After 30-plus years in the Southeast, I’ve come to appreciate many of the traditions, especially the ones related to food. There’s a particularly tasty tradition that occurs here in the fall, when churches, civic groups and Boy Scout troops set up giant, outdoor cast-iron kettles for their Brunswick stew fundraisers. They sign up volunteers, who take turns stirring the simplest of ingredients into a delicious aromatic stew, and folks arrive in droves to enjoy it by the bowl, and to take home quarts for freezing. It’s tradition and it’s delicious.
If you look into some of the old-time church cookbooks, you’d likely find Brunswick stew recipes that begin with fresh-caught rabbits or even squirrels, but (thankfully) my introduction to this homey, comforting soup was a chicken version, and that’s what I’m sharing today.
Brunswick stew is one of those comfort foods that tastes rich and hearty, but checks in on the low end of the fat-and-calories scale. Feel free to swap in other vegetables that suit your fancy—it’s what folks do in different parts of the South and depending on where you are, you might find potatoes, green beans or carrots in the bowl.
You can roast your own chicken if you’d like (overnight in the slow cooker makes amazing broth at the same time), but to keep it quick and simple, I’m using a rotisserie chicken this time, plus packaged broth, a few simple fresh and frozen vegetables, and a can of tomatoes. Whip up some corn muffins while it simmers, and dinner is served.
First, the essentials. This is a Southern classic comfort food, so the “holy trinity” of peppers, onions and celery is the foundation of the recipe. Any color bell pepper is fine for Brunswick stew, but I personally find the red and orange bells to be a bit on the sweet side, so I’m using a green bell.
Okra came to the Americas from Africa in the 1600s, and it remains a staple of Southern cooking. You’ll find it in many Cajun and Creole recipes in Louisiana, and it’s not unusual to see it breaded and fried, or even pickled, which I love in a Southern-style potato salad or on deviled eggs. The pectin in okra gives it some thickening power when it’s cooked in liquid, but some people are turned off by the slightly slimy texture. Two things can minimize this: don’t overcook it (for this recipe, it’s added at the end), and cook it in combination with tomatoes, which is what’s happening in this Brunswick stew.
If you make this stew in the late summer or fall, of course you would want to use fresh corn, lima beans and okra.
1 deli roasted chicken, dark and white meat shredded* (see notes)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen lima beans
2 cups frozen sliced okra
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
2 to 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
A few shakes hot sauce (optional, Frank’s RedHot or Texas Pete recommended)
Salt and pepper, of course
If you prefer to roast your own chicken, more power to you! If you have time to work ahead, you might also want to make your own stock. Or you could make your own stock from the frame of the rotisserie chicken. After de-boning and shredding the meat, toss the bones and skin into a pot with cut-up onions, celery, carrots and just enough water to cover it all. Simmer a few hours then strain out the solids, and you’d have a great alternative to the packaged broth (or, at least, some of it).
If the pictures here seem to defy the ingredient amounts listed, there’s good reason for it—on this particular day, I only had half a rotisserie chicken, so I halved the entire recipe. The ratios are the same, and this stew is so satisfying and delicious, I’m already regretting that I didn’t run to the store for another chicken!
Place a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil. Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, shredded chicken and broth. Add bay leaf, reduce heat and simmer up to an hour.
Add frozen corn and lima beans, but reserve frozen okra until about 20 minutes before serving, to prevent the okra from breaking down too much. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper to your preference.
Stir in BBQ sauce (and hot sauce, if using), and add the okra to the pot. When the bright green color of the okra begins to fade a bit, it’s ready to serve!
Cold weather and shorter days gettin’ you down? Me, too. We’ve had a few close calls this season for snow or wintry mix, but not much has materialized here in the South, though we’ve had our share of cold, dreary days and nights. My friends and family around New York and Boston have seen far more than their share of winter this week, thanks to the Nor’easter that dropped a foot or more of snow. And Punxsutawney Phil, the jumbo rodent in charge of this whole thing, saw his shadow (or perhaps felt the snowflakes falling against his fat cheeks) this morning, and declared “six more weeks of winter.” The bottom line is that winter is getting old; we are all tired of it. What we need is some warm and nourishing comfort food.
