Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Valentine's Harvest

  For all the pitfalls that come with gardening in Northern Minnesota, and there are many, one positive is that snow cover is fairly reliable.  That may not sound like a big deal but it is.  The snow acts as blanket in much the same way a mulch would.  It tempers the winter weather extremes we encounter here frequently.  It is one of the reasons we can grow borderline hardy perennials with some degree of success.  One of the other benefits of snow cover is it allows you to harvest certain perennial herbs and some vegetables year round.  I can usually harvest herbs such as thyme and sage all year long and I do.  Fresh herbs can push an otherwise ordinary dish over the top.  The "fresh" herbs you get in the grocery store always seem flat to me.  They can't hold a candle to something you go out and harvest in your own yard, even in February.

   I dug under the snow to find this thyme since I needed it for our Valentine's day supper.  It has been my experience that thyme is probably the best of the herbs for winter harvest.  It  seems to hold up real well under the snow and it is often hard to distinguish from summer harvested thyme.  The aroma is quite strong even after months under the snow.  Much better than any store bought package of herbs.  It's versatile and wine friendly.  It is an essential ingredient for a bouquet garni which is what I needed it for and also makes a nice attractive garnish.  You just have to know where to dig so be certain to mark them or make a mental note as to the location.
  I decided to prepare the French classic, Coq Au Vin for Valentine's day.  It seemed to me to be the perfect dish for the occasion.  Warming and flavorful and full of good things from the garden.  It is served over mashed potatoes and the varieties I used were 'German Butterball' and 'Valisa'.  It was the last of the yellow fleshed potatoes I had in storage.  Although it is not necessary for a classic Coq Au Vin, I chose to steam some carrots as an accompaniment.  'Purple Dragon' was the variety.  It is one of the purple skinned carrots that doesn't lose it's color after cooking.  It is only the skin that is purple so peeling isn't required if you want the color.  Why wouldn't you?  It is, after all, the main attribute of the variety.
The preparation of the dish isn't too technically difficult but it does have several components so I wouldn't say it is easy.  It is however, totally worth the effort.  

  Tender stewed chicken with a rich sauce on top of homegrown mashed potatoes and some steamed carrots for added panache.  This dish exemplifies what good cooking is about:  taking an austere ingredient and transforming it into something extraordinary.  Add to that a good amount of garden cache items and there really isn't anything to not like about it.  Even the thyme garnish is a nice touch especially when you can harvest it in the middle of February,  It just pushes the whole thing over the top.  The garden lives on.
It was a nice Valentine's day.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Believe it, or not.....

  I wanted to try something new tonight.  Laotian food is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of something new to cook but that's the type of thing that pops into mine.  I wanted something to go with a Thai roasted cabbage recipe I happened upon in Fine Cooking magazine.  I did, after all, have a head of cabbage from last year's garden in storage that I knew I needed to use in the near future.  I wasn't even sure if the condition of the cabbage was acceptable or not.  Miraculously, it was in fine shape.  Miraculous because this was a savoy cabbage intended primarily for fresh eating, not for three months of storage. 


  Sometimes you get surprised and rewarded for doing things a little unorthodox.  I never really expected to keep this cabbage this long or for it to look this good after I did.  Keep in mind this is not a storage variety but it has held up better than I ever thought it would.  It was a pleasant surprise to discover a head that was not only usable but in great shape as well.  In fact, it looked so nice I decided to share the wealth and save half of it for coleslaw in a couple days so I had to supplement the dish with some store bought kale I had on hand.  The cabbage and kale are first roasted and then dressed with a simple Thai dressing.  Simple and tasty, ......and from the garden.  It doesn't get much better than that on a cold night in February.

  What does any of this have to do with Lao food, you ask?  Well, nothing really.  Lao and Thai cuisine are very similar. This cabbage dish is Thai.  It was an accompaniment to a Lao beef and pork mini patty flavored with lemongrass, onion, and fish sauce.  Served with two very different spicy Lao dipping sauces and wrapped in lettuce leaves, the patties, and in fact, the entire meal was quite satisfying.  Planning and executing a meal around a simple idea and an ingredient that probably shouldn't have been is also quite satisfying. 
Sometimes you just don't know what will work until you try it even if it is inadvertent.  If you didn't think you can store a savoy cabbage for three months you now know it can be done. 
Serendipity happens.  Believe it.