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The New “It” Girl

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Kale is the new “It” girl.  She’s popular (she seems to be on the menu of every restaurant I visit), she’s productive (she’s high in fiber, otherwise known as “nature’s broom”), and she’s sexy when paired with add-ins such as colorful currants, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, part of the family of veggies that is thought to have anti-oxidant effects.  She’s low in calories, high in fiber and a great source of vitamins A, C and K.

While you can certainly cook kale, my favorite recipe is a simple kale salad with citrus dressing.  The orange juice and the honey complement the sharp taste of the greens rather nicely.  This recipe is great for a party because you can make it ahead of time.

Kale Salad with Citrus Dressing

Citrus dressing:

¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup honey
¼ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1 clove of garlic

Chopped curly kale (or a bag of pre-chopped)

Whisk together everything except the garlic.  Peel the garlic and press with the side of a knife to sort of flatten.  Drop the garlic in the salad dressing.  If possible, let the dressing sit for a few hours in order to enhance the garlic flavor.  If you are in a hurry, that’s OK. The dressing will still have a good flavor, but with a less pungent garlic taste.

Thoroughly rinse the kale and dry.  After I dry it in the salad spinner, I squeeze it in a paper towel to get any excess water out of the leaves.

Spoon the dressing over the kale.  Salt to taste.  Then, massage it through the kale with your (clean) hands.  If you have time, let the salad sit for a few hours.  Kale leaves are rather thick, so you don’t have to worry about them wilting.  Letting the salad sit for awhile allows the dressing to permeate those thick leaves.

One year ago today, my Aunt Muriel passed away. 

I can still hear her voice, and I know that my mom misses her a lot.  They were only 14 months apart…some people even thought they were twins.  I think it was the small stature, the short haircuts and the identical gold-color Toyota Corollas that they each drove.

The two things I miss talking to her about are cooking and cats (but not cooking cats!).  She loved to be in the kitchen and was always clipping recipes and arranging them in binders.  I can only aspire to be as organized as her.  I bought some binders awhile back and organized some of my recipes, but many of them are still in folders, boxes and piles in the kitchen.

One of the recipes she gave me was for Cod and Shrimp Stoup with Salt and Vinegar Mashed Potatoes.  She clipped it out of a magazine, but I have no idea which one.  I finally got around to making it today and it is heavenly!  I especially like the “kick” from the vinegar and the lemon juice.

A light, summery, seafood stoup!

Cod and Shrimp Stoup with Salt and Vinegar Mashed Potatoes

(with a few variations from the original recipe at the end)

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced

Salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 ribs of celery from the heart, chopped

3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large bay leaf

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon

Pepper

½ cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken broth

One 14.5 ounce can diced or stewed tomatoes

1 ½ pounds thick cod fillets, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

In a deep pot, add the potatoes and enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, salt the water and cook the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain.

I boil my potatoes in the same pot my mom used to use when I was a kid. The pot is older than me!

In a Dutch oven or a large, deep skillet with a lid, heat the EVOO over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and lemon peel; season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the onions are softened, 7 to 8 minutes.  Pour in the wine and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in ½ cup chicken broth (see notes below for my quantity) and the tomatoes with their juice; bring to a simmer.  Add the cod in a single layer, cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Gently stir in the shrimp; season with salt and pepper .  Cover and cook until the cod and shrimp are just opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice; discard the bay leaf.

The old and the new working side-by-side

Mash the potatoes with the remaining ½ cup chicken broth, the vinegar and butter; season with salt. 

To serve, mound the potatoes into shallow bowls.  Ladle the soup around the potatoes.

Additional notes:

  • Since this is a quick-cooking dish, it’s best to have everything chopped and de-veined before starting.
  • I used Russet potatoes, but I would try the smaller white potatoes next time.
  • I used 4 sprigs of fresh thyme and threw them in the pot un-chopped.  Just remove them before serving.
  • I wanted the dish to be more soupy, so I added about 2-3 cups of chicken broth to the stoup.
  • They only white vinegar I had was regular, old-fashioned white distilled vinegar (the kind we used to put on our salads before the advent of all the designer vinegars).  It was delish in the mashed potatoes!

Achin’ for Bacon?

Achin’ for bacon but don’t want to eat the entire slab in one sitting?  Then roll it and freeze it!

 Bacon has a bad reputation.  You can see the fat…about 40% of which is saturated.  And it is loaded with salt, usually due to the curing process.

 But bacon tastes sooooo good!  And one average-width slice contains only about 40-45 calories.  So if your preference is to use a small amount of bacon as an occasional addition to your spinach salad, country potatoes, black beans or scrambled eggs, then just fry up what you need and freeze the rest. 

 The most convenient way to freeze bacon is to roll each piece individually, freeze them on a cookie sheet, and then transfer the rolls to a zippered bag.  Then you can effortlessly grab 1 or 2 rolled slices as needed.

Ready for The Big Freeze

 

 So go ahead…take care of that occasional ache!

 

This is what showed up recently on my miniature lemon tree…the one I planted just 2 short years ago.  Wow, that was fast!

The tree is only about 3 feet high, but the lemons are regular sized.  And they have a zestier taste than the lemons on my other tree, which is much older, much larger and in desperate need of a good pruning.

Miniature fruit trees (sometimes called dwarf trees) are a great choice for small backyard gardens or balconies, as many varieties can be grown in large pots.  So, you get a lot of bang for your spatial buck!  You can find dwarf apple trees, peach trees, citrus trees and nectarine trees, to name a few. 

