Every week I pull a cookbook or two off the shelf, flip through and figure out what I’m going to eat that week. Sometimes I use the author’s recipes, a lot of the time I let their recipes influence how I use what’s already in the pantry. A couple weeks ago it was the new Canal House cookbook, last week Smitten Kitchen’s cookbook, and this week The Pioneer Woman’s cookbook. I’m all about simple comforting meals, which is exactly what the ladies behind all those books like too – or at least write about.
In general I’m not a fussy eater and certainly not a fancy one. My favorite food comes in styrofoam containers from places you may or may not want to dine at – yes, to those in the know I’m speaking about Southern barbecue. It’s not expensive, it’s “just” homemade and darn good. The only caveat in those meals – that the meat came from a farm the owners of said establishments know and the animals were not fed a diet of candy corn (isn’t that what some idiot was doing out west?). Oh, and don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoy eating right out of my garden – God’s salad bar, or what I paid/pay $$ to maintain – and certainly anything from the farmers’ market….but I guess it’s how the food is prepared, how those ingredients come together. I’ve yet to have anything but an extraordinary gastronomic experience when dining at a farmer’s house and my friend RC over at Ezra Pound Cake does a bang it out of the ballpark job with good ingredients in a short amount of time. She, like me, is all about the comfort food. You go girl.
Someone did an interview last summer and I only found out about it a few weeks ago where they essentially said they only like fancy expensive food. Here’s what I have to say – you are really missing out – not just on cheap food – but on life. Oh, and for heaven’s sake don’t try traveling outside this country or even bother with the Pacific Northwest, Los Angeles – heck California, and any number of towns – okay really ANYWHERE – because what’s the point you’ve already doomed yourself. Cheap food is one of the great pleasures of life. …Sorry folks I didn’t mean to launch into this midway through a post on kale salad…but having shoved an inch of icy mush off my steps the morning of the final day of March, well I’m having right at it.
Where were we…right I was ranting about someone who eats food for a living and essentially said cheap food isn’t good. I was taking up for all the boardwalk stands, food trucks, diners, and ethnic restaurants with cheap and delicious lunchtime specials…I may be high maintenance, I may want pure maple syrup not the fake stuff with my pancakes, I may want ethically raised and slaughtered pork, but I am not a food elitist.
The art of fancy expensive food isn’t lost on me. I know and have a huge amount of respect for the palettes of certain persons who love it. I think it’s delicious too – at least what I’ve sampled – but if I’ve got a choice it’s going to be the Po’ Boy at Eventide in Portland or just about anything from Blue Rooster Co. (also in Portland) before I ante up to the big boys table.
Cheap does not equal bad, not always. Not anymore than expensive or luxury. Anything can be bad, but anything can be good too.
Alright, then how about that salad..
The kale salad I made from the Smitten Kitchen’s Cookbook – see how I’m jerking us back into the topic of the post – is simple, homemade comfort food.
Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
1/2 cup pecans
8 ounces black kale, also known as Lacinato, Dinosaur, or Tuscan Kale
4-medium large radishes
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350, and spread pecans on a tray. Toast for 5-10 minutes, tossing once or twice to make sure they toast evenly. Remove from oven, set aside to cool.
Wash kale and let dry on spread-out kitchen towels. Then, with a knife, remove the rib from each stalk, leaving long strips of kale leaves. Stack the leaves in small batches, roll them tightly the long way, and cut the roll crosswise into thin ribbons. Add the kale ribbons to a large salad bowl.
Thinly slice the radishes, and add to bowl. Coarsely chop the pecans and cherries (I don’t chop the cherries), and add them as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small dish, and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss the salad until it is evenly coated with dressing. This salad is great to eat right away, but even better after 20 minutes of tenderizing in the dressing (I wouldn’t know – personally I let sit for 5-10 minutes).
Yesterday, NPR reported that thanks to Rohit Karnik, a mechanical engineer at MIT, all you need to drink clean water is a stick! Okay, so maybe there’ s a little more to it than that…but his concept is till pretty low-tech.
Why is this important? Well, I’m not a scientist but I’m pretty sure every living thing needs water. Even ants drink water.
And, some of us should be drinking more water than we do – and this really should go without saying, but less soda.
According to Web MD (okay, not always the best authority) the #1 benefit to consuming water – it helps maintain the balance of body fluids. #2 water can help control calories. #3 water helps energize muscles #4 water helps keep skin looking good #5 water helps your kidneys #6 water helps maintain normal bowel function.
Some pretty common sense stuff.
It’s so easy when you live in a first world country to get clean/drinkable water. Free, right out of the tap! Markets are stocked with bottles of it – you’ve even got the choice of brand and whether you want lime or lemon flavored. There’s no excuse I can manage for not drinking water every day.
