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Cool fall weather reminds me to breathe a bit more. The bright colored banks of mountain heather glow in the bright sunlight on an almost cloudless day. On our hike though Mt. Rainier park the air was thick with the settling mulch of fallen leaves. Each sunny day seems the last chance for yard work, for hikes, and country bike trips.

But I’m sure there will be more. It’s just hard to imagine it when the dark days are so loud and wet and blustery. Those days, wrapped in wool sweaters, huddled under blankets, tea in hand, it seems the rain will never end – even if it’s just begun. It’s those days when my stockpile of root vegetables comes in handy. A quick, chunky potato, turnip and beef stew, with chopped escarole or spinach gently wilted within, is a gift.

Holding a hot bowl of soup is when I best understand the idea of slow food. Deeply breathing in the mixed aromas of all these locally grown ingredients, along with some locally made bread and cheese sandwiches for dipping, makes me appreciate the regional bounty we have available. That’s why this week I’m going to sub-out some green leaf lettuce for baby red beets, Gala apples for acorn squash, and grapes for Full Circle Farm grown red radishes.

The potatoes and beets, carrots and leeks will make a lovely beef roast or stew. The red bok choy will make a nice side dish with rice and my Brussels sprouts on the stalk will be roasted along with the radishes and tossed in a balsamic reduction to accompany my freshly smoked Coho salmon that I’m going to grill-smoke this weekend, if it lasts until my box arrives. The Wild Waldorf salad recipe that’s in the Fresh This Week email is delicious and might be a reason to hold on to the apples. But then again, the roast acorn squash stuffed with barley sounds too enticing.

So with my changes, here’s what my box looks like for next week:

Red Potatoes                 Baby Red Beets
Leeks                            Acorn Squash
Spinach                         Valencia Oranges
Red Bok Choy                Red Radishes
Brussels Sprouts            On The Stalk
Bunched Baby Carrots    Bartlett Pears

Oh fall, you’re not so bad after all and with winter following fast on your heels I’ll be playing in snow soon enough. I might as well enjoy it while I can, get the mower out one last time, maybe do some weeding, a little pruning or maybe I’ll just take a cue from my cat and curl up in the sun on the porch. Happy Halloween everyone.

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Okay, I guess I’m still in a soup mood. I was actually going to do an oven roasted romanesco with a lebanese garlic sauce, but realized that this was one of the first times celeriac was a sub in the box. Like an early snow for powder hounds, celeriac is the oncoming call of fall varieties. With a warty and mottled exterior hiding a crunchy white interior that turns soft and creamy when roasted, celeriac is a versatile and delicious fall root vegetable.

Shaved or sliced over salads it is crisp and clean with the texture of jicama and a light celery flavor. Roasted, it becomes sweet and rich with a creamy texture and a earthy mellow and rich celery tone. As with many fall root vegetables, celeriac pairs well with just about anything in the season. Roasted squash, yams, parsnips and potatoes all go great in a roasted medley, stew or soup.

For this recipe I wanted just the celery root flavor and decided that the roasting time was worth the result. The easiest way to peel celeriac is with a carrot peeler. Just remove the outer darker skin until you get to the creamy interior. I just cubed them, tossed them in olive oil and put them in the oven at 400 degrees until they were a golden brown (about 30 minutes), and really, you can stop there. Actually, do stop there and eat a few, its worth it, especially dusted with truffle salt.

For the base I found that omitting carrots from my usual mirepoix (which is 1 part onion to 1/2 part celery and 1/2 part carrot) made the fresh celery shine through and add a high note to balance out the celeriac. A bit of black pepper, some roasted garlic I had lying around which added to the roasted richness, but raw garlic sauteed would work just as well, and that’s all. It couldn’t get any simpler. You could also cut some time by pan roasting the celery root in the soup pot, instead of the oven and then adding the rest of the saute ingredients.

2 pounds celery root, cubed and roasted

2 T butter

1 T vegetable oil

1/2 white onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, roasted and minced

4 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1 t fresh thyme, minced

Salt and pepper

In a heavy-bottomed pot melt butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and saute until translucent and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute (if raw), until it becomes fragrant. Salt and pepper and add roasted celery root, garlic (if roasted) and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Blend in batches until smooth. I added a little truffle salt at the end to bring out the roasted flavor. You could also drizzle with fresh pressed olive oil.

