Spotlight on Sprouts: Better with Bacon

Brussels sprouts may not be one of our most exciting vegetables but they actually dress up quite nicely and hold surprisingly well. Sprouts’ deep green color and mild sweetness make them a welcome addition to a holiday table—especially one laden with a joyous abundance of rich starches.

Did you know sprouts, or buds, grow on a tall main stem that’s protected by larger green leaves?  Like many of their cabbage cousins they have great holding power and can even be overwintered.  Lacking refrigeration, the entire plant can be buried in hay or a pile of leaves and when the mood strikes pluck off the buds as needed. These days, consider storing your brussels sprouts in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks and just prior to preparation give them a quick wash.roasted-brusssels-sprouts

With so much focus on the meal’s main event, we are all looking for tasty, no fuss vegetables that can pull their own weight. In this solution, an easy oven roast requires little attention and serves to accentuate the brussels sprouts’ inherent sweetness. Top them off with a crowd pleasing duet of caramelized onion and smoky bacon and finish with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a perky sweet and sour lift.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Onions

Ingredients 
1 pound brussels sprouts, or more, trim and cut in half lengthwise if large
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
3 slices pepper bacon (or more!), cut into strips
1/2 red or sweet onion, peel and slice
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Toss the brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally to color on all sides.
  3. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, brown the bacon until crisp, remove and drain on toweling.  Retain enough bacon drippings to coat bottom of pan and add the onion. Sauté the onion until it softens and begins to color. Add the roasted sprouts and heat quickly. Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar, top with bacon and onion. Serves 4.
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Super Bowl Creamer Potatoes, Locally Sourced

If you have had a chance to shop mega supermarkets in other states, then you have experienced the buying power these large chains wield: Publix in Florida or HEB in Texas, for example. Prices may be low, but since their distribution networks are constantly working in mind-boggling quantities, they rely on the largest producers to grow and deliver the goods.

At a mega market, meeting the person that grew your herbs or picked your carrots is like winning the lottery. But even in sprawling metro areas, that possibility does exist when you seek out local markets with local connections and farmers’ markets where growers stand behind the food they grow.

baby carrots (640x450) Roths produce

As with farm stands in more rural areas, you can meet and talk with the real faces actively involved in the growing process. They are committed and they know that a happy customer will return.

The same is true with small batch bakers, artisans, craftsmen, and local markets vested in supporting local growers.   In Oregon, we are fortunate to have a reliable group of independent grocers who make it their business to know and support local producers. There are many, but in the mid-Willamette Valley, Roth’s has been taking care of their neighbors since 1962.

A recent find at our neighborhood market: colorful creamer potatoes.

fresh creamers, rosemarysmashers(640x480)
Available pretty much year round, red, purple, and white creamer potatoes are young immature potatoes averaging about 1″ in diameter. They are thin skinned with a high moisture content yielding flesh with creamy texture and flavor.

Just in time for Super Bowl 50, these smashed creamers were a big hit:  informal individual bites, perfect companion to chicken wings and other hearty snacks. Dab a little blue cheese dressing on top, if you’ve included it!

Smashed Creamer Potatoes

Inspired by from Sarah Copeland’s Feast

Ingredients
1 lb. purple, red and/or white creamer potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh fresh rosemary
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thickly

Directions

  1. Place the potatoes in a pot of salted water to cover; bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook until tender when poked with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain and let the potatoes cool, then pat dry and toss lightly with olive oil.  On a cutting board, flatten with a chef’s knife or small flat pan.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Move the potatoes to a lightly oiled baking sheet and drizzle with more olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, fresh rosemary and garlic. Roast at 450° for 20-25 minutes, turning with spatula after 10 minutes.  Serves 3-4

Pumpkin Fields Forever

We are deep in the heart of pumpkin season. For local happenings, folks in the Willamette Valley depend on Bauman Farms to get with the program—especially now that their Fall Harvest Festival is in full swing.  I’ve heard their Pumpkin Patch referred to as the Disneyland of Pumpkin Patches.  Known far and wide for more than hay rides, corn mazes and tunnels, apple tastings and pumpkin hills, students by the busload line up for a jolt of their mayhem madness.

I stopped by on a recent pumpkin scouting expedition and was not disappointed.  With so many different varieties to choose from, they were helpfully organized by category and color. I stayed basic and settled on a very innocuous 5 pound Cinderella pumpkin.

It is so named because it is reminiscent of the pumpkin Cinderella’s fairy godmother transformed into a coach for her trip to the ball. It is a little flattish, with deep indentations; the skin is a dazzling red/orange tinged with shadows ranging from coral to eggplant.

