Memory Won’t Fail if You Eat Your Kale!

 

The weekend has just begun, and I’m already thinking about Meatless Monday! Temperatures here in Texas have climbed way too high for the beginning of June, so I definitely won’t want to use the oven. Simmering a covered pot on top of the stove seems like a good option.

Did you eat kale as a kid? I never did, even though my father was a prolific vegetable gardener. Maybe it doesn’t grow well in Michigan? Not sure. After buying a bag of the green stuff a while back, I then had to figure out what to do with it. I settled on a vegetable gumbo that worked with other ingredients I had on hand, and it turned out quite tasty! My kale was the curly type, but I’m sure that tender baby kale would also work well and cook even more quickly. The texture of the end result would just be a bit different.

If you don’t know much about kale or haven’t tried it lately, you might want to consider some important health implications. This NPR  article (also available on the site as a podcast) tells us that people who eat leafy green vegetables every day (like spinach, kale and collard greens) appear to have slower cognitive decline rates. That’s good news, and now we just need to come up with more interesting ways to eat them! Try the following recipe, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Make it as spicy or mild as you like:

INGREDIENTS (amounts are up to the cook:)

  • Kale (chopped)
  • Red bell peppers and/or tomatoes (diced)
  • Okra (sliced)
  • Celery, onions and/or garlic (chopped/diced)
  • Bean choices – black, red, or even garbanzo
  • Corn, if desired
  • Vegetable bouillon cube or stock
  • Spice choices – pepper (black and/or cayenne), celery salt, paprika, thyme, oregano
  • Water and/or stock to cover veggies
  • Rice (optional)

Cook on high until the mixture starts to bubble, and then turn to low and simmer until the kale is tender. Add more water or stock during cooking if needed.

Serve over cooked rice…or not!

 

If you’re cooking for kids and haven’t yet convinced them about the wonders of kale, you might also try making roasted kale chips as a fun family activity. There are many recipes to choose from on the Internet!

Meatless Mondays – Vegetable Paella: hold the gravel, but don’t skimp on the saffron!

saffron
Saffron

A friend of mine recently expressed a preference for chicken paella over that made with seafood. You know exactly what I was thinking…and the following post is a tried and true recipe for vegetable paella!

I recall an entertaining chapter in Derek Lambert’s book, Spanish Lessons, in which the author’s wife carefully plans a dinner party while they are residing in Spain. Paella will be the main attraction, for which they rent a huge pan to cook the dish over an open fire. In a comedy of errors, two of their “friends” drop the pan and spill much of the ingredients on top of some gravel that had been brought to the yard during their remodel. Not wanting to admit their mistake, the men just scoop up what they can and pick out the obvious pieces of gravel. You can just imagine what happens at the table as the guests begin eating…

No, this recipe doesn’t contain gravel. What is paella, you might ask. It’s a traditional Spanish, or Valencian, dish that contains rice, often various meats or seafood, and a variety of legumes and vegetables. To me, the taste is dictated by the main spice: saffron. Sure, it’s expensive, but adds a deep, earthy flavor that is crucial to success.

Shopping List (amounts vary depending on your preferences)

Saffron
Paprika
Rosemary (if desired: sprig of fresh or dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Vegetable stock (have at least 2 cups handy, but could also use part water)
Garlic (chopped)
Onion (diced)
Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers (long slices)
Tomatoes (diced: fresh or canned)
Green beans (cut: fresh)
Eggplant (hefty chunks)
Portabella mushrooms (large, cut into thick slices)
Chickpeas (canned or pre-cooked)
Rice (Arborio or other; I’ve used gluten-free with success)

Soak a healthy pinch of saffron strands in a bit of hot water. In a large, low pan, stir fry the eggplant, onion, garlic, and peppers in olive oil to soften. Add rice (at least 1 cup), stock, tomatoes, saffron, rosemary (if wanted) and a few teaspoons of paprika. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes. Stir as needed, although some cooks like to allow the rice to cake a bit on the bottom of the pan, being careful not to let it burn.

Add the chickpeas, green beans, and mushrooms. Cook about 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is softened and the mixture is thick and bubbly. If you plan to imbibe, a good Spanish red would go nicely!

paella

 

Meatless Mondays: Vegetable Cassoulet

 

veggies pot and cutting board A commitment to “Meatless Monday” is easy for me, since I already eat that way most days. According to the website, this movement began in 2003 and is now active in 44 countries. Eating meat-free at least one day of the week is a positive for our health and good for the Earth.

