The Secret to Making Vegetables Taste Good

Kale and Kohlrabi Ingredients

I participate in a community supported agriculture program, or CSA for short. It’s a weekly parcel of produce from nearby farms. Most of it is organic.

I love being a part of a CSA. The fruits and vegetables are fresh and delicious and I get a warm fuzzy feeling from supporting small businesses and farmers. But the best part about subscribing to a CSA is the surprise of what will appear in your weekly box of  seasonal goodies.

My CSA program started in May, and throughout the weeks, I’ve gotten fragrant garlic scapes, delicate lettuces, crunchy cabbage, and the most flavorful, tiny strawberries I’ve ever eaten. It’s awesome watching the progression of the growing season through my weekly produce share, except for one thing.

The kale. It won’t stop coming. It is the only thing that has made the CSA cut every week, a curly, leafy invader that just won’t quit. I’ve had 13 straight weeks of kale bunches, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’ve made Baked Eggs with Sausage and Kale for breakfast. I’ve made Roughed Up Kale Salad for dinner. I’ve snacked on crispy kale chips. But damn, it’s a lot of greenery, especially from a vegetable that up until 2 years ago could only be found state-side in overly-salted canned Italian soups.

Luckily, I won’t drown in this never ending sea of kale because I know how to make vegetables taste good. It’s a simple trick, and one that’s easy to master. It’s so easy that you may already know it and not even realize it.

So what’s the magic trick for making vegetables delicious? It’s salt, pepper, and olive oil. That’s it. Every fresh vegetable is elevated by that threesome. You can roast, saute, steam, and in some cases, even eat veggies raw if you just add olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s the lazy cook’s dream come true!

When you want to up the ante, saute some chopped onions and minced garlic in your olive oil until just golden. The flavor will infuse the oil, and when it coats your vegetables, they’ll be saturated with flavor. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top of your veg to add freshness and a hint of acidity. Sprinkle on something crunchy, like toasted nuts, seeds, or breadcrumbs to add another layer of flavor and texture.

Warm Kale and Kohlrabi Salad with Sunflower Seeds
Warm Kale and Kohlrabi Salad with Sunflower Seeds

That’s exactly how I cooked this warm kale and kohlrabi salad, a tasty and easy way to get through one more bunch of CSA kale. If I get it again next week, I’ll start with my basic threesome of salt, pepper, and olive oil and go from there, building flavors and textures into something delicious.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with photographing the contents of my weekly CSA. Follow me on Instagram to see what’s arrived. And tell me, what’s your favorite way to prepare fresh vegetables?

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Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

I eat almost the exact same thing for breakfast every day of the work week. In the colder months, it’s oatmeal with whatever dried fruit i have in the pantry and a sprinkling of toasted nuts. When the weather warms, I change over to yogurt and granola with fresh fruit, with the occasional change-over from yogurt to kefir, which is…drinkable yogurt. Pretty boring, right? But when I need to get out the door quickly )because I’ve overslept  again, and then idled too long in the shower’s warmth, and forgotten that I needed to pack my bag for yoga after work), these breakfast standards are easy and reliable, and I actually really never get sick of eating them.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

But on the weekends…I’m a sucker for a good breakfast. In my mind, going out for brunch is the ultimate urban luxury, and I do it as often as possible, but I can’t justify spending $20 for a couple of eggs and a plate of fried potatoes every single Sunday. Even if the eggs are fresh out of the happiest, most organic, free range chicken that ever lived, with yolks the color of sunshine and laughter. It’s just not in my best financial interest to indulge  my brunch habit weekly.

So today, I made my own brunch and there wasn’t a fried potato in sight. It cost way less than $20, and I got to eat it sitting on the couch with my favorite guy while watching cartoons for grown ups. It was luxurious in its own way.

Tomorrow, I’m back on oatmeal.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash 

2 strips bacon, finely diced
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 cups torn kale leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons fresh minced sage
salt and pepper
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon grease and discard the rest.

