Archives for category: dinner

 

Red Miso Meatballs

Red Miso Meatballs

To say that these meatballs were a success in my house is a huge understatement.  I had bought some grass-fed beef intending to make bolognese sauce but had to change the plan and eliminate the pasta last-minute. I didn’t have the ingredients for my usual meatballs so I scanned my fridge to see what the options were. My eyes landed on the red miso and I thought its deep, salty umami flavor would be a perfect complement to ground beef. When most people think of miso they think of white miso, which is what you would make a traditional sushi-restaurant miso soup with. Red miso, however, is saltier and more intense in flavor. You can make soup with it too, but it’s also good for glazes, braises and recipes that call for deeper flavors. Not all miso is made from only soybeans. There are some that incorporate rice, and some that blend soy and grains, so read the labels if you have dietary restrictions. If you are looking for  soy-free miso there are some made from chickpeas and barley. I also use fish sauce in the mix, an ingredient that not everybody has in their pantry. You can substitute soy sauce instead, but I would recommend starting with one teaspoon, cooking off a bit of the mix to taste and then adding the second if it’s not too salty.

Slow cooked vegetables are also folded into the meat mix, like carrots, onion and garlic that have sweat out and become buttery and soft. This adds sweetness and helps the meatballs stay tender.  Both girls cleaned their plates, asked for seconds and requested that I make them again right away.

These meatballs are so savory and flavorful that a sauce wasn’t necessary. They are great with some sautéed bok choy or chinese broccoli and rice, or as a snack or lunch with cucumbers tossed in sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, but honestly we end up eating them with whatever is around. I even send my eldest daughter to school with them for lunch.

Red Miso Meatballs

Yield: about 28 meatballs

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 red onion, peeled, root removed and quartered

1 tablespoon grass-fed beef tallow, olive oil, or vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs thyme

1 pound grass-fed ground beef

1 large egg

2 heaping rounded tablespoons red miso

2 teaspoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)

1. Preheat oven to 425F

2. Place carrots and onion in a bowl of a food processor and pulse until vegetables are finely chopped.

3. Add your fat or oil to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid. Dump in the finely chopped vegetables, garlic, bay and thyme. Heat on medium until vegetables begin to sizzle. Cover and cook, until vegetables are melted, soft and buttery, about 10-15 minutes, stirring often. If your pan is too large, the vegetables will want to burn so watch the heat and if you need to, add a splash of water. If your heat is too high, they will brown before they cook. What you are trying to do is cook them slow and low so that the water cooks out of them first, and then they start to caramelize so the sweetness will start to concentrate.

4. In a large bowl combine ground beef, vegetable mixture and all remaining ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon or gloved hand so that the miso is fully incorporated into the ground beef, no chunks of it remain and the mixture is slightly sticky.

5. Drop rounded heaping tablespoon sized balls on to a baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake for 10 minutes.

6. Let cool slightly, remove meatballs from tray and serve. Don’t be afraid to take a piece of bread and sop up all the fatty delicious juices that have leached out!

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Thai Red Curry Vegetables

Thai Red Curry Vegetables

 

This slow cooker Thai Red Curry has become a surprise hit in my household. I love that its full of vegetables and the first time I made it was totally vegetarian, eschewing the fish sauce and tossing tofu in at the end. I worried it might be too spicy so I pulled all the vegetables and tofu out of the broth, arranged them on my children’s plates next to their rice and they ended up asking for seconds. Zoe especially loved “the chicken”.  The second time I made it, I finished it with fish sauce, and then dropped some cleaned shrimp in (still keeping the tofu). Fish sauce is an Asian condiment made from fermented fish, and is one of those things that smells so badly but when used in the right context adds such a depth of flavor and salt that can’t be achieved any other way. In fact, any curry at a Thai restaurant, even the vegetable ones, have fish sauce in them. Still, it’s an ingredient that most people don’t want to buy to use once, and it’s really hard to get past the funky fermented smell that permeates the room once you open the cap. If you don’t want to go that route, you can simply season at the end with both soy sauce and regular salt and it will still be delicious. It’s important to add salt at both the beginning and end of the cooking process because in the beginning it will flavor the vegetables cooking, but those vegetables throw off a lot of natural juices that will dilute the broth and need to be balanced at the end. Thai Red Curries are traditionally less spicy than green so I went with that. I use one 4-oz jar of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste as a base. It’s a fine product that contains only pureed aromatics and nothing else, but to achieve a full flavor I add more ginger and lemongrass. Slow cooking everything and adding butternut squash lends sweetness that allows me to leave out the traditional ingredient of palm sugar. You can use regular coconut milk, or light, they both taste good, the latter producing a less rich and more soupy broth that is still worthy of some rice. To that point, the perfect side dish is some steamed jasmine rice, but any white rice will do too. Cut all of the vegetables the day before and store them in a big bowl so in the morning you plop everything in the slow cooker and are done with it.

