Wine-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Reverse-Braised Brussels Sprouts

I moved apartments during the month of May, so I didn’t get a single blog post out during May. However, I did make this “reverse-braise” and flounder piccata for lunch while two of my friends hung art in the new place. Perfect timing—it took me about 20 minutes start to finish to make the two dishes and it took my friends 20 minutes to hang the art. We all got the best of both worlds—eating a delicious lunch while looking at photos of cheese and olives on the dining room walls!

So when my friends said they were hungry, I was a bit nervous. We had finished up all the fresh food the day before when we had salad. I turned to the freezer, a last resort for this fresh food junkie. I found a bag of flounder and a bag of Brussels sprouts. My mind, The Flavor Bible, and my pantry went to work to create a frozen dinner feast.

I had never cooked frozen Brussels sprouts before because I always make fresh ones, and I really, REALLY didn’t want to microwave them. So I decided to poach them in a dry white wine to defrost them, heat them up, and infuse them with wine. But poaching is not the most flavorful technique, so after poaching, I browned the outsides of the sprouts in garlic-infused olive oil, essentially creating a “reverse-braise” technique. To make the flavors pop, I added a bit of lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Meanwhile, the flounder met a similar fate in a sauté pan with olive oil. After both sides were cooked, I added lemon juice, white wine, capers, and pepper to make a bit of a sauce. No salt here because capers are super-salty. Done!

My friends loved the Brussels sprouts and flounder piccata and were quite pleased they had let me cook while they made the house beautiful.

 

Wine-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Special Equipment: Large sauté pan with lid; Time: 20 minutes, start to finish

Serves 4 as a side-dish

Ingredients

1 family size bag frozen Brussels sprouts
½ cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay
2 tsp. olive oil
3 garlic gloves, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, to taste (opt.)
Red Hawaiian sea salt, to taste
Black Pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, to taste

1. Heat large sauté pan on stovetop over a medium-low heat. When hot add the frozen Brussels Sprouts, breaking apart with a wooden spoon as needed.

2. Add ½ cup wine to the pan. Stir. After wine is heated, cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally.

3. Cook the Brussels sprouts in the wine until fork-tender, about 8-10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid from the pan. Stir, incorporating the wine into the sprouts.  When the wine is evaporated, push the sprouts to one side of the pan.

5. Heat the olive oil in the open area in the pan and add the minced garlic. Sauté garlic until lightly golden brown. Spread the garlic-infused olive oil throughout the pan.

6. Reintegrate the Brussels sprouts, allowing them to brown slightly after each stir.

7. When Sprouts are nicely browned, turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir. Sprinkle with lemon juice until the dish has the desired brightness. Then sprinkle with Parmesan to taste. Serve.

 

© Elizabeth Taylor – 2011

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Afternoon Iced Coffee

So as I just posted, I had a very yummy weekend brunch. One item didn’t quite make it to the table–the second pot of organic Guatemalan coffee. Oops!

Well, I certainly didn’t want to waste the coffee but with the beautiful spring weather I didn’t really feel like hot coffee. So I figured I’d try making Iced Coffee. Now I read last summer about how complicated it is to make Iced Coffee properly with enough coffee flavor. Thus, I was quite pleased with how delicious my Iced Coffee was with 1% organic milk, Truvia, ice, warm to cool coffee, and almond extract for flavoring as desired.

Now for the coffee, I always use a burr grinder to freshly grind the beans without burning them like a blade grinder can do. I use a 10-cup Capresso coffee maker, using 10 to 12 Tbsp./scoops of ground beans.

For the Iced Coffee, I took a 16 oz. glass, filled it with ice, then added 1% organic milk, coffee, Truvia, and 1/4 tsp. almond extract. The ratio of milk to coffee depends on your tastes–I think I used a 50/50 ratio. Be careful with Truvia because it doesn’t dissolve well in cold temperatures. You may want to use another sweetener.

Well, here’s to many more warm days and Iced Coffees ahead!

Sweet and Spicy broccoli for snack or light lunch!

