Locavore Lake Trout with Blue Cheese Sauce

When I was in Northern Argentina years ago one of my favorite edible discoveries was river fish (from the Parana River) with "Roquefort" sauce It was on almost every restaurant menu, and was simply delicious.

I recently made my own version of the dish - Wisconsin style - proving that food can be both worldly and locavore at the same time.

For a starch, I roasted potatoes and carrots from the garden along with some local garlic and backyard herbs. We didn't get many carrots, but the few that we have are nice and sweet. You can tell is autumn - this was the first time in months that I've fired up the oven to roast anything.

This beauty came from one of the great lakes - the fish man I bought it from wasn't sure which one.... It's lake trout. Not expensive, but man it's tasty. It's so good to know that leaving the West Coast didn't mean I would be without good fish. This trout is just as fatty and flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delicious as Pacific salmon.

For the sauce, I started with a simple rue - flour and butter. You have to cook the rue for a few minutes to toast the flour - otherwise the sauce has a floury doughy taste.

To the rue I added some local milk and some Hook's blue cheese from Mineral Point.

The blue cheese flavor mellowed a bit and made a creamy, rich, delicious sauce.

Such a rich meal demands a salad. Local Tat-soi, red cabbage, pimento pepper and tomato. I love these crunchy autumn salads!

With salad out of the way, we moved on to the main course. I couldn't eat like this every night - the fatty fish plus the rich sauce made this an extremely high calorie meal - but man it's good every once in a while!

Blue Cheese Lake Trout with Roasted Vegetables

For the Vegetables
Root Vegetables like potatoes, carrots, garlic, turnip, or rutabaga.
Fresh Herbs
Olive Oil

For the Fish
1 Big piece lake trout (or whatever fish is good and local)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons flour
1 Cup milk
1 big hunk of blue cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Cut the vegetables to desired size. Chop the herbs and mix with the veggies. Coat everything in olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

In the last 20-30 minutes of cooking, reduce the oven temp to 350. Rub some olive oil on the fish. and cook in the oven with the root veggies. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes over medium heat, until the flour starts to brown. Add milk and whisk, heating to almost boiling. Add the cheese and whisk briskly until it's melted. Salt and pepper to taste.

When fish is done, pull everything out of the oven. Serve the sauce over both the vegetables and the roots.

Olive Oil
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Chicken Update

It's been a long while since I've put up pictures of the little chickens - not quite so little anymore. Puff and Three Spot are 9 weeks old tomorrow, and about 2/3 the size of the big chickens. I put up a post on Backyard Chickens to see if anyone could help me sex them. To my dismay, the majority of the respondents thought they were both roosters! One person said they look a lot like her Black Australorp hens at that age, so I still have some hope.... or maybe it's just denial. They're still cheeping, I guess I'll know they're roos if they start to crow. As they develop, their feathers will help determine their sex as well - the roosters have pointier saddle feathers and bigger tails. They don't have any baby fluff left. They're growing like weeds, and are totally rambunctious.

They're still too little to be integrated with the older chickens, so I built them this little mini-run inside the big run. It's amazing what you can do with a lot of zip ties and some chicken wire! They sleep in the dog crate. It's really nice that they can interact with the older chickens - they've gotten used to each other which will hopefully help make a smooth transition when they do get turned loose with the rest of the hens.

Speaking of the rest of the chickens, they are doing really well! Only two are laying: the Welsummer on the right in this picture, and the red Sussex (second from the right). They're giving about an egg a day each. The blond Sussex should start any day, followed by the Wheaten Maran. The Black Copper Marans are pretty far behind. Hopefully I'll get a few eggs from them before winter. I trimmed some turnip greens from the garden and gave them to the chickens. As you can see, they love them! They're also really fond of carrot tops, tomato scraps, and sweet corn cobs.

Yesterday was an exciting egg day. I got two eggs, the lighter one is from the Sussex. The darker one is from the Welsummer. Usually, she lays small eggs like the Sussex, but yesterday hers was HUGE.

