"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cheap, Homely, and Comfortable (Winter Food... OK, and Me, Too)

"Cheap, homely, and comforting..." yes, those adjectives could be used to describe me just as easily as they could be used to describe the food coming out of my kitchen in these dark winter months. It's true, and I can't deny it.

The average man might be happier to describe his dinner this way than he would his wife. The adjectives "cheap, homely, and comforting" just sound better when applied to a bowl of cock-a-leekie soup than they do when applied to a forty year old woman. On the other hand, the adjectives "Thin, hardbodied, and high-maintenance" don't really sound enticing applied to dinner.

While we are on the subject, there's a small, slightly amusing anecdote I'd like to relate. Before Homero and I were married, but far enough into our relationship that I was shopping and cooking for him regularly, I found myself complaining to my girlfriend about my future husband's atrocious taste in bread. I was - and am - a fan of whole wheat artisan bread, but Homero was - and is - a devotee of Wonderbread.

"He just loves squishy white bread," I told my girlfriend. "All he wants to eat is squishy white bread." She looked me right in the eye and said "lucky for you, sister."

I love you, Char.

Potatoes. Potatoes are the very cheapest and most comforting of winter foods. We still have half of a five gallon bucket full of our own home grown spuds, but those will soon be gone and we will be relying on grocery store potatoes, like everyone else. I don't know about you, but here, at this time of year, we can get a twenty pound sack of Russets for six bucks. Put those out in your cold storage shed and you are good for a month.

Tonight we ate roasted potatoes - our homegrowns are Rose Finns and Russian Bananas - both dense, nutty fingerlings. They are best simply scrubbed, sliced in half in large, and doused with olive oil and a little salt and roasted at 375 for an hour. Ten minutes before they are done, open the oven and add the juice of a big fat lemon, some minced parsley, and fresh ground pepper. It's pretty much a meal in itself, though a wedge of cheese and a glass of beer doesn't hurt.

Apples are wonderful. Apples are nearly free for the taking in a good year - there are so many old, abandoned trees about on the roadsides, you can pick at will. Even if you haven't got the guts for that, there are you-pick farms and roadside stands where you can get as many apples as you like for about $0.25 the pound. A few days ago I picked a laundry hamper full (as much as I could carry) for $15. Twenty minutes work on my part keeps us in eating apples and pie for a month. Once again - a cardboard box in the shed where they will be protected from freezing, and they will keep through January, at least.

Simple Pie:

Buy some crust. I know - it's sacrilege, but if it's the difference between apple pie for breakfast and no apple pie for breakfast, I guarantee everyone will come down on the side of the sacrilege. Slice up five decent sized apples in a bowl and toss with 1/4 cup sugar, a full teaspoon cinnamon, juice of a small lemon, and a full teaspoon corn starch. Roll out the crust into a greased pie plate and heap up apples. Add second crust on top and cut a few vents. Bake at 375 until crust is deep golden brown and apples are bubbling out of vents, about 45 minutes. Serve with hot coffee and clotted cream.
Cabbage is the cheapest green vegetable available throughout the year, but it is actually at it's best in early winter. If you haven't got your own, you can get a nice big firm head at any market for about $2.00. That's enough cabbage to feed the whole family for a week. If you do have your own, store it - you guessed it - out in the cold storage shed. Other members of the cabbage family that are their best this time year include kale, collards, and brussels sprouts.

Real beef is a seasonal product. We recently bought a side of beef from our neighbor, who raises 100% grass fed cattle on his forty-acres. You might not be lucky enough to have beef for sale that you can see grazing out your front window, but nonetheless, almost everybody has access to grass fed beef in bulk these days, through the magic of the internet. A side of beef is a huge amount - we will be passing a great deal on to friends and family. In general, I'd say a quarter of beef will feed a family of four for seven or eight months - as long as it lasts in the freezer.

Grass fed beef is seasonal because here in the northern hemisphere, grass dies in the fall. After the first frost, grass' nutritional content is pretty much kaput. Any cattle that you want to keep alive through the winter must be fed on hay - either purchased or produced on your own land, which, of course, reduces the grass available for grazing during the summer months. That's why slaughter time is October around here, and that's why our freezer is full to bursting.

Carrots and onions, along with beets, parsnips, celery root, turnips, rutabagas, and other humble roots make up the rest of the cheap, homely, comfortable larder of winter. Even if you don't grow any of these yourself, they are among the cheapest foods available in the grocery store between september and march. And the most versatile.

