Summer Recipe Roundup

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I could post some fun, summer recipes. The problem is that because summer has just begun (or not even, officially), I can’t really start experimenting or playing around with summer recipes yet until the produce is available. I did get a pretty good haul this past weekend and hopefully will have some recipes to share with you at the end of the week, but for now, what I thought might be nice is to round up several recipes from previous summers, with links, so you can dive into the archives and go with something tried and true. So here ya go, Janessa.

Summer Recipe Roundup

Creamy Avocado Linguine with Meyer Lemon and Arugula
shrimp avocado pasta

Although avocados are technically in season all the time, this dish is decidedly summer. The addition of shrimp make it seasonal for the Eastern Seaboard, and it’s just so damn refreshing.

 

Dried Strawberries

Dried Strawberries

There are still some strawberries in the fields around here – if they’re still available where you are, a great way to save them is to dry and freeze them. Great on salads, in cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Veggies

eggplant Rotini

This is one of my favorite summer recipes. Quick, fresh, easy and adaptable to whatever veggies you have on hand. Don’t go through the summer without making this.

Local Yokel Mojito
20130415-183149.jpg

Of course I had to add a beverage in, but mojitos, with fresh mint from your garden, are the epitome of summer sipping. My mint is already coming up like crazy, and if yours is too, then don’t let another Happy Hour go by without making this.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette
Beets in vinaigrette

I just got a bunch of beets from the farmers market this past weekend, so beet salad with vinaigrette is not far away. This is by far my favorite beet recipe out there and a summer staple at our house.

Shrimp Ceviche
20130316-202832.jpg

Shrimp Ceviche is so fresh, light and healthy that it screams summer. Dish it out into martini glasses for a classy, but super easy app.

Summer Beef and Rice Skillet Casserole
beef skillet

This recipe was great and I’m furious at myself for not making it this past summer between our epic move and living in two different states. This is a great way to use up all that squash and zucchini that presents itself mid to late summer. It’s also great for a family or for a small crowd. This summer, I’ll be making it as much as is reasonable and/or until my husband starts complaining.

 

OK! There are so many more recipes, many of which are summer seasonable, over on the RECIPES PAGE, but hopefully this gave you a good start. This is such an exciting time of year when things start to pop up and the options are endless, so don’t let it pass you by – get out to your local farmers market, farm stand or local grocery and BUY LOCAL and EAT FRESH!

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Dried strawberries

It’s strawberry season in Hampton Roads, and that is major. We love our strawberries around here. Every city in the region that has farms has pick-your-own strawberry fields and it’s a tradition for kids and adults alike to pick strawberries on field trips or on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend when Virginia Beach hosts the Strawberry Festival.

Last week I got an email from a farm saying that they had so many berries in their field that they were going to be offering pick your own berries for $1.25/lb. That is unheard of. You would never ever find berries that cheap in the grocery store. So after sharing it with the Buy Fresh Buy Local Facebook fans, I got in the car and headed to the farm, which thankfully, is only about 10 minutes from my house. Yeah, it was a week day. Yeah, I had a lot of work to do, but sometimes you just have to get up and go pick strawberries. All that work will be there for you when you get back, I promise.

If you’ve never picked strawberries, it’s very easy – they are literally low hanging fruit. When they’re ripe, they get so heavy they just sort of dangle below the leaves and pretty white flowers of their plant. And they pop right off their stems and get tossed right into your strawberry carrying device. The only issue is that if you have a bad back like I do, you may be in a bit of pain the next day (like I was), but that’s why you bring your kids – to do the hard work of bending over and finding the ripest strawberries. When picking, look for deep, red berries. Before plucking them off the plant, lift them up and make sure the underside isn’t white or green (unripe) or that it hasn’t been noshed on by any bugs.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

So what to do with 10 lbs of berries once you get them home? Most people I know make strawberry bread, pie, muffins, etc etc. We all know how I feel about baking, so I do one of (or all of) three different thing:

1. Eat them. Duh.

2. Freeze them. Rinse and dry the berries, cut off the caps and then halve each berry and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for several hours, then put the berries into a freezer ziploc bag. Pull out what you need, when you need it. I freeze pounds and pounds of berries like this every year to use in my smoothies all year long.

