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!

 

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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. 

BERKFERST NOT MAH FAVRIT MERLS

If you need context for that title, check this out.

Breakfast is hard. Mostly because I don’t get hungry until about 11, but they tell you you’re supposed to eat within 30 minutes of waking up to boost your metabolism. I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that sometimes 11 and “within 30 minutes of waking up” are not always that far apart….but that aside, sometimes I just want a cup of coffee and for everything else to somehow make itself. Also, since I don’t really care for breakfast (on the weekdays – weekends are another story full of bacon and cheesy scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jam), I try to make it as healthy as possible since my taste buds haven’t always totally woken up.

Last week I had gotten a few local peaches from my co-op and when I got up that morning, somehow all the cereal, bread, jam, and milk had magically disappeared. So I opted for oatmeal with peaches. I told you when I started this blog, there would be some major fails. This one wasn’t major, but it was a misstep – the directions on the oatmeal said to add a 1/4 tsp of salt to the oats while they were cooking. I cut the recipe in half, since it was just me and just threw in a “dash” of salt. Well, either these instructions are bobo to begin with, or my brain is so dysfunctional in the morning that my “dash” was actually a giant pour and this was the saltiest oatmeal I’ve ever had in my life. I tried to add some cream and honey to it to tone it down, but to no real avail. I ended up just mostly eating the peaches with a little bit of the oats. My advice: just don’t put salt in oatmeal. Seriously, whose idea was that anyways?

In any case, I think it turned out “pretty” which is sometimes all I can ask of my food:

BERKFERST

Local honey and peaches with rolled oats

So despite the salt-lick fiasco, let’s talk about the benefits of this meal while pretending it didn’t taste gross. First off, oats are a whole grain, and rolled oats are a less processed version of a whole grain. I’d like to say I can stomach steel cut, as-little-processing-as-possible oats, but I can’t. They’re just gross and should be reserved for horses. Thick rolled oats are my in-between healthy option. I get this brand from the organic/natural aisle of the grocery store. They take 10-20 minutes to cook. Word to the wise – if your “whole grains” take less than 5 minutes to cook, they aren’t really doing you any good. Whole grains are good for your heart, cholesterol, blood pressure (reducing the likelihood of having blood clots, stroke and heart attack), and provide you with folic acid, fiber, b vitamins, iron and more. You can find out more about the benefits of whole grains on the whole grain council website.

Honey is full of antioxidants, is a great way of sweetening food without giving you a sugar rush because of its quick glucose and slow fructose release and if you suffer from seasonal outdoor allergies, locally produced honey can help curb some of those issues because it gives you a healthy, low-dose of the pollen you are allergic to, sort of like a vaccine or an allergy shot would. Find more fun honey info here.
Locally produced honey is the best kind to get (of course) because it will provide your system with the local allergens and pollen, because it helps keep your local honey bee population thriving (which is incredibly important for agriculture overall) and because it taste better because it has to go through less processing. I buy mine from Bee’s Knee’s apiary here in Chesapeake, VA.

Finally, peaches. Ah, peaches. The epitome of July. The highlight of summer. Who would even care if they had health benefits or not, they are so good? But, luckily, they are full of potassium (low potassium is the source of MANY health issues including hypertension, fatigue, muscle weakness and more), beta-carotene (which your body turns in to Vitamin A), lycopene and lutein. They are also high in fiber and vitamin C. It’s important to note that while almost all vegetables and many fruits are “high in fiber” – the fiber usually resides in the skin of the product. Some fiber is contained in the flesh, but when it comes to things like peaches, cucumbers, apples, etc – if you are peeling them before eating them, you are losing out on a lot of fiber and nutrients. Whole food is the best food.

Alright, that’s enough for today’s nutrition lesson. Just remember – skip the salt, use a minimally processed whole grain, leave your fruit’s skin on and skip the sugar and replace it with locally produced honey. And coffee….don’t forget the coffee…..