all the beautiful veggies

all the beautiful veggies

Slow Cooker Thai Red Curry

Serves 4

two 13.5 oz cans of full or low-fat coconut milk

one 4 oz jar Thai Red Curry Paste

1 stalk lemongrass, smashed with the back of a knife to release its flavor, split lengthwise and cut into two inch lengths and tied together with a string

one 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more at the end

1 tsp salt, plus more at the end

 

1 cup carrots, sliced 1/4″ on the bias

2 cups greenbeans, (I like the Chinese long beans, but American green beans work too) trimmed and cut into approximately 2″ lengths

2 cups butternut squash cut into chunks

1 red bell pepper, sliced 1/2″

one pound shitakes, stems removed and caps sliced, or 8 oz button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

8 oz organic firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes or

one pound of shrimp, peeled and cleaned

 

1. Add coconut milk, curry paste, ginger and lemongrass to slow cooker and whisk to combine.

2. Add vegetables and gently stir to coat all of the vegetables with the sauce. The vegetables will not be completely submerged and that is ok. During the cooking process they will release their water and shrink down.

3. Cook on high for about 3.5 hours or low for about 6 hours. Fish out the bunch of lemongrass and discard. Finish seasoning to taste: It could take an additional 2 tsp of salt and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce at this point, or 2 tsp fish sauce, depending on the water content in the vegetables. Taste it and season it to your taste. I like salty so I will even add a couple squirts of fish sauce right to my bowl.

4. When it’s seasoned, if adding shrimp, turn the cooker up to high, drop in the shrimp and cook until pink and firm to the touch, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. If you aren’t sure, take one out and cut into it. Add your tofu once the shrimp are cooked and gently warm through.

5. Serve in a bowl as a soup or with Jasmine rice.

You can finish the dish with chopped red chilis if you like a bit more heat like I do, fresh cilantro leaves and sliced scallions. Enjoy!!

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Roast Chicken with melting onions and cauliflower

Roast Chicken with melting onions and cauliflower

There are few meals more satisfying than a whole roasted chicken done right. With crispy seasoned skin and juicy flavorful meat, it’s easier than you think to make. A French chef taught me to slice Vidalia onions thick and sit the chicken on top of them so that they slowly cook in the drippings from the bird until they are melting, rich and sweet. They make this perfect little condiment you can eat on its own, mopped up with bread or roasted potatoes. At this time of year I love to roast cauliflower. Roasting the cauliflower brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetable and completely transforms it. The florets become these crunchy nutty morsels that even kids love. You can eat the cauliflower just like that and it’s wonderful.  But if you try mixing the roasted cauliflower with the onions and some of the drippings you end up with something spectacular. There are so many ways to IMG_0248finish the dish too. You could simply add some salt and pepper to taste and maybe chopped parsley and call it a day. Or you could soak some raisins for 10 minutes in apple cider vinegar, then drain and add to the mixture along with some chopped mint. For guests recently I tossed in Lovage leaves, pomegranate seeds and a touch of high quality syrupy balsamic vinegar.  I always leave out a small bowl of the plain roasted cauliflower that I drizzle with honey for the kids before tossing in the other stuff if they decide to be fickle that day. 😉

As for the chicken, there are a few tricks that I use to ensure that the skin comes out crispy and the meat succulent. First, the day before you are cooking the chicken take it out of its package, carefully drain the juices and pat it dry, do not wash it. One of the most common misconceptions is that you should wash a chicken. Washing a chicken doesn’t remove any salmonella from it, it just sprays it all over your kitchen sink, counter and drain board. You kill Salmonella by cooking your chicken to the proper temperature or by using a chemical sanitizer like bleach. Place it on a Corningware or a plate with high sides to catch any juices that might leak out and leave it in your fridge overnight to dry out even further. This removes water from the skin to help it crisp up and actually improves the texture of the meat. Many cultures hang and age their poultry before eating it, and getting it out of the bag of blood, juice and gizzards gives it less opportunity to spoil and develop off flavors and smells.

The second is to salt the crap out of the skin before you cook it. There needs to be almost a crust of salt on the skin that you shouldn’t panic about because it does not penetrate to the meat. If you want, you can remove the amazing bite of crunchy salty bliss or you can get over it and eat a thin sliver as punctuation for the 2 inches of unseasoned flesh underneath. Lastly, do yourself a huge favor and get an instant read thermometer. That is the kind that you insert in the food after its cooked to take its temperature, not the kind you insert from the beginning. A chicken can differ in size, density, and temperature when you put it in the oven. Oven temps fluctuate too so cooking time is a guideline. If you want to know when your chicken is done “temp it,” as we say in the cooking world, and you can’t go wrong. It should read 165 in the thickest part of the leg, near the bone but not touching it. Be sure to let the chicken rest before carving it. It finishes cooking the bird and redistributes the juices into the flesh. Then you can eat.

Roast Chicken with Melted onions and Cauliflower

Serves 2-4

1 Large Vidalia Onion, peeled and sliced into 1/2-3/4″ rounds

1 Whole Chicken, 3-4 lbs, neck and gizzards removed

2 Tablespoons chopped thyme (sage, rosemary or any combination of them works too)

1 Head CauliflowerIMG_0204

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

1.Preheat oven to 425F.

