Sharing the spotlight.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Not only have Brussels sprouts become the trendiest member of the Brassica family, but they have been pigeonholed for caramelization. No one wants to hear about a Brussels sprout today unless it’s roasted, flash fried, or sautéed in bacon fat…

…sorry, the thought of caramelized Brussels sprouts with salty, sweet, fatty bacon is so mesmerizing, I forgot what I was saying. I may actually have forgotten my name.

But it gets me thinking, “How do the other Brussels sprouts feel?” Can I create an equally tempting, saliva-inducing dish with no caramelization what so ever? Some quick reading on other flavors with a strong affiliation for Brussels sprouts offers clear direction. Strong bleu cheese and sharp mustard pair with shallot and vinegar, all folded into farm-fresh butter. Melting over briefly boiled Brussels sprouts, the dish is as tempting as any caramelized concoction.

These sprouts may not displace their sugary cousins, but they will certainly earn equal billing.

Blue Cheese and Mustard Buttered Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6

Use any leftover bleu cheese, mustard butter for steaks, chicken, green beans, cauliflower, squash, crusty Sourdough bread…

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 pound butter, softened
  • 4 ounces sharp bleu cheese, softened
  • 2 tbs grainy mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2 tbs minced parsley
  • Cava Rosé vinegar or other red wine vinegar

*Sapore’s Cava Rosé won me over instantly this summer. It is refined, offering the depth and complexity of a high-quality red wine vinegar, but far less bold, a perfect match for summer vegetables and to add just the right bright, bite to this compound butter. 

Directions:

  • Trim bases of Brussels sprouts, cut in half and remove any loose or discolored leaves.
  • Bring a 4 quart pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Blend together butter, bleu cheese, mustard, shallot and parsley using a spatula or food processor.
  • Blend in 1/2 tsp Cava Rosé vinegar, a few drops at a time. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar as needed.
  • Add Brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cook until just crisp-tender. The core should still be very firm.
  • Remove Brussels sprouts from water and toss with 3-4 tbs butter.
  • Roll remaining butter in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze.

Company’s coming.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

It’s Thanksgiving! Family and friends are about to descend for a dinner you have spent days, if not weeks, preparing for. Right about now then, is when it hits you like a quick punch to the gut: those guests are staying for three nights, and you haven’t planned any other meals.

Wednesday night you’ll order pizza, and a bag of bagels covers breakfast. There are turkey sandwiches for lunch on Friday, but what are you going to do that night for dinner?

Let’s face it, you’re exhausted. After getting a 23 pound turkey on the table with stuffing, mashed potatoes and 8 other side dishes – all ready at the same time, you might add – there is no way you are returning to the kitchen to cook another full diner for 10-15 people.

So, make a pot of soup! It actually does get better after a day or two, so you throw it together on Tuesday. With cold weather forecast all week, you can leave it out on the porch, saving plenty of room in the fridge for Thanksgiving dinner groceries. Best of all, it’s Moroccan, which will be a welcome break from the hearty American fare you’ll be eating until Thanksgiving leftovers finally run out.

Now sit back and enjoy a glass of wine. You’ve got a busy week ahead of you.

Moroccan Meatball Soup

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. ground pork*
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp hot Paprika
  • 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp each cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 bulb celery root, cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 large carrot, cut in a 1/4″ dice
  • 6-8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 pound spinach, chopped
  • Sherry vinegar

*If you are also celebrating Hanukkah this week, leave out the pork and increase your lamb and beef to 3/4 lb. each.

Instructions:

  • In a medium bowl, mix together lamb, pork and beef with egg, paprika and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. To check seasoning, fry a small meatball and taste.
  • Shape mixture into 1” meatballs.
  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil in a 6 quart soup pot placed over medium heat. Fry meatballs in batches until browned. Reserve on paper towels to drain fat.
  • Pour off all but 2 tbs fat from the pot and add onions. Cook 5 minutes until soft.
  • Blend spices with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir into onions and cook 1 minute.
  • Add remaining vegetables to the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add stock and cook until vegetables are fork tender.
  • Return meatballs to pot and cook 5 minutes until heated through.
  • Add spinach and cook until wilted. 2-3 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.

Tarting up cranberries.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

With all due respect to my Mom’s version of Gram’s stuffing, Auntie’s Rum Chiffon pie and Aunt Jane’s coffeecake, it was Aunt Ali’s cranberry mold that made Thanksgiving dinner exceptional.

