In the Living Kitchen

Musings, memories, meals in the making.

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Kale Many Ways

I have not been writing as much about beer as I thought I would.  I think I overestimated my enthusiasm.  That is not to say that I am not enjoying a few sips of beer here and there, only that I really can’t drink too much of it too often.  I still have some very exciting beers to try, and a new recipe that involves a bottle of a (very expensive) beer that I didn’t enjoy drinking.  My goal is to write about beer once a week, and to do several posts throughout the week as well.

Today I am writing about kale.  I could write an entire ode to kale, but I will limit myself in this case.  I have found that many people are surprised by their love of kale and many lovers of kale are wonderfully enthusiastic about kale.  I am one of those enthusiastic kale lovers.  Kale really is good.

As I have mentioned previously, I have a stash of (frozen) kale in the field at the farm.  At this point, the kale is an entirely different creature from what kale is in the spring and in the fall.  It is sturdy.  I would say tough, but tough has such negative connotations, and I cannot bring myself to say anything bad about kale.  It is very sweet and actually bitter at this point.  But, it is still one of my favorite vegetables, and the only fresh green I have around, so I eat it.  A lot.

I have gotten into a great rhythm of preparing kale.  I mainly use one method of cooking it, blanching, and then I dress it. Sometimes when I am really hungry I sauté it with a lot of oil and garlic.  I also enjoy cooking it in a hearty stew or soup.  Kale can also be eaten raw.  If you are going to eat raw kale, I suggest choosing a curly variety and eating it in early spring or fall, when the kale is young and bright.   It certainly won’t be as sweet as in late fall or winter, but it will lack bitterness and tough texture.

The following preparation and dressing ideas are my weeknight mainstays.  Kale can be prepared many more ways than what I outline here.  However, I find it very satisfying to sit down with a big bowl of kale and gobble it down, opposed to eating kale in a dish.

Depending on how tender the kale is, you can either cool the kale in ice water or let it cool in the air.  If you cool it in ice water, it will stop cooking immediately.  If you let it cool in the air, it will continue to cook and become slightly more tender, if your kale is tough like it is in the winter.

I usually make enough kale with dressing to have 2 servings of leftovers for Sam and myself for lunch the next day.

To prepare the kale:

Rinse and remove the stems of as much kale as you want to prepare.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Place kale into pot.  Remove after the kale has become bright green in color, about 30-45 seconds.  Place in colander and rinse with cold water, if desired.  You might boil the kale in batches, depending on how much kale you are preparing.

Alternately, if your kale is tender, you can prepare a cold water bath before putting the kale in the boiling water.  Simply put ice water in a large bowl.  Place the kale directly into the ice water from the boiling water, then drain.

After the kale has cooled enough to the touch, squeeze the liquid out.  Chop to the desired thickness. and place it in a bowl. I usually slice it pretty thin, and then fluff it with my fingers.

Ideas for dressing:

A drizzle of sesame oil, sprinkling of salt, and chopped crystalized ginger (my favorite).

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing with a chopped nut on top.

Dressing of lemon, olive oil and avocado, topped with raisins, cashews and raw onion.  Also good on raw kale.

Saute slivers of garlic in oil, with crushed red peppers and cumin seeds.  Add blanched, chopped kale to this mixture until warm.  Drizzle with sesame oil and red wine vinegar.

A dressing of tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and minced garlic.  Goes well with cooked potatoes.

A dressing of grated ginger, garlic, orange juice, tamari and sesame oil.  Top with sesame seeds.

Toss the blanched kale with pesto and lemon juice.

Of course, the possibilities are endless.  Or rather, the possibilities end only with the supply of kale.



Earthy Sour Meets Savory Spicy

I chose to create an Indian inspired menu to compliment an oak barrel aged beer.  The reason I chose this combination is that I knew the oak would lend an earthy-sour flavor to the beer, a characteristic flavor of wild fermented foods.  Since I knew that any Indian inspired menu of mine would include samosas, I thought that earthy-sour flavor would pair well with the crispy spicy samosas.

Both the meal and the beer were good, but I feel they would both be better suited to other pairings.  The beer, Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja, is very complex.  It ranges from a bright and citrus flavor at first, to a deep, sour raisin flavor in the middle.  There are roasty overtones throughout, as well as an underlying pleasant sour flavor.  The first two flavors were very prominent, however, at the end there was nothing but the sour aftertaste.  I did not realize that the La Roja would have very little hop flavor, which made me feel it was lacking something.  The oak certainly influenced the flavors, which was wonderful, but I feel the beer needed a final flavor to finish off, and it didn’t have that.  It was more like red wine than any beer I have ever tasted.  I also would have enjoyed a bit more carbonation.

