Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Shipment from Tipi Creek CSA

Radishes, spinach, and green onions from Tipi CreekLast year Lisa and I joined a CSA, which usually stands for community supported agriculture, but at Tipi Creek Farm stands for community shared agriculture.

Here's the skinny. In March we pay a flat fee. Three times between planting in May and the last harvest in September, we go to Tipi Creek and spend a few hours helping out. This may involve planting, weeding, or harvesting. In return for our money and labour, every week from roughly July to the end of September we get a shipment of vegetables.

Last year we received salad greens, spinach, Swiss chard, onions, leeks, kale, radishes, peas, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, rhubarb, corn, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, potatoes, kohlrabi, beans, basil, and dill.

I learned a lot about vegetables. Last summer was the first time I tried leeks, kale, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard. I became familiar with different varieties of otherwise common vegetables. For instance, on the last harvest day in September we left with Hopi, Buttercup, and Godiva squash. Most importantly I learned about produce quality. Corn that is broken from the stalk, husked, and eaten within a minute (which, by the way, I didn't even know you could do, since we always boiled the cobs at my house) is impossibly sweet. After picking, the sugars in the corn quickly turn to starches, and after a day most of the sweetness is gone.

While there is a certain amount of risk involved (you pay the same amount no matter how well the crops do that year), it's mitigated by the variety of vegetables planted. Last year, you may remember, was very dry, and a few crops, like corn, suffered. However, for some reason the cucumbers responded extremely well to last year's conditions, and we received several kilos worth. This year has been extremely moist, so we are expecting a very good haul.

Which brings me to the quantity of vegetables received. Besides a few heads of lettuce and ears of corn passed along to Judy, and a really bitching Thanksgiving dinner for ten, Lisa and I didn't really share the produce. It's a lot of food for two people. Thankfully most of the items lend themselves to preservation by freezing, canning, or dry storage. Last year was the first time I made natural (fermented) vegetable pickles and the first time I canned and dried food. Honestly it was a lot of work. On shipment nights we would spend almost an hour blanching and freezing vegetables. The vegetables that don't take well to preservation (leafy greens) were a little more troublesome. I made a lot of really bad lettuce soup last year.

Lisa and I renewed our membership in Tipi Creek, and this week we received our first shipment. We got radishes, spinach, green onions, and rhubarb. This year we plan on weighing every vegetable that comes into our home, and finding the cost per weight for comparable items at the grocery store and farmers' market, just to see exactly how much money we're saving. I suspect that our CSA is cheaper than the farmers' market, but much more expensive than the supermarket (though obviously the quality of produce is better...) We'll have to crunch the numbers and get back to you.

Further Reading

Tipi Creek was recently featured in See Magazine. (It's a good article, though I don't remember receiving any "choragi" last fall.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Many Lives of a Game Hen, Cont'd

Part II: The Bones

I roasted the bones with a mirepoix. Roasting gives more flavour, better colour, and makes a clearer stock.

All the bones of the hen went into the stock except one: the wishbone. While this particular collarbone will not have the same Delphic power as that of the Christmas turkey, it'll still be fun to break.

I deglazed the roasting pan with white wine, added parsley stems and thyme, covered with cold water, and simmered gently, barely bubbling, overnight.

Making stock of a Greens, Eggs, and Ham Cornish game hen
The bulk of the stock went into a chicken soup with onions, carrots, celery, spinach, wild rice, and pan-fried chicken breast.

Chicken soup with wild rice and spinach

Part III: The Trim

I was left with the wings, the kidneys, miscellaneous trim from the ballotine, and some fatty scraps pulled from the carcass. I decided to make a very simple, "essence of chicken" sausage. I seasoned my chicken trim and fat with salt, pepper, sprigs of thyme, and a couple mashed garlic cloves and left the mixture overnight. In the morning I removed the thyme stems and garlic and ground the mixture twice.

The ground trim from the chicken
After grinding, a small amount of liquid is added, and the meat is mixed. This develops a protein called myosin which helps the meat bind and gives the final sausage a good bite. The most commonly used liquids are simple ice water, wine, and vinegar, but since I was trying to focus on the flavour of the game hen, I used some of my stock. Surprisingly, I have never come across a sausage recipe that uses stock. Perhaps most stock is so mild-tasting that it doesn't stand up to the flavour of the meat and fat. Operating on that assumption, I reduced the stock by about 3/4 before chilling and adding to the meat.

Stuffing the ground chicken into casings
The finished sausages

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Many Lives of a Game Hen

This week I cut up a Cornish game hen from Greens, Eggs, and Ham. Cornish game hens are a special breed of chicken that is usually slaughtered while still very young (five weeks or less) so that the meat is especially delicate. They are therefore usually very small, maybe a pound for a whole bird. This game hen was massive: I didn't weigh it, but I would guess that it was well over five pounds. Happily I was able to try a few different poultry dishes with this one bird.

Part I: The Thighs and Legs

My first preparation was a ballotine. A portion of meat is boned* to make a single, flat sheet of flesh, which is then rolled around a stuffing, cooked, and served hot or cold.

* "Boning" is the removal of bones from meat. The modern English speaker has extreme difficulty with this word, and so "de-boning" is becoming the more common verb.

Here is the leg and thigh:

To bone the meat, make a cut to expose the length of the leg bone, which should then separate fairly easily from the flesh.

Repeat the process for the thigh bone. The thigh bone doesn't release as easily as the leg bone, so you'll have to cut it out of the flesh. Also, there are several tendons where the leg bone used to be that should be removed. They look like shiny, white bands.

Save the bones and trim.

I made a simple stuffing of onions and celery sautéed in butter, with fresh bread crumbs and wild rice.

Traditionally, ballotines are tied with cheesecloth and twine. If your ballotines fit tightly enough in your baking vessel, they will hold their shape without string.

As a final flourish, I wrapped my ballotines in caul. Caul is a fatty membrane that surrounds the stomach of animals. Several charcuterie items, like free-form sausages, are wrapped in caul, which bastes the meat during cooking and helps it keep its shape.

The caul isn't necessary in this case, as the thigh and leg meat is already quite fatty. Even so, I had caul fat on hand, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to use it.

Cook until chicken reaches temperature and the skin is thoroughly browned.