Thursday, November 15, 2007

Brussels Sprouts- The New Turkeyday Thread

Brussels sprouts anyone? Now let’s not be too quick judge here. I know growing up I never especially liked them. Those nose-wrinkling wads of cruciferous terror were always a little too mushy, a little to bitter, and their army green color was definitely sore on the eyes.

Good thing we’ve come a long way since the days of Betty Crocker. And good thing we are also more aware of when these little buggers are at their best. The colder months always grow sweeter sprouts with more compact heads.

What balances out the bitter in the Brussels? Sugar, acid, and salt. So let’s try some sprouts with a lemon confit (a simple syrup with equal parts sugar to water with some lemon zest thrown in). The sugar caramelizes when cooking and creates a beautiful balance while glazing everything a savory-sweet. Bacon is in this recipe, too, but feel free to leave it out for the vegetarians and leave out the butter in the end for vegans.

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, outer leaves peeled and bottom cores trimmed
4 strips of applewood smoked bacon, sliced ¼” across
2 Tablespoons butter
2 lemons zested
1/4-cup water
1/4-cup sugar

To make the simple syrup, warm the 1/4 cup of water and add the 1/4 cup of sugar, stirring until everything has dissolved. Add the zest of two lemons and cook on low for about 5 minutes.

Now that that's out of the way, let's pre-boil the Brussels sprouts. This will give a head start when we sauté later and guarantee they won’t crisp too much on the outside before finishing cooking internally. Fill a 6-quart pot with water, adding enough salt to taste like a salty soup and bring it to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts. Cook until just before they are fork tender. Remember, we’re still cooking them more later so don’t cook them all the way here. Drain and drop them into ice water in order to retain their green color (versus allowing them to continue to cook because of their residual heat, turning that god-awful army green color). As soon as they have cooled, drain and set aside.

Now, heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the bacon, allowing the fat to melt, rendering it, without moving it around too much. Once the bacon starts to crisp, remove it temporarily to a plate, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Add the Brussels sprouts and turn the heat up to medium-high and add a teaspoon of salt. Roll the sprouts around in the bacon love for about 4 minutes. Add the lemon syrup with the bacon into the pan, making sure everything gets coated. Throw the butter in at this point to finish. Once the butter has melted and the Brussels start to brown and crisp, you’re done!

You can even try some toasted pecans for an extra crunch.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanksgiving Countdown...The Best Mashed Potatoes

The next few posts will be all about the Turkey Day with tried and true recipes to help you prepare.

Today... The Best Mashers!

For 4 servings, plus some left-overs

This mashed potato recipe is all about the potatoes (well, and the butter, cream, and salt mmmm…). I’ve outlined some tricks and secrets for the best mashed potatoes your Thanksgivings have ever seen.

• Since this recipe is all about the potato, let’s make sure we get the right ones. Yukon potatoes are known for being moist and creamy yielding velvety mashed potatoes, but a little too waxy. Russets are naturally mealier because their cells separate when cooked and result in dryer mashes potatoes. But when the two are mixed they become the perfect result.

• We make sure to never let the potatoes reach a full boil during cooking which will break the potatoes apart, creating waterlogged results. The lovely salted water should only gently simmer at all times.

• After the potatoes are cooked to fork tender, we drain the potatoes through a colander and then spread them out on a sheet pan. Throw them in the oven for 2 minutes to steam out the excess water from around and inside the potatoes.

• One more trick, and possibly the most important, is processing the potatoes through a food mill versus a Kitchen Aid or food processor. The potatoes will be airy and fluffy without being overworked which makes the potatoes gluey and pasty. Check out Sur La Table for food mills or even

So let’s make sure you have all the equipment together before starting; a colander, food mill, and sheet pan (or large sauté pan).

4 Large Yukon Potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 Russet Potato, peeled and quartered
1 Pint Cream
4 T Butter, softened

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.

Place the yukons in a 6-quart pot, or a pot that will slightly crowd the potatoes. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by one inch. Add one tablespoon of salt. In another pot, do the same with the russet potatoes and add 1/2 tablespoon of salt. It is important to cook the potatoes separately because they will be done at different times.

