Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Kale with Shallots and Bacon

It’s always a bit challenging to post something as potentially uninspiring as brussels sprouts and kale.  Chocolate lava cake, this is not.  But still.  I will do my best here to make the case that when done well, brussels sprouts and kale can be some very fine eats indeed.  And then there’s bacon, so there's a little wiggle room for inspiration.

And I get that there are lots of you who think you don't like brussels sprouts.  Or just really don't like cooking them.  And I get it.  They can be unappealingly aromatic, and if not cooked correctly, a bit bitter, and if overcooked, a bit mushy and almost inedible if undercooked.  But have you tried them shaved?  Awkward imagery aside, thinly sliced, they're transformed into almost a completely different veg altogether.  I can't explain it, but I'm here to sell you on this.

It's not a hard sell, but we're adding bacon, so perhaps I'm not actually being all that subtle. Chopped kale, shaved brussels sprouts, shallots and bacon turn out to make one heckuva great side dish; add some pasta and lots of grated parmesan and you've got a healthy and delicious one pan meal.  I haven't done that, but it's how my mind works.

This is actually a dish that I served at Thanksgiving and people seemed to like it (looking at you, Kristal).  I loved it and have made it a couple of times since then and have now deemed brussels sprouts and kale to be like a favorite veg combo.

Around the holidays in these parts, you can find brussels sprouts still on the stalk and they looked so cute, and the sprouts were small which I think taste best, so I picked one up, and from this time forward I will always do this.  These were the sweetest, freshest brussels sprouts in recent (and not so recent) memory.

When I was ready to cook them up, I just sliced them off the stalk.  I had seen shaved brussels sprouts in bags at Trader Joe's and other stores and actually bought them once, but honestly, they just weren't quite as fresh as buying them whole.  And if you have a food processor, you can create your own shaved sprouts in like 2 or 3 seconds.  No kidding.

So awesome.  A quick whiz with the slicing blade created perfectly shaved sprouts.  Then I just bagged them up and stuck them in the fridge until it was time to use them.  They will last like this for several days or even a week.  But go ahead and buy a bag of them already sliced (shaved) if you prefer.  They'll work just fine.

There are a few types of kale out there and this happens to be lacinato or dinosaur kale.  Sometimes it's called Tuscan kale.  But it's perfect in a recipe like this because it's a little more tender and cooks up quickly in a saute.  It's also great for salads, but you can use whatever kind you have on hand. The curly varieties sometimes need a little blanching first and I mentioned that in the recipe. 

You can also buy kale pre-chopped and bagged, but I never do.  They do a terrible job separating the leaves from the stalk, which is super tough and woody.  So I like to buy bunches of kale and simply cut the leaves away from the stalk.  It's quite cinchy.  

Now that your veggies are prepped and you've cooked your bacon, use some of that tasty bacon fat to saute your brussels sprouts.  I used turkey bacon which doesn't have much of a fat content, so I chopped the bacon and sauteed it in 3 tablespoons of olive oil which infused the oil with some smokey bacon flavor.  

Then add your chopped kale and saute until just wilting.  At this point you can add your bacon back in and stir in a little balsamic vinegar and serve it up, but I like to make things as complicated and time consuming as possible,

so I transferred it all to a baking dish and let it hang out in a low oven (250 degrees) for 15 or 20 minutes which gives everything a chance to get sort of chummy and spread the love a bit.

Not even kidding about how good this stuff is.  If I've done my job here, you'll be wanting this recipe...

Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Kale with Bacon

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 6 or more as a side dish

1/2 lb bacon
2 lbs Brussels sprouts (sliced in food processor)
2 shallots, sliced
kosher salt and black pepper
8 cups of kale,(about 5 oz), chopped and blanched (*see note below)
1/4 cup of balsamic reduction or vinegar

Cook bacon in large skillet until almost crisp.  Remove it from the pan and leave about 2 tablespoons of the grease in the pan.   When the bacon is cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Add the shallots to the pan and cook for 2 minutes.

Turn up the heat and throw in the brussels sprouts with a little more of the bacon fat, if needed.  Saute until they're just starting to soften.  Add the kale with any remaining water that clings to the leaves after blanching. Saute for 3-4 minutes until the kale softens.

Add the bacon back into the pan and stir to combine well.  Add a little more salt and pepper.  

