Umami Bomb Kale Pesto – Vegan to Boot!

Oh look! It’s me! It’s only been like 2 years since I posted here. If you missed me, please note that you can always find me writing about the body over here. I also wrote one personal thing here (I needed a home for a story about lady health, and neither this nor my massage blog were the place). There might be more to come on the Working Draft blog. Time will tell. But I’m really not here to send you off to other blogs. I am here to tell you about some pesto I made the other day, because it was a serious umami bomb — compelling and tasty, quick and easy to make, and healthy enough that the addictive nature of this sauce will not destroy you.

I am using the word pesto pretty loosely. It’s a paste, a pesto texture, but it’s not my momma’s homegrown basil sauce. When it comes to that, I am a purist: basil, pine nuts, garlic, oil. Add some cheese later. No aldulterating with other herbs, no messing with the nuts, no weird ingredients. This here is a kale pesto, hearty and bold, and pretty much anything goes.

I’ve made kale pesto before. Again, it’s not your grandmother’s pesto, but it’s super easy and super fast. I had some organic red kale on hand the other day and wanted to whip one up, but found that I had no suitable cheese to add to the mix. The horror! I added some lemon zest and juice, because I pretty much always do that to brighten up greens. I tossed in some nutritional yeast for that warm, savory, umami roundness. And then I noticed a jar of capers that I’d bought and never put away, shining up at me from the kitchen island, begging to be added to the sauce. Turns out, the combination of the nutritional yeast and the briney capers is basically magic, transforming my humble muddied greens pesto into an addictive sauce far greater than the sum of its parts. I didn’t even miss the cheese (though I did mix some leftover pesto with labneh and a crumble of feta a few days later, and it was exceedingly creamy and downright dreamy).

Did I mention that it is really, really quick and easy? It only took me about 25 minutes to make dinner, which means that you can probably do it in 15. I am slow in the kitchen. It’s as easy as…

1) Blanch the kale. Some people will tell you to remove the stems, or separate and cook them longer. Balderdash! The whole point of making pesto out of hearty greens is that you crush them, stems and all, and don’t have to bust out a paring knife.

Blanching Kale

2.) Throw everything in the food processor and whir it around. I like to do the garlic first, then all other solids, and add a glug of olive oil at the end. You can’t go wrong, really.

Blend in Food Processor

3.) Eat it. Here it is over some whole wheat noodles. It’s not the most vibrant color around, so I put it in a pretty bowl. I would have liked some cannellini beans in with the pasta, but the cupboards were a little on the bare side.

Serve in pretty green bowl to compensate for muddy color.

Recipe: Umami Bomb Kale Pesto

What Goes In:

  • 1 bunch kale, preferably organic or bought from a trusty farmer, because kale sometimes pops up on Dirty Dozen lists these days
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (this is a hearty sauce — no need for delicate and pricey pine nuts, though they would certainly work)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • zest and juice of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 4 Tbsp capers + 1 Tbsp brine
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • Good glug of olive oil — however much your conscience allowsor around 1/4 cup

How to Do it:

  • Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch kale for about 2 minutes. If serving over pasta, simply scoop the kale out with tongs and use the same water for your pasta. It will be a little purple if you’re using red kale, and maybe a little green if using regular greens, but whatevs.
  • Drain in colander and squeeze out excess water. You really don’t need to get an ice water bath involved.
  • Grind garlic in food processor, scrape down sides, and add walnuts, lemon zest and juice, nutritional yeast, and capers. Pulse a few times, then add kale.
  • With food processor running, pour olive oil through feed tube until sauce becomes fairly uniform. You may need to scrape down the sides a little. All good.
  • Taste, adjust anything that needs adjusted, serve with fresh cracked pepper.

That’s it. It’s super easy, good on toast with some hummus or labneh if you happen to have wandered into the East Village cheese shop for the first time in years and found a tub of it waiting for you there, or tossed with noodles and a dash of their cooking water, or pretty much anywhere else you desire. Make it, eat it, love it. Yes.


What This Day Desires

I recently started going to hot yoga. I started with a 60 minute class, and it was definitely the sweatiest exercise in patience I had ever experienced, really freaking hot, legs shaking like a frightened cartoon character in the up-on-your-toes part of awkward pose. The next class, they rattled a little less, the back bends went a little deeper (emphasis on little), the mood soared a little higher. So far, so good. Today, I upped the ante by going to the more traditional 90 minute class. Sweating on my mat in the sunny room, I believed for a moment that it was summer, and I found myself craving the cool relief of fresh cucumber soup.

I thought the craving might dissipate when it was no longer 105°, but I stepped outside to find the sun shining bright. Now, I am aware that 62° is not quite summer heat, but the sunshine and breezes are just plain singing of spring today, and supermarket cucumbers and mint felt like a much needed splash of brightness to contrast the steady haul of root vegetables and cabbage we have been getting in our winter CSA share. How many carrots can one girl and one boy eat? Apparently a lot, but I digress.

