Brussels…Love ’em? Hate ’em? Try them!

I find that many people are divided about their likes and dislikes with food.  Texture is a big deal.  Some prefer more or less spice.  But one food seems to really divide people and that’s brussels sprouts.  People seem to love them, hate them or won’t try them.  This is definitely a case of depends on how you prepare them.  No one likes anything cooked to bitter mush, which is what some people remember them tasting like as a kid.  They are overcooked or boiled and lifeless.

I’ve shared a favorite brussels sprouts recipe before for brussel leaves.  However you don;t always have time to peel.  This year I’ve been making a quick roasted brussels sprouts recipes that are enticing people not ask for an actually try (and enjoy) brussels sprouts.

First there was a “feast” at my son’s school.  This was very cute as each child brought in a favorite recipe to share with the class.  They each got up and told why they brought the dish, when they usually eat the dish and if there was any significance to their family.  They are next making a poster with the written recipe with a photo of them with their dish.  Recipes had to be approved by the teacher first because otherwise we would have all been eating our favorite family desserts only.  My son asked me to make stuffed grape leaves and while I loved the suggestion I was short on time.  Next he asked for brussels sprouts.  I loved this idea because I am always asking people to try them.  And in the class there were a few kids (and adults) who tried them for the first time.  Especially cooking for babies, getting to be there for a first bite is so fun.  It’s still fun for me if it isn’t babies.

The sprouts were eaten, with the exception of about 5 pieces, and my daughter polished those off in the car on the way home from school.  We had a potluck for my son’s tae kwon do that night and wasn’t sure what to bring.  It’s always a lot of pizza and desserts.  We decided to head to the store for more brussels sprouts and I made them again for that night.  It is not even the holiday yet and I made two batches in one day.  I thought my kids would be burned out on these, but my daughter asked yesterday, “Can you make brussels sprouts for Christmas?”  Sure I will.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Choose small firm compact heads with tight fitting leaves that are bright green in color for the freshest taste.

1 lb. brussels sprouts

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon rosemary sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Trim bottoms of brussels sprouts, but keep leaves intact.  Cut each sprout in half lengthwise.  Place sprouts in a plastic bag or bowl with oil and toss to coat.  Place sprouts on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake for 12 – 15 minutes, turning halfway through.  Bake until outside leaves begin to brown and crisp, and inside is fork tender.  Sprinkle with cheese and serve warm.

 

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Hawaiian Vacation – Photos and Food

Did you miss me?  My family was lucky enough to spend spring break in Hawaii.  It was so wonderful to enjoy the ocean and be warm for an entire week.  I never remembered Hawaii as a great culinary mecca, but we had some great meals.  Some we prepared at our condo and some we enjoyed while out and about Oahu.  My kids started appreciating Pog (a blend of pineapple, guava and orange juices) as soon as we got on the plane.

My kids loved all the fresh fruit.  My son especially likes papaya and it was everywhere.

Had a great sushi dinner at Sansei in Waikiki Beach.  The color of this roe (my son’s favorite) was amazing.

Probably the best meal was at a roadside cafe called Sweet Home Waimanalo on the North Shore.  So glad I saved an article with recommendations from Sunset Magazine.  I would’ve never found it.  The fish tacos and portobello tacos were wonderful.  As was the hibiscus lemonade.  Another suggestion was OnoPops, sold at Whole Foods, Farmers Markets and Down to Earth (a vegetarian market where we found them). Interesting flavors like cheesecake, mango cream, lychee and mexican chocolate (our favorite).

Of course a visit isn’t complete without a visit to Roy’s.  I went once before and didn’t think that much of it when in Maui.  But this time was great.  Roys Ko Olina was overlooking a lovely golf course.  Very hospitable and kid friendly service.  Good activity book with coloring, word search and educational info for the kids.  It took us through my husband and I’d three courses (deal on Mondays for $42!)  Take a look at my son’s starter – fish shaped potstickers (above).  My daughter’s vegetarian diet was certainly accommodated.  I think we all enjoyed the chocolate souffle (a Roy’s specialty) and macadamia tart.  See our before and after shared plates.

