What the Kale?

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the vendor list at DOSE Market Chicago. I was there for work, previewing our soon to launch juice bar. One of the juices we were offering was the "Going Green" (green apples, celery, cucumbers, cilantro and kale), and because of that we had bucket and buckets (see below) of kale on our hands, among other things. I got to talking with my cohorts about other uses for kale and we decided that kale chips are a must when the day comes that we revamp the menu, as a perfect side for sammies and the like.

This gave me a bad case of "kale on the brain". It just so happens, I was grocery shopping the other day and couldn't resist picking up a bunch for myself. It's so frilly and fancy looking, but I've rarely ever had the notion to do anything but look at it, much less attempt to eat it (with few exceptions - ahem, thank you kindly Clean detox for the introduction to this "curly haired" veg). But when I heard how quick & easy it was to make kale chips (basically pop 'em in the oven and sprinkle them with salt), I thought, now there's a solution for my guilt ridden chip cravings. So I tried it out. And I must say, what a great way to get in some extra nutrients. You'll actually want to eat your leafy greens. I had mine as a side to a cucumber and smoked salmon bagel. (Ok, don't get me started - I've also been on a smoked salmon kick lately. And whaddya know, good ol' Trader Joe's had some for a reasonable price, so my craving was successfully nourished. Dose didn't help dampen my craving either. While there, I snagged a bagel topped with Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon from the adorable and lovely Each Family.)

Eat your heart out, folks! Seriously, please do. Your body will thank you. Trust me.
(Kale is known to be high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, as well as calcium. Not to mention indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and has been thought to block the growth of cancer cells. Well shoot. Get snacking!)
Katie's Kale Chips
Kale (one bunch, or roughly 8-10 small-medium stalks)
Olive Oil, extra virgin, to coat (or truffle oil if you want to be all fancy dancy about things)
Fleur de Sel , just a pinch(or regular old table salt works just fine too)
White Peppercorns, ground - a dash (optional - for a little extra punch in the face)
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Wash and dry your kale. Using your hands, or my favorite kitchen tool, a pair of scissors, trim the leafy bits away from the stiff center stalk (dispose of stalk). Over a bowl, break kale into desired "chip" size pieces. Toss to coat with olive oil and sprinkle with desired seasonings (salt, pepper, etc). Spread out on a sheet tray (I used parchment) and, if desired, sprinkle with more seasonings, to taste. Bake for roughly 20-25 minutes, until crisp. Voila. The healthiest chip you'll probably ever eat. And you might even like it.

*Note: I split my sheet pan in half and did half a regular recipe of chips (about 4-5 stalks, or leaves; and on the other half, I followed the same recipe but used approximately half the olive oil. This latter half was drier, since less moisture was added with the oil, so I popped them in a baggie and mashed them up with my hands (you could be more sophisticated and use a food processor, etc). This I will be using in the coming week or so as a seasoning, for some added "punch" (likely along with a generous sprinkling of parm) on top of buttered noodles & pastas, mixed into cream cheese for a veggie spread, mixed with some greek yo for a quick veggie dip, or even (as my fav, Smitten Kitchen suggests) on top of popcorn.


Cracker Craze

Today I got a mad craving for some Cool Ranch Doritos. It may have been the discussion around the "coffee carafe" I had with my co-workers this morning about the variety of cheap yet snackalicious chip varieties available at Aldi. (Hey now, don't judge. There's nothing wrong with learning the fine art of grocery shopping on the cheap. And when you're working in the wee hours of the morning, it's conversations like this that keep you entertained, or at least keep you awake.) Or, the craving could be a result of my recent trip this past weekend to The Salt of the Earth eatery in Fennville, MI. "Who knew there'd be a thriving restaurant in Fennville - I think the whole town came here tonight" commented my father after we had been seated. (When we arrived, the number of in-house diners were sparse. In the 5 or so minutes of being seated and waiting for our server to appear, the place had transformed to quite the crowd.) While there, we not only noshed on delicious house-made bread, but we also indulged on their spicy crab dip appetizer, which came with house-made crackers. What does this have to do with Cool Ranch Doritos you say? I have a point, trust me. The crackers at Salt of the Earth were flakey and delicious, and reminded me of eating a super sized "organic" Cheez-it.

