Kale yes! Kale Miso Tahini Salad

kalesalad

Kale, like brussels sprouts, are one of those vegetables that have had a complete 360 in their public perception. (Whoever’s their PR camp is doing one helluva job.) I swear, a decade ago, kale was just a garnish I pushed aside with my fork while I was eating my country-fried steak at Claim Jumpers. But now, the curly leaves are sprouting up everywhere. It’s a staple at any restaurant–as a sauteed side complimenting rotisserie chicken, slow-cooked to resemble the buttery and savory Southern-style collard greens–or sold at any Whole Foods in bags of crispy kale chips seasoned with Herbs de Provence.

Dat fancy.

I know deep down that this newfound love for kale over the past few years may indeed be a fad, but I really do love the seaweed-like kale chips, and some macrobiotic restaurants make the best kale salads I’ve ever had–especially the one at M. Chaya in Los Angeles. Their salad is a tangy peanut dressing coating the curly leaves, coupled with slivers of peanuts and strips of red onion. Plus, kale lowers cholesterol and aids in cancer prevention. Count me in–I want to live to 100.

So, I’ve been obsessed with making a kale salad similar to that M. Chaya one. I ran across a recipe in LA Weekly by a chef of a different restaurant, who forayed in the world of macrobiotic cooking after his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It’s a touching story, and out of this situation came something beautiful–a recipe that can be shared with others to help them in their quest for living healthier as well. His recipe  uses almonds instead of peanuts, and the dressing has a similar tanginess to it, yet it’s different in that it relies on a tahini, miso, and lemon dressing–creamy and served best warm or cold. The shredded carrots make for a vibrant and colorful salad, coated in this creamy dressing. It’s quite pretty, and perfect to bring to a nice picnic in the park, which I’m planning to do since summer is just around the corner.

Note: I made just a minor tweak to his recipe.

Ingredients:

For the dressing:
1⁄4 cup white miso
1⁄2 cup sesame tahini
1 lemon, juiced
3⁄4 cup water
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1⁄2 tsp. chili sauce (optional)
Ground black pepper

1. Add all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Refrigerate for up to a week.

For the salad:
12 oz. of kale, washed and chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1⁄2 cup whole almond

1. Bring water to boil in a 2-quart pan. Blanch the kale. Drain and then set aside to cool off.

2. In a large bowl, mix the kale, carrots, and dressing to taste.

3. Separate the salad onto 4 plates, adding more dressing around the salad and whole almonds for garnish.

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Black bean and olive couscous

cous

I have to admit–I have a routine whenever I go to Trader Joe’s. I usually go a little before lunch, lurk around the food sample section (the more cooking involved, the better! I could care less about chopped-up squares of banana bread), chat it up with the person serving the samples, walk away, get a coffee sample with soy milk, and then discreetly go back to get a second helping–hoping that nobody notices. To rationalize this, I think to myself that the sample server and I are homies by this point, so they won’t mind.

This is just how I roll.

Over the weekend, I ran across a Traders Joe’s dish that was so delicious, healthy, and well-balanced in flavor that I bought all the ingredients they placed in front of the sample stand–something I rarely do. The dish blended savory couscous with hearty black beans, black olives, crumbled feta, and Goddess dressing, into a slightly tangy and light meal that took me less than half an hour to make tonight for dinner. I served it with a side salad dressed with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette…and poured lots of red wine for drinking.

Yields 6-7 servings

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken broth

2 tbsp of olive oil

2 tsp salt

12 oz box of couscous

3.8 oz can of sliced black olives, drained

15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 bottle of 8 fl. oz Goddess dressing

2 oz. feta crumbles (Mediterranean style preferred, but regular feta works too)

Directions:

1. In a medium-sized pot, combine chicken broth, olive oil, and salt. Heat until boiling.

2. Add couscous to the pot. Remove from heat and cover with lid.

3. Let stand for five minutes.

4. Lift lid and fluff couscous with a fork.

5. Add to pot olives, beans, feta, and Goddess dressing. Mix well and serve.

Rosemary, bacon, and cheddar biscuits

biscuits

Some of the things I love about my local Silver Lake Intelligentsia coffee shop are the rich roasts, froth art, and the black-vested and curly-mustached baristas who look like they just stepped out of a 19th-century-era steam punk graphic novel.