As for the meal, as Sam put it, “This beer goes well with the samosas and chutney, and the eggplant, but doesn’t bring them together.”  That pretty much sums it up.  I feel the meal I prepared would go well with a beer full of hops, such as an IPA, and the la Roja would go well with a meal very similar in its components but without the complex spices, such as a mushroom ragu or a vegetable stew with a crisp, hearty bread.  This exercise made me realize that these pairings are all trials, and that the art of pairing will emerge when I am a more seasoned beer drinker.

The Beer

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, “La Roja” Artisan Amber Ale Aged in Oak Barrels (2008)

$13 for a 1 pt. 9.4 oz. bottle

The Menu

Sweet Potato and Broccoli Samosas with Tamarind Chutney

Curried Eggplant with Roasted Tomatoes

Saffron Rice (I cook basmati rice with a bit of oil and a pinch of saffron threads.)

The following recipes will feed at least four people.  If you are feeding only two (as I did) you will end up with more samosa leftovers than anything else.  They can be reheated in the oven, or simply eaten cold.

When I make an Indian inspired meal (I use this phrase because I can’t even pretend to know how to make any type of authentic Indian fare), I usually put a bunch of garlic and ginger in the food processor, and use the mixture in everything.  I also grind whole coriander, cumin seeds, ajwan seeds and salt with a mortar and pestle and use the spice mixture as a base.  As always, yo may use more spices if you like, just take care not to over spice so the flavor of the food have a chance to emerge as well.

I grew and preserved all the vegetables in this meal.  The broccoli was lightly blanched and frozen in quart size bags, the eggplant was roasted peeled, chopped, and frozen, 2 per bag, and the tomatoes were roasted and frozen as well.  The sweet potatoes, garlic and onions are all storing quite nicely in our coat closet/pantry.  We have The quality of these ingredients is the best I could ever imagine.  I say this not to brag, but to emphasize the possibilities of home food preservation.  All these vegetables were ripe and in season when they were frozen, lending to their superior taste and quality.

Samosas (Makes 24 small or 16 medium)

Samosas are traditionally fried.  I bake them.  I have found that they are delicious baked, and it is easier to throw a sheet of samosas in the over than it is to fry them in 3 inches of oil.

You can easily make samosas with a traditional potato filing by following every step and substituting potatoes and peas for the sweet potatoes and broccoli.


For the dough:

1 1/2 cups spelt flour (I use a local flour, Wild Hive)

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup coconut oil, room temperature

6-7 TBS cold water

For the filling

1-1 1/2 pound sweet potato, cooked “al dente”

1-2 cups broccoli florets, lightly steamed and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2-inch piece ginger, minced

1 TBS fresh ground coriander

1 TBS fresh ground cumin

1/4 tsp fresh ground ajwan seeds

Salt, to taste

Coconut oil, for cooking

Dough Method:

Mix flour and salt together.  Cut coconut oil into the flour, just as you would when making pie crust.  The end result should be more like sand.  You want the coconut to blend completely with the flour.  You can also use a food processor for this step.  Add the cold water.  Start by adding 4 TBS, then gradually add the remaining water 1 TBS at a time.  Do not add too much water.  The flour I use takes about 6 TBS.  It should not stick to your fingers.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes by hand.  You want the dough to be elastic, glossy, pliable and smooth.  Let dough rest in a small bowl under a damp towel while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Filling Method:

Peel and dice the cooked sweet potato.  The cubes should be about 1/4 inch.

Saute onions, garlic and ginger over low heat in coconut oil until fragrant and translucent.  Add spices.  Cook until the spices are very fragrant and some areas are toasted.

Add the sweet potato and cook until the some of the sweet potato becomes mashed, and some stays in its cubed state.  Add the chopped broccoli and stir until completely distributed.  Turn off heat and let cool before continuing.

To assemble:

Once the filling has cooled, begin assembling the samosas.

Divide the dough in half, divide each half into three pieces.  Start with one sixth at a time.  Divide in half and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 3-inch diameter circle.  Cut into semicircles.  Fold over and seal the cut side.  Place the newly formed cone in your hand (I place it in my left hand because I am right-handed) and open it, much like you would a pastry bag.  Fill with about 1 TBS of filling.  Stuff the filling in so you have a nice clean edge.  Seal the open end and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

NOTE: In order to make 16 medium sized samosas, divide dough into four pieces, then work with those.  You will need more filling.

Once the sheet pan is full, place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees.  Bake for about 10 minutes and flip the samosas over, then bake for about 5 minute more.

