Eating local is easy.
Just about every grocery store in Snohomish County carries Washington wine, cheese, milk, chicken and apples.
But when you’re trying to create entire meals in the dead of winter with ingredients that are almost entirely SOLE — sustainable, organic, local and ethically raised — well, then you have to really use your local noodle.
That, of course, is the point of the Dark Days Challenge, now in Week 7.
I thought I knew all about the local farm scene going into this challenge. But I’ve already found numerous new farmers and ingredients I would have otherwise overlooked.
Meat for our family before the challenge, for example, consisted typically of factory farmed boneless steaks, skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin and, of course, bacon and sausage.
Now we’re making farmers market chops and roasts and even short ribs, something we had eaten only at restaurants until I threw some in the slower cooker with potatoes, onions and carrots on Christmas Eve morning.
After a busy day of holiday preparations, it was a wonder to sit down to a meal, simply seasoned with paprika, pepper and salt and braised in Spire Mountain draft pear cider from Fish Brewing of Olympia.
While I savored the German Butterball potatoes I bought from Olsen Farms of Colville, I could still remember the woman, Ms. Olsen, perhaps, who sold them to me at the U District farmers market.
As for my favorite carrots from Nash’s Organic Produce, I recently found out I could tour the year-round farm in Sequim on Jan. 16 as part of a public event organized by the PCC Farmland Trust, a group that works to save farmland and keep farmers farming.
I could meet, and so could you, the farm’s patriarch, Nash Huber, the same guy who grew the soft white wheat flour I used for my Week 6 pancakes. I understand the necessary place of faceless factory food in the modern world. I enjoy cereals and snacks from mega corporations daily.
But local success stories like that of Huber are worthy of celebration, and not just in a feel-good eco-conscious low-food-miles kind of way.
It’s about local food security, environmental protection and land preservation (in the face of urban sprawl) all wrapped up in one tasty package.
I’m not the only one who feels this way.
All the Dark Day participants, about 75 families, are cooking, swapping recipes and learning about their local food systems across the country.
Brittney Baldwin of Everett, and her finance Tyler Rourke, for example, made short ribs for Week 6.
They adapted a really cool recipe from “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen” — long-bone short ribs with merlot gravy and rosemary white beans with horseradish gremolata.
They used ribs they acquired by splitting a side of local grass-fed beef with some family members, a great way to save money if you’re eating local a lot.
Check out urbanhennery.com for a wealth of other Dark Days ideas.
Long-bone short ribs with merlot gravy
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 short ribs (about 1 1/2 pound each)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cups Chinook Wines merlot or other dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Rosemary white beans (recipe follows)
Horseradish gremolata (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On a baking sheet, combine flour salt and pepper. Coat the short ribs evenly with seasoned flour, shaking off excess. In a large Dutch oven over high heat, brown the ribs on all sides in the olive oil. Remove and set aside.
To the same pan, add onions and carrots, stirring until softened. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns. Return ribs to Dutch oven, bone side up. Pour merlot and chicken stock over ribs. Bring liquids to a simmer on the stove, then cover and braise in oven until meat pulls away from the bone, about 2½ hours. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees. Lift the ribs out of oven and place them in a clean oven-safe pan. Cover the ribs and keep them warm in the oven while you finish the sauce.
Pour braising liquids through a strainer, pressing on the veggies to get out as much liquid as possible. Discard veggies. Let the liquids rest five minutes. Skim off the fat.
Pour strained liquid in a saute pan and reduce until thick, about 15 minutes, to make about 2 cups.
Ladle white beans into shallow bowls. Place one or two short ribs over beans, drizzle gravy over ribs and top with gremolata. Enjoy with the remaining merlot.
Rosemary white beans
2 cups dried white beans
3/4 cup diced bacon
1 cup chopped onions
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Soak beans over night. The next day, heat bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add stock and water and heat to a simmer. Add strained beans to the pot and simmer until soft, about 1½ hours.
By the time the beans are soft, there should be just enough liquid left to make the beans slightly brothy. If there is too much liquid, simmer higher and longer. Stir in the rosemary and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoons horseradish
1 1/2 teaspoons minced lemon zest
Mix all ingredients together to form a paste.
All adapted from “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen”