The Only Way to Eat Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are a staple at my family’s Christmas Dinner table. Those little green bundles have been passed right under my (reluctant up-turned) nose for the past 30 something years and I had all but given up on them until recently when I was in a restaurant ordering conundrum. While dining out for the Hubby’s birthday at South Congress Cafe in Austin (for more about that day read here), I was really craving scallops but the ones on the menu were being served on a bed of my holiday nemesis. The description read ‘crispy Brussels Sprouts’ (not boiled and mushy) and I was desperate enough that I looked at the server (probably with pleading in my watery eyes) asking him if these green buggers were really worth the rest of the dish. He assured me that they bore no comparison to my idea of sprouts and that the scallops were amazing…..so (after taking a deep breath) I couldn’t resist and went for it. One of the best restaurant decisions I have made! They were completely delicious and I kept talking about  them to John for days so it is no wonder that they ended up on  the menu for our Easter Sunday dinner. I couldn’t really find an exact recipe so I decided to just try and recapture the magic from the original description at South Congress (‘crispy brussels sprouts, bacon, lemon basil brown butter’) and some creativity.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

1lb Brussels Sprouts

2 tbsp butter

2 strips of bacon (cooked and chopped into small pieces)

1 shallot sliced thinly

1 small clove of garlic, minced

squeeze of lemon juice

1/4 tsp of dried basil

oil for frying (about 3 cups)

salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the sprouts and thoroughly pat dry. Trim off ends, peal away a couple of the outer leaves and then cut in half (if you need a visual there are several helpful videos on YouTube). Make sure they are completely dry.

Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprouts

Heat your oil to 350 F. Place a few sprouts on a slotted spoon and lower into the heated oil. Cover the fryer immediately to avoid being splattered with oil. The sprouts contain a high amount of water and they will start popping under the lid. Also, do not put too many in at once or there will be too much water released into the oil and they will burn before it is safe to open the lid. (We discovered this the hard way…needless to say I was a bit nervous because I didn’t completely know what I was doing and geared up for protection….think hazmat with a spatula! After doing the second batch as per my above directions, it was really easy and completely fine!) Cook each batch for about 3-4 minutes (you will hear the popping coming to an end) Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on kitchen paper before transferring onto a serving dish. You will probably need to cook the sprouts in about 4-5 batches.

Melt the butter in a pan. Brown the shallots and garlic in the butter then add the cooked bacon, and sprinkle with basil, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour over the sprouts and then squirt a little lemon juice over top.

It was delicious and transported me back to that surprising discovery at South Congress! (The hubs said he liked it even better than the original ones we ate in Austin….but he is a little biased!) They were the perfect accompaniment to our Easter meal of Whiskey Stew, Yorkshire Puddings and Roasted Parsnips.

Easter DinnerCrispy Brussels Sprouts

I can’t wait for my next dinner party to sport these sprouts!

Advertisements

Pinteresting Easter Monday!

This was the first holiday John and I have spent alone and although that makes it sound like a sad occasion, it was actually by choice. The most exciting part of this decision was the chance to cook an entire special meal from start to finish. Usually, because we are with family, we just contribute a side dish or dessert so, despite all my cooking and baking experience, I have never been the person solely responsible for an all out holiday meal until yesterday. We talked through some options, looked over Pinterest, recalled some of the best dishes from our favourite restaurants, and came up with a menu: Whiskey Beef Stew with Yorkshire Puddings, Roasted Parsnips and Crunchy Lemon Basil Brussels Sprouts. 

Easter Dinner

The first part of our meal was a recipe I came across on Pinterest so I have decided to share it with you all for Pinteresting Easter Monday. I am not usually a fan of stews and pot roasts so for me to actually find one I love is a big deal!. What really struck me about this recipe was the whisky (need I say more?) and Yorkshire puddings (which to me are synonymous with holiday meals). Once we had settled on this recipe, it seemed only natural to go in the way of a British theme so Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts were quickly added to the menu. For the parsnips, I just roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper for 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. As amazing as the stew was, and as much as we love parsnips, the real star of the show ended up being the Brussels Sprouts which I will share with you more thoroughly later this week as they deserve a post entirely their own. In the meantime, here is the original recipe for the stew with my notes in bold.

