Kale Chips

I discovered these via a very cool food blog, A Thought for Food. They are a wonderful way to make one of the healthiest vegetables around, delicious and full of flavor. And they’re so light they practically disappear in the mouth.

The recipe calls for smoked paprika, which I used and really enjoyed, but the blog says you can also change the seasonings to suit whatever taste you like — from chili powder to cinnamon and sugar.

They are a terrific, healthy snack. They might also make a wonderful garnish, maybe on top of a creamy soup or on the side of an entree.

1 bunch of curly kale
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste
Smoked paprika, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Wash kale and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the stems and ribs of the kale. Rip into 2-inch (or larger if you prefer) chunks and place into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on top of the kale and mix, making sure each piece is coated. Sprinkle with salt and smoked paprika, or whatever seasonings you are using.

Spread the mixture across baking sheets that have been covered with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, or until each piece has dried up. Let cool before transferring to a bowl.

Simple Vegetable Curry

This thick curry is a great way to use up any leftover vegetables. I had a bunch of cut vegetables leftover from a weekend cookout, and I was able to use them all. I found the recipe on one of my favorite food sites, LoveFoodHateWaste.

I recommend scaling the recipe based on how many vegetables you have to use. Serve it over rice, and bon appetit.

675g leftover vegetables of any type (I used zucchini/courgettes, eggplant/aubergines, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and even celery. Other ideas include potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, baby corn, cauliflower, and green beans.)
2 tablespoons canola/rapeseed oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (yes, you do want to use this many)
100g block creamed coconut*, diluted in 200ml of warm water
4 Tbsp. red curry paste, such as Madras or Masaman
14 oz./400g can chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Cilantro (coriander sprigs) to garnish, if available (don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand)

If using potatoes, boil them in salted water for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Chop them and all the vegetables in big chunks and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a large splash of the coconut “water” and curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until mixture resembles a very thick paste.

Add the vegetables, salt, and the remaining coconut water. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are tender. Ganish with cilantro, if you have it, and serve atop basmati rice.

*I was new to creamed coconut when I began this recipe, but I found it easy to use and with a fresher coconut flavor than coconut milk. Here is a great explanation of coconut ingredients.

Broiled Portobellos

Here is a quick and easy way to prepare those beautiful and meaty portobello mushrooms. The only part that takes a while is the marinating, but you can get other things done in the kitchen while you do it, including preheating the oven. You won’t believe how good this tastes.

This can also be done on an outdoor grill.

Once cooked, the portobellos can be sliced into long strips for a vegetable side dish, a topping for salads and risotto, or a gourmet addition to a toasted sandwich. You can also put the mushroom caps between two hamburger buns to create a new favorite of mine — portobello burgers.

You can play with the proportions for the marinade, but I favor one part red wine vinegar to two parts olive oil.

4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. white pepper

Gently rinse the mushrooms and pat dry with a paper towel. Mix the other ingredients together well in a measuring cup, then pour into a large bowl. Add the mushrooms and leave to marinate for about half an hour, turning every so often to make sure all sides can sit in the liquid.

Preheat the broiler (I set it to 225C/460F degrees). When the broiler is ready, place the caps rounded side up on a baking tray.

Broil for 2-3 minutes, then turn and cook for a further 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Asian Stir-Fry Sauce

The recipe for a good, basic stir-fry sauce has eluded me for a while, but I have finally found one I like. It takes just a couple of minutes to make and has just what I want in a sauce — something that clings to the ingredients and gives it a spicy, salty, and slightly sweet Asian flavor.

This is perfect for those bags of pre-cut stir-fry vegetables you see in the produce aisle of the supermarket. Add bean sprouts, edamame beans, or tofu for a great vegetarian meal, then serve it all on top of rice or rice noodles. It is for me the perfect weekday meal — quick and nutritious, with enough for leftovers (to save time the next day!).

I adapted the recipe from one I found at about.com.

Serves 4

2/3 cup chicken stock
5 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. agave syrup (you can substitute honey)
Something for heat — whether minced red chili, a dash of chili sauce, or a sprinkling of cayenne pepper
4 tsp. cornstarch (cornflour) dissolved in 1/2 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced

Place the first five ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When it begins to bubble, reduce the heat slightly and add the cornstarch mixture and garlic. Stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed.

