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oh, the glorious crema de rajas!

i am not a super saucy person. well, maybe that’s not true. i love salsa. i love tomato sauce (although, not as a child. i was a “naked noodles” kind of girl, for sure. butter, parmesan, and alphabet pasta and i was a happy camper). i love guacamole. chutneys, fruit preserves and the like, if those qualify as sauces. but i’ve claimed for some time that creamy sauces are just not for me. what a lie i’ve been telling myself these last 25 years.

friends, i am happy to announce my deep, unwavering love and appreciation for creamy sauce. but not just any creamy sauce. rick bayless’s roasted poblano sauce, the sauce that changed my world.

roasting & blistering poblanos

it all started with my saturday visit to eastern market. the day after my birthday (which was last friday… yes, i’ve reached that pivotal age of 25. 1/4 way to my centennial…), we didn’t get to the market until late, especially considering the slow, lazy, quiet pace of the mid-winter market. the sheds stood nearly vacant, most vendors already packed up and gone. one of the stragglers, though, working hard to clear the rest of his produce, hustled me a bag of crisp evergreen-colored poblanos for a measly $2. unsure of what to do with these deep green peppers, i left them safely in the fridge until tuesday. in the meantime, i consulted my boss for any inspirational ideas.

smiling, she handed me rick bayless’s mexican kitchen. eagerly, i scoped the book from cover to cover, delighted by the flavors and herbs and ideas his recipes created in my mind.

blackened and ready for peeling

i settled on a recipe for a poblano sauce that accompanied fish or chicken, i think. all i know is that my vision for this particular main course consisted of these items: delicious, soupy homemade black beans (another rick bayless recipes); crispy allium polenta, showing off the ever flavorful scallions, garlic, onions, and leeks that never linger long in my kitchen (they’re too tasty!); a light and happy green poblano sauce of some sort; a dollop of crema del encanto (gracias al marqueta la colmena); and sunflower sprouts from raw detroit community farms.

what i got? a most amazing meal.

YUM.

while i’ve returned the book to work, thus lacking the base recipe by mr. bayless, i can tell you these key things.

1. roast 6 or so poblanos either over your gas stovetop or under the broiler, till blackened and blistered. cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow to steam for 5 or so minutes. this will make the peeling so much easier. peel and core and seed the peppers, cutting into 1/4 inch strips.

roasted and ready

2. brown up onions (in my case 1/2 a white onion and 2 leeks) until crisp over medium high heat, for about 5 minutes.

3. add 3 gloves of minced garlic, thyme, and oregano, continue to cook for 1 minute. add the poblano strips, and cook until heated through.

4. add 1/2 cup of crema del encanto (sour cream, creme fraiche, or any such dairy product will do), and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, simmering softly.

onions, peppers, and crema, oh my!

onions, peppers, and crema, oh my!

5. add this mix to a food processor along with another 1/2 cup of crema, blend until it reaches the smoothness you desire. i added some calder’s milk here to thin it a bit, so that i could effectively drizzle for presentational purposes. but, in all honesty, i could have just eaten the sauce as soup and called it a night.

yes, this stuff is that good.

since its original debut on wednesday, i’ve happily demanded green spoonfuls of crema de rajas at every meal since. try it out!

side note: i still have squash butter for sale! also, i have some mixed berry jam (limited availability!), packed with mulberries, red currants, and gooseberries! all $6 a jar. let me know if you’re interested!

