Brussels Sprouts and Wild Rice with Mustard Vinaigrette

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Back in May, I talked about our decision to adjust our diets and try being mostly vegetarian for a while. It had been a rough winter, especially in the kitchen, and we were really craving fresh, crisp, flavorful fruits and vegetables. I wouldn’t say we’ve become vegetarian, because if the craving for something hearty and meaty hits, we go for it, but we’re definitely vegetable enthusiasts. I’ve really been creatively invigorated by the challenge of re-thinking what a dinner plate looks like without meat as a regular anchor. I’ve grabbed as many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits and I can find at the farmers markets and figured out what to do with them. Some experiments have worked out better than others, but even with failures, I’ve learned something new every time.

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I’ve been using a wide variety of whole grains. I have always loved brown rice with beans and whole grain grits with sautéed mushrooms and barley in vegetable soups, and it was love at first bite when we were introduced to faro in Italy. Whole grains are just so satisfying and hearty. You aren’t left feeling hollow an hour after you eat like you might after eating a salad. I’ve posted several of our favorite (and somewhat unusual) whole grain dishes hoping to encourage you to give some of these great grains a try. This wild rice with brussel sprouts is another, perfect for Fall and it would rock as a side for Thanksgiving dinner. Bear in mind that once you are comfortable with preparing the grains, they are very adaptable and great to experiment with. I love the smoky richness that the hint of bacon adds, but if you are vegetarian, leave it out and add a little smoked paprika to the pecans and sage.

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Brussels Sprouts and Wild Rice with Mustard Vinaigrette

serves 4 as main course, 6-8 as a side

 1 pound brussels sprouts

¾ cup wild rice

4 cups salted water plus more to cook

1 piece natural smoked bacon

1 shallot or 1 small red onion

3 teaspoons dry crumbled sage leaves (about 8-10 leaves)

¼ cup pecan pieces (or ¼ cup cooked chestnuts if you prefer)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil (approximately)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

salt

1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

 the wild rice method:

Option 1: soak the rice in about 4 cups of water overnight before cooking.

 Option 2: In a large pot, bring the rice and about 4 cups water to a boil, turn the heat off and let the rice soak for about an hour.

 After an hour add a couple more cups of water to the soaking water and rice. A generous amount of water, similar to what you would use to cook pasta, will help the grains cook evenly and more quickly and evenly. Add about a teaspoon of salt bring to a rapid simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes until the kernels have begun to blossom and pop open and the rice is chewy but not hard or crunchy. Drain in a sieve and set aside.

 The sprouts:

Wash the sprouts, and with a sharp knife trim the tough ends off the stems. Cut each sprout in half and then each half into 4-5 slices. You can shred them in the shedder of a food processor or use a mandolin if you have the equipment but I like to use a knife. Slice the shallot or onion into thin half moons. Mince the strip of bacon into very small pieces.

Heat a large skillet, sauté pan or wok over medium high heat. Add the bacon pieces and a splash of olive oil. When the bacon has begun to crisp, add the onion or shallot slices and stir. When they have wilted, add the nuts and crumbled sage and stir to toast both. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Boost the heat to high and stir in the shredded sprouts a handful at a time. Stir occasionally, but give the sprouts time to have contact with the hot pan so that they will caramelize. The sprouts will turn bright green, soften and start to get a little brown on some of the edges.

 Test the tenderness of the sprouts after about 5 minutes. When they have a little browning and are still a little chewy, turn down the heat to low and stir in the drained cooked wild rice. Add a generous pinch of salt.

 While the sprouts cook, mix the mustard, apple cider vinegar and a generous amount of black pepper (½ teaspoon or more depending on how much spice you like). Once the rice and sprouts are combined, pour the mustard mixture into the sprouts and toss everything together. Let the vinaigrette warm through. Remove from the heat.

 Taste for salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Red Beans and Rice- Southern Food Challenge 4

Beans and rice, as I’ve mentioned before, have always been staples of my cooking rotation. Beans and rice of all kinds are my comfort foods. So when I started thinking about doing red beans and rice for this challenge, I had to think “now how do I write down a recipe for something I don’t even have to  think about cooking?” I remembered an episode of Good Eats in which Alton Brown made red beans and rice with a twist I had never tried: it was seasoned with pickled pork instead of smoky andouille. I started looking around for recipes and began running across a lot of claims that pickled pork was actually a more traditional seasoning meat than smoked pork for red beans. I like pickles and I love pork, so I decided to shake my bean routine up a little and make my red beans and rice pickled instead of smoked.

