Roast Chicken with Apples and Onions

I'm going to have lots of chances to perfect my chicken roasting skills in the next few months - I just got hired to work as the pack shed manager at JenEhr Family Farm in Sun Prairie. Part of the compensation is all the vegetables I can eat plus one free pasture raised chicken a week. That's right - a free chicken every week! We've already got big plans for summer-time grilling! The job won't start till April 1, but we were able to find this beautiful little bird at the Saturday market.

These apples had been sitting around for way too long. No, they're not local, except the big red one- that's an Ida Red from Ella Orchards. The others are Granny Smiths and a Pink Lady, from Washington I think. They were definitely a little worse for wear, but perfect for cooking.

There's pretty slim pickins for local onions these days. Most of the onions at the farmer's market are so small that peeling them takes much patience - Dave has pretty much put his foot down and refused to deal with them any more. I can't say I blame him! These came from Willy Street. They're not organic, but they are a nice medium/large size and local. People always ask me if I think local trumps organic or vise versa. I don't have a good answer to that - it all depends on the details of how and where things were grown.....in this case, I decided to go with local.

This is the stuffing I made for the chicken. Apples, onions, sage, lemon juice, a little melted butter, salt and pepper.

I rubbed some melted butter on the chicken, stuffed as much of the apple mixture as I could fit inside it, and put it in the oven. I've become pretty partial to the Julia Child method for oven roasted chicken. I start it really hot (425 degrees) breast side up. After 5 minutes I turn in onto one side. After another 5 minutes I turn it on the other side, and after 5 minutes more breast side down, baste it, and turn the heat down to 350. Julia Child would definitely truss a chicken too, but that's still a little intimidating to me. They always turn out well without trussing, so it's hard for me to see the point. Maybe someday I'll get it down, especially with all the chickens I'm going to get this summer!

When it had about a half hour left to cook I basted it with its juices, added the rest of the onions/apple mixture to the pan and put it back in the oven.

Here's the finished bird. Beautiful! I really like how the skin darkened. I think it's because the juice from the apples is sweet enough to caramelize.

A very nice dinner indeed! It went very well with the dark rye bread I've been in love with recently and my homemade butter.

Roast Chicken with Apples and Onions

1 Whole chicken
3-4 Apples
2-3 Yellow onions
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 Tablespoons melted butter
Dried sage

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Chop onions and apples into bit sized pieces. Toss together with lemon juice, half of the melted butter, sage, salt and pepper. Rinse chicken thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the remaining butter into the skin. Stuff as much of the apple mixture into the chicken as possible. Place in a roasting pan breast up and put in oven. After five minutes turn chicken onto one side and put back in oven. In another 5 minutes, turn chicken onto its other side. After another 5 minutes, turn chicken breast down and baste with any juices in the pan. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Take chicken out. Baste and add remaining apple/onion mixture to the pan. Roast for another 30 minutes, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160 degrees. Let chicken stand for about 10 minutes at room temperature before carving.

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Good News and Cabbage Rolls

I don't usually get political on this blog, but I wanted to mention some good news that came out this week. The Obama administration has announced their pick for the number two position at the USDA, and it's a good one! Kathleen Merrigan will be the new Deputy Secretary. She's a long time proponent of organics, local food, and has good experience working in Washington. Click here to see a more in depth article. I was pretty disappointed when Obama picked Governor Vilsack as his Secretary of Agriculture, but this makes me think that maybe change will come to our food system after all!

Now back to the usually scheduled programing....

Buffalo Stuffed Cabbage Rolls! I really like making cabbage rolls. They're really satisfying, the ingredients don't have to be too expensive, and they're one more way to use local ground meat and cabbage. It's really quite amazing the variations you can come up with the same basic local ingredients.

This may be the last cabbage we see this year. Willy Street all out. This one came from Driftless Organics' stand at the indoor farmer's market, but last week was their last for the season. I find myself worrying about how I'm going to get through March without buying any out of state vegetables. I may end up losing some weight! This cabbage was a little worse for wear, but it was really just the outer leaves that were having problems. It's pretty white, which my produce buyer self knows is not premium, (cabbage really should be at least light green) but my locavore self couldn't care less about such trivial things!

I peeled off the biggest outer leaves (after the rotting ones of course.) and steamed them. They didn't quite fit in the pot, but I crammed the lid on top and it worked out fine. They steamed for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I chopped up two old stale heels of this beautiful dark rye bread. We've been eating a lot of this recently in sandwiches - dark rye is one of my favorite breads - I love the rich intense flavor. I've been getting it at the farmer's market from Silly Yak Bakery, which besides having the coolest name for a bakery I've ever heard, makes really good bread. I've become somewhat addicted to their whole wheat cinnamon bread for breakfast. The wheat isn't local, the man at the market told me that they tried making bread with local wheat and it just didn't have the right amount of gluten. They get wheatberries by the truckload from Montana and grind them themselves......

