Dark Days Challenge Week 5: Luscious chicken marsala, polenta and kale

I think this week was my best meal yet. I made chicken marsala with polenta, and I had some kale languishing in the fridge, so I made a skillet of it before it goes bad. So, so tasty!

Almost the whole meal was from the Monroe Farm Market. The Chicken was from Almost Heaven Farm, the onions were from Spangler’s Greenhouse, and I canned the tomatoes last summer. I bought them from Crihfield Farms in Jackson County. Of course, the marsala wine wasn’t local. The polenta was made from cornmeal from Reeds Mill Flours in Monroe County, a little bit of 2% milk from Homestead Creamery, and some parmesean (not local). The recipe is from Martha Stewart Dinner at Home. This cookbook is all about weeknight dinners. And, it’s organized by season, which always scores points with me. If you subscribe to Martha Stewart Living, many of the meals are the same as the cards you get in every issue for dinner in an hour. It’s the same concept.

The kale was from Cozy Hollow Farm via the Monroe Farm Market. I sauted with with some chunky garlic that my mom grew last summer, a couple shakes of red pepper flakes and some turkey stock from my Thanksgiving Tom. I also added a spoonful of bacon grease I save from the bacon I get from Sandy Creek Farm in Ravenswood, WV.

The chicken marsala was so creamy and luscious, and the kale was deliciously bitter and rich from the bacon grease, and had a little bit of bite from the red pepper flakes. I’ve made these recipes before, but tonight they were just so much better. Gold star!

I never cooked with kale before until this fall. I’m totally hooked. I LOVE it! And it’s so good for you. The recipe I use is so simple. It’s from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper cookbook, which is my all-time favorite. I don’t know how much longer the farmer’s market will have kale, but I hope it’s for at least a few more weeks.

Dark Days Challenge Extra Credit: Christmas Dinner

Jeremy and I had no fewer than 4 meals commemorating the Christmas holiday through the end of last week and the weekend. Needless to say, I’m all “pie-ed” out. And, I still have a fridge full of leftovers, almost all of which are no where near healthy. Ham, mashed potatoes, baked beans, pie, pie and more pie, and cake and cookies… I feel like I could benefit from one of those Beyonce cleanse diets.

I supposed I should be grateful that we have enough to eat, because I know that many families did not this holiday season. At any rate, without even planning it, I realized as I was making Christmas dinner at my house for my dad and brother, that I was making a Dark Days meal. That’s what’s so nice about doing this for a few years, you just grow accustomed to eating this way, and you do it without thinking.

I made a fresh ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy and rolls. My dad and his wife brought a dessert and so did my brother and his girlfriend. It was quite a spread and everyone got their bellies full on a delicious SOLE dinner.
The ham was from Little Brown Cow Farm via the Monroe Farm Market. It had a glaze made from orange-infused local honey, Makers Mark, and some peach jam I canned from local peaches last summer. The potatoes were from Larry Williams (I mentioned him in my last post–he is a farmer in the northern part of the state that I see from time to time through my job). They were made with 2% milk from Homestead Creamery, Organic Valley pasture butter, and some Kroger brand all-natural sour cream. The beans were grown by by father in law and canned by my mother in law. I put some bacon grease on them from bacon I bought from Sandy Creek Farms in Ravenswood, WV. The rolls were made from local flour from Reeds Mill Flours in Monroe County. I even used my newly-bought fancy Florida Crystals sugar in the rolls so they could be 100% SOLE.
I’ve never had fresh ham (that I know of) before. It was a challenge. You have to bake it long enough to get it up to the proper temperature, unlike a cured or pre-cooked ham. And, it wasn’t smoked, so I needed to flavor it. I soaked it in a brine of kosher salt and brown sugar for a day before I baked it. Then, I found a recipe for a simple bourbon glaze that called for honey and orange marmalade. I’ll definitely try this again. My house smelled AMAZING while it was baking. I probably overcooked the ham, but I was trying to get it up to 165 degrees. I couldn’t have gotten by with a little less oven time, but it was still delicious.

