Category Archives: Side Dish

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate

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I went back to Minnesota in August to visit my family. It was a really great trip overall. I had really nice moments with family, and had some quiet moments to myself that allowed me to reflect on how far I’ve come in my relationships with my family members. We’ve all done our share of personal growth, and it’s been manifested in the way we interact with each other. Of course, we still have our moments, but we can work through them much faster than we did in the past.

I visited my 88-year old grandma while there. She has had dementia for a while now, but she has been holding on fairly well. I know that people with dementia can deteriorate pretty quickly, but I was still not prepared for what I saw. She has whittled down to almost nothing, and she was barely lucid during the two short visits I had with her. My grandma has not had an easy life. Her husband was not a good man – he was mean, was never around, and had several affairs. She raised 8 kids largely on her own. I’ve often wondered what her life would have been like if she hadn’t met my grandpa. I think she always yearned for a bigger life. She wanted to contribute something to the world other than being a mother and a housewife. She is a very smart woman who liked to stay informed of politics and social justice issues. I remember her once telling me she was so happy that I had moved away from my small town. I think the little joy she got out of life she obtained through other people who were living happier and more fulfilling lives.

It was heartbreaking to see her now in this condition. However, my dad truly impressed me with the way he interacted with her during our visit. He was very loving and tender – making sure she had enough water, asking her if she was too warm. It almost brought me to tears. Because my dad was not a very warm and nurturing person while I was growing up, his kindness today can often times stop me in my tracks. It’s such a beautiful thing to see how people can evolve and become better human beings. My dad was never close to my grandma, and, in fact, I think they had a bit of a contentious relationship when he was growing up. Knowing this makes his caretaking of her now that much more touching.

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I lurrrrrve sweet potatoes. However, I think I am unusual in my disliking of them in a sweet preparation. That will NEVER happen in my kitchen. People, they are already sweet to begin with! And they pair so nicely with bitter, savory, and umami flavors. One of my favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes is to turn them into french fries, covered in rosemary, garlic and sea salt. It beats McDonalds fries any day of the week. Ok, maybe not when I’m pms’ing, but you get the point. This is a great recipe to make this time of year. Summer is winding down and the first few hints of fall are in the air. It’s a hearty dish but it’s still light enough that it won’t weigh you down. Of course, if chorizo is hard to find in your neighborhood (or you just don’t eat pork), you can substitute chicken, beef, lamb, etc. I bet lamb would be extra delicious in this recipe.

Loaded Sweet Potatoes with Chorizo and Pomegranate
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield: 4-6 servings

1/2 pound fresh chorizo, casings removed
3 cipollini onions, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup pure pomegranate juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus leaves for garnish
Salt & pepper; Course sea salt
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Sliced avocado
Pomegranate seeds
Finely grated lime zest

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Set each sweet potato on a sheet of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with course sea salt.
2. Wrap the potatoes in the foil and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the chorizo and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the onions, chile and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add the pomegranate juice and cook until nearly absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
5. Unwrap the sweet potatoes and arrange on a platter. Cut a lengthwise slit in the top of each one and fluff the insides with a fork. Season with salt and pepper and fill with the chorizo mixture.
6. Top each sweet potato with crème fraîche, sliced avocado, pomegranate seeds, grated lime zest and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

Smoky Eggplant Chips

L1050532I started another phase of No Sugar a few weeks ago. I’m on day 14 and so far, have only had one pretty bad day of sugar cravings, but I think it was largely hormonal. Throughout this experiment, I’ve had to accept the fact that I use sugar to cope with my emotions, which at any given moment, can contain a high level of anxiety. I used to think that depression was my demon, but I think anxiety is my bigger struggle.  Besides eating sugar, I’ve always found baking to be very comforting and therapeutic. It’s almost as if just being around sugar/sweets calms me. I’m almost positive it goes back to the numerous positive reinforcements surrounding sweets throughout my childhood. Bygones, mom, grandma, and numerous aunts!

