Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Nut Brittle - All The Ways

This year for Christmas Baking, one of the things I made was a Sesame-Cashew Brittle.

I found the recipe last year in  Food & Wine.  And I am the 1st to admit it is darn tasty.  Also fun to give to your child to break into pieces when you are done making it.  But, the directions are a bit daunting for the beginning candy maker.

This is too bad, because brittle is really easy once you get comfortable with the process.

This is what happens when a 12 yr. old gets the job.
One of the other things the "tenderizing mallet"
is useful for. (Nice work BTW)
The minimal instructions contain several "let this happen" but as an uncertain candy maker, I wanted pictures.  As a, now, much more experienced brittle maker - I have pictures... and some ways to expand your range once you have the basics.

After poking about - it becomes clear that there are clearly two kinds of brittle: with butter, and without.  The no butter sort is more notorious of sticking to the teeth, but it has the advantage of being pretty and transparent - or at least translucent.

The most difficult part of making brittle - or at least the scariest part - is working with hot sugar syrup.  I speak of this personally since I have had a brittle-boil-over disaster.  Burns and sticky spots all over my stove top and floor.
Part of my motivation for writing this post is to save you from that particular trial.
And for the record.  As cooking accidents go, it was really pretty small.  And cleaning up the brittle chunks from kitchen surfaces was much more annoying than the burns.

Below I've got the delicious recipe that was my starting point - but I'll include the original recipe (with extra instructions and pictures!), a "no-butter" version, and a !Microwave! version if you are in a hurry, feeling adventurous, or want to expand your microwave chops.

All brittle with butter recipes share 2 common problems.  One is the danger of the bubbling syrup overflowing the pan (see above).  The second is the brittle mixture seizing up when you add the nuts. Well both types have that problem.

1. To prevent overflow, work in a pot that seems too large.  
If you making more than one batch, heat the sugar syrup to temp and stir in the butter in the small pan.  Transfer to the large pot to finish cooking the sugar to the "toasty" stage, adding the baking soda, and the nuts.
When you add the baking soda - it will foam.  A large enough pot will make that no problem at all.

2. Work with warmed nuts.  
The whole reason adding the nuts makes for such a panic is room temperature nuts (65˚F - 75˚F usually) added to a syrup over 250˚F will definitely cause some havoc.
If you let your nuts sit in an oven/toaster turned to it's lowest "on" temp - around 180˚F, the nuts will be warm, but not get toastier.

When you add them to the syrup, they cool things much less, and reduce the panic.  You have all the time you need to get the brittle poured and spread. And you will no longer be subject to the phrase "once you add the nuts, work quickly, it will start to seize up."

This recipe is especially buttery and decadent.  You can pare it down to just 2 oz. (4 Tbs).  It will work, but it will be stickier, and won't be quite as rich and tastily fragile.

Sesame & Cashew Brittle

1/4C black sesame seeds
2 Tbs white sesame seeds
12 oz cashews (~ 2 3/4C)

2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

355g sugar (~1 3/4C)
113g water (4oz or 1/2C)
80g light corn syrup (~1/4C)
227g unsalted butter (8oz or 2 sticks)  shut into tables spoons & at room temp.

4 qt sauce pan/pot - or larger (up to an 8qt pasta pot is fine - lots of room for safety)
silicone mat or parchment paper
2 baking sheets (1/2 sheet pans work the best)
sturdy silicone (soft and non-stick) spatula
butter or oil for "non-stick" baking sheet
good hot pads/baking mitts
heat proof bowl (metal or ceramic)
candy thermometer (or a small plate in the freezer)

Measure out all the ingredients, and make sure the butter is room temp.
Mix together the salt, baking soda and nutmeg.
(If you don't have a candy thermometer, place the small ceramic plate in the freezer)
Place the seeds and nuts in a heat proof bowl, and let them warm up in an oven/toaster oven at it's lowest "ON" setting (somewhere around 180˚F - no higher than 200˚F).
Place the silicone mat or parchment paper onto one baking sheet, and liberally grease the bottom of the other one with the butter/oil mentioned in Equipment.
Don't lose track of your hand protection.

