Archive for May, 2006

Brunching Out: A Great Green for Moms

Friday, May 12th, 2006

(originally published on lime.com)

Brunching with Mom this weekend?

Adding kale to the menu is an unusual, easy, and delicious way to show her you care. It comes in several tasty varieties and has a wide range of beneficial nutrients that are associated with decreased risk of cancer, cataracts, heart disease, arthritis, and emphysema, including anti-oxidants, calcium, and fiber. Not only is it truly a health super-food, but Sautéed Lemon Kale is a great reason to blow off the Eggs Benedict when served with poached eggs and whole-grain toast. It can be tempting to toss aside good nutrition on special occasions, but this is one exceptionally healthy treat that I have come to crave.

Kale comes in several varieties, and any of them will work well in this preparation, although I particularly like the texture of the curly variety. Look for firm, crisp leaves with no signs of wilting or yellowing.

Poached Eggs with Sautéed Lemon Kale and Whole Grain Toast

1 large bunch kale, washed and dried

1 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 eggs

1 tbsp white vinegar

4 slices of whole grain bread

Slice the kale horizontally across the bunch into ribbons about ½ inch wide. Discard the tough stems. Cut the garlic into slivers.

Heat olive oil in a large lidded sauté pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers but doesn’t smoke. Add kale. You may need to add it in batches, as the kale will reduce in size as it cooks, and while it may initially look as though there is too much for the pan, if you wait 10-15 seconds you should be able to squeeze it all in. Cover and cook until the kale is sufficiently reduced in size that you can stir it. Remove the lid and sauté as the kale continues to cook down. It’s fine, and in fact, quite tasty, if some of the leaves brown and crisp in places. When you have enough room in the pan, move the kale to the side enough that you can add the garlic in direct contact with the pan. Sauté for several seconds, then stir to combine garlic and kale. Cook to desired done-ness, at least until the stem portions of the leaves become tender and lose their raw taste. Remove from the heat and add the juice of the lemon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toast bread and keep warm.

While you are cooking the kale, bring a medium saucepan containing a depth of about three inches of water to a boil, then reduce the heat to barely a simmer. Add the vinegar to the water. When the kale is done, poach the eggs as follows: gently crack each egg into a saucer or small cup. Lower into the simmering water and slide in the eggs. Immediately turn off the heat and cover. Cook for just under 3 minutes.

On each one of 4 plates, top one slice of toast with one quarter of the Sautéed Lemon Kale and one poached egg. Serve immediately, and pass sea salt and the pepper mill.

Serves 4.

Delicious Herbs You Can Grow at Home

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

(originally posted on lime.com)

A trip to your local farmer’s market at this time of year can yield an awesome selection of herbs that have already been started in small pots or flats. These will not only look great planted in containers on your windowsill, fire escape, deck, stoop, or whatever, they can add delicious flavors and aromas to anything from pesto to pound cake throughout the summer, and most likely, well into the fall.

Most herbs are easy to grow, even for horticulturally-challenged individuals such as myself, as long as you water them and regularly move them around to take advantage of sunlight. I grow mine in terracotta pots, but you can use any kind of container (cookie tins, wooden crates, metal buckets, chimney pipes, half-barrels) so long as it can be filled with dirt, allows moisture to drain from the bottom, and allows room for the plants’ roots to grow. Garden soil is too dense for proper drainage and root growth. Instead, a good choice would be a low-cost potting mix combined with a more nutrient-rich selection like 100% organic Black Gold, made with worm castings, peat moss, and pumice. You may also add a good-quality natural fertilizer. To prepare the containers for planting, place a small pile of pot shards or rocks over or around the container’s drainage holes. Then fill the container most of the way to the top with your pre-mixed potting soil.

You can combine several kinds of herbs into a single container, but be aware of the light, water, and temperature needs of the herbs you wish to combine to make sure they’re compatible. One of the best features of buying herbs at the farmer’s market is the chance to talk with the grower, as they will usually have the best information about what works in your climate zone.

What herbs should you plant? Clearly, plan on large quantities of anything you like to use frequently, but don’t limit yourself to what’s already familiar. There are unusual and tasty variations to be had, from lemon thyme and chocolate mint to less familiar herbs like chervil and sorrel. I like to try a few new things every year. Here are some less-common varieties to look for, with some possible dishes you could try them in:

– Blue and Purple Basil: Zucchini Au Gratin, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

– French Tarragon: Potato Salad, Roast Chicken, Herbed Vinegar

– Lemon Thyme: Crème Brûlée, Halibut Parcels

– Chocolate Mint: Coffee, Banana Bread

– Lemon Verbena: Lemonade, Sugar Pesto

– Lavender: Shortbread Cookies

– Lemongrass: Coconut Curry Fish

– Chervil: Devilled Eggs

To get a sense of an herb’s flavor and aroma, gently press a small leaf or a section of a leaf between your fingers and then rub your fingers together under your nose to release the scent. Tasting the leaves is usually a harsher experience, and is not usually a good indicator of the flavor that an herb will impart.

Once you’ve selected your herbs and prepared your containers, it’s time to transplant the herbs. It’s easiest to transplant when the herbs are on the drier side – if they’ve just been watered, leave them out for a few hours before transplanting. I like to transplant in the early evening, so the plants have time to absorb a good drink before facing the sunlight. To transplant, first, prepare a small hole in the container where you want the herb to grow. Then, holding the herb in its small pot over the destination container, gently hold the stem of the plant between your fingers, palm down, and invert, removing the plant and soil from the container. Place root-end down in the hole, and pack the soil in around the plant. Once you’re done transplanting, give all your containers a good watering. Remember to keep up with watering – even one day of neglect can result in sad, wilted, scorched plants. As with everything else, there is a balance: it is definitely possible to over-water, so be sure to ask how much you should allow the soil to dry out between watering. To keep pests away, it can be useful to plant a few containers of marigolds and nasturtiums.

Give your herbs several weeks to grow and establish themselves before you start picking them, and harvest judiciously, thinning the herbs’ growth rather than mowing them down. With just a little bit of tending, your herb garden will continue to reward you for months to come.

Photo: PBS