The Humble Brussels Sprout

Brussels Sprout

Growing up, my mom always tried to make us eat well. No sugar, no preservatives, no junk food, the whole hippie food-style. The positive side of that is that I’ve been a vegetarian all my life, which I value. The down side of it is that I’ve been seriously traumatized by some foods.

For instance, brussels sprouts. Those little brassicas that look like adorable miniature cabbages. Most kids (and adults) would rather fish around in the kitchen sink drain and eat whatever they find there, than eat brussels sprouts. They probably had them prepared like my well-meaning mother did them, so that the final product was a squishy green fart.

I hated them for years, but when I hit 30, I decided to pretend to be a grown-up for a while and face my fears. Among other things, this meant trying brussels sprouts again. After a bit of hunting around, I found a good recipe for them and had a try. It was night and day. Instant convert to a brussels sprout fan in one bite.

The Man had his reservations when I first suggested making these for him. It took a little convincing, and the word ‘garlic’, for him to agree to have a taste. One bite. That’s all he would promise. And that bite was magic because he’s also a convert. I am not exaggerating here, even though I’m known to tell a tall tale or two.

I know you’re curious why they’re so delicious. You’re going to need a big frying pan and olive oil. Heat that up on medium heat with a good thick lake of oil (you can use butter, but it burns faster so watch it). Just salt and pepper, and about four or five cloves of chunky-cut garlic.

While the oil and garlic work their magic, slice the dry ends off the sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise from stem to crown. As soon as the garlic chunks start to get golden brown, scoop them out of the oil (The Man likes to eat these once they’re cool, like little garlic chips). Lay the sprouts in the pan, cut-side down in the oil, and then cover the pan.

In five minutes or so you’ll be able to stick a fork in them but they’ll still be bright green. When you take them out of the pan, you’ll see the cut sides are browned and crispy from the frying but the tops are still crunchy. The garlic oil has soaked up into the leaves like they’re sponges.

Serve as is, or with a sprinkling of grated hard cheese. They have a rich, nutty, cabbage flavor alongside the garlic, so I like to pair the sprouts with a nice plain rice or something fairly neutral. A small amount added to an ordinary dinner is ideal (they are brassicas after all and will make people play the trumpet if they over indulge).

Brussels sprouts have a good amount of protein, iron, B-vitamins, and fiber, and huge amount of vitamin C. Brassicas contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, both of which are proving in tests to actively fight cancer. As long as you don’t boil your brassicas, you usually get the full effect of these nutrient-heavy veggies.

So, remember the secret to Brussels sprouts is garlic and olive oil, a quick trip in the frying pan just to sizzle them, and then a touch of grated hard cheese. Try it. How bad can it be? Just one bite?

[Girl21]

Wakame Salad

Wakame Salad

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who don’t like sushi, and those that pretend to.”

I don’t know where the quote came from or what the exact words are, but it’s how I felt about sushi for a long time. I’m not going to get into how Westerners have completely bastardized the cuisine and the culture around proper sushi. I just didn’t care for it.

When The Man first started dragging me out to sushi places, I put up token resistance. His family loves sushi and I couldn’t NOT go. He started shoving sushi at me with the same results as when you try to make a cat take a pill. Fortunately I was persuaded to try wakame salad early on, or I’m sure there would have been bloodshed and tears eventually.

Ironically, wakame is a kelp/sea weed type of plant, and is in the top 100 of the list of the world’s most invasive species. Sea farmers have been cultivating it for hundreds of years, but it’s now showing up in waterways around the world that it should not be in, and it’s freaking hard to get rid of. I guess we’re supposed to eat our way out of this dilemma. It is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but also high in sodium. Many Japanese and Korean dishes incorporate wakame, and it’s commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Wakame salad is a very loose term for almost anything combined with wakame. It usually has a dressing involving soy sauce, sesame oil, and/or rice wine vinegar. But again, with the bastardization of traditional sushi and the homogenization of ‘Asian cuisine’, wakame salad can include kale, cucumbers, scallions, ginger, garlic, shallots, carrots, and on and on and on.

I love the simplest version possible, so I prefer getting it at Ichiban [pictured] or Chopstix. Summer rolls, wakame salad, and miso soup makes a simple yet delicious meal in itself. Finish it off with inarizushi, a pocket of fried tofu stuffed with slightly sweet rice. Mmmmmmm.

