Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Herbed Bean and Sausage Stew (Dark Days 2)
On Thursday, I took a little shopping trip. I went to Whole Earth Center, the Princeton farmers market (indoors!), and Whole Foods. The primary goal of this excursion was to supply myself with local foods for the Dark Days challenge. I was surprised to see so many vegetables at the farmers' market, and one farmer I spoke with said she hopes to have veggies all winter, since she is growing some cold-weather treats in an unheated greenhouse. I stocked up on pretty much everything, and my refrigerator is stuffed. I even got a few pounds of potatoes. I'm looking forward to taking advantage of this local stash for the challenge. I even got a bottle of wine from Terhune Orchards - I'm looking forward to basically just drinking it because it tastes SO GOOD! I think it's a bit too sweet to cook with though.
I also stopped at Whole Earth Center, specifically to get whatever beans and grains they carry from Cayuga Pure Organics. This farm is in New York State - Google says about 212 miles from my house. I consider this local enough and having beans and grains certainly expands my options for local meals (like today's). I ended up going home with Jacob's Cattle beans, pinto beans, and hard red winter wheat berries. I'm sure Whole Earth Center has other local products as well, which I intend to investigate further when I have a little more free time. I believe I saw some local flour there so maybe we can add some bread or baked goods to the menu. At Whole Foods, I was able to get some staples like onions and white sweet potatoes. This will require some exploring as well.
As I get into this challenge and think about it more and more, I'm thinking about what I care about most in this challenge. I'm trying to do the local thing - but I'm NOT trying to eat bland or unsalted food. I'm not giving up salt - sorry. I also believe that globalization has brought us some pretty neat things, like spices from other parts of the world. So I'm going to aim to make my meals as local as is reasonably possible without sacrificing the taste. I'll try to choose organic (or sustainable) when local isn't an option. I'll try to pay more attention to ethics (like fair trade and all that stuff which I don't know much about). And most importantly I'll learn how I can set myself up to have an easier time next year (dry/freeze herbs, can more, etc. I'm willing to make a few sacrifices, but enjoying the food I make isn't going to be one of them.
That being said, I chose to tackle this stew for my second Dark Days meal. The bulk of the elements are local - the sausage are from Cherry Grove and the Jacob's Cattle beans are from Cayuga Pure Organics. The carrots are from our CSA, the onions were labeled as local at Whole Foods, the garlic came from a farmer at the Princeton market, the rosemary from a pot in my house, the thyme considered local by Whole Foods (it came from Virginia, and I'm OK with that). The celery isn't local, but it is organic (I think, it's been in the crisper for a while now). The rest of the ingredients (teaspoons or less of each) are not local. I got most of them at Whole Foods so I can have a bit more confidence in the ethics than I would from the market around the corner or Shop Rite. I know this isn't good enough for some people, but I'm just taking it as an opportunity for improvement.
After all this - how did the soup turn out?
Well, I wasn't watching too closely, and so my beans were cooked a bit more than I would have liked. Some split and released their starchiness into the soup, thickening it up into a goopy mess. (This is what it's supposed to look like.) Frankly, the beans I used (which I used because they're local) were the absolute worst type of beans I could have used for this dish - way too starchy, not really intended for soups and stews. I had a few bites and I don't think I'm going to be able to eat much more of it. The lesson learned here today is not to make swaps in recipes when you don't know what you're doing, and not all dishes are going to work with the ingredients available to you locally. I intend to try this recipe again with the originally suggested beans and no regard for local ingredients!
To end on a more positive note, my sister actually loved this soup. And I think if cooked properly, the beans I used today could be used to make this, which would make it a great option for a Dark Days meal. I'll have to try cooking them again and give it a shot.