The cooking arsenal

I have had zero luck in the kitchen these last couple of weeks.  I made a Butternut Squash Thai Curry Soup that was horrible–dump it down the drain kind of  horrible.  Too much fish sauce–and I cut the amount the recipe had in half to begin with.  It was a beautiful color and consistency but horrid.  And to add injury to insult, I managed to cut myself not once, but twice (more on the knife later).

Then I made Stout Batter Bread, which is basically a quick bread made with stout.  I didn’t have stout and the recipe said you could use any ale, so I did.  It was interesting–the bread picked up the notes of in the winter ale I used much more strongly than I would have thought.  The bread has a lot of promise, with the right beer, or rather stout.  I had a Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout last week, which seems promising.

With two failed attempts, I decided to go back to one of my favorite dishes that I hadn’t made in a while–a kale, feta, dried cranberry, and pine nut concoction that my Minneapolis roommate DW and I came up with. Should I ever actually have a family someday, this will be one of my arsenal dishes.

By arsenal dish, I mean the rotation of ~10 dishes that your mother (if she was anything like mine) made week in and week out.  These are the foods you grew up eating reguarly.  For me, those dishes included goulash, pork chops, pot roast, beef stroganoff, chicken egg noodle soup, meatloaf, and an assortment of “hotdishes” (called casseroles everywhere else in the country but MN)–all of them with a side of canned green beans and bread and butter.  As an adult, I can appreciate why my mom made the same dishes over and over.  When you’ve got two hungry kids and a husband that doesn’t cook, all asking what’s for dinner the minute they (or you) walk in the door, there isn’t time to get creative.  Under those conditions, cooking is reflexive.  My mom admits that she grew to hate cooking by the time my brother and I were in high school and it’s only been in recent years that she’s started to enjoy it again.

None of my mom’s arsenal dishes above required any ingredients that were hard to find, nor did they require careful attention to details.  They often didn’t take long or if they did, much of the time was unattended (e.g. pot roast) so that my mom’s attention could be devoted to something else.   Many of my arsenal dishes have the same qualities, although my cupboards have very different things than my mom’s did.  For example, I rarely have bread, margarine, beef or pork in my kitchen–all of which were ubiquitous at the dinner table growing up.

I almost always have onions, pine nuts, dried cranberries (or raisins) and pasta in the cupboard, and feta in the fridge.  So the only thing I have to pick up for this arsenal dish is kale.  [I love kale and I would never have known it had I not had a CSA share.  Kale is an early season dark leafy green, however, you can find it year-round at any grocery store.]  While I serve the kale over pasta as a main dish, you can omit the pasta and serve it as a side.  As a side, it goes really well with pork.  One of these days I mean to try this with walnuts, and blue or gorgonzola cheese instead of pinenuts and feta.

Kale & Feta

Makes ~3 main course servings and ~5 side servings.

1/4 onion (white or yellow)

a little less than 1/4 c pine nuts

a little less than 1/2 c dried cranberries (NOTE: I used golden raisins as that is what I had.  Dried cranberries are the way to go, golden raisins are a decent substitute.  I would not recommend substituting regular raisins.)

1 bunch kale

8 oz rotelle or spiral pasta (NOTE: Use a pasta that has grooves to catch the juice, feta, and pine nuts in between the folds.)

~1 c chicken broth (NOTE: If you’re a vegetarian, substitute a really mild vegetable broth–one without a lot of added spices–or just use water and add some salt. The key to this dish is really letting the kale–bitter, feta–salty and dried cranberry–sweet flavors dominate and play off each other.)

~4 oz feta (NOTE: Use a soft, melt-y French feta that is stored in water, not a hard, drier Greek feta that is stored in air.  This is really key.  The Valbresso French Sheep feta at Whole Foods works great.)

1.  Remove stems from chard and shred leaves.  I use just my hands for the kale, but you can use a knife.  Chop up the onion (I used only half of what is chopped up below). [Aside: I took a knife skills class** a couple of weeks ago, and besides learning the proper way to chop an onion, I also learned the super-secret ninja way to cut up a green pepper.  I may have also flirted with the instructor and got him to resharpen my chef’s knife, which may have contributed to my sliced fingers.]

2. Get water for pasta boiling.  Toast pine nuts and set aside.

3.  Saute onions in a dutch oven or in a large saute pan that you can cover.  If you go the latter route, you’ll probably need to add the kale in batches later on.  Once onions are translucent (3-5 min), pour in chicken broth and let it warm up a bit before adding kale.  I wouldn’t add all the broth at once, instead add ~2/3 initially and add the rest as the kale wilts so you see how much liquid you’re dealing with.  At the end you want a thin layer of liquid covering the bottom of the pan.  Once you add the kale, cover the pan and turn the heat down a bit–you’re steaming it rather than boiling it.  Turn over the kale a couple of times to make sure it’s evenly wilted.

4.  This would be a good time to add the pasta to the boiling water.  It should be cooked by the time you’re done with the rest of the step.  If not, just leave the mixture on low until the pasta is done.  Before the kale is fully wilted, add dried cranberries and re-cover.  When the cranberries have plumped up, it’s time to add the feta.  Add it to the pot on top of the kale, but don’t stir it right away.  Let the feta melt and soften, and then stir.  The heat should be on low here.   It should look like this (but with red cranberries rather than golden raisins; the cranberries will plump up better than the raisins did.)

5.  Before serving, stir in the pine nuts and, if you like, a little more feta.

** I took this class.  LT was a riot–peppering his instruction with cuss words and dispensing frank advice on what knives you really need, which ones are worth spending money on, how to take care of them, and what you’re looking for in a cutting board.   The class was pretty fast-paced, but I think that’s okay.  You just need to learn how it’s done and then you can practice it at home.

4 thoughts on “The cooking arsenal

  1. Pingback: Cookbooks as history « the uff da! chronicles

  2. Pingback: Evil Good You Know What | the uff da! chronicles

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