Balsamic Glazed Bacon Brussels Sprouts

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Wow, it has almost been half a year since I’ve posted! I have been meaning to get back into posting about my culinary adventures, but life can sometimes get away with you. In December, I was offered a promotion at work. I became a manager, which meant I had to learn how to train others, manager others, and find a way to do it without transforming into the quintessential horrible boss. It is so common to have a horrible boss that Hollywood even made a movie out of it. I wanted to find a way to help train and manage others, ensuring high quality work, while trying to build up those that I supervise. A few months later, I finally feel like I’ve got a grasp on it and have some free time in the evenings ago. While it would be awesome to food blog full-time and support myself financially with this, I have to be practical and make sure that I sustain the life that I have. I realize that we are not all destined to be internet famous (or famous in other ways). I am just content to produce a record of the food I love to cook and be able to share it with others who are interested. So after all this time, I’m going to post a relatively simple recipe, because I’ve had to prepare more simple dishes to accommodate a busy life.

Brussels sprouts were the underdog of the vegetable world that recently became head of the pack in recent years. Chefs have reinvented this misunderstood green, much to my delight. Growing up in an Asian household, we never ate Brussels sprouts. Instead, we would opt for its more mellow cousins-broccoli and gai lan (AKA Chinese broccoli). When I first began experimenting with these oddball veggies, I really couldn’t understand how to make them palatable. They have an intense bitterness that needs to be tamed. So lesson #1: never serve boiled or steamed Brussels sprouts. The bitterness will pucker your lips and turn you away. Instead, Brussels need a good blistering, a result that can only be achieved by combining oil and heat. You can choose to pan fry, deep fry, or roast in the oven. Either way, make sure to use LOTS, and I mean LOTS, of oil and/or butter when cooking these babies.

Friends of Brussels sprouts also include: bacon, vinegar, sugar, garlic, butter, onions. I love adding caramelized onions to my sprouts because they add a nice sweetness. I did not include these in this recipe for the sake of simplicity. Instead, Balsamic vinegar plays a key role in taming the beastly bitterness that resides inside of a Brussels sprout. Aged vinegar will be sweeter than the thinner non-aged versions. You don’t need anything fancy. I love the Trader Joe’s brand of aged balsamic vinegar for this recipe. In terms of bacon, you’ll want to avoid bacon that has a large amount of sugar in it as the high roasting temperatures will burn your bacon. As tempting as they sound, you’ll want to avoid the maple-glazed types of bacon for this recipe.

 

Cooking Tips

I prefer to use fresh Brussels sprouts instead of frozen as that will impact the flavor and texture of your dish.

Cut Brussels sprouts in half or ¼ pieces to increase the surface area that touches oil, which will create more delicious golden and charred surfaces. This will also reduce cooking time and allow any seasonings that you use to better absorb through the layers of leaves that comprise a sprout.

A general tip for roasting veggies in the oven: hotter is better. You want your oven at least at 400 degrees F. Oftentimes, I will actually turn on my broiler/burner on maximum heat to get a good roast on my veggies. At lower temperatures, your veggies will just steam, which defeats the purpose of a good oven treatment.

Although an oven will say that it is at 350 degrees F, there is no knowing its true temperature unless you stick a thermometer inside. It is important to know if your oven runs hot or cold, and where its hot spots are. That way, you can learn to adjust cooking time and rotate your food as needed to ensure even cooking.

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
4 slices bacon, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flake
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced sliced
2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Cut Brussels sprouts length-wise into 1/4 pieces (i.e., cut Brussels sprouts in half, and then in half again).

Cut bacon into ½ inch pieces.

Combine Brussels sprouts with oil, bacon, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake. Place onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Spray with additional oil as needed.

Roast Brussels sprouts for 30-35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes to allow even roasting.

When Brussels sprouts have become golden brown and bacon has become crisp, sprinkle minced garlic and splash vinegar evenly onto the sprouts.

Continue to roast for another 5 minutes or until the balsamic vinegar has begun to thicken and become a glaze.

Remove from oven, taste for seasoning, and enjoy!

Jenny Crack Corn

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Summer is in the air, and so is fresh, delicious corn on the cob! Corn has gotten a bad wrap lately due to the high fructose corn syrup industry and its contributions to the diabetes and obesity epidemics in the US. When not forced into unnaturally high concentrations of sugar content, corn is actually a delicious and nutritious food. I love grilling corn in the summer, but if I’m too lazy to start up the grill, I often like to sauté my fresh corn. Sautéing achieves a delicious caramelization and sweetness that, in my opinion, surpasses the flavors you can obtain through grilling.

