Eat like the French (Or, “How to get a whole bunch of vitamins with your bacon!”)

 

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Escargot utensils in a French bistro

We’re enjoying a two ingredient, three minute nutritional powerhouse today.  For less than 100 calories and 3 grams of fat, we’ll get more than a full day’s worth of Vitamin K and Vitamin A.  We’ll also get over one-third of the Vitamin C we need today, along with a healthy dose of fiber and a few grams of protein.  And, there’s bacon.  Ready? All you need is a slice of bacon, and the leafy tops from a bunch of beets.

Don’t make that face.

Would the French make you eat something terrible?

Of course not.

Seriously, greens are just about the most nutritious thing you can eat today, and beet greens are particularly good for you.  Beet greens are also spectacularly delicious when stirred into crisped bacon.  I say “stirred into” because that’s really all we’re doing.  Greens are thin and cook in a snap in just a smidge of hot bacon fat.  Before anyone raises their eyebrows, no, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about the bacon fat, given the greens they are adorning.  Let’s get started!

PS – We’ll use the beets themselves next time.  Don’t make that face.  You’ll like it!

WIN_20140913_152717Ingredients (serves 1 or 2)

1 slice of bacon

Leafy tops from one bunch of beets (about 3 beets)

Directions

Step 1) Dice bacon and saute in a hot pan for 2 minutes or until lightly crisp.

Step 2) Slice beet greens into 1 inch strips and add to pan. Remove from heat and stir for 1 minute.  Serve.  Really, that’s it.  The salt in the bacon itself is enough for me, but feel free to season as desired.  Now, eat your vegetables bacon!

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French Provençal Chicken and Vegetables

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When I was in high school (let’s pretend that was fairly recently, shall we?), we used to joke about the menus hanging in the cafeteria.  It seemed that whenever the cooks wanted something simple to sound exciting, they would add the word “medley.”  We weren’t just having fruit salad, we were having a “medley” of fruit. The term “French Provençal” is a bit like that.  It sounds fancy, right? It is indeed quite delicious, but really, French Provençal cuisine is just well prepared, simple country food.

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Meandering through the French countryside

This meal is stone simple to prepare.  Good oil and fresh lemon, a few olives, a bit of sea salt, and a sprinkle of dried herbs are all you need to elevate the flavor of simply roasted chicken into something amazing.  I’m using drumsticks because they are economical and Half Pint loves them, but a whole chicken cut into eight pieces would work just as well.  For vegetables, I’m honoring the French tradition of selecting what is seasonal and complimentary in both flavor AND color… freshly harvested Brussels sprouts and baby yams caught my eye today.  Feel free to substitute other vegetable combinations such as orange carrots and green zucchini, or red beets and yellow potatoes, or add a slice of purple cabbage – you get the idea.

Simply gather the ingredients listed below and invite a few friends for a good meal.  Task one with bringing wine, and another with bringing a loaf of fresh bread and real butter (don’t kill this meal with margarine… just… please).  Dinner will be served in an hour.  Bon Appetit!

WIN_20140913_161453Ingredients (serves 4)

1/4 cup oil, divided (olive oil is traditional, but coconut oil holds up to high roasting temperatures better. I used coconut oil.)

8 pieces of chicken

coarse ground sea salt

1 lemon

1 cup Niçoise olives

3 cups fresh Brussels sprouts

4 baby yams

Herbes de Provence

WIN_20140913_161459Directions

Step 1) Generously coat two baking pans (make sure the pans have sides) with two tablespoons of oil per pan.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Step 2) Arrange chicken pieces on one pan, making sure to turn over each piece of chicken so that the tops and bottoms are both lightly coated with oil.  Sprinkle with sea salt.

Step 3) Arrange bite-sized vegetables on the other pan, turning over once to lightly coat with oil.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  A few tips on the vegetables:

  • If you’re using a very dense vegetable such as yams or beets, smaller is better.  Smaller roots and tubers are usually less fibrous and more pleasant when roasted.  A smaller “bite size” is also better, as increased surface area helps speed up the roasting time.  Aim for pieces which are about 1 inch squared.
  • If you’re using Brussels sprouts or chunks of cabbage, introducing water before roasting is a great idea (these veggies tend to become overly dry otherwise).  For Brussels sprouts, boil for 30 seconds before roasting.  For chunks of cabbage, a minute in a steamer basket works well.

Step 4) Place both pans in the preheated oven, with the chicken on the upper rack and vegetables on the lower rack.  Turn vegetables after 20 minutes, so they don’t stick to the pan.  Also after 20 minutes, sprinkle olives all over the roasting chicken.

