Kale and Quinoa Salad


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This salad is loosely based off of my kale and walnut pesto recipe. But with a few revisions, I’ve come up with a salad that’s light, yet hearty enough for a main course! And as always, there’s room for plenty of versions – substitute your favorite nuts and dried fruits to make it your own. You can swap out the quinoa for bulger wheat or another of your favorite grains or seeds. Just remember, the key is in the blanching of the kale which brightens up the leaf and softens its texture.

The best thing about this is it combines several “super” foods:  kale, quinoa, cranberries and walnut oil which has 1.77g of Omega 3’s per serving! So feel free to indulge!

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Kale and Walnut Pesto


Kale is such a super food… add walnuts, olive oil and lemon zest and this little gem is unstoppable.  I’ve struggled to find ways to prepare kale that I enjoy. It can be bitter and a little tough. But I could eat this pesto by the spoonful!  I’m currently enjoying it on a Triscuit® but you can put it on just about anything. I’m thinking about smothering a chicken breast with it for dinner – but my favorite way to use it is to dollop it onto a crostini that has been pan-sauteed in butter.

So run , don’t walk, to your nearest grocery (or better yet, Farmer’s Market)… buy a large batch of kale (curly, flat, rainbow – it doesn’t matter)… a good size lemon (Meyer lemons if you can find them!) and some fresh garlic and make enough to eat all week!  Keep in mind that the shelf-life for this pesto is about a week. Read the Perfect Health section below below to see why you want to incorporate kale into as many meals as you can.

Ingredients
4-6 cups (about 6.5 ounces) kale leaves, ribs removed, coarsely chopped
2-3 large fresh garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts (raw is fine but toasting brings out their nuttiness)
3/4 cup Parmesan (or Vegan Parmesan)
1/3 cup olive oil (for extra walnut taste mix with 1 part walnut oil)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation
Remove ribs from kale and give it a rough chop. In a large pot, bring water to a boil with a couple of pinches of salt. Prepare a large boil of ice water and set aside. Once water in boiling, add kale for about 1 minute. Your kale will start to turn a brighter green. Remove from kale pot and immediately put in ice water. This is called blanching and is what helps give (and keep) your kale a bright green. Remove kale from ice water after 1 minute and pat dry.

Peel and roughly chop two large bulbs of garlic. If you are using pre-minced garlic, this is roughly 2 tablespoons.

If you are roasting your walnuts, place then in a dry saute pan over medium heat. Continue moving them in the pan until you begin to smell their nuttiness. It should take about 2 minutes.  Keep an eye on them – they burn easily (which is why I don’t put them in the oven anymore – I always forget them!).

Ready to Make?
In a food processor, add the kale, garlic, Parmesan and walnuts. Pulse 6-7  times until it’s well-combined. Slowly, through the feed tube, drizzle the oil until mixture is moist and holds together. Remove lid and zest your lemon directly into mixture. Zest, and not juice, makes all the difference here. It’s sweet and tangy and every once in a while you’ll get a burst of it in your mouth. So delish.  But feel free to add a little juice for extra lemony flavor. Now add salt and pepper, return lid and pulse a couple of more times. NOTE: It’s important to use the pulse feature and not let your processor run… you want to retain some of the leafy texture of the kale and not make mush. I may or may not be speaking from experience.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. And presto you have pesto!

The Perfect Bite
Whenever making a dip or spread or something that is not meant to be eaten on its own… it’s important to taste-test it once just with a spoon and then again with what you plan on having it with. On it’s own it may taste like it needs more salt, but if you plan on eating it with salty chips or crackers… it may be fine as it is once combined with it’s dipping partner.

The Perfect Pairing
Since this is a new item to me… I may discover more and more pairing as I go.. so check back regularly.  I’m certain this will be delightful on a crostini and absolutely divine mixed into some whole wheat pasta. Let me know if you try it on something yummy! Enjoy this with a crisp pinot grigio.

The Perfect Health
Kale’s risk-lowering benefits for cancer have recently been extended to at least five different types of cancer. These types include cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from glucosinolates in kale play a primary role in achieving these risk-lowering benefits. Read more about the benefits of here.

Toasted and Roasted Vegetable Israeli Couscous



So I’ve had this jar of tri-color Israeli couscous in my cupboard for awhile now. Wasn’t sure what to do with it. But after a little research I decided roasting and toasting stuff to go in it was my best bet. Sometimes great things happen by accident. I just started throwing stuff in there and voila…. the result was pretty darn awesome. Savory, nutty, spicy… and that mysterious “umami” taste everyone’s talking about. Technically, the term is borrowed from the Japanese, meaning “savory taste”. But we use it meaning “beyond savory”… that something extra that makes you say, “wow!”

Anyway, the beauty of this dish is that you can swap out ingredients (like the veggies) for your favorites. Just be sure to prepare them the same way. Be sure to think about the type of vegetable you’re using to make sure it will go well with the spices used.

It’s a little labor intensive, but makes a huge batch you can eat on for days. Trust me, it’s worth it. Also, there are a few unique ingredients that if purchased in the grocery store, can be pretty pricey. Find a local International Market in your area (you’ll be surprised how many are out there!)… you will pay 1/3 of the price there and get twice as much. That’s where I purchased the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, saffron and even the sliced almonds (1/2 lb bag for $4!).

Ingredients
2 cups of Israeli couscous (tri-colored optional. Sometimes called “pearl” couscous)
3 cups low-sodium veggie stock
1 cup water
1 cup fresh broccoli florettes
1 cup fresh cauliflower
1 whole red bell pepper (stemmed, seeded and julienned)
1/2 cup asparagus tips *and 2″long each)
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned, drained and rinsed because that’s all I had)
1 16oz can chickpeas – rinsed
1/2 a medium sweet onion – diced
1 tblspn minced garlic
3 sprigs green onion – diced
1/2 cup sliced almonds (use less if desired – I love almonds!)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp saffron
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

This is a perfect opportunity to organize your mise en place.

