Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Winter Salad: Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Meyer Lemon & Quinoa

I’m the kind of person that tears out recipes – from newspapers, magazines, wherever. I have whole shelves of filing folders with recipes, sorted by recipe type (appetizer, main, dessert, etc.). When I lack inspiration, I turn to these folders for something new to try. Sometimes it’s a fail, sometimes it’s a win. And sometimes, I see a recipe and a light bulb goes on in my head and I know that there is a different, often better, way to prepare the dish. Mr B. calls it “going off the reservation,” and he gets most excited by these dishes. (Mostly because he gives more credit than is due my cooking skills and creativity.)

Such was the case last night. I had pulled a recipe out of a Martha Stewart magazine. Shaved Brussels Sprout, Meyer Lemon, and Quinoa Salad.  We love our sprouts, have an abundance of Meyer lemons this time of year, and know that quinoa is good for us. Hence, my ragged-edged, torn-out recipe. But it felt more like a summer salad. And we are definitely not in summer. The frost has taken hold, the sky has opened and is providing us with much needed rain, and them temp barely breaks 50 on a good day. (Which is cold for us Californians.)

I started out prepping all the ingredients. As I shaved the spouts, I thought how much tastier they would be if they were roasted and had some brown toasted bits. So, that’s what I did. I quickly roasted the thinly shaved sprouts and made it a warm salad – not bothering to cool down the quinoa as directed. It required a double batch of the dressing, given that the warm quinoa absorbs more liquid, but you can never get too much Meyer lemon in my opinion! (Mr. B agrees….) And it was a hit. We both went back for seconds. 

The salad was comfort food – warm, full of texture, with the bright acidity of the lemon. So I thought I would share it with you, something I’ve been remiss about doing. I have been less than inspired lately with food, and even less so with writing. But I am feeling the urge to get back to the blog and sharing good food. Apologies for the absence.

A few notes on the dish:
·      The sprouts should be shaved manually, very thin and lacy. The shaved sprouts you find in the store are just too thick for this dish. I have a big fancy schmancy mandoline that makes it a breeze, but I also have a small hand-held mandoline like this, which will work. I use the little one to shave radishes, carrots, etc. for salads and it actually gets a fair amount of use and is worth the $15 investment.
·      The recipe calls for scallions (green or spring onions), but I am thinking that shaved leeks (mixed in with the sprouts and roasted) would be a good alternative.
·      You can adjust the amount of red pepper flakes – either increase for  more heat or eliminate altogether.

Shaved Brussels Sprout, Meyer Lemon & Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
Coarse salt
2 Meyer lemons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (+ 2 T for roasting)
8 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place quinoa and 1 1/2 cups water in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until grains are tender and water has been absorbed, about 16 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Peel 4 long strips of zest from lemon with a vegetable peeler; thinly slice. Juice lemons into a small bowl (you want about ¼ cup); add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Whisk in oil in a slow, steady stream.

Toss sprouts with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place in shallow pan and roast for 5-10 minutes until you get those nice brown roasty bits. Stir occasionally.

Add zest, brussels sprouts, nuts, scallions, and chile to quinoa. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and drizzle with vinaigrette. Stir to combine.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Your Grandmother’s Brownies

Sunday dinner required something a bit different this week.  I was making some nice carnitas for tacos and wanted something to complement the flavors of the Mexican food I was making. I remembered a recipe I had saved earlier this year from Better Homes & Gardens for Sweet & Spicy Brownie Bites. I remembered chocolate and chilis—a good pairing in my estimation. (And a bit of vanilla ice cream would be a welcome addition in the heat we are having here today.) These are definitely something my grandmother never would have thought of, and probably wouldn’t have even tried. Sweet and spicy combined was not her cup of tea.

Digging the recipe out of my file of “Desserts To Try” I found I didn’t have all the ingredients and it was for a 13x9  pan, which is definitely too large for us this Sunday, as there will be only four of us. So I got creative and modified the recipe based on what I had on hand and used a standard 8x8 pan. I ‘ve provided a link to the original recipe above, in case you want to compare. And should you want to make a large batch in a 13x9 pan, you can double all the ingredients below, with the exception of the eggs (of which you should only use 5).

Rather than tell the family what I had made, I asked them to try the brownies and describe them in 4 words:

Mr. B: sweet, spicy, chocolately, and not overly dense
Brilliant Daughter: chocolate, ginger, cake, brownie
Butcher Son: moist, rich, decadent, brownie

Obviously Mr. B came the closest to the original name, even if chocolately is not a word, and “not overly dense” is a phrase and not a singular word. Brilliant Daughter was the only one who got the ginger, but she loves ginger and the flavor was more pronounced than in the original recipe due to the addition of ginger chips. Surprisingly, no one got the chili flavor. They all thought the spicy component was the ginger. I found that after chewing a bite and swallowing that the chili sat in the back of my throat and gave a slight burn. Not in a bad way, just different.

