Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Highlights: Vite, Vite! The Rest

This is it, the ultimate post for 2011, an eventful year indeed for us. Quicky, quickly, the final list of highlights:

I continued refining my method for micro-batch canning and pickling. The basic brine I describe in the book ( and here ) I put into use to preserve a pint here, a half-pint there--green beans, asparagus, snow peas, ramps, shallots, fiddleheads. Whatever I had a surplus of, I'd just pack into a jar (with perhaps a quick blanching first), make up a little brine (seasoned as I saw fit, garlic always, and a bit of chile, maybe some Sichuan peppercorns, allspice, a couple cloves, a point or two of star anise; herbs like tarragon or thyme), pour it over, cap, stick it in the fridge, check on it in a few days, a few weeks, or perhaps even a few months. At Thanksgiving I had a lovely variety of tart and briny things to put out on the relish tray. As martini garnish, a tip of pickled asparagus is delightful.

The specific dishes that really stayed with me were those where I took a deeply local approach. The ceviche above, from last July, combined raw Lake Superior whitefish with green apple juice and our own cider vinegar, green prickly ash berries (related to Sichuan peppercorns), seeds and chopped leaves of honewort (aka "wild chervil"), and brined milkweed flower buds. It tasted amazing, and unlike anything I've eaten before. It's a direction I fully intend to pursue in the coming year.

Another delightful concoction employing the fruits of our land and the market was the caponata-inspired relish shown below , made with eggplant, apple, cider vinegar, maple syrup, a few aromatics, and a sprinkling of those milkweed bud "capers" again.

Mary and I left the dogs at the East River Road Kennel (aka Mary's mom's house), and spent a weekend on the South Shore of Lake Superior at the end of August. The photos from that trip have disappeared. We enjoyed many excellent meals on the trip, from the fried whitefish livers and broiled fresh lake trout and whitefish at the Village Inn in Cornucopia, to fantastic fish tacos post-bike ride at the Beach Club on Madeline Island, to a lakeside brunch of smoked fish, goat cheese, local apples and rye bread, washed down with the delicious water from the Corny artesian well.

And of course we loaded up with fresh fish from Halvorson Fisheries in the Corny marina. Also into the cooler for the trip back to the cities went a package of fresh whitefish livers. Though we always seek out this local delicacy in South Shore restaurants (I think of them as "South Shore sweetbreads"), I had never cooked with them before. I soaked them in milk, seasoned them well with salt and pepper and sambal, gave them a light breading and fried them up with onions. Served them with something I called "apple marmalade"; I have no memory of how I made that, but the combination was fantastic. Again, from humble ingredients, such a feast. We followed that first course with pan-seared lake trout in red wine sauce with a stew of local shell beans, bacon, and leeks.

The possibilities of ground meat are vast and enticing. While I do love a good cheeseburger, the most memorably delicious meat patty meal was this  stew of grilled ground lamb meatballs with beets, eggplants, and subtle middle eastern seasoning:

In late September we roasted a whole lamb over the coals at Bide-A-Wee. Jean-Louis constructed an excellent spit for the occasion, and oversaw the grilling process. The lamb came from our friend Tina, who lives just up the road from Bide-A-Wee (though we joke that she lives in "southern Wisconsin," since she's on the other side of highway 64). It was a much larger animal than I had expected, pretty much filled the cargo compartment of our Jetta wagon when I picked it up at the processor. It easily fed the assembled crowd, and continues giving to this day: I'm simmering some of the leftovers for a lamb, beans, and greens stew that will be our New Year's Day supper.

And just about every day, we realized anew that eating locally and seasonally is not a challenge, but an outright joy. It's a familiar topic in these pages, I know, but one I'm happy to repeat again and again.  And  I'm not planning to stop.

Bar 5 duck confit with pan-seared squash, apples, and cabbage

Lake Superior whitefish, cabbage, leek, chestnut braise, soft polenta with pumpkin seed oil
May your 2012 be filled with great meals, friendship, and fine adventures.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Susan Berkson said...

Even if I never eat your food. Reading about it is tasty enough.

el said...

Happiest of the new year to you and Mary, Brett. Keep the inspiration coming!

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Bonne Annee a tous les deux!
Thank you for all the very informative and inspiring posts throughout the year.
And thank you for those last few days of post too. Yes, you said it very well: eating local is not a challenge, it's a joy!