Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wilted Kale With Lemon, Olives, and Pancetta (and an Oxford Comma)

Michel has invented yet another new recipe for kale.  His ingenious method for using citrus to tame what some people find to be the belligerent nature of the plant makes for a delightful taste of summer months to come.  (This polar vortex thing can’t last forever.) The recipe is neither Kosher nor vegan, although there are several "facon" products on the market if you’re brave enough to try them. Frankly, they all look like they came out of a Play-Doh extruder to me.  

This refreshing and healthful kale salad is nothing like the lifeless “wilted lettuce” salads I remember from my youth.   You probably know that construction as well if you grew up in a small town where neighbors would share the abundance of their summer gardens. My childhood backyard neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Alf Weller and their daughters Catherine and Swearingen, would show up at the back door with armloads of vegetables, often including a "mess" of greens. Exactly what a "mess" equals I don't know, but when you have a mess of fresh greens you need to use them before they go bad in the refrigerator.  Hence, the wilted lettuce salad with bacon, sugar, vinegar, and other Protestant ingredients I can’t recall.  Of course we know that lettuce is mostly water, so what was left after the cast-iron skillet wilting process was a rather soupy green mixture from which I would pick out the bacon and leave the rest.  Can you blame me? 

Time to grab your kale-chopping weapon of choice and think about summer—or England, if you must. 

Wilted Kale with Lemon, Olives, and Pancetta

  • one bunch of kale (a big bunch, not the baby stuff)
  • one Meyer lemon (or any lemon will do)
  • a one-inch slice of pancetta, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup Sicilian olives

  • Remove stems from kale.
  • Cut the olives into quarters. They're pretty big fellas to start with.
  • Chop kale leaves, place in a large bowl, and add any oil leftover from the olives. 
  • Fry pancetta cubes in a skillet.
  • Once the pancetta has cooked, squeeze the juice of a whole Meyer lemon into the skillet and stir.  (You will notice that the mixture actually starts to thicken, due to some scientific interaction only Alton Brown could explain--at length.)
  • Pour the pancetta-lemon dressing over the kale and stir well.  The citrus does the wilting—no need to put the greens in the skillet. 
  • EAT.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Vegan Cheese, No Trees

My first attempt at making enchiladas happened years ago when I moved from Kentucky to Midland, Texas.  Total culture shock—tumbleweeds, dust storms, businessmen dressed in cowboy boots and suits just like J.R. Ewing.  My new neighbor, Brenda, tried to help me acclimate by making sure we had bottled water delivery (because the water is truly awful) and showing me how to make green enchiladas and jalapeño cornbread.  It wasn’t just the food and water that were strange to me, though.  I found it amusing to learn that there was a town not too far away called No Trees.  They even had a post office: Notrees, Texas, 79759. (Population: 300 +/-) And then there was Sand Hills State Park.  It was just sand—lots of sand and a few sad picnic tables.  So I took up needlepoint and English smocking and spent a lot of time indoors.  I managed to produce enough needlepoint holiday stockings for the whole family during my five-year West Texas Adventure. 

Michel has been to Texas many times on business trips to Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Dallas, etc., but never as far west as Midland (where none other than George W. Bush and his lovely wife Laura grew up).  Michel has enjoyed his Texas food experiences and, fortunately, he doesn’t share my pessimism about cooking so-called Tex-Mex food.  Actually, I’m pretty pessimistic about my cooking skills, period.  Let’s be clear about that.  There's a good reason I'm writing about food instead of cooking it. 

Today’s dish:  Vegan Black Bean Enchiladas
(If you’re a fallen vegan, feel free to top with a generous dollop of sour cream.)

Vegan Black Bean Enchiladas

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

You will need a package of flour tortillas.  We found fat-free, vegan flour tortillas at Whole Foods.

Black Bean Filling:
  • 1 cup black beans, soaked overnight
  • ½ can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 1 can “Mexican style” diced tomatoes
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • Heat coconut oil in 3-quart saucepan.
  • Add onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeño.
  • Sweat onion mixture over medium heat until onions are translucent.
  • Add chopped chipotle peppers, tomatoes, cumin, and coriander.  Mix well.
  • Add black beans and enough vegetable broth to cover the mixture.
  • Cook over low heat for 1 to 1½ hours until beans are tender. 
  • There should be enough liquid left to use as sauce for enchiladas.