Dark Days Challenge Week 4: Turkey Dumplins

When you mention chicken and dumplins (and BTW, I will refer to them as “dumplins” from here on out, as opposed to “dumplings” because I like to say it like that…It’s so very Southern), most people I know get starry eyed and a goofy grin across their face as they remember back to their childhood and the mother of all comfort food. Chicken and dumplins are usually a special treat that only comes around a few times a year and reserved for Sunday dinners at grandma’s.
When I was putting turkey leftover from my Thanksgiving Tom in the freezer a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to make turkey dumplins with it. It would be a perfect dinner on a cold winter day.

Only problem was I’ve never made turkey, or even chicken, dumplins before. I couldn’t even tell ya where to start. I consulted my mom who makes great chicken dumplins, but she said she never really liked hers, and that they didn’t even compare to my granny’s. So her directions were something like “well, get your stock hot and add a little flour to it to thicken it then drop your dough in” and that was about it.
So, the Hubs and I got ready to make dinner tonight, and I wanted to call my mom to get a few last pointers on how to make the dough and such. But she didn’t answer, so we tried my mother-in-law. She didn’t have an exact recipe either, just get some flour and mix an egg and  a little bit of milk in it for the dough and drop it in the boiling stock.
I’m starting to figure out that there is not a written recipe for chicken (or turkey) and dumplins out there anywhere. It’s one of those things that the best batches are made by adding a little of this and a pinch of that until you know it’s right. Those are the best meals. And, incidently, the hardest to replicate.
So. When I master the recipe, I promise to put a written version on this blog. Promise. But, my first attempt wasn’t what you’d call mastery. It wasn’t bad either, though.

Not too shabby for our first attempt. They were so tasty and satisfying. The dumplins were a little chewy. I don’t know if we cooked them too long or added too much flour to the dough, but we’ll have to tweak it for next time. I’ve got three more containers of turkey in the freezer, so there will be a next time very soon. Who doesn’t love dumplins?

Dark Days Challenge Week 3: Lamb chops and roasted potatoes

Jeremy and I tried our hands at grilled lamb chops tonight. It was a team effort because I made the rub and he grilled them. And they turned out perfect. We recently had them at some friends’ house, and they were crazy good, so when I saw them listed on the Monroe Farm Market’s website, I grabbed them. They were pretty simple, just some salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic. I think the thin layer of fat on the outside of them is what makes the dish, though. It just kinda melts and crisps into this salty garlicky crust that is juicy underneath.

I made some roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary to follow the flavors of the chops for the side dish.

Juicy little lamp lollipops. I am SOOOO making these again soon.

The lamb chops were from Indian Creek Farm in Monroe County, via the Monroe Market. The potatoes were from Preston County, in the northern part of West Virginia, and probably just under the 250 mile boundary. But I personally know the farmer who grew them, and he was coming to Charleston anyway, so I had him bring me some. What I didn’t realize was how many potatoes really are in a bushel. That’s a lot of potatoes, but I’m glad. They store well and they are really good.
Both lamb chops and potatoes had olive oil with kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder and rosemary on them. The rosemary was right from my backard.

Winter salads

I detest iceberg lettuce in a salad. Why bother with it? No flavor and no nutrients.

Jeremy and I eat a lot of salad. I’ve found lettuce to be one of the easiest things to grow in my backyard. I grow black seeded simpson and a mesclun mix. And if we don’t get enough out of my backyard, organic field greens and assorted salad toppings are always on my grocery list.

I love winter salads–or, I suppose I should say late fall/early spring salads. There IS, afterall, about a two month stretch here that you can’t even coax some some radishes. But, I felt like I was taunting Old Man Winter yesterday when I was picking carrots, radishes and lettuce from my cold frames. We have had a warm and wet fall. This time last year, the temps were solidly in the 20s and 30s. Last weekend, I think it was 70 and sunny.

I always make salads this time of year with lettuce and cool weather crops from my backyard. Add some toasted pumpkin seeds and some local goat cheese, and you’ve got a perfect lunch. I like some simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing. And I love to add a few drops of toasted seasame oil to it. If I have them, I’ll chop up an apple to mix in as well. But I didn’t today. So nice and crisp and refreshing, especially when the weather outside is chilly and dreary.