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a very merry middle of january to you all.

the detroit blustery, gray haze captured my heart and soul and enthusiasm and ate it for a mid-hibernation snack, leaving me feeling like a victim of a dementor attack (harry potter reference, i know, i know… too bad my part honey-bee part cow patronus is off on vacation somewhere sunny). i am sucked up, drained out, tired, and somewhat listless. i think i’ve caught the seasonal depression bug my mom always talked about when i was a kid, in the gray ohioan winters. there is a calm beauty to this gray, for sure, but i really could use a day of unceasing sunshine.

in spite of such glum, on monday, the productivity fairy shocked me with a surge of energy (albeit short lived). monday was the day. the four, 10-15 pound pink banana squash i purchased late last fall, those wild, dinosaur-esque beauties, their day of processing finally arrived. my hopes and dreams, to become a processor of michigan produce into delicious value-added products, greeted me with a crazed exuberance. pink banana squash butter, here i came.

sawing those squashes in half, in quarters, scraping the seeds, oiling, salting, and throwing them in the oven. it may not sound like a lot, but friends, it’s a whole lotta squash. a whole lot. my housemate and i agreed that i should just stuff the oven FULL of them, get ’em done in one swift roasting. i stacked, i pieced, and ordered them (trying hard to follow the organizational example of papa du-ane lee meyer, who is an organizing genius… seriously, check out our christmas tree ornament box. when he puts them away, ALL of them fit neatly into one large box. when any other member of the meyer clan attempts such a task, two to three boxes are necessary…). and all seemed well in the world. and all was well in the world.

 

red hot embers

 

so lisa and i celebrated the way we only can with the help of our wood-burning stove: marshmallow s’more sundaes. there’s really no better way to celebrate the pursuit of one’s life dreams. red-hot golden embers, gently kissing the soft fluff of the mallow, browning the white flesh to a crisped golden brown, warm sander’s hot fudge, crunchy graham crackers, and vanilla ice cream. this celebration entertained not only our house, but our mouths as well.

 

the mallow s'more sundae extraordinaire

 

meanwhile, a couple of things happened. first, so distracted by my taste-buds’ happy tango with the sundae, i failed to realize the accumulation of smoke on our first floor. lisa, less captivated by our treat and more observant to the “here and now”, nudged me to check on my squash, on my dreams. as we entered the kitchen, i felt a shift in the energy surrounding my perceived evening of wild productivity. the squash needed some love.

 

smoking up the house

 

recognizing their duress, i quickly determined the squash really needed some water in the base of their pan. this would allow for a quicker cooking, as the steam from the water would work its way through the thick, orange flesh, enticing a lovely, buttery, smooth end product. what i did not consider was the consequence of such an action: exploding glass. dear friends, i know it seems obvious, and sitting on this side of the ordeal, it’s crystal clear. do not pour water on piping hot glass and expect that glass to remain stable. that temperature differential will get you every time, and shatter. thank goodness that pan was below the rest of the squash, or my hopes and dreams really would have been ruined. well, maybe not ruined, but postponed.

 

exploded glass

 

exploded glass part II

 

 

needless to say, the squash was not all baked in one swift swoop. and as the squash puree still sits in my fridge, two days later, waiting for its marriage with citrus, cinnamon, and a dash of nutmeg, i know that the squash butter will be made. in due time. in the mean time, in the midst of the gray and blah, a night of heat, fire, and exploding glass was enough to keep me going until i get some real sun.

 

the puree

 

if anyone is interested in purchasing some delicious, glass-free pink banana squash butter for the affordable price of $6 a jar, please let me know. delicious on bread and bread-like things (muffins, waffles, pancakes, etc), as a dip, in soup, or by the spoonful, this delicata sunshine treat will treat you quite well.

 

holy cow. holy cow. the oh so lovely, so beautiful, so graceful, cow. people who know me well know that i LOVE cows. they are the friends (laura) and family (mom) who send thoughtful cards with great cows prancing across the front.

"we've moo-ved"

i have this collection of cow pictures– not the tacky, cheesy cow pictures of an overdone, distasteful kitchen– but artistic cows, mostly that are bright and colorful and full of life. susan, who is in many respects a second mother to me, gave me this AMAZING blue cow painting for my high school graduation. it is very special to me, so special, in fact, i don’t even have it hanging in my room! (my life’s been a bit transient as of late.)

pretty cow!

also, from cows comes great things. GRAND things like ICE CREAM (graeter’s, anyone?)! FROZEN YOGURT (original tang, anyone?)! COTTAGE CHEESE (nancy’s, anyone?)! CHEEEEESE!!!! OH the dairy-filled delights from the oh-so-holy cow.

but, dear friends, i have quite a news breaking tale for you. i, gwen marie meyer, disliker of most meats, especially beef and pork, critical cynic of the modern industrialized meat system, ardent advocate for plant and legume based diets… prepared, ate, and enjoyed beef stew last night for dinner.

