Lentil, cabbage, and bacono salad

I’m on about under-appreciated vegetables this evening. I just reblogged a post on beet soup so now it’s on to cabbage (which I think is also under-appreciated–just relegated to “slaw” which is often just horrible). This is a great modification of this recipe. Thanks!

Al dente adjustment to a Jacques Pépin lentil, cabbage and bacon salad

Corned Beef for St. Patrick’s Day

Though it’s too late to get your corned beef this way, you can be prepared for next year! Corned beef is easy, and really good it’s DYI!

Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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Happy St. Patrick’s day! It’s an Irish-American tradition to eat corned beef with cabbage on St. Patrick’s day. I usually don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day (most people in the Netherlands haven’t even heard of it), but when I came across a recipe for corned beef with cabbage I thought the cooking technique was very interesting. You see, beef brisket is first cured in salt and spices (similar to the first curing of pancetta or gravlax), and then it is cooked. What finally won me over is that the recipe requires saltpeter (potassium nitrate, KNO3 or E252). Ironically, this ingredient is not available in Ireland, and so I bought it for Conor so he could make spiced beef. Although Conor only needed 12 grams, the smallest amount I could order was 2.5 kilograms.

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I mailed enough of the ‘dangerous substance’ to Ireland for Conor to make spiced beef twice, and…

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Potato and cabbage soup

I like soup for a meal–if it’s a good hearty soup with lots of veggies and maybe some meat in it. All it takes is cold weather and I’m especially interested in soup. Well, we’ve got the cold weather right now and it’s apparently going to last a while, too. I’ve a small “dinner” ham–I’ve sliced part of it to use for sandwiches, and cubed part–some will go in mac ‘n’ cheese (in the rice cooker), and it seemed that part of it would be good for soup–some to eat now and some to freeze for later meals.

Looking in the fridge, I discovered a head of cabbage and some red potatoes, and, of course, ham.

  • a medium yellow onion, chopped and lightly browned in a scant tablespoon of bacon fat (or oil).
  • Two good serving of ham, in 1/2-inch cubes, browned.
  • Garlic, about 6 good-size cloves, coarsely chopped, and cooked with the ham and onion until it starts to smell fragrant.
  • several healthy shakes of hot red pepper flakes added and “toasted” with the ham an onions.
  • about 1/2 teaspoon of kala jeera (black cumin) added to toast just a bit with the contents of the pan.
  • Two bay leaves added to the pan.
  • Three cups water to degaze the good brown fond from the bottom of the pan (add more later if needed when all the ingredients are in the pot). Bring to a simmer.
  • Three medium red potatoes cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and added to the pot.
  • Cabbage, 1/2 small head cut into 3/4-inch pieces, or shredded if you prefer, added to the simmering pot. Add more water if needed to just barely cover.
  • Put the pot into a 250°F oven, and ignore for about 2 hours (I was working on an index and didn’t want to have to mind the pot on the stovetop).
cabbage, potato, and ham soup

meal in a bowl

Since cabbage keeps so well, I almost always have it in the crisper, and potatoes, too. I’ve done similar soups  (starting with the onions, potatoes, and cabbage–varying the seasoning, of course) with various sausages–kielbasa being a particular favorite. I’ve used leftover roast, steak, chicken, or chops in similar soups as well. If the meat is already cooked, I’ll use broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef) instead of water.

The kala jeera has a rather flowery flavor (and you want to use it in small amounts as it could be a bit overwhelming, but the hint of the floweriness was a nice contrast to the smokiness of the ham and the earthiness of the cabbage.

…and now it’s turkey soup!

Remember those turkey thighs that I roasted a couple days ago? They have really been a bargain.  I spent about $5 on the package of thighs–two small-to-medium ones.

I had my roast turkey with sides of potatoes and cabbage (with juniper berries). Then I had two full-size sandwiches, and a half sandwich for lunches. Now I’m finishing the turkey thighs with a very hearty bowl of soup (and a  glass of good wine).

small Rival Crockette

a crockette

I popped those thigh bones (with what meat wasn’t easy to carve for sandwiches) in to my tiny little single-serving crock-pot to make some stock–I just added a little salt, a bay leaf, the brown stuff that I deglazed from the roasting pan, and enough water to cover the bones. After slow cooking overnight, I removed the thigh bones.  The meat just fell off into the pot.

