Monday, February 16, 2009

Conquering Kale

The Farmers, bless their brave, curmudgeonly hearts, are grinning gleefully now that the hard, sharp, heart of winter has been endured and, no matter how frigid it is outside, the sun is stronger and longer, and the hearty, hardy little green shoots in the hoop-houses, seeds for which were planted last fall, and which had hoved up above the soil, and throve there while there was light and warmth enough, and then shivered down and hibernated through the worst of it, are shaking off the ice and reaching towards the sun, taller and meatier by the day.

At the Farmers’ Market we still have last fall’s root vegetables, and welcome they are, too, not having been picked last fall and stored all this time, many of them, but still residing in the protected ground and being dug as needed. (Has anyone roasted a rutabaga lately? My goodness! As sweet as apples!) And we have mature spinach and arugula and, not chard, but Kale, and who can get enough Kale these days – Eat More Kale, indeed. But in a few weeks we’ll be getting the first of the NEW crop of greens – chard and spinach, and hardy little mesclun. Maybe even some tendrilled pea shoots.

I mentioned Kale, didn’t I? Now why do I keep wanting to capitalize the K in Kale? Because it’s important to me! It’s important to me because I don’t like it! There, I’ve said it. I. Don’t. Like. Kale.

Now, usually I take very short shrift with anyone who doesn’t LIKE a food. And, indeed, I take very short shrift with myself when I say I don’t like Kale. To that end I’ve been buying a lot of it and experimenting, determined to find a way of preparing it that doesn’t leave me thinking either that I’m eating leather, which at least tastes of Kiwi – shoe polish, that is – or grazing my way across a particularly tough patch of yard.

I’ve chopped it up and roasted it with garlic and olive oil. I wasn’t impressed, but Roasted Kale keeps getting plaudits – so, if you want to try it, I won’t reinvent the wheel but just quote a recent New York Times recipe: Stack about six kale leaves on top of one another. Starting along a long edge, roll the stack tightly, like a cigar, then cut the roll into very fine ribbons, about 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining kale. Toss the ribbons with a little olive oil and spread them on a baking sheet covered with a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper or a silicone pad. Give them some breathing room, but don’t worry if they overlap; they will be impossible to untangle in any case. Salt them lightly and roast them in the oven until they are crisp, about 10 minutes. That was used as a garnish for a potato and chorizo soup and, as such, it could be interesting.


What it boils down to is I don’t like Kale en masse, though I DO like it in strips and added to other ingredients, for instance dropped into a soup of cannelloni beans and sausage for the last 20 minutes of its cooking. What I’ve found I like to do with it, as with many green winter vegetables – such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts – is to steam it or braise it (boiling loses too many of its excellent vitamins and minerals) and then either sauté it with some mushrooms and then add some grain, pasta, lentils, or beans, with possibly cheese thrown over the top. Or, if using pasta, I might bring everything together in a buttery, perhaps cheesy, béchamel, otherwise known as white sauce.

Because another winter experiment I’ve been indulging in is trying out some different grains but, rather than overdose on them in their pure form, adding them in small amounts to the vegetable dishes.

...Winter Casserole...

I’ve been getting very handsome Brussels Sprouts at the Co-op all winter, and made a Christmas Casserole with them: Clean, cut in half and steam until bright green and fork-pierceable, a quantity of Brussels sprouts (be sensible about this, 5 to 8 sprouts per person). Sauté some oyster (or other) mushrooms in a large sauté pan in olive oil and garlic. Add the Brussels sprouts, and stir fry for a few seconds to coat with the garlicky olive oil, then toss together with ½ to 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Pour into a casserole dish, cover with ¼ to ½ cup grated cheddar, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and browned.

Quinoa is a lovely grain – wheat- and gluten-free – which is cooked 1 part to 2 parts water for not really more than 10 or 15 minutes until tender. The germ ring – which looks like a baby’s fingernail paring
becomes visible when cooked. It’s a beautiful grain both in appearance and upon the palate.

The nifty thing about these dishes that I’m talking about is that all their parts
pasta, beans, or grains, along with vegetables can be cooked separately, then combined just before making the finished dish.