Dice sweet onion, mince garlic, cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper and green onion according to ingredients above. Toss cut asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and bell pepper lightly in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet into one even layer. You may need to do this in two batches.

Ready To Cook?
Place cookie sheet of veggies on top rack of oven (or use broiler). Rack should be roughly two inches from the top. Cook for 15 minutes or until broccoli and cauliflower edges start to get brown and crispy. You can smell when they’re done – yum! While that’s cooking,  drizzle olive oil and heat in  a large soup pot or dutch oven, over medium flame. Add sweet onion, garlic, saffron, turmeric powder and a pinch or two of sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent.

Once garlic and sweet onion are softened, add couscous to the pot and stir consistently. This will toast the couscous and will keep it from becoming mushy. Toast for 2-3 minutes… couscous will start to turn a slight color. Add veggie broth and water. Bring to a boil. Add another pinch of salt and pepper.

While that is boiling, drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on a saute pan. Once hot, toss in mustard seeds and cumin seeds. They will sputter and splatter so be careful. This only takes a minute – so don’t burn them! You’ll suddenly smell the aromatic seeds and they are ready to throw in the pot of couscous. Reduce pot to simmer. Add roasted veggies, almonds, green onion, chickpeas, tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Stir until well mixed. Remove from heat when all liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or cold!

The Perfect Bite
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m about to tell you to stack your fork with a little bit of everything! However, there are so many ingredients in this – that might be impossible. So, take a few bites… you’ll be amazed how each bite will taste like a different dish! I love getting a taste of the earthy mustard or cumin seeds… then heat from pepper flakes, or smoky from the roasted vegetables. You’ll never get bored, bit after bite.

The Perfect Pairing
There are so many flavors happening here you want an uncomplicated wine. Try Cline Cellers 2010 Viognier. Cline’s Viognier offers rich and distinctive aromas of peaches, apricots, orange blossoms and honeysuckle which will compliment the smoky, earthiness of the spices in this dish.

The Perfect Health
I’ve heard so many people say that couscous is a grain. But, um, no. It is pasta. Believe it or not, it’s made from semolina. Often hand rolled and sprinkled with wheat flour to keep separated. Israeli couscous is toasted, rather than dried, which gives it a nutter flavor.

So is couscous healthy? Not necessarily. But it is a healthier option than most pastas. Especially since it’s generally paired with vegetables and not cheese. But it is a little “carby”. Read more HERE about the health pros and cons of our beloved couscous.

KITCHEN TIP: Infusing Olive Oil


This is the first of hopefully many kitchen tips I’m going to start offering on this site.  Many of these are a result my “MacGyver” attempts of making-do in a less-than-desirable kitchen and trying to figure out how to be a brilliant gourmet cook on a pauper’s budget. But sometimes, they’re just going to be little tricks of the trade that if you’re not obsessively watching the Food Network,  pouring over Gourmet or Food & Wine Magazines, or questioning every chef you come across as I am… you may just have missed out on some information.

My first Kitchen Tip is about infusing your Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You can buy many “flavored” olive oils these days… but there are two down-sides to that. They’re usually not made from Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil – which is what you should use instead of plain Olive Oil or Light Olive Oil  (there are no health benefits otherwise because the harsh processing has destroyed them). And often, the “flavoring” is chemically added and not naturally infused into the oil.

Being the bargain hunter that I am, I love buying the big net-sock of garlic heads at places like Costco or Sam’s. You get about 20 heads of garlic for $3-4.00. Which means you’ll have to chop, press or roast it all yourself. Which I’m okay with. But what do you do with all that garlic before it goes bad? Time to think outside the box…

As we speak I am infusing a quart of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I use quite a bit of EVOO so I buy it by the gallon at the International Market for close to half the price I would in a chain grocery) with whole garlic and fresh rosemary from my garden. I peeled about 5 heads of garlic (heads are the whole bulb, cloves are the individual pieces you break off). I dropped them into a quart-size canning jar, cut 4 twigs of rosemary from my garden and put them in the jar as well, then poured in the extra virgin olive oil over leaving about an inch from the top. After all, it’s gonna need to breath.

I’m going to leave it all in there for about 48 hours, then I’ll scoop out the garlic and toss it out. But I’ll leave the rosemary in the for another couple of weeks. Be sure to remove the garlic cloves after a couple of days so as to not overpower the flavor of the herbs. If you choose to leave the garlic cloves in the oil, be sure to refrigerate the oil to avoid the threat of botulism

The olive oil should have rich flavors that will naturally season whatever you use your olive oil in… salads, sauteing meat, drizzled on baguettes.  I personally love garlic and rosemary – two of my favorite flavors. But if you prefer thyme and sage; or spicy red peppers; or red onion and oregano… then go for it! Keep in mind you need to use fresh products. Fresh herbs, onion, garlic, etc. Powdered spices or herbs will not infuse and will just make a mess of the oil.

What are your favorite spice and herb combos? Let me know if you have tried this and if you have any further tips!

PS…
the question has been asked… do you actually throw away the garlic when you’re done?
My Answer: you are “allowed” to throw it out of you like… I mean, it’s served a great purpose already, had a good life, and so on. But, if you want to hold onto it there are a few options. Run it through your food processor and make a garlic paste or chop it finely and make minced garlic – you should get another few weeks of life out of it. Or, if you’re not a Twilight fan and would like to keep both Edward AND Jacob away…. make a necklace and wear it to bed. :o)