2.Keeping rounds intact, lay onion slices down in a skillet the size of the chicken.

3. Generously salt all sides of the chicken, then sprinkle on pepper and herbs evenly. Tuck wing tips underneath chicken and place chicken on top of onions.

4. Place in preheated oven and roast until when pierced in the leg juices run clear and internal temperature reads 165F, about 1 hour. Remove chicken from pan using tongs or a roasting fork, draining the juices back into the onions, and let rest on a cutting board about 15 minutes.

5. While chicken is roasting, remove the core out of the Cauliflower and cut into 1″ florets. Toss in a bowl with 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp salt and pepper. Dump onto a cookie sheet and roast until tender with brown spots, about 3o-40 minutes, giving the pan a shake and stir every 10-15 minutes.

6. After the chicken comes out of the oven, turn the oven temperature down to 300F. Put cauliflower and onions back in the oven to finish cooking and reduce juices. Cook 10-15 minutes more until cauliflower is soft and onions are melting.

7. Remove onions and cauliflower from the oven and toss together in a bowl, using as much of the chicken fat as desired. (I am guilty of using it all.) Taste and add salt and pepper if needed and serve as is or dress it to finish.

8. Rip apart the chicken, eat it with the sides and lick your fingers.

Footnote: After the meat is off the carcass you should absolutely save it to throw in the slow cooker the next day and make chicken stock. You can read all about it here.

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I belong to something called a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you buy a share of the harvest from a farm your community has made a deal to support. Each week you get a box of whatever they have picked. You don’t know what you are getting or how much. It’s a great way to support the small farmers that are growing quality food but making very little money. It’s also a great way to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, try some things you might not have, and its fun!

One of items in our box recently was Salad Turnips. They were among the nicest I’ve seen in a while. But so many people don’t know what to do with them! Yes, you can make a salad with them, but don’t let the name discourage you from cooking them as well. Salad turnips are sweeter, juicier and more delicate than a traditional turnip. The first thing I always do is cut off the greens. You can store them separately in a Ziploc bag with a little air caught in it to make them last longer. The greens are delicious in salads, pastas, or cooked on their own the same way you would cook spinach or swiss chard. Be sure you wash all the parts thoroughly, turnips tend to be very sandy (after all they come from the ground) but especially right at the part where the root and the green meet. For the simplest preparation possible you can cut them into eighths, drop them in boiling, salted water until just tender when pierced with a knife (About 5-7 minutes). You don’t want them too cooked or they will become mealy and fall apart. Then hit them with a bit more salt to taste, fresh black pepper and a dollop of nice butter. Toss in a bowl while hot and the water that comes off the turnip will emulsify the melting butter into a creamy sauce. My 3-year-old loves them! I also like to roast them with soy sauce, olive oil, maple syrup and thyme for a more intensely flavored side dish. Finally, you can make a salad with thinly sliced turnips and arugula (was also in our box that week). Season it with salt and pepper, a squeeze of fresh lemon and bit of extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat lightly. Top with Parmigiano Reggiano that you have shaved with a peeler. Bellisimo!

Soy Maple Turnips

Serves 2 (as a side dish)

2 lg. Salad Turnips, cut into 1/8ths

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons Extra virgin Olive oil

2 sprigs thyme

  1. Scrub turnips well with a vegetable brush, cut into eighths and place in a baking dish.
  2. Top with remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Cover with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven and cook 20 minutes.
  4. Remove cover and stir. Cook 10 minutes more, uncovered.
  5. Stir and cook 5 minutes more, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Using a dry towel, grab the baking dish and swirl around turnips to coat them in the thick sauce.Image

Remember, maple syrup is sugar and wants to burn. If you are cooking a small amount of turnips and sauce in a large pan, there is more surface area and more opportunity to burn. Things like the assize of your pan and the size of the cut turnips will affect your cooking time. Keep an eye on them and make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sauce is almost evaporated and thick the turnips are done.

You can drizzle a little extra maple syrup on top for some added sweetness. Enjoy!

Chicken Scarp

First of all, I’m back. I had a baby (another!), sold my apartment, and moved at 9 months pregnant. I won’t bore you with the details but I wish I was the kind of person who could manage to blog through all this. I am not.

Chicken Scarpariello, or affectionately known as “Chicken Scarp” is a staple in any self-respecting red-sauce joint or family style Italian-American establishment. I’ve been eating it a lot lately and of course I wanted to make it at home. There are many variations of the dish but it is generally chicken and sausage braised in some kind of acidic sauce served with potatoes.  It is definitely one of my favorites. You can make it with spicy or sweet peppers, depending on your family’s taste. I leave the spice out and then put chili flake on mine so that my daughter can partake. This is a basic recipe, but I have also seen it with broccoli added to make it a complete meal. All you have to do is blanch the broccoli in salted water and then toss it in at the end and it’s delicious.

