Three years, and so much water under the bridge!

So I logged into WordPress a few weeks ago, and there was a little icon in the upper right hand side of the screen that looked like an award.  It reminded me that I have been blogging on WordPress for 3 years!  Happy Anniversary to me!  It also means I have been blogging for 5 years!  It seems like a much longer period of time than it feels like!  I have tried hard to make the commitment to write as much as possible, but when it’s a food blog, I do tend to let real life get in the way, which means my work, our family, the Hubby and generic stuff.  I read the blogs of people I feel I am getting to know, connections that are tenuous, and not real, but at least keep me in the mind that I should be writing more and more, not less and less.  My mind runs away sometimes, and writing would be a helpful way to keep it centered.  Do any of my blogging friends feel the same way?

As usual, this break in the blogging has been necessary due to life stepping in.  It’s been an interesting and challenging few months.  On March 7th, the Hubby had a lumbar laminectomy and was out of commission for six weeks.  I was prepared for it, but when the time actually came, I realized that I am pretty alone out here.  He wasn’t able to do much for the first week or so, and so I took the first two weeks off, the Hubby’s brother helped me get him home, and came by to check on us, which I am so grateful for, and my Mom came out which was truly wonderful for us both!  I started thinking though, we’re pretty alone here in Michiagn, in the sense of an emergency.  What would I do if something really catastrophic happened?  Have any of you ever thought, what if civilization as we know it came to an end and something in the vein of “The Road” took it’s place?  How would you survive?  In my mind, I always thought I would some how make it back to New York, but in reality it’s unlikely that would happen.  Too far, how do we eat/sleep/travel along the way?  It’s a daunting, kind of paranoid scenario.  It also crosses my mind that when I am elderly, I’ll be alone too, or the Hubby and I will be alone.  It’s a scary thought!  How many of you have ever pondered that?

It’s the thoughts of the future and the unknown that make me so grateful for our family and my husband.  They’re great people, that love me tons, and there are many people that don’t have that in their life.  SO, I am super lucky!  And I love to cook for them, and so we come to this episode’s recipe.  it’s something very simple, so delicious and family oriented, that I can’t believe it took me so long to make it for the Hubby, in vegetarian fashion of course.

Most of the time Hubby was laid up, I heated up convenience foods, but I also made and bought him ice cream, and cookies and pretzel treats, all to keep him happy.  In anticipation of being laid up for 6 weeks, before he went under the knife, Hubby bought a very large bag of lentils, which he loves.  When I finally had some time to cook, I thought about making them the way I normally do them, the French way, beautiful green grey Puys lentils, a bottle of red wine, diced onion and garlic, long slow cook, but I had gotten tired of that. I also had a cabbage around that never made it into St. Patrick’s Day dinner.  Enter Mark Bittman and his wonderful iPhone app “How to Cook EVERYTHING Vegetarian” and VOILA! I stumbled upon lentil and rice stuffed cabbage rolls.  And we were off!

Bittman suggests just rice, lentils and onion.  I had a great deal of greens and other vegetables left from the Door to Door Organics box delivery we get, so I decided to pump this up pretty hard.  We had some carrots, a ton of onion, garlic, some broccoli rabe and some organic pear tomatoes.  Of course, being the pantry supply maniac that I am, I also had dried herbs, Indian spices, nuts, and all manner of packet flavoring.

Living in Hamtramck, MI, also known as Poletown (thank you Chrysler) anything Polish is pretty standard, and stuffed cabbage rolls are called golubki (which is pronounced golumki).  A few years ago, I helped a friend do her version of them and a semi-hilarious scene (for me, not for her) ensued where her in-sink disposal broke and landed all the greasy, cabbagy, smelly things that should have gone down the drain in the cabinet under her sink.  I recall much swearing and name calling of the person that had fixed said disposal.  With this version, there isn’t any meat, so the grease is cut down to a minimum.  And of course, when I was cooking I forgot to take photos.  I am sure you will forgive me, considering how awful my photo’s usually are!  

This recipe is fairly fool proof, and if you are not dextrous enough to get the rolling right, you can always just layer them like a casserole.  But, softening the cabbage in water first is essential.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Cabbage Rolls (adapted from Mark Bittmen)

1/2 cup uncooked lentils

1/2 cup uncooked rice (normal long grain white)

2 cups water (or vegetarian no or low sodium stock)

pinch of salt & pepper

Large soup pot, full of boiling salted water (water should taste a little of the salt)

8 – 10 cabbage leaves, stem removed (white cabbage works best but Savoy might be nice)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion chopped finely

3 garlic cloves pressed or chopped finely

8 – 10 mushrooms chopped

2 carrots finely chopped

1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned (if fresh remove the seeds and pulp, leaving only the skin and flesh)

1 medium bunch of broccoli rabe finely sliced (and/or kale, or spinach)

1 14 oz can low sodium tomato juice (or vegetable juice, like V8)

 

In a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight fitted lid, bring the 2 cups of water, salt & pepper to a boil.  Stir in the lentils and rice, stir to evenly distribute, and bring back to the boil.  Lower the heat down to a simmer and cover tightly.  Let cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until all the water has absorbed.  Once it’s done, set it aside, still covered. 

