26 September 2009

my new favorite meal

I know this has pretty much turned into a complete food blog over the past week...well, I hope you're all okay with this because I have a few more yummy posts coming your way. Since I've pretty much been spending the majority of my time in the kitchen lately, that's kind of all I've got to report here! Though I'm hoping that once I get through all the food-related posts I want to share, I might have something crafty finished and ready to show off!

I wanted to tell you all about our new favorite meal around here. A few weekends ago, some of my dearest friends came to visit me for a few days. Our time together was deep, and full, and far too short. We were going to cook ourselves a big dinner one night, but ended up snuggling on the couch and snacking on popcorn instead. However, one of the things we were going to make was, at my friend Leah's suggestion, massaged kale salad. I had never heard of a massaged kale salad before and was intrigued. Since we didn't get around to making it that night, but had bought two bunches of kale, I was determined to try it even after they had both left. Let me tell you, it was amazing (so ama
zing, that we've had it twice since then and will probably have it again tonight). I've never been the world's biggest kale fan- I like it in soups, and sometimes in stir frys or other dishes like that, but I could never get over the bitterness. Apparently, all I've needed to do this whole time was give it a little massage and it would go ahead and taste better.

Since my friend had left and I wasn't sure exactly how to make a massaged kale salad (can you tell how much fun I'm having just saying "massaged kale salad"?), I just googled it and came across this website. Even more kale dishes I've been missing out on! Believe me, I bookmarked this one. Anyways, what I made was a variation on this recipe (I really want to try this one too!). The process of massaging the kale was not only so easy, it was also surprisingly satisfying. Really, all you have to do is give it a little massage, and those leaves go from tough and crunchy and bitter, to wilted and soft and full of non-bitter flavor. Just give it a try.

Massaged Kale Salad (adapted from "I Heart Kale")
One bunch raw kale (I'm pretty sure any variety would work fine- we've used both curly and dino)
One good sized carrot, grated
One avocado, cut in small pieces
One or Two tbl fresh grated ginger
One bunch of chives, minced
2 tbl olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Sesame seeds

For the dressing: (sorry, I never measure out my dressings...just go by taste!)
Chive vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Teeny bit of honey

To assemble: Wash, destem and chop up the kale into strips. Put the kale in a large bowl and add the olive oil and salt. Massage until just tender. Add the carrot, avocado, chives, ginger, and sesame seeds and toss well. Add in dressing. Voila! It's just that easy.

Meanwhile, you're going to need something to go with that massaged kale salad. Might I recommend some delicious crispy tofu? My other friend who came to visit a few weeks ago, Mollie, told me about a yummy new way she's been cooking her tofu lately and I knew I had to try it. This, too, is extremely simple. So simple, that I'm not even going to write it out like a real recipe. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Take some extra firm tofu (don't bother pressing the water out it's not necessary) and cut it up into pieces (any shape is fine). Toss the tofu in a bowl with soy sauce, just to get the tofu coated. Dip each piece of tofu in nutritional yeast (you might know this as brewers yeast) and throw the pieces in a pan. Bake for 40 minutes, flipping every now and then so all sides get good and crispy.

Honestly, people, this is our new favorite meal. It's easy, healthy, delicious, and best of all, not the same old, same old (well, at least not yet!). Not to mention, I love that this meal makes me feel like my two girls are still here with me. Now, what are your new favorite meals?

23 September 2009


I know, I know, my post titles are getting increasingly creative. I guess when the posts feel so straightforward, I'm just not sure what else to call them. You know, other than "pickles". And then, of course, there won't be any confusion regarding the topic of my post.

So, yeah, I made some pickles. I have always LOVED pickles. Seriously....loved. When I was in high school, and my friends and I would end up at some all night diner at two in the morning, I would generally order a side of pickles. For real. But I only like the real sour ones. The ones that make you cringe. In fact, at the State Fair last summer, one of the exciting new foods was pickle juice popsicles (I like to refer to them as picklesickles). Sadly, I never found them at the fair, but I'm still thinking about them!