Put the sugars and the water in your pot.  Whisk them together to combine.  Place over medium-high to high heat.  Bring the temp up to 240˚F - 250˚F.  
(If you don't have a thermometer, when the bubbles are fairly small, and foamy looking, drizzle a little syrup on your cold plate - and look for syrup that forms a firm ball, but still yielding ball "soft ball stage".)

Drop the heat to low.  Start adding the butter 1-2 Tbs at a time.  Whisk it in until you get a pale yellow, silky looking syrup.

This needs to be heated back up to lose the raw sugar flavor, by caramelizing and breaking down the sugar.  This creates the toasty brittle flavor.

If you don't wait long enough, the brittle will be pale, and the candy will not be as tasty.

The brittle on the left was my 1st batch.  I was tentative.
I let the second batch get a bit browner.
The right batch is the correct color - and the tastiest.

If you are working in a small pan for combining the sugars and butter - now is the time to transfer to the large pot.  (If you are thinking ahead, pre-warm the big pot to speed things up).

As you cook the syrup to get to the correct toasty color, it will foam some.  This  big pot gives you plenty of room.

Continue to cook the sugar-butter syrup over medium-high heat.  Watch for the golden color, and use your nose to check for the beginnings of a toasty smell.

Off to a good start.
Almost there...
but no toasty smell yet.
Get the nuts out of their warming oven.  You are almost there.


Quick!  Kill the heat, add the vanilla, stir.
Add the salt-baking soda-nutmeg mixture.  Stir it in quickly.  (It will likely foam up).

Add the warm seeds & nuts.  Stir in.

Pour the mixture onto the silicone mat/parchment paper.  Press the brittle down with the greased baking sheet bottom.  Keep you hot pads/mitts on.  The candy underneath is HOT!

Let the candy cool for at least 30min.  The slabs can be stored this way for awhile.  When you are ready to serve or package it, break into pieces about this size:
Sharpie for scale - of course
(Yes - this was the early, pale brittle -
go for darker.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

For Serious - Fruitcake

Many years ago, when email didn't have pictures - 2005 to be exact, a recipe for fruitcake scrolled past my eyes that intrigued me.  It came from an older incarnation of World Wide Recipes (thanks for your great work Joe Barkson).  The original recipe is from a woman name Shava from Massachusetts who'd written it down after 30 years of tweaking by food co-ops.  And apparently the parent recipe was another century old.  Anyway - this recipe has a long history of getting altered to the current reality, and passed on.

Fruitcake has long fascinated me - but candied fruit had long disgusted me.  (Who decided bright green cherries were a good idea - I ask you?)  After all, with something that tasted so awful, but had such a persistent existence had to have a decent origin story.

It does.  It goes back to lack of refrigeration and other modern food preservation techniques - along with a need for travel-stable, calorie dense foods.  So we are talking the middle ages, when travel really started to become a thing.  (See the Good Eats episode "It's a Wonderful Cake" for more on this story.)   His recipe is an improvement, but I am certain mine is better.

The only draw back - this one takes some time and attention.  But I swear, once you get around to it, it is worth it.

A quick note - this recipe makes an ENORMOUS amount of fruitcake.  Like, for a commune, enormous.  I made a half recipe, and still had a ton.  So I'll give you amounts for 1/4 of the original.  But if you want to go big.... go real big.  I've also given volume and mass amounts -for the non liquids.  Using an electronic gram scale really speeds things up.

Fruitcake You Will Want to Eat

Start the fruit the night before!
Cooking Temp: 275˚F  

     Fruit Mixture:
120g (3/4C) raisins
227g (8oz) plump dried apricots
227g (8oz) dried berries (a mix of cranberries, cherries & blueberries are suggested)
140g (5oz) dried candied pineapple (not the "wet candied" look in the dried fruit section)
40g (1/4C) candied orange and/or lemon peel
100g (3.5oz) crystallized ginger
115g (4oz) walnuts (raw)
115g (4oz) almonds - sliced (raw)
1 bottle peach schnapps (any peach liquor between 36-48 proof or 18% - 24% alcohol)

    Flour Mixture:
195g (1 1/4C) flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

    Fats, Sugar and Spice:
115g (4oz) shortening - this really does need shortening, if you must butter - do ghee)
155g (3/4 C) sugar
2 Tbs molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mace
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t black pepper