Vegan Cheese Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or any interesting mustard—not the yellow stuff)
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast

  • Heat coconut oil in 1½ quart saucepan.
  • Add garlic, coconut milk, and mustard. 
  • Reduce heat and add nutritional yeast.
  • Whisk over low heat until mixture thickens—only a few minutes.


  • 1 fresh tomato, chopped
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  The end.

Putting it all together:

  • Heat tortillas in microwave per instructions on package.
  • Spoon cheese mixture into center of tortilla and top with black bean filling.
  • Roll tortilla to close and place seam down in oblong baking dish. 
  • Repeat until you’ve filled enough tortillas for you and your dinner companions, or until your baking dish is filled.
  • Top with sauce from black bean mixture. Drizzle remaining vegan cheese sauce over the whole thing.
  • Heat in the oven until bubbly—about 15 minutes.
  • Add guacamole and dig in.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Make Soup, Not French Toast.

Here in Louisville we are experiencing our second Polar Vortex event of the season with a little bit of snow and a whole lot of cold air.  Local television weather personnel stir panic in the hearts and minds of those who hurriedly pillage the supermarkets for the usual Emergency French Toast ingredients: milk, bread, eggs, and beer (because beer is apparently a little known but critical ingredient).  Mind you, I’m waiting for someone to come out with a line of winter weather gear called “Polar Vortex”—sure to give The North Face some lively competition.  

Michel doesn’t make French toast on cold days, or any other days, for that matter.  During this cold snap, he’s been making soup. This week it’s garlic soup.  If the thought of garlic soup scares you a little, let me assure you it is perfectly safe and extremely healthful.  And vegan.  

If you’re interested in a little snow day reading on the benefits of garlic, here’s a rather short list including everything from antioxidants to mosquito repellent.  And an old-fashioned trick for removing splinters.  Who knew?
Of course there is California’s popular Gilroy Garlic Festival in July. You’ve probably seen programs about it on travel/food channels.  And if you can’t wait until July to get your garlic fix, there’s National Garlic Day on April 19, 2014.  Again, who knew?  Celebrating National Garlic Day

Ready to make some soup?

Vegan Garlic Soup with Squash and Root Vegetables
  • 2 cups cubed butternut squash (Any squash will do.)
  • 2 turnips, cut into cubes
  • 3 carrots cut into ½ inch slices
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1 carton vegetable broth, maybe a little extra
  • 1 cup (or more) white wine
  • 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses—maybe

In your favorite soup-making vessel:
  • Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for one hour or until vegetables are fork tender.  (If some of the liquid has cooked away, add a little more vegetable broth.)
  • “Fish out” about half of the cooked vegetables and put them in a blender.  (You will need to blend them in two parts because they won’t fit in the average-sized blender all at once. This also means you’ll need a second pot to temporarily hold the blended veggies while you do the second batch.)
  • For your safety:  Add a little cold vegetable broth to cool off the vegetables before blending.  Otherwise the hot mixture explodes, remember?
  • Blend at low speed until smooth.
  • Return blended vegetables to the cooking liquid you left in the pot.  Adjust the thickness with vegetable broth to your liking. 
  • If the soup is too tart for your taste, add a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses. (Or save your pomegranate molasses for some super-fancy french toast.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Farro. Not the Woody Allen type.

Michel is NOT a filmgoer.  Actually, he’s not really much of a film watcher at all when it comes to current cinema.  There are a few films of which he is especially fond, though—Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction, Scarface, The Godfather, among others—in short, nothing I really have the stomach for.  And he has a peculiar gift for committing to memory the smallest details from films, books, music recordings, etc.  It’s involuntary.  And a little scary.  I’ve never heard him talk about how he acquired the ability to recall these things.   It’s just what he does.  Same thing with violins and bows.  And paintings. 

