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Posts Tagged ‘nuts’

brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts & pancetta

In autumn, gluten free, sides, travel, winter on 19 July, 2011 at 10:17 pm

The other night, I simultaneously burnt and overcooked-to-the-point-of-mushiness what should have been a delicious bowl of brussels sprouts (oh, internet with your myriad distractions).  Half out of sheer hunger/tiredness and half out of you-got-yourself-into-this-mess stubbornness, I smothered them in pecorino romano and butter and ate them. I’ll say this: the cheese was good. I’ll also say this: even without the acrid burnt taste they would’ve still conjured up childhood vegetable nightmares. Yep, they were that bad.

These are not those brussels sprouts. But I felt I had to do something to make up for the ones I did such a disservice to. Because brussels sprouts – poor things, they’re so maligned, and undeservedly so – need all the good press they can get. Cooked right, they’re a joy: nutty, almost sweet, tender-crisp. And cut in half they’re the perfect bite size, their little cabbage-leaves soaking up all the butter they can handle (which is a lot).

If you knew me at all as a child you’d know that I was ridiculously picky; the closest I’d get to voluntarily eating vegetables was poking at a few leaves of lettuce in a salad or dipping a carrot stick in miso (try it sometime!). And perhaps because no one in my family liked brussels sprouts except my dad, they appeared on the dinner table only once – maybe twice – a year, at Thanksgiving* and sometimes Christmas dinner, when we’d clear the dining room of all the boxes and junk that had accumulated from non-use (we were a family of kitchen-table eaters), set the table with a hardly-used tablecloth and the special plates we wouldn’t see for the rest of the year, and my dad would repeat his annual campaign to get us all to help him eat the brussels sprouts. We wouldn’t.

Until one year not so long ago, when I returned home for the holidays and my dad did something we brussels-sprouts haters had never heard of: he cooked the brussels sprouts with bacon and almost-caramelised onions. I secretly think he would’ve done this ages ago if he had actually wanted to share the brussels sprouts with the rest of us, because between my brothers and me, they flew off the table. (It might’ve had something to do with bacon’s magical ability to make everything taste Damn Good, but I like to think that’s where my brussels sprout appreciation started…)

Now I can’t wait for brussels sprouts to appear each year and I’ve been eating plenty while they’re in season and cheap. I love them braised or sauteed but I’m just as likely to make a simple snack of them by quickly boiling or steaming them just til fork-tender and eating them with butter, sea salt and cracked pepper.  This time I’ve sauteed them with pancetta and shallots, sort of a throwback to that first eye-opening brussels sprouts experience. Thanks Dad.

Funny how we turn into our parents, how we start doing the things we swore we’d never do.** But when I have kids, I won’t be relegating brussels sprouts to a once-yearly cameo.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH TOASTED WALNUTS & PANCETTA (serves 2-3 as a side dish, depending on how much everyone likes brussels sprouts)

Take 10-12 brussels sprouts, trim off the bases and the outer leaves, slice in half vertically. If you’re using particularly big brussels sprouts it may pay to parboil these for a couple of minutes, but I try to pick smaller ones

Dice 1 good-sized shallot (or 2 smallish ones) and saute in butter over medium-low heat until it starts to get soft. Cut up 1-2 slices of pancetta (or bacon) into little pieces and add those to the pan, saute until they start to firm up, then add the brussels sprouts. At this stage I like to add more butter, plenty of it, the more the better. Saute until they’re just starting to brown, but don’t overcook them: when you can just stick a fork through them with little to no resistance, they’re done.

Meanwhile, toast a handful of walnuts (you could just as easily use pine nuts): you can do this in a skillet, or chuck them in a tray under the grill in your oven. Just don’t burn them: keep your nose on alert for that awesome nutty smell. Toss with the brussels sprouts and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grate some parmesan over the top to serve. Eat immediately.

*Yep, I grew up in North America.

**It’s not just my dad I’m turning into (food-wise, anyway). Last month I was in Tokyo searching for this steamed-bun cafe, had forgotten to make myself a little map in my notebook (Tokyo streets are notoriously difficult to navigate if you’re looking for something down a little alleyway – the address alone usually is of no help), and, half-determined to find it and half-enjoying wandering around, spent a couple of hours walking up and down the main street in Kagurazaka. I never found the cafe, though I did find an eerily cosy coffee bar straight out of 1980s Japan, serving drip coffee to rival the likes of Customs or Lamason, and I found a little shop selling the most delicious taiyaki (this one filled with sweet purple yam paste:

But it was my last day in Tokyo, I had only hours left to do all the things I had planned on doing, I hadn’t had breakfast (!! I know), it was raining, my feet were soaking wet, I was tired and hungry and still hadn’t found the cafe I came all the way to Kagurazaka for. And then I found something far better: an unassuming Japanese restaurant serving a few different kinds of teishoku - set meals with rice and miso soup – and something pulled me in, some weird instinct which told me to forget about the steamed-bun cafe. This was what I needed. Before I even sat down I ordered the yakizakana teishoku almost without thinking.

