Kale and White Bean Soup with Sausage

Although you will often find red and green kale in supermarkets, this variety of kale is not so common.  It is called by a variety of names including Dinosaur Kale and Tuscan Kale, but I love its Italian name, Cavalo Nero (black kale) .  I received this lovely bouquet of the nutritious greens in my CSA share from All We Need Farms in Needville, TX. www.allweneedfarms.com  I am enjoying getting acquainted with Stacy Roussel, who owns the farm with her husband Jay.  Her smile when she hands me our weekly vegetables makes the good stuff I can make from them even more delicious!

My version of soup made with this kind of kale comes from one by Chef Mario Batali. It is hearty and nutritious, bursting with flavor from the kale and herbs. The addition of a small piece of rind from a wedge of Parmegiano – Reggiano lends a true taste of Italy.

  • 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  •  1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot,sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 links Italian sausage, crumbled and browned, or smoked sauge sliced into small pieces
  • 1 bunch Cavolo Nero, chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 small head cabbage, chopped
  • 2  tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmegiano – Reggiano, plus 2 inches of rind if you have it

Heat the oil with sausage,  onion, leek, carrot, celery, garlic, and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add small piece of parmegiano –  reggiano rind and  cannellini beans Add cabbage and cook until  softened , about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.   Ladle into bowls and serve with grated Parmegiano-Reggiano on top.  Slices of crusty toasted Ciabbata bread make a nice addition.  Some like to put the bread into the bowls and serve the soup on top.

Mary Ann’s Eggs Benedict

Most of the recipes I have posted since beginning this blog have been healthy foods although I have given little recognition of calories and carbohydrates. Since I need to pay stricter attention to both after coming up with prediabetic numbers in recent testing, I am going to share some of that adventure with you! It wouldn’t be fair to leave that part of our family’s food story out. I will confess, my first reaction was grief. As an R.N., I have certainly been aware of creeping weight gain associated with aging and the high levels of stress we have had during my husband’s numerous hospitalizations and surgeries. In other words, I knew the wake up call was coming. Of course, I should have been on top of it long before lab results defined what I had to do, but I kept putting it off. So now, I need to face the issue head on. I decided I would focus on my goals (healthier, longer life, weight loss, and a return to normal blood sugars) and the things I could eat as opposed to what I could not.

The short version of planned change is that I am increasing my exercise and avoiding white sugar, white flour, and white rice. I have engaged some tools to help me track food and activity. I am determined to find healthier, creative, delicious foods and continue my delight in cooking for my family. I am aware that I am modeling a healthier lifestyle for my children and grandchildren.

Being a food blogger, I read numerous other similar blogs. While reading one this morning I saw that today is National Eggs Benedict Day! Eggs Benedict is my all time favorite breakfast, so I decided to make myself a Monday treat. It is certain that my breakfast most days is much simpler, but I had to try this. My version drops the English muffin and substitutes sautéed spinach. With a small piece of leftover Easter ham, a poached egg and measured Hollandaise, my mission was accomplished. Delicious enough to serve anytime.

Mary Ann’s Eggs Benedict 1 serving

1 large handful raw baby spinach, washed

1.5 ounces honey baked ham (about the size of your palm)

1 egg

2 Tablespoons prepared Hollandaise sauce (I used Chef All Natural brand from HEB)

Spray small skillet with cooking spray, add ham on one side of the pan. When ham begins to brown, crack one egg on the other side of the skillet. Put 1 teaspoon water in (I do this with the skillet lid) and cover. Reduce heat and cook until egg is desired firmness. Remove egg and ham with spatula and place on serving plate. Put spinach into skillet and toss until wilted. Slide spinach onto plate under egg and ham. Hollandaise will be thick, so put it into the same skillet and stir briefly until it warms, then drizzle on top. One pan does it all!

Note: The brand of prepared sauce I used only comes in a 32 ounce box which should be used within a week once opened. It can be poured into an ice-cube tray and frozen in individual portions. Making your own Hollandaise would be even better.
Calories – 241, carbohydrates – 5 grams, Fat – 16 grams, Fiber – 1 gram, Calcium – 4 gram
(calculation done with www.myfitnesspal.com )

Stuffed Strawberries

Holy Week and Easter rushed by filled with beloved ritual and family filling all the spaces, so the 10 days since my last Kitchen Keepers post have seen plenty of food preparation, but not much time for photographs or writing.  I did want to share the simple but lovely dessert which finished our Easter brunch.  After a morning filled with early services, church breakfast, church at 10,  bell ringing and choir singing, I was glad I had planned ahead for HoneyBaked ham and turkey breast.  Ben contributed Crispy Potatoes and Fennel (recipe previously shared here), and I set out baby carrots and tzaziki sauce for munching while we finished our spread with baby green peas and tiny cheese souffles.  Our dessert was a hit, just the right taste of bright and sweet in beautiful strawberries, fancied up a bit with cream cheese and Triple Sec.

