Fresh duck meals

Earlier this year, somewhat on a whim, I brought home four young ducks from a nearby farm. Ducks are prolific egg layers and tasty, and I figured they would fit in well with our geese without adding too much management needs. That last part was wrong, as they were very independent-minded and continually failed to respect fencing. They regularly got into the chicken shed despite every attempt to rig things so chickens could get in and ducks couldn’t; once in they would eat all the grain and foul the water. Several times we caught them merrily exploring around the house, despite all the other birds’ willingness to respect their large fenced paddocks to range in. Finally, we’d had enough, and it was time for tasty, tasty duck.

We butchered all four one recent afternoon, saving two for fresh consumption and freezing two for later. We got four different nice meals out of the first two, briefly summarized below.

Roasted duck
We kept this one whole, stuffed the cavity with our fennel, onions, and garlic, and roasted it in a pan with chopped potatoes. I had rubbed the breast with orange zest, and the meat came out with a nice citrus flavor, while the roasted vegetables carried a good duck flavor.

Duck with peach marinade
This was loosely inspired by a recipe in the Tribune, which accompanied a nice column on the values of local foods and businesses. For our version, I marinated the breasts and legs from a single duck in a sauce of water, chopped market peaches, salt, sugar, and cider vinegar. Then I simmered everything together for hours, resulting in nice, tender meat that fell off the bone, topped with the reduced peach sauce. Served with sides of our fresh oven-roasted potato fries and sauteed fresh beans with garlic, this was a great meal (see below)

Duck broth vegetable soup
With any poultry we use, we always keep and boil the carcasses for broth, yielding lots of tasty liquid plus the last scraps of meat that are easier to strip once cooked. We generated several gallons of broth this time, freezing some and saving some for a basic soup. In this case, I just combined lots of our onions, garlic, potatoes, green beans, and zucchini in a long-simmering duck broth, with appropriate salt, pepper, herbs, and some frozen basil cubes left over from last year. Toward the end, I added a few cups of lentils for heartiness. Easy, filling, and tasty.

Duck stir fry
Finally, with the scrap meat left over from the four-carcass broth, I made a simple stir fry with the meat, our garlic, onions, green beans, and zucchini, flavoring it with soy sauce and rice vinegar. 15 minutes from start to finish.

All that from two young birds, plus two more in the freezer along with broth. Not a bad exchange, and our lives are just a little simpler again without four stubbornly independent birds crapping on our front step.

And, of course, no article on eating duck can end without a mention of the Fawlty Towers Gourmet Night:

Food ideas for early July

Here are more enjoyable meals we’ve had recently, rooted in our farm’s products and other local food sources. As early summer items start to come on, we’re truly enjoying the ability to make diverse meals from truly fresh ingredients. One of the nice things about running a farm is that you get to eat all the seconds, produce that isn’t quite perfect enough for market but is plenty edible. So we end up with meals like these:

First, we have the vegan feast:

A vegan friend stayed with us for a few days last week, and we had a great time eating lots of meals fully sourced in some newly-available products like potatoes, green beans, and amaranth greens. Above, you see: Herbed new potatoes. Freshly dug Yukon golds, cubed and boiled, with olive oil, dill, and parsley. Sauteed amaranth greens. We like these as a summer green, cooked just like any other (collards, kale, etc.). Here they’ve been sauteed with chopped fresh garlic and tomato vinegar. Fennel & friends salad. Lots of fresh veggies chopped and tossed with a simple vinegar dressing. Fennel, baby zucchini, string beans, sweet onions, and more. This was a great meal, almost entirely made from items harvested just before preparation, with lots of different flavors and textures to enjoy.

