Friday, June 29, 2012

French Lentil Spinach Dip

Less expected than hummus, just as easy to prepare (minus the part about photographing a puree of legumes and dark leafy greens resulting in this regrettable tonal range). What it lacks in appearance is made up for in flavor. I promise.

French Lentil Spinach Dip:
*2 cups dry French lentils, rinsed
*4 1/2 cups water
*2 Tablespoons butter
*1/2 sweet onion, chopped
*sea salt
*black pepper
*pinch cumin
*stems from 3 garlic scapes (or 2 cloves garlic)
*1 cup steamed spinach (or 1 cup thawed and drained frozen spinach)
*extra virgin olive oil

Steam spinach leaves. Set aside.
Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add butter. Saute onion until clear and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add lentils and water. Season with sea salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils are tender. Fluff cooked lentils with a fork and allow to cool slightly.
Transfer lentils to a food processor. Add garlic scapes or cloves, spinach, cumin, sea salt and pepper to taste. Puree, slowly adding enough olive oil until smooth.
Serve with assorted raw vegetables and sourdough or pita triangles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bee Balm Nettleade

Herbal medicine has long praised stinging nettle for its expansive list of preventive and curative properties. One of the most interesting is its high calcium content, accompanied by high levels of vitamins A, C and E, iron, beta carotene, and phosphates. Nettles have been known to treat everything from arthritis to allergies with great success.
I've enjoyed eating my fair share of stinging nettle over the years, sauteing the tender greens in butter as one of the first acts of Spring's arrival. Excellent in quiches and pastries, nettles have an earthy, grassy flavor not unlike spinach or kale. I've always appreciated their robust tolerance to otherwise unsuitable growing conditions. Okay so it's a weed, and an invasive one to boot, but a fine one to take advantage of.
Only slightly less plorific is the lovely monarda (commonly known as bee balm, bergamot or horsemint ) luring hummingbirds from afar with its bright tubular blooms. Due to its antibacterial properties, Native Americans relied on bee balm tea to treat conditions affecting the mouth and throat such as infections and gingivitis. Bee balm teas were also used to relieve fevers and headache.
Added to a stinging nettle infusion, bee balm not only increases the healing properties of this drink, but also the mineral and vitamin A, B2 and C levels, making this the perfect blend for summertime thirst. Sweeten with local honey and pour over ice as a cooling tonic. Great for upset tummies, digestive issues, runny noses, colds, sore throat and chest congestion, or just for plain enjoying. Cheers!

Bee Balm Nettleade:
*1 half gallon ball jar filled with fresh stinging nettle
*blossoms and top leaves from 4-5 monarda stems
*filtered water
*juice from 1 1/2 lemons
*local honey (optional)
*mint for garnish

Fill ball jar with fresh nettle (be sure to wear gloves for harvesting).
Add monarda petals and leaves. Fill jar with enough water to cover all plant material. Apply lid.
Allow to sit in sun for one full day.
Strain. Add lemon juice and honey (if desired). Garnish with fresh mountain mint.

*For stronger infusion, place jar with its contents in refrigerator overnight. Strain, add honey and lemon and enjoy over ice.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grilled Kale

Combine higher than average temps with a 1100 square foot 1950's remodel (i.e. no AC) and grilling seems the only sane way to prepare dinner. Thoroughly wilted by the humid heat, I couldn't bring myself to fire up the range. So after the lamb burgers came off the coals, a heap of kale replaced them, charring slightly and infusing with that classic summertime flavor only the grill can bestow. Coarsely chopped and tossed with apple cider vinegar, sea salt and toasted sunflower seeds, the Solstice was celebrated with good food and drink, sans heat strokes and sweat bands.

Coals still hot? Try my favorite dark chocolate layer cake with grilled peaches.

Grilled Kale:
*1 bunch fresh organic kale
*olive oil for drizzling
*2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar or favorite vinegar of your choosing (can substitute with tamari)
*2 Tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds, pine nuts, crushed almonds or pumpkin seeds
*sea salt
*black pepper

Submerge kale in a bowl of cold water. Remove from bowl without shaking off excess water. Place entire bunch of wet kale on grill rack (making sure coals are not too hot), turning once halfway through grilling. Once wilted and slightly charred, remove from grill and transfer to work surface.
Coarsely chop kale and discard stems. Place in a medium mixing bowl. Toss with remaining ingredients and serve.

