Kale salad with apples, dried cranberries, and pecans

Kale salad with apples, dried cranberries, and pecans - Vegetal MattersIf we’ve never met, I think I can sum myself up pretty well with this statement: I’m the one who brings a salad to a party. I’m certainly not anti-dessert (hooray for cider doughnut season!!!), but so often everyone else offers to bring an appetizer or something sweet and there are no vegetables to balance it all out. Kale salad keeps incredibly well, and is in fact better if made ahead so the dressing breaks down the kale a bit. The particulars are not so important here, I really like the apples but a roasted veg like butternut or beets works as well (or could be in addition to the apple), any dried fruit, and whatever nuts you have around. I wanted to make sure there was a diary free offering for our work potluck, but at home I would definitely add crumbled goat cheese on top.

Kale salad with apples, dried cranberries, and pecans

Serves 4 for lunch sized salads, 8 or more for party sized servings

Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Salad

  • 10 oz kale (1 large bunch or about 6 cups), stems removed and chopped. I used a mix of Red Russian and curly green.
  • 1 apple, chopped right before serving
  • ½ cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Put all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Taste and adjust to your liking. A few hours before serving, toss the kale in the dressing. To really get the dressing in the curly bits use clean hands to do the tossing and massage the dressing into the leaves. To serve, top with the pieces of apple, pecans, dried cranberries, and goat cheese (if using).

Last week I cooked…

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersI didn’t plan any dinners for this week and I didn’t go grocery shopping. But yes, amazingly, we still ate. Because of the long weekend my shopping trip happened later last week and I had squash to make soup on Sunday night, plus a bunches of kale and celery in the fridge. Normally I would not think these would make a week of meals, but as a personal challenge to waste less and be more creative with my cooking I set off for the week, no plan in hand.

Winter squash soup with curry and coconut milk. I’ve gushed about this soup before, and it really is magical. The coconut milk makes for a velvety texture far superior to the normal graininess in squash soup. Warm curry spices, hot sauce, and the finishing sour notes of fish sauce and

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersCarbonara with kale and bacon. I think I am ready to declare carbonara my favorite pasta dish. Though the sauce is rich and creamy, it is not overwhelming. Bacon provides a bit of fat and saltiness, and a strategically added vegetable make for a full meal. I mostly followed the zucchini carbonara recipe, but in place of the summer squash used 5 big leaves of curly kale that was thinly sliced, added to the pan with the bacon fat, tossed, covered, and cooked for 4-5 minutes until bright green.

Last week I cooked... - Vegetal MattersSichuanese chopped celery with chicken. This may be the only recipe in my repertoire that I would go out of my way to buy celery for. In fact I think this recipe is celery’s highest calling. In my challenge to not grocery shop this week I substituted the beef for two chicken thighs from the freezer which I cut up into ½ inch pieces and cooked in the wok before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. The ingredient list is short but a bit specialized. If you can get to an Asian or Chinese grocery store the chili bean paste and chinkiang vinegar are absolutely worth having in your pantry if you like Chinese cuisine. They make for a dish that comes together very quickly with a surprisingly complex sauce that is spicy and a tiny bit sour. That paired with the meat, crunchy celery and rice make for a dish far beyond standard takeout. I’ve made this with the beef as called for, but I’d also try this with turkey, pork, or tofu and I bet the result would be just as good at sending down the rice.

Butternut squash ravioli with brown butter balsamic sauce and fried sage (pictured at top). I had a vision of this ravioli. I couldn’t find a recipe that matched exactly what I wanted so I pieced one together from a few. I think my pasta making needs a bit of work as it wasn’t as soft as other fresh pasta I’ve had (I also don’t have a pasta maker, so I rolled the sheets out by hand which was not ideal). The filling was a mix of roasted butternut and marscapone, but next time I want to use goat cheese for a little more tang to balance the sweetness of the squash. I used this recipe for the sauce (but I think I would have preferred 1:1 butter:balsamic) and followed basic instructions for fried sage. It’s a work in progress.