I finally pulled out our 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and made a huge batch of this soup that never fails to chase away my midwinter blues—a steaming hot bowl of Italian flavor that is chock-full of fresh, nutritious vegetables, spicy Italian sausage, creamy beans and petite pasta. This is the kind of food that warms you from the inside, whether you’re dining at the table or curled up with a soft blanket on the sofa while eating your minestrone from a pottery mug and binging on Netflix. Whatever comfort looks like for you, this soup has it covered.
Minestrone is Italian, obviously, so I’ve seasoned it with my own “Mamma Mia” blend of herbs and spices. This seasoning blend was born more than a decade ago when I participated in a “reverse offering” experiment at church. We were given $20 and challenged to double (or more) that money for charitable donation. The effort was intended to show how we could use our own talents to make a difference in the world. I bought a bunch of bulk spices, turned them into blends and packaged them into baby food jars (which I found for free on Craigslist) with little fabric-wrapped tops for individual sale. The end of the story is that my $20 turned into almost $60 (a fine return), and I still have several of my blends in regular rotation today. Mamma Mia seasoning contains dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram and ground fennel seed, plus garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s zesty, herbal and a little bit spicy, and just the right punch of flavor in this minestrone.
Nothing says “comfort” better than a bowl of nourishing soup, and I hope you’ll find it just right for stuck-at-home days, snow days, waiting for snow days, sick of the snow days and—well, pretty much all the days.
This recipe makes about 4 quarts. You will need a large soup pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven to hold all the ingredients, but the recipe can easily be halved for a more manageable batch. This soup also freezes well, so you can pack some away for another gloomy day.
Ingredients from the pantry
Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic
1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth
1 carton low-sodium chicken broth* (see notes)
28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)
15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini)
15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp. Mamma Mia Seasoning blend (see the end of the post for ingredients, or substitute another salt-free Italian seasoning + a few hearty shakes crushed red pepper flakes)
2 cups dry ditalini (or other petite shaped pasta, such as small elbows or mini farfalle)
Ingredients from the fridge
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup each green and red bell peppers, chopped
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced and chopped*
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 fat handful kale leaves, chopped small*
1 handful fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, cleaned and finely chopped for garnish at serving
1 or 2 lbs. bulk hot Italian sausage* (optional, see notes)
Minestrone is perfectly adaptable for a vegetarian, or even vegan, option. Simply swap more vegetable broth for the chicken broth and skip the sausage in favor of additional beans. For texture and interest, I’d recommend a can of garbanzo beans in place of the meat.
Fennel provides a real Italian flavor to minestrone, and the flavor is echoed in my Mamma Mia seasoning, which includes ground fennel seed. It has a crunchy texture that is similar to celery, and a slight licorice flavor that blends well with the other ingredients. Use only the white bulb part of the vegetable (see the slides for more description).
Any type of kale can be used in minestrone. Lacinato kale is commonly used in Italian cooking, but I used curly kale. If you prefer, you could also substitute about 1 1/2 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage. These hearty greens add texture and fiber to the soup.
You decide how much sausage, if any, you use in this recipe. My batch included only 1 pound this time, and I used a chicken sausage that was labeled “hot Italian.” Turkey or pork sausage would also work or as mentioned above, you could omit the meat altogether for a vegan version.
Want to make this in a slow cooker? Go for it! The soup doesn’t need much attention other than occasional stirring or adding ingredients. After the initial cooking of sausage and veggies, simply dump everything into the slow cooker and let it go on high heat for several hours, or low heat overnight. It may help to give the kale a quick sauté before adding to the crock, given that it is much larger volume before cooking and most slow cookers recommend filling only 2/3 full.
First, the pictures, or you can scroll down for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a spoon or wooden utensil.
Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, peppers, fennel and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables soften, and the moisture released from them has mostly evaporated.
Scatter Italian seasoning blend over the ingredients and stir to combine.
Move the sausage and vegetables to the outer edges of the pot and drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Toss in the mushrooms, half at a time, and gently toss them around to lightly brown them. If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the mixture at the end of this step.