I tried out this combination last night for dinner and was surprised how good the cooked broccoli could taste with a sweet and spicy blend. I cooked the broccoli in the microwave then added Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey), red Hawaiian sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper. I tossed with a fork and it was done!

Sweet and Spicy Broccoli

Prep Time: 1 min
Cook time: 5 min
Special Equipment: Pampered Chef veggie steamer for microwave OR bowl w/ Cling Wrap

Ingredients:
10 oz. broccoli, e.g., Bird’s Eye box of broccoli
1/2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Sprinkle to taste of Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey)
Pinch of red Hawaiian Sea Salt to taste
2-3 grinds of black pepper

1. Cook broccoli according to package instructions, about 5 minutes.
2. When cooked, drain off the water.
3. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the broccoli.
4. Toss, serve, and enjoy!

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Have you ever just had a feeling that you should try something new in the kitchen? That the flavor combination or cooking method will just work out for you even though you haven’t done any research? That’s how I felt last week when I made what I’m calling “Roasted Eggplant Fries.”

At girls’ night last week, Rafah had purchased a couple of eggplants that she didn’t plan to use for our dinner of Stuffed Grape Leaves. I had an idea. What about cutting up the eggplant into steak fries, lightly coating with olive oil and a bit of kosher salt, and roasting in the oven for about 30 minutes? I tried it and it worked. Not only did it work, but Katie and I nearly polished off the two eggplants by the time Rafah and Erika even got to try the fries. At Rafah’s suggestion, we dipped the roasted eggplant strips in my homemade hummus. Oh my goodness! Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

I love these eggplant fries so much that I have made them two more times this past week–once for a dinner party and once for a girls’ hangout night. Still a hit! So I have to tell you all how to make them. Trust me–this one’s easy.

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Special Equipment: Oven, baking sheet or roasting pan (nonstick is preferable), knife, cutting board

Prep Time: 10 min; Cooking Time: 15-30 min
Preheat Oven to 425º

Ingredients
4 eggplants
4 tsp. olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Hummus, to serve (optional)

1. Rinse and dry whole eggplants.

2. Cut eggplants into about 3/4 inch strips. If eggplant is longer than 5 inches or so, cut the eggplant strips in half.

3. Apply 1 tsp. olive oil to the baking sheet, spreading with your hands to coat. Sprinkle kosher salt on the baking sheet to taste.

4. With the oil still on your hands, rub the eggplant pieces. Pour another 1/2 to 1 tsp. olive oil to your palms and rub your palms lightly to coat. Rub a set of eggplant pieces lightly to transfer olive oil to each piece while minimizing oil use. Place the lightly oiled eggplant pieces on the baking sheet, skin side up where applicable. Repeat until all pieces are lightly coated.

5. Sprinkle the eggplant pieces with kosher salt to taste. Drizzle another tsp. of olive oil over the eggplant pieces if desired.

6. Roast at 425º for about 15-25 minutes until the bottoms are nicely browned. Flip the pieces over and roast another 5 minutes or until eggplant in nicely browned but not burnt. (The eggplant fries will not be crisp.) UPDATE: I found the roasting time varies greatly depending on the packing of the eggplant fries, the thickness of the fries, and the oven in use. Also, while flipping gives the best results for appearance and texture, I have neglected to flip my eggplant fries several times and they still taste great. 🙂

7. While still warm, serve with hummus. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer.

Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves

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Talk about a fun girls night! My girlfriends and I just learned hands-on how to make entree-style Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves from our friend, Rafah. Rafah did all the research, contacting her aunt in Lebanon to find out how to make the stuffed grape leaves start to finish. Then Rafah guided us through the process of prepping the ground beef and basmati rice filling, rinsing the grape leaves, stuffing and filling the leaves, placing the stuffed leaves in the stockpot, and simmering the dish in a mixture of tomato paste and water for an hour.

When I tasted the first stuffed grape leaf, I was amazed at the flavor and texture! Who knew such simple ingredients could create such a delicious and intriguing main course! The grape leaves added a tangy yet complex flavor almost reminding me of coffee. We dipped the stuffed leaves into Greek yogurt and enjoyed.

