LCF Update March 2019

Jump to recommended recipes or recommended entertainment in this edition of LCF Update March 2019.

All right kids, ye olde update is back—now on a monthly basis, as beyond that I feel like I start to blather. Why the radio silence since December? Why the crickets? Well, many of you know me (and to those of you don’t, thank you for dropping by). In which case you also know that Steve and I have been on an epic trip to study Spanish in South America. I’ll post more about that in days to come.

Oh, and we went here:

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Iguazu 1

That’s Iguazu Falls. It’s not one big horseshoe of falls like Niagara, but a system of more than 200 falls (or cataratas in Spanish, isn’t that pretty?) in 2 beautiful parks, one in Brazil, the bigger one in Argentina. We went to both. You walk along paths, and every time you turn a corner there are more falls. In a fortunate lifetime of seeing many beautiful places, this is the one that blew both of away the most.

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Iguazu 2
Iguazu from the Brazil side.

But more than anything that we saw or did, the trip helped me with some “what the hell am I doing here?” issues that I’ve been trying to cut my way through like so much shrubbery for a few years. Ever since Steve said, “Honey, quit your job. Just write and make videos,” I’ve struggled. Since college I’ve worked. After my first husband died and ever since, I’ve been my primary breadwinner. Not to discount the tremendous help from family and four awesome siblings over the years, nor the contributions of my kids’ fathers.

That was the purpose: to support my family. Along the way, I had some wonderful times working for the Criterion Collection and for Enlighten. But I always felt like most of what I produced in that setting was for the company, not for me. I never amassed a slammin’ portfolio because I always felt that I was kind of treading water, waiting to create some big personal statement, like a book, or a movie.

Well, when you get up every morning and go to school for four hours and then come home and study, you have a sense of purpose. And I was freaking out a little, saying, look, we get home and I don’t know what my purpose is. At this point, I don’t have to keep the wolf from the door or even a yippy chihuahua. But I realized that, because I’d been in that mode for so much of my life, ever since it stopped, I’ve frankly been a little lost.

Why Routine Rocks

A while ago I had been thinking about the joy of routine. There is something wonderful to knowing what you’re going to be doing at specific times in your day, in your week, in your year. I’ve tried to establish one, sort of, but I haven’t been successful.

Then yesterday, in a chance encounter, I mentioned routine to a friend, and she immediately added, “And rhythm.”

Whoa. Yes! Of course I can’t get traction, because not only have I not bothered with a routine, the rhythm to my days is utterly jagged. On some levels, the so-called Free Spirit in me says, no, Coyote! You cannot be contained. You must run, run like the wind, you wild, impetuous creature.

But….well, let’s get real. I DO want to leave tracks. I want people to find me, and I want, after I’ve slipped the surly bonds, a record. Yes, it’s one of millions, probably billions at this point, so all the more reason it should be coherent.

I don’t like to make promises or predictions. But I can say that it’s become vital to me to stay in better touch with the world via Le Chou Fou. Feel free to hold me to this statement.

Ok, on to the links.

LCF Update March 2019: Food

I’ve wanted to do a meatball/meatloaf post forever, and it’s finally up. Also, there’s a nice paleo zoodle recipe. Paleo is typically not my thing. But I’m also finding that, especially after being in very carb-heavy places—when Argentines aren’t eating meat, they’re eating a lot of pasta and bread— veggies are where it’s at. I know, this is a weird place for me to go, but as I told my Spanish teacher, it’s important to be open because then life can take you to more interesting places. BTW, I have also gone on the record rhapsodizing about South American salads. Here’s one, which cost something like 5 dollars US. The vegetables are amazing down there.

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Argentine Salad

Of paramount importance in establishing this routine, I didn’t want to have to think too much when I got home. So I made a shopping list based on Tieghan Gerard’s weekly “Nine Favorite Things” post over at Half Baked Harvest, a blog that I tend to follow a bit slavishly. In it, she lists the dinners she plans to make during the week. Besides getting some inspiration from her Szechuan Noodle recipe (though it’s pasta and mine ended up different enough that I recorded the changes in the zoodle recipe mentioned above), I basically just outright followed her recipes for her Vibrant Spring Buddha Bowl, a vegan wonder….

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Buddha Bowl

…and this outstanding Cobb Salad. I did brine the chicken for this, because I can’t eat chicken if it hasn’t been brined. Additionally, I increased the marinade time to an hour, as well as searing off the chicken before baking it. Becky, my sister, always bakes bacon in the oven, and I did it for the first time, and it rocks.

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Cobb Salad

Honestly, it was kind of a heavy meat eating week for me, probably 7 ounces. For me, that’s a ton. So I had a ball at the new Fresh Forage in Ann Arbor, which my son discovered while I was gone. You can make your own bowl, but I had the teriyaki tofu one, and it rocked.

