Massaged Kale Salad

Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs

Here in the US, kale is primarily in season from January through April. With this window rapidly closing, we are trying to enjoy as much fresh, local kale as we can. So, when we got a beautiful bunch of Lacinato kale from our community supported agriculture (CSA) box, I decided to try something that, admittedly, sounds rather strange — massaged kale.

The inspiration for massaged kale came from a dish Jill ordered from Prato, a modern Italian restaurant that our friends in Winter Park, Florida took us to a while back. While their menu changes regularly, they often have a variation on the kale salad that does not disappoint.

To make my interpretation of the salad, you need:

  • 1 Bunch of fresh Lacinato kale
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Eggs, hard-boiled (see notes below), cut in half
  • 4 Small sweet pepper (or a medium yellow or orange bell pepper) thinly sliced
  • 4 Strips of crispy bacon, broken into small bits
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 2 Radishes, thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 Fresh stawberries, sliced
  • Grated Parmesan, to taste

Remove the tough stems from the Kale and thinly slice the leaves. Toss the kale in a mixing bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Massage the kale vigorously with your fingertips for 2 minutes. The kale will soften and wilt slightly. Top the kale with the remaining ingredients to make a fresh, healthy salad. The lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper used to massage the kale creates a nice coating, so additional salad dressing is not necessary. Makes 2 dinner-sized salads.

Massaged local kale salad
Massaged local kale salad

To make the perfect hard-boiled egg: Put the eggs in a saucepan that is large enough to cover them with 1 inch of cold water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, put a lid on the pan and remove it from the heat.  Wait 11 minutes, then drain the pot and place the eggs under cool running water for a minute. Carefully crack and peel the eggs.

Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs
Kale salad with hard-boiled eggs
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Tomato Soup with Roasted Fennel and Chickpeas

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

I love community supported agriculture (CSA). For a couple of dollars each week, I get fresh, local produce that is in season, and I support my local economy. It also forces me to diversify my cooking and to be creative. For example, this past week we received savoy cabbage, kale, a fennel bulb, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and one lonely beet. The savoy cabbage and carrots were destined for Asian Rotisserie Chicken Salad (a recipe from http://www.CookSmarts.com). The spinach and lettuce are destined for green smoothies. There are numerous options for the kale. But what to do with fennel and a beet?

Fennel and a beet
What do you do with a fennel bulb and one beet?

I searched through my pantry for inspiration and came up with this idea for a soup made with the fennel, the beet, the kale, and a couple of pantry staples.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium beet
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas, drained
  •  3 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 (32oz) carton low sodium chicken stock (vegetable stock would work also)
  • 1/2 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 425 degrees. Trim any stalk from the beet. Coat the beet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon of each). Wrap the beet in aluminum foil and put it in the oven. The beet should roast for 45 minutes to an hour, which is plenty of time to make the rest of the soup.

Toss the chopped fennel and the diced onion with two teaspoons of olive oil. Spread the fennel and onions evenly on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 12 minutes. Stir the fennel and onion mixture and roast for another 5 minutes. Stir the vegetable mixture again and add the chickpeas. Roast the fennel, onions, and chickpeas for 10 minutes.Roasting the fennel like this really helps mellow its flavor. Remove the pan with the fennel, onions, and chickpeas from the oven, but let the beet continue to roast.

While the beet roasts, heat a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil together in a 6-quart dutch oven over medium heat. Once the butter melts, add in the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. The garlic should be a golden brown, but not burnt. Add in the dried chili flakes (you can add more if you prefer a spicier soup). Cook for an additional minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes. Add in the balsamic vinegar. Let the tomato mixture cook for 3 minutes, then gradually stir in the chicken stock. Add in the lime zest and lime juice, the dried oregano, and the dried basil. The lime zest and juice adds a brightness to the soup that enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.

Add the roasted vegetables and chickpeas to the soup. Turn the soup down to low heat and let it simmer while the beet roasts. Once the beet has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes. Once cool, peel the outer skin from the beet, chop the beet, and add the chopped beet to the soup.

As a quick snack, I stole a slice of beet and put it on a Melba toast with a hunk of Mizithra cheese. Not a bad little snack to enjoy while the soup cooks.

Beet and Mizithra
A quick bite of beet and Mizithra on toast

Return the soup to medium heat and add the chopped kale. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper).

Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas
Tomato soup with roasted fennel and chickpeas

Once the kale has wilted into the soup, it is ready to serve.