The meal, shared at a table that eventually held more than 30 Forgiel aunts, uncles and cousins, along with Auntie and Gram, was certainly delicious. Gram’s stuffing was flavored with giblets and onion, the squash was fresh, the peas and pearl onions frozen, and the potatoes light, full of butter and cream. But even the best Thanksgiving meal can be brought down by a table whose celebration of cranberries extends no further than a can of jelly.

Aunt Ali, my godmother, chopped fresh cranberries, mixed them with earthy walnuts and suspended them in gelatin, set in a Bundt pan mold. The result was tart-sweet and fresh, a welcome break from the rich vegetables, starches and gravy-slathered turkey that crowded the other 95% of our heaped plates.

Every year I celebrate cranberries, sometimes cooked with port and orange zest, other years bright with baking spices, and last year with rich pork belly. This year, however, I was inspired by Renee Shields-Farr at Sapore Oil and Vinegar, who asked, “have you ever tasted a pink peppercorn?” I hadn’t.

Biting in, I first tasted a mix of pear and berries that was reminiscent of sugary breakfast cereal. Then came the peppery bite. So pears and berries it was. I added jelly, rather than pure sugar, to sweeten, and rosemary for balance and depth. It’s different, and it’s good.

As for the can of jelly, I’m sure it will still grace the table for Uncle John and my brother Alec. Thanksgiving, after all, is first and foremost a meal of family traditions.

Cranberry Pear Pink Peppercorn Compote

Makes about 2 cups compote

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz, about 3 cups cranberries
  • 2 large Bosc pears cut in a 1/2” dice
  • 1 cup tart jam like red currant or beach plum*
  • 1 cup apple or pear cider
  • 2 tbs chopped rosemary, separated
  • 1 tbs pink peppercorns, crushed
  • Lemon juice

*My favorite is Sapore’s Cranberry Port jam. If all you have at home is strawberry or raspberry, add a splash of port and a little extra lemon juice to balance the simple sweetness.

Directions:

  • Combine cranberries, pears, Cranberry Port jam and cider in a 2 quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Cook for 5 minutes until cranberry begin to pop and release liquid.
  • Stir 1 tbs rosemary and pink peppercorns into the saucepan of fruit. Leave uncovered and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes until thickened.
  • Stir in remaining tablespoon of chopped rosemary and season to taste with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
  • If the compote is tarter than you’d like, add 1-2 tbs sugar or honey.

I hate Brussels sprouts.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Every time I cook for an audience, someone leans over the table and whispers in my ear. “I hate Brussels sprouts,” they’ll say, or maybe it’s asparagus, fennel or squash. Then, conspiratorially, they share, “but I love what you just cooked.”

These are my proudest moments. Cooking vegetables crisp-tender, lightly salted with bright vinegar and rich butter, is like a music montage makeover, the equivalent of removing big glasses and drawing the bangs from their shining face.

However, faced with beet greens, I thought I was beaten. The purring I’d hear while rattling off ingredients for my weekly cooking demo – Asian pears, cauliflower and blue oyster mushrooms –  would end in a full glottal stop at the mention of beet greens, grins turning to grimaces.

I moved ahead, inspired. Tender, young, deep crimson Bull’s Blood beet greens were earthy-sweet, reminding me of my Mom’s braised red cabbage. Chopped apple and cider drew out sugars while cinnamon and fresh ginger added bright warmth.

The ultimate test was my friend Michael. Who, after three days of urging, finally, standing at my Eastern Market demo, took a bite. “They’re not bad,” he offered. Then he cleaned his plate.

PS I love Brussels sprouts. A lot.

Cider-braised beet greens

Serves 4-6

IMG_3579-1Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple, diced
  • 1 pound Bull’s Blood or other beet greens, cut in a chiffonade (ribbons)*
  • 2 tbs Autumn Apple or cider vinegar*
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbs diced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves

*Grab Bull’s Blood beet greens from Gardener’s Gourmet at Eastern Market – they’re the folks who always have beautiful greens out in fun, metal tubs. Autumn Apple vinegar, from Sapore, is indispensable in my Fall pantry.

Directions:

  • Heat butter and olive oil in a 3-4 quart saucepan over medium low heat. Sauté onion until soft, about 3 min.
  • Add apple, and sauté for 4 minutes.
  • Add beet greens, Autumn Apple vinegar, cider, cinnamon stick and ginger. Cover and cook until beet greens are tender but still firm, about 5 minutes.
  • Uncover and cook until liquid reduces, another 3-5 minutes. The greens will give up a lot of moisture as they wilt.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional vinegar as needed.

