An Irishman, An Italian and A Portuguese Walk Into A Kitchen…

Look at this soup, just bursting with healthfulness. Well, that and butter.

Last week, like millions of other mutts all across America, I celebrated my fractional Irish heritage (in my case, the fraction is a respectable 1/4) by cooking a corned beef and a great, warm, buttery pot of colcannon–and then foisting them on my pizza-and-hot-dog-loving family. The children loved the meat, as well as the carrots I’d cooked along with it, and Daughter Dearest even scarfed down most of her colcannon. Who says that “you can’t even TASTE the green stuff!” isn’t a ringing endorsement?

In the following days, the corned beef was put to delicious use as sandwich innards; I had a couple of butter-soaked and Bacon Salt-ed bowls of colcannon late at night, when no one was looking. Nevertheless, I was left with an awful lot of leftovers–including half a large bag of kale. There also happened to be a few cans of white beans and some lovely Yukon Golds in my pantry, so it occurred to me that I might make a batch of caldo verde, or possibly some simple beans and greens. Or–and here inspiration started to gain momentum, like a runaway go-cart headed downhill–both. Together. Beans, greens, potatoes, chicken broth, garlic. With the leftover colcannon! Perfect!

And so was born my bizarre love child stew, the offspring of an Irish side dish, an Italian side dish and a Portuguese soup. Except it’s not bizarre at all, really; it’s rather serendipitous. Greens, garlic and potatoes are all elemental foods in many cuisines, and come together deliciously. The beans add a punch of protein, and the pureed part of the soup imparts creaminess, while leaving some chunks of potato and slivers of kale whole elevates this from the realm of pabulum or sickbed food.

Now, I’m assuming that you don’t have a giant container of leftover colcannon in your fridge, so I’m going to both scale this back and adapt it for scratch cooking.

Caldo Colcannon

6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
smidgen olive or canola oil, or butter, or bacon fat
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 can small white beans
1 lb. Kale, washed, chopped and blanched
parsley, if you have it on hand
1 T. lemon juice

Heat the olive oil together with the minced garlic in a large pan or stockpot. When it becomes fragrant, add the onion and potatoes; cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the broth and the kale. Lower heat to medium and simmer, for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Remove several ladlesful of the soup and puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add milk, beans and remainder of the kale. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Add the parsley, if using, salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon juice. If the stew seems too thick, add more milk. Remove from heat and serve. If you like, garnish with cheese (parmesan or cheddar would be nice), bacon crumbles, scallions, or all of the above. Enjoy!

Sea Vegetables: the New Bacon

Does this thing scream "healthful" or what?

If you know anything about me–from this blog, from other social-media sites, or even from real life (whatever that is, anyway)–you know that I love bacon. In fact, I’ve become rather infamous in some circles for my love of bacon, to the point where people think I love bacon more than I actually do. For the record, although I am intrigued by such products as bacon-flavored lip balm, I do also enjoy many things that are neither meat nor meat-flavored. Like dulse.

“But, but, Nick,” I can practically hear you protesting, “dulse is seaweed! I mean, I think it is…I’m not even sure what it is! All I know is that it’s some kind of liberal-commie-pinko-homo-hippie food!”

Yup. It sure is. And it’s also packed with minerals, and vitamins, and vitameatavegamins, and all sorts of good stuff. In other words, dulse is pretty much the anti-bacon. So, for my veg friends who are all baconned out, and anyone else who wants something a little lighter and more nutritious, but every bit as scrumptious, may I present the DLT?

To be fair, I got this idea from the back of the package of my favorite brand of dulse (are you listening, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables? Hint, hint), but it was my idea to make it into a wrap. Dulse is chewy and savory and umami-rich when it’s raw; when it is toasted, however, it turns crisp, salty, indulgent and fleetingly nommable–much like bacon, making it the ideal stand-in as part of the classic BLT when contrasted with sweet tomato, the tang of mayonnaise, and crisp lettuce.

And after all, who doesn't love a wrap?

Don’t get me wrong–you’re never going to bite into a DLT and exclaim, “Damn! That’s the best bacon EVER!” That is to say, dulse will not fool you into thinking it’s bacon, or satisfy you if bacon is what you really want. But it is a fine food in its own right, and the qualities it shares with bacon means that it, too, pairs well with the L and the T.

The DLT (aka the Anti-Bacon Wrap)

1 wheat tortilla
1 generous handful dulse
1 T. mayonnaise
tomato, sliced or chopped
lettuce

Spray a small skillet with olive-oil spray; over medium-high heat, toast the dulse until it turns from a pliable seaweedy color to a rich, dark, crackly brown. If it doesn’t all transform before the rest of it threatens to burn, that’s OK.

Dress the tortilla with mayo (or condiment of your choice), lettuce and tomato. Salt and pepper generously. Add the pile of dulse, roll up, and dig in.

Because That’s How I Escarole

Looks like lettuce...

Do you know from escarole? Despite my self-proclaimed status as a “foodie,” it was only this last winter that I discovered escarole. Picked up a head on a whim, which turned out to be one of the smartest whims I’ve ever had (which, frankly, isn’t saying much, as most of my whims end disastrously–being wiretapped by the USMC, for example. Or stranded at a train station, 60 miles from my ultimate destination, with three pillows, a large comforter and only $40 to my name).

I’ve heard that you can enjoy escarole raw–and, indeed, it looks much more like lettuce than any of my standard green leafies–but the way I prepare it is just so darn good that I can’t bring myself to deviate. I’m stuck in a bit of an escarole rut, but what a yummy rut it is.