In the meantime bring the large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a very large bowl with an ice bath.  Blanch the cabbage leaves 2 – 3 at a time, until they’re softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes each.  Remove from the boiling water and plunge into the ice bath.  Make sure they’re completely covered in the cold water, and continue the process until all the cabbage leaves are processed.  Set the whole bowl and cabbage aside until you’re ready to stuff.

In a saucepan, sauté the onion, garlic and carrots in the olive oil.  Cover and lower the heat so they cook and the onions start to get brown but don’t burn, about 4 minutes.  Once they’re soft, add the mushrooms, cook string occasionally for another 3 – 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms soften.  Add the greens, and sauté until they start to wilt then, add the tomatoes, stir well and cover.  Cook for 7 – 10 minutes, string occasionally until it is heated through and the tomatoes thicken.  Remove from the heat and stir the mixture into the rice and lentils.  Set aside to cool.  At this point, when it’s still hot, I usually add some dried herbs, really to taste, or you can be traditional and use parsley, marjoram and dried chive.

Preheat your oven to 350°

You’re ready to start rolling and stuffing.  Drain the cabbage well.  If you have a salad spinner, place them gently in it and spin, the key here is to keep them as whole as possible but to dry them really well.  If not a salad spinner, use tea towels or paper towels and gently dry them off, and stack them until you’re ready for them.  On a flat surface lay a leaf cupped side up, with the cut end where the core was facing you.  Take about 1/4 cup of the stuffing and place it 1/3 of the way into the cup from the but end.  Fold the cut end over the filling, and fold in the 2 sides to form a kind of envelope with the open end facing away from you.  Roll the filling end of the package over the leaf until the open end is on the bottom of the packet.  It should look like a very fat stuffed grape leaf.  Place the packet, open end side down, in a square baking dish.  Continue to stuff and roll the others placing them in the baking dish.  One they’re all tucked into the dish, pour over the tomato or vegetable juice, until they’re covered.  You may not use all of it.

Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, until they’re bubbly and beginning to brown.  Let them cool to room temperature and serve.

ENJOY! 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking soothing, happy food for ailing people

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Tomorrow at 6am, barring too much snow in NYC, I fly home to NY to help my Mom when she gets her shoulder operated on.  I was thinking of what to make and freeze for my parents during the time in the next few weeks while Mom Hennessey  is recuperating.  Suddenly I remembered that last time my mom was operated on, probably 20 years ago, and all she craved before and after the operation was swiss chard, which was in season at the time.  I was going through a trendy cooking phase and chards of all kind were “de rigeur” if you had any credentials in trend cooking.  So, I made her a bit pot of chard and white bean soup, complete with anchovy paste.  My mother hates anchovies, but she never knew it was in there until I told her.  She promptly got ill, thinking that she had eaten those “little hairy fish”!  But, I made it several times and she never questioned the ingredients again.  I also made a swiss chard streudel that was wonderful which I have posted previously on this blog!

Over the years, I have found myself coming back to that basic recipe when people are ailing and their appetites need a little coaxing.  Recently my very good friend and her husband lost their baby during a pregnancy and they were devastated.  I did all I could, the mamma in me wanted to take the hurt away, but all I did was listen, hold hands, be there and nourish her through this devastating time.  Once they were home from the hospital, I immediately ran to grab the ingredients for this soup, with a few tweaks.  They loved it, and in their grief, they didn’t have to think about what to eat.  That to me is the real joy of being able to cook, and even more importantly cook for people you love.  You nourish and care for them, through good times and bad, and you make sure they will be ok, with even a simple dish of soup!

The version I am giving you below can be tweaked in many ways, but the basis is still delicious, filling and so soothing.  I call this a Swiss chard soup, but cavolo negro (a dark, beefy Italian kale) or any good dark bitter kale or green would work.  I can not be too pushy about this one, the chard must be washed very, very well.  It is very sandy and it will really ruin the soup.  I don’t recommend spinach, because after a while the leaves fall apart and turn to mush, not good for a soup of this type.  The chard is great because the leaves really stand up to cooking, but become soft and easy to slurp, and the stems get lovely and tender after you cook them, but still retain some bite.  Another important note is that you use good quality chicken stock, or vegetable stock.  It’s one of the main flavors of the soup so good quality makes a huge difference.  Now, the basic recipe only calls for chard and white beans, but below I am adding in tortellini.  You can add cooked rice, brown rice would be yummy, couscous, barley, pastina, lots of other tiny pasta’s or starches, or none at all.  This one is all about a classic Tuscan recipe that you can make your own!