I often tell Michel that I don’t know how he can carry his head around with all that stuff in it.  Despite my inability to watch Pulp Fiction or Goodfellas from beginning to end and Michel’s distaste for the Nora Ephron-type films I sometimes enjoy, we do share the same attitude about Woody Allen.  We think he’s tiresome.  For many years I wondered why I didn’t “get” Woody Allen movies.  I tried to find them funny and I attributed my lack of amusement to some kind of intellectual deficit on my part.  Turns out I just don’t like them.

And now for the actual farro. 

It’s a rather biblical-looking grain that offers a high protein, low gluten option for those who are full- or part-time vegetarians.  It has a chewy, pasta-like texture with fewer carbs than your favorite noodles.  Delicious!

Farro with fennel, tarragon, garlic, and pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups farro
  • One large fennel bulb, “rough” chopped
  • One pepper, chopped—red, green, or yellow—whatever you like
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon or (even better) 4-5 sprigs of fresh tarragon
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup (or more) red wine
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • NOT for vegans:  an optional “sprinkle” of parmesan cheese

  • Heat olive oil in a deep skillet.
  • Add onion, fennel, garlic, pepper and chopped fresh tarragon/dried tarragon.
  • Cook over medium heat until onion and fennel are translucent.

  • Turn up heat to high and pour in the wine.
  • Bring to a boil and wait for alcohol to be absorbed.
  • Once the alcohol has been absorbed/evaporated, add the farro.
  • Add enough vegetable broth to completely submerge the whole mixture.
  • Cook uncovered over medium heat for 30-45 minutes.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pimentón, “Noises Off”

As promised yesterday, here is one of Michel’s recipes incorporating pimentón—the smoky, exotic relative of the generic red paprika dutifully sprinkled over deviled eggs by countless church ladies in a pinch for a pot-luck dish.  No disrespect.  Michel loves deviled eggs.  And if you’re interested in reading up on pimentón, here is a New York Times article (with a definite carnivorous slant) that will most likely answer all your questions—even the ones you don’t know you have:
Pimentón: It’s Spanish for ‘Better Than Paprika’

If you're a pescetarian, take note.  Michel has discovered that pimentón works beautifully with grilled fish.  He makes romesco sauce with pimentón (recipe linked in a previous post), then spoons it over grilled monkfish or scallops.  Actually, he likes pimentón with almost any fish—even lowly sardines, which deserve our respect based on their nutritional merits alone.   Open a can of sardines (don’t be cheap—buy the good ones), grab your favorite crackers, your new can of pimentón, and have at it.  Cracker, sardine, pimentón. Repeat. 

And that’s how we get to “Noises Off”—a very funny British play wherein the housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett, is forever losing track of the sahhdeeens she has prepared to serve. 

Don’t worry, vegans.  Here’s your pimentón recipe.

Cannellini Beans with Garlic and Pimentón
  • 1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight (or two cans from the supermarket if you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ an onion, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ red pepper, finely chopped
  • 7 or 8 salted capers (depending on their size), also finely chopped
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of pimentón
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or oregano
 In your soup pot:
  • Heat the olive oil then add onion, garlic, capers, and pepper.
  • Sweat the onion mixture over low to medium heat until onions are translucent.
  • Add cannellini beans and enough vegetable broth just to cover them.  You can add more broth as needed to keep beans covered as they cook.
  • Add pimentón and basil/oregano.
  • Stir and bring to a boil.
  • Cover and simmer until the beans are done—about 1 to 1½ hours
You can serve the cannellini beans over quinoa, with fish or chicken, or enjoy them on their own.   

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quinoa today, Pimentón tomorrow.

Some people have trouble pronouncing it, others have trouble cooking it, but more importantly, if you don’t give your quinoa time to “bloom,” you’ll probably have trouble eating it.  Here’s the scoop:  Quinoa isn't supposed to be crunchy.   

Those tiny under-cooked grains are practically inedible, presenting a whole set of difficulties as to how to get rid of them in polite company.  I’m sure you understand.  This is especially awkward when a well-meaning newbie serves you under-cooked quinoa at a dinner gathering.  And yes, there are lots of recipes online for “crunchy quinoa” this and that, but I wonder why anyone would want to wrestle with them.   At the other end of the spectrum you can find all manner of recipes for quinoa soup.  Just as it’s not supposed to be crunchy, quinoa shouldn't be left to turn to mush in a bowl of broth. 