Chicken Scarpariello

Serves 2-4

1 chicken, about 4 lbs, cut into 1/8ths (save backbone and wingtips if you want to make chicken stock)

2 lbs potatoes, preferably something a little starchy, not a red new potato, cut into 1″ cubes

4 cloves garlic, then later 7 cloves garlic

2 T Olive Oil, then later 2 more T Olive Oil

1 lb. Italian sausage, hot or sweet, your preference

1 cup sweet peppers, diced or sliced (baby are nice, red or orange, no green)

1 cup white wine vinegar (not distilled, red wine vinegar works too)

about 2 cups low or no salt chicken stock (if you want to make your own, see footnote*)

1 bay leaf

chili flake (optional)

salt and pepper as needed

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Toss potatoes and  4 garlic cloves in initial 2 T of Olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, lay out on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and roast 20 minutes. Turn potatoes and roast another 10 or so minutes, until soft and caramelized. Hold them until you need to add them to the recipe.

3. Heat remaining 2 T in a shallow wide skillet with a lid. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. When oil shimmers and lets of the slightest bit of smoke, add chicken pieces, skin side down. Don’t crowd the pan, rather do batches so that the chicken browns properly. Once you add the chicken to the pan, don’t disturb it- let a crust build on it before you try to turn it or it will stick. Brown chicken on all sides and remove, reserving in a bowl. Brown sausage as well, getting nice color on all sides and reserve to same bowl.

4. If there is just a ton of fat, pour some off, leaving about 2 T inside. Add garlic and peppers and sauté, until they just start to color.

5. Pull pan off the heat. add vinegar and return to heat. Scrape bottom of the pan with wooden spoon to release any stuck bits. This is called deglazing. Reduce vinegar by half. Add chicken and sausage back into the pan. This, unlike the browning phase, can be a snug fit. Add bay leaf and chicken stock so that it comes about 3/4 the way up the sides of the chicken. If you have made your own stock you will need to add some salt at this step. Just add a little, you will taste and adjust later.

6. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover.

7. Simmer until white meat is just done, about 12-15 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken). Don’t worry if it is a little under because it will continue to cook while it is being held and you are going to put it back in the pan and cook it a bit more too. Remove white meat to a bowl and cover loosely with a damp towel or plastic wrap to reserve. Remove sausage and let rest for a few minutes. Then slice sausage and add it back to the pot.

8. Continue cooking dark meat until it pulls off the bone easily.

9. When dark meat is done, remove the cover and adjust sauce. If you need to reduce the sauce a bit do it now. Just remember that salt will concentrate as you reduce so don’t season fully until the end. This dish should be juicy and saucy, not dry  or with a thick gravy.

10. Return white meat and potatoes to the pan and heat gently so that the flavors marry. If you are adding blanched broccoli do so at this point.

11. Enjoy! Leftovers of this are great because the chicken really marinates in the sauce.

*I make my own chicken stock for this recipe. Since you are cooking chicken on the bone anyway, you don’t need to go crazy on the stock, as the chicken itself will also add to the sauce. Just take the wingtips and backbone, place them in the smallest pot they will fit in and cover with water. Make this be the first thing you do. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Using a spoon, take out the impurities that will rise to the surface (greasy and scummy looking stuff). While you prep the rest of the ingredients, this will cook and by the time you need it for the recipe it will have cooked long enough.

Zucchini Pie

Before this summer is over, I had to get a post for Zucchini pie in, while the zucchini are local and abundant. When I was a kid my mother used to make broccoli or zucchini pie all the time, using a recipe from the back of the Bisquick box. I knew there must be a recipe out there without the Bisquick (what is Bisquick anyway?) so I did a quick search and found one posted by Real Simple magazine. I tweaked it just a bit to get it to taste how I wanted to so here it is. Try to pick small firm zucchini with skins that aren’t bruised. The larger ones tend to be filled with seeds, aren’t as sweet and have tougher skins. If zucchini flowers are available, you can arrange them on the top to form a delicious and decorative pattern.

This is super easy to make and tastes great cold, which is how it is often eaten, standing at the fridge with the open door in one hand and pie in the other. It’s sort of like a crustless Quiche, with some flour in the filling to give it structure. And kids like it too!

Zucchini Pie

Adapted from Real Simple Magazine

Serves 4-6

3 Cups zucchini skin on, grated

1 small onion, finely diced

1 cup AP flour

1 cup provolone cheese, grated

3 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 Tablespoons Parmigiano, grated

2 Tablespoons basil, chopped

1 tsp baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground

3-4 Zucchini flowers (if available)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 or 10 inch corningware (or other glass or ceramic baking dish; I don’t like it in metal) with butter or vegetable oil.

2. Combine all ingredients except eggs in a large bowl, reserving a little Parmigiano to sprinkle on top.

3. In a small bowl beat eggs, then fold into zucchini mixture.

4. Pour into baking dish. If you have Zucchini flowers arrange in a decorative pattern on top of mixture (don’t submerge completely). Bake 45-50 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. About 3/4 of the way through cooking sprinkle with reserved Parmigiano. If you desire more color you can stick it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the top.

