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Kale Almond Pesto

October 16, 2011
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Lemons, avocados, and redwoods. My relatives may be able to grow these things in their backyards in California, but I’ll never be able to get them going here in Cambridge. Kale, however, is quite happy here, even through October and November. My five kale plants have kept us in greens all summer, and with fall kicking into gear I figured it was time for a final harvest. My preferred vehicle for kale storage is kale almond pesto.

I stumbled on this kale pesto recipe in an unlikely place: A blog called “Always Order Dessert.” (Maybe if you eat a lot of kale you can afford to get dessert.) There are three things I like about it, especially compared to a traditional basil pesto recipe:

  1. Kale. Basil’s not bad for you, for sure, but kale is pretty hard to beat when it comes to nutrition. And, as I mentioned, it has a long growing season here in the northeast.
  2. Almonds. Pine nuts are delicious, but they are expensive. Almonds are much more wallet-friendly. And almonds are also lower fat, and their fat content is a healthier mix of saturated and unsaturated. Plus, almonds never cause pine mouth.
  3. A muffin tray. I would never have thought to freeze pesto in a muffin tray and then move it to plastic bags. Genius! This produces convenient pucks you can use one by one – much better than a monolithic block of pesto ice.

The recipe works well when executed strictly, but I find there is a lot of room for interpretation in pesto. You can adjust any of the ingredients in this recipe and still end up with a damned good pesto. Just be careful that you don’t go overboard with the garlic.

So, without further ado, here is what you’ll need for a full muffin tray of pesto pucks. I made this in three batches, and you can easily make just a third of it with a single bunch of store-bought kale and a third the other ingredients.

  • 9 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups raw unsalted almonds
  • 1 1/2 lb kale
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 tsp salt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 muffin tray

And here’s what you’ll do:

  • Wash the kale and remove the stems if you feel like it (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t)
  • Pulverize the garlic and almonds in your food processor
  • Add the kale, olive oil, and lemon juice bit by bit
  • Finish by incorporating salt and pepper to taste
  • Spoon into muffin tray and place in freezer
  • When frozen, use a butter knife to pry pucks out and then move to plastic bag

We like to use the frozen pucks as a topping  for pizza and pasta, but there are lots of other possible applications. Many people recommend freezing pesto without the cheese and adding it later on, but I’ve never had a problem with frozen pesto that has cheese built into it.

Flour Tortillas

September 5, 2011

I wasn’t sure how tough it would be to make tortillas. Not only am I a gringo, but I’ve spent nearly all of my life in Boston, which must qualify me for some extra special level of gringo status. I figured I lacked the know-how to pull off any sort of Mexican food, so I looked extra hard for a good recipe. I found one on a blog that oozes Tex-Mex credibility: The Homesick Texan.

The freshness of homemade tortillas was something I was not prepared for. They taste like bread, rather than like rubber or playdough – imagine that! And they were easy to make, too. We’re definitely going to be making more Mexican from now on. The tortillas took 45 minutes, from start to finish, and 30 of those 45 were for dough rising and resting.

Here’s all you’ll need to make flour tortillas with the Homesick Texan’s recipe, with just a few tweaks. Note that there is no lard or shortening required.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm milk

And here’s what you’ll do:

  • Combine dry ingredients and whisk together.
  • Add wet ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Knead dough for two minutes until relatively smooth and elastic.
  • Cover with damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
  • Break into either 6 or 8 balls (8 balls gave me 6″ tortillas; I think 6 balls would have given me 8″ tortillas.)
  • Cover balls with damp towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Heat up a dry cast iron skillet or similar. Don’t put any butter or oil in the pan.
  • Lightly dust your counter with flour and roll dough balls out as thin as you can, to 6″ or 8″ depending on how many you have. Here’s a trick: Roll them as thin as you can and then lift the edges, stretch, and place down a bit further out. Repeat all the way around the tortilla.
  • Cook each rolled-out tortilla in the dry skillet for 30 seconds on each side.

That evening we served our tortillas slathered with sour cream and filled with cilantro rice, home-cooked black beans, and homemade salsa. The ones that we’d rolled out the furthest were the best; the others were a bit thicker than we were used to but still delicious.

And the next morning, we used the tortillas to make breakfast burritos: 3 eggs, 1/3 cup cooked black beans, 4 cherry tomatoes, 1 tomatillo, 1 tiny pepper, 1 tiny Jalapeno, 1/2 an onion, 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, a little sour cream, a little grated cheddar, and a little homemade salsa. Delicious!

