Friday, November 28, 2008

The Most Popular Kale Recipe in the Room

I feel I should begin with a disclaimer: this is not an original recipe. And most likely, if you tend to keep up with food blogs, especially some very well-known ones, you've already heard about this dish. Orangette wrote about this kale a few weeks back, and I was more than a little intrigued. It was kale, after all, which I'm very fond of, and it was topped with a fried egg (my favorite food group).

The thing is, the kale was boiled, and for more than a few minutes, I might add. So I was understandably concerned. I gave her the benefit of the doubt though, partly because she is Orangette, and also because what she posted was an adaptation from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I don't really think I have the street-cred to overlook that sort of pedigree.

I printed the recipe, ordered a pound of kale from Locally Grown, and then commenced to dragging my feet. I was mildly wary about how The Carnivore might view this dish, particularly since I wasn't entirely sure what to serve alongside it. While boiled kale served over toast and topped with a fried egg might make for a very appealing vegetarian entree, I try to be sensitive to the not-to-be-overlooked fact that I am the only vegetarian in the house. Well, other than Little Miss Piggy who doesn't have any molars yet and hasn't been deemed old enough to make her own ethical decisions regarding food. As she tends to subsist on grubby handfuls of beans and brown rice though, her status as fully-vested eater in our house has yet to be granted.

So, like I said, I wasn't terribly sure how well this dish would go over. Actually, I almost punked out entirely, thinking I could just make this for my lunch and that way I wouldn't have to worry about companion dishes, but then I noticed the recipe had jumped ranks and was also being featured on Bitten.

That sealed the deal. When two omnivorous types are both head-over-heels for something as humble as boiled kale with soggy toast, well, who would I be to buck the trend? And besides, I love, love, love kale and am always in the market for a fresh spin on it. Kale can be a bit bitter, and when it is cooked wrong (read: simmered for hours with a ham-hock), it can be truly vile. The thing is though, when served properly, it can make a convert out of anyone. Winter Greens and Potato Casserole, Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Tart Cheese, and Kale and White Bean Soup are but a few of my favorite variations on kale.

After seeing the recipe on Bitten, I scrapped my original plans for that night's dinner and decided to make a go of this here boiled kale thing. I made a few changes to Orangette's version: substituting vegetable broth for chicken stock, using hunky ciabatta rolls for the toast, and frying the egg in the method of the Deep South, and I must say, she is really on to something with this whole soggy toast thing. I know it sounds spectacularly unappealing, but with the right bread, thick, rustic and crusty, it is comfort food in the best sense. And while I don't understand the science behind it, something about the slow boiling of the kale transforms the greens into silky, slightly sweet ribbons that have just the right "chew" to them.

And The Carnivore? He thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, in fact, that when I cooked the dish twice in as many weeks, he was almost excited to be having it again. As for companion dishes, I'm still a little stumped. The first go round, I served those Crispy Flattened Potatoes alongside and they were an okay addition to the table (because, as well all know by now, those potatoes go with EVERYTHING), but there just wasn't any synergy to the flavors. The second time, I served it with some leftover brown rice topped with cowpeas cooked in a spicy broth and again, it was an okay combination but nothing to write home about. Maybe for the next attempt, and there will be a next time, I'll give those Wild Mushrooms with Mozzarella a go. I've been craving those lately anyway...


BOILED KALE WITH A FRIED EGG AND TOAST (adapted from Orangette and The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, serves two)

