Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hated Foods.....but should they be?

So there are a ton of foods out there that people just have an ingrained, adverse, and repellent opinion of. I think a lot of it is born in childhood, and then either through close-mindedness, or inadventurousness (pretty sure that's a word, if not, you get the gist), stick around into adulthood. Well, we here at SMSCC (first time I've gone anacronym on you, let's see if it sticks) are going to blow the lid off of these narrow-minded preconceptions that are preventing you from enjoying some of the best foods out there. Specifically this time we are going to be tackling brussels sprouts and fennel. I think brussel sprouts are probably the best example of what I am talking about, but fennel, while it avoids some of the absolute hatred that brussels have attained, suffers from a lack of use. It is a great, versatile veggie, and should be in everyones repertoire. We'll hit some basics on each, and then give you a couple starter recipes for both. Think of these as the training wheels of culinary open-mindedness.
Brussels Sprouts - First off, they are a member of the cabbage family, and are very high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folic acid. They are also thought to prevent colon cancer and thyroid disease (you could say this about pretty much every cabbage, but few are as tasty as the brussels sprout). I think that where they get their bad rap is basically from bad cooks. If you overcook them, it releases some sort of compound/element/something (I am not a scientist, so I have probably not named the correct THING that is released, try to stay big picture and not nitpick me) that smells and tastes of SULFUR. Not appetizing. However, just don't overcook them and all is avoided. To get them ready to cook, a few simple steps must be taken
  • If they are on the stem, remove them from it. If they have already been removed, then cut away the small stump that remains. It will be the hard, whitish thingy at the bottom of your sprout.
  • Peel away the tougher, darker leaves around the bottom. These are technically fine, but don't get as tender as the rest of the sprout, and we don't want that.
RECIPE 1 - Blanched Brussels with Walnut Oil and Shaved Parmesan
It really isn't going to get much easier than this one, so if this stumps you.......
1 lb Brussel Sprouts, prepped as above and then cut into quarters (lengthwise)
2 tblsp salt
1 tblsp walnut oil
1 tsp FRESH cracked black pepper, i like it pretty coarse, but whatever you prefer
1 tblsp butter, unsalted
2 tblsp chives, finely chopped
1 tblsp italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt to taste - I know salt is in here twice, it's not a mistake
1/4 c Parmesan, shaved into long strands, use a veggie peeler
1)Place oil, butter, chives, parsley, and pepper in a serving bowl and set aside
2)Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, then add 2 tblsp salt and brussel sprouts. Boil 7-8 minutes till tender. It depends on the size of your sprout, but fork tender is a good judge
3)Drain sprouts, put in serving, toss to melt butter and evenly coat all sprouts, season to taste with salt, and top with shaved parmesan. Serve and enjoy....pretty simple no?
RECIPE 2 - Sauteed Brussels with bacon and shallots
This is the Thanksgiving favorite around chez Leahy...anything is easier to get someone to try with bacon right? Also, as a side note, ask my sister about properly cooking bacon lardons such as these, she knows the secret :)
1 lb Brussels Sprouts, prepped as above and cut into quarters (lengthwise)
2 tblsp bacon, diced small
1 lg shallot diced small
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tblsp rosemary, chopped fine
1/2 tblsp thyme, chopped fine
2 tblsp dry white wine
1/8 cup stock, I'm sure you now have a stash since you have been making it since we talked about the importance of stock in August, but if not, low sodium veggie or chicken
Salt & Pepper to taste
1)Bring a pot of water with 2 tblsp salt to a rolling boil as in the first recipe, but this time only cook the sprouts 4-5 minutes until they START to become tender. Drain and reserve
2)Heat a 10-12 inch saute pan over medium heat, and place the bacon in even before it starts to get hot. This will render the fat better from the bacon, and give us all we need to saute in
3)Saute bacon 3 minutes until nicely rendered and getting crispy. Remove bacon from pan (not the fat, keep the fat in there) and place on paper towel to drip off. Add shallot and garlic to pan and saute 1 minute. Add sprouts and saute 2 more minutes
4)Increase heat to high, add wine and stock, and cook until it has reduced by 80% and is starting to get glazy. Add herbs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy....