Did you know nearly 1 billion people cannot access safe, clean water. Every day in rural communities and poor urban centers throughout sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of millions of people suffer from a lack of access to clean, safe water. Women and girls especially bear the burden of walking miles at a time to gather water from streams and ponds – full of water-borne disease that is making them and their families sick. Want to help – check out The Water Project.
Want the bittersweet side effects to drinking soda, go here.
My personal soda/water story is this. While living in Los Angeles I drank soda and ran and gained weight (okay and I was eating processed foods). In Maine I drink a lot more water and hardly ever soda and granted hardly any processed foods and run/workout (same amount as in LA) and I weigh less and feel healthier.
When I was giving up soda in favor of water I’d add slices of lemon or lime or cucumber to the water and I found I much prefer seltzer water to soda anyway. Do you have any natural water flavoring tips/combos?
Gotta run, but drink your water.
Sharing my favorite smoothie recipe with you. Apologies for not posting new content during this week – promise to plan better for future wellness/nutrition coverage this week. Life just takes the reigns away from you sometimes!
Go here for Joy the Bakery’s Kale Spinach Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie. Enjoy!!!
I went down the rabbit hole with the start of this series on coffee I’m doing with my friend – the very informed and passionate – A.F. of Portland Food Map (I love that site!). There is just so much research to fall in love with – the history, process, environmental problems associated with it, the beautifully rich taste of a cup brewed just right. This is just the kind of subject I can really get myself in trouble with – I’m one of those writers whose really more of a researcher – I love learning and my interest knows few if any boundaries. I picked up five books related to the subject and could read more – not to mention the plethora of great stuff online and omg all the emails from scientists I got with the coolest information…and there I go pulling you into the rabbit hole. Pause, breathe, exhale…okay back on subject…
With a general consumption of caffeine on the rise this is a relevant time to explore how coffee is grown, harvested, processed, and assigned a flavor profile.
In the Root’s newest series on coffee, we will be looking at some of the craftsmen who make up Maine’s rapidly evolving specialty coffee industry. Their coffee is the antithesis of the water-soluble instant coffee you will find in grocery stores or the over-roasted cup from the corner Starbucks.
Have you ever thought where the coffee you wake up to every morning comes from? How a cup of coffee connects you to people and natural environments in countries thousands of miles away?
There’s a lot to learn! Here are links to part one and part two – both featuring parts of conversations I’ve had with A.F. and Matt B. of Speckled Ax. Sip slowly there are two more parts coming – most likely in March. ox
During a recent weekend in Vermont a mutual friend introduced me to Deirdre Heekin, who owns the wonderful restaurant and wine bar – Osteria Pane e Salute – with her husband head chef Caleb Barber. Everything about her and the restaurant exuded charm so I was thrilled when she dropped copies of her books into my arms. I stayed up reading In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love, a beautifully written book about nurturing oneself and the great cuisine of Italy. One of the dog-eared pages contains a recipe for Meatballs with Orange and Mint. I made the meatballs last weekend and all week have been meaning to post this recipe – want it to by my Valentine to you dear readers. It’s a little late or perhaps on time – depending on your plans and when you do your shopping. Nurture yourselves with a bowl of spaghetti and these meatballs. Light a fire in the fireplace or wood stove if you have one. Light the candles too. Put on some Italian music – thank everything for Pandora and all those international channels. Let yourselves be swept away to a warmer climate and the charms of Italy. ox
Polpettine al Arancio e Menta (Meatballs with Orange and Mint) from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber
1 pound ground beef (or ground pork)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated orange zest
2 Tbsp minced parsley
1/4 cup minced mint leaves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil, for browning
In a large mixing bowl and using your hands, combine the beef, bread crumbs, orange zest, eggs, herbs, and salt and pepper, and mix well. Form the mixture into small meatballs about as big around as the diameter of a nickel, but no larger, and set them aside on a baking tray or plates. Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet until a haze just begins to form over the pan, put in some of the meatballs, but don’t overcrowd the pan, and lower the heat to medium. Cook the meatballs, turning them gently with a spatula or by shaking the pan, until lightly browned. Test one of the plumper meatballs for doneness by cutting it in half: no pink meat should remain in the middle. Raise the heat to high and add just a little of the orange juice, tilting the pan carefully to glaze all the meatballs. Remove the cooked meatballs onto paper towels to drain, and then repeat the cooking process with any remaining meatballs, wiping out the pan between batches with a paper towel.
This past week I wrote about kelp farming in Maine, and the beans of Maine. Tollef Olson, the founder of the farming operation – Ocean Approved – became fascinated with the ocean as a child with Jules Verne’s science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. By the time he started Ocean Approved several years ago he had been on the water for nearly four decades as a commercial fisherman, marine consultant, and marine salvage expert. As the latter, he participated in successful operations in South America, Europe, South East Asia, Australia, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, working on high profile projects such as the 1715 Treasure Fleet and the Geldermalsen wrecks.
