Friday, February 26, 2010

Show me your brussels

After reading over some of my earlier posts, I realized I haven't done a very good job of showing you what really goes on in my kitchen. In an attempt to lure you in with sweet treats and breakfast cravings, I neglected to demonstrate my real passion for natural, wholesome ingredients.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I love me some darker-than-dark chocolate and I'm famous for curling up on the couch with a bowl of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream while catching up on episodes of Big Love, but my true love is for vegetables. And I have a particular sore spot for brussels sprouts. Yup, that's right... brussels sprouts. These little guys have had to endure years of scrutiny as the "yucky" food that, in order to eat, you had to pinch your nostrils together in an effort not to taste them (something, by the way, that should not be performed by any person over the age of eight).

But brussels sprouts are truly delicious, when cooked properly. Slightly bitter and uniquely soft, I love the way these bite-size "cabbages" crunch in my mouth. This classic recipe is really easy and is so good as a side dish or as a mid-day snack on its own. I usually opt to keep it simple when cooking veggies, allowing the actual taste of the vegetable to come through in the dish. Finishing them under the broiler gives the brussels sprouts a subtle crispness that gives the flavor a little more depth.

I specify using fresh garlic in this recipe, but that goes for any recipe really. I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain's impossibly funny and twistedly brilliant Kitchen Confidential and he says to treat your garlic with respect--if you can't take the time to chop your own garlic, then you don't deserve to eat it. I couldn't agree more. Always go fresh with garlic, the minced mess in a jar has a chemically funky taste that will just ruin a dish.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts

1 10-ounce package of brussels sprouts
3/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp fresh garlic, chopped (see above)

Cut brussels sprouts into quarters by cutting off the ends and removing any yellow or spotted outer leaves. If brussels sprouts are small, just cut them into halves. Give them a good rinse.

On medium-high, heat a sauté pan that has a metal handle, one that you will be able to put directly into the oven. Allow the pan to heat up and then add the water and the rinsed and cut brussels sprouts. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Remove lid and cook until basically all water is evaporated. Place brussels sprouts on a plate and set aside.

Lower heat to medium and, in the same pan, heat olive oil, chopped garlic, and salt and cook until garlic just begins to brown. Add brussels sprouts again and cook for about 8 minutes, using a wooden spoon to stir occasionally.

Turn broiler on high and place entire pan under broiler for about 3-4 minutes, until brussels sprouts are slightly charred and they look good and crispy.

Serve immediately. If you like, you can add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon for some extra pizazz. (Cue Emeril's POW!!!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rainy Day Pancakes

I know, for most of you, a rainy day still means you have to get up and go to work. But, for me, it just means that I don't feel as guilty for not leaving the house all day. The plan for a cozy day? Whole grain pancakes with warm maple syrup and fresh strawberries. I've hinted at my love for PURE maple syrup before, but I seriously don't think I could live without it, especially when I'm cooking up some rainy day pancakes. So, if you don't have any pure maple in your kitchen, do your yourself a favor and run out to get some. It can be pricey, but it's sooo worth it.

The recipe for these golden-delicious pancakes is adapted from Heidi Swanson's recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, with a little of my own tweeking. I add oats that have been blended, it gives the batter a fantastically subtle crumb texture. For the ingredients I specify organic eggs, but obviously any egg will do. Though, I really stress buying farm fresh eggs rather than the cheap ones from the factory--they're free of antibiotics and added chemicals and the treatment of the chickens is more humane.

Whole Grain Pancakes with Warm Maple Syrup

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats, blended
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup pure, accept-no-imitations maple syrup
1 carton fresh strawberries, rinsed and sliced

In a small saucepan, heat maple syrup on very low heat, whisking occasionally. When the maple is loose, turn heat off but leave on burner until ready to use.

In a blender, add the oats and pulse a couple of times, just enough to break up the oats. In a large bowl, mix the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, brown sugar, and salt. Add the buttermilk, beaten eggs, and melted butter, stirring until ingredients are mixed. Be sure not to beat out all the lumps--overmixing will toughen the pancakes.

Heat your skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with enough butter to cover the pan, allowing it to melt but not brown. Pour 1/4 cup of batter onto skillet for each pancake, allowing it to cook until the bottom of the pancake is just golden brown. With a spatula flip pancake and cook until cooked through. Repeat until batter is finished. Quick tip: Do not over-flip your pancakes, it toughen the cakes and ruin your dreams of being in fluffy pancake heaven.

Serve pancakes with a warm maple syrup and sliced fresh strawberries and you are in for a perfect start to any day.

Yield: 10-12 large pancakes

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gone in the middle of the night

Yesterday was a one of the more sentimental days of my life. It was the one year anniversary of my father's death. Gearing up for the obvious sadness that the day would bring, I was still terrified of what I might feel. I thought it would be like someone was throwing salt on my broken heart or ringing out my insides Indian-burn-style, just like it did one year ago. But surprisingly it felt kind of, well...good.

Before you start sharpening the guillotine, allow me to explain. I spent the last year trying to figure out if I was grieving the way I should be, the way I needed to be. Initially, I shut down that part of my brain, the part that kept reminding me my dad had just died. Three months from graduating college and it didn't seem like I had much of a choice. But, after the initial shock, I started to get a grip on what I was feeling. As difficult a year as this one has been, I feel like the worst is over. I understand the world just the slightest bit better and, more importantly, I have gotten to know myself in ways I didn't know I could. Undoubtedly, I still have some much needed therapy sessions to attend to, but overall I think I am in the right direction on the slow path to healing.

