Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kasha and Italian Sausage Saute

This dish was something that I whipped up because I was bound and determined to eat some kasha. Kasha is the term for buckwheat grains before they've had their outer "germ" polished off to create buckwheat, and is often found in Yiddish and Eastern European cooking. It's full of healthy protein and carbohydrates, similar to barley, and most recipes call for sauteing it first or cooking it with egg, a technique which I never understood. So I just cook it a very simple way and then add it to something else. In this case, a quick sausage and vegetable saute.

Not only is this delicious, quick and easy to make, but it's a perfect 1-2 serving meal, something that I have always struggled to make. I often make this to bring to work for lunch or an easy dinner when I'm interested in something savory and filling. It's also one of those dishes that is great for using up leftover cooked grains like rice, barley or kasha. The vegetables can vary, in this picture I made it with fennel and some sliced apple, which gives it a little bit of sweetness which is so yummy!

Kasha and Italian Sausage Saute

1/2 cup kasha grains
1 1/2 cups water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Italian Sausage (sweet or spicy) diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 bunch greens, sliced fine
1/2 apple, cored, sliced thin
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a sauce pan bring water and kasha to a boil and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Over high heat cook sausage until almost done. Add olive oil and onion and cook another 4 minutes. Add fennel and apple and cook until tender, 5-7 minutes. Add greens and cook just enough to wilt. Mix in kasha and adjust for salt and pepper (most grains need salt). Enjoy!

Love and Hugs

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fritata - Better and Quicker than an Omlet

I love to cook Italian food, but for the longest time I was intimidated by fritatas. I have no good reason why - I can't even tell you what were my deep dark fears, I just didn't think I would do it right. How wrong I was!

Fritatas are so simple, so much easier than their French cousin omlet, that I can't believe it's taken me this long to break through the fear. They're wonderful for using up slightly wilted veggies in the frig (which if you've been reading, you can see is an ongoing problem for me!)

This one was made with onions and kale, eggs and cheese, salt and pepper. What could be better! As you can see from the picture, having a cast iron pan makes it easier, but you can do it with all metal pans as well. The basic premise is you saute vegetables, and once they're at a desired doneness, you add eggs and cheese and turn the heat to medium to cook the fritato almost all the way through. To cook the top, you place the whole pan under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the top of the fritata is set and Eccola! You're ready to eat!

Greens and Onions Fritata

1/2 onion, sliced
1 bunch greens, shredded
olive oil to coat bottom of pan
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated cheese, your choice (I used parmesan)

Saute onions in oil until soft, add greens and saute until wilted. Add beaten eggs with cheese and cook over medium heat until bottom of eggs are lightly browned. Place pan under broiler for 2-3 minutes until top is set to your liking. Remove from eat and cut wedges and serve.

Love and hugs!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Phyllo Without Fear

I consider myself a humble cook - I don't do fancy, I prefer simple, easy recipes that harken back to how people used to cook before modern conveniences. But I do admit to feeling just slightly superior about cooking with phyllo. Admittedly, I was taught how to cook with it by someone who grew up eating and watching her mother cook with Phyllo dough.

Natasha was my first roommate when I was studying at Purdue University and she was from the Balkans, Belgrade to be exact, the home of phyllo dough. I was so amazed at how nonchalant she was about using phyllo - no recipes, no fear - she just sprayed some oil on each sheet, put in some filing, and baked it. No worries! She taught me to pour an egg and milk mixture over the raw pie which gives it a lovely quiche like consistency without the heaviness of quiche. I owe her a huge debt in cooking gratitude.

Even though I learned at the elbow of a natural, I have developed a secret that I'm willing to pass along that will make you able to cook with phyllo without fear as well. My secret is my Misto.

Misto is the low tech version of an oil spray. You put your own oil in the canister, pump the top which builds pressure and voila, you have an oil spray! I bought mine 10 years ago for $9.99; I shiver to think what they're selling for now. But if you can find one, they're worth it. I also use it to spray on vegetables that I roast or breaded cutlets of chicken or eggplant that I bake (in lieu of frying). But it really pulls it weight when I want to make phyllo pies.