At the this point you can go ahead and serve it, but I like to transfer it to a baking dish, cover, and place it in a low oven (about 250 degrees) for about 15-20 minutes to let the flavors mingle and the veggies soften just a bit more.

*To blanch the kale, just submerge it in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Simple, Easy Chicken and Rice

Today's post promises to be all over the map with a few rants regarding pet peeves, an ode to the wondrousness of awesome comfort food that is ready in 30 minutes and, well, whatever else might leap onto the page and surprise us all.

But let's start with the joy and wonder of a simple, delicious, quick and easy recipe that you can rely on to fill tummies and create smiles on those busy weeknights when dinner seems like the impossible dream.

The recipe in question originates with Mark Bittman, the NY Times recipe guru, prolific cookbook author and one of my favoritely reliable sources for good eats.  And what makes me supremely happy about this recipe is not only its simplicity, but the affirmation from one very accomplished chef and food writer that every meal doesn't have to be sophisticated or complicated with new and trendy ingredients. There's lots of room in our daily lives for basic, wholesome meals.  And that's where I would put this one.  It just doesn't get much more basic than this... simply chicken and rice.

And not to disparage the simplicity here; chicken and rice is a time honored dish that shows up in just about every culture on earth.  We've got a few of those here on this site, namely, an Asian version of claypot (rice cooker) chicken and rice; a Mexican arroz con pollo; an Italian risotto (just add chicken), a scrumptious chicken marsala and rice bake, and I'm currently working on an Indian chicken biryani to share with you.  So yes, you may conclude that I'm most definitely a devotee of chicken and rice however it chooses to present itself.

As for this particular version, I loved the simplicity of Mr. Bittman's recipe...just some onion, water, rice, chicken.  (He also asks you to throw in a pinch of saffron, which is lovely, but I'll get to that in a second).  You honestly need nothing else to create a wonderful meal for yourself or those you love.  But, of course, not being one to leave well enough alone, I subbed in some broth for the water and added a teaspoon of turmeric to the rice instead of the saffron, and this is what I encourage you to do as well.  As much as I love saffron, you would need to add quite a bit more of the $$$ stuff to make a flavor difference in this dish, and I actually like the turmeric a little more. Heavenly days, was this good.  It also lent the rice a golden, saffron hue and subtly earthy flavor, that if I were Nigella Lawson I would be able to describe in more poetic verse.

(The above photo is of the rice after it has sauteed with the onions and turmeric.  No liquid has yet been added)

But now it's time to rant a bit and share a culinary pet peeve that I hope won't sound too very disagreeable.  But the thing is, I would absolutely LOVE to disabuse all cook's everywhere, including Mr. Bittman, of the notion that the best way to cook rice is with a 2 to 1 ration of liquid to rice.  Never in all of my 50 years of cooking have I ever had rice not be soggy or gummy with that much liquid.  The one exception to that is converted rice (like Uncle Ben's).  Maybe it's just me, and you cook your rice 2 to 1 and it works and you love it.  But wanting to trust Mr. Bittman's judgment in this particular recipe, I followed his instructions and used 3 cups of water to his 1 1/2 cups of rice and you guessed it.  Soggy rice.  In subsequent trials I reduced the amount of liquid to 2 3/4 and even to 2 1/2 cups which produced rice that was just about perfect...still moist and cooked through, but most definitely not mushy or gummy.

And as always, when talking about rice, I will encourage you to rinse it well before cooking.  This removes the layer of powdery starch on the surface of the rice that will also make it gummy.  This is especially crucial when using imported rice.  But I rinse all of my rice before cooking, which you can do well before the time crunch of dinner prep.  I place a bowl in the sink and find a strainer that fits just inside the bowl.  Place your rice in the strainer and then run enough water into the bowl to cover the rice, then slosh it around with your fingers, pull out the strainer, drain the water and repeat this about 3 times or until the water isn't so cloudy anymore.

Now just set your strainer in the sink and let the rice drain while you prepare the rest of the dish.  Once you get in the habit of doing this, you will notice a marked difference in the finished texture of your rice.  As long as you don't add too much liquid to it, that is.  The goal is to produce rice grains that are toothsome and somewhat separate.  I normally cook rice in my rice cooker and for 1 cup of rice I only add about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups of water.  Of course, that amount increases if I'm using brown rice.