The strangest thing I have learned about death, though, is that you still think about that person as if he were alive. I watch a new movie and think, "I have to tell Dad to watch that," and for that split second I forget that he will never be able to watch that movie. Sometimes the ridiculousness of it makes me laugh. The same goes with food. Whenever I make mashed potatoes, I think, "Dad won't eat any of this," (as a child, his mom had always made him finish them before leaving the table, inevitably forcing him to eat the cold mush that he so dreaded). Or I think to make something because I know he'll love it, which is why I opted to make an old favorite yesterday.

My dad always had an intense sweet tooth, so it wasn't abnormal to find him in the kitchen at 3am with his hands in the cookie jar. He would devour a pound of Boardwalk fudge in less than three days, cutting himself a sliver every time he walked past the kitchen. And, even though the days of hearing him rummaging through the kitchen like a desperate mouse are over, I can still make some of his favorite treats. So, Dad, I hope you enjoy.

This recipe is adapted from the back of the chocolate wafer box. Instead of making a cake "log," like my mother's mother used to make, I like to make individual servings because they are easier to serve and they look adorable. Trust me on this one, these little cookie cakes are jawdroppingly simple and unbelievably delicious.

Chocolate Cookie Cakes with Vanilla Cream

1 9oz package of chocolate wafers (I use Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers®)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup
chocolate shavings, for garnish
fresh fruit, for garnish

Using an electric mixer, in a medium bowl beat cream until it's whipped and fluffy, about eight minutes.

Add vanilla and maple syrup and beat for another minute, until mixed. You don't want to over whip the cream or it will become thick and butter-like.

Using a butter knife, take one chocolate wafer and layer on a dollop of whipped cream. Stack with another chocolate cookie and another layer of whipped cream until you have five cookies stacked up. Top off the fifth cookie with a layer of whipped cream, wiping away any excess cream that has creeped out onto the sides.

Place on a flat baking sheet that will fit in the fridge. Repeat to make 8 mini-cakes, all five cookies tall. Top each cookie cake with chocolate shavings. Chill in refrigerator for 4-6 hours. Put excess whipped cream in a plastic container and chill until ready to serve.

When you're ready to wow your guests or enjoy these yummy cakes on your own, cut up some fresh fruit (I like strawberries and blackberries) and give the excess whipped cream a quick whisking, until fluffy again.

Serve each cookie cake with a hefty portion of whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Yields: 8 servings.

You can always play around with extra ingredients, like mint leaves or orange peel. Me? I like to keep it simple. Store these in the refrigerator covered and be sure to hide one in the back for yourself, these little guys have been known to disappear in the middle of the night.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crunch time

For the longest time I have been making my granola with raisins and dried cranberries... but I'm on serious coconut kick right now so I thought I'd give that a go. With a little inspiration from Orangette, I came up with this recipe for pecan coconut granola with chocolate. The shredded coconut gives the granola a contrasting texture and adds just the right amount of sweetness to each bite. You can really use any nuts that you like, but I went for pecans in this recipe. Almonds would make a nice substitute, though. The dark chocolate is optional, but really, why do that to yourself?

I love using maple syrup in my cooking, the earthy sweetness is like nothing else. And it doesn't overwhelm other ingredients like honey does. Add whatever you like--dried cherries, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, sunflower seeds, toasted walnuts--to make the mixture your own. I hope you enjoy!

Chocolate Coconut Granola

3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup toasted unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup toasted pecans (roughly chopped)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp light brown sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp good vanilla extract
¼ c. good dark chocolate finely chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Spread coconut evenly on baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until lightly browned, giving it a good stir about half way through. To toast the pecans, spread them evenly on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are crisp and aromatic. Be sure to give them a toss or two, as well, to ensure even toasting. Remove and let cool before coarsely chopping.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, toasted coconut, toasted pecans, salt, and brown sugar.

In a small saucepan, heat the maple syrup and vegetable oil over low heat while whisking for about 1 minute, until smooth. Put mixture in a small bowl and whisk in the vanilla. Pour mixture over oats and mix with rubber spatula until every last oat is covered with sweetness.

Spread the mixture evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring about half way through to make sure it cooks evenly. After the granola is a beautiful golden brown color, take it out of the oven and let cool completely before adding the finely chopped chocolate. Store in an airtight container and you've got smashing granola for days!

Yields about 6 cups.

What kind of cookery is this?

Like so many other twenty-somethingorothers, I recently graduated college and am back living at home... in New Jersey. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to have a home to come to while I ponder my fate and believe it or not I do actually love where I live, but it is, for lack of a better word, boring. Really boring. So, in an effort to keep things interesting and enjoy life, I cook and I eat. And I eat.

I guess you should know that I have always loved cooking, having basically grown up in the kitchen. My mother instilled her love for food in me, making sure I knew at young age how to properly cut an onion. She spent twenty years in the restaurant business as a vegetarian chef until she made a career change to flight attendant. I know, I know...flight attendant? Hell of a career change but she has always been known to keep things interesting.

Anyway, like I said, I love food. Real food, though. Not that stuff you get through your car window after yelling into a microphone. Food is what makes life delicious and spontaneous, and I want to write about it. More for me, I created this blog to start writing for myself about what I truly enjoy. I plan to keep rummaging through cookbooks and trying as many recipes as my bank account allows for (I am still young and broke, after all). So, if you're out there, keep reading and I'll keep cooking and writing and eating (of course!).