Phyllo pies are basically filled with some sauteed vegetable, a couple of different cheeses, and 1-2 eggs. Once you've prepared the layers with filling, you cut the phyllo into serving size pieces and bake it for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. So simple and leftovers reheat in microwaves in less than a minute. I make it often for an easy lunch to carry into the office.

Phyllo Pie

The great thing about this pie is that the ingredients are so flexible. You can make it with onions and mushrooms plus the cheese. Or greens and onions, plus the cheese. I usually make a mixture of greens and use dill or caraway seeds as seasoning. As for the cheeses, there is no hard and fast rule, but I usually include a 2/1/1 ration of soft cheese, hard cheese, and a flavorful cheese; soft cheeses include goat or yogurt cheese (drained yogurt or sometimes referred to as Greek yogurt), hard cheeses are usually parmesan, and flavorful cheeses can include feta, mozzarella, swiss, or other variations. In general, you want about 1/2 cup of the main cheese, and a quarter cup each of the other cheeses.

1/2 roll phyllo dough, defrosted (I cut the roll in half and just store the other half in a freezer bag in the freezer.)*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 bunch greens, shredded (kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach, arugula)
1 tablespoon dried dill, crumbled
8 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded
1/4 cup feta
2 eggs, beaten
olive oil for spraying or oil spray

Preheat oven to 375. Saute onion in olive oil until translucent. Add greens and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and combine with cheeses, dill, and beaten eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Unroll Phyllo dough and place clean dish cloth on top of sheets to prevent from drying out. In large baking pan (i.e. 9x13) spray bottom with oil. Lay sheet of phyllo on bottom of pan. Don't allow sheets to overlap up the sides of pan, but you can allow them to overlap within the bottom of the pan. I usually do not try to layer a single sheet at a time, but rather make layers of two sheets. The phyllo is fragile and it is not necessary to have each individual layer sprayed with oil. After you lay down a layer of phyllo, spray with oil and then dab some of the filling in each corner of the dough and in two spots in the center. Place next layer of phyllo, spay with oil and dab filling in "valleys," where no filling was placed on layer below. Continue layering phyllo and filling and end with at least 4 sheets of phyllo on top. Spray top well with oil and then cut pie with very sharp knife into serving size portions. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is brown and crispy. Allow to sit 5 minutes before serving.

This version will produce the typical crispy phyllo crust that most people expect, similar to spanikopita. However, Natasha taught me to mix the two eggs with about 1/2 cup of milk, and instead of adding that to the cheese and vegetable mixture, pour it over the pie AFTER you've cut it into servings. Tamp down the top layer of phyllo so that it is moistened by the liquid and tilt the pan to allow the milk egg mixture to saturate the pie. Cook for the same amount of time and you will have a moister version which I often prefer.

*You can defrost phyllo dough really quickly in a microwave; nuke it for 10 seconds and then allow it to sit wrapped in a clean cloth at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. If you nuke it too long, it will just get kind of soft on the ends and you have to be careful pulling it apart, but it's still good.

P.S. Yesterday the New York Times Food section ran a great article on a phyllo cheese dessert, and check out the title, "Phyllo Torte, Made without Fear." ( Just because, I wanted to note that I wrote this post on Saturday, so technically my "fearless" phyllo approach came first!

Love and hugs!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kombucha - The Elixir of Life

Kombucha - just the name of it sounds mystical and healing. I can't remember the first time I drank it beginning nearly three years ago, but I know that I got hooked immediately. Not only did it feed my "sour" tooth, but I have always loved fizzy soda drinks. Not only does kombucha fit all of those categories but it provides amazing health benefits. If you read the promotional material put out by G.T. Dave's Synergy brand, it does everything from providing essential vitamins and minerals to curing cancer. For me, it has rebalanced my electrolytes, dramatically improved the quality of my skin and hair, and provides a general sense of well being. But what is this so called elixir made of, you might ask?