It’s not something I would’ve gotten excited about five or ten years ago when visiting Japan. In fact, I wasn’t even that excited about it this time, except for this gut feeling that I knew I was doing the right thing. And I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, until I thought about what I was eating. Grilled fish with grated daikon, rice and miso soup, some pickled vegetables – exactly the meal my mum would cook for herself when we’d eat Japanese at home (pretty frequently, since Mum grew up in Japan). As a kid I’d stick with the rice and miso soup, turning my nose up at everything else.

I’ve long since started eating fish and tsukemono but I never gave much thought to how much I was turning into my mother until the moment last month when I finished this meal and thought the thought I never thought I’d think: whether I’m hungry, tired or frustrated, there’s nothing that puts me more at ease than a simple meal of rice and miso soup, salted grilled fish, pickled daikon.

I’m sure I’ve heard that exact sentiment from my mum so many times while growing up, and always thought she was nuts: there’s so much food (Japanese or otherwise) that’s way more exciting and comforting (what about the mac and cheese, mum?!). But somehow, in some way, she was totally right all along, and that simple, humdrum meal was the most special of my trip. Thanks Mum.

white bean, tuna & pine nut bruschetta

In snacks, year-round on 5 April, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I’ve eaten my way through the emergency kit I so painstakingly assembled after the Christchurch earthquake. Er, well, at least the edible components of it. It started on Sunday when I had this insatiable chocolate craving and broke into the chocolate macadamia block nestled beneath spare undies, torch, deodorant, canned food, toothpaste.* And then yesterday happened and I came home to the sudden unmistakable reality of having no food in the house. For the second week in a row I hadn’t gone to the Sunday market (when did I become such a creature of routine?!) and the closest thing to fresh produce I had was a half-wilted bag of spinach and the potted herbs on my balcony.

And it was sort of an emergency: I was hungry, tired, things were starting to grate on me in the same way as that guy flailing (dancing?) in front of me at the last gig I went to, all shoulders arms elbows, throwing flecks of sweat my way. Rage.  It’s not often an empty stomach brings forth memories of bad crowds and other small annoyances, but there you go. I’d been struck by the dreaded hangrrr Sasa so often warns about.

So the need to Eat Something Now coupled with the lack of fresh food in my pantry led me to that same trusty emergency kit that had so conveniently been there for me with chocolate the night before, where I found cans of beans and tuna, and toiletries (ooh, I was running low on soap!). Score. And since I always have half-eaten loaves of stale bread in the cupboard this bruschetta quickly took shape. In under 10 minutes I had depleted my emergency kit** and was sitting down to this. Crisis averted, bad-crowd memories dissipated.

This is simple stuff, and you could easily play around with the components to make it fancier, but in a pinch it’s about as good as it gets. Soft, almost-creamy beans, meaty tuna, flecks of parsley and nutty parmesan, coated in this spicy-lemony-garlicky dressing that’s just as much revitalising as it is comforting.

*yeah, I didn’t say my emergency kit was the best-organised. It’s basically a bag full of random stuff I hope might be useful in an emergency. Now minus most of the food.

**and I realise now that 1 can of tuna, 1 can of beans and a block of chocolate is probably woefully inadequate for an emergency kit. However, it does make for a pretty satisfying meal.

WHITE BEAN, TUNA & PINE NUT BRUSCHETTA

Heat a knob of butter and a generous swirl of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice 1-2 cloves of garlic and gently fry in the butter and olive oil along with a pinch of red pepper flakes and a generous sprinkle of pine nuts. Add 1 can of white beans* (drained and rinsed), a can of tuna (drained) and a handful of chopped parsley. Squeeze the juice of 1 or 2 lemons over everything, season with salt and pepper to taste, give it a good stir so that the beans and tuna are coated with the garlicky oil.

Meanwhile, toast some sliced, day-old** baguette (another way to use up stale bread in the pantry!).*** When it’s nice and crisp, top with the tuna & bean mixture and grate a bit of parmesan over the top. Easy!

*cannellini, for example

**Ha! Feel free to take a liberal reading of this. The bread I used was way more than a day old… I wanted it nice and crispy, so stale was fine.

***I’m forever burning stale slices of baguette in the toaster so I usually do this in the oven, with a drizzle of butter on top.

cherry, vanilla + walnut sticky buns

In baking, breakfast, sweets, year-round on 15 February, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I’ve been trying to think of ways to use up this dud cherry-vanilla jam* I made a couple weeks ago.  I had this vague idea of making sticky buns inspired by the cranberry and pistachio ones at Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli out in Lyall Bay (holy crap they’re amazing) and THEN the ever-so-awesome Laura from Hungry and Frozen made these Norwegian cinnamon buns out of Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess and that’s all it took – I was sold. Sticky buns it was.