I’ve got one word for you this Friday, okay two words – celery root. I urge everyone to sub-out at least one thing and sub-in some celeriac. Celery root is a variety of celery that is grown for its tender underground root. I had never had any of this amazing vegetable until I started getting my Full Circle box and now I look forward to it every year.

The funny thing is – I hate celery. It is one of the few things in my mind that doesn’t improve with organic and farm fresh origins. Celery from our farm is even  more celery-y, potent and chewy. It tastes more I suppose like celery should, which is awful. But celery root, now that’s something completely different.

It’s rough and knobby exterior gives way to a light, smooth and creamy interior that when roasted becomes a rich and tasty light celery flavor with notes of pepper and pear. It is amazing. That being said, its season is short so get it while it’s available. I’m definitely subbing it in and adding some more to my green grocery. As for my list:

Garnet Yams     Romaine Lettuce
Acorn Squash    Escarole
Lacinato Kale     Dapple Dandy Pluots
Spinach             Red Flame Grapes
Romanesco       D’anjou Pears
Scallions           Gala Apples

It’s looking pretty good, and there is one other item I am excited about – Romanesco. For those of you that aren’t familiar with this delicacy, it’s like a fractal-ized version of cauliflower with a slightly softer flavor. Perfect for a Lebanese garlic sauce, which is what I’m going to do with mine. The yams will go for a nice roast veggie platter, the escarole will end up in white bean soup.  The spinach I may sub-out for something else, as I still have last weeks, but when it get’s cooked down one bunch is only enough for really one person. So I’ll leave it in there and make a quiche with spinach, scallion and mushrooms. The fruit will go for crisps and the grapes I’ll sub out for the celery root since they come from California.

I think that will about do it, though I’ll add some bread, yogurt, and Linda gave me a great idea for the fresh lasagna noodles – ravioli! Now that’s what the spinach should go for, that and the kale with some roasted squash and pine nuts. Oh, that sounds great! I love it when meals just come together like that. I better add some garlic and maybe some more leeks if they’re available. I still have some beef in the freezer and some leftover squash soup, but that won’t make it through the weekend.

So, meals next week – White Bean and Escarole Soup, Spinach and Acorn Squash Ravioli, Roast Yams and Braised Kale, and maybe a crisp, or a tart. I do have a new tart pan I want to try out. Its good to be flexible. I hope everyone has a great weekend. Next week – squash ravioli or Lebanese garlic romanesco.

This last weekend was amazing. I love this fall weather, the foggy and cool mornings that give way to bluebird skies and sunny afternoons. The rich smell of drying leaves and dense forest loam. The trees just aren’t turning fast enough for me. So last weekend we headed to Mt. Rainier. A few thousand feet higher and fall is in full swing. I even brought my pumpkin to get some good squash on fallen foliage shots, but completely forgot once we were there.

As it gets cooler during the days, and the nights drop even lower, soup starts to seem like a great idea. A bout of colds has buffeted our small office and in an effort to stave off seasonal sniffles I wanted to make a soup both tasty and nutritious. This time of year I don’t have to look any further than the first of the winter squashes.

Jam packed with an impressive array of vitamins and minerals including cancer fighting phyto-nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, complex B-vitamins, copper and the very powerful antioxidant beta carotene, any winter squash variety is a good start to a healthy meal. To give it just a bit more antioxidant kick I paired it with carrots, another great beta carotene source, and fresh ginger, which is cooked only briefly to retain both its sharp clear flavor and its powerful cancer fighting and anti inflammatory properties.

Instead of using onions or shallots as the base, I opted for a gentler allium. Leeks are a wonderful addition to any soup, when simmered until soft and lightly brown they provide a perfect warm and rich backdrop to any ingredient, plus they support cardiovascular health – like many alliums they are a rich source of complex B vitamins.

Add to that some organic chicken stock, a couple of slices of stale sourdough, and some salt an pepper and my healthy and nutritious soup was ready to go in less than an hour.

2 pound winter squash, halved and deseeded then roasted

1 pound carrots, roasted

1 pound leeks, whites only, sliced

1 T butter

2 T olive oil

2 T carrots, diced

2 T celery, diced

2 T fresh ginger, minced

4 cups chicken stock

2 slices stale sourdough, chopped

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and season both carrots and squash, place in a roasting pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until soft. In a large heavy bottomed pot heat butter and one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté leeks for 10-15 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Add carrots and celery to leeks and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Add ginger and sauté briefly, until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add squash and carrots (I used delicata squash, though any squash works. I just pulled the squash skin off the flesh and placed the flesh in the pot).

