- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.2lzcOnhH.dpuf Nothing but Delicious: Urban Hydro Project and How to Make the Perfect Kale Caesar

Urban Hydro Project and How to Make the Perfect Kale Caesar

My friend Jeffrey is a weird guy. I met him a couple years back when we were set up on a blind date. He showed up perfectly on time, standing outside of my apartment building in the blistering summer heat. As I opened the door to greet him, I noticed that he was wearing rape whistle and holding six baggies of herbs, like some sort of bizarre child soldier/drug dealer. His hair looked like it had been designed by Chihuly himself.   

He talked (almost rambled) about hydroponicswar in Africa and beer for the better part of our date. But that's just who he is- a guy who really invests in the things he cares about. And just to be clear, when I say "hydroponics" and "herbs," I'm not talking about marijuana. I'm talking about a highly efficient, soilless technique used to grow all kinds of plants. That night, the baggies he was holding were full of basil, Thai basil, pineapple mint, regular mint, oregano and thyme that he had grown himself- the best bouquet ever! 
Several weeks later I was invited to Jeffrey's loft. {As a note on his good nature, I feel like I must mention that he invited me and my new boyfriend.} It can't be more than 750 square feet and he has two roommates: a cat named Bosco and a dog named Gunner. "All of my animals shed," he told me when I walked in the door. Only one wall has windows, enormous ones. They are adorned with a vertical hydroponic system, much like the one in the picture below, but made out of old soda bottles. Troughs sit on the windowsills, blooming with heads of lettuce and kale. 
This past winter Jeffrey took his hydroponic obsession to a whole new level. He built a grow room in an abandoned 135 square foot closet on the top floor of his apartment building in downtown Nashville and turned it into a business. In the dead of winter, this tiny room is bursting with organic kale, arugula, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and peppers, which he sells to the residents of his building. Right now he only has  the "ground level" up and running but soon, because the room is 12 feet tall he will be able build vertical layers of plants and lights, therefore producing ten times more vegetables than a conventional farm of the same size (WHOA!). He won't be selling at Farmer's Markets or grocery stores. Funnily enough, Urban Hydro Project operates just like the other type of grow room: you have to call or text Jeffrey (info@urbanhydroproject.com) to arrange a pick-up or drop-off. 

 To learn more about Urban Hydro Project, like it on Facebook or watch the Kickstarter video.

Raw kale, like quinoa, is another thing to which I thought I'd have a life-long aversion. The chef at my family restaurant (The Mt. Vernon) used to garnish dishes with a piece of kale and a slice of lemon, and as a very small child, both things looked so pretty that I'd try to eat them. The kale was bitter and tough and waxy. I never kept it in my mouth long enough to swallow. It was only last summer that a friend suggested that I massage the leaves with oil before eating them, so I bought a head of kale from the East Nashville Farmer's Market and got to work. The oil, along with a pinch of salt, somehow removes all of kale's less-appetizing qualities and leaves you with beautifully fresh, never wilt-y salad. I made this kale caesar on Christmas Eve and I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that more than half (maybe 20 people?) of our guests asked for the recipe! 

Perfect Kale Caesar
-serves six as a side dish

one bunch kale, preferably flat leaf
2t olive oil, 1/4t kosher salt
1/4 cup shaved pecorino cheese
3T chopped sundried tomatoes
3T lightly toasted pine nuts
dressing to taste*

Remove spines from kale and chop into bite-sized pieces. Place it in a plastic bag with oil and salt. Press all of the air out of the bag and massage leaves with your hands for about two minutes. Let sit in fridge overnight or up to three days. To toast pine nuts, place in cold pan over low heat until they are fragrant. Toss with dressing and toppings. Serve immediately.

* I buy my caesar dressing. I recommend picking one with anchovies- those will be in the refrigerated section. Brands I like include Naturally Fresh and Marzetti Simply Dressed. If you want to make your own dressing, here are some great options:
Vegetarian Caesar Dressing
Classic Caesar Dressing

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