Comfort Food By Way of Kale and Sweet Brown Rice Gratin

Kale brown rice cassarole served with spinach tomato saladBrown rice, kale, sharp cheddar cheese…it has never occurred to me in all that vast kitchen space and years of raising kids, entertaining, dieting, skimping. Just plain never did.

My husband asked for seconds! I had seconds…we considered thirds..and then I would have eaten the whole top of the gratin, but I passed the control test. If you are really looking for the ultimate comfort food experience, it might be found in the topping. I mean, what about that baked cheese studded with buttery bread crumbs?  Why bother with the rice and kale…oh yeah, nutritional benefits.

A simple salad of spinach and tomatoes goes beautifully. I drizzled it with a gluten free French dressing and some blue cheese.

Kale and Sweet Brown Rice Gratin has all the elements of perfect comfort food. It’s chewy, crunchy, rich, deliciously filling, and easy to make. Can it compete with macaroni and cheese? Sure thing!  It has the requisite crunch, chew, creamy fattening (but not) elements.  Mine’s gluten free, by the way, by turning a gluten free baguette dried end piece into bread crumbs.Kale brown rice gratin biteSee? It’s all there! Chewy sweet brown rice, cheese, fresh kale (YUMMY), crunchy breadcrumbs.  I might eat this for breakfast.

If you can make risotto, you can make this. Sweet brown rice is also short grain brown rice. I can not imagine using any other rice, as the character of this grain is what makes this gratin so special. But, Hey, you do what you want. I’m only guaranteeing excellence with sweet brown rice.

The recipe comes from a gal from Seattle, named Heather. Here is her recipe for Brown Rice and Kale Gratin. I tweaked it only in that I added TONS of kale, and used some chicken stock to replace 2 cups of the milk. I also, in hind sight, would definitely add some salt to the recipe while cooking. Maybe my sharp cheddar cheese wasn’t as sharp and salty as her choice, and that would make a difference in need for salt. I’m going to check out her other recipes, now that we’ve tried this one. It is a keeper.

Here it is ready for the oven kale brown rice gratin ready to bakeAnd the finished product?kale brown rice gratin

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce and Venison

They say necessity is the mother of invention.

Indeed. I needed to eat a meal, and I have very little food at my house right now. Since I return to the land of northerners in less than a week, a trip to the grocery store seemed like a bad idea. Thus began tonight’s journey with a simple can of tomato paste dangerously nearing its expiration date, some ground venison in the freezer, and a box of pasta.

Then, it occurred to me that I also had cream, garlic, and olive oil. Apparently, that was enough to do the trick. I’ve never made a tomato cream sauce, so I didn’t know what would happen when I poured cream into the saute pan. It was a terrifying moment. What if I ruined the whole concoction? I had a ramen noodle packet looming at me from the back of the cabinet, but the thought of eating it gave me goose bumps.

Perhaps I am being melodramatic…

This pasta with tomato cream sauce and venison turned out to be really, really good, much better than the meals I put time and energy into. Except for cheesecake. Cheesecake is always worth the time and energy.

Unfortunately, the camera on the old Android has deteriorated to the point that my pictures stink. Trust me on this one, though, this is a delicious and comforting mid-week meal.

Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce and Venison

1 6 oz. can tomato paste

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/2 pound ground venison

1/2 cup to 1 cup heavy cream

Salt, pepper, thyme, and sage to taste (about 1/2 tsp. each)

1 box of whole wheat penne pasta

In a saucepan, brown the defrosted ground venison. Boil water in a separate pot and cook the pasta. As the venison browns, add the garlic. Once the garlic and venison are cooked, add the tomato paste and stir. Add herbs to taste and heavy cream, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain the cooked pasta and add the pasta to the saute pan, stirring to coat with the sauce. If you have cheese, that would be a lovely addition. Evidently, I went cheese-less and still enjoyed the meal.

Penniless Pancakes

These probably are not worth blogging about. Then again, what is worth blogging about? Yeah. Answer me that. You’ll have solved the Internet.

