Monday, December 21, 2009

Brussels Sprouts

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Maple, Mustard, and Pecans

I love the fall and winter for the abundance of produce available. There are so many combinations of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains that the weather turns warm again before I run out of ideas!

In the last few years I've re-discovered Brussels sprouts. When I was growing up, my mom loved Brussels sprouts but boiled them to death, so I only knew them as army-green balls of nastiness. Because of that, I avoided them for a long time, until I had them browned instead of boiled. Caramelizing the Brussels sprouts brings out the natural sweetness and cooking for a shorter period of time reduces the amount of sulfur compounds released and increases the amount of vitamins retained during cooking. Since Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family, they benefit from similar treatments.

An easy way to try out Brussels sprouts on those who are uncertain about them is to shred them. I clean and trim the sprouts and run them through the slicing blade on the food processor. In one of my favorite recipes, I like to pair what I think of as "typical" fall flavors with Brussels sprouts, so I add mustard, pecans, and a touch of maple syrup. The mustard also compliments the sprouts as they are in the same biological family (Brassica).

Brussels Sprouts with Maple, Mustard, and Pecans

2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white wine or vegetable broth
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp whole grain mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted
Salt and pepper to taste

Shred sprouts using the slicing blade of a food processor. This can also be done by hand using a very sharp knife. Add sprouts, olive oil, white wine, and thyme to a non-stick pan with a lid. Turn heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove lid and turn heat to medium high. Cook for 5-10 more minutes, stirring infrequently, to allow the sprouts to brown and caramelize. Stir in remaining ingredients and heat through, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sweet Potatoes

Up until I moved away for college, I'd never tasted a sweet potato. Not even in the candy-sweet holiday casseroles - my family just didn't make them. I think my first experiences with sweet potatoes were with Boston Market's sweet potato casserole - lots of brown sugar, marshmallows, and calories! When you think of sweet potatoes, usually this is the dish that comes to mind. However, once I learned how to eat more healthily, I realized that there's a lot more to sweet potatoes than the super sweet marshmallow confection dish.

Now, I love sweet potatoes in savory dishes - I think it's a pity that most people only ever see them used in sweet dishes. In fact, the recipe that I'm going to highlight in this post surprises many people because they're expecting a sweet dish, only to come to face with creamy, smokey chipotle. Chipotle peppers and Southwestern spices in general are my favorite way of dressing up sweet potatoes; spicy Southwestern flavors pair naturally with the inherent sweetness of the potatoes.

As mentioned before, one of my favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes is as a mash around the holidays. This recipe was developed from mashed white potatoes, with spices adjusted to highlight the flavors of the sweet potatoes. The chipotle powder can be adjusted - if I'm cooking for Mike and myself, I use more; when I'm serving this to others I stick to the amount listed below. You can also substitute vegan versions of the dairy products (Earth Balance and soymilk). Please do use real maple syrup - pancake syrup is no substitute!

Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

2 lbs sweet potatoes
1/2 stick unsalted butter (or 1/4 cup Earth Balance)
1/4 cup half and half (or 1/4 cup soymilk or creamer)
1/2 tsp chipotle powder (or 1 minced canned chipotle pepper)
1 minced garlic clove
1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel, cube, and boil sweet potatoes until soft. Drain and mash with butter. Stir in remaining ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.