Category: Food

Kale is a Sneaky Vegetable

Grocery GardeningI’d like to introduce you to Jean Ann Van Krevelen, author and edible gardener extraordinaire. I met her at the Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago when she and co-host Amanda interviewed me for their podcast “Good Enough Gardening.” She gave me a copy of her book, Grocery Gardening, and it’s a must for both the garden shed and the kitchen. Whether the topic is planting, purchasing or preparing it’s one of those books that will have you saying, “I can do that.” I highly recommend it for both gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

If you want more of Jean Ann’s gardening wisdom check out her blog, GardenerToFarmer.Net and definitely pick up a copy of Grocery Gardening.

I have long espoused the virtues of growing and cooking kale…frankly, I am nuts about this particular vegetable. First of all, it is insanely easy to grow…just sow the seeds in late winter and as soon as the ground warms a bit, little green sprouts will emerge. If you have cool damp springs, you likely won’t have to do much else. In other areas, keep fairly well watered to produce tender greens. In all regions, the plant benefits from soil that’s been amended with compost and a bit of fish emulsion fertilizer once a month or so.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t sure how to prepare kale. I suspect it is due to the sense that it should be cooked like a traditional “green”. And while kale can be prepared this way, it is far more versatile than tradition might dictate. Personally, I like to think of it as the ultimate “sneaky vegetable”. Its flavor is so mild that it adapts to almost any recipe. I have used it in pasta dishes, meatloaf, meatballs, shepherd’s pie…the possibilities are endless.

To get your creative juices flowing, here’s one of my favorite kale recipes.

Photo: Jean Ann Van Krevelan

Asparagus and Kale Pasta

This dish is a great way to use two seasonal ingredients together. Combine it with a handful of asparagus and a big can of chopped tomatoes and this dish is absolutely full of nutrition.

  • 1 lb ground hamburger
  • 1/2 lb kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 12 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Splash of half and half (optional)
  • 1 tbs fennel seeds, 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tbsp basil, 1 tsp rosemary, 1 tsp thyme, and 2 bay leaves
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • generous amounts of flaky salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 package of conchiglie pasta

Brown hamburger and onions in skillet. Drain some of the excess fat leaving enough to prevent burning, omit draining if meat is lean. Add spices and herbs, salt and pepper, sauté for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic. Let simmer to combine flavors and reduce liquid from tomatoes.

Start a pot of water to boil. Add conchiglie pasta and cook according to directions on package. Conchiglie is also known as shell pasta and is great for this recipe. Since this isn’t a really sauce-y pasta dish, the cupped shape of the pasta will grab up the bits of veggies and meat really well. To blanch the kale, add to the boiling pasta for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain.

In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add half and half and cheese. The Parmesan and half and half create a lovely pink sauce. Add pasta and kale to sauce. Toss to combine and let stand for a minute or two to allow the pasta to soak up the fantastic flavors. Serve.

Deer + Drought = Disappointment

Those of you who have a problem with deer might be surprised to learn that they are actually quite particular about something. That something is where bucks like to rub their antlers to remove the velvet. It seems they are especially fond of young, soft barked trees because their antlers are hyper sensitive when the velvet is shedding. Who knew?!

The deer at the farm have been considerate neighbors, but in late spring the heritage apple orchard turned into a popular “rub spot” for bucks. While this gives me something to watch as I sit on the porch, it’s not a form of entertainment I enjoy because it strips the trees of their bark. No good.

The young bucks affection for our apple trees coupled with a terribly dry summer resulted in the loss of several trees and those that survived produced a paltry number of apples. It’s a disappointment, but the garden is a great teacher in rolling with the punches.

If you are having a better apple year than I am I suggest making this rustic apple tart. I made it last weekend with some apples I picked up at the grocery store. I can only imagine how delicious it would be with homegrown fruits. You’ll have to try it and let me know!

Ingredients

  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 3 cups thinly sliced apples (choose a tart variety)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup agave syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 premade piecrusts

Directions

Pour the apple juice into a sauce pan and heat until reduced by half.

In a large bowl combine the apple juice, apples, brown sugar, agave syrup, salt and cinnamon. Toss until the apples are well coated.

Lay one pie crust on a greased cookie sheet and crimp the edges to form a lip.

Spread the apple mixture evenly over the pie crust.

Top with a second pie crust. Pinch the edges to seal.

Sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon. Pierce with a fork to make vents.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbly.

Three Ways to Use Lavender

lavender

If you are looking for plants for your garden with a heav­enly scent, lavender has to be right up there at the top of the list.

From a garden design point of view, lavender’s silver-gray fol­iage is an excellent neutral. Use it as a backdrop for brighter plants and as a bridge between contrasting colors.

To successfully grow lavender, select a spot with well-drained soil and a full day’s sun. Water consistently and apply an all-purpose, liquid fertilizer in spring as new growth emerges. To keep plants full, lightly prune after the flowers fade in summer.