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes to allow flavors to incorporate. Add bread to soup and stir, then transfer soup in batches to food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

My soon-to-be in-laws were in town from Kentucky last week. We also had our housewarming last weekend and many of our wonderful friends and co-workers came through with family in tow from three in the afternoon to three in the morning.

In order to feed everyone we decided to make a big pot of chili  – Cincinnati style. My soon-to-be father-in-law Paul, always willing to lend a helping hand volunteered to take on this humongous task.

Generally, I have trouble letting other people cook in my kitchen. I tend to think that there is a way to do things, a process to get the best out of the ingredients and that straying from that process is sacrilege –

For example, I once got into an argument with a friend of mine, over a pork chop. I insisted that every pork chop had a temperature at which it was at its peak, that lower than that golden zone, or higher, resulted in less than perfection. And that our job as cooks was to find and release that potential. My buddy disagreed. He liked his pork chops well done – like his steaks, and to him they were perfect. No manner of argument or even taste testing could sway him. Albeit he was a stubborn man, but I finally relented and let him enjoy his hockey puck.

So, when I watched Paul pile a mound of ground beef into two luke-warm pots, I had to go downstairs, or into the living room, or out on the porch. I paced, I made excuses, I tapped the keg.

But after a while I came back, and had a peak under the lid and what I saw was  – well, it was chili. Not chili like I’m used to – mostly beans with peppers, onions, tomatoes and ground pork and beef bouncing between – but real southern-style ground beef-driven chili that after a taste or two, a bowl or two, I realized was great. No, it was awesome. Everybody loved it and raved about it and Paul, in his way, took quiet credit, as if it was nothing.

What I learned from Paul, was that the process doesn’t need to be perfect, that following exact steps to meet a specific result was less important than the result itself. So goes the saying – ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’. Not that I’m into skinning cats (seriously that is weird, but I get the point), but process isn’t everything.

So what should you take – if you dare to take anything at all – from these incoherent ramblings? Don’t worry about the recipe, don’t worry about the steps, or to an extent, even the ingredients. If you have a clear picture of what you want, of the the flavors and balances your interested in, just go for it. And don’t listen to the perfectionists, the kitchen mosquitoes and backseat chefs, just cook, have fun and enjoy yourself. It’ll come out in your cooking and in the smiles around the table.

Next week – Squash-o-rama! Squash and Carrot soup.

I can’t get enough curry. Indian or Thai, Korean or Japanese, curries have always intrigued me. I love the way they smell, the rich tones of garlic, ginger and onions, the dark and nutty flavors of cardamom, cumin, and garam masala, and the light notes of turmeric and paprika. I love the way they permeate your senses, your skin and pores. A good curry will leave you smelling like it for days. Even in Mexican culture the curry has showed its influence in the black Oaxacan moles of the south.

Usually, curries are a time-consuming process. A dish better left for weekend dinners when a cool bottle of Vihno Verde can offer a helping hand and some hot pita bread and fresh hummus can stave off the hungry furtive glances over the counter. This vindaloo, I’m afraid to say, is no exception. After searing the meat and onions, and adding the spices, it still takes two hours to bring the pork to ultimate succulence – but it is worth it, believe me.

I wanted to make this curry for lunch today, but didn’t have any pork thawed. I had ordered some in my box, a Wild Rye bundle gave me 1.5 pounds of country style pork ribs, but they were still frozen solid this morning. I placed them on a plate, lightly covered them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. Country-style ribs work great for this dish, the ample marbling breaks down during the slow cooking process becoming soft and tender. It also works well for chile verde, carnitas and after deboning, slicing them in half lengthwise and pounding into thin cutlets, makes a great mustard cutlet dish.

But this cut really sings after a slow cook in fragrant liquids. Whether roasted tomatillos and chiles, or in a curry sauce, the country style ribs break down and fall apart, tender and juicy. Besides the long cooking time, the rest of the recipe is actually pretty easy. Just remember to caramelize the onions, don’t brown the garlic and be patient. Enjoy.

