Winter doesn't seem like a season to celebrate local food in Minnesota. But that's exactly what Beth Dooley does in her new book, "In Winter's Kitchen."
"Between the growers that are extending the seasons with hoop houses and green technology and the research that's being done by our universities — we're getting a lot of things right and we're able to eat local food all year round," she says.
In the summer, Dooley says she doesn't really cook. She'll go to her garden or the local farmers market and put together a salad. Winter, she says, is the cooking season.
"That's when we hunker down and we fill the house with these wonderful smells and the icy sheen on the windowpanes because it gets all steamy and warm and we want to gather and huddle together," she says. "And so 'In Winter's Kitchen' really defines what happens to us during the cold, dark season."
Dooley was introduced to Minnesota winters when she and her husband moved here from her native New Jersey in 1979. She says she came with certain preconceptions, which were quickly proven inaccurate. "We were just on the cusp of this local food movement, which was so terribly exciting," she says. "I almost didn't want to stop writing this book because every time I turn around there's another great story going on."
Old Fashioned Chestnut Stuffing
My grandmother never used recipes and so neither do I when making this dish. Follow the simple guidelines below to create your own variation, using the bread, herbs and spices you like best. Do not use olive bread or herb bread — in this, the flavors are overwhelming. If the bread isn't stale, pop it in a low oven for a few minutes to dry it slightly before beginning. This recipe is easier to follow if you have everything organized and set out before you begin.
1 pound chestnuts, roasted and peeled*
6 slices slightly stale bread (whole wheat, white, baguette) cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
2 chopped onions
2 chopped celery sticks
6 tablespoons chopped herbs (use a mix of sage, thyme, and parsley)
1 cup chicken stock
1 stick (1/2 cup) of melted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream or more as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toss everything EXCEPT the stock, butter and cream into a large bowl. Toss in the stock, then the butter, tossing to coat all of the ingredients. Then add enough cream to make a moist but not wet stuffing.
Generously butter a three-quart baking dish and fill loosely with the stuffing (do not pack it in.) Cover the dish with buttered foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil, baste with the turkey juices and continue baking until the top is crusty brown, another 5 to 10 minutes.
*To roast chestnuts: With a small paring knife, score the chestnuts by making an X on the flat of the nut. Then place on a baking sheet and set in the oven set to 350 degrees F or, put the nuts at the edge of a fire, and roast until the shells pull back. When the nuts are cool enough to handle, peel off the shells, being careful to remove the dark brown pith that covers the nuts as well.
Serves 8 to 12
If you're in possession of those old-fashioned cast iron corn stick pans, by all means use it. A cast iron skillet works nicely as well.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup fresh cornmeal
3/4 cup flour (either all-purpose or a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the butter into a 8 to 10 inch or divide to put into 12 corn stick or muffin pans and place in the oven to melt. Remove and then pour most of the excess butter into a medium mixing bowl. (This way, the pan is greased while you're melting the butter.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In the bowl with the melted butter, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and honey. Fold the milk-egg mix into the cornmeal and stir lightly until just smooth.
Pour the batter into the buttered skillet or the prepared pans and place in the oven. Bake until lightly browned and springy when touched, about 15 minutes for the corn sticks and muffins and 25 minutes if using the large pan. Serve warm.