So, in an effort to scramble my dopamine release system, I am focusing on other activities that can help manage my stress levels. Numero uno on this list is returning to yoga. I forgot how much I enjoy yoga! I mean, I really enjoy it. It’s physically challenging, and additionally, because a big part of it is about learning to breathe through your movements and stay in an uncomfortable position, yoga has a very calming effect. I’m actually considering going on a yoga retreat later this summer. With the news becoming seemingly worse every week, anxiety/stress management is my personal project this summer.
L1050523I’ve been experimenting with new ways to prepare vegetables. One of my favorite veggies – eggplant – is one of the most underrated veggies out there. I LOVE eggplant; I could eat it every day! I found this super easy recipe and had to try it immediately. It’s incredible. I’ve been making kale chips for a while now, so I thought eggplant chips would be even more delicious. I am not ashamed to say that I ate the equivalent of one whole eggplant over the course of a day via these eggplant chips.
L1050527Smoky Eggplant Chips
Adapted from Healthful Pursuit

 

Yield: 100 Chips

2 eggplants, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Seasoning
½ tablespoon smoked paprika
½ tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon dried ground sage
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 250F and set aside 2 large baking sheets.
  2. Slice the eggplant using a mandolin slicer or a sharp knife. The slices should be as thin as a potato chip.
  3. Place eggplant slices into a medium-to-large sized bowl, and add olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly, then sprinkle with seasoning and toss again. Mix until seasoning is evenly distributed.
  4. Pour eggplant slices onto baking sheets, making sure that slices are not overlapping.
  5. Place in the oven to bake for 60-70 minutes, depending on how thin you sliced them. If you make them too thick, they can take upwards of 2 hours to complete.

Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas

L1050516A dear old friend visited last week. We had not seen each other in over 15 years.  15 years. It’s pretty astounding that we’ve kept in touch all these years, seeing as that we initially only spent a few months together back in 1997. I studied abroad in Lancaster, England the spring semester of my junior year. I had no idea what a pivotal experience that would turn out to be for me. College is usually a time of growth and self-exploration for a lot of people, but there is something more acute about living in a foreign country by yourself when you are 20 years old. It’s almost like starting all over again, like the first day of college, except you stand out so much more because you’re a “yankee” and you have to learn new words like “snog” and “bollocks”.

My time in England was where my inner-feminist blossomed, and I’m still not completely sure how or why. While there, I met several smart, interesting young women who would have probably defined themselves as feminists, but it wasn’t something that I remember us specifically talking about. Rather, it was in the subtle ways they lived their lives. They made certain assumptions about being a woman that I found very refreshing. Until then, I had always struggled with my female identity – what it meant to be a woman. I remember coming back home after six months and feeling transformed in so many ways.
L1050505Because it was such an intense inner-growth period for me, the friends that I made during that time are still very dear to me. Stephanie is one of those friends. She now lives in Australia and has a beautiful family. They all came to NYC last week for a visit. I was super excited to see my friend after such a long time, but I surprised myself by getting choked up when we hugged. It was like no time had passed at all, and we picked up where we left off all those years ago.

In my never-ending quest to make healthy recipes (I promise there will be gluttonous recipes to come) I found this one recently and thought it sounded both easy and delicious. Weekday breakfasts can get a bit boring; I’ve been trying to eat more eggs for breakfast during the week, but I was getting tired of scrambled eggs every day. Frittatas are a nice way to change it up. You can essentially add anything you want to them. This recipe calls for bacon, but I substituted hot dogs since we had some in the refrigerator. The frittatas even make a quick and healthy lunch!
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Bacon, Kale & Tomato Frittatas
Adapted from Shape

Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped, stemmed kale
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 slices bacon, chopped
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Over medium heat, pour the olive oil into a medium-size pan. Add bacon and cook for 5 minutes, or until desired level of crispness.
3. Add kale and tomatoes and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, beat together 4 eggs and 4 egg whites. Add Greek yogurt and mix until fluffy.
5. Add bacon, kale and tomatoes to egg mixture.
6. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
7. Divide among 6 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad

L1030066I am one week into my new food regimen.  I like to think of it as a regimen rather than a diet.  I don’t do well with diets.  The minute I am told I can’t have a particular food, I immediately want it.  This regimen was prescribed for me by a naturopathic doctor that I have been seeing for my IBS.  As you know from my last post, peri-menopause has caused quite a bit of havoc in my life over the past 18 months. I can’t believe it took me this long to seek medical treatment. I am a firm believer that much of what ails us has to do with our diets. So when my doctor prescribed this specific diet for my condition, I decided to give it a go. One year ago, I probably would have said, “No thanks”, but I am desperate to feel better. The regimen is  similar to the Paleo diet in that it excludes sugar, dairy, and all cereal grains. However, I am allowed a few types of cheese (thank god) as well as legumes.  I joked to my husband that I might join the CrossFit/Paleo cult that has swept the nation. I saw fear in his eyes.

