Saturday, November 12, 2011

Beautiful Brussels Sprouts

Now that we are well into Fall and approaching holiday menu planning, there has been a lot of chatter about Brussels sprouts in various cooking magazines. This is good. Brussels sprouts really are versatile as more than a side-to-major-hunk-o’-poultry or other protein.

Earlier in the Fall I discovered how delicious they could be added to pasta. Here is what I did tonight:

Plan seven Brussels sprouts per person. If you have a Cuisinart, terrific. Use the finer blade attachment and slice them up after removing the stem ends. If you are using a knife, slice them as fine as you can. Be careful. They roll.

Render some chopped pancetta, about 2 oz. per person. After the pieces are brown, remove and save the fat.

Slice a small onion ( for two, a med. or large, for more people, or if you have them , a few shallots) and brown over medium low heat in a mixture of olive oil and a little butter and the pancetta rendering.

Chop up some kalamata olives. Chop up some garlic.

Start heating your well salted pasta water. I used fusilli for pasta. I am particularly pleased with the joyous springiness of this pasta. ( I plan about 3 oz. pasta per person)

After the pasta has been in the boiling water for about 2 minutes, put the sliced Brussels sprouts, the browned onions (or shallots), the chopped garlic, and all the pan oils and the pancetta in a preheated skillet. Add a bit of dried red pepper, too. Grind some fresh pepper in there. Toss over a relatively high heat. til crisp-tender, remove from heat. Drain pasta and toss in the Brussels sprouts mixture. Add the kalamata olives.

Add a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serve in bowls.

A full bodied red wine is nice with this.

Monday, July 25, 2011

shades of summer

There was a beautiful bowl of colorful tomatoes in my kitchen and I knew I had to use them soon. And those listada di gandia eggplants were getting big enough to pick.. how about a nice little summer lasagna for the two of us? Not a gooey, dense lasagna, but a light and almost fluffy concoction: summery.

I made a quick sauce of the tomatoes with a little garlic, only partially cooking the tomato pieces to hold their shape. They were so lovely in the pan I was inspired take them outside into the midday light to snap the picture seen here. I thickened the sauce with a bit of butter and flour mashed together (the French call this beurre manié) sliced, oiled and roasted the eggplants and made a small béchamel, (or, as it is called in Italy: salsa balsamella) and tossed a little grated romano cheese in to it. I picked some basil and chopped up a handful of leaves. I browned up some hot Italian sausage.

I never cook lasagna noodles, I just soften them in hot water for about 10-15 minutes and pat dry before layering in the pan.

As with any lasagna, I started with tomato sauce on the bottom of the ceramic dish, then layered noodles, sausage , béchamel, eggplant, basil noodle and tomato sauce. Topped it with more grated cheese baked it for about an hour. I let it stand for an hour and served it with a little green salad. It was light but creamy and packed with summer flavor.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Ribs

The Super Bowl was coming. And so were three friends. We are not even close to what one would call real fans, we are interested observers of cultural phenomena and we love the half time shows, the ads and the excitement of the BIG games. Our younger family members are genuine fans, and we support their teams. But even though we are not avid sports fans…we are avid eaters.

Sunday’s event seemed to be calling for ribs. Here is what I did about that.

I rubbed the racks of pork back ribs with a mixture of chopped garlic, hot and sweet pîmenton and kosher salt.
I let these rest, tightly covered, in the fridge for two days.

Then I baked them at 300 degrees in a foil-lined pan, completely sealed, for two and a half hours. Then I uncovered them, let them cool and put them in a large ziplock bag in the fridge ‘til I was ready to heat up for eating. I really tried to hold onto as much moisture as I could.

I made sauce: some low-sugar ketchup, some cider vinegar, more chopped garlic, some soy sauce and a bit of dark molasses. On game day, this was spread over the ribs in a foil-lined pan, covered in foil and warmed at 250 ‘til they were hot.
I heated the remainder of the sauce and served it along side the cut up ribs.

I served this with slaw with toasted mustard and caraway seed dressing and big dishtowels as napkins.

Our guests went crazy for these!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

another good soup

There is something about black-eyed peas that makes me happy. First, their name: little winking eyes on the small tan beans. Then there is the ease of cooking them and their all around usefulness: hot and cold Then, the taste! Earthy, but still fresh. Wintry, but you can taste spring in the distance.

A retired minister member of my church passed his own black eyed pea jalapeno soup recipe to me several years ago. It was pretty good. I had some dried black-eyed peas waiting in my pantry and I was again hankering for another soup. This is my spin on the original recipe:

1 pound dried black-eyed peas. Cook in a lot of water over low heat til soft. This will take 45 minutes or so. Drain.