But if you're cooking rice on the stove, you can increase the water or broth to 1 1/2 or 1 3/4 cups for 1 cup of rice, as some of the liquid will naturally evaporate even if the lid is fairly tight.  Oh, and one other thing... you can also cook your rice as you would pasta!  Bring a pot of water to a boil (lots more water than you would otherwise need), add salt and dump in your rice.  Depending on the kind of rice you are cooking, you can let it go about 15 minutes before starting to test.  When it has cooked through, drain it until it is completely dry before adding it to your pan.  I often do this for fried rice by placing it in the fridge after cooking and once cold, it's ready to stir fry.  

Now then.  That's how you take a simple, easy chicken and rice dish and make it sound like something ferociously complicated and time-consuming.  Sorry.  🙈  But I do believe you were fore-warned that we would be all over the map today.

But seriously, there is nothing complicated about this dish unless you choose to make it so.  Simply put, just saute a little onion in your pan (or don't), add your rice, stir, add water, salt, stir, add chicken, cook, eat.  Done.  If you have more than 20 minutes for dinner prep, I've offered a few suggestions in my recipe for amping up the flavors a bit.  Add your own touches however you might see fit.  That's the beauty of chicken and rice...it's as practical as you need it to be on a busy weeknight or as fancy as you might like to make it for a special occasion.  And lots of options in between.  Here's the recipe...

Simple, Easy Chicken and Rice

The following recipe reflects the changes that I made to Mr. Bittman’s recipe.  Click here to see the original.  If you’re pressed for time, you don’t need to brown the meat first; I just like the little boost of flavor and color it brings to the party.  

Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman, NY Times

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, about 8 ounces, peeled and diced (almost 2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lbs boneless (or bone-in), skinless chicken thighs
1 ½ cups white rice (I used jasmine)
1 teaspoon turmeric
Freshly minced parsley, thyme or cilantro for garnish (optional)

Set 2 1/2 cups of water (or chicken broth or a combo of the two) to boil. Place olive oil in a large skillet that can be covered, and turn heat to medium-high. Add the meat to the pan and sear on both sides until it takes on some good color.  Remove the meat to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and become translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. 

Add rice and turmeric to the onions; stir until each grain glistens.  Nestle chicken in the rice, add a little more salt and pepper and pour in the boiling water/broth. Turn heat to medium-low, and cover.

Cook 20 minutes, until all water is absorbed and chicken is cooked through. You can keep this warm over a very low flame for another 15 minutes; it will retain its heat for 15 minutes beyond that.  (I prefer to place the pot in a low oven, about 200 degrees F, until ready to serve).  Garnish with a sprinkling of fresh herbs, if you like, and a drizzle of lime juice.

Love, Winter, and St. Valentine's Day...

We've returned from our month-long sojourn at the Circle B Kitchen West and have just about got ourselves re-acclimated to the reality of our winters here in the Midwest.  This is no small shift, both emotionally and physically, from "winter" on the Central Coast of California.  We've traded the stunning colors of brilliant green hillsides, blue skies and turquoise ocean for varying shades of brown and grey.  Snow is moving in tonight so tomorrow all of this dreary will be clothed in sparkly white and it will be beautiful and lovely, and until it melts away, I'll be a little happier about looking out the window.

And really I haven't had much time for staring out the window anyway.  It's taken all of our time over the past few days to get ourselves unpacked, and get this place up and running again.  I also haven't had time to get to any of the recipes I want to share with you.  Cooking has been mostly about convenience and availability.  I feel pretty derelict in my culinary responsibilities here, but I promise I'll be getting back on the horse very soon.

In the meantime, in looking at the calendar this morning, I realized that exactly one week from today is Valentine's, and perhaps some planning is in order.  And so I thought I might, at the very least, share some of that with you.  Not everyone is into Valentine's Day for all sorts of reasons, and I have my own reservations about it, but in the end, the idea of putting aside a day, an evening or an hour to celebrate love, with food, always ends up sounding pretty awesome to me.

In my mind, food and romance are very easily intertwined.  I suppose we all have our personal ideas of what constitutes romantic foods, but for me, seafood (i.e. shrimp, scallops swordfish) when beautifully prepared can be very romantic.  And pasta... a gorgeously silky pasta is always rather dreamy.  Or a platter of small bites to be shared with a glass of champagne or vino can be quite romantic as well.  Chocolate.  Of course, always chocolate.

So, if you're starting to think about Valentine's, or even if you're not the least interested, here are a few ideas I'm bouncing around on the right side of my brain this week....

