Brussel Sprouts, a side dish that will steal the show

 

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Brussel Sprouts have long been misunderstood, overlooked, and forgotten about. The last couple of years we have seen more and more people embracing brussel sprouts, and I happen to be really excited about it.
About a year and a half ago I put them on my menu in a restaurant, and it remains one of the most requested dishes there (I will include that recipe here if requested). Recently I had some brussel sprouts at home, and decided to have a little fun with them for a side dish. It was very well received, really fun to make and I can’t wait to make it again. Give this a try as a side dish the next time you’re having roasted chicken, pork chops, or pot roast for dinner.

What you will need:

1lb Brussel Sprouts, quartered

1/2 Medium onion, diced

2 Potatoes, diced

1 Tbsp Ancho chili powder

2 tsp Ground Cumin

3 Tbsp Bacon Grease (Yes I keep it when I cook bacon)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Brussel Sprout “dressing” (optional, recipe included below)

 

Preheat your oven to 350 degree’s, break out your cast iron skillet, and put it on the stove over medium heat.  Once it is heated, add the bacon grease and allow it to melt.  Be careful with how high the heat is, as you do not want the grease to smoke.  Once the grease is melted, add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and let them cook for about two minutes, use a wooden spoon to stir so they cook evenly.  Now add the brussel sprouts, ancho chili powder, cumin, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine everything and to make sure the seasoning is well distributed and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Give one last stir and place the skillet in the oven for 12-15 minutes to allow everything to roast together.  I do not cook this dish longer than 15 minutes in the oven because I want the brussel sprouts to still have a little bite to them.  I don’t want to cook them until they are cooked to the point of mushiness (is that a word?).  Transfer everything to a serving bowl, and toss with the “dressing” if you’re going to use it, then serve.  There will be more discussion about this dish than any other you serve that night, no matter how well the entree turns out. Enjoy

 

Brussel Sprout “Dressing”.

What you need:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp Honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 Tbsp Canola oil (you can also use extra virgin olive oil, or vegetable oil)

 

Combine all of the ingredients except for the oil in a bowl and whisk together.  Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle the oil in to the mixture to create a vinaigrette, or in this case a dressing for the dish.

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Looking back on time in the kitchen

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For almost a year now I haven’t worked in a kitchen. Yes I still walk through them every day, I’m still around the people and I haven’t been away from them long enough to forget anything that goes along with working in them. The sore feet, aching back, the heat, the stress and of course the gratification. The amount of times per month that I miss being in a kitchen is shrinking rapidly. I have embraced the change of scenery, the new job duties and responsibilities, and in all honesty I’m as happy as I have ever been.
However, being out of the kitchen has given me the ability to figure out what it was I liked about it the most, why it’s attractive to so many people and how those of us who spend time in a professional kitchen rationalize our life. The chance to step back and see so many more sides of the profession has been enlightening to say the least and I have learned as much about myself in this last year as I have over the last ten.
If you’re hoping for a new recipe, then this post probably isn’t for you. But if you have spent time in a kitchen, or been curious about it then this may interest you a great deal.

If you do an internet search for articles about life in a professional kitchen you will get plenty of results.  You also will have the opportunity to read several different views of how many hours a day or week we work, how hard and thankless the job is, and don’t forget the aspect of having to work all holidays and special occasions when the “normal” people in the world are having a good time.  All of those things are true but I’m going to try and cover a little more ground here, perhaps dig a little deeper and give some more insight in to not only the “what”, but the “why” we enjoy this lifestyle.

So lets cover the most obvious subjects then shed some light on how “kitchen people” view them, because on our best day we are a little twisted and we wouldn’t want to be any other way.