Whiskey, Beef and Mushroom Stew in a Yorkshire Pudding Bowl  (from Elizabeth’s Kitchen)

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Serves 2 (I actually found that this will serve more like 4 people)

400g (1 lb) stewing beef or casserole steak, cubed
flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
oil for frying 
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 tsp dried herbs de provence (this is typically a mixture of Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel Seed and sometimes Lavendar. I just used Rosemary and Thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
13 button mushrooms, cleaned
70ml (about a quarter cup) whisky 
1 pint beef stock (2 cups)

Mix flour with salt & pepper. Dredge meat cubes, shake off excess and set aside. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry beef in batches until each side is seared. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a large pot. Fry onions and garlic in the oil until the onions soften.  Stir in paprika and fry a further minute. Transfer to the pot. Add potato, mushrooms and remaining herbs. Pour whiskey and stock into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping up all the little bits on the bottom. Transfer to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for at least an hour. Alternatively, cook in a slow cooker for 8 hours on low. When the meat is tender thicken with some cornflour if desired, although I feel it’s perfect just as is. I decided I didn’t want to dirty two pans so after dredging the meat, I seared it in my deep non-stick pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. I removed the meat and softened the onions in the same oil. I put the meat back in with the onions, added the mushrooms, potatoes and remaining spices, deglazed with the whiskey and then added the stock. It simmered in this same pan for 1 hour.  

Serve with Yorkshire puddings.

300ml full fat milk (1 1/4 cups)
4 eggs
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
250g plain flour, sifted (1 cup)
dripping

Whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your dishes with dripping in the oven until very, very hot. I used an 18cm Le Cruset pan to make the Yorkshire ‘bowl’. Stir flour into the egg/milk mixture and pour into the very hot pan.  (I don’t have this size pan so I just made smaller puddings in a muffin pan with a tbsp of drippings/oil and -once hot- 3/4 full of batter ) Bake for 20 minutes. 

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes There are several reasons why you should try this stew:

1) it’s easy and delicious

2) whiskey…but seriously though!

3) it can be adapted for the crock pot making it even easier

4) it will make your house smell amazing while it’s bubbling away

5) except for the whiskey (depending on your pantry), it is really quite inexpensive, hearty and all the ingredients are probably sitting in your fridge and cupboard at this very moment!

Birthday Burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin

Birthdays are a big deal here at the Duncan household, even more so now that the hubs is doing his PhD and hardly gets any free time. Last Friday, he turned 35 and I got the chance to pull him away from his laptop and piles of books to a weekend full of fun and surprises. In the morning he was given a large bag full of numbered balloons and had to pop them as the day proceeded to find out where we were going next.

Happy Birthday!

We had a blast- and I say we because it was just as much fun for me planning and seeing his reaction to each clue as it was for him to be spoiled! It was such a needed break and a very important day so there was no question as to where we would be spending our adventures- in Austin, TX! After a quick dash through the Starbucks drive-thru, we made the 2 hour drive south to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for a peaceful outdoor scenic morning stroll. This was perfect to balance out our stop for lunch at the hectic South Congress on a beautiful sunny day. In all honesty, apart from the parking issue, the extrovert in me loves being around any downtown hustle and bustle so I felt energized and excited for our stop at the incredible Hopdoddy Burger Bar on this famous Austin street.

Although it was heaving with eager hungry guests like us, Hopdoddy has this great system where your table is assigned to you as you are lining up and even on a very busy lunchtime rush, our wait to actually sit was only about 20 minutes. Even still, because you are moving in the line past the beer taps at the bar (and sipping on your drink) and creeping all the more closer to the burger order station, you feel like time is passing and you are making progress. Then the food arrives and you realize you would have waited double the time if necessary (and more!). Some of the most unique and delicious burgers I have ever seen and eaten. All their meat is ground in-house daily and comes from cows that are humanely raised and fed all the good stuff to keep them happy and healthy. Their buns are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day. The result?

Primetime at Hopdoddy, Austin

delicious and moreish hand-crafted burgers like Primetime: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli,

Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce

Llano Poblano at Hopdoddy, Austin TX

and the Llano Poblano: Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles,

Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo

Fries with Green Chili Queso at Hopdoddy, Austin

all finished off with their seasoned Kennebec Fries and Green Chili Queso.

