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Why you should actually eat your Brussels sprouts

My mother always encouraged me to eat my Brussels sprouts. As an incentive, she would boil the little cabbage heads to within an inch of their soggy lives, slather them with cheap oleo margarine and liberally salt and pepper them.

More often than not, they would simply sit on my plate, usually next to a puddle of mashed potatoes, staring up at me and daring me to choke them down. Eventually, Brussels sprouts were removed from the family menu.

In hindsight, I know now that my mother’s error was not in her intent, but in her execution. The advent of new, more appealing recipes and my own increased health awareness have led me to better appreciate just what well-prepared sprouts can deliver from both culinary and nutritional perspectives.

Along with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts are now a Thanksgiving Day side dish mainstay at our house, and I can’t wait for this year’s feast to show my appreciation to one of the vegetable kingdom’s most nutritional offerings.

Brussels sprouts are a cabbage, of the same species as cultivars like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and traditional cabbage — and, indeed, they grow in Belgium and the other European low countries. In North America, they are cultivated everywhere from Canada’s Ontario province to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, although the majority come from the state of California.

Nutritional research has shown Brussels sprouts to be an excellent source of vitamins C and K, the latter of which improves blood clotting, as well as more moderate amounts of B vitamins and minerals. When steamed, Brussels sprouts can more effectively bind together bile acids in the digestive tract, which can help lower cholesterol. The vegetable’s high levels of glucosinolate also offer some level of protection against cancer.

When done right, there is nothing about Brussels sprouts not to like — and their cruciferous characteristics match or surpass the health benefits of broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. If you are still struggling with the little green cabbages, here are some recipes that can help put the joy back in your side dishes. Each has its own unique flavor profile to augment whatever you may be serving this holiday season.

Bacon Brussels Sprouts

1½ lb. Brussels spouts trimmed. (small sprouts remain whole, large sprouts are halved)

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

1 cup chicken broth

1 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown bacon in medium skillet over medium-high heat, then remove and pat clean with paper towel. Clean the pan and add the olive oil. Stir in shallots and sauté 1 to 2 minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts to oil, season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until sprouts begin to soften. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until sprouts are tender, then transfer to a serving dish and top with bacon crumbles.

Brussels Sprout Hash

4 tbsp. butter

¾ lb. shallots, sliced

3 tbsp. cider vinegar

2 tbsp. sugar

Course kosher salt

Ground black pepper

2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed

4 tbsp. olive oil

1½ cup water

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add shallots and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stirring occasionally, sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add cider vinegar and sugar, then continue sautéing for about 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Clean and trim Brussels sprouts. Cut each sprout in half through stem. Slice each half into 1/8-inch strips.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes or until sprouts begin to brown.  Add water and continue cooking over medium heat for another 3 minutes. Add reserved shallots, toss until all ingredients are hot, then serve.

Maple Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnut Garnish

1½ lb. Brussels sprouts

2 tbsp. maple syrup

½ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

¼ cup olive oil

¾ tsp. sea salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

Trim Brussels sprouts, removing any loose or discolored leaves. In a large bowl, toss the sprouts together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the coated sprouts in a baking pan to roast in an oven preheated to 375 degrees.

Roast for 15 minutes, stirring with a spoon to even out the caramelizing of the sprouts. After 30 minutes, stir in the maple syrup. Roast the sprouts for another 15 minutes or until they are fork tender, for a total roasting time of about 45 minutes.

Add the toasted walnuts to the sprouts, toss and serve.

A simple Cuban marinade can add big punch to oven fries

Most of the foods we eat — even among those of us for whom eating is a career — pass our lips and leave not even a fleeting memory. But then there are those that linger not just on our tongues, but in our minds. 

Over the years, a handful of such foods have entered my life. My great grandmother’s rustic pork paté. My mother’s spanakopita. The sunflower seed risotto I ate at a small restaurant in Copenhagen last spring. The sinfully rich liverwurst spread thickly on sourdough that was my afterschool snack when I lived in Germany as a child.

And there is mojo sauce. The first time I tasted it was during Hurricane Katrina, which had forced an extended stay in Key West. We ate dinner at a dive where the meal itself was forgettable. But plopped onto the table was a basket of fried plantain chips and a bowl of mojo sauce for dipping: orange and slightly chunky and flecked with green.

I had no idea what it was, but as soon as I tried it I couldn’t stop eating it. It was sweet and sour and tangy and refreshing with just a tiny hint of heat. It was similar to a salsa, but so much more refreshing. The waitress explained that it was a Cuban-style mojo, and that there are numerous mojo sauces from different parts of the world.

Cuban mojo generally consists of minced garlic, onion and parsley that are mixed with sour orange juice, lime juice, olive oil and a hit of cumin. Traditionally, it is used to marinate pork or for dipping chips, such as plantains.

I wrote down the list of ingredients, but never made it. Until now. I found the card on which I’d scribbled the recipe and remembered that flavor. Plantain chips don’t necessarily excite me, so I decided to recreate it paired with something big and bold — roasted potato wedges dusted with smoked paprika. It’s a perfect combination.