How to use it:
Make the sauce as you cook the rice and before you start cooking the vegetables. When you’re ready, stir-fry the vegetables in a little oil. When the pan becomes dry, add a few spoonfuls of the sauce and stir to coat the vegetables. Keep cooking until the vegetables have softened but still retain some crispness. Add the remaining sauce and mix until everything is coated. Serve immediately over rice.

Cinnamon Parsnips

This is a great way to serve parsnips — they come out soft and sweet.

Serves 2 as side dish

5 parsnips
50g butter
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C/355F degrees. Peel and trim the parsnips and cut into chunks of roughly equal size.

Put them in a pot of water and bring to the boil. Let simmer for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the honey and cinnamon in a small pot on the stove.

When the parsnips are done boiling, drain them and put them in a baking pan. Pour the butter mixture on top and mix together. Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Cheesy Butternut Squash and Pasta Bake

Serves 6

1.6 kilos (about 3.5 lbs) butternut squash
5 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Handful of fresh sage (if using dried, see below)
60g unsalted butter
40g plain flour
350ml vegetable stock
300ml. double cream
50g grated parmesan
275g penne pasta
150g grated gruyere cheese

Have ready an ovenproof dish (about 2.6 liter capacity).

Peel, deseed, and dice the squashes.

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add half the squash, season, and fry gently for about 15 minutes, turning frequently until golden and tender. If using dried sage, cook it with the squash.

Meanwhile, set the pasta water to boil. Preheat the oven to 190C/400F degrees.

Place cooked squash in a bowl and repeat with the remainder of the squash and another 2 Tbsp. of oil.

When the squash is finished cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the pan and add the fresh sage, if using. Cook until darkened and crisp, then set aside.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a small nonstick pan. Add the flour and cook together for about a minute, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and then gradually work in the stock and cream.

Bring back to the boil, stirring, and simmer for about 4 minutes, continuing to whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat, stir in the parmesan, and season to taste.

When the pasta is done, drain it and then transfer to the ovenproof dish. Fold in the sauce, followed by the squash and sage. Scatter the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely golden.

Three-Pepper Stir-Fry

I found this recipe when I was looking for ways to use up a bunch of bell peppers that were starting to go soft in the fridge. It was perfect and very easy. Don’t be put off by the strange inclusion of couscous in what is otherwise an Asian dish. Trust me, it works!

Makes 3-4 servings

250g (about 9 oz.) dried couscous
1 14.5-oz. can chicken broth
1 Tbsp. grated ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 bell peppers of different colors, julienned and strips cut in half
1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
Soy sauce to taste

Cook couscous by placing it in a pot with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil, and as soon as the water starts to boil, turn the heat off and let it sit.

Heat half of the chicken broth to boiling in wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add bell peppers and remaining broth. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until bell peppers are tender. Stir in hoisin sauce. Mix in cooked couscous.

Butternut Squash, Two Ways

Here are two easy ways to use one butternut squash. They’re a great introduction to this vegetable if you’ve never used it before. It’s one of my favorite vegetarian foods during the winter — warm in taste and color, comforting, and very adaptable.

Cut off the top, more slender half (the part without the seeds) and use it for the first recipe. Use the bottom, rounder half for the second.

Butternut Squash with Wild Mushrooms
Top half of butternut squash, peeled and diced
3 Tbsp. butter, divided
Half of a leek, chopped
4 cups sliced mushrooms (shiitakes, oysters, or portobellos work best, but regular ones work fine, too)
2 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
4 oz. green beans, chopped into bite-size sections
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper

Toss diced squash with olive oil and roast at 400F/200C until tender.

Melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over high heat, then add leeks, mushrooms, and shallots. Saute until mushrooms begin to soften. Add squash, garlic, tomatoes, and green beans. Saute until heated through. Deglaze with wine, and when wine has almost disappeared, add vegetable stock. Bring to a boil. Add the remaining butter and season with oregano, salt, and pepper.

This dish serves four as a side dish, and it also could make a nice topping for fish. It also works really well on its own as a sort of vegetable stew, in which case it would serve two or three.

