Thursday, January 30, 2014

Collards.....It's not easy being greens!

Fresh Collard Greens
The 2 Prickly Pears are from the Midwest, more specifically, from Wisconsin.  We were born and raised by good Germanic stock.  This meant that the table often included sausage, potatoes and vegetables from the garden, like beans, peas, corn....well, you get the idea. 

Greens, as we've come to know them, weren't really a part of our diet.  We heard of Dandelion Greens, but never really understood why one would pick weeds and eat them.  Mustard greens were another mysterious thing that didn't quite compute.  Did mustard grow as a plant?  We knew it as a liquid substance in a bright yellow bottle that was put on a brat.

The closest we got to greens was spinach and that was usually cooked within an inch of its life and wasn't all that pleasant tasting.  Our father didn't like it, so we didn't have to eat it much. 

As an adult I began to learn more about greens.  So began my introduction to Collards.  In truth I never even noticed them in the store.  I wasn't even sure what I was looking for when shopping for them the first time.  However, I did my research and studied a number of recipes and began my adventure in good greens. 

For the longest time I thought greens were just a southern dish. It turns out that collard greens are very international in their use.  Countries that grow these greens include Brazil, Portugal, Africa, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Southern Spain, India, and Southern United States.  Most often this vegetable is served as accompaniment to an entree of fish or meat. 

I have a daughter who has gained great skill at cooking in the southern way.  While I've been encouraged by family members to try my hand at a number of traditional southern dishes, today's recipe isn't mine or Pam's, the other Prickly Pear.  It is, in fact, Anna, my daughter's recipe for greens.  It will be coming up later in this article.


Collards are cultivated for their thick, slightly bitter, edible leaves.  While they are usually available year-rounds, they are best during the cold months, usually after the first frost.  Younger leaves are more tender, but age does not affect flavor.  The fresh leaves can be stored for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.  Once cooked, they can be frozen. 

One cup of cooked collard greens contains nearly half of the recommended daily allowance of  Vitamins A, K, E and C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B-6, folate.

If you can't get your calcium from dairy products, look to collards.  One cup has 1/4 the calcium your body needs each day.  You'll also get some iron and magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  And if that isn't enough, the same one cup includes lutein which is an antioxidant in your retina to help prevent damage. 

In and of themselves, green have little flavor and are usually cooked with other spices and smoked meat and vegetables to jazz them up.

Cooked collard greens

Anna's Famous Collard Greens:

What you will need:
5 bunches of Collard Greens
1 package smoked meat (ham hocks, or turnkey drumsticks)
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Seasoning Salt
Cayenne Powder
2 jalapenos chopped

What you will need to do:

Clean greens very well.  Remove stems and discard.  Chopped greens into 2 inch pieces.  There will be a lot, but don't worry.  They cooked way down!

cleaned and chopped collard greens

Place smoked meat in a large pot and cover with water.  Simmer for about an hour.  Add greens and all your seasonings, along with the chopped jalapenos.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 4-5 hours.  This will depend on how soft you like your greens.  The longer they are cooked, the softer they will be, but you don't want to end up with just a pile of mush, so don't over cooked them. 

Adjust your seasonings to your taste.  This is the sort of dish where you toss in everything and add as you like. 

Serve with all your favorites like fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, etc. 

So if you, like me, thought that greens were just for our neighbors to the south, think again.  Give them a try.  Enjoy lots of green....they will do you well. 

Now go out and make something good.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brussel Sprouts....nipping it in the bud.

Okay, this is frustrating.   We like to give a bit of history to whatever our topic is, but in the case of the misunderstood Brussels sprout, it seems there is not a clear understanding of its place of origin.  Some information indicates that it comes from what is now known as Brussels and therefore a namesake.  Some say it was cultivated in Italy during Roman times.  It definitely originated in Europe and made it's way to the US.  California is the biggest grower of the sprout today.  

It may be that we will never know.  Maybe it doesn't really matter.  What is known is Brussels sprouts are direct relatives of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and cabbage.  Indeed, the sprouts look remarkably like a teeny tiny head of cabbage. 

Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of essential vitamins, fiber, and folate. They are especially high in Vitamin C. They have been shown to have some very beneficial effects against certain types of cancer, as they contain many different ingredients that are believed to help prevent the disease.

I remember the first time I saw an actual Brussels sprout plant at the farmer's market.  People were walking around with this long stalk with all these buds.  I thought it looked incredible, more like a weapon of some sort.  It didn't occur to me that the sprouts grew on a stalk.  Before that, I only had this image of a overcooked, brownish green pile of....well, quite frankly....yuk! 

Here's what they look like while growing:
Brussels Sprout Plants
Here's what they look like after they are harvested:
Brussels Spout Buds
And here's what they look like roasted and lovely:
Basic Roasted Brussels Sprout
If you are ready to give Brussels spouts a fair chance as part of your culinary experience, then here's a basic recipe: 

What you will need:

1 lb fresh Brussels spouts
1 Tbs Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

What you will need to do:

Heat oven to 400F.  Toss sprouts in oil to coat evenly.  Place on baking sheet.  Roast in oven for 20 minutes, tossing halfway to ensure even cooking.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately and enjoy.....