Polenta with sauteed kale and an egg. The morning after I had this for breakfast I saw the NYT Food section posted almost the same recipe (except I used some marscapone and feta in my polenta). Melissa Clark, did you bug my kitchen? This is an excellent option for breakfast when you forget to buy bread. I made a bigger batch of polenta and then reheated it for breakfast the next couple days. About a cup of kale sauteed makes for a nice vegetal addition, but most anything else would work too (tomato sauce? sauteed mushrooms?). And as the NYT suggested, this would also make an easy dinner.

The Homemade Kitchen

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersThere are different ways to fall in love with a cookbook. Sometimes it happens slowly, as one recipe after another is tasted and proves itself. Sometimes it happens from a distance, as the book is hard to find, or always wrapped in plastic on the shelf at the bookstore (Thailand: The Cookbook, I pine for you). Sometimes the love happens in your arms but before a single recipe has been cooked. The Homemade Kitchen is Alana Chernila’s (of Eating From the Ground Up) second book, and though we’ve only been together a week the feelings are strong.

Alana’s first book, The Homemade Pantry, is about making many common items you would buy packaged from scratch. The book is arranged by aisle in the grocery store, and includes basics like yogurt and ricotta, condiments and spice mixes, and introductions to basic processes like fermenting and canning. Besides the empowerment you achieve by making things you previously bought, the outcomes are truly above and beyond anything from the store. The ricotta cheese recipe is truly life-changing. The end product is creamier and more velvety than I knew was possible, and a completely different food from the stiff and vaguely grainy options  I’ve bought before. Car snack 3 (the nutty granola bar) is a chocolate=y bar full of oats and nuts with a salty top that is everything I’ve ever wanted in a granola bar and never been able to buy. Each recipe has two names: ‘potato chips or the strangest thing in the garden,’ ‘macaroni and cheese or what holds us together,’ ‘chicken nuggets or at least it’s protein.’ These titles lead into honest stories about becoming a young parent, moving home to Western MA to start a family, and defining herself as a cook and writer. This cookbook is just about as good as having a great friend in the kitchen to tell you stories and praise your food.

The Homemade Kitchen is much in the same vein. Alana works with each recipe to instill confidence in the kitchen, but also as one shops and makes choices about food. What we eat is increasingly a political statement, and her push is to know what you’re eating but also have the freedom to choose what is right for you to eat. What we eat is a choice, and one that we make multiple times a day, every day. In the introduction Alana reflects on home cooking and says ‘Not only do I get to eat what I’ve made, I also get to delight in my ability to create it.’ This is exactly what keeps me returning to the kitchen to try new recipes or put together a dinner puzzle from forgotten fridge items. I have to eat every day, and yes I could easily rely on someone else for my subsistence, but I get so much more joy from doing it myself.

The book is grouped into chapters under positive phrases. ‘Be a beginner’ is about never being afraid to learn new things and the very basics of the kitchen like cooking an egg and roasting vegetables. ‘Be active’ is about fermentation, ‘use your scraps’ is recipes that make something out of food scraps, ‘be helpful’ are dishes to pass along to someone in their time of need. Each of these chapters starts with a short essay, and my favorite is the beginning of the chapter ‘do your best, and then let go.’ Alana writes about the challenges of the organic label. There is a lot of good that comes from it of course, but also expense and elitism. Wanting to ensure your food is as pure as possible is a goal for many, the reality is for most of us we can’t know the life of every item we eat: ‘In the end, my priorities are as complicated and in flux as the food system that feeds me. I do the best I can, and then I let go.’ As Alana also says, labels are important, but they can be hard to live by for everyone. The reminder that we shouldn’t judge others’ eating habits is an important one, and our system and the choices we can make within it are increasingly complicated. As the rest of the book echoes, eat what feels right to you.