Add the whole plum tomatoes, squeezing each thoroughly by hand directly into the pot. This will assist in breaking down the tomatoes for quicker cooking. Empty all puree into the pot as well.
Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir to combine. Heat soup to a low boiling point, then reduce heat to a simmer. This will take about 15 minutes.
Stir in finely chopped kale and stir. Add piece of Parmesan rind and allow it to simmer with the soup for a few hours.
Near the end of your expected cooking time, drain and rinse the canned beans. Season them with salt and pepper before adding them to the soup.
Fill a large pot with water and cook the ditalini (or other petite pasta) to al dente texture. Drain pasta and add to the soup just before serving. Alternatively, drain the pasta, toss with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking, and transfer it to a separate bowl to be added to soup as it’s served. This will help you enjoy the soup several days later, without mushy noodles.
During earlier years of Food Network, the contestants vying to become “the next Food Network star” were actually given a contract to host their own cooking show, usually slotted for Sunday mornings. That was before the network became its entirely competition-based format, where everything has to be done in 20 minutes and somebody always “wins.” I still watch, but I miss the days when more of the chefs (or cooks, in the case of ever-popular Rachael Ray) walked you through the steps of making a meal in what looked like a real home kitchen. They still have some weekend morning “how-to” shows, but the rest of the time, it’s either a big ol’ showdown, or a bunch of chefs talking in bold color about the food at places they visit (I’m looking at you, Guy Fieri). 😉
Speaking of bold color, I’ve been working on restoring some color to things around here in the tail end of a very gray January. The recipe I’m sharing today has been a favorite of mine since the third season of said “Food Network Star,” and I learned it by watching an episode of the show hosted by Amy Finley, the first woman to win the network’s competition.
Amy’s show, endearingly named “The Gourmet Next Door,” showcased elegantly simple French cooking methods, and Amy exuded confidence in the kitchen. I was disappointed, along with everyone at Food Network, when Amy decided not to return for a second season. During her six episodes of TV fame, she managed to get through to me with this simple and really flavorful recipe, which she said was inspired by the foods of French Morocco, on the northern coast of Africa. The bone-in chicken thighs are marinated in a spicy blend of chiles and seed spices—known in those parts as “harissa”—and surrounded by tender and colorful vegetables, plus dried fruit and fried almonds. If it sounds like a weird combination, trust me, you will change your mind after you taste it. It’s spicy and savory, yet sweet with fruit and wholly satisfying.
Traditionally, a Moroccan dish such as this would be prepared in a clayware vessel called a tagine, which looks like the red pot above. The shape of the tagine keeps moisture inside for perfectly tender roasts and stews. I’ve had this tagine on display for several years, but have only recently considered cooking in it, at the urging of my husband, Les. However, after much discussion with my aunt, who spent decades as a clay potter, we concluded that the finish on this one probably makes it purely decorative and unsuitable for cooking. No worries, I’ve prepared the dish today as I always have, in a simple cast-iron skillet.
This dish is pretty and delicious, as spicy as you want it to be, easy to make and a welcome flavor change-up from the usual weeknight chicken dinner. I hope you like it!
2 Tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola
2 tsp. harissa blend spices* (see notes)
4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 small sweet onion, chopped into large pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into uniform chunks
1 small yellow squash, cut into uniform chunks
Handful of fresh baby tomatoes, whole
Small handful each dried plums (prunes) and apricots
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 tsp. neutral oil, such as canola
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds, unsalted
Cooked couscous for serving
Traditionally, harissa is presented as a paste made from fresh whole chiles, and it really tips the scale on Scoville heat units. My dry blend of harissa spices allows for some flexibility in the heat department and includes red chile, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and what I call the “three C spices,” which are caraway, coriander and cumin. The seeds should be slightly toasted and then ground into a rough powder before blending with the other ingredients. If you prefer, substitute a ready-made harissa blend, or use the harissa paste seasoning available at Trader Joe’s (brace yourself, it’s hot). My harissa dry spice blend recipe is listed at the end of this post.
