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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.


radishes! radishes! radishes!

July 16th, 2011 | 7 Comments »

People, I’ve madly fallen in love with radishes.

(photo courtesy of Really Natural)  
 

I do remember not particularly liking them as a kid. But then again, I didn’t care for much then anyway, being raised on a typically 1970′s diet, I was your typically picky little thing. Fresh foods weren’t that present in our home so my exposure was lacking and my palate not particularly advanced; it’s no shock I wasn’t at all enamored with the radish’s peppery bite, a sting to the tongue that I found unpleasant. My sister Karen loved them, dragging them through a plate of table salt before popping them in her mouth. Even that typical dressing did nothing to take the edge off the flavor. So for the most part, I’d ignored them.

Then something happened a few years back. On a trip to the Farmers Market, I spied a large bunch of red, white and pink radishes- it was an enormous amount- and was only a dollar. I picked them up, passed a buck to the farmer and placed them in my bag. Once home, I stared at them and thought ‘Great. Now what?’ I ate one, and it was divine. Fresh, snappy, crisp and tart, but not harsh and sour like I recalled. Still, I didn’t leap headfirst into devouring them. I remained rather skeptical. And they languished in my fridge until I was forced to do something, anything, with them.

So I pickled them. On a whim. And went tuckus over teakettle for the crisp little discs, eating them on sandwiches, with my fingers and finally with a fork to grab the last little slices from the dredges of their vinegary brine. And it was soon after that when I first dragged a cold fresh radish through a slab of creamy butter to discover one of the best, and most surprising treats I’ve ever tasted. My eyes were now opened to the radish. Once again. Adulthood is a wonder around every corner, especially when discovering the foods from your childhood that once caused you to turn up your nose are now part of your regular gustatory delight.

So they’ve happily made a comeback; the inexpensive little things can be had sometimes on a 2-fer deal with any farmer willing to move their bounty. I scrub them down and place them in a baggie where they happily keep for days on end, willing that they last that long in my fridge. I eat them for breakfast a lot, sliced thick on good toasted bread with slices of butter, or most recently, this delicious sandwich creation that I’m thoroughly ga-ga over.

A cooked egg, nice and firm is placed a top a bed of greens on nicely toasted bread, and covered with several shredded radishes. The key is to shred the radish directly over the egg. Something about the fresh spray of liquid released makes for a much better flavor. I like spinach with this, but I’ve used spring greens, garden lettuce and romaine as well. This is a summery breakfast, if I’ve ever dreamed of one.

I took my radish love one step further too, recently, when I roasted an entire batch of them.

Roasting radishes takes the sharp flavor away, and replaces it with a mellow soft rendition that is palatable to anyone, even the most avowed radish hater. One would hope, anyway. I could have eaten these like candy, but instead, I caramelized a big pan of vidalia onions and made the two of them into a delicious tart atop a flaky puff pastry crust.

This was a sweet, tender and amazing hand held meal, soft like summer nights, fresh as the season and when topped with just a little Gouda cheese, a bit of savory tang that balanced the vegetables perfectly. Eating a slice of it, on my patio, with a lovely glass of Rosé wine and a perfect summer night surrounding me, I felt a million miles away from my life, but in the simplest way possible. I love how a good meal, with gentle ease can transform an ordinary day into something surreal and dreamy. That’s the magic in a plate of really, really good food.

So…. do you like radishes? What do you like to do with them?

Roasted Radish & Caramelize Onion Tart

Scrub one bunch of radishes well, removing tops and roots. Cut into halves or quarters and toss with a bit of seasoned oil of choice. Roast at 400° until tender. It won’t take too long, maybe 10 minutes.

Slice two Vidalia onions and place in a hot skillet. Cook onions over medium heat, turning frequently, until browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add a few tablespoons of brown sugar (or a drizzle of good honey) a tablespoon of kosher salt and a dash or two of balsamic vinegar. This is my favorite way to caramelize onions, but you may have your own method. Continue cooking the onions for about 20-30 more minutes, or until they are very soft and richly browned. Stir them on occasion, and be careful not to let them burn.