Step 5) Check both pans after 35 minutes, and again every five minutes until vegetables are fork tender and chicken reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F.  If one pan is done before the other, don’t worry about it.  Take the pan that’s ready out of the oven, and just put it back in the oven for one or two more minutes as the second pan is just about ready.  Easy.

Step 6) Arrange chicken and vegetables on individual dinner plates or a serving platter.  Squeeze the juice from a fresh lemon wedge over the chicken and vegetables, and slice the wedge into slivers as a garnish.  Finally, sprinkle lightly crushed herbes de provence over your meal.  Enjoy!

September Book Giveaway!

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic:  Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, by Daniel Imhoff

Crowded Earth Kitchen will mail a copy of this important book to THREE readers this month!

Contest Ends October 1st

***Click HERE to Enter!***

It would be easy for a casually concerned consumer to read the title of this book, think of the reusable shopping bags hanging by the door, and feel smug.  In 168 pages, many of which include shocking full color photos, Dan Imhoff lays out the clear and compelling case that we have a long, long way to go before we can even begin to consider our global packaging waste problem solved.  Appropriately published by Sierra Club Books, this 2005 text remains highly relevant for people who wish to really understand the scope and scale of the damage our current packaging habits are wreaking upon our planet.  This book serves as an excellent resource for those who wish to really delve into the complex changes that will be necessary to facilitate environmental healing.

As an educator, it strikes me that this would be a wonderful book for classroom use at the high school and college levels.  The author does a brilliant job of back-loading a copious amount of research into hefty appendices and end notes; as a result, the text itself tells an important story without becoming dry, and is as easy to read as it is informative.

In the first section, “The Packaging Landscape,” the reader is guided through an explanation of the sobering scope and scale of waste created by our tacit obsession with packaging (an average of 300 pounds of waste per person per year!).  The second section, “The Search for Solutions,” walks us through an engaging set of case studies which range from high tech electronics companies to frozen confections.  Promising research and development initiatives are explored, as are foreign legislative policies aimed at mitigating our global packaging waste crisis (not surprisingly, the United States lags woefully behind global leaders in this arena).  The third section, “A Future Beyond the Box,” provides the reader with guidelines for distinguishing between bad wraps and better packaging.  We are also provided with thirteen very clear, simply explained steps each of us can take to do our part to help solve this often overlooked global crisis.

Paper Or Plastic:  Searching For Solutions To An Overpackaged World is as well written as it is important.  Each of us needs to read this book.

Herbes de Provence (You need this in your kitchen!)

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Herbes de Provence

While visiting a little village in France, I enjoyed a simple salad that was just… better.  I couldn’t quite place it.  I use fresh greens and a light and simple homemade vinaigrette at home, much as I saw on my plate.  But this salad had a little something extra.  That’s when I saw them – tiny specks of purple peeking in and out of my salad greens.  There was lavender in my salad!  Then I noticed that some of the flecks of green herbs I assumed were incorporated into the dressing were in fact dry.  These had clearly been sprinkled on top as a finishing touch.  What was this stuff?

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Restaurant hors d’oeuvres (Alsace, France) This isn’t the salad mentioned above, I just like this picture. :)

Herbes de Provence, I was told with the same stare of obviousness as if I had inquired about the clear liquid in my water glass.  I quickly learned that this dried herb blend is ubiquitous to French cuisine as a flavor enhancer and final detail.  It’s absolutely delicious, and incredibly versatile.  It’s also pretty expensive in US spice shops, because herbes de provence is still considered a bit exotic here. The economical solution is to simply blend your own.  It’s super easy, makes a fantastic gift in a pretty little jar, and if you blend it yourself, you can tweak the ratios to make the blend your own.  For example, I like a little more lavender than I found in a store brand I sampled.  You might like a little more tarragon, or a little less rosemary, or something else altogether.  That’s part of the fun! I’ve found that food co-ops such as Outpost Natural Foods and markets favoring organic and health foods such as Whole Foods are great places to buy herbs in bulk.  Remember, “bulk” doesn’t mean “big” – it means you can often buy a teaspoon or two of your favorite herbs for mere pennies.  So, go pick up a few herbs and bring a little French into your cooking!  Over the next two weeks on Crowded Earth Kitchen, I’ll make a point of showing a few of the many uses for this wonderful herb blend. Blend together and store in a jar: 2 tablespoons dried rosemary 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (more than is typical, but I love it) 2 teaspoons dried fennel (should say “cracked fennel” – if not, crush with a rolling pin before using) 1 teaspoon of each of the following (dried): marjoram, basil, thyme, tarragon, oregano, and chervil 1/2 teaspoon dried dill (I like dill, but too much overwhelms the lavender) That’s all there is to it! When you use this in something delicious, please post a comment and tell me all about it!