You will need an oven safe skillet with a tight-fitting lid for this recipe. Alternatively, you could make it in an electric skillet with a lid. Or a tagine, if yours is safe to cook in. 🙂
Let’s walk through it together in pictures first. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version for your recipe files.
Combine the oil and spice blend in a large, deep bowl that is large enough to hold the chicken thighs for marinating. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with kosher salt. Add them to the spice marinade and turn several times to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 350° F, with oven rack in the center.
Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When skillet is warm (but not hot), add chicken pieces, skin side-down. Do not move or turn the pieces for about 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy. Cook the second side about 5 minutes, until browned. Remove pieces to a plate and keep warm.
Add the chopped onions, then zucchini and squash to the remaining oil in the skillet, tossing briefly to coat and lightly sauté them. Salt to taste. Remove skillet from heat.
Arrange the baby tomatoes among the skillet vegetables, then tuck in the dried fruit pieces evenly throughout the skillet. Place the chicken thighs on top of the mixture.
Swirl broth in the bowl that held the chicken pieces, to grab all the flavors lingering there. Pour the broth down the sides of the skillet, so that it flows underneath to the vegetables.
Cover the skillet and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until vegetables and fruit are soft and chicken pieces are tender. Prep the couscous near the end of the cooking time.
Heat teaspoon of oil in a small skillet until it’s quite hot and shimmery. Add raw almonds and toss them about for about two minutes. They will pop and sputter a bit, so be careful. When they are toasty and fragrant, use a slotted spoon to remove them.
Serve the vegetables and chicken over cooked couscous, and spoon the fried almonds over the top.
It happens every time. The start of a new year is filled with good intentions, as everyone makes their resolutions to get fit, lose weight, improve their health. This is the reason for all the TV ads for gym memberships, weight loss products and home exercise equipment. It isn’t a terrible idea, of course, but there are simpler (and more sustainable) things we can do to get back into better habits, and most of them begin in the kitchen.
Along with many other people at the end of holiday indulging, I’m tired of so much rich food and find myself aching for fresher, lighter fare. After the heavy flavors of Thanksgiving dishes, it was spicy that I craved. But after the double whammy of Christmas and New Year’s, and all the sweets and booze that came with them, I just want to eat something—anything—fresh. Oh, and easy would be nice, too!
That’s where this recipe comes in, and there’s plenty to love about it. The dish is light and lemony, with big, juicy shrimp and bright, barely-crunchy asparagus. Piled high on a bed of al dente pasta, it looks like it came from a restaurant kitchen, and it tastes like fresh air after all the decadence we’ve plated in this house over the past six weeks.
Scampi is a simple dish to make, and the main thing to embrace is patience. You will cook the garlic slowly in olive oil over low heat, which allows it to essentially poach rather than sauté. This low and slow approach leads to the soft, mellow garlic flavor that is distinctive in scampi. And yes, it is a fair amount of oil, but remember that extra virgin olive oil is monounsaturated—what nutritionists call “good fat.” The meal will satisfy, and there are health benefits to boot. Sounds good to me!
If you don’t care for asparagus, sub in another crisp green vegetable, maybe some sugar snap peas or fresh broccolini. Or skip the sauteed veggie and serve the scampi alongside a salad. After the holidays, you deserve whatever fresh flavors suit your craving. Make it your own.
Serves: 2 Time to make it: About 35 minutes
2/3 pound fresh or frozen (uncooked) shrimp, 16-20 count* (see notes)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced in crescent moon shapes
1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
A few shakes crushed red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy
The “count” on shrimp refers to its size, and represents the average number of shrimp per pound. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. I have no problem with using frozen shrimp, especially because supermarkets often receive the shrimp frozen anyway. For many reasons, including food safety, fair trade and human rights, I always purchase shrimp harvested in the U.S., and my preference is white gulf shrimp. It’s sweet and juicy, whereas some other types of shrimp can be sharp and briny. Check with your seafood department for flavor recommendations, and whatever you purchase, be sure to thoroughly clean and de-vein it (instructions for this at the end of the post).
Place a large, non-stick skillet over low heat. Add olive oil and garlic (plus the red pepper, if using) and leave it alone. When the oil heats very slowly, the garlic gets softer and more mellow, which leads to the flavor we all know in scampi. Rush this step and the garlic will burn, which is definitely not delicious. Expect this low, slow cooking to take about 20 minutes.