Thaw one sheet of puff pastry. Roll out sheet to desired thickness on parchment paper, then transfer to baking sheet. Poke holes in pastry with a fork and place in 400° oven, baking until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, spread caramelized onion over the crust then top with roasted radish and a small amount of a good sharp aged cheese of your choice. I used Gouda because I had a some on hand. Fontina and Gruyere would be good options too. Place back in oven and bake for about 15 more minutes, until edges of pastry are crisp and brown and toppings are hot. Allow to cool slightly, then serve. Can also be served at room temperature.

 
 

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.

spicy tuna wraps

April 4th, 2011 | 10 Comments »

I recently started working again. Just part-time, but for good pay and doing something I love, and really, that’s all anyone needs, isn’t it?

And I get to think about lunch too, bringing something with me when I work to help spur me through the day, give me a good dose of energy, keep me full but not stuffed with a strong healthy edge to it. Enter the Spicy Tuna Wrap.

I love lunch time. I’m not sure where this enamored state over the noon meal ever came from, but as long as I can remember, lunch has been my favorite meal. Maybe it’s the lunchtimes of grade school, where we clustered together, unwrapping our peanut butter sandwiches from brown paper bags, eagerly scanning the contents of our friends lunch sacks to see what treats they got each day. Maybe it was the excited chatter, the rustle of wax paper, the moment the last bites disappeared when we could all run outside for recess, for jump rope, Foursquare, tag and the incessant chatter that we’d bottled up inside us all morning long.

Lunch at home these past few months was a way to utilize anything from the refrigerator, crafting something unusual from the norm, making up a series of small plates to satisfy my hunger, re-purposing an original into a one-of-a-kind. It didn’t always matter if I made my lunch last through the afternoon, keeping hunger at bay until dinnertime, but now that I’m working and not always able to stop for a snack to re-energize, my lunches need to satisfy, and keep me full until I get home.

This Spicy Tuna Wrap sure does the trick. Based on the premise of a sushi roll, canned tuna is spiced with your favorite hot sauce and chopped green onion, then spread in a whole-grain wrap with brown rice, avocado, carrot matchsticks and shredded greens. The combination is full of flavor, and more importantly, crammed with nutrients to keep you going. It’s easy to have the ingredients on hand, and takes only a few minutes to put together in the morning.

It tastes like a heartier version of one of my favorite sushi rolls. And it’s endlessly versatile, from the greens you add to the seasonings you mix with either the tuna or the rice. Switch out the tuna for salmon, or finely chopped chicken. Use arugula to add some bite, or watercress. Add thin strips of cucumbers or radish. And be sure to have a little soy sauce, mixed with some wasabi if it’s your preference. These wraps are made for dipping.

Spicy Tuna Wrap

2 5- to 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained
1/3 c. low-fat mayonnaise
1 T hot sauce, such as Sriracha
1 scallion, chopped
2 c. cooked brown rice, cooled
2 T rice vinegar
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. soy sauce
4 10-inch whole-grain wraps
Shredded greens of choice
1 ripe avocado, cut into 16 slices
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks

Combine tuna with hot sauce, mayo and scallion and mix to combine. To brown rice, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce, stir well.

On each wrap, layer tuna, rice, avocado, carrot and shredded greens. Roll up tightly and slice, or eat whole.

From Eating Well magazine, March/April 2011, with adaptations.

 

KATE’S NOTES:
I used a canned tuna in oil, leaving most of it with the tuna and then less mayo than the recipe needed. My hot sauce was Matouk’s Flambé Salsa. I added the soy sauce and sesame oil to the rice, but you can leave it out if you wish. I love the flavor it adds. Thin slices of cucumber in this wrap would be excellent. I used spinach for my greens, and Flat Out Whole Grain wraps, which made it a perfect size.

 

 

 

roasted vegetable pasta

November 18th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

There’s a lot of cowboy in me. Not the horse-ridin’ spur-wearin’ giddy-up-ing cowboy, but the kind that understands ‘Cowboy Cooking’ as a necessary culinary term.