So, when life gives you lemons, just go ahead and pick them off the tree! 

Here are a couple of websites with some good information on miniature fruit trees:

http://miniatures.about.com/od/livingminiatures/a/dwarfruit.htm

http://www.sunset.com/garden/fruits-veggies/lattice-espaliered-dwarf-apples-00400000016114/

There is less than an hour left of Mardi Gras.  And then…40 days of abstaining from something or other…usually a food or (alcoholic) beverage item.  At least that’s the tradition that I practiced during my 12 years in Catholic school.

Even as a child, though, I had a problem with the idea of giving up something.  I guess I knew more than a few kids who gave up some sort of candy or dessert, but still acted evil toward others.  One of the things that makes me go “hmmm”.

And then, a few years ago, a priest said something during his Homily that made perfect sense to me…”How is my giving up a Snickers bar going to help me get into Heaven?”

I’m just sayin’.

Just how tall does corn grow?

My mom is from Madisonville, one of the many small towns that spans the Louisiana landscape.  And it’s just a little bit bigger than my backyard.

 Although I am a city girl (Los Angeles born and bred!), we made several trips to Madisonville when I was young.  On our first trip, I instantly bonded with my cousins, Paula and Lisa.  There is a special bond between cousins, and ours has remained steady for many years.

 One day, while we were playing with our dolls on Aunt Deenie’s screen porch, my mother decided that it would be cute to take a picture of “the girls” next to the corn plants that were taller than we were.  She promptly interrupted our debate about which outfit Barbie should wear on her next date and made us pose in the garden.  Despite the smile in the picture, I was not originally happy about this silly interruption.  Imagine Mom thinking that a picture of us among the scratchy, insect-ridden plants was more important than Barbie! 

 

 
 
 

Children of the corn?

 

Fast forward a few years.  I was about 10 or 12 and my mom came up with another brilliant idea involving corn.  “We should plant some corn in our garden.”  Our “garden” was a slight patch of mediocre dirt next to the clothesline outside of our apartment building.  “I want you to have the experience of seeing how tall cornstalks can grow.”  So, we planted some corn seeds and they blossomed!  Once again, the cornstalks grew to be taller than me.  I remember harvesting the corn plant and peeling back the silk to find a real ear of corn!

The moral of this story is that it’s always a memorable experience to step out of our everyday lifestyle and to try on someone else’s.  I doubt that I would be able to remember that day in the cornfield with Lisa and Paula so clearly if it were not for that picture.

 So, I urge you to plant some corn this spring and see for yourself how tall a cornstalk can grow.

 Go to www.almanac.com/plantingtable and enter your location for local seed-sowing dates for various plants.

Roasted Veggies

Valentine’s Day might be over, but I have a new love…roasted veggies!  My new suitor has been pursuing me for months.  And this is my idea of a perfect relationship…I don’t have to put a lot of work into it and I get all the benefits!

 

Vegetables roasted at high heat in the oven are easy to make and quite heavenly to eat.  The roasting process caramelizes the veggies and unlocks their natural sugars, turning dull or bitter vegetables into intense, full-flavored bites.

 

Most types of vegetables show their best side when roasted.  A few, however, don’t respond well to the high heat of the oven…such as veggies with a high water content (like celery) and leafy greens such as spinach or kale. 

 

Here are the basics:

 

1)      Heat is crucial.  Turn the oven to 425 degrees and pre-heat for at least 10 minutes before adding the veggies.

 

2)      Size matters.  In theory, all vegetables should be cut the same size to insure even browning.  However, zucchini and summer squash have a higher water content than say, carrots, so I cut my squash a bit smaller than the denser vegetables, like carrots and parsnips.  Generally, turnips, parsnips and carrots are cut into ½ to ¾ -inch chunks while squash is sliced into 1-inch rounds.  Onions brown nicely at the edges when quartered and then separated into individual layers.  Asparagus and string beans can remain whole.  Just make sure to break off the woody ends of the asparagus and remove any stems from the string beans.  If you find that you like your veggies crunchier, cut them a bit larger; if you like them cooked through a bit more, cut them into smaller pieces.  It’s OK to experiment!

 

3)       Place the cut vegetables in a large bowl and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Make sure each piece is coated with the olive oil, as this will give you nice, evenly browned veggies rather than dry, burnt ones.  

 

4)      Respect each veggie’s personal space.  Spread the veggies out, in a single layer, on a baking sheet that has been covered with foil (unless you are opposed to measures that cut down on pot scrubbing time).  Don’t place the vegetables on top of one another.  Each piece of veggie needs to have contact with the baking sheet; the baking sheet conducts heat and facilitates the browning process.

 

Before

 

5)      Put the pan in the oven.  Stay in the kitchen.  This is not the time to fold clothes or sweep the bathroom floor (for those of you who do such chores).  I already made that mistake for you…and forgot that the veggies were roasting while I was folding clothes.  The result was still edible, but overcooked for my taste.  Besides, when you hang out near the oven, you can hear the wonderful sizzling sound of the little guys cooking away.

 

6)      After about 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and close the oven door to prevent the heat from escaping.  Check the underside of a few of your veggies; if they are still pale, return the pan to the oven for 1-2 minutes and watch carefully.  If they are a nice brown color, turn them over and return the pan to the oven to that they can roast evenly, for about another 10-12 minutes.

 

7)      This is the most important step…eat and enjoy! 

 

 P.S.  I like to drizzle mine with a little balsamic vinegar as soon as they come out of the oven…blissful!

 

Ready to eat!