Monday, March 30, 2009

Winter’s Last Hurrah ~ Brussels Sprouts Chips


I don’t like the cold season ~ at all. I walk around from November to April swathed in layers of heat-trapping clothing, and I don’t venture outside unless absolutely necessary, and then, somewhat sulkily. I wear a coat to collect the mail from my front porch.

No, I don’t love winter, but I do love winter vegetables. Because of this, I’m a little conflicted now that spring is finally here and it’s time to say good-bye to the beautiful, inexpensive Brussels sprouts we’ve been enjoying all winter long.

I’m a huge fan of these little green globes, regardless of how they’re prepared ~ roasted, steamed, or shredded and sautéed. I’ll even happily eat them boiled, never mind that it makes my entire house smell like the aftermath of a phalanx of nimble Polish grandmothers rolling enough Golabki to outfit Kosciuszko’s infantry.

But not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Sure, I’ll concede that Brussels sprouts may, on occasion, stink. But not necessarily. You see, that odoriferousness depends largely on cooking method, and there are plenty of ways to get around it.

Take, for example, these heavenly chips. Crispy, salty, a little tangy, and just so good. When I make these, there are never, ever any leftovers.

I may plant my own Brussels sprouts in the garden this year, just so I can console myself with the hope of things to come. Sound melodramatic? Try these chips; you’ll see.

Brussels Sprouts Chips

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed and spun dry
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking pan with a piece of aluminum foil, if desired. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Trim stem end of Brussels sprouts high enough to loosen most of the leaves. Remove and discard yellow or damaged leaves. Separate as many leaves as will pull away from the center easily. Halve the remaining sprout centers. Place loose leaves and sprout halves in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over Brussels sprouts; sprinkle coarse salt and pepper over. Toss to coat evenly and spread leaves in a single layer on baking sheet.

  4. Place baking sheet in 425 degree F oven and let roast for 10 minutes. Remove sheet from oven. Pick out leaves that are dark and crispy and place in a serving bowl. Use a spatula to flip the remaining leaves and sprout halves. Return to oven.
  5. Repeat this process until the majority of the leaves have been crisped. The halved sprouts remaining on the baking sheet should be browned and fork-tender. Place them in the serving bowl along with the leaves and serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Return to the CIA ~ Someday Comes


The first time I visited the Culinary Institute of America, I was a teenager, and I was dining at the Caterina de’ Medici with my family. We were seated and served an amuse bouche ~ a date stuffed with Roquefort cheese. Instead of butter beside the bread basket, there were shallow bowls of viridian olive oil speckled with coarse salt and cracked black pepper. I remember looking around at the waiters and waitresses, all chefs-in-training, and thinking, Someday, that will be me.


But, not so much. As it turns out, I took a different path. I majored in English, became an editor. Then added “wife,” “mother,” and “writer” to my curriculum vitae. It was a long time before my particular path brought me back to the CIA.

Last Saturday I pulled on a toque in a CIA bakeshop for the second time. I was there to write about the Saturdays at the CIA class, Baking at Home: Desserts. Our instructor, the affable Chef Hans Welker, outlined an impossibly ambitious schedule in his robust German accent. Pie crust, layer cake, pound cake, buffet lunch in the CIA dining room. . . . He pointed out the bread, cheese, and fresh fruits that were laid out ~ sustenance to get us through the busy morning.


Toque, apron, side towel. More than two decades later, I was standing at a baker’s bench in a CIA kitchen, in baker’s garb, waiting to learn about home baking from a Master Baker. And, although I have almost twenty years of baking experience under my belt; have written hundreds of recipes, articles, and blog posts on home baking topics; and have baked thousands of items requiring varying degrees of skill on my part, I did learn.

In fact, I learned something completely new from Chef Welker, a technique I’d never tried or even read about in any of my scores of baking books. From the very first exercise ~ a simple pie crust ~ I was already ahead. Improving, growing as a baker and a learner.

That’s what happens at the CIA. And that’s why, after 20-odd years of learning and in spite of all I already know, I looked around as I walked through campus ~ taking in the teaching kitchens, the bakeshops, the restaurants ~ and the tiny thought popped into my head: Someday.

If you have any inclination to deepen your experience in the kitchen, cooking or baking, do yourself a favor and look into the enthusiast classes at the CIA. From 5-day intensive boot camps to 1-day classes, the Culinary Institute of America provides an experience that you just can’t get anywhere else. The CIA is, after all, a bastion of the culinary universe, and to be part of it, even just for a day or a week, is simply awesome.

I went home from my Saturday class with three heavy cake boxes (bearing an apple-cranberry galette, a devil’s food fudge cake, and a sour cream streusel pound cake), a CIA apron, and a copy of the wonderful Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America~ so I could go forward on my own and continue to learn the techniques and principles of baking set down by the CIA instructors.*

If my path brings me back there ~ and I really, really hope it does ~ I’ll go with bells on. I know enough to know that I have a lot to learn.

If you want to see what I learned on my first visit ~ for the Hearth Breads Boot Camp ~ click here and here. To visit the CIA’s Web site and learn more about the enthusiast classes, click here.

