Friday, March 23, 2012

Braised Vegetables and Local Grass-Fed Beef with Kale

"Clean" meals often refer to sushi and salads, but this one is just as light on its toes with a bit more staying power. Braising brings out the earthy flavors of carrots and parsnips slow simmered with local grass-fed beef. Add a heap of kale right at the end to soak up all the juices. Perfect served on a bed of tricolor quinoa. Enjoy!

Braised Vegetables and Local Grass-Fed Beef with Kale:
*1 pound grass fed beef tips or stew beef
*7 carrots, quartered
*1 medium onion, chopped
*3 celery stalks, quartered
*3 parsnips, peeled and quartered
*3 garlic cloves, sliced
*sea salt and pepper
*2-3 cups high quality beef broth
*2 bay leaves
*1 bunch fresh kale, ribs removed and chopped

Rinse and towel dry beef. Place a braising pan or heavy pot over medium heat and coat with butter or olive oil. Working in batches to avoid over crowding the pan, sear beef pieces turning once to brown. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
Add onions, carrots, parsnips and celery to pan. Season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in the garlic. Saute until beef juices caramelize in pan and transfer to vegetables. Return beef to pan and add beef stock (adding enough to just cover contents of pan) and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to lowest setting. Cover and cook for at least 3 hours or longer.
Add kale to pan 10 minutes before serving. Cover and allow to steam for 4 minutes. Uncover and gently stir kale into mixture. Cover again for 5 minutes before serving. Season with additional sea salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over tricolor quinoa or wild rice.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chilled Beet Root Salad

This is originally my sister's recipe. She used to make it often, especially during our vegetarian days in college. I love how she incorporates the raw beet greens, demonstrating the meatless beauty of "nose to tail" eating. Creamy feta cheese and crunchy walnuts make this a great warm-weather side dish. The vegetarian days are long gone (clearly), but this recipe pulled through. Thanks Becky.

Chilled Beet Root Salad:
*6-8 red beets with tops
*olive oil
*balsamic vinegar
*sea salt and pepper
*toasted walnuts, pecans or sunflower seeds
*feta cheese, chevre or queso fresco

Preheat oven to 375.
Remove beet tops and set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Quarter beets and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Roast until a fork pierces beets easily. Allow to cool. Remove skins and cube beets into bite sized pieces. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Rinse and towel dry beet greens. Chiffonade leaves. Add to bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Add walnuts, pecans or seeds and feta. Gently mix. Briefly chill (optional) and serve.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Behind the Golden Arches

While driving down the four lane that runs through the center of our city, I got stuck behind 7 cars in the left lane, waiting for one car to turn into the neighborhood McDonald's. Because there is no turning lane, I often see this scenario right around lunch time. I always resist the urge to yell out my window, "don't do it, just don't do it!" But I refrain. Though I am perplexed by those who often say how fast food happens on a whim, yet folks turning left across two lanes of busy traffic have ample time to reconsider.
In the wake of last week's news on the USDA purchasing 7 million (yes, 7 million) pounds of ammonia treated pink slime (fine ground beef trimmings and connective tissue) rejected by top fast food chains to serve in public schools, I have been thinking about the power of facades. Similar to the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, there are powerful forces at work to create an image that makes us forget the truth behind the glitz, such as the trademark golden arches. Most newer McDonald's chains now offer free wi-fi, and own some of the slickest advertising of any of them, including commercials of very happy, hip, young adults enjoying their products (I will not call it food because it isn't) to help consumers gloss over what they are actually peddling.
But what would happen if we rolled up to the drive-thru and next to the order options were pictures of cows waist deep in their own manure instead of a well styled juicy looking beef patty adorned with oh so fresh veggies? What if we were asked to look at the physical effects of this kind of eating with large mirrors reflecting our bloating images? Would we still order? Perhaps some would. After all, we have already been exposed to powerful muck raking films such as Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation, why are we still crossing traffic to eat our own demise, neatly served on a warm, nutritionally devoid bun?
What saddens me is even if we choose not to eat fast food as well informed adults, our government has decided to take the reigns and feed the scraps to our children. In reality, this is a common practice, it just so happens a recent article momentarily brought it into the spotlight. The public school system has been forced into bottom-feeder status for ages, from what we pay our teachers to what we serve at lunch time.
Not only does this speak volumes on where our priorities are as a free nation, it is the very essence of what is wrong with our entire agricultural system as we know it. Such filthy meat should not even exist. But we have allowed the wool to remain comfortably settled over our eyes and condone "privacy" fences to border feedlots while our children eat the byproducts. We have allowed monoculture to become the norm, which in my opinion, is a very dangerous thing.
Aside from good advertising, there is a heap of cash spent on flavor technology to create and inject chemicals into dirty food products to make them taste irresistible. Extremely smart and well paid scientists are literally working in shifts to keep you hooked. As far as our bodies are concerned, once that double cheese burger is past our taste receptors, it is closer to flavored plastic than it is to beef. So why involve the animals? Why not just flavor plastic and offer it instead?
We have been trained as a "feel good society" to ignore the facts that are difficult to look at, and to continue on with business as usual. If someone rocks the boat, we are happy to tell them to mind their own business, after all, we are busy and haven't "had our break today."
I will tell you this much, I am angry and appalled (though not surprised) at what our government has chosen to call safe. Once my child is of school going age, she will be brown bagging it if I haven't decided to home school by then. And from here on out, turning lane or not, I will not, under any circumstances, cross over to the other side!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Savory Nettle and Feta Rugelach