Canned Salsa

September 4, 2011

Inspired by the fecundity of our pepper plant and the vast array of tomatoes at the farmer’s market, we set out to make salsa. Chips and salsa is one of Alex’s favorite snacks, and there is always store-bought salsa in our fridge, so this seemed like a great way to strike a blow for more bottom-up food in the house. Making several pints at once also helps ensure that blow has staying power.

While we’re usually very particular about our recipe sources, this time we chose one of the first we stumbled upon at a Pick Your Own web site, right here. If anyone knows how to deal with loads of tomatoes, it’s PYO people. The recipe has either one ingredient or about a dozen, depending on whether you use a prepackaged seasoning mix for your salsa. A prepackaged mix seemed rather beside the point, and needless to say we did not use one.

Here’s what we used:

  • 3 pint Mason jars and lids plus one Ball canning plastic frame
  • 5 lbs tomatoes, mostly plum but a few miscellaneous
  • 3 large Jalapeño peppers, diced
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, which required 4.5 lemons
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 large white onion, diced (1.5 cups worth)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz canned tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

A word to the wise: When chopping large hot peppers like these, consider using latex gloves. About 30 minutes after I’d dispensed with the peppers, my left hand started burning something fierce. Googling “help my hand is burning” turned up this curious home remedy: hair oil. Alex and I had both washed our hair recently, so that didn’t do much. I tried petting our cat a bunch instead, but I am not sure that cats sweat. In any case, it eventually got better.

Here’s what to do with these ingredients:

  • Turn the oven to broil. Wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, and lay them face down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 10 minutes until blackened. (This tip from my friend Natalie’s salsa making experience here.)
  • Tug the skin off the tomatoes. I found two forks to work well for this – one to hold and one to pull.
  • Place naked tomatoes in a colander in the sink to drain extra juice.
  • Once tomatoes have drained sufficiently, chop them as best you can and then put into large pot.
  • Add other vegetables and seasonings to pot with the tomatoes.
  • Turn on heat, bring to gentle bubbling state, and then turn down to let simmer for 30 minutes.
  • While the salsa is cooking, sterilize the jars and lids by immersing them in boiling water for a few minutes.
  • Fill jars, leaving 1/4″ headroom, clean rim of jar, then put lids and rings on.
  • Place jars in boiling water for 15 minutes (assuming you are at sea level).
  • Lift the jars out of the water and let cool. You will eventually hear the lid pop, which tells you that the seal is good. If you don’t, you can check the seal by pressing down on the lid. If it gives, or bobbles up and down, the seal is not good, and you must refrigerate the salsa. Otherwise, you can keep it in your cupboard.

The result is the best salsa I’ve had in a long time, great with chips and on burritos. Alex claims it tastes sweet because of the 1 1/2 tsp of sugar, but I think it’s the sweetness of in-season tomatoes. It is definitely spicy, however – adjust the peppers downward (in variety or quantity) if that’s not your thing!

Peach Plum Ginger Jam

August 21, 2011

Canning, as it turns out, is not that hard. Time-consuming yes, but hard no. So if we have enough time, there will definitely be more jam in our future. The one we made — a peach-plum-ginger affair from Food in Jars — was delicious, and I get the feeling that it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of jam and canning possibilities.

So why did I put aside my fears of botulism and finally try to make and can my own jam? To start with, it’s a very bottom-up thing to do. But I have an ulterior motive. There is a jar of jam in my fridge that I am trying hard to displace: a 42-ounces vat of Kirkland-brand strawberry jam from Costco. When Alex brought it home, I cried “factory food.” But my complaints fell on deaf ears. I’m hoping that appealing to taste buds will work better.

The peach-plum-ginger jam is delicious. It tastes like cooked peaches, for sure, a bit like a peach tart. But the plums give it depth, and the ginger gives it a tiny bit of lift. A very nice flavor. And great peaches, just $2.50/pound from Kimball Farms at the Cambridgeport Farmers Market.