MOJO SAUCE WITH PAPRIKA POTATOES

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

6 medium russet potatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Ground black pepper

¼ cup lime juice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup sour orange juice (or 6 tablespoons orange juice and an additional 2 tablespoons lemon juice)

½ small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

¼ cup loosely packed fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half lengthwise into about 5 wedges. Mound the wedges on the prepared baking sheet, then drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Toss to coat evenly.

In a small bowl, mix together about 2 teaspoons salt, the paprika and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Sprinkle this evenly over the potato wedges, toss to coat evenly, then spread the potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake the potato wedges for 40 minutes, turning the wedges halfway through.

Meanwhile, prepare the mojo sauce. In a blender, combine ½ cup of olive oil, sour orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, onion, parsley, garlic, sugar and cumin. Pulse on and off for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the onion and parsley are very finely chopped, but not pureed. Taste, then season with salt and pepper, pulsing again to mix.

The recipe makes extra mojo sauce, and you’ll be happy for it. Refrigerate the extra, then drizzle over grilled or roasted meat (especially pork) or vegetables.

Serve the potato wedges with the mojo sauce on the side.

Sadly, no recipe for pureed bass in first Vitamix cookbook

When you speak to Jodi Berg, you find yourself hoping she’ll channel a little bit of Dan Aykroyd.

After all, she’s the fourth generation to head her family’s Vitamix company, maker of those super powered blenders prized by home cooks and professional chefs alike for their ability to grind and puree nearly anything into smoothie goodness. Because that’s the same blender that inspired the now iconic 1976 “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Aykroyd proselytized infomercial-style about the wonders of something called a Bass-O-Matic.

Aykroyd made comic history when he dropped a whole raw fish into a blender, then slurped up the resulting seafood smoothie. And you want just a little of that to come through in Berg.

But here’s the punchline. In an almost tragic case of pop culture absenteeism, Berg not only hadn’t seen the skit, she’d never even heard of it.

Which is why we needed to halt the interview and get her to a web browser.

“I have never seen that. Oh my god!” she shouted, laughing loudly. “But I have to tell you, I have seen our infomercial and it clearly is a playoff from my grandfather’s infomercial (from the 1940s).”

Which the rest of us realized a few decades ago. But just as well. This is a period of firsts for Berg, who has just written “The Vitamix Cookbook,” the company’s first retail cookbook tied to its product (previous recipe collections have been booklets included with the purchase of a blender), which was launched in 1921. Sure, the book isn’t much use unless you’ve already paid the (hefty) price of admission by purchasing a Vitamix. But people who do tend to love them.

And the demographics behind those people have changed over the years. Forty or 50 years ago, the Vitamix held sway mostly over natural foods advocates. They loved the fact that _ as Aykroyd so wonderfully demonstrated _ the blender could pulverize the whole food, no peeling, pitting or _ in the case of bass _ scaling needed. Less waste, more nutrition.

But as Americans’ notion of health has broadened beyond a brown rice and patchouli philosophy, so has the interest in the Vitamix, said Berg. A decade or so ago, if you asked people why they ate so-called health foods, most said it was good for the animals or the planet. “All of the sudden about 12 years ago people starting talking about how it was also better for me,” she said.

That’s around the same time Vitamix began embracing retail rather than just direct sales and worked to raise the profile of the brand. “We need to be out where people are going to be making these decisions (about healthy eating). We need to be a resource for these people as they decide what sort of lifestyle they want to lead.”

So how powerful is a Vitamix? Powerful enough that you can fill the blender carafe with frozen vegetables and cold broth, turn it on high and walk away for 5 or so minutes. When you come back, it will not only have pureed the soup, it will have — thanks to the power of those blades whipping around — rendered it piping hot. And the cookbook has plenty of recipes that harness that cool feature.

BROCCOLI CHEESE SOUP

No Vitamix? No worries. Simmer all of the ingredients except the cheese, then carefully transfer to a blender or food processor, add the cheese and puree until smooth.

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Servings: 2

1 cup skim milk

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets

1/2 small yellow onion

1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in the Vitamix, then fit the lid on securely. Turn the blender on low, then slowly increase the speed to high. Blend for 5 to 6 minutes, or until completely smooth and very hot.

Nutrition information per serving: 190 calories; 90 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 780 mg sodium; 14 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 13 g protein.

(Recipe adapted from Jodi Berg’s “The Vitamix Cookbook,” William Morow, 2015)

Emeril Lagasse tells life story via recipes in new cookbook

Before there were Food Network icons and cultish produce, before farm-to-table was a philosophy and cake decorating became a competitive sport, there was Emeril Lagasse.

And his is a life story best told by the kitchens that formed and informed him. There was the Portuguese bakery where he washed dishes as a youngster, the pizzeria where he stretched dough in high school, the Asian restaurants where he learned the secrets of Chinese sauces, and of course the grand kitchen of New Orleans’ iconic Commander’s Palace, where he became head chef at 23.

It’s a story Lagasse is ready to tell. His latest cookbook, “Essential Emeril,” is his life in recipes, a collection that covers everything from Asian fusion and Tex-Mex to classic French and Italian.