For the bean story I learned about their heritage from Patti Qua who has been growing old varieties since 1980. She helped teach me how unique beans are – how beautiful. People have been growing beans in Maine for over 500 years – since the days of the first American Indians. From Saco to Caribou, they have been served for breakfast, lunch, and most famously Saturday night dinners in homes, churches, and formerly logging camps. “There was a time when every region and in some cases every family or groups of families had it’s own favorite bean, maybe locally adapted for certain growing conditions or maybe they were just preferred in the kitchen because that’s the bean grandmother used,” Sam Hayward said. Sam and other Portland, Maine chefs talked to me about how they use them at their restaurants. Sam even gave a couple recipes including one for Cannellini Bean Stew, which I’ll be making after a trip for some of Qua’s beans next week.
The more I write about agriculture – about food sources in Maine – the more I realize the treasures are not just in the ground, trees, seas – but in the very special people who grow and harvest them and those too who prepare and cook them. As my friend MW said “It’s a Wonderful Life.” ox
This past weekend we got our first snowstorm of the season in southeastern and south-central Maine. Thankfully, it was so cold the snow was really light and easy to shovel. I gave up on having my driveway plowed by a professional last year after my plow man of the past two years tried to hold me over a barrel – raising his price for plowing on the spot for what I could have shoveled. Being able bodied and needing a workout on the days I cannot get to the gym due to snow I’ve realized shoveling is a bonus. It’s a workout, opportunity to get out of the house, and sort of adult snow play – I have yet to start making snow angels to help clear the driveway…but life is young and there is plenty of snow to be had..so…
Saturday night as the snow began to fall I made the following recipe for Sunday Lasagna. I didn’t mean to use a vegan recipe, it just happened. It was enjoyed on Sunday, Monday, and shall be tonight. So nice to have something already prepared so I did not have to leave the fire in the wood stove or football games for too long just to reheat it. Nothing beats homemade comfort food, except when it’s leftover homemade comfort food. Enjoy. ox
Sunday Lasagna from Whole Foods Market magazine
If using regular instead of no-boil noodles, use 12 ounces and increase the cooking time by 20 minutes.
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
8 oz. sliced baby bella mushrooms (I eliminated)
2 small zucchini, sliced into half-moons
3 garlic cloves, minced (I used four, I love garlic)
2 jars (24 oz each) fat-free pasta sauce (I used regular not fat-free)
Filling and Pasta:
2 tubs (28oz.) firm tofu, drained
1/2 cup plain almond milk or soy milk (I used almond)
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 cups (8 oz) shredded vegan mozzarella cheese (I used 2 cups real mozzarella and hand shredded)
8 oz. egg-free, no-boil whole wheat lasagna noodles (I used regular not whole wheat)
1.Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp water, vegetables, and garlic; cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce; simmer 10 minutes.
2.Preheat oven to 350.
3. In a food processor, blend tofu, nondairy milk, and juice to consistency of ricotta. Put in bowl; stir in oregano, basil, salt, pepper, 1 Tbsp parsley, and 1 1/2 cups cheese.
4. Spoon thin layer of sauce into 13×9-inch baking dish. Arrange noodles in pan over sauce, leaving space around each. Spread one-third of cheese mixture over noodles. Spoon one-fourth of sauce over cheese, dousing noodles. Repeat layers of noodles, cheese, and sauce to make 4 layers of noodles. Top final layer of noodles with remaining sauce and 1 1/2 cups cheese.
5. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Broil for a few minutes, if necessary, to brown the top.
6. Top with remaining 1 Tbsp parsley. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.
The holidays and comfort food go hand in hand, but not every dish has to be a huge production. Following are a couple meals I put together recently that filled everyone’s bellies and didn’t take a long time to prepare.
Chickpea Soup with Parsley and Parmesan from Martha Stewart Living magazine (an old issue, I pulled this out of my recipe file). If you serve in mugs, guests will still need spoons. Break apart a baguette and serve with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and a nice quince jam.
Lamb Sausages with Harissa Sweet Potatoes from the October 2013 issue of Rachel Ray magazine (note, I made with turkey sausages). Serve with salad (I just did simple greens with a Hawaiian sea salt/lemon/olive oil dressing).
For dessert – Spiced Pumpkin Bread Pudding – recipe from Tartine Bakery in Fine Cooking magazine (I don’t know which issue, this was also in my recipe file).
Let’s say you have a day to yourself between cooking, cleaning, shopping, entertaining, working, and if you are so lucky – outdoor sports. Let’s say you live in Maine, where on a sunny day with temps in the low 30s you can be outside in non ski wear for about an hour without worrying about frostbite and then you want to be inside for a while. Let’s say there is no football on. Folks, it’s movie marathon time.
Snack time – this is my new favorite combination!! Sesame sticks, salted peanuts, wasabi peas, goji berries, Japanese rice crackers. Great with wine, eggnog, beer, Dr. Pepper (please don’t judge). It’s a nice alternative to popcorn.