A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables
A bowl of soup full of CSA vegetables

A Prosperous Plate (Hoppin’ John, Greens, and Cornbread)

In traditional Southern cuisine, dinner on New Years Day is filled with foods that symbolically set the table for prosperity in the coming year. Dinner on New Years Day includes black eyed peas (representing coins), greens (representing cash), and cornbread (which represents gold). Not wanting to miss out on some good luck, I made Hoppin’ John, sautéed kale, and cornbread for dinner. I don’t know if it will bring riches for the coming year, but it was definitely a great dinner to share with friends.

To bring us gold, I made cornbread. I actually cheated to save time and made Jiffy cornbread from a box, but cooked it in a cast iron cornbread pan.

Jiffy cornbread
Jiffy cornbread

I felt a little bad about not making cornbread from scratch until my friend Kyle said that the cornbread was delicious and “much better than cornbread from that little blue box.” I almost held my tongue, but finally admitted that it was in fact “cornbread from that little blue box.”

Cornbread from that little blue box
Cornbread from that little blue box

To bring us cash, I made kale sautéed with garlic. This quick and simple recipe results in delicious greens that are neither bitter nor mushy.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add sliced garlic. Let the garlic flavor infuse the oil. As the garlic starts to turn a light golden brown, toss in a bunch of kale (stems removed and leaves sliced into approximately two-inch squares). With a pair of tongs, turn the kale several times until it starts to wilt. Add a light drizzle of red wine to the skillet and let the kale steam for a minute. Season with salt and pepper and remove while the kale still has a little bit of crunch left.

Sautéed kale
Sautéed kale

To bring us coins in the coming year, I made my version of Hoppin’ John.

For my take on Hoppin’ John,  add two cups of uncooked white rice to four cups of boiling chicken stock. Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, or until all of the stock is absorbed. Using stock instead of water makes the rice taste a lot richer (and we are certainly going for richer with this meal) and helps develop the flavors of the dish better.

Rice and chicken stock
Rice and chicken stock

Slice four chicken sausages into 1/4 in wide coins and sauté in a skillet with olive oil over medium heat until the edges of the sausages start to get crispy. To the skillet, add a small diced onion, a diced red bell pepper, and a minced clove of garlic. Sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Add about 12 ounces of black eyed peas (I used fresh black eyed peas, but using dried peas that have been soaking overnight should work fine too).  Stir the ingredients together and spoon in the rice, mixing well between each spoonful. Season the Hoppin’ John to taste with salt, cracked black pepper, and ground red pepper.

Hoppin' John
Hoppin’ John

Kyle and Shannon joined us, bringing a bean salad with black eyed peas for added fortune. With gold, cash, and coins represented on the plate, we enjoyed something much more valuable than money — the opportunity to share dinner and fellowship with great friends.

Hoppin' John, kale, cornbread, and bean salad
A Prosperous Plate

Although they have no obvious symbolic meaning, we rounded dinner off with some cake ball pops that Jill and Shannon made.

Cake ball pops
Cake ball pops

Happy New Year!

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall is my favorite food season. I enjoy the hearty, earthy flavors of fall vegetables and wait patiently through the year for the weather to cool down just enough to spur me to make big satisfying pots of chili or stew. Inspired by the produce that has begun to show up in the grocery stores recently, I decided to make a pot of vegetable soup.

For my fall-inspired variation on vegetable soup, I  used:

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 small Sweet Dumpling squash
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4 oz of Baby Portobello mushrooms
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz can Cannellini beans
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 1/2 bunch Lacinato kale
  • 1/2 bunch Swiss chard
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Salt and pepper
Ingredients for vegetable soup
Ingredients for vegetable soup

For the soup, start with the traditional carrots, celery, and onion. Peel and dice the carrots, cut the celery stalks in half lengthwise and dice the halves, mince the garlic, and finely chop the onion. To this traditional mix, also chop about four ounces of baby portobello mushrooms and prepare a Sweet Dumpling squash.

To prepare the Sweet Dumpling squash, cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, and carefully peel the the skin of the squash off with a sharp knife. Dice the squash flesh into pieces about the same size as the pieces of diced carrots.

Sweet Dumpling Squash
Diced Sweet Dumpling squash

In a 6-quart cast-iron dutch oven, cook four slices of bacon (halved) on medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside for later. For a healthier option, leave out the bacon and add olive oil to the pot instead.

Bacon
Bacon? Yes please.

After removing the cooked bacon, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and squash to the pot with the bacon grease, cooking about 15 minutes until the vegetables soften.

Vegetables for the soup
Vegetables for the soup

Once the vegetables soften, add dried sage and thyme (about a half teaspoon each) and the can of diced tomatoes with their juices. Add in the chopped mushroom and the can of cannellini beans. Mix well and pour in the chicken broth.

