Tag Archives: community supported agriculture

One Ingredient, Three Ways: Kale Edition

Kale. One word that strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of the young and the old. The Practical Cook loves kale, and if you’re a hater, here’s hoping one of the three ways to serve it suggested below will change your mind. Kale, it’s what’s for dinner.

Simply Sauteed Kale
My most oft-used variety, because it’s just so fast. The secret here is high, fairly dry heat. A mere dash of olive oil and a solid medium-high heat on a skillet with a lid. Wash your kale, dry your kale, excise tough stems. When the oil is hot hot hot, toss in your kale, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, close the lid. Use tongs to stir and toss ever few minutes, cooking for 7 to 10, depending on the strain of kale you’re using. Lightweight varietals like Red Russian Kale (don’t fear the socialist veggie) cook fast.

Red Russian Kale

Red Russian Kale

Serve with anything. Seriously. I’ve served it with everything from pizza to pasta to pork chops to beans, and all the way back around. Did I mention that a) my family grows a lot of kale on the farm and b) my offspring REALLY like to pick kale? So don’t talk to me about how you got kale in your CSA box two weeks in a row. Buck up and try it!

Hidden Kale
Not into full-frontal kale? Then conceal it. Kale is great in Pork Noodle Soup, White Bean Soup (or just soupy white beans), Potato Soup, Rustic Tarts, even red pasta sauce or tomato-based stews. Cut it into strips, and it cooks fast in practically any dish. Balance the flavor with some sweet acid, like balsamic vinegar or tomatoes, or let it shine in something more bland like white beans or potatoes.

Pasta Tossed with Bacon, Butternut Squash, and Greens

Pasta Tossed with Bacon, Butternut Squash, and Greens

Krispy Kale Chips Recipe

Kale on a Baking Sheet

Kale on a Baking Sheet

Why are potatoes getting all the chip love? Kale chips are relatively easy, and were well received by everyone. Beware of how much salt you use. Generally speaking, I salt cihps after baking them, which I’ve found to be far tastier.

1 bunch of kale, washed, dried, and in small stemless pieces
1 tsp of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 315 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets (depending on the size of your kale bunch) with parchment paper. Toss kale with olive oil, place on sheets, bake 20-25 minutes until krispy (couldn’t help myself there), rotating pans as needed. Remove from oven and season lightly with salt.

Krispy Kale Chips

Krispy Kale Chips

Serve as you would a green veg, or a chip. Also good crumbled over white bean or potato soup.

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Farmer’s Market: 5 Reasons Why

Gentle readers, this is not going to be the usual list of reasons to visit a Farmer’s Market, of which there are many and they are well documented. The Practical Cook is going to appeal to your practical side, listing the reasons that get her out of bed on a Saturday morning. With spring in the air (at least it was when I first drafted this stinking post), it’s a great time to get started with a new good habit.

The Practical Cook’s Top 5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmer’s Market

1. Homemade Baked Goods. It’s called marketing people, and very few Farmer’s Markets are just veggies anymore. There are eggs, meats, cheeses, preserves, breads, and sweets to be had, too. The Junior Practical Cooks are given some allowance money to spend on the treat of their choice. Suddenly, shopping for veggies is a lot more interesting. Bonus, you can buy just one of something (for me, that’s a fresh apple cider doughnut), support a talented local baker, not have to clean up your kitchen, and avoid the temptation of a full-sized cake/pie/etc.

Hello Little Pies

Hello Little Pies

2. Vegetable Variety. This is variety in depth and breadth, lots of types and varietals within the types. Team Practical Cook had many green-bean haters, until we tried a new variety found at the market. Now green beans are back on the list. If you’re going to try a new veggie or give an old enemy a chance, why not try the best in class?

Hey, Broccolini!

Hey, Broccolini!

3. Taste. Better ingredients = better dishes with less work. The higher quality ingredients you can use, the less you have to do to make it palatable. Sometimes it’s fun to cook fancy with a lot of layers and sauces, sometimes you want to saute a green veg and just slap it on the table for dinner. The Farmer’s Market gives you options.

Sunflower Yellow Egg Yolk from Farm Fresh Egg

Sunflower Yellow Egg Yolk from Farm Fresh Egg

4. Inspiration/Field Research. From the samples, recipes, and ideas you’ll get from the vendors, you’ll be a better cook for just walking through the Farmer’s Market. Imagine you’re a larger-scale operation and you focus on winter squash. Chances are you’ve served quite a few butternuts to your family, and have some new ideas. At our local market, there are always chefs shopping. I have been known to follow them and buy what they’re buying (in smaller quantities).

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

5. Value. I would argue that it’s not on balance more expensive to buy produce this way. You do have to commit to eating what you buy, and shopping a bit more often (or putting away any large quantities you purchase). However, it cuts out the middle man and gives you access to organic or sustainably grown foods at better prices. If it inspires you to eat more veggies or cook more often, you’re winning.

Green Eggs, No Ham (Plus Grits), Locally Grown

Green Eggs, No Ham (Plus Grits), Locally Grown

Thus endeth the lecture. If you just can’t face Saturday mornings on a regular basis, make it easy on yourself and go the CSA (community supported agriculture) route. Do some research now and see what’s available in your area, through your company, in your community. Having a CSA forces the discipline of the Farmer’s Market on you, with less time invested. But I’m yet to hear of one that includes apple cider doughnuts (with a special shout out to SacajaweaSinging for greenlighting doughnut consumption).

To continue the theme, tomorrow it’s Green Eggs, No Ham. Yes, it is possible, and delicious. Almost everything on the plate above was locally grown. Amazing how that used to be the norm and is now a feat.

