Welcoming Spring

Let’s face it: there aren’t a whole lot of Jews in Ireland. Apparently only about 1,700, to be more precise.

But, I do have some Irish ancestry. That’s one of the benefits of being a Jew-by-choice. Your bloodlines can be a little more far-reaching.

My dad claims that somehow we’re related to the Irish family of William Wallace, but I’m not too sure about all of that. I do know that somewhere it is documented that we can in fact trace our roots back to a specific clan, and that we do in fact have a tartan.

Not that I’m into guys in kilts. But, I do wonder how the Irish spring compares to our Spring. I bet it’s quite a sight to see the season sneak up on that fair isle.

I am glad to be a smidge Irish. It gives me lee-way to go around doing things like corning my own beef for St. Patty’s Day. It doesn’t hurt that I still have a large–though dwindling–portion of a cow in my freezer. And, since there is a connection between Jews and corned beef (all things brisket, really) I figured why the heck not.

And in case you were wondering, the “corned” part of corned beef refers to the rock salt traditionally used to cure the meat–it was called “corns” of salt. I looked this up because my step-sons wanted to know where the corn was when I served them dinner Saturday and I didn’t know how to explain why it was called that.

I used a recipe I found via Punk Domestics, which I chose because it was nitrate and nitrite free. I know there is controversy over whether or not added nitrates/nitrites are actually bad for you, but around here we try to eliminate any ingredient that would not be used in normal every day cooking, so I was happy to let it go. I also wasn’t sure just exactly where to buy it without having it shipped, for one, and I didn’t really care about having that glorified red color that is a characteristic of meats cured with the pink salt. I omitted the whey, which the recipe said was optional, and that kept it kosher. And I opted to leave the brisket out overnight after setting it up. I didn’t cut it into pieces like they did, but I did stab it all over with a knife to let the brine really soak in there.

It brined for about 9 days total, and it turned out amazing. It was a little on the salty side, even for my tastes. It could be that my brisket was a touch under 3 lbs, or that the recipe was overcompensating for the fact that it left out the pink salt most other corned beef recipes call for. If I make it again (I’m totally making this again) I would probably cut the salt just a bit and see what happens. And maybe go easier on the stabbing part of the process.

When it came time to actually cook the thing, I followed the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It was very straight forward, which I liked. The whole thing from start to finish was very straight forward, actually. Once you put it in the brine you forget about it for a few days, then you put it in a big pot of water and forget about it for a few more hours. It practically cooks itself.

The leftovers, on the other hand, are another story. Leftovers do not cook themselves, at least not fresh ones.

Since I had never made corned beef, I had never made corned beef hash either. According to some, this is the only reason to actually cook corned beef in the first place, and now I am one of these people.

I wanted to make something a little more vegetable heavy than most other hash recipes, so I started fresh. I know how to make a basic hash, after all, so the concept was nothing new. But figuring out how to ease some of the salt out of the beef was a little tricky.

Just kidding, it was easy. I added non-salty stuff.

Potatoes, of course. Because a dense, waxy potato really is the perfect accompaniment to a salty piece of meat. And kale, since I can’t really get enough of the stuff. And also golden beets, mostly because I had them sitting around and they were starting to get a little wrinkly around the edges. The beets were one of those snap decisions that ends up paying dividends–they were what made the dish. Their earthy, sweet qualities were the perfect balance for the other ingredients, kicked into high gear by the almost caramelized onions hiding throughout. And I served it with coleslaw instead of boiled cabbage, because I tend to like my cruciferous vegetables on the crunchier side of things. I topped it all with some very fresh young flat-leaf parsley and decided that corned beef hash might just be the golden child of the leftovers world.

So if you’ve still got a bit of corned beef sitting in your fridge making you salivate, I suggest you take a look in the crisper and green it up. With the arrival of Spring today in all her glory, it’s all about the green.

