Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creamed Kale

As kale's season comes to a close, I thought I'd pay tribute to one of my all time favorite crucifers. I've discussed the seemingly ubiquitous (at least in my kitchen) leafy green with many a friend and food lover. Some absolutely adore it, others could live without it. A coworker couldn't figure out what to do with it, and after some trial and error, acquired a taste for it. As for me, whether it be kale chips, kale soup, or simply sauteed kale with garlic, I've had it all, and I love it all.

And I have to say, I can't believe it never occurred to me before to make creamed kale! If you like creamed spinach, you'll like creamed kale. Even if you don't like creamed spinach, give creamed kale a chance - it might do wonders for your taste buds. Kale, the sturdy green that it is, holds up beautifully to the rich and salty cream. The kale maintains its crunch, and runs a very low risk of turning mushy or stringy like creamed spinach might.

I chose to forgo the use of any cheese, simply because I like the taste of unadulterated and unadorned kale so much, but, as is almost always the case, a sprinkle of parmesan couldn't hurt.

Creamed Kale
I could eat heaps of this stuff, and when I do, I don't necessarily feel so bad because, after all, it's kale. (Did someone say Fat Kid?) But it might be better to share the dish with some friends and loved ones, so you can have someone to witness how tasty and amazing creamed kale is. So hurry up and make some, before the season's over!

one small bunch kale
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
salt and pepper
olive oil

Heat a turn of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Add kale and saute until just starting to wilt, about 3-5 minutes. Add cream and bring to a bubble, then simmer until cream is reduced by half, or more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Devour.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pan-Seared Scallops with Mashed Cauliflower

The other day, I received an email from a friend of my mother's requesting a recipe for scallops. The meal that I came up with might possibly have been one of the quickest, most simple dishes I've ever made.

Don't get me wrong. I love braising things, cooking things low and slow in my borrowed Dutch oven, roasting things in the oven. But on a weeknight, after a busy day at work, sometimes you just want something quick. Quick and satisfying.

And these scallops are just that. I don't think there's any other way to cook scallops that yields this much flavor. Or that's this easy. The scallops, seared quickly in butter, develop an amazing crust, while the insides remain soft and velvety. The cauliflower mash could not be easier, and with a dollop of dijon, provide a perfect, subtly tangy companion to the sweet, buttery scallops.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Mashed Cauliflower

1/2 pound sea scallops, any tendons removed
one small head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
one small bunch chives, chopped

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a pat or two of butter (about 1 tablespoon should suffice). When the butter is melted and bubbly, place the scallops in the pan, flat side down. Let the scallops cook and develop a nice brown crust. Season with salt and pepper. After about 2 minutes, flip scallops gently and continue to cook until they have browned on the other side, about 2 more minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add cauliflower and garlic and cook until cauliflower is fork tender. Drain. In a large bowl, mash the cauliflower and garlic with dijon mustard and a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, topped with a few scallops and some fresh chives.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Short Rib Tomato Stew

I made several versions of this stew last year. Those versions, looking back, were made in haste, without much planning, and without my new-borrowed Dutch oven. (I'm addicted to cooking in it. Can you tell?) Though the stew was still quite tasty, if I recall, the meat verged on tough and the flavor was slightly overwhelmed by all the tomato.

This time, it's new, and it's improved.

You see, this time I had a plan. Those of you that have known me for a while know that I used to be very fond of the maxim, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." And while I'm still fond of it, I've stopped saying it out loud to people so frequently, so as not to come off as, well, a total buzzkill. Furthermore, the merits of spontaneity and necessity - namely, creativity - are not to be disregarded. I will be the first to say that I am often inspired by sudden whim, or by the contents of our pantry and fridge. After all, that's pretty much how I began making this stew in the first place. That said, I have found that, for me, it's a bit easier (and the food comes out a bit better) when I have time to plan a meal and I can think for a while about what I want to cook and how to cook it.

Enter short rib tomato stew.

The idea for the stew sprouted in my mind just over a week ago. I had visions of something hearty and beefy, brought about by a delicious dish my coworker made for our weekly lunch co-op. I recalled my previous attempts at a tomatoey stew. As I thought about what I might include in my new and improved version of the dish, a few key ingredients stood out. Short ribs, of course, instead of plain old stew meat, would guarantee tenderness. Starchy potatoes for bite. A tomato base because, well, I favor tomato-based stews. Kale for some added color and nutrients. Beef stock to tone down the tomato and tie it all together. And bacon, for that rich, umami flavor. All the perfect components, in my humble opinion, for a perfect stew.

I have to say, I think the bacon really did the trick and brought this stew up from standard to utterly soul-satisfying. Rather than dicing the bacon, I left it in whole strips. Not only did the fat from the bacon practically melt into the liquid, the meat itself became oh-so-tender and magically fell apart into bite-sized morsels. Each shred of bacon that I encountered left me craving more - more stew, more warmth, more bacon. Perfect when you have a nice big pot of stew, all bubbly and waiting on your stove.

Short Rib Tomato Stew

1/4 lb sliced bacon, diced, or not
1 to 2 lbs boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch cubes
flour, for dredging
half a yellow onion, trimmed and finely diced
1 carrot, trimmed and finely diced
1 lb baby potatoes, each potato cut in half
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
2 cups low sodium beef broth or homemade stock
1 small bunch kale
olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat a Dutch oven or medium-sized stock pot over medium heat. When hot, add bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Meanwhile, season short ribs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Add the short ribs to the pot and sear until browned on all sides. Remove short ribs and set aside. Add a turn of oil to the pot, if necessary, and add onions and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add beef stock and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Add tomato puree, put the short ribs and bacon back in the pot, and bring the mix to a boil. Turn the heat down low, cover, and let simmer for about an hour and a half. Check for seasoning and adjust as you see fit. Add the kale at the last minute, cooking until just wilted. Serve with fluffy white rice or thick crusty bread.