I call this my crack corn because it has been a crowd pleaser at family gatherings and friends get-togethers. It can become seriously addictive. The combination of corn’s natural sweetness, salty bite, a bit of a kick from the pepper and red pepper flake, and the nuttiness achieved from the caramelization process in butter….this corn dish is one of my all-time favorites. I often serve this as a side for decadent steak dinners because the sweetness of the corn adds a pleasant contrast to the richness of the steak and its heavy friends of mashed potato and mac and cheese.

Cooking Tips

This dish is best when you use fresh corn on the cob. However, frozen corn would also do the trick. You might need to add a tablespoon of sugar halfway into the sautéing process to add some sweetness that is often lost in frozen corn.

I add garlic toward the end of cooking of this dish because if you add garlic too soon, it could burn before your corn has finished cooking. In general this is a good rule of thumb when you are doing sautés that do not include the addition of wines, broth, or any other kind of liquid. Stir-fries are an exception because the vegetables used often release liquid into the pan, which prevent garlic from burning during the cooking process.

If you want to infuse your dish with a specific herb or spice, make sure to sauté it in your cooking oil for a minute or two before adding other ingredients. In this dish, I did this with both red pepper flake and shallot, as well as garlic toward the end.

 

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
4 ears of fresh corn on the cob or 2 cups frozen corn
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 pinch red pepper flake
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
2 sprigs of scallion, finely chopped
Optional: splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese twist

 

Cut corn off of the cob.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add butter and olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add shallots and red pepper flake. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat or until softened.

Add corn and continue to sauté on medium heat for ~10 minutes or until corn becomes slightly golden brown. Stir frequently as it will stick.

Add garlic and scallions and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust seasoning to taste.

Optional: add a little splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese flavor.

Enjoy!

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Addictive sautéed mushrooms

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As fall begins to kiss the air with its crispness in southern California, I find myself craving earthy rich flavors, soups, stews, and overall more sumptuous hearty food. Tonight for dinner we are having some marinated beef ribs to change things up from our typical steak dinner on Fridays. Fridays have become date night, a small tradition we’ve started to dangle a carrot in front of us throughout the workweek. The daily grind often feels so repetitive and unending that we need to see that light at the end of the tunnel. On date nights, we sometimes choose to eat out, but there is an unparalleled satisfaction that comes from preparing food with your own hands and watching other people consume and enjoy it. Michael Pollen spoke about this on his documentary entitled “Cooked.” He described the primal instinct to hunt, gather, and interact with food on a very intimate level. Anyway, as the prepared meals for the week have been almost completely devoured, I was prompted to cook a nice home-made meal for our first date night of the fall season.

When I think steak, the usual suspects include creamed corn, creamed spinach, and some kind of mashed or baked potato dish. As I’ve described previously, we are still in the midst of making lifestyle changes to our diet, so that essentially negates most of the usual side dishes that come with a proper steak dinner. Thinking outside the box using fresh healthy vegetable-based ingredients, I was struck by the earthiness of beef and thought that mushrooms would be a lovely pairing. When treated properly, mushrooms are the meat of the ground. They bind onto our umami receptors and create a delightful sensation that can only be described as “yum.” Paired with some butter, aromatics, and a splash of white wine and you have a delicious side-dish that bursts with flavor and deserves a spot on your dinner table in its own right!

Cooking Tips
Browning of mushrooms requires a good amount of oil, changing the heat and patience. If you have a lot of mushrooms that will crowd the pan, all you need to do is add some more oil, let the mushrooms cook down and release their juices, and then turn up the fire to let those liquids evaporate and leave behind their concentrated umami goodness.

Controlling heat and flames is such an important part of cooking. Mastering control of temperature and heat will help you to sauté to perfection every time. I was taught to cook Chinese food first and foremost. For stir-fries, you want your pan to be literally smoking hot before you place your oil and food to be cooked. For all other sautéing, I do not allow my pan to smoke. I place my hand above the surface of the pan to check for temperature. If I can sense the heat and it makes it uncomfortable for my hand to remain there for more than a second, I know that the pan is ready. Another check is that your cooking oil should become shimmery and start to disperse (becoming looser) if your pan is hot enough. This is when you can place your meats, veggies, and other foods for browning or sautéing. For veggies or meats that require longer cooking time due to thickness or the type of protein that needs to be cooked down, it is imperative to lower your flame to either medium or medium-low to prevent burning. At times, it may be necessary to add a liquid (e.g., water, broth, wine) to de-glaze your pan and prevent food from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. This is also a great opportunity to imbue your food with delicious flavors.

Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
3 large king trumpet mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
splash dry white wine
2 sprigs of scallion
optional: splash of truffle oil or pinch of truffle salt

 

Thinly slice mushrooms, shallots, and scallion.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add mushrooms. Sauté for 5 minutes on high heat and place a lid on the skillet. Cooked covered for 5 minutes.

Uncover lid and continue cooking until mushroom juices evaporate. When almost all liquid is gone, lower fire to medium and allow mushrooms to sauté until browned, stirring occasionally.

When most mushroom pieces have become golden brown, add shallots and scallion stems. Turn fire lower to medium-low. Sauté until shallots are translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Then pour a splash of white wine into mushrooms. Turn fire to high to allow wine to evaporate, then back to medium once liquid has evaporated. Again, sauté to allow mushrooms to brown and caramelize. Add in scallion tips (the green tender parts) and the other tbsp of butter and sauté for another minute.

Taste for flavor and add additional pinches of salt, pepper, or even red pepper flake for additional flavor. If you are feeling fancy, go ahead and add some truffle salt. Sere and enjoy! If you are feeling even fancier, drizzle some truffle oil upon serving. Never heat up your truffle oil because that will destroy its delicate flavor.

 

 

Chickpea Quinoa Salad with Avocado

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My fiancée and I recently started working out at a fitness boot camp that provided a clean eating meal plan. As we were getting tired of open-faced turkey avocado sandwiches and salads without dressing, I thought I would venture out and try different ways to eat light and healthy, while incorporating lots of yummy and fiberful veggies and enough protein to keep us energized and strong throughout the day. So I thought quinoa and chickpeas would be the perfect power couple for the job. In my fight against the summer heat, I shield myself with lots of sunscreen and eat lots of cold dishes that are full of hydrating veggies. I hope that you enjoy this summer salad as part of your backyard BBQ spread or as part of a healthy eating routine!

Cooking tips:

My problem with clean and healthy eating is that it can be extreme and bland. I don’t enjoy foods that contain zero salt and zero fat. They are incredibly unsatisfying and leave me with almost irresistible cravings for fat, salt, AND sugar (salted caramel ice cream anyone?). So to trick my mind into eating healthier, I often have to disguise my healthful foods and dress them up so that they feel more gourmet and not like I’m eating “grass,” in the words of Paula Dean. The solution: lots of fresh herbs, spices, moderate amounts of salt, and even, dare I say, some sugar and fat! Asian cuisine uses a balance of these flavors and it seems to satisfy palates enough so that dessert is not needed on day-to-day basis. Fruit after a meal usually satisfies any lingering sweet tooth.

This recipes uses Persian cucumbers, which are especially crispy and delicious. One quick tip when making a cucumber dish is to remove the fleshy seeded part in the middle to prevent excess fluid from entering your dish. The crunchy outer flesh is the more enjoyable part of the cucumber in my opinion. So I usually just  remove the seeds and snack on the middle parts or use them as skin food for my face. =)

Recipe
Serves 10-12
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Marinade time: 2 hours-overnight

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
5 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp Goya Adobo all-purpose seasoning
pepper to taste
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Modena white vinegar
6 small avocados (add upon serving)

Directions

Add quinoa and water into a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat. Allow to cook for ~20 minutes until quinoa is translucent and its spirals begin to separate from the grain. Set aside to cool after it is done.

In the meantime, finely dice bell pepper, onion, shallot, and parsley and mix together.

When cutting cucumbers, slice in half length-wise and remove seedy flesh in the middle. Save seedy flesh for skincare or for separate snacking.

Mix chopped up vegetables with lime juice, vinegar, and Goya seasoning. When juicing the lime, try to get some of the oils from the skin out-it intensifies the lemon flavor.

Add garbanzo beans and cooled quinoa and mix well with diced vegetables. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Let it sit for at least 2 hours. For best results, let sit overnight.

Serve with fresh avocado. Do not pre-mix avocado into the salad as it will brown.