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don’t be turning your nose up so quick…kale salad

Kale is a Super-hero among vegetables, a phyto-chemical-antioxidant-rich green dragon, repairing DNA damage to cells, boosting immune systems, helping prevent macular degeneration, and even blocking the growth of cancer cells. It does all this weighing in at a measly 35 calories per raw cup!  Kale is a super-hero you’ll want to befriend.

Is all that enough reason to pal around with a vegetable hero that tastes nasty? No, not in my book. I could rave about this kale salad but I’m going to quietly step aside and let Dr. Andrew Weil do the talking. He and chef Sam Fox opened True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona, and that restaurant has since blossomed into five others across the country. (Their mission: to serve food that promotes the diner’s well-being while being uncompromisingly delicious.) This is their Signature dish. (shocking, no?) This is the dish on their menu, year-round, that nearly everyone asks for. This is the dish that so many people enjoyed and went on to duplicate in their own kitchens that farmers all across the Phoenix area started pulling out other crops and planting instead, Tuscan kale. (It goes by other names too: Lacinato, cavolo nero, Russian kale or dinosaur kale.)

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Here’s a story Dr. Weil tells:

Not long ago, a mother with a son and a daughter about seven and five came up to me in the Phoenix restaurant. ‘Tell Dr. Weil what your favorite thing to eat here is,’ she said to the girl, who was too shy to answer. Her brother spoke for her, ‘Kale salad! Kale salad!’ he said with great enthusiasm. {That made Andrew Weil very happy.} If folks in Arizona, which is hardly a bastion of veg-heads, can learn to love raw kale, it is only a matter of time before true love for it blooms across the land!

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This is one of those rare salads that gets better as it sits, better the next day than it was the day before. Any bitterness present in the kale is softened by the lemon and salt in the dressing. With a pinch of red chile flakes, a scattering of crunchy toasted bread crumbs and shavings of Pecorino Romano, this is a salad you are almost 100% guaranteed to love, and I mean love.

You can assemble this salad in minutes and enjoy it for two days. He says it serves 8…I say 4.  (Perhaps because it’s possibly twice as good as he says.)

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Kale Salad

Extra-virgin Olive Oil – ½ cup

Freshly-squeezed lemon juice –  ¼ cup

Garlic – 3 cloves mashed – 2 may be enough for you

salt – ½ teaspoon

Kale – 2 bunches – about 14 ounces, 400g.

Grano Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – ½ cup finely grated

Toasted Whole-wheat Bread Crumbs – 2 Tablespoons (or perhaps a bit more)

Grano Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese shavings – for garnish

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A NOTE on the quantities – I find that the amount of dressing is more than sufficient to dress these leaves. I hold about ¼ of it back and drizzle on steamed vegetables. But make the entire amount…it may be different for you.

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Remove the ribs from the washed and patted dry kale. Slice into ¼-inch shreds. Read more

little lemony tartlets

Spree’s been making messes around here for 2 years now! That deserves something. It’s not a huge anniversary – no reason to go hog-wild. Let’s keep it simple, very simple. That suits Spree best. Jeans, soft sweaters and comfy shoes. Bring a dish of comfort if you like but nothing more. We’ll have lots to eat and drink. We’ll build fires, sit on quilts and wait for Spring to come. We’ll watch the birds eating just outside the windows and we’ll look close at crocus pushing up the dirt. We’ll eat savory popcorn and watch old movies. We’ll tell each other stories and laugh til our sides ache. We’ll roll the rugs back and dance (like the winter-weary but happy fools we are.) We’ll rest our heads on each other’s shoulders and maybe nod off a time or two. And then before you leave for home again, we’ll have little lemony tartlets, so that everyone can have their own, and

Spree will have 2.

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A two-part dessert that’s easy as pie:

Little Lemon Curd Tartlets

In a Gingersnap Crust

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The Curd:

(makes 1 pint)

Lemons – 2 or 3

Sugar – ½ cup

Eggs – 3 – lightly beaten

Unsalted Butter – ½ cup (4 oz/125g)

Optional: Lemon Extract – ½ teaspoon

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Cut the butter into small cubes. Finely grate the zest of one lemon. Set aside and cover. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze enough juice to measure 1/3 cup.

Place a non-reactive, heat-proof bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Be certain that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs (lightly beaten) to the bowl and whisk or stir continuously. Add the butter, a few small cubes at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. Continue stirring until all the butter has been incorporated and the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. (10 – 15 minutes)

Pour the curd into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and stir until the silky lemony pudding has made its way to the bowl below. Stir in the zest (and lemon extract if you like – I do) and then set aside to cool.