The Man is a pescetarian (yes, this is a real word), so our sushi dinners are where he goes a bit crazy with the fish. Vegetarian sushi isn’t quite as exciting to me, but I have found I crave the wakame salad incessantly. Crispy, crunchy, slightly sweet-tart-salty. And bright green like you’ve never seen.

I’m still not a sushi addict, but I don’t fight it like I used to. Mostly because The Man is a match for my stubborn streak, and also quite convincing about getting me to try crazy foods. So he won the war with wakame salad.

[Girl21]

Stuffed Mushrooms, Easy Appetizer

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms

There’s that classic movie moment where a guy is shooting a gun and runs out of bullets. He looks at the gun as it goes ‘click’, and then proceeds to throw it at the guys rushing him. And we all know that is a stupid move. That is me with these stuffed mushrooms.

When The Man gets home from work late and he’s starving, I try to have something for him to snack on if dinner isn’t completely ready. I can hear his stomach rumble as he casually saunters into the kitchen under the guise of seeing what’s for dinner, his eye on the tortilla chips. I usually pull the mushrooms out of the oven and wave them at him with the same unrealistic hope as the guy that throws his gun when he runs out of ammo. It’s more nutritious than chips, and it keeps him busy trying to eat something delicious but super hot.

The fun thing about these mushrooms is that you can get creative and change the stuffing depending on what you have on hand. And you can make as many or as few as you need. And they are super easy to prepare.

I use baby bella mushrooms (immature portobello), but you could get away with any of the small capped mushrooms that have a thicker flesh and cup shape. Clean them and gently remove the stem. Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish, and sprinkle that with garlic powder, Italian seasonings, and black pepper. Carefully set the mushrooms top down in the oil so they are nestled together, then salt and pepper them again. I like to put a few drops of lemon juice into each cap, a sprinkle of more Italian seasonings, then a small chunk or sliver of fresh garlic.

If you have the pre-crumbled blue cheese, you can put a few good size chunks of soft cheese into each cap, or any kind of softer cheese would work nicely. Then on top of each little cup, lay a slice of melty cheese just to generally cover the top. Sharp cheddar is a standard, but if I have a gouda, I like that best. A little more garlic powder and pepper on top of the cheese, and maybe a dusting of parmigiana or pecorino. Pop that into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the caps look a bit wrinkled from the moisture baking off. Let them cool before tossing them at the hungry people rushing you for dinner.

Mushrooms are a good source of protein, as well as a few other vitamins and minerals. And then when you add good stuff like garlic, you’re practically a health-food nut when you eat these. (Keep telling yourself that!) Plus these are fast and easy but look great as an appetizer or finger food.

Instead of lemon juice and garlic, try a base of tomato sauce (great if you’re already making pasta for dinner), pesto, or even a touch of ginger and thinly sliced apple (omitting the Italian seasonings and garlic for more pepper and lemon juice). I’ve put in thinly sliced fresh spinach, olives, fresh basil, caramelized onions, or even a few drops of hot sauce or mustard depending on the flavors of the main dinner menu. And of course you can play with the cheese options. Because cheese is always welcome.

They do store and re-heat well but are best served fresh out of the oven to a hungry audience. Have a peak in the package when you’re buying them so you don’t get the huge ones that will cause some poor sod to look like a trout while trying to eat the whole thing though.

[Girl21]

Chèvre, a.k.a. Goat Cheese

Chevre, aka Goat Cheese

Leave it to the Welsh. Their version of goat cheese is called Pantysgawn. (Say it out loud if you have to.)

Chèvre is goat milk cheese. Many cultures have their own version of goats cheese because, let’s face it, humans and goats go back a long time. Because of the many different ways of turning the milk to cheese, there are many variations in consistency and flavor. Thus you have the above Welsh version of the cheese. Another cousin which is quite popular is feta, a Greek combination of goat and sheep milk made into a dense block.

Goat milk is much more popular worldwide than cows milk because it’s more accessible and keeps longer without refrigeration. It’s also closer to human milk than cow milk is, so easier to digest for children, the ill, and the elderly. And those of you with lactose intolerance make note of this because you’ll be much better off if you fall off the wagon with goat or sheep (milk products, I mean).

