Road Trip. Destination: Lambstock

I’ll be honest. I’m still not quite sure how I got invited to this event. The folks who invited me probably wondered how I got invited as well. But I did. And, as one of my friends put it in an email, it was “a fantasy straight out of Mindyland.”

Pulling out of our driveway in the midst of a downpour on an unusually cool Sunday afternoon for August (and feeling a bit like we were transplanted into that scene from “Dirty Dancing” when they run out to the car in the pouring rain and Johnny has to knock out the window, except there was no glass-shattering that day, just a few cuss words because I forgot to write down the directions before we left the house), with my husband starting to wonder aloud where the hell I was taking him, I knew there was no way I was going to miss out on Lambstock.

This is a culinary event held by gracious host Craig Rogers and his family at Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, VA. Now in its third year of festivities, Lambstock features everything, well, lamb. Those in the restaurant business show up to the event (which spans three days/nights) to talk food, yes. But they also show up to celebrate what Craig and his farmers do everyday: raise quality meat in a humane way.

I’ve admitted before that great chefs are the equivalents of rock stars to me, and there were plenty converging at Lambstock to make this girl slightly giddy. Even after I chose college over culinary school (following my parents’ wise counsel to work a summer with a chef), those in the restaurant industry who are producing exceptional food remain strong inspirations. I respect the hell out of what they do, the hours they keep, the passion that goes into what they do on a daily basis. The opportunity to meet some of those people made for a great day. But it was more than that.

It was a chance to visit Border Springs, to see a small farm in operation.

Those who know me know that, aside from the health and environmental benefits of eating locally, I also choose to do so to directly support small farmers who care about what they produce/what they grow/what they raise. It’s not about the bottom line above all else with these folks; it’s about quality and care.

It’s a conscious choice I make to eat locally, but it’s also one influenced by heritage. My family has a background in farming. My great-grandparents on my mom’s side lived off the land (probably more so out of necessity of feeding 11 children). My great-grandparents on my dad’s side made a living off of farming, setting up “camp” in an area known as Rich Valley in Southwest Virginia. Supposedly our Scottish ancestors chose the area because it reminded them of home. It’s easy to see the similarities with the rolling hills, the incredible vistas. Our family name is entrenched in the area, with current family members overseeing a substantial chunk of mostly federally protected farmland.

I have plenty of strong memories connected to farmland. My grandfather would help on the farm in Rich Valley, even though he lived a few miles down the road in a neighboring town. I remember his myriad cars usually smelling of cow manure, of him having to go corral some stray cattle that meandered into the road. Before my great-grandmother died, our Christmas days would be spent in the main household of the farm, eating ourselves silly on oyster soup. Last year, to celebrate the 78th birthday of my grandfather and his twin, dozens upon dozens of family and friends came to Rich Valley to eat, dance, ride four wheelers, and eat some more. With the ever-so-comforting smell of hamburgers and hotdogs in the air, the sounds of banjos and an upright bass mingling with laughter, myriad shaggy dogs running around and between everyone’s feet, it was the perfect evening to make everyone forget what was inevitably looming on the horizon.

My grandfather now holds permanent court over the land since being buried in Rich Valley nearly six months ago (I can’t say this strongly enough: fuck cancer). To me, farms and farmers have always in a way represented home, stirring memories that are now bittersweet but consoling nonetheless. Being at Lambstock and being surrounded by people who appreciate and support what small farmers do was, well, it was heartwarming, if you want to get sappy about it.

We arrived at Border Springs as the rain cleared, just missing a huge breakfast. But, we were treated to lamb hotdogs (I’m not big on hotdogs in general, but these had a fantastic, fresh taste and the perfect hotdog “snap” when biting into it); an astounding spreadable fennel salami brought in by Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress in Charleston (that one’s going on the must-eat-at list for the next Charleston trip since we only managed to snag some tasty drinks there last time); and my new favorite seasonal beer, Summer Basil, from small-batch brewery Fullsteam in Durham, NC.

