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The Joy of (Not) Cooking: Kale Pesto


The first days into an August that could variously be described as sticky, gritty, or just plan oppressive (same as it ever was? yes, but still), my kitchen projects are decidedly anti-cooking. In fact, I’m to the point that I will stop to consider whether bending over to lug the food processor out of its storage space is worth the effort, so you can see how things have ground to a kind of halt here in Wonderland.

Still, when your CSA haul means you have acquired not only two heads of lettuce for your nightly no-cook dinner salads but also a bunch of swiss chard and a bunch of kale–all of which needs to fit in the ‘fridge in some manner–steps must be taken.

Lately, this is when kale pesto becomes very attractive. Kale may be the ultimate cliche of the super natural food blogger (seriously, click and read that), but I get exhausted just looking at it. The thought of kale chips has never inspired me to kitchen action (though I will happily eat yours!), and the idea of chewing a week’s worth of kale salads at home will force me to suggest dining out. This kale pesto, however, reduces down neatly to a pint-sized jar, ready to be smeared on pizzas and sandwiches of all kinds, to be tossed with pasta, or to serve as a dip for veggies and pita chips.

Kale Pesto

1 bunch kale, stems removed (about 6 cups–however much I have, I just pack it in)
3/4 cup walnuts (or pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, or a mix of these)
2 garlic cloves
3 T nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup olive oil

Place garlic cloves, nuts, nutritional yeast, and salt in the large bowl of your food processor and pulse to evenly break down nuts. Stop and pack half of the kale into the processor bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice and half of the olive oil over the kale and process until there is room enough to add the rest of the kale and remaining olive oil.

Continue processing until desired texture is achieved. Stop to scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed. Taste and add additional salt or nutritional yeast if desired. Add more oil if you need a looser consistency. I like to leave mine thick so I can spread a deep layer of it on sandwiches and then thin it in portions for use on pasta, etc.

Pack the finished pesto into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, adding a bit of additional olive oil to the top surface of the spread to prevent discoloration if you anticipate significant time between uses.

Adventures in CSA Vegetable Preparation


This week’s farmers market/CSA haul is smaller than it might first appear, I suspect, piled, as it is, with leafy greens of all shapes and types. Regardless of its feeding power, however, it was definitely not going to all fit in the ‘fridge in its current state. Measures had to be taken.

Kale and I are historically wary kitchenfellows. I like it, but I don’t like the aerobic workout that chewing it usually involves, even when massaged with salt for raw salads (though I am impressed that leftovers will hold up for days that way). I was set to show it who was boss and pulverize the kale down into a pesto again this week, but then I caught this recipe for a vegan kale gratin that actually wasn’t playing a false game of “Look mom, I’m eating my vegetables!” by drowning everything in cheese sauce. I did make a traditional cup of béchamel sauce, but stuck with the suggestion for the nutritional yeast topping. And amazingly, when it was sauteed and baked, I had managed to get all that kale into a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish.

Healthy Kale Gratin

Healthy Kale Gratin
Based on the vegan recipe by Rosewater and Thyme

2 T olive oil
1-2 bunches kale, rinsed, deribbed, and chopped (my CSA bunch was very large–probably about 8 packed cups even after chopping)
2 large spring onions, chopped, including light green part
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup béchamel sauce (your favorite recipe, or see below)
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 T nutritional yeast

Pre-heat oven to 400F and butter a 9×13 baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a deep saute pan and cook onions and garlic until softened. Add kale. Cover with a lid and cook until wilted, stirring every couple minutes. When kale is ready, add béchamel sauce to the pan and stir until all vegetables are evenly coated. Transfer this mixture to the prepared baking dish and evenly distribute. Top with bread crumbs and nutritional yeast, and bake until top is lightly browned and kale bubbling, about 18 minutes.

Béchamel Sauce

1 T butter
1T cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
couple scratches fresh nutmeg

Melt butter in a sauce pan and whisk in cornstarch. Gradually add milk in several portions and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously. Cook gently, reducing heat as needed, until thickened. Remove from heat and reserve.

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

This week’s shopping also included a new-to-me find: fava beans. If I had known about the labor-intensive processing required before they could be consumed, I might have skipped this purchase (or purchased more than just the scant quart box, which reduced to a mere half-cup of beans), but in the end this was probably the most manageable introduction. Once I had peeled them out of their pods and blanched them out of their exterior jackets, I suspected that my paltry net pile could be applied to little more than salad sprinkling. But I was already making dough (more on that later this week) and I was stocked with tomatoes and chopped spring onion greens (from the kale dish above), and suddenly pizza seemed like a great idea. Was there cheese in the house? There was cheese. We were all systems go.

Some notes when making pizza with fresh tomatoes that will allow you to avoid a soaked crust. 1) As early in the process as you can, slice and drain the tomatoes well (go ahead and give them a gentle squeeze over the sink) and then lay them out on a few layers of paper towels. Blot the tops with a few more. Leave them that way until ready to top your pie. 2) Pre-bake your shell for 8 minutes in a very hot oven (450F) before adding your toppings–on a pizza stone if you have one, or some unglazed clay tiles from Home Depot. Set the dough on a piece of parchment to make moving it around a snap (no sticking and safe to touch when hot), and use the back of a cookie sheet as a makeshift pizza peel. 3) Be conservative in the amount of topping (but not the type!). Return to oven and bake until crust has browned and cheese is bubbling and golden.