“Cooking isn’t just about what ends up on the plate. It’s the journey, taking time, having a plan, being prepared, being patient, noticing the smells, being mindful of what’s going on in the pan,” he said. “(The book) is a generous slice of the amazing journey I’ve had up until now in this glorious world of food.”

Through stories and recipes that chart his course through the television and restaurant worlds, Lagasse shares the foods and people _ everyone from his mother to Mario Batali _ that shaped his career. Peppered throughout the cookbook _ Lagasse’s 19th _ are many of the New Orleans dishes he has become known for, including barbecue shrimp with jalapeno biscuits, pork candy ribs with spicy hot Creole seasoning, and andouille-crusted redfish with Creole meuniere sauce.

And through those recipes, Lagasse gives us a glimpse at another side of the chef Americans came to know best for kicking things up a notch. He reflects back on those early, nervous years when he first took over at Commander’s and spent his days off in the Louisiana country, visiting farmers and Vietnamese fishing boats, sourcing trigger fish and escolar that “no one else was bringing to the table.”

“If I could control as much of the quality of what was being served on the table for my guests, then this was what was going to be the path in building an incredible reputation as a chef,” he said in a recent interview. Eventually, “memories of my childhood started flashing back at me and why my family had a farm and why they raised animals. … The avenues connected and my love and fondness for what I was doing just grew.”

Lagasse also isn’t afraid of dropping the names of the many celebrities he has counted among customers and friends. And that’s half the fun of reading the book. For example, there are the “potatoes Alexa,” made with a portobello-truffle emulsion, named after Billy Joel’s daughter, as well as the triple truffle risotto he served to Sammy Hagar at his wedding.

Lagasse went on to open numerous restaurants of his own, including Emeril’s in New Orleans, NOLA and Delmonico. And the book is filled with tips and recipes inspired by those who helped him along the way, Charlie Trotter to Julia Child.

More recently, Lagasse’s television career has focused on Florida, where he lives with his family. When producers first approached him about “Emeril’s Florida,” Lagasse was taking a break and not interested. But the avid fisherman, who loves spending rare days off on the boat with his kids, said he started thinking about the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and all the lakes and ponds around the state. “I’m going to show people that there is so much abundance here.”

“I love the state,” he said. “I’ve met some amazing people from shacks that sell fish sandwiches to five-star restaurants.”

In the kitchen…

CHICKEN WITH CHAMPAGNE AND 40 CLOVES OF GARLIC

“The slow cooking of the garlic makes this dish sweet, nutty and creamy,” Emeril Lagasse writes in his new cookbook, “Essential Emeril.” “Some folks like to cut up a whole chicken, but I prefer all thighs. They braise well and the meat stays juicy. I used Champagne because I love the subtle flavor it adds, but any dry white wine could be substituted.”

Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes

Servings: 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 to 12 large bone-in chicken thighs (about 5 pounds)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

40 cloves garlic, peeled (about 3 whole heads)

1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste

1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling or white wine

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

6 sprigs fresh thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 325 F. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the oil.

Season the chicken on both sides with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Working in batches so as to not crowd the pot, sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown, about 6 minutes per batch. Brown briefly on the second side, then transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add the garlic to the empty pot and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, Champagne, broth and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot, nestling the pieces down into the liquid. Make sure some of the garlic is sitting on top of the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, then place in the oven. Cook, stirring once midway to ensure even cooking, until the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and some of the garlic to a platter, then cover with foil to keep warm. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs from the pot.

In a medium bowl, mash together the flour and butter to form a smooth paste. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup of the hot juices from the pot into the paste until smooth, then add this mixture to the pot along with 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Whisk to combine. Don’t worry if some of the garlic cloves get smashed; they will help to thicken and enrich the sauce. Cover and cook over medium heat until the gravy has thickened, 10 to 20 minutes longer.

Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, or more to taste. Serve the chicken with the gravy spooned over the top and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley.

Nutrition information per serving: 870 calories; 560 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 62 g fat (18 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 325 mg cholesterol; 1,090 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 56 g protein.

(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s “Essential Emeril,” 2015, Oxmoor House)

Got fresh tomatoes? A recipe for Summer’s End Tomato Tart

If you’re like me, you believe that a fresh, ripe tomato is one of the best things about summer. And this tart is an ode to the tomato in season — and a lesson about how to make the most of it.

Let’s start with how to choose the best tomatoes. First, pick up your candidate, smell the stem and confirm that it smells strongly like a tomato. Next, figure out if it is juicy by hefting it. You want a heavy tomato; if it’s heavy, it’s juicy.

On the chance that you buy more tomatoes than you plan to eat right away, store the extras on a counter away from the sunlight. Do not put them on a sunny windowsill, which can make them rot. Likewise, don’t put them in the refrigerator, which can kill their flavor if they’re not already ripe and make them mealy after a few days.

If you bought a few tomatoes that weren’t quite ripe and you want to speed up the process, put them in a brown paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas given off by both the tomatoes and the banana will do the trick.