Next we have a nice combination of potatoes and garlic:

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At upper right is a nice “potato cake” Joanna tried from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Basically another form of potato pancakes (which we often make), this involved thinly sliced fresh potatoes, sweet onions, basil, cheese, and salt. It didn’t hold together like the recipe suggested, but it made an excellent hash. At bottom is a roasted fresh garlic bulb with a fresh flatbread to spread it on. This particular variety was Russian Giant, which we’re not selling. It roasted wonderfully into a smooth, buttery spread with a really mild flavor (a bit too mild for me, though tasty). There’s nothing like the flavor of roasted garlic.
And finally the fish chowder:
Made from a family recipe (my stepfather is an avid fisherman), this was based on a fat fish from Troutdale Farm. I started a roux of butter and flour, then sauteed some sweet onions. To this I added chopped potatoes and fresh shelled peas, and just enough water to cover. All this was boiled until tender, then I added the flaked fish along with salt and pepper. Finally I added fresh goat’s milk and the roux, and slowly simmered into a thick, delicious chowder. All the produce was ours, the fish, milk, and flour local, leaving just the butter as non-local. This was really, really tasty.

Food ideas for late June

I dropped the What We Eat series months ago, after a nice long run, because it just got to be too much to track and write up. We’re still feeding ourselves primarily from the farm, though, and want to do a better job of discussing what that looks like throughout the year. This is especially true during market season, when much of what we eat, customers can too. So here’s a quick look at some of the better meals we’ve had lately, mostly based on items you can buy at our stand on Saturdays. You’ll notice that many of these use the same core ingredients, which demonstrates the versatility of good seasonal vegetarian cooking, as all had completely different flavors and appeals. Also important, all of these taste pretty good cold as well as hot, which is a big deal to us in a house where the air is conditioned by fans.

LENTIL-VEGETABLE SALAD

Lightly cooked green lentils make a really nice base for a salad of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables. We cooked the lentils for 20 minutes until just soft, then tossed with about a 1/2 cup of a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic scapes, and ground mustard seed. We let these stand for a while, then mixed in our own home-made feta cheese, shelled peas, chopped snap peas, scallions, sweet Walla Walla onion, dill, and parsley. This tasty mix can be used many ways; as a side dish, spread on bread or in pitas, or as topping for a lettuce salad. It’s very easy to make and most of the core ingredients can be gotten fresh from us or other farmers in late spring/early summer. The dill, parsley, and feta really help make this dish. Based loosely on a recipe from Quick, Simple, and Main-Course Vegetarian Pleasures.

PINK FRIED RICE


There are countless ways to make fried rice, but this one uses beet greens to add a neat color and flavor. We stir-fried sweet onions, scallions, chopped & shelled peas, and beet greens along with some cashews, then added cooked Missouri rice, some soy sauce, and a few eggs. Simple, tasty, and easy. The flavors can really be expanded with things like ginger, fish sauce, lemon balm, and so on, but even this basic version is quite good. I think the pink color is neat.

BEET PASTA

A quick, simple meal. We sliced a bunch of beets into thin strips, then sauteed in a generous amount of butter until tender, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, we sauteed minced green garlic, scallions, and sliced beet greens, timing the greens to be tender (but not mushy) when the pasta finished cooking. At the end, we added some chives and home-made feta cheese. We tossed everything together with basic penne pasta (not necessarily the best pasta shape for this topping, but that’s what we can acquire in bulk). Tasty and colorful.

CHERRY-GOOSEBERRY-RHUBARB PIE


A clear taste of the season, this used pie cherries from the Market, our own wild gooseberries, and our own rhubarb. Combined into a basic pie filling with sugar and baked in a good lattice crust, this is just fantastic. We keep the sugar lower than most recipes call for, because we like the tartness of the fruit to come through; it’s more authentic. Pies don’t need to taste like candy bars. This was served with fresh home-made goat’s milk ice cream.

