Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

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In high school I knew a girl who used to study while watching movies. It seemed like such an efficient system. She got to pair something boring with a reward. I would try to do it myself again and again, only to find I couldn’t focus on either. I was the dork who would listen to Vivaldi instead. I know better now. I know this doesn’t work for me. But I still try sometimes- try to catch up on the TV shows everyone else is already done talking about (The Magicians) or to breeze through a podcast (S-Town) or to re-watch a favorite film (Harry Potter, always). I can listen to music while writing. Sometimes those songs can even contain words.

Creative work needs time and space. This is a lesson I keep forgetting and keep relearning. It doesn’t have to be a lot. When I taught I would bring my laptop to work and write during my lunch break. I wrote a first draft of a novel that way. It was not a great first draft, but I did it by scratching out thirty minutes a day. And yet every time I start a new creative project I freak out because my life doesn’t have space for new work. I don’t have enough time. There’s never enough time. I forget that I’ve always found a way to make time before. And I will again. If not having enough time were enough to stop creativity we as humans would have never made anything.

These past few weeks have been filled. We celebrated Aaron’s birthday (several times over) and his parents came to visit us in Minneapolis. We’ve been eating out a lot recently, which means less time for creation in the kitchen. I just started a new writing project that I’m immensely excited about. It’s a busy season, and I’m still trying make everything fit. I’m trying to adjust without guilt, to figure out a way to be present here as often as I want and to forgive myself if I’m not. Thanks for sticking with me through this season.

As metaphorical seasons change so do actual seasons. Spring is here in the bright, tentative, and cold way I’ve come to know. I love this time of year- when the light stretches and everyone who was hibernating away the winter comes outside again. I’ve seen pictures on Instagram and other blogs of people who live in warmer climates glorying in their bounty of asparagus and rhubarb and ramps and peas. Whenever I see those pictures, particularly of the brilliant pink rhubarb I find myself bursting with envy. Here it’s still root vegetables, hearty greens, and pantry staples with the occasional leek thrown in.

For a hearty but not heavy early Spring salad I roasted carrots and tossed them with cooked farro, shredded kale, and a mustard vinaigrette. I’ve been making a variation of this salad for years this time of year and I always forget how good it is until I make it again. Roasting carrots brings out their sweetness, and shredding the kale helps tame its intensity. I top this salad with white cheddar, sliced radishes, and pepitas, but you could go wild. I’ve added in walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and feta before and that’s a killer variation. One of my absolute favorite things about this salad is how well it sits. I’ve brought it on long bus rides, eaten it at picnics, and toted it to work during Saturday doubles.

What are your favorite meal salads? I hope you love this one.

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Carrot, Farro, and Kale Salad

This is an excellent lunch or potluck salad. It keeps well for days at a time, and tastes best when at room temperature.

Serves 4

3 medium carrots, peeled and quartered then sliced in half inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt
pepper
chili flakes
1 cup farro
1 medium bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves cut into thin ribbons

dressing:

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard}
salt and pepper to taste

to serve:

radishes, thinly sliced
pepitas
cheddar cheese, cut into matchsticks

Preheat the oven to 400. In a large bowl toss the carrots, olive oil, and a sprinkling each of salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Turn out the carrots onto a baking sheet. Roast the carrots, tossing halfway through, for 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender on the inside and crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile bring a pot of salty water to boil. Add the farro and boil for 15 minutes, until the farro is tender. When the farro is ready, drain the pot.

While both the farro and carrots are cooking, make the dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl add the shredded kale. Top with the farro and the carrots. Drizzle with the dressing and toss the salad. Top with your desired amount of radish, pepitas, and cheddar cheese. Serve room temperature.

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Delicata Squash and Kale Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

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I first made this salad for Thanksgiving two years ago. I had seen a delicata squash salad on 101 Cookbooks, and was struck with the idea to adapt the idea a bit. When my mom requested that I make that specific salad for two more parties within a month I scribbled down the recipe and have used the format many times since.

This year Aaron and I are celebrating 4 Thanksgivings- an early Thanksgiving dinner with his parents, a celebratory Thanksgiving celebration with a friend’s family, and two Friendsgivings. Today’s plans include making three different pie crusts, deep cleaning the living room, and debating how many pounds of mashed potatoes is enough for 4 people (I know 2 should be fine, but I’m feeling 5, you know?). This salad’s definitely going to be making an appearance at at least one event.