Soon my cabbage was nicely steamed and wilty - this is necessary for the rolling process. Fresh cabbage would crack and fall apart way too easily.

Next year I will can my own tomatoes for the winter, but it was impossible with my move this year, so I've been splurging on California canned tomatoes. (looking to start a business? Someone should be canning Wisconsin tomatoes!) This is tomato paste, which probably is the most environmentally sound way to get tomatoes from California to Wisconsin. It's quite condensed, so I added some water to dilute it, plus a little dried sage and salt.

Now for the meat! I started with some garlic cooked in butter in the cast iron skillet.

Then about a pound of ground local buffalo.....

Then it all got mixed together: bread crumbs, buffalo, two eggs, some more salt, pepper, and a little more dried sage.

Rolling them up is amazingly easy. Just plop some of the meat mixture onto the cabbage leaf like so....

Fold in the corners and roll it up.

Ta-da! I'm always afraid rolling it up will be difficult since the cabbage is so brittle when it's fresh, but it always seems to work out realy well.

The six rolls fit perfectly in this casserole dish.

I spread the sauce on top and cooked the whole thing for about 30 minutes.

This is how it looked coming out of the oven. Not too different. It was bubbling hot though, so I knew it was done. All the ingredients were already cooked, so all it needed was to heat up.

The first course was this beautiful spinach salad that Dave made - wilted spinach, bacon, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and olive oil. We usually don't get to the farmer's market early enough to get the local spinach from Snug Haven Farm - it's a popular item that sells out quickly. But last Saturday we had a snow storm, so fewer people ventured out to the market, and there were still a few bags left when we showed up at 11am.

The rolls were quite tasty. I was especially happy with the rye bread flavor in the filling. It was a nice complement to the cabbage and gave the whole thing a bit of a sophisticated flavor.

Buffalo Cabbage Rolls

6 Large green cabbage leaves
2 Pieces stale dark rye bread
1 Small can tomato paste
2 Cups water
A few cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1lb Ground buffalo
2 Eggs
Dried Sage

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Steam whole cabbage leaves for about 10 minutes, until well cooked. Dilute tomato paste with water, and season with sage and salt. Set sauce aside. Chop bread into fine breadcrumbs. Over medium heat, saute garlic in butter for about 3 minutes. Add buffalo and cook until meat it browned. Put the meat in a bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. Add eggs and breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Season with a bit of sage, salt, and pepper. Put 1/6 of the meat mixture onto a cabbage leaf and roll it up to make an eggroll type roll. Repeat until all the cabbage and meat is used up. Place rolls into a casserole dish. Spread tomato sauce on top and bake for about 30 minutes, until everything is bubbling hot. Enjoy!
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Liver and Onions

This was always one of my favorite dishes when I was a kid (minus the onions - I simply couldn't stand onions, period.) Perhaps it was all the ketchup we doused it in, but the texture and flavor of liver has always been very satisfying to me. In my adult life, I've come to know it for it's nutrition, but I've never had the guts to cook it myself. Last weekend I found some local organic beef liver at Willy Street for a decent price, and decided to go for it.

The Weston A. Price Foundation has a really good post about liver on their website. They point out that liver from many different animals has been a sacred food for a very very long time in many cultures, and there's a good reason why - here are the nutritional benefits they list:
  • An excellent source of high-quality protein
  • Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A
  • All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
  • One of our best sources of folic acid
  • A highly usable form of iron
  • Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper
  • An unidentified anti-fatigue factor
  • CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
  • A good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA.
Sounds good to me! I did made sure that the liver I got was organic - I'm wary of eating any non-organic meat, but especially so for organ meats like liver.

I found several references online to soaking liver in milk to take the bitterness out. We happened to have some close-to-expired milk in the fridge, so I gave it a try. I soaked it like this for about an hour. I later talked to my mom about it - she's as close to a liver expert as anyone I know. She's never soaked it, and it never turned out bitter, so it's hard to know if this really made a difference.

While it was soaking, I grilled the (local) onions in the cast iron skillet in a little bacon grease. (Dave was in the middle of making his famous Cream of Reuben Soup, and there was a little bacon grease left in the pan.)

Handling the raw liver was pretty tough at first. It's got a texture unlike any other meat I've worked with - smooth, slimy, gelatinous, and really weird. Some people recommend eating it raw - that's really tough for me to imagine.....but who knows.....tastes change over time I suppose. Just cutting it up was enough for me this time.

I dipped each piece in flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and then fried them in butter.