3. Dry them. Dried berries are sort of like craisins – tart, but still a little sweet. Perfect in salads, on yogurt or oatmeal, granola, etc. Wash and dry the berries, cut off the caps and halve each berry. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 210 degrees for 3 hours. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge OR you could freeze these also and just thaw them as you need them. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ll keep in the fridge….you’ve probably got about a week?

Dried Strawberries

Dried Strawberries

Strawberries are pretty amazing little fruits. One cup of berries has only 49 calories and almost 150% of your daily Vitamin C. They also have fiber and protein and good amounts of folates and potassium as well as manganese.

So get out there and pick some today. Or, make your kids do it. Also, can I borrow your kids for an afternoon?

Kefir

A few weeks ago I saw an interesting item come up on my online local food co-op, Coastal Farms. Jen Vaughan, of Vaughan Farms Produce, had posted that she had some extra kefir grains, and was selling them, along with a mason jar and some instructions on what to do with them.  I was intrigued, so I did a little research and it turns out that kefir grains are not actually grains, but rather a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. Yummy! When brewed, they ferment (just like beer or wine) and create an active probiotic culture (just like yogurt). Kefir is probably most well known as a yogurt type of product or kefir milk, but it turns out you can also brew kefir into “kefir water” which is sort of a sparkling-like fermented beverage. The fizziness of it comes from the fermentation and can be adjusted based on how much air is allowed in during the process. The whole process and product is very similar to Kombucha, which is probably a little more well recognized.

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

I ordered my first batch and got to brewing! Jen had a few great suggestions for recipes to give the water flavor. Plain kefir water isn’t exactly delicious, so it’s recommended that you mix it with flavorings, which can range from green tea to juice to vanilla extract, depending on how you want it to taste. For my first batch I did a green tea flavoring, then I followed that with a cream soda style flavor and now I am on to a citrusy grapefruit juice. The process is simple:

1. Dissolve 1/4 cup of raw, brown sugar (I’m using raw demerara sugar) in 1 quart of distilled water (or spring or mineral water, according to the interwebs) in a container with a lid (I used the 1 quart mason jar Jen provided). Make sure the water is room temp and not hot – that will kill the grains. Drop in a raisin or two (they will be your ‘tell’) and a lemon slice if you have one (helps with the Ph). Put in three tablespoons of kefir grains. Put the container with the lid just set on top – not screwed on, in a warm place out of direct sunlight. For me, this was on top of my fridge.

2. When the raisins have floated to the top of the water, usually 2-3 days, the water is done “brewing.” Remove the lemon slice and raisins, then strain the water through a fine sieve. Here’s the trick – kefir doesn’t like metal – you have to use glass or plastic or in my case, I just put a paper towel on my metal sieve and strain it that way. Cheesecloth would also work, if I could find it anywhere, ever. Put your kefir grains back into your mason jar or container and start again with 1 quart of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, raisins, lemon, etc – the grains can pretty much be brewed indefinitely.

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

 

3. Take your strained kefir water and add your preferred flavorings. Here is what I’ve tried:

  • 1 part very strongly brewed green tea to 1 part kefir water.
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract and an extra 1/4 cup raw sugar (creates a cream soda style water)
  • 1 part grapefruit juice to 1 part kefir water, one sliced lemon, one sliced lime

Once you’ve added your flavors, put it through a second fermentation – so put it back in another container with a lid just resting on top in a warm place out of sunlight for about 2 more days. At this point, if you’ve added things (like lemon and lime slices) strain it again and then bottle it up and put it in the fridge. The water will last as long as whatever you’ve brewed it with would. So however long you’d leave a pitcher of brewed tea in your fridge is how long you can leave the kefir water brew in there and it will be fine. Keep repeating the process with your other fermenting batch and you can have indefinite kefir water!

my first taste!

my first taste!

There are innumerable ways to prepare and brew your kefir water and also tons of sites online where you can purchase the grains. I found this site particularly helpful: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq

I have noticed that since I’ve been drinking the water every day, my stomach issues have decreased some. It’s like I’m drinking my probiotic pills (which I also continue to take) and it certainly can’t hurt to get as much good bacteria going as possible. If you suffer from any kind of intestinal issues, or even if you don’t – I would really recommend giving this a try. The fizziness is nice without being too much (I hate soda and carbonated beverages, but this is the perfect amount of fizz for me), and the flexibility of flavorings is really nice. And because the grains basically feed on the sugar in the brewing process, the overall sugar content of kefir water is much, much lower than you would imagine based on how much you put in at the beginning. According to CulturesforHealth.com “approximately 20% of the sugar you start with will remain following a 48- hour culturing process and almost all that sugar will have been converted to fructose from its original glucose-fructose state.  Therefore if you use our recommend ratio of 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water, the finished kefir will contain approximately 1.4% fructose.” That’s pretty low – much lower than fruit juice, juice cocktails and certainly less than soda.

