Archive for February, 2012

Celebrate With Me Today!!!

Today is a good day!  I’m so excited that CookingAfterWork is being featured as the “Food Blog of the Day”  on Foodista.com.  For those of you that don’t know, Foodista, in addition to being one of the leading sources of online food news, organizes the International Food Bloggers Conference, the premier event for food bloggers, and in 2010 released the “Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook,” the first cookbook of its kind.  So, my friends, it won’t be long before the whole world catches on to what you already know – that this blog is freaking Awesome! 😄

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Tip of the Week: Storing Herbs

Herbs: Thyme, oregano and rosemary

Thyme, Rosemary & Oregano

There’s no question that some herbs are better (i.e., more flavorful) fresh.  What most people don’t realize is that keeping fresh herbs on hand is actually pretty easy.  Except for these deepest days of winter, I always have fresh Rosemary and Thyme around to flavor dishes.  Here’s what you do:  (1) lightly pat herbs dry with a paper towel; (2) place the herbs in a Ziploc (or other sealable plastic bag) and press excess air out of the bag; and (3) seal the bag and store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  It’s as simple as that!

Depending on the freshness of the herbs when you bought them, the herbs may last up to 2 weeks. This method works well with other herbs too such as Sage, OreganoTarragon, Parsley, and Chives – all of which you should grab up if you see them fresh.  So skip the dry stuff, which often tastes like wood-chips, and go for fresh when you can.

Note: moisture management is key here – check on the herbs every few days and dry off any excess moisture that has collected in the bag and remove any rotting leaves.

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A Few Words About Salt

Ever wonder why a recipe specifically calls for kosher salt?  Ever wonder why you followed a recipe exactly and the resulting dish was too salty or too bland?

First, some background.  Kosher salt is so named because it was originally designed to help in the process of koshering meats.  Like common table salt, kosher salt consists of the chemical compound sodium chloride.  Unlike common table salt, kosher salt typically contains no additives.  Kosher salt crystals are larger and coarser than table salt crystals.  In most professional kitchens, and in most professional recipes, kosher salt is the standard.  This is because (1) the coarse crystals are easy to handle and measure out with your fingers; and (2) some believe that kosher salt, which is not processed as fine as table salt retains more minerals (although there is considerable disagreement on the veracity of this point).

Because kosher salt crystals occupy more volume than table salt crystals, when substituting kosher salt for table salt in a recipe or vice versa, you cannot do an even exchange – you must adjust the amount of salt.  Kosher salt crystals can vary in size considerably from one brand to another so it is recommended that you use the conversion guidelines which are generally provided on the package.  If there is no guidance provided, use roughly 2x more kosher salt (by volume) to replace table salt.  Another reliable technique is to use weight measurements rather than volume measurements (i.e., grams rather than tablespoons).  In addition to variations in the size of crystals, the density of the kosher salt crystals may vary between brands.  As a result, you can use the exact same measure of kosher salt called for by a recipe, but end up with a much more salty dish.  When that happens, the chances are that the recipe writer used a different brand of kosher salt.  The two most common brands of kosher salt sold in the U.S., are Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt and Morton’s Kosher Salt, and they have a noticeably different impact on a dish. Diamond’s salt crystals are larger and less dense so, for the same volume, Diamond’s salt will pack less of a salty punch.

By now, you’re probably thinking something like “who the hell has time to worry about buying and storing multiple salts.”  Despite having written this post, and having read a whole book just on salt (o.k., I’ll admit that I can get pretty geeky sometimes), I don’t make a big fuss about salt in my everyday cooking.  I generally use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, because of its purity and because it’s a lot easier to add more salt to an under-seasoned dish than to correct an over-seasoned dish.

So what should you do?  When in doubt, go kosher and adjust your measurements accordingly.  If preparing a dish on the stove top, don’t add all the salt called for by a recipe at the beginning.  Add some salt at the beginning to open up the flavors, but reserve adding more until closer to the end of cooking when the flavors have come together and you can get a truer sense of how much salt you personally feel the dish needs.  The phrase “salt to taste” is not just put there to be vague and annoying – it’s your food so season it as you like.

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Winter Kale Salad

It’s the middle of winter – the time of year when hearty stews and warm soups call to us and New Year’s resolutions to eat better start to fail.  Well, here’s a hearty simple salad, that will stick to your ribs just as well as any stew, while at the same time being relatively heart and diet healthy.

This salad is derived from a salad served at Northern Spy Food Co., one of my favorite restaurants.  I’ve made a few adjustments and substitutions to suit my taste and to decrease preparation time.  It’s now become a regular in my kitchen.  It’s simple  (only 6 ingredients) and packs a big nutritional punch (Kale is low in saturated fat and cholesterol; is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, folate, iron, magnesium; and is a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese).

This salad is also surprisingly robust and well balanced flavor-wise.  The slight earthy bitterness of the raw Kale is perfectly offset by the freshness of the lemon juice.  The creamy nuttiness of the cheddar nicely balances the tartness of the apple and is complimented by the almonds which give a crunchy contrast to both the apples and cheddar.  Because this salad has such a strong combination of flavors, I find it completely satisfying as a stand alone meal. I’ve eaten this salad for lunch and felt full and energized for the whole afternoon.  I’m not a certified nutritionist, but I suspect that because the Kale is raw, it takes longer to digest.

Prep ahead / Lunch tip: This salad can be prepped the day before.  Don’t add the apples and lemon juice/walnut oil dressing until just before serving.  If you really want to add the apples in advance then I recommend that before adding the apples, you rub/sprinkle the apples with a little bit of lemon juice to retard the browning of the apples.

Winter Kale Salad

serves 4 as side salad or 2 as main course

Qty Item
1 bunch Lacinato Kale (also known as Cavolo Nero, Tuscan Kale, Dinosaur Kale or Black Kale)
1/4 cup (60g) Raw Almonds
1/4 cup (60g) Tart apple, cubed
1/4 cup (60g) Raw milk cheddar, cubed
1-2 tbsp (15-30ml) Fresh lemon juice
1-2 tbsp (15-30ml) Walnut Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Wash the Kale and then shake or wipe off any excess water. Remove the white ribs from the Kale and discard the ribs. Thinly slice the Kale leaves and place the slices into a large bowl. Raw Kale can be a little hard to digest so I recommend slicing it thinly to make it a little easier to digest.
  2. Place the almonds on a tray and lightly toast the almonds in a toaster oven or regular oven until they just start to give off a nutty aroma.  You can toast them in a dry pan on the stove top, but watch them carefully as nuts burn quickly.
  3. While the nuts are toasting, prepare the apple cubes.  I recommend a semi-tart apple such as Jonagold, but any firm apple that you like will do.
  4. Slice the cheddar into cubes.  I use a raw milk cheddar because I believe the flavor is richer, but if you’re uncomfortable with raw milk products (i.e., unpasteurized milk), any high quality cheddar would work just as well (this generally excludes the neon orange commercial brands).
  5. Toss the Kale, almonds, apples and cheddar with lemon juice and walnut oil to taste (go easy here – the leaves should glisten with dressing, not drown).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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