If the accent over the e didn’t give it away, chèvre is the French version of fresh goat cheese. It’s soft and bright white like cream cheese, but dry like a very smooth ricotta. Except for the mild furry, barnyard flavor that is the cornerstone of any goat cheese flavor curve, chèvre is quite mild. It is rich without being buttery, and has a fresh, grassy flavor profile that makes it ideal for including with other delicious foods rather than on its own. It is a pacifist in the cheese family. It just wants everyone to get along.

A favorite way to elevate chèvre is to mix it with seasonings and spread it on some lovely rosemary bread from Uppercrust. It’s handy that you can get just the right size slab of chèvre at Uppercrust (in fact you can get it pre-seasoned, but we prefer our version because it has so much flavor). It’s best to make this a few hours before you intend to use it so it can marinate and release the flavors. Take a lush slab of the chèvre (about 8 oz. give or take), and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of a general Italian seasonings. And the key is at least four cloves of fresh garlic, pressed. Simply stir to combine well and refrigerate for a few hours.

Instead of just slathering it on bread with the finesse of a fifteen-year-old learning how to use cologne, try slicing the rosemary bread pretty thin and toasting it in the oven for a few minutes before spreading the chèvre on the warm bread. Try adding some marinated asparagus or very thinly sliced gouda.

You can also slice chèvre and bake it on the bread, with a sprinkling of oil and seasonings. It can be tricky since goat cheese doesn’t melt much, but it does get toasty and dry. Try it fresh and plain on a spinach walnut salad, or even with pears and apples. It compliments foods with mild but persistent flavors without overwhelming them.

It’s a lot of fun to experiment with chèvre as an alternative to cows milk cheeses. French chèvre is somewhat easy to find and is available under many names because there are many regionally protected varieties. Besides feta from Greek tradition, you could find goat cheese from several other origins such as Norway, China, and Australia… and of course the Welsh always have Pantysgawn.

[Girl21]

Tall Paul’s Brew House

Tall Pauls Brew House
It’s a college town, so there are always new bars and pubs popping up and then disappearing like mushrooms after the rains. We have a few favorites already and it takes something unusual to get us to go to a new place. Friends were going to Tall Paul’s Brew House. We wandered past the empty Ti Amo (Sovereign) building (sob sob) and found the newly rehabbed frontage of Tall Paul’s. Is it good or bad that it’s right near the courthouse? A sobering reminder to call a cab when in need?

I’m a bit of an architecture geek, and of course The Man has a history with carpentry, so we both love old buildings that have been restored, remodeled, or just intelligently repurposed. This was merely one of those old brick buildings on a side street of downtown Gainesville that just sat festering for a long while until someone tossed some money and sweaty labor at it. The high plank ceilings have open beams, and the big space of the one giant room is classic but refreshed.

Of course, this is kind of the downfall of the place. It’s a giant cavernous room that echoes horribly. There was a band there the night we went so it was impossible to have a conversation unless you were attached to the person’s ear like a leach. Plus I’m just too old to pay a cover charge to hear a band doing old Doors songs with more volume than finesse. Even when the band took a break (thank you!), the crowd created enough noise that we were actually joking about trying to use sign language to communicate.

On the other hand, the beer selection was a good excuse to stay and make the best of it. This was not the college bar line up of Bud, PBR, and Yuengling. Not quite Stubbie’s and their 400+ beer options. But you can find something interesting on their menu. And of course they have wine, cider, and Lindeman’s Lambic (flavored) beer for you non-beer drinkers. But this place seems to be the work of beer geeks. I would watch the taps for fun surprises.

They’ve got the usual fooseball and curling tables. It was crowded, but I might have seen a pool table? And obviously there’s a place for a ‘stage’ so more live music might be on the schedule. Most of the seating is box benches (kind of cool looking) in rows along stainless steel tables. Very flexible seating, so if you’re in large group, it’s easy to push tables together and get casual. And as a bonus, it looks like the front windows slide all the way open, which may or may not help with the no-smoking-inside issue if you’re with a mixed group.

The bar itself sticks out into the room like an awkward elephant, and the bar staff probably could use a little more experience handling a crowded environment. It was three deep at the bar that night, not only because of the crowd, but the staff were chatting up the patrons instead of serving beer at high speeds. The tables were bussed promptly (I suspect they were desperate for the glassware that night though). The Man eventually got himself a Cigar City Dry Stout that was more coffee than beer, and I had a cider (I have to appreciate a place that has cider on tap).

