shakshuka with eggs fresh from the coop

IMG_5125Recently, I overheard my husband telling a friend how he enjoys having hens because they are pets that feed you.  Honestly, I never really looked at it that way.  For me, I wanted the added bonus of fresh manure for the garden, the eggs are just a bonus.  Either way, we end up with plenty of eggs to eat and to share.

While I will use some when I bake, I almost always have many more than we need for just the two of us.  As a result, we will have eggs for breakfast or dinner about once a week and while I love an over easy egg on potato hash or a fried egg sandwich, it can get a bit boring after a while.  To keep it interesting, I look for ways to turn fresh eggs into a meal that is both satisfying and new to our table.

It was in my quest for something new that I found shakshuka, a Middle Eastern Dish that some attribute to Israel while others say Libya, Algeria or Morocco but it is actually a dish native to Tunisia.  Traditionally, it is a spicy vegetable ragout or stew that is made mostly of tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and spices simmered to thicken and to finish the dish, fresh eggs are cracked and poured into the stew.  As the dish continues to simmer, the eggs slowly poach in the stew.  Gentle basting of the eggs helps quicken the pace and adds flavor.  While quite simple and easy to make, getting the eggs cooked so that the whites solidify and the yolks remain liquid is a bit challenging but well worth the effort.

IMG_5122

To make this batch, I followed a recipe found on the website of David Lebovitz.  Actually, I followed it almost exactly except that I added half of a diced red pepper and I used 2 serrano chiles, which added a lot more heat than we expected.  Also, since I had greens in the garden, albeit slightly frozen from the snow and ice on the plants, but freshly picked.  The recipe called for one cup chopped greens but I added more like two cups since I did not want to waste them.  A generous sprinkle of feta chunks adds some saltiness and helps temper the heat of the chilis but be careful not to go overboard since this is not meant to be a cheesy dish.

IMG_5115As the stew was simmering, I cracked four fresh eggs from our hens and carefully added them to the pot.  To make it easier on myself, I baked the stew to finish the eggs and you can too because the recipe explains both methods.  Because David says to serve it with crusty bread to soak up the sauce, I heated several rounds to naan and we stuffed ourselves with the spicy, tomato-y sauce.  Now that I know how to make this dish and cook the eggs to that perfect solid white and runny yolk state, I will be making this again-we certainly have enough eggs!  And for those of you that do not have laying hens, pick up some fresh local eggs and make a batch of this stew; you will not regret this at all!

One bag of kale, part 4; greens and beans

IMG_1856In my final recipe of the series, I give you one of my favorite recipes.  This recipe is adapted from one by famed vegan chef, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and can be found in her book, Appetite for Reduction and on her website, theppk.com.

Living in the south for as long as I have has influenced many aspects of my life and my meal choices reflect my current location frequently.  The biggest change on my plate is the heap of cooked greens and beans, two things I have never disliked but I also never thought to make a meal of them either.  The difference from the ones I feast on and the ones typically found in the south it that there is no pig on my plate.  Yes, I am a meat eater, yes, I like bacon but truth be told, I like my greens without the added pork products.  Honestly, if they are made well, they do not need the bacon because they have tons of flavor all on their own.

Despite the fact that I am technically a trained chef, while I can bake just about anything, my cooking skills sometimes are lacking and that is where Isa Chandra comes in, specifically her cookbook.  By using her book, I have learned how to make vegetable dishes every bit as amazing as the desserts I produce in my professional life.  Appetite for Reduction as well as Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance are some of the most used books on my shelf and I highly recommend picking any of them up if you come across them.

This recipe uses the last portion of the big bag of kale, it calls for approximately 4 ounces or about 4 cups of kale or any other cooking green.  If you have been following this series, this is approximately 1/4 of the 1 pound bag; part 1 used half of the bag, part 2 and 3 each used 1/8 of the bag and this recipe uses the remaining 1/4.  To repeat the dividing process, for part one, use half the bag.  Take the remaining half of the bag and divide it in half.  Place one half into a storage bag and place it in the fridge till you need it.  Divide the remaining portion into two equal parts and bag each separately and store until needed.  For those of you that are not kale fans, try using mustard, collards or any other green suitable for cooking in place of the kale.

While I used white beans, specifically white kidney beans, you can use any bean you like.  The original recipe calls for black eyed peas, one of my favorites but I have made this recipe with chick peas, fava beans, butter beans and several different white beans, all with delicious results.  Do what you like, you’re the one who is going to eat it!

