By Scott Scanlon -- Refresh Editor
I'm learning from Refresh readers that I'd better not write about someone who has healthy cooking ideas without including some recipes.
We don't often have room for those in the print edition of the Saturday section, where Kelly Ann Kowalski is featured in today's "In the field" segment, but buffalonews.com is boundless, so there are several below.
Kowalski, 45, was born and raised in South Cheektowaga, where she still lives – and gardens.
She lives about a mile or so from the house off French Road where I grew up.
Kowalski has become a force in the Western New York food movement on several fronts. She has been program director the last 13 years with Food For All, a nonprofit based at the Network of Religious Communities building on Delaware Avenue, near Gates Circle. She also has been program director for the Food Bank of WNY Garden Program for the last decade; teaches or oversees cooking demos Fridays at the Grider Street farmers’ market near Erie County Medical Center and Saturdays at the Colden Community Farmers’ Market on Supervisor Avenue in Colden; and is a member of two herbal cooking groups, one at the Botanical Gardens in Lackwanna and another at the Audubon branch public library in Amherst.
Here are some questions I asked her that we didn't have room for in the print edition (some of her recipes follow):
Statistics on your Food For All website and in your flyer are striking: Nearly one in five children in Erie County and more then one in three in Buffalo live in poverty; 53,000 children in Erie County are hungry or at risk of hunger; more than 90,000 Western New Yorkers turn to food pantries and soup kitchens for assistance, and more than half are children; the number of food stamp cases has doubled in Erie County during the past decade, to roughly 79,000. What do you hear from people when they first get this feel for the magnitude of the problem?
Each group is different, but I think people who are really aware of Buffalo are not surprised. I think what’s changed though, and what’s changed drastically to me, is that there are so many people in the suburbs (involved in these statistics). We find a lot of young people – and I’m talking people under 50 – who have moved back in with their parents and they’re bringing their kids. So now we have three generations in the same household and the older adult, in their 60s or 70s, is helping support their family on their fixed income of Social Security. We hear from everywhere. I just talked to someone from Williamsville this morning.
It’s the older adults that are really struggling, especially with their prescriptions, and they have to take a choice, ‘Do we pay for our prescriptions or do we buy food.’ They have to really go hand-in-hand, not one or the other.
You’re considered an expert on cooking with herbs. What do you consider the most versatile herbs and how to you most often use them?
Parsley is probably the most versatile. You can put it in your sauce, you can make tabouli, you can put it in your salads, make your dish look pretty, put it in your meatballs, your meatloaf. I don’t like cilantro, so I substitute parsley for cilantro.
I think basil’s probably my favorite. I’ve probably made Caprese salad at least once a week this year. Oregano is great for anything you cook Greek, too: Your marinate for your Souvlaki, your Tzatziki sauce, Greek potatoes.
What are the staples of your diet? What about your favorite foods?
I cook what’s in season or I’m one of those people who will open the freezer or refrigerator and come up with a plan. My favorite food, honestly, is my mom’s (Diane Kowalski) spaghetti sauce that I can’t make. She makes it for me at least one or two Sundays a month. I go there for dinner every Sunday. Guacamole is something I’ve been making a lot this year. I was in Albany earlier this summer and Trader Joe’s has this awesome guacamole kit: Two avacados, two tomatoes, one garlic clove, some onion and a jalepeno, and I make it. I shop in places that are on my way to someplace else, because I’m not going to be wasting gas. So everything is ecomonically done, as well. Wintertime, it’s all about the soups.
Below are some of Kowalski's favorite recipes:
("You have to try this," Kowalski tells me. "You will think about kale in a positive light.")
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cups kale, chopped
1 cup sweet corn kernels
2 teaspoons salt
Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add garlic and red pepper, heat 3-4 minutes. Add kale and corn and cook until kale is soft and slightly wilted. Season with salt. May be served hot or cold.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
(Inspired by Rachel Ray)
12 tomatillos – husks discard and rinsed
2 jalapeno peppers
1 green pepper
1 onion cut into 4 to 5 inch thick slices
2 garlic cloves smashed and peeled
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and pepper
½ cup parsley
1 lime (juice only)
Preheat the boiler. Line cookie sheet with foil – place tomatillos, peppers, onions and garlic on cookie sheet. Brush onion and garlic with olive oil , salt and pepper. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes turning over occasionally. Take out when charred. Let cool, peel and seed peppers.
Using a food processor, coarsely puree peppers, tomatillos, onion , garlic and parsley. Add lime juice and season with salt and pepper.
2 to 3 tbls. olive oil
3 sweet white onions – diced
4 potatoes – cubed (leave skins on)
4 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 cup of chopped lovage (use can use the leave and the stems)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups of almond milk (or skim milk, half and half)
Heat oil in soup pot, add onions. Once the onions are truculent and potatoes and lovage cook for about 5 minutes. Making sure nothing sticks - add a little more oil at this point if needed. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Then let cool slightly. Add almond milk if you like.
Lemon Balm tea
Cut fresh lemon balm from your garden ( about five leaves for three cups) . Put in a pot of boiling water and let steep for 20 minutes.
You can add honey if you like.
Russian Cabbage Soup
(Kowalski made this during a cooking demonstration Thursday at the FISH Food Pantry in East Aurora)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large chopped onion
1 large head cabbage cut into shreds
1 large peeled and coarsely grated carrot
1 chopped celery rib
1 bay leaf
Black peppercorns to taste
8 cups water or vegetable stock
2 large peeled and coarsely chopped russet potatoes
2 large peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add cabbage, carrots and celery and sauté about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add bay leaf, peppercorns and water or stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.
Add potatoes to soup and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
Remove bay leaf and peppercorns from pot, if desired. Serve soup in warm bowls with dill and sour cream as garnish. Accompany with rye bread, if desired.