In the same little crock-pot (don’t want extra dishes to wash), I added a small handful of barley, some dried mushrooms of various sorts–including shiitake, chanterelle, and porcini. The other things that went into this soup were the leftover cabbage (with juniper berries) and a few potatoes that were roasted with the turkey.  (You may be thinking that this is pretty heavy on starch, but to finish the soup, I added some green stuff.)

small leaves of greens

mixed greens

About half an hour before I was ready to eat, I went out to the garden (which I share through the good graces of a neighbor) and picked a good size handful of small kale, turnip, and mustard greens.

After washing, I cut these in bite size pieces (though that was almost unnecessary as they were really not as big as my hand). They went into the crock-pot; in about 20 minutes they were still bright green but tender.

I did a final adjustment of salt using French Grey sea salt, and finally added several drops of black truffle oil to finish the soup.

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I’ve had my bowl of soup for supper this evening–and it looks as if I’ll get one more meal out of those turkey thighs–with the barley, and the amount of meat that was left on the bones, there is easily another serving of this soup for lunch or supper tomorrow. (I’m sure that by the time I reheat it, those greens won’t be quite so bright green, but the flavors may have melded with the other ingredients so it should be good–maybe even better than this evening.

bowl of soup with greens

a warm, hearty supper

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I opened a bottle of wine this evening that was a completely unknown to me. It was a limited release called “Dark” from Apothic. I was completely beguiled by the description that said that it “blends dark fruit flavors of blueberry and blackberry with opulent notes of coffee and dark chocolate”.  How could I possibly pass that up? (I found it while shopping at Harris Teeter–just after I had bought a case of something called “Besieged”–more about that one later.)

I was surprised how dark it was when I poured it into the glass! (I even tried to take a picture–but it just looks almost black–so forget that.) It is definitely a “big” wine and right out of the bottle it was fruity and mellow–but after breathing for a bit it lives up to its description.

I thought it might overwhelm my bowl of turkey soup, but with the juniper berries, the rather emphatic mushrooms, the flavors of the greens, and the truffle oil, it turned out to be a great combination.  Fortunately there is some of the wine left for tomorrow’s soup! This is one time when I’m looking forward to the “leftovers”.

Cabbage with juniper berries

I’ve always liked cabbage–slaw, steamed, and even boiled if it was not cooked to mush. I’ll even just nuke a wedge with a little olive oil and salt sprinkled over it and call it a vegetable dish. It’s a good keeper that doesn’t get foul if it stays in the crisper for a while–especially if you just peel off the leaves from the outside of the head as you need them, instead of cutting the head in pieces.

Cover of book

Nigel Slater’s “Tender”

I’ve read a lot of Nigel Slater lately (Kitchen Diaries, Ripe, and Tender). I like his style: very descriptive of the garden, and the kitchen–almost makes me feel that I’m right there with him. I’m anticipating the followup volumes for Tender and Kitchen Diaries; his website is also well worth checking out.

Tender is a vegetable cookbook (as well as a gardening book)–not a vegetarian cookbook, though most recipes could be pretty easily adapted if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion.  The discussion of each vegetable includes cooking as well as growing information, and most delightfully, a discussion of seasonings for the vegetable.

His recipes are simple, designed to make the most of excellent fruits and vegetables without being at all fussy.  Quantities are rather loosely given, which makes it ideal for my improvisational style of cooking for myself (and the cat). I’ve found all sorts of thing I want to try, but here is one that particularly caught my fancy–perhaps because it’s fall, or maybe just because I had a head of cabbage in the crisper.

One of the seasoning he mentioned for cabbage was juniper berries. I’ve used juniper berries for other dishes, but can’t honestly say that I’d ever thought of trying them with cabbage.  Here’s what I did to try this out.

