French Food for Families: Day 1 – Coq Au Vin

The Recipe:

Alton Brown’s Coq Au Vin (co-co-vah)

 

The Process:

It’s Alton Brown. I’m not going to pretend I can one-up his cooking prowess. Just follow the recipe (it’s fun to watch the episode as you cook, or before you cook. or both, really). The only thing we really changed is that we use frozen pearl onions instead of fresh. They stew for hours, and have you ever tried to peel those little buggers? No. thanks.

 

The Result:

Presentation:

It's like a more herbal, win-y, flavorful stroganoff. minus the dairy.

Grown-up Thoughts:

  • Ommnomnom.
  • But seriously, broken into two days of prep (one to prep chicken and refrigerate overnight, and another to slow cook in the oven), this dish was pretty simple and mostly a matter of waiting for things to cook. Who says French is a lot of fussy prep work and knife skills?

Kid Thoughts:

  • 8 year old — I liked the meat and noodles.
  • 3 year old — I liked everything we had tonight, but I would only like the noodles again.

Sigh. At least the only thing left on their plates were bones, an itty-bitty pile of mushrooms (paige) and an itty-bitty pile of pearl  onions (alice).

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French Food for Families week(ish): starting… now.

The sudden change in weather (moving from early autumn into late autumn always feels like you’ve crossed some sort of invisible line into oktoberfest beers and dressing in layers) has provoked a longing in me for certain, lesser-publicized fall flavors: earthy mushroom, rich caramelized onion, the salty-sweet tang of slow-cooked meats.

As I was putting the meal plan together this week (including rabbit. Rabbit!), I was pleasantly surprised to notice myself instinctively hunting down farm dishes… coq au vin, pork provencale, boeuf bourgingnon.

These also happen to be French dishes. Weird, because I always think French Food is Fancy Food. Got me to thinking: could I pull off an entire week of French dishes? I work full-time, have a family to feed. Would my children starve to death? Would my self-proclaimed Frog Disdainer ™ of a husband allow me to sleep in the house (because, BRR, it gets cold at night these days)?

I think the answers here are: yes, no, and no. Honestly. I think you can cook traditional cuisine with minimal adaptations over the course of a normal, typical fall week, and live to tell the tale.

We start with the coq au vin, and go from there, including:

10/20: coq au vin with garden-fresh broccoli and cauliflower (yep, we’re still pulling produce out of our dirt. Neat, huh?)
10/22: Rabbit with mustard
10/23: Pork Provencale with sage dressing and roasted sweet potato
10/24: lentil soup
10/26: Grilled Chicken with Mustard and Red Pepper, pan roasted potatoes and spinach salad
10/27: Boeuf Bourguignon
10/28: Seared scallops with tarragon and beurre blanc, cous cous, and fall harvest salad

Allons-y… think we can do it? Please follow us as we attempt to feed our family seven french meals over the next week.


Minneapolis, Food City.

It’s always busy during May for us. So I’m probably more excited than usual to get to the Mill City Farmer’s Market for the first time this season.

Mill City has been “our market” since we met five years ago. It’s not the biggest, and it’s not the closest to our house, but it’s a fantastic bike ride over the Stone Arch Bridge. The Chef Shack is there. And there’s a ton of really high-quality food to bring home, to boot.

And it offers a list of food that makes my mouth water… case in point, this week’s list of goodies (it’s so helpful that the market is offering a Produce Planner this year!):

  • Asparagus
  • Morels
  • Green garlic
  • Ramps
  • Rhubarb
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Spring salad mix
  • Spinach
  • Nettles
  • Fiddlehead ferns
  • Herbs
  • Salad turnips
  • Dried peppers
  • Baby bok choy

Drool. That is all.

The Green Toews kitchen manifesto

“How do you guys eat so well, all the time?”

I often find myself equal parts perplexed and flattered when a friend or family member comments on how our household runs what I consider to be the epicenter of life — our kitchen. I’ve fielded questions about why we grow our own food AND participate in a CSA — why we shop at 3 or 4 local food providers, including stops at the butcher, bakery, coffee shop, and fishmonger, pretty much weekly, in addition to the grocery store — how we manage to turn out 5 or 6 home-made meals a week — and do it all within a family of four, average-joe budget.

