5-A-Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It seems to me that many winter vegetables get a bum rap. They’re hearty enough to withstand the cool to cold weather so they’re either thick-skinned, thick-leafed, or buried deep in the ground. This means they often require a bit more preparation to clean, peel and cook, but the pay-off is worth the extra effort.

We love winter greens, squashes and root vegetables as much as their more highly-touted spring and summer cousins. And among the best in season now are Brussels sprouts. At this time of year they are especially sweet, whether cooked or raw. And if you are lucky enough to live near the California Monterey Coast, where you can buy whole stalks directly from the growers, or near a Trader Joe’s, where you can buy really fresh sprouts still on their stalks for only $3.49, then you are in for the best treat of all: Roasted Brussels Sprouts on the stalk!

OK, so the roasting-on-the-stalk bit might be a little over-the-top, but wouldn’t this be a great way to serve them for a dinner party or buffet table. (Many thanks to the Trader Joe’s associate who shared the idea of roasting on the stalk.) It’s quite a dramatic presentation, and each guest can cut away the sprouts directly from the stalk. But even if you remove the sprouts prior to roasting, the concentrated sweetness and tender bite of roasted Brussels sprouts will win over even the most ardent cruciferous-veggie-hater.

Whereas 2 years ago we discovered the delight of roasted Kale Crisps, this year we’ll be converting friends to these sprouts. The best part for the cook is that they are unbelievably easy to do: toss in oil, lay on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in 350F/180C oven for 20-35 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. I like to leave the sprouts whole, even when they’re not on the stalk, but if you elect to cut them in half, you can roast them even more quickly.

If roasting on the stalk, remember to give them a good dunk in vinegar-water solution (2 TBL vinegar for every quart/liter of water), then a rinse in clean running water and let them dry completely before roasting. I use a slightly lower oven temperature when roasting the whole stalk so the leaves don’t burn before the centers cook, about 325F/170C. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast for 40-60 minutes, rotating the stalk and turning the pan around at intervals during roasting to ensure individual sprout heads don’t burn. Unlike the Kale Crisps, these sprouts should not be crunchy!

Why bother with Brussels sprouts, you ask? Because they, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in fiber and powerhouses in terms of beneficial nutrients. In study after study, cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and different types of cancer, including colon, lung, prostate, breast cancers. WebMD calls cruciferous vegetables the “Super Veggies.”(a) We’ll call them the “Super Crus.” And the top 3 Super Veggies? Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli — the Über-Super Crus! This is food as medicine at its best!

So if eating healthy or trying new foods is on your new year’s resolution this year, put some or all the “Super Crus” on your must-try list — most are greens, some are root vegetables, a few (wasabi and mustard seeds) are seasoning agents: Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, mustard greens and seeds, horseradish, collard greens, broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, mizuna, napa cabbage, turnip root & greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, arugula, watercress, red radish, daikon, wasabi.(b)

Now, if you’ve read through that list and are thinking to yourself, “Ick” or if memories of sour, grey-looking vegetables filled your mind’s eye and nostrils, I hear you. I really do. Often the vegetables on this list are over-cooked, and by that I mean, boiled to death. When over-cooked, they can emit a strong odor — sulphurous and heady, and pretty unpleasant all around. The odors come from the very same nutrients and phytochemicals that provide all the health-protecting properties for which the Super Crus are so touted.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Roasting, gentle steaming, pan-frying, flash-cooking are all methods that generally keep the vegetables delicious smelling and tasting. So please don’t give up on Brussels sprouts or any of the Super Crus just yet. Give this or any one of the recipes below a try. And if some of these vegetables are just plain unknown to you (Choi Who?), these recipes will also provide quick, easy and tasty introductions to some of the more tender Asian greens in the family Brassicaceae.

If you enjoy South Asian flavors and really want to give Brussels sprouts a go, also tryBrussels Sprouts with Coconut & Mustard Seed (2 Super Crus for the price of one, photo above).

