07 August 2012

The Return of the Inconsolable Brussels Sprout!

Remember this guy? The last time I saw him was five years ago when he quietly slipped off my windowsill and disappeared from my life.  ‘Twas tragic, but no more than the time I cheerfully chopped up his friends from the farmers market and braised them into a creamy, velvety, delicious mess.  I totally get why he was mad.  But jumping out of a third-story window? Seriously, dude, you didn’t have to be so melodramatic.

Thoughts of the self-pitying sprout had crossed my mind during the past six years, but I truly never thought I would ever again cast my eyes upon his sorrowful face. One evening, however, he came hopping up the back stairs, a transformed sprout. All smiles and hugs, seemingly eager to rekindle our friendship.

I offered to take him out for a beer so we could catch up. Apparently his first few years were a blur. Lots of drinking, lots of partying, anything to escape the memory of my face and my pointy knife.  Eventually, he came to terms with his place in the food chain.  Poor little sprout.  To realize that those who detest you are actually your allies, as those who love you are only planning to chew you up and use your life force to propel their own.

Well, it turns out the smiles and hugs were just a show. After a few hours at the bar, he was a blubbering mess. Completely out of control!

He ended up calling me some nasty names, stomping off on his shiny little feet and going home with some lady that I occasionally see around the Goose Island Brewpub.

I heard nothing from him until a few weeks later when his all-too-recognizable shrieks suddenly pierced the tranquility of my afternoon. What now!? I looked up from my book and uttered a shriek of my own (albeit a few octaves lower than his) when I saw this:

Aaaaaaaaah! Well, my daughter does love her brussels sprouts.
I rescued the trembling sprout from my daughter’s clenched hands and hurried him out of the room. Unfortunately, in my shock, I had forgotten about the kale and brussels sprouts salad that was unapologetically displayed on the kitchen counter. I tried to cover  the sprout’s eyes, but it was too late.  At the sight of his shredded kin, his teeny weeny shrieks turned into teeny weeny sobs, and he practically lost his trimmings all over himself.

Oh, the saddest sprout!  His misery was palpable. I could almost taste him it.

I left the room to attend to my daughter’s distress (hell hath no fury like a four-year-old denied her brussels sprouts), but when I came back, the little guy was nowhere to be found.
I checked the cutting board.
I checked the garbage disposal.
I even checked the vinegar jars (brussels sprout pickles, anyone?).
He was nowhere.

Then, a little giggle.
A few more.
I ran to the source of the titters, and was overjoyed to find that sad sprout had indeed accepted his fate, joining his kind in a delicious kale and brussels sprouts salad.

I served the salad to guests that evening, secretly smiling to my little buddy as people ate the salad and raved about it.
The End.

Wait, what’s that I said? Something about guests raving about kale and brussels sprouts? And did I mention that they were RAW?  Raw brussels sprouts? Shut up.  It’s true. This salad is a completely unexpected and magical experience. The garlicky, mustardy dressing melts into the kale and tenderizes the leaves with its acidity. The almonds add a toasty crunch, and the salty pecorino fuels one's addiction to the salad. I can't decide if the dried cherries (an adaption from a different kale salad) add bursts of sweet tartness or tart sweetness, but whatever they do, I am completely enamored with this dish. I just want to  roll around in it and eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it eat itand eat it eat it and eat it eat it.

Kale & Brussels Sprouts Salad
~ adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2011

Note: To save time, I sometimes skip the step of toasting the almonds (the olive oil goes straight into the dressing instead of the skillet). But the toasted almonds sure are nice. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything about skipping that step.
Another note: The salad can be dressed ahead of time. The dressing actually marinates the kale leaves, making the salad better the second day. 
OK, one more note: Once, I added a touch of honey and red wine vinegar. It was delicious. 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cherries or cranberries (this is my addition; I like it)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino (I also use Parmesan)

Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. 
Cut the center stem out of the kale leaves and discard. Thinly slice them. (A food processor makes quick work of this. I highly recommend using one.).
Trim brussels sprouts and thinly shred them with a knife or a food processor.
Mix sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