Do not seed the tomatoes. Once upon a time we routinely seeded them, a nod to the French ideal of finesse, which decreed that seeds were crude. Years later, I read a story in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that persuaded me that discarding the seeds is a mistake. Apparently, the seeds and the jelly surrounding them are the most flavorful parts of the tomato. And — bonus! — you save a bunch of prep time when you don’t bother to remove the seeds.

One of the main reasons we love tomatoes in season is because they’re so juicy. That’s great when we eat them raw, not so great when we’re making a tomato pie. How to keep juicy tomatoes from turning that pie into a watery mess? By slicing and salting them ahead of time. The salt delivers a one-two punch, draining the tomato of its excess liquid and concentrating its natural flavors.

Though tomatoes are terrific all by themselves, they also get along famously with a cornucopia of other ingredients, starting with virtually every herb under the sun and moving on to just about any cheese you care to name. This recipe calls for Gruyere, but you’re welcome to swap in sharp cheddar, mozzarella or even feta. Point is, feel free to experiment with different herbs and cheeses that melt. Make this recipe your own.

Tomatoes are so meaty and satisfying that I’m sure everyone _ even die-hard carnivores _ will be happy to see a slice or two of this pie set down for lunch, maybe with a simple green salad on the side. And picnickers take note: This tart happens to be as scrumptious served at room temperature as it is hot right out of the oven.

SUMMER’S END TOMATO TART

Start to finish: 2 hours 55 minutes (30 minutes active)

Servings: 8

All-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough

1 pie dough (recipe below) or 12 ounces store-bought pie dough

1 1/2 pounds large tomatoes

Kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, thyme, chives, tarragon or a mix

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough until 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, easing the dough into the pan and pressing it into the corners. Trim off any excess dough hanging over the edge. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then chill it for 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Line the pie shell with foil and fill it with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven until it is opaque throughout, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return the shell to the oven and bake until light golden, about another 8 minutes. Transfer the tart shell to a rack and let it cool 15 minutes.

While the tart shell is baking, slice the tomatoes 1/3 inch thick, sprinkle them liberally with salt, then arrange them on a wire rack to drain over the sink or a rimmed baking sheet.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the tart shell, then sprinkle the cheese over it. Pat the tomatoes dry and arrange them over the cheese in one overlapping layer. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are very soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic and herbs. Sprinkle the pie with this mixture while it is still hot, spreading the mixture gently with the back of a spoon. Serve the pie hot or at room temperature.

Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 230 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 570 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 9 g protein.

PIE DOUGH

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

Make 1 batch pie dough

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 to 4 tablespoons ice water

In a large bowl, stir together the flour and the salt. Add the butter and, working quickly, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to mix the dough until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and use a fork to gently stir until incorporated.

Gently squeeze a small handful of the dough. It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring 2 or 3 times after each addition until it comes together. Be careful: If you overwork the mixture or add too much water the pastry will be tough.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. With the heel of your hand, smear in a forward motion on the work surface to help distribute the fat. Gather the smeared dough together and form it, rotating it on the work surface, into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic, then chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

America’s favorite snack bursting with options

It can be light and fluffy, or crisp and nutty. Cover it with butter and salt or liberally dose it with caramel, cheese or other popular seasonings. Nothing delivers flavor with a crunch quite like popcorn.

America’s favorite snack food is inexpensive and healthy when prepared naturally. There are even a variety of choices emerging popcorn-oisseurs are discovering that bring greater variety in flavor, texture and even color to the mix. And, like so many popular foods, popcorn also has North American origins.

The domestication of corn reaches back some 9,000 years to Mexico and evidence suggests that indigenous people living in Peru were popping corn as early as 4700 B.C. In fact, popcorn was the first form of corn consumed. It was an important food to the early Aztecs, who ate it in abundance, celebrated it and used it to decorate the statues of their gods during religious rituals.

Today, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year, according to The Popcorn Board, a Chicago-based trade association. That’s 51 quarts of popcorn for every man, woman and child in the 50 states.

While all popcorn is corn, not all corn can be popped. As a whole grain, the strain, a subspecies of everyday maize, consists of three layers: the pericarp (or outer hull), the endosperm (internal starch) and the germ (the once-living center). Each kernel contains a small amount of water, and it’s this miniscule moisture that makes it pop.

When kernels begin to heat up and the temperature reaches 212 degrees, those internal droplets are vaporized, turning the surrounding starch into a tiny gelatinous mass. At about 347 degrees the pressure inside the hull reaches 135 pounds per square inch, which causes the hull to burst open or “pop.” 

The steam is released, the soft starch spills out and inflates to 40 to 50 times its original size, forming the characteristic white “flake” that we know to be popcorn. The result is either the rounded, more durable “mushroom” shape or the multi-winged “butterfly” shape, but both are delicious.

Air-popped popcorn by itself is considered the healthiest snack food on the market. It’s naturally high in dietary fiber and antioxidants, low in calories and fats and free of sugar and starches. Most people can snack freely on popcorn without losing their appetites for meals.

However, conditions change depending on how the corn is popped and what you put on the finished product. A somewhat notorious 1990s-era report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest studied “movie popcorn,” the type frequently served in theaters. 