  • 8 oz fresh kale
  • 6 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • pinch dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus one whole garlic clove
  • 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
  • square ciabatta roll, sliced in half (or another rustic bread, thickly sliced from the ends so that one side has crust)
  • 2 eggs
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of hot sauce
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  1. Remove and discard thick ribs from the kale, and slice leaves into thin ribbons. Rinse well.
  2. In a large saucepan, warm 5 Tbs oil over medium-low heat.
  3. Add onions to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.
  4. Add the red pepper flakes, the sliced garlic and the kale to the pot and stir until the kale is fully wilted (about 2 to 3 minutes).
  5. Add broth to the pan to cover the kale.
  6. Bring broth to a simmer. Cover, and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes, until kale is tender but not mushy. Add salt to taste.
  7. While kale is cooking, toast the two halves of the ciabatta roll (or two crust-end thickly-sliced pieces of rustic bread). While toast is still hot, rub one side with the clove of raw, whole garlic.
  8. To fry the eggs in the Deep South method: warm the remaining 1 Tbs olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Crack both eggs into the skillet and then break the yolks with a fork, running the fork around gently to spread the runny yolk over the top of the whites. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and a dash or two of hot sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes, until bottom is browned and top is set. Flip eggs and cook on other side for an additional minute or two until browned on both sides. Run spatula down the middle to separate into two pieces for serving.
  9. To plate individually, place one piece of toast in the bottom of a wide soup bowl or on a plate with a rim. Pile a big scoop of the kale on top of the toast, drizzle with olive oil, and top with a fried egg. Grate a little bit of the cheese over the top and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars

I am feeling a bit tortured. This is terribly embarassing to admit, really, and I tried to avoid bringing it up at all, but the thing is, this particular recipe is entirely too perfect to not share, so I'm just going to have to suck up what is left of my pride and tell you about a few of my shortcomings.

However, by sharing the recipe, I feel I am doing everyone a grave disservice. Not because of the aforementioned pride issue - after all, many of my shortcomings are abundantly clear here, in this little forum where I detail my neuroses on a weekly basis for all to see. And no, the disservice I speak of has nothing at all to do with calories or fat grams or the fact that these brownies might cause you to be stingy and refuse to share with your family members and all that. I don't consider any of those things to be problems, per se.

Oh, please don't laugh. Do you remember the cake drama I suffered through for The Boy Wonder's fourth birthday? Where I tied myself in a knot over the calculations involved in adapting a round cake recipe to a rectangular pan, and all that? Well, this is worse. It is worse because the math is much, much easier in the case of these brownies. Pie-r-squared isn't even an issue. Really, there are simple fractions involved at best, probably the kind of thing most of us learned early in middle school.

Of course, I didn't really care for middle school. There's just nothing quite like being a hopelessly unfashionable, knock-kneed, geeky pre-teen to mess with a girl's self-esteem. But that's neither here nor there.


Let me just lay it all out here (about the brownies that is, not the middle school social rejection stuff): this brownie recipe is, without a doubt, the most addictive I have had the pleasure of eating. And I have tried my share. I would even go so far as to refer to myself as a brownie addict. Not an expert, mind you, but an addict. [For more on this, see exhibits one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight, and know that those are but a few of my favorite brownies and should not be viewed as a comprehensive list by any stretch].

I found the recipe for these Black-Bottom Pecan Praline Bars in Bittersweet, a mesmerizing chocolate cookbook that I would cuddle with at night if The Carnivore wouldn't complain about it's sharp edges. But, and here is where we start getting to the laughable part, it is one of those recipes whereby one of the ingredients is actually a recipe from a previous page. Worse yet, that "ingredient" calls for half a recipe from a previous page. And the thing is, the first time I made this, we had company and the entire batch was gone within an hour. Obviously the recipe would need to be doubled if we were to get the proper amount of pleasure from it, and that's where it gets tricky.

So here goes with the torturous, highly embarassing admission: I can't do it. I am not able to double this recipe without screwing up the quantities of ingredients. And I am not being self-deprecating. This happened more than once, whereby I messed up the whole recipe while trying to simply double it. Truth be told, I think it may have happened more than twice. And I really, desperately, did not want to share this recipe with you until I had worked out the kinks, but I'm beginning to think I may BE the kink. See, every time I have baked this recipe straight-out, in the way set out in the cookbook, it has turned out perfectly. Exsquisitely, even. I have still had to hold my mouth just right each of those times, to make sure I halved the recipe that is the first ingredient, while remembering NOT to halve the remainder of the recipe, but let's don't quibble on the details.

Now before you commence to laughing at my numbskullery, especially those of you who know my former profession (the one after copy-slinger and before wild-baby-tamer), just bear with me for a minute. To double this recipe, one must use the actual recipe called for as ingredient number one (rather than halving it, which is what is specified on the page this adaptation appears on) and then one must double the remaining ingredients.

