Kale Cooking Lessons

Had a great class last night about cooking kale–how to blanch it in salt water to remove the harshness and make it more tender.    Then we used it in a well-received dish:  Kale Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Sauteed Pears.  At the end, however, someone asked if he should always blanch kale before using it.  It seems he just sautes it, without first blanching, then tops it with lots of toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds.

That inquiry gave me another lesson in good answers and better answers to cooking questions.

In last week’s fresh cilantro example, I learned that the technically correct answer to a cooking question isn’t an absolute.  On the continuum of possible cooking options, the technically correct answer may hold the “Best” position, but there are a lot of “Good” to “Better” options to the left of it that could produce perfectly satisfactory results.

In response to the kale question, I gave the technically correct answer:  For tough characters like kale, blanching holds the “Best Cooking Technique” position because it has such a good success rate.    But it would have been better if I had also shared two additional, key tenets for home cooks:

1.  Do what works and what you can. If sauteing kale is something that you are comfortable doing,  that you can do easily, that you actually do–and that produces food you like–then don’t ever give it up as long as it is healthful.

Kale Pizza Picture

A Valentine for Your Heart: Kale Pizza

2.  Accumulate, don’t replace. New techniques aren’t meant to replace current techniques that work.  Instead, think of a new technique as  just one more trick up your sleeve.  So the next time you’re staring at a bunch of kale on the counter, hallelujah!  You now have one more delicious way to fix it–a really good thing since kale is so power-packed and it’s in season in all winter long.

So happy kale eating and please leave a comment if you’d like a copy of the wonderful recipe we made:  Kale Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Sauteed Pears.

By the way, I am going to experiment using the pizza topping with pasta (whole grain of course.)  Maybe with extra olive oil and chicken or vegetable broth for a little sauciness.  I’ll also revisit kale sauteing and see if I can come up with an even better answer for next time.

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Why I Won’t Be Watching the Olympics

“Olympics Offer Flatt, Abbott Chance for Marketing Mettle.”  So read the headlines after Rachael Flatt and Jeremy Abbott won national skating titles.  Not to take anything from these athletes.  They both sound like wonderful people.  And it’s not a lack of interested in figure skating.  I used to love watching it.

But now, it’s the Olympic marketing machine I’ll be boycotting, the one that’s ensnared the Olympics and morphed it into a big money game.  Witness the talk of the advertising world:  “I would not be surprised if you’re looking at a million-plus dollars,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, Inc., a New York-based brand-and-consumer loyalty research consultant firm. When did the buzz about marketing potential come to outweigh athletic talent as the main topic of Olympic news?

And for the record, it’s not just the money, but the crazy things that money makes young athletes do.  At least there’s been a little press about the ridiculous heights being scaled by, e.g., snowboarders.  I feel it’s time to vote with my viewership dollars and tell the Olympic carpetbaggers that no, I won’t pander to interests that encourage athletes to sacrifice the best interests of their bodies and lives.

Vegetable Exhaustion

Investment Thinking + 4 Days of Meal Ideas Put Ease into a Vegetable Life

I suffered a case of Vegetable Exhaustion last night while driving to a friend’s house, loaded with prepared vegetables.  After a nasty ski accident landed her in bed for three months, she readily accepted my offer for a few vegetable dishes.  So I spent the better part of a day making a roasted beet salad, green salad with sautéed mushrooms and onions, Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks, and kale salad with golden raisins and almonds.

Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks

Find all sorts of great recipes at VegetableAMonth.com, like this Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks

“Dang!” I groused to myself on the drive to her house.  “How could it have take so long to make four vegetable dishes?”

On average, I get sucked into these head debates about once each month.  A tipping point is reached, I get overwhelmed and aggravated, and off I go, demanding to know why vegetables take so long.  I’m guessing I’m not alone in these outbursts.  In fact, the time commitment required for vegetable cooking is undoubtedly a big part of the reason only one in ten of us eats the recommended daily servings.

So is there any hope for a peaceful coexistence with vegetables?  There has to be.  Vegetables are far too important (and delicious) to be squeezed out by the clock.  But how to still the discontent and debate provoked by these hard-to-crack powerhouses?