I had awful headaches during the first few days. I’m assuming this was my body going through sugar withdrawal. But after they passed, it got a lot easier. I’m feeling pretty good and not feeling deprived at all. In fact, the thought of sugar doesn’t even sound good to me, which is strange. I was planning on allowing myself a piece of cake next weekend for my birthday, but I decided that I am going to make a healthy dessert instead.  Black bean brownies, anyone? I will try to post that recipe here in the coming months. It’s one of my favorite things to eat when I need something sweet.

In the meantime, get a load of this salad! It may sound boring, but I can assure you that it’s full of flavor and slightly addictive.  The dressing has a nice bite/tang to it, thanks to mustard and shallots. Give it a whirl!
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Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield: 8-10 servings

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino

1. Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld.
2. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
3. Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp. oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
4. Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

Cannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that we got ourselves a cute little tree, I’ve been listening to Christmas music while getting ready in the morning, and I spent an entire weekend (and then some) making edible holiday gifts, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.  It might be partly due to the fact that it’s been insanely warm for this time of year-–it’s been in the 60’s for weeks now!  Ugh.  My husband finds it humorous that I should complain about this, but I stand by it.  I want a little chill in the air, enough so that a winter coat is mandatory.  I want to walk down the streets of NYC, looking through the windows at the whimsical holiday displays while sipping a hot cocoa.   Is this too much to ask??  The world can be a tough place to stomach sometimes, and I feel like December is the one time of year when we are allowed to live in a fantasyland in our heads––dreaming of sugarplums, reindeer, and snowmen.  I am going to try and make the best of it.  At least we’re not housebound due to a huge snowstorm, eh?

You HAVE to make this dish, and soon.  I’ve made it twice in the past month, and I can’t get enough of it.  Not only is it a perfect, comforting winter meal (even if it is warmer than usual), but it’s super-easy and pretty healthy.   It takes all of 10 minutes, and you can make it in one pan.  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach
Adapted from The Splendid Table

Yield:  4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 (28-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put a large (approximately 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and let it get hot.
2. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and shallots, and cook for 30 seconds longer. Add the beans and cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Add the spinach and salt, season with pepper, and cook until the spinach wilts, about 4 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water, if needed, to help the spinach along. Serve immediately.

Portobellos Stuffed with Corn and Mushrooms

DSC_6104It’s been a while since I posted here.  I recently got a promotion at work, and am now managing a bakery.  I’m very excited about the opportunity, but it will be a lot of work.  This is our busiest time of year, but I don’t want to neglect this blog.  It is important for me to have a creative outlet on the weekends.  I love cooking and baking so much, especially this time of year!  I hope to have some seasonal food posts in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
DSC_6090I made this dish a few months back–towards the end of summer–when corn was in its prime.  It was really delicious; creamy with a nice bite from the vinegar and garlic.  It would be a nice way to break up all of the heavy Thanksgiving leftovers I am sure you are all enjoying right now.
DSC_6099Portobellos Stuffed with Corn and Mushrooms
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
8 5-inch-diameter portobello mushrooms
1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (such as oyster and stemmed shiitake), sliced
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 cup crumbled Cotija or feta cheese

  1. Whisk 1 cup oil, garlic, vinegar, 3 teaspoons thyme, and 2 teaspoons oregano in medium bowl to blend. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer 1/3 cup garlic-herb oil to small bowl; reserve.
  2. Trim and thinly slice portobello stems; set aside. Brush both sides of portobello caps with remaining garlic-herb oil; place caps, rounded side down, on large rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Preheat broiler. Broil portobello caps until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from broiler. Turn caps rounded side down.
  4. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add assorted mushrooms and portobello stems; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in reserved 1/3 cup garlic-herb oil; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add corn; sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add cream; simmer until almost absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Divide mixture among portobello caps, mounding in center. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)
  5. Preheat broiler. Broil portobellos until heated through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons each thyme and oregano.

Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins

DSC_6074The summer after my freshman year of college, a new friend came home with me for the weekend before flying home to Colorado.  I remember being very anxious about her staying with my mom and I.   At some point during my senior year of high school, my mom had to sell our house, and we subsequently moved into a small apartment above her hair salon.  As uncomfortable as I was about this, I was also a self-consumed teenager who probably spent more time thinking about superficial things.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my small town didn’t vary a great deal economically:  most people were somewhere between lower middle class and upper middle class.