So give something different a try! Love the good bacteria!

strained kefir grains

strained kefir grains

Pantry Raid – Part III

I’m a little bit obsessed with Alton Brown and his show, Good Eats. I have the first two volumes of his Good Eats cookbooks, some DVDs and have seen almost every episode of the show. It’s kind of weird because in many ways, we are completely different cooks. Besides the fact that he is a famous chef and genius….he’s very precise and particular about the way his recipes are made and I’m . . . not. But something about his knowledge base and educational and visual illustrations of how cooking actually works is fascinating to me. After watching a show about cookies you feel like you just finished a course at Le Cordon Bleu….in a good way.

Anyways, he has a recipe for his own chili powder and “cowboy style” chili. This is the kind of chili that was really made out on the range – without beans or corn or potatoes or a lot of fluff. Just meat, stewed with chilies and tomatoes. I made this recipe for the first time a year or so ago, and because I wanted to make my own chili powder, like he does for his, I purchased two different kinds of dried chilies. Not the kind he suggested, because I couldn’t find them, and I’m not a perfectionist like him, but they were similar enough. The problem is, these bags of dried chilies (found in the “International” aisle of your grocery store) are HUGE. You only need about 9-12 chilies to make your powder, which leaves you with about 300 chilies. So, I decided I just needed to make this chili or at least my own chili powder, more often. The truth is, chili powder that is pre-bottled at the grocery store doesn’t really taste like much. It’s usually not very spicy and even if it is, it can lose its flavor quickly. This chili powder is pretty easy to make, and is incredibly flavorful and can be as spicy as you want it, depending on the chilies you use.

AB’s Chili Powder

Dried Chilies

Dried Chilies

Yield: approximately 3/4 cup

Ingredients

  • 3 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 3 cascabel chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 3 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions

  1. Place all of the chiles and the cumin into a medium nonstick saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, moving the pan around constantly, until you begin to smell the cumin toasting, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely.
  2. Once cool, place the chiles and cumin into the carafe of a blender along with the garlic powder, oregano, and paprika. Process until a fine powder is formed. Allow the powder to settle for at least a minute before removing the lid of the carafe. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

I used six Guajillo chilies and three Japones. Usually the bags rate the chilies in spiciness on a 5 chili scale, so you can just purchase whatever heat intensity you prefer.

Once you have your chili powder made, you’re read to make the actual chili. His original recipe calls for a pressure cooker, but you can use a Dutch Oven, it will just take a bit longer. The instructions below are for using a large, cast iron Dutch oven.

AB’s Cowboy Chili

Cowboy Chili

Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds stew meat (beef, pork, and/or lamb)
  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer, preferably a medium ale
  • 1 (16-ounce) container salsa
  • 30 tortilla chips
  • 2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers in adobo)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions

  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl and toss with the peanut oil and salt. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large, cast iron Dutch Oven over high heat until hot. Add the meat in 3 or 4 batches and brown on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per batch. Once each batch is browned, place the meat in a clean large bowl.
  3. Once all of the meat is browned, add the beer to the pot to deglaze the pot.
  4. Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the meat back in along with the salsa, tortilla chips, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, and ground cumin and stir to combine. Put the lid on top and put into a 375 degree oven for two hours, stirring every thirty minutes. Serve with preferred toppings.
Cowboy Chili

Mmmmm…..chili

This recipe helped me use up a few things in my cabinet: the chilies for the chili powder, some left-over taco shells, which I crushed and used in place of the tortilla chips, a batch of homemade salsa that had been in the freezer since the summer and some chipotle peppers/adobo I had saved in the freezer. I need these more often than you’d think, but I always only need one or two at a time and usually one small can has about 5 or 6 and cost like $3. No point in wasting them – just freeze the remainder of the can and use at will. I also used local, grass-fed beef from Windhaven Farms which, of course, was delicious. Their “stew beef” pack was the perfect type of beef for this.

