Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It’s the greens time of year

Spring is that time when I’m once again surrounded by greens. I’ve been enjoying fresh salads for weeks, throwing in some arugula, spinach and herbs with my red leaf lettuce. It’s so fresh and sweet, and I can change the taste regularly depending on what I add to the greens, that spring salads can make me happy nearly daily.

Tonight I cooked with some of our first batch of Red Russian Kale. It’s the kind of kale that has grown the best in our garden, flourishing to give us large, hearty leaves and many plants that thrive. Keep in mind that kale is filled with vitamins A, C and K and had multiple other nutritional benefits. It is in the cruciferous vegetable category, along with cabbage and broccoli, which you should eat daily to help prevent cancer. If you didn’t plant any this spring, order seeds now to plant later in the summer for a fall crop.

Here’s my favorite, and easiest, way to prepare a quick, warm kale side dish.

Kale with caramelized onions and toppings

Begin by caramelizing onions 20 – 30 minutes before you want to complete the dish. Caramelizing onions is as simple as slicing them thinly and cooking them on low in a little olive oil, butter (or a little of both) plus a couple sprinkles of salt. Stir now and then, letting them do their thing until they are soft and sweet.

For the kale, begin by taking out the stems. You can chop and cook them as well if you like. To remove the stem easily, fold the leaves forward and pull the stem back and away from the leaves. Chop and soak a short while in cold water.

Warm your favorite oil in a large skillet. I like using cast iron. I typically use olive or sesame. Sprinkle in a little red pepper if you want a touch of spice. Add more if you like lots of spice! Chop a large garlic clove and add.

Squeeze water out of handful of kale leaves. Add kale in layers. Sprinkle with salt. When it wilts a bit, add another layer and sprinkle more salt. I can typically fit three nice layers into my large skillet. Stir as it wilts so everything is cooked evenly. When the kale is finished, turn off the heat. Add caramelized onions and a handful of dried cranberries. Toast seeds or nuts to top. Tonight I toasted sunflower seeds.

Enjoy the goodness!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Special pasta calls for homemade sauce and meatballs

The spaghetti noodles were as long as my arm. And red because of the pepperocino (red pepper flakes) the Italian pasta maker put into them. They’ve been in the cabinet since last month and I couldn’t wait to try them. So with the final bit of our home-grown tomato sauce from last year, I prepared spaghetti and meatballs.

Meatballs can be a little tricky as any sort of ground meat pressed together in any shape will be dry if not done with some important additions. One trick for good meatballs is to not over-mix . Also, form them with a light touch—you’re not pressing them together with all your strength, just enough so they’ll stay together.

To get a good size, I use my ice cream scoop to form them, finish with my palm.

Try this recipe and see what you think.

Beth’s Spaghetti and Meatballs
2 lbs. ground beef
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk
1 cup grated Romano cheese (Parmesan works, too)
½ cup grated onion (this adds moisture that chopping doesn’t)
½ tsp. each salt, pepper, garlic powder
½ cup dry bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place raised baking racks on two cookie sheets. (This allows the meatballs to cook evenly throughout. I used my two cooling racks and two small grill racks from outdoor grills.) Coat with non-stick spray. Mix ingredients together with your hands. Form balls using an ice cream scoop. Place on racks. (This will fill the two baking sheets.) Cook for 15 – 20 minutes.

By the way, when my parsley from the garden is ready for cutting, I’ll add some of that to the recipe.

While baking, warm your favorite tomato sauce on top of the stove. Add finished meatballs to the pan. Bring to light boil then turn down to simmer for an hour or so to allow the flavors to mingle.

Serve over your favorite pasta. And try the red pepper flake spaghetti if you can find it or make it. It adds a special bite that makes this dish something you’ll want to eat again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Flowers enliven a rainy day

The morning rain made my garden too wet for weeding and planting, but the raindrops on the flowers glistened, beckoning me to bring some of that beauty indoors. One of my favorite things to do when the flowers are blooming is to make arrangement for the house, or to give to friends. Peonies have been sending their beautiful fragrance through the living room and daisies have been smiling at me.

But it’s not only flowers that make for a pretty arrangement. Today’s combination includes:
2 Our Lady of Guadalupe roses
3 flowering chives
3 flowering sage branches
5 wispy branches of a flowering bush whose name I don’t recall. I rarely get flowers on the little bush because it doesn’t get enough summer sunlight, but it still beautifies an arrangement.

Those multi-purpose herbs are among my favorites. They only bloom in the spring but the rest of the year they provide gifts to enhance the vegetables I’m growing.

A couple of weeks ago when the Lillies of the Valley were in bloom I discovered a new trick for arranging them. They aren’t tall flowers so they do pose a challenge. I routinely save glass bottles and jars of all sorts, assuming I’ll find a use for them one day. Indeed, one of them was perfect for the short Lillies. I used an old herb shaker, with the shaker top still intact, as a vase. I first cut a piece of fabric to wrap around the container, fastened it with a ribbon that I tied into a bow, then put one or two flower stems through each hole. It was the perfect size for those little blooms.

So challenge yourself. Be creative. Walk among your flowers and listen. Maybe they’ll whisper ideas for how they would like to take a little beauty into your life today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Festivals introduce products to get excited about

It’s festival season here in Kentucky so I spent Saturday at our annual herb festival here in town and Sunday at the Mountain Mushroom Festival in Irvine, Kentucky. At both festivals I found local foods and other products that I was excited to bring home.

For years, I’ve been experimenting with various natural forms of sugar to use as sweeteners. When I met the folks from Healthy Hills Farm in Salvisa, I was thrilled to learn you can actually tap trees for maple syrup just two counties away from where I live. I purchased maple syrup and honey from them for my sweetener experimentation.

I’ve also been searching for truly healthy body products to use. I find one here and there that I like, but then I truly study the ingredients and find they aren’t as pure and natural as I had hoped. That isn’t the case with Sassa Bella. I had a wonderful conversation with owner Erin, a former engineer who has done extensive research to provide the safest products. I hope to have a more in-depth conversation with her that I plan to share, after I use her products for awhile.

Of course it wouldn’t have been an herb festival experience without a good conversation with Glenda from McQerry’s Flatwoods Farm Herbs-N-Heirlooms in Paint Lick. She has a greenhouse packed with herbs every spring and this year she had several I couldn’t resist: scented Geranium (to chase bugs from the garden), lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander, rue and pennyroyal. I also purchased Mountain Mint from the folks at Terrapin Hill Farm. Rubbing its leaves on the skin is also supposed to chase away mosquitoes. I’ll let you know what I learn further about these herbs throughout the summer.

I continued the festival adventures on Sunday as my husband and I drove for about an hour into the mountains to the mushroom festival. We arrived just in time for a mushroom cooking demonstration. The fried Morels didn’t have much flavor, but when we found Shitakes for sale (grown on a log), we bought a pound. We sautéed those last night with caramelized onions. What a wonderful treat that was!

We also met Mark from Miller's Grist Mill in Crittenden, Kentucky. He recommended the popcorn meal for cornbread and the popcorn grits. I prepared the popcorn grits for breakfast today. They were definitely the most flavorful grits I’ve ever eaten and all I added was a small bit of butter and very little salt.

The adventures will continue as I tend the herbs, cook with the foods and try the body products. I hope you’ll get out and explore your own area festivals for treats that make each one truly unique.