Kombucha is a fermented tea, made with either black or green tea and heavily sweetened. This sweet tea is then added to a "mother" kombucha culture, sometimes referred to as a kombucha "mushroom" but I think it has more of a jellyfish like consistency. The culture is actually a collection of micro-organisms which feed off of the sugar in the tea, thus "fermenting" it. Contrary to snide comments, the fact that it is fermented does not produce alcohol. But it does produce effervescence and the fermentation process serves to increase the health benefits of the green tea, extracting even more antioxidants and other essential minerals compared to drinking green tea alone.

(Kombucha mother in kombucha liquid)

While you can now purchase kombucha in most natural food stores (Whole Foods, Food Co-ops) it is usually about $3.69 for 12 oz, not exactly a soda replacement price! But the great news is that it is so easy to make kombucha at home. It is easy to google "kombucha starter" and find lots of people who will offer to sell a starter culture in liquid for less than $5. But if you can find some bottled kombucha in "original" flavor, you can use that to get started. In fact, the picture of my kombucha above was started with a 12 oz bottle of "original" style kombucha. It just takes longer to begin fermenting.

While this is a long explanation, kombucha is really simple to make. You heat water, add sugar and tea and allow steep and then cool. Then you strain out the tea and pour it into the culture and it does its job in less than a week. And Voila! You have this wonderful drink! Very little effort, very simple recipe.

Now for the Recipe. I make my batches in a 2 gallon glass dispenser that I found at a thrift store in Minneapolis (pictured below) but many people I know buy a 1 gallon ice tea dispenser which are easily found at Target, etc. If possible, find one with a metal spout as I have heard (although not witnessed) that plastic ones will get eaten away by the fermentation process, and thus begin to drip.

Half Gallon of Original Kombucha

While it appears to be made with a lot of sugar, you will not actually be drinking the sugar since it will be converted to effervescence. The standard ratio is 2:1 water to sugar and 1 teaspoon of loose leaf green tea per 2 cups water.

8 cups water
4 teaspoons loose leaf green tea (use organic since you really don't want to be fermenting tea that has been sprayed with chemicals)
4 cups sugar
12 oz original kombucha or starter with liquid

In large pot, bring water almost to boil and add sugar. Stir to dissolve and remove from heat. Add tea and allow tea to cool completely. Strain out tea leaves and combine tea and starter culture in glass container and cover with cloth, secure tightly with rubber band. Set covered container in warm, unlit space to ferment. I place it on top of the refrigerator, where it benefits from the heat of the motor. Kombucha will ferment in 5-8 days, depending upon your conditions. A shallow "mother" will begin to form on top and you will see strands of mother floating throughout the liquid. Never drink all of the liquid as you need at least 1 cup of liquid plus the mother to make another batch.

Most commercially sold kombucha combines the original recipe with fruit juices, which masks some of the sour flavor but also adds additional health benefits since the fermentation process increases the potency of whatever it is fermenting. You can flavor kombucha with most anything (to a point of course) and when adding additional flavors, such as fruit juices, it helps to let is ferment a few days longer. Also, you should always place flavored kombucha in a separate container, to prevent the original mother from being permanently flavored with whatever additions you put in.

A couple of summers ago I was selling "natural sodas" at the farmers' market in Northfield, MN and I used kombucha as the "fizz." So I developed a few recipes for flavoring kombucha. My favorite is with hibiscus and rose hips, both of which are high in vitamin C and together have a flavor akin to fruit punch, but not nearly as sweet. They produce the beautiful fruit punch colored kombucha featured at the top of this post. You can purchase dried hibiscus flowers and rose hips in the bulk herb or tea section of whole foods or a food co-op. Again, you'll want organic since this will also be fermented.

1/2 Gallon of Hibiscus and Rose Hip Kombucha
1/4 cup Hibiscus flowers
2 tablespoons rose hips
1 cup sugar
4 cups kombucha, original

In a 1/2 gallon mason jar, combine all of the ingredients and top off with water. Stir or shake well to combine the sugar. Cap tightly and allow to ferment in warm place for 3-5 days. Decant, strain, and place in refrigerator and enjoy.