The CSPI accused movie popcorn, popped in high-fat tropical oils and slathered in butter-like substances, of containing more fats “than a breakfast of bacon and eggs, a Big Mac and fries and a steak dinner combined.” But true popcorn fans know that the whole-grain food, delicious by itself, can be flavored with any number of seasonings without becoming a health risk.

Given the types now available locally, slathering anything on the different strains available may be a huge mistake. Various brands from Tietz Family Farms, located near Watertown, offer visitors to both the Dane County Farmers’ Market and the Oconomowoc Farmers Market a chance to discover new flavor varieties in popcorn.

Tietz, now in its seventh generation of family ownership, produces five types of popcorn:

• The yellow popcorn, the most familiar of the selections, offers tender flakes with a strong natural corn flavor.

• The Ruby Red variety produces small, white flakes with a light nutty flavor. The flakes are crisp, yet tender, with a light crunch.

• The white popcorn is a hull-less variety, producing tender, fluffy flakes with a melt-in-your-mouth quality.

• Shaman Blue, which creates large puffs in tight clusters, yields crunchy white flakes with a subtle sweetness and natural corn flavor.

• The calico corn, a naturally grown hybrid similar in appearance to an ear of Indian corn, contains a little bit of everything.

Tietz’s popcorn also is available via mail order. Visit tietzfamilyfarms.com for more information.

For those who do want to experiment with new approaches to standard grocery store-variety popcorn, The Popcorn Board suggests the following recipes:

Key Lime Popcorn Clusters

Makes about 32 clusters

Ingredients:

8 cups popped popcorn

4 graham crackers, finely chopped

1 jar (7½ ounces) marshmallow crème

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoon grated lime peel

1 tablespoon lime juice

Directions:

Line a 9-inch square pan with foil. Combine popcorn and all but 2 tablespoons of graham cracker pieces in large bowl.

Microwave marshmallow crème and butter in large glass bowl on high for 1 minute. Stir until butter is melted. Stir in lime peel and lime juice.

Pour marshmallow mixture over popcorn, mixing thoroughly. Using damp hand, firmly press mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons graham cracker pieces and refrigerate 2 hours until firm.

Lift foil from pan. Break popcorn mixture into clusters.

Sweet Chili & Peanut Popcorn 

Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients: 

5 cups popped popcorn 

1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts or peanuts 

1/4 cup peanut butter 

1 tablespoon butter 

1 teaspoon honey 

1 teaspoon brown sugar 

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or to taste) 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place popcorn in a large bowl. Scatter peanuts over top and set aside. 

Stir together peanut butter, butter, honey, brown sugar, and hot sauce in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave about 30 seconds. Stir to blend. 

Drizzle the peanut butter sauce over the popcorn. With a large spoon, stir popcorn until evenly coated. Spread mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow popcorn to cool and serve immediately.

Bombay Popcorn

Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients:

8 cups popped popcorn, warm

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 teaspoons curry powder or hot curry powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup toasted coconut, golden raisins or sliced almonds, optional

Directions:

Place popcorn in a large bowl. Microwave butter 20 seconds or until melted, then stir in curry powder until well blended.

Drizzle seasoned butter over popcorn and stir to distribute. Sprinkle with salt, sugar and optional ingredients and stir gently until blended.

Lavender Provencal Popcorn

Makes about 12–14 cups

Ingredients:

2 quarts popped popcorn

1 tablespoon butter, melted

2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence (with lavender)

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Place popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle in melted butter and toss.

Evenly sprinkle Herbs de Provence, garlic and salt over popcorn; toss again and serve.

Note: For fewer calories, omit butter. Spray popcorn lightly with cooking spray.

Order up for National Hamburger Day!

Fire up the grill and uncork the condiments. May is National Hamburger Month and May 28 is National Hamburger Day, a time when even the healthiest among us honor the great American tradition of meat and bread and a whole stack of condiments between them.

Many claim credit for inventing the hamburger, but one of the earliest honors goes to “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen. In 1885 he started selling meatballs tucked between two bread slices to attendees of what was then called the Seymour Fair, now the Outagamie County Fair, in Seymour, southwest of Green Bay. The Seymour Community Historical Society explains that Nagreen named his creation the “Hamburg steak,” a dish with which he felt the local German immigrants were familiar.

But as Nagreen first proved, hamburgers are as unique as the person who makes them. Cooks — amateur and professional alike — vie for the title of burger master (or mistress) by offering their own unique spins on an all-American favorite.

And we all have our favorite burgers, made in the style that we grew up with, or some exciting variation we discovered at a pivotal point in our life. To some burger lovers, more is less, while for others it’s definitely the bigger the better.

We polled some Wisconsin Gazette family and friends, asking them to conjure up their best burger memories. Hopefully, they’ll give you some better ideas about where to celebrate this May 28.

Grilling up a Milwaukee original

It was a brisk morning as the last of 2014’s snow melted when some friends and I decided to spend a Sunday enjoying brunch and then taking a trip to the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, aka “The Domes.“

After reading several “Best Bloody Mary” reviews, we were off to Sobelman’s Pub and Grill (1900 W. St. Paul Ave., 414-931-1919). The hunt was on for the greatest “bloody.” What we found with it was The Big SOB.