This year, with all my preserving, I really wanted to try making some good kosher dill pickles. The first thing I needed to learn was what the heck the difference between dill and kosher dill was. I learned that kosher dill has garlic, while regular dill, well, doesn't have garlic. The first batch I made was using the recipe from the old Joy of Cooking. I bought a new copy of the Joy a few years ago, thinking that any self-respecting cook/baker absolutely needed a copy. Then, after my grandma passed away and I moved to Minneapolis, I received no less than seven boxes full of kitchen supplies (I could seriously bake 5 angel food cakes, 3 bundt cakes, 3 dozen muffins, and maybe eight other cakes without washing a single pan). And one whole box was full of her old cookbook
s, including a 1964 version of the Joy. I soon discovered that the older Joy had way more recipes for things like preserves and skinning squirrels. You know, the important stuff. So anyways, the newer Joy has no pickle recipes, the older one does.

The recipe for kosher dill pickles from the 1964 Joy of Cooking tells you to add to the cucumbers and brine: peeled and sliced garlic cloves (which do not go in the jars, just in the brine) dill seeds and peppercorns. I made two quarts of this type of pickle. Then my boss started talking about spicy polish dill pickles that she used make when she was a kid. This sounded intriguing, so I got to searching for a recipe, and found this one. And then proceeded to make eight pint jars of this type. The only adjustment to the recipe was that in a few jars I used fresh whole hot red peppers (the recipe calls for either dried whole or flakes) and in the rest I used flakes.

This was back in July. I have since tasted both types and the verdict is definitely in favor of the spicy polish dills. The kosher dills were still a bit sweet when we cracked open the jar last week. They might need s
ome more time to get more sour, so I'm not opening the second jar for a few more months. Also, they were totally mushy. Ick! I did read in Putting Food By (after the fact) that putting a whole grape leaf or cherry leaves (which might be easier, since I have access to a cherry tree!) in the jar with the pickles helps to keep them crisper. The spicy polish dills were definitely spicy, but not burn your mouth off spicy. They were not as crisp as I would have liked, but were way crisper than the kosher dills. And, as a plus, you get to chomp on a spicy pickled pepper! The other thing I liked better about the spicy vs. kosher is that you use fresh dill, and leave the garlic cloves in the jars. I might try that next year in the kosher dills, making them essentially the same as the spicy polish minus the hot pepper, for the lighthearted folks out there. We'll see.

I was really hoping to pickle some other veggies, like string beans, after discovering recently that I like other pickled things! I'm hoping to get the book, Wild Fermentation, from the library soon, and try making sauerkraut! (Though actually, the author does have a basic recipe on the website...).

What are your favorite pickles/sauerkraut/other fermented foods to make??

22 September 2009

{finally} fall

If you've hung around this blog for any length of time, you're probably well aware that today is a very important day for me. It's the first day of my very favorite season. Not that I haven't enjoyed my summer, immensely. But really, I do have a serious love affair with fall (and not just because it's my birthday season). I kicked off the season by wearing some brand new knee socks and my favorite boots, and a corduroy shirt. It was so perfectly fall and I feel full inside.

I'm not quite ready to share my fall manifesto, though I think it will largely consist of packing, moving, and subsequently unpacking into our new house. In fact, now that I've written that, it seems so fitting to me that this big adventure of moving into our own home be starting during fall. I know some might disagree, but I feel like fall is so full of possibility. And of course it's the time of year when we begin to turn inward, and homeward.

I'm also excited to announce that official mayor of fall, Shanna, and I (the official vice-mayor of fall) will be bringing you all a little treat next week. Just a little something to celebrate our love for the best season ever. Happy fall, friends.

21 September 2009

what's in my freezer

Sounds thrilling, doesn't it? Frankly, I am thrilled about the contents of my freezer. Along with my overflowing pantry. I was out to lunch with my coworker today, and out of nowhere I said "I'm really feeling good about my preserving this summer." He looked at me like I was more than a little bit crazy. Oh well. This year, I made a commitment to preserve more food that we were really going to eat, rather than just the jam and applesauce that I had done the past two years.

The first step was to freeze more vegetables and fruits. We don't have a chest freezer, or even a particularly large freezer, but I've definitely made the most of what space we do have.
We don't normally keep too much in the freezer--some frozen soups, lots of ice, the occasional pint of ice cream, and a few bottles of booze- so there was plenty of room to begin with. Maybe next year I'll get a pressure canner so we can just can veggies. Or maybe I'll get a chest freezer so I have more space. Or both...