Still with me? Think YOU could do it? Even when you're having a chocolate attack and just really want a bloody brownie real quick-like?

Brownie-baking should not be a stressful activity. Matter of fact, the entire point of baking said brownies is to RELIEVE stress.

Can I get an Amen?

I would like to think that this is just the kind of recipe that cannot be doubled without affecting the final product. That maybe the oven temperature or the cooking time needs to be altered drastically to be able to work with the extra quantities. Or that, oh, I don't know, the amount of baking soda needs to NOT be doubled due to some scientific reaction that I will never understand. Oh, but I know I'm wrong. I know where the fault lies. I am fully aware that this is just one of those things. Like the fact that I am incapable of seeing the difference in high-definition television and regular programming, or my inability to appreciate The Who (warning: music plays automatically at site), I am also apparently lacking the gene that would allow me to simultaneously double a half while also doubling wholes. Sure, maybe if I had just written it out on paper instead of trying to do the math as I went, well , maybe, just maybe, it would have worked, but I'm done trying. I am convinced it cannot be done.

So, here's where we stand then: like I said, I cannot NOT bring you this recipe. It is too good to not be shared. I don't know if anyone is still here to read this now, and I might be saying it only for my mother's benefit (because she has to continue reading; she is my mom), but these brownies are the perfect marraige of sweet and salty. The chocolate layer is both ooey and gooey, and sublimely rich, while the pecan layer is salty and ever-so-slightly crispy. And, almost most delightfully, both layers cook at the same time. This isn't one of those recipes where you cook the brownies, remove them from the oven to cool, mix up the next layer, and then have to bake the whole thing again.

However, I bring this to you with a strict disclaimer, that this recipe will almost certainly NOT yield enough servings. And I apologize for that. I have taken the liberty of posting the recipe in the proper quantities so you don't have to suffer through the agony of halving the brownie recipe before topping it with the pecan layer. So truly, since half (argh) of the work has already been done, you may feel comfortable doubling the recipe at this point because that would only be a matter of multiplying everything by two, but you're on your own if you go that route. I'm far too traumatized to go there with you.


BLACK-BOTTOM PECAN PRALINE BARS (adapted from Bittersweet, serves maybe one, two if you're judicious)

Chocolate layer:

  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Pecan layer:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped pecans
  1. Melt the chocolate and 4 Tbs butter together in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl, stirring until smooth.
  2. Add the sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/8 tsp salt to the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon.
  3. Stir in the egg, then stir in 1/4 cup flour, beating with a wooden spoon until batter is smooth and glossy, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Spread batter in a thin, even layer in a greased 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.
  5. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup flour and baking soda thoroughly in a small bowl and set aside.
  6. In a medium bowl, combine the melted 4 Tbs butter, brown sugar and 1/4 tsp salt.
  7. Stir in the egg yolk and 1/2 tsp vanilla, then the flour mixture, and finally the nuts.
  8. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture all over the top of the brownie batter (they will spread and cover the brownies entirely during baking).
  9. Bake at 350 degrees, on the bottom rack, until the edges of the topping are well-browned and cracked, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Chunky Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Mash

This picture isn't here just to brag about what is still available at my local farmer's market, though I must say I'm pretty tickled at the variety I can still obtain locally a week into November. And I swear I didn't take this picture as a way to celebrate one of the last two weeks that the market will remain open before going on winter hiatus.

I'm just trying to gain a little bit of perspective. I mean, does that look like $30 worth of food? It has been so long since I have bought produce at the supermarket that I honestly have no clue any longer as to whether I'm leading us straight into bankruptcy with my food-buying shenanigans or if possibly, just maybe, the fact that I don't buy processed foods counterbalances these expenditures. Most likely I'm simply making excuses.

See, I nerded up last week and started scrutinizing every last food purchase for the past six months. This wasn't the first time that I got a little obsessive and dug around in my financial tracking software in a mad effort to spell out exactly where my food dollars are going, but I was after a different statistic this go round, namely to check how much of an impact the farmer's market and Locally Grown were having on our bottom line, and to find out what percentage of my food budget went to local foods during the October Eat Local Challenge. The organic raw milk I purchase for the kids is less expensive than the organic big-company milk I had previously bought at the supermarket, so of course I was somehow hoping that everything would even out when it was all said and done.