For $12, you can get a three-patty burger, which contains a mountain of American, Swiss and Cheddar cheeses, fried onion, bacon and diced jalapenos. The taste of the burger was juicy, each bite exploding with jalapeno flavor because they dice rather than slice the pepper. The different cheeses, melted and oozy over the patties, made the sandwich sharp and juicy. I ordered sweet potato fries as a side.

I was nervous watching my friends order but, once consumed, the burgers brought contented smiles to our faces. Needless to say, after reaching the Conservatory, I spent my time napping in the desert dome.

— Logan McDermott, account executive

Ramping Up a Classic

I’m not one for burgers with a lot of fixings. Give me a bun, meat, cheese, ketchup — maybe lettuce if I’m feeling healthy.

But I make exceptions when the mood strikes me, and there’s one exception that still stays with me. Ironically, it’s from a brat house, not a burger joint. The Milwaukee Brat House (1013 N. Old World Third St., 414-273-8709), to be specific, home to a variety of non-sausage items including a monstrous offering called the Wisconsin Burger. For $9.95, it’s a deal for its sheer size.

The Wisconsin Burger still fits my usual style of minimal toppings, but the ones it puts on its half-pound ground steak patty are perfectly selected. A slice of cheddar cheese, savory sautéed red peppers and, best of all, a hearty helping of Wisconsin cheese curds, so many they’re spilling out of the bun.

Making my way through that burger was like climbing a mountain — I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the proverbial top and I haven’t had the fortitude or fortune to attempt it again. But every bite was worth the journey.

Sometimes you aren’t looking for an everyday burger. You’re looking for an adventure.

—   Matthew Reddin, arts editor

Sweet, Savory, But Not Altogether Strange

May starts the season of road trips, and our first this year was to Wollersheim Winery just south of the Wisconsin River and a short 30-minute jaunt north of Madison. But before sampling the latest vintages, we stopped for lunch at The Blue Spoon Creamery & Café (550 Water St., 608-643-0837) in Prairie du Sac just north of the river.

Part of Culver Franchising Systems Inc., the Blue Spoon is a sort of uber-Culver’s, with creative cuisine, craft beer and an enviable wine list. That afternoon, one dish stood out from the intriguing menu — the Peanut Butter-Caramel Onion-Pickle Burger. A combination like that just begged to be tasted. At $8.99 with one side, it teased me out of my comfort zone.

We sat in anticipation on the Blue Spoon’s outdoor terrace overlooking the river and breathing the warm spring air, waiting for the burger to arrive.

The 7-ounce patty arrived on a whole grain bun spread with creamy peanut butter, topped with caramel onions and full-sized dill pickle spears and slathered in Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. My side of choice was baked beans with fresh apple chunks.

My burger was both sweet and savory, with creamy peanut butter spread across an all-beef patty for a hint of sweetness and complexity. The caramel onions bridged the gap to the savory side, with the pickle spears adding a vinegary tartness to the flavor profile. The slightly spicy BBQ sauce held it all together.

The burger was moist and the bun was in tatters when I was done, but it was well worth the extra napkins.

—   Michael Muckian, food and wine writer/contributor

Short Orders

Next time you drive from Milwaukee to Madison, or vice versa, take the scenic route passing through Jefferson and stop at the legendary Wedl’s Hamburger Stand & Ice Cream Parlor (200 E. Racine Ave., 920-674-3637) The tiny, 100-year-old establishment is just an 8’ x 8’ shack with no indoor seating, but its burgers have put Jefferson on the nation’s culinary map.

When you think of Wedl’s, think sliders, but not the tiny White Castle variety. These are full-sized patties grilled in lard grease, which gives the meat a crispy edge. The burgers have a unique peppery flavor that is part of the stand’s secret preparation. Topped with fried onions and melted American cheese, you think you have died and gone to hamburger heaven.

Madison has many fine hamburger spots, but perhaps the most legendary is the Plaza Tavern & Grill (319 N. Henry St., 608-255-6592) just off State Street. The bar and restaurant is home to the infamous Plazaburger.

The quarter-pound patty is a fine start, but it’s the secret sauce, first created in 1964, that sets it apart. It has a base of mayonnaise and sour cream, but beyond that no one is telling what herbs and spices give its special character and zing. An authority no less than George Motz, author of the seminal book Hamburger America, suggests you order a side of fried cheese curds for the complete Plaza experience.

“So Jerry Seinfeld walks into a bar” is not the start of an old joke, but part of the lore of The Village Bar (3801 Mineral Point Road, 608-233-9956), an old farm house on Madison’s west side long ago turned into a bar that overlooks the first fairway of Glenway Golf Course. What’s more, the celebrity sighting is true.

The story goes: Seinfeld, in town in 2005 for a sold-out show, hopped in a cab and asked the driver to take him someplace for a really good burger. The driver had a particular liking for the Village Bar and dropped him off there. Reportedly, Seinfeld became a fan.

