Citrus Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I can practically hear you screaming now.  “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!  Mommmmmmm!!!!!  No brussels sprouts!  No, no, NOOOOOO!!!!!”

Well, save me the drama.  Sure, they’re good for you.  Cry me a river.  The fact of the matter is, brussels sprouts are good.  No, better than good – they’re delicious.  Of course, I think all vegetables are delicious (except okra… I’ve tried, but I can’t, I just can’t).  But brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables.  Carrots?  Yes, please.  Squash?  Mmmm, indeed I will.  Broccoli?  Load ’em up.  Brussels sprouts?  GIMME!  Because I love brussels sprouts so much, I have taken it upon myself to change people’s minds about them.  It’s my mission in life.  Because most people, ya know, HATE them.  They are the butt of every Thanksgiving joke.  They’ve even made an appearance on “Friends” as “Monica’s stinky brussels sprouts.”  Well, I’m sick of it.  Enough with the smelly gym socks references!  Brussels sprouts don’t deserve the reputation they seem to have acquired.  So I’m here to make the case for brussels sprouts, and this is it: Roast them.  Roast them now.  If you are one of the multitudes who hate brussels sprouts, it’s because you haven’t had them like this.  So go roast them, then eat them, then apologize to all brussels sprouts you have scorned over the years.  Your Honor, the defense rests.

Okay, I’m being a little bit quippy here, but it’s true: there are ways to screw up brussels sprouts.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to screw them up, and when you do, they’re the definition of gross.  For instance, boiling brussels sprouts, to put it mildly, does not show these vegetables off to their best advantage.  They are actually very versatile and tasty, but people insist on boiling them.  Don’t!  Put the saucepan down and back away from the stove!  Roast them like this, or shred and saute them with a tiny bit of creme fraiche and bacon, or steam them and dress them with a tart vinaigrette.  But don’t boil them.  (And if you disregard this advice, don’t come crying to me about gym socks, ‘cuz I don’t want to hear it.)  Brussels sprouts are wonderful many ways, it’s true, but I think they’re at their best when roasted.  The outer leaves caramelize and become crispy and salty and savory, and the inside leaves take on the wonderful, nutty character that you will NEVER achieve by boiling.  And then when you hit them with some lemon juice and zest, man, oh man, they are amazing.  Brussels sprouts will change your life.

Citrus Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 cups brussels sprouts, stems trimmed, outer leaves removed
1 lemon, zested and zest reserved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Clean and trim brussels sprouts: slice off the bottom of the sprout (the woody, tough part) and remove any outer leaves that have become tough and/or yellow and/or wilted.  Cut sprouts in half and rinse under running water.
  • Place brussels sprouts halves in a large bowl and dress with olive oil and a generous seasoning of kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Zest a lemon, reserving half of the zest.  Add the remaining half of the zest to the brussels sprouts mixture.  Roll the lemon to distribute the juices, then slice in half.  Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the sprouts, reserving the second half for later.
  • Roast for 45-50 minutes, tossing once or twice.  Remove from oven and transfer to serving bowl.  Squeeze the second lemon half over the sprouts, and sprinkle the remaining zest over the top.
  • Change minds, change lives.

Source: Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Steamed Purple Fingerlings with Lemon Aioli

Last month, I took a brief jaunt to Miami to visit my fabulous friend Rebecca.  Rebecca and I met in college and discovered that we shared an affinity for good food, good wine, and good dinner conversation.  Once we discovered these mutual interests, Rebecca and I were practically inseparable.  By senior year, when we each had apartments of our own (Rebecca took the plunge earlier – I was harder to pry away from the sorority house) we made a habit of cooking and eating dinner together every night.  Since we did everything together anyway – meeting in the morning to walk to class, sitting together in every class that we could (and we made a point to sign up for as many of the same classes as possible – including wine tasting, of course), meeting after class to walk home together, going to the grocery store and farmers market together, cooking together, eating together, and watching bad reality TV together – it was only natural that we would absorb some of each other’s recipes.  Today, we’ve been friends for nine years; Rebecca makes my poached eggs, and I follow her method for cooking eggplant.

So anyway, where am I going with this?  Well, here you have an adaptation of one of talented Rebecca’s recipes – roasted blue potatoes with with vegan aioli.  She whipped up the original on the Sunday night before I flew home to the hubby, while I laid on her couch complaining about having eaten too much caviar at brunch that morning (and afternoon) at the Biltmore Hotel.  When Rebecca suggested these potatoes, I reacted strongly, I admit – in fact, I may have screamed “NOOOOOOO!”  But when they came out of the oven, Rebecca presented them in a spiral on a plate and proceeded to make “yummy” noises until I relented and tried them.  Needless to say, I was whipping up my own version of Rebecca’s aioli and serving it alongside adorable steamed purple fingerling potatoes for the hubs less than a week later.  I know a good thing when I see it.  And taste it.  And so does Rebecca.

Steamed Purple Fingerlings with Lemon Aioli

1 pound purple fingerling potatoes (substitute Russian Banana or other fingerlings)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegannaise)
zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon chopped chives, parsley or dill (cook’s choice!)

  • Scrub the fingerling potatoes clean, but don’t peel them.  Slice the potatoes lengthwise and cook in a steamer set over simmering water for approximately 15 minutes, until tender.
  • Meanwhile, make the aioli: combine the mayo, lemon zest, juice and chopped herbs in a small bowl.  Transfer to serving dish and garnish with additional chopped herbs if desired.
  • That’s it!  Easy, right?

