Monday, November 22, 2010

Hot and sweet brussel sprouts

Here's what I would make for everyone on Thanksgiving this year, if I was going to be cooking at home instead of hanging out in New Jersey. These are highly untraditional brussel sprouts--hot and sweet, just like the name says. And they are so so good...the peppers bring a fruity heat that loves the warm maple nuttiness on the sprouts, plus a crispy shallot topping. They might freak Grandma out a little, but they're perfect if you need something to spice up a stale holiday routine. Here's what you'll need for the pepper mixture: two chilies (I used a habanero and something that looked like a jalapeno but was smaller), 2 big shallots and 2 cloves garlic. De-seed and mince the peppers. You can leave some seeds in if you are super hardcore. I like heat but I thought using just the pepper flesh packed enough for me. And a cautionary note: do not go poking at your eyeballs after you handle the peppers! You will mildly pepper spray yourself and it will hurt. I do this pretty much every single time I de-seed peppers, by the way. Slice half of one shallot into thin rings and set aside. You can buy a whole extra shallot just for the topping if you want--it is really yummy and you might want more of it. Mince the rest of the shallots and all the garlic too and put the peppers, shallot (not including the reserved slices) and garlic all in a mortar to pound into a paste. You can use the food processor for this too, it would work really well. Or just mash it all together in a bowl. Find your reserved thin slices of shallot...And fry them in a little bit of olive oil or butter until they crisp up. This will only take about 1 minute, tops, so get the oil pretty hot, dump in the slices, stir them around a couple times and then as soon as they start going brown, just fish them out.And drain on paper towels. They'll get all crispy and yummy. Yes, you should definitely make more than this, so slice up a whole shallot. I don't know what I was thinking. Meanwhile! You have 1 pound of brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved. Just waiting there for you. Melt 2 tablespoons of bacon fat over medium high heat (or use a mixture of olive oil and butter, if you prefer). Put your sprouts in, cut side down, and sprinkle them with a teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt. Let them get good and browned, and stir occasionally--this will take about 5 minutes. They should be crisped on the outside but still not done all the way through. You're going to cook them some more in a minute, so it's OK. Pull them off the pan and set them aside for now. Here's the paste of peppers-shallots-garlic that we made earlier. It actually makes way more than you'll need, so put the rest in a little jar and save for later (I actually added some vinegar to my leftovers to see if I could make a spicy sauce. I'll report back). Scoop out 1-2 tablespoons of the pepper mixture and fry over medium heat in the same hot pan that the brussel sprouts were just in. I say "1-2 tablespoons" because only you can know how spicy hot you like your side dishes to be. I like it hot, so I go more towards the 2 tablespoons, personally. Add your sprouts back in plus a little less than 1/2 cup chicken stock.
And drizzle at least 1 tablespoon maple syrup into the pan as well. Bring it all to a boil, then turn down the heat a bit so the liquid simmers into a thick glaze and the brussel sprouts finish cooking through. This will take about 3-5 minutes. Spoon the sprouts out into a pretty bowl and top them with the crispy shallots. Wonderful. Happy thanksgiving, wherever you may be!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Garlic knots