Bring the soup to boil and reduce the heat to medium low. Dice the Russet potatoes and add them to the simmering soup.

Diced Russet Potatoes
Diced Russet potatoes

After about 10 minutes, check to see if the potatoes are soft. While the soup simmers, wash and cut the kale and Swiss chard into 1 inch squares., removing the stem. When the potatoes are soft, add kale and chard to the soup.

Kale and chard added to the soup
Add the kale and chard to the soup

As the kale and chard begins to wilt, stir the soup well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fall vegetable soup simmering on the stove
Fall vegetable soup simmering on the stove

This hearty, fall inspired soup is full of vegetables and flavor. The Sweet Dumpling squash, mushrooms, kale, and chard provide a tasty twist on more traditional vegetable soups. Bowls of this warm soup offer earthy, satisfying flavors of the season, perfect for the Fall’s cooler weather.

Bowls of fall vegetable soup
Bowls of fall vegetable soup

Asparagus and Zucchini Panini with Kale Chips

A couple of years ago, Jill’s grandma gave us a Wolfgang Puck Panini Maker as a gift. Honestly, I switched out the interchangeable plates and primarily used the panini maker as a waffle maker instead but this week Jill was craving panini for dinner. Because asparagus and zucchini are in season, we used these vegetables as the base of the panini. Kale chips sounded like the perfect, light side dish to pair with our cheesy, crispy panini.

I basically followed the recipe for kale chips featured on the popular food blog Kath Eats Real Food (KERF) using Lacinato Kale and seasoning it with some Hawaiian Red Salt that caught my eye at Earth Fare. Of course, you can always make kale chips with other varieties of kale and kosher salt or other seasonings.

Red salt and washed kale
Red salt and washed kale

Although I may have put a little too much salt on the kale chips, I liked the contrast between the deep dark green of the kale and the bold, clay-like red color of the sea salt.

Kale ready to go into the oven
Kale ready to go into the oven

The ingredient list for the panini is relatively short:

  • Sliced bread (whatever looks best at the bakery)
  • Pesto (store bought)
  • Grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Asparagus
  • Zucchini

To make the panini, spread one and a half teaspoons of pesto evenly over two slices of bread. I used a tuscan boule from the Earth Fare bakery for this sandwich. Then, I sprinkled about an ounce and a half of shredded mozzarella over the two slices of bread. I sliced the zucchini into thin circles and I sliced the asparagus in half and then in half again lengthwise (to keep them from rolling around on the sandwich and also help them cook evenly). Grill the sandwiches on the panini maker until the cheese melted and the bread had golden brown grill marks.

Making the panini
Making the panini

Jill and I split the sandwiches, each taking half of the asparagus panino and half of the zucchini panino. Though we enjoyed both, the consensus was the asparagus panino prevailed over the zucchini panino in taste. I thinkthe way the asparagus was sliced allowed for more mozzarella to melt between the vegetables, giving the asparagus panino delicious advantage over the zucchini panino. The kale chips paired well with the panini, making a dramatic (and healthy) alternative to potato chips. Although it seemed a little strange at first, we followed the KERF suggestions and ate the kale chips with ketchup and loved the flavor combination.

Panini with kale chips
Panini with kale chips

I encourage you to cook up some asparagus while it is in season and to be adventurous enough to make kale chips. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Square Foot Garden

Maybe it’s in my genes or maybe it’s in my blood, but I love growing things. I have fond memories of digging up sweet potatoes with Papa Burnum and riding in the field checking on the cows and the garden with Papa AE. In school I enjoyed putting dirt and seeds into mason jars and learning about plants while watching the seeds sprout and grow.

Perhaps trying to recapture some of childhood wonder, I decided earlier this year to build a square foot garden in my backyard. It is called a square foot garden, because the grid layout results in individual one foot by one foot squares.

Creating the Grid System
My knot work

Since my garden is four feet by four feet, I have sixteen cells to plant. After constructing the garden, I filled it with a mixture of compost, potting soil, and garden soil. I then planted a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Square Foot Garden
My Square Foot Garden

For the initial spring garden, I planted rainbow chard, kale, cabbage, parsley, lavender, oregano, and a bird eye pepper.

Parsley
Parsley

The bird eye pepper died almost immediately, but the chard, kale, and oregano grew incredibly well. Basil quickly replaced the bird eye pepper spot.

Rainbow Chard
Rainbow Chard

In about a month, the cabbage grew from this:

Baby CabbageTo this:

Adult Cabbage

The garden fresh vegetables have been used in a variety of dishes ranging from Scallops with Chard Risotto to Cheesy Polenta with Kale. Check back for garden updates and recipes featuring our garden fresh herbs and vegetables.