I realize that our obsession over food isn’t everyone’s passion. And I remember a time when cooking for one (or two) seemed like more of a hassle than what it was worth.  And other times, I stop and think: have we as a culture gone soft? Do we, as a race, know how to feed ourselves, without the packaged food aisles in the supermarket and processed meat squares that come from a fast-food window? Don’t get me wrong — we feed the kids mac and cheese; our car can and will be found at a drive-through window on a roadtrip. But that’s not our day in/day out. So how do we make our kitchen happen? We follow these simple rules. And no, it doesn’t take all my time. And no, it’s not my only hobby. But my kids did eat ratatouille from scratch last night (and watched me cook as they watched the movie) — and at ages 2 and 7, sang the praises of couscous and goat cheese. So maybe we’re on to at least a little something…?

Take or leave these tips as they serve your life; they have, and will continue, to serve our family well.

  1. Get a solid handle on the basics of good cooking and baking. Make time to learn a few crucial things like knife techniques, ratios, herbs and spices, and flavor profiles. If you have ever felt anxious walking into the kitchen because “you don’t know how to cook”… this is where you start. Get a book; take a class; ask a friend who knows this stuff to mentor you (trust me, we love to pass down the knowledge). We won’t all turn out to be epic chefs. But we all have the ingrained ability to feed ourselves well. It is how our species has survived for so long. Don’t let Betty Crocker and Hamburger Helper fool you; we ALL are smart enough to put together delicious meals, all by ourselves.
  2. Buy a few really great cookbooks you like and know you’ll use; find websites with trusted recipes and make them your go-tos. Try new things from them, and make peace with the occasional failure (there’s a restaurant open somewhere that will feed you if you burn the biscuits or ruin the roast). Donate or sell the cookbooks you don’t use; they’ll only frustrate and discourage you, but they may inspire someone else.
  3. Invest a little bit of money in quality kitchen tools that make your job a million times easier. A good knife and sharpener, a solid cutting board, high-quality food processor, and top-notch mixer can make what seems daunting pretty easy.
  4. Plan your meals weekly. Balance the menu (rotate meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes as well as flavor profiles) and plan for specific recipes. You won’t overspend at the grocery store, you are less likely to give up and go out to eat.  Incredibly important key to success: plan in one or two days per week where you do nothing — eat a bowl of cereal,  reheat leftovers, or grab take-out. Don’t kill yourself in the kitchen every day.
  5. Keep track of what you have available. We use a simple spreadsheet on Google docs that inventories our freezers, and add or delete as items are purchased or used. We throw away less freezer-burned fruits and unintelligible leftovers.
  6. Shop around and find the least expensive way you can buy local. This is a big fad right now — and a good one, in my opinion, but this is America, after all, and even the best fads allow an opportunity for someone to rip you off. Be smart. My neighborhood gas station sells the same eggs and milk I’d buy at the co-op for well less than half the cost. Same brands. So yep, I do make the trip into the gas station to save myself 5 bucks on eggs and milk every week. And you know what, everyone wins… I support my neighbors and local economy,  I pay less because I don’t have to pay someone to ship it.  Also, local food is delicious food. I think of it this way: imagine how you feel after walking to the corner store. Then, imagine how you feel after being on a 8 or 12-hour plane ride. That bag of spinach from Argentina tastes the same way you feel after that plane ride, compared to the bag of spinach from the farmer’s market, picked yesterday and driven 40 miles to get in your belly.
  7. Buy in-season. Lots of  cash (and pollution, and unnecessary plant stress, and chemical fertilizers, and so on) goes into things that are force-grown/mass produced. Besides, in-season food tastes better (when it’s allowed to do what nature programmed it to do). No one wants to eat that mealy peach from Chile in  February. Especially not at 3 or 4 bucks a pound.
  8. Avoid anything that has extra packaging. You pay a (relative) fortune for the packaging – and, when things are packaged, they often need preservatives, which is another thing you don’t need, but still pay for – and, ultimately, you just throw it all away.
  9. Learn how to grow the things you use most. You’ll save time and money if you’ve frozen a giant green bean harvest for the lean winter months, instead of buying a bag at the grocer’s every week. And again, have I mentioned how much better it tastes?
  10. Make it yourself (even if you have to freeze, can, or otherwise preserve it for later) whenever you can.

Meal Plan (and CSA box 2)

I am delayed in publishing this week’s menu… May is our month of madness with mother’s day, gardening picking up, and two daughters with birthdays 5 days apart. Yeesh!

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

5/13: pork stir fry with peanut sauce (kind of a riff off this)

5/14: The 7-year-old’s birthday party. To maintain sanity, we outsourced much of the food this year.