Most people these days better understand the term ‘Iron Chef’ though, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of the Food Network. Cowboy cooking, or Iron Chef-ing is where you take a whole bunch of ingredients and come up with a dish that is nothing short of fantastic. It’s a skill that has served me well in my kitchen.

This roasted vegetable pasta dish was a stellar example of that. It’s from last winter and was a repeated entree in our kitchen for the remainder of the season.  All you do is roast up a pan of your favorite vegetables until they are fragrant and soft, then process them in a food processor to a chunky sauce. Mix them with a hefty pasta shape, add some grated parmesan and grab your fork. It works equally well to just toss them with pasta as is after roasting.

The sauce is versatile enough to also be used as an appetizer, topping crostini or another sturdy base.

And uh yeah….. ew; this photo is NOT my favorite, yet it’s what I get trying to photograph food in Minnesota during the month of February. Ugh. Sorry.

It really tastes FAR better than this looks. I promise! Yee haw!! Let’s get cookin’!

Roasted Vegetable Pasta

1 medium eggplant, cubed
1 medium yellow onion, cut into eighths
1 red pepper, seeded cored and cut into large chunks
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
4-6 cloves garlic, rough chopped into large pieces
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 # rigatoni
Fresh parmesan cheese
Chopped kalamata olives

Place vegetables into a large bowl. Pour about 1/8 c. of olive oil over them, salt and pepper and maybe some dried seasoning of your choice. Toss to coat. Place on cookie sheets and roast in a 400-degree oven for 25-35 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and fragrant. Gently stir once during the cooking.

Cook pasta to al dente. Drain, reserving about 2 cups of pasta water and keep pasta warm. Place roasted vegetables in food processor and add a cup of reserved pasta water and 1/8 c. olive oil. Process until mixture is chunky, scrape down sides and process to desired consistency. If mix is too thick, add some more pasta water. You want it to be spreadable but not drippy, thick but not gloppy.

Toss vegetable mix with warm pasta. You may not need it all so scoop accordingly. Toss to coat pasta, add in kalamata olives (if desired) and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

And remember when I recently talked about that yummy Panko Crumb topping? Hello, and giddyup …..it works perfect here.

kitchen insight, and 3-Bean Chili

November 9th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

Here’s the thing about the works going on in my kitchen; they aren’t perfect or always balanced although I do strive for the most nutritional value I can find. We don’t dine exquisitely, sampling wonderful fare every night. I don’t pore through cookbook after cookbook stuffing pages with notes, markings, tabs and ratings. Sometimes I don’t cook at all. Sometimes we graze. Sometimes I just look at my husband and ask him to go get us a pizza. Sometimes he does.

This is a Calzone stuffed with veggies and cheese and made with scratch dough. Mike did not bring this home.

I make burgers from scratch, and lots of soup. We do make our own pizza including dough for the crust, so those pizza seeking forays I send Mike on are fairly uncommon. We eat a lot of chicken, and we eat fish and pork. Beef is rare in our house but on occasion I will splurge on a good steak dinner for The Carnivore and I. I stock a good pantry with lots of canned goods like beans, tomatoes, tuna, salmon, rice and grains and other items that can help me to put a good meal together if I get stuck. I get stuck a lot. My husband loves vegetables and doesn’t care for much meat. My Teen loves meat. Every day. He eats vegetables but only grudgingly. Making these two happy isn’t always the easiest feat. But I do the majority of the cooking so I make what I want. If they don’t want to eat it, it’s not my problem. I’m no one’s short order cook. It works for us. I understand that it doesn’t work that way for everyone. But please don’t ask me what to do about your picky eater because I probably will tell you and you probably won’t like it.

That’s a Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad. It was stellar.

