Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Know Your Arithmetic: Cauliflower “Risotto” with Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts, and Mushrooms

Michel's Cauliflower Risotto with Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts, and Mushrooms

Here we are at the start of a new year. Now what?

It’s no small feat that the world survived 2017 with its record-breaking natural disasters and numerous man-made crises, not to mention the anxiety-induced stress eating we engaged in here on Planet Earth as we helplessly watched the events unfolding.

Comfort food, anyone? Mac and cheese? Pizza? Warm pecan pie a la mode?
Tina Fey pretty much summed it up for us in this Saturday Night Live sketch:

Through it all, Michel has maintained his habitually unflinching outlook (maybe because he’s still a Dutch citizen—just sayin’—or he’s a quintessential Taurus). He continues to invent deliciously healthful dishes and he sees to it that we go to the gym a few days a week. 

Moreover, he also prefers that we actually work out while at the gym, unlike the guys who smell from cigarettes and spend considerable time gabbing/texting as they stand beside the weight racks or perhaps a certain reluctant white-haired female who suffered ninth grade PE class PTSD from having to wear a short red (scratchy) jumpsuit with her name across the back while trying to dodge flying objects because she lacked the ability to catch anything. 

It’s not for nothing that the term “gym-timidation” has been employed by advertisers to assuage the fears of prospective new members, especially when the new year rolls around. 
Photo: Planet Fitness

Michel’s ability to exert self-discipline isn’t limited to exercise and nutrition. He practices the violin at least 3-4 hours a day and spends countless hours every week researching instruments and bows while fielding calls from colleagues in the violin business in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s a remarkable thing to witness. Enviable, even.

This new recipe is the latest example of his ongoing quest for good food and his intuitive approach to cooking. To most of us, a plastic bag of cauliflower “pearls” might look like the world’s saddest salad ingredient. What does Michel see? A lean and nutritious substitute for risotto.

Traditional Mushroom Risotto:

A side of traditional mushroom risotto with its gooey, starchy goodness will set you back about 450 calories if prepared with Arborio rice, wine, butter, etc. You can do your own math to figure out what an entrée portion would amount to. I prefer to follow Scarlett O’Hara’s plan to “think about it tomorrow” (pronounced tuhmarruh) on the rare occasions I choose a risotto entrée. Also, I don’t understand “fancy” restaurant pricing of risotto dishes. It’s rice. Rice is cheap. Throw in a few mushrooms or whatever and it’s still not a $30 dish.  

Even if you were to consume a "yuuuge" amount of Michel’s version you will rack up fewer than 150 calories. Here’s the breakdown from Google:
1 cup sprouts = 38 calories
1 cup artichokes = 60 calories
1 cup mushrooms = 19 calories
1 cup cauliflower = 33 calories

That’s roughly 150 calories for four cups of veggies—and that’s a LOT of veggies, not to mention all of the Vitamins C and K, folate, potassium, etc., you’re ingesting. You’re saving about 300 calories vs. traditional risotto; that’s 300 calories you can use for something less healthful, like, I dunno, half of a Starbucks Venti Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. Just a thought.

Time to put aside holiday indulgences and cook something fast and simple.

You will need:

1 small package of dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated  

1 8-ounce package of crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, cut into lengthwise halves  

1 16-ounce package of cauliflower pearls

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon of capers w/brine
1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 6-ounce package of grilled artichoke hearts

Ready to cook? 

Steam sprouts for 3-4 minutes. 

Chop rehydrated porcini mushrooms.

Add olive oil to wok or your favorite large skillet.

Sauté porcini pieces and crimini slices until they start browning.

Add chopped garlic and continue cooking until mushrooms are fully browned.

Add brined capers, cauliflower pearls, grilled artichoke hearts, steamed sprout halves, and salt/pepper.

Cook for 5-8 minutes to allow ingredients to get well acquainted, i.e., thoroughly heated.

