I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Friday, 14 February 2014

daring kitchen, february

This month's challenge made my kitchen burst into song. Literally.

Spanakopita. When D or the girls asked what I was making and this was my answer, I either got the word put into The Lion King's "Hakuna Matata" or Iron Butterfly's "In A Gadda Da Vita". Which made for a loud, but fun, cooking experience.

The February Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita - a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.
I've made spanakopita filling before for little appetizers, in puff pastry spirals or bite-sized phyllo packages. I wondered if a whole pie would be too much in such a large serving, but followed a slightly adapted version of Audax's recipe and tried it anyway. The recipe, for an authentic Greek spanakopita, looked wonderful and really the only reason for any changes was based on a careful scientific analysis I call "what's in my fridge?".

First, the greens. Spanakopita is basically spinach pie. While I have access to fresh or frozen spinach, I also had in my freezer a couple of pounds of beet greens from the garden. I had blanched, chopped, and frozen them last fall in my hope of using the whole plant - and this was a great opportunity. The thawed greens were tossed with chopped onion and shallot (I didn't have the leeks the recipe called for, but I love leeks and will try adding them next time), olive oil, dill, garlic, and nutmeg. And feta, of course feta.

Side note: nutmeg is such an unsung hero. I've just been realizing this in the last few years. It's the thing I'll add at the last minute to give food that "hmm, what IS that?" taste. Sauces love it. So when I saw it in the recipe as an option, I made sure to include it.

Then things got messy. This mix was kneaded and squished in the bowl to mix it all together and compress it. This was the most unpleasant part of the process, since the just-thawed greens and refrigerated feta made my hands very cold. However, I'd never make it again without this step. The resulting texture was perfect. Next time I'll let things warm up a bit first.

Then, another funny step - squeezing handfuls of the mixture to get out the excess moisture, then using bread crumbs to soak this liquid up before re-adding it to the filling. Cold hands didn't like this either but again - I won't argue with the end result. An egg added and also mixed in finished off this part.

The pan was lined with phyllo layered with melted butter. Layer and paint, layer and paint. The filling added, some more phyllo and butter on top, the dough cut into pieces, and it was ready to put in the oven. An hour later, the house smelling warm and savoury, we got to try it.

We all loved it. While agreeing that using all beet greens likely made for a stronger taste, it was a huge success. Next time (and there will be several next times) I will try either all spinach, or half spinach and half beet green. 

It's a great way to get a lot of greens into one meal, and the flavour and texture are wonderful. We enjoyed it for supper, lunch the next day, and even little bites of it cold were delicious. It would make a great picnic addition. Another great thing about this is the make-ahead factor. The filling, once made, can be refrigerated. The whole pie, once made, can be frozen. A little longer in the kitchen, and you've got the one for now and one for later. Thanks, Audax!

Monday, 3 February 2014

yes i did finish

I didn't blog each of the thirty days toward my goal, but: I did it! 

 The farm's projects for the year have been shortlisted. A few more details to come, but we've narrowed things down. It's nice to already know what's doable and in these short, cold days, the thought of getting my hands into cool soil again is heartening.

We're increasing last year's field garden by about 50%, most of which I tilled last fall. In addition, I'm going to break ground on the far side of the same field for another field garden. That field will have two large garden plots, with the chickens in between in their mobile pasture. The whole field will, for the first time in who-knows-how-many-years, be in use producing food. With more space out there, the smaller garden closer to the house will become a home mainly for herbs and baby greens.

Planning like this has let me think more practically. The garden farthest from the house will have things like winter squash and potatoes that don't need as much frequent attention. We're going to plant a couple of rows of corn along the north side of the lawn. Why? Two reasons: lawns are, food-wise, wasted space, and a narrow strip of corn won't cut into our use of it. Second, once the corn is picked, those stalks in winter will be a natural, low-tech windbreak against the frigid northern winds that we are currently enjoying (by 'enjoying' I mean 'hiding from'). Closer to the house, we'll have the produce more often used or in need of protection from critters. Less ground covered while caring for all this will add up to be a real time-saver.

We are going to get one, maybe two hives of bees started. So those little oddities of livestock will be joining us. Odd, because unlike all other types of farm animals, we don't generally control what they eat or where they forage. Instead, we protect them, give them a place where they can do their thing, and let them go to it. I'm looking forward to this one, inevitable stings and all.

We're going to get a couple of pigs to raise for the summer. Sourcing has yet to be finished, but their pasturing and housing has been figured out. Same for turkeys. We'd like to try a half-dozen. Location's figured out but there's housing to be built. Of all the shortlist items, this one's at the bottom - if one thing doesn't happen this year, it's turkeys.

It was a huge help to have the goal in front of me every day, with little suggestions to attack the bigger goal piece by piece. So, continuing on with planning those items is the goal for this month. That, and getting myself in better shape. All of this farm stuff (and June's Spartan Sprint race!) is going to require physical ability. Staying faithful to the physio and strengthening exercises for my shoulder is a must, as is getting the overall strength and cardio back on track. Come spring, I'm going to need that to wrangle the tiller and lug food and water for all of those planned animals.