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 from 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 now. 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.

 

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!

Beef and Basil Stir Fry

IMG_1017Growing up in southern California, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a variety of cuisines easily available to me. After visiting Thailand a few years ago and tasting the local cuisine, I realized that immigrants in America are doing a wonderful job retaining the authenticity of their native cuisine. There were a few specialty dishes that I had never even heard of, but the stir fries, noodles, and rice dishes were very comparable between the U.S. and Thailand. I even took a cooking class with my husband, friend, and her boyfriend. We were dropped off in the middle of a rice field, with no buildings in site except for one shack with no walls. I realized that this design was on purpose because it allowed copious airflow into the cooking area and all one could see was green all around. It was breathtaking and stark at the same time. We made tom yum soup, pad Thai, cashew nut chicken, and mangoes with sticky rice in humongous woks, which lit on fire when swerved the right way. This was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and would highly recommend folks to take a cooking class like this in Thailand.

Thai food is really tricky to make at home because of its delicate balance of flavors. Many dishes have elements of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy. Garlic, basil, lemongrass, bird chiles, and galangal, are the primary aromatics used. Having all flavors in perfect balance is the culinary goal. Thai stir fries are extra yummy in my opinion because the veggies are barely cooked, retaining a nice crunch and bite to them. This is true even for Thai curries. It’s a great reminder of the freshness of the ingredients being used. One of my favorite dishes in Thailand was a chicken curry noodle soup that hailed from the north. I will never forget the aromatic and slightly spicy broth, delicately kissed with sweetness from fresh coconut milk and palm sugar. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recreate this dish. That will have to wait for another post.

Stir fries are my go-to for meal prep throughout the week. They are quick and relatively easy to execute. Stir-frying can also be a very healthy technique of preparing food, assuming one does not use an excessive amount of oil. Using a huge ladle of oil for a stir fry is actually considered the authentic method. You’ll find that most of my recipes will find a way around this, as using excessive fat is unhealthy.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.

In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.

Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch basil

Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.

Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic and red jalapeno. Stir fry for 30 seconds-1 minutes to soften garlic and jalapeno. Then add bell pepper and onions. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with oyster sauce or additional soy sauce. Add in basil and stir fry until basil has just softened.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!