5. Let rest for about 20 minutes before slicing so that the pie sets up and cools.

So I’m late on this post. Ramp season is just about over. I have been working like a madwoman and haven’t had time to post, but  it’s absolutely necessary to get an entry in on them, so better late than never. I promise I’ll be on time next year. What are ramps, you ask? In the restaurant world, ramps are the first sign of spring, after a long winter of butternut squash and apples but much more delicious than fiddlehead ferns (which are also an early spring thing but to me taste like dirt.) They are a type of wild onion, closer to a leek, with a delicious leafy stem and tender bulb and they grow wild in New York, but often come from places like West Virginia and Oregon first. In the northeast you can by them at greenmarkets, as I have never seen them in an actual store, but you better get there early before the restaurants snap them up. They are delicious and sweet yet spicy and grassy.  You can use them much like an onion or scallion, or just simply char them and serve them in a heaping pile of steaming deliciousness aside grilled fish or meats.  Trim off the root end, then use a paper towel to peel off the thin top layer, stem down to the root to get rid of the sand. If they are particularly sandy you can wash them, but be sure to dry them well or the tender leaves will rot and you don’t want that.

They are versatile and yummy and not at all difficult to work with. Anywhere you would put an onion, you can put a ramp, but since the flavor is more delicate you want to highlight it instead of mask it so keep the other ingredients simple.

Scrambled eggs with ramps is a great first dish, simple to execute but the outcome is totally sophisticated. Separate the white part from the green and slice the white finely. Then rough chop the green. Gently sauté the whites in butter or olive oil, until translucent and buttery. Sprinkle a little salt and then add your scrambled eggs. Toss in the greens and cook gently until the eggs are soft and creamy. Serve on toasted baguette, ciabatta or crusty whole grain bread.

Ramps lend themselves particularly well to other spring vegetables, because things that grow around the same time and area generally taste good together. If you want to expand on the egg idea, you can make a dinner fritatta with potatoes, asparagus, ramps and mushrooms. I like oyster or hen of the woods (maiatake) but any mushroom will do.

Spring Vegetable Fritatta

1. Parboil some spring potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from water and turn out onto a plate lined with a paper towel to dry.

2. In a large sauté pan, (preferably NOT non-stick*), heat some oil until just smoking and add your mushrooms, not too many so you don’t crowd the pan. Don’t touch the mushrooms. Don’t stir the mushrooms. Let them pick up some color before you move them. Moving them constantly won’t get that delicious caramelization that you want which will intensify the flavor. When you see some browning happening, then you stir them. You do, however want to monitor your heat. The pan needs to be smoking before you add the shrooms, which will then lower the temperature of the pan. But then the temp will rise again, and if you see lots of white smoke, or if your pan is looking too brown on the bottom, lower the heat. Conversely, if your temp is too low and your pan is not hot enough the mushrooms will steam as they release water instead of browning. Look at it and judge. Add a little salt halfway through cooking to draw out the moisture. Once you see color developing you can stir the mushrooms. If you need more oil because mushrooms inherently soak up oil, add a little drizzle around the edges of the pan. Cook until the mushrooms pick up color, throw in some asparagus sliced thin, sauté briefly to take the rawness out of the asparagus but leave still crunchy and then remove mixture to a bowl and reserve.

3. Cut up the potatoes to the desired size and cook in a sauté pan, along with the white part of the ramps in oil or butter until crunchy (just like home fries).

4. Scramble your eggs, add in the reserved veggies and season withe a little Salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the hot sauté pan with the potatoes. Cook until set and lightly brown on the bottom, adjusting the heat so it is hot enough but doesn’t burn.

5. At this point you have 2 options. You can turn it out onto a plate and then flip it over. Or you can stick the whole pan into a preheated 350 oven. The stove top yields a flatter fritatta with a creamier center. The oven yields a little puffier with a more cooked interior.

6. Cook until done. Turn out onto a plate and shave parmigiano over the top.

* Non-stick pans are not made for high heat. To get a good sear on something never use nonstick, as heating the pan too high will cause the coating to degrade and release chemicals into your food. Besides, you won’t get the beautiful browning you are looking for anyway. Non-stick pans are fine for scrambled eggs and omelettes, but not much else.

YUM!!!!

At any given time I have Kale in my fridge. I gobble it up in salads, crunch on it in chips, put it in soups, or eat it on it’s own braised in tomato sauce. What I have discovered about toddlers is that they will eat anything if it’s cooked in tomato sauce and then chopped so fine they can’t tell it’s there. You can then put it on pasta, shells would be my choice so that the little cups that the pasta form can scoop up all the saucy goodness and provide a vehicle for the green.

This time, I served it with some fennel sausages and cubed up yams tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil- both roasted in the oven. The sweetness of the yam really complimented the kale and tomato and the sausage added a savory meaty element.

