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Archive for the ‘Sides’ Category

I know what you’re thinking: “No post for a week, and then you give us brussels sprouts?” But I promise, this recipe is a winner. I’m not trying to compare it to a gianduia mousse cake, but don’t be discouraged by the main ingredient.

Children are taught to hate brussels sprouts before ever seeing what these mini cabbages even look like. I’m sure this stems from the days when we used to cook our vegetables for ungodly lengths of time, yielding green beans and asparagus so overcooked that you could turn them into bow ties.

This sort of merciless overcooking preordains a particularly dire fate for the brussels sprout. Brussels sprouts contain high levels of glucosinolates, which contain both sulfur and nitrogen. Brussels sprouts contain several types of these compounds, which makes cooking the sprouts properly a little tricky — one of the major glucosinolates is bitter, but produces a non-bitter product when heated…the other is non-bitter, but produces bitter products when cooked for a long time.

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So if you cook them too quickly, or too long, they’re still bitter — you always end up killing one bitter thing but producing another. The sulfur compounds end up forming trisulfides, which are stinky. So basically you feel like you’re eating a forkfull of rotten eggs. Ew.

So needless to say, after decades of cooking brussels sprouts to death, their reputation has been duly tarnished.

But come on folks. It’s almost 2008. We’re not wearing beehive hairstyles anymore either.

Cooked properly, brussels sprouts are wonderful. I’m hardly the first blogger to make this claim. But somehow, despite an abundance of praise throughout the blogosphere, the vegetable’s reputation is still in the dumps.

If they haven’t already won you over, maybe this brussels sprout hash will change your mind. I hope so. The poor vegetable has certainly paid its dues.

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Returning to work after Thanksgiving weekend is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. After a weekend of food, family, friends, and pajama-like clothes, the cold shower that is the workplace seems decidedly bleak.

I guess that’s what makes Thanksgiving such a special holiday. You put on the brakes, step out of the daily grind and remind yourself of the things, the people, that matter — that make you who you are. Sure, I would never forget that my brother can make me laugh until I cry and shoot water out my nose, but having him make me laugh until I cry (and yes, shoot water out my nose) is much more special, I assure you.

Apple Manchego salad

But not every day can be like that, all fuzzified with pumpkin pie and cornbread stuffing and apple-topped sweet potatoes. If every day were like that, holidays wouldn’t feel special. But we knew that already.

That doesn’t mean every other day has to be boring, though, even if it feels that way sometimes after a holiday weekend. Take this apple manchego salad, which showcases some of autumn’s best. Crisp apples and toasty walnuts are paired with zesty Manchego cheese in a wonderfully refreshing salad. I doubt this salad would make an appearance on my family’s Thanksgiving table. But that’s okay; sometimes you need things that make every day feel a little special too.

Salad closeup

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There are fruits and vegetables whose appearance alone can make me salivate: fat heirloom tomatoes, juicy summer peaches, bright orange peppers. And then there are vegetables so ugly they look like a genetic abomination. Case in point: celery root.

Celery root

Celery root, also known as celeriac, is quite possibly the world’s ugliest vegetable. It’s hairy, it’s dirty, it may or may not have emerged from John Hurt’s chest in Alien.

So what is this thing, and what does it taste like?

As its name suggests, celery root lives underground and is associated with a special variety of celery, but the part we eat isn’t the root itself. What we eat is part of the plant that channels nutrients between the root and the celery leaves. Unlike true root vegetables, which store lots of starch, celery root is only about 5-6% starch by weight.

After some serious peeling and cooking, the flavor of celery root is really wonderful: reminiscent of celery, with another more mysterious flavor I can’t put my finger on. The boiling celery root smelled, to me, faintly of mild curry, but it didn’t taste like curry, so I’m having trouble pinning it down.

Pureed with potatoes, butter and some salt and pepper, celery root is transformed into a creamy, luscious side — similar to mashed potatoes, but more complex. I can assure you that the sight of this hairy excuse for a veggie won’t have me smacking my lips any time soon, but the memory of this scrumptious puree certainly will.

