Monday, November 18, 2013

Kale chips!

Hi - this is the sometimes-seen-daugher of the food adventurer, doing a guest post today!  I've had some requests for the kale chip recipe I've been experimenting, so here it is!

When was the last time YOU ate an entire bundle of kale in one sitting?

Yeah, me either.....until I discovered home made kale chips!!!!

It took me a couple tries to perfect my recipe.  There's a couple of pitfalls that the recipes on the the internet didn't bother mentioning, so the point of this post is NOT to show pretty pictures of kale and the resulting chips, but to help you make delicious kale chips on the first batch, instead of the third. 

My advice is to perfect the basic recipe and then move on to variations.

The recipe is really simple.

Step one: have in your possession a clump of kale
- I shop at Winco since I am broke, poor, grad student who has to convince her non-vegetable eating boyfriend to buy kale.  So, this recipe uses the amount of kale that is twisty-tied together and sold at Winco.  Maybe eight leaves or so?  Enough that when I tear the leaves off of the tough stems it mostly fills my huge glass mixing bowl and is a *little* too much to spread single layer over my full size cookie sheet.

Step two: tear the leaves off the incredibly tough (and bitter stems).  Or not.
- The first recipe I used said to tear leaves into potato chip sized pieces.  DO NOT DO THIS.  The size of your leaves is the first PITFALL. What happens when you roast kale is that it shrinks DRAMATICALLY. And for some reason, the smaller the pieces, the more oily and salty they taste.  The kale that comes prechopped in a bag IS TOO SMALL. Trust me.  You will be disappointing.  Tearing the leaves off the stems, leaving them in as big of pieces as possible seems to produce perfectly sized chips on the other side of the roasting process. What about roasting whole leaves? I've seen several recipes suggest this.  I haven't tried it, but I'm skeptical for a couple of reasons.  After roasting the leaves are very brittle and shatter with handling.  The result of tearing out the stems produces bit size chips after roasting.  Whole leaves would require several bites to eat, and might result in crumbs of kale everywhere.  Also, because there is more moisture in the stems, it might require the leaves to be roasted longer in order to dry the stems, which might result in the leaves becoming over roasted.  The last reason I'm hesitant to try whole leaves is how well I can coat with my flavorings and oil.  The chunks of leaves toss in a bowl nicely.  Whole leaves might be a little more difficult to toss and coat evenly. Try it both ways and see what you prefer.

Step three: Toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons oil
- I've been using olive oil.  Conceivably coconut oil would work - but this time of the year mine is solid at room temperature and I'm too lazy to heat it up.  I toss the kale in a big bowl after drizzling with the oil. DO NOT ADD TOO MUCH OIL. This is pitfall number 2.  It's incredibly easy to over oil the kale - it won't look like there's much oil on the fresh greens, but post roasting you will be SHOCKED.  The leaves shrink, the oil consolidates into a smaller space.  Think about it this way.  This recipe makes 1-2 servings of kale chips.  I find that 1-2 tablespoons of oil on a big bowl of popcorn is about right.  1-2 tablespoons of oil in any recipe is about my max for a single serving of something or it gets too oily.  So trust me here and MEASURE the oil and do NOT add another squirt "just because".

Step four: spread on a cookie sheet
Single layer - use a second sheet if necessary.  Most of the time, one "bunch" of kale is a full cookie sheet, or just over one cookie sheet.

Step five: sprinkle with salt
Error on the side of UNDER salting.  This is pitfall number 3. One recipe I tried suggested 1/2 tsp of salt to be tossed with the kale during the oiling step.  MISTAKE.  Had to throw away the batch because it was inedible. LIGHTLY sprinkle the cookie sheet kale with salt.  You can always add more later.  If I had to estimate the salt, it would be 1/4 tsp or so for an entire batch.  The end result is PLENTY salty for me :)

Step 6: Bake in a 275 degree oven until crispy and dried. Usually 15-20 min.  
Check half way through and separate overlapping leaves about half way through.

Step 7: remove and store
I usually end up eating the chips the next day for some reason.  I've stored in a bowl on the counter, or in a paper lunch sack and both were great - I live in a low humidity area (central CA) and the leaves stayed perfectly crispy the next day.

Here's the problem with the basic recipe.  I'm a super taster.  I'm very very sensitive to bitter flavors.  These chips have a WONDERFUL and ADDICTING mouth feel to them.  But at the tail end of the chew, right before the swallow when the chip has disinegrated onto my tongue and is coating it... I get a flash of bitterness that I find unpleasant. So, I knew I wanted to experiment with some variations that might help hide that flash of bitter.

Here's my favorite so far:

Bacon Maple Glazed Kale Chips

- Fry 2 pieces of bacon in a skillet.  Remove strips, save grease.  See the comment above about Winco and my poor-ness - my cheap thick bacon yeilds about 1 tablespoon of grease per slice.
- chop bacon into little pieces and toss with the kale that was prepared (stems removed etc) like the previous recipe.
- Toss with 2 tablespoons of bacon grease (replaces the olive oil)
- Toss with 1 tablespoon of real maple syrup
- Spread on a cookie sheet
- I do NOT add salt - I find that the bacon provides plenty.
- bake as above.