....wait a minute!  What if we turn this recipe up a bit?  Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that pair oh so well with something that is luscious, like bacon. 

Consider these alternative steps:

Dice up about a half pound of bacon and fry until very crispy.  Save about 1-2 Tbs of the bacon fat, discarding the rest.  Toss the sprouts in the bacon fat and roast as directed.  

If you have some good balsamic vinegar, sprinkle a little over the sprouts just before serving.

Now that's what we call good eating!

If you haven't given Brussels sprouts a chance because childhood memories include a mushy, squishy mess, then it's time you reconsidered this valuable and delicious, healthy vegetable.

Now go out and make something good.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Artichokes, Getting to the Heart of It!

WOW!  We've been absent for a long time.  We got caught up with moving and the holidays and life in general, but we are so happy to be back.  We hope you are all experiencing a most Happy New Year.  May it be prosperous and filled with blessings.

As you recall, last year, every Thursday we did culinary vocabulary.  This year, we are going to go in depth with one culinary word from the alphabet, starting with "A."  

Today's word is Artichoke

Artichokes are one of those mysterious vegetables that we know very little about.  Physically, they are a challenge.  But when we get to the heart of the matter, we find a tasty morsel that is good dipped in butter or made into a lovely dip for your favorite crackers.

In 2013 the artichoke was proclaimed to be California's official vegetable.   In part this is due to the fact that nearly 100% of the artichokes consumed in the US are from California.  Internationally, countries that produce artichokes include Italy, Spain and France.   So how is it that artichokes are grown in California?  It turns out that the beautiful artichoke was first planted by Italian immigrants in the late 19th Century along the central coast of California.  These artichokes are known as Globe Artichokes; the kind mostly commonly seen in the grocery store.

The nutritional benefits of artichokes include an large amount of antioxidants along with Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, fiber, andprotein.

Artichokes are funny looking!  What to do with them? How do we prepare artichokes?  We should first start with how to choose a good one.  Pick up the Artichoke and feel the weight. You’re searching for those that feel the heaviest and firmest. Now examine the exterior. You’re looking for Globes that have a healthy green color, compact center leaves and an overall look of freshness, not dried and wilted. 

During the winter months (December to February), if you see Artichokes with a blotchy colored or white-blistered exterior appearance, be sure to try one. The appearance of these Artichokes is the result of exposure to colder temperatures and frost. Connoisseurs believe these “Frost-Kissed” Artichokes are more tender and have more flavor.

Now for the preparation. It isn't so difficult to prepare artichokes. Don't be intimidated.  We've included here step-by-step instructions for you, including illustrations. 

1. If the artichokes have little thorns on the end of the leaves, take a kitchen scissors and cut of the thorned tips of all of the leaves. This step is mostly for aesthetics as the thorns soften with cooking and pose no threat to the person eating the artichoke.

2. Slice about 3/4 inch to an inch off the tip of the artichoke.
3. Pull off any smaller leaves towards the base and on the stem.
4. Cut excess stem, leaving up to an inch on the artichoke. The stems tend to be more bitter than the rest of the artichoke, but some people like to eat them. Alternatively you can cut off the stems and peel the outside layers which is more fibrous and bitter and cook the stems along with the artichokes.
5. Rinse the artichokes in running cold water.

6. In a large pot, put a couple inches of water, a clove of garlic, a slice of lemon, and a bay leaf (this adds wonderful flavor to the artichokes). Insert a steaming basket. Add the artichokes. Cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 25 to 45 minutes or until the outer leaves can easily be pulled off. Note: artichokes can also be cooked in a pressure cooker (about 15-20 minutes cooking time). Cooking time depends on how large the artichoke is, the larger, the longer it takes to cook.

Now that you prepared your artichokes, here's how you eat them. 

How to Eat an Artichoke

Artichokes may be eaten cold or hot, but we think they are much better hot. They are often served simply with melted butter or better yet... homemade hollandaise sauce.  Oh, yeah!

1. Pull off outer petals, one at a time.

2. Dip white fleshy end in melted butter or sauce. Tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal.

Continue until all of the petals are removed.

3. With a knife or spoon, scrape out and discard the inedible fuzzy part (called the "choke") covering the artichoke heart. The remaining bottom of the artichoke is the heart. Cut into pieces and dip into melted butter and eat.

There you have it.  Fresh artichokes with melted butter. You certainly can make many kinds of dips, if you like.  Maybe a balsamic and olive oil dip, or maybe a creamy garlic dip.  But dont forget the hollandaise sauce. Those sound great.  Be creative. 

Next week we will have a new word starting with "B."  See you then.

Now go out and make something good.