When I originally developed this recipe I wanted to give this salad a Midwestern feel. When I first started hearing about seasonal eating I was a teenager, and role model of seasonal eating seemed to come only from the South or California. It was both exhilarating and irritating. What was I supposed to eat when I can’t get locally grown oranges in the winter? Now that I’m older and we’ve grown a better network of farmers and distributers the local question is an exciting challenge. As it gets colder I want warming squash and crisp greens that will continue to grow until we hit a deep freeze. I want maple syrup, a product that only comes from cold climates, and strong apple cider vinegar. I want locally made cheese and carefully stored shallots. And no shade meant to the green bean casserole, but using ingredients that are a product of the place I live feels like a more true representation of Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the food that feeds me and the place that produces them. And I am thankful we have a specific time meant to celebrate our food and our home.

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Delicata Squash and Kale Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Delicata squash, if you haven’t seen it, is long and pale gold, with vibrant orange and green stripes. It looks a bit like if a zucchini got a winter makeover, and when it’s roasted it’s mild and nutty and creamy. The skin is edible, which is fortunate because it’s beautiful. Lacinato kale is also known as dinosaur kale (or cavolo nero) because of its bumpy appearance. This will still be delicious with the more common curly kale, but you will want to massage it more aggressively.

adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Serves 4-6 as a side

1 cup walnuts
1 delicata squash, halved, seeds removed. and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 shallot, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 large bunch of lacinato kale, stems removed and leaves torn
2 radishes, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 8 minutes, until the walnuts are golden and rich tasting. Set aside.

Raise the oven temperature to 425. Toss the delicata squash in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon both of salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking tray, making sure the squash has plenty of room. Roast until tender and darkened on one side, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and shallot with the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. The vinaigrette should have enough acid to feel it in the back of your throat.

In a large bowl toss the kale with half of the dressing and massage well. Keep rubbing the kale until it feels softened, and has turned a glossy dark green.

When you’re ready to assemble the salad, add the squash and the radishes to the kale and toss with the rest of the dressing. Transfer the salad to its serving container, and top with the toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

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It’s that time of year now 6pm is as dark as midnight, and there are less people about at night. Last night I was heading home from Mass, a fifteen minute walk. As I started walking I fired off a text to Aaron. And then I saw out the corner of my eye an older man cross the street and fall into step behind me.

I could see his reflection in the dark store windows. When I slowed my steps to feint admiration for bridal gowns, his steps slowed. When I sped up he did the same. When I started to avoid leaves and quieted my footsteps his became near silent. And when I turned away from the park that would lead me home and towards a bustling strip of restaurants he turned as well.

I abandoned subtlety and started looking back, making sure he knew I saw him. There were more people about here, and it was brighter lit, and I could still see him bobbing through the crowds. An alternate route home would take twice as long to walk, and wouldn’t be much safer. Feeling frustrated and slightly foolish, I called Aaron.

“I think there’s someone following me. Can you pick me up?”

I looped back to the church, where I waited in the lobby. Aaron was over in a matter of minutes. The whole time, I could not shake the feeling that I had overreacted. Was I just being ridiculous? That did not stop me from scrolling through local new sources on twitter before bed, hoping not to hear of some other woman alone being attacked.

I’m tired of this. I’ve long since observed the cardinal rules about caution- don’t walk anywhere poorly lit, don’t take shortcuts, memorize the faces of people you see, always have an escape route. I’m tired of having to take these precautions. I’m tired of being catcalled. I’m tired of reflexively listening to footsteps. And I’m tired of the truth that if I had been attacked, there would have been people who insist that it was my fault, that by somehow walking home alone (at 7:30, from church) I was inviting an attack on my person.

It’s a microcosm of how I’ve been feeling this election. I joke with friends that I’ll exhale once the election is over. But it’s not a joke. Weeks ago when the Access Hollywood tape was released I met it with resignation. When there was an uproar in Republican ranks that made me angry. This is a man who has threatened so many. Why is this is the line in the sand that you decided?

There has been such ugliness and such hatred in the recent months. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough. It won’t make everything better, but it may be a turning point, and that’s all I can hope for right now.

I have no good answers for this. There’s no recipe that can create civil public discourse, no cookie that makes women feel safe to move through public spaces unharmed. Soup won’t end wars. But food has always been a touchstone for me.

Today, a day after being followed and a day before the election, I’ve turned to cooking. It’s serving as a  comfort and as a way to keep busy. If I’m occupying myself with food, I can’t endlessly refresh fivethirtyeight. And I can’t single handedly fix our electorate but I can feed people. The optimist in me believes that enough shared meals with enough people can help us change the way we view the other.

