Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kale Chips, an unusual treat

Why can't I be different and unusual... like everyone else? – Vivian Stanshall

This must be the most unusual fish and chips I have ever eaten. Kale and smoked mackerel. And it won’t be the last time.

I rank smoked mackerel as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Sadly, I don’t eat it often enough. In an enclosed space it can be a bit overpowering. But the health benefits far outweigh that “minor” issue.

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and cod) contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help improve cardiovascular health by lowering the levels of triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol in the blood. 

I like my mackerel heated in the oven. Both the fish and kale bake for 15 minutes, so it made sense to do them at the same time. But I didn’t come here to talk about smoked mackerel. I came here to talk about kale.

Since mackerel is a fish powerhouse, one should really pair it with its vegetable equivalent to get a really good bang for your dietary buck. Few compare to kale.

Healthy stuff
Dark leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, dandelion greens, etc) contain many nutrients important to maintaining good health. Iron, Vitamins K, C and A, copper, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, calcium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories – they’re all present in kale. 

Interesting fact: kale contains more calcium than milk. All told, it’s one of the world’s most nutrient-rich foods.

But people seem to hate it. Or love it.

I used to fall in the middle. I liked it, but didn’t go out of my way to get it unless I was  a) feeling guilty for past food transgressions, or  b) had something particular in mind to make. Let's face it, besides putting it in a salad or soup, you have to get “creative” with kale.

But my negative opinion has changed. I have discovered a quick way to make kale into a vegetable you put on your grocery list intentionally. This would even be a good snack to have for watching TV.

Kale chips are so easy to make, too. All you need is a knife, some olive oil and salt. Not too much, though. I found that out the hard way!

Kale Chips
Prep: 5 min  |  Bake: 12-15 min  |  Serves 4
1 bunch of kale, washed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
optional: pepper or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Shake all the water off the kale after you wash it, and pat it dry with paper towel. It needs to be dry for the oil to adhere.

Cut the thick rib/stems away from the leaves. How far up the leaves you go will depend on the size of the rib.

Tear into manageable pieces, or you can leave them whole. Place the leaves in a bowl, top with the oil and massage over the leaves with your hands to coat well. 

Arrange the leaves rib-side up on one or two cookie sheets. The leaves shouldn't overlap. Sprinkle with pepper and/or parmesan (optional). 

Bake in the centre of the oven for 12-15 minutes. They should be slightly browned at the edges – no more.

Remove the leaves from the oven and sprinkle with salt. You’ll be surprised how crispy, rigid, and chip-like they are.

And delicious. Can’t forget delicious.


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Haddock with Fennel Bulb

From abundance springs satiety. – Livy

I’m a tomato sniper.

I am slowly picking off – one by one – the green tomatoes that I harvested after our hard frost. For their part, the tomatoes aren’t really trying to run and hide. They’re ripening at a furious rate on the counter. So my fears of having two grocery bags of unripe tomatoes to deal with have not materialized.

In fact, I’m down to only a few remaining green ones. Whew...

I have made five more 500 ml jars of roasted tomato sauce, plus eating them for lunch, roasting and freezing (great for quick sauces later), and sneaking them into most meals I make. They will not get the better of me.

This time my victims were four heirloom tomatoes, which on their plant tag showed beautiful re fruit. Interestingly, when ripe they were yellow/orange. Go figure... So if you do make this dish, the colour most likely be different.

If you’ve never had fennel bulb, it tastes like celery, with a hint of anise. It’s not overwhelming at all, so don’t fear it. Liquorice is my least liked flavour, and had no problem going back for seconds!

This is a pretty quick dish, loaded with flavour. A great way to serve fish, and knock off a few tomatoes in the process.

Haddock with Fennel Bulb
The sauce, after cooking for 15 minutes.
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb haddock
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium fennel bulb
4 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup butter
1/4-1/2 cup fresh dill weed

Heat the oil in a wide flat pan that has a cover. Sauté the fennel and chilli for 5 minutes, until the fennel starts to become translucent.

Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and stock. Cover and let simmer on medium for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down somewhat. 

Stir in the butter until melted. Then nestle the fish into the sauce. Sprinkle the fish with a little more salt and pepper and then top with the dill.

Cover the pot once again and let cook for 5 minutes to steam-cook the fish. The fish will be firm and cooked through. Serve with rice.

The fish and dill, ready to cook for 5 minutes.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style

The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master. – Khalil Gibran

Comfort. It’s something we all seek, be it “comfortable-ness” in our life situation or comfort in times of trial or grief.

It’s unusual how the first reaction upon hearing of a death is to go to the kitchen and start cooking for the bereaved family. Apparently our grief is held in our stomachs, and can be assuaged by a full pot of baked beans, or a loaf of banana bread.

I know I’m as guilty of this as everyone else, and even self-medicate. When I’m sad I go for food. 

This past year has been full of stressful change – one where the blue fell from the sky like a heavy blanket onto the grass, garden, and everything else in my life. One week from today is the anniversary of losing someone very dear to me, and it’s got me down.

I try to not show my lingering pain, but at times it becomes raw, and it only takes the smallest memory to set it off. Perhaps after the one year mark I will begin to mentally file my sadness into its proper "forever place" in my heart.

It’s much of the reason I have been posting sporadically over the last year. Most days I just can’t bring myself to do it. It seems so unimportant. I need to change that. I enjoy writing this blog and sharing with all of you. Like food, it’s another form of comfort and is far easier on the waistline.

All this sadness over the death of a dog. But Henry was not a dog. He was as much a family member as any living being could ever be. He lived to be with me, and I returned the feeling. He was my child for 8-1/2 years. His passing hit me hard, for a whole host of reasons. I will always wonder “what if”...

He used to chase the waves as
they broke on shore of our
local beach. He loved it.
So I’m in need of a little comfort this week, and this night I took it in the form of food. So into the kitchen I went...

Chicken soup is always a safe comfort bet. The decision was aided by the fact I had some thighs in the refrigerator. But I had another problem: two bags of tomatoes picked two weeks ago.

Two days ago I oven-roasted two dozen, plus an eggplant, and then froze them for quick sauces later. There’s another 32 or so on the stovetop, and more from the bags ripening every day. Whatever “chicken soup” I made had to use tomatoes. I may be sad, but waste is sadder.

So I came up with this recipe. It stews garlic, tomatoes and other veggies, which are then puréed into an almost creamy base for pasta and shredded chicken.

All in all, very satisfying. And more than a little comforting.

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 60 min  |  Serves 6-8
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lg carrot, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
6-8 plum tomatoes, chopped*
4 cups chicken stock
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in*
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp cracked black pepper
300g pasta (like penne, rotini, fusilli)
salt to taste
grated parmesan, optional
*depending on size

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a well-fitting lid. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and sauté on medium until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stock, chicken thighs, oregano, black pepper and a little salt (1/2 tsp). Bring to a boil, reduce het to medium and cover. Let cook for 30 minutes.

After the half hour, remove the chicken thighs and set aside. Purée the vegetables and liquid in the pot until very smooth. Add the pasta to the purée, cover and cook until 2 minutes short of al dente. Stir a few times while it cooks.

While the pasta cooks, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat. Two minutes before the pasta is fully cooked, add the chicken and bring back to a boil.

Taste for salt and adjust as desired. Serve immediately with grated parmesan, crusty bread and butter.


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