Pot O’ Gold Corned Beef Hash with Kale and Golden Beets
serves 2

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, sliced thin
2 cups cubed boiled potatoes, peeled or not
1 1/2 cups shredded or cubed corned beef
3 small or 2 larger golden beets, about 2 cups shredded
1/2 bunch kale, stems and tough veins removed, roughly chopped
1 1/2 to 2 cups beef stock, leftover from cooking your beef if you have it
Olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (also called Italian)
1-2 eggs per person, optional

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil until it shimmers, then toss in the onions. Stir to coat in oil, then let cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Add a splash of broth every now and then in necessary to deglaze the pan and help soften the onions.

Next, add the potatoes, beef and shredded beets. Stir everything together and add about 1 cup of broth. Turn down the heat to medium and let cook until the broth has evaporated. Now add the kale, and add a splash more broth. Cook just until the kale is tender, but still bright green.

At this point you can add eggs if you like. Make a well for each egg you will cook, right in the hash. Crack one egg into each well and let cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still soft, 4-5 minutes. Cook the yolks longer if you choose.

Split between 2 plates and top with plenty of fresh ground pepper and chopped parsley.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Think about Winter for a second.

OK, stop. That was long enough, right?

Mercifully, that’s about how long there is left of this season. A second or two. In my haste to get to spring, I’ve been eating a lot of things that aren’t the usual cold weather comfort foods. Even though I’m still pretty much stuck with all the same winter ingredients.

Like kale.

And cabbage.

And apples.

But you know what? Even though I’m probably not the only one who is more than ready for the first sweet snap peas and their best buddy spring onions, I found that I can make do if I come up with a new recipe for those tired ingredients every now and then. Sometimes it takes a trip to the P-patch for a little inspiration (especially when you wake up to snow…in March), but after that I’m home free.

Heres a salad that’s got a lot of good things going for it, considering it’s full of foods that need a tropical vacation. It’s verdant, tangy crunch almost makes it OK that it isn’t a salad of tender greens and spicy-sweet young alliums.

Wait a minute…it is a salad of tender greens. And maybe those alliums are’t the youngest things on the block, but they still have a bit of kick left in them. And once they pick up cabbage off the curb and take her out on her blind date with apples, they’re pretty much a multiple marriage of the best kind. It’s sorta like a gussied up spring version of this salad, without the comforting starch of sweet potatoes and grains.

For this slaw, avoid the sometimes tough larger leaves of kale you get in the bunch and go for the littlest, tenderest ones. The ones that are so tender, even the stems almost don’t seem worth the trouble to remove them. And mince the onion pretty small–it lets the zing of raw onion shine without being overpowering.

Kale and Cabbage Slaw
makes 4 good sized side servings

2 heaping cups of the tenderest kale you can find
2 heaping cups shredded cabbage, about 1/4 of a small head
1 apple such as pink lady or braeburn
1 small red onion (think golf ball) or 1/2 a larger one
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

Whisk together the last 4 ingredients in a good sized bowl and set aside.

Finely dice the onion. You could also leave them in thin slices if you want to save time, but I like the contrast of the smaller size. Whisk them into the vinaigrette.

Slice the 4 sides of the apple. I left the skin on, but you could peel it if you felt like it. You’ll have 2 largeish “halves” and two little end pieces. Cut each piece into thin slices and then do it again in the opposite direction. They’ll essentially be julienned. Toss them in the vinaigrette to keep them from browning.

Thinly slice the cabbage and add that in on top of the apples, but don’t toss yet. Next, chiffonade the kale leaves. Add those on top of the whole thing and then toss well to coat. Serve chilled. The salad will keep well for about a day, but like most salads, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance.

Tomato, Tomahto

My step-sons are way way into Garfield comics. And Joe told me he thought Garfield was like the funniest thing ever, when he was a kid.

Well I thought he was funny too but not like they do. Maybe it’s a boy thing. They almost always get a new Garfield book when we go to the library and then they battle over who checked it out so that they know who gets to read it at bedtime. It’s such a kid thing.