The Cinderella pumpkin is highly regarded for its meaty deep-orange flesh and sweet, nutty flavor.  It has quite the lineage, too, with roots that harken clear back to France; so far back, the Pilgrims are thought to have served a variety of it at their second Thanksgiving in the new world.  Excellent stock, with historic significance—certainly ripe with culinary distraction potential.

Since Bauman’s features both produce and nursery items I headed over to the garden shop and poked around.  I discovered a couple of inexpensive spot color plants: a wine colored oxalis (shamrock plant) with bright white flowers and a trailing beauty called Superbells Coralberry Punch displaying showy lipstick-pink blossoms with magenta centers.

A few days later I cut off the top of the Cinderella pumpkin, scooped out its seeds and filled the interior with the plants.

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Cinderella pumpkin, Step 1

This could not have been simpler; so much for complicated carving.  I’ll probably add a bit more potting soil, but for now, it looks cheery—and not very scary—as it graces the entrance to my front door.

Cinderella pumpkin, Step 2

Cinderella pumpkin, Step 2

As an added perk, I gave the seeds a good cleaning, soaked them in a saline solution for a couple of hours and let them roast slowly in a 325-degree oven for about an hour.  A nice little bonus.

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A nice little bonus

 

To Waffle, Part 2: Easy Valentine’s Pizza

Here’s a follow-up to my last post… I actually bought a waffle iron.

I couldn’t shake the need to further explore the iron’s potential beyond making a waffle. My Black and Decker 3-in-1 has the benefit of non-stick reversible grids which switch from waffle to grill or press―even more applications (or justification).

What I discovered is that it works really well for pizza:  the little dimples in the crust create tiny crevices for pools of flavor to collect.Pizza Antipasto

I prefer baking off pizza dough in advance so that it is simply a matter of adding preferred toppings to the crust and popping it in the oven for a quick final bake.  There is also the benefit of personal sized pizzas, which make it perfect for parties, appetizers, a quick snack, or dinner.

In this case, I made the quick pizza dough I’ve previously mentioned here and let it rise until doubled―it is very malleable and can be rolled as thin as desired.  While the waffle iron preheated, I divided the dough into portions:  for my iron they were each less than 1 cup in size. I let the rounds set about 5 minutes to further relax the dough for an easier roll-out.  This goes so quickly I rolled out and baked one at a time.  Mine were about 6 1/2” in size to completely fit into the grill.

Once the iron was ready, I gave the grids a good spray with non-stick oil and laid the flat dough onto the grids and closed it.  It only took about 5 minutes for the dough to set and take on a slight amount of color; they were then cooled on a wire rack.   I did not need to re-spray my non-stick grids again and continued until all the crusts were pre-baked. I stored the cooled crusts in a loosely wrapped plastic bag until needed.

When ready to eat, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and pulled out a baking sheet.  By the time the oven was preheated my toppings were prepared.  heart pizzaOne of my favorite combinations includes pesto sauce instead of the usual pizza tomato sauce.  Only a quick light spread across the top is all that is necessary.

I added a handful of each of my usuals:  sliced onion, slices of poblano or other spicy pepper, sliced baby tomatoes, a good handful of grated mozzarella, and a sprinkling of oregano and red pepper flakes.

The prepped pizza goes into the hot oven for a quick bake: about 6 – 7 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Once out of the oven, I finished my pizza with a final topping of antipasto salad:  spinach and arugula, sliced salami, pepperoncini, and black olives, all tossed with a garlicky vinaigrette.

Waffled Pizza

Ingredients
1 recipe pizza dough
Pesto Sauce or Pizza Sauce
Toppings of choice:  for example: sliced onion, spicy pepper, baby tomatoes, mozzarella or other melting cheese
Non-stick spray for waffle iron

Directions

  1. Prepare pizza dough. When doubled in bulk, punch down and cut into approx ¾ cup portions.  Lightly cover, and let rest about 5 minutes to relax dough.
  2. Preheat waffle iron, set to ‘waffles’; it should take 7 to 8 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out one round at a time to fit into the waffle iron, mine were about 6 ½” in diameter.
  3. When pre-heated, spray the grids lightly with non-stick spray and lay the rolled dough onto the hot surface. Close the lid and bake until dough is set and lightly colored but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. When set, remove to a cooling rack and repeat. If making ahead, cool and store light wrapped in plastic bag.
  5. To finish pizzas, preheat oven to 425 degrees, have a baking sheet ready.
  6. Assemble pizzas according to taste. Set on baking sheet and bake for approximately 6 – 7 minutes or until the crust is browned and the surface is bubbly.  Serve hot.  Yield:  6 or more pizzas.