RECIPE 3 - Shaved Brussels with lemon, basil, and chili flake
A little fresher take on the SPROUT...quick note, chiffonade means very thinly sliced. To chiffonade basil, or really anything, take the basil leaves and stack them on top of eachother about 10-12 at a time, roll into a tight bundle, and thinly slice across.
1 lb Brussels Sprouts
1 tsp red chili flake
1 small red onion, sliced fine
zest and juice of 1 lg lemon
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1/8 c stock, see above recipe for my rant about stock yet again
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tblps butter
1)Shave Brussels very thinly into rounds. I use a mandolin, and if you have one, you should too. If you don't, cut the brussel in half so you have a flat surface, then thinly slice across into half circles
2)Melt butter over medium high heat, add onion, and cook for 2-3 minutes until starting to color.
3)Add brussels, and toss to coat with butter. Saute for 2-3 minutes until starting to become translucent. Add lemon, stock and chili flake, and cook until liquid has reduced at least 80%
4)Toss basil through, and season with salt and pepper.
These brussels will be a little more "toothsome" than the first two recipes...that's ok.
And now, on to.....
FENNEL - This plant/herb...whatever, I think suffers less from a hatred, but more from a "what the f*c! do I do with that" sort of situtation, and therefore is sadly left off of the menus of many the home cook, sadly. It is a delicious plant, quite versatile, and it fronds are a great addition to salads, salad dressings, potato salads, and on and on and on. You could also make your own absinthe from it, if you can locate any wormwood anyway, but that's another blog for another time......chasing the green fairy mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Prepwise, there is one really KEY step. Cut off the fronds, and reserve for later use as we talked about above. Then, cut the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom. If you look at the cross section of what you have just cut, there will be a very distinctive, slightly differently colored triangle on each side. You must cut this tastes extremely bitter, and no amount of anything you do will change that. Now on to cooking.
RECIPE 1 - Shaved fennel salad, with citrus, mint, & chiles (drop the chile if your not a spice fan, this is still a delicious salad)
1 head fennel, prepped as above, then sliced very thin
1 small red onion, sliced thin
2 small serrano, or thai chiles, sliced thin
1 tblsp fresh mint, chopped rough
1 tblsp italian parlsey, chopped rough
1 tsp clover honey
Juice and zest from 2 oranges, 1 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
1)Combine all ingredients and toss to completely mix. Refrigerate at least 1 and preferably 3-4 hours to marinate. Serve and enjoy. This is a great salad for a piece of grilled swordfish, or a roasted chicken or rack of pork. A little fresh, acidic crunch really adds a lot to the meal, and the delicious flavor of anise really complements the delicate taste of the fish or white meat. You can even use some of the juice from the bottom of this salad to make a marinade or glaze for the proteins.
RECIPE 2 - Sweet Caramelized Fennel
This is a really easy side dish, with just four ingredients, that goes perfect with a roasted chicken, prime rib, veal chop, really just about any meat or game, or sturdier fish....Easy and delicious.
1 lg fennel bulb
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 1/2 tblsp olive oil
1)Prepare the fenneal as above, and then cut in each half in half lengthwise two times. Sorry if that's confusing are looking for 8 total, not too thick wedges. about a 1/2 inch in width on the outside is perfect
2)Heat the oil over low-medium heat. It is important to not get the oil or pan too hot. If you do, the oil may scorch, and you wont cook the fennel slowly enough to tenderize it and bring out its' sweetness.
3)Season fennel with the salt and pepper, and place in pan. Cook 25-30 minutes turning occasionally, until the fennel is a deep golden brown in color, and very tender.
Serve and enjoy. If you like, a nice squeeze of lemon can be added to the fennel just as you pull it from the pan. I wouldn't do this if serving it with beef, but for the other options above, it's a nice touch.
"A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do." P. J. O'Rourke
"We kids feared many things in those days - werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School - but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts." Dave Barry

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