1.5 pounds country-style pork ribs, de-boned and cubed as above

3 T vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 1/2 T flour

1/2 T sweet paprika

1/2 t cumin

1/2 t cardamom

1/4 t cayenne pepper

1/4 t cloves, ground

3/4 cups chicken stock

8 oz diced tomatoes

1 T red wine vinegar

1/2 T mustard seeds

1 bay leaf

1/2 t sugar

1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves

1 cup yogurt (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat to almost smoking. Sear pork in two batches, give space between each piece to sear well and brown. Turn only once after the first side is well browned. Remove and place in a bowl. Continue with another tablespoon oil and the rest of the pork. Discard rendered fat and turn down to medium heat. Saute onions until golden brown and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes, add garlic and saute for 30 seconds more until fragrant. Scrape the accumulated fond off  the bottom of the pan with the onions as you stir.

Add flour, paprika, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, and cloves. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and scrape the bottom of the pan, add tomatoes, vinegar, mustard seeds and bay leaf.  Add sugar and pork, with any accumulated liquids, and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until pork is fork tender.

Remove from oven, skim off excess fat and add chopped cilantro and yogurt if desired. Serve with basmati or jasmine rice and fresh naan or thick flour tortillas.

This is a shot of Liberty Bell near dusk at Rainy Pass in the North Cascade National Park taken earlier this week. The larch were just starting their fall march down the hill. The cool crisp nights, getting down near 40 degrees and the intensity of the Milky Way streaking across the night sky was incredible and made me anxious for winter’s arrival. It also gave me just the right amount of sun and warm forest days to feel content in embracing fall’s arrival. I’m actually looking forward to holing up on rainy days in front of the fire with a good book and a cup of hot cider. This coming week’s box is perfect cabin food:

Broccoli                         Romaine

Baby white turnips          Kabocha squash

Collard greens                Red flame grapes

Leeks                            Sun yellow peaches

Spinach                          Bartlett pears

Red bell peppers            Golden delicious apples

The right mix of greens in their prime, a taste of winter squash, some leeks for soups and fruit for pies, crisps or tarts. I’m thinking some Hungarian Beef Stew is in order this next week, for which I’ll need some top round steak, a few onions and carrots – which are both subs. The sweet paprika I have should work fine and I’ll roast the red pepper under the broiler for a fresh bright roasted flavor.

Another soup I’ve been dieing to make is roasted squash and leek soup. The recipe is on the farm notes this week, with frizzled leeks as the garnish. I might add some roasted turnips into that recipe, just for the added earthy flavor. Served alongside a spinach salad with grape slices and a red wine vinaigrette, some roasted pecans on top and I’ll call that meal done.

The golden delicious apples are great this time of year, so I’ll have to try the traditional Tarte Tatin recipe. You just can’t beat a one-pan method. The pears I’ll sub out for some carrots and the peaches will go into lunches, granola or smoothies. I have plenty of lettuce, so the romaine may become some green beans. I’ll need some bread from Green Grocery and one of the Lasagna packs, which basically takes care of about two to three meals. That should get us through the week, with maybe one night out and a few miscellaneous trips for lunch stuff.

I also have a recipe for Pork Vindaloo that I’ve been meaning to get to. It’s from Cook’s Illustrated Winter 2010 issue, Soups and Stews, and is filled with some great recipes. This one has a wide array of spices involved, but nothing more exotic than cardamom. The recipe calls for Boston butt, but our country style ribs have plenty of fat and meat  for this dish. So, looks like I better add some pork to my order too. That’s probably too much, for one week, but I can always keep it in the freezer until next week. Besides, it’s always good to have options!

Next week – Hungarian Beef Stew or maybe some Pork Vindaloo!

 

I have to admit that the arugula pesto was an afterthought. I’d made it the day before, using three-quarters arugula and a quarter parsley, for a quick pasta dish. Everybody loved it, though I thought it was a bit heavy on the garlic, and after I cooked up this lovely batch of roasted potatoes I figured they wouldn’t hurt from a quick toss in some left-over pesto.

The funny thing is that I’ve been cooking potatoes for a long time. Being from Idaho originally doesn’t hurt and just having parents that love a good country breakfast helps a bit too. I’ve oven-roasted them for dinner, made country fries for lunch, sliced and pan fried them for breakfast and thought that I’d just about had it down. Good potatoes, hot oven, quick toss in salt and pepper, and they’re done.

Well, it turns out there is a better way.