To meat or not to meat

I realize that all my posts so far have probably given the impression that I am a vegetarian, which I’m not.  I was for several years in college and then I got married and this is how that story goes: We got back from our honeymoon and the next morning Jeremy fried bacon in our newly-shared apartment. End of story. If you can resist the smell of bacon after 7 days of eating Jamaican food, you should probably see a doctor, cause something is wrong with your olfactory system.

Although I do eat meat now, I still try to reduce my meat consumption as much as possible for several reasons including health, cost and the impact meat has on the environment. This is nothing new – there’s a whole “Meatless Monday” movement, in fact.
Most of the meat we do eat is locally raised – Hampton Roads has several wonderful farms producing high-quality, ethically-raised, pastured and free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats including beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkeys. Seriously. Although none of that matters much for this post, which is yet another vegetarian meal. One day, I promise, I will share a meat recipe.

This recipe came from a Rachael Ray inspiration. I don’t generally watch her show (or any daytime television) and I have a huge grudge against her for making the whole world think that ALL RACHELS spell their name RACHAEL – which just isn’t true. But I was at the dentist one day, confined to a chair with a TV in front of it and her show was on. She was making a pasta dish where instead of a traditional sauce, she roasted an eggplant and used the eggplant-meat as a sauce. Then she slapped some real meat on top of it, but that seemed unnecessary, so a few nights ago with an over-abundance of vegetables from my co-op, including a beautiful eggplant, I decided to riff on this idea.

eggplant Rotini

roasted vegetable rotini with eggplant sauce

There is one thing I share in common with Rachael Ray, and that is a tendency to not really have a “recipe” but instead to use kind of general directions and measurements. I once saw her instruct in a recipe to use a “palm-full” of something, and that is definitely how I cook. Measuring and following directions takes precision and patience – two things that I do not possess. It’s why you’ll never see a baking recipe on this blog.
So below is my best re-construction of what I did here.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Vegetables

Serves: 2 hungry people. Double for your fam.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Eggplant
  • 1 small/medium zucchini
  • 1 smell/medium yellow squash
  • 1 large portobello cap
  • 1 small onion – red, yellow or white is fine
  • a handful of snap beans
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • 8 oz (half a box) of whole wheat rotini or other curly pasta
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise, brush the cut sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven at 375 F for about 30 mins.
  2. Take all of your veggies that you are putting in the pasta (I listed what I used above, but feel free to improvise or substitute here with whatever you have on hand), cut into pieces, mince one clove of garlic and dump it all into a bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little Italian seasoning, if you’d like. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet. Stick in the oven with the eggplant for 25-30 mins of until they are done to your liking (I like mine to still have some bite, without tasting raw)
  3. When the veggies only have a few minutes left, start the pasta – cook according to package directions. Save half a cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes. The halves should look “deflated” and the inside should be runny and almost liquefied. Once they are cool enough to handle, scrape the insides of the eggplants out into a medium sized bowl and with the flat end of a wooden spoon, mash the eggplant. Stir in the other minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste, and Parmesan (a palm-full??), then stir in freshly torn or cut basil, stir until you have a nice paste going. (You can see a picture of this in the collage above, upper left-hand corner).
  5. Add the drained pasta to your eggplant paste and stir – adding in the reserved pasta water until the noodles are coated in a starchy sauce (you probably won’t need the whole half cup). Take the roasted veggies out of the oven and toss them into the pasta as well. Grate in some more Parmesan and mix. Top with fresh basil and little extra Parmesan.

We had this with some locally made hummus and whole wheat pita chips. This roasting and mixing method really takes the bitterness out of the eggplant that keeps a lot of people from eating this super-nutritious veggie. Eggplants are low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol; they’re also a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber. The fiber in the eggplant, the other veggies and also in the whole-wheat pasta (about 6 grams per cup) make this a super filling meal. Fiber is known for keeping you full for longer, so you don’t have to eat as much of it in the first place, and then you’ll be less tempted to have a midnight snack later.

