Pan seared brussels sprouts with maple syrup and mustard

I love Brussels sprouts. Especially after the first frost when their flavor intensifies. Heck I’ll eat ‘em whenever (except spring and summer).
But the problem is the challenge in cooking them well. I grew up detesting them because when they are steamed to mush they taste vile, thanks to their cabbage lineage, and stink cabbage-like too with an unappealing mush. Then I grew up and happily threw them into a steamer to just tender, douse in butter and enjoy as a side dish for dinner. Pretty good.

One great way was to stick in a earthenware covered pot with pancetta, S&P, and bake the life out of ‘em. Somehow they went past the vile mushy stage to pure indulgence. Very good.

Then I tried the cut-in-half-and-roast technique which was invariably frustrating and somewhat stressful because they burned and also didn’t soften. But I know that roasting vegetables is great for flavor.
Then . . .. enter Dorie Greenspan, the doyenne of home baking, out with her here’s-what-I-like-to-cook-at-home cookbook with a new twist on Brussels sprouts cooking technique: Par-cook ‘em (hold for a day in fridge if you like) and then cut in half and sauté over high heat. Stir in mustard-maple syrup mixture, cooked bacon or pancetta, and then sprinkle with apple cider vinegar. Brilliant.

Here’s how:

Toss brussels sprouts with slivered garlic, shallots, S&P, and steam until just barely tender.
Dump into bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Hold at room temp or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

Mix together: 1 T Dijon mustard (grainy/smooth combo is best)
2 T maple syrup
Cut Brussels sprouts in half
Cook 1 slice of bacon, or equivalent pancetta, diced, until crispy.
Pour out fat leaving 1 T in pan.
Add 1 T olive oil, and sauté over high heat, stirring to get sprouts caramelized in spots.
Turn heat down to medium low, and Add in mustard mixture, stirring.
Remove from heat and put in bowl.
Sprinkle apple cider vinegar on top.

Goes great with Fennel-encrusted pork chops and roasted sweet potato wedges (with thyme).

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Chicken cacciatore

I love cookbooks and recipes. But . . . the problem for many is that they are too precise. You don’t want to set up a science lab every evening as you’re getting ready to make a meal. For me that means I open the refrigerator and then close it, unmotivated to go the distance. What’s great about becoming an experienced home cook is that you get a feel for cooking. So once I have the parameters of the cooking technique and ingredients, I can put away the recipe(s) and work intuitively over the stove and cutting up vegetables. Here’s what I did yesterday to make chicken cacciatore:

Cut up some onion, peppers, mushrooms, garlic. Opened a can of tomatoes and heated up frozen chicken stock. Went out to the garden and cut some oregano and rosemary. Threw in some pitted olives because… why not?

Chicken thighs on the bone (3). Wiped dry and set on counter to come to room temp. Season w/ S&P

Onion, 1-1/2, sliced thin
Peppers — red is best IMO. I had mini peppers so that’s what I used. Washed and sliced after removing core and seeds
Canned tomatoes
Chicken stock — heated up frozen stock
Mushrooms, 4 cremini, sliced
Red pepper flakes
Fresh oregano and rosemary, chopped
Celery, 1 stalk, sliced (because I had a nice bunch of organic)

Heat dutch oven, add 2 T olive oil with bit of grapeseed oil. (Grapeseed is a higher heat oil, raising available temp of olive oil by itself)
Put chicken in pot skin side down over medium heat, which should sizzle when you put in. Cook about 4-5 minutes until browned, and flip over and cook on other side. Remove from pan and spoon out and remove oil to leave 2 T oil. Turn off heat and add onions, and season and cook, stirring occasionally for at least 5 minutes. Higher heat to sauté, not just sweat. Add peppers for a couple minutes. Then add mushrooms, hot pepper flakes, and garlic at end. Season again w/ S&P.

Cook until everything is wilted. Add chicken stock and cook a bit. Add in torn up tomatoes and fresh herbs. Put chicken back in, nestling into liquid. Don’t put in so much liquid that chicken is swimming in sauce — vegetables will release juices creating more as it cooks.

Cover and simmer on low for 35-40 minutes.
Serve over buttered noodles or soft polenta.

Roasted sweet mini-peppers

For when you purchase those sweet little sweet peppers.

Roast 1# peppers in 425 degree oven for 20+ minutes. Fit in a snug vessel, toss with olive oil and salt, and then balsamic vinegar. Roast until wilted; remove and let cool. Remove stems. Thanks Alexandra!

Make a pasta sauce:

Sauté 1/2 onion, diced or semi-sliced, in olive oil. Add marjoram and cream and salt and reduce. Set aside.

Cook pasta — trumpets are good.
Meanwhile slice 1/2 # peppers. Mix into cream, adding more cream if too thick.

Toss together: pasta, cream sauce. Voila!

Other ideas:

Ricotta with peppers.
Quinoa and peppers — cold salad

And here’s another idea to make a sauce with peppers and tomatoes.