...creamy pasta and vegetables...

Another time I combined the handmade (in Abruzzo, Italy) “little ears” pasta – orechiette – with Brussels sprouts and shiitakes in a béchamel in this way. Bring a quantity of water to the boil, salt it liberally, add a couple of handfuls (1 for each eater) of pasta, and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Steam the Brussels Sprouts as above, with the shiitake caps, cut in strips.

Make the béchamel: Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan over a medium heat, whisk in 1 ½ tablespoons flour, and when that is golden add 1 ½ cups of creamy milk, slowly, whisking as you go. Whisk as it thickens, and then whisk in your choice of grated cheese – a combination of Swiss, parmesan, and cheddar would be nice, about ½ to 1 cup – then fold in a couple of tablespoons of chopped onions, the pasta and the Brussels sprouts. Simmer until warmed through and steaming, then sprinkle with tiny croutons.

One might substitute Kale for the Brussels sprouts in these recipes, or one might simply supplement the vegetables with sliced and steamed Kale. Or, really though, one might just leave the Kale entirely out of it!

However, I have found that Kale really shines in a dish of lentils.

...lentils with sausage and kale...

Cook some lentils – I like the small green French lentils – in this way: Pour out 1 cup of lentils into a saucepan, slowly, looking for small stones as you do so. I’ve found one or two in my life, so don’t take this step lightly. Wash the lentils, drain, put them back in the pan, cover with water to half an inch above their surface, add a bay leaf, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender, usually ½ hour to 45 minutes. Add more water if needed, and 15 minutes before the end of cooking add salt to taste.

Cook some sausage, about 6 inches of inch-thick sausage. You can use chorizo, which is available at the Farmers’ Market and the Co-op (as are all the ingredients I’m using), or even plain smoked kielbasa. On the Edge Farm has some Chinese flavored sausage that would be good. You can roast it, or grill it, or just brown it in a frying pan, then add a little water, put the cover on and simmer slowly for 20 minutes.

Cut the kale – a couple of handfuls – in strips and steam or simmer in a small amount of salted water, until tender.

Chop some onion, maybe red pepper, even a bit of celery, if you like. If you’re up for it, instead of chopping, cut these in tiny squares, in which case you will have a brunoise.

When you’re ready to eat, cut the sausage into thin rounds, drain the kale, and stir both into the lentils. Strew with the chopped or brunoised raw vegetables, a nice amount of garlicky olive oil, and sprinkle with hot pepper flakes to taste.

...and those farmers?...

Now why are those farmers “grinning gleefully.” Well, it’s this: They think they’ve defeated Mother Nature by inveigling spinach and chard and kale to grow in the midst of snow. But it’s difficult to defeat Mother because just when you think you’ve done it she comes down on you with a vengeance. Those mid-western farmers with their chemicals and pesticides and GM seeds and fencerow-to-fencerow planting thought they had defeated Mother Nature, but she is having the last laugh on their ruined fields, and will take them back in the next centuries as her own. Our farmers, though they’re too proud – most of them – to admit it, are working WITH Mother, getting smart and smarter, to create good local food for us northerners year round. And I say – “Congratulations to you, Dear Farmers!!”


Many of our readers are lamenting the fact that they can no longer find Twice Bitten on the Herald’s new website. This is how to do it: Hover your cursor over the word “INVITE” on the row of possibilities below the masthead, then hover it down and click on the word FOOD under that. You will eventually find us. Or click on the title of this post.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unctuous Crunch


Hard to tell, but yes, this is what remains of a bacon sandwich. And, for once, this one came out just as I desired and anticipated. I had in mind a "pressed" sandwich where the bread and bacon meld together as one; with a rime of the sweet acidy tang of mayonnaise without the actual stuff.

To that end:

I roasted bacon from On the Edge Farm in a hot oven until rendered and crisp. This is a substantial bacon, not too harshly smoked, rather delicate, in fact. Really quite delicious.