Cabbage with juniper berries

Ingredients

  • About 6 leaves from a medium head of cabbage
  • 3 juniper berries
  • dash of red pepper flakes if desired for spice
  • dash of salt to taste
  • small pat of butter

Preparation

  • Flatten the leaves on a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Add crushed juniper berries, (see note below.), chili flakes if desired, and salt.
  • Toss the cabbage to distribute seasonings.
  • Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Cover and microwave for about 4 to 6 minutes, until cabbage is still bright green, but tender (See NOTE).
  • Serve.

Cook’s notes

  • Though I used white cabbage, I’m sure this would be fine with red or savoy cabbage as well.
  • The juniper berries are very oily, so I did not put them in my spice grinder–I used a mortar and pestle that could be cleaned easily.
  • The microwave really seems to bring out the heat in the chili peppers, so add less than you might were you just going to sauté the cabbage.
  • The amount of water needed will depend on whether the cabbage is just washed and still wet, and/or how tight the cover is. I don’t usually use plastic wrap, but Pyrex bowls with vented covers, so I do lose some steam.
  • Sauté or steam-sauté would work as well–I just didn’t want to wash another pan when I was preparing this after a day of indexing work.

I’ve tried it now–right up there with caraway seeds.The combination is a winner–I’m not sure I can easily describe what the juniper berries do for the cabbage, but it certainly puts it in a different class from “boiled” cabbage that I grew up with and what is typical of “southern” cooking. I think it adds background earthiness and complexity to the flavor. It was no longer “just” cabbage!

It was a side for roast turkey thighs, but I can easily see this as a great side for pork, or most particularly for duck legs or duck confit.  I’ll certainly make it again–probably on many occasions.

I didn’t use extra virgin olive as I normally might with cabbage because I just could not get the flavors of that and the juniper berries together in my head. (Cabbage with a little extra virgin olive oil is excellent, though.) If I were making this to go with duck, I make it with duck fat instead of butter.

bowl of cooked cabbage

cabbage with juniper berries

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These links are to The Regulator Bookshop, my local, independent bookstore. I like to use them whenever possible–though I do sometimes go to Amazon.com. I have no connection with The Regulator Bookshop, such as an affiliate status–I just support local independent business when I can.  They are very efficient in processing orders, even if the book you want is not in stock.

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Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 days
Published: Ten Speed Press, 4/2011

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Some good eating ahead…

I’m back from the farmers’ market ready to settle in for the afternoon with some hot chocolate, book, and cat.  It was a chilly market this morning with the wind blowing a lot of the time–it was more than just breezy–so it feels so good to be indoors.

brought home from the farmers' market.

treasures from the farmers' market

I came home with lots of “finds” from the market:  strawberries, kohlrabi, both white and blue sweet potatoes, cabbage, garlic scapes, and one of my favorite cheeses (Carolina Moon) from Chapel Hill Creamery.  Now for some meal planning!

The weather is still cool enough that I think that the cabbage is going to be joined by some country-style pork ribs in one of my favorite “comfort foods”–braised pork and cabbage. A fair number of the strawberries have already disappeared while I was at the market–breakfast.  I’m still contemplating the fate of the garlic scapes, the sweet potatoes, and the kohlrabi, though some of the kohlrabi may just be eaten as a salad, just dressed with a vinaigrette.  Perhaps the other will find its way into the sauté pan.

I’m still contemplating the garlic scapes–a quick search has turned up a number of possibilities from blogs that I like to read.

I was so pleased to see white sweet potatoes at the market–they’re not as moist as the yellow/orange ones–that’s likely to end up as a baked potato.  I’ve read about blue ones, but this is my first time to try one, so that will be an experiment.  The grower tells me that the blue keeps it color when cooked and that the texture is similar to the white–but that may call for some research and recipe hunting although I might just roast a mix of the white and the blue so that I can taste them  side by side.

The cheese?  Well, that’s likely to be paired with some good bread and a nice robust red wine as my evening snack!

