orange-sections

Perfect Orange Sections

Orange sections liven up a main dish salad like nobody’s biz. How do you get them out of the orange in one piece?

orange-sections

Well, here’s what I do. This is how I was taught when working in the pastry shop at Louie’s Backyard in Key West, Florida. I had to switch there because I was pregnant and I had that smell thing going on, and I could not handle being around all the meat in the regular restaurant. I wasn’t very good at pastry, but I did learn a thing or two, including this technique and how to break an egg with one hand.

This method yields lovely section with no pith, as well as a little bit of juice for good measure.

Perfect Orange Sections: How To

First off, choose your knife. A curved blade is best. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my boning knife handy; they really work the best. But this one did in a pinch, though it wasn’t so sharp for the first couple of cuts, until I ran it over a steel.

orange-sections

Slice off the skin at the “poles” of the orange. Yeah, I know. I should have done a thinner slice. Stupid dull knife. I’ve been yelled at by so many kitchen employers for wasting food. If this happens to you, buck up, little tomato! Just squeeze the top of the orange for more juice, or dig out that little bit of flesh for a snack.

orange-sections

Set the orange down on one of its now flat surfaces. Remove the peel by making vertical cuts down the sides of the orange. This is where that curved blade comes in handy (especially if it’s sharp enough), as it nicely slices away the curved surface of the orange.

orange-sections

Just keep going…

orange-sections

…until you have a naked orange. (#naked gets SO many more clicks.)

orange-sections

Now, it’s time to get the orange sections. Make sure you have a bowl. Hold the orange in your hand over that bowl. Carefully slice out a section of orange at a time.

orange-sections

It’s kinda like you’re shaving the membrane away with the knife. Sometimes, I actually just lift it from the second side after the first side’s been freed.

Once you have all the orange sections, give the membrane a good squeeze.

orange-sections

Not only are you the proud possessor of a bowl of perfect orange sections, you’ve got a couple of tablespoons of orange juice, which you can throw in the dressing, or just drink out of the bowl. Like the orange-juice loving kitten that you are…. orange-sections

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collard-greens

WTF, CSA? Collard Greens

Even more than dinosaur kale, collard greens look like they’d be perfectly home in Jurassic Park. Leathery and hued a calm, deep blue-green, collards are perceived by many to be the quintessential green of the U.S. south, and a staple of the great cuisine invented by enslaved African-American cooks. In fact, when Warren Beatty as Jay Bulworth visits Halle Berry’s family in that movie, he automatically assumes that the big pot of greens is collards, which he says he “loves.” (It’s fairly obvious that’s he’s never eaten collards in his life.)

“That’s kale,” says Ms. Berry’s grandma Mama Doll, the marvelous Helen Martin. She rolls her eyes.

While, from a cooking standpoint, collard greens can interchange easily with kale or chard, they look quite different and have their own virtues, as well as unique flavor and texture. They are an old world plant, mentioned by ancient Greeks and Romans. Their lovely large leaves thrive in gardens braising under the big summer sun right up to very cold snaps. Their play between crunch and chewiness, bitter and sweet, gets enhanced depending on your cooking technique. Some options follow.

Collard Greens: Raw

You can mix finely chopped raw collard greens into a salad, but they do require a fairly vigorous chew. Rubbing with salt and oil doesn’t transform them the way it does kale, as you can see in this post. So skip that in favor of a truly genius use for a big collard leaf: as a super-healthy, mildly-spicy, fiber and flavor-rich gluten-free wrap for basically filling as you would normally drop in a tortilla.