The burgers arrive medium-well on a soft bun that can be upgraded to a more substantial Kaiser roll for an extra charge. Topped with Swiss, American, brick or pepperjack cheese, the burgers actually do seem to melt in your mouth. Add some very crispy fries on the side and you have a classic American meal.

— Michael Muckian

How will you celebrate National Hamburger Day? Share your favorite burger spots or burger recipes on our Facebook page.

 

 

The fine art of the simple tossed salad

Summer time is salad time. When it’s hot out and the garden is bountiful, everyone’s in the mood for a light and refreshing entree salad.

And what could be easier? You just toss together a bunch of lettuce with some cooked protein, add an excellent dressing, and boom! You’re done. Or not. Turns out that if you pay a little more attention to the components of the salad, you won’t need to rely quite so much on the dressing to provide all the flavor. In fact, it’s easy to make something wonderful.

Here’s the basic formula per serving of salad: 2 cups of lettuce, a heaping 1/3 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, 1/3 cup of sliced cucumbers, a quarter of an avocado (cubed), and 1 tablespoon of dressing. The key, though, is to season each and every part one at a time, and to do so at just the right moment.

It’s also important to deal with the water. Vegetables contain a high percentage of water. If you remove some of that water, you concentrate and amplify the vegetable’s flavor.

Let’s start with the cherry tomatoes. You’ll be amazed at how much more tomato-y they’ll taste after they’ve been salted and drained, preferably for 30 minutes. Cucumbers, likewise, become more cucumber-y with salting, though the salt also tenderizes them. If you care more about a cuke’s crunch than its flavor, skip the salting of them.

By the way, here’s a little tip I learned from Rachael Ray about how to slice a raft of cherry tomatoes all at once rather than one-by-one. Put a whole bunch of them on a small plastic lid, then place another lid on top of them. Stabilize the tomatoes by gently pressing the lids together. Insert a serrated knife into the gap between the lids and slice all of the tomatoes in half at one time.

While the tomatoes and the cucumbers are draining, you should cut up the avocado, put it in the bottom of the salad bowl, season it, and toss it with the dressing. This last step prevents it from oxidizing and turning color. Pile on the additional ingredients as they become ready. Note: To remove the pit from an avocado safely, cut it into quarters. As tempting as it might be to imitate the TV chefs _ who cut the avocado in half, slam a huge knife into the pit, and twist out the pit _ it’s a technique that has landed many a home cook in the emergency room.

After rinsing the lettuce, spin it dry or gently pat it dry with paper towels. Dressing will slide right off of wet greens. Keep in mind that a variety of lettuces is more enticing than just one kind, and mixing in whole herb leaves with the greens makes a salad extra special.

Finally, after all of the components have been prepped and added to the bowl, sprinkle the greens with a little salt and pepper and toss the salad with your hands. Lettuce bruises easily. Your hands are exactly the right tool for this delicate job. Now that your basic salad is dressed and ready to go, top it off with grilled chicken, shrimp, beef, pork or tofu to turn it into a substantial summertime entree.

TOSSED SALAD 101

Start to finish: 50 minutes (15 active)

Servings: 4

1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes

Kosher salt

6 ounces English cucumber

1 firm ripe avocado

8 cups lightly packed torn lettuce

Ground black pepper

1/4 cup dressing

Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and arrange cut side up on the wire rack. Sprinkle the cut sides liberally with salt, then turn the tomatoes so the cut sides are down. Let stand for 30 minutes. Peel the cucumber if it has a thick skin. Halve it lengthwise, then slice it thinly crosswise. Toss the sliced cucumber with some salt and let drain in a colander set in the sink for 30 minutes.

Quarter the avocado, remove the pit and lay the avocado, skin side down on the counter. Using a paring knife, make a crisscross pattern in the flesh in 1/2-inch cubes, cutting down to the skin. Use a spoon to lift out the cubes and transfer them to a salad bowl. Sprinkle the avocado lightly with salt and toss gently with a fork. Add the dressing and toss again.

When the tomatoes and cucumber have sat for 30 minutes, pat them dry with paper towels and add them to the bowl with the avocado. Add the lettuce, sprinkle with salt and pepper and use your hands to toss the salad very gently just until the leaves are coated. Serve right away. 

Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories; 90 calories from fat (64 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 440 mg sodium; 13 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 3 g protein.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including
Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”



‘Perfect protein’ — World’s top chefs say eat small to protect oceans

Want to make a big impact on the health of our oceans? Think small, top chefs say. As in anchovies and sardines.

That’s the message from 20 of the world’s leading chefs, who gathered in northeastern Spain recently to draw attention to what they hope is a simple solution to the threat facing many of the larger fish species that overfishing has pushed to near collapse. Their take: If more people ate more little fish – anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel, for example – both human diets and seafood populations would improve.

Ferran Adria, of Spain’s now closed elBulli restaurant, joined with Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea, Massimo Bottura of Italy’s Osteria Francescana and more than a dozen other chefs for a summit with the U.S.-based ocean conservation group Oceana to discuss leveraging their star power to get these fish not just onto their own menus – which only a lucky few will ever eat from – but into restaurants and homes worldwide.