To Waffle, or not to Waffle?

This week I have been completely distracted by Daniel Shumski’s very entertaining cookbook, Will it Waffle?  He sets out to prove that given enough determination, just about anything can be cooked in a waffle iron including meatballs, kale and pierogi.

Cheese QuesadillaWhen it comes to playing with food, I love nothing more than a good challenge, too.  But first I had to locate a loaner waffle iron, since I had given up mine long ago.

Once that was accomplished, I started out with Cheese Quesadillas and was immediately impressed.  So easy, so fast, so many possibilities!

I should have taken a breather and regained my senses, but I was ready to tackle some sort of cookie.  Daniel shows off brilliantly with his Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and based on the photo, even with odd waffle marks they look pretty amazing.

I decided to try an old standby, Peanut Butter Cookies.  As I laid four rounds of cookie dough onto the hot bottom grid, I wondered if I might have a Belgian waffle iron—with very big indentations.  Not so good for 2” cookies.  The first batch cooked uneven, with some under cooked and some burnt.  I decided to cut my losses.  I quickly fired up the oven, marked the remaining rounds with their traditional hatch marks, and called it good.  Note self:  for any real work-out, forget the Oster Belgian Waffle Maker; it has its limitations.

With that learning curve behind me, thoughts of waffling continued to percolate.  No question, when you introduce sugar, the direct heat causes fast browning; even with medium heat, three minutes is about tops for cooking time.  Further, incorporating a batter base into the mix binds ingredients and also helps slow the browning process.

That’s when the Waffled Frittata began to make complete sense…waffled frittata

Start with a small amount of batter, whisk in a couple of eggs, add some sautéed vegetables, and in no time you’ve got two nicely cooked, puffy vegetable frittatas.  They are even tasty as a sandwich filling.   Frittata sandWhat’s next?

Waffled Frittata

Ingredients
Egg Batter
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ cup milk
1/4 tsp salt and pepper, each
2 eggs, beaten

Vegetables
1 tsp butter
2 Tbsp onion, chopped
2 Tbsp pepper of choice, chopped
1 cup baby Portabella mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp dried mixed herbs
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or black pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley

Non-stick spray for waffle iron

Directions 

  1. Prepare egg batter by combining the milk with the flour, salt, and pepper with a whisk until smooth. Beat the eggs well and whisk them into the batter until well blended.  Allow to stand while preparing the vegetable for the frittata.
  2. For the vegetables, in a medium non-stick pan, melt the butter, when bubbly add the onions and cook to soften; add the pepper and cook an additional minute. Stir in the mushrooms, then the garlic and herbs, toss well.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the liquid is released from the mushrooms.  Cool briefly and stir in the parsley.  Combine the cooled vegetables with the egg-batter mixture.
  3. Heat a waffle iron to medium and spray well with non-stick spray. Sit the vegetable-egg mixture again; with a ½ cup measure or ladle, pour in enough to evenly distribute and cover the grids.  Close the cover and cook about 3 minutes, until the frittata is golden brown.  Remove and repeat.  Yield:  2 – 6 to 7” round waffled frittatas.

Chicken Puff Pie: the new pot pie

Pot pies.  They really bring back memories.  Even when times were tough, those little Swanson’s pot pies were always reliable:  they were an easy, hot, affordable meal.  We especially loved their crisp, salty crust and the creamy sauce; even the few token vegetables were a hopeful nod toward a nutritional meal.

Over the years I have stayed loyal to pot pies and perfected big pans of chicken pot pies, packed with moist chunks of chicken, plenty of vegetables, topped with a signature herb crust.  They were a popular commodity during my catering days.

For some time now I’ve been wrestling with the idea of a chicken pot pie without the pie crust.  Bordering on sacrilege, I couldn’t make the leap to abandon the crust without a darn good reason.  Besides, how could it be a pie without a crust?

Well, I have figured it out.  Thanks to recent tinkerings with crepes and an infatuation with fruit clafoutis, I’ve taken the best of both and created Chicken Puff Pie.  Essentially a savory clafoutis, it is so intriguing the pie crust isn’t even missed!  (For more on clafoutis check out the blackberry as well as the peach clafoutis posted previously here.  You will note they both have substantial puffed edges that brown and crisp nicely.)