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersI haven’t made any recipes from The Homemade Kitchen yet.  I’m most excited to try out some of the bigger projects, like making tofu and feta cheese. The preserved lemon hummus, braised lamb shanks, a muffin formula with many adaptations, and fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic are also jumping off the page to me. (Can you tell I have a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge I bought for one recipe and need helping using the rest of?) The photos in the book are lovely, but my favorite is this one for fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic. Just a bite left on the plate, but you still get a feel for exactly what the dish is (and how delightful it was to eat). This is the kind of cookbook you turn to when you need to figure out a dinner out of things you already have on hand, or want to host a crowd without lots of stress or money.  The recipes and stories will be a mainstay in my kitchen, and I’m sure of that before the cooking even happens (sometimes you just know).

Last week I cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBroccoli cheddar soup. Yes, again.  Easy and a delight. Served with bread and a salad with roasted beets, apples, pecans, and a Dijon honey vinaigrette.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersEggplant parm and pesto pasta. This was dinner upon our return from the weekend away. Eggplant and pesto pulled out of the freezer, water put on to boil for the pasta, and dinner within 30 minutes of arriving back plus lunch leftovers.

Ottolenghi’s corn polenta with eggplant sauce (pictured at top). This is one of those recipes I’ve passed over a hundred times, always planning to get to it later. Well it was finally the time, and I pulled the last eggplant I picked from the garden last week out of the fridge that needed to be cooked right that second. The eggplant took longer than 15 minutes to brown on medium for me (maybe 25), but then the rest of the dish came together quickly. I didn’t have fresh corn, so I used regular polenta from the pantry and stirred in some whipped feta at the end. The eggplant sauce was intensely tomato-y in the best way possible, and a perfect topping to rich polenta. I waited too long to try this, but won’t to remake it.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFrittata with leeks, kale, dried tomato, and feta and buttermilk biscuits. I have a little skillet and a very large skillet, and went with the large to make this frittata which was a bit ambitious (probably should have gone with the cast iron). What resulted was more like sautéed kale with a leek frittata base, but it was quite enjoyable. I rarely follow a frittata recipe anymore, but just saute the veg I’m using in the pan, beat the eggs with milk, salt, and pepper, add cheese (crumbly like feta goes straight into the pan, melty like cheddar goes into the eggs), pour the eggs into the pan and stick it in the over for 10 minutes on 400F. I just wanted a most basic of biscuit recipes so I used one from the Joy of Cooking which made for thin biscuits, but they did their job. I’m on the hunt for a go-to buttermilk biscuit recipe, if there are any suggestions.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Chickpeas and dumplings. This is another test recipe for The First Mess cookbook. A hearty, vegetable packed stew that thickened nicely with dill dumplings on top.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersThe return of oatmeal season!! I use 1:1 steel-cut to rolled oats, and 1:1 milk to water. If I have time, I toast the oats in a bit of butter before adding the liquid. Then I put in a chopped apple, pinch of salt, and sprinkle of cinnamon. Bring to a bubble on medium, and cook until all liquid is absorbed. Serve with maple syrup and dried cranberries.

Not something I cooked, but I watched the first few episodes of Chef’s Table this weekend and it is incredible. Fantastic production, fascinating chefs. I became disenchanted with food TV long ago (except for Alton Brown’s Good Eats, the eternal classic, and forgiving him for Cutthrout Kitchen). This show is devoid of cupcakes and EVOO references, and instead gets into the minds of great chef’s to understand their restaurants and what drives them to cook. It’s on Netflix, and worth using your free trial to watch (or invite yourself over a friend’s house to watch and offer to make dinner).

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School - Vegetal MattersNo matter how good of a cook you are, there is always something to learn. Kathleen Flinn graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (in case you too wondered how the school got its name….here you go) and struggled with her role as a chef. She gravitated towards writing and helping others become more confident in the kitchen which culminated in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. Her cooking school experiment started when she couldn’t help but notice a woman in the grocery store choosing all processed foods, and walking through the grocery store with her to show her what to buy to make the basic dishes processed foods emulate with far less money. From that she started her experiment with nine women (the one man recruited ended up dropping out). Flinn began by going into each cook’s kitchen, surveying their fridge, freezer, and pantry, eating a meal prepared by them and listening to the large personal roadblocks that kept them from success in the kitchen. The women’s problems are incredibly varied, from lack of time, negative reinforcement from spouses and family, kids who only like certain foods, and sudden changes of work circumstances, but every person was mostly held back by a lack of confidence.