A Word on Fermentation
Kombucha, left to ferment, will go very, very sour. If you refrigerate it, it slows the pace of fermentation. But if you leave kombucha out, especially in a warm, sunlit spot and capped, it will over ferment and go to vinegar. In addition, if you happen to bottle as I have with reusable bottles, if left in a heated space for too long, they will explode (it happened to a few of my customers from the farmers' market!) For myself, I drink it so quickly that this is not an issue, but be forewarned!

Love and hugs!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Irish Comfort Food - Colcannon

Colcannon (pronounced with the accent on the "col" which sounds like "coal" and the second syllable sounds more like "kennen") is about as Irish as you can get: potatoes, cabbage and leeks. Most people think of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's day, but I go for this homey dish that I think was probably more representative of what most Irish ate.

Regardless of the sociology of the dish, it is is one of my favorite ways to eat mashed potatoes and greens. It's pure comfort food with healthy greens, so I never feel any guilt for taking seconds! It's also really easy to make and kids can help as well, particularly in mashing the potatoes. Quite often I use whatever greens I happened to have in the frig, particularly if they're starting to lose their freshness, so in addition to the traditional green cabbage, I make it with spinach, kale, swiss chard or even beet greens. Also you don't have to use leeks, onions are just as good.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, sliced in half, rinsed and chopped in half moons up to light green part of stem
1 bunch greens or 1 cup green cabbage, shredded fine

1 batch mashed potatoes (however you make them, try to leave it chunky if possible, not whipped smooth using beaters since the greens will also be chunky)

Saute leeks or onions in olive oil over medium heat, don't allow to brown. When leeks/onions are soft, add greens and stir to mix with leeks/onions until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add vegetable mixture to mashed potatoes and combine well.

Love and hugs!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Enjoy the View!

This is the breathtaking view from the lighthouse at Point Reyes Station in Marin County, CA. My roommate and I went there two Sundays ago and even though there were 25 mph winds (very very windy!) it was still amazing.

You're looking at Drake's Bay, as in, Sir Francis Drake who landed here in the late 1500s, several hundred years before Lewis and Clark crested these hills. I never knew! That's what happens when you grow up 3,000 miles away.

I'm really high above this beach, those are 40-50 foot cliffs, even though they look like little sand dunes. Those waves were stories high, meaning 10-20 feet tall. I wish I could have been down on the beach to see them. A couple of times I was afraid that I was going to land down there on account of the strength of the wind!

If you come to visit me, I can promise this gorgeous scenery and some amazing oysters!

Love and Hugs!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Eat the View!


I started this blog back in September as Wall Street began its tumble, and begged people to grow something that they can eat. Well here's my own contribution. Since I don't have a big space for a central garden, I'm growing between and among the roses, other flower beds, and in pots. As long as you have good soil, sun, and water, you'll have an amazing harvest, I almost guarantee it!

A word on soil. If you're planning to grow in pots, don't even bother with "potting soil." It's totally sterile (on purpose) to keep out bugs. You want beneficial bugs, and sterile soil means you have to feed your plants chemical fertilizer. Buy Compost and use that as your soil. Spend the extra buck or two, your plants will love you for it. I'll repeat it because it's not what you usually hear: use 100% compost for potted plants. It's the best soil there is.

Just to prove it, this little sage plant was planted in just compost and it was about 1/5 the size it is now, and that was only 5 weeks ago!


Because my backyard is very shady, I'm growing the tomatoes in pots up against the back of the house which does get plenty of sun. Something to keep in mind with plants in pots, particular terra cotta pots or black plastic, is that they will dry out faster than plants in the ground so keep an eye on them and keep them well watered.

Roma Tomatoes

Here are the easy ones, herbs. I paid a dollar a piece for each of these, and with the price of fresh herbs these days, these are almost worth their weight in gold! Bay leaves fresh are such a treat!

Herb Trio - Thyme, Rosemary, Bay

I love fresh Arugula and spinach (the little plants in the foreground are the arugula). Can't wait for salads with these babies!

Spinach and Arugula

I tried fava beans for the first time a few months ago and now I understand all the fuss! Since they are a Mediterranean plant, I figured I should definitely grow them since they're very expensive, even in season!

Fava Beans

I hope you're inspired to growth something!

Love and hugs!