Recipe: roasted beet salad

Fresh spring beets are a delicacy. We grow multiple heirloom varieties with different colors, which offer many possibilities for good, simple meals. American cooking tends to reduce beets to an overcooked purple pulp, which is a real shame. I think beets are best lightly cooked, or even better roasted, which brings out their sweetness and flavor. Here’s an easy way to use a bundle of fresh heirloom beets from the market; remember to save the greens for cooking or making broth.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Peel the beets and slice cross-ways into thin circles, maybe 1/4′ thick. You want them solid, but not chunky. Evenness will help them roast correctly together. Toss the beets in a bowl with some olive oil, black pepper, salt, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. When the oven is ready, spread the beets on a baking sheet and drizzle the rest of the oil over them. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until they are partially tender but still solid (NOT mushy).

Prepare a simple salad base of fresh lettuce, maybe some nuts and raisins, and top with the roasted beets. A bit of feta cheese goes very nicely on this as well. A simple oil and vinegar dressing works well, so you don’t overwhelm the natural flavors of the beets.

Simple, but delicious for a light spring meal or side.

Recipe: garlic scape pesto

There are lots of ways to use this fresh market product, usually available around early-mid June, but this is one of our favorites. It’s easy, unique, and a real seasonal treat. The result is a thick garlic-flavored paste that can be spread on crackers and bread, or used on pasta. There are lots of recipes out there, which I’ve perused and distilled into this common version that can be used in any amount.

Combine chopped garlic scapes, olive oil, and grated hard cheese in a 2:1:1 ratio. For reference, one of our standard bundles of six good-sized scapes will chop into 1/2-3/4 cup. This is enough for one meal, as the result is reasonably strong and you don’t need a lot. If you make more, it freezes well. In any case, throw all these items into a blender until you get a nice paste. Add some lemon juice, salt, and/or nuts as desired, and you’re done.

This can be used as-is, or combined with other items to make a nicer sauce. In the example below, I added fresh chopped snap peas and some rehydrated dried red peppers from last summer, plus some extra grated Walloon cheese from Goatsbeard Farm. Quick, easy meal.

Seasonal Asian dishes

Spring is a good time for Asian cooking, with so many fresh greens, herbs, and more available. The meal below was thrown together experimentally, drawing upon my Filipino background, general Asian cooking experience, and loose consultation of a few cookbooks. It came out very nicely and was a great way to finish a long, hard day working in the field. While there are many non-farm ingredients used in any Asian meals we make, the menu is still rooted in the fresh produce of the season and could easily be replicated from our farm stand. What follows isn’t exactly a recipe, since I was making it up as I went along and don’t have exact amounts, but it’s a good guideline for anyone to follow in creating their own version. There are almost infinite ways you could vary the basic concepts here.

SOUP:

This was based on two quarts of beet green broth, though any broth made by simmering fresh greens would work. Once simmering, I added a large handful of mint and lemon balm leaves, along with chopped chives & cilantro, ground dried hot peppers, a dab of fish sauce, and a cup of leftover adobo sauce from another meal (this last is a staple of Filipino cooking, made in our household by combining garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaves). I let this simmer for a long time to blend the flavors, then strained out the leaves. A few minutes before serving, I added a half-can of coconut milk and a few cups of chopped bok choi, and let it cook just long enough to soften the vegetables. The result was a light but rich soup with a nice blend of flavors.

BEANS:
These were a bit riskier, but came out good enough. I’d started dried black bean simmering hours before, and around dinnertime I moved on to the rest. I chopped and sauteed some garlic scapes in sesame oil, along with minced hot peppers and grated ginger. When these were lightly cooked, I added a half-can coconut milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a cup of adobo sauce (see Soup, above) and let things simmer on low a bit longer. Then I added the drained black beans and some chopped rapini and mustard greens, mixed everything together, and let it all simmer on low to blend. The coconut milk ended up being a bit strong; I should have used half the amount, but otherwise it produced a nicely flavored dish with a good balance of heat and flavor.