Here’s what calmed me down yesterday:  “Investment thinking,” or taking the long view.  If I limited my view plane to a single day, then of course I spent way too much time on vegetables yesterday.  But if I instead took a long view of things, what seemed like wasted time was magically transformed into an investment with a payoff.

Remember, I had made four vegetable dishes—some in quadruple batches!  Although several servings were going to my bedridden friend, one day’s effort still left me with enough green stuff for three more days.  And truth be told, I didn’t really spend the entire day cooking vegetables, only about three hours.  So a three-hour investment yielded a total of  four days’ worth of lunches and dinners.  Not a bad return!  In fact, that payoff is a lot better option than driving to, ordering and coming home with fast food multiple times.

But I didn’t stop with taking a long view.  Not wanting any of my payoff to go to waste, I also jotted down a quick plan for using everything up to maximum advantage.  Reproduced below, it also gives a few hints for maximizing prep time.  For instance, I actually started the green salad a night before, taking advantage of the extra meal making time made available by having leftovers for the rest of the meal.  See if any of my efficiency tricks can help lighten your nightly meal making load.

Saturday–Start Making Ahead

Dinner

  • Leftover Coq au Vin (a fancy French name for chicken cooked in wine)
  • Leftover Brown Rice
  • Simple Green Salad with shredded Jerusalem artichokes and red peppers, topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions

Notes:  With the entrée and starch already cooked, this was a good night to

  1. cut and wash enough lettuce for several meals,
  2. make enough sautéed mushrooms and onions for two nights,
  3. roast some beets, and
  4. throw a few potatoes in the oven to bake.  Now I had a few “cooked resources” to work with.

Sunday, the Big Vegetable Prep Day

Breakfast

  • Leftover Coq au Vin

Notes:  Eating leftovers again freed up time to brown the meat for Beef Stew with Tomatoes and Turnips and get it into the crockpot.

Lunch

  • Roasted Beet Salad with Apples, Celery and Nuts

Notes:  Because the beets were roasted the night before, preparing the beet salad was easy.  That, in turn, freed up time to prepare the vegetables for the Beef Stew, make croutons to freshen up the salad, and prep a double batch of kale salad plus two batches of kale for sautéing.

Dinner

Notes:   By the time dinner rolled around, the slow cooker stew smelled and tasted divine and a great salad was had by just reheating the sautéed mushrooms and onions and tossing on some fresh croutons.  The payoff begins.

Monday:  More Payoffs

Breakfast

  • Leftover Beef Stew

Lunch

  • Leftover Salad, Nicoise Style, with canned tuna, some of the leftover baked potatoes, chopped apples and frozen petite green beans

Dinner

  • Thai Coconut Soup (Tested the recipe for previous blog.)
  • Brown Basmati Rice
  • Orange Slices

Notes: No problem making a new vegetable soup since the rest of the day has required no vegetable cooking.

Tuesday

Breakfast

  • Leftover Beet Salad

Lunch

  • More Salad, Nicoise Style

Dinner

  • Leftover Beef Stew
  • Kale Salad

Notes: Again, no problem making the kale salad since I’ve had leftovers the rest of the day and the kale is already cut and washed.

Wednesday–Yet One More Day of Payoffs

Breakfast

  • Leftover Kale Salad pumped up with leftover Brown Basmati Rice

Lunch

  • Tomato Basil Soup (Imagine brand)
  • Leftover frozen green beans from Salad Nicoise

Dinner

  • Sauteed Kale with Onions and Garlic
  • Leftover Baked Potatoes with Miso Gravy
  • Baked Apples

Hopefully this “demo” shows how efficient meal making is a sort of “rolling” procedure.  One day’s leftovers lightens the next day’s load enough to make double or triple batches that, in turn, lighten the next day’s load.  Read more about investment thinking and how to ease into the time-saving plan ahead habit, both covered in Take Control of Your Kitchen.

Ready to start living a vegetable life like this?  Check out VegetableAMonth.com, as well as my Twitter column to the left.

Vegetables for a Vegetable Life

Vegetables for a Vegetable Life

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