Once you know how to cook the basics, it’s hard to remember what it was like when such simple dishes were still mysteries. I grew up with a myriad of bottled salad dressings on our fridge door, which was not for a lack of healthful eating (I’m still pretty sure my mom is made of salad, not blood and bones). It was just what was, and I can’t remember when I had the moment where I learned how to make salad dressing, but it was what spurred my interest in replacing the processed foods I purchased with a homemade alternative. From there I went on to make bread, cheese, pasta, tomato sauce, pickles, ketchup, ice cream, stock, salsa, and a number of other simple items. I don’t make all of these items all the time, but even making them once gives you such a better understanding of what really should go in a product, and makes you a more informed purchaser.

Whether you are a beginner or Jacques Pepin, there are many lessons to absorb from Flinn’s book. As a new cook it is comforting to hear the setbacks other new cooks have faced, and the incremental lessons that provide a knowledge base to feed oneself. Flinn does a great job of incorporating much of the content of the lessons she provided, and includes insights from the students for a beginner to absorb. For anyone interested in teaching others to cook, Flinn lays out a great set of lessons for teaching the basics.

Besides a lack of the basic knowledge and lack of confidence that kept most of the cooks from success in the kitchen, the main kitchen issue brought up was food waste. Many participants stopped at big box stores or purchased in larger quantities because it was cheaper per unit, but ended up throwing out a lot of food (especially produce), because they couldn’t use it. Flinn emphasizes that food wasted costs more than food used, so buying something large that you throw out a large percent of is ultimately far more expensive than the smaller product that is more expensive per pound that you use in entirety. The suggestions were to evaluate your fridge weekly and have a basic set of recipes that are easily adapted to use up leftovers, like making a big pot of soup, a salad, or a frittata. This is something I struggle with especially during the summer when all produce looks so good and I just want to cook with everything. Or when I plan out a meal for every night of the week, not accounting for more leftovers than I planned for or extra ingredients from a recipe that need to be used up as well. Not all of the kale can go into breakfasts, so I’m trying to be better about leaving a meal unplanned to leave room for using up everything.

My hope is that every person has the knowledge to cook themselves a basic meal. Eggs and toast can become breakfast; lettuce, oil and vinegar – lunch; and beans and rice – dinner. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School provides background on why many people may be reluctant to enter the kitchen, and an excellent overview of basic lessons that can take them from instant mashed potatoes to gratins. I especially liked the end where Flinn revisits the students to see their kitchens post classes, share another meal with them, and hear about what they took away from the lessons. She accepts that she can’t expect to change every aspect of each student’s eating habits, but instilled the confidence that everyone was lacking.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal MattersLast Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Spaghetti-stuffed roasted peppers. This was the least favorite meal of the week, but it was a good thing to work up from. There were a bunch of peppers to be used and all the other ingredients were on hand so it happened. I made a few modifications….I cooked the peppers as in this recipe because it was way easier, and used orzo because I had half a box in the cabinet and small pasta was going to be far easier to fit into my little peppers. I also topped them with a bit of mozzarella and parmesan because then needed a bit more something. Not the worst thing I’ve ever made (though I need to think on what that might have been), but not a stand out.

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Chorizo tomato salad. My favorite sausage maker started selling a chorizo-style sausage so I had to buy some and make this salad again before the end of tomato season. This time served with whipped feta on the toast instead of goat cheese. It doesn’t translate as well to leftovers, but still an awesome whole-meal salad.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Thai-style cabbage slaw. Did you know Laura of The First Mess is writing a cookbook?! It doesn’t come out until 2017 but I’m so excited. When Laura put out a call for recipe testers I actually ran to a computer to email her and was lucky enough to get a handful of recipes to provide feedback on. This is one of them, and it was crunchy, bright, and herbaceous with elements of sweet and sour.