More posts featuring cruciferous veggies:
Kale Crisps
Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries
Greek Plasto (Greens with Cornbread Crust), the slow-cooker version and the original
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Indian-spiced Daikon, Carrot & Cauliflower Pickle (another two-fer)
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
Roasted Belgian Endive
Purple & Squeak (Red Cabbage & Okinawan Sweet Potatoes — it’s very purple)
Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad (with or without the fish)
Greens & Cheese Pie
Flash-Cooked Watercress
Garlic Braised Chinese Mustard Greens
Aloo Gobi (Potatoes & Cauliflower)
Namasu (Daikon, Cucumber and Wakame Salad)
Sauerkraut Soup

(a) WebMD.com, “The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables,” by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
(b) wikipedia.com, “Taxonomy of Common Cruciferous Vegetables

BMB (Bake More Bread): Oatmeal Loaf

One lucky side effect of my new year’s resolution to bake bread at home may be that it will also help me stay in better shape, too. That’s some workout — kneading dough by hand, or is that just that I’m in such BAD shape now that I’m getting winded by 15 minutes of hand kneading a one pound lump of dough….hmmmm, will think on that some more.

So, the actual resolution was to bake bread twice a month. The Anadama loaves have been completely dispatched, so as I prepared my weekly shopping list yesterday I started to put sandwich bread on the list and then thought, But why? Why not just bake one? Why not, indeed. This loaf will fill January’s quota for bread-baking, but Loaf #3 is already proofing, and the sourdough starter is on Day Five of its journey to becoming a fully blossomed baking leavener, so you know something has to be made with that the day after tomorrow. And we’re still in the first week of the year!

I still don’t have any bread flour (put THAT on the shopping list) so last night I started a dough for Oatmeal Bread using the last of our all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour the recipe specified. And speaking of sourdough starter, as you probably know sourdough is a living thing that has to be fed. And during its infancy it has to be fed and “changed” (excess fermented dough removed) daily. Instead of throwing out the 120g of fermented dough I removed from the sourdough yesterday, I added that to the Oatmeal Bread dough for good measure (in addition to yeast, not to substitute for it). Again, the dough did a slow rise overnight in a fridge-temperature environment (read: the unheated, uninsulated three-seasons room), and I proofed and baked in the morning. Unfortunately, too late for T. to try a slice before he had to catch his train (Sorry, Honey…).

With the substitutions I had made (especially the flour substitution), the final dough was quite stiff even after 4 minutes on the dough hook and 15 minutes of kneading by hand. I probably could have added back all the liquid I took out to compensate for the runny sourdough cast-off (and then some). After baking, we got a nice firm, dense loaf with a thick dark crust. The texture and color of the crust might be a function of the pan I use, which is a stoneware loaf pan. I ate the first slice with nothing more than a few slices of avocado dusted with sea salt and a few twists of black pepper. Scrumptious breakfast! It does have a noticeable tang which I attribute to the sourdough bit.

The bread is much denser than we prefer for a sandwich bread, but it would be perfect to accompany a soup or stew, or in thick slabs as toast, which is how we will probably finish this off. With gobs of unsalted butter and raspberry jam. Or almond butter. Or spinach dip. Or French toast?….

Hope you’re all baking bread out there, too. The Bake More Bread (BMB) posts will all be in the Breadbasket section of the recipe files (woo hoo, we’re up to 3 breads now!)… Next bread up: Coriander-spiked Banana Braid

(Heavily adapted from the King Arthur Flour recipe)
Makes one 1-lb. loaf

1¼ tsp or 1 packet active dry yeast
10oz (296ml) milk, just warm to the touch
12¾oz (362g) all-purpose flour
3½oz (100g) rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
1½ tsp salt
1oz (28g) unsalted butter
3 TBL (38g) raw sugar
** I used 9 oz of milk and 120g sourdough starter cast-off only because it was there, but if I dare to use cast-off starter again I would keep the full amount of 10oz milk next time

Sprinkle yeast over milk and stir to dissolve.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, oats and salt and stir well to mix. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add butter and sugar, then pour in yeast mixture.

Attach dough hook to mixer, and start on lowest setting to incorporate flour. When threat of flying flour has passed, increase speed to medium high or high, and allow to knead until dough starts to smooth out.

