Ask Addie: What’s so hard about cooking at home?

This turkey pot pie uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey that had been in my freezer, as well as kale from my garden and leftover sweet potato fries. Photo by Addie Broyles.
This turkey pot pie uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey that had been in my freezer, as well as kale from my garden and leftover sweet potato fries. Photo by Addie Broyles.

Last week, a reader asked me what the big deal was about cooking at home. I’m in the middle of this month of cooking at home, and she’d read my column that expressed why, even as a food writer, I don’t cook every day.

She, and most moms she knew, used to cook at home every night when her kids were little, and nobody made a fuss about it.

That thought might have crossed your mind, too, so I wanted to share what felt like a key component of my reply to her on Facebook.

The life of the working American parent has changed remarkably since I was a kid — and the part that most affects this challenge for me is the culture of hustle in which I am building a career. Pair that with the personal goals of leading a meaningful and multifaceted life that has lots of layers of activities and interests, and cooking, though a joy, often falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

Work consumes more of our time and attention now than it ever has. We live in a society where efficiency and hustle are rewarded far more than being able to say you cooked your own dinner. I’m always trying to stay ahead of the curve, and that means sending emails, staying engaged on social media, editing recipes, writing stories, and reading work-related content after the workday has “ended.”

If I can carve out one free hour a day, I’m inclined to choose a long run, an hour of yoga, an after-school hike with the boys or a happy hour with a friend over making an entirely from-scratch meal, because that’s the return on investment my body and brain need. It might be different for you, but cooking, through pleasurable and relaxing and a literal source of fuel for my body, isn’t a recharging activity for me. Once that last dish is cleaned and drying in the rack, I’m ready for a foot rub, not a load of laundry, a science fair project, a jump-start on the next day’s work or whatever other quotidian tasks need doing.

Despite the challenges, the gratification of pulling a turkey pot pie out of the oven — knowing that you are using up every last piece of that delicious leftover Thanksgiving turkey and also creatively using leftover sweet potato waffle fries from one of your last restaurant meals — is its own special reward.

Finding a cute hedgehog cookie cutter to add a little whimsy to the top layer of crust is just the proverbial gravy.

 

Ask Addie: With all these greens, why does kale get all the love?

Note: This post is part of an occasional Q&A series called Ask Addie. Have a question about food? Email me at abroyles@statesman.com or ask me on social media.

Swiss chard is one of many leafy greens you can saute or serve raw. Photo by Clare Miers.
Swiss chard is one of many leafy greens you can saute or serve raw. Photo by Clare Miers.

As of late, as I wander the produce aisles at my grocery, I have noticed an ocean of kale that continues to expand, and seemingly at the expense of other types of greens. Mustard, collard and — my beloved — turnip greens are increasingly difficult to find. They may seem old-fashioned and staid, but surely they are nutritionally competitive with the trendy kale, and I submit that their gustatory value easily surpasses that of kale, which I think must admit to inadequacy without the support of any condiment. But that is just my opinion.

Anyway, I thought I might suggest that you might consider reminding your readers of the pleasures of these forgotten treasures, and thereby cause my grocer to make them more readily available to me.

Thank you and best regards,
Charles Whitley

I have also noticed kale overflowing from the product section these days, even though it’s the middle of summer and kale is technically out of season.

Because of its incredible popularity, you can now buy kale bagged, bunched or shredded and ready for salad fixings just about any month of the year. The other greens you mentioned are more prolific in stores during the cold weather months, but if you can find other dark greens right now, you can use them in place of kale in just about any recipe that calls for the Trendy Green instead of Your Favorite Green.

Kale doesn’t have as much calcium and iron as mustard and collard greens and Swiss chard, but to be honest, if you’re eating leafy, hearty greens like these, it doesn’t really matter which has more antioxidants or minerals or protein than the others. All of them are going to provide much-needed nutrients and fiber in your diet that you won’t get from lighter salad greens, such as lettuce.

To incorporate more of these dark greens into your salads or sautés, start with a little and slowly incorporate more as you get used to the taste. You might need more sauces and spices at first, too, to help your palate adjust to their often intense, earthy taste, but you can’t start liking them unless you start trying.

Personally, I’m looking forward to getting chard, kale and collard seeds sprouting this month, so I can plant them in my newly revived vegetable garden as soon as the triple digits cease. Unlike the hot summer months when I can’t keep anything edible alive, during fall and winter, I don’t have to buy any greens — salad or dark — because they are so easy and economical to grow.

Collard Greens with Roasted Peanuts from Whole Foods Market. Photo from Whole Foods.
Collard Greens with Roasted Peanuts from Whole Foods Market. Photo from Whole Foods.

Collard Greens with Roasted Peanuts

Roasted peanuts add a rich and toasted note to these pan-sautéed collard greens, made with red onions, garlic and dried chiles.

