Monday, March 29, 2010

Kale week and two recipes

Jon is working in France right now and will be for the next six months or so (don't worry; I get to visit this summer), and his departure has thrown me a little out of my food and cooking rhythm. Specifically, I barely have to cook because I eat much less than Jon+Ev. So I have fewer opportunities to try new things, and I don't have as much motivation to be fun and creative in the kitchen. Here is a post I started a while ago when Jon was in town and gave up on at the time because my pictures weren't uploading properly. I have a few other recipes I've been meaning to write up, so those should be appearing soon. And I'm working on getting my groove back. A big part of this is learning that "serves six" means "you can eat this for eight meals" instead of "you might have leftovers for lunch tomorrow if you're lucky" like it used to.

It is no secret that I love kale. A couple weeks ago I proposed that we should have a "kale week" where we ate kale every day. Jon was a bit skeptical and suggested that we only do a kale work week, but we ended up eating kale the Sunday before and Saturday after as well, so it was a full week of kale. I proposed kale week in part because I love kale and in part to see if I would get tired of it. I didn't at all. In fact, the Monday after kale week, we made a kale pizza, pictured above, recipe below.

Sunday: Potato, kale, carrot, and onion skillet.
Monday: Southwestern quinoa salad (recipe coming soon, perhaps) with a side of sauteed kale
The picture uploaded 90 degrees clockwise from what the file looked like in the folder the first time, so I rotated it 90 degrees counterclockwise and tried again. That time, it uploaded in the same orientation as the file in the folder. I tried to rotate it again, but it was not having any of that. Technology!

Tuesday: Chickpea crepes topped with red Russian kale, golden beets, and feta cheese. Delicious!
Wednesday: We knew we would be eating dinner out with friends, so we sauteed some kale with sesame oil and salt and had it as a side to our lunch of sandwiches.
Thursday: Spinach ravioli with kale added to the cooking water at the last minute, topped with cheese.
Friday: Mac and cheese and kale. Jon makes great mac and cheese from scratch, and this time we sauteed up a bunch of red kale and stirred it in. It was great! Next time I might increase the kale to two bunches to get even more kaley goodness. The recipe is below.
Saturday: Leftovers of various kale-containing foods
Sunday: No kale.
Monday: Kale pizza

Macaroni and cheese and kale
This is based on the mac and cheese recipe from the New Basics Cookbook. We reduced the cheese significantly from their recipe and added kale. The recipe dirties a lot of dishes and takes a while, but it sure is tasty. I think this could be made with blanched broccoli or asparagus in place of the kale.

vegetable oil for sauteing
1 or 2 bunches kale, washed, tough stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 pound penne or rigatoni
4 cups milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp paprika (we use sweet or hot smoked, or a combination)
salt and black pepper
4 oz gruyere cheese, grated

In a saute pan over medium heat, saute the kale in the vegetable oil until it just wilts. Set aside.

Cook penne in plenty of water until just tender. Add the kale to the penne. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Set aside.

In another heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for about five minutes. Do not allow to brown.

Add the hot milk to the flour mixture and whisk well. Add 1/2 tsp paprika and a generous amount of black pepper. Season with a little salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about five more minutes or until the mixture thickens. Add to the kale and penne and toss to coat thoroughly.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish and fill evenly with sauced penne. Distribute the grated gruyere evenly and sprinkle with more pepper and the rest of the paprika. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until hot. Turn on the broiler (use caution if you have a Pyrex baking dish) and cook under the broiler 3 or 4 minutes or until the top gets a little golden and crispy. (The kale on the top will dry out and get a nice crunch going.)

Kale pizza
I used both sauteed kale added at the beginning and raw kale added at the end. The sauteed kale crisped up a little but stayed substantial and chewy. The raw kale crisped up a lot and added nice crunchy bits. You might recall that I throw it onto a lot of my pizzas for a nice vegetal crunch. Jon said he would have preferred just the kale crispies, but I liked both.

1 pizza crust made with 1/2 whole wheat flour

vegetable oil for sauteing
1 bunch of kale, washed thoroughly, thick stems removed, leaves chopped
extra-virgin olive oil for brushing on pizza
about 1/4 of a large onion, sliced into thin rings or half-rings
1 oz gruyere cheese, cut into thin 1-inch squares
coarse salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425 and put your pizza stone in it. Roll out the pizza crust.

In a saute pan over medium heat, saute all but a small handful of the kale in oil until just wilted. Remove from heat.

Brush pizza crust with olive oil. Scatter onion slices and cheese over crust. Sprinkle with coarse salt and black pepper. Top with sauteed kale. It should be a pretty thick layer, but you might not want to use all of it depending on how big the bunch of kale was.