To execute this, you do need to get out your trusty paring knife and shave down the stem. Then, simply add your ingredients in a narrowish strip down the center of the leaf.

collard-greens-wrap

Tuck in the sides, then fold up. Ish. Obviously, my collard green wrap folding skills have some evolving to do. This was a messy meal, but a tasty one.

collard-greens-wrap-in-hand

I’ve found that, for a while now, I’ve been ripping away considerable swaths of tortilla, because I can’t for the life of me discover a reason to eat all that flour. So now, I get virtue points for noshing away on more greens, which nicely complement the starch in the burrito. The collard green wrap proved particularly wonderful with this refried black-eyed pea and sauteed greens interior, inspired by the glorious Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Topped with watermelon salsa, it earned a big yum.

Collard Greens: Sautéed

Collard greens sauté up beautifully, using the same formula you’d use for many of the vegetables I’ve previously cited. These include kale, but also green beans. Follow the same rules: Heat some fat, start with some type of chopped onion, add the greens, and add a little water or broth. Cover and steam. Test after 5 minutes, then 10. Collards are sturdy; make sure you’ve got the chew consistency where you want it.

collard-greens-sauteed

Additionally, skimp on the salt—though I don’t like to skip it altogether. The deep lustrous greens feature fairly high sodium content. I’m all for judicious salt, with the caveat that it is very easy to oversalt your greens. The key is tasting. Here’s a step-by-step and recipe in case you like that sort of things.

Collard Greens: Boiled or Otherwise Slow-cooked

The classic southern prep of collard greens, by the way, is to boil the hell out of them with a ham hock. This creates pot liquor, often spelled “likker,” the leftover cooking water shaded an electric green and featuring a thin (and to my palate, gross) film of fat. Not    something I really want to eat, but I’ve met many a southerner whose eyes get downright misty when describing the stuff. It’s reputed to be a fine hangover cure. So….there’s that.

For that very reason, however, collard greens go the distance in a crockpot. Just cut them fine, either in squares or a chiffonade. You can stir them into whatever you’re slow cooking and all those vitamins will cook into the stew without the greens turning to mush.

Collard Greens: Perfect Partners

Black-eyed peas, yams, corn on the cob, watermelon on the side, peanuts, bbq anything: All marry happily to collards. But don’t limit them to your ideas of classic southern U.S. cuisine—which is, by the way, very similar to the cuisines of Western Africa because, well, read your history if you haven’t already. Collards’ sturdiness renders them gorgeous in many Asian cuisines, including the many regional variations of southeastern, Chinese, Indian, and Korean—collard greens and gochujang may make you squeal in delicious pleasure. They can hold their own throughout western, central, and northern Europe as well. Simply cut into bite-sized pieces, and fold them right into your dish. And finally, and perhaps surprisingly, they co-exist beautifully with eggs. This quinoa-crust quiche used a mix of chopped broccoli, leeks, and kale, but collards will work just as well, on their own or mixed with whatever greens you want to put to good use.

They’ll add a huge hit of vitamins. Most importantly, they’ll make your taste buds and innards equally happy. Chow down.

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green-beans

WTF, CSA? Green Beans

Here’s the thing with fresh green beans: You can’t buy just a handful.

green-beans-bagged

These are roughly 2 pound bags that I recently saw at Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ idea is that you will buy this entire bag, no questions asked. And of course, you can just remove what you want—even just a handful—with impunity.

But optimally, your idea should be to avoid bagged green beans altogether, because frankly, you have no idea what could be in there.  You can also see how lumpy those beans are, which means: tough. You’ll be much happier with your purchase if you seek out this type of display. Hey, wait a sec! Those aren’t cucumbers! LOL, Larry.

green-beans-in-the-store

You can see that many of the stems are still intact, a sign of freshness. Turn a bag inside out over your hand and grab what you need. (Do wash these when you get home, because people have been running their hands through those things All Day.)

Point being, when green beans rain, they pour. Your CSA box may be fair to bursting with beans one day. What’s a cook to do?

