Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Everyone's Favorite Food: Brussels Sprouts

Recipes: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Olive Oil and Garlic

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sunchokes and Citrus Brown Butter with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday at work I had to clean around 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts. (Side note: I love how "Brussels spouts" is written out. What other vegetable conjures up images of old world Europe, just in it's name? Nerd alert....) Cleaning 20 pounds of Brussels sprouts took about an hour, which gave me plenty of time to contemplate why people hate them so much. How exactly did Brussels sprouts get such a bad rap?

I first had a Brussels sprout was last year. Yes, I had made it through twenty-something years of life before a Brussels sprout had grazed past my lips. The real hater in my life is my fifty-something year old mother, who had such a bad experience with the sprouts when she was younger that she forever banned them from her adult life. Now her mother, my grandmother, was a notoriously bad cook. She botched every dish that touched her stove, allegedly. So its no wonder that her Brussels sprouts dishes were poorly executed. But, how bad could it be? Well, my mom gets a little queasy even at the thought of Brussels sprouts.

So, what a surprise when I liked my first Brussels sprout. No I didn't just like it. I LOVED it. I couldn't believe that all the bad things my mom had said about them were true. Not even my mom, but most of popular culture had given the Brussels sprout a bad name. They were crunchy and flavorful, fresh and nutty, and I loved how they look like mini cabbages. When I came home to visit shortly afterwords, I was armed with a bag full of Brussels sprouts aimed at changing my mom's opinion on the whole issue. She responded to my plea with a slightly green face and a firm shake of the head "no." Her fear of this inoffensive vegetable ran too deep.

There are a ton of cool things about Brussels sprouts. Here is a list I made:
1. They look like MINI CABBAGES. No way could you fit a whole regular sized cabbage in your mouth, but you can do it now.
2. They are delicious with bacon. (Wait did I say that? Wait is this blog called "Bacon NO MORE?" well shit.) They are delicious with organic, free range, grass-fed, farmer killed bacon, then.
3. They reduce the risk of cancer! Also, they have a high amount of vitamin K, C and lots of A, potassium (that that Bananas!), and some other vitamins and minerals that I don't really know what they are, but sound healthy.
4. They are filling. Its sort of like the Willy Wonka version of a vegetable. Because its a mini cabbage, its like a full meal packed in a bite-sized package. Kind of.

I think the reason that so many people have had such bad experiences with Brussels sprouts is that whoever cooked them (namely mothers everywhere) didn't do it properly. Brussels sprouts can be really bad if they are bland, undercooked, or both. The best way to extract flavor is by roasting or caramelizing the sprouts. This will bring out the nutty flavor. Just blanching the sprouts alone leaves you with a bland boring dish, but roasting will crisp the outside and give you better texture and flavor.

Here are two different ways of preparing Brussels sprouts (without bacon, wah wah). The first recipe can be used as a side dish to other entrees, and the second is meant as a complete meal.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Blanch Brussel sprouts in pot of water for 2 to 3 minutes or until par cooked. Remove and shock in ice water.
3. Toss Brussels sprouts in olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly on a sheet pan and roast in oven for 8 to 10 minutes more until edges have browned and the Brussels sprouts are cooked fully. They should be tender yet with a little bite.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sunchokes and Citrus Brown Butter with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
1 pound sunchokes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces (stored in acidulated water until ready to cook)
1 onion, julienned
1/2 stick of butter, cut into pieces
1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
For Mashed Sweet Potatoes:
2 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup of skim milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the Brussels sprouts next for another 2 minutes, remove and shock in ice water. Place sunchokes in preheated oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked fully.
2. Caramelize onions over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and caramelize Brussels Sprouts in same pan. Turn off heat and add onions and cooked sunchokes to pan.
3. To make sauce, brown butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Once the milk solids have browned and the butter has a nutty aroma remove from heat and strain. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into butter and season with a little salt and pepper. Toss sauce over Brussels sprout mixture. Add parsley and adjust seasoning.