3 eggs

cutting board
large bowl
your very largest bowl
mixer with the standard or paddle attachment (or large bowl w/ a strong spatula)
measuring cups and spoons
scale that measures in grams
parchment paper (or very greased brown paper)
2 standard (10in. x 4in. +/-) loaf pans (9x9 brownie pans will do in a pinch)
medium bowl
(spray bottle - optional, but AWESOME)
cheese cloth
cake tin or large tupperware

    Fruit Mixture:
Cut all the fruit, ginger and any whole walnuts into pieces no larger than the end joint of your pinky (small dice).   Place in your large bowl. Add about 1C peach schnapps.  Let it sit, covered, overnight.  Stir when you think of it.  If there is no schnapps at the bottom, add a bit more.  (Original recipe comment, "C'mon, it'll bake off.")

    The next day:
Measure out the flour mixture.  Set aside.
In a mixer bowl, add shortening.  Mix the shortening until it's fluffy.  Add all the sugar, molasses and spices.  Mix until uniform.
Add 1 egg, mix in, add 1/3 of the flour mixture.  Mix in.
Add the the next egg, mix, the next 1/3 of the flour.  Mix in.
Do the same with the last egg and last portion of the flour.

Preheat the oven to 275˚F.  Line the loaf pans with parchment paper.

Turn the mixture of flour, fats, sugars, spice and eggs into your biggest bowl.  With a spatula or clean hands, stir in the fruit mixture.  You should have a mixture of fruits and nuts barely held together with batter.

Fill each loaf pan 3/4 full (or less).  If you have extra, make "fruitcake muffins", using paper liners.

Bake for 2.5 - 3 hours.  (If you are using a 9x9 pan, check at 1.5 hours.  If you made muffins, check at 45 min.)
There are lots or variables here.  Your local humidity, the moistness of the fruit... etc.  So don't be afraid to check early.  Use a toothpick to check the center.  When it comes out clean - and/or you see the edges starting to brown, the cake is done.

Let the cakes cool completely.  Cover with a kitchen towel and leave overnight if you need to.

Post Cook:
Lift the cakes out of the pans using the parchment.
Choose the "easy way" or the "real way"  (You can do both).

Easy Way:
Cut into 1/2" to 1" slices.  Use the spray bottle to thoroughly soak the outside of the slices with the schnapps, or use a spoon to sprinkle the schnapps over the slices.
Serve with strong coffee or English breakfast tea.

The Bid'ness:
Bake the cakes on Thanksgiving weekend.
Cut into 2" slices.  Wrap each slice in cheese cloth.
Pour peach schnapps into a bowl.  Submerge each slice in the schnapps.  When the cheese cloth is thoroughly wet, place the wrapped piece of cake into your aging container - a cake tin or a large tupperware.
Close the cake tin, or for the tupperware place the lid on, but do not press it on.
When the slices dry out, and then every day or two going forward, spray thoroughly, or sprinkle with spoonfulls of peach schnapps.
The cakes may get a bit soggy, but let them harden up and repeat.
Hand out to deserving souls Christmas week, and eat some yourself.
Again - a great pairing is strong coffee or English breakfast tea.
Possibly Port.

Your life will never be the same again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Roasted Toasted Besan

Awhile ago a friend gave me THE BOOK of Persian Cooking - _Food of Life_ by Najmieh Batmanglij.  And it has all the Persian food you might ever and never want.

One unique category it contains is traditional pastry items with no wheat flour.  And as I am negotiating the world of no-wheat/no-grain eaters, the fact that many of these recipes never mention "wheat flour" cannot be missed.  As a food explorer (my question at a restaurant is usually, "what's new?") I can't help but be attracted to a different look at dessert.

However.  While a few of the desserts include besan or chickpea flour - it is roasted/toasted chickpea flour.

All the besan I can fine is "raw".  And all the recipes I can find call for roasting a cup or two at a time.  The recipe I'm looking at calls for 3.5 cups, minimum.  And I'm looking at multiplying the recipe.  No skillet is big enough for that.

So I call out the big pans.

2 pans.... 4 lbs of flour.

This will take more time to do all 4 lbs.
I put about 1lb (500g) in each pan.