This chili is serious. It’s not your average American beans and corn and relatively mild type of thing. And don’t get me wrong – I love those kinds of chilis also, but if you want something really hearty and really filling and really classic, this is the way to go. I topped mine with plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), sliced green onions and cilantro. Chopped onions would also be nice, or a wedge of lime, or cheese if you want to go all out, although AB swears the only acceptable toppings are onions and cilantro. But again, I’m no perfectionist . . .

 

One Pan Wonder

In our house there is a rule that I cook, and Jeremy cleans up afterwards. If it’s an especially messy meal, I will help him, but generally he does it on his own. So I really shouldn’t care how many dishes are left after I cook dinner, or how hard it is to clean it all up, but I love my husband, and it takes him an hour to wash a sink full of dishes, so I present you with this one-pan wonder dinner.

The sausage, cabbage and apples in this came from my Coastal Farms Co-op. I love this program -I pay a membership fee, and each weekend I can log in to a website where over 50 farms and producers have posted what they have available. There are vegetables, fruit, cheese, seafood, meat, bread, honey, pre-made meals – and it’s all local. I pick what I want and I pay online. Then on Thursday afternoons, they deliver it all to a pick up spot that is very close to my house and I just go there and pick it up between 3-6 pm. It’s like shopping for lazy people, so it’s right up my alley. The turnips came from my Great Uncle Joe’s garden. There is no website for that, you just have to be in-the-know and VIP. Also, right up my alley.

layer sausage, cabbage, turnips and apples

layer sausage, cabbage, turnips and apples

Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb of smoked sausage, (mine was a pinwheel, cut into link-sizes pieces)
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, sliced up (or a whole head if you’re serving more than 2 people)
  • 2 turnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2” rounds
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp carraway seeds
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced into rings

Method:

  1. On a large sheet pan, arrange your smoked sausage
  2. In a large bowl, toss cabbage and turnips with olive oil, carraway seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on sheet pan with sausage. Top with slices of apples.
  3. Roast at 475 for 18-20 minutes or until sausage is done through and cabbage and turnips are tender.
Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

This is definitely what I would call a “rustic” meal. Very basic, farm-fresh ingredients, nothing fancy about the preparation or presentation, but hearty and filling. Because I made this recipe up on the fly, it could use a few alterations were I to do it again. First, and unfortunately, I think I’d have to use two pans. The sausage was so strong and so smokey, that it really just made all the other ingredients taste like sausage. I think if I did it again, i’d roast half of the veggies on a separate pan to keep their flavor in tact. It’s also possible that linked store-bought sausage would not be nearly as strong (three days later, my house still smells like sausage – it was serious). And so you could do it all on one pan like the original recipe. I would also try to roast this for a little less time. I’d shoot for 15 minutes next time. Provided the sausage is done, it would be perfect – at 20 minutes the veggies were just a little more done than I like. Also, I might try tossing the cabbage and turnips with a little apple cider vinegar along with the olive oil before roasting, just to brighten it up.

This sheet pan method can work for a lot of things, though. Try chicken (skin on) and carrots and potatoes or Salmon with asparagus or any other combination of meats and sides that cook well together. Adjust your temperature and time (longer for chicken, less for salmon) and experiment with it. It really was such a breeze to clean up, super easy to make,  and it was done in less than half an hour.  Again, all things that are right up my alley.

pizza party

I want you all to put your thinking caps on, use your inside voices, and think back to that blue-industrial carpeted, windowless, cement walled room covered in bulletin boards with cut outs that generically represented whatever season it happened to be. It smells like kids and chalk and old books. You’re in third grade, and sentence conjugation and algebra are a bummer. What was the number one most exciting thing that could ever happen on a school day such as today (besides the school day being cancelled for snow)? What’s the one thing that would awake you from your ‘is-it-recess-yet-slumber’? That’s right: PIZZA PARTY! Usually pizza party day coincided with ‘watch a movie’ day, so basically as soon as you saw this:

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

And this:

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

Your tiny 8 year old heart was about to explode with joy.

Well, maybe the rest of you have grown up a little more than me, but as far as I’m concerned, anytime I see pizza I still feel like eating it while laying on my stomach on the floor and watching a crummy edited VHS version of The Indian in the Cupboard. (true story). Nowadays, the pizza is the only thing that’s grown up. And the movies. Sometimes.

