New Year: Two Ways

If you’re from the North, Midwest or you’re Polish or German then for you New Years probably means sauerkraut and pork, for good luck. If you’re from the south, it’s “hopping johnnies” or black eyed peas. Other parts of the country and world eat grapes, fish or special cakes to bring luck and prosperity for the new year.  Since Jeremy’s background is Midwestern German and Polish and my background is ….. southern, it’s always a toss up about what to eat each new year, so this year we did both. Obviously.

On new year’s eve, before we headed out for a fun night with friends, I grilled up some kielbasa, made a traditional German Potato Salad and served it all with Amish-made sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard. This is the kind of food I didn’t even know about as a kid, and I’m so glad I’ve been introduced to it through Jeremy and his family. That potato salad is on point – click above for the recipe.

Na zda-ró-vye!

Na zda-ró-vye!

Then on New Years day, we had Alton Brown’s Skillet Fried Chicken with black eyed peas and collard greens. This year I made my black eyed peas in the slow cooker, which eliminated any soaking time you would normally need to make dried beans. All I did was sort and rinse 1 lb of beans, throw them into the slow cooker with 6 cups of water and my seasoning and let them cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 4). I cooked up some bacon, onion, and garlic, which I added to the cooker along with a healthy dose of pepper. They were great this way and so much easier. I wish black eyed peas were prettier in pictures, but they’re just not. Oh well, they are still delicious.

not pretty, but tasty.

not pretty, but tasty.

This has "lucky" written all over it.

This has “lucky” written all over it.

I hope you all had a safe and wonderful new year’s, and I’m looking forward to sharing more recipes, tips, and total failures with you in 2013. Happy It’s Not the Holidays Anymore!!!

What are your new year traditions? What foods do you hope will make you lucky and prosperous?

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The one day of the year that everyone does what I want them to do

Thanksgiving gets the shaft and we all know it. Here is how the second half of the year’s calendar works:

September – Labor Day, back to school
October – Halloween
November, December, Most of January – out of control consumerism in the guise of a religious holiday we all know as CHRISTMAS

It doesn’t leave much room for a little altruistic holiday like Thanksgiving that focuses on being grateful for what we have instead of insistent that we get all the things the TV told us we need. Which is why I try my best to be a Thanksgiving cheerleader. It is, after all, the one day of the year that everyone collectively does this thing that I am constantly trying to convince people to do: get into your kitchen, cook a meal for people you love that is inspired by seasonal produce, then sit down at a table together and eat it slowly. Then, of course, the next day is the one day of the year where everyone does the one thing that actually makes me want to not be a part of the human race. The contrast between Thanksgiving and Black Friday could have been the socioeconomic topics of one of  George Orwell’s books had he lived long enough to see the monstrosity that is the biggest retail holiday of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a free-market capitalist as much as the next gun-toting Libertarian, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to support the economy and we all vote with our dollars whether we vote for massive corporations who export jobs and manufacturing to China or whether we vote for small, locally-owned companies whose owners create jobs and reinvest those dollars back into our community . . . . but I digress.

THANKSGIVING!!

An Edible Arrangement, indeed.

Whether or not the traditional Thanksgiving story is true, and whether or not the things we eat each year really represent a traditional early-American harvest, the bottom line is that the meal is still a celebration of bounty, inspired by the local, the seasonal, the gracious things in life. And I love it. My personal family traditions have changed over the years. As a kid, our entire 30+ person extended family would all come to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so it was always a really big deal. We would get up early in the morning to help my mom set the house up for the influx of people, and then as the sun went down, people would start pouring in, and the whole evening was just complete bliss for me. I love my family so much and even though most of us lived next door to each other on the same dirt road, it was somewhat rare that we are all in one place at one time, so for me, it was like this amazing Thanksgiving miracle. And everyone could cook so damn good. There were usually at least 20 dishes spread out around the kitchen, everything from corn pudding to collards to stewed tomatoes (this is the south, after all) and of course the traditional turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, etc.

As we’ve all grown up, the grandkids have gotten married and it’s harder to get everyone together at the same time, and so traditions have changed, and Jeremy and I usually spend every other Thanksgiving with his family in Ohio, which I also love and which includes a very different list of dishes like Galumpkis, Kielbasa and Pierogies (are you sensing that someone is Polish?) But the day itself and the meal is always the same: full of love and tradition and thankfulness and I am a complete sucker for that.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and with those big family dinners playing out in my mind, I share with you a recipe for genuine southern collard-greens (pronounced ‘collargreens’, no d, all one word). Please understand, though, that cooking up a mess of greens requires a tiny bit of know how and personal preference. This recipe is more of a guide. As you cook them more and more, you’ll figure out exactly how you like them.