I had a sneaking suspicion it was a double yolker, and I was right. What a beautiful egg! The whites are very perky on these eggs... a sure sign of freshness. Wikipedia tells me that double yolked eggs are a result of an unsynchronized production cycle and are more common in young layers..... interesting.

Happy last day of summer everyone!
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Good News Bad News

First the good news. Not only did Michelle Obama plant a vegetable garden on the White House lawn, now she's started a farmer's market a block away! Check this out:


Maybe there's reason for hope after all! I know there's a lot of progressive people out there who aren't too happy with Obama, but on the food front, I think he's doing pretty darn well. Yay!

Now the bad news. Remember that bumper crop of beautiful peaches that I was so excited to can for the winter? We were holding off on eating or canning them until they were really really perfectly ripe. This weekend was our targeted date for the picking and canning and guess what? SOMEBODY STOLE ALL THE PEACHES!!! This wasn't just someone picking one or two to eat as they biked by, no this was an all out stripping of many many peaches from the branches, some of which they must have used a ladder to get to. I know this is the risk you take with a community garden plot, but come on..... what a disappointment!
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Harvest Day

It's almost officially fall (only five days till the equinox!) and like all the squirrels in Madison, I've been feeling a strong urge to put food away for the winter. So early Sunday morning Dave and I took a trip out to The Tree Farm. It's a pick your own heaven - everything from flowers to all kinds of vegetables to Christmas trees. Not organic, but it's obvious from being there that much care is taken to make sure the land and the plants are treated well. The picture above is one Dave took of the pick your own flowers. We didn't pick any, but the photo is too beautiful to leave out.

We got there right at 9am when they opened, and were the first customers of the day. We were hoping to get peppers and tomatoes to freeze, and possibly some cabbage for sauerkraut. We were not disappointed.

Here is just a tiny fraction of the peppers on offer at The Tree Farm. They had everything.... fancy hot peppers, all colors of bells, poblano, jalapeno, pimento, Hungarian wax, Italian fryers.....Not too many red ones (it's been a cool summer and red peppers haven't had a good chance to develop) but being the first ones there we got whatever reds there were to be gotten.

Check out these big beautiful Italian fryers!

I love these deep purple bell peppers - so dramatic!

Next we went for the tomatoes. These are paste tomatoes - not staked up, which is a surprisingly common way to do it. They're for sauce, so it's OK that they get some scarring from the ground. There were certainly plenty of them! It took us less than a half hour to pick 50lb, and we could have kept going all day.

Here's our final haul. 50lb of paste tomatoes, close to 30 pounds of peppers, 5 pounds or so of tomatillos, and some of the biggest most beautiful cabbages I've seen, all for the low low price of $60.00. I just love pick your own! Not only do you get a deal, but you can pick exactly what you want at the stage of ripeness you want. It's great!

Now the work began - we went home and started the processing.

Priority number one was the tomatoes. We wanted to make paste to freeze. Some people might cringe at this, but I try not to peel anything if I can help it. We just washed them and put them through the food processor seeds, skin, and all, and then put them on the stove to cook down slowly. I don't mind a little peel in things, and processing them chopped the peel up to almost unnoticeable bits. Maybe if I didn't work a full time job and all the rest I'd have time for things like peeling tomatoes, but it's just not worth it to me at this point.

We filled out biggest pot, along with an even bigger pot we borrowed from our mom. They were both filled to the brim when we started. We let them come to a boil, then turned them down super low and simmered for almost 24 hours. By the time they were done, they'd reduced by nearly half and were super thick and full of tomato flavor. We got 13 or 14 quart bags of paste total, which I put in the fridge to cool and then into the chest freezer in the basement.

Once the tomatoes were going, we started in on the peppers. Here they all are, getting washed outside in Dave's big Tupperware. Just gorgeous!

He fired up the grill and started the long task of roasting them all. It was at least 4 or 5 batches before he was done, and it took most of the afternoon.

Not the best picture of me, but you can get a good idea of the size of these cabbages. They were nearly 10lb each.

Just one of them nearly filled my sauerkraut crock. You put the cabbage in in layers with salt and pound it down in between to release the water. Here it is before pounding.