Thaw the shrimp (if frozen), and then peel and de-vein each one. If you have never done this before, it’s easy but extremely important, and I’ve provided some images at the end of the post to walk you through it. Removing the peel is pretty simple. Next, use a sharp paring knife to make a shallow cut down the outside curved part of the shrimp, revealing a dark stringy thing. I hate to tell you, but this isn’t actually a vein—it’s a digestive tract. Disgusting, but important to know. Slip the sharp tip of the knife underneath this nasty thing and pull it out. Lay the cleaned shrimp on layers of paper towel and set aside for now. If working ahead, cover and refrigerate.
Bring a large pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta. Season it generously with kosher salt and (once boiling) add the pasta, stirring to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente, according to directions on the pasta box. While this is underway, continue with the recipe below.
After the garlic has poached about 20 minutes, turn the skillet heat up to medium. When oil begins to bubble around the garlic, add the onions and asparagus and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the asparagus is slightly softened but still bright green.
Move the veggies to the outer edges of the skillet and arrange the cleaned shrimp in the center. Cook only long enough for the bottom of the shrimp to become pink and opaque.
Turn the shrimp, season the whole skillet with salt and pepper, and add in the lemon zest. Squeeze the lemon half over the mixture and continue to cook until the second side of the shrimp is cooked. Move all the skillet ingredients to the outer edges.
Using tongs, move the cooked pasta directly to the center of the skillet and swirl it around to coat it with the flavors of the skillet.
Arrange the pasta on serving plates or bowls, hit it with a little parm-romano blend, if you’d like, and top with veggies and shrimp.
For goodness sake, do not skip this important step. As noted above, the “vein” in the outer curve of shrimp is actually a digestive tract, and the gunk inside is what’s left of the critter’s most recent meal (yuck). Food safety experts haven’t expressed serious concerns about eating it, but if it grosses you out (as it does me), grab a sharp paring knife and get that thing outta there!
All’s well that ends well, and after a few unexpected issues with the ingredients in this dish, I’m pleased to deliver the end result. It’s a colorful mix of healthful ingredients, with a little bit of crispy bacon on top, just because.
In case you aren’t familiar, succotash is a very popular dish in the southeast U.S., one that I first met when I dated a guy who was born and raised in rural North Carolina. His mother made succotash with sweet corn and lima beans as a regular part of her Sunday supper, which was immediately followed by three hours of gazing at a NASCAR race (yawn). They were nice people and she made juicy fried chicken (and the best coconut cake I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating). When I dared to make Thanksgiving dinner for them, I was admonished by boyfriend’s dad, who informed me that I needed to learn how to cook green beans. In the South, this would customarily involve a pressure cooker and a pound of “fatback,” a pretty dramatic contrast to my “upstate” green beans, which were delicately blanched and served with butter and almonds. Yep, they were still actually green. My bad.
I’m quite sure his family would not have approved all the liberties I’ve taken today with this succotash, adding all this crazy color and bold flavor, but what can I say—you can’t fix sassy.
For my version of succotash, I changed course for a moment with an idea to use golden hominy rather than corn because the hominy matched the size of the butter beans and roasted squash pieces. But as they say about the best-laid plans, things didn’t work out when the canned hominy proved to have texture equal to hog slop—it would have looked even worse in pictures than it did in the bowl. That’ll teach me second-guessing myself (this time, anyway).
I suspended preparation of the dish, long enough for my super-efficient husband to pick up a bag of our favorite frozen roasted corn, which brought me back to my Plan A. The roasted corn is pretty and rustic, and with addition of the big pieces of red onion and dark, earthy poblano pepper, my sassy succotash is a bona fide hit for Thanksgiving this year.
Oh, and I married the right guy, too—born and raised in NYC, and couldn’t care less about NASCAR. All’s well that ends well. ❤
2 cups frozen butter beans*, cooked according to package
3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1/2 large poblano pepper, chopped*
1/4 tsp. ancho chile powder* (see notes)
1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn*
Butter beans are usually a bit larger than lima beans, although I’m not sure it was the case with the bag I purchased. Either will work fine in this dish, so don’t sweat it.