Baked Butternut Squash
Using a spoon, scrape the seeds from the bottom half. Place in a baking dish, bottom side up, in about 1 inch of water. Bake at 350F/175C for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and fill cavity with 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to bake for 10 minutes. Serves one.

These recipes also work well with acorn squash.

Stuffed Peppers, Two Ways

In doing a cook-off a while back with stuffed peppers, I came up with two winners, each with a different taste. One has more of a Mexican flavor and the other one is more Italian. I couldn’t decide which to keep, so I kept them both.

Mexican Stuffed Peppers

Adjust the hot seasonings as you like — you could even add chopped green chilis for an extra kick.

Serves 6

6 large bell peppers
1 lb. ground (minced) beef or turkey
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 8-oz. jar mild Mexican salsa
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (cheddar or hard mozzarella are good substitutes)
Fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Cut the tops off the peppers and reserve. Remove the membrane and seeds from inside the peppers.

Put the oil in a pan and heat over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Add turkey, crumble and brown. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Spoon mixture into peppers and cap with pepper tops. Place in a baking pan filled with 1/2 inch of water and bake for 35-40 minutes or until peppers are tender.

Italian Stuffed Peppers

If you prefer, you could replace the sausage with another half-pound of ground beef or turkey.

Makes 4 servings

4 large green bell peppers
2 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb. ground (minced) beef or turkey
1/2 lb. Italian sausage meat
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 generous tsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Cut off the tops of the peppers but keep them to one side. Remove all membrane and seeds from inside the peppers.

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion and 2 cloves chopped garlic. Add the ground beef and sausage and cook through. Remove from heat and stir in herbs, salt, and pepper.

Stuff peppers with meat mixture and cover with tops. Place in ovenproof dish and bake for about 1 hour.

Just before the peppers finish baking, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes. When peppers are done, pour the sauce over the insides of the peppers and serve.

Classic Steamed Artichokes, and How to Cook Fennel

This is the classic way to eat those beautiful artichokes you see in the produce aisle. My mom would make these all the time when we were growing up, and we loved to dip the warm leaves in the warm butter.

It’s an elegant appetizer, but I can imagine it would also be great to serve to children — it’s true finger food, and very easy to make.

Serves 4

4 artichokes
4 cups water
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, chopped (not minced)
4 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. salt
24 black peppercorns
24 coriander seeds
2 tsp. fennel seeds

Slice off the stem of the artichokes as close to the base as you can. Peel off the tough outer leaves of each one. If leaves are thorny, use kitchen scissors to trim the tips. Rinse thoroughly.

Place the artichokes, stem end down, in a saucepan large enough to fit a lid over the artichokes. Add the water and the rest of the ingredients, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20-35 minutes, until tender.

Cooking time will vary, so check for doneness by lifting an artichoke from the pan and piercing the bottom with the tip of a knife. If it pierces easily, it’s ready.

As soon as the artichokes are ready, melt some butter for dipping. Estimate 2-3 tablespoons per person and serve in tiny bowls at each plate. Add salt to the butter for the best taste.

Eat by peeling the leaves off one by one and dipping them in the butter, then scraping off the meaty base of the leaf with your teeth.

When most of the leaves have been peeled away, don’t throw the artichoke away — the best part is yet to come! With a short, sharp knife, carefully cut out the hairy center of the artichoke. Cut the heart into pieces and dip into the melted butter. The taste is out of this world.

How to Cook Fennel

Another vegetable that many cooks may pass over in the store is fennel bulbs, though it’s one of the vegetables commonly used in a roasting pan with turkeys or chickens. I only discovered it when on a cooking course in France three years ago. It has a sophisticated, delicate taste and a wonderful texture when cooked this way.

All you need is one fennel bulb and some olive oil to serve 4 as a side dish.

Slice off a very thin slice at the base of the bulb, then cut off each stem where it meets the bulb (all you want to be left with is the bulb). Peel off any discolored layers on the outside of the bulb.

Cut the fennel bulb lengthwise, then cut each half into four wedges.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, drop the fennel wedges in, and simmer for five minutes. Remove immediately and place on the plate. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.