Roasted Chicken — boneless chicken thighs

I am in the habit of occasionally buying boneless chicken breasts for a quick easy dinner. Even better I’m here to say: boneless thighs! Two advantages: (1) thighs offer greater flexibility in timing — they stay moist even if cooked longer than necessary, and (2) these are less hands-on and frankly, easier. You stick ’em in the oven and do something else for 20 minutes, though turning them 1/2 way through is a good idea.

You prepare marinade and stick chicken in and leave on the counter for 1/2 hour + while you empty the dishwasher and/or prepare side dishes, such as 1/2 hour brown rice in Instant Pot.

425 degree oven
Roast 20+ minutes to 165 degrees
Tent and rest 5-10 mins

Marinade:

Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Peanut oil
Mirin
Hoisin
Ginger, grated
Ssam sauce
Black vinegar

Try to marinate for 1/2 hour on counter while you prepare other parts of meal.

Roast in oven 20 minutes, turning 1/2 way through. Take temperature — you want 165 degrees.

Serve with roasted asparagus — pour extra marinade over, and roast 15 mins.

Brown rice — pour on juice from cooked chicken pan. (Plan for over 1/2 hour for coming to pressure and letting pressure release naturally.)

 

Inspiration:
https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-boneless-skinless-chicken-thighs-in-the-oven-180140

Here’s another method from NY Times, adapted from Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s “Skewered Boneless Chicken thighs with sweet and pungent soy baste and spicy cashews,” from Let the Flames Begin

Pasta with asparagus for the Spring

When asparagus is locally-grown and freshly-harvested, there are a myriad of ways to enjoy its fresh flavor. In the winter I prefer a cream-based Parmesan-loaded pasta dish because hey in winter who doesn’t appreciate indulgently fatty comfort foods (isn’t that the definition of comfort food?)

Here is what I came up with last eve when hunger struck and new asparagus was at hand: Pasta sautéed with butter and olive oil with spinach (or arugula), lemon juice and zest, topped by Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan if that’s what’s on hand)

Ingredients:

Bucatini (or spaghetti)
Asparagus, 1/2#, cut into 3/4” lengths
Garlic, 3 cloves, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon
Pecorino Romano, grated
Directions:

Put up big pot of water for pasta. Add kosher salt when it comes to a boil. Add pasta and cook to within one minute of being done. Scoop out some pasta water into glass measuring cup to use for sauce mid-way and when completing dish.

Rinse and cut up 1/2 # asparagus. Mince 3 cloves garlic.
Heat sauté pan and add butter and a bit of olive oil. Add asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes, adding some pasta water to steam. Add garlic, sauté, and then add spinach on top with salt, lemon juice, and more pasta water. Set aside.
When pasta is almost done, drain and add to asparagus in pan, toss with lemon zest and some more pasta water. Season w/ S&P and cheese.

Beans and shrimp, North African flavors

Some days dinnertime rolls around and we’re not enthused about a big cooking endeavor but don’t want to fall back into the old familiar. Here’s a simple idea for when beans are around: beans with shrimp and North African spices. And on the table in about 20 mins or less. Would be a good time to cook up some flatbread to go with, along with minted yogurt perhaps.

For the saltiness and acid, olives and preserved lemon are preferred. But if they’re not on hand — remember, this is all about “easy” — improvise with capers and lemon juice.

For two people:

8-10 shrimp, shelled and de-veined
chickpeas, 1 c plus cooking liquid (or stock or water)

onion, 1/2, diced
Garlic, 3 cloves, minced
Hot smoked paprika, 1/4 to 1/2 t
(or use sweet smoked paprika and add red pepper flakes, 1/2 t)
Cumin, 1/2 t

If you have green olives — spiced or not — use 2 handfuls
Preserved lemon, 1, rinsed and sliced into thin strips

optional: mint leaves, torn or chopped, for garnish

Directions:

Heat sauté pan, and add 1 T olive oil and sauté onion for about 4-5 mins until soft, then add garlic and then spices. Then add beans and cooking water, and heat to hot and bubbling, adding black pepper. You want the spices to meld and some of the water to cook off.
Add shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes, submerging in liquid and turning.

Serve in shallow bowls with mint on top.

Inspiration: Food 52

Pasta with roasted cauliflower

When there’s nothing in the house to cook but there is some cauliflower and perhaps njuda, you can make a quick and easy dinner. Here’s how:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put up pot of water to boil pasta.
Roast cauliflower with olive oil, S&P 400 degrees about 20 mins.
Cook pasta: Interesting tubes are good. I used bronze-cut pipe rigate (from Aldi’s!).
Make a quick tomato-sauce with a smidgen of canned diced tomatoes (even better: fire-roasted) with 1 oz of njuda, broken up. Sauté in small saucepan for 10+ mins; adding some hot pepper flakes, oil, S&P. Optional: capers.
Chop up some fresh parsley

Remove cauliflower when cooked and set aside to cool a bit. Cut into bite-size pieces.
Cook pasta to al dente and drain, and put into large-ish bowl.
Mix in tomato sauce and stir with cauliflower. Sprinkle on parsley and serve. Yum!