Sticky buns and walnuts are natural friends, as are cherries and vanilla and walnuts (if I attempt to make cherry jam again I’ll include walnuts à la this recipe from Curious Kai). And thanks to some onto-it family members (box stuffed with assorted food = best Christmas gift ever) I had plenty of walnuts lying about.

I love the ceremony involved in making sticky buns: clearing off a big space to roll the dough into a big, flat sheet, spreading the filling over the top, adding way more butter than you think any rational person should ingest (maybe laughing maniacally as you do), coiling up the whole thing into a neat cylindrical roll, slicing and arranging the buns-to-be. There’s a lot of anticipation involved, and it comes to a head when they’re sitting in the oven releasing that fresh-bread-plus-so-much-sugar-and-butter fragrance.

Although making cinnamon rolls has long been on my list of favourite weekend activities, for some reason I couldn’t find my trusty dough recipe. Luckily I had been looking through How to Be a Domestic Goddess after reading the aforementioned Hungry and Frozen blog post and settled on using the dough from Nigella’s recipe for schnecken. Not that I’d made it before. But it sounded like it might work.

CHERRY, VANILLA + WALNUT STICKY BUNS: (makes roughly a trayful)

For the dough (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Schnecken from How to Be a Domestic Goddess):

Mix together 500g flour, 50g sugar, 1/2tsp salt, and 15g fresh yeast (get this! it’s amazing and cheap. or if not, you can use half that amount of regular active dried yeast). Combine 75g unsalted butter and 150ml milk – Nigella says to melt them together in the microwave, which worked just fine – and beat in 2 eggs. Add this liquid mixture to the dry stuff, mix it up, make some dough. Then knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and pliable, and form into a big doughy ball. Butter (or oil) a large bowl and roll the dough in it (so that it’s coated in butter), then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean, moist tea towel. Let it sit for a while in a warm place (hot water cupboard? in the oven on the very lowest setting? or maybe your house is naturally warm?) for about an hour, until doubled in size.

Go do something else for a bit and when you come back the dough should be gloriously proud and puffy and smooshy; knock it around a bit and give it a knead or two to bring it back down to size.  Roll out on a floured surface into a flat, long rectangular shape (Nigella says 60x30cm, but I didn’t measure) and slather the filling mixture all over the dough.

Filling mixture?

Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Since I was using dud cherry-vanilla jam that was too sticky to spread, I softened about 250g jam in about 100g melted butter and spooned this concoction over the top.  Since I don’t recommend going to the effort of making homemade dud-jam (I mean, you can…), you could do one of a couple things:

1. You could mix non-dud jam with a little less butter (maybe 50-75g depending on the consistency of your jam) and 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract and spread this over the dough.

2. Or you could skip the jam altogether and pour over 50-75g melted butter mixed with 1 tsp vanilla paste/extract and sprinkle about 1/2 cup sugar over the whole thing, and scatter dried cherries all over the surface. It’ll turn out a bit different, but still good – think raisin-studded cinnamon roll.

Whatever you end up doing, eventually you”ll sprinkle more or less 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts over the whole thing, and carefully roll it up lengthwise so you end up with a long, python-like hunk of dough (okay, maybe not that big, but sort of thick and snaky). Be sure to keep things tight but not too squashed together.

Cut into slices like you’re making sushi (and, if you’re anything like me when I make sushi, eat the raggedy end bits before anyone sees). I cut mine about 1 – 1 1/2 inches thick. Place into a buttered baking tray - it’s okay if they’re pretty close together – and let prove for 20-30 minutes.  This is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

When the buns have proved, and are nice and puffy and cosily tucked in together in their tray, pop this into the oven for 20-25 minutes and wait for your house to start smelling incredible.

When they’re done, you can eat them plain, or you can drizzle with a simple white icing - I usually start with 1 tbsp milk for every 1 cup icing sugar and add more milk and/or sugar as needed to make a gooey, not-too-runny icing.

Give these to everyone you know; they will love you for it.

*dud cherry jam: it all started out with good intentions, inspired by a tweet by @summerfieldsfds, I semi-ruined it -added twice as much sugar as I should have (forgot to adjust for quantity), and simmered it for far too long (absent-mindedness may have played a part in this). What I got was a very solid, un-spreadable, overly sweet, sticky mass. With chewy cherry bits. Not so nice for toast. However, it was perfect for filling these sticky buns. Not that I’m suggesting you go out and make your own homemade dud-jam for this, but…

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