Sausage and Potato Soup

This is the epitome of a seasonal dish, and a real “pantry-buster”.  A traditional homestead would have veggies in the root cellar such as potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, etc. and cured and smoked meats such as ham and sausage.  So this dish is easy to put together.  Even if you don’t have some or all of the items, because they are seasonal, they are generally less expensive at the grocery.

wpid-img_20150204_094255815.jpgThe ingredients for this dish are simple, adjust amounts for how large a batch you’d like to make. Use potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and your favorite sausage. Peas and/or corn are good additions, as well. Use whatever you have. You may notice by now potatoes, garlic, etc., are looking a bit wilty. This is a sign it is time to use them up! These veggies are fine to use as long as they retain their fresh normal smell. Cut open your potatoes to be sure there are no spots in the middle.  Peel all the vegetables and cut into fairly uniform sized pieces.

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I like to cook this soup in stages. First, I like to cook the sausages, uncut. “Fry” them in the pot with just a touch of oil. This lets them develop their flavor to the fullest, the skins sealing in all the juices.  Once the sausage is sizzling and weeping, add the cut veggies and gently pour in just enough water to cover.  Or you can use any stock you may have saved.

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Cover and gently simmer the soup for at least an hour, until the vegetables sink, indicating they are fully cooked.  At this point, pull the sausages and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Return them to the pot, add a couple cups more liquid and return to simmer.

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Now you can decide if you want to make this soup creamy or brothy.  Either way, it’s time to add the rue.  Rue is the secret to thickening sauces and soups without lumps.  Rue is simply a paste formed from a mixture of lot liquid and flour.  Pull about a cup of HOT liquid from the soup into a smaller bowl or measuring cup. Stir in about 1/4 c flour, more depending on how big your batch of soup is.  Thoroughly combine the liquid and flour to form a thick paste. Then re-introduce the rue to the soup, stirring constantly until the rue disappears into the soup.  To reach full thickening potential, the soup must now be brought to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  It need only boil shortly to activate the rue.  Then let it back off and reduce to simmer. The soup should now fill about half your pot and be about twice as thick as you expect the finished product.  If it is not thick enough, repeat the process of pulling liquid and combining with flour, measuring by Tablespoons, until the desired thickness is reached.

From here, if a creamy soup is desired, it is time to add milk, cream or a mixture of the two.  If a brothy soup is desired, add more water or stock, filling the pot.  Simmer another hour, stirring occasionally, to marry all the flavors, and then the soup is ready to serve.

Follow these guidelines and be inspired by whatever you have in your pantry or root cellar to create a wonderful soup or stew to ward off the Winter chill.

To learn more about the energy-free tradition of root cellaring, I recommend this book, Root Cellaring by Nancy and Mike Bubel.

 

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Chive Alive!

One of the first plants to come up in the Spring is the humble little Chive.   That tasty grass-looking herb with the mild onion flavor.

This member of the Allium genus is easy to grow and is often the first success of a fledgling perennial herb garden.  It grows in a clump of tiny bulbits, which start out as white at the soil line but quickly turn green as you travel up the stem.  The bulbits send out fresh growth early each Spring, with beautiful onion-scented purple flowers soon after.  These flowers attract many pollinators, and they will soon turn pale and papery, full of angular black seeds which are easily collected or shaken out to resow.  It is easy to reproduce chives by dividing the bulbits as well, so if you have a friend growing them, they will likely be happy to share some.

This herb is well-known for its mild onion flavor that is most commonly seen with sour cream atop a baked potato.  But the Chive’s delicious flavor can add real pick-me-up to a variety of dishes, salads, and even condiments.  Chop or snip raw chives on to dishes for a fresh onion pop of flavor, or add to blended salad dressings, dips, hummus, anywhere you like a little zip.  The beautiful purple blooms are edible, too, and their unique oniony flavor makes a beautiful addition to salads, quiches, and salsas.