*Note: I’ll be baking through this entire cookbook on my baking blog, At the Baker’s Bench. Please stop by and visit ~ this book has some wonderful insight to offer the serious home baker, and I’m very excited to journey through it recipe by recipe.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Colcannon ~ Winter Veggies Get Lucky!

colcannon-best

As far as I know, I don't have a drop of Irish blood in my veins, but you know what they say: "On St. Patty's Day, everyone's Irish." I can definitely get on board with that sentiment. I love the traditional Irish mainstays that our family eats approximately twice a year, right around this time. Corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and some version of a side dish featuring potatoes running with melted butter. I say we eat it twice because both my parents and my in-laws cook "the" dinner, and then that's it till next year's Irish-for-a-day (times two) food fest.

There is one Irish dish that makes it to our table more often than corned beef does. (And okay, soda bread is a year-round fave.) Typically served at Halloween, colcannon (cál ceannan) is a perfect way to use up some of those lingering winter veggies. Got some softening potatoes? Introduce them to your favorite variety of green or white cabbage. Or feel free to replace the cabbage with kale. I’m partial to the tender, wrinkled leaves of Savoy cabbage, so I like to use that.

If you wish, you can sauté a few slices of bacon, crumble it, and set it aside to mix in right before serving. Use the rendered bacon drippings to sauté the cabbage and onion. Oh yeah, I'm feeling the luck of the Irish already!

Colcannon

  • 2 pounds potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
  • Milk, chicken broth, or vegetable stock, as needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Grated white cheddar cheese, if desired

Peel, dice, and boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender. While the potatoes are cooking, combine olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When butter is melted, add onion and shallot. Sauté until onion begins to sweat, and add cabbage. Sauté cabbage mixture until all vegetables are very tender. If necessary, add a little water or stock to moisten.

When potatoes are done, drain and return to pan. Add milk or broth as necessary and mash with a potato masher. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir cabbage mixture into mashed potatoes and transfer to serving bowl. Make a depression in the center and pour the melted butter into it. Sprinkle with grated white cheddar cheese if desired, and serve.


Planning to make some Irish Soda Bread to accompany your St. Patrick's Day dinner? Stop by my baking blog, At the Baker's Bench, and check out my recipe for traditional soda bread, with a cranberry brown sugar variation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Greek-Style Spinach and Rice


It has been a long time ~ too long ~ since I visited Greece. My husband and I were there some fifteen years ago, a last footloose fling before our entree into parenthood. We celebrated our last vacation as DINKs (that is, dual income, no kids) by traipsing around Europe and the Mediterranean for 6 wonderful weeks.


Maybe it was all the sightseeing ~ there's just so much to see ~ or maybe it was the fact that I was actually pregnant with our firstborn at the time, but one of my most prominent memories of Greece is its food. Its magical, incredible, sunshine-and-seashore-on-a-plate food.


By hot, sun-blasted day, we went to Patmos; toured the Parthenon; soaked in the pure, unadulterated ancientness that radiates from every paving stone, every statue, every crumbling (and scaffold-buttressed) ruin.


And then, we ate. And ate. And ATE. From street food like gyros to simple, exquisite crumbly white cheese drizzled with bright green olive oil to fast-food souvlaki we ate out of waxed paper on the rooftop terrace of our hotel at dusk ~ I don't recall that we ate a single bad meal in all of Greece.


And, you know, the scenery was pretty nice too.



Greek-Style Spinach and Rice


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, more if necessary

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 pound frozen loose cut-leaf spinach (or use chopped fresh spinach, in season)

  • 2 1/4 cups water or vegetable stock, divided

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice

  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce

  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

  • Lemon wedges to garnish


  1. Place a large skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan and bring to medium-high. Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Saute until tender, then add the garlic. Saute a minute or 2 longer, until onions are translucent and garlic is just tender. Add spinach to the pan (no need to thaw). Stir. Pour in 1/4 cup of water and cover. If spinach is frozen, continue to cook, stirring periodically for about 5 minutes, until it is thawed. If using fresh spinach, cook just till spinach is wilted.

  2. Add remaining water or stock, dill and parsley, and rice; stir and bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender. If necessary, add more water or stock to moisten during this stage.

  3. Stir in tomato sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand on low heat till heated through. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze overtop.

  4. Makes 4 generous main-dish or 8 side-dish servings.


    Click here for printable view.



    Recipe Notes


    • The tomato sauce in this recipe imparts a subtle depth without giving it a tomatoey flavor. If you prefer a more robust tomato presence, you can increase the amount of sauce, add some canned or fresh diced tomato, or stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. But try it without sometime ~ it's lovely with the lemon juice.

    • If you're serving this as a meatless main dish, you'll probably want to add a bit of protein to the meal, either to the dish itself or as a side. If you're not vegan, you can sprinkle some feta cheese over the top. I serve this with a salad of chickpeas dressed with a little extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

    • If you're not a vegetarian, you can use chicken stock in this, or add some sliced cooked kielbasa or turkey sausage.

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