Needless to say, all of these variables got me to thinking about salty snacks. While I could have easily gone to the store and wasted my money on my guilty pleasure, I decided to save my wallet from a shallow purchase, at least this time around. So, I thought, let's get to making some homemade ranch powder. Which is really quite genius because then you can use the leftovers for homemade ranch dressing! And who doesn't love ranch dressing. To be quite honest, it's amazing I've survived the past month without a bottle in my fridge. Ranch is practically it's own food group in my house. Anyways, my first approach was to make the ranch powder and sprinkle it over some tortilla chips for a quick craving fix. Then I remembered this recipe from Smitten Kitchen (I've always wanted an excuse to try my hand at homemade crackers), and decided to combine the two ideas.  (I know, I know - I've been on a SK stint lately. But really, can you blame me?) All inspired by my craving and my recent taste of what a "real" cheese-it tastes like...!

So, here you have it folks, one of my very own "KT's Creations" recipes. And, in the usual fashion, I opted for using the ingredients I had handy (I was out of most of the ingredients traditionally used to make ranch powder - note the absence of onion powder - as you'll notice in the "make-shift" recipe that follows), so feel free to make adjustments and give your own spin on it.

"KT's Cool Ranch Crackers"
makes about 2 dozen (1 in) crackers
1-2 tbsp Ranch Powder (recipe below)
3 ounces havarti cheese, coarsely shredded 
2 tbsp butter **don't skimp! This will help bind your "dough" together.
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 cup AP flour

Preheat your oven to 350(F). Combine all ingredients in a food processor until the dough forms a ball, about 2 minutes. (Or, if your food processor is on the fritz like mine is, you can use a pastry cutter until the butter is incorporated, and mix the dough into a ball with your hands). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to an 1/8 in (or desired) thickness. Cut into shapes and transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, arranging approximately 1/2 in apart. (If desired, garnish with a light sprinkle of salt and/or more ranch powder on top of each cracker before baking). Bake for 12-15 minutes (until edges are slightly browned). Let cool. Enjoy.

Make-Do Ranch Powder
***measurements are estimates - I pretty much just eyeballed it.
1 tbsp egg white powder (milk/buttermilk powder preferred, if handy)
2 tsp dried dill weed

1 tsp salt (or fleur de sel)

1/2 tsp dried basil (in lieu of parsley - you could also use a dash of oregano)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients. If your mixture is clumpy (typically will happen on the more humid days), grind in a food processor until mixture becomes a fine powder.

*Trendy Tip - To use any leftover Ranch Powder as salad dressing, combine one or two TBSP's and mix with one cup of mayo and one cup of milk. You could also use greek yo as a replacement for the mayo if you're watching the fat - it's what I tend to use in place of sour cream these days.


Dulce de Leche, Need I Say More?

I have been dying for an excuse to make anything with dulce de leche. Thank goodness for this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I also am a fan of anything cheesecake, so this really wasn't a hard sell at all.

I had come across some "past due" molasses ginger cookies at work, and got the notion to use them for a crust for a cheesecake bar. Then a friend at work took it a step further and suggested making ricotta cheesecake bars. And, voila. My "excuse" was born. This recipe isn't for ricotta cheesecake, but I actually substituted the cream cheese in it for ricotta anyways. (I also pretty much never have whole milk in the house, so I used soy instead.) I figured with the sweetness of the dulce de leche, and the creaminess of the ricotta, it would make for a perfectly blended, but not over-the-top sweet, cheesecake bar. The dulce de leche isn't overwhelmingly flavorful here, but there are definite caramel-y undertones. I had to keep myself from indulging on the leftovers at every meal of the day.

Overall, I'd flag this one a "must make". Enjoy!

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2003
Makes 64 (1-inch) cheesecake squares
Note: Cheesecake (without glaze) can be chilled up to 3 days.
Cheesecake Squares
For crust