LCF Update 18 March 2019 Fresh Forage

Meanwhile, my son happened to perfectly capture this tiny tree-shaped sprout on his fork. Also, he found an orange sweatshirt while cleaning his closet.

LCF Update 18 March 2019

LCF Update March 2019: Brain Food

Said son and I had, prior to this fine dinner, seen Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. While Steve and I were gone, he texted me: Mom, we HAVE to see this together. Sure enough, I loved it. The wit and thrills and imagination of this absolutely delightful movie had me smiling in a big way. I avoid a lot of genre stuff, particularly chick flicks and rom-coms. But man, do I love a good action movie. This one is great and so, so pretty. Also, tons of mini-tributes. When I pointed out to my son that a scientist in the movie looks like the Magic Schoolbus lady, he gave a little man scream. “Yes!! Miss Frizzle!! That’s been driving me crazy.” Truly inspired.


For a shortish read, I loved this article on the Inuit philosophy of raising kids. When you live in a harsh environment, you don’t really have time for anger and temper tantrums. You have to just stop being an ass and fix stuff. This article’s beautifully written by Michaeleen Doucleff, as well as illustrated with the tender photos of Johan Hailberg-Campbell. Doucleff went to the Inuit community after reading anthropoligist Jean Briggs’ book on her experience in the community. It’s about a 20-minute read, and well worth it. Even better, it’s part of series “The Other Side of Anger,” introduced with the very truthful statement, “we live in angry times.”

Inuit Families

On the plane, I watched Boy Erased. The fact that the Oscars completely ignored it tells me everything I ever needed to know about the Oscars. Oh, I used to love them, seeing every nominated movie for a few years. This year…..basta. Meanwhile, the acting and shooting in this movie define excellence, and I loved the script by Joel Edgerton, who also plays the main converter in the conversion therapy camp that Lucas Hedges’ character is subjected to. I don’t always get Hedges, but after this movie…wow. Kidman and Crowe are, as usual, superb.

Boy Erased

I started reading The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal while still in South America. This is my year to slow down and actually absorb what I read, rather than rack up a ton of book points and then not remember what the hell I just finished. So I’m taking my time with this one, and it will be a while before I finish because it’s hella long. David McCullough always finds the humanity in his historical figures and has a great eye for the odd and telling incident. Right now, I’m in the process of learning about Ferdinand deLesseps ego as grand as the Panama Canal is ambitious, and what that meant for his French investors. No spoilers, please! They finished it, right?

Panama Canal

I also started Isabel Allende’s memoir My Invented Country while headed to Chile, then abandoned it in Argentina, then picked it up again once back in Chile, and will likely finish it this week. Allende writes so effortlessly, or at least seems to, and her exploration of what it means to be Chilean, as well as an exile and now an immigrant who lives in San Francisco is a beautiful read. She’s elegant without being starchy, elegiac without getting melodramatic, and at times wryly and gently funny.

Isabel Allende

All right, that’s enough. Please tell me your discoveries this week in the comments. Subscribe if you haven’t yet, and I’d be grateful if you follow me on instagram, twitter, or pinterest @nanlechou. Have a lovely week.

meatball blueprint

The Meatball Blueprint

Jump straight to the Meatball Blueprint recipe. Or to the Meatball Blueprint step by step. Otherwise, stick around for an autobiographical ramble, secure in the knowledge that a recipe DOES appear at the end of this post.

I am just now returning from south South America—Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, to be precise, and mostly Buenos Aires. For most Yanquis, when you think Argentina, you think beef, at least if you are a lot of people. Also probably tango, and….well, maybe not much else.

Our school was 1 block from the Casa Rosada, or Argentine version of the US White House—the Pink House!! My pic, btw, shot with an iphone; the sky is That Blue.

Well, let’s save tango for another post. But let’s deal with the whole meat thing now. I do not eat beef, and I’ve mostly avoided it throughout my life. (Save for an unfortunate decade that featured a monthly Taco Bell freakout. I would hang my head, but no longer do shame.) From an earlier age, I hated, hated, hated the texture, and wasn’t super thrilled about the flavor, for that matter. Mom used to cook it a lot, because Dad loved it. To this day, the smell of roast beef makes me want to vomit, something I once did at the dinner table when Mom, doing her best Joan Crawford, insisted I eat a slice. Boy, did I get a talking-to for that!

Nonetheless, when people find out that in the course of the past two years I’ve spent over 2 months in The Wonderland of Edible Cows, they get this sort of weird, glazed-over look of bliss on their faces, envying my good fortune being around all those steaks.

Well, I didn’t eat meat while I was in Argentina. Meanwhile, what the hell does this have to do with meatballs?