I found that I needed to bake it longer - the maple syrup puts more moisture on the kale and has to reduce down to get the same level of "crunch".  The first time I made this recipe I panicked at the end of cooking because the leaves still seemed really damp and wet at the end of cooking....but the leaves were on the verge of being over cooked. I went ahead and removed it from the oven and put the chips in the bowl, and realized the "wetness" was just because of the hot melted sugar - as the chips cooled, so did the sugar in the maple syrup.  The leaves/chips were already crisped, and as the syrup cooled it dried nicely too - and the chips ended up perfect :). Not wet or sticky at all, just slightly sweet, not too greasy.

Other variations that are on my list to try are:
- cinnamon sugar
- Ranch
- honey mustard
- tahini
- salt and viinegar

I think you could do anything with these chips that you would do with popcorn - dill flavor etc. :)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Edible Food-Like Products

We get so used to thinking that the familiar goodies we pop into our mouths are really food, just because they have flavor and fill us up, that we forget-- they are not food. I like the term I heard once, "Edible Food-like products. I ran into one of those the other day, and it jumped into my grocery bag. Or it might have not, I dont remember much about the event. I only have a foggy impression of eating a few samples from a dish at the check out counter at World Market, and then I was walking out the door with the bag of Churro Nuggets in my sack. I vaguely remember a half off sticker on the bag, which might have helped.

After I crunched down on one of those, well, crunch things, I swear I could literally feel dopamine trickling over the pleasure centers of my brain. The lady before me had spilled about a cup of them on the sale ads beside the sample dish. It's only polite to take one or two from a dish of samples, but the ones on the newspaper were fair game. I felt like a dog wolfing up the salami someone spilled from their plate, trying to get it all before someone cleaned it up. I felt like snarling, "Slow down! Give me some time!" to the clerk who was holding out her hand for my money. That was probably the point I threw the bag of Churro Nuggets out for her to ring up for me.

Can I describe them? Sort of like caramel corn, sort of like Cheetos. Sort of like that fried cinnamon flavor of churros. And about the size of the end of my thumb. And what is in these golden bites? One of the descriptions printed in a red exploding star says, 100% puffed corn. I'm surprised the food police don't make them use a black Sharpie on that. The other red star, beside the ribbon that says "World Famous" says, intriguingly, "secret recipe." The secret must be in the cooking of them (fry, dip in cinnamon sugar, fry again?) because the ingredient list is directly below.

Sugar, corn, corn syrup, canola oil, molasses.

And then the plethora of chemicals, etc, that make up the other 2%.

Salt, margarine, (which has its own ingredient list a mile long) soy lecithin, soybean oil, propylene glycol, natural butter flavor (which means it is unnatural or they wouldn't have felt like they had to say that) natural maple flavor (ditto) caramel color (which sounds ok only because of the word "caramel") cinnamon powder, natural and artificial flavor (someday do some research into the world of flavorings) and beta carotene.

Eating these things is the closest I have felt to the way a smoker must feel about his cigs. I hate them! I must have another! I should throw what's left away. But then I pull out "just one," and it's over. The only good thing about them, I think, is that they go great with a banana.

As a comparison, I have photographed a package of a "food" snack beside the EFLP. (Edible food-like product) I like Corn Nuts. They are crunchy and bite-sized. I like to suck the salt off one, softening it in my mouth, nibbling the little kernel out, scraping what's left with my teeth, and then finishing it off. Then I might eat another one. A bag might last me awhile. Unless it has spicy fake cheese flavor on it. Then might eat more of them. But I would NEVER scrape them off the newspapers on the check out counter gobbling them up before I got kicked down to the bagging end of the line.

As for the ingredient list, it is: corn, corn oil, and salt. And when I look at them, I can see what they used to be in real life. That's kind of nice.

And no exploding red stars.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Presto! A Shower!

Maybe not extremely interesting a post for me being gone so long, but quite exciting for me. The house we have came with one shower, and one tub. The tub looked like a good start for making it into a shower also, but I wanted to do it quick and I expensively, and not have to get inside any walls looking for the back door to the tub fixtures.

I researched and discovered that I could replace my tub nozzle, which screwed off, with one that had an outlet for a hand held device. After that, we just had to mount a holder for the hand held wand up on the wall behind the shower.

I looked for some panels that I liked but just couldn't find what I wanted at a price I wanted to pay. Plus, just thinking about the effort to put them up nicely made me tired. I knew that I would be the only regular user, so I could afford to have a system that needn't hold up to hard useage. The wall was covered with wallpaper, vinyl coated, like most modern wallpapers are now. But it was applied in an odd way. To mimic the look of stone, pieces were torn and then applied like collage. I thought that if I could come up with some sort of heavy, clear, waterproof product, I could paint it on and that would work. I hunted back through my past life and remembered how we made pictures in 8th grade art class using Mod Podge. And I knew it was still available.

When I looked in the arts and crafts store, I found they had an outdoor version. I knew that would be the most waterproof of all, so I bought a jar and some wide craft brushes. It was stiffer and gookier that I had anticipated, a lot like dried-out glue, but it went on ok. I needed exactly 2 bottles of it to put on two coat.

I let it dry for a day, and it worked! I just gently towel it dry after use it, to keep any soap scum or water deposited from building up. Since the shower wand is so downward direct, not that much water gets up on the wall anyway. One of the pictures shows the shiny edge that marks the beginning of the shower area.

You can see the edge of the curved rod we installed.

I Love it!