Dark Days Challenge Week 2: Butternut Squash Carbonara

I’ll admit, this Dark Days meal didn’t take much thought. The recipe is in my regular fall and winter rotation. But for good reason. It’s freakin’ delicious.

I’ve featured this recipe before on my blog. I got it from this guy’s blog, which I really love. His recipes are so straight forward and unpretentious. And just plain good.
The recipe calls for butternut squash, but I had a big bag of pumpkin from last year in the freezer that needs used. The pumpkin was from one of three that my boss gave me from a volunteer vine he had. The pasta was made from flour from Reed’s Mill Flour, and eggs from Breezy Knoll Farm, both in Monroe County, WV. I used half and half in the sauce instead of heavy cream from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA. The sauce also had bacon from Sandy Creek Farms in Ravenswood, WV, and two eggs from Cozy Hollow Farm in Monroe County. I generally buy from Breezy Knoll Farm, since I’ve come to know that farmer, but the last time I ordered, they were sold out, so I bought from another farm. And now, I might switch to Cozy Hollow permanently because their eggs are better. The yolks are so deep orange. That means they’re really good for you, too. Absolutely beautiful!

The sauce also had some grated parmesean cheese in it that was not local, but came from Kroger’s. It was Stella brand. I can’t find any information about it other than their website, so I’m guessing it’s not made from cows free from rBST. Booo. Also in the dish was garlic that my mom grew and organic, but not local fresh sage.

Such a hearty winter meal. You just can’t beat carbonara.

What the Pho?

Last night I made pho. I should mention that I’ve never had pho before. So I don’t know what it should taste like. But this was pretty good.

Of course, it was good. It was a recipe in my current favorite cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. I’ve mentioned before how much I love this cookbook. It’s geared toward weeknight dinners. All the recipes are quick and easy, but from scratch and kicked up a notch. It totally trust these women. I’ll be surprised if one day I cook something from this book that is not amazing.

So what is pho? Well, it’s Vietnamese noodle soup. And it’s pronounced “Fuh”, which was a source for a string of sophomoric jokes between the Hubs and I.

“What are you making for dinner?”
“Hehehe. What the fuh is that?”
“Asian noodle soup. Fuh, I can’t beleive you put this much ginger in it.”
“What the fuh is this? Fish sauce? It stinks.”
“I know. But I don’t give a fuh. I’m starving. I’ll eat anything.”

It sorta went down hill from there. I’ll spare you.

But anyway, back to the pho. It’s a soup made with rice noodles and either chicken or beef. It is served with condiments such as hot peppers, herbs and bean sprouts on the side, so the person eating it can add as much as they wish. It seems like I always see Anthony Bourdain eating it when he travels to Southeast Asia. (This is not the clip I have in my mind, but it’s pretty similar.) My pho had a little bit of steak (the end cut off the ribeye I ate Sunday). The recipe said to slice it very thinly and place it in the bowl raw. I froze the piece of steak for about 30 minutes so it would be easy to slice into very thin pieces.

When you spoon the boiling broth of the soup over the steak, it cooks the steak. The hubs was skeptical. But after he saw my steak cooked to a safe doneness, he tried his. I didn’t have rice noodles, but I did have soba noodles. The recipe said to simmer the broth for about 20 minutes, so I just cooked the noodles in the broth as it simmered. The broth was made by broiling some onions, garlic and fresh ginger, all sliced thin, and cloves for about 5 minutes until they began to turn black on the edges. Scrape all that into a pot with about 2 1/2 quarts of stock and simmer for about 20 minutes. I used 1 quart plus 1 pint of turkey stock and 1 cup of shrimp stock.


I put too many sliced jalepenos in mine. It was way too hot, and I ended up picking them out. I also picked out a little of the ginger, as it seemed to be too overpowering if you got just a piece of ginger in a single bite. All mixed together it was okay in there. Also, I didn’t fish out the cloves before serving and I should have. The hubs and I both bit into one and it was pretty nasty. But other than that, it was delicious and hearty and filling. It’s a recipe I’ll try again.