Chives are plentiful in the Spring, and will continue to grow after the blooms fade in May, but the growth the rest of summer is not as vigorous.  Cutting the plants back to about an inch high after the flowers drop can help.  Chives are very easy to dehydrate to use later; they can be cut long and hung to dry or placed in a dehydrator, they left whole or chopped.  They can also be cut to size of choice and frozen with water in ice cube trays.  Pop the cubes out when done and store in a zip-lock freezer bag.

Chives have a cousin called Garlic Chives.  They are very similar in flavor and habit, except the leaves on Garlic Chives are a bit flat, and the flowers are white instead, and the blooms a bit more spread out on the stem.  They appear almost like the shower of fireworks.  And yes, the flavor is a bit more toward garlic.

If you already have Chives, they are likely growing and close to blooming by now.  If not, now is the time to find some and put some in your herb garden.  They also grow well in a pot on your windowsill.  Either way, chives are a great herb for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike, easy to grow and so many ways to use.  A great way to sneak a little “fresh vegetable” into your everyday dishes.

The High Tunnel Waketh

High Tunnel on March 17, 2012

The lengthening days have finally awoken the spinach, arugula, lettuces and mustard greens growing in the hoophouse.  Their colors have deepened, their leaf growth rapidly gaining size and yummy crisp flavor.  We have been enjoying these delicacies with our dinners, and our customers have enjoyed finding an unexpected treat for sale at market.

Incorporating these early greens is a great way to spruce up the end of Winter seasonal diet, when starches, pickles and dehydrated herbs make up the bulk of what’s left in the pantry and root cellar. Crisp, fresh greens are a welcome change, and are packed full of nutrients your body needs to begin flushing out the Winter’s accumulation of toxins from your system.  Eating them raw is especially good.

These greens pair well with things you might have left from your Winter store.  Add apples, raisins, nuts, and other dried fruits to a fresh lettuce salad.

Ruby Streaks and Giant Red Mustard

 Mustard greens have a spicy radish-like flavor that goes really well with smoked meat.  Bacon ends, ham hocks, even fatty trimmings from a ham can be lightly braised (cooked in about 2 inches of water at med-low heat for about 10 mins) with a bunch of roughly-chopped mustard greens.  Serve with butter, salt and pepper, and vinegar if you like as a side to a nice ham, pork roast or deep-fried turkey.

Arugula has a pleasant nutty-peppery flavor.  It is terrific as a salad alone or as an accent to a rich main dish.  Arugula is classically-prepared by washing the greens and tossing to coat with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  This is an elegant, nutritious salad by itself, or makes a lovely bed for steamed vegetables, poached fish, curry, anything.  Or roughly chop the arugula and spread atop potatoes  the serve with steak or roast beast.  Arugula also makes a fine pesto, and is great on top of pizza.

Arugula

The spinach is enjoyed raw or lightly steamed and makes an excellent side dish.

Spinach

 

Traditional Spinach Salad is made from:

fresh raw spinach

slivered red onion

hard boiled eggs

mushrooms

generous pieces of bacon

To make a hot bacon dressing:  Save the melted fat from cooking the bacon.  While still warm, stir in 2 Tbs brown sugar, 2 Tbs mustard. and 2 Tbs vinegar of choice.

Serve Spinach Salad with Hot bacon Dressing.  Top with salt and pepper.

 

 

Greens are an excellent source of iron and an even better source of calcium than milk!  I remember enjoying them as a child, lightly wilted with a splash of vinegar, salt, pepper, and a generous pat of butter.  Or lighten up by tossing with garlic and olive oil instead.  Greens can be added to scrambled eggs, quiche, soups, stews, stir-frys, and pasta dishes.

The forecast is wonderful to keep the greens growing, and we look forward to delighting or customers at out next market with their choice to add to their own menus.

This St. Patrick’s Day, I got my green on!

