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cheesy corn and kale bake

August 26th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

August is almost over.

And even writing that out doesn’t feel like it’s real. But it is; the month is over next week, then September comes and summer fades into the rear view mirror, leaving it’s fingerprints in our memory, waning like a summer tan. It has truly been an amazing and beautiful summer.

But it’s been a glorious August in Minnesota, a perfect end to this fleeting season. Despite June’s cool weeks, July roared in with it’s searing heat and choking humidity, and storm after storm after storm charged across the sky, darkening the hours, drowning us in rain. And what a delight too. I didn’t water my grass once this summer and it’s stayed lush and green through all the record-breaking heat. That’s pretty rare here. And the abundant rain has turned our surroundings in to a thick rainforest of growth, with a fresh earthy smell that’s nearly intoxicating. August ushered out the heat, and brought us gorgeous sun, endless blue sky and cool nights with fresh breezes. I’ve just fallen in love with August this year. If summer in Minnesota was like this month has been, no one would ever see the need to complain.

Then there’s the bounty, the amazing bounty sagging the tables at the Farmers Markets every week. It’s staggering how much produce is weighing down those tables, with over-loaded trucks parked behind, waiting to dispel their goods. I can take a $20 dollar bill and bring home two big sacks stuffed with food each week. My last trip was so fruitful that I could hardly stagger to the car with my load. And for only $28 dollars, I could have collapsed our kitchen island with the weight.

The one item I’ve been a bit disappointed with this season has been the sweet corn. I’ve had more misses with my ears than I’ve had wondrously sweet experiences, and one farmer I spoke to said that the intense heat and heavy rain can cause such quick ripening of the corn that it’s difficult to get it at that sweet tender state that so many people like.

A recent batch of corn that I purchased was a bit too starchy and dry for my liking, but mixed with red pepper, dark green kale and a few handfuls of good cheese, it turned in to a delightful dish that took the focus off the chewy over-ripe corn.

This cheesy baked dish was so yummy, rich with fresh summer flavor. I’d love to try it again, adding more vegetables to it, maybe change the cheese to something stronger, or try it with chard since I seem to have glided up and over the moon for this particular dark leafy green. Did you see in that photo that I bought THREE bunches of it? I am crazy.

But that’s what I need to do; dive head first into these seasonal delights and enjoy them while I can. Like summer, and August, they’ll be fading all too quickly, and I’ll be back in the produce aisle of the grocer, surveying my options, rubbing my arms from the cold, wishing I was dodging sunlight, an overstuffed sack slung on my bare shoulder.

Cheesy Corn and Kale Bake

1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium leek, sliced thin (or an onion, if you wish)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch of curly leaf kale, washed and spun dry then chopped
4 c. fresh corn kernels
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. AP flour
1 c. milk (i used soy)
1 c. freshly grated cheddar cheese (or mix it up a bit with pepper jack)
1 T. cream cheese (I used sour cream)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°

In a deep cast iron skillet, or other oven proof skillet, sauté the leek and pepper in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute or two. Add in the kale and stir until it’s coated with the oil, then cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Scrape veggies in to a bowl and set aside.

In same pan, melt the butter, then add the flour and stir to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for about two minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth, then cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is very thick. It may look a bit reddish brown from the pepper, but that’s just fine. Mix the cheese in a little at a time until you have a nice cheese sauce, stir in the cream cheese and cooked pepper mix, and then the corn kernels. It will be very thick. Season with salt, pepper and the cayenne and spread it evenly in the pan. Place the pan, uncovered, in to the oven and bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

 

Original recipe is from The Kitchn website; I made heavy modifications.

You can use frozen corn in this if you wish, just be sure to run it under cold water to thaw it out, and shake all the extra moisture out before adding it to the cheese sauce mixture.


toasted farro with greens and tahini

July 5th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I’m learning a lot on this plant-friendly journey, with the biggest lesson being that all plants based meals, while gorgeous in color, aren’t always the easiest to photograph.

Take this Farro and Greens dish……

It was delicious, satisfying and full of textures and tastes. But when I tried to plate it to photograph, I stared down at it’s curly leaves of kale, it’s burnished grains and hearty nuts and said  ”Dang, you’re kind of homely.” Because it was, through no fault of it’s own though.

Thankfully I didn’t hurt it’s feelings.

I ended up having to take it outside into full on natural light, not the light through the west window in my sunroom where I usually set up my shots. Even then, outside it took about 8 shots before I really started getting the angle right, the focus firm and the shot like I wanted. And I was talking to it. Outside. On my patio steps, hunched over to get the right angle and mumbling to my food. Yeah. I’m THAT kind of blogger.

