This week was filled with all kinds of delicious eating – and unfortunately not much of it was local. I spent a few days up at my parents and while my parents appreciate the virtues of eating local and are very supportive of my decision to do so, they haven’t quite made the leap toward trying to put it into practice on a daily basis. I understand – to a lot of people, eating local can seem like a hassle, especially when you live in a place where few people do it. My parents eat lots of their own produce and I have very fond memories of the large gardens we used to have when we lived in Nashville and outside of Milwaukee. But eggs, meat and dairy are almost never local unless we bring them. One thing they can get very readily is local lamb and since all the meat eaters in our family like it, they often buy it.
Our Christmas Day dinner was roast lamb with a rosemary-garlic marinade, mashed potatoes and frozen baby peas. The lamb actually happened to be local – both to them and (with the 150 mile limit for this challenge) to me as well. The only other thing that was local was the rosemary used to flavor the lamb. It was a delicious Christmas meal – I like my lamb a bit rarer than my parents – but everyone enjoyed the meal. Since my parents were leaving to go furnish their new condo in Tampa the next day, Marcus and I brought the leftovers home so they wouldn’t go to waste.
I like my meat a little rarer than my parents and the ends of the lamb were much more well done than I usually like. I was trying to think of a way to brighten up the flavor and a way to serve it so it would stretch for a couple of meals. My sides tend to be a bit limited in this area, even though I allow myself the use of non-local flour. I have local cornmeal and potatoes which gives me several options for a starchy side dish. I thought about chopping the lamb finely and using it in a tomato sauce and serving it over polenta but I also wanted to use up some slightly stale homemade bread that we had made. In the end, I sliced the bread very thinly and toasted it. I topped it with the lamb that had been sliced very finely and drizzled on a dressing made with rosemary, parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar and olive oil. I have some spinach growing in my garden under plastic and row cover fabric so I picked some for a salad and used the extra dressing on it.
We devoured this both times we made it and I’ve decided that any additional lamb we make here at home will have to be enough so that we get leftovers from it. We want to make this again soon.
I thought I'd wet my blogging feet again by posting about the Dark Days Challenge that Laura from Urban Hennery has hosted for the last three years. I'm getting a late start because work has been so crazy but for the next three months, I've made a pledge to eat at least one meal a week that is comprised of only local food. My only exceptions to this rule will be spices, oil and flour. Eating a local diet is fairly easy in this part of the country, but winter always presents a bigger challenge. Our farmer's markets close down and our local food co-op carries very little in terms of local produce. To get us through the winter, I can and freeze a lot. I also focus on eating very seasonal meals – we eat a lot more starches and meat during the winter months than we ever do during the rest of the year.
As part of my Dark Days meal, we had homemade latkes, applesauce that I canned this fall and a jar of sauerkraut that I got from a friend made from local cabbage. The applesauce was originally supposed to be apple butter but I tried a new recipe that used cider vinegar and I hated it. I didn't want to waste it so I added more apple to it and turned it into applesauce. I've got a couple of heads of local cabbage in my crisper that I hope to turn into homemade sauerkraut because I've never made it before but a friend of mine had already made some and gave me a jar.
Every year around this time, Marcus and I make a meal that includes latkes as a component. I'm not jewish but I've always loved the story of Hanukkah. Foods that are cooked in large quantities of oil are a very important part of a Hanukkah celebration because of what the oil symbolizes. After the Maccabean Jews liberated the temple in Jerusalem, only one small container of pure olive oil was found to use to light the menorah in the temple. Miraculously, that small container of oil was enough to keep the menorah lit for eight days which was enough time to prepare a fresh supply of oil.
As far as I'm concerned, any recipe that uses a large quantity of oil and potatoes is going to be delicious. I've tried several recipes over the last few years but my favorite is one that we came up with that utilizes a technique that a friend told me about. After grating each potato, add the grated potato to a bowl of water. After all the potatoes (and the onion) have been grated, gather all the shredded vegetables together in a clean dish towel and wring them out, getting as much of the liquid out as possible. This keeps you from having to use a binder like flour and makes better latkes in my opinion.
Makes 12 medium latkes
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
1 medium onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peel potatoes and shred using the larger holed side of a grater. Add each potato after it's been shredded to a large bowl of water. After all potatoes are shredded and are soaking in the water, grate the onion. Drain potatoes in a colander and add onion to colander. Get a large, clean dishtowel and spread the potato-onion mixture into a thin layer over two thirds of the dish towel. Roll up dish towel like a jelly roll and wring very throughly. In a bowl, combine the potato-onion mixture with the lightly beaten eggs and the salt.
In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat a quarter inch of canola oil over medium to medium high heat. The oil should be hot but not smoking. You can make these latkes as big or as small as you'd like but we usually use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the mixture. Add to pan, flatten slightly with a spoon and cook until brown on one side. Flip and brown on other side – this works out to roughly five minutes on each side. Drain hot latkes on paper towels. You can keep them warm in an oven set at 250 degrees.
If you have leftovers, re-heat them in a 350 degree oven on a baking pan for 10-12 minutes.
For printable recipe, click here!