Amanda Storey knows her kitchen. And she’s very comfortable in it. She already had a wine glass and a bottle of an Oregon Pinot waiting for me when I visited her. (Totally awesome!) And right away she says, “Okay. A few things. First, this is one-butt kitchen. There’s just no room for two.” Next to the Pinot, she’s got her Mac set up, with the recipe she’s making in the browser window. My job, she says, is to sit across the counter from her and tell her the next steps in the recipe as she cooks. All her ingredients are prepped and in bowls, a perfect mise en place. And I don’t think she asked me to look at the recipe more than once.
If you know Amanda, you know she’s incredibly passionate about food. The posts on her blog, Food Revival, are bursting with it. She stays busy as the coordinator of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities project, working to reduce childhood obesity in Jefferson County (HKHC is one of the sponsors of this weekend’s Food Summit, Friday and Saturday, November 12-13; $25 registration). And, there’s the signature Amanda Storey pose (which has been mimicked, lovingly, by some of her friends…): Embracing a bunch of locally-grown produce with a Sesame Street smile. During our conversation she says, “I am so over cookbooks—I have too many, and I really just need one.” (Something I’d expect to hear from someone who’s been cooking and collecting cookbooks for decades.) All of this, and here’s what made my jaw drop: This food-focused Amanda, queen of her kitchen, master of any CSA box you give her, and on a mission to change the world’s food for the better (or at least, the food in Jefferson County) has only been around two years. Two years!
“The Food Summit and the Barefoot Contessa made me who I am,” Amanda says.
Amanda wasn’t much of a cook two years ago. (Seriously. She told me the story of roasting her first whole chicken: While washing it over the sink, the packaged innards fell out of the bird’s cavity. She threw it into the air and screamed. I laughed ’til tears came.)
That’s when she attended the Food Summit, a project of Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners. What she heard deeply resonated with her—it changed her life. “Before then, I was a supermarket baby. I didn’t know what seasons were.”
“I’d studied black feminism in college, and I was really into justice, civil rights, and issues of race, gender, class, and equality. And at that Food Summit, someone got up and talked about food access, food justice, and civil rights. Wow. It was amazing to me that he made that connection—food brought it all together.” The Food Summit turned her on to the passions she now has—local produce, cooking, and urban farming. Eventually, it all led her to her current job. “I get to talk about gender, race, and class in the context of food—how awesome is that?”
A few months after attending the Food Summit, she did volunteer work for Jones Valley Urban Farms, and was paid with a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription, which forced her to learn how to cook. “I’d look at what I have, and find recipes online or in my cookbooks, especially the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten),” she says. “I learned to master a few basic recipes and techniques from her.”
For our Sunday afternoon get together, Amanda had a lot of greens on hand. Earlier in the week I’d emailed Amanda a link to a recipe on 101 Cookbooks, Winter Pasta: Penne tossed in a sauce made of cooked, pureed kale and goat cheese. Amanda says, “Tell me what you think. She (Heidi Swanson, blogger at 101 Cookbooks) says you’re supposed to boil the kale with the garlic and shallots. But I think we should saute it all. And, I think instead of goat cheese in the sauce, we use Parmesan, and just top it with goat cheese.” I agree. Then she says, “I want to point out, we’re almost totally local here! The greens are from Jones Valley, we’ve got Belle Chevre cheese, and the thyme is from my back yard.”
We talk while she works her magic, sauteeing the alliums and greens, moving them to a food processor, adding cheese, salt, and cracked black pepper. In a few minutes, we’re enjoying pasta tossed in the kale sauce, with some goat cheese and halved yellow cherry tomatoes on top. (The tomatoes, she says, are the last of the season from Jones Valley.) “The great thing about this is that it shows you don’t have to have stinky greens!” she says.
“Every time I cook now, I think about the people who grew my food. Before, I never knew who grew my food. But look at this Swiss chard,” she says, holding up some good looking leaves with brightly colored stems. “This is so-o-o beautiful! My friend Katie grew this. I know it was a lot of hard work to grow these greens. I can at least honor her time to grow it by taking the time to think about what I’m going to do with it,” she says. (Now we know what’s behind her uber-enthused poses with produce. It’s about more than the veggies, I think—it’s a tribute to the growers, too. Thanks, Katie!)
Next, Amanda pulls out some puff pastry, and she’s thinking she might take some of her lovely rainbow chard and make a sort of turnover. Totally winging it. She asks me what I think: Sounds great. So she sautées again, cuts the puff pastry, tops each piece with a mound of the chard and some cheese, folds them over and pops them in a counter top convection oven. About 15 minutes later we are diving into some seriously good eats. “Now this,” Amanda says, “is a great way to eat greens.”
Note from Shaun: Definitely dry the greens after washing; too much moisture in the filling can tear your pastry. You could very likely use almost any green in this turnover. And, you could use any cheese you prefer. Amanda used Parmesan; I’m musing on doing this with some Comté.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and dried, stemmed, and cut or torn into pieces
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
about 1/2 cup (or more) shredded cheese, such as Parmesan
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed overnight in the fridge
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot or onion and cook until the shallot becomes translucent. Turn the heat up to medium high, add the chard, and sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes, until the greens wilt. (Avoid cooking the greens to the point that they lose color or give off water.) Season the greens with salt and black pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
On a large cutting board or counter top, unfold the puff pastry. Cut it into six rectangles. Top one end of each rectangle with a mound of the chard mixture, then top the chard with some of the cheese.
Fold the unfilled end of the puff pastry over the greens, and press the edges to seal the turnovers. Place the turnovers on the baking sheet.
Bake the turnovers for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. These are best eaten as soon as they’re cool enough, and definitely on the same day.