I seriously could have gone back for dinner but fortunately (or unfortunately) there were other surprises to unveil. After a long afternoon of used-bookstore browsing, we returned to the buzzings of South Congress and enjoyed another amazing celebratory meal at South Congress Cafe. Sadly, the lighting was pretty bad for photos so none of the pictures I took on the night came out. I would have loved to shown you my beautiful plate of seared scallops with crispy Brussels sprouts glazed with basil, bacon and lemon brown butter, or John’s hearty steak au poivre and blackened jumbo shrimp. But, your imagination will have to do. The other alternative is for you to visit Austin, TX and taste them for yourselves 🙂

Middle Eastern treats- Lahmacun and Muhammara

muhammarra and lahmacun

If you spend even a small amount of time eating food from the countries that border the Mediterranean you will realize how much they all have in common. Greece and Italy love their freshly caught fish with a simple but dazzling splash of pure olive oil and lemon, and delight in their warm and bubbly baked pastas and their delicious salty cheeses. And yet unlike Italy, Greece shares its love of hummus and heavily seasoned meat with its middle eastern neighbours. Of course this phenomenon is not surprising at all when you read about the occupations and migrations of different people groups in the  Mediterranean throughout ancient history.

We have a couple of decent Greek/Middle Eastern restaurants around Waco but there are a few menu items I haven’t seen anywhere and have dearly missed so I decided this weekend was a good time for some nostalgic cooking! The first dish I made is called Lahmacun (pronounced Lah-ma-joun) and is typically an Armenian and Turkish dish although each culture serves it slightly differently by adding a unique variety of pickled or grilled vegetables. It’s a meat (usually lamb or beef, or both) mixed with spices and parsley and then grilled/baked on flat-bread  This recipe came to my family from an Armenian woman and Mum used to make it for us when we were kids.

Lahmacun

The second item I have been missing is originally a Syrian dip called Muhammara (affectionately known to my friends as ‘The Red Dip’) with roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts and pomegranate molasses. We first discovered this when my husband and I lived in Cyprus and visited an amazing restaurant called Syrian Friendship Club. Although the ingredients sound like a strange combination, when I first took a bite, I could not place a single one and was completely baffled. It just tasted delicious and I had no way of figuring out how it was made. When we left Cyprus, a tiny piece of my heart stayed behind in that restaurant with the bright red bowl of heaven! Then, unexpectedly while looking through an Ellie Kreiger cookbook, I came across a recipe for Muhammara and could not contain my excitement. I made a couple of adjustments and was delighted that in some small way, we could relive our Syrian Friendship Club days thousands of miles away. I hope you will try these very simple but delicious recipes and experience the delights of the Middle East in your own kitchens

Muhammara

Lahmacun

1/2 lb of ground beef

1/2 can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 tbsp of tomato paste/puree

Handful of chopped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp of cumin

1/2 tsp of all spice (or just mix ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)

1/2 tsp of ground coriander

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

6 pitta pockets (you can also use large thin flat-bread)

fresh lemon wedges or juice for serving

I like to blend the crushed tomatoes but this is not completely necessary. Mix all the ingredients (minus the bread) in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight. Turn on your broiler (or oven grill) to get nice and hot. Slice open and separate the pitta pockets so you have two thin rounds. Spread a THIN layer of the meat mixture onto each side of the pitta. The surface of the bread should be completely covered. Place under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the edges are crunchy but not burnt. Repeat with remaining pitta pockets and squirt some fresh lemon juice over top before serving. 

Lahmacun

Muhammara (adapted from Ellie Kreiger’s The Food You Crave)

1/2 cups of wholewheat bread crumbs

1 1/2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp of cumin

1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper (optional)

1/2 cup walnuts

1 tbsp lemon juice

18 oz jar of Roasted Red Peppers (drained)

2 tbsp of pomegranate molasses *(see note below)

(*Pomegranate molasses can be found at any middle eastern specialty store but in the event you don’t have one near you, simmer some pomegranate juice on medium heat until it reduces to a syrup- about 1/4 of the volume -and allow to cool. It can last in your fridge for a few weeks if you have extra.)

Muhammara

Toast the walnuts and grind in food processor. Add breadcrumbs and spices and pulse until well combined. (If I don’t have breadcrumbs, I toast a small piece of bread, let it cool and harden and then throw it in with the walnuts.) Add drained peppers, lemon juice, molasses and olive oil and blend until everything is mixed well. Serve with Pitta Chips or warm flat bread.