Of course I was wrong.

Looking back, it was easy to see that the CSA we participate in from May through July is a better bargain than buying individual items through the farmer's markets, and the reasons are obvious enough to pinpoint without much need for critical thinking. The issue for us though is that the CSA only lasts for three months, and I tend to still be hungry during the other nine months of the year. Last year, I fell off the wagon quickly enough when the CSA ran out, but that was because I hadn't bothered to fully research the other local food options. Now that I am much more aware of just how much is out there, and that the bounty includes eggs, dairy, milled items and even meat for The Carnivore, well, it turns into a war of Ethics vs Budgets. It is no wonder advocating local foods is viewed by many to be an elitist activity.

So you see why my perspective seems a bit skewed to me, right? At the market early this morning, with Little Miss Piggy bundled up in her Yoda hat and tucked into her sling, I slunk through the stands battling a crisis of conscience while slurping down a bite-sized empanada that I bought for a dollar. One dollar for essentially two bites. I abhor frivolous spending, but I want so badly to support my local farmers, to feed my family a safe and healthy diet, and to enjoy the superior taste of local and organic foods.

I'm going to need therapy. Thank you for listening.

And honest to goodness, this is not what I came here to whine about. [Whoops - I meant to say 'discuss intelligently.'] What I did intend to do was to share a peerless recipe for Chunky Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Mash that I think would be ideal for Thanksgiving (which, as you know, is, like, tomorrow or something), but I was unable to take an appetizing photograph of the dish and so I used this snapshot of my farmer's market finds and, well, one thing led to another and I ended up on this tangent again...


Anyway, last week, shortly before I commenced this latest meltdown on the financial, environmental and ethical costs of food in today's world, I ordered some Jerusalem artichokes on a whim from Locally Grown. I had read about these tubers numerous times in food publications, but had, as far as I know, never actually run across one in real life. And I truly knew nothing about them when I placed my order, but was loathe to allow a little thing like ignorance stand in my way. So order them I did, though oddly enough under the circumstances, I have no memory of what I paid for them.

They aren't much to look at, and actually resemble ginger root so much that I suppose I may have mistaken one for the other in the produce section of the supermarket at some point and that might be why I assumed they were uncommon. Once I got them home, I gazed balefully at the little fellas for days, pushing them aside in the crisper drawer time after time before finally sitting down and searching for recipes.

'Twas more difficult than I expected to find a recipe that appealed to me. I came across soups that called for ingredients I didn't have on hand and countless recipes that had the odd and knobbly little root-thingies in the starring role with little more to support them than salt and lemon juice. I was too wary for those, instead hoping for more of a gradual introduction, so it was with some relief that I settled upon a Bon Appetit recipe for Chunky Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Mash.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? Truly, the end result wasn't just merry, it was the life of the party. I fell deeply, madly in love with the dish, with it's rustic texture and it's earthy flavor. I'm telling you, this would be perfect for That Turkey Meal, just bitter enough to offset all those other cloyingly sweet side dishes, yet simultaneously interesting and unobtrusive. The Jerusalem artichokes add a delicately nutty flavor to the recipe and keep a firmer texture than the potatoes, lending a toothsome quality to each spoonful that saves the dish from being just another soft and mushy bowl of mashed potatoes. Best of all, at least as far as holiday meals go, the simplicity of the preparation make for a nearly effortless side dish that can be made ahead and reheated without compromise to either the flavor or the texture.

I really think you'll like it. Especially if you choose not to obsess over it.


CHUNKY JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE AND POTATO MASH (adapted from a Deborah Madison recipe printed in Bon Appetit, serves 6)
  • 1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and left unpeeled, cut into roughly 1-inch chunks
  • 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, left unpeeled (though you can peel them if you find potato peelings hinky), cut into roughly 2-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs coarse Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  1. Combine Jerusalem artichoes, potatoes and salt in large pot and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 to 20 minutes until potatoes are tender.
  3. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
  4. Return vegetables to pot and mash coarsely, adding reserved cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time, until chunky mixture forms.
  5. Stir in butter, and add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add more cooking liquid if needed to get the texture you like.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today is Not about Food

The Boy Wonder took this photo of me as I checked the Google home page for the 97th time by about 10:00 this morning.