Well what I am way way into is comfort food that is comfortable in it’s own skin because it’s healthy without skimping on the good stuff. Like lasagna with a whole bunch of veggies.

I made a really amazing version of this classic last night, and I think Garfield would have approved even though it wasn’t your traditional tomato and ricotta style dish.

The kids approved too, considering how many unlasagna-like things were in it. Pine nuts, kale, onions. And squash. A big heaping serving of it: as much as the noodles or more. Because I like to go easy on the noodles, even though they are really my one true love. They even asked for seconds.

And you know, what would a lasagna night be without a big bowl of Caesar salad, complete with homemade croutons (made from a few rolls leftover from the first time I baked with my sourdough starter) and freshly grated parm. I normally don’t eat this kind of salad because I like salads with a lot of stuff in them, but we had it last week when we went for dinner at a friends and I just needed more, you know? If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. I made myself feel better about how bad it can be for you by making the dressing myself. The boys wanted seconds on croutons too, of course.

And I couldn’t say no because I’d been eating them straight off the pan for like 10 minutes before dinner.

There might be some lasagna purists out there among you, who say that it should always be the traditional thing. And maybe you would say that this is just a casserole with some noodles in it. But I say to you “Don’t be so quick to judge! Lasagna loves you no matter what.” So you should try this dish, no matter what. After all, potato, potahto. Let’s just drink a glass of wine.

What? Those aren’t the lyrics?

Butternut Alfredo Lasagna
Makes one 9×13″ pan

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and sliced in 1/8″ slices. You could sub another squash here, but the butternut makes nice big slices so that’s why I went with it.
1/2 box lasagna noodles
1/2 bunch kale of choice, or about 4 loosely packed cups, roughly chopped or torn
1 jar alfredo sauce (Yeah, I cheated. Sorry.)
2 medium sized onions
2 cups grated parmesan, more or less depending on your tastes
freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/2 a nut
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
salt to taste
white wine, about 1/2 cup

Heat a large skillet oven high heat, and when it’s good and hot add a splash of olive oil. Toss in the squash slices, add a pinch of salt and the grated nutmeg, and let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and some of the pieces are getting browned. Put into a bowl and set aside.

While the squash cooks, prepare the noodles. Just follow the directions on the box for al dente, but subtract like one extra minute so they are very al dente. After draining them run cool water into the pot so that they don’t stick together while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

After taking the squash out of the pot reheat it and add another tiny splash of oil. Toss in all the onions and cook till nice and brown and soft. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let it reduce by about half. It will go pretty fast, so add more if it evaporates too quickly. Then add the kale. Cover and let steam for a couple of minutes, until it’s just soft, then give it all a good stir and turn off the heat.

Coat the bottom of your dish with a couple of table spoons of alfredo sauce and top with a layer of noodles. Next add half the kale and onions, 1/2 the pine nuts, then a handful of grated cheese following that with a layer consisting of 1/3 of the squash. Spread the pieces of squash out to make a flat surface for the sauce to go on, then spoon about 1/2 a cup of alfredo, more if you need it, on to that and spread it thin. Next go back to noodles, and do another round all the way through, using the remaining half of the kale. Once you get to the top layer of noodles, add the remaining squash, top with whatever sauce you have left in the jar and the rest of the cheese. Give it another good grating of nutmeg all over and let it sit for 1/2 hour or so, at room temp, so the noodles can absorb some of the sauce.

While the lasagna sits, heat up the oven to 350ºF. Put the lasagna in the lower third of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until it’s bubbly and getting browned on top. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. I know it’s hard to wait, but seriously the lasagna will be sooo much better if you do. Mostly because you won’t have burned your mouth with molten hot cheese and you’ll be able to taste it.

It’s even better the next day. Promise.