The long hours:  Yes it’s true we work long hours and I don’t think there are any words that I can put together that will articulate that any better than anyone else.  However I do feel I can offer something as to the reason why we do so.  When you make the choice to work in professional kitchens it is normally due to a deep seated desire to please people.  That is the one common bond among us; at the base of all we do is a very simple and basic desire to make others happy.  So at the end of the day, when it’s time to go home if we feel that we have made people happy then we have a sense of accomplishment, and a desire to come back the next day.
Another common phrase you hear that is true is that being a Chef isn’t a job, its a lifestyle. And this is intertwined in the heart of a kitchen employee, because when you’re off work its still in your mind. In fact, it never goes away, you think about the order of scallops you overcooked, or how your going to attack your prep the next day, every night the thoughts of doing something to make yourself better tomorrow goes through your head. If you’re not thinking about things like this each and every night then you may as well go back to washing dishes because the moment you stop trying to become better, or stop caring about becoming better, you have no business serving people. The main point is that even though you may not physically be at work, mentally you still are. And in most cases you’re going to show up early, or stay late on a regular basis in order to make yourself better. This alone will add weekly hours to your work load when customers are not even around.

Missing important family time:  This one is the toughest of all, and I think the one that most people only look at on the surface.  I can’t count how many important family functions I have missed over the years.  Things that I would have attended, or paid attention to if I wouldn’t have been in a kitchen.  Some of them more important than others, but they are all grouped together in the fact that I wasn’t there.  Birthday’s, ballgames, important days at school, the list goes on and on.  It’s bad that you miss these things, and it is something that is bothersome.  However the worst part of this is that when you are missing these important times of your families life, you’re having fun.  You’re in the kitchen, you have tickets hanging and you are thinking about nothing but getting the food out, it’s what we do and it’s what we enjoy.  It is perhaps the most selfish act that a parent, spouse, or significant other can commit, but we do it over and over; and during the time period when we are being missed by our loved ones, we, are happy? Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s not that it doesn’t bother us, and it’s not like we don’t realize what we’re missing because we do. It’s just that when orders start coming in, and food needs to be prepared we really only know one approach and we enjoy it that way.  In order for us to do the job that provides for our family, that’s where we are supposed to be mentally so although we may be missing something that breaks a family members heart, and our own, we are doing what we love for them in the only way we know how. If you have never lied in bed and lost sleep over this then you either aren’t approaching professional cooking properly, or you don’t know what love is.

Another aspect of the same subject is how we deal with missing important events in our family lives.  There should be a set of rules to this, or a disclaimer that comes with us to make sure we are the type of person who deserves to be able to have children before we do.  It’s so simple and basic, but I have heard the wrong words said to children far too many times in my life.  If you tell a child “I’ll make it up to you”, then you are intentionally doing damage to someone that you are supposed to have unconditional love for.  The one person or persons in our lives that we are supposed to do anything for should never be made to feel the way those words will make them feel.  Because it’s a lie, plain and simple you are lying to a child and rationalizing it to yourself by saying it’s what your career demands, and that’s bullshit.  How is someone that misses their child’s eleventh birthday going to make that up to them? You’re not, because you weren’t there, it’s that simple.  They will never have another eleventh birthday, or opening day game, or program at grade school but you’re trying to make them think that an ice cream cone on a Sunday evening should make all of that go away.  Well it doesn’t, and you shouldn’t try to convince them that it does.  Accountability is one of the most important things that I demand from my staff, and if they can’t give it to their family I honestly don’t want it from them in the kitchen.  Be accountable and explain why you’re not going to be there, and apologize for it; believe it or not a child will understand.  It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt them, or bother them but at least you were honest with them about why you’re not going to be there, and you’re not telling them a lie about making it up to them.  If you feel that telling a child “I will make it up to you” makes it acceptable for you to miss something important to them, then you miss one of the most important aspects of parenthood.  And some day the child will realize that and all you will have is what you can find within the walls of a kitchen.  Being true and honest to your family allows you to be better in a kitchen, makes the profession honorable and will lead you to becoming a Chef.  Misleading a loved one, but never missing a “shift drink” makes you a self centered cook on your best day, and I promise you will never know the proper way to season food, or show a family member you love them.

At the core of our chosen profession is self gratification, we work the long hours and miss the important days because of the gratification we get.  It’s selfish of us, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that because of what it does to our loved ones.  We spend our days serving people, and when we go home at night we should take any time that we have with our family to serve them with even more attention to detail, because at the end of the day they are the ones that are paying the price for us to do something we love.