3 1/2 oz graham crackers, crumbled (1cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For filling
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope, will be just about half an envelope)
1/4 cup whole milk
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup dulce de leche (12 1/2 oz) (recipe follows)
For glaze
3 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Make crust: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 sheets of foil (crisscrossed), leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Finely grind crackers with sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor. With motor running, add butter, blending until combined. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of baking pan. Bake 10 minutes, then cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.
Make filling: Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand 2 minutes to soften. Beat together cream cheese, eggs, salt, and gelatin mixture in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes, then stir in dulce de leche gently but thoroughly. Pour filling over crust, smoothing top, then bake in a hot water bath (I was able to fit mine in a 9×13-inch baking pan) in oven until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 2 hours. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.
Glaze cake within 2 hours of serving: Heat all glaze ingredients in a double boiler or a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, then pour over cheesecake, tilting baking pan to coat top evenly. Chill, uncovered, 30 minutes. Lift cheesecake from pan using foil overhang and cut into 1-inch squares with a thin knife, wiping off knife after each cut. (Don’t skip this step! A clean knife is essential for uber-neat squares.)
Dulce De Leche (Milk Caramel):
Pour one can (14 ounce) sweetened condensed milk into top of double-boiler pan; cover. Place over boiling water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until thick and light caramel-colored.
Remove from heat. Whisk until smooth.


Fruit Parade, I Mean Puree

The surprisingly warm weather this weekend had me thinking of making a fruit puree to commemorate the final days of summer. Not to mention, I had a container of raspberries from Stanley's taking up space in my fridge. If you've ever purchased the amazingly cheap produce at Stanley's before, you know that time is of the essence. It may be cheap, but you sure as heck better use it fast too, or you'll be throwing it away stat. I'm making a raspberry flavored ganache next weekend for a macaron order, which calls for some raspberry puree, so I figured I'd give it a trial run and then reap the benefits of my labors throughout the week. 

Puree's are insanely easy to make and the options are quite endless as to what you can do with them. And they're certainly not limited to just raspberries (or berries in general). There are plenty of savory purees to sink your teeth into as well. And purees are often the bases for the start of more complex dishes and (mostly) desserts (i.e. ice creams, sorbets, smoothies, preserves, etc), as is the case with the ganache I'm making later on.

As far as purees go, some of my favorite uses include drizzling it on top of : ice cream, quick breads (especially pound cake/angel food cake/banana bread), greek yogurt and granola, or even in place of syrup on top of pancakes. (And you all know by now how crazy I am about all things pancakes). After I made this batch, I had some on top of a fresh slice of bread I got from the bakery I work at (with a little butter, don't forget), for a quick and delicious Sunday nosh.

(S)Wheat & Sour Bread with butter and a fresh raspberry puree.

Here's the general "recipe" for a puree (below). (You can leave it unsweetened or you can sweeten it with a little sucrose, or granulated sugar to taste.) Oh, and here's my all time favorite definition of a puree, as told in Veganomicon (one of my all time favorite cookbooks):
Blending the heck out of something in a food processor or blender.
Short, sweet, and to the point!

Now, for the recipe:

12 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen berries, (defrosted if frozen)
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste (optional - add only if sweetening, omit if making your puree unsweetened)
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice (acts as a preservative, optional)

Sort and wash your berries. Drain, cap, and stem (or thaw if frozen) unsweetened berries. In a saucepan, bring berries (with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan so the fruit doesn't stick) to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cover, cooking approximately 20 minutes, or until fruit is soft and tender. Add your sugar (if sweetening) and cook until dissolved. In a food processor, combine berry mixture (add lemon juice at this point, if using) and process to a smooth puree, about 30 seconds. To eliminate pesky seeds and the like, pour your puree through a fine sieve, using a rubber spatula to stir and press the puree through; discard solids. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Yields approximately 1 cup of finished puree.


A Very "Farm Chicks" Labor Day

This Labor Day, I found myself planning a fun lunch. (Yes, like Market Day, but better, and not a frozen meal in a cardboard box). After struggling a few days prior to come up with a solid "menu", my cookbook collection served as "clutch" inspiration as I began prepping the day before. I love my cookbook collection. Ok, let's be real, I love books of any kind. But cookbooks are especially near and dear because they provide you with the outline to share your love for life (and of course, food) with others. However, sadly enough, all too often I find my cookbooks sitting on my kitchen bookshelf collecting dust. Partially because I don't always cook by a recipe and partially because cold cereal, peanut butter 'n jelly sammies, and cheese & crackers remain staples in my "I still order off the kid's menu" diet. And while some cookbooks certainly stay in a heavier rotation than the others, I don't use any of them nearly enough. So, for the holiday weekend, I found myself remaining as biased as ever, and gravitated to an old favorite, naturally.

