Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking Up a Storm

We have been having a relatively severe winter storm here in Portland. In the 12 years I've lived here, I don't ever recall temperatures this low for so long or seeing it snow everyday for a week. Except for a quick trip on Wednesday to Growers Outlet, our local produce market, I have been home since going out to knit with friends on Monday evening. Stuck inside, watching the snow blow from the east and then the west, I've been keeping warm in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.

For dinner one evening, I brined a pork loin and then roasted it along with some cauliflower, seasoned simply with just olive oil, salt and pepper. A couple days later we put the leftover meat in the slow cooker with some canned tomatoes, green tomato chutney from my friend Harriet, molasses, wine, and oregano, and had lovely pulled pork for sandwiches. There was still some of that leftover and Mike had the idea to use it in a tamale pie. So, we managed three utterly different meals with one piece of meat.

Friday night's fish was pan-fried pistachio crusted halibut with not-so spicy yogurt. This turned out perfectly, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. I vastly simplified the yogurt, just swirling in a little fresh dill and lemon juice into homemade yogurt. I made fish cakes with the leftovers last night, adding a bit of It's Alive Sea Vegetable Sauerkraut to the mix along with finely chopped celery, homemade mayonnaise, dulse flakes, panko and a couple eggs. I dredged the cakes in panko as well, which gave them a nice crunchy finish with they were cooked.

For lunch one day last week, I satisfied a hankering I have had for pasta e fagioli for several weeks. In the process, I made a triple batch of navy beans and now have two quarts in the freezer for more soups or maybe dip. This morning, I came across this recipe for White Bean & Squash Soup, which I think I'll make next week. While I was cooking dinner last night, I baked two delicata squash and three apples for this curried soup I'll make to go along with grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight. In another pan, I baked a celery root, several small cloves of garlic, and some Yukon gold potatoes for yet another soup that we'll have on Christmas Eve, I think. I figured that baking these vegetable would be easier and perhaps yield a better flavor than simply cooking them in broth. We'll see.

Over in the fermentation department, I finally got a quart of burdock root started. I have no idea if this is going to work, as I couldn't find any recipes. I just peeled the roots, cut them all to the same length, submersed them in a quart jar of salty brine with a little whey and some grated ginger, and kept the jar on the counter for several days. It's now in the fridge and I'll let it sit there for a few weeks before taking a taste. I love pickled burdock root, but the stuff they sell at the Japanese markets is full of chemicals and dyed fluorescent orange (burdock root is white). I also pickled another 5 pounds of beets, using my food processor to grate them instead of grating by hand. Thumbs up on the modern convenience. I was concerned that food processor would grate the beets too fine, but it actually grated a little thicker--more like a julienne, so I'm pleased. The packed jar did get a little mold growth on top while it sat on the counter, which hasn't happened before. I scraped off the top quarter-inch and it hasn't come back. When I bought veggies last week, I picked up a cabbage and some turnips to pickle, plus a few rutabaga to add to borscht next week.

I've done a bit of food gift prep as well. I made candied nuts, candied grapefruit peel, and cranberry-pumpkin-walnut breads. We ran low on sugar, so I didn't get the orange peels candied yet. A neighbor picked up a 5-pound bag of sugar for me at Winco yesterday, but I'm not sure now if I'll get to that before Christmas or not. We may just have them for our New Years Day open house instead.

I tried what the New York Times touted as the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, but we have been only mildly impressed. I cooked one batch immediately and a second 24 hours later and didn't notice any improvement. I do like sprinkling the cookies with salt before baking--salt and chocolate is a favorite combination of mine--but I'm not sure that these cookies are Santa-worthy. Today, I'm going to make more chocolate-pepper-espresso cookies and gingersnaps, which I know will please Sankt Nikolaus, as Annabel insist we call Mr. Bowl Full of Jelly this year.

Annabel and I have invited ourselves over to our neighbor Jill's house this afternoon to help her decorate sugar cookies. I haven't decorated cookies since I was a girl myself and know nothing about making icing or doing fancy piping, but Jill turns out beautifully decorated cookies every year, so we're going to learn from a master. Christmas morning, I'll bake the pieces for our gingerbread house while we open gifts and then we'll put it together after brunch. I ordered candy from Natural Candy Store this year, way ahead of time, so we didn't have to run around at the last minute looking for candy, which is especially fortunate as there's no running around for us with the snow we've got here. A neighbor with an SUV is giving me a lift to New Seasons this afternoon so I can pick up Dungeness crabs for our Christmas Eve feast and a few other provisions. Honestly, though, we have managed quite well with food during this storm. We ran out of milk, but I'm kinda used to working without fresh milk and have found that sour raw milk works as well or even better in cooking and the kids are happy to have yogurt in their oatmeal.

We got our tree and decorations up yesterday. I got into the habit of waiting until the last minute to put up the tree when Annabel was little and I didn't want to hassle with her over pulling decorations off for weeks before Christmas. Now, I just like waiting until the official start of winter before taking down the fall decorations and getting out wintry Christmas decor. I like fall and it seems like it gets a little short-changed with Christmas celebrations starting ever earlier. I'm bummed that we don't have any garland. I had planned on picking some up over the weekend, but the storm put an ix-nay on that idea. Maybe New Seasons will have some today.

Merry Christmas!

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