Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

Now that cooler weather is here, the Brussels Sprout crop is in and these cute little cabbage-like vegetables are at their peak. I know a lot of people don’t like Brussels Sprouts but I am convinced the reason is mostly because not much went into the preparation. I wanted to create something savory that had some sweetness but that still had some freshness. Overcooked Brussels Sprouts are not very appetizing.

A warm vegetable salad is just right!

BEAUTIFUL WARM BRUSSELS SPROT SALAD

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Red Onion
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Crushed garlic
  • Red pepper
  • Olives
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Pepper

It is important when using Brussels sprouts that you cut them in such a way that the pieces will cook evenly. I washed about a pound and cut them in half and then split the exposed core. You will have half pieces of Brussels sprouts but the core will be cut in two so it will be tender when the rest of the half is. That way you don’t overcook your Brussels sprouts trying to get the core softened.

Slice one red onion into half moons, dice a red pepper, peel the garlic. Use as much or as little as you wish—I used 3 cloves.  Slice 6-8 pitted olives of choice—I used green Cerignolas. (If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that I’m going to invite you to click on the word and learn to say it like our Italian friends do!)

Begin sauteing the red onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt until you see the onions begin to sweat. Add the Brussels sprouts and some more salt and saute for a minute or two. Add the crushed garlic and some spring water and put on a lid. Steam these for about 15 minutes so they are just tender but haven’t lost their freshness. Add the red pepper and olives and let them cook a moment. Add the fresh basil at the very end. I shredded mine (chiffonade).

Immediately remove from the heat and dress with balsamic vinegar. I used a basil-raspberry white balsamic. There are many choices of balsamic so please pick one that is available and that you like. Adjust with a bit more olive oil if you want and also pepper. Serve warm.

This became my main course for dinner. Sweet and satisfying!

Savory Chocolate Insouciance

Frankenfood for the Rich and Fabulous

It’s been “Beet Week” around here at My Cooking Life and it’s coming to a close. That’s because I bought exactly three beets and made a commitment to try them three different ways despite the fact that I have never ever liked beets before.

I invited the always entertaining Tom Hanks to come over and coach me, I’m sure I kept you spellbound with the harrowing beet enforcement incident of my childhood, and we tuned in the unforgetable comedy and musical talent of Weird Al and Michael Jackson. I even risked eating raw beet salad and ventured into creating my own gourmet roasted beet salad.

But now it’s time to get totally un-serious.

What is the one ingredient that makes everything else taste much better? The one that changes our outlook on life and gives us the spiritual boost we need? What is the one thing that can and does make eating nearly any food a sensual, delectible experience?

It’s chocolate of course! And after all, it makes total sense that I would come up with a chocolate-themed beet recipe, does it not?

I created this recipe the way I do most of mine—I thought it up and then went to the kitchen and made it. I felt quite “saucy” doing this and hence the name of the dish!

Steamed Beets with Savory Chocolate Insouciance for Two

  • One or two beets 
  • Vegetable steamer
  • 1/4 cup aged dark balsamic vinegar (I used expresso flavored balsamic but you could add a shot of strong espresso to well-aged dark balsamic.
  • 1Teaspoon barley malt
  • 2 Teaspoons 100% pure cocoa powder
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Scallion garnish

Wash the beets and remove any little roots. Slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Steam the beets until they are as tender as you want them. I steamed mine for 20 minutes in a bamboo steamer

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I'm taking a picture of the contents!

This wonderful bamboo steamer has a lid, of course, except when I’m taking a picture of the contents!

In a small sauce pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, espresso, barley malt, cocoa powder and salt.  When the beets were done steaming I removed them and put my pan over the steam heat. I heated the sauce until it was well combined and heated but not boiling (chocolate does not taste good burned or over-cooked!) The sauce will thicken as you stir. Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper.

Serve the steamed beets with this lovely sauce over it.

Yes! When in doubt, add chocolate! Even beets taste okay with Savory Chocolate Insoucience! I finished the beets on my plate and then ate all the sauce from the plate and the sauce pan.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

A hint of cayenne makes the sauce extra-insouciant.

And for those of you who truly like beets even if they don’t have chocolate all over them, here’s a great blog about beets Italian style that I’m adding here: Jovina Cooks Italian

It’s Mocktail Time!

Wild Blueberry Sparkler (L) and Pear Cranberry Sparker

Wild Blueberry Sparkle  (L) and Pear Cranberry Sparkle

Are you planning a festive New Year’s Eve celebration and looking for a non-alcoholic alternative to the usual cocktails and champagne?

Do you like the idea of “Happy Hour” but don’t like the unhappy after-effects?

Are you the designated driver?

Or maybe you and your guests prefer to maintain a high level of awareness and don’t want to reduce it by drinking alcoholic beverages.

My latest fave beverage is a mocktail!  It is very simple and so far, everyone I’ve served has liked it a lot–even if they are used to alcoholic beverages.  I call it

“BALSAMIC SPARKLES”

  • Sparkling water of choice (I like San Pellegrino sparkling water), chilled
  • Flavored white balsamic vinegar, chilled
  • Liquid Stevia
  • Garnish

The part you’ll be experimenting with is the flavored white balsamic.  Actually you can use a red balsamic as well.  Fruit flavors work best.  Here at home right now I have a Cranberry Pear White Balsamic and a Wild Blueberry Red Balsamic.  The more aged the balsamic is, the better and sweeter this will taste.