Turn out onto floured table and knead for 10-15 minutes or until dough is elastic and smooth. Bring ends of dough to center to form a ball. Lightly oil a deep bowl and place dough in center. Cover bowl with lightly oiled plastic film and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size. Alternatively, if you want fresh baked bread for breakfast, place bowl in fridge for slower rise, and allow to come back to room temperature in the morning after punching down.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

When bread has doubled, punch down then let rest about 15 minutes under a damp cloth or the oiled plastic film. Roll dough into a log and bring ends of log to center and place in loaf pan. Cover pan with oiled plastic film and allow to proof until a firm press on the dough’s surface does not spring back quickly, about 30-45 minutes depending on your room temperature. The recipe directions said to watch for the dough to rise 1″ above the pan rim, but this dough passed the “touch test” before it was 1″ over the rim so I put it in the oven when it passed the touch test. I did not want to “over-proof” the dough which simply means the dough has lost its rising power and will collapse when exposed to heat.

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with rolled oats — it looks pretty.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow, or (and this was new to me) until an instant read thermometer registers 190F. I tried this with my analog instant read thermometer, but it’s not very reliable so I still went with the tried-and-true bottom-thumping method to gauge when to remove the loaf. Cool loaf on rack before slicing. (I can never wait that long, but maybe you’re more patient!)

New Year’s Resolution: Bake More Bread – Anadama Bread

You wouldn’t know it by the scant number of entries under “Breadbasket” in the recipe index on this site (a grand total of 1 before today), but I do love homemade bread. Adore it, in fact. Just don’t get around to making it very often. A sad testament to this fact: when I started this loaf yesterday afternoon, I realized half way through making the dough that the yeast I had in the fridge was past its ‘Use By’ date. By 7 months. Had to make a mad dash to the market in the middle of a recipe. Hate that. But it was worth it in the end, as this morning the kitchen is filled with the aroma of molasses and yeast, and what could be better than that?! Only the ham sandwich I’m now munching on as I edit photos and type. *nom, nom, nom….*

This resolve to bake more bread dovetails nicely with the glut of whey I anticipate having as a result of swearing off store-bought fresh curds such as cottage cheese and ricotta and making my own. Two days ago I made my first fresh cheese and after researching uses for liquid whey on the InterWebs, decided bread-making would definitely be one of the primary uses for the whey we will have after cheese-making. From that first effort, we ended up with 500 ml or about a half-quart of liquid whey. I haven’t tried this, but saw on several baking forums that liquid whey can be frozen to be used for baking later.

As Serious Eats and Kenji Lopez-Alt was my inspiration for making fresh cheese, Sue at Know Whey is my inspiration for including bread baking one of my resolutions for this year. Sue is a cheese maker and bread baker living in Vermont, and she promotes both avocations beautifully on her site. I was completely entranced by her photos of her Anadama bread which is usually baked in a loaf pan. But Sue freed her loaves from the tin and baked them as batards — a French loaf style that is more elliptical in shape than its cousin the baguette. I wanted my bread to look like that too! I had to adapt Sue’s recipe to work without a sourdough starter, but kept the loaf shape.

Reading through many other recipes for Anadama — which usually include cornmeal and molasses, I was reminded of two things: Indian pudding and the canned brown bread that I remember eating with Boston baked beans — both also have that delicious molasses smell and a smidge of cornmeal. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that Anadama and brown bread are somehow related or one was adapted from the other. Anyway, I think Anadama would also make a perfect accompaniment to New England style baked beans — the savory molasses flavor in the bread mirrors the sweeter molasses in the baked beans.

The 2 loaves I ended up with were only 12″ or so long (so, mini batards), and I definitely need a better slashing tool to get deeper slashes on my bread. But the texture of the bread was wonderful — close crumb, moist and chewy. And the aroma of molasses belies the fact that the bread is not at all sweet. I was surprised that it is actually a bit tangy — I’m attributing this to the substitution of whey for water since I did not use a sourdough starter this time (’cause mine’s not ready yet). The first rise on this dough took a very long while. I can only guess that the cool house (we keep it around 68F deg. in winter) contributed to this, but long slow rises are supposed to help develop both flavor and texture so I didn’t want to do anything to speed up the rising time. In fact, since it did take much longer than I anticipated and I was getting sleepy, we ended up putting the dough in an even colder place to further retard the rise so that I could wait to bake it the next morning, which is today. So after a few hurry-up-and-take-the-shot-cuz-I-want-to-eat-warm-bread photos, I scarfed the first end piece with gobs of unsalted butter, then set about building a sandwich with guava-glazed ham left from Christmas morning. I’m so happy, I had to share right away…

Sue is also a sourdough advocate, and offers a primer on making and feeding sourdough starters. I’ve tried making sourdough starters before without great success, but I’m willing to give it another go, and began a starter yesterday, too. More on that to follow…

Thank you, Sue, for the lovely inspiration in the new year.

