Monday, December 17, 2012

In which Kate finally gives in to to the kale conspiracy

If you read any articles or blogs or medical sites about dieting in the last year or so, you've been hearing about the wonders of kale. No longer a frilly garnish to take valuable plate real estate, but this is a vegetable that should be cherished, worshipped, steamed, baked into chips and of course, juiced.

About five years ago, my sweetie lived in Chicago. When it was too cold to walk to someplace to eat (groceries were not convenient and he didn't have a car for much of that year), we would get delivery. I cannot remember the name of the place, but I did remember a dish they called "peasant pasta" that I thought I might be able to recreate.

I started with a large skillet and about .75 lb. of hot Italian sausage. I like the sweet kind as well, but this is to your taste. I cut the sausage into small chunks--about the size of your average chocolate from a box--and browned it, stirring often.

Once it was browned, I removed it with a slotted spoon and added 1 T of olive oil to the pan. Then I added the better part of a bunch of kale torn into approximately 2" pieces, and five cloves of chopped garlic. Figure 2-3 cups of loosely packed. 

When the kale was wilted and bright green, I added .75 lb of chicken breast, which I had cut into bite-sized pieces. 

Once the chicken was opaque, I added 2 cans cannelini beans (drained and rinsed), 1.5 cups of low-sodium chicken broth, one can of tomato paste. For spices I added a teaspoon of oregano and a few shakes of red pepper

I simmered this combination for about an hour until the broth was mostly cooked down. Then I threw a pound of gemelli in boiling water. While the pasta was cooking, I added half a cup of heavy cream to the skillet and slowly stirred in a half cup of shredded grana padano (It was cheaper than the good parmesan this week).

Next up, I drained the pasta. I used gemelli for this because my goal was for a hearty meal, and I wanted a pasta that wasn't going to get lost in all the other flavors. The pasta went back in the pot, as did the contents of the skillet. Several stirs to mix well later and  I had a very tasty meal. Well, I had a meal and a half. Nexx had at least two.

Now, I do have some plans for improving this. More kale, for one thing, possibly onions, though I'm not completely sure about those. Pancetta. Mushrooms. I figure on making this again after the first of the year when the January cold really starts setting into New England

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Homemade bread for the post-surgical patient.

There's a whole lot on the Internet about wheat these days. Must eat whole grains. No, wheat is evil. Wheat is responsible for the obesity epidemic.  Humans haven't really evolved sufficiently to eat grain.

I need to eat more produce, I know this. I also know that I've eaten wheat in various forms all my life and it hasn't killed me yet. I don't have celiac disease. So I am going to eat the stuff here and there. 

I went looking for "easy bread recipes" before I had my surgery and bookmarked this recipe from PBS . I came back to it last weekend when I thought I could stand to do a little cooking, but kneading was not going to be a good idea.

Very simple ingredients:
  1. 500 grams all-purpose or bread flour (17.5 ounces)
  2. 1 teaspoon salt
  3. 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  4. 1 1/3 cups warm water
  5. 1/4 cup olive oil
  6. 2 tablespoons olive oil, in a small bowl

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Add the water and 1/4 cup olive oil, and then mix everything together until you have a uniform dough. You can use your hands, but you'll lose a bunch of dough because it will stick to your fingers. (I love instructions like this. I used a wooden spoon) Using something narrow and sturdy like metal chopsticks or the handle of a wooden paddle works great because they have very little surface area for the dough to stick to.
  2. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place for 18-24 hours to rise. (for this I have found I have to turn the oven on and leave the dough on the counter.)
  3. Once the dough has risen, you can either make one giant focaccia with all the dough, or split it up and bake smaller loaves. I use a pan that’s 7.5" x 9.25", and it's perfect for half the dough. If you end up keeping some of the dough for later, just cover it back up and put it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
  4. Put the olive oil in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to brush the bottom and sides of the pan with a generous coating of oil. Drop half the dough into the pan, and turn it over a few times to coat it with oil so it doesn't stick to your fingers. Press the dough towards the edges of the pan in an even layer with your fingertips. This is how the focaccia gets its dimpling, so while you want the dough to be roughly the same thickness, the little divots your fingers leave are a good thing.
  5. Use the pastry brush to spread a layer of olive oil onto the top of the dough. Cover and let it sit in a warm place until it doubles in height.
  6. When your dough is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (205 C). 
  7. When the dough is finished rising, sprinkle the toppings onto the top of the bread. I used kalamata olives (rinsed and chopped) and fresh rosemary. Put the pan in the oven and let it bake until the top is golden brown (about 20-30 minutes).
  8. Remove the pan from the oven, and then carefully transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. The focaccia is best eaten the same day, but you can put it in a sealed container once it’s cooled all the way if you want to keep it for longer.
 My dough came out a little sticky, so I added a few more ounces of flour. This is also where I discovered I need to generate sufficient heat in the kitchen in order to get my dough to rise.

We ate the bread with some piave vecchio cheese. It didn't look very pretty, but it was delicious. We only left it to cool enough so we could pick it up and eat it. I did one on Sunday with half the dough and another the following day. This will be done again.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I love pancakes. If you find yourself in Connecticut, I will take you to Chip's Family Restaurant, which has the best pancakes I've ever had. Light, fluffy and if you like, in a metric ton of different flavors. And yes, Nashvillians, they're loads better than Pancake Pantry.

I've never actually made pancakes from scratch. I grew up on Bisquick, which always tasted just fine to me, until I went to Chip's.

And since I'm taking it easy, I'm using a pre-made mix. Specifically Arrowhead Mills buckwheat pancake mix. I first came across buckwheat in crepes around 1992. I spent much of my spare time at the theatre in Park City, Utah (there were some fabulous people in that organization, but we've since fell out of touch). Up the street was the Cafe des Artistes, which did savory buckwheat crepes. Yum. Nice depth of flavor and a nuttiness that I really enjoy. The cafe closed down before I left, sad to say, but it was a fun place and I think fondly of Val, who used to regularly wear a shirt that said, "Bite me."

Basically, for today's brunch (for two), I added 8 ounces of apple pie filling to my pancake mix and whisked it in just enough to make sure everything was well-blended. If you mix it too much, you get chewy pancakes due to an increase in gluten.

I figure you can probably use applesauce, which will give you a more even flavor and texture, but I think the pie filling added some nice texture to it. I enjoyed with a bit of butter. I have had apple pancakes with sour cream, but that never quite worked for me. 

There are two very good reasons why I don't have pictures today. One is, we ate the pancakes too quickly. The other is, well, I kind of suck at making pancakes. I can't seem to keep the pan at an even temperature, whether I let it cool or turn the heat down. Add to it that my stove is at a bit of an angle and well . . .they were tasty, but they were not pretty.

My next batch of pancakes will be a bit more involved. There will be bacon, for example, and probably chocolate chips. I got this idea from the nice people at Vosges, who make a bacon-chocolate bar. As Peter Sagall of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, fame said when he tried it, "I can now die happy. And sooner."

Happy weekend, everyone!