16 December 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries with Pecans

Discoveries on the Produce Aisle

Last week I found stalks of Brussels sprouts for sale in the produce section of Sprouts market. A generous quantity of individual sprouts adorned each stout central stalk budding out from the base where each leaf had grown. It caught me by surprise. I don’t often see Brussels sprouts for sale like that so I put a stalk in my cart based on the novelty alone.

Farther down the aisle I saw bags of fresh cranberries. Not yet sure how I might use them I remembered years when they were hard to find. They make a great garnish or decoration, if nothing else, and can always be frozen for later use so I put a bag of those in my cart as well.

While I wondered how I might use my impulse purchases I gathered a few more items and pushed my cart to the front of the store. In the process I forgot the orange juice, one of the main reasons I had come to the market in the first place. That’s just how my shopping rolls sometimes.

A Pretty Combination

Unloading my groceries I was impressed by how festive my produce looked. The deep red of the cranberries sparkled beside the fresh green of the Brussels sprouts. Both were pretty in their own way and together they looked like Christmas.

But both can be tricky too. The flavor of Brussels sprouts quickly develops from bright crisp-tender freshness to mushy gray bitterness if even slightly overcooked. And cranberries, if undercooked, have a pithy texture, are sharply tart and lean toward bitterness too. In the end I put them both in one dish, letting them balance each other in combination.

I have learned that roasting Brussels sprouts can bring out the finer qualities of this nutrition-packed vegetable, so I cut each sprout in half and roasted them cut side down on a baking sheet. Halfway through roasting, once the cut edges began to brown, I added the cranberries along with a little maple syrup to soften the tartness and a splash of balsamic vinegar to mellow any bitterness. I also scattered a handful of pecans on top to round out the flavors and add a hint of crunch. The result was flavorful and elegant, perfect for Christmas dinner but easy enough to serve at any meal.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries with Pecans

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and halved
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh cranberries, washed and sorted
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place Brussels sprouts in a 1 gallon Ziploc bag. Add olive oil along with salt and pepper. I use about ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Zip the bag shut. Shake until the Brussels sprouts are evenly coated. (Or simply toss ingredients in a bowl if you don’t have a Ziploc bag handy.)

Spread Brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking pan, cut side down. Place baking pan in the center of the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes (depending on size of the Brussels sprouts).

Meanwhile, whisk together the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Stir in the fresh cranberries until coated.

After 10-15 minutes, when the cut surfaces of the sprouts just begin to brown, remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven. Pour the cranberry mixture over top, stirring the Brussels sprouts and cranberries together. Sprinkle the pecan pieces over all.

Return the pan to the oven and continue roasting 10-15 minutes, until sprouts are fork tender and cranberries have softened.

Serve and enjoy!

07 December 2014

Gingerbread Scones

What Anticipation Tastes Like

I think my favorite flavor of the holiday season is ginger. Christmas wouldn’t taste or smell like Christmas without spicy notes of ginger and cinnamon wafting through the house and lingering in the kitchen.

A pinch of ginger is the perfect way to dress up favorite family recipes, both sweet and savory, for the holidays. The scent of ginger transports me, reminding me of Christmases past while promising something delicious in the present tense. Ginger introduces a subtle tension: warm spice nestled against cool freshness, bitter balanced by sweet. Ginger is what anticipation should taste like, the touchstone of the season.

Seasonal Adaptation

With a nod to seasonal anticipation I adapted the recipe for a family favorite, Buttermilk Scones, by adding a ginger-heavy blend of aromatic spices and a sweet touch of molasses. The recipe is a good one. The execution, however, was slightly, well, wanting. As often happens all did not go exactly as expected. As you can see in some of the photos my fragrant Gingerbread Scones turned out a little dark (read black) on the bottom.

That’s how it goes sometimes. You can let it get you down or you can accept it and move forward. This batch didn’t turn out as picture perfect as I may have liked but that doesn’t mean they weren’t beautiful in their own right and it doesn’t mean they weren’t delicious. These fragrant scones are something to look forward to on a cold winter morning or as a teatime or after dinner treat. Next time I will just remember not to bake them on a dark pan and to check them a few minutes earlier.

Gingerbread Scones

2½ cups flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease baking sheet. Mix flour, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt, in a large bowl.

Cut in butter until the mixture resembles course meal. Stir in the buttermilk, molasses and most of the egg (reserving just a little to brush onto the top of the scones). Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Dough will be moist.

Pat dough out into a circle 1½ inches thick. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet. Cut into wedges. Brush top with reserved egg; sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.

Bake until Golden Brown, about 15 minutes.

Serve immediately with butter or whipped cream and a steaming cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea.


21 November 2014

Plain Old Mashed Potatoes

I have resisted writing a recipe for Mashed Potatoes for years. After all, I have never used one. Growing up, when my family made Mashed Potatoes we just boiled potatoes and then did something to them. No measuring was ever involved. There were no questions about what to add. It was the same as with most things; throw in some butter along with salt and pepper. Add milk and stir until the consistency is right. End of story.

Come to think of it, I probably asked for a recipe when I first set up housekeeping on my own. I probably got an answer much like the one above. Now that my children are asking those questions of me, I thought it was time to record the process with a bit more precision. The last few times I have mashed potatoes I’ve taken notes.

This recipe is for the kind of Mashed Potatoes we tend to prefer in my family; fairly thick and with the occasional rustic lump of unmashed potato or bit of potato skin. It is meant as a guideline so don’t get too caught up in following it to a tee. The exact quantites of milk, broth and/or butter will depend on the consistency and type of the potatoes boiled as well as whether or not your intention is to create a light side dish or an indulgence. If you are short of an ingredient (aside from the potatoes), don’t worry. There are many possible substitutions. Just take a look at Pinterest or, better yet, use your imagination.

Mashed Potatoes

3.5 pounds potatoes
½ cup milk or broth
¼ cup butter
½ teaspoon salt

Peel the potatoes. Rinse and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover with water. Add salt.

Bring potatoes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 - 20 minutes.

Turn burner off and let sit.

In a small saucepan combine:

½ cup milk or broth ¼ cup butter

Heat gently, to a simmer. Remove from heat.

Drain potatoes in a colander. Return potatoes to cooking pan. Smash potatoes with a potato masher or large fork.

Add the warm milk/butter mixture, a little at a time, and mash it into the mixture until the potatoes are fairly smooth and have the consistency you desire. Amounts will vary somewhat according to the texture of the potatoes used.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with snipped chives, crumbled bacon a dash of paprika and/or a drizzle of butter or gravy.