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I’m fancy. I’m not.

Image

I had a box of Mrs. Buttersworth pancake mix that my mom sent me to school with, leftover oatmeal, butter, and cinnamon. This is not atypical. A trip to the grocery store is a luxury for which I do not have (or make) time. I’ve got novels to analyze, people! You think those characters wait around for just anyone? Exactly.

But I digress.

The point is, if you haven’t added oatmeal to your pancakes before, you should try it. It’s good.

Pennyless Pancakes

1 cup pancake mix

3/4 cup water

Dash of cinnamon

1 cup cooked rolled oats

Butter

Heat saucepan over medium heat. Mix pancake mix, water, cinnamon, and cooked oats. Make pancakes on hot pan with butter (I am not going to explain this). Serve with butter.

I did not even have honey, sugar, or syrup to sweeten these, and I still ate more than I’m going to tell you.

Dark Chocolate And Parmesan Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Dark chocolate and Parmesan: A Scientific Pairing? I was skeptical, but you can’t argue with science. The bitterness of parmesan compliments the deep flavors of dark chocolate, and gluten free bread actually serves as a great (flavorless) backdrop. I give it an A+. It’s certainly more interesting than the classic Velveeta.

Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients:

2 slices country bread
2 ounces dark chocolate (64%), coarsely chopped
6 thinly shaved slices Parmesan cheese
Butter

Directions:
Layer one slice of bread with the chocolate and then with Parmesan cheese and top with second slice of bread.

Heat a panini press, grill pan or skillet. Butter the outside surface of the bread. Grill until bread is golden brown and chocolate and cheese are oozing. Serve immediately.

Best paired with red wine and music. We experimented with white wine, and it didn’t work well, so go with a red (syrah was nice).

SAUSAGE AND POTATO STEW IN LEMON ROSEMARY BROTH

Another very simple delicious dish.

Spring nights are still quite cool here in the highlands.  While robust wintery meals have been vanquished from the table, there are often evenings that need the “chill” taken off.  This stew has a  summery touch of rosemary and lemon that makes it a perfect segway into the warmer seasons. Because it’s easy and such an interesting mix of flavors  it has become one of my “Go-To” meals.

All it needs is….notice  I say “needs” ….a beautiful yeasty crunchy baguette.    If I recall correctly the first go around making this dish was only because I had an excellent baguette on hand and needed something to dip it in.  This is goodness all by itself, naked, no bread will be missed.  C’est la vie!

We gobbled this down so fast I didn’t have a chance to photograph it in the bowls.

You need:

2 lbs. sweet or hot Italian sausages, cut up into halves or thirds.  I use both sweet and hot’

3 lbs of baby red potatoes.  Culinary license here – can use all purpose and cut them in big chunks

1 lb Escarole, Endive or both

2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon olive oil, extra virgin *always better for you

1 cup dry white wine

2 quarts chicken broth

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dry

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Method:

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil and drop cut up sausages in and cook over medium high heat, turning over from time to time until they are browned on the outside.  Add potatoes, rosemary, garlic and half of the lemon zest and toss to coat.  Cook these, stirring until the potatoes start to brown just a little bit

After this is browned reduce heat to medium and stir in the wine and cook until it is reduced to about half, stirring.  This will smell wonderful. A this point go ahead and add all of the chicken broth.  The goal is to have enough broth to cover the ingredients by at least an inch or two.  You can add more broth or water and chicken bouillon if you are concerned you won’t have enough liquid.  It’s not a soup, but it is going to need a spoon (or a baguette :)) when you serve it to get all the yummy broth.  In the meantime chop the endive and escarole, making sure they are properly rinsed and drained in a colander 

This is going to look like you have far more greens than you’ll ever be able to fit into the stew.  Don’t be alarmed.  Trust me, they will cook down so fast you’ll wonder if you added enough of them.