It is possible that the best thing about this soup is that I, a notorious dabbler and great loser of time in the kitchen (where does it go?) prepared this lunch for myself in under 3 minutes. For real. Here is how to make some nice cool soup for one.

Cool Cucumber Soup for 1

What Goes In:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • handful mint
  • 1 large English cucumber (or a couple of smaller ones with the seeds scooped out)
  • healthy grind of fresh black pepper
  • generous pinch of salt
  • squeeze of lemon juice if you’ve got it
  • big dollop of yogurt — probably 1/2 cup

How to do it:

  1. Give garlic and mint a quick spin in the food processor to grind them up.
  2. Add cucumber, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and any other spices you might desire. I added a pinch of turmeric. Fresh dill would be perfect. Whizz and whirl to blend a bit.
  3. Add yogurt. Pulse just a little bit.

Making this into three steps feels like a stretch. Seriously? 3 minutes, and I even chopped my cucumber up for some reason. You don’t have to do that. I like my soup chunky, but if you want it perfectly smooth, I’d suggest peeling the cucumber and blending it with a little bit of olive oil to thicken it up and smooth it out before you add the yogurt.

Pour it into a bowl. If you’re feeling fancy and want to treat yourself nice, top with a sliver of lemon and a little bouquet of mint. Even though you’re just going to mash it all into your soup a minute later, it’s nice to have a bowl that’s a little bit pretty to greet and meet the pretty day. Happy spring, you guys!


Little Gifts: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

Sometimes, when it is the holiday season and you have pulled yourself out of bed in the wee hours to watch the earth shift in front of the moon on the solstice for the first time in 372 years, when you’ve stood on your stoop at 3 in the morning with the wind howling and the streets empty and otherwise quiet around you, face to face with the amber moon, when you’ve returned to bed and slept snugly only to rise for weekday brunch, a luxury in and of itself, made even better by lingering for hours around a small table with friends who were barely in your life a mere year ago, when it is the solstice and the sun seems to shine extra brightly to make up for it being the very shortest day, when all these things are part of your winter, sometimes it is nice to bring a little gifty to that weekday brunch to celebrate the season.

While your circumstances may be slightly different, I wish you many reasons for celebration this winter, opportunities that call for something small and homemade to share with others. There is a chance that you simply do not feel like making cookies, but want to whip up  a little something to give away. That’s the boat I was in last night. I had made some caramel corn a couple of weeks back, and, while it was very tasty and swiftly consumed and likened to crack in its addictiveness, a little voice in my head refused to shut up about making caramel corn again, but next time adding a little chipotle. I decided to give it a whirl. Once I got cooking, I realized I was a little short on corn syrup, and I decided that bourbon would be a great way to compensate. Don’t question my logic, people — the addition of whiskey yielded very decadent results, and you will want to eat it up.

Recipe: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

What Goes In:

  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn
  • nuts (optional)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

How To Do It:

  • Pre-heat oven to 250°F and line your biggest baking sheet with parchment.
  • Pop your popcorn however you like and pile it on the pan (I popped mine on the stove in two batches). Add nuts if you like — I used about a half cup of sliced almonds and half cup of peanuts.
  • Melt brown sugar, corn syrup, and bourbon together in a large sauce pan, larger than you think you need, because this stuff is both sticky and bubbly. Let it bubble away on medium heat for five minutes or so.
  • Combine butter and chipotles in a food processor until smooth. Or just blend up your chipotles. I really only combined them because my food processor is too big to fully blend up a couple of small peppers on their own.
  • Add chipotle butter and salt to your bubbly caramel mix. Stir well and cook together for another few minutes (clearly, this is a very scientific process).
  • Turn off heat. Add your baking soda. Stir rapidly. It will foam up a bunch and get lighter in color and thick. Stir in vanilla, too, and quickly pour over popcorn. Stir the sauce into popcorn as well as you can. I like to use a silicone spatula for this — it is good for the stickies.
  • Bake for about an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even distribution of caramel and to prevent popcorn from burning.
  • Remove from oven and let cool completely. I left mine out overnight.

The caramel might still be a little on the soft side when you take it out of the oven, but it will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, tumble it into cellophane bags and add adorable gift tags (mine, shown here, are courtesy of the ridiculously sweet Eat, Drink, Chic). Embellish with ribbons, tulle, love letters, whatever your heart desires, and share.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Gifting!

How to Celebrate a Sunday Birthday

Thursday: Wear a fascinator to work and tell everyone that your birthday is coming. Feel childish in your excitement. Run with it.

