Battling Brussel Sprouts, a duel to remember

or it ain't easy being green

I know I may be pushing my luck with this one, but you survived (and dare I say enjoyed?) my last venture into the world of shamed vegetables when I took on cauliflower (sort of) in my Cauliflower and Potato Soup entry back in February.  So stick with me here, ok?  If you are a Brussel Sprout lover already I don't need to tell you the goodness that resides in these mystical little green balls, but for the skeptics out there (myself once included) I realize it may take some persuading.  Together let's break the bonds of unjustly stereotyping these little, somewhat leafy, greens of Summer's bounty and give them a chance to prove themselves.

It took over a year of cautiously eyeing these little babies at the Farmers' Market before I was brave enough to bring some home, not on the stalk though - I'm not quite that brave - just a little basket full of them.  My husband insisted they were good, but I had my doubts.  So I heavily researched the topic and found not only a myriad of ways to cook them but also a subculture of support for their consumption.  With their enthusiasm back me up, I caved and gave it a shot.  It takes a little time to get them to the desirable state in which they are pictured below, but as they are growing on me the effort is worth it for the result, plus it get easier as you go.  Just take a deep breath, you can do this, here we go!

Brussel sprouts
Italian bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and pepper

1. First, we prep the greens.  Rinse out the brussel sprouts to remove any lingering dirt and debris. Now for the knife work, on each sprout:
Option 1 - slice off a small part of the base stem if it is long, if not you can skip, then slice an X about 1/4 inch deep into the base.  Remove any discolored outer leaves.
Option 2 - slice off a small part of the base stem if it is long, if not you can skip, then slice each sprout in half (from the base to to the crown).  Remove any discolored outer leaves.

2. Boil in a covered pot for about ten minutes, or until tender since it will take less time if already cut in half, then strain.  If left whole, slice in half as directed above at this time.

3. Toss the sprouts in a baking dish.  Dot with bits of butter, the amount you use will depend on the quantity of sprouts and will also increase exponentially with your degree of hesitation in trying brussel sprouts in general just don't go overboard or they'll be swimming in it, and nobody wants a soggy sprout.

4. On half of the dish, season with pepper and maybe even a squirt of lemon juice if you are feeling bold.  On the other side, the "baby step" side that I personally enjoy, top evenly with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Lightly season the whole dish with kosher salt.

5. You can either broil them on high for a few minutes or bake in the oven on 400 F for about 15-20 minutes or until bubbly and browning slightly on top.

Personally, I still shy away from the frozen variety, but these fresh little green bundles of flavor now have a place on our table any time they want to stop by.  And while I did not mind the leftovers reheated for lunch the next day, with the breadcrumb and Parmesan topping of course, my coworkers did since it filled the lunch room with a distinctly cabbage-like smell.  So, in general, I recommend consuming in a single sitting or enjoying the leftovers in the safety of your own kitchen, away from their disapproving stares.  

Now I know brussel sprouts are not the most popular vegetable in the garden, but why not give the fresh ones a shot at your dinner table some time?  They even got all dressed up for the occasion.  The results may surprise you.  Enjoy!


Mission: Macaroni and Cheese (The Spirited Mascarpone Edition)

or my "pretty please mac n' cheese"

Some days you just need a little comfort food.  I am a life long dedicated fan of mac n' cheese out of the blue box, provided it is shaped like a spiral, and yet I have still had this underlying urge to try my hand at the home made sort. I have always been skeptical because there are very few dishes of this cheesy pasta that have really even come close to winning me over, but after my previous success with using mascarpone as a creamy agent in soup I thought it just might do the trick here.  Toss in a little white wine for a kick, some cheddar cheese for a bit of color, and top it as all my favorite dishes are topped - with a mix of breadcrumbs - and you have a recipe for success!  Just creamy enough, no strings to pull through, minimal grease from the cheese due to the use of the mascarpone in place of some of the cheddar, and it sticks to the pasta perfectly.  Check it out:

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk, warmed
½ cup white wine
1 cup Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone
¼ cup combined panko and Italian bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder
parsley (for color)
Nutmeg, a dash
1/2 lb elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Cook the macaroni per package directions while preparing the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan with the minced onion. Stir in the flour until a paste-like consistency forms for the roux.

2. Gradually whisk in the warmed milk and then wine until smooth; bring to a low boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir in the mascarpone cheese until melted, then do the same with the shredded cheddar. Season with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

4. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and stir well to coat. Pour out into a casserole dish and top evenly with the breadcrumb mixture.

5. Bake the macaroni and cheese for about 10 minutes, or until the top starts to turn a golden brown. If needed broil the macaroni and cheese for about 1 minute.

I doubled the batch last weekend, doubled the amount of cheddar for the kids, and brought it to a family party. It turns out a bit milder on the wine this way and there is less sauce if it is kept in the oven on "warm" until the other food is ready, but it definitely works well for a crowd since at that point the sauce does not ooze into the rest of your plate. I prefer it with the original amount of cheddar but adding it in does make it more approachable for the often skeptical younger set. And a bonus - it reheats wonderfully for lunches, I'm looking forward to some today myself!