Sticky teriyaki eggplant with herbed coconut cashew rice. While I can’t give out the slaw recipe, this is one Laura already published that is delightful. Along with the slaw it made a great vegetable-packed meal. I don’t have a grill so I broiled the eggplant for 8 minutes on high, flipping halfway through. My one change would be to make more sauce (probably double it) so there is some leftover for drizzling over the cooked eggplant and rice.

Thai slaw and eggplant summer rolls (pictures at top). I was heading out of town for an extra long weekend (which is why my normal Sunday post is on a Tuesday), so no real dinner was planned for Thursday night. I had a serving left of the Thai slaw, plus some more cabbage and a few pieces of the teriyaki eggplant. Summer roll wrappers were tucked away in the cabinet, and peanut sauce was in the freezer (I’ll post that recipe someday, I promise). I added more shredded cabbage to the slaw to stretch it a bit (and the filling would have been too wet otherwise), chopped up the eggplant, and made my rolls with some of the extra basil from the weeks recipes. It morphed scant servings into a way more fun meal.

Last Week I Cooked... - Vegetal Matters

Whipped feta is the cheese obsession du jour around here. This slightly messy but delicious breakfast that has been making regular appearances. A piece of toast slathered with whipped feta, topped with fried tomatoes and a fried egg.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal MattersAfter the usual reluctance I’ve started to accept fall. It’s not a season I dislike, but letting go of summer is always hard (have I mentioned I like eggplant and tomatoes?). But I also want to embrace the here and now, so we decided to throw an Oktoberfest party (and there is nary a nightshade on this menu). Besides sending out an invite, collecting firewood, and making mustard, the prep happened the day of. All the food was made beforehand and put out so guests could eat as they arrived and sampled beer.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

The Menu

Timeline

The only thing I made before the day of was the mustard which I started on Tuesday (soaking the seeds) and then finished Wednesday.

The party started at 7, so I shopped in the morning and got home around noon. First order of business was the apple cake, which needs 90 minutes in the oven. Then I made the potato salad, followed by the pretzel dough so it could rise. I puttered around setting some things up, sliced cabbage for the slaw, then rolled out the pretzels, boiled the water and preheated the oven. The pretzels were then boiled, painted with egg, and salted. Once the pretzels were in the oven, I put the sausage in baking sheets and punctured holes for the fat to drain out. After the pretzels came out of the oven I turned it up a bit and put the brats in to cook for about 30 minutes (remove them when they are a little brown on top). While the sausages cooked I made the hot slaw. I just set out all the food so people could graze, but this could be a sit down dinner as well.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

Notes

The flavor of the German potato salad was great. I overcooked my potatoes a bit so they were not the cleanest chunks, but the party did not seem affected by it.

I doubled the pretzel recipe and made half-sized pretzels, so I had 32 total. I was expecting about 15 people, and wanted everyone to be able to have 2 (there ended up being a few leftover, maybe 10). The dough rose just as it was supposed to, and was super easy to work with while rolling them out. I didn’t have pretzel salt (because I didn’t buy any….) and just used coarse salt which was a little intense.

This is seriously spicy mustard. I halved it because 5 cups of mustard seemed like a whole lot and it was a smart move. I am a spicy mustard lover, and just a tiny dollop of this is fine for me.

The brats were pretty hands off as I just stuck them in the oven. If I had a grill I may have used that, but the oven was already on and I needed to be in the kitchen so roasting was plenty easy. A chicken and apple sausage would be a good option if you don’t want all pork. I also read up on traditional Oktoberfest foods and considered roasting a chicken as well, but I’m glad I didn’t because that would have been so much meat. Good alternative for next time.

