Colcannon: Decoding the Missing Information Between the Lines of a Recipe

A traditional Irish dish, Colcannon was reserved for special occasions since “few Irish cottagers grew turnips or cabbages.” (1)  How interesting since those foods are so common nowadays!  Common though they may be, when combined with affordable potatoes you get a lovely dish that is not only budget-minded but also highly nutritious and tasty enough for company.

The following recipe for Colcannon caught my eye, no doubt because I’m part Irish, but also because autumn’s cool weather has finally blown in, making a hearty potato dish sound perfect.  What’s more, it takes good advantage of cool-weather produce:  I have lots of kale and green onions from my garden along with plenty of potatoes in with my CSA share.

Read Between the Line Pic

Reading Between the Lines  While making the recipe, however, I noticed how often I was “reading between the lines,” making additions and substitutions based on my health needs (I’m dairy-free), tastes and experience in the kitchen.  Another post explained how a lot of a recipe can be missing–as if written in invisible ink between the lines.  Read on to see how much and what information can be “missing” from a recipe, and how to begin building your knowledge base of trick and tips to make meals that are ever more satisfying for you.

Mind Your Ingredients  It all starts with good ingredients.  They are especially critical in dishes that have only a few to rely on for flavor, particularly when 1) the main ingredient (potatoes) is on the bland side and 2) when the main flavorings (cream and butter) have to be reduced or eliminated for health reasons. This is where tricks, tips and experimentation come in:

Colcannon RecipesColcannon--Substitutions

Health Boost  Interestingly, the modifications above also had the effect of improving the healthfulness of the dish.

  • Nothing against butter, but with 100 calories per tablespoon, it’s helpful to be moderate–and it’s not so very hard to reduce  5-6 Tablespoons to 2-3 Tablespoons.
  • While I eliminated the cream due to a dairy allergy, it also saves a lot on the calorie count.  Since butter and cream are the traditional  flavor enhancers, however, reducing or eliminating them makes it all the more imperative to use the flavor boosters listed above.
  • Potato skins, besides adding flavor, are loaded with vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B-6, thiamin, niacin and vitamin C, as well as iron, potassium and magnesium (2)-–plenty of reasons to leave them in the dish instead of tossing into the compost bin.
  • Finally, increasing the kale from three cups to four and tripling the green onions also boosts flavor along with nutrients.

My Recipe for Colcannon  See how I used all this information from “reading between the lines” to create my healthier version of Colcannon.

(1)  FoodTimeLine.org

(2)  “Does the Skin of a Potato Really Have All the Vitamins?”

Recipe: Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

After a recent post on storing your slow cooker, one reader asked why we didn’t include any ideas for using a slow cooker.  So here is one from Lauren, our long time volunteer adviser and the class assistant in our New Kitchen Cooking School.  I had always slow cooked chicken by submerging it in water and cooking on low for 8 to 10 hours–essentially poaching it.  Then Lauren shared her method which essentially roasts the chicken. Guaranteed good results–and ridiculously simple:

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken

Step 1:  Plop Bird into Slow Cooker, Breast Side Down

Picture of Slow Cooker Chicken

Keeping the breast down helps it stay moister.  The wide, shallow style slow cooker is better for roasting since it allows more air circulation around the bird, although the tall narrow style can work, too.

Step 2: Season Chicken

You can be fairly generous with the salt and especially the pepper.  If you want, be creative and toss on some herbs or spices, e.g., Herbes de Provence, Italian Herbs, a Moroccan rub . . . .

Step 3:  Cover and Cook on High ~ 3 Hours

Slow Cooker Chicken

Timing is where things can be a little tricky, because of differences in cookers and bird sizes. So start monitoring after two hours, until you learn the right timing for your slow cooker and usual bird size.

Step 4:  Uncover and Cook on High ~ 1 More Hour

Browned Slow Cooker Chicken

Even covered, the bird browns and crisps fairly well. Now, in an unusual twist, leave the cover off another hour to brown even a little more. Be sure to leave the temperature on high.

Step 5:  Baste Every 15 Minutes (optional, but really adds flavor and moistness)

Basting Chicken

Basting is what makes the chicken taste more like those succulent rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. I just baste as I pass by the chicken while doing things around the house, or while preparing the rest of the meal. IMPORTANT: Before serving, test the chicken for doneness (see Note below.)

Step 6:  Use the pan juices to make a delicious sauce, e.g., with just a little grainy mustard and Herbes de Provence, maybe a little wine.  Try making it in the slow cooker, but if it’s too slow, scrape everything into a small skillet or saucepan.