I’ve only placed about 1/4 of the chopped greens in the pot and it’s over flowing.  What you will do is gently push the greens under and into the broth and watch how fast they cook down.  It takes less than a minute, then you keep on adding it in until all the greens are cooking at a slow simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Once the potatoes and greens are tender it’s ready to adjust seasonings, add the rest of the lemon zest and serve.  This is where you’ll add salt and pepper by tasting it to see if you need any.  Sausages and broth are somewhat salty.  Our son encouraged Kelly, our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law to take notes on this for the future

All done!

Note to self:  This dish can be over cooked to the point where the greens are mushy and so are the potatoes.  Don’t let that happen!

It’s so very very nice when a clean up committee (of one) comes along to finish the job!  Thanks Honey 🙂

You are THE BEST!!!

Chicken Noodle Soup – Walt’s Simple Kindness

It my daughter’s fault I made this.  She gave me “that look” that even grown kids manage when they don’t feel well. You know the look; the one that totally melts your heart and you become energized with all sorts of thoughts of how to make them comfortable.  A mother’s a mother forever.

My Father-in-Law shared this recipe with me. He was a man of solid principle.  Every thing he did was thought out and had kindness and integrity at it’s root.  He loved the Lord, his wife, his family and all those who crossed his path …except politicians. Oh what the heck, had a politician crossed his path they would have gone away with a little more joy and peace in their soul and certainly not hungry!

Every once in awhile he would take over the kitchen.  He so mastered the art of baking cookies and making candy to bestow upon the  unsuspecting  that I did not remember he knew how to  cook anything else.  He made a mean pot of hot sausage smothered in sauce for tailgating so that everyone could encourage  the beloved Pittsburgh Steelers with more vigor and onion on the breath – and a mean pot of chicken soup.

“Dutch” is what he called my mother in law for no apparent reason.  He was Spike, she was Dutch and they had some serious love and contentment between them that made room for immense generosity towards others.

In order to make this a gluten free recipe I had to make a few changes.  Instead of canned broth I build a chicken stock from scratch.  Also, I like big pieces of carrot instead of chopping it like he did, so petite carrots left whole are in my recipe.  Of course the search for a gluten free noodle was a challenge, but when I came across some I just had to make this soup.

Here goes!!!

You need:

Chicken: one whole chicken, cut up

Water

Bouillon: 2 gluten free cubes (not required unless you want to eat this as soon as you make it)

Carrots: 1 lb petite carrots

Onion: 3 small onions, 2 of them chopped and one peeled and studded with

Whole Cloves: between 5 and 10 driven into the raw onion, like this

Celery:  1 whole bunch cleaned, brown tips removed and chopped

Noodles: gluten free. (I used Sam Mills Pasta d’oro Lasagne corte-like mini lasagna’s)  By the way, these are holding up beautifully in the soup instead of disintegrating like so many others

Salt, thyme, 1 bay leaf, several peppercorns

1 teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon butter

*for some reason no salt was needed.  I don’t know why except maybe the noodles had enough in them from the salted water they were cooked in.

Method:

In a large soup pot ( 7 quart cast iron dutch oven is perfect) melt the butter

Add the vegetables and herbs and peppercorns, cooking over medium high heat for a few minutes to brown  the vegetables a little bit

Place chicken pieces on top of sauteed vegetables

Cover with water, enough to nearly fill the pot

Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for half an hour.  At this point I like to taste the broth and enhance it with gluten free bouillon cubes and sugar if it’s needed

Continue to cook for another half an hour or until the chicken is cooked completely through and the vegetables are tender.  Then remove chicken and lower heat to very low and cook, allowing the flavors to blend more while chicken cools. In my family this is where my daughters get all squeemish about having to take the chicken off the bones.  But hey, that’s life!  Take the skin off the chicken, then remove the meat and put the meat back into the pot.  At this point you should also remove the whole onion that has the cloves in it.  Let that cool too and then, a trick someone taught me, squeeze all the juice out of the onion back into the soup and discard the remaining …onion and cloves..this add tons of flavor to the broth.

At this point you can place a pot of water, adding a Tablespoon of salt, over heat, bring to a boil and add noodles.  Cook until al dente (to the tooth), drain and add into the soup.

