How many times have you gone to the Farmer’s Market and “oohed and aahed” over the wonderful offerings, only to find yourself at home without any idea what to do with that Romanesco broccoli, Buddha’s hand, and raw milk cheese curd. It sounded so cool when you were there, right? Or what about that first moment of spring when the local DIY rolls out the luxurious cart of greens, and you run home ready to plant a garden that Alice Waters would love, only a week later to throw away those little green plastic containers that now hold the brown and brittle remains of good intentions gone wrong. We’ve all been there and it’s not pretty.
With the beginning of a new year, we’ve decided to make a better plan, a plan to help us in the garden, the market and the kitchen. Each month we’re going to highlight what you should be planting in the garden (Zone 8), what you can expect to find at the Farmer’s Market and some delicious recipes to bring it all home. We’re setting aside Saturday Evenings at Sunbird Farms as a night to share with friends and family, and we encourage all of you to look for one night a week that you can cook a wonderful meal at home, locally-sourced and in-season, and share it with loved ones. Whether it comes from your garden or that of a local farmer, if everyone made just one meal at home from local produce, we would save 1 million barrels of oil a week, that’s barrels not gallons. This is of course a work in progress, and we hope to be able to assemble a guide for an entire year at the end of 2015, so send us your comments and suggestions. Here we go…
January is a very cold month here in Central California. At the moment we’ve been in what we call a “hard freeze,” with nearly a week of temperatures below freezing. That may not be a big deal in Minnesota, but here in California it’s something to talk about. In our area, you can be almost certain that you’re past the last day of frost by the first week in March. So for planting purposes, that’s what we’ll use. Before for we talk about what to plant, please note that the purpose of this series is not to be definitive, either in breadth or depth. The purpose is to spark your green thumb and give you a few simple ideas that, if followed, will have you eating out of your garden most of the year. As my mom says, “enough is as good as a feast,” and those are words to live by.
Planting: This is a time to start seedlings indoors for an early spring planting. So much of gardening is about timing, and that’s what we’re talking about here. Most of these seeds should be started indoors by the middle of January, so you still have some time. I know my brother spends a great deal of his mornings warming up with a cup of coffee and pouring over seed catalogs. If you’re that kind of person, you totally know what I mean. A general suggestion with seeds, that I almost can never follow, is to plant successively. So, instead of dumping all those seeds into starter pots now, start a few this week, and continue to start a few more each week for the month. You’ll stagger your harvest and enjoy your produce longer without being overrun with a mountain of broccoli. Worse things can happen, I know. So here’s a suggested list of things to start in January, but please note, we’ve consulted a couple of sources here, and they don’t all agree, so ask a local at your Farmer’s Market if you’re unsure:
- Broccoli- We’ve used many varieties including Pacman, DiCiccio, and Calabrese. My brother, the plant expert, suggests the latter two.
- Kholrabi- Sometimes called a German turnip, or a cabbage turnip, this plant is great because you can use the whole thing. Leaves for greens, and swollen root (think turnip) for cooking or eating raw. A flavor similar to broccoli or cabbage, but sweeter and milder. We love it in stews.
- Brussels sprouts- A staple in our home. One source suggested we not start these until late summer, but we’ve had luck in a spring garden.
- Garlic- Last year we found some organic Russian red garlic, planted 3 rows about 10′ long, and had a great harvest in early summer. Sometimes hard to find, if you can find it, plant it…you will be glad you did.
- Cauliflower- Again, see everything about Brussels.
- Parsnips- We’ve tried these once or twice, but my brother is the expert here again. He recommends “White Spear” from Territorial Seed. Give them a shot and see what happens
- Fruit Trees- This is the time of year to order your dormant bare root fruit trees. We recommend using Peaceful Valley at: www.groworganic.com. They have a wide selection that are climate appropriate, with plenty of tasting and growing notes. Order a couple and make a long-term investment in your coming seasons. Some are quite beautiful and can replace ornamentals in your landscape.
- So that’s the list for January. You will notice next month that you may see some repeats; that’s just the way it is with veggies and you’ll benefit from successive plantings. We will try to get the plan out by the end of January so you can order your seeds in a more timely fashion.
Harvesting: It’s not uncommon around here to be planting and harvesting the same thing during this time of the year. So as you’re planting your brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, etc), don’t be surprised to see it at the Farmer’s Market. You can often get a fall and spring harvest if you start your seeds appropriately (protected from too hot or too cold). So here’s the list of what you’ll likely find in your garden (or hope to find in the future) and at the market:
- Artichoke- A family favorite. My girls all prefer butter, their mother’s method. I enjoy mayo, a guilty pleasure I admit.