….

you’re shocked, aren’t you. jaw-dropping, knee slapping, shocked. i anxiously await my father and brother’s response to such news– i’m sure i’ll be hearing about it for a long time. this is not to say i have any feeling of urgency about my next meal featuring said beef (except for leftovers, maybe, i imagine they will only get better with age). furthermore, this is not to say i ate very much of it (my bowl had only one chunk of stewed beef). i know better: a bowl of beef reminds me of my days on 2796 powell ave, when i would sneakily slip into the bathroom to spit the wad of meat into the toilet and flush that textural disaster away. i learned that trick after being caught and scolded one too many times for spitting similar wads of meat into my napkin.

beef

but the flavor, the depth, the smell, the character that beef gave the stew. HOLY COW!

the beef was environmentally up to my standards. unfortunately, though, i am embarrassed and ashamed to say, i don’t know the farmer from whom the meat came. last saturday, eastern market lacked the usual sustainable, beef-selling crew. and i had already committed myself to preparing a meal featuring beef after a trial run at canape cart, where i am now gainfully employed.

the stew

i think the smell is what really sealed the deal. that smell, lingering in my head from a day in the canape cart kitchen browning and braising short ribs, reverberated around up there long enough to convince me to make something of my own.

our feast

and so, i give you with no further ado, my beef stew.

gwen’s beef stew
*i made this recipe up– i think it’s pretty flexible and could go a lot of different ways. have fun with it!

1 1/2 pounds sustainably raised (preferably local) stewing beef
salt
pepper
oil for your pan
4 small onions (2 medium, 1 large), chopped
3 shallots, on the large side, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
4 leeks, rinsed and chopped, white and a little green parts
4 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup water
quart of tomatoes
red pepper flakes
cumin
paprika
cinnamon
bay leaf

1. preheat oven to 300.

2. pat dry meat with a paper towel. salt and pepper both sides.

3. in a heavy pot (my christmas present!!), heat enough oil to fully cover the bottom. once nearly smoking, add chunks of stewing beef, careful not to overcrowd the pan. brown meat, 1-2 minutes per side, and then remove and set aside. do this until all the chunks of meat is cooked. you will likely lower the temperature once the oil is hot, so as not to burn the meat.

4. with the leftover browned bits and remaining oil (adding more oil if needed), add the onions, cook for a minute or so, using a spoon to lift the browned bits from bottom of pan. then add carrots, leeks, celery, and garlic, over medium heat. cook down until everything starts to weep and soften, about 15 minutes or so.

5. add the red wine, and let the liquids steam out and reduce down, concentrating the flavor, about 10 minutes. then add vegetable broth and water. cook for another 5-10 minutes, then add tomatoes. (i would recommend adding tomatoes before broth, and seeing how much liquid comes from the tomatoes themselves. you might need more or less broth/water depending on the tomato juices. inconveniently, all of the summer 2010 canned tomatoes were not at my house…hence the simmering of the stew with broth/water first). don’t let the liquid boil, a gentle simmer is the goal. add sprinkles of herbs listed here, starting on the light side, so stew isn’t over spiced, adding gradually till you find your preferred flavor.

6. now, turn off the heat, and make sure the stew is not bubbling or trembling, but hot and calm. add the beef now, making sure to submerge it deeply within the stew and the juices. but a tight-fitting lid on your pot and put it in the oven. try not to let the liquid bubble at all for this part of the cooking process, it will just make the meat tough.

7. let the meat cook for a long time, i let mine go for 2-3 hours, until meat’s tender and you’re hungry.

8. dip yourself a bowl and enjoy!

and here, i give great thanks to the cows of the world. they make this life quite full and exciting, indeed.