...how 'bout a scrumptious LASAGNA that can be (and should be) made ahead so your evening can be totally devoted to your loved one.

Or possibly some gorgeous SCALLOPS with a homemade romesco sauce.

Or one of my personal favorites... SPAGHETTI WITH CLAMS IN PARCHMENT.

There really are few things as wondrous as a perfectly cooked piece of SWORDFISH and I give you step by step instructions on how to do just that.  And an amazingly delicious provencal sauce to go with.

And if you're into a big platter of finger foods to be shared between you...

This is one of our favorites... A SALMON NICOISE PLATTER, complete with yummy roasted salmon, olives, baby mozzarella balls, sliced potatoes, hard boiled eggs and seasoned green beans, and don't forget the fresh, crusty bread.

And there's the ubiquitous PASTA ALLA PUTTANESCA, which is ever so spicy and yummy.

But, of course, in the end, the king of romantic meals might just have to be this GRILLED SEAFOOD PASTA.  It's beautiful and just ever so scrumptious.

And any one of our 300 desserts would be a lovely finish to your Valentine's meal, but here are a few that I'm considering...

These fantastic CREPES WITH MASCARPONE, CHOCOLATE CHIPS AND CHERRY SAUCE.  Soooo good.  

Romantic desserts don't actually have to be chocolate... case in point, this incredibly delicious COCONUT PIE CREAM PUFF.  Doesn't get much better that this!

And then there are these amazing little CREPES FILLED WITH NUTELLA, MASCARPONE AND BANANAS. Not even kidding about how good these are...

And really, people.  Is there any more romantic dessert than TIRAMISU?  I think not.  Yes, make this and life will be complete.  We're done.

Alrighty then, this is what I'm thinking about and pondering for our Valentine's moment here at the Circle B Kitchen. Having been together for 49 years now, The Husband and I don't need a Hallmark-invented holiday to dictate romance, but having said that, neither are we going to turn down any excuse to create a romantic evening with delicious food, a little wine and lots of fun.  Of course, we all know that we don't have to wait until February 14th to make a beautiful meal for someone you love.  Happy Valentine's Day from The Circle B Kitchen!!  

Macaroni vs. Guilt: Macaroni wins

It's been over a month since my last post, and in spite of feeling more than a bit neglectful of my little corner of the interwebs, I've been making good use of my time away.

Firstly, we are still here with family, tending to all the details that families must work through when a loved one passes away.  We'll be returning home within the week, which will bring our stay to almost exactly a month.  We promised ourselves and the family that we would stay as long as we were needed and that time is about wrapped up, with a few extra days thrown in for some R and R.

What cooking I have done during this time has been simple, comforting foods from our "favorites" file, supplemented by a little takeout here and some dinners out there.  I haven't pushed myself to do any recipe testing or photography, but have instead, when not otherwise occupied, taken on the monumental task of recipe organization, which sounds fairly straightforward, but happens to be a ridiculously huge undertaking, with thousands of recipes scattered between Evernote, Microsoft Word and hardcopy files in my office.  My New Years resolution is to get ALL of them into ONE place.  I'll tell you more about that in a bit.

As I mentioned, I've mostly been cooking favorite, comforting dishes, not only because this has been a hard, sad time in our family, but the grief and sadness engendered by national and world news these days also cries out for some serious consolation.  We have found that in our long walks together every morning, in the inspirational marches occurring all over the world, and yes, sometimes in familiar, comforting meals.

And when I talk about comfort food, you can just go ahead and assume there will be pasta involved.  It might be an Asian noodle bowl, it could maybe be a simple pasta with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), but the mac daddy of them all (in my personal comfort food bubble) will always be mac n cheese.  Which I never make.  Ever.  Except for the grandkids; yes I will make it for them, but never ever for me.  Ever.  I'm afraid that the guilt of all of those carbs and fat have overtaken my pleasure center so that more than 2 bites of the stuff will send me careening over the ledge of regret and self loathing.

But now I'm excited about it.  I mean really excited.  Last night I made it for us and I had seconds and I was happy.  No, I was beyond happy.  I was ecstatic.  Mac n cheese is back in my life, baby. And we have cauliflower to thank for it.

If you were to ask me what my favorite veggie is, the answer always has been and always will be cauliflower.  In any of its forms and incarnations.  So it really is only fitting that it should be cauliflower to come to my rescue and return my beloved mac n cheese to me.