Though I’m a technical editor by day, I am doing freelance food writing (on top of this blog and training for a marathon; man it’s been busy). Food in general and the use of regional foods in particular are passions of mine. Some probably think I’m fanatical about it. As with other things, I don’t care what people think. To me, it’s a no-brainer to support small farmers. Thank god folks like Craig are around to raise meat in a humane way that, well, tastes damn good. And thank god there are chefs who buy his products so he can continue his labor of love.

And thank god I had the opportunity on Sunday to meet some of these folks. To stand around with them in awed silence watching a whole lamb being dressed, spiced, and placed over a spit to roast felt like I was among kin. Watching fat drip into the open fire on a day that heralded the coming of autumn while overhearing talk of oysters and drunk-eating fistfuls of heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with Maldon salt (because chefs don’t drunk-eat the way most of us do) was just the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Maybe that sounds odd to others (and most likely downright evil to vegetarians and vegans), but those watching the lamb-roasting process had nothing but respect for that meat, for its farmers, for the entire cycle of life. The same can’t be said of factory farms. To know your food, to know the source, to meet the face behind the farm, is something downright special.

So thanks to Craig, his family, and his farm family for having us. Hopefully we’ll be invited back next year, because, as much as I loathe camping in general, I would camp out for this!

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The Great Cornbread Debate, Part II (Electric Boogaloo)

So you know that other cornbread recipe I posted a few days ago? Scratch that. Apparently I’ve stumbled across something better. And this is how it went down. (Sorry, there are no pictures because I was already coming off making another batch of 32 bagels, dinner, and the first pie crust I’ve made in 10 years. There was a lot going on in the kitchen that day.)

I received a cornbread recipe about five years ago from the wife of a friend of my husband. It was great, and I used to serve it for Thanksgiving meals and bring it to tailgates (speaking of which, holy crap it’s almost football season Hokies!). And then I changed the way I ate, and I couldn’t justify fixing cornbread made with Jiffy mix, sour cream, and canned corn. It was too much for my delicate senses.

Thus, the cornbread recipe fell out of favor and was stashed away for about two years in a family cookbook. Until I resurrected it Saturday and decided to give it a bit of a makeover. I was heading to my first Lambstock (so much more on that later), and of course a proper Southern gal never shows up to a food event empty-handed. Even if that food event is brimming with legitimate chefs. Hey, I’m a-ok with my cooking skills; there’s not much that intimidates me.

Anyway, I started by Googling, “What’s in Jiffy cornbread mix?” Proper way to start, right? Granted, the answer was nothing too terribly bad, but I really can’t stand to use boxed or pre-made items if I can make my own version. And generally, I can. And always, it tastes better.

I transitioned from my Google search to making the cornbread with some tweaks here and there (e.g., subbing in yogurt for sour cream, etc.). But what I really think made the difference here was duck fat. Duck fat makes everything better, you guys. I’m pretty sure the answer to most of life’s little questions is: duck fat. Why is the “check engine” light still on in my Honda? Duck fat. Why do our beagles fart so much? Duck fat. (Okay, I don’t feed them duck fat, and that’s certainly not what makes them little gassy, four-legged machines. Neither will duck fat solve all of your problems, but it’s a start, especially when pondering how to make certain foods taste richer.)

I rolled into Lambstock with my little Ziploc bag full of this cornbread and plunked it down, okay in the fact that no one was really eating it (I think because my husband had placed himself directly in front of the bag and kept sneaking pieces). But eventually, someone did. And on my way back from a little jaunt to the port-a-potty (after which I totally washed my hands, don’t worry), I heard several people hunkered down underneath the Cardinal Point Winery tent yell my name. Then, someone shouted, “Bring the cornbread up here!” Well, at least I wasn’t going to have to take any home with me.

Apparently they thought it was good (one person asked if I was a chef; it’s always funny to watch other’s faces as I say, “I’m a technical editor,” because yeah, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to explain my job in a fascinating way, either, even though I enjoy what I do). Meanwhile, my husband was threatening to keep the bag to himself. I guess it was decent stuff.