Transfer pizza to pizza stone. Bake for about 8 minutes or until crust is mostly, but not quite, done. Add the raw kale pieces and bake for 3 minutes more, or until crust is done. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chocolate sweet potato torte

This is the third dessert we served at our pre-wedding dessert party. I got the recipe from Vegetarian Times, but I modified it a little. The biggest change I made was reducing the sugar by 1/3. Everyone agreed that it was sweet enough this way. The sweet potato flavor is pretty subtle, and you won't be able to taste it in a bite containing any of the chocolate topping, but it definitely makes a difference in the texture. As far as I can tell, this lasts indefinitely in the fridge. And it's gluten-free.

Chocolate sweet potato torte

1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
4 large eggs (three separated)
2 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used one square of unsweetened baker's chocolate and one square of semi-sweet)
2 tbsp milk or soy milk

Spray nonstick cooking spray on a 9-inch pie dish and preheat the oven to 375.

Blend sweet potato, 1/2 cup sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add three egg yolks and one whole egg and pulse to combine. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Beat three egg whites in electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until it holds stiff peaks.

Fold 1/3 of egg whites into sweet potato mixture with spatula. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Pour batter into pie dish and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool, completely.

Fill a small saucepan about 1/3 with water. Place a glass mixing bowl on top and turn heat to medium. (Note: this is my version of a double boiler. It might be terribly unsafe, but it works for me.) Put the chocolate into the bowl. Stir as it melts. You might have to adjust the heat if the boiling gets vigorous. When the chocolate has melted, stir in the milk or soy milk. Spread chocolate over top of torte. Let stand until chocolate sets.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cranberry-Pecan delight

We had a little dessert party with family and a few friends the day before our wedding. We provided three desserts, and other people brought things, too. Of course, one of the things we made was this plum cake, and I can't resist showing off a couple pictures of it because I really worked hard to make it pretty this time.

One of the other desserts we made was this cranberry-pecan-cream dessert my mom used to make a lot when we were little. It's pretty simple, but you do need a food processor and something to whip cream with, so it's a bit messy and loud. Unfortunately, I didn't take as good a picture of it (and it was frozen at the time, so the texture in the picture is misleading), but rest assured that it's quite pink and pretty and smooth and fluffy. I have only ever eaten it as a mousse-like dessert, but Mom also uses it to frost cakes sometimes, in which case she uses a little more whipped cream. There's a rather large range in amount of cream you can use for this. Of course, the cream tempers the tartness of the cranberries, so pick an amount you think you'll like and see how it goes. I've made it a lot of different ways, and it's always good.

Cranberry-pecan delight

1 bag cranberries, thawed if frozen
1/2 cup plus 3-8 tbsp sugar, divided
1 cup chopped pecans
1-2 cups whipping cream

In a food processor or blender, combine cranberries and 1/2 cup sugar and chop coarsely. Add chopped pecans. In a large bowl, whip cream along with 3-4 tbsp sugar per cup of cream until it holds stiff peaks. Combine cranberry mixture with whipped cream. It's OK if you combine them incompletely. The red and white ribbons look pretty.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fresh chickpea salad

Last year I discovered you can buy fresh chickpeas for a little while during the spring. They look like this.
Usually there is just one chickpea in the pod, but occasionally there are two, and they look like this.
Sometimes you think there are two, but instead there is a surprise like this.
When you peel a whole bunch of them, they look like this.
It takes a while to peel them, but if you're listening to a good radio program or having a nice conversation with a friend, it's no big deal. After peeling, cook them for just a few minutes. Then you can add them to salads or pasta or just eat them on their own. This is a fun salad we made this year. We received some clementine-infused olive oil as a wedding present, and it paired really well with the chickpeas. I'm sure regular olive oil would be good too. We used sorrel as well. Sorrel is a lemony green we have growing in the garden. You can probably find it in fancy grocery stores too. This salad is like spring in a bowl: fresh, simple, and zippy.

Fresh chickpea salad

1 lb fresh chickpeas, shelled
Handful of sorrel or baby lettuce, julienned
Parmesan cheese, optional
A little clementine-infused olive oil (or regular olive oil and some tangerine zest)
Black pepper

Put the chickpeas in a pot with water to cover by about an inch and boil until they have a nice texture, about seven minutes. Place in a bowl with sorrel and use a vegetable peeler to shave a little Parmesan over the top. Dress with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

How to make salads and a grapefruit-avocado salad recipe

Like I said in my last post, we eat a lot of salads. In this post, I show some of the delicious salads we have eaten and talk about different things you can do to make interesting salads a part of your life.

Here's a pretty basic one. It has lettuce, grape tomatoes (for some reason I like them way better than cherry tomatoes or sliced regular tomatoes), cucumbers, feta cheese, croutons, and sliced almonds. Dressed with Italian seasoning, olive oil, and vinegar. We have this salad or a very similar one most nights.
Pardon the ugly flash on this next one. My old camera wasn't very good at food photography. This is a salad Jon made for a crowd who came over to our place one night. I think the presentation is very nice with the cukes, red peppers, and beets on the top. The beets are also a little out-of-the-ordinary and make it special.
This one is a little fancier. I added some greens from our garden (kale, herbs, baby lettuce) and took inspiration (and leftover pears) from our main dish, pear-caramelized onion pizza, to take it up a notch.
In this one, I raided the garden for two beautiful carrots in addition to some greens, and I added chopped-up daikon (enormous Japanese radish) for a little change of pace. I like the presentation on this one too. I put red pepper strips on the side for a little interest. The carrots are very striking, too. (Side note: I love the new salad bowls we got for our wedding.)