Add your own spices to taste, some extra cheddar when making the sauce for the more signature "orange" look (this will also make the sauce a bit more sticky), but most of all - enjoy!


Coveted Cream of Broccoli Soup

or covert ingredients creating liquid culinary delight

It's delicious, it's creamy, it's quick, it's easy.... it's not the healthiest soup on the stove (I did say it was delicious, remember?).  It definitely has vegetables and good things in it, but when it comes to fat content compared to broth based soups "cream of" soups are never as "healthy" in that aspect.  Ok, now that we have that out of the way - it's also worth it.  In moderation, it doesn't hurt to indulge, and somehow - when you think of something as an indulgence, that makes it taste that much better.  Maybe that's just me.  Unless you are lactose intolerant, then it definitely would hurt to indulge, sorry I couldn't part with my beloved dairy on this one.

My "covert ingredient" in this dish is the mascarpone cheese.  I like broccoli and cheese soup, but I hate the stringiness of cheddar, and my husband isn't terribly cheese-inclined in his broccoli soup to begin with so I thought I'd make a compromise.  The idea of adding low fat cream cheese crossed my mind, but I couldn't get the flavors to mesh in my head, so I pulled out the mascarpone cheese I had recently bought to play with (yes, I think of ingredients as toys, don't you?).  I'd never used it before that last shopping expedition and have since used some in sweet crepes and also as the creamy element in my new homemade macaroni and cheese recipe (to be shared here soon!  Trust me, that exclamation point is appropriate, mmmmm).  I had about 4 oz left, and since I really had no concrete preconceived notion as to the flavor impact I thought I'd give it a try.  Low and behold - success!  Just enough cheese flavor to satisfy my craving, no stringiness in the soup, and not too overpowering for my husband's tastes - I couldn't ask for more.  So here we have it, the soup that I am already craving for lunch and the sun is barely up, my Coveted Cream of Broccoli Soup:

4 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
nutmeg, a dash
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 cups broccoli, chopped
1+ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp minced garlic

Hardware: stockpot and immersion blender (or regular blender)

1. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in the bottom of the pan.  Lightly saute the minced onion and minced garlic until starting to turn golden.  Add the chicken stock and stir well.

2. Add in the broccoli and water.  Heat to a low boil and cook for about 10 min.

3. Turn the heat off and use the immersion blender to puree most of the broccoli, leaving about ⅓ of the broccoli whole, then bring back up to a simmer.  
If using a regular blender, remove the broccoli to reserve and blend the soup in batches (don’t fill more then halfway, it is important to allow extra room in the blender for hot liquids since they will expand), then pour all back into the pot and bring to a simmer.

4. In a small pan, melt the remaining butter and stir in the flour until a paste-like consistency forms to create a golden roux.  Add a cup of the cooking liquid to the roux and bring to a boil, stirring to combine well.  Once the roux is fully dissolved, add the mixture back to the pot.

5. Add in all the remaining spices.  Keep at a simmer and add in the mascarpone cheese, stir until melted.  Once the soup has an even consistency, add in the heavy cream and bring back up to a low simmer to ensure that it is heated throughout.

This recipe made over 6 cups when I worked it out, but serving size makes a big difference in that respect. If you like to have soup leftovers for lunches, as I do, this is a great recipe for that purpose. Unless you have a bigger family, then you may need to double it. Enjoy!


Three Sweet Sauces

or quick liquid flavor enhancers for all weather fun

Because I'm dreaming of Summer, because my brain only works at about half capacity on dreary days, and because even though I have several delightful dishes to share with you all, I can only think about the meatballs waiting in my bag for lunch - I bring to you today "Three Sweet Sauces."  I first made these as a trio of meatball sauces for our house warming party way back when...  But I have since used some variation of them for everything from meatballs, to steaks, to chicken with great success.  My favorite thing about these quick recipes is that they are really easily adapted to personal tastes, so some hot sauce can be added for a kick or some smoked sea salt for a richer BBQ flavor.  Think of it as a jumping off point and see where it takes you...

Honey Garlic
- Minced Garllic, 4 tsp
- Butter, 1 tbsp
- Ketchup, ¾ cup
- Honey, ½ cup
- Soy sauce, 3 tbsp

Sweet & Sour
- Brown sugar, 1 cup
- Flour, 3 tbsp
- Water, 1½ cups
- Distilled white vinegar, ¼ cup
- Soy sauce, 3 tbsp

- Ketchup, 1 cup
- Brown sugar, 2 tbsp
- Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp
- Soy sauce, 1 tsp
- Garlic, minced, 1 tsp
- Onion, dried minced
- Salt and pepper

Honey Garlic:
1. Saute garlic and butter in a sauce pan
2. Stir in remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes

Sweet & Sour or BBQ:
1. Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan
2. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until desired thickness

Universal Step 3 - a few options -
A. Add to a Crockpot of meatballs, stir well, turn to low or keep warm.
B. Spread on steak, chicken, or pork during the last few minutes on the grill.
C. Serve as dipping sauce with chicken tenders
D. Stir into meatloaf mix in place of ketchup or other liquid/seasoning blends
E..... well, you get the idea....