Whenever I step into my favorite shop, I usually pick up a rosemary and bacon biscuit to go along with my morning coffee. So,  you could imagine my disappointment when my buddy offered to grab me one on the way to work, but showed up with a chive biscuit instead. A…CHIVE…biscuit (which, by the way is also pretty delicious and probably in the cards for my next baking adventure, but I’m being whiny for dramatic effect). It’s no rosemary and bacon biscuit though.

What’s a girl to do when she has a craving for a baked good that her coffee shop no longer carries? She makes it herself and satiates her hunger whenever she damn well pleases! (Well, maybe not whenever; biscuits are usually listed in the “Paula Deen” category.)

This is a quick and simple recipe that you would be able to make in time for any breakfast before you hear the first pair of footsteps coming down the stairs. Impress your family; entertain your guests. These flaky biscuits are balanced between the sweetness of the batter and the sharpness of the cheese, with herbs and smoky crisp bacon bits mixed in. Although baking biscuits may seem daunting at times and the worries that might run through your head are, “What if I make them too dense or too dry?” don’t fret because if you follow these instructions to the T, everything will be fine and you’ll look like a pro-cook. The best part about these “rustic” biscuits is that you don’t have to roll them into a perfect log and cut them–the magic is in the home-baked “rustic” look.

Adapted from Running to the Kitchen recipe.

Yields 13 biscuits

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp white sugar

2/3 stick of cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced

3 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy, then finely chopped

1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping

3/4 cup of milk

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Do not grease the sheet.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients–flour, salt, baking powder and sugar–and then mix.

3. Add the cubed butter into the dry mixture and use a fork to mash together until it’s well-combined and looks like coarse meal or a crumbly mixture.

4. Add the rosemary, bacon and cheddar cheese in mixture and mix.

5. Pour in milk. Mix ingredients together (I prefer to mix with my hands and pat it together), but be careful to not overmix or else the biscuits will become too dense. Don’t knead the dough. The batter will look slightly dry, but don’t worry – it’s supposed to look that way.

6. Lightly coat hands with flour. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of the dough, shape it together into a ball (it doesn’t need too look like a perfect ball so it’ll have that rustic look), and then put it on the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Lay each ball about an inch away from each other.

7. Sprinkle extra cheddar cheese on top of the balls.

8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Apple, sausage and herb stuffing

stuffing

Ahh the holidays – a time for the warm scent of cinnamon and mulled wine to waft through the house and tickle our noses, the sweet smokiness of honey-baked ham lingering on our lips, and let us not forget the rolling hills of garlicky mashed potatoes (enough to send any blood-suckers or lovers away) filling our already-stuffed bellies.

All this comfort food makes us quickly forget about any hardships faced throughout the year and brings the year to a delicious close of complete and utter drop-down-to-our-knees acceptance that our diets are on hold until the new year.

For my family, Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been the two holidays of the year where we stop cooking Chinese food for once (albeit as delicious as it is – you can only eat so much). My mother always prepares a 19 to 23-pound perfectly moist and browned crispy-skinned turkey (regardless of how small the guest turnout is) – always basted and never brined. My father prepares a glorious potato salad chock full of honey ham and sliced eggs, leaving the job of making the stuffing up to me.

A few years ago, we stopped stuffing the turkey with bread crumbs after we heard about health concerns involved with doing so. I thought nothing could replace the savory, glistening stuffing that came from a turkey’s cavity, and fought against the idea. But I later found the joys of making stuffing in a 9×12-inch baking dish – complete with a myriad of flavors and ingredients that I normally wouldn’t have added inside a turkey.

I stumbled upon Ina Garten’s recipe for stuffing that combined sweet, spicy and tartness – even bringing in the use of sourdough bread as a welcoming alternative to white bread. The mixture of cranberries, Granny Smith apples and spicy Italian sausage was just what I needed to kick up an old recipe…with a colorful presentation as well!

(Adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

10 cups 1-inch bread cubes of day-old sourdough bread (1-lb loaf)

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (1 large onion)

2 cups medium-dice celery (4 stalks)

2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and large-diced

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped sage

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup dried cranberries

*Note: I bought a sliced loaf of sourdough bread, let that sit out for a day, and cut that into cubes. It was definitely a time-saver having pre-sliced bread and didn’t affect the texture at all.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7-10 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, herbs, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.

In the same saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. Add to the bread cubes and vegetables.

Add the chicken stock and cranberries to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm.

Note: The stuffing can be made up to a day in advance and left in the refrigerator until ready to be baked.