Keeping a well-stocked kitchen, including pantry and freezer is vital to making dinnertime less of a hassle. Outside of a good stocked pantry, I keep my chest freezer full. I buy frozen vegetables like peas, green beans and corn (the only ones I think taste good from their frozen state). I keep lots of bread in the freezer, and hamburger buns, always stocking up when it’s on sale. I keep packages of frozen tilapia on hand. The brand I buy has individually wrapped filets in it that thaw quickly, making it a good option for last minute ideas. Like yesterday. At 4:00pm I had no clue what I was making for dinner. But by 5:30, we were eating Fish Tacos with rice and a Chipotle Corn Relish. And it all came out of the pantry or the freezer. On the plus side, I used up a few leftover items in the refrigerator from previous meals so there was utilization there as well. I’m not the type of cook that makes up two meals and freezes the second one, although sometimes I have. It’s nice when I do. I wish I was prone to do more of that.

This is version 1.0 of the Fish Taco. This is not last night’s Fish Taco,

I don’t write menu plans each week, opting instead to make a large list of foods that I wish to cook. These are ideas that are not regular occurrences in our kitchen, options that may require some ingredient to be on hand in order to make the dish. Like our favorite Healthy Sloppy Joes. Or Thai Thighs. Or Griffin’s favorite Indian Chicken, or the Jambalaya he loves. This list is where I try out new recipes and ideas. Some of them work. Some do not. If they’re wonderful and I think others would enjoy them too, then I will blog about them. I don’t blog about everything we eat or cook because that would be ridiculous. We have lots of repeats in our meals, and there are always food items on hand to make these repeats. The list is a guideline, and I shop from this list so I know what I can make based on what’s available.

That’s Roasted Rutabaga topped with Poached Eggs. Simple. Divine. Perfect.

And grocery shopping; we have a budget that we try to stick with. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. We don’t eat out much due to financial constraints. When we do eat out, I like it to be at places that make food I can’t make at home so often our choices for dining out run to ethnic restaurants. We don’t do fast food although Griffin will eat it. When I grocery shop I use a list 90% of the time and I stick to it, avoiding any aisles that I don’t need to wander down. I rarely buy on impulse although I will purchase items on sale if I find them and then I try to utilize them if they aren’t on my meal list. I look at grocery ads but I don’t use coupons because I rarely find any that are for foods we eat. If I see a good sale at the grocer, I will stock up. I will make a special trip for it too if it’s worth it. Boneless chicken breasts on sale 2-for-1 is worth a trip. Kleenex on sale is not.


Nutella Pound Cake anyone?

I bake too, although not as much as I wish because I think my thighs are already a bit too chunky. But I make muffins, scones, quick breads, cakes, cookies and all other manner of yummy sweet treats. Many of these are for special occasions, like the cakes. My favorite items to bake are the muffins and quick breads. Griffin is good at making cookies and enjoys it a lot.

And speaking of that boy, he’s really stepped up his game in the kitchen and lately has made us some incredible meals. His confidence is much, much better and his skill is increasing exponentially. I love it when he cooks. Love. It.

I have a cupboard of cookbooks and I love them all but I don’t utilize them as much as I should. I have some go-to books for everything and my most favorite one is the Cooks Illustrated Best New Recipe. It’s a freaking monster of a book but it’s loaded with CI’s anal and detail oriented works and I know that the recipes are fool-proof and perfect. I have books I use for adding healthier recipes to our diet; I have ones that steer me towards comfort foods that I crave on occasion and cookbooks that I turn to for fancier inspiration. I have a few reference books to help me with questions, like the Food Lovers Companion. I have a few books that help me figure out substitutions if I somehow run out of an ingredient. I have some ethnic cookbooks that make me sigh with delight. A great deal of the inspiration I find for our meals comes from my food magazines – I get Eating Well, Bon Appetit and Saveur – and of course, the amazing and varied talent of my fellow food blogging friends.

Like these ladies. Just a handful of the local crew- fom left to right: Kelli, Amanda, Shaina, Stephanie, me and Crystal.