Making your own pizza at home is super easy, super cheap and super fast. You can seriously make a pizza at home, from scratch, in less time than it would take you to order a pizza and have it delivered by a high school kid who has hit every bump on the way to your house, causing the majority of your pizza toppings to remain firmly attached to the roof of the pizza box.

I started making this pizza crust years ago, and it’s so easy it’s absurd. Like, it’s actually insane to me that everyone doesn’t do this and that people still buy pre-made pizza crust. First, there are only FIVE ingredients (besides water), most of which you probably already have in your cabinets. Second, the crust is this delicious, chewy, wonderful thing when you’re done. Not too thick, not too thin. If you’re one of those people who likes pizza that is essentially a heavily topped cracker, this is not for you. And for those of you who like pizza that was baked in a cake pan and you have to eat with a fork, it’s so thick, this is not for you. But for everyone else – this is our pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza Crust

pizza party crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet of Fleischmann’s pizza crust active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
    (find it in the baking aisle of your grocery store)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour

Method:

  1. Add the sugar and yeast into the water, stirring until dissolved 
  2. Stir in the olive oil and salt, then the flour, stirring until well combined
  3. Knead the dough very lightly just until a ball of dough forms. Let dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  4. Pat dough out onto pizza stone or pan into desired shape, 1/4” thick. Top with olive oil, garlic powder and herbs, if desired before topping with ingredients.
  5. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until done. Let rest five minutes before cutting and serving.
Top it up.

Top it up.

Your ingredients can be whatever you want, but I love a good Greek pizza, and usually just throw together whatever I have on hand at the house. In this case, I topped the dough with a little more olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, then I put down a sauce that I had frozen from some local tomatoes mixed with some tomato paste. You can just use store-bought pizza sauce – no big deal. Then I topped that with a thin layer of fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano, low-fat mozzarella, kalamata olives, diced sundried tomatoes, sliced pepperoncini peppers, half an onion, thinly sliced, and most importantly – browned, ground, local, Italian sausage from Windhaven Farms. I used about 1/3 of a pound. Since I’ve got a lot going on there, I bake my pizza for a good 20 minutes. I don’t want the dough to be underdone in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. This will be the hardest part, cause when it comes out it looks like this:

pizza party pizza

And your 8 year old self is going to just want to grab it and stuff it in your face before that greedy kid with the runny nose touches it.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

the other green

I was reading a story in Edible Piedmont this morning about a kale recipe, which could also be made with collards. The author made this substitution because she said she knew how popular collards are in eastern North Carolina, so much so that the region has been referred to as “The Collard Belt.” I’ll take it. But I’ll also take kale. Any day of the week. I think it’s actually a bit more palatable to the general population than collards and is usually cooked in more various ways.

I know it’s sort of cliche to have a food blog and regale the benefits of kale. Everyone gets it, I know. Kale is great, it’s good for you, it’s a super food, put it in your smoothies, bake it into cookies, blah blah blah. But seriously. It’s great. So great that I highlighted one of my favorite kale recipes in my January column in Tidewater WomenThe column this month is about resolving to “Live Locally” and what that means, how it benefits not only you personally, but your community as a whole. I also put it in there to remind people that local food isn’t in hibernation during the winter months. It’s readily available, if you’re willing to look for it, and to try something you might not otherwise try (ie – kale. or chard. or other things that are green and look like dinosaur food.) Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I went out yesterday, tracked down some kale and made this recipe, which I share with you below. It really is a great recipe, especially for the new year, if (like me) you are trying to drop a few “party pounds” from the holidays….this meal is so packed with protein that after only half a bowl you’ll feel completely full. It’s also so lo-cal and healthy that even if you down all four servings in one night, there’s really nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the amount of flatulence you will inevitably plague your family with if you decide to do that. ANYWAYS.

I found this kale at a little roadside stand out in front of somebody’s house. These are my favorite places to shop because it’s fresh, you’re helping support someone’s backyard gardening habit, and the produce is usually dirt cheap. I got a pound of kale and a dozen fresh, free-range eggs for $4. I could also have scored 4 lbs of sweet potatoes for a dollar if I’d liked. Keep an eye out for these stands in your neighborhood or town. And don’t feel shy or weird about driving up to them. The people who set them out are usually so nice and happy to have a customer. The chicken came from a Crock Pot Chicken I’d made earlier in the week. This was one of three meals I got out of one five pound chicken. The only change I make in this recipe is that I use dried lentils that I cook and season myself. I’ve never been able to find canned lentils in my grocery stores, but if your store has them – more power to you. If you go this route, use half the bag (1/2 lb) – not two whole cups of dried beans, as they will expand as they cook. 1/2 lb will give you just over two cups once cooked.

