Thanksgiving Sides: Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Walnuts and Farro

If one vegetable symbolizes Fall and Thanksgiving, it’s the Brussels sprout. When these little crucifers appear in the market, it means it’s time to pull on our sweaters and plan our holiday menus. Yet, if one vegetable symbolizes dinner challenges, it’s also the Brussels sprout, because when these mini-cabbages appear on the table you can be sure they will elicit strong reactions from those who love them – and those who hate them. Hence the eternal question: in the spirit of holiday togetherness, how can we serve these hardy sprouts for everyone to enjoy?

This recipe might be the answer. Like all traditions that bear repeating, it’s worth sharing once again. It has a few simple techniques that may, just may, win over any steadfast sprout-hater. The trick is to roast the Brussels sprouts, which softens their assertive and firm cabbagey properties and accentuates their natural sweetness. Grapes are roasted along with the sprouts, so they coat the sprouts with their winey juices and lend more sweetness. A good shellacking of pomegranate balsamic vinegar towards the end of the roasting provides a lip smacking caramelized finish. Finally, the sprouts, grapes, and juices are tossed with farro and toasted walnuts, creating a rustic and satisfying dish, which is nutty, sweet, and not too dense with sprouts – but with just enough to satisfy the lovers and appease the haters at your dinner table. So give it a try and let me know.

Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Farro

Pomegranate balsamic vinegar is available in specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets. You can make your own by whisking together 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses.

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved (or quartered if large)
3/4 pound seedless red grapes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 cup cooked farro, warm or at room temperature
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Toss the Brussels sprouts, grapes, thyme sprigs, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle the pomegranate balsamic vinegar over and stir to coat. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the sprouts are tender and the grapes have begun to shrivel, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven, discard the thyme sprigs, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the farro and walnuts and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

30 minute Baked Pasta with Chorizo, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Easy one pot pasta dinner in 30 minutes

Who doesn’t like a steaming creamy mac ‘n cheese, coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs? I would never throw shade at this comforting classic – and goodness knows we can all do with a little comfort these days – but I will say that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies, like sausage if you’re so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish along with the al dente pasta and gads of cheese, bake until melty and golden,  and no one, I dare say, will dream of objecting.

I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it’s likely to be devoured in half that time. It’s lighter than mac ‘n cheese, and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there’s no bechamel sauce, after all) I toss the pasta with some of the pasta cooking water and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 4

12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
Salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, tough ribs discarded, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or part Parmesan)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water, then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown the slices on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.
3. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the leaves soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water and stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pasta is moist but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino.
4. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Crispy Salmon Fish Cakes

Homemade Crispy Salmon Fish Cakes

Homemade smoky salmon fish cakes

Calling these “fish cakes” really doesn’t do these crispy succulent patties justice. The “fish” part is right, but “cake” infers flour, fat, and eggs with a bread-like crumb. These Salmon Fish Cakes have none of that.

When my family and I lived in Denmark, a favorite family outing was to our local harbor where the fish market sold fish cakes or fiskefrikadeller, created from the daily catches hauled in on the fishing boats. When the fish were fileted, all the extra pieces were reserved for fist sized fish patties sold by the bagful with containers of remoulade, or tartar sauce, meant to be devoured family-style at the picnic tables perched over the sea. Every harbor with a fish market sold fish cakes, and the recipes were similar, made with white fish, such as plaice or cod, simply spiced and bound together with flour and egg, then pan or, more often, deep fried. Their flavor was mild, thanks to the white fish and simple seasonings, and they were very easy to eat, best washed down with a cold Danish beer (or juice for the kids) in the summer sun.

While nothing could beat fresh fiskefrikadeller at the seashore during the summer, at home I would make my own fish cakes with the goal to create a more healthy and tasty family dinner. I wanted something lighter and brighter, with more fish flavor and less filler. After many renditions, I arrived at this recipe, which I now use as a template. While I vary the fish at times, depending on what’s fresh and available, the amounts remain constant, as does the inclusion of some, if not all, salmon to the mix. I find that salmon’s thick and buttery flesh yields a rich, tasty, and sturdy fish cake, and for deeper flavor I’ll often add cold smoked salmon, which adds a salty, smoky (and addictive) edge to the cakes. Fresh herbs, lemon, and chopped chiles balance out the richness of the fish, while the binder is kept to a minimum – just a dollop of Greek yogurt and Panko breadcrumbs, which do double duty as a crisp coating for the patties. The results are fresh, vibrant, and flavorful, and prove that you that can, indeed, take the cake out of the fish cake.