Fair Question:  Why not use the oven?   I prefer the slow cooker because of the “tolerance” and “visibility” factors.  While an oven doesn’t exactly speed cook foods, the window between not quite done and overdone may be only 10 to 15  minutes.  Outside that narrow window, the chicken gets tough and dry, something I’ve experienced plenty of times because I’m not one to stand guard over food.  With a slow cooker that window is much longer, maybe 30 to 60 minutes.  And even if I go past that window, there’s a good chance the chicken will still be pretty good.  It’s hard to ruin a dish completely in a slow cooker unless you completely forget about it.  At the same time, it’s easier to monitor a chicken in a slow cooker sitting on the counter than one buried in a hot oven in a heavy pot.

Note on Doneness:  According to Joy of Cooking, chicken must be cooked to the point where the meat releases clear, not pink, juices when pricked to the bone with a fork.  This correlates with an internal temperature of 170 (F) on an instant-read thermometer.  However, for the breast meat, doneness is reached at an internal temperature of 160 (F).  I usually slice between the thigh and torso of the chicken to see that the juices run clear and the meat is no longer red.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Kohlrabi Gratin

Cooking vegetables gratin-style is a delicious option–in the winter. Because a gratin is baked an hour or so, it’s tough to even think about making one in the heat of summer. Hence the slow cooker version in this recipe. Of course in cooler weather, you can also bake this dish at 350 (F) for an hour or so.

Although kohlrabi has been at the markets lately, with the arrival of August’s hot temperatures, this cooler weather crop may disappear for a while.  However, it frequently reappears in autumn, so keep this recipe handy.

For tips on peeling and cutting a kohlrabi, see the next post.

Serves 2

Step 1 Lightly Saute Onions

  • 1 med. red onion, sliced into strips about ¼” x 2” (or 1 cup sliced green parts of fresh onions)
  • ½ Tbsp. butter

In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat butter over medium heat until lightly sizzling. Add onions and saute, just until lightly browned (about 5 minutes.)

Kohlrabi

See the next post for instructions on quickly cutting matchsticks or, for a more traditional style gratin, quarter and slice kohlrabi thinly.

Step 2 Combine and Cook

  • ½ Tbsp. butter
  • 2 medium kohlrabi (about 3 to 4” in diameter), cut into ¼” matchsticks (or thinly sliced and halved)
  • 1 cup milk or unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Grease a 3 to 5 qt. round slow cooker with butter, then add and stir together sauteed onion, kohlrabi, milk and salt and pepper. (Reserve onion pan for making breadcrumbs.)

Slow cook gratin a total of 6 to 8 hours as follows: Begin by covering slow cooker and cooking gratin on high for 2 to 3 hours until simmering vigorously, stirring occasionally. Once mixture is simmering well and kohlrabi has begun to soften, remove lid and continue cooking until most of liquid is evaporated–about 2 to 3 more hours, stirring occasionally.*  Then reduce heat to low and re-cover with lid and continue cooking until vegetables are cooked to taste, about another 1 to 2 hours.

Step 3 Toast Breadcrumbs and Serve

  • ½ Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbsp. dried breadcrumbs

In pan used for sauteing onions, melt butter over medium heat, then sprinkle crumbs evenly across bottom of pan. Cook, stirring every minute or two, until crumbs are lightly browned and crispy. About 30 minutes before serving, return slow cooker to high and sprinkle evenly with prepared crumbs. Continue cooking, uncovered, for the last 30 minutes. Serve with optional garnishes.

Optional Garnishes

  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

* Note:  cooking the dish uncovered allows moisture to evaporate, so the gratin comes out more like a baked dish than the kind of soupier dish that normal slow cooking produces.  While this means this isn’t a dish to fix and forget all day, the result is well worth the small amount of extra attention required.

Spinning Leftovers for a Week of Dinners—plus a Lunch

Leftovers are a common problem for solo cooks. Not just extra servings of a dish, but also all the vegetables, seasonings, meat, rice, and other ingredients left over from making the dish.  Making the Sauteed Beet and Snap Pea Salad in the next post, for instance, leaves behind nearly a dozen foods:

The Leftovers List

  • Sauteed Beets

    Sometimes beets are only sold in bunches.  If you don’t need that many for a dish, saute the leftovers for a fabulous salad topper–or mid-afternoon snack.

    One serving of the finished salad

  • Steak strips
  • Couple handfuls of sugar snap peas
  • 2-3 beets from a bunch
  • Beet greens
  • Beet green stems
  • Garlic
  • Cumin dressing
  • Cilantro
  • Limes
  • Rice or quinoa

Problem or Possibility?  All those leftover items in the frig could lead to some anxiety.  “What am I going to do with all of them?  They’re taking over my frig!”  Or those leftovers might become sparks of inspiration for a whole week’s worth of meals–plus at least one lunch:

Lunch the Next Day

  • Leftover Sautéed Beet and Snap Pea Salad with Goat Chevre and Toasted Walnuts
  • Whole Wheat Pita Wedges

Make creative use of leftover salad by serving with a different side and new toppings (substitute another cheese or nut to suit your tastes)

Night 2

  • Sweet Potatoes with Cumin Dressing
  • Salmon with Lime and Cilantro
  • Garlic Sautéed Beet Greens

If it’s too hot for sweet potato fries, microwave then grill wedges and toss with dressing. Grill the salmon, too, and top with lime juice and cilantro. Try sprinkling apple cider vinegar over the sautéed beet greens.