You can store Kale for a surprisingly long time in the fridge if you put it in an airtight bag with a damp paper towel inside. Just leaving the leaves in the crisper bin will render them flaccid and putting just the stems in water (flower vase style) never works. The leaves themselves need the moisture too so a large tupperware works too but takes up a lot of room in the fridge.

Braising implies cooking something tough slowly in liquid. When it comes to meat, you would do it with more exercised cuts like shoulders and legs, in which you would sear first and then finish in the liquid. Braising works great with a hearty green like Tuscan Kale because it breaks down the fibers and intensifies the sweetness.

*As far as which tomato product to use- (I can go on forever about this) I’ve been trying to stay away from canned tomatoes Cirio Passata Rusticabecause of the BPA in the cans. Of course sometimes you can’t avoid it. Try different brands to see which ones you like. Whole tomatoes in their juice are usually the best option because you aren’t getting an amalgamation of substandard pieces. That being said, I’ve been using a brand lately called Cirio Passata Rustica which comes in a glass jar. They taste really good to me. Passata Rustica means a coarse pass through a food mill on the tomatoes, so you are getting just the chunky pulp without the fiber or skins and sometimes seeds. Pomi tomatoes in the box are generally good. You generally want to stay away from any kind of tomato puree because it’s actually just reconstituted tomato paste. . What I look for is taste- nice and sweet, without too much salt, which many brands tend to have. Aside from the can issue, La Valle D.O.P. tomatoes are very good- they are of a certain Italian classification that needs to meet specific standards to pass.  After all that, there is even variation among a brand itself. You could be happy using one brand for a while and then all of a sudden it stops tasting good for a while. That’s what happens- it is, after all, a plant, a crop, and sometimes the crop isn’t as good. Sometimes you need to change for a while, or forever.

Kale Braised in Tomato

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 white or red onion sliced thin

6 small cloves of garlic or 3-4 large, peeled and smashed

2 bay leaves, fresh or dried (but fresh is so so much better!)

1 1/2 bunch Kale (because I ate the other half bunch raw-couldn’t help myself)

about 24 oz of tomato product*(see note)- more or less this amount is okay

salt and pepper

  1. In a medium sized saucepan or a high, straight sided saute pan with a lid, place the cold oil, bay leaf, garlic  and onion and begin to heat slowly. The idea is for this to cook slowly so that the onions gently release their juices and become sweet. We are not looking to completely caramelize them (so you don’t want much color) just to make them translucent, soft and buttery.

 2. When the onions are there, add the kale and mix briefly to coat. Cook about 2 minutes to wilt, then add tomato. Stir and cover.

3. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until kale is tender, about 40 minutes.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. You can adjust the consistency of the sauce by leaving the lid off and simmering if it is too soupy.

5. After it’s finished I’ll cool it down a bit and then chop fine on a cutting board, small batches at a time.

Falafel aren’t the sort of thing you would think to make at home. First of all they are fried, and fried can be very controverisial. There are the people who love fried, wanna marry it, have it’s babies and dip them in batter and fry them. Then there are the people who eschew it either for health reasons or simply because they don’t want to stink up their houses in the process.I’m not going to go all Paula Deen on you and try and convince you that you should eat fried foods every day, but a little fried never hurt no one, especially if you don’t eat processed fried foods and the fried food in question happens to be chock full of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Chickpeas are very nutritious. And cheap. You can balance out the fried with a myriad of salads and pickles to be served in the pita along with them.

As far as the frying thing goes, I like to make flat patties instead of spheres, so you don’t actually have to deep fry, therefore using less oil. It would be like making chicken cutlets. I can’t really help the smell in the house thing but to me I happen to think it smells good! It’s not like it’s a scallop or something (which might be the worst after cooking smell EVER!)

So just to be clear, falafel are Middle Eastern patties or balls of chickpeas and herbs, fried  and served with salads and sauces, sometimes in a pita. And my answer to the inevitable question of whether you can use canned chickpeas or not is an emphatic NO! First of all, you will never be able to get the texture you want out of canned chickpeas. They are wetter, almost mushy and already cooked. Secondly, the flavor of dry chickpeas is so much better than canned.  Thirdly, you really aren’t saving yourself anything by using canned. Canned are more expensive and it’s not like you have to cook the dry ones first, you just soak them the day before and then grind them up. Easy.

My favorite recipe is Mark Bittman’s, published in the New York Times in 2008. I use that as a guideline, with a few touches of my own. I don’t like ones that have breadcrumb or flour in them. It definitely makes the batter easier to handle but I find that it makes the falafel too dense. If you make patties instead of balls, it will be easier to handle anyway.

Falafel

Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times, 2008

serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and leftovers

1 and 3/4 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 small onion, quartered

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

cayenne to taste

1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves or 1/2 cup each

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Neutral oil, for frying*

1. Cover chickpeas in a non-reactive bowl or container with 4X the amount of water to beans. Refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will hydrate the chickpeas and get them ready for cooking. This is pretty standard procedure for any dry bean. Chickpeas will double or triple in volume as they take in the water. You don’t cover them because they can ferment.

