Brussels Sprouts, the easy way

Once again, yesterday I was reminded why I like brussels sprouts, especially on a day like Thanksgiving.  As a fall vegetable they really work, they have lots of flavor and I love their green addition, but I’m disappointed when they turn out bitter and either undercooked and hard, or overcooked and mushy.

Bacon is always a solution, its smokiness can mask some of that off flavor, and roasting sprouts is an interesting compromise. That is, until the oven is taken over by turkey and other sides and sprouts get shifted down in priority.

So, here’s my solution.  I’ve discovered that brussels sprouts cook in a flash in the microwave, and when an everyday balsamic vinegar is pulled into the equation, things really shift.  The sweet-sour action tends to balance out any potential bitterness, and used judiciously, balsamic vinegar adds dimension and is hardly detectable.

I dribble on a dash of balsamic when precooking the halved brussels sprouts for 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave—before all the madness begins. Then, it’s a simple matter of quickly reheating them with the precooked smoky bacon and perhaps a bit of onion, plus another dribble of balsamic for re-enforcement.  Give it a taste before serving and add another dribble, if so inclined.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that easy and so tasty.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Balsamic

Ingredients
1-pound brussels sprouts, trim and cut in half lengthwise
3 slices pepper bacon, cut into strips
½ small red onion, peel and slice
1 Tbsp olive oil, divided
½ tsp each salt and pepper
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar, to taste

Instructions

  1. Ahead, cook bacon in microwave between toweling until crisp, about 2 minutes total.  In microwaveable bowl, toss onion with 1 tsp oil and  heat in microwave until it softens and begins to color, 2 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoon balsamic.  Microwave 2-3 minutes uncovered.  Set aside until needed.
  3. To finish, reheat the sprouts with 1 additional teaspoon balsamic, the bacon and onion on top in microwave, 1-2 minutes.  Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar to taste, toss and serve.  Serves 4.

One Mug, One Serving

As a follow up to the previous Small Batch, One Bowl, today’s post further down-sizes.

Think of this small personal cake the next time the need hits for a minimal-mess-quick-fix.  You can’t go wrong with the satisfying combination of sweet ripe banana and quick hearty oats. If time permits finish it with a honey-oat topping.

Simply mix all the ingredients in a microwaveable mug and pop it into a microwave oven for 1½ minutes. It’s just that easy.

But wait!  If you haven’t used the microwave for baking before, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In small scale baking such as this, details matter and every second counts.

  • The microwave draws moisture out of food. 
    With our small cake, the size and ripeness of the banana become a key factor. To lighten the cake and provide additional liquid, use either one beaten egg white or 1 egg yolk plus 1-2 teaspoons liquid. When all ingredients have been combined, if the batter is quite heavy adjust by adding a dash at a time of additional liquid to reach a thick cake-like batter.
  • For the optional honey-oat topping Old fashioned oats provide an interesting nut-like quality. Because they are very dry, a bit of milk or water added to the oats will help to moisturize them before adding the honey.  (The honey will soak into the dry oats and become a sticky mess without moisturizing the oats first.)
  • For the cake to rise evenly, turn the cup once half way through baking.
    It is cooked when the cake begins to shrink away from the edges of the mug.
  • When done, let the cake rest for 5 minutes.
    The cake will continue to cook and release moisture.
  • Unmold by running a knife around the edge of the cake.
    If pretty is important, dress it up with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or a drizzle of warmed local honey.
  • Enjoy!
    For breakfast, snacking, or individual dessert.

Banana Oat Mug Cake with Honey-Oat Topping

Inspired by Quaker Oats Banana Oat Mug Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ tablespoons quick oats
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ ripe banana, well mashed
  • 1 egg white lightly beaten; or 1 egg yolk + 2 tsp milk, water or other liquid, lightly beaten
  • Topping
  • 1½ teaspoons old fashioned oats moistened with 1 tsp milk or other liquid
  • 1 teaspoon honey, agave or syrup
  • Pinch each cinnamon and salt

Instructions

  1. In microwaveable mug, blend together oats, flour, baking powder, sugar and nutmeg.
  2. Add the banana and egg white or egg yolk mixture and combine evenly to form a batter. If quite thick, thin with a dash of milk or water.  Scrape bottom and sides with a spatula.
  3. Combine the topping mixture and distribute over the top.
  4. Microwave on HIGH 80 to 90 seconds until risen and just firm to the touch. Half way through, stop and rotate the mug. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes to further cook and set up before serving.  Yield: 1 serving

Forget Dinner

I should have known better. I did not expect much, and I was wrong. Maria Speck’s book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals has been a reliable resource in my kitchen for quite a while now, and it has rarely let me down.

It’s one of those recipes I have considered on several occasions but moved on, opting for something else. Perhaps it is because she offers it as primarily a breakfast dish—and it needs an overnight soak. Apparently, I have trouble thinking that far ahead.  Sad.