It's amazing how much it reduces when you pound it. I was able to add half of the red cabbage we picked to the top and pound that down. After thinking about it, I decided I should have put the red cabbage in first - this way the color is going to sink down and discolor the green, but it's too late now.

I put a small plate on top.....

..... and weighted it all down with two bricks. (washed and sterilized bricks of course!) I also added some water to bring the level up way over the cabbage. My problem with sauerkraut in the past has been not enough water so the top of cabbage gets ucky. It's all supposed to be submerged. I made sure there was plenty of water this time, so hopefully it works better. It'll be at least a few weeks before it's ready to try out. I covered it with a dish towel and put it in the basement to do it's fermentation thing.

Meanwhile, Dave was still out there grilling peppers.

They cooked down to just a fraction of their fresh size. We packed them into freezer bags and put them into the fridge to cool before going into the chest freezer in the basement. I didn't get pictures, but my low tech way of packing freezer bags without too much air is to close the Ziploc almost all the way, put a straw into the open corner, and suck as much air out as I can. They you just take the straw out and close it up as fast as possible. Once again, some purists will probably shudder at this, but it works well for me. I'm not picky.

By the end of the day, our fridge was full of bags of peppers and tomatoes ready to go into the freezer. The green bags are salsa verde I made with the tomatillos we'd picked - just tomatillos, salt, lime juice, and an anaheim pepper or two.

But we weren't done yet! Dave didn't grill all these cayenne peppers, he was afraid they would slip through the grates in the grill and he was totally sick of grilling peppers anyway, so a few days later he cooked them up in a pan with some grape seed oil and garlic and then pureed it all in the food processor with apple cider vinegar and honey. Be carefull it your ever try something like this at home - the spicy peppers off-gassed and made us cough every time we went near the kitchen!

He ended up with this beautiful hot sauce. Very very spicy of course, but with just enough sweet and vinegar to make a nice flavor. A little goes a long way, but it's delicious!

As if I hadn't gotten enough of the pick my own thing, on Monday I went to Blue Skies Farm in Oregon and picked these beautiful raspberries to freeze. The pale yellow ones are ripe, just a different variety. I kept two pints fresh for myself and froze the rest. It works really well to first lay them all out in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer, and then pack them into freezer bags. That way they don't clump together as they freeze.

Here's my freezer in the basement as it looks now. We've still got a ways to go to fill it up, but not bad for one weekend!
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Layered Baked Things are Good

It's true, layered baked things are just good. Lasagna, chocolate cake....what more can I say? If you use good ingredients, layer them, and bake, it's bound to taste delicious even if it doesn't look that great. Oh yeah, a little cheese on top never hurts.

Here's an example - a mostly locavore one - that I made recently.

Ah, tomatoes! It's been a nice warm September and the tomatoes have just kept coming. That's good, since it was so cool earlier in the summer and it seemed to take forever for them to really start going. These are mostly Amish paste tomatoes from our backyard (the lucky few who survived the black walnut), and an heirloom or two that I got from Blue Skies Farm in Oregon. That's Oregon the town, not the state....

All these tomatoes were just begging to be made into a fresh sauce. I'm not one to peel anything if I can help it - I really don't mind a little peel in my sauce. I simply quartered the tomatoes and cooked them down in a saucepan.

I added a bunch of fresh basil from the backyard to the tomatoes....

.... a delicious tomato sauce, just as easy as that. I added a little salt and simmered it for an hour or so to thicken it.

Meanwhile, I got the other veggies ready. Eggplants from the garden, garlic and shallots from the farmer's market.

I sliced the veggies and doused them with olive oil. They made the first layer in the bottom of a big glass baking dish.

Then came a little sauce, and then some breadcrumbs. (not fancy breadcrumbs, just two old heels from an extremely stale loaf of sourdough that had been sitting around for way too long.)

Then came a little more sauce, and some local Italian sausage that I cooked up with a little leftover zucchini.

The rest of the sauce.....

Don't forget the cheese on top! I used mozzarella and Parmesan.

It went in a 375 degree oven till it was bubbling hot. That's it!

Let me repeat - layered baked things are good - especially when you put cheese on top.