 

 

 

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Message from a Fellow Mom – Share the Love, and Food

 

A well marked Petit Appetit Cookbook

I get a lot of nice emails from parents and caregivers thanking me for help with recipes and information in my cookbooks.  I received this message on New Year’s Day which was a very pleasant way for me to start year.  This DC mom not only made Petit Appetit recipes for her son, but also shared gift boxes full of homemade treats with her playgroup too.  I love that!  So with permission, here’s the story (and her fun photos) I’d like to share…

“I am a first time, stay-at-home mother to Nicholas who is two years old. I breastfed my little guy for the first year and fed him both handmade and store bought organic purees while he was still tiny and learning to eat.  As he grew bigger, he ate and still eats like a little bird. He is pretty typical, in that he likes pasta, grilled cheese, cheese wraps, Mac and cheese (he loves cheese) and turkey dogs, but while I was making these things healthier (whole wheat or veggie pasta, whole wheat bread and cheddar cheese, etc.) I longed for a fruit or veggie to be thrown in there, and perhaps a little variety (gasp- I know).

I went to my local library and checked out a slew of cooking for kids sneaky type books and yours was one of them. I went through it and marked about 20! recipes that I wanted to try. I have made the graham crackers, Lisa’s cookies, fruity gelatin, citrus corn muffins, banana apple bran muffins, couscous pudding, and this very morning my son and I enjoyed a mango tango smoothie together.  Your book was definitely my favorite as I believe in the organic lifestyle as much as I can find and that doesn’t break our budget, and the recipes are truly tasty to me, and more importantly to my son!

I do quite a bit of baking, and this year for the holiday season, instead of making tons of unhealthy cookies to give to my son’s friends and their mommies, I made gift baskets full of healthy goodies that could be eaten as a breakfast (citrus corn muffins or banana apple bran muffins), or snacks (graham crackers or Lisa’s cookies). Therefore, saving my mommy-friends a little extra time in the kitchen, and they had the piece of mind knowing that their kids were eating something homemade, healthy, and organic to boot. Some of the kids ate all the snacks right then and there during the play date and for others the goodies didn’t even last overnight. I was seriously happy that an entire morning in the kitchen paid off and well, they are your recipes so I have you to thank. Thank you again.  Sincereley, Aimee from a DC Burb”

 

Chef Nick
adorable zoo pancakes
fruity gelatin
Gift boxes of healthy, homemade muffins and cookies

 

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Happy New Year with Resolution and Half Birthday

Happy New Year to all.  I, like many have a resolution for 2012.  It’s not earth shattering and no one may even notice, but here it is…to blog more consistently.  It may not bother you that I’ve been enjoying my holiday and not sharing my recipes, tips and photos with you the past few weeks, but it bothers me.  It has to do with commitment.  I make one and feel guilty if I miss my own “deadline” (twice per week).  I’ll write and I hope you’ll in turn read and share.

This is the first day of 2012.  But even more than that it’s my dauther’s half birthday.  And if you’re under 10 you know that’s a big deal.  My kids birthdays, and thus half birthdays, are less than three weeks apart.  So at the half I get away with making one batch of cupcakes (or one cake) for my daughter and freezing the other half for my son.  No, I couldn’t get away with that at the “real” birthday.  So we celebrated with a half a cupcake and half a scoop of ice cream.  I usually wrap and give one of something that comes in a pair (one shoe, one sock, one miten) – which of course they get the second too.  Once my son was mad and thought he had to wait for his real birthday for the other shoe.  I thought that was cute, but not practical as the pair would be outgrown.

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Whoopie! Oops! Thank Goodness!

We had plans to go to friends for dinner over the weekend and they asked me to bring a dessert.  I rarely make the same dessert twice.  Why, when there’s so many to
try?  I happened to buy a Whoopie Pie cookbook (Love Foods, UK, Paragon Books).
Yes, I have too many cookbooks, but this one was screaming at me with a $3.99 price tag as I stood in line at my local bookstore.  I decided to make two seasonal options – gingerbread and pumpkin.
I made the pumpkin cookies the night before we were going to eat them.  However I waited until the day of the dinner to fill.  My plan was to fill them as I made the gingerbread batch the next day about an hour before we were expected at our friends’.  Well, after quite a bit of time in the oven I realized the oven wasn’t actually on.  Yes, I did turn it on.  I tried what I thought as rebooting – turning on and off, but nothing.  I even got out the manual, with no help there either.  “Whoopie!”
Became “Oops!”  I called my friends and warned them I’d be bringing my cookie sheets to finish the whoopies at her house.