Maria calls it an Anise Oatmeal Puff.  That sounds interesting. But then she adds an egg, clearly something I’ve had difficulty imagining. Well, for anyone who is a rice pudding fan, take another look.  You receive all the instant gratification, plus it’s made more nutritious with oats.

Maria and her family must surely like it, because her recipe makes enough for 8 stand-alone servings.  This morning I decided to test her idea. I would resize the dry mix and forgo the prescribed overnight soak method.

It’s another microwave wonder:  true bliss in under 5 minutes. Tasty, filling, entertaining, and fast. In fact, I would even make this for dinner—or dessert—and forget dinner.

In all fairness to Maria, I offer her original recipe from sister book Simply Ancient Grains, because it is probably worth making in batches and investing in the overnight soak.  However, if you are like me, and in your first excursion would prefer to pass on the wait, those adjustments also follow.

Anise Oatmeal Puff

Inspiration from Simply Ancient Grains, Maria Speck
 
Ingredients
Dry Oatmeal Mix – 8 servings
2 cups old fashion rolled oats or rolled grains
2/3 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon crushed anise or fennel seeds
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Oatmeal Puff – per serving
1//3 – 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple, agave, or other syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
A few grapes or other fruit such as fresh pear or apple, dried cranberries, dates or prunes
Powdered or cinnamon sugar for dusting, optional

Directions
Prepare the dry oatmeal mix and combine well.  Store airtight.
Allow per serving:

  1. The night before: In microwave safe mug or bowl place 1/3 cup dry oat mix with milk, syrup and vanilla. Cover and chill.
  2. The next morning: In a small bowl beat the egg with a fork until well blended.  Stir it into the mug mixture to combine.  Stir in 3-4 grapes or other fruit.
  3. Place mug in microwave and cook on high 1 minute 20 seconds – it will rise possibly above the rim, but will not spill over. It is done when a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Cook 10 seconds and test.  Let set a few minutes to firm up.  Top with more grapes, dust with cinnamon and serve.

Individual Anise Oatmeal Puff recipe for 1, without overnight soak

  1. In an ovenproof mug combine:
    1/3 cup quick oats
    1 tablespoon dried fruit: cranberries etc.
    Pinch crumbled anise seeds
    Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  2. Add to the oats and mix well:
    1/3 cup milk
    1 tablespoon agave, maple, or other syrup
    Dash almond or vanilla extract
  3. To expedite soaking, warm mixture in microwave for about 40 seconds, stirring every 20 seconds to absorb some of the liquid and expand the oats, but not thoroughly heat.
  4. Beat 1 egg and incorporate in the oat mixture.
  5. Microwave a total of 1 minute and 20 seconds. Half way, rotate the cup for even rising. It is done when a pick or narrow knife inserted in center comes out nearly clean. Let rest about 3 minutes to set up.
  6. Top with a few fresh berries. If desired, sprinkle with powdered or cinnamon sugar.

A Chocolate Chip Cookie, à la minute

Here’s a cheap thrill to remember when the snack shelf is bare and you are in deep need of a little personal indulgence.  There’s nothing like your own rich, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie, à la minute, for a boost of comfort and happiness.

That’s right, it’s another microwave steal.  Grab an oven proof cup, mix up a few basic staples (of course, that would include chocolate chips), and pop it into the microwave for maybe a minute.

The trick here is in not over baking.  After about 45 seconds the batter will look bubbly and raised, but certainly not set and firm.  No matter.  Take it out,  let it rest for 5 minutes, and it will solidify into the familiar cookie we all love.

This is not a bake ahead item.  Enjoy it warm straight out of the cup or pop it out and have at it.  Of course, a scoop or two of ice cream is an obvious consideration…

A Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie

Inspired by One Bowl Baking, Yvonne Ruperti

Ingredients
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Pinch baking soda
1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Spread a dab of butter on the bottom and sides of an oven proof cup or mug.
  2. Place the brown sugar, butter, salt, water and vanilla in mug and give it a good stir.
  3. Add the flour, baking soda and chocolate chips and stir until just combined. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the cup.
  4. Microwave on high, just until the dough puffs, bubbles form, and it doesn’t look wet—about 45 seconds, depending on oven.
  5. Remove from the microwave and let rest for 5 minutes, until set. Enjoy while warm.  Yield:  1 serving.

Oatmeal Crisps: Addendum

Perhaps I didn’t fully elaborate on yesterday’s amazingly addictive Oatmeal Crisps.  I woke in the middle of the night thinking of my extended rant which failed to mention much of anything about their real virtues.

Oatmeal Crisps

Did I mention the lacy cookies that clock in at under two minutes baking time per batch are not only ethereal, crisp, and crunchy, but their rich and nutty flavor belies the fact that they have less than 20 calories each?   I didn’t think so.