The wealth of information about food and cooking is staggering out there, and there’s something for everyone. It’s both overwhelming, frustrating (because there is a lot of BAD stuff out there too, and plenty of misinformation) and yet it’s also wonderful, varied, engaging and encouraging. This post is just about what I do, and as I said, it doesn’t work for everyone but this is what works for us. Our kitchen is truly the hum that resonates throughout our entire home, and also out into the world via this blog.

And just for kicks, I’m passing along one of my favorite and quick pantry recipes for 3-Bean Chili.

I love this steaming and soothing pot of chili and it comes together so fast (well, if you have the items on hand) and yet it tastes like it simmered all day. Full of fresh peppers, along with three kinds of canned beans and a big can of tomatoes, it’s so satisfying and good for you. Skip the bacon if it isn’t your thing. We never use it in this recipe but I imagine it adds amazing flavor.

Quick Three Bean Chili

From Food and Wine magazine, April 2008

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 jalapeños, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chili powder
One 15-ounce can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped cilantro and sour cream, for serving

In a medium soup pot, heat the oil until hot. Add the bacon, onion, jalapeños and garlic and cook over moderately high heat until the onion is softened and the bacon fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the chili powder and cook over moderate heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the beans, tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer the chili over moderately low heat until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with cilantro and sour cream.Kate’s Notes: I used a can of chili beans- pinto beans in chili spices, unrinsed! – in place of regular pinto beans; I had it on hand and it worked beautifully. I also reduced the chili powder to 2 tablespoons due to the presence of the chili spices in the beans.

C is for Corn

September 11th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

For anyone holding the September issue of Gourmet magazine, you’ve no doubt been taken in by the Vegetables A to Z index, and maybe like me you’ve been drooling over the rich bounty of recipes to help you with the expected garden delights that you’ll have at your disposal in the weeks ahead. I love the idea of sweeping through the end of the gardening season in grand fashion, drawing the curtains on Summer and ushering in the glory of Fall, cool weather cooking and warm hearty dishes. Our summer hasn’t been all that hot, really, and I’ve toyed with the desire to make a steaming pot of soup last month to ward off some cool evenings. Now September has come, and it won’t feel so odd to consider soups, a good stew or an afternoon of baking. It’s a September sort of thing.

And along with the alphabet offerings in the magazine are menu options composed entirely of one letter. Being somewhat of the orderly sort, I first drooled over the ‘C’ menu with it’s Cold Cucumber and Cubanelle Soup with Cashews and Chives, the Caramelized Chipotle Chicken, and this delight, Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro.

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Corn season has begun in earnest here in Minnesota, and trucks at the markets are overloaded with cobs. It’s not at all unlikely that when I hand my bag to the kindly people behind the tables that they dole out an extra ear here and there just to whittle down the mass behind them. I’m happy to relieve them of their bounty as sweet corn is a fleeting season, and an even more fleeting taste. It’s best still rich and moist with the morning dew, it’s silk wet and sticky and the shucks thick and damp. Peel it down, cook it any way you wish, but for me, an ear slathered with real butter and sprinkled liberally with salt is the finest means to chomp through my haul. However, this recipe is really delightful as well.

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The corn is stripped from the cobs prior to cooking, then sauteed in a skillet with green onion and garlic, mixed with a little milk and cornstarch and topped with cilantro and a crumbling of queso fresco cheese. It’s pretty simple, and a cinch to pull together. The corn taste is out of this world delicious, a tiny hint of of onion kissing every bite and the rich creaminess beats anything that could come out of a can. I served it with my favorite Parmesan Grilled Zucchini and a fresh garden tomato for a light, simple and quintessential summer dinner.

Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro
from Gourmet magazine, September 2009

3 T. unsalted butter
6 scallions, minced
6 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (before cooking)
2/3 c. cream or milk (I used plain soy milk)
2 t. cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
2 oz queso fresco, crumbled
1/2 c. cilantro leaves

Heat butter in a wide and deep skillet and add corn. Stir to coat and cook, stirring occasionally until it’s bright yellow, about 5 minutes. Add in onions and garlic, stir well and cook for about 3-5 minutes more. Whisk milk and cornstarch together and pour into pan, stirring to combine well. Allow to simmer for about 2-3 minutes, then serve corn topped with cheese and cilantro.