My friend’s oven saved dessert.  Both the pumpkin and gingerbread were a hit with all ages.  Although I thought the gingerbread wasn’t spicy enough and preferred the pumpkin.  Looking at the book, I realized mine are not as filled as the book photos.  I guess that’s why I have so much filling left.  It just seemed like so much.  My
healthy cooking philosophy and habits can sometimes get in the way of decadent
foods.  (I used low fat cream cheese for the filling too)  Also to get them to look perfect and smooth like the photos, you’d need a whoopie pie pan – which I
don’t have or want.  I was fine with a more rustic look, made from a small ice cream scoop.

So I need to call an oven technician.  Luckily I am not hosting Thanksgiving.  Thank
goodness.  That’s every host’s biggest nightmare.  I wonder what an oven house
call before Thanksgiving costs?  I’ll wait to call after Thursday.

Hopefully you have an oven and can make them.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Makes 12

2 cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup sunflower oil

1 large egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup canned pumpkin puree

Cinnamon and Maple Filling

1 cup full fat cream cheese

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 baking sheets with
parchment paper.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

Place sugar and oil in large bowl and beat with electric mixer for 1 minute.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Then beat in pumpkin.  Stir in flour mixture and beat until
incorporated.

Spoon or pipe 24 mounds of batter onto prepared pans, spaced well apart.

Bake each sheet separately in oven for 8 – 10 minutes or until risen and firm to
touch.  Cool on baking tray for 5 minutes then remove with palette knife to transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

For the filling place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat until well
blended.  Beat in the syrup, cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar until smooth.

To assemble, pipe or spread the filling over the flat side of half the cakes.  Top with remaining cakes.

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Happy Memorial Day – Corn on the Cob Tip

I hope you and yours had a relaxing Memorial Day.  It’s a tough one to explain to kids.  And when they ask “So what does BBQing have to do with celebrating and remembering the soldiers?”  My answer is “It’s a good way to gather friends and family, and it’s usually nice weather, so you can cook and eat outside”.  Although here in the Bay Area we sure had a mix of weather – rain, sun, clouds, wind.  If you didn’t time things well the annual memorial bbq could’ve been better enjoyed by the fireplace, inside.

Luckily we were able to host some friends and enjoy a bit of the sunshine this weekend.  We did chicken kebobs, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes and strawberry shortcake (more on that in my next cookbook review).

I want to share a corn on the cob tip.  I love corn, but sometimes when cooked on the grill it burns and shrivels.  So now, what works for us, is precooking in the microwave.  I suppose you could precook by boiling as well – but takes so much longer.  Two cobs takes about 4 minutes to precook in the microwave.  Then it gets a brushing of olive oil and is finished on the grill for a few minutes.  Just long enought to get some grill marks and a bit of carmelization.  The kernals are still plump, and the cob doesn’t get too black.  Check it out.

 

wrap corn in wax paper and sprinkle with a few drops of water
microwave about 4 minutes for 2 ears of corn

 

Place over hot grill and rotate a few minutes for grill marks

 

Looking to grill something out of the ordinary?  Here’s a few tips for your next unique cookout.  Grilled avocado anyone?  Get ideas here.

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Happy Mother’s Day! (Chocolate Dipped Strawberries)

Happy Mother’s Day to you, yours and mine (especially mine).  If you’re lucky enough to celebrate with your mom, head to the farmer’s market for some fresh, organic strawberries to dip in chocolate.  What mom doesn’t like chocolate?  And if you’re the mom being celebrated, pass this hint on to dad and the kids.