1 cup chopped leeks. You could use onion. I had leeks in the garden.

3 or 4 large cloves garlic, smashed and chopped. Add these to the leeks and soften in a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Add a generous handful of salt. As these approach doneness, add 1 qt. good chicken broth. (I used Progresso, low sodium, no msg. It was on sale so I tried it. I liked it a lot.)

Add 3/4 of the cooked beans into the liquid mixture. Mash up the beans with a stick blender or by hand. Then add the remaining beans. Add water to desired thickness. Then add 1 small can salsa verde. Taste. Chop up a fresh jalapeno and add. Taste. Add another jalapeno if you like.

For our dinner I added diced avocado as a garnish. By the way, odd as it may sound, soup is a great breakfast!

I have been eating legume-based soups as a breakfast for the past several weeks. They are easy to heat, taste great and leave your stomach feeling content.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

a good mutt

It was our third day of house arrest: Deep Freeze 2011. Actually, we ventured out mid-morning yesterday to shop for dog food and home repair project supplies while the roads were somewhat melted. We had to go the long way around to the center of Snellville because our road was too icy.

Anyway, despite going out for provisions, at around four o’clock I found myself pondering what to make for dinner. In addition to dog food, I’d bought fresh spinach, and some crackers and a hunk of parmesan, soymilk, clementines and some apples and four bottles of red wine: none of these in any combination seemed like dinner. I found about three quarters of a cut up free-range chicken in the freezer. I knew a good braise was on the menu.

This is sort of a mongrel coq au vin: a mutt.

Reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms: about 1/4 cup chopped up. Save liquid. ( If you have fresh mushrooms, chop in half and sauté: use as many as you like. )
A good carrot, cut in about 1/2 “ pieces.
A large onion, chopped small
I had a shallot.
You could use all shallots if you had enough to make about 3/4 cup chopped.
As many garlic cloves as you like, peeled and smashed. I used around 5.
Put all the above into a heavy casserole, add some kosher or sea salt.

Chicken legs, cut up, breast, cut in half. Brown skin side down in a tiny bit of oil.
Use medium heat to start to render out fat, then turn heat up to finish browning.
Put in casserole on top of vegs, add some kosher salt and a hefty grind of pepper.
Drain out any oil in pan, deglaze with a bit of wine. Add to casserole.

I went outside to get some rosemary, thyme and sage. The rosemary was completely under ice, but I was happily able to secure 5 good size springs of thyme and 4 sprigs of sage from my pot on the deck.
I resorted to dried rosemary chopped up, about 1 T.

2 C chicken stock. (I used the turkey stock from Thanksgiving that I had in the freezer)
Approx. 1 C white wine, or enough to just cover other ingredients with liquid. Add the mushroom liquid, too, if you have it.

Bring all to boil on top of stove, remove immediately from stove when it boils.
You want this to cook slowly. Put covered is preheated 325 oven. Check in about 15 minutes, if still bubbling, reduce heat. Taste, adjust seasonings as this cooks. It is done when meat is nearly falling off bone. This took about 1.5 hours.

Remove chicken pieces and mash solids. I used my handy stick blender for this, always a terrific tool. Thicken (you just want to make it into a sauce with a teensy bit of body) any way you like: you can make a little roux with some butter and flour, you can use equal proportions of raw flour and butter and mash together as a paste and add to liquid over med. heat, or you can do what I did: I used about 1 T or 2 of Wondra flour (perfect for such an occasion!)

With this we had cauliflower purée with a bit of horseradish stirred in.

Now I have to plan tonight’s menu. We’re iced in again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

holiday recovery

We survived the holidays: the rich food and the dessert and the parties and my gosh all that chocolate. We’re home, after a nine-day visit with our New England family. It’s time for soup again: hot, spicy, delicious filling soup. Here’s what I put in the pot that’s simmering on the stove:

3 andouille sausages (1pound), sliced
1 chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces
1 largish onion: chopped medium
1 bunch kale, cleaned, stemmed and chopped small-medium
1/2 sweet potato: peeled, diced approx. 1/2 “
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 qt. chicken broth
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes and 1.5 cans water
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
pinch or more hot pimenton
1tsp. honey

I put the chopped onions and the sliced sausage in the pot together and let them cook, covered, on medium low (with about a T of canola oil), stirring a couple of times, til the onions were soft. Then I added the rest of the ingredients, except the chicken breast. When the mixture was nearly boiling, I added the chicken, and brought the temp. down to a simmer.

I am theorizing the sweet potato will sweeten the kale, the kale and pinto beans will add earthiness and the andouille sausage will provide zing. I like the connection with the past by using these traditional southern ingredients, especially this time of year when the garden is asleep.