ALL HAIL KALE!!!

We live in a world where green+leafy=good, while white+ fluffy=bad.  So although cake, cookies, bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes are quite possibly the most delicious things a person could eat, they have a reputation for being less than healthy. In fact, I have quite a few friends that hold up a hand in classic “stop” position and say, “No carbs.” Well, hi, my name is Aura, and I’m a carb-a-holic (but no need to pity another’s dietary choices.)

In fact when I do eat cake-cookies-bread-pasta-rice-potatoes (and that would be every day), I try to see them for what they are, and when I offer my family seconds I try to say “would you like more noodles?” instead of, “another helping of carbs, honey?” I envy other cultures on a carb-based diet (otherwise known elsewhere simply as “food”): China comes to mind—rice, the foundation for every stir fry if not the meal itself; and Italy too, with piles of fresh pasta on every plate. In fact, the gorgeous Sophia Loren has famously said, “everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” ‘Nuff said.
But the topic for today is both green and leafy, and more specifically: kale. Notice how I ramble on about “carbs”– like eating my veggies, I am avoiding the topic of kale. But it turns out I love greens, too. Even if my fork will first reach for the carb, uh, I mean pasta, before the broccoli, don’t hold it against me.  It is very European to end on the salad (but very French to end on cheese, but I will save that for another blog entry).
I have embraced kale as the sovereign of all greens. It packs a nutritional punch and been given the name “superfood.” It is hearty and will last in the crisper for days as I try to avoid making it for my family. But when I do we are all surprised every time how much we don’t hate it. We even like it. A lot.
Kale chips, although trendy, haven’t given me the kind of success I hoped for. High temp, low temp, no matter—they are always a combo of yummy-crunchy-crispy-flaky, burned-bitter-brown, and raw-chewy-stringy. I admittedly can’t get them right (if you can please message me the recipe immediately, although I have probably already tried it).
I have enjoyed a friend’s kale, stewed with large white beans and some kind of barbeque sauce.  I suppose what I’ve been looking for in a kale recipe is not something that masks it, or something that uses it as a healthy ingredient while making me feel like I have taken a dose of medicine (kale smoothie anyone?). I’ve been looking for the “Holy Kale” of recipes that will make me stand up and shout “ALL HAIL KALE, THE MIGHTIEST TASTIEST GREEN THAT EVER WAS!” and I have found it.
It is simple: you whisk up a very simple dressing (in this case I would even call it a marinade), you chop up the leaves, or shred them really, you combine the two and let it sit, 30 minutes , but even better the next day, as it does its own hard work of softening up in the fridge.
You can use any kale you’d like: Lacinato or dinosaur kale, or basic supermarket variety labeled generically “kale” (which could be curly or plain leafed). Just wash-dry-shred-marinate-eat.
It just sits on the kitchen counter for about ½ an hour cooking itself while you slave away at all of the other things you are preparing. Make it first before you make your pasta-rice-potato side dish and let it smugly wait it out. Let it sit while you roast your chicken or cook your fish or heat up those beans to go with your rice. In fact make it the day before, or even two, shocking as it may seem. While other lettuces will wither and wilt having to bear the weight of dressing too long, these greens only get better. Have it tonight for dinner, pack it tomorrow for lunch, and the next day as well. You can count on this salad to be waiting for you when you get home and won’t have to wash-chop-dress your dinner when you are tired. And if Popeye is any indication of what one is like after eating their greens then you will feel as strong as he after chowing down.
Put this out for company or bring it to a potluck—unlike cole slaw that cannot take a hot summer’s day out on a picnic table, this can. And guest will say, oh is that…kale?” And they will ask, “how do you make that—I hear it is good for you.”  And you will say,” it is, in more ways than you know.” 
“ALL HAIL KALE” SALAD
·         ½ pound kale
·         ¼  cup each shredded carrots and purple cabbage
·         ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
·         ¼ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
·         1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
·         2 teaspoons sugar
·         2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
·         ½ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1.       Wash and dry the kale. Strip the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Shred the leaves into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl with the carrots and cabbage.
2.      In a medium bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the kale salad.
3.      Let marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to two days.
 
 
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Not-For-Cookie-Monster Chocolate Chip Cookies

That’s right, you heard me. I wouldn’t in a million years share these with Cookie Monster. Now, before you jump to conclusions, wondering what kind of person would say such a thing, I can explain. 
 