Tamarind Chutney

4-5 whole tamarinds

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup honey

scant 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

generous pinch of the following, all ground together: minced ginger, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, salt

1/4 cup unsweetened flaked cocnut

Simmer the tamarind in the water until tender.  Pass pulp and simmer water through a sieve to separate the seeds and fibers.  Return pulp to sauce pan.  Add honey ans simmer until thick.  Add vinegar, spices and coconut.  Simmer for a few minutes to soften the coconut and the vinegar flavor.  Let cool.  Serve with samosas.

Curried Eggplant and Tomato

I am sure that the best curry spice blend is one made at home, from freshly roasted and ground spices.  I recommend that everyone try this, however, I tend to doctor a reliable store bought curry blend.

2 smallish eggplants, roasted, peeled and diced

3 cups roasted whole tomatoes

2 small onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 inch piece of ginger, minced

2 TBS tamari

2 TBS curry powder (I use hot)

2 TBS coconut oil (or more)

OPTIONAL: 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander, 2 hot chilies, 1/4 tsp ajwan seeds, freshly ground

Cook onions, garlic and ginger over medium low heat until tender.  Add the spices and cook until the mixture is paste like, about 1 minute.  Add the eggplant, tomatoes and tamari.  Cook over a medium-low heat for about 30 minutes.This dish gets better the longer it simmers.  Keep tasting it to make sure the flavors are balanced to your liking.  Serve warm.


Beer and Me

I have given in! Fully, totally, wholeheartedly given in to beer.  No more, “Oh, I don’t really like beer” stories here.  Sam has been brewing beer at home for about a year now.  He currently has a beer brewing itch that he is scratching furiously almost every weekend.  What am I supposed to do?  Let him take over the kitchen?

I have never liked beer.  Not in high school, not in college, and not for the past two years.  Perhaps it was my rigid christian upbringing?  The fact that beer is my father’s beverage of choice?  The desire to be different from Oklahoma’s beer drinking masses?  Well, I’ve got news for  myself.  Beer is in, and brewing beer even more so. There is a reason for this, as I am just now discovering.

The pumpkin used in our Spiced Pumkin Ale.

Knowing of my natural prowess in the kitchen and garden, Sam has been asking for my “help” for the past year.  To be honest, I have not been interested.  I mean, just what could I contribute as a non-beer drinker? My interest was sparked, however when I discovered  Dogfish Head, which really blew my concept of beer out of the water, as I am sure it has down for many.   I then began tasting small amounts of the beers Sam brews, as well as some of the ones he wants to emulate. Then one day, after weeks of begging, Sam convinced me to help him brew a ginger-honey beer.  All I did was mince the ginger and keep the wart from boiling over.  Weeks later, we bottled it, and weeks after that we tasted it.  I am hooked.  The subtle ginger flavor, the nutty aftertaste, the carbonation without the sweetness of soda.  I even served our ginger-honey beer at a small dinner party with tempeh curry and samosas.  It was delightful, and voila!  A new niche has formed: Pairing beer with healthy farm-grown meals.

The flavors: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, hops.

Sam and I would like to start brewing beers in our own way, sourcing local ingredients, growing ingredients, sprouting our own grains, and everything else.  The folks at the beer store will have a fit! The process of preparing our own ingredients will be difficult, but we are dedicated.   We recently made a pumpkin ale with one of our pumpkins.  A small step, but it feels good knowing one of the ingredients is ours.  It smells delicious, and I am currently working on a meal pairing for it.  We also made a hard cider from apples from Billiam’s Liberty View Farm, that we pressed ourselves.  The cider is currently slowly carbonating in our closet.  Knowing that we can control the quality of our own ingredients is very exciting.  It is exactly what we strive for in every inch of our lives.   We trust ourselves and our small community to deliver the standard we believe in.

Boiling the wart.

My beer making journey is now in the beginning phase, or as I am thinking of it, “The Tasting Phase.”  In any new endeavor, I like to immerse myself with knowledge of the subject.  With brewing that means tasting high quality, complex beers and learning about the processes that lead to their wonderful flavors.   Sam and I purchased several beers that fall into the category of quality, complex beers, across the beer flavor spectrum.   We would like to make a lambic, which is an open fermented beer, as opposed to other beers which use cultivated strains of yeast to ferment.  Since we ferment all kinds of things using wild yeast and bacteria, this is an obvious choice.  Brewing a lambic would allow use to use mostly local ingredients, and a culture captured from the air, instead of a factory.  The problem is, neither of us has ever tasted a lambic before.  We also read about oak-barrel aged beers recently and were both intrigued by the descriptions.  So we went to the beer store and purchased some lambics and oak-barrel aged beers as well as other intriguing brews.