I loved making and eating the stuffed leaves so much that I wanted to make them again while the memory of the process was fresh in my mind. I served them at a recent dinner with a different group of friends. I made a few changes while prepping though I kept the basic process Rafah had taught us. I learned that I far prefer the flavor and texture of 90% lean ground beef that we originally used to the 96% lean that I tried. I’m considering trying 94% lean next time to try to balance out the saturated fat intake with the flavor considerations.

Both times we chose basmati rice for its low glycemic index relative to other rices. For spices, Rafah added allspice, salt, and pepper. I added these and also tried a little cinnamon and nutmeg. If I had had my Lebanese mixed spice with me, I would have tried adding it plus the salt and pepper. When we were eating the leaves, Rafah mentioned that they should be more lemony. To try to compensate, I added about 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice to the meat and rice filling. I’m not convinced that this helped. Next time, I think a splash of lemon juice on the cooked packets would offer a sharper flavor contrast. Serving lemon wedges or slices at the table would be a nice touch.

I also tried a different technique for placing the stuffed leaved in the pot. Rafah’s technique had us make small pyramids out of the leaf packets and tie them with thread. Then these packets were placed in the stockpot lined with grape leaves. For my version, I kept the grape leaf lining to prevent the packets from burning. Then I packed the leaf cylinders tightly in layers in the pan. The cookbook I referenced said to put a plate upside down over the grape leaves, presumably to keep them pressed down during the simmering process without tying them in pyramids. I didn’t want to risk one of my white plates to an hour of simmering in a red sauce so I used a slightly smaller pot lid to press down on the packet layers.

Lastly, I paired the Stuffed Grape Leaves with a Pennsylvania Cabernet Franc, 2008, from Pinnacle Ridge on the Lehigh Valley Trail. Excellent match! I’ve generally found that VA and PA Cabernet Francs have the perfect body and vegetal flavor profile to pair beautifully with vegetable dishes.

Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves

Special equipment: Large bowl, colander or strainer, stockpot with lid, thread (optional) or plate/pot lid that fits inside of the stock pot

1.25 lb. 90% lean ground beef, raw
1.25 cups basmati rice, uncooked
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. allspice
Dash of Vietnamese cinnamon (optional)
Dash of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 16 oz. (drained) jar grape leaves
1 16 oz. can of tomato paste
1 lemon, sliced into wedges

1. Soak the basmati rice in water for 10-20 minutes after rinsing. Meanwhile, rinse each grape leaf and allow to drain in a colander or strainer.

2. Mix equal portions of the beef and rice together with your hands until well-incorporated. You may have leftover of one of these two ingredients. Add the olive oil, spices, salt, and pepper and mix in with your hands.

3. Set up a prep station for folding the grape leaves (in front of the TV or with friends makes this part much more fun!). My station includes the stockpot, the colander full of grape leaves, the bowl of meat and rice stuffing, and wax paper for a work surface and for placing folded packets.

4. To make a packet, take a grape leaf, cut or tear off the stem, and place vein side up (shiny side down). Take 1-2 tsp. of the meat and rice stuffing and place it in the center of the leaf, in line with the vein extending from the stem. Shape the rice into a log with a pointy top. Do not overfill the leaf; there should be ample leaf left along the center vein to almost completely cover the meat when folded. Fold the pointy tip of the leaf over the meat and fold the bottom of the leaf (the side with the stem) over the meat. Holding down these sections, take the side of the leaf and wrap it over the meat mixture, pressing it down on the other side. Roll the mostly-wrapped meat section toward the other side of the leaf until meat mixture is completely wrapped. Set packet aside on the wax paper, seam side down and repeat until all the meat mixture is gone.

5. While stuffing the grape leaves, take note of grape leaves that appear less attractive or more delicate than others. Use these to line the bottom of the stockpot to prevent the packets from burning.

6. Carefully arrange the packets on the grape-leaf lined stockpot, packing them tightly. For the next layer, alternate the direction of the packets. Continue to layer until the packets are gone.

7. Mix tomato paste with water until you have enough liquid to completely cover the grape leaves and the tomato paste is completely dissolved.