- Brussels Sprouts- According to our Master Gardners, these are hard to grow around here. We’ve always had success (ignorance is bliss), but couldn’t find any at the FM. So maybe they’re right.
- Carrots- The workhorse of winter cooking.
- Cauliflower- We love broccoli, but cauliflower may have overtaken its green cousin in our kitchen.
- Broccoli- Cauliflower aside, this is one hard veggie to beat for flavor and nutritional value…yum!
- And here I digress. This is really the entirety of our Master Gardner list, but again, its only a list and not a compendium of all things green. So go to the Farmer’s Market and see what’s available. You can be sure to find onions, leeks, and shallots, produce that keeps long after harvest and adds all the flavor of summer to a sumptuous winter meal. Potatoes will be there as well, and even the last of some fruit like apples. The selection gets slimmer in the cold months, but throw the ingredients into a crockpot with a pasture-raised piece of beef or a whole chicken, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Kitchen: I’m not a professional chef. I’ve worked in the odd restaurant kitchen, and I really enjoy making (and eating) delicious food, but at best I’m a good cook. I buy cookbooks like some people buy novels, and some of my favorite novels are books on cooking, like “Cooked,” by Michael Pollan. When reading one of these books, “Ottolenghi,” The Cook Book,” the author talked about the difficulty in writing a cookbook. He talked about how he learned to cook by cooking, by taste, by adding things until the flavor was right. Turning that into cups and tablespoons was a difficult task because it took things like “a pinch” and turned them into 1/4 teaspoon. They were relatively similar, but it missed the spirit of the intent for specificity… or in common parlance, “missed the forest for the trees.” I resonate with this not because I’m an artisanal cook, but because I just do it all by idea and flavor. So for this weeks “recipe,” I’m going to just describe what I attempted to do.
Main Course: Two butterflied American Bresse chickens, (pasture-raised), roasted over a bed of red potatoes, onions and cauliflower. I used more potatoes (about 8 cups) than onions, and more onions than cauliflower. The key is chopping your potatoes and onions into similar sizes. This task is made almost fun by our veggie chopper. We slice them into equal width slices, then place them into the chopper for perfectly sized bites. (If you don’t have one of these choppers, get one…it’s a game changer.) The birds were brined in a mixture of water, raw apple cider vinegar and pink himalayan salt. While they brined, I prepared the veggies, tossing them with salt and olive oil, and roasted them alone at about 400 degrees for 20 minutes. You want them to start to brown. Don’t use too much olive oil, just enough to lightly coat the veggies. Don’t stir them, that reduces their ability to brown. Once they’re browning nicely, season the chickens and brush them with olive oil to ensure a nice browning of the skin during the roasting process. Place them on the roasting rack above the veggies. Drop the heat to 300-350 and roast for 1.5-2 hours, until the thickest part of the chick is at least 165 degrees. When the chicken is finished, remove it from the rack and let it rest for 20-25 minutes under tented foil, and continue roasting the veggies until they are nice and brown.
Side Dish: For the side, we chopped up half a head of cabbage, and diced 2-3 shallots. In a large pan, we melted about 1/4 cup of butter and sautéed the shallots for a few minutes. Once they started to brown, we added the cabbage and tossed with olive oil. We allowed this to cook for a few minutes and then added more butter and about 1/4 cup of white wine. We cooked all this down for several minutes until the entire mix started to brown. I would recommend holding off on the wine and additional butter until you cook off a lot of the liquid from the cabbage. Cabbage is mostly water, so cooking this off first really makes the path to browning shorter. In either case, it was delicious.
Dessert: My sister-in-law made a wonderful homemade Rustic Apple Crostata. It is an Italian tart, with fresh apple slice in the middle of a pie-like crust. While I promised not to reveal the secret recipe, here’s a knock-off from Ina Garten. It was delicious!
In the end, we tossed some garlic into the oven and had roasted garlic to spread on some toasted sourdough bread. We cracked open a nice bottle of red wine and sat down to enjoy a delicious meal, prepared from local ingredients, in season and prepared for the occasion. The best ingredient of all: family. As the eight of us gathered around the tables (big kids/little kids of course), we were able to enjoy the company, laughter and time spent enjoying a home-cooked meal. It was the first of many Saturday Evenings at Sunbird Farms, and I hope that it inspires you to do the same soon. Let us know how it goes, and post your favorite recipes in the comments below, along with questions and suggestions. In a couple of weeks we’ll post our next “Planting, Harvesting & Kitchen” guide for February. Bon appétit!
Blessings- Sunbird Farms