Lavender is a multipurpose plant that is useful in herbal remedies, aromatherapy, cooking and perfumes. Here are three easy ways to put lavender to work around your house.

Lavender Syrup

Slowly boil one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add ¼ cup dried lavender flowers and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Lavender simple syrup will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Lavender Swizzle Sticks

Freshen up your drink with a little lavender. Snip a stem that is an inch or so longer than the depth of the glass. Strip the leaves from the bottom, leaving the ones at the top. The pungent flavor is particularly good for a gin and tonic or martini.

Lavender Tea

A cup of lavender tea is good for anxiety, upset stomach or sleeplessness. Mix one tablespoon of dried lavender flowers with boiling water in a teapot and steep for 10 minutes. Save leftover tea to use as a hair rinse.

Poor Girl Gourmet Tomato Tart for Under 10 Bucks

It’s hard for me to use the words food and budget in the same sentence, but the reality is that eating is getting more expensive. This forces us all to be more conscious of where we spend our food dollars. For me this is a good thing. This awareness helps reinforce the idea of simplicity over convenience.

I recently did a cookbook exchange with Amy McCoy, author of the blog Poor Girl Gourmet. What initially appealed to me about Amy’s cookbook is her use of in-season ingredients but as I read through the introduction and recipes I discovered a shared belief that good food leads to a good life. She puts an emphasis on eating well with cost savings in mind. What I really like about her advice is she not only shares practical tips for food budgeting but also suggests that choosing in season, homegrown or locally grown produce will save money too.

With tomato season coming up I thought it would be timely to share her tomato tart recipe. According to Amy it costs $8.51 to make and will serve four people. If you really want to get frugal plant three ‘Roma’ tomatoes this summer. You will easily end up with a bushel of tomatoes, which will keep this tart on the menu all summer. What tomatoes you don’t eat you can dry in a food dehydrator.

As with any meal, be sure to make an event out of it and relish the idea of eating gourmet in your own home.

Poor Girl Gourmet
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 0-7407-8990-2
Find a bookstore near you.

Photo courtesy of Amy McCoy

Tomato Tart

Serves 4, $5.00 to $10.00

If, for some unfathomable reason, you haven’t yet made the Savory Pie Crust, let this tomato tart be the motivation to get into the kitchen and do so. This is a wonderful do-ahead dish, and, as it takes advantage of vine-ripened summer tomatoes, also happens to make for an easy warm-weather meal with a simple salad of mixed greens.

Ingredients

  • 1 Savory Pie Crust, egg wash omitted (see Note; recipe follows)
  • 1 pound tomatoes (approximately 2 medium), cored, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces as best as you are able
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked to desired doneness and coarsely crumbled
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Instructions

  1. Set one oven rack in the customary middle position, and another rack one notch below the middle. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom on a 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking sheet to prevent that removable bottom from having its way with you. If the tart pan is not nonstick, grease it lightly, using the wrapper from the stick of butter that you used for the dough.
  2. In order to make the transfer of dough to tart pan go smoothly, when I roll out dough for pie crust, I roll it out on a piece of reusable silicone parchment paper that is lightly—very lightly—dusted with flour. This same process will work with plastic wrap or disposable parchment paper, and saves you from having to fold the dough over your rolling pin—or worse, having to peel the dough off of the counter—to transfer it to the pan. So, roll half of the dough out into a 12-inch circle that is 1/4 inch thick. To transfer it to the pan (which is now sitting on a rimmed baking sheet and should be very near to you), simply pick up the parchment and slowly flip it over so the crust is facing down and centered over the pan. Lower the dough into the pan now, and gently peel back the parchment. Tuck the dough into the tart pan, folding a small amount of dough back over itself into the pan to form a crust edge. It is also important to know that if your dough round isn’t perfect, this is the time to go ahead and patch any areas that require patching, simply using a dab of water to adhere the patch to the rest of the dough. This is particularly handy if your crust edges come up a tad short during the final fold-over. Remember, no need to get frustrated, there’s always a work-around, and it’s going to be delicious, patch or no patch.
  3. Refrigerate your crust for 30 minutes to prevent it shrinking up on you during baking.
  4. In order to achieve a crispy bottom crust, the likes of which will make you wonder why you even bother with frozen crust varieties, you must first bake the crust without its fillings, a process known as blind baking. It’s quite easy, takes but a half an hour, and is worth the doing, for you will be amazed—amazed, I say—at the finished product. Remove the crust from the refrigerator, pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, then cover it completely (edges, too) with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and pour in 1 cup of dried beans, distributing them evenly. No need for fancy pie weights—inexpensive dried beans will do the trick to keep our crust free from buckling while we blind bake it. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Keep the heat at 400°F, remove the tart shell from the oven, carefully—we don’t want any burns, now—remove the foil and beans from the shell, and set them aside to cool, as those beans are now your fancy pie weights. Return the shell to the oven until it’s golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. While the crust is blind baking away, toss the sliced tomatoes with the olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Place them in a small baking dish or roasting pan and roast them on that rack we placed one notch down from the middle rack (where the crust is baking) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Keep the heat at 400°F. Remove the pie shell from the oven. Sprinkle the Pecorino Romano over the crust as evenly as you are able. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the roasted tomatoes from their pan, leaving the accumulated juices behind, and arrange them in a single layer over the crust, tucking them into place as necessary. Place the goat cheese chunks on the tomato slices, creating a lovely goat cheese and tomato kaleidoscope pattern as you do. Top that kaleidoscope with bacon crumbles, and return the whole lot to the oven. Bake until the goat cheese is lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Now sprinkle torn basil leaves over the top of the tart. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing the tart from its pan—using oven mitts to do so, as that pan is still hot a mere 5 minutes out of a 400ºF oven—and transfer to a cutting surface. Slice into 8 more-or-less-equal wedges, and, if the summer heat has really gotten to you, tell everyone to help themselves, they can find utensils in the drawer. They won’t mind, so crispy is the crust, so sweet are the tomatoes.