I found out about the Farm Chicks when I first started becoming really passionate about food and baking a few years back, reading every blog and newspaper article I could get my eyes on. Then, over the holidays of 2009, I received their cookbook, Farm Chicks in the Kitchen, as a gift. I have yet to cover everything, but the recipes I have made from it have become staples (when I'm not eating like a child). Their cinnamon rolls seem like a marathon to make, but they are to-die-for. I make their Olivada Crostini on an almost weekly basis. And their butterscotch pie... well, need I really say more than that?

So (with the exception of the appetizer), I recreated some new Farm Chicks favorites, with my own twist for a "Labor Day Luncheon". For the appetizer (compliments of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond), I made a small batch of BBQ Jalapeno Poppers. I would've taken a picture, but they didn't last long enough. Ree's recipe calls for wrapping the poppers in bacon, but since I tend to steer clear of eating things that have eyes, I opted for some Morning Star veggie bacon strips instead, slathered in some homemade barbeque sauce. For the main course, I made the Farm Chick's Roasted Chicken & Pesto Hoagies. With some Ciabatinni buns and ready made pesto from Trader Joe's, these sammies were a cinch.  (Yes, I used fake chicken too - Quorn chik'n cutlets are my personal preference.) For a side, I again took the Farm Chicks suggestion and spiced up some plain ol' store bought potato chips by adding some dill. Then, for the grand finale, I made one of the Farm Chick's many no-fail dessert options, a Blueberry Crisp (ok, they use fresh picked blackberries, but I improvised). Again, I would've taken a picture, but it disappeared a little too fast.

 Dill Chips and Chik'n Pesto Hoagies

All in all, whether you try one or all of these recipes, with your own twist of course, I guarantee you that they'll be crowd pleasers. Without a doubt. So give 'em a try... and let me know what you think!

BBQ Jalapeno Poppers
adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond
(makes 36 poppers)
18 fresh jalapenos
One 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 green onion, sliced
18 slices thin bacon, cut into halves
Bottled barbecue sauce
Preheat the oven to 275ºF. Begin by cutting jalapeños in half lengthwise (see warning in headnote). Try to keep the stems intact. They look prettier that way.With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and light-colored membranes. Remember: The heat comes from the seeds and membranes, so if you can handle the sizzle, leave some of them intact.Now, in a bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and chopped green onion. Mix the ingredients together gently. And don't feel you have to use an electric mixer. I do because I'm lazy and don't like to exert myself. Ever. (Too much scrubbing clothes on the washboard, I suppose.)Next, stuff each hollowed jalapeño half with the cheese mixture.rap bacon slices around each half, covering as much of the surface as you can. Be careful not to stretch the bacon too tightly around the jalapeño, as the bacon will contract as it cooks. Brush the surface of the bacon with your favorite barbecue sauce. Chutney or apricot jelly works well, too! Secure the jalapeños with toothpicks and pop them in the oven for 1 hour, or until the bacon is sizzling. Serve hot or at room temperature, and watch them disappear within seconds. 
Roasted Chicken & Pesto Hoagies
adapted from The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen
4 hoagie rolls (hero rolls)                                                                                                                             
1/2 cup basil pesto                                                                                                                                        
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken breast meat                                                                                              
8 thin slices provolone cheese  
Heat the broiler. Separate the rolls and arrange the halves on a baking sheet. Spread pesto on each half, dividing equally. Divide the chicken among 4 of the halves; top with 2 slices of the cheese. Place under the broiler, 4 to 6 inches from the heat source, until the cheese is melted- 1 to 2 minutes. Put the 2 halves of each sandwich together and serve warm.
Tasty Dill Chips
adapted from The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen 
Here's a quick, easy way to give plain potato chips a bit of an upscale taste: spread the chips on a baking sheet and evenly sprinkle with dried dill weed. Bake for 5 minutes in a heated 350 degree oven. We use a ratio of 1 teaspoon dried dill to a 4-ounce bag of kettle-style chips; you could use a different favorite herb, for instance rosemary, if you wish.
Blackberry Crisp
adapted from The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen
2 cups fresh blackberries or 1 16-ounce bag frozen blackberries                                                                    
3/4 cup all-purpose flour                                                                                                                               
3/4 cup packed brown sugar                                                                                                                         
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats                                                                                                                  
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon                                                                                                                     
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces                                                                               
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (2 ounces)                                                                                                               
Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the blackberries in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a medium-size mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture forms large crumbs. Stir in the walnuts. Sprinkle the mixture over the berries in the baking dish. Bake until the topping is browned and berries are bubbly - 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.