I may be doing some serious rule breaking by calling these rugelach, but who ever said you've got to follow the rules, especially in the kitchen. And yes, it is that time again when I shove nettles in front of you whether you are a fan or not. Past recipes are generally for nettle lovers only, but this one transcends favor. Feta, garlic, sweet onion and sauteed nettles swaddled in butter pastry; who wouldn't fall for them? The impressive little rolls make a great addition to any springtime party or tea. Enjoy!

Savory Nettle and Feta Rugelach:
*about 6 cups loosely packed fresh stinging nettle
*3 tablespoons high quality butter
*1 small onion, chopped
*sea salt and pepper
*1 egg
1/4 cup whole milk plain Greek yogurt
*1/4 cup (or whatever makes you happy) crumbled feta cheese
*1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

Rinse nettles. Drain on a kitchen towel and pat dry. Working in batches, pulse nettles in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl.
Place butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until clear and aromatic. Add nettles and a splash of water. Saute for about 5 minutes until nettles are fully wilted but still bright green. Season lightly with sea salt and pepper.
Transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
Add remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly with a rubber spatula.

Pastry Dough:
*1 1/4 cup organic AP flour
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*1 stick high quality unsalted butter
*3-4 tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven to 375.
Place flour and salt in a food processor. Pulse. Add the butter and blend until it resembles a course meal. Slowly pour in the ice water with blade running until dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured work surface. Form dough into a disk and wrap in parchment. Chill for 15 minutes.
Return dough to work surface. Roll out with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Evenly spread nettle filling over pasty. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut approximately 12 pie shaped wedges in dough.

Starting with the wide end, gently roll each wedge toward its tip. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, allowing an inch of space between each rugelach.

In a small bowl, whisk one egg yolk with a splash of cold water. Brush egg wash over pastry dough.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Natural Wonders: Part II

In lieu of an impressive recipe or photos of bodacious plates of food, I bring you Natural Wonders Part II: The miniature egg from the hen house. If you recall the original Natural Wonders, you may begin to feel as though anything is possible. The moral of this story: little creatures are capable of extraordinary things.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bacon Roasted Squash Seeds

Lately I've been crisping bacon on a sheet pan in the oven. It's less messy and evenly bakes each strip. Then you just pour off the fat and clean up is easy. But what happens when you accidentally leave some of the drippings on the pan? Well, the pan gets lonesome. So you do what any good hearted person would do and give it some company. I decided to revisit a Halloween favorite, and roast the seeds of a butternut (in lieu of pumpkin) while preparing it for dinner. Crunchy. Salty. Bacon-y. A great pre-supper nibble.

Roasted Squash Seeds:
*Approximately 1 teaspoon pastured bacon fat
*seeds from 1 or 2 butternut squash or pumpkins, rinsed and pulp removed.
*sprinkle of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place prepared seeds on a kitchen towel and pat dry. Transfer to a baking sheet with pastured bacon fat. Mix to coat seeds. Spread seeds evenly over pan and bake on center rack of oven until golden, stirring once, about 7 minutes.
Remove seeds from pan with a large slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Cool slightly before enjoying.