Fancy

My mom is a photographer, so I grew up with cameras being around pretty much all the time. In high school she gave me an old Minolta that had belonged to my grandfather, and I used it in the high school photography class that all the “bad” kids take to get easy art credits. Maybe I was a “bad” kid?

Anyway…

I took a lot of pictures with that camera, mostly just wasting film because I never really got the hang of all the technical jargon. I don’t remember much from the class, but now that I take pictures digitally for the most part, I can take hundreds of pictures and the worst part about it is having to go through them all.

After making the decision to put more energy into blogging and less into feeling bad that I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, I decided that I should experiment a little bit with taking better photos. I have quite a bit to learn about my camera, and photography in general, but I love taking photos and I know that they only way to get better is to do something. A lot.

So I’ve pretty much turned the camera into an extension of myself. I see things through the viewfinder even when I’m not physically looking through it. I think I’ve improved quite a bit even since picking it back up last December, but I can’t be the best judge.

One thing I have been doing is experimenting with “fancy” food photography style photos. I’m not sure it’s really my style. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Another thing I’m working to improve on is putting in the effort to perfect recipes before I share them. I am a very casual cook. I don’t often use recipes and when I do I usually change things right off the bat. Sometimes it’s because I’m missing an ingredient, sometimes because I look at the recipe and know that it won’t work the way it’s printed so I adjust things as I go along. The problem is, I rarely take notes.

I didn’t take notes for this recipe either, but I did make it like 4 times before I decided it was ready to share here. I’m pretty confident it can’t be improved upon.

I got the inspiration for this salad from a friend of ours whose family we spent Christmas Day with. She served it for dinner that day alongside an amazing roast leg of lamb with like 1 million cloves of garlic stuffed into it. Since then I’ve made it about once a week, eating it until I get tired of it (usually with only a serving or so to go, which I then send with Joe for lunch) and then craving it again just a couple of days later. Since it was originally part of a special meal it’s got a special place in my brain, listed under the heading “impress your guests with fancy food” even though it’s just as easily eaten with your fingers straight from the bowl, all by yourself.

I never asked her for the recipe so I don’t know if she made it up or if someone else deserves the credit but I haven’t come across a recipe quite like what I have here, so I’ll just call it unique and pass the fame on to her. This salad pretty much makes a meal. I’ve been eating it with a hard boiled egg alongside, or a heated up samosa. It’s very filling and even more delicious.

Kale and Yam Salad with Farro and Pomegranate
Makes about 6-8 decent sized servings

One bunch kale, washed, thick stems removed. Any kind of kale is good.
4-5 medium sized yams
1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
1/2 pomegranate’s worth of seeds
1 large handful raisins or dried cranberries, optional
1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
3 Tbsp good olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the yams in a 400ºF oven for about 45 minutes, more or less depending on size, until a fork sticks in easily. Allow to cool.

While the yams are roasting, bring the water and stock to a boil. Add the farro, cover, and reduce the heat. Cook for about 50 minutes until the grains have mostly split and are soft but still have a little bit of bite. Turn off the heat and let sit until about room temp. Don’t worry if there is liquid left when you do this, the grains will absorb quite a bit more as they cool. If there’s stock leftover in the end, save it to add to soup.

Meanwhile, mix together the very basic vinaigrette. Feel free to add other things if you want, but it really doesn’t need it. Adjust to your own tastes if you like more or less vinegar. Roughly chop or tear the kale and toss it in the dressing. Allow this to sit at room temp while the farro cooks and cools. Slice up the onions and get your pomegranate seeds ready. Once the yams and farro have cooled to about room temperature you can add them in. Peel and cube the yams, and drain the farro well before adding these things to the kale. Next add the onions and pomegranates, and the raisins if using them. Give it all a good stir (I used my clean hands as it seemed to work the best. Don’t be afraid to touch your food!) and serve it up. It’s good at room temp or cold, and will keep for 4 or 5 days in the fridge.