This is not a one pot dinner or a thirty minute meal. This has multiple components and loads of dirty dishes. If that’s what you’re not looking for, that’s more than fair. I understand. But if you’re looking for something that will occupy and sooth you, you could do worse thank this. Roasted acorn squash, sautéed kale, sage, and a clever sauce of blended beans all get tossed together with pasta. The pasta gets turned out into a pan and topped with walnuts, more sage, and ricotta cheese. The result is melty and comforting, creamy and full of flavor.

Stay sane, stay safe. And may there be many comforting meals heading your way.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

If you would like a very creamy pasta bake I would use two cans of butter beans rather than the suggested one.

very roughly adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Serves 6

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 pound short pasta of choice
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15 ounce can butter beans with their liquid
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sage, minced
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup ricotta

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl toss together the acorn squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 350.

Set a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously, then add the pasta. Cook at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, for two minutes less than the pasta package calls for. Drain while there’s still some bite in the center of the pasta. Set aside.

In a medium pot warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale and stir, cooking until the kale is glossy, dark, and has collapsed a bit. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The garlic should be fragrant. Set aside.

In a blender combine the butter beans and liquid, 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the squash, pasta, kale, bean sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sage. Mix well. Turn out into a 9 x 13 pan. Top the pasta with dots of ricotta, walnuts, and the remaining tablespoon of sage.

Bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the ricotta is golden. Eat hot.

 

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Kale and Mango Smoothie

 

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Back in another life I taught preschool. I was due at work by 8 every morning, and it was a 40 minute drive from our old apartment. The teachers took our lunches during nap time, which meant it was close to 2 by the time I would get lunch. Sometimes I would eat some of lunches provided (which was allowed- I promise there was no stealing food from 2-year-olds), but those were uniformly government-regulated-almost-healthy (canned green beans and sausage pizza was common) and rather depressing. Pretty quickly on I realized a bad breakfast would make me hungry, grouchy, late, or all three.

I experimented with a lot of breakfasts during that time, but smoothies were a lifesaver. I could blend them up in minutes, and sometimes would make them the night before. I would double fist a thermos of black tea and a bright green smoothie in a mason jar, and arrive at work both on time and full.

There are some disadvantages to my career change, with lack of weekends being one of the chief ones. But one of the greatest things about restaurant work is that no one expects me to wake up at 7 anymore. I’m free to choose my own late rising.  Which I do. And which wrecks havoc on my breakfast routine. Which is reflected in the archives of this blog, which means that after over a year of blogging I’ve posted a grand total of 3 breakfast recipes. For scale, you may wish to compare it to the 20+ salads I’ve created. So in the spirit of back-to-school, breakfast routines, and righting terrible wrongs, here’s breakfast recipe #4.

This was one of my favorite smoothies when I taught, and I used to drink it at least twice a week. The mango and orange juice together are fruity and bright, and mask the heavy earthiness of the kale. Yogurt adds a bit of heft and a creamy texture. And the color was enough to bring a smile to my face. The  bright, vibrant green practically oozes an air of health and contentment. I needed that while teaching. I needed the nutrients, I needed the ritual, and I needed the psychological pick-me-up.

Now while not-teaching I need the nutrients, rituals, and pick me ups just as much, even while eating breakfast at 10. Here’s to centering rituals, vegetables for breakfast, and better mornings for all of us.

Kale and Mango Smoothie

One of the beautiful things about smoothies is that the format is so malleable. If you’d like a thick smoothie I’d reduced the orange juice to 1/2  a cup, and perhaps up the yogurt factor. You could also swap out flavors as necessary- blueberries and bananas and spinach are particularly good friends. Frozen mango helps chill the smoothie and make it frothy, and also streamline morning smoothie making. But if you are inclined to peel and chop a mango first thing in the morning, I salute you.

3 kale leaves, roughly torn and stems removed
1 cup frozen mango
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt

In a blender combine the all the ingredients, making sure the kale is on the bottom. Blend on high until smooth. Drink or refrigerate immediately.

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Kale Caesar Salad

Kale Caesar

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about health and “healthy food”. A friend posted this article from Vice on her Facebook a few days back and ever since I’ve seen it four or five times. It’s just in time for the annual summer Pinterest parade of “clean eating” exhortations and magazine promises of an instant bikini body. ‘Tis the season to obsessively police our food choices.

It’s exhausting to keep up with the ever changing list of what foods are considered healthy and which are not. I like to think that I eat relatively well. I don’t drink pop, don’t buy potato chips, and don’t like a wide variety of less nutritious foods, from deli meats to deviled eggs. I love vegetables and happily eat bowls of beans for snacks. But I also don’t juice, don’t spiralize, and eat a glorious array of gluten. And by the metrics of some clean-eating advocates that’s tantamount to poisoning my body.