Well, first off, snap off those stems. This, I find, is the most satisfying green bean experience. The stems snap off with a nice snappy pop; maybe even the teeniest bit of water pops out when they’re super fresh.

green-beans-snapped

You can also cut them, which is speedy. You just line ’em up, chop one set of tips, then line them back up the other way and repeat. This works if your green beans are maybe a little less fresh; again, not optimal, but still edible. Bonus: Beans make a great first cutting project for a beginning cook. You can practice your monkey claw, and complete the job in 2 quick cuts per pile of beans.

Just as with all vegetables, you have a few options—though limited somewhat by the ways of the bean. Prior to any veggie recommendations, it’s important to note that acid turns your beautiful bright green beans a downright fug olive color. Add acid, should you need it, to any preparation of green beans—particularly raw, steamed, or blanched—at the very last minute, and the dish will look fine for the next half hour or so. But leftovers are likely to look a bit sad. More on that below.

Green Beans: Raw

ONLY if you have just picked them out of the garden, and if they are the super skinny haricot vert variety (the ones so thin they look like needles). Even so, they don’t call ’em beans for nothin’. While green beans are actually a flower, they’re a little starchy. A quick dunk in a pot of boiling salted water or a light steaming preserves their bright jade color as it brings out the fresh green flavor, and makes them a little easier to digest as well.

If you do opt for raw, just rinse them well and snap off the ends. If you have to cut off the ends because they’re not snapping cleanly, they’re not fresh enough, in my book, to go on the plate without a little further cooking.

Green Beans: Steamed or Blanched

These methods are interchangeable and provide serious versatility. To steam, put your steamer basket filled with green beans in a pot with an inch or so boiling water. Cover the pot, steam 1-2 minutes, then refresh with cold water.

green-beans-steamed

To blanch, simply dump the beans in a big amount of boiling salted water. More water works great because you want to cook the beans quickly, 1-2 minutes; in a big pot, the water comes back to the boil almost immediately. Pour into a colander and refresh with cold water so the beans don’t continue to cook.

You can pre-cook all your beans either of these ways, and then have them on hand for salads and other dishes throughout the week.

Beans love fresh herbs. Dill and mint get called up the most often, but pretty much any, in any combination work. This bean salad link provides step by step instructions and an actual, adaptable recipe if you like precise amounts.

Feel free add some butter or a tasty oil to your barely cooked green beans, because Fat = Yum. Fresh steamed or blanched beans with butter, salt and pepper are completely awesome.

Green Beans: The Steam Sauté

Green beans love some fat. Stir-fry or saute them raw, then add some liquid for a brief steaming. Alternatively, steam or blanch the beans before steaming. If raw, you may want to consider the so-called French cut, i.e., slicing them lengthwise.

green-beans-julienned

It’s a pain in the ass, quite frankly, but it does serve its purpose; it was invented to help out some of the bigger and consequently tougher beans that often get to market.

As for optimal pairings: Native to the Americas, green beans at this point in time are part of nearly every world cuisine, and consequently go with all sorts of things, like….cherries!

green-beans-cherries

In case you think that’s weird, there’s also corn and some feta cheese added to the mix. I swear, it worked beautifully.

green-beans-greekish-salad

They’re wonderful in a big Asian-inspired stir-fry. I adapted this Mee Goreng recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi barely at all (other than to not be tremendously slavish about amounts, and swapping the sprouts for radishes and the iceberg for radish greens, because I had them on hand).

green-beans-mee-goreng

And, with apologies to non-meat-eating friends and readers, I must report that green beans and bacon are quite wonderful, as this take on a classic southern recipe can attest. (The recipe does provide links to vegan “bacon” alternatives, so fear not.)

Do know that, since acid of some kind is usually added to a saute—lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato—leftovers will turn that dismal color. Additionally, while there are many, many recipes I’ve come across that advocate adding green beans to a long-simmering braise of other vegetables and protein, my personal preference is to keep them and crispy and green as possible. If you dig eating olive drab, go for it, and report back.