Cookie Monster will eat ANY cookies. He does not have a discriminating palate and likes them all equally: oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, sugar cookies. He shovels them in with wild abandon and shows no respect for either the cookie or the cookie maker.  About now, you, the reader, are thinking that you have much more in common with Cookie Monster than you do with an elitist like me. Perhaps you think I am cruel to speak ill of the precious puppet that defined the eating habits of a generation. But stick with me.
Cookie Monster does not taste his food. Tasting involves biting, chewing, and swallowing, and he does none of those things. He is not, shall we say, a monster in the moment.
The cookies don’t make it far into C.M.’s mouth and make a mighty mess that I am sure makes his mother feel blue. Not to mention it is a waste of perfectly good cookies on the floor.
Now of course we can all relate to the joy he feels; the kid in all of us knows what this is like. But it can be done with dignity.
Even my four-year-old will take time to savor a cookie. And my eighty-three-year-old dad, who bears more resemblance to Cookie Monster than I should admit, in appearance, eating habits, and voice, who will tell you he came to America to eat cake for breakfast, appreciates when a cookie, these cookies in particular, are (in your best Cookie Monster voice) mmmmm…good!
Now, if you like fluffy-thick-cake-like cookies, these are not the ones for you. Although I will argue that you cannot help but love these too. These cookies, like me, try their darndest to make everyone happy: thin, crispy, chewy, chunky. When I eat them, I wonder how one cookie can be all things to everyone, but this one can.
And when you make and eat these, you will see that this is a simple cookie, and whether you eat one or one hundred and one, these are meant to be savored.
There are a few guidelines to making these, but they are very simple:
 First, have all ingredients at room temperature. The butter and the egg will not perform correctly if taken straight from the frigid climate of the refrigerator. It really is no effort at all to leave them on the kitchen counter for an hour or so while they keep each other in good company.
Second, use good quality ingredients. Sure you CAN use any flour, butter, vanilla, and chocolate but just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. Instead, and if you want to these to live up to my promise of perfection, then you must heed my words. European style butter, such as Plugria, will do wonders for the taste and texture of this cookie. The vanilla matters too—none of that imitation stuff here. Whether you use McCormick or Penzey’s, Nielson Massey or Watkins, just make sure it is the real deal. The flour must be unbleached, and preferably King Arthur, but Gold’s will do. And for chocolate, you are expecting me to say here that the better the chocolate the better the cookie, but instead I will tell you that the secret weapon is using a mixture of chocolate chips (pick 2): minis, chunks, chips, dark, milk, semi-sweet, and you will wow even the most jaded chocolate chip cookie eater. You might even make good ol’ C.M. stop in his tracks to taste this cookie.
The last couple of words of wisdom here: have all ingredients measured and close at hand. And while baking these, one tray at a time (none of that double rack rotating halfway through business), don’t leave the kitchen. Be there for your cookies to remove them right on cue.
So, stop and smell the cookies, but be sure to really savor them too.
For the cookie monster in all of us:
Not-For-Cookie-Monster Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½  teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temp.
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large egg, at room temp.
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup assorted chocolate chips (see above)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts, optional (pecans are my fave!) 
1.      Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.      In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and the salt.
3.      In a large bowl, place the butter and both sugars and cream together using an electric mixer for about 3 minutes until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix well.
4.      Add the flour mixture and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and mix until just combined.
5.      Using a medium sized cookie scoop drop dough onto the baking sheets, leaving a couple of inches between them. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.
6.      Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two and then remove them to a cooling rack. Eat them warm or cool, but for the love of cookie monster, eat them slowly.
 
 

We Go Together Like Orange-Olive Salad with Cumin-Garlic Dressing

When itcomes to recipes in cookbooks I am like a talent scout and can spot a starrecipe from a mile away. No, really. I can pick a recipe out of a cookbook like nobody’s business. And this recipe is a showstopper. You can see for yourself:

Photo by my friend Yana Hotter at Spoonful of Sugar Photography

I found it by accident. There was a cooking class I was scheduled to teach to promote the cookbook section at a local library and not 24 hours before, after all was planned, I received a phone call that we couldn’t actually “cook” at this cooking class, that the kitchen was not up to fire code. Well, what could I do but go back and look in the cookbooks for recipes that didn’t need “cooking” per se, as much as assembling.
 
Now, that being said I am a big fan of COOKING at my cooking classes, but I took a risk, without testing it, or ever having anything like it cross my lips, I made this at the class and like I told you, a star was born.
 
Since then I have made it many times, with run-of-the-mill thin-skinned brightly-hued navel oranges, with lovely sweet pink-fleshed Cara Caras, with gorgeous Valencias so heavy with juice I thought they would burst in my hand, and all were amazing.
 