Toss the squash, onion, and kale with the garlic, olive oil, 1 tablespoon of bacon grease, thyme, sage, and a generous amount of salt and pepper until everything is well coated. Divide onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and roast, rotating the pans and stirring the vegetables after 15 minutes. Continue roasting until the squash is fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Spray an 7 x 11 baking pan with cooking spray. Transfer the vegetables into the pan and stir in the cooked bacon bits. Press down on the vegetables so they form an even layer. Crack each egg into a small ramekin and pour slowly it over the vegetables so that the yolk doesn’t break. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, cracking and pouring each egg over the hash, one at a time. Sprinkle the eggs with additional salt and pepper and parmesan cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the whites of the eggs are set, but the yolks are still loose, between 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with additional cheese.

Makes 3-4 servings, depending on how hung over you are from Saturday night.

Spaghetti Squash – Accepting It For What It Is

It seems impossible, but somehow I’ve survived 34 years and 2 stints in Weight Watchers without ever cooking spaghetti squash. Starving and delusional, many people following the program gush, “It’s just like eating pasta! You can’t even  tell the difference!”

They’re wrong. It’s funny how we can totally lie to ourselves when we want to drop a dress size.

Spaghetti squash with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and chicken sausage.

It’s stringy.  Other than that, it’s not like eating noodles, but no matter. Spaghetti squash has it’s own merit. It can be roasted in the oven, caramelizing the sugars and ramping up its inherent squashiness. Or, it can be nuked in the microwave in about 1/3 of the time, leaving it a blank canvas for whatever flavors you  toss it with.

I’ve never made spaghetti squash before, but I’ve eaten plenty of it. Like lots of vegetables, it’s bland when it’s not seasoned properly. That why I chose to toss mine with a whole bunch of bold flavors. I’m not giving a full recipe for this one. I raided my fridge and pantry, using what I had on hand, and eyeballed the amounts of the ingredients. This is my absolute favorite way to cook.  Taste and adjust as you go. You should try it! It’s liberating!

Here’s what I did:

  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scooped out the seeds and guts and discarded. Sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Placed cut side down in a glass 9 in. x 13 in. Nuked on full power for 15 minutes, checked to see if I could fork the flesh into it’s characteristic thin strands easily, couldn’t, and then nuked for another 5 minutes. That did the trick. Timing will vary depending on the size of your squash and the pep of your microwave. Everything else happened in the time the squash was cooking.
  2. Caramelized an onion with a few roughly chopped anchovy filets (left over from my kale salad) in olive oil, salt, pepper, and about 1 tablespoon of dry. Onions were cut into half moons so they’d be fork-twirlable like the squash.
  3. Cut a roasted red pepper into very thin strips (also twirlable).
  4. Seared off a couple of chicken sausages (Mild Italian flavor) and sliced on the bias.
  5. Deglazed the pan with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc (it was open). Added a small pat of butter and another pinch of Italian seasoning
  6. Grated some parmesan.
  7. Rough chopped a handful of parsley
  8. Pulled the cooked sqush apart with a fork. Drizzled with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Tossed it all together and ate a huge amount. Saved half for an awesome lunch tomorrow.

Is spaghetti squash in your regular cooking rotation? How do you prepare it?

How To Trick People Into Eating Anchovies – Roughed Up Kale Salad

Roughed Up Kale Salad

I had a lovely afternoon yesterday. My sister and her daughter took me out on the town as a belated birthday present. We had matinée tickets to The Little Prince at Lookingglass Theater, and beforehand we dined at Bar Toma, a restaurant just steps off of Michigan Avenue. We were “ladies who lunch,” if just for the day.

The menu at Bar Toma includes antipasti, salads, a few sandwiches, and several pizzas baked quickly in a wood-burning oven. My sister briefly glanced at the menu, and suggested that I pick out a couple of things to share and order for the both of us.

This was a bold move on her part. She’s not picky, but she tends to stick to the standards on a menu. I, on the other hand, am a little more…adventurous when it comes to eating. I’ve willingly eaten crickets and worms. I’m in to offal. And I’m not afraid to order food from the seediest looking street vendor in a foreign country. I just want an authentic experience!