Stepping away from the kitchen has been a positive for me, other than the realization of how selfish I was over the years.  I just hope that those that I love do really understand all of the things that I missed and why I missed them.  I’m thankful that they’re not waiting for the magical day when I will make something up to them, because I never allowed myself to say that.  And I hope that deep down they know that they mean more to me than the people that I served over the years.

 

 

 

Saturday Sauce

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I really can’t claim this recipe at all, this is all Michael Symon, however I’m including it for a specific reason and giving all credit to him. In his book “Live to cook” he has a recipe called Yia Yia’s Sunday Sauce (page 229), and when I first read it I could almost smell and taste the sauce because it just sounded so incredible.
If you haven’t read this book, then you should buy it and read it cover to cover, it will make you a better cook and also give you some awesome recipes to put some incredible food on your table at home. Don’t google recipes from it, go buy the book it is the ethical and morally right thing to do!

The problem I ran in to when I went to gather ingredients to make the sauce is where I live, and that is the reason I’m including this here. All of the ingredients are obtainable, I’m not trying to make it sound like I live completely disconnected from the world, however some of them are only available from the internet, or you are paying such a premium price it’s just not economically worth it to buy them. So I made a few changes to the recipe and ended up with an amazing sauce that has several uses.

I’ll go through the items that I changed out, and explain why then we will get to the recipe:

Canned San Marzano tomatoes- There are a couple of places locally that you can buy these, however they generally run about $8 for a 28oz can. That’s not very cost effective, and my wife would skin me if I bought two cans for a batch of sauce. So obviously I purchased a basic brand of canned tomatoes but I knew by doing so that the end result of the sauce would be less than what it could be. For that reason I also went to the produce department and purchased some sun dried tomatoes. A package of these can last a really long time, and you only need to use one sun dried tomato for each batch of sauce so they are cost effective to buy, if you use them properly.

Meaty Beef Bones- The three grocery stores within reason from my house do not have beef bones available to buy (sad, I know). There are a couple of locations in the area where you could maybe buy some on certain days however the drive wouldn’t be worth it for just one ingredient. With the price of gas what it is, you could be tripling the price of an ingredient just driving to the next town to try and find it.
However, most stores in this area do have Pork Neck Bones available and even though that brings a slightly different flavor profile, it’s still delicious.
So I substitute these two ingredients in the sauce and the end result is a wonderful, versatile and incredibly flavorful sauce.

I use this as a sauce over pasta, as a braising liquid for roast, over white rice with a piece of fish, or just simmer it in a skillet and add an egg or two and finish with some parmesan cheese.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 Large Yellow onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt (to taste)
2 28 ounce cans of canned tomatoes (whole)
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds pork neck bones
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 sun dried tomato

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook them for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic and then salt and cook for a few minutes longer.
Open the canned tomatoes and squeeze them one by one into the pot, you really want to smash them with your hands, and don’t forget to add the juice from the can’s as well. Add the wine and neck bones, bay leaf, oregano, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bring everything to a simmer then reduce the heat and just let it cook for 6 to 8 hours.
Adjust the seasonings after tasting then remove the bones, and bay leaf.
I usually will use about half of the sauce right away, the other half I let cool to room temperature then put in a freezer bag and freeze for later use. The book says it will be good frozen for up to 2 months, but I have never had it around for that long because I can’t wait to eat it again!

So you want to take your kids to the zoo?

As a parent you try to do for your children, and working together with your spouse usually makes things a lot easier on everyone involved.  So when you plan something simple, like going to the zoo it should be rather simple, fun, and memorable.  However the reality that we live in is that generally speaking, something is going to happen to make you resort to “Plan B”.  All too often we don’t develop a second plan based on what may or may not happen, so when something in the plan goes haywire you have to think on your feet.  Or as in our case last week, you might just be blessed enough to have some guardian angels step in and save the day.