5/15: for our oldest daughter’s birthday, she requested (as is her usual) bacon and pancakes. I’d publish my secret recipe for pancakes, but then it wouldn’t be so secret anymore, would it?

5/16: Nettle manicotti (recipe forthcoming)

5/17: grilled chicken breasts with goat cheese and morels

Everybody, eat now!

It’s a little like Christmas this week, because tomorrow our CSA share starts up again (after the long winter hiatus from mid-January to early May).

Both adults in our house cook (and I bake). But there’s something, at least for us, about not having fresh food (from the CSA, or that we’ve grown, or that we’ve procured from a local market) our household finds de-motivating.  Sure, we freeze soups and preserve fruit and freeze veggies. We’ve eaten through our backlog of pickles and sauerkraut;  we have made short work of several cans of peaches and applesauce (and frankly, have more to go in some of these categories).  But there’s only so much frozen broccoli and snap peas you can eat before it all just tastes routine, at least to our household’s palate.

2010 marks our third year of participating in a CSA and committing our family to eating local, in-season produce. It’s a little stunning to me how our eating habits (and preferences) have evolved in the last 3 years. I’m just thrilled to get the sorrel in this week’s CSA box; I can’t wait to pick up a few morels at the Mill City Farmer’s Market this weekend. These are foods I definitely wasn’t experiencing as a 2 or 7 year old (like our daughters will); and frankly, until I married a fellow foodie, I had no real reason to search after such things myself.

Anyway, we’re once again exited to cook and plan and eat in-season at the Green Toews estate, and if you want to join in, we’ll be posting weekly meal plans (complimenting what’s in our CSA Box) for the foreseeable seasons to come.

Happy local, in-season eating!

Spinach and Ramps and Rhubarb - oh my!

What’s in The Box this week?

  • Ramps
  • Spinach (this spring spinach is the best stuff on earth)
  • Saute Mix
  • Rhubarb
  • Asparagus
  • French Breakfast Radish
  • Sorrel
  • Sweet Overwintered Parsnips
  • Sunchokes
  • Overwintered Red Russian Kale
  • Chives
  • Dogwood or Willow

And what are we cooking?

Thursday:
Chicken stir-fry with saute mix, chives, sunchokes, broccoli, etc. (recipe to follow)

Friday:
Ramp, asparagus, spinach and feta frittata with french breakfast puffs (recipe to follow)

Saturday:
Blueberry muffins; then to the Farmers Market!
Salads and sandwiches, rhubarb cobbler

Sunday:
Mother’s Day Picnic

Monday:
Meatloaf, roasted parsnips and kale

(Typically we spend Tuesday and Wednesday cleaning up leftovers, so it will be rare to see meals planned on those days.  Plus, we’re working extra-hard right now to clean out our freezer of soups and stews from this winter so we’re able to start preserving anew once the garden gets going).

2 weeks out

This week, our CSA switches from being delivered every week to every other week. It signals several things:

  • Fall moving quickly into the winter season
  • The onslaught of storable veggies — sweet potatoes, squash, kale, beauty heart radishes, celeriac
  • Meal planning 2 weeks out instead of weekly

It’s an interesting challenge, as I have to think about what meats we have in the freezer (and which I need to venture to our local butcher to buy… this summer has seen me totally converted to butcher-for-best-meat), along with considering what we’ve preserved for use over the leaner months (Now through April… almost 6 months, here in MN), what we’ll be getting from the CSA (which gleefully takes us through January, leaving  3 miserable months with nearly no local produce and me, languishing in the grocery store with my nose upturned at lettuce from California and cardboard-flavored fruits.  Sigh.  We eat a lot of starch and cheese those three months).

Anyhow, in the interim, we’re still blissfully enjoying a plethora of greens from the farm, as well as heading wholeheartedly into soups and roots season.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

11/5: baked pork chops, honey-dill carrots and our small-batch applesauce

11/6: sweet potato gnocchi with crispy leek rings, sauteed apples & craisins, and cheese sauce; spinach salads

11/7: chicken enchiladas, rice and beans

11/8: Salmon fillets with a butternut-spinach gratin

11/9: DTs Macaroni and cheese and lettuce salads

11/10: leftover clean up

11/11: caramelized onion and cheese omelets; oven-roasted rosemary olive oil home fries

11/12: spaghetti, big salads, and garlicky bread

11/13: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, & salads, homemade bread and cherry pie

11/14: southwest steak soup

11/15: tuna noodle hotdish (don’t laugh; it’s delicious!)

