'Tis the season for complicated cooking.
Even those who are hard-pressed to set a trepidatious toe inside the kitchen during the rest of the year can often be found following pages of instructions to make outstanding rib roasts, Martha Stewart-esque sugar cookies, and Thomas Keller-worthy roast birds. There are a lot of foods that take a lot of work and fuss and today's column is dedicated to none of those.
Between school, work, parties, trips, shopping and our other myriad early-winter social commitments, we are busy people. We still have to eat and eat well, though, so any recipe that takes both the guesswork and the time commitment out of the mix is more than welcome this time of year.
Furthermore, as many of us have nearly emptied our wallets over widgets and doodads and hoosiewhatsies that are dearly desired by our children or other loved ones, the food had best be economical. The taste buds still, as ever, need to be pleased. In other words, the food must be fast, cheap and delicious. A tall order, you say? No way, José.
Simple, satisfying, inexpensive and beautiful is as easy as not overdoing it. I'm not being flip, I'm serious. When you buy a fresh ingredient you don't need to do very much to it to make it a feast for the eyes, body and a balm (not a homophonic bomb) to the budget.
It goes without saying -- although I'll say it all the same -- that making the food at home instead of succumbing to the siren song of take-out is not only all of the aforementioned wonderful things, but is also better for you, to boot. Ultimate control of all of the potential dietary nasties (in the form of whatever you try to avoid: salt, fat, sugar, salty fat, fatty sugar, etc.) lies with the chef: you.
Here's another bonus. This food -- this simple but stunning food -- is still good enough to serve to company. These diverse dishes that take about 10 minutes of hands-on time eclipse the fancier, more involved recipes, leaving you more time to make and wrap gifts, read books, sip eggnog, sled down dangerous hills, sit by the fire and generally enjoy the season that is meant to be savored.
Our family's annual Christmas Eve tradition is to eat indecent quantities of potstickers before waddling off to bed (the children) or barricading ourselves in the den (the parents) to wrap the gifts we should have wrapped in previous weeks. This broccoli is a good addition to that meal and one that will lighten up the overall post-potsticker haze.
Perhaps this year the kids' presents will look less like angry hibernating bears wrapped them and more like they were wrapped by some creature that has opposable thumbs. Maybe.
Spicy Garlicky Asian Broccoli beats every white cardboard container of Chinese take-out spicy broccoli I've ever eaten without exception. Long spears of broccoli are tossed with Chinese chile-garlic sauce, minced fresh garlic, sesame oil, a bit of raw sugar and this and that, then roasted until crisp-tender.
Roasting the broccoli removes the chance of the sulfurous odors sometimes associated with broccoli. (Most often this happens because it's waterlogged and overcooked, but I digress.)
Again, though, there's more benefit to this than meets the eye. Because you're roasting the cruciferous green stuff, you eliminate the need to stand over a frying pan stirring to perfection or pouring out boiling water to drain the steamed broccoli. While the broccoli gets toasty in the oven, you can spend the time slicing and quickly frying up a panful of chicken, beef, pork or venison strips to serve alongside.
I tell you, too, that this broccoli is good enough to stand on its own with a bowl of hot, cooked rice or Asian style sesame noodles.
Spicy Garlicky Asian Broccoli
4 broccoli crowns
2½ T. canola oil
2 T. Chinese chile-garlic sauce (or Sambal Oelek)
2 t. toasted sesame oil
2 t. raw sugar (or light brown sugar)
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly spray a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray (or use a stoneware pan without spray). Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, evenly stir together the canola oil, chile-garlic sauce, sesame oil, raw sugar and minced garlic.
Slice the broccoli crowns into long spears, keeping as much of the stem area intact as possible. Do not cut the spears too small or they'll burn instead of cooking to the desired crisp-tender stage. Add all of the broccoli spears to the mixing bowl with the oil mixture and toss until everything is evenly coated.
Transfer to the prepared pan, arranging the spears so they are in a single layer and sprinkle with salt, to taste.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until there are darkened, black, wilted edges on the cut areas and florets of the broccoli. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with hot, cooked rice or as an accompaniment to stir-fried meats or tofu.
-- Inspired by www.budgetbytes.blogspot.com.
Chorizo and Cheddar Potato Puffs are another recipe for one of my favorite food categories: things to serve with and/or dunk in soup. As with most goodies that fall into this file, they also make wonderful game-day snacks. Crumbled, spicy Mexican-style chorizo, melted pockets of extra sharp Cheddar cheese, and fresh, pungent green onions stud bite-sized soft, savory, crispy-exterior potato puffs.
This is finger food at its finest. Serve with potato soup, tortilla soup or chili or alone for a hearty breakfast or snack.
Chorizo and Cheddar Potato Puffs
½ c. cooked, leftover Mexican style chorizo
2 c. leftover mashed potatoes (smashed potatoes cannot be substituted here)
3 large eggs
2 T. sour cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese
6 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 24-well mini-muffin pan generously (do not skimp or they won't come out!) with nonstick cooking spray. Set the pan aside.
Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl and hand mixer to beat the chorizo, potatoes, eggs, sour cream and garlic together until smooth. Fold in the shredded cheese and sliced green onions. Divide the mixture between the prepared mini-muffin wells. Tap the pan on the counter four or five times to release air bubbles then put the pan in the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. Let rest in the pan for 3 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter. Serve hot as a standalone snack or as an accompaniment to soup.
-- Inspired by www. evilshenanigans.com.
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