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.

Sea Salt Caramels

DSC_6671I had a nice, leisurely brunch with a good friend today.  It was one of those enjoyable, meandering conversations that could have easily continued for several hours.  After we parted ways, I found myself thinking of several more things I wanted to talk to my friend about––what was the name of that running app she mentioned?  Avon Barksdale is in the new Creed movie!  When can we do another double date?
DSC_6656After I returned home, I started in on my holiday baking:  melting butter, whipping meringue, and rough-chopping chocolate, all the while thinking about the incredibly rich and meaningful female friendships I’ve had over the years.  There is a beautiful passage in an Anaïs Nin book that I love:  “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  She articulates so elegantly how different friends show us a side of ourselves that we hadn’t previously tapped into.  They see our potential, and challenge us within a safe space.   By the time I started cleaning up my post-baking mess, I found myself reminiscing about my college days and all of the incredible friendships I made throughout those four years.  Those women saw something in me before I really knew who I was or how I wanted to live my life.  Through their eyes, I learned so much about myself.
DSC_6668I haven’t made caramels, or any other candy, since the day I closed my business 2 ½ years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to make them, but it all came back to me.  My stepdad has asked me to make these for him ever since I closed my business, and he will finally get some for Christmas this year!

Sea Salt Caramels

Yield: 35-40

12 oz. sugar
12 oz. evaporated milk
5 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
10 oz. corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2.  Combine sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, and add corn syrup.  Stir to incorporate.
3.  Insert candy thermometer and clip onto the side of pot.
4.  When temperature reaches 230 F degrees, add butter and stir until melted.  Mixture will start to thicken and darken in color.  Turn heat down to low, and stir frequently, scraping bottom of the pan every once in a while.
5.  When temperature reaches 240 F degrees, remove pot from heat, add sea salt, and stir until combined.
6.  Pour caramel into parchment-lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the caramel out, making sure it is distributed evenly throughout pan.  Cool completely, and cut into 1×1-inch squares.

Healthy Gingerbread Muffins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently learned that my cholesterol is dangerously high.  In lieu of going on medication, I decided to actively try and cut out a decent amount of sugar from my diet.  Of course, there will still be plenty of dark chocolate.  I mean, I haven’t lost my mind.  There will ALWAYS be dark chocolate in my life.  What’s more, I have a huge sweet tooth.  Therefore, dessert will always be a part of my life as well, but I needed to find some recipes that incorporate sugar substitutions.   Turns out, there is a lot out there.  For the most part, bananas and dates are the healthiest options when substituting sugar in a recipe.  Although they still contain a decent amount of sugar– like fruit– they also contain fiber, which slows down the rate at which the body absorbs the sugars from the fruit.  Therefore, I have been making A LOT of (healthier) desserts lately to try and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my favorite things to eat around the holidays is gingerbread-flavored anything.   I love the spices, along with the deep, complex flavor of molasses.  I had a deliciously spicy slice of gingerbread loaf last week from a bakery in Manhattan.  It inspired me to try and give gingerbread muffins a go, but with no sugar (other than the molasses, which I made an exception for).  They turned out really well.  My only complaint is that they are not quite spicy enough.  Therefore, if you really want that bite that you get from a gingersnap cookie, feel free to double the amount of ginger in this recipe.  If you are ok with a milder flavor, these will be perfect for you.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHealthy Gingerbread Muffins
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Yield:  22 Mini-muffins

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (sub 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
11/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Candied ginger, roughly chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the molasses.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream, yogurt, milk, ginger, vanilla extract, and orange zest.
  3. Add the olive oil and molasses from step one.
  4. Add the flours, baking soda, salt, and dry spices. Stir a few times until just combined. Scoop into a mini-muffin tin and place a piece of candied ginger on top of each muffin. Bake for 10-12 minutes (if making full-size muffins, bake for 17-20 minutes) or until the tops are puffy and firm to the touch. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

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.