Friday: Reflection, Kirtan, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

Saturday: Clean your apartment. Bask in the open space of your bedroom where, mere days ago, summer’s window AC units had been stacked, staring you down with their large-scale clutter. Go to the market. Cook food. Have people over, make punch, laugh a lot, adore whatever family and friends are around you. Soak in the celebration even if you have a little tummy ache.

It was a mellow party, a nice party, and it ended early enough for Shawn and me to do some cleaning so we weren’t faced with a mess this morning, music still playing, early enough to slow dance in the living room in a pretty dress and sock monkey slippers and new birthday earrings in the wee hours of the real birthday day, when the guests had all left or gone to sleep. What could be better than that?

Sunday: Birthday! Wake up to your little sister and her adorable boyfriend cooking eggs in your kitchen. Feel your heart swell even as you decide to keep your eyes closed a little longer, listening to the clatter of pans and coffee mugs in the next room. Talk on the phone more than usual. Open presents. Post a recipe from your birthday party that was requested last year, made this year, too, requested again.

Squash Lasagna

What Goes In:

  • 4 pounds or so winter squash (a couple medium butternuts or comparable amount other squash)
  • 6 Tbsp. butter (yep, lots of butter)
  • small handful sage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper
  • 8 oz. or so gruyère, grated
  • 1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

How to Do It:

  • Prepare squash: Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast until soft, then scoop flesh into a big bowl.
  • Brown 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan. When the butter turns light brown and smells nutty, remove from heat, toss in sage, and mash into squash with some salt and pepper.
  • Make bechamel: melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter, whisk in flour, slowly add milk, stirring lots to avoid lumps. Add some salt and pepper and a little nutmeg. Stir and cook until it’s thick.
  • Assemble lasagna: Put a cup of bechamel in the bottom of a pan. Layer uncooked lasagna noodles, bechamel, cheese, and squash. I had 4 layers, ending with bechamel only, with some leftover cheese.
  • Cover with foil, bake for half an hour or so at 35o. Remove foil, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, cook until cheese is melted and browning just a little. Probably around 15 minutes.

If you are, say, making kale chips and decide to crank the heat to 400 instead of 350, you will most likely end up with a burned, crispy layer at the bottom of the pan. Some of your friends will claim that that’s the best part. Others will push it to the side but still ask for the recipe. Having done this two years in a row, I recommend just remembering to keep the heat on the lower side.

Enjoy your lasagna, friends! I am off to enjoy a walk on a gray day, tasty dinner cooked by a professional, and yet more good cheer.

Year End Love

Last year, I posted a list of resolutions around this time: things to make, things to do, things, things, things.

Well, I still don’t have a cheese press, and I haven’t made soap from scratch with fats and lye, and I might even have to throw away a vegetable or two from the fridge today because I didn’t use them before they got funky, and I still don’t compost here in my city apartment with no outdoor space, though I did reach out to some local gardens and urban farms about taking in my scraps this year, so progress, right?

Last year, at my birthday time, the resolutions felt a little manic. It had been such a difficult year, a time of huge transition, trying changes, and all I wanted was to shed old skin, enter a new decade, be OK, and breathe. Being creative, writing down creative goals, was a way to celebrate that inner spark, to push it out to the surface a bit.

At a meeting the other day with some new ladies in my life, we talked about intention. Among many other things, we talked about what we thought intention was, how it differed from goals. I said I thought that goals were something that you work toward, and that intention was living in the work. This was a work meeting, mind you, and there is a chance this comment had more relevance in context, but I am always big on reflection around the time of my birthday, which comes just before the end of the calendar year. And it feels good to look back at that list of goals, things to do, and to realize that I’m not at all sorry about the things I planned to but did not create.

The desire to be creative, the intention set to make myself and others happy, the year of living inside my values, well these are just the best things that I could hope to have. Looking back and looking forward, I can say that the things I wanted most out of my thirtieth year have come my way: opening and settling, calming and centering. Breathing. I love the new shelves in our spare room. I love that there are shiny jars on these shelves, summer’s bounty preserved, labors of love to be given and shared this holiday season. But these things don’t compare to the comfort I feel in my own skin, newfound and gracious, as I enter this next year.

Tomorrow I will walk to the Grand Army farmer’s market in the hat a dear friend made by hand this time last year, chat with people who work the land around here, tote home bags full of vegetables, early winter harvest. Tomorrow I will cook for friends, break out some liqueur from the workshop party, celebrate the year that’s just passed and the new one coming the best way I know how.

As the air gets cold and the winds turn bitter and as 2010 ticks into 2011, I wish you, nice readers, much coziness, much love. I wish gifts for you this holiday season, woolly hats and shiny jars changing hands, but mostly I wish you a cozy home, comfort in your skin, ease of breathing, ease of love. Thank you for being a part of this last year and all its wonders. I am wishing you the best in all that comes next.

My First Workshop: Booze Infusion Blowout!!