 

 

Red Beans and Rice

serves about 8

 

1 pound of red beans, rinsed, soaked, and drained

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

8-10 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced

oil to saute’ the vegetables

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon of thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

hot sauce like Tabasco

12 ounces pickled pork*

2 quarts water

Salt and black pepper to taste

 

hot cooked rice (I used Rosematta, a chewy, smoky Indian red rice I got at Kalustyan’s in NYC)

 

 

Get all of your aromatics cut up and ready to go. Assemble the spices you will need and have your beans pre-soaked and drained.

In a large dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, celery and bell pepper and stir, cooking until they begin to soften, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add the garlic, thyme, and cayenne to the aromatic vegetables and stir until they begin to get fragrant.

Pour the beans into the pot and add the water, hot sauce, pickled pork, and bay leaves. Don’t add the salt until the beans are almost done; salt can keep beans from softening when they cook.

Simmer for at least an hour or until the beans have softened to your liking; salt to taste. I always think that the flavor of beans improves with a little time, so I recommend letting it chill (literally and figuratively) in the fridge overnight.

Serve in bowls with a scoop of hot rice and a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

 

 

Making red beans with pickled pork was more work up front than just buying good andouille, and I love the flavor of andouille so I can’t say I won’t ever go back to my old habits, but the pickled pork added a really interesting complexity and tang. It reminded me a little of Brunswick stew or bigos (a Polish stew made with game and sauerkraut). It is certainly worth a try.

 

 

*Pickled Pork

I did a combo recipe of Alton Brown’s Pickled Pork and a New Orleans Cuisine blog‘s version:

1 quart white vinegar

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds

3 bay leaves

4 dried serrano chiles

1/2 teaspoon whole coriander

1 tablespoon celery seed

10 cloves of garlic, peeled, whole

about a teaspoon hot sauce

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

2 pounds of pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes

a cup of ice

Pour the vinegar and all of the rest of the ingredients except for the pork and ice into a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes and then remove from the heat and cool; after it has cooled to room temperature, add the ice cubes.

Put the pork into a heavy 1 gallon ziplock back and put the whole bag in a bowl (this will keep any leakage contained!). Pour the cooled vinegar mixture and all of the spices over the pork, squeeze out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Put it in the refrigerator for three days. It will be ready to use after three days. I used about 1/3 of the pork in the red beans; the rest I removed from the brine, divided into containers and froze. It’s not pretty, but it sure is tasty!

 

Cold comfort- Black Beans and Rice

It’s the end of January and I haven’t slept in my own bed in over six weeks. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve slept in the same bed for more than three nights in a row in the past six weeks. It’s been a cold winter so far, even here in the South, and I feel myself reaching back in my memory for the comforting foods that I’ve had all my life, that have sustained and warmed and satisfied.

 

 

Black beans are one of my very favorite things to eat. With rice, they have been a comfort meal for me through thick and thin. I remember my mom making black bean and smoked turkey chili on a wood stove when Hurricane Opal buried us under oak limbs and power lines. I’ve been making my own versions of black beans and rice, adapted to the season, throughout my adult life. With a golden lace of olive oil on the surface, a chile-infused pot of black beans warms and fills the belly without weighing the body down with regret. It is a virtuous indulgence, to me anyway. An inky, brothy bowlful makes me feel at home wherever I am.

 

Black Beans and Rice

Soak 1 pound of black beans overnight covered  with lots of  water.

Or, you can do a quick soak by covering the beans with plenty of water in a pot, bringing it all to a boil for about 2 minutes and then allowing it to sit off the heat, covered, for about an hour.

 

 

2 -3 roasted and peeled poblanos

2 serranos, minced

1 chipotle, either dried or canned in adobo (if you want a smoky flavor)

Or, a red bell pepper, roasted and peeled (I have used the jarred kind)

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled between your fingers

Pinch of thyme

1 bay leaf

Oil

Chicken broth, low salt or salt free, or water

Salt

Kombu (optional) or nopalitos (also optional, and I would get them already de-spiked and sliced)

 

Drain the soaked beans. Re-cover with water or chicken broth (or a combination) by about 2 inches. It is important not to salt the beans at this point, because salt can make it difficult to get the beans to soften. Add the whole piece of kombu to the liquid, if you are using that. Cover and bring the pot to a low simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Test a bean for tenderness. They should still have a bit of “bite” to them when the aromatics are added. One way to test is to smush a bean between your fingers; it should still give a little resistance at this point, but not feel like a pebble. Keep the liquid covering the beans and continue to check every 10 minutes or so. When the beans are soft, fish out the kombu, cut it up into small pieces and return the bits to the pot.