Did I tell you that they have the added benefit of oatmeal’s nutritional value, fiber, and flavor?  That for the small number and volume of ingredients you receive so much?  I think not.

Did I mention that although these are prepared in the microwave, and there still seems to be some concern about its usage, the convenience and advantages of the microwave in cases such as this, are well worth considering?

Did I mention that their charm lends not only to copious snacking but also that they make a style statement when perched alongside or atop ice cream, sorbet, parfaits, mousse, or nearly anything else you can think of?  Not so much.

Did I mention that even though they take so little time to produce, they make an excellent and thoughtful gift when you would rather not show up empty handed on someone’s doorstep?

No, I didn’t think so.

Fair Warning: Addictive Cookies Ahead

Well, that was exciting—but of course, food does that to me!

crisps-plate
Oatmeal crisps, tuiles, wafers. It’s all good.

This time two of my favorite things, oatmeal and caramel, joined together as one, thanks to the magic of the microwave. My tiny kitchen was astir with activity while these beauties danced their way out of the oven, one sweet nutty batch after another.

The crisp golden cookies began as tiny ½ teaspoon droplets of batter then immediately melted and expanded into thin rounds; they were done in less than 2 minutes of rapid baking. The trickiest part here is figuring out how to rotate from one batch to the next without a lot of down time.

When I hit my groove I was filling, turning, or cleaning two oven safe 10” flat plates constantly. Well, that’s not completely true. There was a time when I looked a little like Lucy in the chocolate factory, tasting and sampling the goods as fast as I could.

Fresh out of the oven
Fresh out of the oven

In spite of that, once the assembly line was working and I had my rhythm going, I cranked out four dozen cookies (*less the sample factor) quite efficiently.

It could be remnants of a sugar high, but these are dangerously addictive. Fair warning.

Oatmeal Crisps

Inspired by Barbara Kafta’s Microwave Gourmet (1987)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons quick oats
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoon butter, melted
cooking oil for baking platter

Directions

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt and combine with the oats.
  2. Beat egg until foamy. Add cinnamon and sugar and beat until well mixed, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla
  3. Add melted butter and dry ingredients and stir well.
  4. Thoroughly coat a 10″ round ovenproof platter with cooking oil. Drop 1/2 teaspoonful rounds of batter onto platter in a ring about 2” apart, around the inside rim (will only make about 6 cookies per batch).
  5. In the microwave, bake first batch approximately 2-1/2 minutes. Every 30 seconds, stop and restart until cookies begin to bubble and centers turn lightly golden. They will firm up as they cool.  Cooking time will shorten with remaining batches: allow about 1 minute 20 seconds depending on oven, restarting every 30 seconds to cook evenly. Watch carefully—they will burn quickly.
  6. Remove with metal spatula to a rack to cool. Store airtight.  Yield about 4 dozen cookies.
  7. Batter can be made a day in advance, chilled and well covered.

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs in a Flash

Given a breakfast choice, I tend toward poached or soft-boiled eggs, but easy scrambled eggs have their place, too. Especially if they are moist and creamy.

I suspect I’ve been influenced by my dad who preferred his scrambled eggs gently cooked in a double boiler, untouched by the heat of the simmering water below. In this slow luxurious process they gently form moist, fluffy, glistening curds. They were always outstanding, but it could have been due to the generous amount of butter and cream he used.scrambled-eggs

In my microwave tinkering, I have discovered this highly satisfactory version of scrambled eggs. Even though they are cooked on high heat, the practice of brief heat spurts followed by gentle stirring seems to make a difference. The curds don’t have a chance to form dry blocks of lifeless eggs.

The results: an individual portion of soft, moist, glistening egg curds made in two minutes. Please note that microwaves vary, use this as a guide and adjust accordingly. Also, suggestions for larger quantities follow.

Personal Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

Adapted from Not Your Mother’s Microwave Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Ingredients
½ teaspoon butter, melted in a microwaveable mug
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk or water
dash salt and pepper
optional: 1 teaspoon chopped green onion, 1 teaspoon grated cheddar cheese

Directions
1. Spread the melted butter around the interior of the mug.
2. In a small mixing bowl beat the eggs with liquid, salt and pepper and pour into the buttered mug.
3. Microwave uncovered on high for 45 seconds. Remove and stir with fork, mixing the set portions from the outside edge into center, then pushing the center back out to edge.
4. Microwave on high another 30 seconds, then if using add the onion and part of the cheese and stir gently.
5. Resume cooking for 20 seconds more, give a light stir and top with more cheese. Eggs should no longer be runny, but moist, glistening and puffed. Let stand 50-60 seconds to firm the eggs.
Yield: 1 serving.

Note: For larger quantities, use 2 tablespoons liquid per egg. Add herbs, meat, cheese, vegetables etc. 30 seconds before the eggs are done and still runny. Cook 4 eggs for 1 3/4 – 2 minutes, 6 eggs for 2 1/2 – 3 minutes.