But enough already….. delicious? Did I mention that? Wow with a capital “W” !!! It was good at room temperature after I tossed all the ingredients together. It was fine, oh so fine, when I ate it cold for lunch the very next day. And it was still good heated up a day or two after that.

And that’s another thing I’m learning; plant-based foods can manage a patient wait in your fridge so much longer than a dish with meat. (yeah, I know…..duh) And they can happily sit on your counter for a while (like over an hour when you, ahem, forget about them there) and really there’s no loss to you, or risk in it at all.

And quick….. quick! Plant based meals are lickety-split quick, people. I had this done in the time it took to slowly simmer the kale to a great tenderness, all of 15 minutes. A recent lunch with red chard and great northern beans took maybe 5 minutes to pull together. A side salad, those amazing chickpeas I just talked about? Less than 10. My humongous salads topped with a whole rainbow of crunchy veggies? Well, if I take the time to prep all of it ahead of time and keep them in containers, I can have a giant heaping bowl of a masticator’s delight in maybe 5 easy minutes. I made Peanut Noodles, and in the time it took to boil water and cook the noodles, the pepper, cucumber, green onion and carrot were done and sitting on the counter.

So yeah…. quick. And delicious. And healthy….. I still feel so amazing, and the best part? Even on those nights I don’t sleep so good, which seems to be the story of my life, I still am energetic enough to get through the day without collapsing. I feel tired, but the exhaustion that I had come to expect just isn’t there anymore. I feel pretty humbled by this little experiment, and so grateful for the ability to swiftly change directions, to move into even better health and well-being and to be able to talk about it and share it with you.

Now if only these pretty, colorful and healthy little meals would step up their game under my camera lens.

 

Toasted Farro with Greens and Tahini

1 c. cooked farro, or wheatberries, cooled and chilled.
2 T. tahini
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 c. tightly packed greens, chopped- you can use kale, spinach, chard, mustard, collard, turnip… whatever you like
1/2 c. parsley leaves
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. chopped nuts, such as pecans or almonds (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk the tahini and olive oil with two tablespoon of water and set aside.

Heat a deep skillet over medium heat. When very hot, add the chilled farro. Don’t mind if a little moisture causes it to hiss or sizzle. It will cook off as you toast the grain. Shake the pan often, heating the grains until they’re very warm and fragrant, maybe 5 minutes. Be very careful not to burn them. When hot and toasty, remove grains to a bowl. To empty skillet, add 1/3 cup of water and the greens, stirring and cooking until they’re tender but still have a bit of toothy bite. Add the farro and the tahini mix, and stir to combine. Allow to cook for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with nuts, if using.

Source: Food and Wine magazine, with heavy modifications

 

KATE’S NOTES: I used wheatberries for the farro in the recipe as I had some already cooked in the freezer and farro is often hard to find. They make a perfect substitute. You could also sub in cilantro in place of the parsley, or add more fresh herbs, like thyme or oregano. I also added in lemon zest to make the overall flavor brighter.

 

mindful eating

May 16th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

If you recall, Whole Foods invited me to participate in a 28-day challenge based on the Engine 2 eating plan (I hate the word ‘diet’ and won’t use it) that calls for a 100% plant based way of food consumption. It goes so far as to exclude fats and salt as well. My take on it was to kick out the meat. We eat more than I want mostly because my teenager really loves meat, but Mike and I were getting tired of it. And it’s the costliest item in our food budget. As well as going meat-free, I’ve cut out my beloved butter, the only dairy I consume and I’ve cut down on oil usage and tried to avoid salt.

So… two weeks in to this eating plan, and what’s been happening?

#1- The teenager is a bit miffed. ‘What do we eat!?’ he says with emphatic resignation. But the meat free meals that leap from the stove top have him devouring his portion with gusto. I’ve given in to his need for meat on occasion, utilizing small amounts of chicken for him, and having a meal with shrimp. But this boy is not suffering. No no…..

#2- My pants fit better. And I can get myself in to two pairs of jeans that I haven’t been able to wear since last summer. Some of the belly fat is disappearing. I think my face looks thinner. I have a bit of a way to go with reaching what I think is an ideal weight for me, but this eating plan wasn’t about losing weight at all. I needed maybe a 10 pound drop at most and when I started the plan I had already lost about 5 of those pounds. For me, this is about eating more healthy foods and feeling better.