This centuries-old Andean grain is a relative newcomer to the North American food scene.  It’s a welcome and healthful alternative to rice or other carb-laden side dishes and it’s a great, inexpensive source of protein. 

Below you’ll find Michel’s quinoa recipe—well, today’s version anyway.  He tends to tweak the ingredients to complement whatever else he’s cooking.   Tomorrow we will get to his recipe for cannellini beans with pimentón.  (You might have already noticed those beans in their cozy little quinoa bed in the photo.)  

Quinoa with Coconut Milk and Meyer* Lemon
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ can coconut milk
  • Juice of ½ a Meyer lemon
  • Salt to taste
*In case you’re wondering, a Meyer lemon is a (less sour) cross between a regular lemon and an orange—probably a mandarin orange since the fruit is a Chinese invention. 

  • Place vegetable broth and quinoa in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce heat to low and cover.  NO PEEKING.  Let it bloom with the lid on.
  • After 15-20 minutes, check to see if the quinoa has bloomed.  (At this point it should have partially bloomed.)
  • Add remaining ingredients: pepper, coconut milk, lemon juice, salt to taste.
  • Stir over low heat, making sure that all the grains are fully bloomed and the liquid has been absorbed.
Your delicious, fully-bloomed quinoa can serve as an accompaniment to beans, lentils, or your favorite meat dish.  For a truly authentic quinoa experience, top with fried ripe plantains.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Brussels sprouts are just not funny.

I've been Googling around today, looking for something quirky to write about Brussels sprouts.  No luck.  Lots of information about their cousins (cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.), way too many boring stats about where they're grown, the usual barrage of nutritional benefits, blah, blah, blah.  They do get their name from Brussels, Belgium's capital city, because they were wildly popular there in the 16th century.  (And I do find it irritating when I see or hear the nonexistent singular form, "Brussel." Can't help it.) 

The most amusing item I found today was an NPR interview with a man who conducts and self-publishes his surveys about the things that bother him.  For example, he sat near a 4-way stop and counted how many cars came to a complete stop and how many slowed down just enough to avoid oncoming traffic.  He also conducted a survey of college students regarding their thoughts on Brussels sprouts.  The result: 54% did not like them. Most people don't and that's probably because they've only eaten overcooked sprouts that have been allowed to cross over to the dark, sulphur-y side.

Michel has a trick for making Brussels sprouts so that they turn out with a little sweetness. 
He steams them for a few minutes and then roasts them.  His recipe below calls for dried apricots, but fresh figs are also delicious when you can get them.  Have some fun using your flavored oils and vinegars. If you don't like apricots or figs, add something you like. 
And let us know the results of your Brussels sprouts survey.  

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apricots and Jalapeno

4 cups fresh Brussels sprouts
About 15 dried apricots (or fresh figs in season)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
Olive oil
Vinegar—whatever kind you like

Preheat oven to 350.
Place dried apricots in a cup of hot water to soften for about 30 minutes. 

Bring 2 cups water to a rolling boil in double boiler with steamer insert (or whatever you use for steaming). Cut sprouts into halves and place in steamer insert over boiling water.

Cover and steam for 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.

In a skillet, toast 2 tablespoons of pine nuts. (Be careful not to let them burn!)

Place rinsed Brussels sprouts in a 2-quart baking dish.
Add chopped jalapeno, toasted pine nuts, and drained apricots.
Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Stir to coat the sprouts and apricots and to hide the jalapeno from people who think they don't like it. You'll show 'em. 

Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In a word, kale.

In pop culture terms, kale is “the new black.”   Love it or hate it, it’s a favorite of 21st century foodies who are crazy about its nutritional benefits.  Kale salads and other kale dishes can be found on the menus of trendy restaurants everywhere—at trendy prices. 

There’s even a book called “Fifty Shades of Kale,” written by a Columbia University psychiatrist who is so smitten with the plant that he bought a farm in Indiana where he grows several varieties.  The author is enthusiastic and the book is pretty to look at but I’m skeptical about the kale chocolate chip cookie recipe.  That goes a little too far for my taste.