2 small dried chiles, such as arbol chiles, stemmed, or 1/2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bunches collard greens (about 1 1/4 lb. total), ribs removed, leaves chopped
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted, dry roasted peanuts
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)

In a large, deep skillet, toast chiles over medium-high heat until a shade darker and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add oil, onion and garlic; cook, stirring often while breaking open chiles with a wooden spoon. Once chiles are golden brown and softened, about 6 to 8 minutes, add collard greens in batches; toss gently, and then cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together broth, peanut butter and salt. Uncover the skillet, reduce heat to medium, stir in broth mixture and continue to cook, tossing often, until greens are tender and very wilted, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the heat and toss with peanuts. Serve with hot sauce to dash over the top, if you like. Serves six.

— From Whole Foods Market

Digging deeper into salted/unsalted butter debate

buttersticksLast week’s query about salted versus unsalted butter inspired many of you to write in with your own thoughts, and it was fun hearing how you each developed your preference for one over the other.

Sam Stephens pointed out that unsalted is a must for people on a low-sodium diet that has helped him feel great, despite a terminal illness that he’s been living with for many years. He said that he’s been amazed at how well he can eat on a low-sodium diet, especially now that his palate has adjusted to using unsalted butter and zero salt at the table. “This low-sodium diet has turned my life around in the last year,” he wrote.

Gaye Kriegel said it’s too much trouble to keep both in the house, so she defaults to salted butter and decreases the amount of salt if a recipe calls for unsalted, and Briana Miriani said that she’s had to resort to unsalted when making meat or pasta dishes and didn’t like the taste of the results.

Lou Scaruffi, a fellow salted butter user who keeps a stick out on the counter so it’s soft enough to spread, brought up a point about preservation: “I’ve heard the origin of salted butter was to act as a preservative. Hearkening back to the days of the ice box, I think most people at the time kept their butter in a covered dish on the kitchen counter.”

Gail Fitzwoller, a cook and “big baker,” says she uses salted butter for everything, but several people, many who were born or lived abroad, including Ruth Deitch and Argentina native Hadassah Schloss, said salted butter was either a luxury or an anomaly.

Wendy Gordon, who grew up in a house that was practically salt-free, wondered why a sweet treat would need salt, especially when Americans eat so much salt as it is. Salt is a flavor enhancer, so it brings out nuances of flavors in everything from caramel to chocolate that your taste buds wouldn’t be able to detect otherwise.

Doug Hector told a great story that might help bring all this together. His German mom and American dad married after World War II, and some years later, she asked him to drive out of his way to buy unsalted butter. His dad couldn’t understand that there would be much of a difference, but he obliged anyway. Upon their return, she spread that unsalted butter on a slice of homemade rye bread and then, to his horror, dusted it with salt from the salt shaker.

“My father just about lost his mind!” Hector wrote. “My mother earnestly claimed that putting salt on unsalted butter generated a superior taste than just using salted butter.” Whether that was due to a scientific disparity between the water or fat content in one versus the other or simply a habit that re-enforced the cultural norms of her childhood home is up for debate, but in my mind, it proves that the difference matters because personal preference matters.

Ask Addie: What’s the word on salted versus unsalted butter?

Please give me a clarification on using butter. When a recipe calls for butter, it means regular salted butter, and only use unsalted if specified, correct?

Thanks,
Betty Hambright
Fayetteville, Texas

butterUnsalted butter is considered the default, especially in the baking community, but in my kitchen, I use salted butter for almost everything. I understand the logic against using salted butter as your standard — you can control the amount of salt used more accurately when you’re the one doing the salting — but try telling that to my palate, which prefers the taste of salted butter on everything from pasta to toast.

And here’s where I think recipe writing is changing: Every recipe writer has a secret or not-so-secret personal preference, and I’d say it’s about 50/50 on salted or unsalted. Consciously or not, whatever butter you have handy is the one you use when you’re cooking, and you learn to salt accordingly. After all these years of using salted butter, I know I’ve developed a light hand with table and kosher salt when cooking and baking, but many of you might take the opposite approach.

We try to be specific in our recipes, but I know we don’t always succeed in getting it in there. When not specified, use unsalted butter if you have it, but more importantly, use your best judgment about whether you tend to like foods on the saltier side and tweak as such.

If you’re baking and don’t have unsalted butter, decrease the amount of additional salt by 1/4 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of salted butter.

The same is true for both salty and sweet applications: You can always add salt, but you can’t take it away. (A squeeze of lemon juice can help if you accidentally oversalt.)

Which salt is always in your cart at the grocery store? Do you assume a recipe means one or the other when you’re cooking? I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject matter — and answer any other culinary questions you might have — by email (abroyles@statesman.com) or phone (512-912-2504) or comments below.