Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

roasted brussel sprouts

plated roasted brussel sprouts

As any writer or English major knows, finding oneself lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood with less-than-welcoming surroundings is an experience rife with opportunities for a story of transformation and self-discovery.

This story is one such example.

Several months ago, while I was still living in NYC, I exited the subway, walked the stairs onto the street, and stopped cold at a nearby intersection. I had no idea where I was. Instead of turning around and getting back on the subway, I stood on that street corner and cried. And cried. Self-pity shaken with alcohol makes for one pathetic cocktail. And wasn’t I entitled to feel sad? I was sure, so sure, that by that point in my life I wouldn’t be the kind of person who a) got absurdly lost (by any meaning of the word) and b) didn’t immediately know how to be found again.

If my high school Xanga posts — saved on my computer for posterity — are any indication, there were few things in life I looked forward to more than adulthood.

Adulthood, I surmised, afforded a certain level of clout and respect that would, among other things, no longer cause people to question why I needed to go to bed by 11. (As it turns out, this question still arose frequently when I lived in NYC. As an adult.)

Most importantly, I would be able to get things done.

These “things” are only slightly less vague now than they were when I was 16. Back then, I wanted to save the world. Today, I think I can content myself with improving a small pocket of it. (How is another story for another day.)

I was not really pursuing that particular goal the day I found myself at a literal and figurative intersection in east New York. The plan was to enjoy a boozy brunch followed by the Manhattan Pride Parade. The brunch part was easy enough: drink mimosas, punctuate that drinking with eggs Benedict. What followed was an emotional encounter that left me depressed and distracted.

Lost, and then really lost.

It took me a few minutes to notice that people were coming out of their houses to stare at the sad girl being sad for reasons that extended far beyond the booze and the earlier discussion and the loss of control. Even then, I saw myself with the eyes of those watchful neighbors and I wanted to roll my eyes at her, too. Oh, to be young and privileged. Instead, I called a cab, where I left behind the last of my cash and a decent amount of my dignity.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, that day signified the beginning of the end of my time in the city. Somehow, the trajectory I had planned to follow — it all started with post-college city living — left me feeling suddenly and irrevocably stuck.

Moving back to North Carolina was one way I could imagine regaining momentum.

Being an un(der)employed 25-year-old living with my parents again isn’t so bad, really. I’ve been pleased to discover that you really can go home again, and the people there (i.e. parents) will even feed you until you regain enough emotional strength to (hopefully) fight battles for those who don’t have the time or luxury of contemplating how to live their lives to the fullest.

Since ’tis the season for such things, anyway, I’d like to take a moment to say how thankful I am for such luxuries. I hope I can lead a life that proves it.

Like how sometimes I feed my parents, too. I recently made them these roasted Brussels sprouts that would, incidentally, make for a great Thanksgiving side dish. The original recipe can be found here. I adapted it to include more bacon because of this classic video and also because I felt like it.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple:
Serves 4 or so
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 cups Brussels sprouts, peeled, ends trimmed, and halved or quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 apples, cored and diced
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned (about 10 minutes).
2) Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until the Brussels sprouts begin to brown lightly (about 15 minutes).
3) Add the apple as the final layer. Roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened (about 15 minutes).
4) Toss the finished roasted dish with vinegar and serve immediately.

Goodbye, New York

Central Park

This follow-up post was intended to be a lot of things. Seven months ago, it was intended to thank you for the amazing response to my post about embracing being alone — to write about how lucky I am to be alone together with a community of people I can lean on. This post could’ve been about the heartbreaks, the search for a NYC partner in crime that has consistently proven fruitless and, well, depressing. This post could’ve also been about the sweltering summers that reek of trash and bodily fluids, or the time I found myself devastatingly lost in East New York, or about another batch of wedding cupcakes. (Despite my reservations, it always seems to come back to cupcakes for me.)