I asked her if she was sure, and then placed our order with our server. One Kale Salad, coming up! Maura and Kaia had never had kale before, which we discussed briefly before I ordered. I knew that the kale wouldn’t be an issue because they’re both salad-loving people. The salad arrived to the table looking fresh and delicious, the kale left in large pieces and fading from dark green at the edges to vibrant purple in the center. There was a soft-boiled egg quartered and laid over the top, and garlicky, crunchy breadcrumbs generously spooned over. We dug in and all three of us loved it.

Several bites into the salad I revealed that the dressing was an anchovy vinaigrette. The world stood still for a split second, before my niece’s chewing mouth fell into a frown. She was pretty disgusted, and I was pretty amused. If either one of them had seen that description on the menu, that salad wouldn’t have ended up in our bellies, much less on our table.

Anchovies get a bad wrap. Sure, as whole fillets they look totally prehistoric and disgusting. I get that. Even I’m weirded out by whole anchovies! But when finely chopped, they melt into whatever you’re combining them with, adding flavor through salt and their natural oil. If you’ve eaten a real, from scratch Caesar Salad, then you’ve eaten anchovies, because they’re a big component in Caesar dressing, too. See? No biggie! Anchovies are delicious!

So, we had a lovely meal, and both Kaia and Maura came away anchovy lovers, even if they’re not ready to admit it. I’m thinking of printing them up t-shirts that say “ANCHOVY LOVER”, with a huge whole fillet right underneath, but I suspect that they would never get worn. That’s okay. Down the road, if either of them considers eating something that contains anchovies, then my work here is done.

If you would like to ease into the flavor of anchovies, give this salad a shot. It’s a riff off of what we ate for lunch, and it’s darn good as a main course, or along side grilled chicken or shrimp.

Roughed Up Kale Salad

10 ounces red new potatoes, washed and quartered
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
3.5 ounces fresh kale (about 1/2 a bunch), cut roughly into 2 in. pieces, washed and dried
4 dried apricots, cut into strips
2 radishes, sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup roasted pistachios

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with enough cold water to cover the potatoes by at least an inch. Season the water with salt. Cook over high heat until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

In a saute pan, cook the breadcrumbs and butter over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Season with a bit of salt while they’re still warm, and remove from pan.

In the same saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the minced garlic, minced shallot, and chopped anchovy fillets and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the shallot is translucent and the garlic is very fragrant. Transfer to a small food processor or to a pestle and mortar. Add the lemon juice and dijon mustard and process until it is emulsified, but still a bit chunky from the shallot and garlic.

Pour the warm dressing over the kale and use your hands to squeeze and coat it in the dressing. This is often called “massaging” the kale, but what you really need to do is rough it up a little so that it softens to a more appealing texture. After it’s been crunched together for a minute, and the leaves are all well coated, leave the salad to rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and the leaves will continue to tenderize.

Add the cooked potatoes, sliced apricots and radishes, and pistachios and toss to coat. Give it a taste and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice, or olive oil as needed. The flavors tend to get lost in the kale, so you will likely use more salt and pepper than you would think necessary. Just before serving, top with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish.

Urban Gardening Part 2

There is some truly beautiful veg coming out of the backyard garden already.

Just a couple of days ago we discovered that there is a small grapevine winding its way in and out of a trellis back there. It was pretty exciting to see big bunches of unripened grapes hanging off of it. If anyone would like to offer up wine-making tips, I’m all ears.

Jon is working these into our dinner tonight.  Carrots, baby zucchini, and young garden beans. I’m beginning to realize that the term “victory garden” might have had a double meaning; all of these vegetables in the yard are a definite WIN!