I chose poblano for this dish because of its dark green color and mildly smoky flavor. It’s not as hot as jalapeno, but does have a little kick to it, though the heat dissipates during cooking. You could substitute a dark green bell pepper if you prefer.
Ancho chile is the dried, smoked version of poblano peppers. If you cannot find it, substitute any chili powder—it’s a small amount, so you won’t compromise or alter the flavor much.
We love the roasted corn from Trader Joe’s in so many things. I have seen other brands occasionally, but it would also be fine to use regular frozen corn, or, of course, you could upstage me and grill fresh corn!
The hominy setback turned out to be a blessing, because everything was prepped and ready to go for assembling the dish. Here’s how it goes, and you’ll find written instructions below, along with a downloadable version for your recipe files. Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss the butternut squash pieces in olive oil, just enough to coat all sides. Season with salt and pepper and roast them for about 25 minutes, or until fork tender, but firm.
Prepare the frozen lima beans according to package instructions, and then shock them in cold water to halt the cooking so they don’t get mushy. Drain and set aside.
Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon pieces and toss to cook until they are done and crispy; remove to a drain on a paper towel. Do not drain the bacon grease.
Add the red onion and poblano peppers to the skillet and sauté in bacon grease until they are very slightly soft. Sprinkle ancho chile powder over the mix and toss to coat.
Add the frozen corn to the skillet and toss until heated through. Add the cooked butter beans and toss again.
Just before serving, toss the butternut squash into the pan and toss the mixture to reheat the squash and combine everything evenly. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl, and sprinkle with the reserved crispy bacon pieces.
Want to make this dish vegan?
Omit the bacon, and saute the onions and peppers in a tablespoon of olive oil rather than bacon grease. No other adjustments will be necessary. I love an adaptable recipe!
For the past several years at our home, some version of this side dish has appeared on the Thanksgiving table. The first couple of years, it was a popular recipe I had seen online at purewow.com, and I made it exactly as written, using honey and sriracha. The next year, I doubled the sriracha because my husband, Les, loves spicy so much. The year after that, I swapped out the honey in favor of maple syrup to keep it friendly to Les’s daughter, who adheres to the vegan lifestyle. What I love most about this recipe (besides the fact that Brussels sprouts are awesome and so good for you) is that it’s easily adaptable and it flies in the face of so many things people believe about their own tastes. This dish has been a winner with guests who don’t like Brussels sprouts, and also with people who don’t like the spicy nature of sriracha.
This year, in advance of Thanksgiving, I’ve been testing a few favorite recipes so that I can jot down the amounts and times that are appropriate for sharing. This has been one of the important challenges of doing a food blog—because I cook by instinct and memory, I don’t always know offhand how much of different ingredients I use or how long I cook them at whatever temperature. But a surprise popped up when I started working on my spicy Brussels sprouts for this post: our sriracha gave an odd aroma, and we realized it was almost a year out of date! Oops.
The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s certainly true in the kitchen, isn’t it? If I had a nickel for every time I made an emergency substitute, we could finally take the plunge on some new granite counters! But in this instance, the substitute was obvious to both of us—cayenne sauce would be the perfect stand-in for the sriracha. It’s mouthwatering, spicy and marries perfectly with maple syrup. If you’re looking to try something a little different this year, I hope you enjoy these.
Up to 2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed, drained and patted dry
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
3 Tbsp. cayenne pepper sauce (we used Frank’s RedHot, of course!)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Trim the sprouts by using a sharp knife to make a thin slice off the bottoms. This will loosen the outer leaves, which you may discard. When all sprouts are trimmed, cut them into halves, lengthwise (top to bottom).
In a large bowl, combine syrup, cayenne sauce, rice vinegar, salt and pepper. Stream in the olive oil gradually, whisking quickly to create an emulsion. Alternatively, add all the ingredients together in a jar with a tight lid and shake the dickens out of it.
Immediately transfer the Brussels sprouts to the bowl with the marinade and gently fold to toss them, taking care to coat every side of the sprouts.