I cut, very thinly, two slices of Bear Mountain Honey Oatmeal bread, then buttered them.
Buttered the bread on a bacon sandwich? Yes, Indeedy, My Dears! For taste as well as texture. Be patient and all will come clear.

...buttered the bread, then curled and crunched about 4 substantial rashers of bacon onto the bottom slice of well-buttered (fresh baked yesterday) bread, sprinkled the bacon with a balsamic vinegar which is aged up the hill in Shrewsbury, placed the top, buttered, slice of bread on the sandwich, then, with the heel of my hand, pressed, until all was amalgamated. I cut it in half diagonally and began to nibble.
For once, I had achieved perfection.

All ingredients found at the Rutland Co-op and/or the Winter Farmers' Market (Saturdays, 10-2) OR, On the Edge Farm in Woodstock (802-457-4511); Bear Mountain Bakery in Wallingford (802-259-2321); Gordon's Pond Balsamic Vinegar in Shrewsbury (802-492-8282)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

murderous gluttony

Leaving my computer keyboard smoldering in angst, I drove my way into the kitchen under darkness and found myself rescuing an English muffin that had tagged along home after Leo a week or so ago from Baba-a-Louis. It would turn green soon. I thrust a fork into it around its perimeter, tore it apart, and slid half – only half – into the fiendish maw of the toaster. Down it plunged, to rise blackened and charred a few forgotten moments later, no longer in danger of producing penicillin. Harshly I tossed it upon a plate, and there I slathered it with good Amish butter, before further layering it with an organic peanut butter that presented no real threat of salmonella or real peanut taste. I grinned fiendishly as I strewed its surface yet further with sliced onions, ground shards of gray seasalt over all, then, for good measure, coarsely ground pepper. I considered horseradish, but was too hungry, too eager to sink my teeth into this delicacy. Oh yes, my Darl..... CHOMP!

Monday, February 02, 2009

popcorning heard it here...

Learn to cook! Teach your kids to cook! That’s been my refrain during all the years I’ve been writing – and thinking – about food. I was pretty much ignored, but nowadays we hear it shouted from every omnipresent food show, television, radio and print columnists. Okay, so now we’re getting the message – Don’t rely on faceless industry to create and wrap and market your food for you. Just THINK of all the hands, the grimy corners, the exotic processes, the unfriendly bacteria and rat feces that become interested in being on our tables if we don’t relentlessly search out and buy the best raw materials we can find.
Let’s face it – if we don’t learn to spend some time, money, and effort on what we put into our mouths, we’re going to be sicker oftener. Today it’s peanut butter, yesterday it was tomatoes, or was that peppers, maybe salsa – Oh, god knows WHAT it was that gave us the tummy ache, the Johnny-quick-steps, the need to spend long hours worshiping at the porcelain goddess! And that’s not to mention the long, slow, downward tilt to our overall health.

Learning to prepare those ingredients is almost the least of it. Who couldn’t, in an afternoon’s time, learn to steam a vegetable, prepare a basic starch, add a bit of protein, combine it all with something unctuously oily, and serve it up.



But, I digress. I have become aware that people don’t know how to pop their own popcorn, and rely instead on bags of that awful stuff mixed with weirdly aromatic powders that you stuff into a microwave. Imagine!
Since I don’t own a nuclear fission appliance, I make my own popcorn, and our lives are so simple that Leo and I find endless fascination in watching corn pop ever since I started using a wide and deep sauté pan with a – voila! – glass cover!

In case you are one who doesn’t yet know – or has forgotten – how to pop your own corn – Shame! – this is the way it’s done.

First of all relentlessly search out the best popcorn. We like to get a winter’s supply in the fall from Williams Farmstead just north of Rutland. If we don’t get enough our lives become desperation-on-wheels until we find another source. Recently, I revisited organic corn sold in bulk at the Co-op and discovered it was REALLY good – tender kernels and very few unpopped when you’re done.