After I left for college, my family’s economic standing became more apparent to me.  I went to a private liberal arts college, and the majority of kids were from upper middle class and upper class homes.  Although this divide between the kids who came from money and those of us who were there largely due to financial aid was pretty obvious to me, I tried to not let that get in the way of who I became friends with.  The girls on my dorm floor were all great, and we all got along really well for the most part.  However, I was always very aware of the economic differences between us.  Something as simple as, “Who wants to go to McDonalds for dinner tonight?” would make me extremely uncomfortable; I barely had enough money to buy toiletries.  I rarely, if ever, talked about my economic background my first year of college.  I was too ashamed, and too young to know that it did not define me.
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The girl who came home with me that first weekend after our freshman year was a very sweet and sincere person.  She was actually the very first friend I made at college.  I remember walking across the parking lot with her to the freshman orientation and thinking that Colorado was a long ways from Minnesota.  We had gotten to know each other pretty well that first year, and we had had many quintessential college conversations discussing things like our families, our goals, and our fears.  But still, the thought of her seeing where I lived paralyzed me with fear.  I remember spending a lot of time that weekend watching TV with her, simply because I didn’t know what to say and felt like I needed to explain my situation to her, maybe even apologize for not having a more “comfortable” home.  When I look back now, I wish I could tell my 19-year-old self to be proud of where she is from, and that she has nothing to be ashamed of.

I have come to the conclusion that you can add bacon and raisins to any vegetable, and you will have a delicious, and still fairly healthy, meal.  This coleslaw is no exception.  Make it while it’s still warm enough for a cool salad.
DSC_6075Broccoli Coleslaw with Bacon and Raisins
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  6 servings

6 slices of bacon (4 oz.)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
Sea salt and pepper
1 large head of broccoli (1 1/4 lbs.), cut into bite-size florets and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Set a rack over a baking sheet.  Arrange the bacon slices on the rack in a single layer.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until browned and crisp.  Drain on paper towels, then coarsely chop.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the vinegar and sugar; season with salt and pepper.
3.  Add the broccoli, raisins, onion and bacon and toss to coat evenly.
4.  Transfer the coleslaw to a serving bowl.

Roasted Red Peppers with Garlicky Breadcrumbs

DSC_6016I’ve been thinking lately about what constitutes a good day.  After coming home from work, my husband and I will typically ask each other the common question.  I usually know, for the most part, how my day went by the time I get home.  But the other day, I found myself hesitating with my response:  “It was…hm.  I think it was good?  Yeah, I guess it was good.”  I realized that I rarely truly check in with myself when I reflect on my day – did I have a good day because good things happened, or did I have a good day because shitty things happened, as they do, but I handled them well?  I have found I need to remind myself that, although I can’t control what happens throughout any given day, I can decide how I am going to respond to things, and what meaning I will assign to behaviors, actions, and words.
DSC_5998I had dinner with an old friend from graduate school last week, and he told me about an old flame who reentered his life in a very dramatic way recently.  After he told me the story, he said, “I wonder why this happened now, and what this means.”  I don’t remember if I said this to my friend, but I used to be someone who believed that everything  happens for a reason.  I don’t believe that anymore.  I think things happen outside of us, completely randomly, and we have to decide how we are going to respond.  I think how we respond conveys our values.  And that is the human struggle – learning to navigate the good and the bad things that happen in life.
DSC_6002I love roasted red peppers, and I will often times pair them with tangy goat cheese.  I wanted to change it up, so I found this recipe that paired them with garlic bread crumbs.  You can definitely add goat cheese (or any other cheese) to the mix here, but it’s not necessary.  It’s a nice side dish, or eat a larger serving as a main dish.
DSC_6003Roasted Red Peppers with Garlicky Breadcrumbs
Adapted from Food & Wine

8 red bell peppers (3 1/2 lbs.)
3 oz. day-old country bread, crusts cut off and bread cubed
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

1.  Roast the peppers directly over a gas flame or under the broiler, turning occasionally, until charred all over, about 10 minutes.
2.  Transfer the peppers to a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let steam for 15 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse the bread until it is finely chopped.  Add the garlic and pulse until breadcrumbs form; you should have about 1 1/2 cups.
4.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the breadcrumbs to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.  Wipe out the skillet.
5.  Peel and seed the peppers, then cut them into 1/2-inch strips.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet.  Add the peppers and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
6.  Transfer the peppers to a large bowl or platter.  Serve the breadcrumb topping on the side, for sprinkling.

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

DSC_5826I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before how I used to despise brussels sprouts when I was a kid.  My mom would simply boil them and serve them to us, as though they were supposed to be edible.  Since then, I have come to love brussels sprouts.  In fact, they are one of my top 5 favorite veggies of all time.   I love their bitter earthiness, and they are so versatile – you can pair them with sweet, sour, spicy, umami, whichever flavor profile you want!  They won’t let you down.  One of my 2015 goals was to make more Asian dishes, because, well, why not, really.  I came across this recipe in a recent Bon Appétit issue, and ripped it out immediately to add to my recipe folder.   Taking a look at my folder reminded me that I need to post on this blog more frequently, lest I want to end up being a recipe hoarder and die by having a box of recipes fall on my head.