“It’s the right moment and the right ingredient,” said Gaston Acurio, the co-owner and chef of Peru’s famed Astrid y Gaston restaurant, during an exclusive round table discussion with The Associated Press. “One of the best markets in the world is health and wellness, and anchovies and small fish are health and this is wellness that is good for society.”

Driving the chefs’ involvement is the campaign by Oceana aimed at convincing consumers to embrace eating more small oily fish. Known as “forage fish,” they’re part of the food chain that feeds larger fish, such as tuna or swordfish, both of which are threatened. The smaller fish are abundant enough to feed both the larger predators as well as plenty of people, says Oceana chief scientist Michael Hirshfield.

But though anchovies, sardines and similar small fish are treated as delicacies in much of the Mediterranean, in the rest of the world they often end up as feed for farmed salmon, chicken and pigs.

“They feed 3 pounds of fish to make 1 pound of salmon. That’s not a great way to feed a planet,” said Andy Sharpless, Oceana’s CEO and author of “The Perfect Protein.” “We can feed tens of millions more people if we simply eat anchovies and other forage fish directly rather than in form of a farmed salmon or other animals raised on fish meal and fish oil.”

Their point isn’t to criticize the farmed seafood industry, the chefs said. Rather, they want to lead by example. They agreed to serve small oily fish at their restaurants as much as they as they can, to train younger chefs that the fish are as good for the planet as for the plate, and to develop recipes that make it easy for the average consumer to prepare them at home.

“We need to take advantage of species that there are in great abundance,” Acurio said. “We as chefs with the magic and the passion and the talent we have can provoke and convince people to consume them and influence the market. As chefs we can create a consciousness to inspire many other cooks.”

The chefs scoffed at the idea that people – particularly small fish-wary Americans – might be reluctant. They said the same food revolution that has turned sushi into convenience store food around the world can work just as well on this. It doesn’t hurt that the chefs gathered in San Sebastian are known for their innovation and for taking raw food materials people would never think of buying and transforming them into delicacies.

Acurio said the chefs’ best contribution to promoting consumption of small fish might be creating simple meals anyone could cook. “If we can invent concept products, like the best burger you have ever eaten mixed with anchovies, that’s one way to popularize it,” he said.

For Joan Roca, who runs Spain’s famed El Celler de Can Roca with his brothers, the involvement with the campaign boils down to his feeling that “all chefs have a responsibility to be visible.”

“This campaign is trying to raise ethical and environmental public awareness,” he said. “If you take care of your health, you also take care of the planet’s health. It is as simple as that and it is something that everyone needs to understand.”

On the Web …

For more, visit Oceana.org.

Have it your way with a mix and match take on mac and cheese

Do you love macaroni and cheese? Stupid question, right? OK, so let’s try this one: How could you love macaroni and cheese even more?

Now we’re talking. Because there are all sorts of simple ways to doctor an already awesome pan of basic mac and cheese to take our love of this dish to a whole new level. But let’s start with the basics — our classic take on macaroni and cheese. Since everyone is pressed for time, we kept it simple with a stovetop version that will have you ready to eat in about 20 minutes.

But we didn’t sacrifice flavor to get that speed. Four cups of cheese — a blend of cheddar and Gruyere _ keep this dish rich and gooey. Want to push it even further? Add some grated Parmesan cheese and maybe even aged Gouda. Now you’ve got yourself a four-cheese mac and cheese.

You could enjoy it as is, but we’ll also walk you through three ways to up the ante. Want to keep it simple? How about a crunchy-salty topping of crushed potato chips? Or maybe you’re looking for a little spice in your life. Our Midwestern take combines jalapenos and smoked paprika for kick. And no one would think less of you for combining both those ideas — perhaps a Midwestern mac and cheese topped with barbecue chips.

Or if you’re trying to be virtuous, our green goddess version adds asparagus and a whole mess of fresh herbs. You can pretend all that greenery cancels out all the cheese.

CLASSIC MACARONI AND CHEESE

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded Gruyere or comte cheese

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 pound small pasta, such as shells or elbows, cooked according to package directions

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisking continuously, pour in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and comes to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mustard and both cheeses, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta. Serve immediately or follow one of the variations below.

Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 240 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (16 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 51 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 26 g protein; 580 mg sodium.

POTATO CHIP BAKED

Spoon the macaroni and cheese into individual gratin dishes or a large casserole dish. Crush a bag of potato chips, then sprinkle them over the mac and cheese. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. For added punch, use flavored potato chips, such as salt and vinegar, ranch or barbecue.

MIDWESTERN

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté 1 diced yellow onion, 1 diced red bell pepper and 1 cup chopped ham in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil until the onion is translucent. Add 2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 2 tablespoons chopped jarred jalapenos. Stir into the macaroni and cheese, then serve.

GREEN GODDESS

Cut 1 bunch of asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook in a skillet over medium-high in 1 tablespoon butter until just tender. Add to the macaroni and cheese along with 1/4 cup each chopped fresh chives, tarragon and basil, the zest of 1 lemon, and an additional tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Mix well, then serve.