Green Beans: Roasted

Green beans can be roasted or grilled, though frankly this prep feels a little gimmicky to me. As always, you do you. The basic vegetable roasting techniques apply. Just toss in oil with salt and herbs. Then roast for a brief period, say 5-8 minutes before giving a good stir, followed by an additional 5-8 minutes.

Green Beans: A Few Cool Options

Having steamed and/or blanched green beans on hand benefits your kitchen throughout the week. You can add them to salads, either green or grain based. You can toss them in a soup for color at the last second, stir them into pasta or rice dishes, and dip them in hummus. Chopped up and mixed with a cooked grain—quinoa, barley, a plump short-grain rice—you can then form them into patties and make cute little cakes; I’m currently experimenting with an old Bert Greene recipe to this effect and will post when I’m happy with it.

Best of all, you can either dip into them through the week—they’ll keep nicely in your produce drawer as long as they don’t get wet, for several days—or steam off the whole bunch the day you get them and just throw in a little bean confetti as the inspiration strikes. Chomp away, mes amis.

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kitchen-knives-lechoufou

The Only 2 Kitchen Knives You Need to Cook Anything (or Cut Up Raw Stuff)

What’s that? Only 2 kitchen knives for….anything???i

Yep. Despite the fact that, If you look up “kitchen knives” on Pinterest, you will immediately see massive knife collections.

People, you need two kitchen knives. As in 2. That’s it.

kitchen-knives-lechoufou

(By the way, before we go further, I recognize that you, dear reader, may want more knives. In which case, please refer to this excellent post over at Bladesto for all manner of knife safety tips.)

The first one is your big, all-purpose chopper. Professional cooks call them French knives or chef’s knives.

kitchen-knives-chef-knife-lechoufou A French knife has a big blade that’s flat on top, curves down to a point, then angles back up, kind of a rounded triangle. It should have some weight, but not be too heavy; it’s more important that it’s sharp. Also, you can use the blade to lift up all the stuff you just chopped and move it to the bowl (for salad) or pan (for sautéeing). This one cost less than 20 bucks at the grocery store, and I like it tons better than a really expensive knife Steve got from some dopey knife of the month club that we joined for, I think, a month.

I also have this cleaver, which I bought 30 years ago, when I had my first cooking job at Louie’s Backyard in Key West.

kitchen-knives-cleaver

A lot of the cooks used and swore by them. Small cleavers are awesome: the rectangular blade makes them super easy to sharpen. They’re also a friendly shape and heft for chopping just about anything, and perfect to scoop up whatever you’ve chopped from cutting board to pot. You can find them, with a little looking, at your local Asian grocers. Don’t opt for the big ones; they’re weird and intimidating and meant to hack bones. You may have to root a bit for the smaller sizes, but, if my experience is any indication, you’ll grow to love it.

You also need a paring knife.

kitchen-knives-paring-knife

DO NOT chop vegetables with this. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a kitchen scene in a movie or on TV and someone is whipping up a delicious meal using a PARING KNIFE. I have googled this, because I can’t remember any exact frames, so cross does this outrage make me. But now you know. Just Watch.

Well, obviousy: no, no, no. Perhaps actors, who really can be pretty helpless with the hand/eye coordination at times (says the former actor) simply cannot be trusted. Obviously, they don’t cook much, or they would tell the producers that a paring knife is for small jobs only: coring tomatoes and strawberries, peeling things you can hold in your hand, like a shallot. People used to use them for paring the skin of carrots and potatoes; hence the name, though I greatly prefer a vegetable peeler. (The cheap ones are still the best.) I don’t use my paring knife often, but when I need it I need it.

The most important thing about knives, especially if you have only 2, is to keep them sharp. Sharp knives are safe, dull ones dangerous. Buy a steel, which may set you back more than your knife and will be well worth it.

kitchen-knives-sharpener

Give your knife a few swipes at least a couple of times a week; I know cooks who swipe 2-3 times every time they use a knife. I also take mine to be professionally sharpened about twice a year; it’s well worth it if you’re cooking every day.