For the sweet potatoes:
1. Cook sweet potatoes whole in 400 oven until fork tender.
2. While the potatoes are cooking bring butter, milk, cayenne and ginger to a boil.
3. Remove potatoes from the oven and peel. Mash with a fork and mix with milk mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crisco is 100% Vegan

Recipe: Whiskey Apple Pie

One more thing that I love about fall, besides the abundance of butternut squashes and pumpkins, is going apple picking. We used to go to The Elegant Farmer when I was younger, and I loved getting outside and picking my own food. I was so removed from knowing where my food came from, having only shopped for food at a local Pick 'N Save, that getting apples from an actual tree was such a novelty. I'm still pretty removed. I'm a city dweller and while I grew some herbs this summer and visited my local farmer's market a few times a month, the majority of my food still comes from a grocery store. So, I guess apple picking is still somewhat of a novelty for me.

Anyways, my boyfriend and I made the trek out the Michigan a few weekends ago to pick apples and drink some cider. It was a little disappointing because the only varieties available for picking were Golden Delicious and Red Delicious, which are usually my least favorite kind of apples. The Elegant Farmer usually had at least ten varieties to choose from, so maybe I'm spoiled. But, I have to say they were pretty tasty apples in any case. In the end we came home with about 5 pounds of apples, and at 80 cents a pound I think we made out pretty good.

Usually after apple picking, I come home and make a pie. You know, something delicious and full of butter or lard. This time, however, something was screaming inside of me to make a vegan pie. I am not well versed on vegan cooking, so a quick internet search showed that most recipes called for a soy-based margarine substitute instead of butter. I should let you all know right now that I am allergic to soy, so I have to stay away from any sort of un-natural dairy or meat substitutes. (More on this in a post to come. I have my opinions on these kinds of substitutes outside of my soy allergy.) Further research showed that Crisco and vegetable shortenings were an acceptable vegan substitute for butter or lard. I thought this was pretty awesome, since Crisco is familiar to me and I wouldn't have considered it as a proper vegan substitute. But closer inspection on the ingredient list showed this too contains soy. Thwarted again! But, on the other hand I had Crisco sitting in my cabinet just calling for me to use it. And I didn't think I would find another substitute for butter that didn't contain soy and since I already owned a container of Crisco I decided to ignore my soy allergy and use it. (So maybe I'm not the best at adhering to my soy allergy, but I am good at saving money.) Next time I'm just going with butter.

For the Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cups Crisco or other brand vegetable shortening
1/4 cup water

For the Filling:
3 pounds apples (such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, or Jonathan), peeled, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
8 oz sugar
2 oz water + 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 oz corn starch
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole all spice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/4 cup olive oil (or egg wash) for browning.
extra sugar for the top of the crust


For the dough:
1. Mix dry ingredients together and place in food processor. Add Crisco and water and mix until just combined.
2. Remove dough from processor and knead on a floured surface for one to minutes. Form into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for thirty minutes to an hour.

For the filling:
1. Place sugar in a clean saute pan and carefully pour 2 oz of water over the sugar until it dissolves. If need be add more sugar, but be careful to only add enough to make the sugar dissolve.
2. Cook over moderately high heat. Clean edges of pan gently with a clean pastry brush. Any crystals on the edge of the pan will destroy the caramel. Cook until the sugar becomes an amber color and immediately remove from heat.
3. Whisk in 2 tablespoons water to the caramel. Be careful this will cause the hot water to steam, but it will create a clear caramel sauce and stop the caramel from cooking further.
3. Pour caramel over sliced apples. Fold in the whiskey and the cornstarch.
4. Grind peppercorns, allspice, and cloves together in a spice grinder and add the spice mixture and the cinnamon to the apple mixture.