FRESH PEAS:
I served these with a big bowl of freshly-picked snap peas, which complemented the main dishes really well. Each of the other dishes were rich and spicy, so after every few bites we would grab a few peas, whose fresh, sweet flavor really balanced the rest of the meal. It was a perfect touch

DRINK:
I had baked a strawberry-rhubarb pie as well, and reserved about 1.5 cups of juice from the sugared fruit. I mixed this with about 3 cups of orange juice and 1 cup of yogurt before chilling, to make a nice sweet fruity lassi kind of thing. This also balanced the rich, spicy main dishes perfectly.

Not very photogenic overall, but quite enjoyable.

Making good, quick bread at home

I received an email from a reader after posting about our quick bread-based meal, asking for the recipe. Our policy is to not reproduce recipes online that we get from cookbooks, feeling that the authors of good cookbooks have every right to expect that their intellectual property be respected by random bloggers not giving away their work for free. But I am more than happy to write about the process, and plug the book that taught us a great method.

The book is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Normally titles like that make us run screaming, as there are lots of cheap cooking gimmicks out there that subvert the reality of cooking. This is not one of them. What the authors (a scientist and a professional chef/baker) have done is figure out a great dough recipe that can be stored and used as they describe below:

A one or two week supply of dough is made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Measuring and mixing the dough takes less than 15 minutes. Kneading, as we’ve said, is not necessary. Every day, cut off a hunk of dough from the storage container and briefly shape it without kneading. Allow it to rest briefly on the counter and then toss it in the oven. We don’t count the rest time (20 minutes or more depending on the recipe) or baking time (usually about 30 minutes) in our five-minute-a-day calculation since you can be doing something else while that’s happening.

This method turns out nice, crusty bread with a good interior that we are very, very pleased with. It’s far better than bread machine results, which invariably seem to turn out squishy bread with no crust. It’s still not quite as good as truly traditionally made bread, but leaps ahead of other shortcuts. We really are finding that we can quickly throw together a loaf during breakfast or before any meal and have it ready when we need it; it’s become my standard lunch on Mondays when I head off for a day’s work at Goatsbeard Farm and need something quick to take along.

The method works equally well for loaves, flatbreads, naans, and more, but you need the right recipe. The book is definitely a worthwhile investment; everyone we’ve served the bread to has raved about it. It’s certainly allowed us to eat more, and better, bread than ever before, and I think the authors deserve the income for coming up with this method and recipe.
One note: we’ve adaped their recipe slightly to include up to 1/3 content of our locally milled Missouri wheat flour, which really adds flavor. We round out the flour content with King Arthur bread flour, which has a high gluten content to balance the low-gluten Missouri flour. This combination works very nicely.

Chert Hollow Fast Food

Evenings come when we’ve been busy, and tired, and just don’t have it in us to cook much. Yet our own food ethics mean there aren’t many packaged foods or other purchased shortcuts to bail us out. That’s when having a well-stocked kitchen, and lots of our own produce/meat/food put up, can really make a difference. Even in April, at the end of our winter supplies and before a lot of new produce is available, we can whip together a really nice meal in a very short time (in this case, less than half an hour).

Part one was simply to thaw out a quart of tomato/basil/garlic sauce we’d made many batches of last summer, and which freezes nicely. This, over basic pasta with shredded Goatsbeard cheese on top, makes a wonderfully tasty meal in minutes. We invest the time during the growing season so we don’t have to buy such foods later on.

Part two were a couple very easy flatbreads. Joanna has been using a special bread dough recipe lately that can be mixed ahead of time and stored in larger quantities in the fridge. Any time we want bread, she can just pull a chunk off and do a quick bake of almost anything. In this case, she rolled out a few handfuls into flatbreads, threw some basic ingredients on top, and baked at high temperature for a few minutes each. In the time it took to boil the pasta and heat the sauce, we had a second course of delicious flatbreads:

Above, flatbread topped with some pasta sauce, shredded Goatsbeard cheese, and fresh chives from the garden.

