Weekend Cooking – Part 1 – Chard

I hadn’t done much cooking during the week, with dinners out and social gatherings, so I had big plans to use up a lot of ingredients on Friday night. It was to be a “cook the pantry” type of night. Then it got to be 8:30pm before I started. Why so late? Well, there was some drama in discovering that one of our cats was refusing to eat the dry food we had always fed her, so there were two trips to Petco to find alternatives. Then I was so sleepy that I tried to take a preliminary power nap. And one of the floors desperately needed to be vacuumed, and that needed to be done before too late so as not to disturb the neighbors. So, I didn’t have time to cook everything I wanted before bed. Fortunately, there was time on Saturday too!

I was facing another batch of swiss chard, so I decided to try something a little different. Why not puree it? This soup recipe was great because it also utilized parsley, which I received in the farm share at the same time it happens to be thriving in my garden. With the added tang and creaminess of lemon juice and greek yogurt and the salty zing of feta, we had a pleasant summery soup on our hands.
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Chard, Herb, and Feta Soup
adapted from Bon Apetit
Serves 4

I’m not sure why the Bon Appetit recipe refers to this as a winter soup. Unless you have your own green house, the fresh herbs would be a big investment at the grocery store during the winter. I’m certain you could substitute spinach in this recipe, but there is no substitute for the fresh herbs.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
, coarsely chopped (I used about 1 C of onion I had left over)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 pound Swiss chard leaves (center ribs and stems removed), coarsely chopped (about 10 cups)
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/2 C fresh cilantro
1/4 C fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 C plain Greek-style yogurt

Optional garnishes:
Plain Greek-style yogurt
Mixed chopped herbs
(such as parsley, cilantro, and mint)
Feta, crumbled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon juice
Olive oil

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Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent and soft (do not brown), 7–8 minutes.

While they cook, roughly chop your herbs.
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Add chard, parsley, cilantro, fresh and dried mint, nutmeg, and broth to the pan.

It might seem like there isn't enough broth...

It might seem like there isn’t enough broth…

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, less than 10 minutes.

.....and then the chard shrinks!

…..and then the chard shrinks!


Stir in lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Take out your immersion blender tool and go at it. DSC_4866I like the idea of an immersion blender because it is very easy to clean compared to a food processor or blender. Yet it makes a mess with its splattering. Even with an apron, I don’t recommend wearing dry-clean only clothes with this one! Especially if you want your soup really really smooth, you could purée it in batches in a blender. Return to pan.

Place a few Tablespoons of the yogurt in a separate medium bowl. Add a ladle-full of warm soup and whisk until smooth. Repeat process twice more, using the yogurt and adding a total of 1 cup more soup.

Whisk yogurt mixture into soup in saucepan. Stir 1/4 cup herbs and about 1/4 cup of crumbled feta into soup. Season to taste with lemon juice, pepper, and salt, remembering that you will be garnishing with additional feta–and my feta at least was very salty.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with herbs and feta. Drizzle with oil, if desired. Serve with a good crusty bread, ideally.
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I had almost 3 Cups of leftover swiss chard stems, which I saved from disposal and pickled using this Bon Appetit recipe as guidance. I didn’t quite double the recipe–I ended up using about 3 Cups of Sugar, 1 3/4 Cups white vinegar, 4 Tablespoons Siracha, and 3/4 tsp of celery seed. Since they are supposed to sit for a few days, I have no idea how they will turn out, but I’ll let you know!

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A vegetable melee

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This week’s CSA share

I came across the book Dinner: A Love Story last year when it was on display at my library as a new release. I loved the book’s story of the woman’s life and relationship with her husband and children described in the context of the different meals they cooked and ate, going from entertaining friends to surviving picky kids. While reading it, Jenny Rosenstrach kind of became my idol–I wanted to be like her and for my husband to be like hers, meaning that we would email back and forth to decide what to cook for dinner every day and then rush to make a commuter train that would allow time for making it. But my Matt will never love cooking as much as her Andy, and I’m OK with that. I’ll take his moderate interest in cooking and general willingness to try new things (as long as they don’t involve raw fruits, other than tomatoes and avocados).

I guess I didn’t realize that she maintained a current blog until this week, when it came up in my search results for escarole recipes. In this post, she shared my sentiments exactly. I don’t need to say anything more. I made her recipe almost exactly–I pared it down somewhat for using 1/2 of the block of tofu, and it still used almost the entire package of wontons. As that was more than my friend Kristen and I needed in one sitting, I froze some of the uncooked dumplings, like she said.

Getting ready to execute two tofu-eriffic recipes.

Getting ready to execute two tofu-eriffic recipes.

Fried Vegetable Dumplings
Adapted from Dinner a Love Story

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Dash of sesame oil
3 scallions, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 tsp Chinese Five Spice
a shake of red pepper flakes
3/4 a large bunch fresh escarole greens, chopped (or any other greens you don’t like)
1/2 block extra firm tofu, pressed and drained on paper towels for about 15 minutes, and sliced into rectangles)
a few chives, supplemented by a few extra scallions, roughly chopped
a few tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
Squeeze of lime
1 12-ounce pack of wonton wrappers

Add the oils to a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the scallions, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Chinese Five Spice for about 2 minutes. Add greens and cook for a minute or two until all leaves are slightly wilted.

Transfer the filling to the bowl of a large food processor. Add remaining ingredients (except wrappers) and pulse until everything is roughly chopped.
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Get ready to wrap: Set up a small bowl of water, the filling, your wontons, and a platter of some kind for transferring over to the frying pan.

Dip your fingers in the water and drag around the edges of a wonton. Spoon a small amount of the filling into the center of each wonton.