 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute’ the onions until most of the liquid has cooked out and they are tender but not brown, salting them with a couple of generous pinches of salt. Add the garlic and the spices, stirring it all together to toast the spices. Add the chopped peppers and nopalitos if that’s how you decide to roll, and cook just until the serranos and cactus begin to soften.

 

Scrape  the hot vegetables into the pot with the beans and add more liquid if needed to keep everything covered. Simmer very low- what you want to do at this point is to infuse the beans as they finish softening; a higher temperature will just bash them to mush. After the flavors have all mingled for 10 minutes or so, taste a spoonful and see if you want a little more salt. Continue to simmer until the beans have reached your preferred tenderness. Serve with a scoop of rice.

 

 

I like the flavor of  the chilis I listed but have used just red bell peppers and jalapeños before. Peeling the larger peppers like poblano and bells is important because otherwise there are bits of the cellophane-like outer skin floating annoyingly around amongst  the beans. Nothing tasty about getting that stuck in the back of your throat. And if you don’t have any Mexican oregano, which seems a little sagey-er, use a little pinch of Italian oregano instead.

 

 

Kristen’s boys called this recipe “Special Sauce.”

It’s kind of like a raita, adding a cool crisp contrasting flavor to a sometimes spicy meal:

 

About 1 cup sour cream

1 minced cucumber (scrape out the seeds first if they are big)

3 minced whole scallions

Salt

 

Stir together and allow the flavors to mingle for 20 minutes or so. Add a spoonful to the beans and rice. It is so, so good.

 

 

 

 

Rice rice baby

I’ve been trying to make myself a welcomed and pleasant houseguest these past few weeks. I have a few techniques I try to use. I try to remember the “house guests and fish” rule, by not staying too long in one place. I make myself scarce when my hosts are busy. I try to be charming, an amusing conversationalist, a general pleasure to be around. I tidy up after myself, bring gifts of wine and cheese and cookies. And I cook.

I’ve been staying at Kristen’s house this week. She has two boys. As it turns out, teenaged boys can put away some groceries. It’s like a shop vac gets turned on in the kitchen, and thirty minutes later, they are hungry again. So the other night, I made a huge skillet of fried rice for a very appreciative audience. (That is a nice thing about cooking for teenaged boys- they are very enthusiastically appreciative). It’s quick and easy, a good way to use leftovers, and according to the boys, a crowd pleaser.

There are two important things to remember: first, start with cold rice, and second, don’t be afraid of high heat. Most other things in fried rice are negotiable. These are not, so no back talk. The reason for cold (and even a little dry) rice is that it holds up much better under the stirring and tossing. Fresh rice just gets mushy and beat up. And the high heat, which I think is one of the most important things to get comfortable with as a cook, cooks everything fast enough to get done before it starts getting mushy. Fresh rice and a tepid pan makes for a sodden greasy grease bomb and nobody wants that. You want glossy individual grains of rice, emollient but not saturated with sesame oil, lightly bound with a bit of just-cooked egg and studded with vegetables and shrimp, chicken, pork or sausage.

 

 

Fried Rice

Here is what I used :

5 or 6 cups of cold or room temperature long grain rice- leftover is perfect. Use your hands to gently separate the grains into a bowl, ready to pour into the wok

Oil (corn, canola, peanut etc.) to generously coat the bottom of the pan

Toasted sesame oil

1 clove garlic minced or crushed

1 tiny knob of ginger finely grated

3 or 4 scallions, sliced

A cup or two of cooked vegetables (I used a frozen mix of water chestnuts, baby corn, snow peas, mushrooms, and edamame, thawed and drained , but frozen peas work well too; whatever you like )

3 beaten eggs

Teriyaki chicken

Soy sauce, or

Salt to taste

White or cayenne pepper to taste

 