Stuffed Strawberries

20 large ripe strawberries

1 package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup Triple Sec

Wash strawberries and gently pat dry.  Trim stem end of each straight across so it is flat. Set the berry down and at the tip make a cross cut with a sharp paring knife.  Spread the berry out to make a flower shape.  Mix cream cheese, sugar, and Triple Sec well until blended and smooth.  If you have a pastry bag, you can fill with the mixture and pipe into berries, but I put the cream cheese into a small sturdy Ziploc bag, sealed it, and cut diagonally across one lower corner to make a very small hole.  This works well for piping the filling into each berry.  I served 2 berries and a shortbread cookie in a stemmed glass to each guest. Garnishing with fresh mint is a nice touch.  These would be pretty to serve at a wedding or baby shower.

Risotto with Spring Vegetables

One of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy is making risotto – a creamy, delicious dish to which a variety of vegetables, fish, or meat can be added.  You begin with Arborio rice, which is a fat, short – grained rice that absorbs more liquid than long grain rice and becomes slightly sticky.  We enjoyed this version containing only vegetables as a main dish,topped with minced fresh herbs and lemon (gremolata), and accompanied only some tiny cheese souffles from the freezer.  Smaller portions make a wonderful side dish for grilled meats and fish.  I adapted my recipe from one in Cook’s Illustrated. This is a pot of tastiness that is worth every minute spent in preparation!  The key to making this stress free is prepping the veggies  ahead of time, assembling all other ingredients, and keeping the chicken broth simmering while the early assembly and cooking are done. It truly is not that difficult if you follow the steps and remember that this isn’t fast food!

Risotto with Spring Vegetables

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

5 Tablespoons butter, divided for use at different times.  Use 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 butter if you prefer.

1 pound of asparagus

4 medium leeks

4 cups chicken broth

3 cups of water

1/2 cup frozen green peas

2 garlic cloves

1 1/2 cups white wine

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

juice from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

fresh parley

fresh mint.

Lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon

1. Remove leaves from parsley and mint and mince finely. Put into small bowl and add zest.  Set aside for use as topping.  This is called  Gremolata.

2. Rinse asparagus, break off woody part of stems by holding each spear between your fingers at the halfway mark and bend.  The spears will snap where the tough part starts. Save the ends to simmer in the chicken broth, and slice the spears diagonally in 1/2 inch pieces.

3. Rinse leeks carefully, trip roots and cut off only the white and pale green.  Cut the ends of leaves into a rough chop, and save for the chicken broth.  Slice the white part in thin rounds.

4. Pour 4 cups of chicken broth and 3 cups of water into large pot, add trimmings from asparagus and leeks and herb stalks. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  After about 15 to 20 minutes, strain the broth, or lift out the pieces of vegetable, then return broth to simmer.

5.  While broth is simmering, melt 1 Tablespoon butter in large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add cut asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally about 4 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup frozen peas, heat and stir briefly.  Take asparagus and peas out and set aside to add back in later.

6. Melt another 3 Tablespoons butter in same pot.  Add leeks, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Cook until leeks are softened.  Add rice and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes, or until grains of rice begin to look translucent around edges.  Add wine and continue cooking, stirring frequently until the wine is absorbed (2 -3 minutes)

7.  After wine is absorbed, add 3 cups of hot broth to rice.  Simmer, stirring often until liquid is absorbed, 12 -15 minutes.

8.  Now stir in about 1/2 cup of hot broth and cook until absorbed, maybe 3 minutes. Repeat this step until rice is al dente.

9.  Removed from heat, stir in remainder of butter (1 Tablespoon), Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice.  Gently stir in asparagus and peas.  You may add a bit more hot broth if you like a looser texture.

10.  Serve immediately, topped with gremolata.  If you wish, pass flaked parmesan cheese.  For this, I like to make big flakes by scraping the hard cheese with a potato peeler.  The resulting shaved pieces make a nice topping with the green herbs.

I have made mushroom risotto and lemon risotto.  The later I made with barley instead of rice, a nice variation.  My favorite risotto is not one I made myself, but a dish of lobster risotto at Saltwater Grill  in Galveston across from The Grand 1894 Opera House on Post Office Street. Oh my!  Reservations strongly recommended if you try it.