Greens and Beans

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups, packed, torn kale with stems removed, about 4 ounces

3/4 cup broth, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (14.5oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional

In a large, deep pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over medium heat until translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute longer.  Dump in the kale, salt and 1/4 cup of the broth and immediately cover the pot for at least 1 minute.  Stir the greens and keep it covered to allow them the time to cook down, about 10-15 minutes and be sure to stir them occasionally to make sure they are cooking evenly.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add the beans, tomato sauce and the remaining broth and allow to cook for at least 5 minutes, covered.  Stir in the sriracha, paprika and the smoke flavor and allow it to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Check the seasoning and add additional salt and hot sauce as needed.

One Bag of Kale Recipes:

Autumn Kale Salad with Butternut Squash

Potato-Kale Hash with Chickpeas

Vegetable Barley soup with Kale

vegan white bean and kale soup

winter is determined to stick around and make us miserable.  while the northeast gets to dig out of snowfall after snowfall, we just get colder and colder.  it is true that it does get cold in nashville and in winter, it is not uncommon for the temps to drop to the 20 degree mark.  but consecutive days with single digit lows and highs in the teens, that is not normal.  luckily, having a pot of soup simmering on the stove is all it takes to bite back the chill.

i love a good white bean soup but i find that most recipes are heavy on the beans and almost always include a large portion of smoky bacon or ham products.  what i was craving this afternoon was a good old bowl of italian style white bean and escarole soup;  a hearty broth served with beans, a little vegetable and a lot of bitter greens.  since i didn’t have any “shcarole,” i had to settle for some kale and quite honestly, it was just as good.  to keep it vegan and heart healthy, i used vegetable broth as a base, diced mushrooms to give it a “meaty” texture (and an umami factor) and to add a little authenticity, a small amount of smoke flavor.  it was all i needed to chase away the chill.

vegan white bean and kale soup
makes about 1 1/2 quarts
(about 4-12 ounce servings)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
1 cup fresh button mushrooms-about 4 large ones, diced small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can white beans; navy, great northern or cannellini (or you can cook 1 cup dried)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups fresh kale, torn and loosely packed in the cup
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch or two of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1 teaspoon smoke flavor-to your taste
if you will be cooking your own beans, do that before starting the soup.  when the beans are ready, then begin cooking the vegetables.  if you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them before adding them to the soup.
in a 4 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  add the onions, carrots and mushrooms and saute until the onions are translucent.  add the garlic and saute for a minute or two.  add the beans, broth, thyme and red pepper flakes, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the soup until the carrots are soft.  add the kale and smoke flavor and allow to simmer for a few minutes to wilt the kale.  season with salt and pepper and serve with freshly baked bread.

carrot-ginger dressing

back in june, i attended a food styling workshop hosted by the nashville food bloggers.  it was not only a fun way to spend a saturday morning, it was very informative.  we learned how to style a salad.  sounds easy doesn’t it?  well, while it isn’t rocket science, it is complicated in that you have to arrange things just right or it doesn’t look appetizing and won’t photograph well.

the class was led by teresa blackburn and she showed us two techniques.  first, how to plate an actual salad and all of the components in it and then how to tell the same story with just a forkful of food.  my photos below will tell my story.

when we go out to japanese restaurants, my favorite dish always ends up being the salad served while waiting for sushi to arrive.  more than once, our daughters, and sometimes my husband too,  have passed their bowls to me.  weird, isn’t it?  what could be so wonderful about iceberg lettuce covered in pureed carrots?  well, for me, it’s the dressing.  there has always been something about that dressing for me.  it must be the combination of fresh, raw carrots with ginger and soy sauce, some of my favorite flavors.  recently, i found a recipe for carrot-ginger dressing from saveur magazine.  after making a few subtle changes, our own honey for the sugar and a little sesame oil, i had more than a pint of dressing to  keep me fed for the next week!  then i realized it was a chance to try and photograph a salad using my newly acquired skills.

for the actual bowl of salad, i attempted to use props with an asian flair to them.  i carefully arranged the salad but left it undressed.  next i staged the shot, set up the bounce card on a tripod, put the camera on another tripod and began taking test shots.  finally, i dressed the salad and took some shots.  meh…so disappointing.  i fussed and futzed and so on and so forth.  nothing.  no matter what, it just looked blah.  the lighting was not very interesting either.  it was late afternoon heading to early evening and the light was bordering on harsh.  i almost gave up completely but then had a thought; what if i broke it down and told the story of the salad with just a forkful of food?