Salmon Fish Cakes with Lemon-Chile Yogurt Sauce

The fish cakes may be formed up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated until pan frying. If desired, more salmon may be substituted for the halibut for a 100 percent salmon fish cake.

Makes  about 16 (2-inch) cakes

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Fish cakes:
1 pound salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
8 ounces thick white fish filet, such as halibut or cod, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
6 ounces cold smoked salmon filet, skin and pin bones removed, coarsely chopped
1 small red jalapeno or fresno chile, stemmed and seeded, minced
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs, plus 1 1/2 cups for rolling
1/4 cup coarsely grated yellow onion, with juices
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley and/or cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauce:
1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Canola or grapeseed oil for pan frying
Lemon wedges

1. Combine the salmon, white fish, and smoked salmon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 3 to 4 times to finely chop without over processing – the consistency should be slightly chunky and not mushy. Transfer the fish to a large bowl. Add the 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, the onion, parsley, yogurt, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.

2. Pour the remaining 1 1/2 cup breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl. Using a soup spoon, scoop out a generous amount of the salmon mixture. With a light hand, carefully form the mixture into a plump two-inch patty. Gently roll the patty in the breadcrumbs to evenly coat and place on platter, lightly pressing the patty to slightly flatten into about a 1/2 inch-thick cake. Repeat with the remaining fish, adding more breadcrumbs to the bowl as needed. Loosely cover the platter with plastic and refrigerate the fish cakes for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

3. Whisk the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until use.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. In batches, carefully add the fish cakes to the pan without overcrowding. Fry the cakes until golden brown and cooked through, turning once with a spatula, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cakes to a plate lined with a paper towel and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining fish cakes. Transfer the cakes to a warm serving platter and garnish with the parsley or cilantro. Serve with lemon wedges and the yogurt sauce.

Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, and Basil Parfaits

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Parfaits

It’s peak summer season, which means it’s peak tomato season. The farmer’s market tables are piled high with tomatoes galore, and if you have a garden, chances are your tomato plants are weighed down with ripe cherries, robust Beefsteaks, and sassy Early Girls ready for the picking. The best way to enjoy a fresh picked tomato, in my opinion, is as simply as possible, so its natural sweetness and sun-kissed flavor shine through.

In our kitchen, a favorite preparation is the Italian Caprese salad, a platter of thick slices of vine-ripened tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella, and just-plucked basil leaves. All that’s needed is a drizzle of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the ingredients speak for themselves. Another equally popular preparation is tomato bruschetta – thick slices of grilled garlicky bread topped with a jumble of juicy chopped tomatoes, basil, and, ahem, more garlic. This is finger licking hands-on fare, best served family-style accompanied by a pile of napkins to wipe up the sweet dribbling juices.

This past weekend, I combined these two recipes into one for a simple yet elegant presentation, including burrata cheese, grilled bread, and fresh basil, layered into small glasses. It was a smart and fun way to portion the tomatoes and dress things up for entertaining, while saving our summer whites from wayward juices. I am a sucker for heirloom tomatoes with their variety of colors, patterns, and bulbous shapes, and these glasses perfectly displayed them like confetti. A dollop of creamy burrata and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar resulted in a fresh and savory parfait that is as beautiful to look at as delicious to eat.

Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, and Basil Parfaits

Choose firm yet ripe tomatoes with a range of colors, and be sure to use a good extra-virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. You will need six (8-ounce) glasses for this recipe.

Serves 6 as an appetizer.
Prep Time: 20 minutes

Crostini:
6 baguette slices, cut on the diagonal, about 4 inches in length and 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Sea salt

Parfaits:
2 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, seeded, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 burrata, about 8 ounces
6 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup small basil leaves (or large leaves, chopped)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the crostini: Preheat the oven broiler or prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Whisk the oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Lightly brush each bread slice with the oil. Broil or grill the bread until crisp and golden on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside while you assemble the verrines.
2. Combine the tomatoes, oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl and gently stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Divide the tomatoes between six (8-ounce) glasses.
3. Cut the burrata into 6 wedges and place one wedge in each glass. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar in each glass, and garnish with the basil and black pepper. Top each glass with a crostini and serve immediately.

A Summer Salad for Meat Lovers (it has something to do with bacon)

BLT Salad with Bacon Ends and Avocado

A big refreshing bowl of salad is a great dinner in the heat of summer. Too veggie, you say? No worries, there is a happy meaty answer to that: Bacon ends. Yep, contemplate that. I did my own contemplating when I spied a bag of bacon ends for the first time at the farmers market and had to examine them. The bag was hefty, lumpy, and thick with triangular hunks of bacon jumbled in vacuum-packed togetherness. It was bacon indeed, but not the typical neatly fanned slices I usually buy in the deli department. After asking a few questions, I learned that when those tidy pre-sliced bacon packages are created, all of the irregular hunks and ends are discarded in order to produce supermarket-packaged perfection. I knew I was onto something revelatory, so I snagged a package. Now I am here to tell you that you want those ends. They are veritable chunks of heaven for bacon lovers, evoking salty pork-induced delirium.