You’ve got time.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

What would you do with more time?

Do you have a stack of unread issues of the New Yorker, or trail maps to the 48 peaks over 4000 feet in the White Mountains? Though a cold blessing, many people working in DC and around the country, currently have some time to answer this question.

My answer is simple. I would cook. I would braise and bake, make stocks stews and sauces, I would preserve and tackle all those time consuming cooking feats that currently escape my hectic schedule. Recently, I decided to just go for it.

Enamored by the thought of  using the local harvest of Asian pears in a marinade, I decided to braise a bone-in pork loin roast. The sweet, earthy pears paired perfectly with salty, delicate Tamari soy. I ground in some of the bold, floral Szechuan peppercorns I had been playing with recently, along with bright, fresh ginger and sweet maple sugar. My first attempt, 12 hours in the marinade and 10 in the oven, produced tender pork lacking flavor, It tasted much better after a night in the fridge.

Already a two day recipe, I figured I had already crossed a line and headed right back in to the kitchen. On Monday, I patted the bone-in pork loin roast with a blend of salt, peppercorns and maple sugar for an overnight dry marinade. Tuesday morning, I added the liquid ingredients to infuse throughout through the day and night. Wednesday morning, I seared the pork and braised it in a 200 degree oven for 10 hours, then cooled it to room temperature so it could sit in the fridge overnight, taking on even more flavor.

Thursday, after returning home from work, I skimmed the fat from the surface of the marinade. Shredded the meat, tossing it in the thickened sauce and served it with an Asian pear slaw and bao bing, the thin Chinese pancakes served with mù xī pork.

The result? Four days of cooking, requiring less than two hours of work is worth every minute. The flavors are complex, sweet and grounded, everything you want from cool fall days that aren’t yet winter.
If your unwillingly at home from work, my thoughts are with you. May you find joy in the kitchen. Now is the time.

Asian Pear Slaw and Pulled Pork Pancakes

Ingredients:


For pork:IMG_3493-1

  • 4 tbs crushed Szechuan peppercorns or 2 tbs each crushed black and white peppercorns*
  • 1/4 cup maple or brown sugar
  • 2 tbs salt
  • 1 4-5# bone-in pork shoulder
  • 3 Asian Pears
  • 3/4 cups Tamari soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup Rice wine vinegar*
  • 4 tbs sesame oil*
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 tbs diced, fresh ginger
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil

For slaw:


  • 3 Asian pears
  • 2 tbs Tamari soy
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar*
  • 1 tsp sesame oil*
  • 
1/2 tsp maple or brown sugar
  • 1″ fresh ginger, grated

For pancakes:


  • 2 cups flour
  • 
1 cup boiling water
  • 
2 tbs sesame oil

*You know what makes this taste even better? The Lemongrass-infused rice wine vinegar and Wasabi Sesame oil from Sapore. I’m totally obsessed. The Wasabi Sesame oil is well worth an online order. Give them a call and they would be more than happy to ship you a bottle of Szechuan peppercorns too!

Serves 8

Directions:
Shredded pork:IMG_3514-1

  • Dry rub: Mix together Szechuan peppercorns, maple sugar and salt. Rub mixture into surface of pork roast and place in the fridge overnight.
  • Make the marinade: Puree Asian pears in a food processor. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, garlic and ginger and purée. Add pork shoulder to marinade, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Braise the roast: Pre-heat oven to 200. Remove pork from marinade, pat dry, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Warm oil in a dutch over medium-high heat. Sear pork on all sides.
  • Add marinade and bring to a boil.
  • Cover and place in oven and cook for 10-12 hours. Check every four hours to make sure you aren’t losing steam from your dutch oven. Add hot tap water to replace the liquid level as needed.
  • Rest the roast: Remove pork from oven, let cool and place in fridge for 4 hours or overnight.
  • Shred the pork and finish the sauce: Skim fat from surface and reheat pork on the stove. Remove pork and shred.
  • Strain the cooking liquid, reduce to a thick sauce and toss with pork.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Asian pear slaw:

  • Grate the Asian Pears the medium sized holes of a box grater.
  • Whisk together soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, honey and ginger.
  • Toss Asian pear with dressing and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. The pear will wilt over time, so dress it no more than 20 minutes before serving.