What I froze this summer (so far). All bags are approximately one-quart.
-Kale (4 bags, blanched)
-Spinach (2 bags, blanched)
-Corn (5 bags, blanched)
-Apricots (3 bags, sliced+raw)
-Strawberries (2 bags, hulled+raw)
-Raspberries (3 bags, raw)
-Sour Cherries (2 bags, pitted+raw)
-Pesto (1 half-pint jar)
-Rhubarb (2 bags chopped+raw)
-Zucchini (1 bag grated+raw)

A few freezing tips...
Label and date everything. I know that might sound either obvious or pointless (depending on your personality), but seriously. You'll appreciate it later. Also, if you're freezing things in certain measurements, write the measurement on the bag too.

For berries, spread them out on a baking sheet (or even a plate if you're not doing a ton or don't have room for a baking sheet in your freezer) so that each berry freezes individually. Once they're frozen, you can throw them in a ziploc bag and they won't all stick together. This is really helpful if you just want a handful of berries and don't want to defrost a whole bag. I realized this too late this year, but this would actually have worked really well for individual corn kernels as well.

If you're freezing something with an end use in mind (for example, I freeze raw grated zucchini to use in bread or muffins), it's super helpful to freeze the food in the quantity that the recipe calls for. Also think about how the food needs to be prepared for that recipe (sliced, grated, etc.) and do that before freezing. I froze strawberries hulled and whole, and now I'm wishing I had done some sliced so I could easily throw them on cereal or something. I freeze grated zucchini in one-cup portions. This would be great for veggies that will eventually go in soups or other recipes, as well.

Make sure you read up on how different fruits/veggies should be processed before freezing. Putting Food By is an excellent resource, along with probably any other book on preserving that you might find at your local library or bookstore. Or the internet. Duh. Some things can be frozen raw, some need to be blanched. In thinking about what I froze, it seems that fruits (or at least berries) can be raw, but veggies should be blanched. But I would definitely not go by that as a rule. Always consult the experts.

Don't put hot food into plastic ziploc bags. This might just be my personal paranoia about plastic, but you should never put hot food into a plastic container, and especially not a plastic bag. So make sure that all food (if you've cooked it) is cooled before packing into bags. That being said, ziploc bags are reusable (obviously). They wash out great and sharpie writing comes off easily. My boss throws away ziplocs after one use and it drives me insane.

Baked goods freeze really well. I haven't frozen anything yet this summer (actually, that's a lie- I did freeze half a loaf of strawberry banana bread, but we've already eaten it) but this is a really great convenience. If you like to make muffins or breads with summer fruits, that's another great way to preserve those fruits. I've actually never frozen muffins before, but with quick breads (banana, strawberry, zucchini, etc), I just wrap them in tin foil and seal that in a bag. These usually take a few hours to defrost, but it's great if you've got a last minute potluck in the winter!

Phew! Who knew I had so much to say about freezing fruits and vegetables? I am by no means an expert on this, if you have any tips or suggestions from your own experience, please share in the comments section!

16 September 2009

the first sock

Hey Everyone! Sorry to have disappeared for so long again. Things here have been busy busy busy. I'm hoping to pick up some film today that will have lots of photos to share with you all. So if all goes according to plan, it won't be quiet around here any more.

But, we're here to talk about socks today. You wouldn't know it since it's been in the mid-80s here for the past week or so, but fall is fast approaching (despite today's warm temps, I did just hear that we might have some frost next week!). This summer with all my travels, I decided that I needed a small, portable knitting project. Looking back at my crafty goals for the year, it was clear that it was finally time to start a pair of socks.

I picked up a skein of Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine in a beautiful deep purple color. Initially I had my heart set on the Marlene pattern that I had found in Knit.1 (Fa
ll/Winter 2008 issue). I actually cast those one and stuck with it for a while, but the pattern was a little complicated for me (I'm not a huge fan of charts) and frankly the dark color that I had chosen was really not optimal for something with such a subtle pattern. So I frogged that (not that I had gotten very far) and searched around for a more basic pattern. I came to the "Basic Ribbed Socks" pattern, which was way more my speed.

And the other night, while watching a few episodes of Mad Men, I finished the first sock! I'm so impressed with myself. So far, the only mistake I've made is that I made the leg part a little longer than it called for (not really a problem). It seems to fit pretty well, but I am worried that over time (even over a day of wearing them) it will slouch down a little. My mom suggested sewing some elastic thread around the top- so I might try that. And now, I'm forcing myself to cast on the second sock right away before I get distracted by another project. I want to have me a pair of handknit socks for this winter!

ps: and just in case I don't finish my second sock in time, Melissa tempted me into ordering some new knee socks for fall, and they're quite dreamy...