Michel has lived in and traveled to enough places in the world to know that the U.S. is still one of the most affordable.  He also knows that the most healthful foods are very often the most reasonably priced, like curly kale.  At our local supermarket, a bunch of curly kale large enough to grace the arm of a beauty pageant winner is about two dollars—maybe three dollars when it’s not in season. 

What does Michel do with that enormous bunch of kale?  It takes some prep time, but it’s worth it.  First he cuts the leaves away from the stems, washes and drains the leaves in a colander, then “rough chops” the kale until the whole bunch is broken into little pieces.  By the time he’s finished, he’s chopped enough kale to fill two 10-cup plastic storage containers.  Since the leaves don’t wilt like other vegetables might, this supply lasts for about a week.  We make our own CHEAP kale salads with a variety of dressings—oil and vinegar with sunflower seeds and “craisins,” the leftover olive pesto or ricotta mixture mentioned in an earlier post, or kale pesto.  

Here’s Michel’s quick and easy Kale Pesto:  Blend olive oil, garlic, a handful of almonds, some parmesan cheese, black pepper, and a few handfuls of kale.  (Remember my other post about how he measures ingredients?)   And now, his secret that takes away the bitter kale taste:  Add “a few squeezes” of agave nectar.  The agave, along with the almonds and craisins, gives a nice bit of sweetness to the salad. 

Another option is romesco sauce.  It also has a sweetness that balances the raw kale taste.

Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe is excellent. Beautiful color, too.  A Romesco Sauce That Earns Top Billing

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dont drink the radioactive tea.

For the past few years Michel has been an avid consumer of Japanese green tea.  He’s spent countless hours at the computer doing research on the widely-known health benefits (weight loss, antioxidants, etc.) and making contact with tea farmers in and around Kyoto.  In the process, he has also invested in some very special teaware made by famous Japanese artisans and a seriously upscale (four-figure) tea kettle made by an artist designated a National Treasure, a distinction awarded to outstanding craftspeople by the Japanese government.  We’ve also scoured local art shows/fairs for ceramic teaware.  When he can’t find what he’s looking for, Michel will make a drawing and commission his own tea cup design from a local artist.  This is a man who is serious about his tea.  He has thought more than once about opening a local tea room but Louisville doesn’t seem quite ready for that. Mind you, I drink it, too.  Michel prepares a small thermos for me to take to school every day and I keep a locally-made ceramic teacup (yunomi) on my desk to bring a little serenity to the classroom. 

It took a tsunami and a nuclear disaster to dissuade Michel from his daily consumption of tea harvested from a farm near Kyoto.  After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, it immediately became clear that it was no longer safe to consume anything coming from Japan, despite the denials of government and power company officials.  The reports of contamination as far away as San Francisco are still in the news more than two years later.  So it was back to the computer and more hours/days of research for Michel to find an alternative to keep us from becoming radioactive.  Time well spent, I think.

What kind of tea do we drink now?  Pu-Erh tea from the Yunnan Province in China.  Why did Michel finally settle on pu-ehr?  The health benefits are well-documented and he learned that the leaves harvested from wild-growing tea trees (preferably more than a hundred years old) are the ones to go for.   It isn’t cheap but it’s worth it because one serving of tea leaves usually lasts for 10-15 rounds of steeping.
Pu-ehr is also quite rarefied because not too many Westerners know about it—yet.  It improves with age, like wine or bourbon, attracting investors who put their money in tea futures.  The dried tea leaves come in pressed disks of all sizes. Michel has been so charmed by the wrappers that he saves them. He’s even incorporated them into a number of his paintings. 

At first it was very difficult to determine what and how to order pu-ehr tea.  Needless to say, neither of us can read Chinese and there is an overwhelming abundance of choices on the websites offering pu-ehr for sale.  If you’re interested, take a look at Jas-etea.com. Owner Stephen Shelton is extremely knowledgeable and his website is filled with an impressive amount of information about all aspects of tea. Michel has never been disappointed with anything offered there and Mr. Shelton is extremely helpful.  If you enjoy looking at the work of ceramic artists, check out Monohanako http://artisanstour.org/monohanakohanako-nakazato/Monohanako or Tim RowanTim RowanFor kettles, the source is Suzuki Morihisa in Japan suzukimorihisa.com

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chickpeas: Not just for hummus anymore. Discuss.