NOTE: The pie crust recipe will make two crusts, and you will only use one of them here. If you aren’t inclined to make another tart a day or two later, simply wrap the other half of the dough airtight and freeze it for future use. Oh, and there will be a future use.

Estimated cost for four: $8.51. The crust costs $1.02 as made in the Savory Pie Crust recipe, less the egg wash. The olive oil costs $0.12. Tomatoes should cost no more than $3.25 per pound. One-quarter cup of Pecorino Romano costs us $0.25. A 4-ounce log of goat cheese costs $3.99, we are using half, so that’s $2.00. The bacon will be about 2 ounces, so at $6.99 per pound, that’s $0.87. The basil consists of the leaves off of just one stalk of basil, but we’ll go ahead and throw a dollar in for them. Even though you and I both know that’s being more than generous.

Savory Pie Crust

Makes 1 thick or 2 thin (12-inch) crusts, $5.00 or less

We start this chapter with a recipe that will change your life—or, at the very least, will help you stretch your food budget all while appearing quite fancy, thank you very much. It is imperative that you know about savory pie crust.

Let’s just say you have some leftovers—perhaps a beef stew, perhaps some chicken in, oh, I don’t know, cider gravy—and you’re thinking, “Boring! I can’t possibly eat that again.” Well, my friend, should this happen to you, simply whip up a savory pie crust. In about a half an hour, you will be placing into your oven a dish worthy of
company. If you happen to be a guest at my house during the winter months, you need not worry about being gauche by asking if the meat and gravy part of the pie are leftovers. They most assuredly are. And yet, you will be overwhelmed with the transcendent buttery flakiness of the crust, and will not care that I am serving you leftovers, my dear guest.

The number of dishes that can be fancied up with this dough is practically limitless. Ok, so you’re a vegetarian. How about a vegetable stew, or a lentil and carrot stew? You there, Ms. Carnivore, let’s make a chili con carne and top it off with a layer of shredded pepper Jack cheese and then the crust. Or maybe a lamb and carrot stew would be more to your liking. Why not add a bit of goat cheese under the crust for that dish? You see what I mean? Practically limitless.

So, now, just forget that you’ve ever read anything that implies pie dough is challenging to craft. Get thee to thy pantry and gather up the flour and butter and vegetable shortening. We’re going to make a meal-saving, savory pie crust.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) very cold vegetable shortening
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon milk (any kind)