The secret to this is the red wine vinegar which brings out the flavor of the oranges while taming their sweetness.
 
There is nothing like the surprise element of this salad, when you watch your dinner guests, take a bite of this and are expecting cloying sweetness, or the tang of olives, but instead see how well the flavors meld. 
 
They will think, “Garlic-cumindressing on FRUIT!!! No!” And then you will pull it off like a magic trick, you a sorcerer of taste, conjuring all of the magic you have to make this work.
 
But actually, it goes together like ramma-lamma-lamma-ka-dinga-da-dinga-dong (whatever the heck that means, thank you very much Danny and Sandy).
 
The only way to convince yourself and others is to spread the good word and to make this and eat it as often as possible with as many people as possible as often as you can.
 
Because baby, it’s a STAR!
 
MoroccanOrange and Olive Salad with Cumin-Garlic Dressing 
 
4 oranges, Cara Caras, Valencia, Blood Oranges, or Navel
¼ cup oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
1.      In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar,honey, garlic, paprika, cumin and oil. Set aside to let flavors blend.
2.      Remove the skin and pith of the oranges using a serrated knife: cut the ends off of the orange and then startingat one cut end, slice away the peel curving the knife around to the other end. Then slice the orange horizontally into ¼-inch rounds.
3.      Arrange orange slices on a serving platter and scatter with olives and parsley.
4.      Drizzle the garlic-cumin dressing over the oranges and olives sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. 
 
Note: This dressing is also delicious poured over couscous, chicken, and pasta. Just sayin’.

Sangri-ahhh

Admit it, you are rolling your eyes at the title of this blog entry.  But that is because you haven’t tried this recipe.  Yet.

Sangria comes from the Spanish word sangre which means blood, perhaps referring to the glorious color and warming qualities of this refreshing drink.
I’ve heard it said that sangria is meant to be a warm weather drink (it originates in the temperate climate of Spain), but I beg to differ. It turns out that December 20th is National Sangria Day, right around the time I became obsessed. Coincidence?  I think not.
There is nothing more lovely to drink when the winter weather is bleak than luscious dark red wine infused with magenta stained fruit.
 You will find it a wonder that an inexpensive wine can be transformed by a few simple ingredients: Triple Sec, sugar, oranges and a lemon. Plus citrus is in season right now, which is the best way to eat, er, I mean drink.
Usually I am the type of light drinker who thinks a bottle of wine serves 6 people (see, no worries mom), but this recipe, which uses a whole bottle of wine, seems to be perfect for 4 to each have a glass (maybe even while catching up on episodes of True Blood–just sayin’). And I really enjoy wine but this goes down even easier with its sweet fruity flavor and robust taste.
You should make it in the morning–It takes a whole day of sitting to mellow and let the flavors blend, but it is worth waiting for.
You might find yourself opening the fridge mid-morning to grab some milk for your coffee and will wonder if you shouldn’t have a nice refreshing glass right then (you shouldn’t). Instead, it will make the whole day more bearable knowing what is waiting for you at the end. So plan ahead to raise a glass or two with a friend and enjoy.
The first thing you need to know is that you don’t need to buy anything fancy at the wine store. Spend under $10 for a fruity Merlot and you’ll know you have the right one. I used Trader Joe’s Coastal Merlot ($4.99) and was very pleased with the results. 

 Next, get a pitcher, preferably with a rounded bottom for easy stirring, and if you are going to double or triple the recipe get a very large pitcher or even a punch bowl to make this in.

 Last, you will be tempted to throw in other fruit, perhaps at someone else’s recommendation (like the checkout person at the supermarket), but try to refrain from altering perfection. Although at the end, feel free to add a splash of sparkling water if you want something fizzy and festive. 

Here is the recipe straight from America’s Test Kitchen which needs no embellishments from me:
 
Sangria 
2 large juice oranges, washed; one orange sliced and the other juiced within an inch of its life
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
¼ cup sugar, not level, just measure and give it a shake
¼ cup Triple Sec
1 (750-ml) bottle inexpensive, fruity, medium bodied wine, (see above recommendation) 
 
1.      Add sliced orange, lemon, and sugar to large pitcher; mash and stir gently for about 1 minute, using a wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice (but is not totally crushed) and sugar dissolves. 
 
 
2.      Stir in orange juice, triple sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2 hours (but  seriously try to wait longer) and up to 8 hours (for perfection).
 
 
 
3.      Before serving, add 6 to 8 iced cubes and stir briskly to redistribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.
Sangri-ahhh!!!