02 September 2009

i heart pesto

{For the record, I spent about half an hour typing up this post while eating breakfast this morning, only to have the computer battery die with no warning, and deleting my entire post. This confirms my need to purchase a new battery. Argh!}

It’s kind of hard to tell what this is a photo of. I suppose it looks like it could pretty much be a bowl of just about anything. I promise you, though, it’s a photo of a very delicious, and more importantly quick and easy, dinner that I cooked up on Monday evening. It’s a bowl of orzo cooked in vegetable broth, mixed with roasted zucchini and toasted walnuts, topped off with some garden fresh pesto.

Aaaahhh pesto…one of my absolute favorite summer foods. I remember my mom making pesto in the summers and freezing batches in little plastic containers (I actually distinctly remember her using the goat cheese containers) for us to enjoy in the winter. Even though she makes pesto all the time, I don’t remember ever making it with her. Not that it’s that hard, but I just don’t remember ever doing it. In fact, I clearly remember the first time I did make pesto. It was my junior year in college and I had just moved into the environmental coop house on campus, along with sixteen other students who would be my housemates for the next five months.

The way Weybridge (that’s the name of the house) worked, was that every weeknight, two residents would be responsible for cooking a meal for all seventeen of us, plus some guests (and there were almost always guests). When cooking a meal for this many people, some planning and communication is pretty much a requirement. Well, the first meal that I had signed up to cook was that very first week of the semester. To get the hang of the routine, I teamed up with a veteran resident, Mickey. Unfortunately, Mickey and I did not have the necessary planning and communication to pull off an amazing first meal of the semester. Well, actually, Mickey had a plan. I think he had spent the previous summer in Italy (or, I think he was just Italian) and he wanted to make pasta from scratch, with pesto.

I sat around the kitchen for a while and Mickey did not show up. As the clock ticked dangerously close to dinner-time, I began to think of an alternate meal plan. But just then, Mickey walked into the kitchen, still maintaining his original menu, even though there was clearly not enough time for homemade pasta (especially whole wheat pasta, which takes longer to cook than traditional pasta) and started ordering me around.

I was put in charge of making the pesto. The first step was to head out front to our garden and pick some basil. At the time, I was not much of a gardener, or even cook, and after standing around the small garden for a while, I’m pretty sure I ended up picking some spinach instead of basil. So, we inadvertently had some pretty delicious spinach pesto that evening (and it was delicious).

As I’m sure you know pesto is not difficult to make, at all. In fact, it almost feels like cheating to even share this recipe, since not only is it a recipe for pesto (something which barely requires a recipe), but it’s not even anything special. No surprise ingredients, no secret tricks or techniques. That afternoon, I wrote down Mickey’s recipe on a scrap of paper, taped it into my recipe book, and it’s what I’ve followed ever since. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to add some roasted red peppers, or sundried tomatoes, this recipe would be a good base to start from.

This summer, I was really set on growing enough basil to allow me to make a lot of pesto to freeze. Despite my ten basil plants, they hadn’t yet grown large enough to get me more than two batches of pesto this summer. But, after a bunch of rain and intermittent sunshine over the past few weeks, they seem to have exploded just a little. On Monday, I harvested three whole cups of basil (while still leaving a bunch of leaves on the plants, in the hopes that I’ll get another batch of pesto before the season ends) and made a double batch of pesto. I filled one half-pint jar and threw it in the freezer, and mixed the rest into my orzo with zucchini and walnuts.

Basic Pesto (a la Mickey)

Note: I do not use the parmesan in this recipe, so my version requires a little more salt than if you were to use the cheese. Even if you do prefer parmesan, do not add it in if you plan to freeze the pesto. For freezing: make the recipe without the parmesan and then stir in the cheese after you’ve defrosted it before serving. This way, it freezes better, and keeps you prepared for any non-dairy eating guests you might have!

1 1/2 cups fresh basil

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts (toasted)

3/4 cup parmesan (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small food processor, combine basil, garlic, nuts, salt, and pepper (Amanda said she uses a mortar and pestle for this, which I've never tried, but frankly now I'm curious!). If you were adding cheese and not freezing it, you would put that in now as well. Pulse until all ingredients are well combined. Drizzle in olive oil as the processor is going. Spoon over your meal or into a jar for freezing and Voila!