Start with a cold pan, cold oil, and cold corn. This way the corn warms gradually with the pan and the oil so that the insides come to popping temperature before the outside crisps and holds the pops in. This makes a tenderer popcorn, too. I use a wide deep sauté pan, set it over high heat, scoop in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil, lard, or olive oil – what do we THINK people used for this purpose before the cereal growers started pressing their seeds under tremendous pressure, using enormous heats? – cover the bottom of the pan thoroughly with popcorn, so you can’t see any pan bottom, put on the see-through cover, and shake. If you keep an eye on the corn through the glass cover as it starts to pop you will see how important it is to shake the pan – the kernels on 1/3 of the perimeter begin to darken and pop sooner than the others, and by shaking, you mix all the colors and temperatures together.
One of my favorite bloggers, Michael Ruhlman, talks about wanting all his popcorn kernels to pop at once. I haven’t achieved that prodigious feat yet, and neither has he.

Once the popping slows to POP..POP..........POP..................pop, turn off the heat, pour into a large wooden bowl, put the pan back on the burner (remember, no heat), scoop in a couple of tablespoons of butter and put the top back on. While the butter sputters and melts in the hot pan, grind a good amount of salt over the popcorn, grate over it a plethora of cheese – Parmesan is awfully good – shake the bowl vigorously to disseminate the salt and cheese through the hot popcorn, then pour the butter over the corn, scoop a goodly amount of corn up in the pan and shake it around to scour the pan of butter (not to waste a drop of this dear stuff), pour back into the bowl, shake the bowl again, and serve with napkins.

For a sweeter alternative, after the corn is in the bowl and salted, turn the heat on under the pan again, pour in a third of a cup or so of maple syrup, bring it to a roiling boil – this takes only a moment – hold it there for another moment, then turn off the heat, take the pan from the burner, toss a lump of butter into the hot maple syrup and swirl it around until it’s melted, pour over the corn and scour the pan with the corn as before.

(Once you’ve finished the popcorn you’ll probably wander out to the kitchen and spy that pan and take a rigorous index finger to lick out the dregs of buttered maple syrup – and that might be the best treat of all.)

...the ghost of W...

Sometimes, instead of grating cheese over the popcorn, I like to scatter small chunks of bleu cheese or Roquefort over the top. Roquefort is, without doubt, and with no lessening of my regard for our wonderful Vermont cheeses, my all-time favorite cheese, already very expensive and getting more so as time passes.

This is why.
Long ago the European Union banned American hormone-treated beef on the grounds that it was unsafe to eat, showing once again their good sense. In a 1999 retaliation, Washington imposed a 100% tariff on European truffles, ham, chocolate, mineral water, sausages, some fruits and vegetables, as well as Roquefort cheese. That last is a pungent, salty, creamy, green-veined cheese made in the French region of Roquefort from unpasteurized ewe's milk. Now, with a backhanded, rude gesture as he walked out the door, G.W. Bush has tripled the tariff on Roquefort – from 100% to 300%. I’m angry (not exactly a new emotion from me for him), and I’m glad to see that the French are outraged. “There's no way the E.U. will reverse its ban on hormone-raised beef that consumers here don't want,” said one official. And there is hope that the Obama administration will reverse the tariff.

...a new bleu...

But in the meantime, and even forever after, I’ve found another, wondrous, cheese. Woodcock Farm Cheese Company, from over Weston way, set up at the Winter Farmers’ Market a few weeks ago (through the Co-op’s Wales Street Entrance, Saturdays, 10-2), and among their (East Friesian) sheep’s milk cheese offerings is a blue cheese with enough blue and green veining through its decidedly creamy yellow body to satisfy the most exacting of blue-cheese lovers. There’s buttermilk there. It’s creamy in texture, which makes it seem mellow, but it has a pungency that lingers in the nose and on the palate. Even the thin, somewhat leathery rind is toothsome.

What is that saying – Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality. I’m looking at this nibbled wedge of cheese sitting here above my keyboard and in front of the monitor – doing my final taste test at 9:30 in the morning – and the truth of that is forcefully brought home to me.

The blue cheese isn't mentioned in the link to Woodcock Farm above, because it's a new effort. Call them and ask, or just show up at the Winter Farmers' Market.
And no, you are NOT to go out and buy a glass-topped pan for popping corn. Just trust my words, and shake!