 

Chocolate strawberries always seem so fancy.  You see them in chocolate shops and bakeries during strawberry season.  They are actually easy to make and make quite an impression.   Unfortunately this is difficult recipe for children to assist, as much is done over a double broiler and water can spit and burn if not careful.  Let them help by arranging strawberries on a special platter once chocolate is cooled and hardened.  These would look great on a Mother’s Day brunch table and they were recently a big hit at my son’s school potluck too.

 

2 pints organic strawberries (18 – 20), washed and dried
with leaves on

6 ounces dark chocolate, chips or chop into pieces

1 tablespoon shortening

Place a baking rack over two glasses or pans to allow rack to sit above counter. (Alternatively line a baking sheet with waxed paper). Bring large pot of water to a boil.  Turn down to simmer and place chocolate in top of double boiler over boiling water. Be sure water from bottom pot does not boil or spit into chocolate mixture.

Once chocolate has melted add shortening and stir until combined. Insert toothpick or skewer into top of strawberry and carefully dip and swirl into chocolate.

Place toothpick side down through hole in baking rack so strawberry sits on leaves, upside down,   and chocolate can solidify.  (Alternatively place dipped strawberry on waxed paper to dry)

Arrange strawberries on platter and serve.

 

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Matzo, Matzo Man.

This week marks the celebration of Passover for many families and children.  Making holiday foods (eventhough it may not be “your” holiday) is a great opportunity to introduce different customs, cultures, religions and traditions to your children.  The first time I made this my son cried “wow a giant pancake!”

Matzo is packaged in a box and found in the ethnic sections of grocery stores and is a large wheat cracker, made with only wheat flour and water.   Commonly served for Passover breakfast, snack or side dish.  It can be made both savory or sweet.  This version is sweetened with the addition of powdered sugar, cinnamon and fresh berries.

 

Makes 1, 8 – 10 inch pancake

6 pieces matzo (I use Tahova)

1 cup boiling water

2 cage-free organic eggs

2 tablespoons butter

¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

 

Sprinkling (optional)

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup fresh organic berries – raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or combination

 

In a large mixing bowl, break the matzo into small (1-inch) pieces. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the matzos to soften for 1 minute.

In a small bowl whisk eggs together with salt.  Mix the eggs and salt into the matzo.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter.   When the foam subsides transfer the matzo mixture into the pan and flatten with a spatula.  Fry until crisp and golden (about 4 minutes).

Carefully flip over with a spatula to fry the other side (about another 4 minutes).

Slide matzoh brei onto a large plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon and top with fresh seasonal berries.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

the green grub

My kids have been talking about wearing green and catching lephrechans all week.  My daughter is thrilled with fool’s gold (or anything shiny for that matter).  My son’s school has many a spirited child with green clothes, hats and even hair.  Who doesn’t wish for a little luck and belief in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  It’s just too cute to resist.

I always make corned beef and cabbage.  However we’re postponing our St. Pat’s meal, until the weekend when we have more time to make and more guests at the table to share it.  Here’s last year’s post for what I’ll be making. 

But I had to do a little something today.  So this morning I surprised my kids with a green breakfast.  I remember my grandfather making green pancakes and serving it to us with green milk.  Today was green yogurt (just plain with maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg), green milk (almond for my daughter and cow for my son) and sliced kiwi.  I wasn’t sure it looked too appetizing but the kids were surprised and amazed (and ate it, along with some non-green bagels and granola).  Who knew food coloring could give such a smile?  I think it was a novelty today because I rarely it. 

1. It kind of gives me the willies.  Very processed and nothing natural about it.

2.  It’s messy and I’m not well practiced. (see below).

note the shamrock sticker on cheek
a bit leary of the green stuff, at first
my green stained fingers
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Reward Offered….Missing Sugar Baby (Mardi Gras Wrap Up)

Last night we did our final mardi gras meal and king cake for the season.  There was much build up after all the recipe testing and fanfare.  I even found these fun mardi gras masks.