Source: adapted from Messybaker’s BFF Rebecca

Roasted Fall Vegetables

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I absolutely love vegetables, and I’d be hard pressed to name one that I don’t like.  And roasting vegetables is my absolute favorite way to cook them.  Back in my law school days, when the only dinner I knew how to cook was chicken piccata, I’d always make roasted asparagus to go along with it.   I never got tired of those crispy asparagus tops!  Eventually, I branched out into roasting other vegetables.  Carrots, for instance, are one of my favorite veggies to roast.  And the day I first roasted brussels sprouts was the day that my husband discovered that he actually likes brussels sprouts!

Roasted vegetables are delicious because they are crispy in places, chewy in places, and have wonderful caramelized crusts – my favorite part.  And the fact that they couldn’t be easier to make, well, that doesn’t hurt either.  The secrets to perfect roasted vegetables are a high oven temperature – 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the vegetable – and plenty of salt.  And, of course, enough time.  The results are well worth your patience, though, especially when the weather starts getting cooler and the winter squashes appear at your market.  For the perfect fall side dish, toss some winter squash and sweet potatoes in a little maple syrup and watch the autumn magic happen.

Roasted Fall Vegetables

1 white sweet potato, peeled and large-diced
1 garnet yam or jewel sweet potato, peeled and large-diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and large-diced
2 tablespoons (approx.) extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, a generous hand
2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Because these are very dense, fibrous root veggies and winter squashes, you need a higher temperature.
  • After you have prepared the vegetables, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and maple syrup if using, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • Roast for 30 minutes, then remove from oven and quickly toss.  Place veggies back in oven and roast for approximately 15-20 minutes more – keep an eye on the vegetables at this point.  When they start getting a beautiful, caramelized crust and are fork-tender, they are ready.

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Source: Covered In Flour, roasting method from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Yield: Serves 4

Classic Mashed Potatoes

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Is there anyone alive who doesn’t like mashed potatoes?  If so, I’d like to meet them.  I would have a lot of questions.  No, I’ve never encountered anyone who actively dislikes mashed potatoes.  I’ve encountered many diverse, and all equally passionately held, opinions about mashed potatoes, though… it seems that everyone holds strong preferences on this topic.  Do you like them lumpy or smooth? Skins on or off?  With cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream?  Do you add mix-ins?  What about herbs?  Do you process them in the mixer, or with a food mill, or with a potato ricer, or with a potato masher?

Here are my strongly-held opinions about mashed potatoes: I like them smooth, but with skins on (c’mon, you need some nutrients).  I don’t believe lumps have any place in a bowl of mashed potatoes.  For that reason, I use a stand mixer.  I just can’t commit to the time it takes to make potatoes as smooth as I like them with a potato masher, and hubby hates my potato ricer for some reason.  (If you do make smooth mashed potatoes with a masher, God bless you.  I have so much respect for you!)  I like mine with buttermilk or yogurt, and I like to add chives.  That’s my classic formula, but I’m not afraid to mix it up, either… mashed potatoes can handle it.

Do you disagree with my opinions about mashed potatoes?  Good!  There’s nothing like a potato debate.  Bottom line, the thing about mashed potatoes is this: every cook should know how to make them.  Every cook should have a preferred recipe.  And every cook should deviate from that recipe routinely.  It’s the only way to give the humble potato the respect it deserves, but will never ask for.

Classic Mashed Potatoes

1 pound potatoes (Yukon Gold or red new potatoes are great), scrubbed and large-diced
1/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk, or milk and yogurt…)
1 heaping tablespoon light sour cream
kosher salt
fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chives (or scallions)

  • Bring a large pot of water to a hard boil and salt generously with kosher salt.  Add large-diced potatoes and boil hard for approximately 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
  • Drain potatoes and add them to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment.  Begin beating at a low speed, gradually bringing the speed up (every 10-15 seconds or so) to the maximum.  Beat on maximum speed for approximately one minute – but keep an eye on the potatoes.  You don’t want them to get gluey!  If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides. (Or, alternatively, process through a food mill or potato ricer into a heat-resistant bowl, or return them to the pot and take out your frustrations on them with a potato masher.)
  • With the mixer running on low (or with your trusty wooden spoon) stir in the liquid(s) and the chives.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Remember, you salted the cooking water, so the potatoes are somewhat seasoned already.  It’s important to taste before adding any additional salt, to make sure you don’t over-do it.)  If desired, mix in any additional herbs, sliced scallions, bacon bits, cheese… whatever your little heart desires!  Go nuts!

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Source: Mixer method adapted from KitchenAid mixer instructions; recipe Covered In Flour

Herbed Orzo

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I came up with this herbed orzo to act as a simple foil to the flavorful balsamic roasted chicken I made on Saturday night – but it came close to stealing the show, at least if you ask me.  The smooth flavor of extra-virgin olive oil and the green bite of parsley and dill are perfect against orzo, my favorite pastina.  Sometimes it’s the low key side dishes that taste the best.

Herbed Orzo

1/2 cup dried orzo (0r other pastina)
1 1/2 tablespoons (approx.) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian Parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
salt and pepper

  • Cook the orzo according to the package directions.
  • Drain the orzo and transfer to a large bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.  Season to taste and serve alongside roasted meat or chicken.

Source: Covered In Flour