Kale with Sundried Tomatoes and Garbanzo Beans

Last night for dinner I decided to try something new: Kale. While it is not rare or uncommon it is a vegetable I have never cooked before. Maybe that is because I didn’t really know what to do with it or maybe it's just that it reminded me of the slimy overcooked greens I remember from my childhood. With no good experiences and no inspiration to fall back on, I just couldn’t get excited about having kale for dinner.

Then a few days ago a friend enthusiastically described the potato soup she had recently made. It sounded delicious and it contained kale. “Now,” she said, as if letting me in on deep dark secret, "I can’t get enough of it!”

How can you ignore such an enthusiastic recommendation? She had me sure I was missing something special, some untapped resource, some hidden wonder. Right away I stopped by my local market and bought a bunch of kale before I drove home that afternoon.

And you know what? She was right! While kale is merely a leafy green vegetable, when you stop to look at it, it really is beautiful. It's sturdy ruffled leaves are pretty and appealing. It chops crisply and maintains its texture when sauted without wilting like spinach, or becoming mushy, let alone slimy, in the cooking process. But not only is kale beautiful and sturdy it is also packed with nutrients and antioxidents. It seems I have judged kale unfairly! Now I am eager to make amends.

I haven’t yet tried the potato soup, though I did find a recipe at Culinate for Potato-Kale Soup that sounds like the one my friend described. Instead I used it in a stir-fry inspired by a comment on another soup recipe at Serious Eats. Here PhredYammers suggested a simple saute served over polenta. I changed a few ingredients but stuck with the basic idea and was thrilled with the result. It was surprisingly bright and delicious and I will definitely be serving kale again soon.

Kale with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Garbanzo Beans on Polenta

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
1 can chick peas (or garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
a pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Basic Italian Polenta
(Note:  to make this dish vegan, skip the polenta and serve over quinoa cooked in vegetable broth instead.)

Prepare Basic Italian Polenta or quinoa. (I cut the recipe for the Polenta in half and molded it in a three cup rectangular Glad Ware food storage container.)

To prepare the kale:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and chick peas and saute for a minute or two.

Add the kale and sun dried tomatoes to the skillet. Stir over medium heat until the kale is bright and tender, approximately 5-10 minutes.

Add the white wine vinegar, salt and pepper and stir for another minute.

Remove from heat and serve over slices of polenta.


Tommy O's Kalua Pork

I still have pork on my mind. Over the past week or so I have cooked a Maple Glazed Pork Loin roast and shared how I like to use the leftovers as Pulled Pork, mixed with spices and served over rice or on sandwiches. It makes a delicious dinner.

But now suppose you don’t have any leftovers and you would still like to have some delightfully seasoned pulled pork for dinner. If that is the case, and you live in the North Portland/ Vancouver, WA area I suggest making a visit to Tommy O’s Pacific Rim Grill.

Tommy O's has a new location which recently opened on the east side of town. I met a friend there for lunch the other day and was charmed by the easy going elegance of the décor and the early afternoon sunlight streaming through the wide windows on the restaurant’s south side. The sunlight shone on light wood and the comfortably exotic Pacific Rim décor. It was a nice day and the atmosphere was unobtrusively pleasant.

Though I had heard of Tommy O's for years I didn't know much about it and I had never been there before. So last week when I sat down and looked at the menu I felt it was quite coincidental, after writing about pork twice the week before, that Tommy O’s Kalua Pork was highlighted and even recommended. I ordered a half sized lunch serving and my friend ordered Teriyaki Chicken.

As we waited, owner Tommy Owens recognized my friend and stopped by our table. He told me that his pulled pork is crafted simply from succulent pork lightly seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt and a light drizzle of kalua sauce. He asked about the pulled pork I had recently made and suggested it had more of a Mexican flair where his recipe was based on traditional Hawaiian flavors.

Our food came quickly. My half sized portion was actually quite substantial. It came with a side of Soy Ginger Noodles and a brightly fresh Sunomono Cucumber Salad. The noodles were simply dressed and flavorful and the pulled pork was juicy and delicious.

The Teriyaki Chicken was charbroiled and marinated in a soy, ginger, teriyaki sauce. My friend rated it as moist and obviously enjoyed her choice of entree as much as I enjoyed my pork since no more than a few bites were left on either of our plates. The chicken was served with a Curry Macaroni Salad that was unique, delightfully spiced and dotted with bits of crunchy celery as well as green and red peppers.

When the bill came I was quite surprised that, with tax, my lunch cost under $8. With its casual yet elegant ambiance Tommy O’s would be a great place for a working lunch or for meeting a friend for conversation and catching up. Laid back, yet attentive, the staff and Tommy O himself were upbeat and helpful as well as welcoming.