Wordless Wednesday

September 9th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

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Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad

From Eating Well magazine…..

Good quality tuna in olive oil
Fresh romaine leaves
Red pepper strips
Garbanzo beans
Kalamata olives
Cucumber slices
Tomato wedges (or cherry tomato halves)
Avocado slices

Wash and dry romaine leaves and tear into bite sized pieces. Dress with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Arrange on plate. Top with remaining ingredients and another drizzle of oil.

Variation: The tuna can be mixed with the ingredients (diced to bite size pieces), and a dressing of choice and served in tomato cups, on a bed of greens, on crostini or with crackers.

This girl is a happy chef

July 10th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Anyone remember this?

happychef

Ok, so I’m not trying to compare myself with some crazy looking statue….one that’s squatting, for goodness sakes, but yesterday was a day to make me one utterly happy and excited home chef.

I got a brand new grill!

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Our old grill hung around for nearly seven years, but should have been replaced at least two years ago. The shield over the burners was corroded and crumbling, it didn’t heat or cook evenly and the ignition was busted, requiring a torchiere to light it every time. The burners were not very well protected, and a strong wind would blow out the flames if you weren’t paying attention. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous a running propane tank can be now, do I?

This grill is the same that resides at our lake home. We loved it so much that as soon as we spotted it on sale this year we snatched one for home. It has a huge cooking area.
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The four burners are highly conductive, providing even heat all around. The grates are super sturdy cast iron, and it provides terrific conditions for indirect cooking or smoking methods. It’s also fully protected, and despite strong breezes off the lake it has never been snuffed out by the wind.

There’s also a lip at the edge of the grates so that nothing can roll or slip off.
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This is perfect if you, like we do, regularly grill hot dogs or bratwurst. Nothing like a little crunchy grit on the ol’ dogs, huh?

So, with a bounty of produce from the Farmer’s Market and a kid-free evening, I made this amazing Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad for Mike and I. The summer night wasn’t all that warm, but the salad was perfect; light, flavorful and simple, not to mention just chock full of nutrition. Our tummies were so very happy!

It started with some perfectly roasted gold beets.
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Some delightful grilled zucchini…

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I added in roasted red pepper, cubed fresh mozzarella and half of an avocado.

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Drizzled it with lemon juice and some good olive oil, seasoning with fresh ground pepper and a bit of Penzeys Shallot salt.

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And served it with quinoa, topped with unsalted roasted almonds.

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Variations are endless with this fresh and wonderful salad. I thought some chickpeas might make a nice touch. You could try a more southwestern touch with the seasonings, like cumin, chili powder or chipotle powder, use roasted poblanos or jalapenos,  stir in some black beans and use lime juice instead of lemon. Eggplant would be a nice addition too, as it grills up some beautifully. If you like raw onion, use some minced red. Add some goat cheese or feta instead of the fresh mozzarella. Grilled tomato or sweet onions would also be delightful. Millet, wheatberries or possibly even barley would make a good substitute for the quinoa.

Regardless, it’s a terrific, light and easy summer option for the abundance of summer produce, and those warm and muggy nights.

Wingin' it on Roasted Vegetable Pasta

February 11th, 2009 | 5 Comments »

Admittedly, I like to break convention. I’m not one to conform to stereo-typing, I don’t mold myself to any expectation and I refuse to adhere myself to a certain role. At home, I’m just as easily found outside shoveling, chopping ice on our north-facing driveway, spreading mulch or digging a hole for a new garden plant as I am in the kitchen whipping up something delicious. I don’t think in terms of ‘mans work’ or ‘womens work’, and while we do have some things in our house that may fall into those categories, I don’t think that any job should be defined by your gender. I would have never succeeded as a single parent for 7 years with that belief.