The recipe outlined below is slightly different from the original, but not appreciably: same ingredients, but different quantities and proportions. To make two 12oz jars, you’ll need:

  • Canning jars, rings, and lids (non-optional)
  • Cheesecloth
  • 4 cups peaches, peeled and mashed (I used 1/2 white and 1/2 yellow peaches)
  • 1.5 cups plums, peeled and mashed
  • 4 oz ginger, peeled
  • 2 1/2 cups organic raw sugar

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Wash your jars, lids, and rings with soap and water and set aside on a clean towel. If you are paranoid like me, you can also sterilize the jars, rings, and lids by placing them in boiling water.
  • Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the ginger in a large stockpot.
  • Combine the ginger with 1/4 cup water in a food processor, stopping to wipe down several times.
  • Put the resulting ginger-water paste in cheesecloth and squeeze all of the liquid out into the stockpot. Discard the ginger pulp.
  • Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches at least 210 degrees and as high as 220. The mixture should be thicker than when you started, more like jam. If not, refer to troubleshooting tips.
  • While the jam is cooking, put the jars in boiling water. Remove them just before you are ready to fill them with jam.
  • Fill the jars with jam, wipe the rims, cover with lids, and screw rings on.
  • Place the filled jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
  • CAREFULLY remove the jars of jam from boiling water bath (a jar lifter comes in handy here) and let stand to cool. You will ultimately hear the lids pop as the contents of the jars cool and a vacuum is created.
  • Store in a cool dark place for up to one year.

Ten Tiny Tacos

August 13, 2011

There is a bar in Cambridge called Middlesex Lounge that is nearly empty from 5pm to 8pm, making it a great spot for a big group of friends looking to hang out after work. After 8pm, Middlesex plays bad music, and MIT students show up to dance badly to it. This is fun on some nights and sad on others.

Among my friends, Middlesex is famous for an appetizer it offers called Ten Tiny Tacos. Ten Tiny Tacos aren’t listed on this online menu, but I have confirmed that they are still alive and kicking. And why not? At a cost of $10 per order, or $1 per tiny taco, making these must be like minting money. I’ve tracked down an old picture of the pork edition, but I don’t yet have a shot of the bean edition.

Fortunately, we long ago deciphered the recipe for this snack. I have been frustrated because it includes one ingredient that is decidedly not bottom-up: Tostitos Scoops chips. They make a great vessel for these tacos, but I can’t make them, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. If you know how, please leave a comment. In general, this recipe is much less “bottom up” than I’d like.

Instead of making these ten at a time, I like to make a batch of about fifty – enough to make it worth your while, and sufficient food for dinner for two. To do this, you will need:

  • 1/4 bag Tostitos Scoops
  • 12 oz black beans
  • 1/2 an avocado, cut into 1/2″ squares
  • 1 shallot or small onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced very thinly (you can substitute red pepper flakes if you like, using about 2 tbsp)
  • 10 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters or eighths depending on size or 1 large tomato diced
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese diced into 1/2″ cubes (it would be great to make this, but it takes months)
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro (unless you think cilantro tastes like soap)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (hope to post a recipe for sour cream soon)
  • 1 small plastic bag

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Lay out the Scoops chips, all right side up, using only the unbroken chips.
  • Spoon 3-5 black beans into each shell.
  • Put 1-2 avocado squares into each shell.
  • Spread the onion pieces evenly amongst the shells.
  • Put one piece of tomato into each shell.
  • Put one slice of jalapeno pepper or 4-5 pieces of red pepper flakes into each shell
  • Put 1-2 pieces of cheese into each shell.
  • Put the sour cream into a plastic bag, cut the tip off, and squeeze a dollop out onto the contents of each shell.
  • Put one leaf of cilantro on top of each shell.
  • Place in the oven for 10 minutes, until cheese is melted, and serve hot.

As you can see, the recipe is pretty flexible. You may not always have all of these ingredients, but so long as you have the scoops, the cheese, and a few of them you can usually pull off some version of the dish.

Another option is to make this in its “deconstructed” form, otherwise known as taco salad. This involves using normal tortilla chips, putting all of the ingredients in a bowl, microwaving it for a minute or two, and then stirring well. It’s not as important to use sour cream in this version, I find, since when you stir it the ingredients all smoosh together a bit and form a bit of a sauce.

However you enjoy ten tiny tacos, be sure to share the recipe!

Homemade Farfalle with Butter, Sage, and Parmesan

August 12, 2011

Our pasta adventures continue, still without a pasta maker. If anyone ever asks me why we don’t have one, I’m going to answer that we do and then show them our rolling pin. I really am convinced that is all that anyone needs to make good pasta.