Maple Glazed Tenderloin - Revisited

Do you ever wonder what to do with leftovers? Sometimes, though I may have cooked enough the night before to feed my family several times over, when I look in my refrigerator I still don’t know what to have for dinner. I don’t want to serve the exact same thing we ate last night and yet thinking of something different to do with last night’s leftovers can be more than a little challenging with many dishes.

Luckily that is not the case with the Maple Glazed Pork Loin I cooked last week. In fact, when I shopped for that dinner I purposely picked up a pork loin that was quite a bit larger than the one specified in the recipe. I actually wanted to have plenty of leftovers to use during the week. With no extra effort, and only a half hour of extra cooking time, I was able to have enough leftover pork roast to prepare two more quick dinners for my family during the week that were both different and delicious in their own right.

Pulled Pork over Brown Rice

For the first meal I transferred the leftover Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin and pan juices to a microwave safe covered casserole. I microwaved the roast for several minutes. When the roast was warm I removed it from the microwave and, using two forks pushed into the meat close together then pulled in opposite directions, I separated the meat into bite sized pieces.

After pulling the pork I stirred in approximately 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh cilantro and 1 teaspoon or so of ground cumin. I then covered the pork and put it back in the microwave to cook until warmed through.

Served on a bed of brown rice the Pulled Pork made an interesting and flavorful main dish. It retained a delicate sweetness from the maple glaze it was originally cooked in and the cilantro and cumin added another layer of flavor, a mellow spiciness and bright freshness, that was different and appealing. I suggest serving it with whole frozen green beans, steamed and sprinkled with a bit of soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, or for something a little spicier try a bag of Trader Joe's Prig Khing Green Beans.

But wait! there's more...

Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwiches

After eating Pulled Pork over Brown Rice I still had quite a bit of leftover pork. I counted that a good thing since I hadn't yet made my son's favorite, Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwiches.

Like the other two pork entrees that began with the pork loin, the barbecue sandwiches were easy to prepare. I simply warmed the remaining Pulled Pork and stirred it to evenly distribute the heat and meat juices. Then I added enough barbecue sauce to moisten the meat but not enough to make it too saucy. I chose a spicy artisan barbecue sauce for my sandwich and for the boys, who preferred something milder, I used a smokey flavored store brand barbecue sauce. After stirring the sauce into the pork mixture I covered it again and microwaved it until it was warmed through.

Served on toasted sesame seed buns it made some terrific sandwiches. My son and a friend polished off the rest of the left over pork barbecue while watching a playoff game. I ate my sandwich with steamed broccoli but I think the boys would have preferred theirs with chips and a can of baked beans.

One oven cooking bag, one pork loin roast and a short shopping list of sauce ingredients and side dishes would recommend a menu for a single week-night dinner. Yet instead of one dinner we were able to eat three very different meals from a single recipe plan. I call that a success. Maybe I am catching up with the new year after all!

Maple Glazed Tenderloin with Carrots and Rosemary Potatoes

With the holiday season behind me, and January flying by, I feel a little out of step. All those lists and plans from December, many of which were abandoned while Portland rested under a blanket of snow, were gladly set aside in favor of a more organic holiday schedule inspired by our wonderfully white Christmas. But now that we are back to ordinary weather and ordinary time I feel the need to reestablish a certain amount of predictable order in my schedule as well.

As we slide into mid January it feels past time to get myself together and find my groove in the kitchen again. My family is back to a regular weekly routine of work and school and I am eager to feel planned and organized, to know what’s for dinner before I start preparing it and to have the ingredients on hand.

When I have the time, and presence of mind, to plan ahead and shop, my slow cooker is one of my best winter friends. A meal started in the morning and allowed to simmer makes the house smell great and welcomes my family home in the afternoon with the promise of a hot and satisfying dinner. It’s a great way to prepare a hearty meal with a minimum of fuss and can confidently and nutritiously feed a family on a busy weeknight.

Sometimes though, maybe often, I am just not that organized. I want a hot nutritious dinner that is easy to prepare but I just don’t have what I need to get it started in my Crockpot in the morning or I forget to put it on until I have left the house for the day.

Here is a great meat and potatoes dinner for those days when I am out of the house for the day before I think about what's for dinner. This is a meal I can put togther quickly when I get home and yet presents itself as if I had a plan all along and invested some significant effort to prepare.

What's the trick? An oven cooking bag. It is the opposite of a slow cooker in that it allows a roast to cook quickly and evenly in the oven, while the meat remains juicy and flavorful.

This recipe is perfect for family dinners or even for entertaining guests. It is a complete meal you can shop for on the way home, put together in about fifteen minutes and have on the table in under an hour. It is also easy on clean up since it is all cooked on one pan.

Maple Glazed Pork Loin with Carrots and Rosemary Potatoes
From "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine, January, 2004

I Tablespoon flour
1 lb. pork tenderloin
1 16 oz. pkg. crinkle-cut sliced fresh carrots (frozen carrots can be substituted)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed and divided
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ bag (22 oz. pkg) frozen steak fries or waffle cut potatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Shake the flour inside a large oven cooking bag. Place the pork tenderloin and carrots inside the bag.