Give yourself a big pat on the back for preparing a healthful meal to start your new year.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Elf November + Hearty Autumn Salad with Squash, Radicchio, Pecans, and Pomegranate Seeds (vegan)

To be clear, Halloween is not an enjoyable observance in our household. Our dogs routinely go berserk over squirrels and lizards so it’s easy to understand that the sounds of strange voices and the sight of masked children at the door would cause panic. Then there’s the leftover candy…

As a very young child, I used to hide behind a large upholstered chair in our living room on Halloween night because the trick-or-treaters made me nervous. Michel doesn’t have childhood Halloween memories because it wasn’t part of his culture. (Spoiler alert: We are not fans of pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, etc., and we’ve never tasted a Starbucks “pumpkin spice” beverage. Can’t do it.)

Dutch children have a much less frightful way of soliciting treats from neighborly adults, i.e., an alternative Halloween. In some parts of Holland and other Northern European countries, November 11th is observed as Saint Martin’s Day. 

Amsterdam, 11 november 1954.
Collectie AHF / Ben van Meerendonk / negative number AHF 12900

The story goes that, while riding his horse through a snowstorm, St. Martin used his sword to slash his cloak in twain and gave half of it to a freezing beggar. That night Martin had a dream in which Christ was wearing half a cloak and telling his angels that Martin had given it to him.

Tapecaria St. Martin
(Google Images)

That’s all good and well, but how to you get from cloak to candy? Dutch children (kinderen) walk through the streets carrying paper lanterns on the ends of sticks that look like very small fishing poles. Sometimes the lanterns are made at school, sometimes at home. The participants sing familiar songs about Sint Maarten as they go from door to door, whereupon they are treated to candies and fruit--usually tangerines

One of the most familiar tunes is about November 11th (the lantern light) and November 12th (the treats). You might be amused to note that “eleven” translated to Dutch becomes “elf.”

Elf November is de dag,
Dat mijn lichtje
Dat mijn lichtje
Elf November is de dag
Dat mijn lichtje branden mag.

Twaalf november is de dag
dat ik mag snoepen
dat ik mag snoepen
Twaalf november is de dag
dat ik mag snoepen de hele dag.

Another favorite song has to do with the story of Sint Maarten and his cloak.

No matter how you choose to celebrate the sensory delights of autumn, you will find this colorful salad a satisfying dish. We eat it as a main course but it would also make an impressive side dish for any (dysfunctional) holiday gathering.

You will need:

for the salad
2-3 cups of cubed butternut squash
1 small head of radicchio, cut into pieces
2 cups of baby arugula (or adult arugula cut into pieces)
½ cup pecan halves
½ cup pomegranate seeds (a/k/a arils)

to season the squash before roasting
chili powder
red pepper flakes, preferably smoked
olive oil

for the salad dressing
juice of ½ a lemon
2 garlic cloves, pressed
“a little salt”
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place squash cubes on foil-lined baking sheet.

Drizzle and sprinkle squash with modest amounts (!) of olive oil, honey, chili powder, smoked red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir gently to coat the squash pieces, adding salt, etc. to taste. Roast for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the radicchio and arugula. Place in your favorite salad vessel along with pecan halves and pomegranate seeds. 

Mix the salad dressing.* As noted in the previous post (delicata squash), Michel is not picky about measuring when he cooks. He sometimes uses balsamic vinegar infused with fig; it’s especially nice with relatively bitter ingredients like radicchio and arugula. Generally, he puts lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and garlic (or whatever he’s using) in a small plastic container with a lid and shakes it up. Then he tastes it. Sometimes he adds a little something to get the result he wants--shaking, tasting, adding as needed. 

*I’m not the boss of you (nor anyone else—not even our dogs) so please make your salad dressing any way you want to.

When the squash has finished roasting, stir in the salad dressing to coat the radicchio and arugula then gently add squash pieces to the mix. Eat.