It turns out that my favorite pasta shape – farfalle, or bow-tie pasta – is a cinch to make at home. All that you have to do is cut pasta squares, pinch them a bit, and then cook them as you would any other pasta. The best way to learn is to watch this blessedly to-the-point video.

Because we have a massive haul of sage, I found myself looking for a recipe featuring it. We’ve previously enjoyed this pasta recipe with sage and squash, but it takes an awfully long time. (It’s also weirdly tuned to the size of the author’s pans.)

This New York Times pasta, sage, and Parmesan recipe is much simpler and speedier. Interestingly, it is allegedly the original pasta Alfredo.

“The once popular Alfredo sauce of butter, cream, eggs, and cheese — which now seems unconscionably heavy — was a bastardization of this simple butter-and-Parmesan sauce, a beautiful classic.”

Here’s what you’ll need to make this pasta, sage, and Parmesan recipe from the bottom up (not using store-bought pasta, as the New York Times does):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 medium eggs (or 3 large eggs…or just more flour)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 30 sage leaves (really. or even more. but if your leaves are huge, cut them into strips.)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan (or pecorino, which is what we used)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what to do:

  • Whisk flour and salt together. Form a well in the middle. Crack eggs into the well in the flour. Use a fork to whisk eggs together and then slowly begin incorporating the flour into your whisking, continuing until you have a messy ball of dough.
  • Tip dough out onto floured counter and knead until it is completely smooth and pretty springy. This takes about 10 minutes. Don’t shortchange the kneading, or your pasta won’t work.
  • Cover dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  • Roll the dough out into a long rectangle, getting it as thin as you possibly can, but not so thin that when you pick it up it falls apart.
  • Slice the dough lengthwise and then widthwise to form squares, about 1″ x 1.”
  • For each square, put your index finger in the middle, squeeze in the sides with your thumb and middle finger, remove your index finger, and then finish squeezing with your thumb and middle finger. This forms the farfalle shape.
  • Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta for 1-2 minutes, about 30 seconds longer than it takes for it to float to the surface. Retain the pasta water.
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan. Sautee the sage leaves until crispy. Add the cooked and drained pasta and pan-fry for 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in the Parmesan. Thin with 3/4 cup pasta water or more as necessary and stir for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve with a light dusting of additional Parmesan, if desired.

We were amazed by how fresh and light this pasta was – the opposite of most pasta alfredos! The farfalle was the best we had ever had, and would have delighted us even served in a top-notch restaurant. Definitely worth making from the bottom up.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

August 4, 2011

Want to make dill pickles without boiling water or worrying about the risk of botulism, as you’d have to with a traditional pickle recipe? Refrigerator dill pickles to the rescue! These pickles require less than five minutes of prep time, but you have to wait a day before you enjoy them. Although you are supposed to eat them in a week, I’ve found them to be perfectly good much longer than that. This recipe is a modified version of a recipe I got from Boston Organics, an organic food delivery service in Boston.

Most dill pickle recipes recommend that you dissolve the sugar in the water and cider vinegar in a saucepan over heat, but because I use different size jars and different size pickles each time I make this I never know how much water I’ll need and thus how much to dissolve the sugar into. But I’ve found you don’t really need to dissolve the sugar, especially if you shake well at the end of the recipe. That said, if you have your heart set on dissolving the sugar over heat, I recommend doing so into the vinegar and less water than you are likely to need – maybe 1/2 of a cup. The point of dissolving over heat is to make a syrup, which is unlikely to separate back into water and sugar.

To make these pickles you will need:

  • 1 small bunch dill, minced along with stems and any flowers
  • 1/4 white onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp dill seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 canning cucumbers, which tend to be smaller and squatter than most cukes
  • water to cover contents, exact amount depends on the size of your glass jar and the number/size of your cucumber slices

Here’s what to do:

  • Grind the white pepper, yellow mustard, and dill seeds in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder (the latter works even better on dill seeds).*
  • Combine all ingredients except for water in jar.
  • Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and then cut each one of these halves again in half lengthwise.
  • Pack as many of the cucumber slices as you can into jar. Eat the rest.
  • Fill to top with water, cap, and shake to dissolve sugar and salt.
  • Refrigerate for 24 hours and enjoy.

*In the pictures you can see that on this go around I forgot to grind the mustard seeds and dill seeds and just threw them in whole  – oops! This is what comes of using one pre-ground ingredient (white pepper): You forget that others aren’t ready to go right in. No worries, it turned out fine.