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Birthday Greens

Working fifty hours a week has kept me out of the kitchen, but yesterday we belatedly celebrated Isaac's 60th birthday with a cake and a home-cooked meal.

  • Spiral-sliced ham (a heat-and-serve shortcut)
  • Hot German Potato Salad
  • Swiss Chard with Garlic
  • Pumpkin Walnut Bundt Cake with Spiced Rum Glaze

The cake recipe went up yesterday, and the potato salad deserves a post of its own, so here is the swiss chard. I really must flesh out my essay on cooking greens and get that posted. I shall do that in my copious free time ...

Swiss Chard with Garlic
  • 1 bunch swiss chard
  • 1-2 slices of bacon (or a splash of olive oil)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or more)
  • salt
  • pepper

Wash the chard well, especially if it's from the farmers' market rather than a supermarket. Dump it into a sink of cold water, swoosh it around, then drain the water. Repeat until you don't see any more dirt or sand at the bottom of the sink. Set aside.

In a large frying pan (one with a lid) or wide, shallow sauce pan, fry up the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and pour out most of the bacon grease.

While the bacon is frying, cut off the very ends of the chard stems and discard. Tear off the leaves from the thickest part of the stems. Chop the stems in little slices. Once the bacon and most of the fat is out of the pan, put over moderate heat and toss in the stems. Stir them a bit, then add the minced garlic. Let the garlic and stems cook a minute or so while you prepare the leafy bits.

Roll up the leaves into big cigar shapes and slice across into shreds maybe 1/4 inch wide (precision is not important). Add to the pan with the stems and garlic and toss it around. Shake on some salt and pepper to taste. Cover. The moisture still clinging to the leaves will steam the greens. Give it a good stir every few minutes.

Once it's wilted to your liking, turn off the heat. If you're using a heavy pan with a good lid, you can also turn off the heat any time after it starts to steam and just let it sit with the cover on. It will continue to wilt until you're ready for it.

Crumble the bacon over the greens, toss and serve.

I didn't actually add the bacon back in last night, as I was using it in the potato salad. I usually make this with olive oil, so if I'm using bacon I don't use much salt. Along with the salt, pepper, and garlic, you could also add dried red pepper flakes, or maybe a couple of drops of hot sauce or hot sesame oil. To taste, of course. Hey, it's your dinner--make it the way you like!


Lentils and Sausage

As promised on Facebook, last Friday night's dinner:

Lentil and Italian Sausage Soup

From the Nyack Farmers' Market:
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage (hot would also be good)
  • 1 or 2 onions, diced
  • 1 clove organic garlic
  • 4-5 ribs of organic celery, with leaves
  • 1 small bunch of organic carrots, or 3-4 large carrots
  • 1 bunch organic purple kale

From the grocery and pantry:
  • 1 lb organic dried lentils
  • 1 bottle lager
  • 1 can (or two) organic diced tomatoes
  • bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper

From the garden:
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • a few basil leaves
  • sprig of oregano
  • sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bell pepper
  • tomatoes

Take a large pot, larger than you think you'll need, and heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in it.

Remove casing from sausage, if desired, chunk it up into small pieces, maybe the size of half-inch meatballs, and saute in the oil over medium heat until it doesn't look raw anymore. Then toss in the onions, stir and cook until onions are soft but not brown. Mince the garlic and add to the onions. Cook for a minute or so.

Rinse off the lentils and toss into the pot. Add a bottle of lager, a couple of bottles of water, and the canned tomatoes, enough liquid to cover plus about an inch.

Tie the herbs with a bit of string or into cheesecloth and toss into the pot. Alternately, strip the leaves off the stems, mince all but the bay leaf and toss into the pot.

Bring pot up to a boil for a minute or so, then cover and reduce heat to simmer.

While it’s simmering, chop the carrots and celery into small slices. Mince the celery leaves. Dice the bell pepper. Toss each into the pot as they are chopped. If there are any garden tomatoes left, dice a couple and toss them in, too. Return to a simmer after each addition.

The kale you’ll need to clean in several changes of water, especially if it’s from the Farmers’ Market. Otherwise, you’ll be adding a lot of sand, dirt and grit to the pot. Once it’s clean, strip the leaves from the toughest part of the stem. Roll into cigar shapes, slice and slice again crosswise. Add them to the pot, too.

If it looks like it needs more liquid, add a little more water, broth, or beer, or another can of tomatoes. It should be soupy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, the lentils have been simmering for maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Cover and simmer another 45 minutes or so until both the lentils and kale are tender.

Fish out the bay leaf and the twiggy herbs, ladle into big bowls and serve.

We had some leftover rice, so I added a bit to the bowls. You could also add pasta, something like a small shell shape, in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Add the pasta (not too much) bring soup up to a boil, then return to a simmer.

Next time, I might use less water and more tomatoes, or even tomato juice. As usual, it will depend on what I have in the pantry.


Kale Soup (with a Digression on Chicken Stock)

I never cooked greens until a year or so ago; they just weren't part of my diet growing up, and I really didn't know what to do with them. I started experimenting with them, and now I use them a lot, and will throw them into all sorts of dishes. Here's one from last week.

Kale and Smoked Turkey Soup

Wash well two bunches of flat-leafed kale (might be called Lacinato or dinosaur kale.) Cut off the thick end of the stems, if any, and chop the rest coarsely. Set aside.

Throw some olive oil in a good-sized pot over low to medium heat. Add a diced onion and cook slowly until onion is soft, but not brown. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, minced.