Arrange the sprouts, cut side down, onto the prepared baking sheet. Keep a little room between the sprouts to ensure even roasting. Do not discard the marinade.
Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the baking sheet and toss the sprouts once again in the marinade. Return them to the baking sheet (direction does not matter) and back into the oven for 5 additional minutes.
The sprouts emerge from the oven with fragrant, crispy edges and tender, caramelized interior from all the marinade that weeps into the creases between leaves. These are best served right away, but for the sake of sanity on Thanksgiving, you may also make them ahead and warm them up in time for dinner. The sprouts will lose the crispiness, of course, but you will still love the flavor.
The warmth of summer is fading, and I’m not complaining. My favorite things to cook are autumn and winter foods, and I’m scheming to bring exciting new flavors into the new season.
But we still have to eat between now and then, and the grill has been our BFF this summer, especially as we have challenged ourselves to elevate our home-cooked meals while so many restaurants were closed. Here’s a quick look back at some of the fun grilled foods I’ve put on my plate since I launched Comfort du Jour:
Before the sun sets on summer 2020, I’m throwing down a Mediterranean twist on simple grilled pork chops. I love the flavors of souvlaki, the Greek specialty that highlights the brightness of lemon and pungency of garlic, and is often applied to chicken or pork on skewers, so why not just skip chopping the chops into chunks and just marinate them as they are?
And tasty grilled meat deserves a fresh grilled side, so I have also whipped up a flavorful, healthy salad made with fresh summer tomato, crunchy red onion and marinated grilled zucchini squash. Here we go!
2 thick sliced, bone-in pork chops
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or any white wine vinegar + pinch of sugar)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Greek Kalamata)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into wedges
1 medium firm tomato, cut into chunks
2 thick slices red onion, cut into chunks
6 Kalamata olives, drained and chopped
Dressing: 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. white balsamic, a few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning, 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, whisk in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
Feta cheese, cut into cubes
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Take a walk through the slideshow for visual instruction, and refer to the notes below if you need them. Remember, you can download the recipe in PDF format to try it yourself, and please let me know how it comes out for you!
Season pork chops with salt and pepper.
In a glass measuring cup, combine lemon juice, vinegars, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil into the blend, whisking constantly, until mixture is emulsified. Stir in minced garlic.
Pour most of the marinate over the pork chops in a glass dish and set aside for 30 minutes. Turn once or twice during marinating time to ensure even distribution of flavor.
Pour the remaining marinade over the zucchini strips in another dish. Salt and pepper the zucchini and set those aside while you chop and prep the remaining salad ingredients.
Mix together the dressing ingredients and set that aside, giving the dried oregano time to hydrate.
Prepare grill and pre-heat to about 450° F (medium). Carefully place the pork chops over direct heat and sear each side about 1 minute to seal in juices. Then reduce the heat to about 350° F. The olive oil may cause flare-ups, so keep that cold beer in your hand to splash if necessary. Just kidding; either keep a squirt bottle nearby or use a grill tool to try to put out the flare or move the chops.
Continue to cook for about 10 minutes each side, or until juices start to run clear when pierced with a knife tip.
When you turn the chops, pile the zucchini onto the grill also, and turn them frequently to cook evenly and to get those beautiful grill marks.
Allow the finished chops to rest and chop the zucchini spears into bite-sized chunks. Immediately toss the grilled zucchini with the rest of the salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing briefly, then pour over salad and toss gently to combine. Scatter cubes of feta and fresh parsley over salad and serve alongside the pork chops.
The word “salad” can mean a lot of things, depending on the generation during which the recipe was introduced. For example, in the 1960s or ’70s, a “salad” could have been anything from an iceberg lettuce-based dish served ahead of dinner to a molded concoction of sweetened gelatin, cottage cheese, marshmallow or who knows what.
Blame our parents, if you need to, for those atrocities. But this salad is a real salad—vegetables, fruit, dressing—everything you want to complement what you’re serving for dinner in these modern times, especially if what you’re serving is coming off the grill.