Popped it in the oven at 425˚F (220˚C) for 8 minutes.
Then stir thoroughly.

Continue to rotate it in the oven - 8 minutes (the 1st time) then 5 minutes - stir, then 3 minutes - stir, then 2 minutes with stirring until it is evenly roasted/toasted.

Oh, and keep your nose alive.  It may happen that you (cough) forget to start the timer... and things get a bit browner.

As long as it is just dark brown - and only on the surface, you are OK. (If you have any black spots, scoop them out and move on).
Stir it in thoroughly and move on.

When it is all done, the transformation should look like this.
Toasted on the top - ready for baking
Raw on the bottom - good for binding and thickening

The recipe in the end:

Roasted Besan

Besan/Chickpea Flour - more than 1 or 2 cups

half sheet pans (rimmed baking sheets)
excellent hard spatula or large fork
pastry brush
large bin/tupperware

preheat oven to 425F
Divide your flour into 1 lb/500g batches on half sheet pans.

Roast the flour for 8 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Roast for 5 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Roast for 3 minutes.
Stir thoroughly.
Continue to roast for 2 minute intervals until you get the color/toastiness you want.

Pro Tip:  Before doing the 2nd set of flour, brush off your pans of all roasted flour before starting with the second set.  This will keep you from getting burned, bitter bits in your flour.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No Onions? No Garlic? Asafetida is the Answer

As someone known to strangers as a "Vegetable Cooking Person"  I occasionally get the question, "What do I do if I'm allergic to onions?"

I admit, my first reaction was, "Really? That's terrible!"
And after getting over the fact that my tiny little life would be so much the poorer with out French Onion Soup
Fine Cooking is a great place for a classic
FOS Recipe

and Onion Rings,

it really comes down to looking at the staggering number recipes that begin with something along the lines of massacring 2 cups of onions and then cooking them down to some darker, sweeter, pulpier version of themselves.
What does one do if eating onions isn't on?
Not at all.
Not even a little bit.

There is the "just use garlic" approach, tedious, and some people with onion problems can't do garlic, or much garlic.  And it's just not the same.

There is the "I'll just do without" approach.  But that makes me sad.

Then there is the "ask around" approach.  Is there any culture where onions and garlic are a "no-no"?  The answer (as it almost always is with ANY food restriction), is yes.  The Jain religion/community in India is built around the idea of not-harming.  Beyond vegetarianism, this leads to filtering water, not eating any food that shows evidence of spoilage and not drinking fermented beverages, all in the name impacting the fewest living organisms possible.
This also means root vegetables - anything that could be sprouted to start another plant is generally avoided.

Yet the flavor or onion/garlic is still to be found in Jain cooking.  The answer is hing - better known as asafetida.  Hing/asafetida is the dried resin from the stalk of a member of the carrot family.
No allium sp. in sight.  Perfectly fine for the 
"No Onion" crew.

A warning though.  I won't lie - if there were ever a substance that lived up to its name - it is this stuff.  Fetid is RIGHT!  In its ground, uncooked form, it smells like dirty socks steeped in onion juice.  I keep the closed container in sealed glass jar in my pantry.
It's one other benefit that makes it worth the trouble?  It is an anti-flatulant.  That is, you will frequently find it in bean/legume based Indian dishes, as it helps with the digestion of the long-chain starches that otherwise feed our micro-fauna.  Those tiny buggers digest what we don't, and send the gas bubbles along the way as a "thank-you".

So, I use it.  Admittedly, in Indian cooking, almost exclusively.

More recently - I have ventured beyond that - I have finally tried it as a way to give that needed oniony-garlicky hit to foods that were being fed to members of the "no onions" crowd.
I finally got around to trying asafetida as an onion substitute.

The first thing the consider is that asafetida is STRONG.  A little goes a long way.  Where a recipe might call for 1 small onion + 4 cloves of garlic, a similar "no onion/no garlic" recipe would use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp asafetida.   As a new user - I'd start small, and add more the next time.

Despite the smell at the start, it has a wonderful, mellow flavor once cooked and incorporated.