To assemble:
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into two equal pieces. Roll out the first half on a floured surface until it is just longer than the pan you are using. (I recommend using a 9 inch pie pan, so in this case you should roll the dough out to 12 inch diameter.) The dough should be around 1/4 inch thick, so roll it out until its the desired thickness and diameter.
3. Carefully place in a greased pie pan, and prick the bottom of the dough with a knife. Fill with apples.
4. Roll out 2nd crust to a 13 inch diameter and 1/4 inch thickness. You should have just enough dough. Place it on top of the pie and crimp the two layers of dough together. Trim off any excess. Make decorative slits in the middle of the pie so steam can escape. If you desire you can make a lattice.
5. Brush with olive oil. (If you have decided not to go vegan use an egg wash. I think it helps the crust achieve a better browning than oil.) Sprinkle with a little extra sugar.
6. Bake in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the crust has become a beautiful golden brown color. If the edges of the crust are browning faster than the center you can wrap a little foil around the edges until the middle has browned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seaweed: Taste of the Ocean

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in Japan. I've always been a fan of Japanese food, but the food I experienced in Japan was entirely different than the American versions I was used to. For the most part Americans jumped on the sushi and teryiaki train and ignored all other aspects of Japanese cuisine. But my trip to Japan changed everything and I had a sort of culinary awakening. I discovered so many new flavors, ingredients, dishes, cuisines and I found myself inspired every day by the new foods I was cooking and eating. One of those ingredients was seaweed.

This month's issue of Saveur has a great article on nori, one of my favorite kinds of seaweed, and reading it made my mouth water. Yes I know that something a little bit more delectable like a cupcake or a barbecue would be a more appropriate thought to make my mouth water, but nori is a key ingredient in many of my favorite Japanese dishes. Onigiri, a ball of rice with a filling and wrapped in nori (kind of like a Japanese sandwich), sembe, a flavor of these rice crackers contains nori, and of course sushi.

There are also many other kinds of seaweed used in Japanese cuisine. Kombu is a dried kelp that is the basis for dashi, or Japanese stock. Wakame, is rehydrated and used as a garnish in soba and udon soups. Hijiki is a scrawny black seaweed that is best eaten in salads. All of these seaweeds bring a wonderfully salty and umami quality to the dishes they are part of, that it's almost as it you can taste the ocean. I'm not the biggest fan of fish, but seaweed brings me the flavor of the sea without the fishiness. The first time I ate seaweed, I was brought to an entirely new world (like a reverse Little Mermaid experience!)

And all this talk about seaweed got me thinking about a good Japanese noodle soup. Soba and udon soups use a flavorful dashi as their base and wakame or nori as a garnish. Many traditional ramens have some form of seaweed as a garnish too. And thinking about these noodle soups got my mouth to water once more and I had to make a delicious udon soup and broth.

Recipe: Udon Noodles in a Mushroom Broth

For the Broth:
1 piece Kombu
4 quarts water
1/2 pound mushrooms and stems, sliced
2 oz dried shittake mushrooms or other variety of dried mushrooms
1 onion, medium diced
3-4 stalks celery, medium diced
4 cloves garlic, whole, in husk
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 TBS chili oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBS ginger, minced
Salt and Pepper, To Taste

1 pound Udon (or soba) noodles, cooked al dente
1 head bok choy, large pieces - greens steamed, whites sauteed
2 pounds shittake mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 pound broccolini, steamed
3-4 carrots, cut into obliques, sauteed and seasoned with 1/4 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup mirin
Soft Boiled Eggs - 1 for every bowl of soup (Boil in Salted water for 5 minutes)
1 sheet nori (can use sushi nori), julienned

For the Soup:
1. Place kombu in water and slowly bring to a boil, about 30 - 45 minutes. Remove kombu once water has just come to a boil and discard. While kombu is coming to a boil, do vegetable and garnish prep work.
2.Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic and simmer for 45 more minutes. Strain and flavor with soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, chili oil, ginger, garlic, and salt and pepper. Adjust flavors as needed.
3. Place about a quarter to a half pound of noodles in a bowl. Arrange garnishes on top and pour hot broth over the soup. Slurp happily.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shepherd's Pie...without the Shepherd

Recipe: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Ok. The thought of eating a stew without meat makes me shudder. What's the point of beef stew, without the beef? Saving a cow's life, lowering my risk of heart disease, blah blah blah. Give me some Beef Bourgogne and a fork! Then my conscience (or was it my wallet?) got the best of me, and I thought a stew might be the true test of how successful my vegetarian cooking is. I mean the meat really makes the stew, so tender, so delicious, but maybe I could make vegetables satisfy just as well as the meat does.