Little pieces of heaven. If you have a bunch of holiday potlucks coming up, or need to bring something snazzy to Thanksgiving, this is for you. Garlic knots (my version is based on a Gourmet recipe from a couple years ago) are simple and pretty and seem to really tap into that fundamental human need for buttery, garlicky bread hot from the oven. You can either use prepared pizza dough (Trader Joe's sells it in the refrigerated section) or just make a quick batch, because it's pretty easy. Note: I only used half a batch for this below, because it was just for Phil and myself. It made 10 knots and only needed one baking sheet. Presumably you will get 20 knots and need 2 sheets when you make a full batch. Math! Flour your countertop and flatten out your dough. If it seems too pliable to stretch and hold its shape, go ahead and let it rest for 5 minutes or so and then return to stretching it out. After it's somewhat flattened, go ahead and roll it out to get it more or less even. Slice into even strips--I guess you could make them more narrow than I did here and thus get more knots per batch, but I think they'd be harder to work with. Once all your dough is sliced into strips, tie them into little knots. Super cute!!( There are a lot of pictures of these little guys because I just find them so charming) Set them on an oiled baking sheet and let them go for 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven. While they're baking, get 3 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed somewhat) and pound them with a teaspoon of salt. Don't worry if you don't have a mortar & pestle--you can use the flat side of a knife on a cutting board to mash the salt and garlic and that will work fine. Or a bowl and a heavy spoon. Smash it all into a paste. Now, in a very large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons butter with the garlic-salt paste and a tablespoon of olive oil. Now, to be perfectly honest, I did not actually measure the olive oil. I just eyeballed it. But I think it was at least 1 tablespoon. Set the bowl on your hot stove while the knots are baking and the butter will melt, not that it matters too much. OK, your knots are done! Now, this is the only part where you have to move quickly, because you'll want to toss them with their seasonings while they are still very hot from the oven. Dump your knots into the big bowl with the garlic-butter-olive oil, and stir them around firmly, yet gently. You don't want to break them but you do want them to get well-covered with all this goodness. See? Deliciously browned, buttery and garlicky. Two more things you need to add while they're still perfectly hot, then you can eat them. First--toss them in a couple tablespoons of minced parsley...Plus a few tablespoons of fresh grated parmesan cheese--again, I eyeballed this a bit, so not sure the exact amount. But you really can't screw it up, so no worries. And we're done! So irresistibly good. They're wonderful hot but fine at room temperature too. Don't feel bad if you want them at every meal--trust me, it makes sense.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Jake Tilson's A Tale of 12 Kitchens is one of my absolute favorites. I know I've mentioned it before, but it's just really fun to read. This dinner was based on something of his: a simple vegetable stew over fluffy, buttery couscous served with grilled meat. Perfect for cold weather nights. My spices were a little different than what Mr. Tilson uses--I didn't have any saffron and was too lazy to go procure it, but you should use about 10 threads, soaked in water, if you want to do it up right. Above is my spice dump: 1 stick cinnamon, 4 cloves of garlic, smashed, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon cloves, 2 tiny pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and smashed. Cut up 3 small zucchini, 3 small potatoes and 3 small carrots into more or less equal sizes. Also tie a bundle of parsley (so you can easily fish it out later). Not pictured: a similar looking bunch of cilantro, tied up in the same way. Chop two small onions and saute in olive oil over medium heat until they're soft. Add in 2 healthy teaspoons cumin to the hot oil because it brings out the flavor so well. Add in your spice dump and the carrots, saute for another 3 minutes or so. Then add 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, plus about the same amount of tomato puree. And your parsley sprig! And, um, the cilantro too. Hopefully you won't forget it, like some people. Add one can of drained and rinsed chickpeas and the rest of your cut up veggies. Cover with water and allow to simmer for about 30-40 minutes. While that's happening, you can prepare your couscous. This is a traditional method that results in ultra-fluffy couscous and is really easy to do. Get 2 cups of couscous and place in a large bowl with a couple pinches of salt. Jake Tilson adds saffron threads here as well, but I think we've covered my negligence in that department already. Pour over boiling water until it just covers the couscous--little grains should barely break the surface. Let it sit for 20 minutes and don't stir it or touch it or talk to it or anything.
After 20 minutes, it will have absorbed all the water and it looks like a solid mass. One big couscous. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a big pan over medium-low heat... And use a fork to gently scrape the couscous, layer by layer, off into the butter pan. Separate the couscous and get it heated through by gently stirring it around with a flat spoon of some kind. It's completely meditative.Couscous is served with grilled meats of some kind--lamb, fish or sausages, usually. We had flank steak, but I think sausages sound pretty good for this too. Heap up your fluffy, warmed couscous in a big pile on a dish and encircle it with golden raisins--they add a lovely sweetness to each bite. I tossed them around first in the grill pan, after I'd removed the steak to get them warm and plumped up. Phil called it "instant chutney."
Your vegetable stew should be saucy and deliciously aromatic by now...
Serve the stew atop a pile of couscous, with yummy grilled tidbits on the side. And a nice bottle of red wine doesn't hurt either--especially if it's one that you thought had already been drunk and then, mysteriously, there it is somehow in your cabinet. Surprise!