So don’t get me wrong – meat is great. But when it’s mid-July and I’m looking at all those beautiful vegetables, I can’t help but go back to those pre-bacon days and let the produce steal the show.

What is your favorite meatless meal? Are you reducing your meat consumption or are you a vegetarian? If so, what are your tricks for making filling meatless meals? 

Confessions, Exceptions, and Admissions

Eating locally can sometimes be a challenge. Especially depending on where you live. I’m really blessed to live in an area that makes an awful lot of amazing things, but I know that’s not everywhere. Then there are those brats who live in California where everything is available locally pretty much all the time and everyone gets it and does it and even the “fast food” joints serve local grass-fed beef. It’s really just infuriating. Or great. Or whatever – you know what I mean.

But being a “locavore” doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything that isn’t grown around you. It just means that whenever possible, you support your local food system. There are a few things I have accepted that I will never be able to acquire locally but that I will never, ever consider giving up. Here’s my short list:

  1. Coffee (duh)
  2. Olive oil (double duh – although, there is an olive farm in Georgia making some amazing oil, maybe that trend can move up to VA??)
  3. Lemons and Lime (I make a lot of mixed drinks and these are essential)
  4. last but not least – AVOCADOS  

Avocados are kind of an obsession for me….they are this perfect combination of fresh, creamy, protein-laden, good-for-you-fats that just makes me happy. There will probably never be an avocado farm in Virginia, but I continue to buy these California imports on a weekly basis. This morning I was feeling an avocado craving coming on and I had one of these flashes of food inspiration that I get sometimes and I saw this sandwich in my mind before I even made it. It was a snap and was (obviously) delicious. Also, huge. It was huge. I ate about 60% of it and gave up. Which is sad. I hate leaving good food behind . . . 

Avocado and Egg Sandwich

Ciabatta bread topped with mashed avocados, watercress, chopped hard-boiled eggs, salt & pepper.

The app I use for these collages, by the way, is called “Pic Frame” and is available FOR FREE in the app store. The latest update now allows you to add labels, which makes the app complete perfection. Notice my shout out to California in the background 😉

The watercress and egg are both local, so see – it’s possible to combine the two without being a total traitor. The watercress just gave the sandwich the right amount of crunch and fresh green needed between those two heavy layers of protein. I only used half of an avocado spread on both halves of the ciabatta roll, so there’s still another half in the fridge waiting to be something yummy. I hard boiled two eggs, but I really only needed one. And if you don’t know – this is the absolute perfect method for making hard boiled eggs with yolks that are still chewy and flavorful instead of dry and chalky:

  • Put your room temp eggs into a sauce pan and pour room temp water over them until they are submerged.
  • Put the sauce pan (covered) over high heat and bring the water up to a boil.
  • When the water has reached a rolling boil, remove the saucepan from the burner, leave the lid on the pan and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.
  • Using the lid as a strainer, strain the hot water from the pan, dump a few handfuls of ice into the pan on top of the eggs and let sit for 2 minutes.
  • Remove the eggs from the ice, roll across the counter until the shell is cracked all over, then peel. Cut as you’d like.

Avocados are widely regarded as one of the healthiest foods you can eat and particularly some of the best fat you can eat as it is primarily mono and poly-unsaturated fat, which makes it a great protein and fat supplement for vegetarians and vegans or just people like me who try to reduce their meat consumption. And we all know that eggs are a great source of protein. But not all eggs are created equal. In fact, several studies show that farm-fresh pasture raised chickens (which you will pretty much only find from local sources) are nearly 5 times higher in Vitamin D, have 1/3 less cholesterol, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and the list goes on. And anybody who’s ever eaten a locally raised egg will tell you that the taste is the biggest difference. Eggs that you buy from the grocery store are “factory raised” eggs and even though they may be labeled “organic” “free-range” or “vegetarian-fed” it doesn’t mean what you might think. Thanks to the blog “Simple Bites” for explaining this quickly and easily:

“In order for eggs to be labeled “free-range” a chicken needs to have access to the outdoors.  This usually means hundreds of chicken confined to an industrial chicken house with a small slab of concrete to walk outdoors if they’d like. Your “free-range egg” chickens are really spending their lives indoors in a ventilated area and will not have the nutrient levels as described above.  If you’re buying “vegetarian-fed eggs”, this is a sure sign that they do not have access to pasture as real chickens are not vegetarians.”