This was really easy, and just as tasty as I remembered it. There's something very primal and satisfying about food that's this nutrient dense. I can totally understand why native cultures considered it sacred. And yes, I still doused it in ketchup - some things never change!

Liver and Onions

Beef Liver (as much or as little as you want)
Whole milk
Yellow Onions
1-2 Cups whole wheat flour

Soak liver in milk for 1-2 hours (this step is optional.) While liver is soaking, chop onions and cook them in butter (or bacon grease) over relatively hot heat until they're nicely grilled. Set onions aside. Season flour with a little salt and pepper and put in a shallow pan. Take liver out of milk and cut into largish pieces. Heat a few tablespoons of butter in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. When the pan is nice and hot, dredge each piece in the flour and fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side. You can tell by touching the pieces when they're done - they'll lose their weird gelatinous texture and become firm. Don't overcook! Serve with onions and ketchup.
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Cream of Reuben Soup

Dave made this crazy soup last night. I was a little dubious when he asked if I thought "creamy cabbage soup with bacon" would be a good thing....but who am I to stifle anyone's creativity? I was already planning to make liver and onions, and soup seemed as good a compliment to that as any.

He started with the bacon. This came from Willy Street - I liked the round shape - it would be really good for sandwiches, although we've managed to use most of it up in other things.

He poured the grease from the bacon over these root veggies (potatoes, gold beets, onions, and garlic) and some caraway seeds, ginger, and Cayenne. Roasting roots in bacon grease is really really good - I'm so glad I thought of it!

While the roots were roasting, he started some onions cooking in butter.....

....until they were nice and brown. Then came the fancy onion trick.....

He added a little bit of water to the hot (almost burning) onions. According to Dave, the water cools the onions down quickly so they don't burn, and gives them a nice carmely flavor.

He added the cabbage to the onions and steamed it until it was just lightly cooked, then added the bacon and pureed it in the food processor.

By then, the roots were cooked. He took the cabbage out of the processor and put the roots in along with some milk. That all got pureed and added back to the pot with the cabbage.

And here it is! I was really surprised at how good it was! The cabbage still had a nice almost crunchy texture, and the bacon and caraway combined to give a real hint of Reuben on rye. A good reminder that keeping an open mind in the kitchen is always a good idea!

Creamy Reuben Soup

3-4 Slices Bacon
2 Golden Beets, cubed
3 Small Red Potatoes, cubed
2 Yellow Onions, chopped
Garlic, chopped
Caraway Seeds
3 Cups chopped cabbage
3 Cups milk
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fry bacon. Place the beets, potatoes, and 1 onion in a baking pan and pour bacon grease on them, tossing to coat. Add garlic, caraway, cayenne, and ginger (all to taste.) Roast in oven for about 45 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, saute remaining onion in butter in a large pot until onions begin to brown. Turn heat up, and add a cup of cold water quickly, just as the onions are beginning to almost burn. Add cabbage and enough water to submerge the cabbage and cook for about 5 minutes, until cabbage is lightly cooked, but not rubbery. Process with bacon in a food processor or blender and pour back in the pot. When roots are done roasting, add them to the food processor along with milk and process until smooth. Pour in pot with the cabbage, and stir to combine. Cook on low for another 5 minutes or so, add salt to taste, and serve.

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Honey Lemon Ginger for the Sickie

I was sipping on honey lemon ginger tea as I wrote the last post, and it was so good I just had to write a little about it. This is another great cold remedy that's super simple but soooo good when you're sniffly and sneezy.

I've been noticing this beautiful organic blue ginger from Hawaii at all the local food co-ops. I hate to say it, but this is much nicer ginger than what I could get in California, at a much better price. The Midwest organic produce distributors must have connections! This beautiful piece came from the Regent Market Co-op.

I remember the first time I saw blue ginger like this - I was a produce buyer and was convinced there was something wrong with it. I asked around and learned it's actually a premium variety - not too fibrous, lots of juice, really spicy.....yellow ginger would be my next pick, followed by white. Most ginger you'll find is white, which is the lowest quality. I also always look for Hawaiian ginger - the quality seems to be a lot higher than Brazilian, Peruvian, or Chinese. It must be something about the climate.....

This is a very simple tea - ginger slices, juice from a quarter lemon, and some honey. Our honey is getting pretty crystallized, which is why it looks so weird. It's almost impossible to squeeze out of the container, but it still tastes fine.

Just add hot water......

I'd never noticed before, but the ginger loses its blue color when you pour boiling water over it. This steeps for a few minutes and it's done. If you want to steep it the "correct" way, cover the glass so no steam can escape. I'm usually too lazy for this step, and it turns out fine. I like chewing on the ginger as I drink the tea. Unlike galangal, ginger is perfectly edible - spicy and intense, but delicious!