I am obsessed with this election. I have tried hard to not get caught up in the nonsense leading up to this day, and I even voted early so as to have a better excuse to ignore all the pollster's phone calls.
But now I can't get anything done. I keep going back to the computer to check, uh, I don't know what. It isn't like any results are getting posted yet. Obsessed, I tell you. Too obsessed to even think about food.

Well, that's not entirely true. I have eaten three pieces of dark chocolate poundcake already today. I guess I should share that recipe, now that I think about it.

After the election. I'll do it after the election. Honest.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Breaking the Fast

I woke up this morning and realized today was November 1st, that the month-long Eat Local Challenge was officially over, and that I could officially eat anything I wanted again. Other than the, ahem, handfuls of Halloween candy that I swiped from my son's stash though, I figured out quickly enough that today wasn't going to be the free-for-all that one might expect. Like ending a fast, it seems almost vulgar to go and get hog-wild now. (I have desperately missed homemade granola though, and plan to whip up a batch just as soon as I get a chance).

Spending an entire month being so completely mindful of every bite I consumed and most specifically it's provenance, even for someone who eats fairly locally to begin with, has firmly engendered a level of awareness in which it has become second nature to eat well. And eating well encompasses so much more than just healthfulness.

I would like to avoid stomping back up atop my soapbox, because if you've spent any time around me or just lurking about in my blog, then you have already heard enough of my preaching regarding eating locally, eating organically, eating sustainably, eating ethically. Let's just suffice to say that I want to make the world a better place for my children. I want to share with them values that include being conscious of our impact on the physical environment. I yearn for them to meet the farmers who provide their food and to be aware of exactly where food comes from, and I desperately want to protect them from harmful pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, mercury, lead and all the other truly scary non-foods that are showing up in the world's supposed food system.

But that's enough of that, right? We're all clear on where I stand on this issue. This blog is the journal of our family's exploits in eating, not a compendium of Sarah's sermons on moral repasts.

Oh, I know. I'm just kidding myself when I say that. Maybe I should change this blog's title, come to think of it, to Recipes for a Moral Repast. But then you guys might just commit me for good, and never try another of these recipes that I so excitedly bring here to share. So, you know, moving right along then...

I did break our fast today, but I did so in a gentle fashion. My sister-in-law and my nephews were coming over to watch football with The Carnivore, and black bean chile seemed like an ideal companion to their silly game. As far as I can tell, black beans cannot be sourced locally, and making my own corn tortillas in order to scratch up my own personal tortilla chips is far-fetched even for me, so I didn't plan this to be a strictly local meal. Prior to this past month though, I might have been content to reach into the pantry and grab cans of beans, diced tomatoes and corn to make this, but I found that the biggest lesson of the month, the one thing I am sure will stick long after the novelty of participating in the Eat Local Challenge has passed, is that I am capable of planning ahead and striving to make every meal as local as possible before then, and only then, supplementing with non-local items.

So yesterday, before committing to a set-in-stone menu for today, I surveyed what I had on hand. For the chile, I set dried beans to soaking. While the beans are far from local, dried beans have much less of an environmental impact than canned ones (and they are light years less expensive), so a little advance planning is worth the trouble. I also reached into the freezer and started defrosting some tomatoes that I had frozen during the summer and portioned into 14.5-oz servings (to be used as a direct substitute for cans). The onions, garlic and bell pepper were on hand already from jaunts to the farmer's market, as were green and red tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro which I used to whip up a batch of salsa to serve with the chile.

Tortilla chips were purchased from the supermarket as was a bag of frozen organic corn to go into the chile. Every meal will not be 100% local, but we'll do what we can. My goal here is to be mindful. That has been a goal of mine for years, actually, in ways other than just eating and purchasing food, but works almost universally in conjunction with the way I want to live my life. Training myself to take the time to truly think about the things I do, the things I eat, and even the things I say (though that particular action is by far the most challenging) is how I keep from being overwhelmed by all that I can and cannot do to, dare I say it, change the world.