My Recipe for Baked Layered Things

Marinara sauce - if it's in season, make it fresh! You could also use pesto or white sauce if you're feeling fancy.
Vegetables - Eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, or whatever you like.
Bread crumbs - These are good, but optional.
Ground meat - sausage, ground beef.....
Cheese - something that melts well.

Pre-cook any ingredients that you want to be well cooked (meat, potatoes, etc.) Put a small layer of sauce or oil on the bottom of a large baking pan. Layer the vegetables on. Top that with sauce, then breadcrumbs, then sauce, then meat, then sauce, then cheese. You can do more than one layer of any of the items if you like. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes, until it's bubbly hot. Enjoy, and don't worry if it falls apart when you scoop it out - it will taste delicious!
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The Harvest of the Corn

I have to apologize for the lateness of this post. It all took place last month. Though we moved into this new house on August 15, we didn't have a fast enough Internet connection to upload all these pictures until today. Finally I can share with you my day of corn!

It all started in our corn patch on South Main Street. We ate a lot of it fresh on the cob - probably about 3 dozen ears or so. In all honesty, it wasn't very good. I think we let it get a little too mature - it had fine flavor, but was a bit chewy. We ate it anyway. It was Golden Bantam from Seed Saver's Exchange. I think of heirlooms as having better flavor, and maybe it did, but the window for picking it was very small. The few ears we got that were not quite so mature were great.....

On the good side, we had great pollination, especially for a patch this small. I don't know what a "real" farmer would be happy with, but I was overjoyed with our yield. After the 3 dozen we ate, there were about 60 more for freezing.

I also found some "black gold" in the corn patch! Americans call this corn smut and see it as a disease (indeed it is a fungus that grows on corn and retards the growth of the ears) but in Mexico, it's called huitlacoche, and it's treasured as a delicacy. I ate these with eggs - huitlacoche doesn't have a ton of flavor - to me it's like a mild mushroom with a slight sweet corn flavor. It's intense black color might convince you that it isn't a food....

We trimmed the corn that we intended on freezing and soaked it in water to moisten the husks. It was fun to trim all of these - I had lots of practice in my years working in produce and I discovered that I still have the skills - I just love whacking away at corn with a big sharp knife!

We didn't want to get the house hot, so we grilled the corn instead of steaming it like most recipes call for. We were also curious to see if any of the grill flavor would translate to the frozen corn. (Plus, Dave just really likes firing up the grill, and was happy to have an excuse to do it once again!)

When it was nicely cooked, we soaked it in the sink in cold water till it was cool....

.... and then cut it off the cob. This was a long process and by the end I was almost happy not to have had a bigger yield.

This is what we got. It doesn't look like a lot, but it will be nice to have around during the winter months. I gave the cobs to the chickens - they loved them, and had a blast picking the last remaining bits of corn off them.

We packed the corn into freezer bags, got as much air out as possible, and froze it. I just got a brand new chest freezer, and it was exciting to have something to put in it!

Now for a change of scenery.....

Later that same day, Dave and his girlfriend and my other brother Ben and his wife and I all went to the Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival. Sun Prairie is a smallish town not far from Madison, and they are famous for this festival. 100,000 people eating 70 tons of sweet corn over a two day period.... we just had to check it out!

Upon approaching the "corn building" this is the first thing we saw. A high school kid in a dumpster wrestling with a ton of corn husks....

We purchased two totes for the 5 of us.

The corn building was a trip. They bring the steaming corn in by the truckload from a building especially designed to cook sweet corn. There was a truck at least every 5 minutes or so. The building was set up to herd people in exactly like cattle - get your corn, shuck it, butter it, salt it, and get out before you get trampled....

Here's one of our totes before shucking.

This corn was hot, and everyone was burning their fingers as they shucked.

Then it went to this nice girl who buttered it for us. Not too appetizing, but I was glad she was wearing gloves!

The salt station was outside. We salted and got the hell out. I don't do too well with masses of people, and that corn building tested my limits.

We sat in the grass and devoured our corn. It was good - crispy and sweet - everything that my homegrown corn wasn't.

And where did this beautiful corn come from? None other than Del Monte - one of the biggest evilest food processors out there. Figures.
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