If you can’t find a flavored balsamic, you can use a fruit concentrate added to plain balsamic.  I’ve seen pomegranate and dark red cherry in stores. These are usually not sweetened at all, so you can add a few more stevia drops.

You can make your own fruit concentrate by cooking down dried apricots or peaches in apple juice and adding the thickened cooking liquid to plain balsamic vinegar in your drink. I recommend you strain the cooking liquid very well using cheesecloth or a piece of linen so there are no solids in your drink. In this case, you probably won’t need the stevia at all.

For an 8-ounce mocktail, pour about 2 tablespoons of flavored vinegar into the glass.  Add 1-3 drops of stevia to sweeten according to your taste.  Pour in the sparkling water and you’ve got a sophisticated but simple mocktail.

I like to dress these up with garnishes. For the Cranberry Pear Sparkles I’m adding a sprig of mint.  For the Wild Blueberry I’m garnishing with fresh blueberries and a sprig of rosemary.

There are many other great recipes for mocktails (not all of them are sugar-free though) and I have listed a few places for you to see those:

Roasted Pumpkin Seed Oil, Georgia O’Keeffe and Inspiration

No matter where I go, my cooking life is easily inspired.

My husband and I took a little 24-hour vacation this weekend and went to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  If you haven’t been there, it is nestled about an hour north of Albuquerque and has an altitude of about 7,000 feet which makes it a cool relief on a hot weekend.  Being true blue to you, my blogging friends, I always have my eye out for something good to write about and I certainly found some things!

I can always count on Santa Fe to surprise me!  Last time I was there on a warm, spring weekend, this happened:

But this time, we were surprised by one of the Santa Fe shops we found instead of by the weather.  We discovered a shop called “Oleaceae” which sells olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt from around the world.  Not much of an inventory you say?  Think again!  This store had dozens and dozens of plain and flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

The oils were incredible extra virgin olive oils and the flavored ones were infused with wonderful things that sent my imagination out-of-this-world with culinary ideas.  What would you make with Blood Orange Olive Oil?  Olceaceae suggests using it as a substitute for shortening in brownies and cakes or to pair it with Cranberry Pear, Dark Cocoa, Pomegranate or Fig Balsamic Vinegar.  Or how about making your hummus with Harrisa Olive Oil that is infused with cumin, coriander and garlic?

All the oils were available for tasting and the staff at Olceaceae can suggest the most outrageous pairings of oil and vinegar for you to try.  I found an oil there that was not an olive oil and it is one I have only heard of but never found available anywhere:  roasted pumpkin seed oil!  This was a very intense, rich unrefined seed oil made by roasting pumpkin seeds and then crushing them to extract the oil.  This is the one I purchased!

I understand that pumpkin seed oil is used in Austria on just about everything and I will be experimenting with my precious find and sharing what I come up with.

All the balsamic vinegars were aged for at least eighteen years and all imported from  Modena, Italy.  There were two main types:  dark and white balsamic vinegar.  And these came in a myriad of flavors!  My favorite dark balsamics were Lush Black Cherry–which you could actually drizzle on ice cream or mix with sparkling water with a slice of lime; the Cafe Expresso Balsamic, and the Blackberry Ginger.  Even the plain dark balsamic vinegar was divine and it was so sweet and delicious, you wouldn’t even need oil in your salad dressing.  And it could definitely be an ingredient for either savory or sweet dishes.

The white balsamics–which I’d never tried before–were wonderful too!  Mmmmm . . . what could you do with Island Coconut Balsamic or Fragrant Oregano Balsamic?  Tasting these was better than any wine tasting!  I know I have a whole new world of variations ahead of me using these beautiful condiments.

The Oleaceae Oils

The Oleaceae Vinegars

This company does mail order through their website, which is Oleaceaeoliveoil.com.

Having tasted more than a dozen oils and vinegars, we wandered out to the Santa Fe Plaza and decided to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  I hadn’t known much about Georgia O’Keeffe before, except that she spent quite a lot of time in New Mexico painting the mountains, mesas, flowers and desert landscape.  The museum was very worthwhile and included a great selection of her work as well as fascinating insight on her philosophy of life.

She said, “I simply paint what I see.”  And she said, “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”

Of course we went into the gift shop and having been thoroughly impressed with the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe and the fact that she lived at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for years communing with nature and painting it, I was drawn to two particular photos of her.

In her kitchen, of course, where I imagine she was also quite creative.

Making Stew at Ghost Ranch

Pouring Tea

When the day was about over and we sat in the historic Santa Fe Plaza as the shops began to close, we met the apparently extremely popular “mayor” of the Santa Fe Plaza.  He was very friendly and very hip at the same time.

Motion, Mayor of Santa Fe Plaza

Back home, I’ve already opened my toasted pumpkin seed oil and savored the aroma again and again.  I’m dreaming of roasted vegetables with pumpkin seed oil, a lovely quinoa whole grain summer salad and a pumpkin seed with lemon zest dressing for tomato salad.  You will be the first to know!