Honey Lemon Ginger Tea

Ginger (about a 4 inch piece)
1/4 Lemon
2-3 Tablespoons honey
Hot Water

Slice ginger and put in the bottom of a teacup. Add juice of 1/4 lemon and honey. Pour boiling water over top, and let it steep for 5-10 minutes.
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Thai Chicken Soup

I was thinking last weekend how amazing it was that I hadn't gotten a cold since moving back to Wisconsin - and what do you know - I woke up Tuesday morning with a horrible sore throat. I should have known better!

I was very happy to still have a large Tupperware full of frozen home-made chicken broth I had made from the brined chicken we had back in January. It was a big frozen block, so Tuesday and Wednesday night I took an ice pick to it and chipped off enough "broth chips" to fill a soup bowl. I simply heated it up with some sliced mushrooms, salt, and herbs. Very basic, but exactly what the doctor ordered. I'm a serious believer in the restorative powers of broth - it's chock full of vital minerals, plus the steam is good for the sinuses, the soup itself is warming, and it's a good way to get more liquids in your diet - plus it brings me back to being a kid and being sick and having my mom serve me chicken soup.....

On Thursday I decided to get a little more fancy, and made Thai chicken soup with the remainder of the broth.

Here are the vegetables I started off with - local Carrots, onions, and a lonely shallot I found at the bottom of my storage basket, plus some very non-local galangal root (aka Thai Ginger.) This is beautiful galangal - I purchased it at Yu Wah, the oriental food market down the street from my house. It seemed fresher than any of the galangal I've seen. galangal is similar to regular ginger (it's a very close relative,) but it's more fibrous, and has a bit of a menthol-y flavor compared to ginger. It's essential to Thai cooking. I should also have gotten lemongrass at Yu Wah, but I completely spaced it. They didn't have any kaffir lime leaves, which are another essential ingredient - the lady at the counter told me there just isn't enough supply to meet the demand. So I got my galangal and counted myself lucky - I do live in Wisconsin after all, it's a little absurd to think I can have all the flavors of Thailand at my fingertips!

One more note about this soup - like the pizza I made a while ago, this is definitely not an attempt at a traditional recipe. I made it to taste good, not to attempt any traditional Thai cookery.

It took awhile just to thaw out the broth - it was a pretty solid frozen block. Here it is when it was finally liquid. Mmmmmm..... there is nothing like the smell and taste of chicken broth when you're under the weather.

I chopped up the galangal as best I could (it's really hard, and I wasn't feeling too ambitious, so I ended up with some pretty weirdly shaped chunks.) and added it to the simmering broth along with some rice. I used the brown basmati rice we had in the pantry - again, not a traditional Thai ingredient, but it worked.

I got these two local chicken legs at the Regent Market Co-op in Madison. I like leg meat - it's inexpensive and I think it tastes better than breast meat. I didn't really want to deal with cutting up raw chicken, so I put it in a baking dish and baked it.

After the rice had been cooking for about 20 minutes I added the onions, shallot, and carrots.

When the chicken was cooked (about 25 minutes,) I let it cool a little bit, took it off the bone, and added it to the soup.

It all simmered for another 20 minutes or so, until the carrots were tender and the rice completely cooked. Finally, I added two cans of coconut milk (full fat - I'm not into the light stuff) and seasoned it with cayenne, a whole lot of lime juice, fish sauce (another vital Thai ingredient), and salt. You really have to be carefull with coconut milk - if it boils it curdles and gets really weird. That's why I added it at the end.

And here it is! This is a really easy soup - just the thing for a sickie like myself who didn't really have the energy to cook anything elaborate, but still wanted something delicious and a little sophisticated.

Thai Chicken Soup
2 Quarts chicken broth
1 Piece galangal root (about 6 inches long)
4-5 Kaffir lime leaves (if you can find them)
2 Stalks Lemongrass
2 Cups rice
3 Carrots
2 Onions
2 Whole chicken legs
2 Cans full fat coconut milk
1/4-1/2 Cup lime juice
1/4 Cup fish sauce

Heat broth in a large soup pot. Slice galangal into pieces and add to broth, along with rice. Cover and let simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bake chicken in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Slice carrots and onions, add them to the broth and continue cooking. When chicken is done, let it cool enough so you can comfortably handle it, take the meat off the bone, and add it to the soup. When the carrots, onions, and rice are fully cooked, turn the heat off or to very low and add the coconut milk. Season to taste with lime juice, fish sauce, cayenne, and salt. This should be a very limy, spicy soup, so don't skimp of the seasonings!

One other warning - the galangal is pretty much just for flavoring, and is to fibrous to eat.

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