Shredded Chicken with Kale and Lentils

kale cooking

CAST IRON LOVE.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 bunches kale, tough stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups lentils (from a 15.5-ounce can), drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups shredded cooked skinless chicken breasts
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onion and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil and lentils to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl with kale, toss to combine, and divide among four bowls. Top with chicken and squeeze lemon over top. Serves 4.
Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

I agree with what you’re thinking – this looks like a recipe you see in those magazines all about getting fit with advertisements for muscle milk supplements. But honestly, it doesn’t taste like that. It tastes yummy AND healthy, which is possible, I promise. Jeremy even got seconds. Flatulence be damned!

 

The root of it all

I just gave myself an award for the most clever blog title ever.

i ❤ beets

It is a shame, I realized, that this blog’s namesake has never really been examined thoroughly. I think in my very first blog post I may have posted a picture of a beet dish I had done, but I’ve never really delved into this amazing little root that inspired me to make this blog. There are a few reasons that beets are the thing I happen to heart. They are available locally, they are available at several times throughout the year and many people don’t like them. Why is that a reason to make beets the central theme of a blog? Because I think I can change people’s minds. I think a lot of foods out there that deserve our attention but suffer general distaste have just been presented wrong all this time. Like the poor Brussels sprout, which I will post about later . . .

Take, for instance, my husband who insisted he hated beets. So I asked in what format he had experienced beets in the past and he said either canned, pickled or boiled to death. Well, no wonder. He also hated Brussels sprouts for similar reasons. But there is a simple answer to both of these food fears and it is this: roasting. Roasting, which uses dry, indirect and diffused heat (such as an oven) increases flavor by caramelization and the Maillard browning reaction. Essentially, roasting enhances the sugars in foods through a process called pyrolysis, which I will not get into, because I barely passed chemistry. But here is what I do know: it makes food delicious. Especially foods like beets, which already have a high natural sugar content, just waiting to be released.

Beets are also so nutritious. Here are some facts from Nutrition and You about beets:

  • Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the  property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • They are also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • The root has very good levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root has 325 mg of potassium or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

And while us die-hard beet fans can eat a beet canned, pickled, boiled, grilled or anything else, for those skeptics out here, this is my GO-TO beet recipe. I’m not sure where it originated from…I think a friend may have suggested this method and I’ve just sort of made it my own over time, I’m not really sure. My hope is that you will love it enough to make it your own, adding, subtracting and substituting to your liking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Beets in vinaigrette

  • One bunch beets (as seen above)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs vinegar of your choice (balsamiq, red wine, champagne, whatever you like)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tbs dried herbs (Italian, Herbs de Provence, fresh or powdered garlic or whatever else you’d like)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Cut the beets off their stems and trim off the tops and the “tails” of each beet. Clean each beet so they are free of dirt. Wrap each beet in individually in tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven, directly on the center rack. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until each beet is easily pierced with a knife. 
  2. While the beets are roasting, create your vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember here is the a vinaigrette dressing always 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can use any combination or any measurement (tsp, tbs, cup, etc), as long as you keep that ratio the same. Pour your oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper into a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are emulsified. Set aside until beets have finished roasting.
  3. When beets are easily pierced with a knife, unwrap from tinfoil and allow to cool. Take an old dishtowel and peel the beet’s skin off with the towel – if it’s roasted to completion, the skin should slide off easily. Do this with each beet.
  4. Cut each beet in half or in quarters, if large, and cut into thin slices. Re-whisk your vinaigrette so it is well blended, then add your beets to the bowl and toss to coat. Plate, then top each serving with a spoonful of feta cheese.
Trim and wash beets

Trim and wash beets

A well emulsified vinaigrette

A well emulsified vinaigrette

Beets

After roasting, remove skin with a dish towel

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

If you don’t like beets like this, then I grant you the right to dislike beets. But before you file them away in things that are gross and that you refuse to eat, please try this recipe. Please. Give beets a chance.

Note: these beets were purchased from Westside Produce and Provisions where they were sourced from New Earth Farms in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, where they use sustainable and organic growing methods. 

