Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cooking Floyd: The Dark Days Challenge, Dec. Week 1

The more I think about the Dark Days Challenge the more I realize what it entails.  I thought I was doing pretty well already.  What veggies and fruits we don't grow and preserve I buy locally.  But wait!  This means no citrus, no avocados, artichokes, olives, bananas, etc., as well as what happens when I run out of what I have canned, dried, or frozen.  I've been getting flour and cornmeal from a local mill, but I don't know where they get their grains from.  Rice is right out.  Local butter is exorbitantly expensive and cheese, well, don't get me started.  Cheese is expensive anyway, even before going local.  But I can do this.  It's one meal a week.  And I am going to learn so much!

This week's meal is trout from Big Pine Trout Farm dredged in cornmeal from Big Spring Mill (where I also get my flour), tarter sauce, roasted butternut squash bought in bulk from Wade's Orchard (where I also get my apples in bulk), and green beans that we grew and canned.  Dessert is apple dumplings.

The squash takes the longest to cook but is simple to prepare so I put that on first.  I chose one of the less perfect ones from my stash since those should be used first.  They won't store as long as perfect squash.

I washed it, cut off the stem and blossom ends, whacked it in half and deseeded it, and placed it cut side down on an oiled baking sheet.  It went into a 400F oven for about 40 minutes or until it poked tender.

When the squash was done I pulled it out of the oven and set it to the side.  It stayed plenty hot while I was getting the rest of the meal on.  When I plated it, I added a dab of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  So easy!  Roasted winter squash is incredibly flavorful on it's own.

Next I put the jar of green beans on to simmer.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that home canned veg be reheated at a low boil for 20 minutes to be on the safe side.  Most people, including me, think that's horrific because it cooks the bejesus out of already cooked veg, but I don't mind it with green beans.  While they are definitely overcooked they don't go to mush and the flavor is still nutty, beany good.  I heat them in the liquid they were canned in in hope that some of the nutrients are still left after canning and reheating.

Next up came the trout.  The beauty of fish is, on any given weeknight, it's simple and fast to prepare.  I dredged the trout first in flour, then dipped it in a beaten egg from one of our hens, and last, ran it through cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.

I heated about a quarter inch of peanut oil until it shimmered in a cast iron pan and then gently laid in the fish to brown.  When the first side was done I slipped a spatula under the filet and held the fish on it with a finger so I could gently turn and lay the filet down on the other side.  Don't just flip the fish, that's too rough and you risk splashing and burning yourself with hot oil.  By the time the filet is a pleasing golden on each side, it's just cooked through and perfect.  Total time is probably about 8 minutes.

While the fish was cooking I whipped together a tarter sauce with homemade mayonnaise and minced sweet gherkins.

Earlier in the day I baked up a couple of apple dumplings.  The recipe below is for 6 apples but you can cut the recipe down to the number of apples you are using or save the syrup and filling in the fridge for more dumplings another time.

Apple Dumplings

Ingredients :
6 apples (peeled and cored)
1 pastry for 2-crust pie
Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup granulated white sugar (I substituted a cup of honey from a friend's hive)
2 cups water (I cut back to 1 cup of water because of the honey substitution)
3 Tablespoons butter (softened)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated brown sugar  (I ended up using the sugar here because I was afraid using honey would make the interior of the dumpling too wet.  When I next go to buy in my year's supply of maple syrup in the VA highlands I'll add in maple sugar as well.)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 Tablespoons butter (softened)

Peel and core the apples.  I used Granny Smiths to balance their tart against the sweet syrup and filling.

Roll pastry slightly less than 1/8" thick. Cut into 7" squares.  Cut some leaves too in case you have some holes that need repaired or just for decoration.  I used a ravioli cutter for the serrated edges and the back of a paring knife blade to add veins to the leaves.  Roll up a bit of dough for a stem.

Bring syrup ingredients to boil. Boil 3 minutes.

Mix up the filling ingredients.  Put apple on center of each pastry square. Fill the cavity with the mixture. Dot each with a bit of butter.  Don't worry if some of the filling falls onto the pastry.  Just brush it off around the edges and barely moisten the border with a wet finger.

Bring points of pastry up over apple and overlap.  I should have cut bigger squares because these were some hefty apples.  But that's why I cut out leaves.

Now moisten the outer edges of the new corners and from the bottom, smooth them up and pat into place.
Dampen the backs of the leaves and place them over any holes or tears.  Splay the bottom of the stem piece, dampen and affix to the top of the apple.  Ok.  All that having been said, they're just as good if you wrap the dough around them and patch the bad spots.  Sometimes I'm a little too detail-oriented.  But I'm NOT obsessive!

Place a few inches apart in baking pan. Pour enough hot syrup mixture around dumplings to come about 1/2 inch up the sides.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 45 minutes. Check at the halfway point.  You may have to lay foil over the tops of the dumplings to prevent over browning.  Just before serving pour rest of warm syrup from the bottom of the pan over dumplings and serve with cream.


  1. What a beautiful meal! I especially love the apple dumplings--they look so good :) I used to work for Big Pine as a chef, great job with the trout!

  2. I love the trout - I absolutely want to make sure to get local fish into our Dark Days meals!

  3. This looks delicious and your pictures are great! I'm a fellow Dark Days participant, and a Virginian too, but I live closer to DC. What you said about rice and what to do when you run out of your home-grown stuff hit home for me too, as well as what to do about butter, cheese, etc. I've found some local vendors for that, but I keep worrying about vegetables as we get deeper into winter. I think this will indeed be a Challenge! Cheers,Angela