Saturday, November 23, 2013

Healthy Sides for Thanksgiving

I know, it's like sacrilege. But something has to temper my love affair with butter fat for this holiday. The kid will pick and choose her healthy bites, however. Brussels sprouts more loaded with bacon and aged Gouda, YES. Brussels sprouts with quinoa and just enough bacon to taste good? Hmmm, more for me at least. It is a tough sell after a couple weeks of Halloween sugar binge have ignited her inner hummingbird (SUGAR! SUGAR!). So, I will eat my vegetable test recipes and be happy I can eat fibrous vegetables again now that pesky gallbladder was forcibly evicted.

As for the kid? I am calmly reminding myself, two steps forward, one step back. She is also coming into the age of wanting control in her food choices. This is the point where I hope that we've laid some groundwork and she knows good choices. I have to let go and step back a bit. I have to use approaches like "Build Your Own Salad" night and let her choose recipes and start cooking more.

And eat my Brussels sprouts while I do. 

It is kind of amazing that one of the most loathed vegetables ever is now quite sexy along with its Brassica cousin, kale. This is one of the things I remind myself on the "one step back" days with my own kid. She eats more veggies — and a much wider variety of them —than I ever did at her age.

Brussels Sprouts, Light on the Bacon, with Quinoa

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed (or removed from the massive stalk) and halved
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries (craisins)
1-1/2 cups quinoa, prepared (I like the red and white quinoa blend with buckwheat and millet)
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the olive oil and Brussels sprouts and roast for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown on edges. While the sprouts are roasting, render the bacon in a skillet. When just done and not too crisp, add the onion and sauté until caramelized. Add the vinegar to deglaze the pan, then add the honey and craisins, stir as it thickens for about two minutes. (If you are concerned about using the bacon drippings, drain the fat and replace it with a tablespoon of olive oil.)

Toss the sprouts with the quinoa and the bacon-onion sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy for your holiday meal while I wonder how my annual pie/dessert recipe has become a Brussels sprout one instead!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hail Ceasar: Avocado Ceasar Salad

I have a longer-winded post to put here. It has to do with why I've suddenly begun focusing on ingredients that are natural powerhouses of anti-inflammatory goodness. I'll work my way back to that story. I'll get it together, right after I plan a few sides and a dessert for Thanksgiving!

Alrighty. This is lighter without the egg, and uses all healthy fats from avocado.

Avocado Ceasar Salad

For the dressing:
1 ripe avocado, peeled
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup avocado oil
4-6 anchovy filets
2-4 garlic cloves (depends on your threshold for garlicky)
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Blend this in the blender until creamy smooth and chill. The lemon juice and vinegar will hold the fresh, light green color.

4 hearts of Romaine lettuce, cleaned and chopped
2 oz. grated Parmesean
Tomatoes, if you like

Toss the salad greens with the dressing, garnish with the cheese and optional tomatoes. If you have leftover dressing, it will keep without turning brown, for a few days in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Make Ahead Cranberry-Pear Compote

And so begins the month of my favorite holiday. I hate that most stores — with the exception of cooking gadget ones — have simply fast-forwarded to commercializing the meaning out of Christmas. So, each November, we toss out the jack-o-lantern and celebrate the season of Gratitude.

Now, looking at things historically, I'm going to have to say the pilgrims that followed after were tremendously ungrateful. I would not blame Native Americans for perhaps regretting helping the first batch survive long enough to send back to Europe for more recruits. There is nothing like an ungrateful guest to mess up your spirit of generosity and love of your fellow man.

This is why Native Americans are always heroes in my version of the Thanksgiving story and why I celebrate more their spirit of generosity in the holiday than the "Thanksgiving" of white folks having arrived to take over. But I digress.

This year, my gratitude is for the other members of my extended family offering up their homes and time to host Thanksgiving. Wow, we've had the joy of making this feast for six years now and I love the cooking and preparations so much. It was hard to give in on this. But, I am grateful.

Post-surgery, I am on limited physical activity for a few weeks. I am also running about half speed. I generally tackle way more than any sane person would attempt (with varying success), and I am way beyond guilty of over-committing myself.

So, this year, I am trying something new. Gratitude. Rest. The joy of letting others do for me. But, unlike the generations of following pilgrims, I plan on being an excellent guest.

I also plan on taking some sides and a pie, at least. This one is great because you can, say, make it ahead of having surgery and stash it in the freezer. Then, while you are still tired, you just remember to take it out of the freezer right before your afternoon nap, just a couple days before the holiday. One side dish done. No battling desperate grocery shoppers over that last bag of fresh cranberries, either. Because, it's Thanksgiving, people, not Black Wednesday in the produce aisle.

Ginger Cranberry-Pear Compote
6 pears, peeled, cored and diced
12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed
1 cup dry red wine
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeded (use the empty bean to mix with sugar for vanilla sugar)
1 lemon zest plus juice
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground white cardamom
3 Tbs. candied ginger, chopped
1 cup honey
1/2 tsp. salt

Once the pears are diced, sprinkle the lemon juice over them and set aside. The lemon juice keeps them from going brown while you tend to the cranberries.

Add the honey, cranberries and red wine to a pot and heat to a gentle simmer. The cranberries will begin to pop and become thick and syrupy. This is fun to watch. About ten to fifteen minutes of popping, most of the berries should have burst, then add the vanilla bean, spices and salt. Simmer until thick.

Now, if you like a very thick cranberry sauce, and this is too liquid for you, just take 1/2 tsp. of organic corn starch and dissolve in a teaspoon of water. Whisk in, simmer, and this should thicken the works perfectly.

Add the pears and simmer just 2-3 minutes. You don't want the pears to go to mush especially if you freeze this ahead. Taste and adjust the sweetness (add a bit of honey if needed), and the salt. A bit of salt helps the flavor pop, like cranberries. Garnish with the lemon zest if serving now. Or, blend in and then let the mixture cool. Freeze. Thaw a couple days before Thanksgiving, warming to room (or just a bit warmer) temperature for serving.