The Columbus Zoo is just under three hours from our house, so waking up early, driving to the zoo and having a day full of fun, then turning around and driving back is not something too hard to accomplish.  We planned the trip out, set aside money, and hopped in the car on Tuesday morning and headed north west.  Our twelve year old had recently been to the zoo so he was excited, but maybe not as much as he was the first time he went.  The nineteen year old had also been before, so he was going to serve as our guide of sorts helping us get to where we wanted to go quicker, instead of wandering aimlessly all day.  The four year old was, to say the least, beside herself.  I think she had dreamed of monkeys, elephants, and gorilla’s for several nights leading up to the trip. The twenty year old was also making his first trip to the zoo, so he had some specific plans on things he wanted to see. One last minute development was that the twelve year olds girlfriend was going to join us for the trip. Excitement at its finest, and most genuine state.
We had just crossed over the bridge and in to the state of Ohio when everyone started to get comfortable in their seats. My wife and I had got everything sorted up front with music, temperature of the car, and who’s drink goes in which cup holder. In the back seat the twenty year old had the earphones in and was jamming to his latest download. The four year old was snoozing, trying to sneak in one more dream about what would he a reality just a couple short hours from now. In the third row seat the twelve year old and his girlfriend were talking away about this friend, or that friend. In the car behind us was the nineteen year old and his girlfriend in her car. Cruise controls were set and we were on our way.
At first I thought I had missed the accelerator pedal. But then there was a sound and I knew that wasn’t the case. Something was wrong with the car, and then every light on the dashboard lit up and the car shut down. I hit the hazard lights and drifted off the road. Since we were on a two lane road I did the best I could to get as far away from traffic as possible. The passenger side tire in the grass was the best I could do. It was a safe distance but kids on the side of the road make you a little uneasy, on top of that we have someone else’s child with us. Someone else had put their trust in us to make sure she made it home safe. At this point getting the car in shape for us to get someplace safe is all that’s on my mind. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the car but I know it’s bad. We open the hood and spend thirty minutes or so trying to disprove the obvious, the engine is blown, the car isn’t going anywhere unless its getting a piggyback ride on a wrecker. So I place a call to emergency roadside assistance and get the ball rolling on getting the car towed, as well as trying to locate a rental. In theory if we can get a rental quick enough, then we can still make the zoo in plenty of time.
As I’m verifying everything with the lady on the phone I see a police car going past us on the road. Now here in West Virginia this is a normal thing. Its accepted that their not going to stop and help you, but we were in Meigs County Ohio, and apparently if people are in a bad spot the folks that live in this area are going to lend a helping hand. We were fortunate enough to have the sheriff himself stop to help us out Mr. Keith Woods.  What we didn’t know at the time was that this was going to be our first brush with a guardian angel for the day.
As soon as he got out of the car he said “how many kids do you have”? I told him a boatload and let him know that they were my main concern. I told him where they were taking the car, and he let me know that the car repair shop and the rental car company were in two different directions. We were in just about the worst spot we could be in. We didn’t have enough room in our one working car to get everyone to one place so he offered to drive three people to the rental car company so that they could rent a car, then they could come pick me up and we could make our way to the zoo. Problem solved, and away they went. Along the way I’m sure he could sense the four year old’s uneasiness, so he made conversation with her continuously, talking about the zoo, and the further they drove the more comfortable she was.  By the time they had reached the rental car company she was laughing and having a great time.  And since the police officer had been so excited about the polar bears, that was on top of the four year olds list of things to see.  Perhaps the officer was just doing his duty, maybe he is just a nice guy.  But for me and my family, on that day and in our situation we couldn’t have asked for anything better than him.  And his simple gesture to kindness made a huge difference in our families safety, and overall attitude in a bad situation.

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Not too long after they left the wrecker showed up and loaded up our car. We loaded up and headed back in the other direction to the repair shop.

