Butternut, Apple, and Cranberry Gratin

Our local meal pick of the week was a butternut squash, apple, and cranberry gratin and local sausage. The inspiration came from an online recipe from Organic Gardening Magazine. http://www.organicgardening.com/cook/butternut-squash-apple-and-cranberry-gratin

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I modified the recipe to accommodate our dairy and gluten free household. I substituted my GF flour blend for the flour and Spectrum shortening for the butter. I also used fresh cranberries for the dried ones and added 2 tablespoons of local honey to accommodate the lack of sweetness. We had this with some local grass-fed sausages from Thistle Byre Farm. This was a first time making this and we all really liked it. It would also make a great holiday side dish.

Here’s the rundown:

Thistle Byre Farm:
Grass-fed pork sausage
Fuji apples

Markle Farm:
Butternut Squash

Wabash and Reily Local Honey

Our own Small Wonder Farm:
Parsley
Thyme

Outside inputs:
GF flour blend
Spectrum shortening
Cranberries
Salt
Pepper
Cayenne

Well into Spring

We are well into spring now and life seems to be rushing past.  I need to slow down and savor the miracles around us.  New lives are abundant here.  The daffodils bloomed today for the first time.  The now one week old kittens are starting to open their eyes.  I knew kittens were born with closed eyes, but I did not realize that their eyelids slowly unzipped.  A tiny amount each day starting at about one week old.  2 of the 4 still have eyes that are completely sealed, but 2 now have tiny openings starting at the inside.  It gives them an alien-like appearance.  What must those little creatures think as their dark world becomes one of images?  It is like a second birth.

The 26 new chicks in the barn are doing great and are already in their gawky preteen feathering out stage.  The laying flock has been sick.  Some kind of respiratory infection.  It has affected about 1/2, but has been very mild.  Some have had wheezing and many are coughing and/or sneezing.  I was very alarmed at first because there are a number of things this could be and some are pretty devastating.  I contacted Purdue Extension and was referred to where I could take dead birds for necropsy, but looks like we lucked out on this one–it has been mild and have not lost any of the flock.  We did add electrolytes to their water just to boost them.  It seems to be mostly over with just a few still coughing.  The new chicks are in a separate stall and did not get sick.  We did our best to try not to cross contaminate and it seems to have worked. 

The hoophouses are working well and we are almost ready to start harvesting some salads from there.  Seedlings are up in there and doing well with one major exception–onions.  My onions from seed are weak little things and seem to be languishing.  I will be buying some already started ones when Hamilton’s Greenhouse (our neighbors!) opens.  What I did start from seed successfully for the first time is broccoli.  I have never done well on it before and always end up buying transplants, but the hoophouse seems to be a big boost for it.   I have a great micro greens blend that is going crazy in there too.  

Paco and 2 of his employees worked a good portion of the day to move the 4 apple trees (which we had planted way to close together 2 years ago)  and 8 grapes (4 new) into what is becoming our orchard.  We now have 4 apples, 8 grapes, 3 kiwi, 2 peaches, and 1 pear all behind the garden.  In the garden are 50 strawberries, 8 raspberries, 3 blueberries, and 3 blackberries.  I got the raspberries and blackberries pruned in the nick of time.  What a long way we have come!  I have a dream that 5 years from now I can walk into the backyard (in all seasons) and get supper.  Never satisfied, now that I have a hoophouse, I want a high tunnel or two that I can grow in year round.  How wonderful it would be to go stand inside in the depths of winter and get some fresh greens.  My idea of nirvana.

Pepper, eggplant, herb, raddichio, and tomato seedlings are all up and looking fantastic. I started at least 70 tomatoes and might need a 12 step program, but I imagine I will find good homes for the ones that I can’t plant. 

Year in Review: Fruits

Since so much of the installation was in 2008, 2009 was our first big fruit harvest and it kept me busy.  Here is the run-down in chronological order:

Strawberries:  I spent three weeks in May doing literally nothing but picking and processing strawberries!  The harvest was huge and picking of them quite labor intensive.  I had to pick every other day in order to keep up.  They got turned into strawberry syrup (agave, not sugar sweetened) and canned or got turned into jam.  We were making strawberry basil mojitos at La Scala and so they went there too.  I turned that idea into strawberry basil jam–yum.  This coming year I would like to turn some into pie filling.  Planting all the strawberries in 2 of the raised beds was a serendipitous choice.  Strawberries spread like wildfire.

Rhubarb:  this was the first harvest year so the yield was light.   Turned into a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam, a couple of rhubarb cakes, and a pie or two.

Ground Cherries:  The plants are in the same family as tomatoes and tomatillos (nightshade family).  These plants stay low to the ground and trail a bit.  VERY prolific.  It produces a small golden-colored “berry” in a paper husk (think tiny tomatillo).  They have a great vanilla citrus flavor.  Very easy to grow, tedious to pick.  Made several pies and froze quite a bit and still left most of them sit there.  Still have lots.  Will not plant this year.

Raspberries:  we had a small spring crop and then they came on heavy late summer all the way to frost.  I picked and picked and picked and picked……..  I froze lots, made jam, and we ate plenty fresh.  So delicious!

Blackberries–picked a handful only since they were planted fall 2008, but the canes went crazy and I am expecting this year will be a great crop.

Blueberries–planted this spring.  Takes 6 years to get a real crop. 

Apples–4 trees planted in 2008.  All doing fine, but we will need to move them this spring.  Much too close together and too close to the garden.  Live and learn.

Peaches–2 planted in 2009

Pear—1 planted in 2009.

Our grapes–6 planted in 2008.  Only 2 survive.  Likely will plant more this year.

Kale!!

We are lucky here im Tippecanoe to have some winter “bonus” farmer’s markets.  Today was one of them, so I went down and saw some of my favorite local food producers.  My number 1 item on the list–kale.  I even e-mailed Ginny Markle and asked her to bring extra for me.  I have been quickly going  through my dehydrated stash and knew we could use a lot more.  It is the perfect “stealth” ingredient to add to most anything–just this week I added it to meatloaf and soup and last week to eggplant parmesan. 

Here are some photos of the mountain of kale I am dehydrating this weekend along with some honeycrisp apples and some baby carrots I got this morning. Kale is off the charts nutritious- a true superfood.  check it out for yourself:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kale

Caramel Apples

cooking the cream and honey
cooking the cream and honey
ready to dip
ready to dip
 
 
 
 
dip, dip, dip 
 
 
 
 yum
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After visiting a local orchard and reading the ingredient list for their caramel apples, I knew there had to be a better, healthier caramel that would not contain hydrogenated oils (including soy) and preservatives.  I found a wonderful recipe and it si super easy!
 
for a single batch (I doubled it and had enough caramel for 7 large apples)
 
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. honey (can sub agave nectar or maple syrup)
pinch of sea salt (I make it a big pinch — I think that hint of salt is essential
 
Bring cream to an almost simmer over medium heat.  Add honey and salt.  Keep on medium heat and let it cook until temp reaches 255-260.  This will take awhile–20 minutes or so.  Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the temp.  You don’t want to go past 260.
 
Remove from the stove and carefully set the pot into a bowl with cold water so that the caramel starts to thicken and cool.  Dip away.  Put the apples onto wax paper sprayed or brushed with oil.  These babies really stick.  I practically needed a shovel to get these off the plate.  We also sprinkled some with nuts and some with sprinkles.
 
Yum!