2. The next day drain beans well discarding liquid. Some people like to save the liquid and use it, but although there is a slight loss of nutrients there are also compounds in the liquid that cause flatulence and by discarding it you reduce the likelihood of it.

3. Place beans in a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients except spices and oil and Falafel "batter" after grindingpulse. You want to chop all of the ingredients finely but not make a puree. You may have to do it in batches, and you will probably have to scrape down the edges of the bowl a few times in between pulsing. If you absolutely must, add a few drops of water to get it going, but the more water you add, the harder the mixture is going to be to work with, and then you might have to add a bit of flour to get it to bind up again.

4. Once mixture has come together, transfer to a bowl and add your spices, season with a bit of salt and cayenne to taste. You can taste the batter raw, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to be mealy, but you can get an idea. I also always like to fry one off as a test to really see how it’s going to taste, so you don’t end up cooking an entire batch of underseasoned falafel.

5. Heat about an inch of oil in a saute pan with sides. You want the oil to be shimmering. Test the oil by adding a pattie. It should start sizzling immediately. If your oil is too cool, your patties will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Conversely, if too hot, you will get brown too quickly before the inside is cooked and could even burn. You want the oil about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer.

6. Shape patties by using a tablespoon, scooping some batter up and using the palm of your other hand to smooth the edge. The batter is wet, so you can’t pick it up and roll it like a meatball. In falafel houses they will often use an icecream scooper and drop the scoops into the deep fryer. So scoop instead with your tablespoon, round it with the palm of your other hand, and then gently hold the spoon horizontally over the pan of oil and shimmy it in. If your oil is nice and hot it will start to cook it immediately setting the shape. Continue doing this so that your pan is full, but not crowded. It is important you don’t crowd the pan, or your oil will cool down, the steam emitting will get caught between instead of evaporating and the falafel will become soggy and fall apart. It’s not that hard, I’m just giving you all the information you need.

7. Flip them over when they are golden brown and cook the other side.frying falafel

8. Drain on paper towels when evenly browned and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

* For frying, you not only want a neutral oil, but you want one with a high smoke point. Olive oil does not have a high smoke point and is not suitable for frying. Canola oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil are all better choices, but you need to be careful of where you buy them from. If you would like more information on this subject you can read it here.

I serve them with whole wheat pita and salads. On the simple end you can just cube up tomatoes and cucumbers, shave some red onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe some lemon juice. Shaved savoy cabbage tossed with a little red wine vinegar is really good too. If you’re feeling adventurous you can pickle some beets, turnips or carrots, with cumin and serve those. As for the sauces they are super easy.

For the tahini sauce, you buy sesame paste (tahini) and mix it with about equal parts water. The tahini behaves weird when you add water to it. It starts out looking smooth and pourable, then you add water and it seizes up and becomes all pasty. Keep stirring it vigorously and adding water, a little at a time until it becomes a smooth loose sauce. Season with salt to taste, fresh squeezed lemon juice and I also like to grate some garlic in there with a fine grater or microplane.

I also love to make a tzakiki or raita type yoghurt sauce. If you buy full fat greek yoghurt, (like Fage total) it is the absolute perfect consistency and doesn’t need to be drained. I love the stuff but it’s not what I use on a regular basis for my normal yoghurt eating needs because in around 2008 it’s popularity forced production out of Greece and into upstate NY. I did some research trying to find out if they are using grass-fed milk, including writing to the company and they never got back to me, which basically tells me they don’t. It’s highly unlikely that a large processing facility owned by Dannon in New York is using grass-fed milk, especially if it’s not labeled as so. It does say that they don’t use the rGBH hormone, which is a good start I guess.  rGBH is a hormone that cows are given to keep them lactating year round, because just as humans, even if the demand is there, our supply will dwindle and even dry up over time, especially if it’s not a baby suckling and instead a machine. rGBH has been thought to pass into our bodies through milk and be the cause of early puberty in girls that has become a staggering epidemic in this country. The FDA issued a statement saying that they have found no difference between cows given the hormone and not, which means absolutely nothing. They need to protect their interests, being big dairy industry and Monsanto (who if I’m not mistaken are the manufacturers of the hormone) and they haven’t done any solid reseasrch on the subject, they just haven’t received any proof saying otherwise. But I digress. For this application, I have yet to find a grass-fed organic yoghurt that is thick and luscious so when I make falafel I still use the Greek stuff and for my daily needs I go with something else.

Back to the sauce: finely dice up some red onion and toss it with fresh lemon to marinate for a bit. Mix into the yoghurt. You want it to be chunky but still have room for the herbs- I like to use mint, and a lot of it. Shred the mint finely with a sharp knife and mix in. Add a pinch of ground cumin  and if you like it spicy, a bit of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you need a bit more lemon add it. This dip has so many uses. My husband hates yoghurt but loves this dip and can find so many creative things to rip apart and dredge in it.