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The Girl and The Goat Sauteed Cauliflower

Sauteed Cauliflower with Pickled Peppers, Pine Nutes, Parmesan, and Fresh Mint
Sautéed Cauliflower inspired by The Girl and The Goat

It may not look like much, but this is the best vegetable I ate in 2011, or rather a damn fine recreation of the best vegetable I ate last year.  A few weeks ago I had an amazing dinner at The Girl and The Goat, run by Top Chef’s Stephanie Izard. The menu was fantastic, filled with oddities like Crispy Duck Tongues and Sweet and Sour Cod Cheeks (we ate both of those delicious things, and a lot more). A friend who had dined there before recommended that we order the cauliflower, saying it was one of the best dishes she had eaten at The Goat. It took some convincing, but the cauliflower made it onto our roster of food, and at the end of the night, after we’d eaten 11 or 12 plates of amazingness, the cauliflower was my very favorite dish. It’s an unlikely combination of sauteed cauliflower, pickled banana peppers, pine nuts, Parmesan, and fresh mint. Talk about a  sleeper hit. The Girl and The Goat is taking vegetables to a new level.

I anxiously recreated the sautéed cauliflower after watching Chef Izard’s how-to video. It takes a little bit of  planning to make this side dish, but it is so worth it. Remember last week’s One-Word Wednesday? Those pickled peppers went into tonight’s cauliflower. I also mashed together a compound butter last night, full of roasted garlic and breadcrumbs. If you do those two things in advance and let them hang out in your fridge, the cauliflower dish comes together in a matter of minutes. And if we’re being honest, why wouldn’t you want pucker-inducing veggies and savory butter on hand at all times? Think  of all the other stuff you can put them on! It’s condiment nirvana! And those two items make a truly special side dish that you’ll want to eat again and again. Thanks to The Girl and The Goat for a new vegetable inspiration!

Sauteed Cauliflower inspired by The Girl and The Goat
Sautéed Cauliflower with Parmesan, Pickled Peppers, Pine Nuts, and Fresh Mint

Amazing Sautéed Cauliflower

Adapted from The Girl and The Goat

Makes about 4 servings, but I just ate all of this by myself, so you’ve been warned.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 head cauliflower, sliced into bite size pieces (If making an entire head, double all ingredients, but don’t crowd the saute pan or the cauliflower won’t have a chance to get nice and golden brown. It will steam instead.)
1 tablespoon roasted garlic and breadcrumb compound butter – see recipe below
1/4 cup pickled peppers, chopped and divided – see recipe below
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 walloping tablespoon torn fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil and cook until shimmering. Add cauliflower and butter. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally (or tossing, like Stephanie does in the video) until cauliflower is just cooked, about 4-5 minutes. Add half of the peppers, cheese, mint, and pine nuts and stir to incorporate. Top with the rest of the peppers, cheese, mint and pine nuts and serve.

Easy Pickled Peppers

Makes about 1 quart of pickled peppers

3/4 pound peppers (I used a mix of Anaheim and banana peppers)
6 Cloves of Garlic, slightly crushed
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 1/2 Cups White Vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Slice peppers into rounds about 1/4 in. thick. Put into a quart-sized jar. Add garlic cloves.
In a saucepan, bring water, vinegar, sugar, salt and crushed red pepper flakes to a boil. Pour hot liquid over peppers in the jar. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 8 hours. Refrigerate for a week for the best flavor. The waiting is the hardest part! Peppers will keep for several weeks if refrigerated.

Roasted Garlic and Breadcrumb Compound Butter

1 stick (4 oz.) butter, softened
1 head garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
1/3 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the top off the head of garlic. Cover with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until garlic cloves are tender. Cool slightly.

In a small bowl, mash butter, garlic cloves, and breadcrumbs together until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Cranberries

For generations, brussels sprouts have gotten an unwarranted bad wrap. If you were force-fed these teeny tiny cabbages as a child, and they came to the table all gray and mushy, odds are you’re still harboring ill will. When they’re prepared correctly though, brussels sprouts are crisp-tender and ready to take on flavors. Over the past few years, brussels sprouts have finally come into their own, appearing on restaurant menus all over the place. They’re often cooked with something porky, like the pancetta in this recipe. There’s a lot of textures going on in this dish – crunchy pine nuts, snappy cranberries, and crisp pancetta against the fork-tender vegetables. It’s pretty to look at, and it’s tasty to eat.

Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Cranberries

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