Simply Southern Collard Greens

Serves 10, approximately

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bunch of collards, fresh and local if possible and cut directly at the base of the stem (pictures at right)

    If possible, get collards from the market or farm cut right at the base of the plant.

  • 1lb of bacon, fat back, ham, jowls, ham hock or any other kind of seasoning meat
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • jalapenos (fresh or pickled) – *optional and to taste – no more than one whole jalapeno *
  • water, on hand

Method:

  1. Thoroughly rinse each individual leaf off the collard plant and then tear the thick rib/stem off each leaf.
  2. Roll leaves together like a cigar, then cut crosswise into strips. Do this with all the collard leaves.
  3. If you’re using any uncooked meat (such as bacon) but it in the bottom of a large, heavy stock pot and cook it over medium heat. Once it starts to release its fat, throw in the onions and garlic and saute it all together until cooked through
  4. Pour in the apple cider and use this to deglaze the bottom of your pot – scraping up the bacon and onion bits with a wooden spoon, let this reduce together for a few minutes
  5. Begin adding your strips of collards, one large handful at a time, to the vinegar/pork fat glaze (that sounds awesome, right?) and stir them in, letting them wilt before adding another handful
  6. Stir in the baking soda and pepper to taste (and jalapenos if you’ve chosen to do that) and begin adding water as needed (This is where the know-how and experience comes in. You don’t want them too soggy, but you don’t want them to burn. They’re just sort of stewing in the water bath, so add it as you need, but not too much). Really taste the collards before adding salt – the meat you’ve used generally makes them salty enough.
  7. At this point, you can continue to let them simmer and cook on low on the stove top, or you can transfer them to a crock pot and leave them on low for a few hours, or you could even just continue to cook the water down in small amounts in your pot , doing a braising method that would results in less “soggy” greens. It’s totally up to you, I’ve done it every which way, depending on what I want and how much time I have. If you’re braising them, just keep stirring in water every 10 minutes or so and stirring the greens until they are done to your liking (30 minutes or so?). Otherwise, simmer or slow cook for 3-4 hours on low, for very Southern style greens.
  8. Serve warm with more cider vinegar or pepper vinegar, salt and pepper.

Collardy Goodness

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? What can you not live without eating on the big day?

Crock pot chicken

I am about to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time. Why is it one of my favorites? There are a few reasons:

1. It is easy

2. It cooks in the crock pot

3. It uses lots of fresh, local ingredients

4. You do not have to remember to THAW the food in advance, which I am terrible at

5. It saves you MONEY

I can’t take credit for this recipe – it came from a local farmer who raises chickens and was interviewed in the local paper last year about how she likes to prepare her own local, pasture-raised poultry. This recipe is a very slight variation on her original, but I give all the credit to Alison Wilson of Full Quiver Farms. I knew I had to make this recipe when Julia Child’s 100th birthday came around a few weeks ago, and the infamous taping of her roasting a chicken was inescapable. She was a completely lovable spaz, and I feel certain, based on that footage, that she got salmonella more times than she could remember. But, despite all that, I wanted to make a chicken.

First, you SLAP the chicken!

This is a basic crock-pot chicken. But when done right, it is flavorful, can be used for several meals, and will provide you with nearly 10 cups of fresh, delicious chicken stock. Let’s get started.

As I mentioned above, you do not have to thaw your chicken first, which is possibly my favorite thing about this recipe. It’s so hard to remember to take something out of the freezer in the first place, and then when you get into the realm of poultry, trying to figure out how many hours it needs to thaw based on the pounds….well, that’s called Math, my friends, and I don’t ride that train. But because you can put the chicken into the pot frozen, it will take a full 8-10 hours to cook to completion, so keep that in mind – get up a little early to get this one in the pot, OR do it overnight and wake up to a house that smells like the inside of your grandmother’s kitchen on Sunday afternoon – both good options.