In the following weeks I will dedicate posts to the individual beers we selected and the meals I have created to pair with them.  I never imagined beer could be so much fun.

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Full Preservation Disclosure

The liquid actually has some flavor and sweetness to it. It can be used in place of water or stock to thin soups or sauces.

Full disclosure here: food preservation takes time.  As a grower, my responsibilities in the spring, summer and fall fully out-weigh my need to preserve.  There couldn’t be enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Yet, the farming life cannot be sustainable for me if I do not preserve food for the winter.  After all, much of my salary is measured in how many vegetables I get to eat in the off season.  So, I preserve food anyway, taking shortcuts where ever I can squeeze them in.   Usually  Sam is right by my side, helping out and coaxing me to bed.  Sam likes to get to bed far more than he likes to finish projects, whereas I could stay up until 2 am waiting for the last batch of sauce to come out of the canner.  We balance each other out.

One of the shortcuts we discovered this summer was freezing tomatoes instead of canning them.  The benefit of canned tomatoes is that they can sit on a shelf in the pantry and need no extra energy to keep them shelf stable.  Frozen tomatoes, on the other hand, need to stay in the freezer until used.  One freezer fills up quickly, and before you know it, you’ve got three freezers full of food, all using energy to keep the food preserved.  On the flip side, canning takes up time.  Once you start the process, you have to follow through without stopping.  (Six quarts of moldy tomato sauce that we forgot about in the fridge taught us that lesson.)  After the tomatoes are prepared and boiling, yo have to sterilize jars, put in the tomatoes and then place them in the canner for 45 minutes per 8-quart batch.  That 45 minute wait can be excruciating.

We froze some tomatoes.  The process of freezing is so much easier.  The tomatoes can either got in the freezer raw or cooked.  Most of the time we either roasted a pan of tomatoes and peeled them or chopped up raw ones, then portioned them in quart sized bags and threw the bags in the freezer.  A few times, late at night, we skipped the peeling and portioning steps, and hurriedly dumped roasted tomatoes in gallon sized bags, put them in the freezer and forgot about them, in the interest of sleep, of course.

I found one bag of said roasted tomatoes yesterday when I wanted to start a pot of chili.  One solid gallon brick of frozen roasted tomatoes.  There is no way I can use one gallon of tomatoes for one pot of chili, or even fit a solid gallon brick of tomatoes in my pot, so I had to defrost the entire bag over night.   Once defrosted, the skins slipped off easily and I just threw the tomatoes in the pot.

Roasted and frozen San Marzano paste tomatoes are a gem in the winter. They are much better preserved than fresh.

The tomatoes themselves are amazing.  After I slipped off the skins, the actual tomato flesh was more like paste because all the liquid leaked out of the bag.  So, the fuss is worth it, but I feel like the fuss of peeling and portioning them in the summer is worth it too.


Fermented Daikon with Ginger

Every food has a story right?  On Sunday Sam and I had the luck to hear about a fellow farmer’s misfortune turned local delight.  Her produce truck broke down so she couldn’t bring all her delicious vegetables to NYC, so she opened her home up to sell them to all who came.  We are living off our kale right now, which is awesome, believe me, but we could not imagine passing up the opportunity of having salad everyday this week (although we consumed a pound of pea shoots in the first 24-hours). We bought over two pounds of fresh baby greens and some Japanese radishes.

Unfortunately, we did not grow enough Japanese radishes this year to have any for ourselves over the winter, so we were really happy to see large, beautiful daikons for sale.  (The daikon we bought is in the post below, next to Scout.)

We have seen lacto-fermented daikons with ginger in the produce section of our local health food store and thought that they would be a good addition to our lacto-fermented foods.  We bought the biggest daikon we could find and sliced it up with a lot of ginger and added a sea salt water brine.  (I used 2 TBS of salt water per quart of water for these.)

Daikon with ginger! The small jar has daikon, ginger, garlic cloves and two Thai chilies.

For more detailed instructions, see the “Lacto-Fermented Carrots” post.  The carrots, by the way, are amazing and almost gone.  I let them ferment for a full month before refrigerating them.  One more gorgeous picture of the fermenting daikons:

They remind me of preserved lemons in the light of the afternoon sun.