8. Place the smaller pot lid or plate on top of the packets to keep them in place during simmering.

9. Pour the tomato paste mixture over the packets, ensuring they are all covered and adding 1-2 inches extra liquid to allow for some evaporation.

10. Bring to a boil on the stove top and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes for doneness and to see if more liquid is needed. Packets are done when the rice is cooked (soft) and meat is brown.

11. When done, remove pot from heat and serve the stuffed grape leaves warm with the cooked-down tomato paste mixture on top. Serve with lemon wedges and Greek yogurt.

Super Quick and Flavorful Meat

So I took a step outside my normal comfort zone and did some very simple stovetop cooking with meat last night. I had thin cutlets of pork and thin pieces of “hangar beef” that I bought at Grand Mart, the nearby ethnic supermarket. I was in a hurry, so I just sprinkled a variety of spice blends on each and rubbed it in with my fingers. My favorite pork seasoning was the Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder. My favorite beef seasoning was Arizona Dreaming from, you guessed it, Penzeys!

The key to having these thin cuts of meat taste good is to have a high temperature in the pan so that the outside sears/browns quickly but the inside is moist not dry. I had the pan over a medium-high heat and it was so hot that the 1 tsp. olive oil immediately began to smoke. I cooked the pork first, about 1-2 minutes per side just until each side had browned a little and the meat had stiffened slightly but not completely. I did the same with the beef. I had to cook each set of meat in batches so the pan wasn’t overcrowded–the key is to brown the meat, not steam the meat. 🙂

So after I cooked a pound of beef and a pound of pork, I sat down to try each. I have to admit that I was skeptical that a thin cut of meat could actually taste good. I cut into the curry pork cutlet with trepidation but happy that it didn’t have the characteristic ultra-white color inside of overcooked pork. I put it into my mouth and tasted it. Huh. It was actually good! Then to try the Arizona Dreaming Beef. Same thing (except not too brown inside instead of not too white)!

So now I have protein for my lunches for the week set to go!

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt

Fresh from the toaster oven

Note: I originally wrote this post last Thursday but was unable to post due to Internet connectivity issues over the weekend.

 

I’m a little sad tonight. The reason why seems pretty pathetic but it feels like I’m telling a good friend and companion that I can’t spend much time with her anymore. And who is this good friend, you ask? My friend is exotic yet approachable, well-rounded yet has a gorgeous body. My friend has layers to her personality: sweet and charming, spicy and loud, mellow and smooth. My friend can be anything I want her to be. She’s from all over the world yet she still comes to see me at my home and sit at my dinner table with me.

My friend is extra virgin olive oil—from Spain, Italy, California, Greece—I adore it and use it nearly every time I cook. Olive oil adorns my green beans, carrots, salads, bread (when I have it), hummus, and on and on as you can imagine. So what’s the problem then? Well, I’m finally realizing that my quantities of olive oil are outrageously large compared to what I need for healthy living. So I need to reduce my dousing of olive oil to a sprinkle of olive oil, that is, cut my copious ¼ cup, give or take, of olive oil for sautéing to 1 tsp. or maybe 1 Tbsp. if I’m feeling generous.

But I know that olive oil is good for me. It has heart-healthy fats and promotes good cholesterol. The downside though is that is still has 120 calories in 1 Tbsp. So if I use my nominal ¼ cup quantity and my food absorbs all the olive oil, I’m looking at an extra 480 calories per food. Hmm… Does using a ¼ cup olive oil instead of, say, 1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. make the taste so much better that it’s worth the extra 360 to 440 calories per dish?

So I’ve been trying out this smaller quantity of olive oil this week and had good results. In fact, I just made a snack of roasted almonds for tomorrow’s train ride using 1 tsp. olive oil for two servings. Normally I would just pour the olive oil on haphazardly with no regard for quantity. The 1 tsp. of olive oil coated the nuts beautifully—I just had to massage the olive oil onto the nuts with my hands instead of tossing the nuts and oil with a wooden spoon. Now I’d really like to use the same mindfulness toward my olive oil use as I do in a yoga class. Measuring spoons here I come—I mean 1 tsp. measuring spoon here I come!