This one has a carrot from the garden and a bunch of sprouts on top. (It uploaded sideways for some reason. It looks right in the folder I uploaded from, and I'm too lazy to fix it.)
Sometimes I use leftovers in my salads. This one that I brought into school has leftover cooked asparagus and some spinach, beet, or chard thinnings from my garden.
Sometimes I use a visual theme for my salads. For example, I cut all the non-lettuce vegetables into matchsticks or cubes. Or I use a color theme like this, one of my proudest salads. I went with a green-purple theme using baby beets, blackberries, red-tip lettuce and baby greens, herbs (including purple sage, Thai basil, and purple globe basil for their purple color), pumpkin seeds, and fresh garbanzos (coincidentally an upcoming post). Red and green is another good color theme. Or yellow and green. I bet orange and green would be fun, with carrots, orange peppers, and maybe even cooked sweet potato cubes. Or oranges or tangerines.
We don't do a lot with dressings. Usually I have my lemon-sesame dressing around, and it's a good all-purpose dressing. We also always have olive oil and a variety of vinegars, so we often just dress it to taste at the table. Or Jon will throw together a vinaigrette, often with mustard and herbs, while he's putting the salad together. We do keep some dressing from the store in the fridge at school for ease of salad-eating at lunch. In general, we dress them pretty lightly and simply because we like to taste the vegetables. And if we end up somewhere with salad and no dressing, we just eat the naked salad and enjoy it.

Sometimes I go a little further afield in my salad-making, like with this grapefruit-avocado salad. Often served over greens.
Sometimes with no greens.
This is a great winter salad, at least here where we get good avocados year-round. (I confess that I don't know their growing season. They're always in the grocery store here, and they're pretty much the same price year-round.) Grapefruits are really cheap and good here in the winter, so we eat this fairly often. This is barely a recipe, but I'm putting it here anyway. It's a pretty easy salad to assemble for lunch at your school or workplace if you have a knife. Just bring the whole grapefruit and avocado and make it in one bowl. It's more filling than most salads because avocados are so rich, so it can be a lunch in and of itself.

Grapefruit-avocado salad
Serves one if it's all you're having for lunch, two if you've got some other food.

One grapefruit
One avocado
Lettuce or baby greens, optional
Smoked Gouda or Parmesan cheese, optional
Extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Black pepper, optional

Peel the grapefruit. Remove as much of the pith and membrane as you feel like. Divide the grapefruit into segments. Cut the avocado in half. Remove the pit. Cut the avocado into thin wedges and remove from skin. Arrange grapefruit and avocado on bed of greens or plate. Add some cubes of smoked Gouda or shavings of Parmesan if desired. Dress with a little extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a little black pepper if you have it handy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Salad days

We love salad. Almost every day, we have a big one with dinner, and we often bring one in to school to eat with lunch. The usual ingredients are lettuce, tomatoes, red pepper, and cucumber, but we keep it interesting by adding things like carrot, daikon, beets, or celery and varying the extras: nuts, seeds, croutons, beans, and cheese. Sometimes I supplement the regular red leaf or romaine lettuce with baby greens, sorrel, kale, or herbs from my garden. Despite being a vegetarian since 2002, I was never much of a salad person until Jon and I started dating. He showed me that salads don't have to come from a bag* and are interesting and different every time. Now I miss them when I leave town for a few days. When I get back from a math conference or other out-of-town trip, I often call Jon from the airport and tell him to have a big green salad ready for me when I get home.

Every once in a while, I go crazy and make a wacky salad that doesn't even have lettuce! When we discovered the great new Chinese grocery store that's convenient to my tutoring gig, I bought these little yellow melons and tons of pea shoots. Here's a little salad I love that I've made a few times now.
Just chop up half a little yellow melon (I don't know a name for them), toast 1 tbsp sesame seeds, grate one carrot, and toss it together with a handful of pea shoots and blueberries. Green, sweet, crunchy, and springy. I didn't dress it. Maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of honey or agave nectar, maybe some almond oil? But it was good naked too.

I don't have any other good salad pics on this computer right now, but I might update this post with some salads of which we are especially proud.

* We don't buy bagged salad greens, but I am certainly not opposed to them. We eat salads regularly enough that the lettuce rarely goes bad, and we have time to wash and tear the lettuce leaves each time we make a salad, but I completely understand that bagged greens are more convenient, and that convenience might be the difference between eating a salad and having lettuce rot in your fridge. So if bagged salad greens work for you, go for it! Anything that leads to a larger number of salads eaten is good.