UPDATE 01/17/2011: And to really get back into the swing of things, we’re sending this molasses cornmeal bread out to Heather, aka Dar, at Girlichef, this month’s host for the long-running bread-baker’s event, Bread-Baking Day, created by our dear Zorra of 1x Umrühren Bitte. The theme for this month’s event — the 36th in the series! — is Corn-y Breads.. The deadline for submitting your bread-baking efforts to this event (remember, it has to feature corn in some form) is February 1st, so get baking and let’s fill up Heather’s breadbasket!! Can’t wait to see this round-up for more inspiration to help me keep my new year’s resolution.

What is your resolution for 2011? Hope it involves family and the kitchen! Happy Baking, Everyone!

(Adapted from Anadama Batards on Know Whey)
Makes 2 12″ loaves

3/4 cup (177ml) liquid whey (or water)
1/2 cup (85g) yellow corn meal, plus extra for baking sheet
3 TBL (44g) unsalted butter
2 tsp (10g) sea salt
1/4 cup (60ml or 88g) unsulphured (aka blackstrap) molasses
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast (2 packets)
3/4 cup (177ml) liquid whey
2 cups (200g) (divided) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1½ cup (195g) whole wheat flour

Attach dough hook to stand mixer.

Put liquid whey in glass container and heat for 1-½ minutes on HIGH in microwave to bring to simmer. Combine liquid whey and corn meal in the bottom of mixer bowl, and stir together well with a spatula or wood spoon. Will be a thick paste. Immediately add butter, salt and molasses and stir again in to combine.

Attach bowl to mixer. Add second measure of liquid whey and first cup of all-purpose flour. Stir together with dough hook until flour is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes on the dough hook. Add yeast, all whole wheat flour, and about ½ cup of remaining all-purpose flour and mix together about 4 minutes at medium speed until the dough is elastic. I had to pause and scrape down the sides at least twice to incorporate all the flour. If the dough appears very sticky (does not begin to pull away from the sides), add the last ½ cup all-purpose flour and more if needed — enough to make a firm dough. Continue mixing with dough hook until flour is well-incorporated, about 3-4 minutes.

Turn dough out on to well-floured board or table. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes.

Prepare large glass bowl by wiping with a well-oiled paper towel. Oil large square of plastic film (to cover bowl while dough rises).

Bring kneaded dough into a ball by bringing all ends to the middle underneath the dough until a smooth ball forms. Toss the dough ball gently in the oiled bowl to cover dough with light film of oil. Cover bowl with plastic film and set aside to rise until doubled in size.

Rise should normally take 90 minutes to a couple of hours, but mine had not quite doubled after 4 hours and I was ready for bed, so I put in an unheated room that was registering about 42F degrees. [When I woke up (6 ½ hour later), I punched down the dough (keep the film) and gently kneaded it on the table again 5-6 times, then let it rest for 10 minutes under a damp cloth.]

While the dough is resting, sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and prepare an egg wash: beat an egg and remove a tablespoon into a small bowl — keep the remaining egg for breakfast. Add a teaspoon of water to the tablespoonful of egg and beat well.

After its power nap, cut the dough in two with a dough scraper, then shape them into elliptical loaves. Place loaves on baking sheet, sprinkle with corn meal from at least 12” above the dough (this will help evenly distribute the corn meal into a fine dusting). Cover with film and let rest until the dough is fully risen. Test by gently but firmly pressing the top of the loaf — if the indentation remains, it is ready to bake; if it springs back, it needs more time. It took almost an hour before my loaves were ready to bake, but start checking after 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C after 30 minutes of proofing. Place rack in middle of oven.

Brush loaves with egg wash, then slash about ½” deep with extra sharp razor. (Note to self: look for extra-sharp razor — I “slashed” with a regular chef’s knife that was not nearly as sharp as it needed to be and sort of pulled the dough as it cut. My slashes were also rather timid, about 1/4” deep.) Sprinkle with more corn meal and flour, if desired.

Place loaves on rack and bake 15 minutes.