I think my only qualm with escarole is that is morphs from that nice, vibrant, healthful-looking green to a sort of military drab color (although that might be my lingering fear of the Marines speaking). I mean, this ain’t pretty:

...cooks like: greens, leafy, standard issue

but, like a lover who is only moderately attractive but who has other virtues, I’ve learned to love the way it looks, because I love the way it tastes. Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right…

Braised Escarole with White Beans

1 head escarole, cleaned and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch red pepper flakes
splash EVOO
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ½ to 2 cups cooked great northern, navy or butter beans
juice of one medium lemon
good dry Italian cheese—parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.

Heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic together in a large, shallow pan. When the garlic is fragrant, but before it browns, add the chopped escarole—it’s OK if it’s still very wet from having been washed. Toss to coat with the oil, then add the stock. Stir, bring to a bare simmer. Cook for a few minutes, tossing occasionally, until the escarole is wilted down. Add the beans, then cover.

Cook until the escarole is tender, 15-20 minutes. If you like, you may uncover to evaporate some of the liquid. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and a sprinkling of the cheese.

Serve in a wide soup bowl, preferably with crusty bread. You could also certainly add some small pasta shapes to this—orzo would be nice, or tiny shells.

Enjoy!

You Did What To Your Chicken?

The spatchcocked chicken in action.

Long-Suffering Husband is a chicken fanatic. He could eat it every day, I think–just plain, roasted or rotisseried, with some Sal’s Sauce and bleu cheese dressing–and in fact, he gets a little crabby if his Vitamin Ch levels get depleted. So we eat a lot of chicken. I have joked that I am the Bubba Gump of chicken.

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to spatchcock a chicken. Yes, I know how naughty and/or painful that sounds, and I’m sure there are entire Internet forums devoted to it, and probably even a pride flag and a particular color of hankie to wear in one’s back pocket if one is a spatchcocker or spatchcockee. But in terms of the chicken, it’s just a fancy, old-fangled, fun-to-say synonym for “butterfly.” You remove the backbone and the keel bone, give the poor spineless chicken a hearty whack on the back, and she’s laid-out flat and ready to cook. The idea is that the bird cooks more evenly, with fully-cooked dark meat and moist breast meat (you’re giggling like a 7th grader by now, aren’t you?).

We lost a limb in the grilling process. Poor Chicky looks like he's just come home from Iraq.

Well, I’m here to tell you, spatchcocking works. The white meat was delicious, juicy and tender. The dark meat was delicious, juicy and tender. This may be among the Top Five chickens I’ve ever cooked, and I am eager to try spatchcocking a chicken to roast, with some lemon and rosemary.

If you’d like to try spatchcocking yourself, have a look at the excellent tutorial at CookThink. I rubbed my chicken with some olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, dried rosemary and smoked paprika, but you can use any spices that set your heart afire.

A meal fit for Henry IV

We kept things simple and had a salad of our CSA lettuce with a delicious maple mustard dressing that I promise to post soon. In the meantime, some cocktail party trivia for you. Did you know that Herbert Hoover never promised “a chicken in every pot” if he became President? The slogan was used by the Republicans in their campaign materials, so it’s linked to Hoover, but he didn’t actually say it. Henry IV, however, did wish that each of his peasants would have “a chicken in his pot, every Sunday.”

JFK still did say that he was a jelly doughnut, though. That one we have on film.

Kale Chips. Sing Hallelujah.

Spreadin' the Gospel Since 2009

Are you like me, kids? Do you sometimes have trouble figuring out what in tarnation to do with yet another one of those ginormous bundles of greens that your CSA unloads on you? If you answered yes, I have two words for you: Make kale chips. Whoops–that’s three words, isn’t it? Math was never my strong suit.

If you answered, “Hahahaha! Yeah, right” (as I know most of you probably did), my message is the same:

Make kale chips.

Seriously. Stop reading right now, put your trusty flip-flops on, go to the store, and buy some kale. Buy two bunches. That’s how confident I am that you will like these chips.

Back so soon, are you? OK. Start by stripping the leaves from the stems, and tearing the leaves into bigger-than-bite size pieces. About the size of, say, your iPhone. They’ll shrink.

Wash your kale by immersing it in a big vessel of water, like a stockpot or bathtub. Lift them out and spin them in a salad spinner or dry them on layers of paper towels.

Next, dash some olive oil into a big bowl. Add kosher salt, pepper, some garlic powder, maybe some red pepper flakes. Keep it simple, snacker. Throw the kale pieces in and toss with your hands. Yes, your hands. Dump the whole mess onto a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Put this into an oven that’s 400°-ish.

Now, and here’s the important part: don’t go far. These babies will burn.

After a few minutes, toss with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. Repeat. When they seem about half crisp, what I do is turn off the oven and let them continue to dehydrate as the oven cools. It’s OK if a few of them get caramelized; you just don’t want to burn the whole lot.

It’s a fine line between caramelized and burned, you know.

When they are cool, dig in! Kale chips are salty and crunchy, and some greens-hating bairn (in my house, that would be Thing 2) have even been known not only to eat and enjoy them. You can do this with other greens, too, like collards. Or spinach, although I would use the crinkly mature spinach, not the delicate baby spinach–that would melt into nothing, I’m afraid. Plus, we have better uses for baby spinach, like smoothies.

Now, go forth and spread the gospel of the green chips, my children. Hallelujah.

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