I myself am a big fan of stews. There are many delicious, traditional soups and stews developed ages ago to nourish the family through the long, dark, European winter. Pair a hearty borscht or beef stroganoff with a loaf of home baked sourdough rye and you will feel ready to go into hibernation well-fed. My husband, coming as he does from the sun drenched equatorial lands, has no inbred dread of long winters and therefore no congenital appreciation for the kind of serious food necessary to bear one through the long, depressing months of darkness. He has been known to complain when I serve soup and bread three days running. Silly man. Where do you think you are, Mexico?

Here is one of my favorite compromises: a hearty root vegetable stew that hails from a hot sunny clime and uses plenty of wake-you-spices. I am happy because I have used only seasonal veggies and pantry staples, and Homero is happy that he gets to eat a fiery delight.

Aimee's Peanut Stew, Winter Style:

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 inch ginger root, minced
6-8 carrots, depending on size, chopped
1 Tbsp oil
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 can diced tomatoes
1 qt water
lime wedges
salt and pepper
sour cream

In a large soup pot, heat oil and sauté chopped vegetables and spices. Crumble bouillon cube and add to pot, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add peanut butter and stir vigorously until fairly smooth. Then add tomatoes and continue stirring. Add water and bring to a fast simmer. Cook until carrots are quite soft, about twenty minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth, or use a slotted spoon to transfer veggies to a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot.

Let simmer gently to meld flavors. Serve in bowls, passing cilantro, lime wedges, and sour cream to garnish.


The Agrarian said...

Loved the post and the tips. Thanks! Farmer

Michelle said...

love the post & the stew recipe,
got any tips for turnips?

Anonymous said...

Can I come have dinner at your house? I loves me some root veg!

Dea-chan said...

omg Aimee if you're putting pie right next to cabbage and NOT listed cabbage pie you're crazy! (You can use storebought pie crust or puff pastry if you'd like of course. Also, I grated 2 sticks of frozen butter and used 8 Tbs of crisco I had around the house to get the pastry.)

Cabbage Pirog

3 cups flour
1 lb. sweet butter, divided
3/4 cup cold water
2 tsp. salt, divided
1 tbsp. rum or vodka
2 lbs cabbage
1 tsp. sugar
3 hardboiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 egg yolk
To make the dough combine 3 cups flour with 1/2 lb. cold sweet butter (2 sticks), cutting it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix together the 3/4 cup water, 1 tsp. salt, and the rum or vodka. Add this to the flour mixture and gently mix. Turn out onto a floured board and roll out dough into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Fold into thirds, seal in a plastic bag and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Bring one stick butter (1/4-lb.) to room temperature. Roll out dough again to a thickness of 1/2-inch and spread butter on it. Fold into thirds and roll again. Fold the dough again, place in airtight plastic in refrigerator.
Finely shred the cabbage as if you were making cole slaw. (Or you can use 3 bags of the already shredded cabbage that you can purchase at some supermarkets, but be sure the cabbage is very white and fresh.) Put cabbage in a pan with enough milk to cover 1/2 the depth of the cabbage. Add 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp. salt. Mix gently and cook, uncovered, until soft. Drain cabbage well. Into the pan that you used to cook the cabbage, put the remaining 1 stick of butter and heat to melt. Add the cabbage and the chopped hard-boiled eggs.
Preheat oven to 550-degrees F. Butter a 9 x 12 x-inch pan. Take 3/4 of the dough, roll it into a rectangle slightly larger than the pan, bringing the dough up the sides and cutting off the excess. Spread cabbage mixture over top. Roll out remaining dough and place over top. Pinch edges to seal. Brush with an egg wash that you have made by combining one egg yolk and 1-tsp. water. Make holes in the top of the pie to let steam escape during cooking.
Place pan on lowest rack of preheated oven. Bake for 15-minutes. Move up to middle rack and lower heat to 500-degrees. Bake another 30 to 35 minutes, watching to see that it does not burn. Note: Doubled, to serve a large group, this recipe will fill a standard 12 x 18-inch baking sheet.

Dea-chan said...

As someone who has recently made this, I can guarantee it's abso-f*cking-lutely delicious.

Aimee said...

Thanks Dea, it looks fantastic. I'll make it tOmorrow!

Garden Lily said...

I can't imagine cabbage pie, but I am fascinated by the stew recipe with peanut butter in it. It sounds curiously delicious.

Homesteading Chic said...

I haven't grown potatoes yet, but hope to next year. They sound so good home grown.


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