Overall these were a hit. Not something they would want me to make on a regular basis, only because espresso brownies, chocolate chip brownies, and salted caramel brownies are much higher on their wish list.

Susan’s Sweet & Spicy Brownie Bites
5/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup ginger chips
4.5 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped
ounces quality dark chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped
1 2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
5/8 cup granulates sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of an 8x8 baking pan.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, chile powders, cinnamon, salt, and ginger chips; set aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler or a large heat-proof bowl. Set over a pan of barely simmering water (the bottom of the pan should not touch the water). Heat and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Remove from heat, keeping pan or bowl over water. Add both sugars; whisk until completely combined. Remove from water. Let mixture come to room temperature.

Add two eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining egg and whisk until combined. Do not overbeat the batter or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not a whisk), fold until there is just a trace amount of flour mixture visible.

Pour the mixture into the prepared dish or pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Cool completely on wire rack.

When cool, cut into 16 squares and dust lightly with cocoa powder.

Makes 16 squares

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Food Is Love

In a departure from my normal weekly recipe posting, I wanted to share some thoughts that have been rambling inside my head for some time. The idea for the story has been generating for a few years and has lately become overwhelmingly obvious to me, due to recent events. But the overall gist is that I have come to conclude that food—good food, well prepared and with intent—is love. I’m not talking about using food as a substitute for love. I am talking about sharing a part of yourself, and just as importantly your time, to create dishes that fill a need, soothe the soul, and create happiness for the recipients.

One of the first inklings I had on this topic came three years ago, when my mother was in the hospital. Spending long hours there every day, I completely neglected my household duties over the course of 8 weeks. All my focus was on my mother and her recovery. But during that time, Mr. B and Brilliant Daughter trekked to the store every Sunday and did the shopping. And then my daughter would spend the day in my kitchen cooking a week’s worth of meals, packaging them up and storing them in the refrigerator. Wonderful soups, chicken potpies, enchiladas, pasta sauce, quiche Lorraine, and the list goes on.  I could come home to a hot meal, bring tasty, healthy food to share with my mother in the hospital, and I did not have to worry about everyone in my house starving or living on fast food. It was 4 hours of her time each week, but to me it was a relief, a blessing, or as I dubbed it in a subsequent post, “Love in the Refrigerator.”

Since that time, I have spent countless hours in the kitchen, not only making our regular daily meals, but canning, baking, and making homemade sausage and bacon. I also take pride in the large outdoor garden we have: four huge raised beds that replaced the useless lawn. I freely share produce and homemade goodies with just about anyone who visits or anyone I go to visit. I regularly tote jams, pickles and bacon down to LA for my brother (not to mention my really tasty bacon caramels). Butcher Son and Mr. B get packages of cookies to take to work and share on a regular basis. And when our family Sunday dinner rolls around, I usually have a meal or two prepared and packaged, as well as a sweet treat, for the kids to take home and enjoy during the week.

More recently I have found myself with a lot of extra time, business being slow. So I have tried to use it wisely.

A friend, who recently had a baby, invited me down to meet the new little guy and I offered to bring lunch. What new mom (who had a C-section to boot) has time to cook? I whipped up a hearty protein-rich quiche, a fresh salad with lots of veggies, and made a loaf of homemade focaccia. Then I made three different kinds of cookies, one of which I fashioned into little butterflies, hearts and flowers for her 2-year old daughter. I even juiced some of our prized Meyer lemons, picked some fresh strawberries and made some strawberry lemonade. I didn’t think twice about it, but you would have thought I brought a five-star meal with Cristal champagne for all the oohing and aahing and thanks I got. I mean really, I had the time, she needed the food, so what’s the big deal? But then it hit me: it is a big deal to so many people that someone would take the time to make everything from scratch. Take the time to do something for them.

And my family is very appreciative of this fact as well. Just last weekend, I smoked a pork shoulder for 6 hours on Mr. B’s grill. Then proceeded to make a batch of homemade BBQ sauce, bake up some fresh hamburger buns, and toss together a delicious salad with shaved zucchini and green beans from our garden. A simple meal really, but one that everyone recognized took me hours in the kitchen to make.

I am lucky to have those hours. And I am even more fortunate to have friends and family to share it with.

Week 23: Coconut Cream Caramels

The other day I was making a lovely curry cauliflower soup and had a half can of coconut milk leftover. Hating to waste anything, I gave it some thought and came up with the idea to make coconut caramels. Everyone loves my bacon caramels, so using that as a base recipe, I made a batch. Supplementing the leftover half cup of coconut milk with a half cup of cream, I found the taste a bit too subtle. Barely noticeable. So I decided to give it a second try this week and kick it up a notch.