Inspired by last winter’s soup swap, my friend Elena asked a little while back if we could do a booze swap, tasting and trading homemade infusions. It sounded like a great plan (what could be better than sharing creativity in cocktail form?), but there was a minor glitch. Some of the people who wanted most to participate had not infused liqueurs before and weren’t quite sure how to go about it.  And so, a plan was born: a two-part party with infusion taking place in Part I, an exchange of boozy goodness in Part II.

Part I, the workshop portion, took place yesterday. Infusions were made, drinks were drunk, good times were had. My house still smells like ginger, zesty and fresh.

I highly recommend throwing your own infusion party! Here is how to do it:

Step 1: Roll Out the Beverages.

I had some previously made infusions on hand. Most of them were on the sweeter side — rhubarb, hibiscus, ginger-peach, and earl grey. These I set out with a pitcher of OJ, a pitcher of lemonade, and some seltzer. Nothing too fancy, just some general mixers to cut the drinks a bit so we weren’t just slugging back multiple tastings of uncut liquor. I had a more savory concoction, too: a caraway-dill vodka with a hint of garlic. This I mixed with the meager drop of vermouth I had on hand and a dash of olive juice for a strong and pickly dirty martini. One guest claimed that the caraway-dill vodka was great with orange juice, but I’m not sure I believe him.

Step 2: I Love Jars. Get Some Jars.

We asked participants to bring a bottle of booze and some flavors they would like to work with, and we provided jars to make things a little easier.

Step 3: Permission to Wing It.

Because I was in a period of transition (AKA post-school, pre-state-licensing floundering) when the booze party plan was hatched, we decided to call this shindig a workshop. I was super psyched to take on a leadership role and teach some things, and I typed up some official sounding language in the invite about how we would discuss infusion and sample some past projects before assembling our concoctions. It all sounded very orderly. In fact, it was not very orderly at all, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I vaguely pointed to the line-up of infusions and mixers, and people poured drinks and rolled up sleeves and started slicing and dicing fruits and veggies and spices on the kitchen island, tumbling pretty colors and smells into jars.

I offered a little bit of advice as things trucked along: the zest of citrus fruits is the best part to infuse. When using super crazy hot peppers, taste your infusion hourly to make sure it’s not getting out of hand. Fruits and veggies should be ready to strain in a couple of weeks. Teas will only take a day or so. But mostly, we all just winged it, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at each other’s colorful combinations, lining up shiny jars.

In a few weeks, we will strain our drinks, add some sugar as appropriate, reconvene for swapping and sharing, maybe tie some ribbons on bottles for holiday gifts, resume our kitchen-creative chatter. I look forward to tasting some of these blends next month — I’m eying the vanilla-pear, various gingery concoctions, all of them, really, in all their improvised glory. I can’t wait to taste how they turn out!

Putting up with the CSA

I woke up this morning to the pounding rain outside open windows, a truly enthusiastic downpour. A perfect day, my groggy self thought, to stay indoors and catch up on some things around the house (why, after these weeks and months of not working full-time, there are still so many things to catch up on is anyone’s guess). As my recent blogging lapse may imply, things have gotten away from me a bit in the kitchen lately. I have noticed, these last few weeks, that our refrigerator is always packed with vegetables, even when it is Tuesday afternoon and our new CSA delivery is slated to arrive in mere hours. On this rainy Monday, I decided to break that pattern, to clear out some space in the veggie drawers for our new stuff tomorrow. It was time to put some veggies up for even drabber days.

I spent the morning washing greens, chopping the stems of Chinese broccoli, separating beets from their leafy tops, steaming those tops with the Chinese broccoli and some u-choy, packing delightfully dark and tasty steamed greens into freezer bags.

Then I broke out some more CSA goodies, chopped a few rough stems, and cleaned out the salad spinner to transform this:

into this:

It feels good not just to have some space in the fridge, but to have shiny new packages in my freezer, sturdy vegetables and fantastically vivid green sauce for winter months. The frozen greens will go into frittatas, turnovers, noodles, wherever fresh greens normally go. The arugula-dill pesto, bright and fresh with a slight bitter bite, would be tasty in gratins, on pasta, or slathered on fish. Mashed into cream cheese, it would make a lovely little tea sandwich. Instead of a fridge packed with veggies that I fear I will not eat in time, I have a freezer brimming with possibilities.

Arugula-Dill Pesto Recipe

What Goes In:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bunch arugula
  • 1 large bunch dill
  • 1 handful (probably around 1/4 cup) toasted pine nuts
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • a good glug of olive oil (again, probably about 1/4 cup)
  • salt and pepper

How to Do it:

  • Give garlic a head start by rough chopping in your food processor
  • Add greens, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice. Pulse. Pulse.
  • With the food processor running, add olive oil until nice and thick.

That’s it! Super easy! Get to it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some adorable patty pan squashes to steam and scoop and stuff.