Until next time, intrepid cooks, keep sharing your stories with me at practicalcook at gmail dot com.

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For the Love of Grapefruit (Or Making Changes Stick)

For today, the Practical Cook will emerge from the cloak of recipes, and address the philosophy behind them.  If I were a poet, I might offer this up as a recipe for life, as they do in the self-print church cookbooks I adore and collect. However, I am neither a poet nor printing casserole recipes on demand, so this is more likely to turn out as a bulleted list. It all starts with the Practical Cook’s love of grapefruit.

The Grapefruit

The Grapefruit

What is so special about the humble grapefruit? Aside from the fact that I love them, eat them ice cold, and survived on them through a very rocky pregnancy, they are incompatible with statins.

For those of you who read the blog closely (hi Mom), you may remember that along with a love of food and cooking, I got smacked with a genetic cholesterol stick.  So I had to choose—change my life or go on meds and give up grapefruit.

I changed. Oh the irony of this post following the ode to bacon. So when I talk about bringing the whole wheat along with the flavor, or portion control, that’s where I’m coming from. I love food way too much to give any item up forever.

Here are a few of my guiding principals:

  • Do not rush. When and if you decide to change your eating habits, be ready to do it forever.
  • Be kind to yourself. There’s a great article on the subject of how much more effective it is than some torture program.
  • Break old habits. I spent two weeks eating really healthy, a detox program of sorts. After that, I only let things back into the house that I could manage to consume responsibly. There are only a couple of things on the hit list, and I save those things for restaurants or special occasions. (Hello brownies!)
  • Buy higher quality, eat less of it. Multiple studies (and the entirety of France) indicate that the better something tastes, the more likely you are to eat reasonable amounts of it. As if we keep eating the mediocre in hopes of the next bite tasting better. Higher quality often means more expensive (mmm, cheese, another weakness), and for me that means choosing and eating wisely to not break the bank.
  • Lead with vegetables and fruits. Your mom was right. Mine was, too. My brother and I can’t leave a table without eating something green to this day. Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) can really help with this.
  • Don’t ban foods. Nothing is better than forbidden fruit, but rarely is fruit on the forbidden list. Peanut butter is one of my great loves, but banning it would get me nowhere but hungry and with a fistful of Reese’s. I buy the natural stuff now (love the Whole Food’s 365 brand for this, just peanuts and salt, preferably crunchy), and pair it with apples.
  • Cook more and differently. Improve your techniques and you’ll find your food tastes better without the crutches of some of the prepared stuff. This has been a personal challenge since a family member is allergic to MSG. Try cooking a Southern holiday dish that doesn’t involve a can of something that’s laden with it. I’ve had to up my game, because I’m very fond of my relatives.
  • Celebrate. I eat a grapefruit most days when they’re in season. A tart and delicious reminder of what I’m doing and why. It’s my ingrediente secreto.

Ironically, all of the cookbook authors I know (and I know several) are very fit people. It’s inspiring to see that food can be at the center of one’s life, and not endanger it.

Tomorrow, in preparation for Birthday Month 2011, and as proof that healthy doesn’t have to be a drag, Cake Decoration: 101.

Have you made changes to how you eat and cook? Send me a line: practicalcook at gmail dot com

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Friday Night Lights

Just keeping with the football theme here. In our house, when dinner does not proceed according to plan, we punt. Perhaps an ingredient is missing, has gone bad, or wasn’t quite what was expected. Maybe the Practical Cook just wants to get through the meal without convincing everyone to try something new.

Whatever the reasons are, they are most likely valid ones. The only invalid response is just throwing in the dish towel and walking out of the kitchen forever. No, you must fight back! Drop the phone, do not call for a pizza. It’s time to punt.

On Friday, the meal plan called for a one-skillet meal using sausage, tomatoes, greens, and gnocchi. The tomatoes were still frozen, I didn’t feel like cutting up the sausage, and I was not 100% convinced that the greens that were supposed to be turnip in origin actually hailed from a turnip plant (they had some very collardy characteristics).

Here’s what we served instead:

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

Sausage, greens, and pierogie

The smoked sausage (CSA) took a bath in some beer and then a quick sizzle in the skillet, and the mystery greens (their turnip provenance became more apparent as they cooked) paired with green onions (CSA), garlic, and red pepper flakes for a quick saute. The pierogie arrived courtesy of Mrs. T from the freezer (one day I will commit to making my own, but Friday was not that day) and just boiled.

It was all served with a good quality mustard and homemade applesauce. Good condiments can elevate a simple meal.

Look for more punting in upcoming posts–it happens as often as I stay on plan. Thank you for the feedback, and do continue to share your suggestions for posts and punt ideas.

*******

Quick and Easy Mystery Greens

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb greens, washed and stemmed (collards, kale, turnip, mustard, beet greens will all work)
3-6 green onions (scallions), or sub 1/2 onion of your choice
3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium to large sized skillet over medium-high heat.

2. While the oil is heating, take the washed and stemmed greens and either A) tear them into bite-sized pieces or B) stack several on top of each other, roll them up like a cheese roll/pinwheel, and slice them thin, about 1/4 inch wide. (Basically a chiffonade.) Smaller cooks faster and that’s what you want here.

3. When the oil is hot but not smoking, saute the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 1 minute or until softened and fragrant. Lower the heat if you start to burn something.

4. Toss in the greens, add a dash of salt and pepper, mix with onion mixture to blend, and cover, stirring frequently. Cook for ~10 minutes or to your preferred level of chew. Add a splash of water if you prefer a softer green or are feeding someone without all of their teeth (from youth, not old age in my house).

5. Serve warm. Vinegar optional. I don’t find greens fixed this way require additional seasoning.

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