The other most important thing with knives is the hand that doesn’t have the knife, which must be…..
…a MONKEY CLAW*!

kitchen-knives-monkey-claw

(*This term comes from a delightful young chef named Chris Ekpiken, who I once interviewed for Ann Arbor Family. His mom is from New Orleans, his dad from Nigeria. Chris started experimenting in the kitchen very young. His parents, both raised in cooking families, wouldn’t raise an eyebrow when he picked up a knife, but his mother would yell “MONKEY CLAW!” to him. It is truly the most accurate description of the ideal non-cutting hand position that I’ve ever heard.)

The monkey claw will keep your fingers safe from cuts. I don’t know a cook who hasn’t cut her/him/themself at some point. It just happens. But the monkey claw—and knowing that onions and peppers are the two most dangerous and injury-producing things to cut—can save you from bloody fingers 99% of the time.

(I did get my son a cutting glove, and he said that it made him bolder in the kitchen, sort of like Dumbo’s feather. So it’s something to think about if knives freak you out a little.)

(Also, do you remember that Bloody Fingers 3 houses away joke from grade school? Or is this just something that used to thrill me because I’m old and we didn’t have things like Saw?)

On the ingredient pages of the website, I give tips for the ways that I’ve found work best for cutting particular vegetables, fruits, and other edibles. The biggest rule is to make sure that whatever you’re cutting has a flat surface to place on the cutting board. You MUST do this with an onion. They are slippery devils.

kitchen-knives-onions

And the reason peppers cause so many injuries is that people cut them skin side up; the knife slips and takes off a sliver of your finger, which you later find, and which, coupled with your loss of blood, will make you keel over. Not that this has ever happened to me……

kitchen-knives-peppers

Finally, buy a good cutting board on which to use those kitchen knives. Those weird hard plastic ones are awful, and will ruin your knives. I’ve also seen people try to cut right on their marble or granite counters—argh—or on small plates. Invest in a good-sized wooden block, and give it a good scrub with salt and lemon juice to keep it nice and clean.

kitchen-knives-cutting-board

Consider buying a separate one if you cut meat. In this case the softer plastic boards are nice because you can sterilize them in the dishwasher, or, if you’re a hand washer, basically scrub the hell out of them with some good dish soap and hot water. Because raw meat atoms are killers, people. (That yellow stain kind of vaguely hovering is from fresh turmeric. You have been warned.)

kitchen-knives-alt-cutting-board

Ok, you got your kitchen knives. You’re ready to cut stuff.

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bowl building: ready to roll

How to Build a Bowl

Bowls have been a thing since long before you saw “bowl” on offer everywhere you looked. I’m a grazer, so bowls are pretty  much my favorite way to eat. This super simple guide promises super easy bowl building with whatever ingredients and combos float your boat.

Bowls optimally include the following:

  • Dressing, which goes on the bottom of the bowl; for this one, I made a balsamic mustard maple vinaigrette.
  • Grain or starch: I used quinoa here, into which I grated a beet.
  • Roasted veggies; here, I diced up some sweet potatoes.
  • Raw veggies: Kale and cabbage are ideal because they’re so sturdy.
  • Protein: Mine of choice was feta cheese.
  • Something sweet: I had a pomegranate on hand.
  • Something crunchy, and if you’re traveling, packed separately: I roasted some walnuts.

bowl building ingredients

I used this recipe from Clean Eating pretty much verbatim, except that the dressing they recommend is WAY too tart for me (1/4 cup of vinegar and no oil?? that’s nuts.) So I just made your basic vinaigrette, which is pretty dark due to balsamic and maple syrup.

Now the thing with published bowl recipes is that they put them in Mason jars, which looks beautiful but has never worked for me. I like to be able to toss my salads so they really get coated in dressing, and just shaking a packed Mason jar up and down doesn’t cut it for me.