Place the pots of potatoes and water on the stove and turn the heat on high. As soon as the water looks like it’s going to boil, turn it way down to barely a simmer. Let’s call it a “shimmer”. Taste the water for salt. It should taste like a salty soup. If it needs more salt, add now.

In about ten minutes, probe the potatoes with a fork. You want them cooked all the way through. If they are still a little hard, continue to cook. When they are fork tender, you are now ready to carefully remove the pot from the heat and pour everything through a colander. Be careful for the steam.

Place the cooked and strained potatoes onto a sheet pan and pop into the oven for 2 minutes.

Once you’ve removed the potatoes form the oven, you’re ready to process them through the food mill. Place the food mill over the taller of your two pots you just cooked the potatoes in. Careful not to dump all the potatoes at once through the mill, but a few pieces at a time, mill them, turning clockwise and every now and then reversing to help little bits through to the pot underneath.

Once all the potatoes have been milled through, scald your cream. This means to warm the cream in a pan on the stove, but be very careful not to let it boil over. That is a huge mess! Add half of the cream to the potatoes and half of your softened butter. Carefully, fold in the ingredients, just until everything has been absorbed. Taste for salt. Add more if necessary, which should be the case.

[At this point, you may cover the potatoes with parchment and set aside if you’re not ready to serve them. The great thing about this is they can be made an hour or so ahead of time allowing you to finish other things for dinner. When you are ready, simply re-warm the rest of the cream and butter and add to the potato pot over a warm burner. The more you stir the potatoes, the stiffer their outcome will be, so take care to not over-agitate them. But note that more moisture will have evaporated with more time sitting, so you may need to add more cream and butter.]

If you're immediately serving the potatoes after milling, add as much cream and butter that suits your taste.

They are now ready to serve!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lawsuit Against Dole, Chiquita, & Del Monte for Poisoning Banana Workers!

Just when we thought we understood everything about bananas... we love'em, they're one of the "safest" fruits to eat when not organic (because of their thick skin screening out 'most' of the poisons in pesticides), and they're the easiest fruit/vegetable to digest. This fruit comes in the handy when we need to grab something to go, or for athletes who need quick sugars and potassium. Bananas have been one of my favorite foods since I can remember eating food.

Education on conventional foods has taught us about the negative environmental factors. We've also learned that conventional foods carry some of the toxins they’re sprayed with. Even after scrubbing down an apple, or plum, or carrot... the toxin is still inside waiting to be eaten by the foolish human who buys it.

What we haven't learned or put too much thought into are the effects pesticides have on the pickers who harvest them. These workers have their hands on, in, around these toxins all day, everyday.

Organic Consumers Association states “thousands of banana pickers in Costa Rica have filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against two chemical companies and three major U.S. fresh produce companies, claiming exposure to a toxic pesticide caused a range of reproductive disorders.” The company is accused of using a pesticide that was banned in the U.S. in 1979 called dibromochloropropane. The chemical was used to kill microscopic worms on the roots of the banana plants. Possible side effects of this pesticide when inhaled or absorbed by the skin of are sterility, testicular atrophy, miscarriages, birth defects, liver damage and cancer.

The workers stated the companies conducted a "settlement campaign". The plaintiffs who were exposed to the pesticide were induced to sign releases freeing the companies of liability. Organic Consumers Association says the companies allegedly offered to settle the claims for sterility for $2,900 to $6,500 a piece as long as the workers did not involve their own lawyers says . CBS News says that according to the lawsuit manufacturers of the pesticide, "actively suppressed information about DBCP's reproductive toxicity".

Luckily this was finally all brought to the surface and these workers are getting paid for their losses. Los Angeles jury awarded $3.3 million to six workers on Monday. Still, nothing will ever repay the loss of sterility or miscarriages. I hope we've all learned more of a lesson in how important buying organic. Not only are we saving ourselves and the environment by, but we are also saving the innocent and hard-working farmers.