So now, the recipe. This is, once again, a sweeter cornbread. That’s just my preference, and I assume the honey could be ommitted if you’re so inclined. If you don’t have duck fat, I really don’t know what to tell you (aside from advising you to go buy a duck and render down the fat, which isn’t so hard at all to do, but that’s another post for another time). It worked great here, and I doubt olive oil or another fat could easily be substituted. But, you never know. If you try it using a different fat and you think it tastes great, lemme know!

Lambstock Cornbread (fits perfectly in a 9×9 baking dish but could easily be doubled to fit in a 9×13 dish)

2 ears fresh corn

1.5 Tbsp. duck fat

2/3 c. hard red flour (again, I use flour ground by hand from Beyond Homemade, but AP flour could be used)

1/2 c. cornmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill in a pinch)

1 Tbsp. baking powder (non-aluminum, please)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs, room temperature

3 Tbsp. honey

3/4 c. yogurt (I used a mix of Greek yogurt and raw milk yogurt, but all Greek could be used)

3 oz. butter, melted and cooled slightly (scalding butter would only lead to scrambled eggs)

Place 1 Tbsp. of the duck fat in a glass baking dish. Place the dish in the oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees. (Allowing the dish to sit in the oven while it heats obviously melts the duck fat but also helps prevent sticking.)

Meanwhile, shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cob (the cobs can be reserved to thicken soups, etc. or composted as need be–obviously, I don’t like to waste things). Remove the dish/fat from the oven and gently drop in the kernels (because splashing, hot fat is never fun on the skin), stirring to lightly coat the kernels in the duck fat. Place dish back in oven and roast the kernels for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

While the kernels roast, mix together in a large bowl the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, yogurt, and butter. Fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined (the batter should resemble that of pancake batter, if a bit runnier). Set aside.

When the corn kernels are finished roasting, remove from oven and allow the kernels to cool slightly. Fold into the cornbread mixture; set aside.

In the same baking dish or a cast iron skillet (the more traditional method) drop the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. duck fat. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and place the dish/skillet in the oven to allow the duck fat to melt. When heated, remove the dish/skillet from the oven and pour in the cornbread mixture. Shake the dish/skillet back and forth a few times to level out the mixture (using oven mitts, obviously; trust me, grabbing a hot skillet with your bare hands is not the best of ideas).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. The top should be golden, and the cornbread is ready when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Enjoy with some honey, butter, fruit preserves, etc. Or more duck fat. And/or some Cardinal Point wine! And CP guys, my husband and I keep talking about getting up that way soon to do some wine tours, so next time we’re around, I’ll be sure to bring more than a bag of the cornbread!

Ramblings around Roanoke: Firefly Fare

So I’ve debated how to break down a post about my recent culinary mini-adventures in Roanoke. Thanks to my recent freelance assignment, I’ve had the fortune of traveling to the Star City to try out a few new places/meet a few new faces. I’ve wanted to cover each because I think they deserve their fair share of praise for incorporating local and sustainable foods into their “practices.”

Since I’m already long-winded enough, I decided to break each adventure down into separate posts. So, first up: Firefly Fare.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Parkhurst, owner and chef of Firefly, for my assignment. And yeah, I had to do some important research into what the restaurant serves, right? Even if that means a 35-minute drive, which probably negated the sustainability endeavor (hint hint, New River Valley; we seriously need some restaurants that are similarly minded and all about local, but that’s a bone I’ll pick later).

Stepping off my soapbox…Firefly Fare has some outstanding, quick food that Chris sources from farmers at the Roanoke City Market and other local vendors. As with establishments that highlight regional fare, the menu changes somewhat depending on what’s available (to get an idea of what’s frequently available, go here). To stay competitive price-wise with fellow vendors in the renovated Roanoke City Market Building, Chris focuses on vegetarian meals (the meat that is on the menu, thank god, is local as well; sometimes seafood is available via Local Seafood Delivery).