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

DSC_6087I ran a 10K a few weekends ago.  It was the first one I’ve run in 2 1/2 years.  A friend of mine gave me her spot in the race, so I took it as an opportunity to try and push myself.  My workout routine became very slack over the summer months– that and perhaps too many sweets­­– which resulted in my pants being tighter than they should be.   So it felt good to have a goal to work towards.  I did a lot of running intervals on the treadmill at 6 a.m., and subsequently, remembered what it was like to feel euphoric after a good workout.   Things went along pretty smoothly over the course of my 4 weeks of training, even though I knew I might be pushing myself more, and faster, than I should be.   However, on my last long run before the race, I hit a wall.  I don’t know what happened, but I had to stop and walk several times.  My legs felt like lead.  It was a horrible run, and I felt really shitty about it.  In retrospect, I might have been focusing too much on my speed.  Afterword, I tried to reassure myself that a less-than-stellar run was o.k.  Despite my anxiety about the upcoming race, I told myself to focus on going slow and running the entire 10K, and not worry about my finishing time.
DSC_6078I woke up at 5:30 a.m. that Sunday morning and headed into Manhattan.  I tried to shake off any lingering doubts about my recent running performance.  I repeated a mantra:  Slow and steady; just finish.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was just coming up, and there was a cool breeze coming off the Hudson River.  I ran what I thought was a super-slow pace.  Many, many people passed me.   I just put my head down and kept running.   I felt really good for the entire race.  I figured if I had enough energy towards the end, I would pick up my pace a bit and try to finish strong.   Indeed, I did.  I ran an 11-minute mile, which is a personal best for me.   I was incredibly proud of myself, and my feeling of euphoria lasted the rest of the day.  I remember thinking that I wanted to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible.  If only we could retrieve feelings the way we can pull up a song to elicit a memory.  I hope to remember that feeling when I’m having a crummy day.  As a reward for the 10K, I treated myself to my favorite pancakes in the city at Johnny’s Luncheonette.
DSC_6081Speaking of pancakes (I didn’t even plan that transition!), these zucchini bread pancakes need to go on your Make Immediately recipe list.  Light and healthy, they also scream, “Fall is finally here!”  And the maple yogurt is the perfect topping on these, as straight up maple syrup would be too sweet for these beauties, in my opinion.  Instead, the tang of the yogurt provides a nice complement to the sweet spices.
DSC_6089Zucchini Bread Pancakes
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yield:  10 to 12 pancakes

2 large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons light brown or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk or 2 tablespoons each of milk and plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 1/2 medium zucchini)
1 cup all-purpose flour (half can seamlessly be swapped with a whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
Butter or oil, for coating skillet

1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in zucchini shreds.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
3. Preheat oven to 200°F and place a baking sheet on a middle rack.
4. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, melt a pat of butter in pan and swirl it around until it sizzles.
5. Scoop scant 1/4-cup dollops of batter in pan so the puddles do not touch. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two, until golden underneath.
6. Transfer pancakes to prepared pan to keep warm as well as ensure that they’re all cooked through when they’re served. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm.

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.

Peach Crisp with Brown Butter Crumble

DSC_6052The older I get, the more aware I become of my place in the world, good or bad, as a woman.  Being raised in the Midwest (in the 80’s), I was taught, whether advertently or inadvertently, that women were second-class citizens.  My sister and I were not encouraged to speak up for ourselves, nor for other girls/women.  Perhaps because of this, I found myself interested in the notion of feminism after I left for college, even if I didn’t wholly understand what it meant.

My first job out of college was working as a Women’s Advocate at a domestic violence shelter in southern Minnesota.  It was a cause I knew something about, having witnessed it and heard about it throughout much of my childhood.  I loved that job, and learned much about the cycle of domestic violence, and why it can be hard for so many women to break that cycle.  In my naiveté, I thought “good people” would support this kind of work, and applaud my young idealism.  But I was dumbstruck one night at dinner when a distant (female) family member said, “What about domestic violence shelters for men? ”  Anger washed over my body, and it took everything in me not to scream at this woman.  Did she not know the national statistics on domestic violence?  How could she be so ignorant?  That was the first time–and thankfully one of the few times–I remember a woman going against the Sisterhood Code.  I don’t remember how I responded that night, but I do recall thinking that I needed to remain polite and nice in my response, because I was a young woman and had no right voicing my opinion.  Back then, I didn’t have the courage to speak up when I encountered an ignorant, racist, or misogynistic comment.

Fast forward 16 years, and I still struggle with asserting myself when it’s the right thing to do, mainly because I am female.   It’s hard to unlearn what you are taught as a child.  I love that feminism has taken center stage in recent years.  People might disagree on the specifics of the definition, but no one can argue that, in general, it means full social, economic, and civic rights for all women.  That said, I think one of the most difficult parts of being a feminist is dealing with the day to day, and often more subtle, situations, comments & behaviors that women encounter and have to navigate.  For example, is it ok for me to disagree with a male colleague in a work meeting or will I come across as a loud-mouthed bitch?  If I point out a sexist statement made by an acquaintance, will I be labeled an uptight feminist who needs to “relax”?

I recently experienced the latter scenario, but I did not call out the misogynistic behavior and comments.  My rationale was that I didn’t want to cause a kerfuffle, but if I’m truly honest with myself, I also didn’t want to be labeled That Girl.  That Girl is super-sensitive and prides herself on policing sexist language, etc.  I lacked the courage to speak up in a really uncomfortable situation, and I am disappointed in myself.  There is still the young, naïve, and idealistic girl inside me who thinks, maybe they just don’t know!  I’ll explain why this is offensive to them, and they will take back what they said!  But there is also the cynical, frustrated pessimist in me who thinks that misogyny, racism, etc. simply have to die out with the older generations.  The next time I encounter language or behavior that doesn’t jive with my values, I hope to be braver.