Above, an even more elemental flatbread with olive oil, chopped chives, and Goatsbeard feta. This minimalist treatment really let the cheese, oil, and chives stand out.
So in about twenty minutes from thought process to fork, we had this excellent meal for basically the cost of putting some work in ahead of time to be ready, and some good cheese. Things like putting up pasta sauce, keeping dough starter on hand, and growing fresh ingredients are work, but they pay off when they save you the money of the manufactured version, the time of doing all that before dinner, and the incomparable quality of even a fast meal made from scratch.

Meal of the Week: Filipino barbeque

This was a Filipino dish I hadn’t made before, sourced from a cookbook given to me by my mother to expand my horizons past traditional family recipes. It turned out wonderfully, and the basic idea would work for almost any kind of meat or vegetable.

The sauce was made from garlic, green onions, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, mustard, hot pepper, and five-spice powder. This being our kitchen, the garlic, onions, and peppers were ours. The mustard was our home-scratch-made version, which I try to keep a small jar of at all times. The five-spice was a custom fresh-ground blend of fennel, anise, black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. The honey was local, and everything else was of decent provenance. All was mixed together and poured over…

The meat, which was a quantity of our farm-butchered goat rib strips. Now, these aren’t quite the meaty, fat-dripping pork ribs most folks are familiar with, but they’re what we have. We strip them from the bone fresh and freeze them as packets of strips, to be thawed and marinated for such dishes as this. After several days tenderizing and absorbing the flavor of the marinade, they were ready for…

The grilling, which was a quite basic hot charcoal fire with the strips turned once and basted thoroughly with marinade. Finished, they were not quite the mouth-melting tenderness of pork but had absorbed the marinade wonderfully and were good, mildly chewy strips of spicy Asian barbequed goodness. Goat has its own flavor which I think goes really well with Filipino cooking, whose liberal use of vinegar helps soften the meat and imbue it with flavor. Plus, it’s plenty authentic. We finished with…

The salad

which was an utterly simple mix of fresh spinach and various lettuces topped with sliced fresh radishes, all gathered from the garden a few minutes before dinner. The dressing to the left is a home invention of rice vinegar, soy sauce, chopped fresh scallion, minced elephant garlic, grated ginger, sesame oil, and olive oil. It turned out very well and complemented the ribs nicely.
A good, reasonably quick (other than the grill) spring dinner sourced reasonably from the farm.

What We Eat: March IV

3/21/09 – 3/27/09: The end of March has marked the end of many preserved items we’ve been drawing from all winter. Okra, green beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and more are all very close to gone. We have lots of meat left, and are getting more eggs than we can eat (there are currently 15 goose eggs and 24 chickens eggs in the fridge). So our menus are naturally getting heavy on those items for now. Chives, spinach, and herbs are coming on nicely to provide some fresh flavors, and we’ll be getting to lettuce and radishes before too long. We’re also using a fair amount of bulk-purchased rice, beans, and other staples, as might be expected.

Still, even in this lean local food month, I think the point of this series is being made. It’s possible to eat a diverse, healthy, interesting without any real reliance on processed or out-of-season foods.

Saturday: Zucchini soup with rice (frozen from last summer); sandwich (homemade bread with cheese, homemade mustard, our fresh spinach, and more)

Sunday: Chinese-style 5-spice chicken (Pierpont chicken cooked in a homemade spice mix and broth); stir-fry (our green beans, onions; organic cashews, carrots; cooked with sauce from chicken)

Monday: Chicken adobo (Pierpont chicken marinated and cooked in Filipino sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, black pepper, and bay leaf); leftover fried rice from Sunday

Tuesday: pseudo-Asian chicken soup (broth from previous days’ chicken with orzo, dropped egg, and more)

Wednesday: Mideast extravaganza: Homemade pitas stuffed with spiced meat (our goat cubes with garlic & spices), chickpea sauce (organic chickpeas cooked with our tomatoes and spices), Goatsbeard feta, and our fresh spinach.

Thursday: Meat stew (our goat meat, onions, garlic, broth; organic carrots and beans)

Friday: Ate out with friends at House of Chow, an excellent Chinese restaurant in Columbia with a real chef and real food.