Instructions

  1. Now, you do not need a food processor for this, but I will provide instruction for both the by-hand method and the food processor method. It must be due to the fact that I have to hand-wash my dishes (that’s right, I have no newfangled dishwashing machine) that I’m not fully embracing the food processor method, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoy working with dough by hand, or a mano. It’s soothing and also gratifying to know your two warm palms and ten cold fingers put it all together.
  2. To make the dough by hand, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Now, not to scare you about the dough, because we all know now that the dough is your friend and is infinitely useful, but the reason why the very cold items must be very cold is because you want a flaky crust, and that can’t happen if the fats blend into the dough completely. It is the little bits of fat that create flakiness and give you that buttery crust we all hold so dear. This is also why you should use your fingers, the cold part of your hands, and not your palms, which are the warm part of your hands, to work the dough. If it makes your life easier, you can put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes to ensure that they are both very cold for the next step.
  3. Cut the very cold vegetable shortening and the very cold butter into approximately 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour. What this means is, you plunge your fingers into the flour, coating the fats with flour, while breaking up the fats until they are roughly pea-sized. It is perfectly okay for some of them to be larger than pea-sized, you just don’t want them to be close to the same size as the cubes you initially placed into the flour. Remove your fingers from the flour and fats mixture. Get yourself a fork. Pour 1/2 cup very cold ice water (yes, I know I’ve mentioned “very cold” before—I am trying to make a point) into the flour and fats mixture and blend the water into the dough with the fork. You are trying to moisten the dough just enough that it holds together, so if there are still dry spots in your bowl, and I’m pretty certain there will be, add very cold, oh, absolutely frigid, ice water to the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending in gently, until the dough is just holding together. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
  4. And now, the food processor version: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Then add the very cold butter and the very cold shortening, and pulse for about 10 seconds until the fats are pea-sized. Pulsing the motor, add 1/2 cup of the ice water to the flour mixture until it begins to form small balls. If there is still a fair amount of flour laying about in the processor, add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dry has become moist. Turn the small balls of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, being very careful of the metal blade—that thing is sharp—and form them quickly and gently into a ball. Cover the dough completely in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Now, let’s just say that you’re transforming Chicken in Cider Gravy (page 67) into pot pie, but let’s also say that you decided to use a rotisserie chicken that you picked up from the grocery store on your way home, and you’re going to make a cider gravy on the stovetop. You could pick the chicken clean and make the gravy in about the amount of time it takes for the savory pie dough to firm up in the refrigerator. Now, let’s pretend that your grocery store sells rotisserie chicken for $7.99 each. And that your cider gravy costs $4.16 as described in the Chicken in Cider Gravy recipe (page 67). And that the pie crust costs $2.60 to make. And that the pie serves at least six. Now, how much does that cost us? That’s right, people. It costs us $14.75 for the whole thing, or $2.46 per serving. With purchased rotisserie chicken. 6 Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  6. So now your gravy is done; it and the chicken are in the pie pan, and you need only to get the savory pie dough out of the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to approximately 1/4-inch thickness in some approximation of a circle (or a rectangle, or a square; whatever shape baking dish you’re using). As soon as the dough is rolled out, gently lift it and place it atop your baking dish. Push the dough down the sides of the dish to firmly cover the filling as though you’re tucking someone you love into a toasty bed, allowing for an inch or so of dough overhanging the edges of the baking dish. Crimp the overhanging dough over itself to create a thicker crust edge. Beat the egg yolk and milk together and brush it over the top of the crust. Cut five 1-inch slits in the dough over the filling—be decorative with it if you like—and place your masterpiece into the oven. I advise you to put the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet in order to prevent spillage on the bottom of the oven, which might result in copious amounts of smoke in your kitchen, and might require you to set the oven to clean the next day. Ahem. Not that this is has ever happened at my house or anything. Bake until the crust is golden brown, approximately 40 minutes.

NOTE: When making pot pies, be certain that there is some liquid in those leftovers you’re transforming. Don’t go putting meatloaf slices sans gravy in a pie dish and topping it with pie crust. No. In fact, you should wrap the meatloaf slices in this pie crust as though you’re mailing them off in savory little envelopes and call it pain de viande en croute. Now, that’s fancy.

Estimated cost for one pie crust: $2.60. The flour is $0.71 for 3 cups from a bag that costs $4.49 for 19 cups. The baking powder costs $0.01. The vegetable shortening is $0.90 for our 8 tablespoons at $5.49 for 49 tablespoons. The butter used is 8 of 32 tablespoons at $2.79, so that’s $0.70. The egg yolk is from 1 egg, which is $0.26, and the milk for the wash is $0.03, 1/64 of $1.99.

From Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget by Amy McCoy/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Fava Beans

Oh, the poor fava bean (Vicia faba). Long appreciated elsewhere in the world this oversized legume has been slow to make it to the table in the United States.

Fava beans are delicious and full of good things like fiber and low-fat protein. So what’s the hold-up? Well, they are somewhat of a pain in the buns to prepare. The cook must shell, parboil and then remove the beans from a waxy, bitter-tasting pod before they can be used. However, the buttery consistency and nutty flavor make fava beans well worth the effort.

Also known as broad beans, Windsor beans or English beans, favas prefer cool temperatures and take 80 days to mature. Here in central Arkansas the time to plant is mid- to late-February and I always seem to miss my window of opportunity. This is the first year I finally remembered to get some planted. In regions like Southern California where winters are mild beans can also be sown in fall.

The plant is bush forming so there is no need to stake, but give it some room because they can grow 4 to 7 feet tall. Sow the seeds 1-2 inches deep, 3-6 inches apart. Space the rows 12-30 inches apart. The beans are ready to harvest when the pods are plump, around 6 inches long and still green.

Since this is my first year to grow fava beans I don’t have a collection of fabulous recipes. I’ve been eating them sautéed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. They are a delicious addition to salad. How do you recommend preparing them?