Broccoli comes to us from the brassica family of vegetables, kin to brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, to name a few. Some of these veggies carry a slightly bitter flavor, but here’s a tip to knock it down: give it a quick swim in boiling water (only for a few seconds), then shock it cold again in an ice water bath. Not only will you strip away some of that bitter flavor, you’ll also see the broccoli transform to a much brighter green color. Be sure to drain it well before proceeding with the salad, so the dressing doesn’t get watery.
We love salads at our house, but my husband, Les, isn’t wild about broccoli by itself. A salad that features broccoli along with other flavors and textures is a great compromise, and he liked it. His son, Alex, has been with us for meals at least once a week since his return home from Europe at the start of the pandemic, and he announced at dinner that this dish has “all my favorite things in it.” I’m counting that a double success!
This dish is crunchy, cold, fresh and—despite the slight sweetness—still packed with nutrition. Approximately 6 servings.
2 broccoli crowns, washed (about 4 cups worth)
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisin-dried cranberry blend, soaked briefly in hot water to plump
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 slices thin bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (this is optional)
If the dressing seems familiar, you might be remembering my creamy cole slaw a few months ago. It’s pretty much the same, repurposed for a different type of salad.
1/4 cup light mayo
2 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. lemon white balsamic* (or white wine vinegar or lemon juice, but double the sugar)
1 Tbsp. cane sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Dip the broccoli crowns very briefly into gently boiling water, then shock them in ice water and drain. This helps remove any bitter taste, and also brightens the color. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the slight bitterness of broccoli.
Trim leaves from broccoli crowns and cut up into small bites. You can chop the broccoli if you’re in a hurry, but I like to have cut off whole pieces rather than “crumbs” of broccoli. My general rule of thumb for bite size is this: If a piece is large enough to completely cover a quarter, it’s too big, so I’ll cut it in half.
Combine broccoli pieces with onions, plumped raisins, carrot shreds. Toss the apple pieces in the lemon juice to prevent browning. Add them to the salad.
Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour over salad and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate a few hours to allow flavors to mingle.
Scatter crispy bacon (if using) over salad just before serving.
As much as I love vegetables and know that dark, leafy greens are incredibly rich in nutrients, I’d actually been mystified and intimidated by collards for decades. They seemed foreign to me, even off-limits to a degree because of their cultural origin. So I kept to myself and didn’t bother with them until one day two years ago, when I worked up enough gumption to put a fresh bunch of collards into my cart at Food Lion. At checkout, I humbly confessed that I was nervous because I’d never cooked them before. From behind me in the line a friendly Black woman spoke up: “What are you planning to do with them?” I shrugged and said I figured I’d be boiling them or maybe putting them in the slow cooker because I assumed they took a very long time to cook.
She quickly gave me an alternative. —
“No, honey, fry them!” And right there at register 3, she gave me a crash course in her way of making collards, the food that so many take for granted is a native “southern thing,” though food historians say they came to this country for the first time in the 1600s—from Africa. And in Africa, cooks have learned from their grandmothers for generations that frying collards in oil, then simmering them is the best cooking method.
Ever since, I’ve prepared them precisely as she instructed, because it wasn’t just a recipe that kind woman shared with me that day—it was part of her culture, her tradition, her story, her life. She was happy to share it with me, and I’m honored to share it with you.
These have a terrific flavor and have become a staple in our meal rotation. I don’t know why I wasted so much time feeling intimidated by this simple food. After all, as the woman told me—”they’re just collards.”
2 slices bacon, cut into one-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
Cooking oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
2 lbs. fresh collard greens, cleaned and chopped
A few shakes crushed red pepper
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water or broth (I used vegetable broth)
If you’re a visual learner like me, you won’t need to read the instructions below. That’s how easy it is.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, cook bacon pieces and chopped onions together until the fat renders and bacon begins to crisp. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
Add collard greens, a few handfuls at a time, and stir them around so they soften and wilt. When there’s room in the pan for more, add more. Add cooking oil to the middle of the pan as needed for cooking the remaining collards.
When all the greens are wilted, move them to the outside edges of the pan. Pour vinegar into the center of the pan, and stir with a wooden utensil to de-glaze any burned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Add water or broth and reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer the greens for about an hour until tender.