I went with the Indonesian tofu bowl the day I made my visit, fully intending to eat half and save the rest for lunch the next day. I kinda ended up scarfing down the entire bowl, which was full of mixed rice, veggies, tofu, and an amazing sauce that I now wake up most mornings craving. I’m not sure what spices were utilized (I thought about forcing Chris to give up his recipe, but I’m not really trained in such tactics–or any tactics for that matter–so it was a lost cause from the start), but they were perfection with a bit of heat. The meal was an amalgam of everything I love in a properly sauced/spiced dish: sweet, savory, spicy.

I don’t eat tofu on a regular basis because some people can’t get it right, and that includes me (not that I’m an expert cook by any stretch of the imagination). But the tofu (my, what big chunks of it there were!) at Firefly was meaty with a spot-on texture. By that I mean it was substantial; not dry, not soggy, but just right. I ended up going back to order a side of grilled corn/white beans for my husband to try later. I’m told they were a great side dish; unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of it.

I was happy to see quite a line forming at Firefly the day I went, mostly businessmen. The price for my sizeable tofu bowl was $9, which I think is totally reasonable. Then again, I like to think I have my priorities in line. I’m much more willing to spend money on a place that features locally sourced foods. Quite frankly, the number of people who bitch to me about the price of local foods when I say I choose to eat that way while carrying around their iPhones and plunking down the same amount on a processed, inedible burger and greasy, limp fries just galls me. I have nothing against iPhones and am looking into getting one myself (I do have lots of things against processed foods, obviously). But I’m also aware of the price of my health, and foods sourced by local farmers who employ humane and environmentally conscious methods are important to my lifestyle. Plus? Eating locally sourced foods makes a direct impact on the local economy. It’s simple math. Plus plus? Local, fresh food just tastes better.

Roanokers are lucky to have myriad choices for local foods and the amount of time in which they are served. For the more leisurely meals, there’s obviously River and Rail, Lucky, and Local Roots (more on the latter two later; and if there are others, send a girl a suggestion!). But there’s also the quicker option in Firefly Fare, which has been open for about nine months. Not that Firefly can’t do leisurely, either. Dinner is served almost everyday (check out the Facebook site for a listing of hours, keywords: Firefly Fare). And yes, they serve beer and wine, with some lovely outdoor seating/waiter service available for those dwindling days of summer. Firefly also features a juice bar, which takes full advantage of local produce in season (unfortunately, the juicer was broken the day I was there, but I’m using that as an excuse to make another trip soon).   

I hope Firefly Fare is here to stay. The food is (gasp) healthy but still feels decadent and richly flavored. It has the mark of a chef who is doing what he set out to do: providing quick, fresh food that highlights what regional farmers and producers have to offer. If you’re going out during your lunch break for a quick bite to eat, I’d strongly recommend skipping the usual and giving Firefly a shot. I’m willing to bet you’ll leave completely sated but still feel good about what you ate. Plus, you’ll help support small farmers who bust their ass to do what they do everyday, to make a living not to get rich but because they have a passion for truly good food. You can thank them for their efforts by supporting a place like Firefly Fare. And if someone could shake Chris down to get the recipe for that sauce used in the Indonesian tofu bowl, consider a few rounds of juice on me.

Back from the dead…

Life has been a blur! So, I’m still here, and, starting this week, I’ll be blogging about what’s been going on around here. Lots of exciting things! Lots of catching up on: 1) other restaurant experiences in Roanoke, 2) a few other recipes, and 3) Lambstock at Border Springs Farm. Here’s your preview:

The Great Cornbread Debate

I have to admit, it’s going to be hit and miss around here during the next week due to deadlines, of both the full-time and the freelance nature. You may see a guest post from my husband in the meantime. I don’t know. I’ve kind of usurped the kitchen the past 5 years, so he’s not sure what he can cook other than a killer PB&J sandwich. At any rate, this may have to tide you over for a few days until I can come back up for air.