Vegan Chickpea Bisque with Garlic and Kale, topped with Olive Pesto and Citrus-Tarragon Ricotta

Dearest Vegans, 
The olive pesto is delicious even without parmesan cheese but you'll need to skip the ricotta to keep it kosher.

Chickpea Bisque—1 to 1½ hours
  • 1½ cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight (or use two cans from the supermarket if you forgot the overnight soaking part)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground dried rosemary (A spice grinder helps here.)
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • 8-10 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes (or less if you don’t like too much pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon porcini powder (optional)
  • 1 carton vegetable broth
  • ½ package of fresh baby kale (2-3 ounces)
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, ground rosemary, red pepper flakes, and salt. Sweat the onions over medium heat until translucent then add chickpeas, vegetable broth (save ¼ cup for later), and optional porcini powder.  Bring to a boil then reduce to low heat.  Cover and cook until chickpeas are tender—about 1 to 1 ½ hours. 

Remove half of the cooked chickpeas, then fish out all of the whole garlic cloves from the pot and put them together in a blender.  Add a few spoonfuls of hot liquid from the pot along with about ¼ cup of cool/room temperature vegetable broth.  (NOTE: Per Michel, you run the risk of having the blender mixture “explode in your face” if you forget the liquid cool-down step. Not good.) Blend chickpeas and garlic until they reach a paste consistency. This mixture will be used to thicken, giving the dish its “bisque” texture.  Pour blended chickpeas/garlic back into the soup pot, stir in baby kale, and cook over medium heat for another 15 minutes or so.

Ladle into your favorite soup bowl and top with Olive Pesto and Citrus-Tarragon Ricotta. 

Olive Pesto --5 minutes, maybe less.
Unless you have multiple blenders (and we don’t), you’ll need to wash yours after you finish the chickpea dish.  You can find seasoned olives at your supermarket “olive bar”— green, black, whatever you prefer as long as they are pitted. 

  • 1 cup pitted, seasoned olives (Italian, Herbs de Provence, whatever suits your palate)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup whole raw almonds
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (omit for vegans)
Put garlic cloves, almonds, and sunflower seeds in blender.  Blend at high speed until almonds are chopped.  Add olives and parmesan. Blend until smooth.

Use as a topping for Chickpea Bisque.  You have lots of options for the rest of your pesto.  Smear it on crostini or a sandwich.  Use it as a salad dressing.  Be intrepid and use it as a party dip instead of hummus (yawn).  Or just lick it right off the spatula like I did. 

Citrus-Tarragon Ricotta Topping
Mix together in a small bowl:
1 cup of ricotta cheese (no fat, low fat, whatever you like)
1 tablespoon of finely grated orange rind or the juice of one tangerine
1 teaspoon of dried tarragon

1 “grind” of pepper 

Like your leftover pesto, your remaining ricotta mixture can be used on crostini, etc.  Any way you want. Enjoy!

A note about Michel's way of measuring

Michel is fluent in six languages--Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.  If you grow up in a place where you can drive from your home to another country (or two) and back in a day, you naturally pick up some things along the way. This linguistic skills set continues to serve him well but it sometimes sends him on a cognitive word search when he needs to say "spatula," for example. He often just says to me, "I need the thing," and I know what to hand him as he carries on with whatever he's making.

It can sometimes be a bit puzzling to figure out exactly what Michel means when he gives directions for a recipe. He uses terms like "a handful," "a healthy amount," "a little," "some," etc.  You see the problem. Some people like to know exactly how much "a healthy amount" is before they start cooking.  I'm asking him lots of measurement questions as we go along with this new blog project, just so you know.

It's nice to know that one of Michel's favorite "food personalities" employs a similar approach. Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times and star of the short-lived "Minimalist" cooking show, gives his audience the same treatment.  Bittman uses phrases like "more or less," and our favorite, "or not." We laugh about it because it's true. Michel finds it refreshing to know there is a skillful, knowledgeable cook in high places who feels the same way he does about it all.