I am a big lover of fruit crisps.  However, some are better than others.  The “crisp” part of the dessert can really vary depending on the recipe:  sometimes it’s super-sweet, other times it can be very crispy with not a lot of heft to it.  The crisp in this recipe is aptly named a crumble, because that’s exactly what it is.  And my god, is it delicious, largely due to the brown butter crumble.  Browning butter adds so much depth of flavor.  I want to start advocating that we brown butter whenever butter is called for in a recipe.  Make this asap (peach season is almost over!) and thank me later.

DSC_6040

Peach Crisp with Brown Butter Crumble
Adapted from Food and Wine

Peach Crisp
Unsalted butter, for greasing
2 lbs. ripe peaches, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch thick wedges
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of salt

Brown Butter Crumble
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
1/4 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a 2-quart baking dish.
2.  In a large bowl, toss the peaches with the sugar and lemon juice.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the peaches have released some of their juices.
3.  Drain the peaches in a colander set over a small saucepan, then return them to the bowl.
4.  Add 1/4 cup of water and the cornstarch to the peach juices and bring to a simmer.  Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and translucent, about 1 minute.  Add the thickened juices and the salt to the peaches and toss to coat.  Scrape into the prepared baking dish.
5.  In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the oats, the 3 sugars, the salt and cinnamon.  In a small saucepan, cook the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until deep golden and nutty-smelling, about 8 minutes.  Scrape the butter and any browned bits at the bottom of the pan into the flour mixture and stir until well combined.
6.  Press the topping into small clumps and scatter over the peaches.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crisp is golden and bubbling.  Transfer to a rack and let stand for 15 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.

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.

Pan-Seared Tuna Steaks with Ginger Vinaigrette

DSC_5873My relationship with my dad has come a long way.  I feel like he respects who I am, and how I live my life, even if he doesn’t always agree with my decisions.  We don’t talk on the phone that often, but when we do, we make sure to always say, “I love you” before hanging up.  However, as a kid, you could not have convinced me that I would one day have a loving relationship with my dad.  Back then, he was a very different person.  I just don’t think he wanted to be married, and he most definitely did not want to be strapped with two children in his mid-twenties, let alone with two girls.    He was pretty mean and angry, and I was basically scared of him a lot of the time.  Looking back now as an adult, I have empathy for him as a young parent who didn’t have the tools to be a good father.

Things started to slowly shift when I was in my teens.  I’m not sure what changed for him, but I could tell he was working on becoming a better man, and parent.  I remember him blowing up at me for something I did, and then later coming upstairs to my room and apologizing.  There was so much sadness in his eyes.  He looked at me and said something along the lines of how he had reacted was the complete opposite of how he should have reacted, and that he would try to do better next time.  Hearing my dad say that shifted something in the universe for me that day.  It was one of the first times I comprehended that adults, people, could change, and for the better.   We aren’t born a certain way, predestined for a specific path.  Rather, we decide who we want to be.

I’ve often wondered if my dad carries around any guilt or shame about the kind of dad he was to my sister and I growing up.  A few summers ago I went home for a visit.  My dad and I went out for an early morning walk, and we started talking about how things were when I was a kid.  I told him that the only way for my brain to reconcile the man he was back then with the man he is today is to think of them as two completely different people.  It’s like at some point, he shed the skin of my younger dad, and morphed into my older dad–one who is patient, kind, affectionate, and considerate.   I have so much love for my dad.  And although we are a lot alike in many ways, we see the world differently.  After all that we have been through, it feels so good to think of my dad, and smile.

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I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve ever made a dish using fresh tuna.  I was shocked at how easy it was.  I mean, it should be easy, because it’s fish, but making a tuna dish always seemed so intimidating to me.  If you enjoy fresh tuna and have never attempted a dish in your own kitchen, start with this one.  It’s super simple and very tasty.

Pan-Seared Tuna Steaks with Ginger Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food and Wine

5 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
5 Tbsp. sake
2-1/2 Tbsp. mirin
3 Tbsp. minced shallot
1/2 Tbsp. finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch of Broccolini, trimmed
Two 1-inch-thick yellowfin tuna steaks
2 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds

1.  In a small saucepan, simmer the soy sauce, sake, mirin and shallot until the liquid is slightly reduced, 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat: stir in the ginger.  Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup of the oil.  Season with salt and pepper.
2.  In a steamer basket set in a large saucepan of simmering water, steam the Broccolini until tender, about 6 minutes.  Transfer to plates.
3.  Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.  Season the tuna with salt and pepper.  Sear over high heat until golden brown but still rare within, about 30 seconds per side.
4.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Slice against the grain and transfer to the plates.  Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
5.  Serve with the remaining vinaigrette.