It would be nice to go back on a weeknight to see how the place is underneath the noise and crowds. Even though it’s been open a few months, the patrons haven’t quite figured out if this is their bar yet, it seems. Friday night’s crowd was a strange mix of G’ville strata and I was imagining a Sharks vs. Jets kind of dance/fight breaking out to see who claimed the bar as their own. Overall the place felt a bit like Palamino, or what would happen if Stubbies and The Bull had a love child.

Tall Paul’s Brew House
10 SE 2nd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
352-505-0990
on Facebook

[Girl21]

Vegetable Risotto, A Labor of Love

So much of the cooking I do is rushed, at the end of the day, tired, almost in a panic. A mad attempt to get a balanced meal together in the least amount of time. And it can’t taste too bad or be similar to anything else I’ve made in a week or so. This is the curse of two workaholic foodies living together.

It’s a very rare occasion I have the luxury of time and energy to focus on cooking. I fantasize about this while at work or rushing around on errands in the steaming sauna that is Florida. Not a mojito on the beach. Not a massage at an alpine resort. A few hours in my kitchen to actually cook at a normal pace. It is my meditation time. My yoga.

I recently committed to learning how to make risotto well and properly. The Man had been talking about it for weeks on end, and I his craving set off my craving. The style I am most drawn too includes a lot of ingredients and is filled with vegetables. It appeals to my fascination with one-pot meals. It’s not difficult, but it’s time consuming.

There are three stages of this, and it took me about two and a half hours last time I made it (two and a half lovely hours of peaceful meditation in my kitchen). Stage one is the broth. Stage two is the cutting and prepping of the ingredients. And stage three is cooking the rice.

Broth

You’re going to need about 4 cups of broth. If you don’t feel up to something fancy, you’re welcome to simply start with the prepackaged veggie bullion cubes. I usually add veggies to this broth, in a small pot on a back burner (it will simmer gently until you start making the rice, so keep it low and active).

Chop into big chunks an add to the broth: 1 big carrot, 3-4 stalks of celery, 1/2 onion, 3 cloves of minced or pressed garlic. I also add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, black pepper, a touch of dried red pepper flakes, and a tablespoon of olive oil. Let this simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the large veggie chunks and leave on very low heat while you start on the rice.

Prepping Ingredients

There’s a lot of cutting, peeling, and dicing involved here. I like to do this all at once and then separate the ingredients by when they’ll be needed so I don’t get my timing off. The Man says this is my German side coming out–the need to be organized and punctual in the kitchen. I hate when I’m still dicing something while something on the stove is swiftly overcooking. So I’m listing the ingredients here and grouping them by when they need to go into your big sauce pan.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup rice (tradition calls for arborio, but valencia is much more affordable)
8 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/3 cup vermouth
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 cup mushrooms (baby bella preferred)

4 cups broth (from above)

1 cup kale, finely chopped into ribbons (about three big leaves, spine removed)
2 cup broccoli florets
1 large carrot, chopped small

1/3 cup parsley, chopped fine
1/3 cup grated hard cheese (pecarino romano suggested)
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cooking the Risotto

It seems so much more complicated than it actually is. I find it very relaxing if I’ve prepared all of the ingredients already, since it’s just a long process of being here now. Keep your eye on how it looks and you’ll be fine. Once you’ve done it the first time, you won’t even need the instructions to the recipe. Just the list of ingredients.

You’ll need a large sauce pan with a heavy bottom, or a wide, deep frying pan. (I adore my 12″ Green Pan for this. We got our single pan at Target to try out the new greener non-stick surface, and it’s been great to work with.) Heat up the oil, and toss in the onions and salt over a medium heat. Cover and stir occasionally until the onions are glassy but not browning yet. Then you’ll add in the rice, garlic and pepper. Stir this occasionally also until it is well mixed up and starts to get a little toasty brown color on the garlic and onions, but not the rice.

Pour in the vermouth (yes, you can use regular white wine if you like, but vermouth has a slightly earthier flavor to it usually), and the celery and mushrooms. You’ll want to stir this up until the moisture is evenly blended throughout. Lower the heat to a medium-low heat, and keep the rice stirring every few minutes until the liquid is cooked off. You’ll see the rice is starting to get a bit gummy.

Once your vermouth has cooked off, you’re going to pour a little more than 1 cup of the broth you made into your pan and stir it into the rice. Cover it and stir every few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. It’s going to be sticky now. Pour in another cup or more of the broth, and repeat the cover/stir treatment until the liquid has been absorbed again. This should take about 15 or 20 minutes each time.