Turn oven down to 375F/190C. Turn baking sheet around. Bake another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Test: lift loaf with oven mitts or kitchen towel, and turn over. Knock on bottom of loaf and listen for dull, hollow thump that signals bread is done. My loaves were ready after 17 minutes. Cool on rack.

I couldn’t wait until the loaves cooled completely and started slicing while the first loaf was still warm, which is why the bread did not slice cleanly. But the pay-off of eating warm bread with butter was so-o worth the ruined photo…

Bread was absolutely divine with just unsalted butter. But here’s my ham sandwich flanked with Trader Joe’s New Zealand grass-fed cheddar and bread ‘n’ butter pickles homemade by my neighbor, Barb. Also known as this morning’s breakfast — the sandwich, not the neighbor….

For more in the “Bake More Bread” series — my resolution to bake more bread at home this year — check our theBreadbasket archive, including a lovely Banana Yeast Braid.

Whey Cool: Lasagne with Homemade Cheese

There’s nothing more fun than learning something new and then just doing it! So as 2010 draws to a close, I finally challenged myself to do something I had only lusted after until now. Yes, I made fresh cheese at home. It all started with a craving for lasagne (so many good things do…) but we didn’t have any ricotta or even cottage cheese to make a filling. What we did have: almost a half gallon of organic milk. OK, on to the InterWebs we went….

The ingredients for making fresh cheese are remarkably few: milk, salt, and some kind of acid, usually vinegar or lemon. There are many recipes out there for making paneer or ricotta cheese at home and many declare that they are easy to do. Then I came upon what was truly the easiest recipe of all… no thermometers necessary, no threats of pots boiling over, and best of all, no messy milk-scorched pots to clean afterwards. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, you’re my hero! Mr. Lopez-Alt, an editor and master food deconstructionist at Serious Eats, writes at length and in engaging detail on Serious Eats’ Food Lab about the making of whole milk ricotta cheese at home: the different types of acids that are commonly used (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon) and how each affects both the texture of the final product and the flavor, the temperature to which the milk must be brought, and draining times. His final conclusion, though, is that fresh cheese is best made in a microwave, not the stove top! Love it! Suddenly, cheese-making is a much less daunting task, and so at 5:15 yesterday morning, I started to make ricotta-style cheese in my own kitchen.

I tripled the whole-milk ricotta recipe on the Food Lab site (BTW the recipe link is separate from the article link) to use the full amount of milk we had — to make certain I had enough for my lasagne (let’s not forget, this is why the quest began, right?). As promised, the methodology Mr. Lopez-Alt describes was incredibly straight-forward and easy. If I can do this, Folks, any one of you can too!

The set-up: milk in a non-metal bowl,
colander set in bowl, and lined
with 2 layers of food-safe paper towels,
sea salt, white vinegar

After 5 minutes in the microwave on High (right), you can just start to see chemistry in action. Pretty cool, right?
After tripling the time in the Food Lab recipe as well, the curds and whey have fully separated.

Drain mixture in colander.
Draining time will depend on
what you plan to do with the cheese
(see Food Lab article).

Voila! Real Cheese!
The final product, after 35 minutes of draining.
I started with 6 cups of whole milk and ended up with almost 1-1/2 cups of cheese.
The whole thing, from set-up to the end of draining was about an hour,
but your time will be less if you want a softer cheese.
As someone who had only tried commercial ricottas, the flavor of this cheese was a revelation to me: sweet and clean, no aftertaste or bitterness. It was firm (the long draining time) but tender to the bite, and smooth — not at all grainy or coarse. I would have happily eaten the whole thing just as it was, if that lasagne wasn’t still calling…

Even though lasagne was the driving force behind this project, this post isn’t about the pasta… It’s to encourage everyone to make this cheese for themselves early in the New Year! Were not big milk-drinkers but we’ll be buying our milk by the gallon from now on so we have plenty on hand to make this tasty treat again. Think of the possibilities: blintzes, crepes, stuffed shells, and of course, just plain eating out-of-spoon… or bowl… Yummmmm…. And yes, it did make a darn fine lasagne, even with a bottled sauce.

We’re left with about a half-quart of liquid (whey), which seems a waste to throw out, so I’m looking now for ways to use that too. Stay tuned to this bat channel in 2011….

Until then, Happy New Year, Everyone!