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When we got there I spoke to a guy named Larry, he was the apparent owner of the shop and seemed like a great guy. I told him what had happened to the car and he said he could look at it later in the day. There was an older gentleman setting behind the counter with him giving him a hard time about everything he said and did, it was obvious good clean fun and it appeared as if this was the norm between these two.
It was about this time that my phone rang, it was the wife and I fully expected her to let me know she was on the way with a rental, and needed directions to where I was. However she called to inform me that the rental car company didn’t have any cars to rent. That didn’t make much sense to me considering it was a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of nowhere. She had some concern in her voice, along with some frustration so I did all I could to calm her nerves and insure her that I would find a car.
I hung up with her and asked Larry where would he the closest place to rent a car since there apparently wasn’t any cars for rent where my wife was. He named a couple different cities and I quickly looked them up on my phone and started calling. Now I realize this may seem strange, buy the truth is we called a total of seven rental car company’s only to be told each time “we don’t have anything available today”.
It was at this point I knew I needed to explain everything to Larry and see if he could lend me some help. I didn’t even know where I was, much less how far away from anything I was. So I explained to him about the wife and kids, told them where they were and that we were just trying to go to the zoo. At this point the older gentleman spoke up and said “well take my car”, I kinda chuckled and told him I appreciated the offer however I didn’t feel comfortable taking a strangers car.
Larry said he may know someone who would rent me a car and he made a call. The older gentleman insisted that I take his car and, as he said “get them kids to the zoo”. He said he wouldn’t argue about it anymore and that he was going to get his truck so I needed to meet him out front. Larry’s attempt to get me a car had failed, so I asked him what he thought I should do. There was no hesitation whatsoever when he told me to take the old feller up on his offer. He said he was good as gold, and was as serious as could be, and never fails to have a soft spot for kids. So out the door I go to climb in an old beat up Chevy truck, no clue where I am or where I’m going, but believing in my heart that I’m gonna make it to the zoo for the kids.

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I snuck a picture of the second guardian angel of the day as we drove toward his house. I also called the wife to let her know I had found a car and was on my way to get it. I didn’t know what kind of car, and of course she asked and I didn’t bother explaining it to her I simply said that I would explain when I got there.
The gentleman extended his hand and told me his name was John Fisher. I told him mine and shook his hand. I explained that I wasn’t really sure what to say, and I asked what I could offer him for allowing me to use his car. He said there was no need for anything, he just wanted us to get to the zoo and then home safe. He told me he didn’t need the car until Thursday evening, and I explained I was off the following day and would be sure to return it.
When we reached his house I saw setting in the driveway a Buick LeSabre, it didn’t look like a car I have ever owned and didn’t look like a car I ever have plans of owning. But it did look like a safe way for my wife and I to get the kids to the zoo. Mr. Fisher told me to drive it like my own and that I needed to get going.
In a moment of reality it hit me that this man standing before me was making a truly genuine act of random kindness. The following day I would learn that he was only at the repair shop to pay one of the young men working there for some side work he had done for him. The circumstances in which we crossed paths were impossible, and yet they had happened. He was meant to be there, and I was meant to be in need. His basic generosity was moving, and I wasn’t sure what to say or do. So I told him I wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him or what to do. He made it easy, “say goodbye, get in the car and get them kids to the zoo”. So that’s what I did.
Thirty minutes later I was pulling in to a McDonald’s parking lot to pick up my wife and kids. Yes we had some laughs about the car itself, the Barbara Mandrel cassette in the radio and the scenario in general. There were certainly moments when I felt like Clark Griswald in Vacation, and we even joked that we were on a quest, a quest for fun! The most important thing is that  we made it to the zoo and we saw the gorillas and the elephants and even a polar bear.

We had two people cross our paths on this day, and they made a difference.  They took a stranded and more than likely helpless family and made simple gestures that insured a memorable and fun trip to the zoo.  We have good memories and laughs to look back on, instead of a stack of negatives.  When I returned the car to Mr. Fisher the next day he was setting on the porch in a rocking chair relaxing.  He had no interest in checking out his car to make sure it was ok, I didn’t bother telling him that we had woke up early that morning and washed it swept it out and filled it up with gas for him, that wouldn’t matter to him either.  The offer of money was quickly squashed by him as he looked me straight in the eye and said “Mr. Grover, did those kids have fun”? At that point I understood, and perhaps I learned more in that moment than any of the kids did at the zoo.  There are angels among us, and sometimes when you least expect it they show up.  A thank you and a hand shake sometimes go a long way and I’m fortunate enough to have experienced that.

Thank you Sheriff Woods, and Mr. Fisher.  We wouldn’t have made it without you!

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