Also, this is not a "just sprinkle it on at the end" spice.  It MUST be cooked.  Heated in hot oil for 5 - 10 seconds and then simmered with the food.  This makes it a perfect onion substitute for soups, stews, and spaghetti sauces.

In sautes - quick cooking things, add it to the oil before you add anything else (or add it with the dry spices) to give it a chance for a quick, up front flash cook, and then time to mellow out in the end of the cooking.

Good Luck!

And two recipes to get started in your asafetida journey.  The first is typically Indian -
Hing Jerra Aloo - a tasty potato side dish

The second - and just in time for the fall, is a version of my Winter Squash Soup - but with asafetida in place of the onions.
Be bold - be adventurous - but stay away from the onions.

Winter Squash Soup
No onions - Yes asafetida
Many kinds of squash work well here - butternut, kabocha, delicata, kuru, turban, hubbard, ballet - anything with a dense, "sweet potato" type texture.  
Squash with a stringy texture - acorn, speghetti, dumpling, pie pumpkin, carnival - will give a watery soup with an odd texture.  
Not sure what I'm talking about?  Check out the Guide to Winter Squash at Epicurious.

winter squash - about 2.5 - 3 lbs (or 2 lbs pumpkin/squash puree)
1 Tbs oil + enough to finish roasting the squash
4 C broth (chicken or vegetable)
3 Tbs minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp asafetida
2 tsp salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cardomom
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs honey
 2 C milk/dairy alt./more broth

hot pads/oven mitts
soup pot (8 qt/2 gallon/8 liters)
cutting board
large metal spoon
baking sheet
blender/immersion blender or food mill or potato masher
long (wooden) spoon
ladle & bowls for serving

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.  Rinse your whole squash

With a small knife/steak knife, stab each squash about 8 times around the stem to allow steam to escape.  Bake the whole squash for about 30 minutes.
Remove the squash from the oven, place on the cutting board, and let it cool for about 5 minutes.  When it is cool enough to handle, use your large knife to cut it in half.  This is be much easier than trying to cut open a raw winter squash.
Mine ended up in thirds.
Use the metal spoon to scoop our the seeds and stringy stuff from the center (Compost!)
Cut into wedges that are about 1/6 or 1/8 of the squash.  Rub the surfaces with a little oil, place on your baking sheet and return to the oven until the flesh can be mash with a fork.  About 35 - 40 minutes.  (If you are using delicata squash, it is possible it will be done after the 1st baking.)
Go ahead and mix together all your spices in a small bowl (ginger, salt, asafetida, cayenne, cardamom, and cinnamon) while waiting for the squash to finish baking.
I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper because
I am lazy and hate scrubbing pans.
When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it cool.  Scoop the flesh from the skin, and mash it roughly with a fork.  (If you were working with too much squash, set aside the extra for later, and stick with your ~2lbs).  For extra squash ideas check out Pumpkin Food - Breakfast and Lunch.

Heat the soup pot with the 1 Tbs of oil over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes.  Place a small piece of ginger in the oil.  When it is sizzling and fragrant, add all the spices and stir vigorously for 5-10 seconds.  Your kitchen should be fragrant.
Add all 2C of broth to cool the spices and keep them from burning.  Add the roughly mashed squash.  Stir and smash the squash and broth together to combine it.  Keep adding broth as it incorporates, and the honey.  When all the broth is in, and everything is roughly combined and warm, blend the soup to make it smooth.  Use your blender - in batches, or a stick blender, food mill or potato masher.  Use the last 2C of liquid to help make everything smooth.
Return the blended soul to the pot, bring it up to a simmer for 15 minutes, to let the flavors mellow and combine.
Taste your soup.  Adjust the amounts of salt, cayenne and honey to your liking.  (Don't add any more asafetida at this point, it won't mellow and will take over!)

When it tastes good to you - serve it up!   Finish with a stir of sour cream or a drizzle of a fruity olive oil.  Top with some roasted pumpkin seeds if you are feeling adventurous.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cooking Days & Eating Days

...or how we got suckered in to (thinking we should be) cooking every day.

I am the first to admit that this post sort of fits in with the Tweets of Middle-Class problems. But it doesn't change the fact that some days after baking my eyes on my over-bright iPad, I simply cannot figure out what to make for dinner, a.k.a. crap - What Time is IT!?   Those days that simply end on me, and I have no clue what to do.

