September 30, 2017

Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

Even though I'm not always the biggest fan of vegetables, I do love farmers' markets, especially since the one here in Madison is full of bread and cheese (and samples). I always make a point of visiting a local farmers' market when I travel, and one of my favorites was in Kansas City. That was the first time I saw brussels sprouts on the stem, or whatever you want to call the giant leafy trunk with little buds of brussels sprouts. I highly recommend looking up pictures of brussels sprouts growing if you've only seen them already harvested. Here in Madison, they're definitely at the farmers' market this time of year but you can usually only find them already plucked and in containers, though that doesn't impact how delicious they can be if you cook them right.

My sister refuses to be in a 5 mile radius of our house when my mom bakes these in the oven since the smell is so strong, so I've had to resort to other methods. I decided to roast them so they are fork-tender and cooked through but also get a nice caramelized brown crust. Cutting the brussels sprouts in half gives you more surface area for the tasty brown bits, so don't skip that step even if it's tedious.

The sauce starts with tons of fresh ginger and garlic. They go from brown to burnt very quickly, so keep an eye on your stove. From there, you stir in all sorts of basic Asian condiments: Sriracha for spice, soy sauce for bulk and saltiness, hoisin for earthiness, sugar for sweetness, and rice vinegar for tang. I also throw in some peppercorns or chiles for some extra heat since Kung Pao should be spicy. I think the ratio I listed balances all of these flavors well, but if you disagree just adjust it to your liking. But also reevaluate your priorities because my whole family thinks this is delicious.

The flavorful sauce ingredients alone don't make much of a glaze for the brussels sprouts, so I make a cornstarch slurry (just cornstarch and water) as a thickening agent. It's incredibly easy but must be stirred constantly once added to avoid lumpiness. Once it reaches a boil, it should form a nice, thick glaze. It's then time to add the brussels sprouts; you don't need to cook them much more since they're already tender so just leave them in long enough to soak up some of the sauce. I like to serve them with peanuts for crunch and scallions for a bit more green, but my dad tends to steal as many brussels sprouts as possible before they even hit the table. Apparently he's "just tasting" to make sure they're good enough to serve, but keep an eye on your family since this recipe tends to bring out the veggie-snatchers.

1 lb Brussels Sprouts, Halved
4 T Oil
2 tsp Grated Fresh Ginger
4 Cloves Garlic
2 T Sriracha
Dried Chiles or Sichuan Peppercorns
1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
2 T Hoisin
2 T Sugar
2 T Rice Wine Vinegar
1 T Cornstarch
1/2 Cup Chopped Peanuts
Scallions for Garnish

Heat oven to 400F and grease a baking sheet.

Toss the brussels sprouts with 2T oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread into a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until fork-tender and nicely browned.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until aromatic. Stir in the Sriracha, chiles/peppercorns, soy sauce, hoisin, sugar, vinegar, and 1/2 cup water. Whisk the cornstarch and 2T water together, then add to the sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then stir in the brussels sprouts. Toss with the peanuts and serve.

Serves 2-4

September 23, 2017

Parmesan-Crusted Chicken

It's technically fall now, and as much as I'd love to be wrapped up in a big blanket while wearing an oversize sweater and fuzzy socks and drinking hot chocolate, it's somewhere between 92 degrees and hell. This is Wisconsin, people! Give me some hot cheese and cute boots and I'm ready to embrace the change in season. I suppose the one good thing about the unusually warm weather this time of year is the great selection still at the farmers' market. There is still corn, watermelon, and a gorgeous rainbow of tomatoes. Since I'm always looking for excuses to go to the farmers' market and also for quick dinner recipes, this recipe is just what I'm looking for. It's my new favorite way to make chicken breasts, and topping it with seasonal (ish) tomatoes puts it over the top.

What makes this recipe so special is the breading. Instead of using Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs or the always-crunchy panko crumbs, I toss some plain breadcrumbs with freshly grated parmesan for some extra saltiness. When you use fresh parmesan, it has some extra moisture to bind to the crumbs and get coated completely. Pre-shredded parmesan is more waxy and doesn't stick to the crumbs, so you get bits of bare cheese that melt and burn during cooking.

The chicken itself starts with the most basic of all meats: the humble boneless, skinless chicken breast. I pound it thin to tenderize it, allow it to cook faster, and provide more surface area for those tasty breadcrumbs. If you don't have a meat tenderizer, I've found that a rolling pin works just fine. The chicken gets dipped in flour to make the egg stick, egg wash to make the breadcrumbs stick, and parmesan breadcrumbs to make life just a little better. I like to pan fry mine to get a nice golden crust and finish it in the oven, but if yours is thin enough to cook fully in the pan or you want to go the healthy route and cook it all in the oven those methods work just as well.