With a few grinds of red pepper flakes, this was a lovely and light use of fresh spring ingredients. There was no one but me home to enjoy it. #plusandminus

Almost English: Sourdough Breakfast Muffins


More than a month ago, I ordered a sourdough starter and some English muffin rings from King Arthur Flour, and while the sourdough has subsequently been put through its paces, those eight metal rings have just been sitting in the pantry, taunting me whenever I open the door to retrieve some other item. The thing of it is, most of the English muffin recipes I’ve found need to be cooked on a griddle that I do not have, and the only pan in my arsenal that would suit can fit a grand total of two of these biscuit holders simultaneously. That seemed a recipe for frustration, no matter how you shaped it.

Meanwhile, there were recipes out there for baking them, but they weren’t for sourdough English muffins, and I was peculiarly stuck on this point. The clock was ticking down on me yesterday, my available slot for proofing and baking shrinking rapidly as my fingers Googled (you can feel the Jason Bourne-like tension here, right?) when I discovered this recipe on the King Arthur site and realized it met my desires of the moment perfectly. All-in-one-bowl mixing! Only a smidge more than an hour rising time! This morning, the fluffy little muffins fresh out of the toaster also hit my breakfast desires right on the spot, so we’re going call this one a clean win. If I had to sacrifice the cute little nooks and crannies to get here, so be it. Next time…

The griddle question, however, remains. Being vegetarian, I don’t have call to cook up sausage patties or suchlike, but I would love to dig deeper into Indian flatbreads, which also make use of a large, hot surface. Any shopping suggestions?

English muffin rings from King Arthur Flour

Sourdough Breakfast Biscuits
from King Arthur Flour

1 T instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup sourdough starter, refreshed
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup dried milk
3 cups AP flour
2 T oil
1 egg
cornmeal (for dusting)

Place yeast and water in a large bowl or stand mixer and stir to dissolve. Add all remaining ingredients (aside from the cornmeal) and knead, but hand or by hook, until a smooth dough has formed. Turn out onto a flour counter, cover with a towel, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

After the initial bench rest, roll dough out (about 1/2 inch thick) to fit 8 3 1/2 inch English muffin rings. Cut out muffins. Place rings on the sheet and dust the inside of each circle with cornmeal. Place a round of dough inside each ring, dust the tops with cornmeal, and place a second baking sheet over top, balanced on the to of the metal rings. Allow to rise for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. When rise is complete, bake muffins (still covered with second baking sheet) for 25 minutes or until tops are golden. Cool for 10 minutes on the sheet then remove rings and transfer to a wire rack.


The interior will not have all the nooks and crannies of traditional English muffins, but I split one with a fork and found the interior soft and chewy and quite satisfactory all the same.

I’ve toasted and consumed two more without a complaint, topped with some kale pesto. What can I say? I have a thing for leafy green condiments.

I used this Tastespotting recipe, though I substituted a teaspoon of nutritional yeast for the cheese.

Kale Soup for the Sick (with a Side of Mostly Whole Wheat Bread)


I’m the kind of person who likes to crawl into their man-cave when sick. The down side of this is that when the fridge is empty, the only path to sustenance is to drag one’s self from said cave to either the kitchen or the grocery store. I decided that combing my hair would be more work than chopping veggies, so I opted for culinary duty. Plus, all those market veggies had come to the party last Saturday and had yet to get a worthy invitation for a good dance dish.

Now, I’m not normally a broth-based soup person. I like it blended or stewed, but not with bits of things floating in admittedly tasty almost-water. However, two weeks into a hacking cough, hot water with honey was getting pretty boring (even if the menthol cough drops had deadened most of my taste buds) and I wanted something with enough liquid that I could dip in for a ladle or two of hot liquid in between meals. As I had fresh navy beans, kale, and even a parmesan cheese rind on hand (I really think that part is essential to a broth worth sipping–do not skip!), I made a small vat of this soup, making it a vegetarian version by skipping the sausage and substituting vegetable stock for all liquid (though at less volume than indicated in the recipe–probably about 7 cups total). It was super tasty and perhaps the most effective medicine I’ve tried so far. Plus, half went into the freezer and I’m now prepared for the next time I am either too sick or, more likely, just too tired to cook.

I was also out of bread, so this morning I fired up Sir Mix-a-Lot again. B has asked me to work on a 100% whole wheat loaf for him, and since my parents had brought me a bag of whole wheat flour from a local Ohio source, I decided to give this King Arthur version a try. As this flour was a pretty course grind, I erred on the side of caution and did half-and-half with some white unbleached bread flour, and kicked in some vital wheat gluten for good measure. Since I wanted this to be the simplest (read: neatest) making of bread ever, I vowed to only do a mixer knead–not a pinch of flour on the counter. In the end, the dough was beautiful and the rise amazing. I think this household is primed to go 100% on the next venture!

Keep safe and stay healthy out there, everyone! I’m sure trying to leverage a holiday bird one-handed is no fun at all and you certainly don’t want to get caught by family members coughing on the turkey.