01 August 2012

Rhubarb Beer Jam

A Haiku About Beer in the Morning:

a lovely home brew
wait - it’s only six a.m.
cook it into jam and eat it for breakfast

Wait, what? That is not a haiku. 
Do you care? I don’t. What I do care about is the massive amount of rhubarb in my freezer, the extremely diminished space in my freezer for non-rhubarb items, and this gleaming growler of wheat beer that my buddy Dan brewed, and the fact that it is only six o'clock in the morning.
A refreshing home brew.  In a metal measuring cup.
Some of that brew will go straight into my mouth via a beer glass. And I will enjoy it immensely. But I will probably need to wait until at least noon. But I don’t want to. But I should. And I will. Because if I don’t, that would be weird. So instead, the tasty beverage will be combined with a few pounds of my sequestered rhubarb and simmered down into rhubarb beer jam, which no one thinks is weird…

Rhubarb beer jam was the first recipe that captured my attention in Paul Virant’s new book ‘The Preservation Kitchen.’

This book!  
Of all the specifically organized clusters of molecules that take up space in this universe, I believe this book might be one of the most beautiful. There is a slight chance that I slept with my arms wrapped around it on the first night I brought it home. Or maybe it was a bundle of rhubarb I was cuddling with…I can’t remember. My husband was definitely spooning the growler. Anyway, this book is gorgeous.  I can’t stop licking it looking at it.  

hello, canning book
i would like to lick you, k?
be cool, botulism.
Aw dang! When am I going to be smart enough to write a proper haiku? Well, lucky for you (but mostly lucky for me), I promise to spend less time honing my haiku-writing skills, and more time making tasty jams.
beautiful rhubarb, love of my life
This jam does not disappoint. On the first taste, the fruit announces itself in a burst of flavor.  But wait - push it to the sides of your mouth a bit, and you’ll quickly notice the yeasty tang of the wheat beer. There you go. Beer in the morning.
This is not just jam for the morningtime, however!  It will boost fancy cocktails, glaze your meats, and shine on a cheese plate.
Rhubarb Beer Jam (lower right), shining on a cheese plate.
Says Michelin-star chef Paul Virant: “This jam takes advantage of the two things that the Midwest has in abundance: beer and rhubarb. Pair a locally made wheat beer with rhubarb, which grows like a weed in some parts, and we have one heck of a regional jam.”
Well, Chef Virant, you will be pleased to know that I kicked that Midwestern party-in-my-mouth up a notch. I stirred some rhubarb beer jam into some stone-ground mustard and slathered it on a Paulina Meat's veal brat that was boiled in a local Chicago ale.  Then I fed it to that husband, who was also locally made here in the Midwest. I did not write a haiku about the experience, however, because that would have significantly diminished the Midwestern authenticity of that whoopensocker of a meal.

Rhubarb-Beer Jam
~ from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy
Makes 7 half-pints.
3 pounds rhubarb, diced (about 9 cups)
3 cups wheat beer
1 ½ cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon

1. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.
2. Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (save the rhubarb for later). Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reaches 215°, about 12 minutes. Return the rhubarb to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the jam lightly coats the back of a spoon and its temperature has returned to 215°, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize seven ½-pint jars. Once the jam is finished, use tongs to remove the jars from the pot and set upside down on a kitchen towel to drain. Turn off the heat and soak the lids and bands in the hot water. Turn the jars upright and pour the jam through a funnel to fill each jar with jam up to ½ inch from the rim. Wipe the rims clean with a kitchen towel and seal with the lids. Screw on the bands until snug.
4. Place a canning rack into the pot of hot water and return to a boil. Use tongs to lower the jam-filled jars into the pot, making sure there is enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Boil the jars for 10 minutes and turn off the heat. Leave the jars in the hot water for 5 minutes, then use tongs to remove them. Cool completely before storing in a cool, dark, dry place.