In a small bowl or measuring cup combine the maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, I teaspoon of dried rosemary and the ground black pepper. Pour this in the bag over the pork and carrots.

Close the bag using the tie provided. Turn the bag several times to evenly coat the contents with the sauce. Arrange the bag to one side on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. Cut six ½ inch slits in the top of the bag.

Place the steak fries in a gallon size Ziploc bag. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspooon of dried rosemary to the bag. Seal the bag and shake vigorously to evenly distribute the oil and seasoning.

Place the coated steak fries in a single layer on the pan next to the cooking bag.

Place the pan in the oven and roast for 35 – 45 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast registers 155 degrees.

Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully remove the pork and carrots to a serving tray then tent them with foil and allow to rest for approximately 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper if desired. Slice and serve with pan juices.


Note: I cooked a larger pork loin than was called for in the recipe. I wanted to have some leftover meat for barbecue sandwiches. Naturally it took a little longer for the larger roast to cook to the desired temperature but the pork did turn out as I had hoped. My potatoes, however, turned out a little crispier than desired.

If you cook a larger roast than specified in the recipe just be mindful to allow a bit more time and to remove the potatoes from the pan when they have browned as desired.

When storing the leftover pork roast place it in a Ziploc bag. Pour juices from the oven cooking bag over the meat and seal the Ziploc bag pushing as much air out of it as possible. Save in the refrigerator to make Pulled Pork over Brown Rice or Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwiches. If you don't plan to use the pork in the next day or so, label it and place it in the freezer for later use.

New Orleans Style - Jambalaya

Seasonal Tension

The first week of the new year is a challenging one for me. While most of the world seems eager to get the holidays packed away by the first of the year, and to make resolutions about their diet, I am still celebrating. On the secular calendar the holiday season ends on January 1st but, traditionally, January 1st is only the midpoint of the Christmas season. On the liturgical calendar the Christmas season doesn’t end until January 6, which is also known as Epiphany.

All last week I struggled with the cues of the world around me. I could feel the tension between my determination and the flow of the cultural mainstream. While friends boxed up their holiday

treasures, cleaned out their refrigerators, and resolved to make changes to their lifestyle I resolved to observe all Twelve Days of Christmas. I remembered that without tension in the strings a violin can make no music. Sometimes tension can be a good thing.

Celebrating Epiphany

At my house, though school was back in session and my husband was on his way out of town, we still made an effort to share Epiphany with family and friends. Having left most of our holiday decorations up, we set a festive table, lit candles and listened to Christmas music about stars and wise men and Jesus’ birth, as we shared a King Cake and the history of the season it celebrates.

While it is a challenge and can even be a bit disorienting, the struggle to swim upstream in the river of cultural norms is not without its rewards. Besides being reminded about the beauty of my faith, the history of the Christmas season and the strength of my family traditions, when I cut into my New Orleans style King Cake, I got the piece with the chocolate “baby” inside.

My family’s King Cake tradition is based on a custom from New Orleans. We set aside a small gift for the one who finds the chocolate “baby” in their slice. What’s more, finding the “baby” is also said to ensure good luck in the coming year. You gotta love that great New Orleans style!

Slow Cooking - New Orleans Style

Now our Epiphany celebration is over and my Christmas decorations are finding their way back into the garage. While I am finally getting in step with those New Year’s virtues of healthy eating and simple living I am still so jazzed about that New Orleans style that I want to share another creole inspired recipe.

This version of Jambalaya has been a favorite at my house for several years. It is a slow-cooker recipe so it is perfect for simplifying a weeknight dinner. This is a dish that benefits from a full day in the slow cooker, where the flavors can really blend.

It is a forgiving recipe. The quantities are more like guidelines than exact measurements. Ham can be substituted for the sausage and left over chicken or turkey can be used instead of shrimp. I like to make it with spicy andouille sausage but my family prefers a sausage with a little less fire. (This time I used a package of Little Smokies that had been overlooked in our refrigerator during the holiday season.) Stir the ingredients together in the morning, simmer on low, then stir in the shrimp about an hour before serving or thaw frozen shrimp and stir them in closer to serving time. Ladle the Jambalaya over rice and serve it with a loaf of crusty bread or corn muffins and a salad for a simple and flavorful meal.

from "Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook"

serves 8

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
2 medium stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups fully cooked smoked sausage
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce
3/4 pound uncooked peeled deveined medium shrimp (frozen shrimp can be used instead)
4 cups hot cooked rice

Combine all ingredients, except the shrimp and rice, in a slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low setting for approximately 8 hours or until vegetables are tender and flavors blend.

Stir in shrimp. Cover and cook on low for another hour, until shrimp are pink and firm or, if using frozen shrimp, until they are warmed through.

Serve Jambalaya over hot cooked rice.