After reading an article recently from the SF Chronicle about grits making a comeback in restaurants, I thought I’d try their Shrimp and Grits with Tomato-Bacon Relish for Fat Tuesday dinner.  This was great and did not dissappoint.  I wasn’t able to find yellow grits, so I made white.  I only used half the amount of Tabasco and substituted smoked red pepper powder for the cayenne in the shrimp, as my kids are not always excited about too much spice.  I ended up deconstructing theirs (shrimp without sauce, and grits on the side), as the sauce was still a bit hot for my daughter.  But they really loved the meal, especially the grits with cheddar cheese.  I will make this again and would even make it for guests as it was easy and very pretty, besides tasty.  (See entire recipe below)

The moment everyone was waiting for was the king cake.  I decided I had made the cresent version and the cupcake version and was time to try and compare a traditional version of someone else’s.  And sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t make everything, all the time.  It was difficult to find a local king cake, but I  called around and ordered one from Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael.  They were making them for Fat Tuesday only.  This was a good option because while it was still large it wasn’t giant like many of those online and most of the recipes (makes 2 cakes to serve 12 – 18 people).  This was mid-week, after school, Tae Kwon Do and doctor’s appointments, so I would be able to squeeze in a cake pick-up but not a make from scratch cake.

My first impression was “This is lovely and very reasonable at $15.”  While it had all the mardi gras colors, it was somehow not as tacky as many pictured online.  Plus everything from Arizmendi (pizzas, scones, muffins etc) is wonderful.  After out great dinner it was time to cut the cake.  I explained to my family what the baker had told me about the “baby”, and that it was “a baby made out of sugar”.  We were so anxious to see the sugar baby.  We each chose a piece and took a bite.  My next thought was “This cake is great”.  Sweet frosting on top of wonderful layers of brioch.  We found the occassional hole that we thought the baby was hiding, but no.  We only ate about 1/4 of the cake and no one found the baby.  My kids and I were very curious.  We decided to cut the remaining cake into slices. 

Still no baby.  We were still hopeful and not yet ready to wreck the yummy cake.  We waited…

Overnight.  Again after dinner, we each chose a slice.  No baby was found.  It was time to butcher the cake.  We cut the remaining slices into small pieces and we never did find the sugar baby.  However we did find a hole with about 1/8 teaspoon sugar.  Was this once the baby?  Did he melt?  Or was this just another sweet bite and the baby made an escape before baking?  We’ll never know.  This baby didn’t bring us luck, but lots of intrigue. 

Shrimp & Grits With Tomato-Bacon Relish

Serves 4

 From Brenda Vuenviaje, chef-owner of Brenda’s French Soul Food cafe in San Francisco. Prepare the grits – which should be soft and spoonable – with 4 parts salted water and 1 part grits.

  • Tomato-Bacon Relish
  • 1/4 pound smoked bacon
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 medium red onion, about 1/2 cup
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, some juice reserved
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce like Tabasco or Crystal, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar, or to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or to taste
  • — Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • 2 cups prepared grits (Bob’s Red Mill yellow grits preferred)
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 ounces
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound large shrimp, 26-30 count, peeled and deveined, tails on
  • — Kosher salt, to taste
  • — Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • — Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • — Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

For the relish: Thinly cut bacon crosswise into lardons about 1/4-inch thick. Cook bacon in a medium-size skillet over medium heat until crispy and fat has rendered. Move bacon to paper towels and reserve. Drain skillet and discard excess fat, while wiping away any burned bits. Add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook – stirring frequently – until onion is a medium brown color, about three minutes.

Add tomatoes, hot sauce, brown sugar and sherry vinegar then bring to a simmer. Cook briefly until slightly thick, stir in bacon and add salt and pepper to taste. The relish can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated. Makes about 1 cup.

For the shrimp & grits: Preheat oven to 350°. Portion hot grits into 4 large, oven-proof dinner bowls, sprinkle cheddar over and place in oven until melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Or melt in the microwave, about 30 to 60 seconds per bowl.

Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons oil to a hot saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute briefly until slightly brown. Add shrimp then season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste. Saute briefly until edges of shrimp start to turn pink.

Add 1 cup white wine, deglaze pan and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add the Tomato-Bacon Relish and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Cook for another minute until sauce is hot and slightly thickened and shrimp are cooked through.

Divide shrimp and sauce into the bowls and garnish with sliced scallion.

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