I know, this isn't anything you haven't heard about already, and actually, it's so 2015.  But as in most food trends, I probably won't be hopping on the trendy bus until everyone's already off and boarded the next one.

So now that you're all already making couscous and cream sauces out of cauliflower and have been for like 2 years, I'm going to be over here hopping up and down in my little corner, saying "oh cool! Yay!  This really IS awesome!"  Good grief.

If you're still with me, I'll tell you how this all came down....  As I mentioned previously, I had no plans to test recipes while I was here.  I didn't bring my camera, so these photos were taken with my phone (except the cauliflower photo up there that I took at home with my real camera).  I didn't have any idea this was going to be as good as it turned out, so I took no process photos.  But it was so good I just had to share.

We're coming to the last few days here and at this point my focus always turns to using up every last bit of food in the fridge before we leave.  And there in the fridge sat this beautiful little head of cauliflower that I brought home from the farmer's market the previous week.  I spied a knob of cheddar and several containers of milk and I knew I had some macaroni in the cupboard, so it seemed a perfect time to give this a try.  

IMG_1767.jpg

Long story short, said cauliflower was broken into little florets and steamed until quite soft, cheese was grated, macaroni was cooked, milk was heated.  Cauliflower was drained and placed in a large bowl and pureed using an immersion blender, adding a little of the cauliflower cooking liquid and some nonfat milk until a silky, smooth sauce was achieved.  Cheese was added, macaroni and seasonings stirred in, and then the whole shebang was turned into a baking dish, sprinkled with parmesan and baked until brown and bubbly.

It was glorious.  We ate it along with some beautiful chicken they grill at the farmer's market here and can I just tell you that my culinary life may never be the same?  OK, my new favorite mac n cheese still has some carbs, but I made enough for a 2-quart casserole dish using only 6 oz of macaroni.  That's not too bad, right?  Whole milk (and cream) were replaced with nonfat milk and cheese was still there in all of it's cheddar glory.  But I'm very likely to try this next time with Gouda or fontina.  Smoked Gouda would be oh so lovely.  

This recipe has now taken its rightful place in the "favorites" file, which brings me back to my earlier topic in regards to recipe organization.  It's going fabulously well thanks to the Paprika app. Yes, I know, you guys have been using it for a long time now, but I'm so in love with it, and I hate sitting here on the 2015 trendy bus all by myself.  So just in case you missed out and are in need of a little culinary organization in your life, you might want to check it out.  So glad I did.  And if you haven't yet used your cauliflower for mac n cheese, here's the recipe...

Cauliflower Mac n Cheese

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 or 3 as a main course

6 oz large elbow macaroni
1 smallish head of cauliflower, cut into smallish flowerets
2/3 cups of milk (I used nonfat)
2-3 cups of grated cheddar cheese
2 T butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (more or less according to taste)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cook the macaroni for a couple minutes less than the package instructions. Drain.

Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil and then add the cauliflower florets.  Bring the water back to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let the cauliflower cook for about 7-8 minutes or until fork tender.  Alternately, you can steam the cauliflower.

Strain the cauliflower and place in a blender along with the milk or you can use an immersion blender for this.

Blend until the cauliflower is really smooth and silky, adding a little more milk as needed to make a smooth, creamy sauce.  You can also use some of the cauliflower cooking water in place of the milk.

In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter and then add the cauliflower puree.  Stir in the grated cheddar until well blended and then stir in the macaroni.  Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

Grease a 2 quart baking dish and then spoon the macaroni into the pan.  Sprinkle the top with the grated parmesan cheese.

Place the pan under the broiler until the top is golden brown and bubbly.  Serve while still warm from the oven.

 

 

 

 

Old Year Passing...

The new year is only days away, and while this is usually my favorite time of year, this new years has taken a different kind of turn.  My dear, sweet Mother-in-Law, who I've been so lucky to call "Mom" for 45 years is slipping away from us.  At 97, she's lived a good, long, happy life, but somehow that doesn't make her passing any less difficult for the rest of us.

I tell you this because we are leaving to go be with her and the family, and it may be a while before I get back to the blog.  We're buying one-way tickets and will be with her for as long as we need to be there.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very wondrous New Year and hope that 2017 is your very best yet.  I hope to be back at some point with some new culinary inspirations, but in the meantime, have yourself some fun in the kitchen and be well....

💜

Patrice

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014

                                                                                                            Mom and I,   2014