The basis of a clafoutis is a crepe batter; the primary difference between a crepe batter and clafoutis is the amount of milk, cream, or other liquid incorporated; crepes have less.  Keeping that in mind, the amount of flour as well as liquid has been reduced here, in ratio to the eggs—which lends greater exterior structure and support for the chicken and vegetables, while the interior remains firm yet creamy, reminiscent of clafoutis.  It also moves away from the ultra-custard qualities of a quiche, which I wanted to avoid.  To encourage maximum rising and browning, we also start out with a hot oven then slightly reduce the temperature.

Chix and Veg Puff PieAnything this unique calls for a sauce that will enhance as well contrast with it.  I have included an old standby, equally at home with eggs, chicken, salmon—and more. Noble Sauce can be whisked together and simmered while the Chicken Puff Pie is in the oven.  Although I tend to use pancetta in the sauce, bacon is also fine.  The dab of tomato paste rounds out the flavors and adds a lovely tinge of color to the finished product.

With leftover turkey looming large on the horizon, consider this a viable alternative to the annual turkey soupfest.  I suspect you will be impressed with the outcome, too.

Chicken Puff Pie aka Chicken and Vegetable Clafoutis

All the bells and whistles of a pot pie but easier—the stylish Noble Sauce makes this irresistible.   

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled, small chop
2 cloves garlic, divided, crushed
1 cup crimini mushrooms, small chop
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
1 medium carrot, peeled, small chop
½ red pepper, seeded, small chop
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 cup or more cooked chicken cut into small chunks
½ cup frozen peas, defrosted
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Batter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated
Noble Sauce (see)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, butter a quiche dish, pie plate or other baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cooking to soften; add the garlic stirring occasionally until onions are transparent.
  3. Add the mushrooms and herbs; when mushroom liquid begins to be released add the carrots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the peppers and toss to combine.  Add the chicken, continue to cook another 5 minutes and stir in the peas.  Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
  4. To make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs; with a spoon begin incorporate the flour; stir in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper; add the Parmesan cheese mixing until the batter is nearly smooth.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, about 4 minutes.
  6. Distribute the chicken and vegetables mixture over the partially cooked batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.  Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer.  It is done when the edges are puffed and browned and the center is firm when pressed.  Note:  check after 20 – 30 minutes, if edges are browning too rapidly, reduce heat to 350 degrees.  Serves 4 or more

Noble Sauce
Equally good with eggs, chicken or salmon
Ingredients
2 cups chicken stock or more
1 Tbsp brandy
1 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup pancetta, diced
½ small onion, fine chop
1 clove garlic crushed
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 bay leaf
½ tsp thyme
1 Tbsp tomato paste

Directions 

  1. Heat the stock and brandy.
  2. In large saucepan melt butter, add pancetta and brown lightly. Remove the pancetta to toweling to drain.  Add the onions and garlic, cook until soft.
  3. Stir in the flour; cook 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour in half of the hot liquid, whisking until smooth. Return to heat, add the remaining stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the pancetta and seasoning; simmer uncovered about 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Thin as necessary with more stock; adjust seasoning to taste.  Serves 4 or more

The Perfect Storm: Kale Straight-up

This is hardly breaking news, but it’s new to me so I’m sharing my latest kale epiphany.  It is not about a kale smoothie either.

I must be the last person on the planet to try my hand at baking kale into crisps or chips.  There is so much hype about it on the internet that a quick Google search came up with well over four million results.   I have not completely resisted the idea either; I write frequently on kale.  But once it is in the kitchen I usually have a plan for it.  I simply have not collectively had:  1) the time, 2) the kale, and 3) the inclination to make it happen.

Fresh KaleLast night I experienced the perfect storm:  all three conditions were present, and now I understand what all the talk is about.  I discovered that Kale Crisps are so easy to make they hardly require a recipe, and that  something baffling happens to kale in only 20 minutes.

During this process a transformation occurs and the sometimes-tough-kale under goes a complete metamorphosis.  Like a newly minted dollar bill, boring kale becomes  deep green, crisp, and light as a feather.

So irresistible, these crisps nearly melt in your mouth.  You cannot eat just one, and why should you?

Kale Crisps 2

For those who balk at eating their greens, this gives new meaning and hope to the idea of Green Salad.

Your Basic Baked Kale Crisps

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare the kale: clean it well; pat it dry, or use a salad spinner.  Cut away the center ribs, tear or cut the leaves into bite sized portions; they will shrink a bit.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the pieces lightly with olive oil and a dusting of salt.  Spread them out onto 2 large baking sheets.  Sprinkle the tops with sea salt and pepper of choice (red, freshly ground, etc.).
  4. Bake for about 10 minutes and rotate the sheets.  Cook 10 to 15 minutes longer, until crisp and a shiny bright green (not brown).  Cool briefly and serve.