We like to do a little bowl building before a road trip, so we just layer ours in this handy plastic bowl. As noted, keep the roasted crunchiness (nuts in this case) separate and add when you eat. Soggy crunchy stuff is for the birds. Actually, watching the birds chow down on sunflower seeds right now, I must argue with myself and say birds look askance at soggy crunchy stuff, too.

Here’s how our to-go pack looks.

bowl building: salad packed and ready to hit the road

And here, taking with unfortunate night-time overhead lighting, is how our salad looks plated. It tasted really good. Please excuse the near-sepia tone.

bowl building: plated salad

Bowl Building: Inspirations and Ideas Aplenty

You can find good bowls all over online. Check out my Pinterest board for suggestions from around the web, or try one of my recipes.

Or just give bowl building a shot on your own. Enjoy!



rapini and how to make it tasty

Rapini

How do you solve a problem like…..rapini? On the shelf, it looks so adorable, bright emerald green baby broccoli flowers amid plenty of leaves that look like mustard greens, with crispy-looking jade green stems…

rapini, raw and innocent looking

You may think, well, there’s nothing to that but to pop it in a pan with some garlic, and…Yum! But should you do that very thing, you are likely to see troubled looks on the faces of your fellow diners—they trusted you, and you give them this?—and may end up barely able to swallow what seemed like a great idea.

If that sounds as if it comes from bitter (pun very much intended) experience with this particular vegetable, you have perceived correctly. I once innocently sauteed up a pan of rapini, blithely served it to Steve and Henry. I insist on honest reactions to my creations here, and I got them. Steve, normally a totally easy keeper on the vegetable front, said, “Wow. This is horrible.” Henry stood up and poured his in the garbage. Steve and I followed suit.

Rapini, you saucy trickster! You’re not broccoli at all, but a very stylish member of the turnip family. Hence the extreme bitterness. So why bother, when you could just get broccoli, which is honestly pretty hard to screw up? Because if you can get rapini right, it’s a wonderful way to zazzle up your taste buds. Tempered correctly, which you will shortly learn how to do, rapini provides a pleasant bang of bitterness, a wonderful texture—it doesn’t get mushy, but you also won’t feel like a horse chewing it—and a veritable powerhouse of nutrition. Vitamin K and C, cancer-fighting properties, anti-inflammatory, alkalizing: Read all about it at this link (though I caution against preparing the soup recipe unless you follow the de-bittering step here).

What is this magical step to render rapini ravishing? A big old pot of boiling water. Bring it to a boil, throw in about a tablespoon of salt, and blanch for about 2 minutes. (I break off any tough-looking stems prior to boiling.) The process mellows the bitterness to a manageable amount, and the broccoli stays bright green. Then simply drain, squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop coarsely. The amount shown below is the yield from the big batch of rapini at the top of the page (probably about 2/3 of a pound).

Rapini loves garlic. Heat your pan, heat some oil (olive is perfect), sauté your super thin garlic slices with a little salt for about 45 seconds so they’re just starting to turn gold. Then add your chopped rapini.

Rapini is no delicate creature. I give it about 8 minutes, but it can go longer. You’ll end up with a lovely big batch that you can keep on hand for about 3 days and throw into all kinds of things.

The night I made this up, Steve threw a big handful into some soup. I had some naan on hand, which I brushed with a little garlic oil, toasted briefly in the oven, then topped with the sauteed rapini, some leftover meatballs sliced thin, and some fresh mozzarella and a little parmesan. A heavenly little personal pizza. Don’t stop there. Throw some sauteed rapini into pasta or rice. Use it as your green in a bowl; it would be amazing as a bi bim bop component. Just one warning: Now that you know how rapini should taste, you would be wise to avoid ordering it in U.S. restaurants, and if you see it in a deli case, be sure to get a sample. Rapini always looks good. It stays bright green pretty much no matter what.

Of course, if you see it in Italy, go nuts. They kind of invented the stuff.