So, cornbread. I know there’s debate among cornbread lovers whether it should be sweet or savory. I don’t really care which is right or wrong. I just know what I prefer, and it’s usually cornbread with a touch of sweetness. If you prefer the savory, just leave out the honey from the recipe below. Simple solution; no need to get your panties in a bunch. Really, there’s much more to worry about than cornbread.

I made up this recipe, so it could use some fine tuning (like more honey). But, for the first go-round, it did the job pretty well (meaning it was at least edible). When coming up with new recipes, I find it’s best to turn on some Alabama Shakes and just go for it. Sometimes with a beer as a backup confidence booster. Also, it’s apparently necessary that I burn the shit out of myself at some point.

I baked the cornbread for 20 minutes, and it came out a mix between cake-y and spoon bread consistency, which I actually prefer. Obviously, if you want less spoon bread consistency, bake it 5 or so more minutes.

The yogurt? Some cornbread calls for sour cream, and this is about as close as I could come given what was in our fridge. I decided I wanted a bite of heat in the cornbread, thus the jalapenos. If you don’t like them, just leave ’em out. The same with the corn. It’s all subjective, all up to you, but below is the basis I used. I served this with catfish and tomato “jam” (although I decided to just grill the catfish and season it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika). To counterbalance the jalapeno, I just threw together a cold salad of chopped watermelon (an ingredient I’m currently obsessed with), chopped cucumber, and some mint.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Cornbread
3 jalapenos, whole
Kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. soft white flour (aka pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. yogurt (I use a raw yogurt, but Greek yogurt or sour cream would probably be comparable here)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 Tbsp. honey
Duck fat or oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of duck fat (or oil) into a glass baking dish or roasting pan and place in the oven to heat. When the fat/oil is heat, carefully add the jalapenos and corn kernels; roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey. Fold the egg mixture into the flour, stirring until just combined. Set aside.

When the jalapenos/corn are finished roasting, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of fat/oil into a small cast iron pan and place in oven to heat.

While the pan and fat/oil warm, add the roasted corn kernels to the cornbread mixture. Slice the jalapenos (either with or without seeds; with seeds will add more heat) and add to the cornbread mixture. Stir until the corn and jalapenos are incorporated.

Remove the cast iron pan from the oven, drop in the cornbread mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes (see above notes for consistency/baking times).

Serve warm with honey, butter, or a great piece of fish.

 

32 Bagels

Every Thursday includes a trip to a local store to pick up eight bagels (four cinnamon-raisin, four whole wheat) made that a.m. at a bagel company located about 40 minutes away. Why eight? Maybe it’s because I’m OCD and like numbers divisible by four. Maybe it’s because when two bagels are placed side by side it looks like a figure 8. Maybe it’s because I’m a total glutton and sometimes eat two bagels in one day. Whatever the reason, that number just works.

And then I found out the bagel shop would be closed for a week to move to a new location. One week. Without bagels? You’ve lost your mind if you think I’m going that long without a bagel.

So, what to do? Since I’ve become somewhat better at making dough for rolls, pizza, pretzels, etc., I figured bagels should be next on the list. At least it couldn’t turn out any worse than the first time I tried to make pizza dough during which my entire flour mound of happiness collapsed and ran down our countertops and onto the couch, down the wall, all over the floor… (Why yes, we did have an uneven countertop, how did you guess? It’s been fixed since then during a total kitchen renovation. I think it’s because my husband didn’t ever want to see me have that level of breakdown again. Sometimes a shitty attempt at dough makes you cry.)

Anyway, I started researching bagel recipes online. A few I found seemed relatively simple, but this is me. I have to make things complicated. If I’m going to churn out some bagels, I want the real thing. I want to spend hours in the kitchen (totally normal, right?). And then I stumbled across the Smitten Kitchen bagel posts. Bingo. Chewier bagels? Yes, please. Customizable portion sizes? Check. A litany of instructions? Bring it.