Why Ground Meat?

Truth is, I didn’t eat meat in Argentina because I still hate the texture of any red meat that isn’t ground up or turned into bacon. But I do like good, spiced-up ground meat, which explains the whole Taco Bell business. And I love a good meatball or meatloaf even more. I genuinely don’t feel right about eating beef, though I’m not going to get all preachy here when there are already so many people who do that much better. Then again, ground turkey and chicken taste like total meh unless you season the hell out of them. Hence, they make a fine go-to for taco filling, as well as being perfectly versatile on the meatball/meatloaf front, open to pretty much whatever flavors you want to throw in.

Whatever protein you choose, meatballs and meatloaf are super simple to make, and you can vary them endlessly—which is why I call this a meatball blueprint rather than a recipe, which implies you follow it to the letter.

My approach is specifically designed for poultry, but you can easily swap in what you want. I have yet to find a non-animal meatball that really works, btw, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of vegans from tackling the issue. (Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a favorite spokesperson on this particular front; here’s a recipe of hers for lentil meatballs that sound pretty darn good.)

meatball blueprint, a vegan alternative
Issa’s lentil meatballs, recipe linked above. Alas, this pic is from 2011 before everyone had become a mad-skill food photographer. But a recipe from Issa has never let me down.

Here’s how you do it.

The Ingredients

  • The meat. As noted, mine is ground chicken or turkey thigh, because the thighs are fattier, which means: more flavor. Many people mix meat here, using some beef and some pork, and if you do mammals, go ahead. Honestly, birds are just fine with me.
  • Crumbs. Along with the egg, the addition of bread is what makes a meatball/loaf a meatball/loaf. The two substances work to bind the mix of meat into one coherent thing. According to Jane and Michael Stern in their marvelous Square Meals, “Extenders give the loaf that distinctive pulpy texture that soaks up gravy so well.” Extrapolate that to whatever sauce your meatballs are soaking in. Stale bread is classic, but panko, smashed crackers, rolled oats, or some cooked leftover rice or quinoa also work beautifully.
meatball blueprint grains
Be sure to cook the quinoa, or you will have little rocks in your meatballs. All the other stuff is fine as long as you soak it.
  • If you do choose a dry crumb option, be absolutely sure to soak the crumbs in a little liquid first. Milk—unsweetened plant milk is fine—is as classic as stale bread, but also consider broth or a mix of broth with a little sherry, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever you want to flavor your meatloaf. If you have leftover soup or some salsa, they work pretty great. And even if you use a pre-cooked grain, which doesn’t need to soak, a 1/4 cup or so of a thicker soup or tomato sauce add flavor and moisture.
  • Onion and herbs: Yes. You need to finely chop some kind of onion, whether it’s green, red, or yellow, to add to your mix. Also whatever herbs you have on hand, as long as they fit the flavor profile. Parsley goes with everything. Dill, surprisingly, works beautifully in combination with soy sauce, especially if you mix it with cilantro (it’s the fennel/anise undertone). Basil, sage, tarragon: all will work, in pretty much any mix.
meatball blueprint veggies
  • Optional but very excellent chopped vegetables: You can make your meatballs/loaf even healthier by chopping any greens you have lying around very fine and adding them to the mix as well. Note the cabbage in the above pic, as well as the egg.
  • Egg: For binding.
  • Salt: Essential, especially with poultry, which is super bland.
  • Seasonings: yes, the spices that fit with your sauce, but also any thicker sauce, like gochujang or good ol’ ketchup. You only need a spoonful of either of the latter, but man, do they add a nice flavor hit.

Meatball Blueprint: The Steps

  • Assemble your ingredients (see the list above).
  • Chop the veggies.
  • Mix everything together.
meatball blueprint mix
  • Form into meatballs, or push into a loaf pan or crock pot.
meatball blueprint meatballs
It is super hard to make meatballs look pretty. Take heart, and go to the next picture.
  1. For meatballs, cook about 15-20 minutes at 400º. If you’re going to add the meatballs to a sauce that you’ll simmer for any length of time, you can go a little short, because they will cook more in the sauce. For meatloaf, about 50 minutes for a pound of meat (before the add-ins) at 375º. In a crockpot, about 2 hours on medium does the trick.
  2. Enjoy! I’ll be adding this recipe in a quick minute; it’s chicken meatballs with zoodles, carrot spirals, and chopped cabbage in a sesame sauce. But you can put these babies in anything.
meatball blueprint final

The Meatball Blueprint: The Recipe


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?


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.


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.


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.


Just keep going…


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


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.


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.


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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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.


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.


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.


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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WTF, CSA? Green Beans

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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).


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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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.


(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.


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.


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.


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…..


(*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.


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……


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.


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.)


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

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