#3- This is a big one. Several months ago I started experiencing symptoms of menopause, mostly in the way of hot flashes. They had become really intense, and a constant in my day. They’d cover my neck and shoulders, resulting often in getting so overheated that the underside of my hair would become very damp. And the worse ones came at night, radiating through my pelvis and hips and down my legs, causing me to kick off the blankets to cool down. I’d fall asleep, then waken later absolutely freezing. This night cycle went on and on, and it wasn’t helping my sleep patterns at all. But since giving up meat consumption, the hot flashes have fallen off dramatically, the lower body ones disappeared completely and the consistency has been reduced to only a few light ones each day, mostly very manageable. No more damp hair!! And this happened within days of giving up meat. It’s been completely unexpected but such an amazing finding. If I’d known giving up meat would help this, I would have done it ages ago. Another physical aspect that has fully disappeared when meat left my meals is any kind of stomach upset. I’ve been blissfully comfortable for the past two weeks with no indigestion, no upset or gas and no bloating.

#4- I miss my popcorn fix, but that’s about the only food I really want to be eating that I’m not. I simply can’t eat popcorn without melted butter and salt, and at least once a week I would pop a big bowl of it and crunch crunch crunch my way through, sighing in contentment, slurping buttery salty fingers and smiling through eyes half closed in a popcorn induced ecstasy. I think I love the sensation of it, the textural pleasure of eating something so noisy, and so flavorful. I don’t really miss meat, nor crave it. See #3. But I really miss my popcorn.

What this plan is doing for me that I do love is really giving me a lot more reasons to look at the foods I eat and make the best possible choices. I was out for an evening with some friends and had to take a good hard look at the menu options for something that fit this challenge; thankfully I had three choices to pick from, all of them acceptable. Eating out may be more challenging, and thankfully we don’t do it that often. But we’ve also been eating pretty mindfully prior to starting this plan. This gives us a reason to take it one, or ten steps further.

This pasta dish is halfway acceptable for the eating plan, in that it’s loaded with braised kale. The fettuccine isn’t exactly E2 friendly, but it was what I wanted to eat after an intense afternoon of gardening. Sometimes you’ve just got to allow for a dish that nourishes the soul as well as it fills the belly. I really struggle with any aspect of eating that deprives us of what we really want. If I really want popcorn, I’m going to make it. If I want a juicy bratwurst, I will grill one so that the skin splits and it sizzles in delight, pressed between the edges of a perfect bakery roll and slathered with the best mustard in my fridge.

But at the same time, what I put in this body of mine, the only one I’ve got, really does make a difference in how I feel, the energy I have and the way I get through my day. I’ve felt it, noticing when I don’t eat healthy foods and had to force myself through the side effects of poor eating; the sluggishness, the lack of energy, the belly aches or heartburn. I’m not harming myself by consuming a grilled piece of chicken, or some perfectly cooked shrimp. And I’ve found that by really paying attention to making 90% of the foods I eat be healthy, plant based foods, it really has made a huge difference in how I feel. Should I go to 100%? Should I give up the oils, the salt? Should I? For me, this alternative plan makes sense. I like the results, the way it makes me feel and the relative ease on my pocketbook. And if in just two weeks it’s got me thinking of even more ways to have healthier options in our meals then I feel it’s achieved something great.

Like I said about this dish, it fit what I really wanted to be eating, when the hunger became so great from all the activity that I’d done I found myself with shaky hands and that trembly feeling of a deeply low blood sugar. I needed about 20 minutes to gently cook the kale until it was silky soft and lush, and only a few minutes to cook the fresh dried fettuccine I had on hand. A toss together in the deep skillet with a few dashes of lemon juice and some rosemary Manchego cheese I had on hand (totally not E2 friendly, but ah well…..) and I sat down with a deep bowl, a thick heavy fork and a content sigh. It had been a long day, but a full one, one with accomplishments and a lot of good spring sunshine. Eating a terrific and healthy meal was like placing a fancy top hat on the end of this day, and swinging off with a jaunty step.

 

Braised Kale with Spaghetti

1 pound lacinato kale (about 2 bunches), large center ribs and stems removed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 pound spaghetti
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Finely grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse kale. Drain; transfer to bowl with some water still clinging.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add sliced garlic and sprinkle with salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add kale and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding water by teaspoonfuls if dry, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in medium pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Add cooked spaghetti to kale mixture in pot. Add lemon juice and 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry. Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Original recipe from Orangette.