*Can be used as a flavorful filling for burritos, used to top homemade pizza, or stuffed into your next quesadilla.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Girl In An Apron Tee Shirt Preview

Lovingly working on sketches for the first ever Girl In An Apron exclusive tee shirts. Lamb, pig and chicken images are in the works. Printed on USA made American Apparel 100% cotton tees in a range of sizes.
Limited supply. Who wants one?

*stay tuned for more details and pricing

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Seaside in the Blue Ridge

No new news here. I've covered my deep, deep affection for sea scallops on these pages before. But I couldn't help myself from ranting (again) about this evening's meal simply out of born-again excitement if nothing else.
Cracking open a frosty Sierra Nevada, and noting the pleasant radiant heat from today's time in the sun, a generous slab of butter hits my cast iron, and the scallops assume their position like a fleet of divers waiting for the whistle to blow.
I eat slowly, trying not to make noises within earshot of my shellfish intolerant husband, proving a serious challenge. Insult to injury, it's Father's Day, and here I am savoring these sweet treasures in front of him. I soothe my guilt by serving him a juicy roast chicken from East Fork. Oh, but then George Strait comes on; "there's a difference between living and living well" and the game's over. This is the best meal of the season thus far.
I hear myself begin my usual reel on trading this life for year-round flip flops and sand. Not a day goes by without pining for the ocean. Though blessed to live in these gorgeous mountains, the sea is constantly on my mind, and constantly putting substantial weight on my heart strings. Not sure if meals like this serve as salve or disgrace to this relentless ache. Until it is clear to stay or one day go, I ask the powers that be to bless Frank for closing the gap between here and there with his weekly seafood dealings. He is a shepherd of good dreams.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mind Over Matter?

I've been discussing the phenomenon of state-of-mind and its relationship to our health with a few colleagues lately. Let's take a moment to explore two common scenarios:
How is it many of the shoppers I witness in my local organic grocery store seem so tight and rigid despite a cart overflowing with the "perfect" assortment of foods? I see kim chi, mostly produce, grass-fed meats, sprouted bread, yada yada yada, but there is no smile on this person's face. Not by a long shot.
Beam me over to the "counter" (as locals call it) within the neighborhood Rite Aid; old ladies flipping flapjacks and serving up plate after plate of crispy hash browns and black coffee to its regulars, and the mood lightens tremendously. This is no health-food buffet. Mention wheat grass shots and you'll most likely get thrown out. But jokes are staples here, and friendly banter reigns. A stark difference from the holier than thou atmosphere plaguing my regular shopping experiences.
Recent research states changing the way we think may be one of the most critical gains for our long term health. How is this so if it isn't also accompanied by three serving of dark leafy greens per day? Perhaps a fine line to this theory exists. No one would reasonably argue healthy eating does not equal better health, but the obsessive-compulsive need for perfection in addition to the judgmental nature often associated with "higher eating" may be neutralizing much of the good we are striving for. Eat real food yes, but for the love of all things sacred, take a moment to savor the act.
This brings me to the definition of health. If dogmas and lists of restrictions replace the bottom line, are they worthwhile? I ask myself this question often. Back in my vegetarian days while attempting a livelihood farming with my sister, a very old family friend (in her 80's, widowed, and of extremely modest means) came to our door shortly after we'd moved in, with a dish of wild boar (killed by her son the week prior) and a side of candied yams. This was a moment to weigh my food ethics. Did my desire to refrain from eating animals trump my desire to show a deep appreciation for her gesture? I decided it did not. And that wild boar remains in my memory as one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. Her generosity made it all the more nourishing.
What is nourishment? Is it eating perfectly, or is it more than this? Our state of mind is no doubt connected to our health, while our health is also connected to our state of mind. Food plays it's role, but it may not be the one and only deciding factor.
I am not suggesting we throw all caution to the wind and trade healthful eating for take out meals 7 days a week as long as we keep cracking jokes and have fun while we're at it. But I am suggesting we adopt some flexibility. Do I keep corn syrup out of my home as a rule? Yes. Will I savor a cup of lemonade peddled by grade schoolers from a homemade booth despite it's ingredient list? Absolutely. There are times to be a purist, and times to bury the hatchet. This may be the difference between experiencing the satisfaction of good food verses following the rules to a fault. If we consider ourselves too self important to let some things slide, we may miss the gift of truly being healthy.
Have you ever been out to eat with someone who has to ask the waiter a chapter's worth of questions about the ingredients of a perspective dish before making a decision, ("oh and hold the nightshades and have the chef brush the grill with olive oil verses butter"). Why go out to eat in the first place? Can you enjoy if you are too caught up in micro managing to do so?
I ask this because I am wary of a self obsessed backlash to the modern heath food movement. Allowing healthy eating to socially isolate is not so healthy after all. I believe we were created to enjoy food, not to make it into a false idol. Nor should we allow it to make us sick. A wonderful place exists in between.
As written in Psalms 104:15, we were given "wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart." Real food is intended to nourish us deeply and sufficiently, but should not overshadow the fact that pedestals do little to fortify community.
Let us rediscover the simplicity of good eating and retire the tendency to wear it like a badge of social class. May our shopping bags and gardens overflow with nourishing food, and may we have the freedom to enjoy it like the good ol' boys eating flapjacks at the counter.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Almond Tartlets