Shop Locally

I write a monthly column for a local publication called Tidewater Women called “What’s in Season” (you can see all my other publications and press on my MORE BEETS page). The column usually just reviews whatever local produce is around that month, where you can get it and then a few recipes on what to do with it. But for December, I was inspired to write something more . . . well, inspired. More like my holiday mantra, if you will. The column is below, in it’s entirety and can be found in its original form on the Tidewater Women Website.

Shop Locally

The holidays are upon us, and there is no escaping them. As I contemplate what I love about the holidays, I must confess that shopping is not one of my favorite things. It isn’t that I hate giving people things or that I’m not generous. It’s just that the materialism of the whole thing really weighs me down. After my 15th trip to Target or my 5th Amazon order of the season, shopping just starts to feel meaningless. What is this stuff? Does the person I’m buying for need it? Where did my money just go? What multinational, billion-dollar corporation did I just stuff the pockets of?

I know I’m not the only person looking for a more meaningful way of giving, and so I offer up a solution: shop local. There are several reasons to shop local this season. The gifts are more likely to be unique or one-of-a-kind. Shopping local helps support your local economy. It helps support an artisan, farmer, producer, or craftsman, therefore ensuring that these members of our community have a better holiday season. Finally, the gifts will seem thoughtful and creative.

My 30+ person extended family does a Pollyanna-style gift exchange every Christmas, and last year the gift I contributed was a locally themed basket of goodies, which included goat’s milk soap, locally produced wine, jam, peanuts, and other items representative of Hampton Roads. My cousin Sara ended up getting the basket, and I told her if she didn’t like it, I would switch gifts with her. To my delight she loved it! She even texted me a few months later when her soap ran out, asking where she could buy more. She appreciated the thought, creativity, and uniqueness of the gift. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t the latest and greatest piece of technology or a gift card to her favorite store or that it didn’t hold the highest dollar value. The basket of locally sourced gifts meant way more than that because it represented a half a dozen family-owned companies or producers, all being supported by my local purchases.

Here are some great ways to shop local this season. Many farmers markets are holding special holiday markets including Old Beach Farmers Market on 19th street at the Oceanfront in the Croc’s parking lot, which will have a holiday market on December 15. Additionally the Portsmouth City Farmers Market will be open every Saturday through December 22, the Smithfield Farmers Market will be open for holiday markets on December 1 and 15, and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Dam Neck Road is open every day, year round.

Several retail outlets also carry locally produced items, such as Heritage Natural Market on Laskin Road, Westside Produce & Provisions on Colley Avenue, and any of Taste Unlimited’s six locations. You can also sign up for Coastal Farms Co-op, which sources products from over 50 area farms and producers and uses an online ordering system with weekly drop-offs all over Hampton Roads. A co-op membership or CSA subscription would also make a great gift for the person who has everything. And while there is not a lot of variety in fresh produce at the moment, there are still wonderful local food items that make great gifts—like fresh baked bread, homemade dried herb seasoning, jams and jellies, salsas, cheese, honey, peanuts, wine, and more.

So this holiday, skip the long lines at the store and start a shop-local revolution! The person on the receiving end of your gift is sure to be delightfully surprised and possibly inspired to support, shop, and give local themselves next year.
For more information on the markets and businesses listed above, visitwww.buylocalhamptonroads.org

Rachel Burns
 is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit 
www.buylocalhamptonroads.orgwww.facebook.com/buylocalhr, and www.twitter.com/buylocalhr.

The one day of the year that everyone does what I want them to do

Thanksgiving gets the shaft and we all know it. Here is how the second half of the year’s calendar works:

September – Labor Day, back to school
October – Halloween
November, December, Most of January – out of control consumerism in the guise of a religious holiday we all know as CHRISTMAS

It doesn’t leave much room for a little altruistic holiday like Thanksgiving that focuses on being grateful for what we have instead of insistent that we get all the things the TV told us we need. Which is why I try my best to be a Thanksgiving cheerleader. It is, after all, the one day of the year that everyone collectively does this thing that I am constantly trying to convince people to do: get into your kitchen, cook a meal for people you love that is inspired by seasonal produce, then sit down at a table together and eat it slowly. Then, of course, the next day is the one day of the year where everyone does the one thing that actually makes me want to not be a part of the human race. The contrast between Thanksgiving and Black Friday could have been the socioeconomic topics of one of  George Orwell’s books had he lived long enough to see the monstrosity that is the biggest retail holiday of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a free-market capitalist as much as the next gun-toting Libertarian, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to support the economy and we all vote with our dollars whether we vote for massive corporations who export jobs and manufacturing to China or whether we vote for small, locally-owned companies whose owners create jobs and reinvest those dollars back into our community . . . . but I digress.