In the aforementioned article there was this wise quote from the venerable Nigella Lawson. “I despair of the term ‘clean eating,'” she said, “though I actually like the food that comes under that banner. [‘Clean eating’] necessarily implies that any other form of eating—and consequently the eater of it—is dirty or impure and thus bad, and it’s not simply a way of shaming and persecuting others, but leads to that self-shaming and self-persecution that is forcibly detrimental to true healthy eating.”

It’s very true. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to opt out of this culture of self critique. The other day I was testing cookies at work. I work under a brilliant chef who does not like sweets, and so he outsources the bulk of dessert creation to a handful of line cooks. I’m one of them. He tells me what he wants and I make something that fits the parameters. I tinker, bring him what’s good, he critiques, I tinker again. It’s a system that works pretty well. He only has to try what’s good, and I get paid to play with dough. In this case he wanted an almond flour chocolate chip cookie with a particular chew, which led to me playing with a variety of flour ratios, proportions of brown to white sugar, fat content by butter verses fat content by egg, and baking time. And I had to test the results of all these cookies, so I ate the equivalent of three or four cookies over an eight hour shift. I then felt guilty for eating “all that sugar”.

Let me restate that again. I felt guilty for doing what I’m paid to do, and something that I truly enjoy- developing recipes- because I ate a handful of cookies. Cookies that had 10 grams of sugar each, or about 2 1/2 teaspoons. I don’t believe that’s a healthy amount to eat every day, but I don’t eat cookies every day. I felt guilty even though I know you can’t deprive your way to health, that nutrition is complex, and that while white sugar may not be the best thing you can eat it’s not the devil.

I like to go back to Michael Pollen’s brilliant mantra when I’m in this spin zone. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s easy to remember, and doable. And it’s adaptable. No matter how much wellness blogs praise the avocado that doesn’t change the fact that here in the Midwest the cost routinely tops two dollars for a single avocado, which makes it an occasional treat for me rather than a dietary mainstay. So I don’t eat avocados often. I will, however, throw walnuts into everything and have an infinite variation  of kale.

To point, I made this kale caesar salad for lunch the day that I ate those fateful cookies. It was a nice counterpoint- hearty and salty and luscious. The bitterness of the kale stands up nicely to the creamy, sharp dressing in a way that a more delicate green would not. It’s an excellent lunch salad. It’s hearty enough to keep me going for hours, but not so heavy that it feels like too much. I made it when Aaron had a coworker over. They both ate the salad as a side to brats, and I ate a big bowl of salad (with a side of tortilla chips and salsa). Between the three of us the bowl was swiped clean. I didn’t make it to be an apology for eating cookies. I made it because it’s delicious.

I think that’s the key to actual wellness- to take pleasure in more nutritious food, and to enjoy less nutritious food in a measured amount. There are some days that need a bowl of fresh strawberries, and some days that need a leisurely walk for to the local ice cream shop for a scoop of ice cream. That it’s probably wise to do the former more often, but there’s no shame or guilt in indulging in the later.

Kale Caesar Salad

A microplane will be your best friend with this recipe. They’re commonly used to grate citrus zest, hard cheese, and nutmeg, but it’s also the fastest and cleanest way I know to make garlic paste. If you don’t have a microplane or a very small grater, you could mince the garlic or pound it into a paste. I like this salad best with pecorino romano, but if you can’t find it parmesan would be a happy substitute. Because this dressing uses a whole egg, it will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator, so as be generous with the dressing as you want.

dressing proportions inspired by Judy Rodgers’ via Orangette

Croutons

6 ounces sourdough bread, sliced and torn into bite sized pieces
2 cloves of garlic, microplaned
2 tablespoons butter

Dressing

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dark miso
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic, microplaned
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg
1/4 cup finely grated (or microplaned) pecorino romano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 or 2 bunches of lacinato kale, spines removed and leaves torn
pecorino romano, for shaving

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the torn sourdough pieces in a large bowl. In a small saucepan melt together the butter and the garlic. Pour over the sourdough pieces and toss well to evenly combine. Pour out onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 16 minutes, tossing the croutons halfway. When the croutons are finished they should be dark around the edges and golden, and smell of toasted garlic. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the red wine vinegar, miso, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix well. Add the egg, cheese, salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

In a salad bowl top the kale with the caesar dressing. Massage the dressing into the kale, making sure to toss the leaves well. Set aside for a bit so the dressing can permeate the leaves of the kale.

Top the salad with the croutons and shavings of pecorino romano. Toss well and eat.

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