Slice the meat off of a smoked turkey leg. Save the bone for something else. Dice the meat into maybe 1/2 inch chunks. Toss in with the onions and garlic and stir.

Chop up a couple of carrots and a few ribs of celery, including the leaves. Add that to the pot and stir. Let cook for a minute or two.

Add about 4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth*, some parsley from the garden, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and toss the kale on top. Cover and let the kale steam until soft.

Take a cup or so of leftover rice from the fridge and stir it into the soup. When rice is warm, ladle into bowls and serve.

*I used homemade broth cobbled together from the soup stock scrap bag in the freezer. All the raw chicken or turkey skin and trimmings that would normally get thrown away get tossed in there, along with rotisserie chicken carcasses and scraps of onions, carrots, celery and parsley. When the bag is full, it goes into the crock pot along with water to cover, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. I let it brood for for the day, strain out all the bits, then refrigerate until I can remove the solidified fat from the top. It then gets divided into one-cup portions in freezer containers. Those go into the freezer for whenever I need stock.

Before the Summer is Gone

Thought I’d better get this uploaded before the summer is officially over:

Late Summer Garden Pasta

Harvest all the ripe tomatoes and bell peppers from the patio pots. Grab a handful or two of basil and oregano while you're out there.

Get some fresh spinach from the organic grocer. Wash well, stem and coarsely chop.

Start a generous pot of water for the pasta. I like quinoa spirals, but that’s because I avoid wheat. Use what you like.

Heat a little olive oil in a large pan over low to medium heat. Grab a good-sized yellow onion from the pantry, dice, and toss in with the olive oil. Give it a good stir, then let it cook slowly for a few minutes. You want to "sweat" it, not brown it. Let the onion cook, stirring occasionally, while you prep the peppers.

Seed and dice the peppers. Toss them in with the onions and stir. Let cook while you dice the tomatoes.

Cut cherry, grape or little yellow pear tomatoes (they are so cute!) in half. Larger tomatoes chop coarsely, maybe one-half to one inch pieces. Set aside.

Take a couple of cloves of garlic from the pantry, place on cutting board and whack with the side of a large knife. Peel away the papery skin and mince. Throw in the pot with the onions and peppers. Stir., and let cook for a minute or two.

Add the tomatoes to the pot. Mince the basil and oregano, toss in the pot, and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Dump the spinach into the pot, cover, and reduce heat to low. Leave it alone while you cook the pasta.

By now, the water should be boiling. Put in the dried pasta, stir, and cook according to package directions. Drain the pasta and set aside.

By the time the pasta is done, the spinach will be wilted. Give the the vegetables in the pot a good stir, then dump in the pasta. Toss it all together.

Serve in deep bowls as is, or with a sprinkle of shredded Pecorino Romano.


Simple Spicy Catfish with Veggie Rice

Veggie Rice
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced small
  • 1 bell pepper (bought) and one small banana pepper (grown), diced larger than the onion
  • 1 medium, 2 small, and 5 tiny tomatoes out of the garden
  • 1 surprisingly large clove of garlic, minced
  • 5 ribs celery hearts, including leaves, sliced
  • 1-1/4 cup white rice
  • 2-1/2 cups water (or some sort of broth)
  • 3 sprigs thyme from the garden
  • 1 basil leaf from the garden
  • salt
  • pepper

Throw a good splash of olive oil in a pot or pan. Add onions and stir until they start softening. Add peppers; cook for a couple of minutes, then add garlic and celery. Stir for about a minute, add rice, and cook for another couple of minutes. Add water, herbs and spices and stir. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Let stand until the fish is done, fluff and serve.

Simple Spicy Catfish
  • catfish filets
  • olive oil
  • Zatarain's Creole Seasoning

Drizzle both sides of filets with olive oil, then cover generously with Zatarain's.

When the rice is nearly ready, put fish under the broiler. Time using the Canadian Cooking Method (measure fish at thickest point, cook 10 minutes per inch; double the time if the fish is frozen).

Serve with beer or other beverage of your choice.

The rice could be much spicier, but I kept it mild as a counterpoint to the fish. Leftover veggie rice can be used as a light lunch or as a side dish for another meal.


Summer Noodles

Here’s a nice summery sweet and sour salad I’ve been experimenting with lately. It’s adapted from "Vinegar Noodles," a recipe I clipped out of a magazine, probably from Taste of Home. It reminds me of my mother’s cucumber and onion salad, crossed with a 1980s pasta salad. Adjust the sugar/vinegar balance to your taste.

Summer Noodles
a work in progress

  • 2-3 cups uncooked spiral pasta. I use tri-color brown rice pasta.
  • 1 or 2 cucumbers, about 1/12-2 cups, sliced very thin
  • 1 onion, about 1 cup, halved and sliced very thin
  • fresh parsley, chopped, maybe 1/4 cup
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced very fine, or use a garlic press
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 c white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 c white sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp (1/2 tablespoon) brown mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Cook pasta to package directions. Drain.

While pasta is cooking, whisk together in large bowl


Add warm pasta and sliced vegetables, toss well. Refrigerate at least an hour.

If I had fresh dill, I'd probably add that, too.

Really good with leftover herbed pork roast. Cut pork into cubes and heat about two minutes in the microwave; while still warm, toss into the noodles. I'll bet it would be good with canned or fresh-cooked garbanzo beans or kidney beans, too.