Putting Kristen to work.

Putting Kristen to work.

Fold in half to make a triangle shape. Pinch all sides together; smush their centers slightly so they’ll lay flat in the frying pan–we forgot this step and it made for some rawer wonton edges.
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Once all the dumplings are assembled (or, once a few are and you are too hungry to wait any longer) add a tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry in batches adding more oil as needed, until dumplings are crispy and golden, about 2 minutes on each side.
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Chow down.

Chow down.

Serve with soy sauce.

I happen to pick out another recipe this week that had similar ingredients. I halved the recipe so I could get away with the one block of tofu total for both.

Three-Herb and Tofu Lettuce Wraps with Soy-Honey Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Tasting Table Test Kitchen Recipe
Serves 2

Wraps:
1/2 one 14-ounce block extra-firm tofu, drained
2 scallions, ends removed and white and green parts thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grapeseed or canola oil, divided if necessary
a couple of garlic cloves, to taste (we did 2) finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger (about 1 tablespoon), peeled and grated or finely shopped (this is easiest to do from frozen)
1/2 jalapeño chile, seeds scraped according to your spice toleration, and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
most of the juice from ½ lime

4 separated whole leaves from Boston, Bibb or Butter lettuce
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (preferably Thai basil)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
2 Tablespoons peanuts,
roughly chopped

Dipping Sauce:
3 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoons mirin rice wine
(Chinese cooking wine)
1/4 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce

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Slice tofu horizontally into a few rectangles so that it can drain thoroughly on 3 layers of paper towels (or a kitchen towel). Press with additional paper towels (or a kitchen towel).

Crumble the tofu into a colander and use more paper towels (or a kitchen towel) to press the tofu, extracting even more liquid, until the tofu is finely crumbled and feels fairly dry. Add the sliced scallions to the tofu and toss to combine.
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Prepare large nonstick skillet, set over medium-high heat with oil. For this recipe, all of the tofu will fit in one layer in a large nonstick skillet–if doing the full recipe or with a smaller skillet, cook the tofu-scallion mixture in batches.

Cook without stirring until the tofu is browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir and continue to cook until the tofu browns a little more. The tofu and scallions take on a very unique crunch texture.
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With all of the cooked tofu in the skillet, make a well in the center add the garlic, ginger, jalapeño and salt.

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Once the mixture starts to sizzle, after about 10 seconds, stir it into the surrounding tofu and cook until the tofu mixture is fragrant, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture into a medium bowl, stir in the lime juice and set aside.

Make the dipping sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, mirin and chile-garlic sauce. Adjust to taste for more spice or more sweet.

Assemble the wraps: Set two lettuce leaves on each plate. Divide basil, cilantro and mint leaves among lettuce leaves, topping with sautéed tofu and peanuts, and drizzle sauce over the top.
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Messy and delicious.

A perfect complement

As you can imagine, sometimes my quest for using up food makes for an unusual diet.

For example, I started last Sunday’s dinner with a kale and fruit smoothie, followed by grilled steak with chimichurri sauce, and topped off with bacon peanut butter cookies for dessert. Yep, you read that correctly.

Of course, I can explain:  Awhile back I had preserved leftover kale by freezing it in an ice cube tray, and I still hadn’t used it up. I added frozen berries, banana, nonfat greek yogurt, and honey for my appetizer drink. I made chimichurri again because I had made cubes of leftover parsley and cilantro leaves in olive oil also saved in the freezer.
As for the cookies….well, somehow my package of bacon wasn’t being used enough. And I had come across the recipe again from Joy the Baker. I was curious. How were they? All I can say is WOW.

Let’s talk about something that makes sense together: eggs and greens.

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This is what fresh collard greens look like!

I’ll be experiencing an influx of greens in the coming weeks, so I’ll be sneaking them in wherever I can. This is a good thing, because it adds nutrition that I have probably been lacking lately.  Can we agree for a minute that bacon, in moderation, fits into a healthy lifestyle too? This is another easy and adaptable recipe.

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Baked Eggs with Southern-Style Greens and Polenta
adapted from a Whole Foods online recipe
Serves: 2

1/4 cup uncooked grits or polenta (coarse cornmeal)
3/4 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 tablespoon butter
2 slices bacon
1 bunch collard greens
, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 eggs

Stemming the greens is probably the most tedious part of this process. Here’s a quick hint to save time: fold the leaf in half over the stem so you only need to make one slice to remove it!
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Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange 2 large ramekins (at least 5 ounces) on a baking sheet, grease, and set aside.

I used the remains of a package of instant polenta, which requires only five minutes of stirring. If using packaged polenta, follow the package directions. All methods start with boiling the water and salt, whisking in the grains, and reducing the heat to low. If using cornmeal or grits, you’ll be stirring often for 10-15 minutes until thick and creamy.
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Remove pan from stovetop. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper. This is the step where I could definitely see something like shredded cheddar cheese added, if you’re into that sort of thing 🙂

Divide grits among prepared ramekins.

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Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until just crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool. Roughly chop.

Pour most of the bacon grease out of the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Add greens to skillet and cook, tossing often, until wilted and just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in bacon and season with salt and pepper. Arrange greens on top of grits in ramekins.
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Crack an egg into the center of each ramekin and bake until whites are almost set, 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them or you’ll be sad like me and miss out on a runny yolk! Set aside to let cool briefly then serve.

Not quite how it was supposed to turn out, with a set egg. That is what happens when you run upstairs to change your clothes toward the end of the cook time!

Not quite how it was supposed to turn out, with a set egg. That is what happens when you run upstairs to change your clothes toward the end of the cook time!

Still enjoyable.

Still enjoyable.