This recipe is for all of the brussels sprouts lovers out there, as well as the Asian food lovers.  Enjoy!

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Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Bon Appétit

2 lb. brussels sprouts, halved
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped, peeled ginger
2 Tbsp. hot chili paste
6 dried chiles de árbol, lightly crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

1.  Preheat oven to 425 F degrees.  Toss brussels sprouts and 4 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper.
2.  Roast, tossing once, until softened (but not soft) and browned, 20-25 minutes.  Set aside.
3.  Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
4.  Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high.  Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
5.  Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 2 minutes.  Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry.
6.  Simmer, stirring, until sauce coats spoon, about 2 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.

Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange

DSC_5534Everyone always told my sister and I that we would become good friends when we got older.  I’m not sure if they said this because we fought like cats and dogs, or because they really believed it.  By the time we were teenagers, we barely spoke to each other, and when we did it was usually in a passive aggressive tone.  When I went off to college, I barely saw her, other than a few times when I was home for the summer.  Throughout our 20’s (we are merely 17 months apart) I waited for the intimacy that everyone said would magically happen to us.  It never did.

Heidi, my sister, and I couldn’t be more different.  As a teenager, she ran with the “wild” crowd­–she smoked, drank, and listened to heavy metal.  I, on the other hand, found her world to be a bit scary and intimidating.  I was drawn more towards the funny, smart kids, and listened exclusively to pop music.  I have to believe that our troubled home life informed both of our worlds at the time.  Perhaps she gave in to the hopelessness of it all, or maybe it was just her way of coping.  I desperately wanted to believe that there was a bigger world out there, and tried to find people that had access to a brighter reality.  I remember getting all A’s in the 9th grade, for the first time ever, and understanding that somehow this was key to me transcending whatever it was I was trying to escape.
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One of the characteristics that make us so different is that I really enjoy having thoughtful, in-depth conversations with people in general.  I am fascinated by human behavior and relationships between human beings.  Of course, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with intimacy.  And I have always gotten the sense that this type of conversation makes my sister squirm, that true intimacy in general makes her uncomfortable.  Again, it might have something to do with the way we were raised.  Perhaps she is merely trying to survive out there, but I am often times searching for meaning and connection with other people.  Because of this dissonance, our relationship has always felt stagnant.

My sister recently went through a divorce, and I think her heart has been cracked open a bit.  Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  I do think that some people’s hearts have to be cracked wide open by life before they can start feeling joy.  My sister and I have grown closer since her divorce, and I think we are both making an effort at our relationship.  We are still polar opposites in so many ways, but I think we are both becoming more accepting of our differences.  Instead of waiting for us to develop this incredibly affectionate relationship, I am trying to appreciate that we are two distinctly different individuals who just happen to be sisters.
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I don’t think I knew what haricots verts were until I was in my late twenties.  I had a friend who was a Francophile and made them for dinner one night.  Simply because of their fancy-sounding name, they seemed so much more appealing than regular ol’ green beans.  And if fact they do have a much more complex flavor than their American counterpart.   They scream spring weather to me, and so I made this recipe a few weeks ago in hopes that it would help Mother Nature induce warmer climes.  It’s a nice, crunchy vegetable side that is packed with flavor from the garlic, hazelnuts, and orange.
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Haricots Verts and Snow Peas with Hazelnut and Orange
Adapted from Ottolenghi:  The Cookbook

14 oz. (about 2 cups) haricots verts
14 oz. (about 2 cups) snow peas
1/2 cup unskinned hazelnuts
1 orange
3/4 oz. chives, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. hazelnut oil (or another nut oil, if unavailable, or simply olive oil)
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a small, sharp knife, trim the stalk ends off the beans and the snow peas, keeping the two separate.
2.  Bring plenty of unsalted water to a boil in a large saucepan.  You need lots of space for the beans, as this is crucial for preserving their color.  Blanch the beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run them under plenty of tap water until cold.  Leave to drain and dry.  Repeat with the snow peas, but blanch for only 1 minute.
3.  While the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.  Leave until cool enough to handle, then rub them in a clean kitchen towel to get rid of most of the skin.  Chop the nuts with a large, sharp knife.  They should be quite rough; some can even stay whole.
4.  Using a zester, zest the orange, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith.
5.  To assemble the dish, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning.  Serve at room temperature.