Paleo Pumpkin Pots de Crème in Alsace, France

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Village Home in Alsace

Suppose you were traveling through Alsace, France and fell into the habit of sampling just one, teeny baked good in each of the boulangeries and patisseries you happened upon.  Delicious? Absolutely! And harmless?  Well… sure… if there weren’t somewhere around six bazillion boulangeries and patisseries in Alsace.  In that case, the threat of elastic pants would be looming large.  Good thing I didn’t fall into this habit (please don’t check my closet).

But seriously.

It. Is. Time. To. Reign. Things. In.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean foregoing a delightful dessert, it just means we’re going to be smart about it today.  Paleo Pumpkin Pots de Crème is simple to prepare, creamy and delicious, and all-around perfect for an autumn dessert.  I hope you enjoy!

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Paleo Pumpkin Pots de Crème

WIN_20140911_174553Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)

2 eggs

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground mace (or 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg)

1 cup canned coconut milk

Chopped almonds (garnish)

Directions

Step 1) Whisk together pumpkin puree and eggs until well combined.  Whisk in honey and spices.  Add coconut milk last, and whisk until well combined.

Step 2) Pour mixture into six individual serving-size ramekin dishes.  Set ramekins on a baking pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Step 3) Remove from oven and sprinkle ramekins with chopped almonds.  If desired, drizzle ramekins with honey.  Serve warm or cold.

 

 

Nectarines Marinées (French Pickled Nectarines)

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Pickled nectarines?” Why yes, of course!  The French, who were so kind as to share their exquisitely potent cornichons with the rest of us, have made a delightful habit of pickling all sorts of wonderful things.  Fruit trees are abundant in much of France, as you can see from the sampling of roadside photos, below:

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Pears

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Plums

Nectarines are plentiful in France… for a very short period of time.  Unlike apples, nectarines do not store well.  To enjoy nectarines into the autumn season they must be sliced and frozen, canned, or – yes – pickled.  Give it a try!  This recipe is super easy, has a pleasing sweet and tangy flavor, and makes a fanciful gift.  Bon Appetit! 

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Pickled Nectarines

WIN_20140823_185945Ingredients (Makes 3 pint jars)

12 ripe nectarines

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 cups white vinegar

1 cup water

2 1/2 cups sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

9 whole cloves

Directions

WIN_20140823_193603Step 1) Peel nectarines.  This step is optional, and you may want to skip it if your nectarines are on the crisp side.  If your nectarines are very ripe, though, removing the peel will prevent the peel from separating in the canning jars later (not harmful, but looks unsightly).  To peel nectarines, simply place each nectarine in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Remove and immediately place in a bowl of ice water.  When cool, lift nectarines from ice water and score the peel with a paring knife.  The peel will practically slide right off.

Step 2) Slice nectarines into eight pieces each.  Place sliced peaches in a large bowl of cold water.  Add 1/4 cup lemon juice.  It doesn’t really matter how much water is in the bowl; you’re simply using the bowl of water and lemon juice to keep your nectarine slices from oxidizing, or turning brown.

Step 3) Combine 2 cups vinegar, 1 cup water, and 2 1/2 cups sugar in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure all sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to a low simmer and add nectarines.

Step 4) After 1 minute, remove pot from heat and ladle nectarines and brine into sterilized canning jars. Place 1 cinnamon stick and 3 cloves in each jar.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace.  Cover with lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool, and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.  [You could skip this step entirely and just place your nectarines and brine in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for 1 month.]

 

 

Vive la France!

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French Flag High Atop Lichtenberg Castle

Crowded Earth Kitchen is saying Auf Wiedersehen to Austria and Bonjour to France!  For the next few weeks, the European Food Tour will explore the breathtaking landscapes and globally renowned cuisine of France, focusing much of our attention in the Alsace region.  We will feature a wide variety of dishes, some of which are so beautiful we are planning to capture them as photography notecards.  Here’s a sneak peek:

French Bread Notecard Large

Before we get too carried away with what WE think is awesome, we want to hear from YOU!  Please take a moment to let us know which types of foods from this foodie haven you’d like to see prominently featured!  Then, take a few moments to sigh over the photos below.  We sure are.

 

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800 years ago, that lower grassy area was a moat!

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We spent all afternoon exploring Lichtenberg Castle, and went back the next day!

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View of Lichtenberg from the castle grounds

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Beautiful old French building