Here’s one of my recipes that has evolved into a vegetable cassoulet, which is like a vegetable stew or casserole. Not sure if Peter Mayle would have approved of this version of a French classic, but I don’t even miss the meat.

As is typical for my recipes, there are many ingredient options from which you may choose your favorites. Make as little or as much as you want, so amounts will also vary according to your needs and plans.

In a kettle with high sides, brown diced/sliced onions, shallots and/or garlic in olive oil.

If you want your end result to be more like a casserole, your mixture can be emptied into a large casserole and will need less liquid (stock) than the more stew-like version.

Add desired amount of vegetable stock, along with your choices from among sliced leeks, mushrooms and fennel bulb. NOTE: Fennel has a hint of a licorice taste. You might also try a slug of ouzo or pastis in its place for the same flavor. Otherwise, a bit of white cooking wine is also a nice addition.

Add cooked/canned white beans (cannellini, great Northern, or even garbanzos).

Include your choices of the following, peeled and/or cut as required:

carrots
green beans
asparagus
Swiss chard
celery
colored peppers
eggplant
potatoes
turnips
parsley and/or thyme, fresh or dried

Adjust liquid as needed. Salt and pepper to taste. If baking, give this at least an hour at 350. If cooking on top of the stove, after your mixture reaches a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until veggies are the desired texture.

Pair with your favorite bread and wine, if you wish.

kitchen window pixabay no attribution required

Putting the “I” Back into Cook-I-ng

I spent years trying to please others through the act of cooking. As a young newlywed, I collected recipes that I wanted to try out on my husband and promptly struck out. If it didn’t look like something that his mother or grandmother often made, then he wouldn’t even taste it. For example, only “fried chicken” was acceptable, he said, and my attempt at that dish was met with disdain. Come to find out, his mother’s secret for “fried chicken” was really “Shake-n-Bake”! I gave up before I even got started. Over the years, I found quick and inexpensive foods that my daughters would eat. End of story (and marriage).

My second husband was a self-taught gourmet cook. No, I’m not just saying this in case he still reads my blog. He really is that accomplished and taught me a lot about cooking methods and ingredients. We took turns cooking, and I have to admit, that as my skills grew, I began to feel a bit competitive. My dishes started to turn out wonderfully and earned well-deserved praise. When my efforts didn’t work out, there were no polite or pretend compliments from him, either.

Cooking never came naturally to me, however, and I almost always relied on cook books and carefully measured ingredients. If a recipe was successful, I made a note of it on the inside of the book for future reference. Sometimes the pressure of producing acceptable meals was a negative force. Things went downhill when I started having digestive problems and had to give up many of our favorite foods and most wine. I won’t pretend these restrictions caused the end of our marriage, but they certainly did alter the daily dynamic of an already strained relationship.

I currently find myself “cooking for one,” a phrase that I’ve never really liked. I don’t even much care for recipes that say, “Cooking for Two,” as if someone is missing and this is all you have left. I occasionally prepare a meal for others, but more often than not, there’s one plate on my faux-Victorian dining table.

I made the early decision NOT to fall into the trap of watching television while eating. Sometimes I listen to my music, or enjoy tunes that emanate from a local activity in the Square, like the one going on as I write this piece. Other times, I read from a novel or non-fiction of recent interest, such as Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Weak indirect lighting over my table was an issue for reading. To fix that problem, I recently splurged on an attractive, industrial-style table lamp with a high-powered bulb, in an old-fashioned tone of light green.

Another big change is WHAT I make for dinner.  First of all, I’ve cut way back on meat and more often turn to other forms of protein…eggs, tofu, beans, and occasional seafood. Sometimes just a large salad appeals to me, and I jazz it up with some of my favorites, like olives, capers, and fresh veggies lightly cooked. My go-to cheeses are feta and goat, since they seem easier for me to digest. Olive oil ALWAYS for cooking and salads! I rarely buy according to a recipe, now, but purchase ingredients that look good to me and then just decide what to do with them, later.

I’m starting to have fun with this and don’t think I’ll go back to eating by candlelight any time soon. Following is one of my recent culinary creations:

Egg-cellent Baked Mushrooms

One or two extra-large portabella/portobello mushrooms, stems removed, cap side up in baking pan

One egg for each, cracked open into the mushroom cap

Your choice of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Light sprinkling of cheese, if desired

Bake at 350˚-400˚ until egg is set to your liking and mushroom is sufficiently tender (about 20 minutes minimum).