Fried rice takes minutes to make once you get started, so have everything ready to go when you turn the heat on. You will need a big flat bladed spatula and a big pan. (I use a wok at home, but used Kristen’s electric skillet on its highest setting this time). Get you large wok or skillet as screaming red rocket hot as you can and then pour the oil in, probably about a 3 to 1 ratio of regular oil to toasted sesame oil. As soon as it starts to shimmer, add the garlic and ginger. Keep it moving, stirring or shaking the pan. You’ll get that hit of fragrance and then it’s time for the vegetables and scallions to go in. Keep moving and tossing with one hand, and then scatter the rice across the whole of the pan’s surface so that it gets as much rice-to-hot-pan exposure as possible. It should be pretty noisy and hissy; that means it’s frying and not getting all steamy. Once the rice grains starts to look glossy and separate, scoop them up the sides of your pan, leaving an empty well in the center. If you are not using a non stick pan and it looks pretty dry, add a little more sesame oil to the middle. swirling it slightly to get it hot and distributed. Pour the beaten egg into the well and immediately begin folding the rice into the egg, gently stirring and folding to distribute the egg throughout the rice as it cooks. Turn the heat off as soon as the egg thickens. If you want to, toss in some chopped up meat, whatever you like. Get a fork and taste for seasoning. I personally like a few tablespoons of salty soy sauce stirred in instead of salt. White or cayenne pepper for those who wish it.

Fried rice is pretty negotiable, like I said, so use what you have or prefer. If you want to it vegetarian, just bump up the proportion of vegetables. If you aren’t cooking for teenaged boys, use less rice. And if you can find some Chinese sausage, that’s very good too. I’m hoping this one bought me at least a couple more days of houseguest goodwill.

 

After the after-after party-

I’ve had quite the busy and momentous few weeks since last I posted! My sister and her lovely new husband threw a sweet and wonderful wedding weekend at a fabulous cabin in the Appalachian mountains, complete with beautiful sunsets, velvety-black skies perfect for lying under on the driveway while watching the meteor shower above us, wonderful time spent with both families, great company, food, and music that we danced all night to. It was a perfect and intimate wedding, exactly them.


We’ve also settled on our new digs in the meantime after an exhausting whirlwind apartment search. Just when I thought we were going to have to settle on a tiny dark shoebox, the clouds lifted and I found a place that has (wait for it ) a KITCHEN WINDOW! I know! I can hardly believe it myself! As with all urban apartments, there are trade-offs, which we are making in the form of multiple flights of stairs, but did I mention the windows? We’ll be moving in mid September and I can’t wait to get my saucepans and skillets unpacked.

Hot on the heels of that exciting turn of events, Grace visited on her way through town, our first visitor since the move. It was especially sweet since she is moving to Vietnam for a year’s adventure with the aforementioned lovely new husband and we won’t get to see her for a while. We had a wander ’round my new neighborhood and then Scott took us out for an Indian dinner in Greenwich Village. We caught up on what we didn’t have time to at the wedding and I introduced her to Italian ice and a cannoli. Seeing her off in the train station was bittersweet- although a tiny  and slightly acerbic portion of my brain was telling the weepy me that it was being made all the more poignant  by the drama of waving goodbye to a loved one in a choo-choo train station; goodbyes don’t come grander than that. I will miss her ridiculously. I’m sure we will be putting skype through its paces.

One really nice thing about the wedding was that we all cooked together, chicken and vegetable skewers, salads, corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and watermelon, sangria and my mom’s cheesecake. I made a favorite salad of mine that was really good. Here is the recipe.

Black Eyed Pea and Rice Salad

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

2 cups cooked short grain brown rice, still warm

2 cups black-eyed peas (if canned, rinsed and drained; or fresh, cooked until tender; frozen, cooked until tender)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 mango, diced small

1 avocado, diced

1 red onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 can diced green chiles or a hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano perhaps)of your choice, minced

large handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

In a bowl large enough to toss all of your ingredients, mix the salt, cumin and rice vinegar until the salt has dissolved. Tumble the still-warm rice into the bowl and gently toss the rice in the vinegar until the rice has soaked up all of the liquid. Taste the rice and add a bit more vinegar at a time if needed until there is a distinct but subtle twang throughout the rice. Gently toss in the black-eyed peas.If you have flame proof hands like mine, use your fingers to lightly mix everything so the rice and peas don’t turn to mush; otherwise, a pair of forks, if wielded gingerly, should work very well. Set the bowl aside and allow the mixture to come down to room temperature.