At this point I like to chill the soup overnight.  This does two things.  First, it allows the fats to come to the surface and is easier to skim off.  Second, oh my gosh how the flavors improve by giving it at least 8 hours!

Here you go!

Beans N Greens

Frequently I get a hankering for Beans and Greens. It is earthy peasant fare that meets my occasional need for a simpler life.  I also like that it can be changed by simply using different beans or replacing kale with Swiss Chard or spinach. Kale is considered a “super food”, so when you eat it the world becomes a better place!

Spring is the time to be outside raking winter’s debris from the garden, basking in the sweet sunlight.  Except that this year has been a little crazy with the asparagus ready to harvest alongside the new daffodils blooming. April and May daffodils actually showed up before the late February ones.  The lilac bushes are already sporting purple buds at the end of March instead of their typical May show.  However, last night we had a deep freeze and I had to gather armfuls of flowers and the asparagus to save them from being frozen.  Here, take a look at who came in from the bitter frost tonight.  Pretty pretty.

Ahhhhhhhhh…..breathe in deeply and remember Spring really is here and the cold will pass.

This dish definitely improves and is more filling with a crusty baguette.  Early in my gluten-free life my husband and I were at a fabulous restaurant for dinner, me staring blankly at the menu,  tears in my eyes knowing there was nothing for me to choose from. In frustration I asked my husband to see if he could find something for me to order while  I retreated to the ladies room to cry (honestly I did. Most restaurants are completely unaware of how many of us can’t consume gluten). When I returned he had a big smile on his face and a big glass of red wine for me.  What a guy!  The chef directed him to their famous house specialty: Beans and Greens.  Then he recommended the perfect wine to pair it with – Sangiovese.  This was food for the gods, people!  It was so incredibly delicious and earthy and filling I begged for the recipe – and they gave it to me – but I had to cut the recipe down from feeding 100 to feeding 10 – except for the fact that it feels so good to eat this healthy pile of yumminess that it doesn’t feed anywhere near 10 people.

What to do for this happiness:

Purchase a nice big brilliantly crisp dark green mass of kale. You can also make this from escarole or spinach. Have some garlic and cayenne pepper, and if you like a little rosemary or thyme.  Parmesan cheese is to be doled out with generosity.  Cannellini beans.  They can be canned; they can be dried and prepared, doesn’t matter. You don’t like them?  Okay, try it with northern beans or kidney beans or garbanzo’s.  And you will need some chicken broth and a touch of Sherry vinegar.  I make my broth from scratch. Remember to check the label of store-bought broth if you are gluten sensitive. Serve it with red wine, or white, it’s your preference.  I think red wine is great, like a bottle of Sangiovese, in cool weather.  A Chardonnay with a little oak barrel aging is also a good choice. This dish is sturdy and you don’t want the beauty of the wine to get lost under the garlic and earthiness of this dish.

Kale: 1 or 2 large bunches ( escarole or spinach)

garlic:  3 cloves, thin slivers

Rosemary or thyme, if you like (1/4 teaspoon)

Cayenne Pepper: 1/4 teaspoon or to taste

Cannellini Beans:  2 cans

Olive Oil:  3 Tablespoons

Chicken broth: 3 cups (may not need all 3 cups)

Sherry Vinegar:  2 or 3 teaspoons

Parmesan cheese: 1/2 cup

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

In large saute pan heat oil to smoking point and toss in garlic, cayenne pepper and herbs. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the garlic turns a nice golden color.  Reduce heat to simmer and add the kale by handfuls until each bunch wilts, adding more until it’s all in the pan and wilting. You will have to use a spoon to keep pushing the new leaves under.… Add 1 or 2 cups of the broth and simmer over medium low heat, stirring for a minute.  At this point you will add the drained beans.  Toss them in the pan and stir. Cover with a lid and simmer about 20 minutes or so. You’re not really making a soup, but the broth helps to make it tender and you do want enough broth to soak up with a crusty bread.  Then add Cannellini Beans and toss together. Serve topped with a generous amount of Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.