I wavered about putting the bacon in this but eventually decided to go with it (not my most vegetal of meals…). Caraway is a spice I disliked violently upon my first taste, but recently I’ve tried to be more accepting of. I used just a tiny pinch and felt very open and accomplished. In the end I thought this was very appropriate, and I really liked it paired with the potato salad, brats, and a little extra mustard.

This apple cake is so moist and great for a crowd. I have never bothered peeling the apples, used apple cider instead of orange juice and substituted just a bit of the white flour for wheat. It is a heavy cake, and took more like 105 minutes to bake for me.

Hosting an Oktoberfest Party - Vegetal Matters

I left the beer selection up to Will who picked a variety of German and American made märzens. German breweries we were able to find were Ayinger, Erdinger, and Weinstephaner, and then American Oktoberfests came from Sierra Nevada and Switchback. Guests brought lots of other options like Sam Adams, Blue Moon, Brooklyn Brewery and a few we already had. And one person brought a bottle of champagne that we didn’t see until everyone left…off theme, but always acceptable. We set out tasting  glasses and left bottles open on the counter so someone could just sample a beer or take a whole one. If I hosted this as a dinner party I might make it a more formal tasting with rating sheets and everything, but I liked this system with more people.

It was really fun to host a party outside of the times I feel like everyone is having something (don’t expect a Halloween or Christmas party here) with a good theme. I can see this becoming an annual occurrence. Excluding the year that I make it out to Munich, of course.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted eggplant and zaatar pizza. I almost made the eggplant parm pizza again, but opted for a change. I still used the dough recipe from the parm pizza, as it is my new favorite. A super wet dough that makes for a crispy, chewy crust. It does make more than a single baking sheet though, about a pizza and a half. The roasted eggplant becomes the perfect silky consistency that goes so well with salty feta and herbs. I may still like the eggplant parm pizza best, but this is a close second.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersTangled carrot salad. Every time I’ve made the eggplant and zaatar pizza I’ve also made this salad. I like carrying on the tahini theme, and the bright orange alongside the purple pizza. This salad can be a whole meal, but I made a lighter version without the lentils (or the broccoli sprouts). Ribbons are my favorite form to eat carrots in, ad it’s a nice salad dense with vegetables to balance a slightly indulgent pizza.

Barbecue chicken salad with tomatoes, peaches, and goat cheese ranch dressing. The best salads have fruit on them and some of the last of summer’s tomatoes and a tangy creamy dressing. So good I made it twice this week.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

One-pan farro with tomatoes. This may be the easiest dish I make. I have trouble accepting that all I need to do is throw everything together in a pot and stir it a couple times to get this. I always want a few more tomatoes, but otherwise this recipe is perfect as written and an excellent introduction to farro if you haven’t cooked with it.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

Broccoli cheddar soup. For an indulgent soup, there are a lot of vegetables packed in here. I made it with leeks instead of onions and used vegetable stock. My broccoli was also more like broccolini because that’s what comes from the farm I shop at, but it worked fine. a very satisfying thing to eat on a dreary, rainy day.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal Matters

No-knead bread.  This went along with soup and was toast for breakfast. I did use a bit of whole wheat flour, and let it rise for more like 18 hours (made the night before, then baked the following day after work) and it was just fine. It makes a very crusty loaf that is nice and spongy on the inside. Not as great as the bread from my favorite place, but good enough for a mid week fix.

When Will and I go to BirchTree (the favorite place just mentioned) we usually get their olive loaf toast with whipped feta, and then some kind of sweet toast (like country bread with butter and raspberry jam, or a special) and split them. I tried to recreate the experience using Ina’s whipped feta (halve the recipe, unless you are making toast for a crowd), and some plum raspberry honey jam I made earlier in the week to give new life to sad, softening fruit (pictured at top).

I somehow forgot to mention last week during my peach bonanza that I finally made Sara’s peach derby ice cream. I didn’t let it churn as long as I should of (my fault for finishing the ice cream after 10pm…), so it made for a hard, compact ice cream, but the flavor was excellent.