Except for when I am in one of my "super cooking phases" or have been away from home and good food for too long, I do have the, "Oh just order something!" moments.

Gramma's house contains
some lovely trashy treasures.
As a child and a mere eater of food, and a survivor of the age of all-beige cuisine, leftovers were real.  And often really scary.

But many of us have fond memories of a few things that did "left-over" well.  It might be meat-loaf sandwiches, black-bean soup that's better after a few days in the fridge, pot-roast that makes amazing enchiladas, the turkey soup that emerges from what was a dry Thanksgiving meal...

The current love-affair our pop-food-culture is having with the fresh and obscure has caused many of us to lose sight of the the best of the left-overs.

Certainly - a delicious, fresh cooked meal - where the hot side's hot, and the cool side's cool, the crispy is crunchy and the soft is fluffy and light - this is wonderful.  But often lots of work, but fun and luscious when you can have it.

And then, there is food that takes a long time to cook, but you can cook LOTS of it.  Often, it simmers in the background, needing little attention.  Even often-er letting it sit, and reheating makes it better.

These trends are jumping out at me as I delve into the world of cooking meat.  A few cuts of meat are quick to cook, and are awesome-est straight off the burner.  But a large number of cuts, and most of the best deals, require some serious prep to be their best.  And the thought of putting all that time and energy, and then even more time in to something that is only one single meal can get frustrating.

Nailing down the "cook once, eat several times" approach (or that will also feed a crowd) is an important part of what I want to create.  There's the cook part, but then there's the storage part, and the making sure the reheat instructions are excellent - and don't ruin beautiful food.

RR - you are a fount of ideas.
 But not all days are cooking days.
Some days just need to be eating days.
That means I have to start with two things:
1) Research


2) Emptying the Freezer

So, watch out for the piles of books, a few mix and match meals as I clear out the Korean spiced potato turnip soup, the saag (needs paneer), and the crab cakes will just keep on coming.

(Did I mention we caught 70 crabs this year?)

And watch this space for the good and the bad.  (e.g. No - do not pan sear a cutlet cut from Chuck.  You will still be chewing it next week.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sharpening Your Own Knives

It is a little bit scary, getting started.
What if I do it wrong?  What if I mess up my knife?  How do I even know if I'm doing it right?  Is it even worth it?

Turns out it is actually pretty hard to completely mess up a knife.  That said, start with a cheaper one, or an older one, or one that isn't particularly special.  Heck, take a tip from the people at Chef Steps  and get some knives from a thrift store to practice on.  You can make them nice and sharp - though they won't hold an edge for long.
And if you screw them up while you are figuring things out - meh.  The best part - no matter how badly you mess things up - including breaking off a tip! - can be fixed as you learn technique.

I am, by no means, particularly qualified to give any advice on how to sharpen.  But I can say, that after just a few tries, I started to get results.

The "paper test"
Try cutting a piece of paper with your knife
(Hold the knife up - and try to slice through the
paper starting at the edge you are holding.
The tomato test is good too.
I went to work on my oldest, best loved knife.  I bought it when I got my 1st apartment out of college.  I hone it regularly, and have had it professionally sharpened once.  I have run it through a home sharpening machine.  All I'm saying is it is one tough knife.

However, it was getting darn dull.  I figured, heck, it is already doing a terrible job.  How much worse could it get?

It only got better.

Could it be sharper?  YES!  Do I need more work on my technique?  YES!

But am I already better than before I started trying?

And is my very dull knife sharper?
Very Much Yes.

So - spend some money on some sharpening stones - and then just a little more on some crappy thrift store knives if you can't bear to start on your own.  It will be worth the time.
Your knives will be safer, and you'll be a faster cook.

Classic Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

Sous Vide braised lamb shanks and Brussels sprouts tossed with bacon.  This is the sort of food that keeps me happy on a cold, cold night when I just want to huddle under a blanket and stop for a bit.  The lamb shanks are just stupid easy - the only thing you need to do is remember to start them 2 days ahead.  Follow the link for the recipe, add different herbs if you want.