it was if the stars suddenly aligned.  the lighting changed and it made the tomatoes and the dressing glow.  the shot isn’t perfect, but i didn’t expect perfection-just a chance to practice the skill.  and of course, to eat a small boatload of salad with carrot-ginger dressing.

saveur carrot-ginger dressing
makes about 4 cups dressing

1 cup vegetable oil-i poured 2 tablespoons sesame oil into the measuring cup and then filled it with canola oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoons sugar-i used wildflower honey from our bees
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
8 ounces carrots, raw-peeled and chopped into pieces
6 ounces onions, diced

the directions call for processing all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  i did this but my food processor left it too chunky for me, i dumped it in the blender and blended it until smooth.  season with salt and pepper if desired.  serve over wedges of iceberg lettuce.  

gardening for cake: zucchini-carrot bundt cake

sometimes, you have to resort to bribery.  to attract volunteers to the demonstration garden, we tell perspective volunteers that there will be cake to snack on.  we also tell them that there are plants and produce to share but the cake seems to get their attention quicker.  but baking a cake every week means that i have to find a recipe and secure the ingredients.  every now and then, someone comes out to the garden with a dietary issue that can make it especially challenging.  we recently had a few volunteers who followed a vegan diet and that makes baking cakes a real challenge.

believe it or not, butter adds moisture and flavor to cakes as well as texture from the fat.  eggs strengthen the structure and help add volume by holding the air that is mixed in during the baking process.  milk and buttermilk add flavor as well as moisture-try substituting water sometime, you will taste the difference.  let’s not forget, a true vegan diet also means no honey since the harvesting process kills bees and honey adds moisture, helps retain moisture with its hygroscopic nature and honestly, it tastes really good in a cake!  when you have to eliminate these items, it can make baking a good cake difficult, even for a pro.

with the garden in full swing now, there are so many possibilities.  berries, figs, peaches, carrots, summer squash and let’s not forget an abundance of herbs to choose from.  in my own garden, i had a few zucchini and some carrots to harvest and they both work well in cakes.  since this is a vegan recipe, i had to make a few changes to the original recipe.  the current darling of the diet world is coconut.  this recipe utilizes both coconut oil and an unsweetened coconut milk beverage rather than the traditional kind in the can.  to find these ingredients, check the natural food section of the grocery store.  the oil is sold in jars and is semi solid at room temperature.  the coconut milk beverage is packed in quart sized cartons and is sold alongside soy and rice milk.  substituting the eggs is tricky.  to get a nice texture with a small crumb, i find that ener-g egg replacer works the best and this can also be found in the same section of the store.

and for those of you that are not interested in baking a vegan cake, this recipe can be quickly converted.  substitute and equal amount of butter for the coconut oil, buttermilk for the coconut beverage and 3 large eggs rather than the equivalent amount of egg replacer.

vegan zucchini-carrot bundt cake
makes 1 bundt cake serving 10-12
1 medium to large carrot
1 zucchini
1/3 cup pecan pieces
4 1/2 teaspoons ener-g egg replacer (or 3 large eggs)
2/3 cup coconut oil (or 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft)
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage (or 1 cup buttermilk)
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.  grate enough carrot and zucchini to measure 2 cups.  place the pecans on a baking tray and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes.  let them cool before using.  whisk the egg replacer into 3 tablespoons warm water and allow it to sit while you begin mixing the batter.
cream the coconut oil with the brown sugar and the salt.  the oil will liquefy as it mixes so it is not necessary to mix for more than a couple minutes.  add the egg replacer and mix well, scrape the bowl too.  sift the flour, baking powder and spice blend over the batter.  fold it in a few times.  sprinkle the coconut beverage over the top of the batter and fold together.  sprinkle the zucchini and carrots over the top and fold together completely.  scrape it into the prepared pan.  bake the cake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

eastern mediteranean pizzas; a tuesdays with dorie recipe

tomatoes are in season, finally.  we were so late at getting them into the garden due to a cool, wet spring that i was beginning to think that we would never have them.  this recipe was the perfect way to use a few ripe ones. 
 the simple recipe calls for few ingredients.  yeast is stirred into water.
 whole wheat flour is added and stirred until silky smooth.

 the sponge is allowed to rest and develop flavor; mine sat for 5 hours.  when i was traveling last year, i brought home a shower cap from the hotel i stayed in.  they are perfect for covering a bowl of dough and they are reusable.

