Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Local Food: An Inspired Adirondack Holiday

Holiday gift giving offers many opportunities to support locally owned and run businesses – maybe tickets to a show or an annual membership to your local arts organization, a contribution to your local library in someone’s name, public radio station, or even a subscription to a regional publication. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share works here, too, in that your local farmer benefits as well as the receiver. In addition, you might need some last minute ideas for the teacher, mail delivery person, or the relative on your gift list who seems to have everything.

Your kitchen can serve as inspiration in creating some presents that always fit and won’t be the wrong color or style. You can involve everyone – from preschoolers to adults – in making Adirondack Bean Soup, Bone Appétit dog biscuits, or a nice platter of potato pancakes (latkes) paired with your own jar of applesauce.

Our neighbors, family, and our son’s teachers have come to look forward to this tradition started a couple of decades ago, and many plan a holiday ham as part of their celebratory meals to have a leftover bone for making this soup. In preparing this soup mix, you can easily use more than a dozen types of beans, creating a varied and flavorful palette. Dried beans typically come in one-pound bags and yield between two and three cups of beans. Place two cups of your completed bean mix in a cellophane bag or Mason jar tied with ribbon, raffia, or jute; fasten a wooden spoon and a fresh bay leaf (if available). Mason jars and garden twine can usually be found at your local hardware store. Include your favorite bean soup recipe or attach the following:

Adirondack Bean Soup

2 cups bean mix (jar contents)
1 meaty ham hock
2 quarts chicken stock, broth or water
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 carrots chopped
1 large onion, diced
½ fennel bulb, chopped or 3 ribs of celery, chopped
7 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons butter
2 pinches of sugar
16 ounce can chopped tomatoes (and juice)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse dried beans several times until water runs clear. Soak, covered in water overnight. When ready to cook, drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Place beans in a large stockpot with ham hock and 2 quarts of stock or water. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are tender, about
1 ½ hours. While beans are simmering, sauté garlic, carrots, onion, and fennel in a skillet until vegetables start to soften. Sprinkle with two pinches of sugar and set aside. When beans are tender, remove ham hock and cut meat from bones. Add canned tomatoes and their juice, vegetables, and meat to stockpot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat another 30 minutes.

Variations: Instead of a ham hock, cook one pound of Italian (chicken, lamb, or pork) sausage and drain. Chop into small pieces and add to bean soup with vegetables. For a vegetarian option, omit any meat, and use vegetable broth in place of water or stock, serving the soup over cooked rice.

Bone Appétit

My mom has always made these dog biscuits for our dogs each year. I’ve tried other recipes to tempt them, but this remains their favorite. Cellophane bags work well to hold the bones, tied with a ribbon and a decorative dog bone-shaped cookie cutter. Label these packages with the dog’s name so the humans in the house don’t mistake them for their own.

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup wheat germ
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 ¼ cup smooth peanut butter
¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Line two to three cookie sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, wheat germ, and sugar using either a wooden spoon or an electric mixer. In a separate larger bowl, beat together the milk and peanut butter. Gradually add flour mixture to peanut butter and milk.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently for a couple of minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll out until ¼-inch thick. With a bone-shaped cookie cutter (or other shapes), cut the pastry and place on baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Yield: varies with size and shape of cookie cutters.

Dan’s Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

It was taste memory that guided my husband the first time he made latkes for Hanukkah – the way his grandmother made them – relying on the batter’s texture and the aroma while cooking.

If you have sampled different versions of latkes, you may find some more dough-like (perhaps they’ve used flour instead of matzo meal), more fluffy (using more eggs or even baking powder), and varying overall flavors depending on the type of fat used in the preparation and cooking (rendered chicken fat or oil).

6 small potatoes, or 3 medium-sized potatoes (Yukon Gold or Russets work well)
1 large yellow onion
3 large eggs
¼ cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat or schmaltz (optional)
1 teaspoon salt

Peanut or canola oil for frying

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Peel potatoes and place in a bowl of cold water until all of the potatoes are peeled. Peel the onion. Grate potatoes and onion together using a box grater (use the side you might use to make a shredded carrot salad) or in a food processor using the grating blade.

Using your hands, squeeze any liquid from the potatoes and onion mixture (you can also squeeze out the liquid wrapping a handful of the potato mixture in a linen tea towel). After the excess liquid is removed, add the eggs, schmaltz, matzo meal, salt, and mix thoroughly.

Place enough peanut oil in a cast iron skillet to reach about one-quarter inch up the side (Teflon can be used here, too). Heat over high temperature; before the oil starts to smoke, (when a drop of water sputters in the hot oil) turn the heat to medium.

Shape each pancake into a disc approximately two and one-half to three inches. Again, squeeze out any additional water before placing in the pan. (Do not crowd; work in batches if necessary.) Cook approximately four to five minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown. Turn each latke and cook three to four minutes on the other side, until golden brown.

Remove from pan with spatula and place in 250 degree oven (if needed) while you finish the preparation of the remaining latkes.

Serve hot with sour cream and/or applesauce. (If giving as a gift, wrap warm latkes on a plate and deliver around mealtime.)

Yield: approximately six large latkes

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Annette Nielsen is a noted local food writer, editor, community organizer and activist on behalf of regional agriculture. She recently edited Northern Comfort and Northern Bounty, two seasonally-based cookbooks for Adirondack Life. A native of Northville, (she now lives in Salem, Washington County with her husband and son), Nielsen writes about Adirondack foodie culture with an eye toward locally sourced foods from forest, orchard, and farm. Annette Nielsen can be reached on Twitter and Facebook.

2 Responses

  1. Diane Chase says:
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