Night 3

  • Early Summer Meal Salad:  Lettuce, Sautéed Beets and Summer Turnips, Spicy Pumpkin Seeds, Garbanzo or White Beans, Cherries or Apricots—plus anything else you have on hand!
  • Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette (or store-bought dressing of choice, e.g., Drew’s Sesame Orange or Braggs Vinaigrette)
  • Whole Wheat Pita Wedges

For an interesting addition to a salad, cut and saute the rest of the beets, along with some summer turnips, as directed in the Beet and Snap Pea Salad recipe .

Night 4

  • Snap Pea Stir-Fry

    Leftover snap peas make a great snack, or make a quick stir-fry with them. Learn the 10 Steps to Super Stir Fries in one of our classes

    Stir Fry with Snap Peas, Onions, Summer Turnips, Steak Strips and Carrots

  • Leftover rice or quinoa

Use up leftover summer turnips from Night 3’s salad.  Cut them and the carrots into 1/4″ matchsticks. Flash fry steak strips in a separate pan for best results. Combine everything and top simply with soy sauce and San-J Szechuan sauce for a little heat. Serve with rice or quinoa warmed in the microwave.

Night 5—Super Easy Meal

  • Readymade Lentil Soup with Beet Stems
  • Whole Grain Toasts with Chevre and Roasted Peppers
  • Optional Chicken—grilled, rotisserie, deli or sautéed

Relax at the end of the week. Simply slice leftover beet stems very thinly and stir into Amy’s or another favorite lentil soup.  Simmer 5 to10 minutes until tender to taste. Meanwhile, cut whole grain bread into quarters and toast or grill; top with chevre and diced roasted peppers. Serve chicken on the side if desired.

Recipe: Quick Kale Huevos

Colorado weather can be frustrating. April comes and we think spring, then a snowstorm blows in. May’s gentle spring rains come, but turn to freezing sleet on a dime. And in June, when we’re ready for the riotous color of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant–we get greens. Our gardens and Farmer’s Markets are filled with chard, kale, collards, lettuce, spinach–all lovely but all green.

There is a reason for the bounty of greens. They are cold weather crops capable of surviving Colorado’s unpredictable, often-brutal springs. Take spinach. Not only can it successfully “hibernate” all winter, it practically relishes a spring snowstorm–emerging unscathed and actually tasting better. Meanwhile, hot weather tomatoes, peppers and eggplant can’t even be planted until mid-May and don’t start flourishing until well into July and August.

So in June, it’s all about the greens. While a radiant sight after winter’s brown and grey, they can get tedious. So in the vein of making lemonade from life’s lemons, find a quick idea for kale below.

Want more ideas?  Come to our class:  “Vegetables, Tasty, Tasty Vegetables,” a seasonal meal-making class focused on the greens–buying, storing, prepping, lots of versatile uses.

  • 5 Tuesdays:  June 3 – July 1   ~   5:30 to 8:00 p.m.
  • Register Online through City of Boulder–Class Code:  215238  Or simply call Parks and Recreation: 303-413-7270 (before 5 p.m.); 303-441-4400 (after 5 p.m.)

Also see one of the first posts, “It’s a Green, Green World,” with four more unique recipes for the green season:

  • Spinach and Sweet Potato Soft Shell Tacos
  • Red, White and Greens Stir-Fry
  • Wilted Spinach with Radish Dressing
  • Pasta Frisee

 Recipe:  Quick Kale Huevos

 A great way to get in a couple servings of vegetables at breakfast time–but equally good for lunch and dinner. Be sure to use 100% whole grain bread for a 100% healthful meal.

Quick Kale Huevos–or substitute chard or spinach

Step 1–Stem and Chop Kale  Stem an entire bunch so you’re set for several meals. Once stemmed, bunch kale leaves together and chop into pieces roughly 1″ square, then wash and spin dry in a salad spinner.  Tip: Remember to chop and save the stems for soup, stir fires, etc.

Step 2–Simmer-Steam Kale Use about a cup of liquid; broth provides a great flavor boost. Cover and cook over low heat until kale is tender to taste, then remove the lid, turn up the heat and cook to evaporate any remaining liquid.   Tip: Kale can be harsh-tasting (why a lot of people are leery of it.) Experiment with cooking it a little longer than usual–past where it loses its vibrant color, it may even become fairly limp–but you may well like it a lot better!

Step 3–Two-Pan Cooking  To speed things along, I use a second pan to fry the eggs and toast the bread while the kale cooks in its own pan.