On a more pedestrian note, the classic bacon and Brussels sprouts.  I did these stove top because I can use the same pan for the bacon and the sprouts, and I get to cook the sprouts in the bacon fat.  Win-win.  This can be done in the oven - but I would cook the bacon separately and stir it in at the end.  Bacon and sprouts cook at different speeds, and there is too much risk of burt one thing, and undercooked other.  (You could cook the sprouts at one end of the pan, and the bacon strips at the other - just keep an eye on the bacon, and pull it when it's done.  See Savory & Sour Brussels Sprouts for info.)

Stove Top Brussels Sprouts & Bacon

Brussels sprouts (5-8 sprouts per person is typically a good number, know your diners)
2 slices bacon (for every 25 - 30 sprouts) 
(1/4 water)
paper towel - folded into quarters

cast iron pan/heavy sauté pan
knife & cutting board

Cut the larger sprouts in half, leave the smaller ones whole.
(If you have raw sprouts, put the sprouts in the pan with the 1/4 water, place the pan over medium-high heat ad cover.  Bring to turn down to medium heat and steam the sprouts for about 5 minutes).  Dry out the sprouts over medium high heat (do this whether they are thawed or you just gave them a steam).
Cut the bacon into strips about the width of your pinky.  Then cut the strips in to squares

Cook the bacon 1st.
The way sprouts cook would cause limp,
flabby (possibly burned) bits
if you cooked them together
Quickly wipe out the pan with the paper towel so it doesn't have any water in it.  The pan will still be pretty hot, so a quick wipe with the thick folded towel is all you need.  Add the bacon and fry over medium-high heat until well browned.  Scoop up the bits, and place on a paper towel.
Put the dried (steamed) sprouts in the bacon greasy pan.  Cook over medium/medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  They should have some charred spots.  Test one sprout to see if it is cooked through in the middle.  If not, cook 5 or so minutes more.
When the sprouts are cooked through, stir the bacon back in, add salt and pepper so it tastes awesome.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Savory & Sour - Brussels Sprouts

Now that I have 10 bags of Brussels sprouts in the freezer, it is time to start eating some of the buggers.

There are 2 pretty straight forward ways to take care of them - stove top sauté, and oven roasting.  There is also the boil/steam method, but that's hard to get right, and even if you don't end up with slimy, mushy sprouts, the fart smell in the kitchen is unavoidable.

If you are starting with fresh sprouts, and haven't blanched them - all I have to say is, "I'm sorry, there will be stinkyness.  And that's why I blanch."  If you have questions about said blanching - check out a previous post:  The Battle of the Brussels

However once that's done, you can oven roast your sprouts, douse them in some lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to give them a "sauerkraut" tang.  This is handy when you have a meal that craves something sour, and you don't happen to be a home fermenter (what? you aren't?  Oh, and if you are... you can make Brussels sprout sauerkraut.)

This recipe uses oven roasting.  You can also do this stove top (see Classic Sprouts & Bacon)

"Sauer" Roasted Sprouts 

Brussels sprouts (5 - 8 sprouts per person is typically a good number - know your diners)
cider vinegar - 3Tbs
lemon juice - 2 Tbs

baking sheet
knife & cutting board
measuring spoons
small bowl
hot pad
serving bowl

Cut the sprouts in half.  (You can leave any teeny-tinies whole).  Heat the oven to 425˚F.  If these are thawed sprouts, let them dry out in the oven while it is heating up.  When your oven is preheated, go ahead and remove the dried sprouts from the oven.  Toss the sprouts with just enough oil to coat them.  Sprinkle with a little salt.

Place the oiled and seasoned sprouts in the hot oven for 12 minutes.  While they are cooking, mix the vinegar and lemon juice together.  If you have lots of sprouts, double or triple the amount of dressing (6Tbs vinegar + 4 Tbs lemon juice and so on).
Flip and stir the sprouts, and pop them back in the oven for 8 more minutes.  (If you don't do this - you may get some overly burned spots)

Place the hot sprouts in the serving bowl, and pour the sour dressing over.  Stir, check for salt and add what you think it needs.

I admit - they get a bit "army green" but the sour/sauer is worth it!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

It is time to get back in the writing game.