In my life too, I’m the one who would most likely encourage you to step outside the box. Years ago, in an outing with women I was working with, we spied a parking spot outside our destination on the opposite side of the street from where we were. Here’s me in the backseat telling the driver to make a U-turn, while the other women in the car want to play it safe and go around the block. When I’m in the minority, I tend to be slightly insistent about what I feel, and apparently I was loud enough that the driver whipped around the steering wheel in a speedy U-turn and scored the parking spot. Later she confessed that she’d never done anything like that. I asked her if she liked it, and after a moment’s repose, she replied with a grin “I think I did!” Stepping outside a comfort zone, or taking one of life’s U-turns is hard for some people. I’m generally not one of them.

This trait, good or bad as it can be, is part of me in the kitchen as well, and here it really tends to take off soaring because I’m the majority cook in the family and no one is standing about trying to tell me what to do with a recipe or certain dish. I rarely follow a written recipe, and when I do I’m most always disappointed. I know what I like, and after a lifetime of cooking, making mistakes and blending every ingredient under the sun, I have a storehouse of knowledge in my brain as to what works and what might not. My brain can see how any recipe from any source can become something else altogether, and knows just how to make it delicious.

Take this roasted vegetable pasta dish; I don’t recall the origin of the dish as the only note I have on it says  “eggplant, tomato and pasta” – yeah, that’s concise- but I recalled enough to know that you roasted the veggies, pureed them with pasta water and some olive oil and mixed it with cooked rigatoni. I also recalled that the finished dish, while not a beauty queen, was delicious. Sometimes, ‘delicious’ is all I can remember, and really, do you need to know anything else? Well, a method might help.

For my roasted veggies, I used an eggplant and a pint of grape tomatoes, halved. I also cut an onion into eighths, large diced a red pepper and rough chopped six cloves of garlic as additions. Mix it all up in a bowl with a few good glugs of olive oil, some seasoning of choice, and toss.

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Don’t give in and add more oil; the notoriously thirsty eggplant will drink up some of it and the rest of the vegetables will get their fair share. Too much oil on eggplant in the oven and it just becomes soggy. Spread the veggies out on cookie sheets, with plenty of room, and roast at 400 until the tomatoes are nice and wrinkly, the eggplant is browned and everything smells amazing. This took me about 25-35 minutes.

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Cook the pasta while the veggies roast. You want the pasta water for the puree; I always place a pyrex measuring cup in the colander to help remind me to catch that good starch. Drain the pasta, reserving up to two cups of the water. Keep the pasta warm.

Place the veggies in the food processor with some salt and pepper. You can save some of the roasted pieces to top the pasta, if you wish.

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Add in about a cup of the pasta water and another healthy glug of olive oil. Whir the veggies to a consistency of choice- I like it a bit chunky- and scrape down the sides. Now take a look at the mix- it should be fairly thick. Add in a little more pasta water to make it to a spreading consistency. If it’s too thick, it won’t coat the pasta well enough.

You can also add in some kalamata olives, and be sure to have some fresh grated parmesan ready.

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And if you’re like me and enjoy something crunchy, toasted and seasoned on top of your pasta, make some bread crumbs. I took a shortcut this time and put the remains of these bagel chips through the food processor.

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Oh my, this was a really good addition!

Once the veggies are processed, scoop some of the puree onto your rigatoni or other large shape of pasta. This is such a hearty dish that a tiny shape would get lost in amongst the lovely vegetable mix. You may not need all the puree so add as you go to make it the consistency you like. Stir, taste, season with salt and pepper and taste some more.

Then, take your serving, add in the parmesan and crumbs and pick up a fork.

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Mmmmm….. who needs convention anyway??

The puree was really thick and delicious- not so visible in these photos but trust me…each bite was a huge flavor burst in the mouth. There was plenty left over even after I coated the pasta with quite a bit. The next day I could hardly wait to take the remains of the vegetable mixture, spread it on toasted peasant bread and top it with fresh mozzarella. This made for a quick and delicious light lunch. I also think it would make a wonderful appetizer for a party.

Ok, if you need a set of instructions, follow the jump…..

Come in to my kitchen…