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The Crust:

makes 4 tartlet shells

I used a store-bought gingersnaps for this crust – and (weird that I am) I counted them so that I could tell you it will take 20 cookies to make 4 tartlet shells. Of course that will depend on the size of the cookie, but the standard shelf brand in the US measures out that way. But if you have a kitchen scale, it’s a snap.

Gingersnap crumbs – 1¾ cups (5 oz/155g)

Unsalted Butter – 5 Tablespoons

All-purpose Flour – ¼ cup

Optional – Powdered Ginger – ½ teaspoon

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Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and butter four 4½ inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms.

In a food processor, combine the gingersnap crumbs and flour; drop in the butter. Pulse until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture begins to clump together. (It’s unlikely, but is dependent on your brand of snap – if the mixture is too “dusty” and doesn’t cling together, add another pat of butter.) Remove the mixture from the processor, divide into 4 equal parts, and press into the pans –  first onto the bottom and secondly up the sides. Read more

butternut squash ravioli with toasted pecans & sage

Many of you are well-acquainted with the Italian gentleman whose handsome head pops up on many pages around this neighborhood. Always nattily dressed in dark suit and narrow tie, always raising his glass and leaving kind words to cheer us. He’s known to us as Chicago John. And he’s a legend in these parts.

You’ll find John cooking up a delicious Italian storm in the Bartolini Kitchen, every Wednesday.  The smells that rise from his oven and bubbling pots will make you hungry. They’ll make you wish you could pop into his kitchen and pull up a chair and spread your napkin and toast the cook and lift your fork and stay long into the night! They might make you wish you’d grown up Italian, with family recipes handed down, and down again to you. For sure they’ll make you wish you could cook like John does. And that’s where this little journey began for me…

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Only a handful of times in my life have I made pasta from scratch. I should be throttled for that! The man I married (who calls himself my grateful guinea pig and is such a good sport) is an enormous fan of pasta. Wrong word choice…he likes pasta, a Lot. So it was that when I spotted John’s series of posts on pasta – and then – Ravioli! – I knew I’d just discovered the Holy Grail – no question about it – this was D.i.n.n.e.r. – written in the Guinea Pig’s own Language of Love.

Now you understand, I’m not the one to learn pasta making from. No, no. I’d head over to John’s if I were you. Below is the recipe for the Bartolini’s pasta dough. It’s the one I used (Naturally!) I followed his expert guidance on how to roll and what dies to use as a novice raviol-ist. I prayed the rosary (ok, not exactly), asked John for one more encouraging word and then I dove right in. Fearless! (ok, not exactly.)

(You’ll be able to view this recipe better if you click on it.)

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It all went quite well, just like John said it would. I had mechanical issues with my pasta roller and I think I’m tossing it (but not til I’ve found a replacement.)

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I made a sweet & savory butternut squash filling…

(recipe follows)SquashRavioli-2

Closed those little pillowy parcels up…SquashRavioli-3

Gently boiled them in salted water, drained them and then slid them into a simple sauce of browned butter, garlic & sage, thyme & parsley & toasted pecans. G.P. will probably chime in here and tell you about it, but if he’s still tied up licking fingers, I’ll tell you…

it was pretty fine!

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Pecans and Sage

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds

Vegetable Oil – just a wee bit for brushing squash

 Cayenne Pepper – a Dash

Freshly-grated Nutmeg – (about 5 passes over the grater – to taste)

Salt & Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Freshly-Grated Parmesan –  ½ cup

dried bread crumbs – ½ cup

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Freshly-Made Pasta ala Bartolini (recipe above)

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Brown Butter with Pecans & Sage

Butter – 4 to 6 Tablespoons, melted

Garlic – 1 medium to large clove

Chopped Fresh Sage Leaves – 2 Tablespoons

Chopped Parsley – 2 Tablespoons (divided)

Chopped Fresh Thyme – 2 teaspoons

Toasted Pecans, ½ cup coarsely chopped

Freshly Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (I prefer the latter here)

Prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) Slice the squash in two, from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut surface with vegetable oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Bake until soft – about 40 minutes (though begin checking at 30.) Scoop out the flesh and measure 2 cups full. Drop it into a food processor (or mash well with a fork) blending with 2 Tablespoons butter. Season with a dash of cayenne, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Season to your own tastes. (It will not need to be fully seasoned with salt since the cheese will bring some of its own.) If the squash seems a bit too liquid-y you can dry it out by dropping it into a skillet on high heat for a few moment. Add bread crumbs and cheese. Set aside.

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