Like I mentioned before, you can serve the falafel in pita with a simple cubed up salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Or you can go a bit more fancy and pickle some turnips, beets or carrots.

Falafel hold leftover fantastically. They stay crispy and heat up well. We always have leftovers with this recipe and love eating them the next day.

I love meatloaf.

Let me rephrase that. I love GOOD meatloaf. Growing up my mother would make a giant meatball, with lots of Pecorino Romano and breadcrumbs, covered in tomato sauce sometimes, surrounded by peas other times. If there were any leftovers to be had it made a fantastic sandwich, on crusty sesame sprinkled semolina bread smothered in melted mozzarella.

Nowadays my meatloaf has evolved, as it’s a great place to hide veggies from a finicky toddler. The addition of ground flaxseed gives it a nuttiness and adds nutritious omega 3’s, a compound found in oily fish, like sardines, that we don’t get enough of in our diet. Omega 3’s also contain DHA, which expecting moms know from taking prenatal vitamins, is essential for a child’s brain development.  Flaxseed also contains fiber, and other compounds that have been thought to fight cancer.

Using grass-fed beef as opposed to conventional beef also makes it much healthier for you. Cows are ruminants, which are animals that have a second-stomach like organ that enables them to digest grass, something humans can’t do. Conventionally raised beef isn’t fed grass, in fact, they are raised nowhere near grass, and eat corn and other manufactured meal (which we won’t speak of) instead. This results in a fattier, unhealthy cow. Because the animals aren’t eating all that chlorophyll goodness that they are supposed to, the meat is higher in cholesterol and not nearly as nutrient dense. If you would like to read more about it I recommend Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Anyhow, good meat isn’t cheap, but ground beef is on the lower end of the spectrum so it’s a regular part of our meal rotation. We make many different kinds of meatloaf depending on the season and our moods. This recipe is made with just carrots, onion, and celery, which is classic mirepoix. In the summer I will sometimes make it with diced bell peppers and zucchini or even jalapeño to give it spice. I had Gruyère in the fridge, as I often do, so that is what I used. It’s not necessary though. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a fine substitute.  Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste give it the acidity and sweetness that people usually use ketchup for. I use a homemade Worcestershire-like sauce that my friend Jori Jayne Emde makes called #4 sauce that doesn’t have any weird ingredients in it. You can read more about it here. Balsamic Vinegar does the same sort of job if you need to substitute.

We usually make a pound of meat at a time for the three of us but it is gone in a night and we are being deprived of those coveted leftovers we spoke of earlier. I’ve upped it to two so we’ll see how that goes. We’ve made it work to feed four with an abundance of delicious sides.

Meatloaf with Veggies, Flaxseed and Gruyère

serves 3-4

3 medium carrots

1 medium onion

2 celery stalks

2 cloves garlic

1 lb. grass-fed beef, ground

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped

1/2 cup ground flaxseed (you buy them already ground)

1 cup Gruyère, diced

1/4 c breadcrumb

 2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Rough chop carrots, onions and celery and pulse separately in food processor until fine but not pureed. I like to do them all separately because you have more control that way. However my machine is very small. If yours is very large you can add them all together and just pulse in spurts until chopped but not pureed. Garlic can be smashed with the side of the knife, skin removed and chopped with the onion.

3. Add vegetable mixture to bowl. Add all remaining ingredients and mix. Season with Salt and Pepper.  I like to mix with a gloved hand so that you are sure everything is really incorporated. Also, you want to make sure you have mixed it until it all starts to bind together. Mixture will become assimilated and sticky to the touch.

4. In a small sauté pan cook off a tablespoon of the mix in a drop of oil to check for seasoning. This is an important step. Any time I make any kind of ground meat recipe (meatloaf, meatballs, sausage etc.) I always cook some off because if you don’t have the mixture perfectly seasoned and you cook the whole thing, you are screwed.

5. Season with salt and pepper and taste again. Do this until it’s where you want it.

6. Press mixture into a loaf pan or a corningware. Most people make meatloaf on a flat cookie sheet. When you do that the fat and juices tend to run out of the meatloaf leaving it dry, and your pan burnt. If you put it in some sort of mold, you contain all of the liquid. The juices reduce and leave the flavor concentrated in the meat and the whole thing sort of cooks in the fat leaving it moist and delicious.

7. Bake at 450 for about 35 minutes. I make it in a loaf pan. But different factors affect the cooking time like the pan you use, (if you use a wider, flatter pan it could take a shorter time or pan material) or the calibration of the oven. Meatloaf should be cooked through, without pink inside. You want to cook it to about 155 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Then take it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes where it will continue to rise in temperature (called carry-over cooking) and the juices will redistribute as it cools. If you don’t have a thermometer insert a paring knife into the center and hold it there for a few seconds. Then touch the knife to your bottom lip. If the knife feels hot to you, it’s cooked. Body temp is 98.5 degrees. If the knife only feels warm, it’s probably about 120 and needs to cook more.

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