Meanwhile, all of the other vegetables can be cut up; I like to dice everything to roughly the same size as the black-eyed peas so that no one flavor overwhelms the forkful. While a ripe and juicy mango and guacamole-ready avocado are usually preferable, in this case it is better to err  toward a slightly firmer fruit in order to keep them from dissolving into the salad. While the cucumber and onion provide the pleasant contrast of crunch and the mango and red pepper are bright notes of sweetness, the avocado should be buttery nuggets of richness in lieu of oil in the dressing.

When the rice and peas are cool, add all of the vegetables, chilis and cilantro into the mixing bowl and, again, gently incorporate until thoroughly combined. I prefer to allow the flavors to mingle for at least an hour before eating, but it will keep well for several days. Since it is most flavorful at just cooler than room temperature, it is ideal for picnics or a one-dish lunch at work.

Something to remember about the type of rice you choose: long grain rice like Basmati or Jasmine has a different type of starch than shorter and stickier rice. One characteristic of long grain rice is that it is very firm when it is chilled- almost crunchy. For this reason, I usually use short grain rice for this recipe, since it is usually eaten when at least slightly chilled. The sciencey version of why this happens is explained here.

Bibimbap

I started writing this right before all of the upheaval began, but I loved the way this meal turned out, so I wanted to go ahead and post.

To say that Korean cuisine and I got off to a rough start might be employing the use of descriptive restraint – this was not love at first bite. Despite my lifelong adventurous palate, I wasn’t quite ready for the “guppies” in the panchan to be staring forlornly up at me while I ate them, and it’s possible that I may have used the word “compost” when describing my first impression of garlicky, spicy, fermented cabbage kimchee. The combination of flavors, the pungent and spicy fermented twang of the cabbage – it took me a few determined tries to get through my initial impression and to fall hard for the unique personality of the cuisine.

Korean flavors are among my favorites now. They make my taste buds sing in a unique way, like the intriguing contrasts found in curries, while being specifically Korean. A more gentle introduction through a friendly and adaptable dish like bibimbap may have eroded my resistance a little faster.

Bibimbap is a great casual dinner party meal for the same reasons that it makes a good intro to Korean food. It’s adaptability, use of easy-to-find ingredients and touch of exotic alongside the familiar make it a crowd pleaser and vegetarian friends can just leave out the meat and have the same experience as everyone else. I’ve included a (not necessarily comprehensive) list of ingredients, but use what you like or can easily find.

I’ve written the recipe in a cook-as-you-go style since it can mostly be made ahead and either re-warmed or served at room temperature, so don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredient list since there are a lot of repeats.

Bibimbap

serves 2

1 1/2 cups cooked short grain rice (like sushi rice)

12-14 ounces ground beef or thinly sliced rib eye cut into thin strips and marinated in

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated on a microplane grater

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

scant teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

then drained, dried, and sauteed over high heat in a splash of vegetable oil until just seared

10 dried shitake mushrooms (or fresh if they are available), soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained well and sliced into strips and saute´in

2 teaspoons soy sauce

scant teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

spinach, wilted and drained well to make about 1 cup (frozen spinach leaves would work) and tossed with

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 minced or grated clove of garlic

splash of sesame oil

handful of mung bean sprouts (or buy the prepared sprouts in a Korean market- they are usually included in the banchan at a meal), blanched in boiling water for a minute or two and drained.

small zucchini, cut into matchsticks, sauteed over high heat with a touch of sesame oil until just barely softened

1 carrot, cut into matchsticks, sauteed same as the zucchini

fern brakes, called kosari (I’d also buy these prepared from a Korean market)

sesame seeds- toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant

2 or 3 tablespoons Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) mixed with

about a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar to about ketchup consistency

2 eggs fried over easy in a touch of vegetable oil

As each element is cooked, pile it on a large platter (think of it as the “salad bar”). When everything but the egg is cooked, scoop a pile of warm rice into your largest soup bowls and arrange all of the bits of mushroom, spinach, bean sprouts, meat, on top. Put a dollop of the gochujang in the middle and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Top with the fried egg and then step back and take a look at it; it should look like a very prettily composed salad. Now take your chopsticks (or fork) and mix it all up into a big mess, getting the egg and pepper paste thoroughly mixed into the rice and vegetables.