Here’s how to make roasted almonds yourself.

Roasted Almonds with Sea Salt


Time: 5-10 minutes
Special equipment: Toaster oven, baking pan for toaster oven (e.g., Pampered Chef Mini Bar Pan)

2 oz. raw almonds
1 tsp. olive oil
Pinch sea salt or kosher salt

1. Place almonds on baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Using your hands, coat the almonds with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt.

2. Place baking pan in toaster oven and turn the toast function to high. Toast until almonds turn just a bit browner but not black. If not done at the end of one toast cycle, stir the almonds and repeat until almonds are at desired roasting level.

3. Serve. Makes 2 servings.

Sweet potatoes for dinner

“Yum, yum, yum,” I think to myself as I eat my baked sweet potatoes, seasoned two ways.

I needed a quick, healthy dinner before heading to my friend’s birthday party. So I baked up 2 sweet potatoes at 425 degrees for 45 min to an hour. I decided just to eat one for now and save the other for later.

I wanted to see if I could enjoy sweet potatoes without the added olive oil, butter or sugar of my traditional toppings. So I topped each half with red Hawaiian sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. On the first half I sprinkled Penzeys Baking Spice. On the second half I sprinkled Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon. No added fat except the 1/2 tsp. olive oil I rubbed on the outside of each potato prior to cooking and wrapping in aluminum foil.

The verdict for which version I liked better–Baking Spice or Cinnamon: Baking Spice wins by just a hair. I love them both, and I don’t miss the butter and brown sugar or the extra olive oil. Hurray!

Here’s how to make such healthy yumminess at home:

Baked Sweet Potatoes


Special equipment: Aluminum foil, baking sheet (any size)
Time: 1 hr; Prep Time: 5 min; Baking time: 45 to 60 min

Ingredients for each Sweet Potato
1 Sweet Potato
1/2 tsp. olive oil
Dash of Kosher Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Red Hawaiian Sea Salt, to taste
Penzeys Baking Spice, to taste
Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon, to taste

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 425 °F.
2. Wash each potato and dry. Do not prick. Place potato on sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. olive oil on potato, rubbing with hands to completely coat. Sprinkle a dash of kosher salt on both top and bottom of potato. Wrap in aluminum foil.
3. Place potato on baking sheet (this prevents the leaking sweet juices from burning on the bottom of the oven and setting off the smoke alarm). Bake in oven for 45 to 60 min until potato is soft when squeezed with gentle pressure with pot holder.
4. Serve potato with last four ingredients, choosing Baking Spice for one side and Cinnamon for the other. Enjoy!

 

Hummus

I decided to try making hummus after seeing a hummus recipe hanging up at The Energy Club. The only problem is I kept forgetting to pick it up. So I improvised off a couple of recipes at allrecipes.com, what I could remember from the gym version, and my own tastes.

I loved this dip so much that I have shared it at the Superbowl playoffs and a girls’ road trip. Everyone who has tried it has given it rave reviews. So now I’m making it for my diet. Here I have reduced the amount of grapeseed and olive oil used and thinned the hummus with water instead of grapeseed oil. (If you want the more decadent version, add 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil to the hummus and top with ¼ cup olive oil.)

To keep with the healthy theme, try pairing the hummus with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers instead of white pita bread. You’ll get your veggies and lean protein in while delivering lots of flavor and a full mouth feel.

Hummus

Time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: Food processor

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
¼ cup tahini paste
¼ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp Penzeys Aleppo Red Pepper (or red pepper flakes)
1 tsp. grapeseed oil
Dash cayenne
Pinch Penzey’s Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 Tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil

1. Add first 7 ingredients to the food processor. Process until smooth.
2. With the food processor running, add up to ¼ to ½ cup water to the food processor feed tube to produce a better dipping consistency.
3. With the food processor running, add 1 tsp. grapeseed oil to feed tube.
4. Remove bowl from food processor and empty hummus into serving container.
5. Sprinkle hummus with cayenne and Spanish paprika to taste. Drizzle 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil over the top.
6. Serve with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers for a healthy snack or meal.