I find the best way to cook bacon ends is in the oven or on a grill. While the ends cook, their fat renders, leaving behind crispy chunks of meaty bacon you can sink your teeth into. Honestly, they are addictively good. The danger is gobbling them all up in one go (not recommendable, by the way – just saying). So try to exert some restraint (after taste testing a few pieces, of course, as any cook should), and add them to salads, pasta, eggs – goodness, wherever you want your bacon. I like the salad option, as the fresh vegetables and leafy lettuce nicely balance out the hunks of salty meat. I call it a deconstructed BLT in a bowl and toss it with homemade croutons, brushed with the rendered bacon fat and toasted on the grill. Got your attention, right?

As for finding these ends, ask your butcher or the nice people in your supermarket’s meat department if they have a stash. You can be sure they know exactly what you are asking about – they just might not want to share.

BLT Salad with Bacon Ends and Avocado

Serves 4 as a main course salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Grilling Time: 30 minutes

1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon ends, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups coarsely torn bite-size pieces of country or sourdough bread

Dressing:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:
1 large head lettuce, leaves washed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 small vine ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
Corn kernels cut from one ear of corn
1 large Hass avocado, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1. Prepare the grill for indirect medium heat (about 400°F for a gas grill). Trim any excess fat from the bacon ends. Cut the ends into 1 inch chunks and arrange  on a grill rack (or grate) set over a grill pan to capture the rendered fat. Grill until the fat is rendered and the ends are crispy golden, about 25 minutes. (You can do this in the oven with a broiler pan, if you like.) Transfer the ends to a plate.
2. Toss the bread in the rendered fat. Spread the bread on a grill pan or the grates and grill until golden and crisp, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.
3. Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
4. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add the bacon, half of the croutons and dressing to your taste and toss to combine. Garnish with the remaining croutons and serve with any remaining dressing.

Chili-Lime Chicken Skewers with Spicy Green Pepper Sauce

Chili-Lime Chicken Skewers with Spicy Green Pepper Sauce

~ Chil-Lime Chicken Skewers with Spicy Green Pepper Sauce ~

A pedicure was the inspiration for this recipe. I rarely sit and thumb through a stack of fashion and lifestyle magazines – except when I am captive in a chair for a pedicure. As I picked up a well-read issue of O, I did what I always to with a magazine: I began at the back in search of recipes. And there I spied  an article with a recipe by Cat Cora for chicken kebabs.  Since my next stop was at the market to buy ingredients for a dinner, I immediately knew what I would make. With the image of the kebabs in mind, I came up with this recipe. Thanks to Cat and Oprah for the inspiration!

Chili-Lime Chicken Skewers with Spicy Green Sauce

There is big flavor and little effort in this recipe for Chili-Lime Chicken Skewers, which makes it a perfect weeknight meal. If you can, marinate the chicken for several hours or overnight and let the chili, lime and sriracha marinade do the flavoring work for you. While the chicken sits in the refrigerator, all you need is a few extra minutes to blitz the ingredients for the green sauce. Weeknight dining doesn’t get better than this. Serves 4-6.

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha or hot sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1 inch chunks
Bamboo skewers, soaked in warm water 30 minutes

Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together. Place chicken in a bowl and toss with marinade. Refrigerate at least one hour or up to 24 hours. Prepare grill for high heat. Skewer chicken on pre-soaked bamboo sticks; discard marinade. Grill over direct high heat until nicely charred on all sides and thoroughly cooked through, about 8 minutes. Serve with Spicy Green Pepper Sauce.

Spicy Green Pepper Sauce

The beauty of this sauce is that you may use whatever fresh green herbs you have on hand and tinker with the flavor. It always tastes great. Try to make it a few hours before serving to let the flavors develop. Makes about 1 cup.

2 garlic cloves
1 small poblano pepper, coarsely chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, to taste, coarsely chopped
1 handful fresh mint leaves
1 handful fresh oregano leaves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pulse all of the ingredients in a bowl of a food processor to achieve a chunky sauce. Taste for seasoning. (May be prepared up to 6 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate).

This post and recipe from TasteFood was featured in Women’s Health Blog: What We’re Reading.