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Leftovers, Incognito

When you live with one other person and you like to cook, it’s pretty much guaranteed you will end up with leftovers. Lots of them. And when that other person you live with doesn’t love eating leftovers night after night, and you cannot bring yourself to throw away food, you’re left with a bit of a conundrum.

Many of said leftovers wind up as the next day’s lunch. But when you have, say, several pounds of leftover risotto, lunch isn’t really gonna do it, unless you want to have risotto for lunch every day, for eternity.

So what to do…? In such situations, creativity sets in: leftover spaghetti turns into crispy noodle cakes, veggies re-emerge as omelet fillings and, in the case of Sunday’s leftovers, risotto becomes suppli al telefono, Italian fried risotto balls.

I tried suppli for the fist time in Rome on a trip with my brother, and we both fell in love with them (and ate so many that my brother started sweating and could barely breath). At home, I’ve found them only at 2 Amy’s in DC, and I get them nearly every time I go (which, sadly, is only a handful of times each year).

Making suppli is pretty straightforward. You take some leftover risotto (an amount a little bigger than the size of a golf ball), stick a cube of mozzarella in the center of the ball, roll the ball in flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs and then fry the suckers.

In my case, I decided to bake them instead of frying them. Sacrilege, I know. But it was a work night, it was late, and I was tired. The thought of dealing with deep-frying and the cleanup was very, very unappealing.

Did the suppli suffer for it? Slightly, but not much. Fried suppli have a crispier exterior, and you can eat them with your fingers without creating a total mess. I think I prefer them that way. Baked suppli are a little more delicate and were best eaten with a fork, but the taste was still fantastic. After all, how bad could cheese-stuffed risotto be, really?

And whichever way you decide to make them, I assure you, no one will feel like they’re eating leftovers.

Suppli

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What’s in a name? Well, if you’re a sweet potato, not much.

Sometimes called a yam, sometimes called a sweet potato, the sweet potato is actually neither a yam nor a potato.

What what?

Yes, it’s true. All three are basically underground organs where plants store their starch. But that’s about where the relationship ends.

Yams are tropical “tubers,” the place where tropical grass and lily plants hold their starch, and are native to Africa, South America and the Pacific. They come in varying textures, colors, sizes and flavors and have been know to grow up to 6 feet (yes, 6 feet) in length.

Potatoes, on the other hand, are tubers of a stem plant that bears yellow or silver flowers and are native to moist, cool regions of Central and South America.

So then what is a sweet potato, that wonderfully syrupy starch that so many of us eat at holiday dinners, often adulterated with a hefty dose of marshmallows and brown sugar?

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are actually root vegetables — which are similar to but different than tubers — and are the storage root of the Ipomoea batatas plant (helloooo botany). They are native to northern South America, but today China is the sweet potato’s biggest consumer and producer.

There are a slew of different varieties: some dry and starchy, others moist, some deep orange or purple and others pale yellow. The “garnet” and “jewel” variety are the kinds you find most often in the supermarket, usually labeled as “yams,” which — as we have just established — they are not.

So…why do we call them yams?

There are a couple of theories. The prevailing one seems to be that yam is a derivative of a Western African word meaning “to eat” as well as the word for true yams (“nyami” and “anyinam”). African slaves brought to America started calling sweet potatoes “yams,” the term spread and then in the 1930s, food marketers ran with it, promoting sweet potatoes as yams in their advertising campaigns. To me, that’s sort of like saying, “Hey, let’s promote turnips by calling them parsnips!” But whatever, clearly I don’t think like a food marketer…

Sweet potatoes macro

Happily, they got the “sweet” part of the sweet potato’s name right. There’s an enzyme in sweet potatoes that, when heated, breaks down all that starch into a sugar that’s about a third as sweet as table sugar. So the longer you cook those babies, the sweeter and lovelier they will taste.

Boiling or steaming will cook them too fast and you will lose some of the sweetness. But if you roast them…mmm. You will be rewarded with a delicious, soft and mouth-watering accompaniment to any fall meal, no sugar required. And if you whiz them in a food processor with some vanilla-infused half-and-half, butter, salt and pepper? Sweet heaven.

So whatever you call them, if cook them right, you’ll be in for a treat.

Sweet potatoes above

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