I came across this awhile back in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book, in one of the accompaniment sections he describes the best way to roast potatoes. It sounded good, and what’s more, it just made sense. So I tried it, and he was right. Then, I sort of forgot about it until recently I received my copy of The American Test Kitchen’s top Picks of 2011 and there it was again. The best roasted potato recipe ever.

Of course, theirs was slightly different, a little butter and no herbs, but pretty much the same. And it is awesome. The best part about it, and the reason the Test Kitchen picked it, is it’s relatively quick compared to just oven-roasting. But what I like about it is the nicely crisp outside and perfect fluffy inside. You can dress it up any way you want. Add herbs, garlic butter, just olive oil, anything really, they can take it.

This batch was slightly under-done, I could have let it go for another few minutes, but it was late, and the troops grew weary. So I rushed, a sin against these gorgeous tubers. I think that’s partially why I dressed them in the pesto, to give them a little glitter, to make them feel perfect again. Try it out, and be patient. You want a little mashed potato covering them, making them crisp and sweet when cooked in the high heat. Wait for it and have no regrets.

2# Red potatoes, halved

3 T butter

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

This is more technique really than ingredients. First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then boil the potatoes in heavily salted water. Add a good 2 tablespoons of salt to the water. Boil them for 12 minutes, or depending on the size, until they are just getting able to pierce with a knife all the way through but not crumbling. This is really the essence. You want the potatoes hard enough that they won’t turn to mashers, but soft enough that when tossed roughly in salt and butter they get some mashed and crumbling bits on the outside. Toss roughly in butter, season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly in one layer on a sheet pan and place on the middle rack of the oven. Your going to bake these, tossing once, for about 40 minutes. Until they’ve browned nicely.

In the meantime, in a food processor blend the following:

3 cups arugula, chopped and packed

1 cup Italian parsley, chopped and packed

5 garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil, give or take, enough to blend smoothly

Then add 1/2 cup roasted pecans and blend until coarse, but granular. Finish by mixing in 1/4 cup grated parmigiano. And there you have arugula pesto. When the potatoes are done, let them cool slightly, then toss in pesto and serve. Or just serve and toss some pasta in the pesto, either way its good.

Oh fall. It has to be one of my favorite seasons. Growing up here in the Northwest has tied me to climates cold and damp. I’ve tried to love Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, even sunny California, but something inside me just desires the cool sea salted air of the Puget Sound. I even took one of those Facebook tests once – Where should you live? After ten questions the screen paused, and popped an image of the Space Needle. Feels good to know I’ve arrived.

As the weather cools I get happier. Not that I don’t enjoy our short-lived summers, but I don’t pine for them as others seem to. I save my daydreams for mountain snow, and this year is sure to fulfill them. My favorite winter was 2008. Sledding down Capitol Hill, snowboarding down my street in Columbia City, buses just driving around picking people up wherever. I’d never seen a friendlier side of this city. I want that again, at least for a week or so.

And those cold and rainy – or hopefully snowy – days I’ll be cooking soup. I’ll be making stock and freezing it, my freezer is already becoming full of bags of roasted bones, shrimp shells and empty ice-cube trays. Perfect for cubes of stock to throw in sauces. I’ll be making squash soup, shrimp bisque, chicken and dumplings, hearty vegetable soup and baking fresh bread.

This beautiful sunny day is great, and the slight cool tinge to the salty breeze hides even cooler days to come. I just have to remember that when it’s raining here, it’s snowing in the mountains. It’s that thought that gets me through, that and the hearty stews, the ample smell of fresh roasted coffee and stacks of good books.

Even if I’m ready for fall it doesn’t mean my box is ready to oblige. Romaine still says grilling for Caesar salad, the rapini will go good in a stir fry with my kim chi, along with my bok choy, corn and zucchini. I might just make some roasted red potatoes for next week, as I think I’ve come across the best way to roast just about any potato. My red radishes will most likely join them in the roasting pan, or go tumbling into another salad. And the fruit – my nectarines, peaches, pears and apples – for once I will just let stand, they’ve been tasting great lately as snacks and dessert.

No big plans this week. Just some simple meals, maybe a stew with some top round. I’ve got a bunch of arugula still, which I’ll try to make some arugula pesto out of for a pizza one night. Maybe topped with some rapini, zucchini and roasted garlic. I think we’ll just soak in the last of this waning summer light, fire up the grill again and just relax a bit. Happy October.