The first frost has yet to put an emphatic end to southcentral Alaska’s growing season but things are definitely winding down. We’ve got a long haul until fresh local produce returns (June!) so preserving some of the summer’s harvest is an absolute necessity.

So despite the fabulous weather today I’ll spend at least a few hours inside blanching and freezing broccoli and cauliflower. It’s a simple process, and so very worth it when the days are short and cold.

We freeze our broccoli in 1 gallon bags, which is just perfect for making broccoli soup.

Freezing broccoli:
Cut the crowns into pieces (I chop mine fairly small since they’ll be going into soup), then blanch the broccoli for a minute before dropping it immediately into an ice-water bath. Pat dry the florets, spread them on wax paper-lined cookie sheets and freeze. You can bag up the broccoli once it’s frozen (the two-step process keeps everything from freezing together).

I’m sure it would preserve better if you used a vacuum packer but our broccoli doesn’t stay in the freezer long enough to make it worth the extra effort.

Romanesco cauliflower

Romanesco cauliflower from Alaska's Glacier Valley Farm.

Romanesco cauliflower is one of my very favorite crops — it looks like something from the pages of Dr. Seuss and the spirals expressed by the florets follow the Fibonacci sequence.

Sockeye salmon

Sockeye salmon from Alaska's Fish Creek.

This summer we’ve really been going after the fish — via setnet, dipnet, and rod-and-reel — and as a result we’ve started to exhaust our recipes for fresh salmon. My ran across Kristin Dixon’s recipe for salmon burgers as part of my day job for Alaska Dispatch and rather freely adapted it based on what I had in the kitchen. It was a huge hit with my girls.

Fresh sockeye salmon burgers

1 fillet of fresh salmon, skinned and deboned (I remove the pinbones with a pair of pilers) / 1 egg / Worcestershire sauce to taste / Salt and pepper to taste

Cut half the fillet into 1/8″ cubes and puree the other half in a food processor. Combine the salmon and mix it with the beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into patties and cook on the grill or skillet. Kirstin adds a few different ingredients — there are plenty of possibilities — but I wanted to see the reaction without onions first.

Make sure you grease your skillet or grill — I’ve found that it’s sometimes a challenge to flip the patties.

As the days in Alaska head toward the maximum the farms in Southcentral are busily getting greenhouse seedlings planted in their fields.

Planting lettuce seeds at Vanderweele Farm in Palmer, Alaska.

Southcentral Alaska still has snow on the ground and though we’re still six weeks away from reliably frost-free nights the local farmers are starting to ramp up their operations. At Vanderweele Farm in Palmer they’ve been planting in their greenhouse for a couple of weeks now and farm manager Roger Vanderweele says they expect to start transplanting to the fields in early May.

I find this to be the most stir-crazy time of the year. We’re getting almost 14 hours of light a day — and gaining over 5 minutes every day — yet we can’t expect green-up until the end of May and the local produce scene won’t take off until mid-June.

Ferndale fries, made from locally grown potatoes, will replace tater tots and French fries at one public elementary school in Ferndale, Wash. I like it!

One-quarter cow for a year’s eating means we forgo fancy prime rib and tenderloin roasts in order that we might enjoy steak from time to time. Which means roasting with less-familiar cuts — and at the holidays, proceed with caution. Happily we’ve notched some great successes with sirloin tip and cross rib roasts, which come out as juicy and tasty as you could hope for, and we enjoy eye of round equally well, never mind a reputation for less than top-rate flavor. A big bonus: the price is right. Other cuts considered to be in the same class include tri-tip, rump roast, and top round roast.

Along the way we’ve gleaned a few tricks and tips. Season or marinade a day ahead, longer for larger roasts. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before going in the oven, which encourages even cooking. Begin roasting at a high temperature — 450 degrees is a good starting point — to brown the meat, then lower the heat so everything cooks more or less evenly. It’s done when the thermometer tells you it’s done, and once the internal temperature hits 120-125 degrees for a smaller (3-ish pound) roast, pull for medium-rare or check frequently because temps start to shoot up faster than you’d think. Then let the meat rest for fifteen minutes or more before carving.