Generally speaking, the toughest part of the animal (shoulder, leg) is the best part to be stewed. Braising it in some sort of sauce for long hours on end tenderizes the meat and turns the sinewy bits into pure velvet. Not literally of course. What I mean is the meat has the soft luxurious melty qualities that float over your taste buds the way velvet floats over your skin. Smooth. In any case, I picked out the toughest vegetables to substitute for the tough cuts of meat: ROOT VEGETABLES.

Carrots, parsnips, celery root, potatoes...virtually any vegetable you can think of that grows underground is a root vegetable. They are great for braising because their texture is a lot harder than many other vegetables. Of course they aren't nearly as tough as say pork shoulder might be, so you don't have to cook them as long. Shorter cooking time is another bonus in vegetarian cooking.

For my stew experiment, I decided I wanted to try a vegetarian spin on Shepherd's Pie. (Technically Shepherd's Pie is a casserole, but I treated my vegetarian version like a stew.) A traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie calls for lamb or mutton, while many American versions use ground beef. Vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and onions, are mixed in with the meat and all of it is stewed together in some sort of sauce and baked with mashed potatoes on top.

For my vegetarian version I've used a variety of root vegetables, including carrots, turnips, and parsnips along with some other vegetables with a longer cooking time, cooked them in a red wine sauce, and spiced up the mashed potatoes with parsnips. I chose to use a flavorful red wine, something smoky and spicy to give the illusion that the stew contains meat. Ask the wine guy (or girl) at your local grocery store for a good recommendation. I used 2008 Bodegas Castano Monastrell Yecla Tinto which according to the internets is a relatively inexpensive Spanish wine that has a leathery and peppery taste. According to me, it had a medium intensity and was delicious to cook with and to drink.

For the Mashed Potatoes:
3 pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, scrubbed well and skins on
1 pound Parsnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

For the Stew:
2 Onions, medium diced
1 bunch Celery, medium diced
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, stems removed and quartered
2 Turnips, medium diced
2 tablespoons Ginger, minced
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dried Rosemary
2 tablespoons Dried Thyme
1 cup Red Wine, full bodied (such as a Shiraz or a Tempranillo)
3 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock
3 tablespoons Butter
3 tablespoons Flour
Salt and Pepper, to taste


For the Mashed Potatoes:
1. Fill a large pot with water and the potatoes. Place the potatoes in the water and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until tender. While potatoes are cooking, you can work on the rest of the stew.
2. Meanwhile, cook the parsnips in a pot of salted water until soft. Puree in a food processor.
3. Once the potatoes are done cooking, peel the skin off and mash with a ricer, potato masher, or fork. Mix with parsnip puree.
4. Melt the cream, butter, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon together and add to the potatoes and the parsnip mixture. Potatoes should be thick and fluffy enough to sit on top of the stew.

For the Stew:
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2. Blanch Brussels sprouts in a pot of salted boiling water just long enough to par-cook them, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. In a large pot, melt the butter and caramelize onions, carrots, celery, and turnips over high heat, about 4 - 5 minutes. Add minced ginger and garlic, and sauté one minute longer. This should be done in small batches so that an even color can develop on all of your veggies.
4. Place all vegetables, including Brussels sprouts in a large cast iron pot or casserole dish. Add dried thyme, rosemary, and red wine. Reduce the wine down until it has almost all evaporated.
5. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add vegetable stock and let cook until liquid has reduced slightly.
6. Spread mashed potatoes on top of the stew and place in the oven. cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes have browned and the liquid has thickened.
7. Eat and Enjoy!