THANKSGIVING!!

An Edible Arrangement, indeed.

Whether or not the traditional Thanksgiving story is true, and whether or not the things we eat each year really represent a traditional early-American harvest, the bottom line is that the meal is still a celebration of bounty, inspired by the local, the seasonal, the gracious things in life. And I love it. My personal family traditions have changed over the years. As a kid, our entire 30+ person extended family would all come to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so it was always a really big deal. We would get up early in the morning to help my mom set the house up for the influx of people, and then as the sun went down, people would start pouring in, and the whole evening was just complete bliss for me. I love my family so much and even though most of us lived next door to each other on the same dirt road, it was somewhat rare that we are all in one place at one time, so for me, it was like this amazing Thanksgiving miracle. And everyone could cook so damn good. There were usually at least 20 dishes spread out around the kitchen, everything from corn pudding to collards to stewed tomatoes (this is the south, after all) and of course the traditional turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, etc.

As we’ve all grown up, the grandkids have gotten married and it’s harder to get everyone together at the same time, and so traditions have changed, and Jeremy and I usually spend every other Thanksgiving with his family in Ohio, which I also love and which includes a very different list of dishes like Galumpkis, Kielbasa and Pierogies (are you sensing that someone is Polish?) But the day itself and the meal is always the same: full of love and tradition and thankfulness and I am a complete sucker for that.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and with those big family dinners playing out in my mind, I share with you a recipe for genuine southern collard-greens (pronounced ‘collargreens’, no d, all one word). Please understand, though, that cooking up a mess of greens requires a tiny bit of know how and personal preference. This recipe is more of a guide. As you cook them more and more, you’ll figure out exactly how you like them.

Simply Southern Collard Greens

Serves 10, approximately

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bunch of collards, fresh and local if possible and cut directly at the base of the stem (pictures at right)

    If possible, get collards from the market or farm cut right at the base of the plant.

  • 1lb of bacon, fat back, ham, jowls, ham hock or any other kind of seasoning meat
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • jalapenos (fresh or pickled) – *optional and to taste – no more than one whole jalapeno *
  • water, on hand

Method:

  1. Thoroughly rinse each individual leaf off the collard plant and then tear the thick rib/stem off each leaf.
  2. Roll leaves together like a cigar, then cut crosswise into strips. Do this with all the collard leaves.
  3. If you’re using any uncooked meat (such as bacon) but it in the bottom of a large, heavy stock pot and cook it over medium heat. Once it starts to release its fat, throw in the onions and garlic and saute it all together until cooked through
  4. Pour in the apple cider and use this to deglaze the bottom of your pot – scraping up the bacon and onion bits with a wooden spoon, let this reduce together for a few minutes
  5. Begin adding your strips of collards, one large handful at a time, to the vinegar/pork fat glaze (that sounds awesome, right?) and stir them in, letting them wilt before adding another handful
  6. Stir in the baking soda and pepper to taste (and jalapenos if you’ve chosen to do that) and begin adding water as needed (This is where the know-how and experience comes in. You don’t want them too soggy, but you don’t want them to burn. They’re just sort of stewing in the water bath, so add it as you need, but not too much). Really taste the collards before adding salt – the meat you’ve used generally makes them salty enough.
  7. At this point, you can continue to let them simmer and cook on low on the stove top, or you can transfer them to a crock pot and leave them on low for a few hours, or you could even just continue to cook the water down in small amounts in your pot , doing a braising method that would results in less “soggy” greens. It’s totally up to you, I’ve done it every which way, depending on what I want and how much time I have. If you’re braising them, just keep stirring in water every 10 minutes or so and stirring the greens until they are done to your liking (30 minutes or so?). Otherwise, simmer or slow cook for 3-4 hours on low, for very Southern style greens.
  8. Serve warm with more cider vinegar or pepper vinegar, salt and pepper.

Collardy Goodness

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? What can you not live without eating on the big day?