Swiss Chard, White Bean and Tortellini  soup

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly or use a garlic press
1 large bunch of Swiss chard, washed well, stems chopped and set aside, leaves cut into strips

6 – 8 cups of good quality low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable stock or water)
2 12 oz cans of cooked white beans, drained and rinsed well
1 package of fresh cheese tortellini

Optional: Parmesan rinds 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Saute the olive oil, garlic and chopped stems from the chard in a thick bottomed soup pot on low to medium heat.  Optionally, you can add in some dried chili flakes, if you like it spicy.  Add salt and pepper to taste, go easy on the salt, the broth tends to be salty, even the low sodium ones.  Cover and cook the mixture for 5 – 7 min or until the stems are softened.  Add in the shredded Swiss chard and saute until wilted.  Taste a strand to see if seasoning needs to be corrected.  Add the shredded chard and saute until wilted.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil and let it simmer for 7 – 8 min.  Add in the beans and let the soup simmer for 20 min, covered.

I usually serve this with some toasted sourdough bread rubbed with olive oil and a garlic clove, but you don’t have to do that.  The optional Parmesan rinds can be added once you add the broth.  If you do add them, add about 20 more minutes to the cooking time, then remove and discard the husks when you are ready to serve.

Another optional item is a good grating of Parmesan over the bowl and a drizzle of good olive oil.

Enjoy! I hope you will show someone your love with this dish!

Swiss chard, how I love you!

Sorry for the large break between posts, but guess what?  I got a JOB!  So – my last couple of weeks has been occupied with the whirlwind of interviewing, waiting, accepting and finally starting the new job in very short order.  The joy of a new job and adjusting to working in a non-profit is overwhelming.  We also had Tim get hired into the company he has been contracted to for a while, so all in all it’s been a very eventful couple of weeks!  So, on to my lovely recipe of the day!

One of the delights of my cooking life is greens.  I am addicted to lovely, bitter broccoli rabe, kale in any of it’s forms, garlicy wilted spinach, smokey, yummy collards and finally, the rainbow of colors that is Swiss chard.  Years ago, long before I moved to Michigan, my mother was operated on and during her recovery period, she was craving Swiss chard.  So I made it in as many ways as I could.  I make chard soup, wilted chard and I steamed it like a pro.  Then I happened to be going through my cook books and I found this recipe for Swiss chard strudel.  I know it sounds odd, a dish that usually includes apples and lots of butter, but believe me this one is anything but sweet.  The original recipe called for Jarlbserg cheese and Parmesean, and for a while I did make it that way, but I made it today with VanGogh cheese (think a cross between really sharp cheddar and an aged gouda) and a beautiful smoked blue cheese we happened upon at Hirts this morning.  If anyone reading this is ever in Eastern Market in Detroit, get yourselves to JR Hirts.  It’s a wonderland of cheeses and meats and all kinds of yummy goodies.  They even have vegetarian cheese!

On to the most delish Swiss chard recipe I know!

Swiss Chard Strudel

1 large bunch of Swiss chard, about 15 oz (washed well, drained, stems separated and chopped, leaves roughly chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves sliced or chopped roughly
1 small onion chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried basil (optional)
4 1/2 tbsp good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded flavorful cheese (your choice)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or another flavorful dry cheese)
1/2 stick good butter, melted and cooled
6 sheets phyllo dough (or good puff pastry)

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and add the garlic and onion.  Saute until the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes at medium heat.  Stir while softening, don’t allow either to brown or burn. Add in the chard stems and saute until they are also soft, about 6 more min at medium heat.  To speed up the process you can cover the pan and walk away for a few minutes.  When everything is cooked, add in the chard leaves and stir well, making sure they are coated by the oil, add the dried basil.  The leaves will wilt but won’t cook down like a spinach, so cook them, stirring occasionally another 6 – 8 minutes.   Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.  After cooling a few minutes, drain some of the liquid off the chard, put the mixture in a large bowl, add in 1 tablespoon of the bread crumbs, the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste, mix well and set aside.  (*Note, the cheeses tend to be salty, so go very easy on the salt, taste after you add all the cheese before you add salt.)

While the chard mixture cools, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, then prepare a large baking sheet.  Mix the remaining olive oil into the cooled butter and with a brush, lightly butter the baking sheet and place one of the phyllo sheets on it.  Butter the sheet all over and sprinkle it with breadcrumbs.  Place the next sheet of phyllo over this one, and repeat the butter and crumb process with the remaining 5 sheets.  You need to work fairly quickly here, since the phyllo will dry out quickly.  Don’t worry if there are tears in the sheets, all the layers will cover most holes and you will never even notice it after baking.

Spread the cooled chard mixture onto the phyllo sheets, spread it all over the sheet, leaving 1/2 in margin all the way around the sheet.  When you have spread it evenly, fold over the margin onto the chard.  Starting at the short end of the pastry, roll the phyllo over the filling, making a streudel shaped roll.  Lay flat on the baking sheet with the seam side down.  Use any remaining oil/butter to paint the outside of the struesel, and cut some shallow slits into the top of the struesel, to allow any steam to escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, you will know it’s done when it is golden brown on the outside.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, cut and serve.  You can serve this at room temperature, or hot.

Enjoy!