There are lots of ways to dress the chicken cutlets up once you're done cooking them. You can make a true chicken parmesan by topping them with tomato sauce and mozzarella and baking until hot and gooey. I also make a quick tomato relish by tossing diced tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic, and fresh herbs and letting it sit for an hour or so. You can cut this up for salads or sandwiches, too. Honestly, you can use this as a base for any other way you normally eat chicken. Breaded chicken usually isn't anything special, but it's amazing what some extra cheese can do.

1 lb Tomatoes
1-2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Balsamic
1 1/2 lbs Chicken Breasts
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1/2 Cup Flour
2 Eggs
2/3 Cup Milk
1 1/3 Cups Breadcrumbs
1 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan

Dice the tomatoes. Whisk the garlic, olive oil, and balsamic together and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375F.

Pound the chicken until about 1/4-1/2" thick. Season the flour with salt, pepper, and half the garlic and onion powder. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt, pepper, and remaining garlic and onion powder.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Dredge the chicken in the flour, then the egg wash, then the breadcrumb mixture. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until golden. Bake for 6-10 minutes or until cooked through. Top with the tomatoes.

Serves 4-6

September 10, 2017

Spicy Beer Shrimp with Lemon Cucumber Couscous

Now that classes have started, I'm definitely looking for quick meals. This shrimp dinner just so happens to have a (healthy) protein, a sauce, a carb-y side, AND some veggies and can easily be made in 30 minutes or less. I'm hoping I'll be able to manage that between classes, homework, research, and a little bit of enjoying my senior year, but we'll see. The shrimp are grilled simply and tossed in a spicy sauce with a little bit of everything good: beer, tomatoes, honey, and plenty of spice. I pair it with a quick couscous tossed with fresh cucumber and a light lemon dressing.

The sauce starts with some minced peppers. I like jalapenos and habaneros for a definite kick that still allows you to taste the rest of the dish. You can easily up that with some hotter peppers or tone it down with just jalapenos depending on your level of bravery. Once those sweat a bit, I add paprika, cayenne, and chili powder; again, you can increase or decrease the amounts to your liking. Honey and tomato paste are next, which help bulk up the sauce and balance the heat. Lastly, I throw in some beer, which is easy enough to find around my apartment. Don't worry about using any sort of special craft beer; there's enough going on here that you won't be able to tell much of a difference.

While the sauce is simmering and thickening, it's time to cook the couscous. I love couscous as an alternative to pasta since you just dump everything in and let it sit for a couple minutes as opposed to boiling a big pot of water, cooking pasta for 10-15 minutes, and having to take it out and dress it at just the right time. I normally prepare couscous by heating up one cup of water per cup of couscous, adding the couscous with a bit of butter and salt, then letting rest off the heat for 5 minutes to cook through. Here, I substitute in some vegetable broth for extra flavor and toss with diced cucumber, fresh parsley, and a lemon dressing after fluffing. Seafood always pairs well with bright, acidic lemon, and the cucumber adds some much-needed texture and freshness to lighten the dish.

Once the sauce and couscous are going, it's time to make the shrimp. Any raw shrimp will do, though as much as it annoys my dad and sister (aka taste testers for this recipe), I prefer to take most of the shells off but leave the tails on for presentation. Taking the shells off the body allows it to soak up the sauce later but the tails make it prettier and easier to pick up. I like to grill mine just until cooked through then quickly transfer to the sauce to pick up all that flavor. You could cook the shrimp by letting them simmer in the sauce instead for extra flavor, but I find that it's easier to keep an eye on the doneness when grilling and it still soaks up plenty of the sauce after. Shrimp isn't the best protein to heat up as leftovers (it tends to get very rubbery), but if you want to make this dish for multiple meals you can do so by making extra sauce and couscous and just cooking the shrimp as you need it. You can also use the sauce on pretty much anything else too, and I'm guessing my roommates will start doing shots of the stuff once I make this for dinner.

2 T Butter
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Habanero, Minced
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Chili Powder
3 T Tomato Paste
1 T Honey
2/3 Cup Beer
1 lb Shrimp
1 Cup Couscous
1 Cup Vegetable Broth
2/3 Cup Diced Cucumber
3 T Chopped Parsley
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Olive Oil

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the garlic and habanero and cook for 3 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Add the paprika, cayenne, and chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the tomato paste and honey and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the beer, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened.

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer. Add the couscous, cover, and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff and toss with the cucumber, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Chill if desired.

Meanwhile, brush the shrimp with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until opaque and toss in the sauce. Serve over the couscous.

Serves 2-4
Recipe Adapted from The Beeroness