And that’s that. Locally raised eggs are available all over and while their natural season is spring, they are usually available year-round thanks to heating lamps and modern amenities. Find out where to get yours at http://www.localharvest.org or several of the other links on the right-hand side bar on my home page.

Getting back to the sandwich: it was delicious, it was easy, it melded my favorite import with some of my very favorite local ingredients and just one roll, half an avocado, two eggs and a few sprigs of watercress probably could have fed me and Jeremy for dinner.

What are some imported foods that you can’t live without? What is your favorite thing to do with avocados? Are you eating locally raised eggs and can you taste the difference?
Leave me a comment and let’s chat!

Going once, going twice . . .

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I pretty much have the best job ever. Case in point, yesterday for my “job” I met with two women who have just started a Food Truck business called Wrap-N-Roll and are interested in sourcing some of their ingredients for their healthy-but-yummy wraps from local producers. Let me re-cap: 1. Food Truck 2. Healthy but yummy 3. Local ingredients. FTW!
Here’s their food truck, which is actually a re-vamped RV from the 80’s, which I LOVE:

Wrap-N-Roll Food Truck

This beast has been given a second life!

I met them at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, which hosts a produce auction every Wednesday night. This was my first time at a produce auction, but I thought it would be a good place to take them so they could purchase local product in bulk, meet the farmers, get a feel for local food pricing, etc etc. The whole thing is a little daunting and the auctioneer is seriously talking a mile a minute. For a southern girl like me who is used to hearing people talk …. uh…. slooowwweeerrr….it was a little hard to keep up with. Halfway through the auction the market manager and my former boss showed up and suggested I only try to catch every 10th word or so. He was right, but fortunately I wasn’t bidding, although it was incredibly tempting – everything looked so good!

Produce Auction

Peaches, cabbage, watermelon and a mixed box of corn, egglplant, tomatoes and peppers.

Yeaaaaa….THAT good. My food truck ladies bought what they needed and the whole thing worked out great. Maybe next week I’ll go back and do a little bidding . . .
Produce auctions are great for restaurants, retail outlets and just ordinary people wanting to buy in bulk for canning, jams or jellies, or other preservation methods. The prices are a steal and the product is incredibly fresh. Most of farmers who grow the product are actually there at the market. In fact, two of my very favorite farmers were there yesterday – Jim and Anne Bright.

Jim and Anne Bright

Anne and Jim are long-time family friends and Anne was even the mistress of ceremonies at my wedding. I love anything where I get to talk to farmers about what they’re growing – they are the most knowledgeable and helpful people. In fact, one of the ladies I was there with wanted to purchase a box from them, but along with other products she needed, it also included beets, which she had no idea what to do with (for shame!). Before she could even finish bemoaning this fact, Anne had given her an easy, but no doubt delicious, recipe for them. Which brings me to my next point:

New Local Food Program with USDA

Click on the image to go to the USDA food compass

If you can talk to the person who grew your food, then you don’t have to worry about things like “what country did this come from? What are their safety and food standards? Was it sustainably grown? Were herbicides or pesticides used? How fresh is this? What do I do with it? How do I store it?” All the answers to those questions are standing right in front of you! And then when you support restaurants (like Wrap-n-Roll) and other outlets who are also sourcing local product, you don’t have to worry about the same things when you’re eating out. Yay for food safety! And sustainability! And supporting your local economy! You get to eat fresh, local, delicious food and as a bonus – you’re a superhero! FTW!