 after resting, all purpose flour is added and stirred in.  once the dough is too stiff to stir, it is kneaded.

 eight to ten minutes later, the dough is ready to rise and double.

 the topping is simple too.  onions and garlic are sauteed.  the recipe calls for the addition of ground lamb but i didn’t want to buy a pound of it for just the needed four ounces; i used a vegetarian ground meat substitute.

 tomatoes from the garden were diced up and added.  after a few minutes of sauteing, they needed to be drained of the juices.  finally, traditional spices were added.

 can you believe the size of this tomato?  have i mentioned how much i love my garden?

 the dough doubled in less than two hours.

 the dough is rolled out by hand.  the directions call to use a well floured surface.  my advice, go lightly with the flour or the dough will not cooperate and will slide around the table.

 the topping is spread around the dough and into the hot oven they went.  i baked them on a stone.

 they baked up quickly.

 the recipe calls for half the dough, i made pita bread with the rest.  i used a cast iron skillet and “baked” them on the stove top.

 the rounds of dough puff up slowly in the skillet.
 suddenly, they will expand
 and you have, pita pockets!

perfect for sandwiches and so much more!  to see what the other bakers came up with, check out the tuesdays with dorie page.  to participate, buy the book, baking with julia.

summer vegetable tart; a tuesdays with dorie challenge

this week, we made a vegetable tart using phyllo dough for the crust.  i knew i had a package lurking in the freezer and i decided to use it rather than buy a new package.  should have just bought the new one…this dough, even though it thawed in the fridge for a day, was not going to cooperate.  it came apart in pieces.  there was no way to get the required 4 sheets and cut them in half.  there was no way to make a shell using 8 half sheets, layed in an overlapping manner.  my shell was a total hack job and i am certain i used more than 4 sheets.

and that folks, is as pretty as it gets.  the directions called for 1/2 a cup of clarified butter.  i simply melted 3 tablespoons and and honestly, it was more than enough-i used about half.  after prebaking the shell, i worked on the filling.

banana peppers from the garden, portobello mushrooms, onions, spinach, garlic, a few cherry tomatoes and a handful of basil, oregano and thyme.  to keep the tart from weeping excessively, i cooked it slowly over low heat.

we watch our cheese consumption here and i am not a goat cheese fan.  this tart had about a cup of blended feta, fontina and romano cheeses, most of it sprinkled over the top.  a quick trip under the broiler gave it a little bit of a melt but not much.

it was mostly vegetable, perfect for summer.  honestly, i would rather have this on a pizza crust with a little white sauce.  the phyllo dough crust just didn’t do much for me.  it certainly was not easy to serve-it was hard to cut cleanly, the crust was not strong enough to support the weight of the filling.  the cheese did not glue it together either.  from a cookbook authors point of view, it was easy to see why they did not include a photo, even a small black and white one; this thing was not pretty.  even so, my husband devoured it and declared it a success.  go figure…

to see what all the other participants made, check out the tuesdays with dorie page.  interested in baking along?  get a copy of the book and jump right in, we’d love to have you join us!

stuffed artichokes; almost as good as grandma’s

growing up in northern new jersey, i knew a few things were certain.  you were likely to be catholic and quite possibly jewish if you weren’t catholic.  if you were catholic, like my family is, then the chances that you were irish or italian were pretty high.  for me and my siblings, there was no either or, we are both irish and italian.  
like most families, our food traditions were firmly based around our ethnicity.  for my mother’s family, my irish side, it was new england yankee all the way.  we can trace our roots back before the civil war on this side making the menu a traditional american one.  not so much on my father’s italian side.  they came to america long after the civil war, just around the turn of the century making them italian americans.  my great grandmother held on to the tradition of an italian woman; she did a lot of cooking and almost all of it from scratch, including some of the pasta dishes.  the sunday dinners looked more like a feast and we won’t even get started on holiday dinners.  ask my father about them, he can speak at length to the tradition of the seven fishes on christmas eve.  all i can remember is the jello she would make for me and all of the milano cookies my great grandfather would share with me.
my grandmother however was not a traditional woman.  she was a career woman.  having lost her husband to world war two, she went to work as a secretary in an office in new york city.  after my great grandmother passed away, she began cooking and sunday dinner became her responsibility.  what i remember most from those dinners; mountains of fusilli, meat balls so unbelievably tender, a salad served after the meal and it was often little more than chickory with red wine vinegar, the occasional plate of raw fennel slices, and artichokes filled with a moist bread stuffing.
more than once, i shared an artichoke with a friend who did not know what they were.  after explaining how you just scraped the leaves on your teeth to get the flesh, i mainly got odd looks and a hasty “no thanks”.  when my children came along, i shared this with them as well.  luckily for me, my husband knew all about artichokes and enjoyed them almost as much as i do.  both of my girls will dig into one with out any coaxing.  so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we planted some in our garden.  earlier this week, i picked our first three and they were part of our dinner that night.