Step 4 Assemble Toast, kale, eggs, salsa. I also had leftover slow-cooker beans in the frig. Why not throw those on as well after a quick heating in the microwave?  Other additions: cheese, avocado, chiles, low-fat sour cream . . .

 

 

Don’t Be Stupid

. . . or How to Be Smarter Than the Average Food Marketer

Food marketers must smirk with glee at how handily they seduce the American consumer. “Americans are so gullible!” they must all be laughing in their cubicles.

Green Giant Veggie Chips

Just because “Roasted Veggie” is in its name, don’t be misled into thinking you’ll get a serving or two of veggies while snacking on a few handfuls of chips. Just eat a real, fresh pepper!

Fortunately for us, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is watching our backs. This group actually examines health claims on packaged foods, going so far as to measure the amount of healthy ingredients a product claims to have. I have followed their investigations for years and the results are nothing less than astounding. Hence this post’s title: “Don’t Be Stupid.”

Green Giant’s Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chips are a case in point. “The deliciousness of garden vegetables and ranch flavor are paired to create a truly flavorful snacking experience.” So says the package.  Before you get too excited about snacking away a couple servings of healthy roasted vegetables, here’s the real scoop from CSPI:

Since when does a snack that’s made mostly of corn (even if it’s whole grain) and oil deserve to talk about “garden vegetables”? Turns out the chips have more ground corn, sunflower oil, and buttermilk powder than dried bell peppers, and more evaporated cane syrup (sugar) and salt than dried broccoli, tomatoes, or carrots.

Our best defenses against food marketers:

  1. Be suspect of any processed foods; by definition, they are “far from the tree” and frequently contain ingredients better left on the factory floor.
  2. READ INGREDIENT LABELS. I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t monitor what’s going into their mouths.  Judging by the (ill) health of our country, it’s fair to say that merely being “food grade” does not assure that a factory-created product does what food should do, i.e., supply vital nutrients for our bodies.
  3. Check out CSPI’s Nutrition Action blogs and newsletters, and start educating yourself on the marketing gimmicks we are bombarded with by the day, hour and minute. You’ll soon start getting the hang of being smarter than the average food marketer.

Recipe: White Fish in Cilantro Broth with Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli

Simple, One-Dish Style Makes for Simple Dinner Times

Broccoli florets and julienned sweet potatoes surround delicate white fish kept moist and tasty with the springy tang of a cilantro broth.

Step 1:  Prepare Cilantro Broth  

  • 1 Tbsp. roughly chopped garlic (from about 3 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp. jalapeno pepper, chopped roughly, more or less, to taste
  • ¼  cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ tsp. salt, more or less to taste
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, low sodium (divided)
  • 2 cups roughly chopped cilantro, both stems and leaves

In cup of immersion blender, combine garlic, jalapeno, lime juice and salt.  Allow to sit for several minutes to meld flavors.  Add half of broth and cilantro.  Blend until fairly smooth but with a little texture, then add remaining broth and blend just enough to incorporate it.  Reserve.

Even though this is a one-dish meal, two-pan cooking makes preparation faster–vegetables simmer-steam in one pan while the fish cooks in another.

Step 2:  Simmer Steam Vegetables

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, low sodium (divided)
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, cut about ½ to 3/4” in size
  • 1 lrg. Garnet or Jewel yam, julienned to about 1/8”, then cut into roughly 2” lengths

Combine broth and broccoli florets in a large frying pan with a lid.  Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat t o low and simmer just 3-5 minutes, until broccoli is halfway done.
Stir in yam strips and continue simmering until both broccoli and yams are almost done to taste, about 3-5 more minutes.

Step 3:  Pan Fry White Fish 

  • ½ to ¾ lb. cod, talapia or other mild white fish filets either fresh or frozen and thawed, cut into 2-3” cutlets
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, to taste

While vegetables cook, warm oil over medium heat in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saute pan.  Gently squeeze or pat cutlets dry, then season with salt and pepper.  When a corner of fish sizzles gently when touched in warming oil, use a spatula to spread oil evenly over bottom of pan, then lay cutlets in warmed oil in a single layer so they do not touch each other.  Set timer and cook for 3 minutes and flip over.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook another 1 minute, then remove immediately to a plate.

Step 4:  Combine and Serve

As soon as vegetables are almost done, stir in reserved sauce, then push vegetables to sides of pan and lay partially cooked cutlets in center.  Continue simmering, covered, just 1-2 more minutes, until fish is done.  Taste and add more salt, pepper, lime or jalapenos,  to taste.  Serve immediately, placing two or three cutlets in center of wide soup bowl surrounded by half of the vegetables.  Spoon broth over the top.

Optional:  Serve alongside a little brown rice to soak up the broth deliciously

NOTES:  See the next post for background information on preparing this recipe.

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