11/16: Pesto chicken breasts with pasta in garlic-butter, green salads

11/17: leftover clean up

11/18: in honor of a girls’ night, I’ve been tasked with dessert, for which there will be a flourless chocolate torte and dulce de leche ice cream.

Meal plan: October 15 through 21

Thursday: sharp cheddar and leek penne (Sauce wasn’t quite right their way — don’t be dumb, just use roux.  And if you follow the recipe, you end up with browned, not sweated, leeks.  also, it says it serves 6 — but is more like 12.  If you make this, plan accordingly.)
Friday: maple-glazed pork loin, roasted garlic sweet potatoes, blueberry pie
Saturday: Roast chicken, delicata squash, buttery collard greens
Sunday: Latin skillet scrambled eggs (brunch, from a recent Weeknight Kitchen newsletter)
Monday: Tuna Noodle Hotdish (don’t laugh, it’s awesome.  It’s also in the freezer, making it easy on Husband to heat up for the kiddoes while I’m out of town.  He’s a far better cook than I, but 2 kids on your own is just a lot of work).
Tuesday: Potato leek soup (again, in freezer.  see above).
Wednesday: leftover clean up.  also known as eat saltines and drink night.  we’re also known for having a bowl of cereal on nights like this.  We all need a break…

Meal plan: October 8th – 14th

Thursday: green salads with roast chicken, radishes, apples, craisins, and almonds in a vinaigrette
Friday: butternut squash soup and fresh baguette with herbed chevre
Saturday: morning glory muffins, sausages with peppers, onions, and sauerkraut; steamed chard and german potato salad
Sunday: german pancakes with apple preserves; beef, pepper and broccoli stir-fry
Monday: tator tot hotdish
Tuesday: leftover cleanup
Wednesday: broiled tunawiches and side salads

Make a list. You’ll feel better.

We’re big fans of lists here in Northeast.  Chores, long-term goals, shopping, what have you.  We should buy stock in KnockKnock, really, as they offer lists for just about every occassion, including What To Eat (also, Rate That Beer, All Out Of… I could go on, but you should really just visit them).

It strikes me that we create a What To Eat every week (on Wednesdays, based on what is anticipated in Thursday’s CSA box, as well as what we have in our freezer inventory, what’s coming out of the garden, and what’s going on that week), and create our weekly grocery list based on that.  And each week, at least two people ask how we do what we do — create delicious, simple meals from scratch with a vast majority of local/organic ingredients, on a shoestring budget (yes, it can be done).  So why not just go ahead and write about the things we’re always talking about, anyway?

With that, allow me to begin the ceremonial unveiling of This Week’s Meal Plan:

Thursday —
ruebens & cole slaw (these will be made with corned beef left over from Tuesday’s meal)
Friday —
butternut squash ravioli in cream sauce with craisins and walnuts
Saturday —
potato and leek soup with baguette (baguette made earlier this week, too)
Sunday —
ham and au gratin potatoes with steamed broccoli
Monday —
roasted pepper and chevre quiche with spinach salads
Tuesday —
ham salad and cheddar sandwiches on sourdough with rosemary olive oil oven fries
Wednesday —
leftover cleanup
The trick to effectively planning our meals is knowing what’s coming in the CSA (this week: garlic, onions, leeks, lots of peppers, two squashes, greens, broccoli & potatoes), having a good handle on what’s leftover in the fridge, having an updated freezer inventory (where we store the sauces, fruits and vegetables we don’t can as well as the meats we tend to buy in bulk), and what, if anything, is coming out of the garden (planning is a lot different in July than it is in January).  We’re at that place in the year where we’re finally not overrun with tomatoes or beans or fill-in-your-favorite-garden-produce here.  We also like to plan around what the Farmer’s Market could fill in (most everything is covered between CSA and our garden, but we still tend to grab certain things at the Market), what the season calls for, and what the kiddoes will each (which, frankly, is pretty much everything, but I’d be kidding everyone if I said it didn’t come into play at all).  We also try to incorporate one leftover cleanup day into the mix, so we don’t stack up too many one-serving wonders into the fridge (or, frankly, if we just feel like eating an apple and block of cheddar on a particularily busy evening after feeding the kids mac and cheese or something), and I try to plan one fish or vegetarian meal per week (for variety, and to blow through CSA veggies, and also because you know, healthy, all that jazz.)
My hope is to post recipes that work well, pictures of what we’re baking, cooking, canning, drinking…  and talk about the places we eat, what we’re canning or freezing, planning the garden.  I mean, we’re talking about it anyway.  We may as well have a place to keep it all.