Instead of the coconut milk and cream mixture, I used a full cup of Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream. I also toasted up some shredded coconut to enhance the coconut flavor and give it a bit of texture. The result was a nicely sweet caramel with the toasty crunch of the coconut.

Coconut Cream Caramels
1 cup coconut cream
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup toasted flaked or shredded coconut

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly oil parchment with vegetable oil or cooking spray.

Bring coconut cream, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, golden syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 250 degrees on candy thermometer, which takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and gently press down into caramel. Cool for 3 hours. (Placing them in the refrigerator during the last 30 minutes will make them easier to cut.)

Cut sheets of wax paper into 4-inch squares.

Pull parchment and caramel out of the pan and cut into small squares or rectangles and wrap each in square of wax paper, twisting both ends to close. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: approximately 40 caramels

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Week 22: Tomato Sauce Visual Tutorial

This summer has brought a bounty of tomatoes from my garden. In addition to the 3 plants I purchased in April, Butcher Son was given an additional 6 plants from customers and friends. This has yielded an unprecedented (for me) amount of Roma, San Marzano, and several varieties of heirloom tomatoes. We have had our share of bruschetta and caprese salad, I’ve made two batches of sundried tomatoes, and now find myself making tomato sauce every weekend. So I thought I would document the process in pictures, making it easy for you to follow along. Because it really is a simple process. And you don’t even have to drag out the canner. You can just pour the final product into jars or Tupperware and throw them in the freezer for use in the fall or winter when you want a taste of summer!

Step 1: Cut up your tomatoes: I cut my pear-shaped tomatoes in half and large tomatoes into quarters, removing the stem end. I usually fill one large bowl.

Step 2: Cut up your vegetables. Dice one onion and mince 6 cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a large stewpot over medium high heat and sauté for a few minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally.

Step 3: Mince some fresh herbs. I use basil, rosemary and oregano from the garden. Add these and the tomatoes to your stewpot.

Step 4: Add red wine. I add about a cup of red wine to my tomatoes, but feel free to add more or less, depending on your taste and the amount of wine on hand.

Step 5: Add salt. Start with one tablespoon; you can always add more later.

Step 6: Cook your sauce. Put a lid on your stewpot and cook on medium low, stirring occasionally. I usually cook my tomatoes for about an hour.

Step 7. Pick out the skins. Every time I stir the pot, I use tongs to pull out the tomato skins that have separated from the tomato. I find this easier than skinning the tomatoes beforehand. You don’t have to get them all, just the majority.

Step 8: Puree. When the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, I use a stick blender to puree the sauce. If you don’t have a stick blender, I highly recommend you buy one, but in lieu of that, you can put batches in a blender and puree. Just don’t fill the blender more than half way or it will blow the lid off and burn you. (Trust me on this.)

Step 9. Cook down your sauce. Oftentimes my sauce is a bit soupy after pureeing. This is due to the type of tomatoes I use at any given time. If your sauce is too runny, just cook on medium with the lid off until the desired consistency is reached.

Voila! You are done. Let the sauce cool and pour into jars or plastic containers and throw in the freezer.

I use this sauce for pasta, adding browned ground meat or Italian sausage, or serve it with meatballs. It’s also great for lasagne, stuffed shells, or just as it is served with a bowl of plain pasta and grated Parmesan.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Week 21: Not Your Mother’s Chicken and Rice

I remember my mother making chicken and rice dishes, mostly casseroles that were heavy on some sort of canned creamed soup. Edible but not terribly flavorful, they were a staple in most households in the 1960s and 1970s. Given my subsequent aversion to casseroles and anything containing a creamed soup, I have avoided such dishes for 30+ years…until now.

In the most recent Sunset magazine, I found a recipe for Chicken Steamed Over Ginger-Garlic Rice. Full of flavor, utilizing only one pot and taking only 30 minutes, the family has determined the recipe a keeper and I can now proudly cook chicken and rice casserole.

Rather boring in color, due to the dual colors of white (rice, chicken) and green (sauce), it is anything but bland. The recipe contains bold flavors—ginger, garlic, cilantro, sesame oil and jalapeno—that give the moist steamed chicken a great kick, although not so spicy that children won’t eat it.

The recipe is low in salt, easy to prepare and a quick and hearty weeknight meal. While the recipe says it yields four servings that would be a huge amount of rice per person. I used 2 pounds of chicken (rather than the 1 1/2 it called for) and it served 5 adults, with enough leftover for one lunch. I have adjusted a few things in the recipe to satisfy our palate, but if you want the original recipe, you can find it here.

Butcher Son and Mr. B added some sriracha to up the heat quotient, our guest tried it with a bit of soy, but Brilliant Daughter and I found it perfect just as it is. Now it’s your turn to debunk the myth that chicken and rice casseroles have to include creamed soups!

Recipe on the next page...