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Flash in the Pan

Eating by the book

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Perhaps some of you from time to time feel left behind by my homegrown recipes. There you are, reading and cooking along, and then I tell you to add vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers. With guests arriving imminently it’s too late to order seeds, start them indoors, nurture the plants, pick the peppers, preserve them in a vinegar-based brine and wait a few weeks for them to pickle. Likewise, it’s too late to hunt for that deer, gather those morels, buy those locally grown peaches or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) collective that delivers strange and obscure vegetables like celeriac and kohlrabi.

Then I pummel you with reminders about how righteous and fulfilling it is to eat locally and how you must be a loser if you don’t have your own root cellar.

Indeed, there’s a buffet of reasons why eating local is back in style again. Perhaps you want to do something small yet symbolic toward reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases produced in shipping food. Maybe you want to support your local farmers and local economy. Or maybe you just love your home ground so much you want to take it into your body. Or you eat locally for purely simple and selfish reasons: local food tastes good and it’s good for you.

But despite your good intentions, it’s daunting to get that first foot in the door—especially this time of year, when the door, like the ground, is frozen shut.

How convenient. Here in the temperate North we have our own version of the infamous mañana syndrome. We call it “next year.”

But not so fast, slacker. A local foodie named Lauren Caldwell has put together a book that’s targeted directly at you. Eat Local, Feel Noble—A Regional Foods Cookbook for Western Montana is designed to help you. You, with your empty freezer and nonexistent pantry or root cellar. You, with your collection of empty pizza boxes and cans of Wolfgang Puck brand squash soup from California. You and your microwave fish-stix and non-dairy creamer and Dole pineapple rings in syrup. You can pick up this book and take it to your local grocery store and buy the local ingredients you need to cook locally 12 months a year. Eat Local, Feel Noble contains 52 recipes—one per week—that add up to a year-round local diet you can shop for in-season: squash in winter, greens in spring, beef for dinner, eggs for breakfast. And for dessert, my own personal entry: Chef Boy Ari’s Chocolate Beet Cake.

“I wanted to fill a gap,” Caldwell explains, “for the people interested in cooking locally, but needing help to make that happen on a regular basis, year-round.”

Published with support from UM’s Farm to College program, this book is an important component in a cocktail of resources that, fortunately, exist here in Western Montana to give local mouths access to local food. The Farm to College program is one such resource, providing UM students the option to select meals made from local ingredients. And by supporting this book, Farm to College is helping to create a resource that might soon be used in campus kitchens in the ongoing search for meals that can be made from local ingredients.

So I opened up the book and looked at this week’s recipe, “Squash and Fruit Casserole” by Bitterroot farmer Helen Atthowe. Scanning the ingredients, I was pleasantly surprised to see I already had most of them in my kitchen:

one large kabocha squash
1 cup dried apples
1 cup dried sour cherries
1 cup dried sweet cherries
2-4 tablespoons honey
1/2-3/4 cup apple cider
butter

Okay, I didn’t have kabocha squash, though I did have a blue hubbard, which is close and could have worked. But since I was also out of butter, I went to the store and bought a kabocha squash from Wild Plum Farm in Dixon and some Bitterroot Gold butter from Lifeline Farm in Victor. I got home, put a frozen quart of Wrathful Steve’s apple cider in a pot of warm water to thaw, cut open the squash, took out the seeds and baked it until it was soft. Then I let it cool enough so I could work with it and put chunks of the squash in a buttered baking pan and covered them with the dried fruit, including dried plums and pears since I had them on hand. Then I poured apple cider into it, put some butter and honey on top, and mashed it all together. Then I baked it for 30 minutes covered, adding five more minutes uncovered to brown the top.

It was pure homegrown decadence. Nutty and sweet. We had it for dessert. Could have been dinner. Definitely breakfast.

If you want to eat local and perhaps feel noble, you can find copies of the book at The Good Food Store, Shakespeare & Co., Fact & Fiction, and on campus at the UM Bookstore, UC Market and UC Dining Hall. Or you can order one directly from recipesformissoula@hotmail.com.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Slices of life

Q: Dear CBA,
After three years of hunting, I finally bagged not one but two whitetails. Now I’ve got them hanging in my garage in various states of deconstruction, and as I cut them up I’m not always sure how to label the parts, and how different parts of the animal taste, or how tender they are. Help!
—Well Hung and Uncut

A: Dear Hung,
Congratulations! In general, I find butchering to be pretty intuitive. It’s obvious where the different muscle groups end, so the first step is to separate them and clean them of silverskin and fat. The intact muscle groups that remain are called roasts. If you cut a roast across the grain, you get steaks. If you want to label them all properly or cut them in fancy ways, there are many books out there to help you. I particularly like Dressing and Cooking Wild Game (part of the Complete Hunter series from Creative Publishing of Minnetonka, Minn.). It’s got all the information you need to skin, cut and cook your deer—check out the Madeira sauce recipe for your tenderloins—with great pictures and diagrams.

Or, just use The Force to guide you. Like I said, it’s intuitive. And whenever you come across a bit of flesh you aren’t sure about, simply fry it in the pan with a little oil, salt and pepper. Warning! If you have red wine around, you might feel compelled to drink some while you chew your meat. This combination will prove so satisfying that you might spend more time in the kitchen than in the garage, and soon you will have consumed too much wine to leave you in any condition to play with knives.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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