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Our Farm Kitty

Isn’t she cute?  When Sam and I lived at the farm in 2008, so did Scout, our cat that we brought with us from Santa Fe, NM.  In Santa Fe, Scout was an indoor cat, but when we moved to the farm we decided she would be allowed to hang out outside at the farm.  She absolutely loved being a “farm cat” much more than being an indoor cat.  Most days, she wouldn’t even roam around on her own, she would just follow Sam and I around and hang out with us in the field.

Unfortunately for Scout, we moved into an apartment last winter and she is again an indoor cat.  Anytime we bring vegetables from the farm, or come home from feeding the chickens, she inspects us for several minutes.  She knows where we’ve been…

Today she planted herself right in front of me while I was pouring over the herb sections of my 3 seed catalogs, and wouldn’t move.  I think she was on the catnip page…

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Ordering Seeds

Seed catalogs with my favorite mug and a pot of tea, kept warm for hours under the tea cozy my grandmother made for me last year.

What could be better than putting together my 2010 seed order with a hot cup of tea?  Perhaps putting together the seed order after I have done my taxes, which is not something I have experienced yet.  However, I am so excited about my seed order that the stress of doing my taxes is pretty much overshadowed.  I have already put together and mailed off my biggest order.  The company that has the best prices and a good organic selection only takes orders through the mail!  So I had to fill out the order by hand, line by line, and add it all up with a calculator and everything.  I am so used to online ordering, where I just have to click a button and everything gets added automatically.

So why is seed ordering so exciting?  First off, I am the first to admit that I have the makings of a shopaholic.  I love shopping, and ordering seeds is a totally allowable and necessary indulgence.  Then there’s the whole logic puzzle, planning the planting schedule and the outlining the distribution plans for the season.  Of course, there is also the political, ethical issues, and by ordering from the right companies, growers can make big statements, and in turn, those who support those farmers make big statements, and so on and so forth.

I try to order exclusively open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.  (Although I did order organic, hybrid curly kale seeds.)  Open-pollinated varieties of vegetables and fruits are varieties that have been selected without cross-pollination or other human tampering, as opposed to hybrid seed or genetically modified seed.  There are always genetic variations among varieties.  Certain traits might be chosen year after year, the seeds from those fruits saved and planted year after year, until a variety is different enough from the original plant to become it’s own open-pollinated variety.  Some open-pollinated varieties might have started as a cross between varieties, but over time a certain strain might stabilize, meaning that the seed it produces bears plants and fruit that are the same as the cross breed, without having to cross-pollinate the two original varieties.  A variety is not stable until it is known that the seeds from that variety produce the same variety generation after generation.  Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down for generations, usually in the same isolated area.

There are certain varieties that I know do well at the farm, because the Armours have been farming there for 20 years!  I like to explore though, so I am trying out a lot of new varieties just to see what they are like.  Running a CSA forces the farmer to grow a wide variety of crops at all times.  The same vegetables week after week would be boring, and it is nice for our members to get a little something different from the norm.  While variety is great, hard to grow varieties with small yields are not the CSA farmer’s friend.  Running a CSA is not a big money business.  One simply can’t mark up the price of a vegetable that is scarce in a CSA model, so I also look for varieties that have good yields.  I also have (as I am sure every farmer has) a limited amount of land to work with, and I want to make the most of it.

Right now I am researching onions.  This past year our onions were small, and took a long to mature.  Which meant that the next crop to follow the onions went in the ground late, which ultimately meant that I had one less item to distribute in the fall to the CSA members.  Perhaps we are going to start have mild, wet summers around here for good?  In that case, I want onion varieties that are going to do well in that type of climate.  I also want storage onions, because I want the onions I grow and harvest to last until the last CSA distribution in November (and beyond for my own personal use).  Most of my seed catalogs sell hybrid seed for their storage onion varieties, but I am trying to purchase open-pollinated varieties.  I have a catalog that sells open-pollinated and heirloom varieties exclusively (although it’s operation is not located in the north east, like the other companies) so I am going to try their seeds this year.

Though ordering seeds is my favorite thing to do in the winter, at some point I hope it will be a thing of the past.  One of the benefits of growing open-pollinated varieties is that the seed can be saved from these varieties and planted the following year.  I hope to save my own seed someday for all the fruits and vegetables I grow, when I have my own piece of land that I know I will be farming for 20 years or more, where I can select the best fruits and vegetables for my farm.  For this reason, and many others I can assure you, I do not by seeds from companies that knowing sell genetically modified seeds, nor do I ever knowingly purchase or consume anything containing genetically modified organisms.  The patent laws that protect the companies that produce GM seed currently put seed saving companies, organizations and farmers at risk of extinction.  By fighting these laws, and purchasing seeds that are not genetically modified, we can make a serious difference in the direction our food system is heading.