I followed the recipes as they were (I only added a bit more spice to the cinnamon-raisin batch). The instructions are excerpted from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” and I’m a little scared to go to a bookstore now because I’ll inevitably go buy this and turn our kitchen into a mini-bakery because, you guys? Check out our freezer now just from the bagel episode.

Right? I made 32 bagels over the course of two days. We still had bagels from my last purchase. This will last me us a good two weeks. Maybe. Because…I kind of prefer the homemade version. The texture is just what I’ve been seeking from a bagel. I’m not a bagel connoisseur or expert. (Is there such a thing, by the way? Because if there is, I am 100% on board. I am willing to train as appropriate for such a distinction.) These just made me happy. And, let’s face it, it’s hella satisfying to nail a bread recipe from the start.

I’m not reprinting the recipes here (just follow the links here for plain bagels, here for cinnamon-raisin bagels), but I am going to include a few of my own notes. And yep, it’s a long list of notes. You can read them or you can just skip on over to the links. Either way, I urge you to try a batch or two at home. They were actually incredibly easy to make (as stated in the recipes, they can be made on the same day or during the course of two to three days), and who doesn’t want to sample bagels fresh from the oven? Actually, that was the most daunting part of the entire process: letting the bagels cool for 15 minutes after baking. I failed on that end.

  • I did a few “experiments” and tried different approaches. I suppose most normal people would follow a brand-new recipe exactly as printed, but that’s not how I roll. I start with the basic recipe and think, “How can I switch this up a bit to compare and decide what works best?” My first experiment was the flour. For the cinnamon-raisin variety, I used 4 cups of the suggested unbleached bread flour (whole wheat) in the sponge and 3 3/4 c. hard red flour during the mixing stage. (The latter was freshly ground a few days prior by local vendor Beyond Homemade. Because the red wheat berries are ground by hand, they retain essential nutrients, thus making this a healthier flour option.) For the plain bagels, I used all hard red flour in both the sponge and the mixing stages. The difference? Personally, I preferred the texture of the hard red flour bagels.
  • I opted to use honey as a substitute for any necessary sugar, malt syrup, etc. (using a 1:1 ratio). I think the cinnamon-raisin bagels could have used a bit more honey.
  • I ended up kneading the dough for 10 minutes by hand (see next note). What the hell, it at least provided some upper arm workout.
  • If you try the cinnamon-raisin variety, I would recommend stirring/pressing the rinsed raisins into the dough by hand with additional flour (the raisins do make the dough a bit too wet if they’re not drained properly beforehand). Stirring them into the dough utilizing a standing mixer didn’t do much good. At all. Just be forewarned that you’ll likely be chasing errant raisins down if you opt to knead the dough by hand.
  • I decided to vary the fridge retardation periods (yes, that’s the terminology; I’m not being mean-spirited) for the cinnamon-raisin batch. Mainly because I was impatient. I let one-half of the cinnamon-raisin batch sit in the fridge for 4 hours prior to boiling and baking. Result: Good. The second half of the cinnamon-raisin batch I let sit in the fridge for about 20 hours. Result: Even better. So yes, there is a noticeable difference when you let the batch chill for a longer period. The consistency seemed to be the same, but the flavors were much more developed in the 20-hour batch.
  • Both batches of plain bagels sat in the fridge for only 4 hours. They were still perfectly satisfying.
  • Because I prefer chewier bagels, I let the cinnamon-raisin batch boil for 1 1/2 minutes per side and the plain bagels boil 1 3/4 minutes per side. I couldn’t really tell the difference in chewiness, although the boil time was only a difference of 15-20 seconds.
  • I really need to invest in a kitchen scale. When dividing the dough, I opted for 16 regular-sized bagels (because super-sized would just get me into trouble). I started by dividing the dough in half, then breaking each half down to eight pieces. And I ended up with smaller bagels, larger bagels, just-right bagels…All appeared to bake evenly in the oven (thank god for convection ovens) despite their varying sizes, but I think for the sake of consistency a kitchen scale would help tremendously. (Hello, Christmas wish list!)
  • I chose to form the bagels by punching a hole through the middle and shaping from there. I know I’m not skilled enough yet to try the probably more traditional method of wrapping a rope of dough around my fingers and rolling to press the ends together. This was honestly a fun task. By the time I got to the plain batch, I felt like I could shape the bagels well enough and avoid overly thick or thin sections.
  • When letting the bagels “rest” prior to boiling and baking, I left about 1″ of room between each. That seemed to be sufficient. Just note that when you boil the bagels, because of activation with the baking soda, they will expand a bit. So, if your pre-boiled bagels sit a bit snug on the baking sheet, it’s a safe bet they won’t fit at all post-boil. Just adjust accordingly for room.
  • Instead of parchment paper I used those glorious Silpats. I did sprinkle cornmeal onto the Silpat to avoid sticking during the first batch. It wasn’t really necessary (plus I didn’t like the consistency of the cornmeal on the bottom of a cinnamon-raisin bagel). I just ended up adding a bit more oil instead of semolina or cornmeal and had no problems with sticking.
  • Each oven is unique and has its own set of quirks, but I think next time around I may increase the final baking time to 6 minutes just to get a harder exterior. That probably won’t be the case for everyone.
  • I didn’t go crazy with toppings or flavors outside of whole wheat and cinnamon and raisins. But I gained a new level of confidence just in baking two varieties, so I’ll definitely be experimenting further. Just think of the possibilities!
  • I’m going to need a bigger freezer.