 artichokes are members of the thistle family and if you let the blooms mature, they look like thistle flowers on steroids.

 the flower heads consist of leaves with a tiny thorn on the end of each one.  the thorns must be trimmed away before eating.

 each main flower is located on the end of the branch but each leaf on the branch also develops a side bloom.

 since we do not use any chemicals on our vegetables, they needed a good cleaning.  i soaked the trimmed heads in salt water to help flush out the critters.

 to fill the centers, i mixed up some plain bread crumbs with fresh parsley, salt, pepper and a little granulated garlic.  after combining this, i added a little olive oil to moisten it and then filled the centers.  to make it worth the effort, i packed it in there as best as i could.

 to cook them, i placed them in a pot with about an inch or so of vegetable stock and let them simmer, covered, for an hour and a half.  to keep them moist, i replenished the vegetable stock as it reduced.

they are done when you can pull a leaf out easily-pull one half way between the top and bottom towards the middle of the choke to get the best idea.  taste it, it should be creamy and soft not at all chalky or astringent.  now for the hard part, waiting for more to grow…

the nashville farmers market

when we first moved to nashville 17 years ago, we went to the farmers market.  it was a far cry from the ones we had been visiting in san francisco bay area.  there was a definite lack of exotic produce such as the plethora of asian herbs and produce we were accustomed to.  never mind finding anything organic either; it just wasn’t there.

what we were thrilled with was how a small farmer could pull his truck into a stall and sell what he had picked that morning.  maybe it was silver queen corn or watermelons or turnip greens or some other seasonal vegetable.  it really didn’t matter to us as it was affordable and it was fresh.  then, sadly, local politics and various nonsense got in the way and the farmers market became something of a joke.  too many of the vendors there were simply reselling produce they had purchased from wholesale produce houses.  it bordered on ridiculous; bananas, oranges and pineapples? honestly, were we supposed to believe they were locally grown and fresh?

with a resurgence in all things local and some management changes for the better, the nashville farmer’s market now looks much more like a real farmers market.  sure, some of the vendors still resell (wholesale purchased) produce.  but many more are squeezing in with fresh, locally grown produce.  on a recent trip downtown, i lugged the camera bag with me and set out to see what i could find.

seventeen years later and fresh picked corn in the bed of a pickup truck is still a magnet for both myself and my husband.  this was labelled silver king, a white corn.

 when it comes to hot peppers, i am a bit of a wuss.  however, that does not stop me from growing my own or making my own hot sauce.

 smileys farm in ridgetop is always one of my stops.  they always have plenty to look at.  known for their turnip greens, you can always count on their produce to be locally produced.  looking at the crookneck squash they had on display had me wondering…

 a sure sign that fall is approaching; hard squash of all kinds.  we had several dumpling squash vines in our garden and we only picked 3 before the vines gave up.

 another tennessee delicacy, bradley tomatoes.  
 eggplants-don’t you just love the pattern on the skin?  somebody fire up the grill!
 more peppers, not sure what kind, i forgot to look at the sign!

 before moving to tennesee, i had never heard of scuppernongs or muscadine grapes.  they are native to the area and make great jelly and wine.  the skins are not edible and they have a lot of seeds making it necessary to cook them, strain them to remove the skins and seeds and then cook them again to make jelly or pie with the pulp and juice.

 time has flown and i am just not ready to shift over to fall.  
 hardly local now, these were coming in from south carolina
 more hard squash; i am so not ready for fall…

 lined up on the shelves like soldiers, i found myself mesmerized by the pattern the perfectly straight rows of jars made.  the selection of jams, jellies, preserves and butters was never ending.  it would have been very easy to pick up 3 or 4 or 12 different ones.

and as always, there is always that one guy who has to make a spectacle of himself.  amidst all of the jars of relish, preserves and what not stood two jars of neon pink pickled eggs.  why pink?

keep it local, visit a farmers market near you and keep a farmer in business.