 

Artisans are Crafting Cultural Identity

Artisanal And Authentic, The Flavors Of The New Year

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/01/144442022/artisanal-and-authentic-the-flavors-of-the-new-year

This NPR story highlights the upsurge in popularity of locally made and crafted items, foods and other items such as fiber and baked-goods that are procured and created fresh from local farms.

We have seen this rise in popularity here in our own community, with groups such as the Southern Tier Farm Artisans, a group formed of local artisans and crafts people exhibiting their products and demonstrating their tools and techniques at local events.  These events are well-attended by the public, with many interested patrons eager to learn about crafts that are fast disappearing from our society.

The term “Artisan” has an interesting connotation.  To me it calls to mind uniquely hand-crafted items, the very opposite if the mass-produced, look-alike items one finds at the shopping mall.  Artisan items are not one-size-fits-all.  They are not all exactly the same size, shape and hue.  They are not predictable.  They come from time-tested methods of production, family secrets passed down for generations, some closely guarded.  They are made from what’s available in the landscape of their particular area, what is at hand at the time, from what this particular season will offer.  Artisans items tell a story, have a history behind them, and carry the Energy of the person or people who worked so hard to bring them to fruition.

In the past, the many towns, villages, and regions peppering the countryside used to take great pride in being different from one another.  Many of the cheeses of Europe were named after the town from which they came, and the authenticity was a cherished part of their culture.  Stilton, Cheddar, and Emmenthal were well-known, along with a multitude of lesser-know but much-loved varieties each as unique a town’s own zip code.  Friendly rivalries between regions were part of yearly celebrations.  Quality wines also shared this distinction, each named after the region of their birth, and appellation is strictly controlled.  The same goes for honey, maple syrup, and seasonal jams.  Each jar tells the story of the landscape from which they were produced.

The outside observer might find the multitude of choices overwhelming, not quite the “Big Three” we’re used to today.  But one key reason for this variety is the very basic fact that each treasured creation is not meant to be liked by everybody.   They are not exactly what everybody likes. Particularity is welcome.  You can pick your favorite.  Or your favorite today.  We have become accustomed to our choices being significantly narrowed by what the mainstream market wants to sell us, and along with this, we are whitewashed as a culture to the point where we are all supposed to like (or be seen consuming) all the same things.  The Joneses set the tone, we are all supposed to “keep up”.  What used to be a glorious rainbow of individual tastes and preferences had been blended and re-blended until we are left with the very predictable shade of purple-puce that results from mixing all your paint colors. This rekindled interest in the unique and discernible is a backlash against all this muddling.

So keep in mind when you visit the farmers market or your local bakery or micro-brewery that what they are going to offer you will not  be what you’re used to.  That’s why you are there.  Artisan bread is very far from Wonder bread.  Or even the “Artisan” breads offered at your local grocery.  A good micro-brewed Stout will not taste like Beck’s Dark.  A good artisan-crafted jar of fruit jam is nothing  like Smucker’s.  They will be singularly sensual experiences, taking us back to the true roots and meaning of the foods we have carried with us through all these generations.  You may even encounter something that does not suit your taste.  But your neighbor will like it, you can agree to disagree and that is OK.  And together you keep your favorite crafters in business.

It is this uniqueness of our particular landscape that sets us apart from the next region and what gives us our own cultural identification.  America’s mass-market culture is trying to put all the same stores and plazas in every corner of the globe, so that to a stranger driving from one community to the next, the towns all look the same from the Interstate.  Only by identifying and supporting our region’s natural gifts will we solidify our own cultural individuality.  And our signature “flavor” is what visitors will experience and come to expect when visiting from other regions.

So make a point in this your New Year to find your own favorite Artisan producers in your area. Get off the beaten-path a little to find those unique little shops where they are still doing it “the old-fashioned way” and not only turning out some great product but also preserving a piece of the past.  And be prepared:  You may encounter something that you do not like.  You may, in fact, find something you absolutely love!

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