Thighs ‘n Veggies

I can make a mean mess in the kitchen and somehow end up using every pot and pan within reach. That’s why one-dish dinners are appreciated around here, especially by my husband who normally takes on the task of washing whatever I dirty.

Most of my one-dish dinners are kind of a spinoff of a Jamie Oliver recipe. They’re simple, rustic (my favorite kind of presentation), and feature lemon. And yes, I know lemon isn’t locally sourced around here, but I balance it out (hopefully) by buying from a local store, not one of the chains. Trust me, if lemons could grow around here, we would have an entire backyard.

Roast dishes should never be limited to the fall/winter because they are a great way to utilize seasonal veggies. Of course, a more summery version is going to include tomatoes, squash, onions, etc. In the fall/winter, root vegetables can easily replace the ingredients used here.

To top the dish off, I went with gremolata (because I just can’t serve something without a green in it). It’s a simple condiment, traditionally accompanying ossobuco and made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I subbed in basil and added olive oil and some salt, just because I think recipes are made to be adapted (and I kinda hate parsley). At any rate, gremolata adds a nice “pop” of bright flavors and could easily be used on fish, steak, etc. Since herbs are so abundant during the summer, it’s easy to locally source leafy ones (or, even better, to grow some at home with minimal space needed).

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetables (serves: 2, with some veggies leftover)
Note: It takes some time, but you may want to pick out the lemons before serving so no one accidentally takes a big bite. Especially if you use yellow squash. Trust me. It’s hard to spy the difference when you’re hungry.

1 lb. chicken thighs
1 lemon, thinly sliced (If you make gremolata, just use the lemon you zested.)
2-3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 c. assortment of seasonal vegetables (carrots, onions, yellow squash, etc.)
1 Tbsp. duck fat (or olive oil)
Salt
Pepper

Put the duck fat (or olive oil) in a large glass casserole dish. Place the dish in the oven while heating the oven to 400 degrees (this warms the fat and helps prevent sticking). When the oven has heated, add to your dish the chicken thighs, lemon, garlic, and vegetables and toss to coat with the fat/oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. The chicken should get brown and golden on top. (Alternately, if you want brown, crispy thigh skin all over, sear the chicken while the veggies roast the first 20 minutes. Then, add the chicken for the remaining roasting time.)

Serve over a bed of rice (we went with a wild rice medley) and top with the gremolata (below).

Gremolata
Note: The traditional parsley could be used here instead of basil.

Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 c. basil, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt

Mix the lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Add the olive oil and season with salt.