Mediterranean Etchings

Cyprus haunts my steps. It paints the colour of my skin, twists in my hair, flares in my temper and infuses my strength as a woman. Even before I first visited as a child from London, my ethnicity lay restless in the clouds of the city, warring in silence to reign over my identity. It was constant. You may absorb other cultures and values as you engage in our global community but there are remnants of your ethnicity that stay with you forever (for good and ill!)

A family member recently told me that he believed I was able to live happily in my non-Cypriot marriage because I was not very Greek. I am not sure exactly what ‘being very Greek’ looks like and I am still processing whether I agree with him, BUT one thing I know hands down is that I will never NOT be Greek.  And one of the reasons I know this is because of food! As much as I love Japanese, Indian, Hispanic or Italian etc cuisines, they will not have the same nostalgic effect as when I eat Cypriot flavours. (Even though I am Greek-Cypriot, I say Cypriot flavours because the island’s cuisine has been unquestionably influenced by it’s middle eastern neighbours creating a slightly different culinary character than that of the Greek mainland.) Yes I hate lamb and I don’t like eating olives but it’s more than just single food items. It’s a style of cooking, a seasoning, a mix of ingredients that make up a gastronomic ethnicity. For example, I believe my love of Tappas and all forms of shared eating is directly correlated to my innate bond to Mezes where we bring out mountainous collections of  various dips, prepared vegetables, meats and/or fish, and pass them around the table for several hours, drinking, eating and laughing together. I know this could be passed off as just liking the food my mother made when we were kids but I was blessed with an experimental chef in our kitchen and Mum made all kinds of delicious international dishes from as early as I can remember. But, her koubebia (rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves) or her macaronia tou fornou (pasta baked with ground meat, feta, and bechamel sauce) have a completely different sense of home for me than her wonderful cannelloni or chicken pot pie.

This all became evident to me during our visit to see family in Cambridge this Christmas. We were treated to a full-on Cypriot barbecue/grill-out including the traditional roles of  women indoors preparing the dips, salads and sides, and the men congregating around the Foukou (Cypriot style grill) breathing in the masculine flames of the fire. And what did this afternoon ritual of gender bonding and slow cooking meat produce?

foukou with kebabs

Chicken and Pork Kebabs grilling over hot charcoal with pitta bread absorbing all the smokey goodness

bastourma

Loukanika and Pasturma (Cypriot seasoned sausages)

lamb's heart

lamb’s heart

lamb's heart

yes that’s right, I said lamb’s heart.

the spread

The whole spread of salads, meats and dips. Among some were…

cappari leaves

Kapari (pickled caper leaves)

humous

Humous

tzatziki

and Tzatziki

All photos were taken by my brother, the talented photographer, musician, foodie and IT genius. For more of his work visit Dreamstate Reality.

One Wife’s Quest

“Once upon a time there was a sweet young newly married woman who was cooking her husband’s favourite dish, Fasolia (a traditional Greek bean dish). She had been brought up by a mother who was the best cook in their village and she was so confident that her Fasolia recipe would be the best her husband had ever tasted. During their first week of marriage, she spent hours preparing this special meal with so much excitement, completely prepared to be worshiped as a culinary goddess upon his return. When he arrived home, the familiar aroma immediately alerted him to his favourite meal and as he sat down, spoon in hand,  she prepared herself for the onslaught of love and devotion.  He took his first bite and hmmm-ed and ahhh-ed sweetly patting his new bride on the arm and said it was delicious. However, she noticed that even though he finished every bite, he didn’t seem as delighted as she was expecting. She asked him if everything was OK and he smiled sweetly, reaffirming that it was very nice but as she pressed further he admitted, to her disappointment, that it wasn’t as good as his mother’s! Although at first she was rather insulted, her resolution to make the best Fasolia known to any person drove her to keep making this dish week in and week out, trying every trick she could think of, even getting tips from his mother. But, each time, she would hear the same response. He kept agreeing that it was delicious but just not as good as his mum’s. One day she was so busy taking care of other things in her daily routine that she got completely side tracked and accidently burnt the Fasolia. She was mortified and tried to remove any blackened pieces and other tell tale signs that her dish was not perfect. She anxiously served up her dinner to her very hungry husband that evening and after several servings, he beamed at her in complete satisfaction. ‘Honey’ he said ‘I don’t know how you did it but that was the best Fasolia ever- it tasted just like my mother’s’!”