Under-appreciated veggies: Brussels sprouts

bagged Brussels sprouts at Harris Teeter supermarket

Brussels sprouts

Obviously I’m writing this because I have Brussels sprouts in hand now!  They are a favorite winter veggie in my kitchen but I think they are sometimes under-appreciated and under-used by those of us doing single-serving cooking, possibly because the come in packages that contain too many.  Some of these may be underused because we’ve had them prepared in ways that did not really let them make their best impression.  I thought I’d address some of these, especially the cool weather crops–starting with one that seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it vegetable: Brussels sprouts.  Until I started cooking for myself, I was in the hate-it camp.  Most of the Brussels sprouts that I had were over-cooked, mushy, and bitter; in a word, nasty!

Fortunately, I’ve discovered ways to make Brussels sprouts a desirable vegetable because they have some excellent qualities: they are  inexpensive and readily available in the wintertime.  They are nutritious–I’ll not give you all the details here, but you can find all that sort of information from the Nutrient Database Laboratory.  They are versatile–you can use them as a substitute for cabbage in some recipes, and (a concern if you’re cooking for one), they store well in the fridge.

First, storage:  Brussels sprouts often come prepackaged in a mesh bag that’s about a pound or so.  That’s a lot of Brussels sprouts if you’re cooking for one and had to use them all at one time.  Fortunately that’s not the case–they’re small, separate units so you are not trying to preserve a cut vegetable (always more difficult)–big bonus for those cooking for one.  I store mine with a paper towel that has been dampened and then squeezed mostly dry, in a partly open zipper-lock bag in the vegetable drawer.   I’ve seen suggestions (The Victory Garden Cookbook–see bibliography) that the flavor gets stronger with storage.  I’ve not found that to be a problem, but that may be because I do keep my fridge really cold, and the damp paper towel helps even out moisture. However, if you do find that you don’t like the taste after they’ve been stored for a few days, the other option of something to do with the rest of the bag would be to blanch and freeze part of them.  Blanching is simple:  bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it heavily (after it’s come to a boil), and put in the Brussels sprouts for about 2 minutes; then “shock” in an ice bath, drain, and freeze.  (The purpose of the blanching is to stop enzyme action, and it keeps the color bright and green.)

Now for cooking them. Personally I’m not a fan of boiling veggies as a method of cooking them (other than blanching before freezing)–there are so many nutrients that are water soluble!  So my preference is for some cooking method that does not involve putting them into huge quantities of water to cook completely.  So that leaves steaming, stir-frying, roasting, and  microwaving.  The best way to avoid having “nasty” sprouts is NOT to overcook them.

I’ve added them to soups, used them instead of cabbage with braised pork, and added them to one-dish meals like roasted potatoes with sausages, and lots of other things.  They lend themselves well to improvisation and substitution.

Recipes for steaming, blanching, roasting and microwaving can be found in a number of cookbooks so I’ll not post here, except for the recipe that I just made to go along with my baked sweet potato.

For more information on how to cook and specific recipes, I suggest you might want to check The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (see bibliography).  As I was sitting here at the computer writing this, my e-mail notification popped up and said it had received a notification of a new post from domestic diva M.D., a blog that I think is worth following for anyone who cooks.  I was surprised to see that the subject was  roasted Brussels sprouts.  

Since it was about lunch time, I was preheating the oven to bake a sweet potato (a very large sweet potato so that I’ll have some for another use as well).  I read the recipe and grabbed the last of the Brussels sprouts from the fridge.  I didn’t have the full amount, but this is a recipe that does not depend on the quantity–which is great for us solo cooks.  Since I was baking my potato in a 350 ° F oven, I did alter the cooking time just a bit–I popped the Brussels sprouts prepared as in the recipe into the oven for about 45 minutes right along side my sweet plate with half  a baked sweet potato and roasted Brussels sproutspotato, and there was my colorful, nutritious lunch!  This is the kind of improvisation that can make cooking for one easy–many recipes aren’t dependent on how many you have or how many you want to cook and eat right now.

You should check out this recipe.  I’d not used garlic powder with them before, but it was yummy and much easier to use than minced garlic.  One of the comments on this post suggested adding Parmesan cheese–I did not try that because I’m out of Parmigano-Reggiano (horrors!), but it sounds  like something that would taste great!