil. I usually use 2 percent milk, but have been known to use a combination of 1 percent milk and half-and-half. I usually add 2 to 3 cups of milk, depending on how much liquid is in the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste; enjoy!

Fair Trade Coffee

If your house is like mine, your oven has been in regular use the past few days baking pans of Christmas cookies. Sugar cookies, gingerbread, snickerdoodles, oh my! So what are you going to drink to wash down all those cookies? My guess would be coffee or hot cocoa.

Those are two items we just can’t grow here, but by purchasing fair-trade certified coffee and cocoa, we can ensure that small, family farmers can make a living. Rather than lining the pockets of Folgers and Maxwell House (owned by Proctor & Gamble and Kraft Foods, respectively), who often pay farmers less than the cost of production or else buy up large tracts of land in developing countries in order to grow the beans themselves, we can help create sustainable communities with our buying power.

The most common fairly traded coffee comes from Equal Exchange, an organization that certifies and markets sustainably grown, fair trade products. Custer County Market also sells several varieties, which is where I usually buy mine. Look for the bright yellow bag and Equal Exchange logo where you shop. If you can’t buy it at the store, you can also order wholesale online or check with your local churches. Equal Exchange has partnered with various church organizations all over the country, such as Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Coffee Project, Catholic Relief Services, and the Methodist Coffee Project. Call your local church to see if they participate; if they do, they probably have products for sale. For more information, visit http://www.equalexchange.coop/ for more information. There are other fair-trade certified brands as well, and some companies, such as Dry Creek Coffee in Hill City, offer one or two fairly traded varieties.

This Christmas season, please do your part in creating a healthier, more just food system.

Raw Milk Rules Withdrawn

Thought this might help spread a little Christmas cheer: today I received an email from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture bearing the happy tidings that the proposed raw milk rules have been withdrawn. This is thanks to everyone who attended the hearing and submitted written comments; there is power in numbers.

Secretary Bill Even stated that he has decided to withdraw the proposed rules but intends to continue working on the issue. This is an opportune time to communicate with him about what we, producers and consumers, believe to be beneficial. In the meantime, take a few moments to email Secretary Even and express your thanks at his decision. If we can keep the lines of communication open with the department, it will make it easier to address this issue in the future.

Click here to read the letter: Raw Milk Rules Hearing December 21, 2009

Pesto in December, huh?

Yesterday I was paging through a women’s magazine while waiting at the orthodontist’s office. As usual, I skipped all the decorating stuff and went straight to the recipes; then I double-checked the magazine’s date. Yes, it really was the December issue, so why on Earth was there a recipe for pesto-guacamole stuffed tomatoes?

Granted, the cute little appetizers were red and green, but pesto and fresh tomatoes in December? It makes no sense to advocate using such seasonal ingredients months after their peak has passed. Yes, I can buy fresh hothouse tomatoes at the grocery store, but we all know what they’ll taste like: packing peanuts. Fresh basil is a bit tougher; it occasionally makes an appearance at the store, but only a sprig or two at a time in a tiny plastic box. Of course, that half-ounce will set you back $2.75. I figure that for my pesto recipe, I’d need 20 packets, making that charming pesto a whopping $55 plus tax.

However, I do have several packets of frozen pesto in my freezer, made when the basil was plentiful (and a frost was looming) late last August. That’s when you need to think about pesto, not after a week of sub-zero temperatures. Even though I have the pesto, I’ll forego the disappointing tomatoes and skip that appetizer all together.

The other summery recipe sported by the magazine touted peppermint as a cure for holiday stomach ailments. True enough. The snippet of an article stated that you should drink peppermint tea for indigestion, which I have done, and it works well. Peppermint tea is made from dried peppermint, so it’s available in any season. However, the other suggestion was to make a mint julep, for which you need two sprigs of fresh mint. Hmm, my mint is long dormant. Of course it’s available in those little packets for slightly less than the basil, and in a quantity just right for the drink, if you don’t mind venturing out in frigid temperatures for the sake of an herb sprig.

While amusing on the surface, these ideas touted by a major publication illustrate the utter disconnect our society has with seasonal foods. So we’ll just keep eating seasonally, and hopefully those magazines will catch on eventually. It may take awhile though; their writers are out scouring the shops for fresh basil and mint sprigs.