My own mother told me this great story one day as we were cooking away together in the kitchen. Obviously this was a Greek tale that had been passed down from mother to daughter and it has all the old-school gender ideas still somewhat prominent in certain communities. Don’t get me wrong, my mum is not old fashioned about gender roles and is most definitely a huge advocate for equality. I have always felt empowered as a woman because of her influence. She did not tell me this story to make me ‘know my place in my future marriage’ or to ‘find my identity in my husband’s approval’. It was just a funny story about how everyone prefers their family’s cooking no matter the quality! And I think that’s true- the food we eat at home as children can play a huge part in how we assess the food we eat as adults. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our ideas and opinions and taste buds, but there is something unmistakably familiar and comforting when we eat something from our childhood. If you grew up eating Kraft Mac n Cheese from a box (or Super Noodles if you grew up in the 80’s in Britain!) it doesn’t matter how wonderful the exquisite Lobster Mac n Cheese with Gruyere and Aged Parmesan tastes, it can’t have the same emotional effect of transporting you back several years that eating the Kraft does. Luckily, John and I really were raised by the best cooks in their ‘village’ (and not just our  mums but our dads can rock the kitchen too!) so we were spoiled by delicious food our whole lives.

One thing our parents both made was great spaghetti sauce. However, they both made it very differently, so in our early days of marriage when I presented my first Spaghetti Bolognese to John in full confidence, I was sad to find that it wasn’t like his dad’s! Over the years my sauce has therefore evolved and I have incorporated things from both our families to make the one I use today. Fortunately there was no burning involved but I am so pleased with it that I have been using it for more than just spaghetti bolognese. Here is my latest creation- The Meatball Boat. It’s basically my version of a meatball sub but without having the rich tangy sauce dripping everywhere and filling up your plate instead of your belly! You will find this sauce is really good wherever tomato sauce is required including pizza, pasta sauces and for dipping garlic bread.

Leia’s Meatball Boats

Tomato Sauce:                                                                                                                  

1 can organic chopped fire roasted tomatoes (optional- I pulse these right in the can with a hand held blender to remove all the chunks)

1tbsp tomato puree

1tbsp brown sugar (if you use a sweeter wine, omit the sugar)

½ cup Cabernet Sauvignon

½ onion chopped finely

3 medium garlic cloves chopped finely

1/2 tbsp dried rosemary

1/2 tbsp dried basil

3 bay leaves

1Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

All great things begin with olive oil, onions and garlic. Warm the olive oil and then add the onions, stirring on medium-heat until golden brown.

Once the onions are ready, pop in the garlic. It’s important not to add the garlic earlier as it will burn and become bitter.

Once the garlic is just beginning to brown, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan and let it bubble for about half a minute. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, herbs and spices then let simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Meatballs:                                                                                                                               

1 lb lean ground beef

2 eggs (you can use just the whites if preferred)

½ onion diced very finely

2 crushed garlic cloves

½ cup breadcrumbs (Panko or wholewheat )

1 tsp of dried rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands.

Take just over a tablespoon of mix and shape into meatballs. These are smaller than your average meatball so that they will fit more comfortably into your ‘bread boat’.

 These meatballs are so tender and juicy but it does mean they are a little soft and delicate so handle carefully when placing into the pan.

They only take about 3-4 minutes each side. I like to leave mine ever so slightly underdone as they will continue to cook and heat through under the broiler.

Building the Boat

Line a baking tray with foil then dig out the middle of your favourite thick crusty loaf

I guess it’s more of a canoe than a boat!

Begin with a layer of sauce (as much or as little as you like) I put lots don’t let this picture fool you.

Add your meatballs- really squish them into the sides.

Another layer of sauce…mmmmm

Cover with Mozzarella cheese. Honestly, if I had no self discipline, I would just cover the whole sheet in cheese because what’s better than molten stringy cheese?

 Place under a hot broiler and wait for the cheese to bubble and brown and the loaf to become nicely toasted.

I like to toast the loaf top too and then dip into some extra sauce.