Mandarin Pancakes:

  • Add 3/4 cups boiling water to flour and stir together in one direction with a chop stick or spoon. Add additional water as needed for a slightly tacky dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes until smooth. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes to an hour.
  • Roll the dough into a 1/2″ thick “snake” and cut into 2″ pieces.
  • Roll two pieces of dough into separate 3″ circles. Brush the top of each with sesame oil, and place the oiled sides together.
  • Roll the pancakes out into 6-8″ circles.
  • Warm a skillet over low heat. Add pancakes to pan and cook until brown spots appear, about 2 minutes. Turn and finish cooking, about 1 minute longer. Remove from pan and separate pancakes. Sometimes it take a little work to get them started. Keep warm by covering with a towel.
  • Repeat with remaining dough.
  • Serve pancakes with shredded pork and Asian pear slaw.

Fine art fruit.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

The first cookbook I ever bought with my own money is titled The Fine Art of Garnishing. It came packaged with 5 small tools which enabled me to turn a radish into a rose, an apple into a bird, and, most importantly, carve a watermelon. For one summer cookout after another, I carved watermelons to serve fruit salad. Family photos reveal watermelons carefully crafted to resemble whales, Viking sailing ships, and baskets.

the fine art of garnishingWe’d scoop out the watermelons using a melon baller, and toss the fruit with cantaloupe, honeydew, peaches and berries. While I still love a good fruit salad, there are meals when I want my watermelon dressed a little more elegantly. The savory flavors of bright vinegar, bitter greens and sharp cheese balance delightfully with sugary fruits. They are the perfect companion to anything smoky and charred from the grill.

I suppose, if you’re going to use such sophisticated ingredients, you should probably present them more formally. May I suggest a watermelon?

Watermelon Gorgonzola Salad

Serves 6

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups watermelon cut in 1” cubes
  • 2 cups baby arugula, loosely packed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Cava Rosé, or other light, red wine vinegar*
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!
  • 1 cup chilled, crumbled gorgonzola cheese

*Cava Rosé is a wonderful summer introduction from our friends at Sapore. I paired it with Koroneiko, a light, grassy, Greek olive oil.

Directions:

  • Toss together watermelon and arugula in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together shallot, vinegar and honey.
  • Whisk olive oil into vinegar mixture to form a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Stir cheese crumbles into vinaigrette and taste with a cube of watermelon.
  • Season dressing to taste with additional salt, pepper, vinegar or oil and lightly dress watermelon and arugula.
  • If making this ahead, keep the watermelon separate. It will release water which will dilute your dressing and wilt the arugula.

Meat on a stick.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

When I was a kid, fondue was a special family night. Mom would plug in the electric pot full of vegetable oil on the dining room table, as we grabbed for whichever long, two-tined fork was tipped in our favorite color. We cooked cubes of top sirloin in the hot fat, then dipped them into the homemade Béarnaise and burgundy sauces that Mom set out in small bowls.

I know fondue pots are a lost fashion of the 1970’s, but I have so many fond memories; like the time my godmother, Aunt Ali, served cheese fondue, and I spent the rest of the night throwing up. (Totally not her fault. It was an 8 year-old’s stomach bug. And the fondue was delicious!)

Whether at the end of a fork , skewered with wood  for a party or metal for the grill, meat on a stick is one of those foods – like anything smothered in cheese or made with bacon – that leaves us clamoring for more. These kebabs, spicy with Tunisian Harissa – a paste of sun dried chills, sweet with brown sugar, rich with tomato paste and earthy with fresh thyme, are exotic but easy. Oh, and if your fork handles have colored tips, I’ll take the blue.

Top Sirloin Cherry Tomato Harissa Kebabs

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbs Harissa
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate Vinegar* or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large green peppers cut in 2” pieces
  • 1 1/2 pounds top sirloin steak cut in 2” cubes (about 2 steaks)

*Pomegranate vinegar is back at Sapore (and it’s delicious!).

 

Directions:

IMG_2249-1

Photography by Sam Armocido

  • Make marinade: Whisk together Harissa, brown sugar, tomato paste, red wine, Pomegranate Vinegar, cinnamon, thyme and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Mix together tomatoes, peppers and steak and toss to coat with marinade. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
  • If using wooden skewers, soak them for an hour before grilling.
  • Load skewers with beef, tomatoes, and peppers.
  • Prepare a hot grill and cook over direct heat for 2-3 minutes per side, about 8-10 minutes total for medium rare.
  • While grilling, place remaining marinade, and any extra tomatoes, in a small saucepan and cook at a high simmer until thickened.
  • Brush cooked kebabs with sauce and serve.