KATE’S NOTES: I made this with regular curly leaf kale, and used a 16-oz bag of gourmet basil fettuccine in place of the spaghetti. I did not use onion, and only used 3 cloves of garlic; it was plenty!  Do make sure you give the kale a nice slow simmer. The result is so tender and delicious that it’s positively addicting, and well it should be. This recipe is what turned Molly’s mind away from hating kale and I’m pretty sure if you let it, it will do the same for you.

pushing through

April 25th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

Last Spring at this time, our perennial garden was full of glorious color. The tulips were opened….

The Creeping Phlox was a lovely carpet of purple…….

 

There were Johnny Jump Ups leaping up all around the garden beds.

And I had managed to keep the Prairie Smoke from being devoured by hungry critters.

Which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do this year. Somebunny devoured all the pink buds and leafy greens on these native plants. Ah well…..

We’re a lot further behind this year on the revival of the earth, it’s flowers and new grass. It’s almost May and the Star Magnolia bush, my harbinger of Spring, has yet to open even one of it’s gorgeous and fragrant flowers, although with current warm temps and sun, it’s reaching it’s fat buds to the sky and starting to come alive. This is possibly the latest in the year that it’s started it’s bloom, according to the garden journal I’ve kept since 2006. I love recording the rhythm of the seasons, the sightings of birds in the yard, when the migrations start and the seasonal visitors like Hummingbirds and Orioles return, the first (and last) snowfall, the last ice-out on the area lakes, the foxes, possums and creatures that roam the night time. It’s a wonderful way to keep track of the ebb and flow of the life outside our windows.

And everyone is impatient for Spring, for warm weather, for shedding the pants, shoes and sleeves to bare their skin to the sun. For me, more this year than any I’ve been really, really eager to see the bounty of the season begin. I’m craving all forms of green; vegetables, tender baby lettuces, spring spinach, asparagus….. you name it. It’s like I can hear my body complaining loudly about the lack of chlorophyll. Even my Teen said that he was craving a salad. So when Mike pulled some items together for dinner recently, he brought home a large amount of lettuces from the store. Since Farmers Market time is still a few weeks away, these greens will have to do. We washed them, and consumed large bowls of salad with our burgers and roasted potatoes. It was the first real meal I’d eaten all week due to my sickness. And it tasted glorious.

Just prior to getting ill, I came across kale at the grocers for $.99 a bunch. I haven’t been that adventurous with kale much, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I bought a large, deeply green bunch and it promptly languished in my crisper drawer due to the toxic onslaught I endured. A small handful went into a smoothie I tried to drink, the rest just sat. And kale doesn’t mind sitting too much, as it’s quite hearty. When I finally pulled it out, it looked no worse for the week it spent in my fridge, and it happily blended with scrambled eggs to make an awesome breakfast sandwich, then later, with quinoa and toasted pecans for this nutritiously rich and flavorful salad.

With finally climbing out of the ick and funk that settled on me last week, I really was feeling the need for some healthy options to start restoring my immune system and begin cleansing my body of the after-affects of a sinus/respiratory infection, especially the medications I took. What a perfect recipe for that, and so simple too. Cook quinoa, saute your kale with shallot and garlic, and toss it all together with a little salt and pepper. Add in toasted pecans, or pine nuts or almonds and get out your fork. There just doesn’t need to be anything more complicated than that.

 

Add in the weathered redwood stairs to our patio, and a cat languishing on the sunlit bricks, it made the small bowl I consumed taste a little bit like Spring. It was just what I was craving, for both body and mind.

 

Quinoa with Kale and Toasted Pecans

1 c. quinoa, rinsed and shaken well
4 c. loosely packed kale, chopped
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. pecans, or nut of choice, lightly toasted

Start by cooking your quinoa. It can sit in the pan for quite some time after it’s done. Heat 1-3/4 c. water or broth of choice on the stove. Add half a teaspoon of sea salt and a thin drizzle of olive oil. When the water boils rapidly, add the rinsed quinoa, stir quickly and reduce the heat, allowing the quinoa to simmer gently. Cover the pan and let cook for 15 minutes, or until the water is mostly absorbed. Keep covered and remove from heat. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes.

In a large deep skillet (with a cover), saute the shallot and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add in the kale and toss to coat. Stir and toss the kale until it’s a deep emerald green and starting to look a bit shiny. Add a half cup water to the pan, cover it and reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Steam the kale, stirring occasionally, until it’s slightly wilted but still has some toothy bite, maybe 10 minutes or so.

Add the quinoa to the skillet with the kale and toss until uniform. Taste and season with more sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Add in the toasted nuts and combine. Can be eaten warm, room temperature or chilled. Reheat gently in the microwave.