I used a 5lb pasture-raised chicken from G-square farms in Isle of Wight County, VA. I bought and received this chicken within a week of it being processed. It does come to me frozen, but it is still tender and delicious when cooked. I paid $16 for a 5lb chicken, which I realize is more expensive than a chicken from the grocery store, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain to you all at this point why it is better to pay a little more for a quality, ethically raised chicken. Plus, you’ll see how $16 is going to make 2-3 meals.

In the bottom of your pot, dump your mirepoix (a combination of sliced and diced celery, carrots and onions). I use one onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. Cover the bottom with this mixture and season with salt/pepper and then toss in a few cloves of garlic (or if you’re me – an entire head of garlic), crushed.

On top of that mixture, place your frozen chicken. Make sure, if it has gizzards, that those are removed. Then, this is where my recipe varies – I top the chicken with as many fresh herbs as I have on hand from my garden. In this case, a tiny bit of oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. I also season the chicken with poultry seasoning, more salt and pepper. Then cover the whole things with water. Ideally, you want the water to come up over the top of the chicken, but just put in as much as you can without overflowing. Finally, the secret ingredient – add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. According to Wilson, the vinegar helps draw out the flavor and nutrients from the chicken bones.

Mirepoix, pasture-raised poultry, fresh herbs, crock pot chicken!

Then….walk away. Just walk away. 8-10 hours later you’ll have something that looks like this:

Your final product(s).

Remove the chicken from the pot carefully with tongs – it will fall apart a bit, so just go fishing for the drumstick, which inevitably is the first thing to go. Set the chicken out on a rimmed baking dish and let it cool. While it’s cooling you can deal with the broth, but for the sake of explaining this picture – once it’s cooled, debone the chicken (this is the most time consuming part of this recipe). I separate out the dark and white meat, but do whatever you like here. Then I take out what I need for whatever I’m making that night and refrigerate or freeze the rest. I only needed about one breast and a bit of dark meat for that evening, the rest went in to tupperware and supplied TWO more dinners!

When you’ve removed your chicken from the crock pot, you’ll have broth and a whole lot of bits and pieces left. To separate the broth from the solids, place a sieve over a large measuring cup or container and use a ladle to strain the broth:

Look at you with your homemade broth!

Once the broth has cooled, I store it in different sized containers. I feel like recipes are always calling for just a 1/4 cup or a few tablespoons of broth, so I freeze an ice cube tray of broth, which I then pop out and store in a zip lop bag once they are completely solid – each cube is about 1 oz of liquid, so just pull out a cube at a time as needed for recipes. I also freeze 1 cup servings and then a large 4 cup container. The broth is naturally pretty low fat since we didn’t add any oil and pasture-raised animals are pretty lean, but if you’d like you can use a fat separator OR just store the broth in the fridge for several hours and skim the fat off the top once it’s congealed.

SO, now you have 10 cups of broth and an entire deboned chicken (I had about 8 cups of meat, but that will depend on the size of your chicken). What to do next? Well, I’m sort of a sucker for chicken wings, but let’s face it those deep fried, smothered in sauce, then dipped in another sauce appetizers are not doing anyone any favors. So here is my health(ier) take on buffalo wings.

Take one breast and tender and 1/2 cup of your dark meat and chop it up or shred it. Place it in a bowl and add 1/4-1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce (depending on how saucy you want it). I use the Texas Pete brand because I think it’s spicier than others, and I’m not playing around when I want buffalo, but you can buy a milder brand. Then add 1/2 packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Mix well. From here, you can do whatever you want with this – put it on sandwiches, make a salad, whatever. I did lettuce wraps with iceberg lettuce, home made ranch dressing, shredded carrots, diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Buffalo chicken and accouterments.

Served along side some local corn on the cob and home made potato chips made from local potatoes, oh and of course a Corona with lime . . . whoa.

There isn’t a bar in town with buffalo chicken this good.

This recipe used about 1/3 of the whole chicken and served two people for dinner and then two people for lunch the next day. Another 1/3 got used in a chicken pot pie, which three very hungry people consumed in one meal, and then the other 1/3 is in my freezer – just waiting to become something else delicious. I use the chicken stock in everything, and barely ever have to buy it from the grocery store because I make a crock pot chicken once or twice a month, keeping me stocked with . . . stock.

Recipes like this just make me happy – they are a breeze to do, they work on so many different levels, they give you two products for the price of one and will feed you for a week.

What are your favorite dual purpose recipes?