Now one last time, pour the last of the broth (should be about a cup and a half) into the rice and stir. But before you cover it this time, cover the rice with the kale, broccoli and carrot. Now put the lid on and the veggies steam for a few minutes before stirring them into the rice and broth. You could use practically any veggies for this as long as they aren’t too soggy (like tomatoes), and are cut so they cook uniformly. There’s nothing like raw potatoes mixed with mushy broccoli, so chop your veggies with cooking speed in mind.

As soon as the last of the broth is being absorbed, and your green veggies look bright and just perfectly crunchy/cooked, turn off the burner and add in the finely chopped parsley and the cheese. Stir it all up and cover to give the cheese a minute to get friendly with the rice. Usually you would just use a hard cheese for this, like parmigiana or romano. (We used some Spanish roncal sheeps cheese, which is strong and delicious in risotto.) I think using just a little softer cheese adds a touch of richness and flavor, so I like to include feta or gorganzola as well. But you can easily leave this off. I don’t know why you would, but you could.

Risotto is a great side dish, but adding the veggies like this makes it a meal in itself. You could bring this to a pot luck dinner. Reheat it for leftovers. Or just stand there with a few friends and forks and eat the whole thing while talking in the kitchen. It pairs perfectly with wine, but choose a simple table red rather than something with a big flavor that will compete for attention. We also like to make a delicious spritzer of limeade, ginger ale, fresh mint, and muddled berries (from frozen) that goes well with this at dinner parties. With or without vodka, of course.

[Girl21]

Glenrothes Whiskey

Glenrothes Whiskey

First of all, this is not a lesson on what the Vs and Ss and assorted letters on a bottle of whiskey mean. Nor am I going to debate the distillation process, spelling, or origins of ‘proper’ whiskey. We are only talking about one thing here. Glenrothes Scotch. Scotch being the kind of whiskey made in Scotland. Almost everything else about Scotch can and is heavily argued over passionately drawn lines.

Our liquor cabinet is home to a varied assortment of excellent bottles of fine alcohol and wine, moderate every-day options, and the scurf of questionable stuff re-gifted during the holidays or left over after a party. You can usually measure our enjoyment of it by how much dust has settled on the bottle. There’s usually a respectable bottle of scotch nestled in with the Bombay Sapphire Gin and whatever vodka I am drinking at the moment.

The Man has been a big fan of Glenfiddich for a while, but from time to time, he splashes out on something else. We have a Glenlivet bottle and a Clynelish bottle now edging out the port bottle’s space. The obviously absent bottle is the Glenrothes. It was quickly shared with friends and finished off.

We came across the Glenrothes Select Reserve at Dorn’s–a short, stubby bottle in a sea of glamorously tall scotch bottles–and at a price just shy of $60, The Man decided life was too short to be boring. On the way home, we stopped and shared a first glass with a friend on his back patio. Enduring the early summer humidity and meditating on life as a grown-up while you wait for your ice to melt is not at all a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

The Select Reserve is a non-vintage-specific “house” bottle created by their in-house Malt Master. It is a surprisingly young- and bright-tasting blend, with citrus and vanilla high notes and a lingering orange liqueur fragrance that oddly reminds me of Halloween. Unlike our usual Glenfiddich, the Glenrothes has very little of the smoky peat flavor that is a signature of many traditional scotch makers. But it lacks that rough edge that sub-par scotch often has. It is smooth and caramel-creamy, with a buttery mouth feel that slides into a breathy finish.

Not only does Glenrothes reuse American and Spanish oak casks (sherry and/or bourbon) as is tradition, they have a cooperage on site where they rebuild, check, and mix planks from casks so the interaction between the wood and whiskey create unique flavors and characters. On their website, they have a collection of videos that elaborate on the scotch making process and Glenrothes’ style of processing, which I recommend if you have any spare time. These are scotch geeks, if there is such a thing.

Glenrothes produces a variety of vintages (their Malt Master has since retired, so there’s no telling what will happen long-term to the brand), and they seem to stick to their recognizable stubby round bottle. We returned to Dorn’s to scout out another bottle of the Select Reserve without any luck. They did have a bottle of what was possibly the ‘John Ramsay’ vintage behind the counter for $500, but that was a little too pricey for us. Maybe after we win the lottery.

The Glenrothes
Select Reserve
750 mL bottle, $45-65
www.theglenrothes.com

[Girl21]