And of course, use your pan drippings. Just do it! Ours went towards a capery gravy for one holiday dinner; we’ll definitely do that one again. Horseradish sauce is a nice alternative, particularly when you’ve got roots in the garden.

Happy eating in 2011!

Recipe: Perfect Beef Sirloin Tip Roast

Beef sirloin tip roast, 3 lbs / sea salt & pepper / 1 clove garlic, minced / 2 tsps fresh thyme, minced / 2 tsps fresh rosemary, minced / 1 tsp balsalmic vinegar

Gravy: 1 tbls butter / 2 tsps flour / ½ cup beef stock / 1 tsp dijon mustard / 2 tsps capers, minced

The day before, rub roast generously with salt and pepper, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Two hours before roasting, remove from refrigerator and allow meat to come to room temperature.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Unwrap meat and gently rub in vinegar. When oven is ready, place meat on a roasting pan in the middle of oven, fat bib up. After 15 minutes, turn heat down to 350 degrees. Roast about 25 minutes more, then begin checking internal temperature in the deepest part of the meat. Remove from oven when internal temperature hits 120 degrees for a medium-rare roast. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or so. Tent with foil if meat is to rest for longer.

Meanwhile, pour pan juices into a small saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter with juices, then whisk in flour. Add stock, continuing to whisk. When reduced to desired thickness, add mustard and capers. Taste and add salt if needed. Feeds 4-6 heartily.

The year’s first hard freeze brought deep snow and temps down into the teens, completely shutting Seattle down. In the garden it was an equally Darwinian scenario. Chard froze, then decayed. Fennel died back. Much to my surprise though most everything else did OK despite only thick snow for “protection”. Many survivors were greens: two varieties of winter lettuce plus arugula, red and green mustards, mache, endive, and of course, kale, which looks as vigorous as ever. The beets and leeks are alive, as are some of the hardy herbs like parsley. A big patch of volunteer chervil emerged unscathed, albeit with mellowed flavor.

One lesson of the recent freeze was to let snow be. Another lesson was that planting crops bred specifically for winter growing does work. Then again it’s only December, so we’ll see how everybody fares through a long, damp, cold winter.

Radishes, butter, sea salt, fresh bread. Eat together and you’ve got a classic French breakfast food and/or cocktail-hour snack. Remind me why I hadn’t tried this before?

Maybe because we didn’t eat radishes that way growing up. And when you don’t, the combination sounds weird no matter how many good things you read. It happens I’ve read plenty — Sally for one promoted their merits a couple years back, and she gives sound advice. Molly Wizenberg got nostalgic over them in her lovely book A Homemade Life. I remained dubious, however.

Well. Turns out it’s good. And so simple. Radishes and salt bring out the sweetness in butter. Creamy butter tames the radishes so they’re interesting instead of hot and bitter. You want to slice the radishes so thin the slices are practically transparent — like “a communion wafer”, Wizenberg suggests. Or mince them fine, toss with sea salt, and sprinkle over your toasted, buttered bread.

Try it if you’re stumped by that bunch of radishes in your weekly CSA box. Or even if you’re not. I promise you’ll like it. Especially when you’ve just poured your first glass of pinot and you’re pawing about for sustenance and inspiration with which to cook the evening’s meal.

Yesterday was the last official day of the p-patch season, which translates as high time for procrastinators and foot-draggers to clean up plots and prep the soil for spring. Patch-wide, we’d agreed to mulch with autumn leaves and burlap this year in lieu of cover cropping, the latter accused of providing safe harbor to cutworms. That meant dressing our plot with leaves from a nearby park and coffee bags from a local Bucky’s. What’s not to love?

We were mostly good about being ruthless — you need a healthy dose of that this time of year — pulling down all the unbloomed sweet peas, the unripe peppers, and pulling up the entire crop of parsnips, all five of them. The rest of the vegetation we chopped and laid down to compost right back into the soil. But as always not quite everything came out; I’m holding out hope for the occasional bundle of greens through the cold months.

After the chaos of the growing season it felt good to bring back a bit of order to the garden. Maybe I’m projecting but the soil seemed tired, ready for some nourishment and replenishing, and it was almost a relief to cover the beds with their blankets.

Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.
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