Why you ask?  Well, I dove into the teaching game for a year.  And dove down deep.  I had a blast teaching my "Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll & Yelling at Your Parents" class.  What you say?  Yes, I got to spend the year talking to 7th graders about Addiction, Stress, Puberty, Sex and why figuring out who you are, what stresses you out and makes you mad can make you a better person.

THAT- people is how much I adore teaching.  I will even teach that.  I will happily jump up and down and choose to teach that - excitedly.  OK, it is partly because kids want to learn a bunch of this stuff (at least the way I taught it), so that makes it awesome.  But I love teaching people things they might actually use.

So it is back to the knives.

And just for fun - what got me back on the Blog train?  The best damn chile rellenos I ever had on a recent trip through Holbrook, AZ after seeing the Petrified Forest.

A completely adventurous Spring Break.  Dried out so much the poor kid got bloody noses.  But we survived.

And I'm back to the writing and cooking and writing thing.

Battle of the Brussels

That magical time of the year when they are selling edible trees.  Brussels sprout trees.  My local grocery was no exception.  I ended up with this:
My very own fortress of Brussels sprouts
A huge pot of water to boil

You don't need to get 4 of them.  But it bugs me the utter amount of time and water blanching takes.  So when I do it, I do it in bulk.  I also like it because it preps fresh veggies for excellent freezing.
And another to quick-cool the
hot, blanched sprouts 

Working with the Brussels sprouts on trees is more work, but when you look at the prices of of the tidy, pre-trimmed nets of those tiny, tiny cabbages, setting aside some time to conquer the stalk seems worth it.  Oh, and working my way through this project continues to remind me I cannot do this professionally.  I would get so fired, so fast, because I am relatively slow.
Ewwww! Baby slug.
Oh, well - off you go.

The first thing you'll realize it this is full of surprises.  The trees have passengers.  And there are some bum sprouts.  Depending on the size of these less than prime sprouts, you can cut off the bad bit, or dismantle for leaves.
Oh dear, this one is not prime.

Look - my sprout has
minnie sprouts!
But you will also get to see the awesome fractal nature of the sprouts.  When you get the pre cleaned sprouts, where everything looks like these lovely firm miniature cabbages, all these interesting aspects of the sprouts are lost.

To get this rodeo started, you need to remove the sprouts from the stalk.  This is pretty easy, and one kids can help with.

 Then, look through for passengers, and icky spots.  Remove them, trim off long stems, and remove any leaves that are hanging off loose from the cabbage head.

I used to throw those away, but since reading, eating out, and wasting my life watching cooking shows, I have come to see those leaves (only the sound ones - nothing yucky) as their own prize.  They get set aside for their own use.  These I rinsed and blanched for about a minute before using.  I planned to char them a bit, so I spun them in a salad spinner to dry them.

The sprouts, once all trimmed made quite a stack.  You'll notice some of them are cut in half.  It is important to have all the sprouts in shouting distance of the same size.  Since some of the sprouts at the top are teeny-tiny, and some at the bottom are huge, cutting the very biggest ones in half solves the problem.

Time to blanch.  I put the sprouts in the water in batches so I don't lower the water temp too much, and cause the water to take too long to get back to the boil.

3 minutes in boiling water.  A dunk in the ice water to cool them off, and then use a slotted spoon to let them rest in a colander and drain some more while I work my way through the pile.

When they are cool and well drained, I divide them up into dinner size portions (for the 3 of us that's a quart freezer bag with a loosely pack layer of sprouts.  FWIW)  I also suck the air out of the bag with a straw (well didn't have a straw last night, so I was a little closer to that patented plastic zipper tech.)
10 dinners.  I may have to come up with something other than bacon
and Brussels.  Miso?  Vinegary sauerkraut inspired?  Charred
sprouts and charred carrots with caramelized onions?
The leaves got charred (on purpose) in my wok - and then added in to a veggie rice (carrots, celery, green onion, ginger, garlic, and sauce added in at the end.)

If that all seems like too much work, here are a few recipes for roasting the sprouts on the stalks.  However, I cannot recommend strongly enough giving your stalk a full inspection looking for passengers and sub par sprouts and trimming them off before you go ahead with the recipes.

Trader Joe's offers a sweet and savory take

or Nutmeg Nanny with a straight up roasted version