If you're already acquainted with Mark Bittman, hooray! If not, check him out. He's a very entertaining guy who's working for our benefit on current food issues like GMOs and farmed fish, etc.  Here's a link: TED Talks: Mark Bittman on what's wrong with what we eat

Monday, January 6, 2014

A healthful alternative to New Year's "oliebollen." What?

In Holland, people celebrate the New Year by eating oliebollen, something like deep-fried dumplings with apple and raisins.  The literal translation is "oil balls," a most unfortunate and unappetizing word pairing.  Even though it sounds awful, we all know that fried dough tastes delicious on any occasion.  

Here in the U.S., most people from The South (and Louisville is a southern city, like it or not) traditionally consume some type of "good luck" meal on New Year's Day. The standard menu consists of black-eyed peas, some type of greens (usually boiled beyond recognition), and cornbread.  Michel can't stand cornbread but he does like black-eyed peas and greens that still have measurable vital signs.  He's also come up with an ingenious way to prepare cabbage. 

Here's what he made for our New Year's Day dinner: Braised cabbage with (optional) Italian sausages served over black-eyed peas with mushrooms.  Both recipes are totally vegan if you skip the sausages.  

Black-eyed peas with mushrooms--approx. one hour
  • black-eyed peas (about a pound fresh or two cans)
  • a medium onion
  • 8-10 mushrooms—any kind
  • a cup of red wine
  • a carton of vegetable broth
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon of porcini powder
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • a teaspoon of thyme
  • salt and pepper 
Remove needles from fresh rosemary stems and chop finely.
Chop the onion and garlic and slice the mushrooms.
Heat 2 tablespoons (or more) of olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot.
Add onion, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and thyme.
Cook over med heat until onion becomes translucent.
Add black-eyed peas and wine.  Bring to a boil to cook off the alcohol.
Once the alcohol has dissolved add about half carton of vegetable broth and porcini powder.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then stir and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for about an hour, adding more vegetable broth as needed.

Braised Cabbage with roasted sweet Italian sausage (optional)--approx. one hour
  • Medium head of cabbage, cut into one-inch pieces
  • 4 sweet Italian sausages (optional for vegan)
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes with Italian seasoning
  • a half cup of vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place chopped onion, garlic, and red pepper in baking dish.  Lay sausages on top and put in the oven for browning. 

Turn the sausages periodically to make sure they are browning evenly.  
Stir onion, garlic, pepper to prevent burning. 
When the sausages have browned, remove them from the baking dish and cut into slices.
Return sausage slices to baking dish.

Add cabbage, tomatoes, and vegetable broth. 

Return the baking dish to the oven, stirring the mixture every 5-10 minutes to make sure the cabbage is well-mixed/seasoned.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over black-eyed peas with mushrooms.   Delicious with sparkling apple cider on January 1st or any day of the year.  We had a side salad of fresh kale with romesco sauce. Not familiar with romesco?  Recipe coming up!  HAPPY, HEALTHY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Meet Michel Samson: violinist, painter, life-long food fanatic.

My husband is known for many things.  A quick Google search will lead the reader to snippets from his distant and recent past--his exploits as a violin dealer/expert, a music review wherein he's described as a "disaffected Dutch concert musician who performed with Albert Ayler" in the 60's, the Sumi-e painting classes he's taught, and some online blog comments here and there from former students and clients.  

What you won't discover with a Google search is Michel's life-long passion for food. He tells amusing stories about how he realized as a very young boy that his mother's well-intentioned culinary efforts fell short of his expectations and that, even as a child, he learned to prepare foods he wanted to eat. His unrelenting quest for delicious food exists to this day.  

Michel could not have imagined when he made the trip from Holland to New York City in December 1965 to study violin/conducting that he would eventually find himself at home in Louisville, Kentucky. His passions for good music and good food remain undiminished.  
When he's not practicing the violin or painting in his studio or doing research on violins and bowmakers, you can find him curled up with our four Cavalier King Charles Spaniels or happily inventing new recipes in our small, no-granite-countertops kitchen.  

I hope you enjoy the cooking adventures we'll be sharing with you.