As promised, part II on tarts. After demolishing handful after handful of fresh raspberries, it was time to bring some in to let loose in the kitchen. As raspberries have a natural tendency toward chocolate, and chocolate toward nuts, I did little to facilitate this arrangement. I decided to stay out of the way and let the laws of chemistry take control. Here's what happened:

Chocolate Raspberry Almond Tartlets: Makes 4 tartlets
*4 Tablespoons almond butter
*1 pint fresh raspberries
*4 oz milk or dark chocolate, chopped and divided
*1/4 cup slivered raw almonds

Tart Pastry:
*1 1/4 cup high quality AP flour
*1/4 tsp sea salt
*8 Tbsp cold unsalted organic butter, cut into small cubes
*4 Tbsp ice water

Preheat the oven to 375.
Butter a 4 tartlet molds. Blend flour, salt and butter in a food processor. With blade running, slowly add ice water until dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface.
Divide dough into about 6 pieces. Using the palm of your hand, smear one piece of dough in a forward motion to incorporate the butter evenly. Repeat with remaining pieces. Gently form the dough into a ball and divide into four pieces. Flatten each piece into a disk.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Place in tart molds, gently pressing into walls of pan. Trim away excess dough from edges
Place a small sheet of parchment in the bottom of each dish and fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and beans. Set tartlet shells aside.

Once tartlet shells are cool, place 1 Tablespoon almond butter in center of each shell. Smooth evenly with fingertip or rubber spatula over bottom of pastry. Add chopped chocolate followed by raspberries, dividing among each tartlet. Sprinkle with slivered almonds.
Bake until pastry is golden and raspberries are soft, about 7-10 minutes.
Cool slightly before removing from molds and enjoying warm.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Parmesan Swiss Chard and Garlic Scape Tart

This is one of a two-part series on tarts. We begin with a savory version; eggs and cream cloaking dense layers of Swiss chard scattered with pungent garlic scapes. A perfect garden dinner pairing well with lamb sirloin chops from East Fork Farm and a nice glass of red.
Stay tuned for part II featuring fresh garden raspberries and dark chocolate.

Parmesan Swiss Chard and Garlic Scape Tart:
*4-5 fresh eggs, beaten
*1/3 cup cream
*1 1/2 cups sauteed swiss chard (or 1 bunch fresh)
*2 garlic scapes, chopped
*sea salt
*black pepper
*butter for sauteing
*1/2 cup Parmesan, shredded

Whole Wheat Crust:
*1 cup high quality whole wheat flour
*1/4 cup high quality all purpose unbleached flour
*1/4 tsp sea salt
*8 Tbsp cold unsalted organic butter, cut into small cubes
*4 Tbsp ice water

Preheat the oven to 375.
Butter a 9 inch tart pan. Blend flour, salt and butter in a food processor. With blade running, slowly add ice water until dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface.
Divide dough into about 6 pieces. Using the palm of your hand, smear one piece of dough in a forward motion to incorporate the butter evenly. Repeat with remaining pieces. Gently form the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Place in tart pan, gently pressing into walls of pan. Trim away excess dough from edges
Place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of the dish and fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove parchment and beans. Set tart shell aside.

Saute swiss chard in butter over medium heat. Add garlic scapes. Saute until chard is throughly wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Whisk eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl.
Transfer chard mixture to tart shell, spreading evenly over bottom of shell. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
Pour egg mixture over contents. Bake until center rises and egg mixture is golden, about 20 minutes.
Cool slightly. Using a sharp paring knife, loosen edges of tart from pan. Lift tart from pan. Slice and serve warm.