So now I find myself here, with this post that isn’t about any of those things, specifically, but that also ends up being about all of them, along with those best left unwritten. I am leaving the city. I am leaving the city because I have gained everything I needed from living here: the self-reliance, the much-needed checking of my ego, the perspective that comes from existing in a place where decadence and poverty are so starkly juxtaposed, and recognizing my own place of privilege and the great fortune I have had. And the meals. Oh, the meals.

These two years have been the hardest and loneliest years of my life, and I say that with the sincere gratitude of someone who managed to make it to 24 years old with minimal hardship (middle school and The Bowl Cut Era included). I don’t regret my decision to move here, nor do I criticize those who stay. I admire anyone who can, or must, make a life for herself here without collapsing under the stress of commuting and working and budgeting and just generally leading a life that, under non-NYC circumstances, could be considered normal, but that here comes with crowds and subways and oppressively tall skyscrapers and people who just don’t have the time. It’s just that this place no longer reflects my priorities, which include, but are not limited to, family, time for creative pursuits, and living in a bedroom that has at least one window. And a closet.

I came to this city for several reasons, some easier to articulate than others. There’s the food, of course. There’s the idea that upon graduating from college, a city holds the most promise and opportunity for a burgeoning professional, and NYC captures that ideal best of all. There’s the legacy that my great grandmother left by immigrating through Ellis Island, feeding into my intense desire to understand the people who came before me and the places their feet tread.

Now that I’ve spent time in my great grandmother’s city, I’m not entirely sure she would recognize what it’s become — certainly not her old neighborhood in Queens or the ever-growing economic disparity that hard work and pluck can’t mend. And all that professional promise fails to replace the family I left behind in North Carolina. The food, well, it will be almost as hard to leave behind as the friends I have found here.

This goodbye is really for them. I’ve lived in enough places that I should be getting better at goodbyes, but I’ve also lived in enough places to know that I never will. I have been blessed to meet a ragtag group of people who I believe to be the best in the city (let me know if you want their contact information), people who served as my city tour guides and confidantes and taste testers. They’re the ones who kept me sane in this crazy concrete jungle. So thank you and so long to my dear New York City friends for going out with me, staying in with me, and just generally being the kind of friends even Friends could not dream up. Please come down and visit any time. I’ll have cupcakes waiting.

Butternut Squash & Crispy Sage Savory Tart

butternut tart

butternut tart slice

A Sunday night followed by a Monday off holds such promise for a prolonged evening meal with several courses and a luxe bottle of $15 wine.

Even when you’re dining alone.

Moving to NYC solo (or, frankly, under any circumstances), you may have heard, is not for the faint of heart, the codependent, the wary-of-public-transportation. Despite the endless number of people I encounter everyday, I have never experienced a living situation as profoundly lonely as life here. I’ve always considered myself an independent person, but existing here means I also have to be an entertaining one — to myself.

Many of you have heard the trials of city singledom, whether from me or from Girls or from Sex and the City or from the countless movies that portray Strong Female Leads Living in Metropolitan Areas (with absurdly, unrealistically large apartments) who are secretly desperately lonely. (Presumably because they have invested too much in their careers and not enough in their romances? Can we possibly try for new plotlines in 2013, please? There is not a small number of us who seek more than one objective in life and balance them all just fine.)

But if you haven’t heard about dating in NYC, I’m not going to regale you with the specific foibles and follies. It’s been covered, I think, and also my parents read this blog. I will say, however, that it is incredibly taxing despite what seems like overwhelmingly good odds. I mean, there are 8 million people in this city, and based on my very precise Algorithm of Eligible Bachelors Dwelling in the Five Boroughs, there must be a solid 10,000 who meet basic criteria.

As it turns out, though, basic criteria is not enough. Because as you can imagine, 10,000 men is a challenge to weed through. And every one I meet, I think “Oh yes, this is one is acceptable. But I bet I could find one who also understands my deep and sustained love for the emo music I listened to in high school.” (See: The Paradox of Choice.) (Also, that’s just an example. I definitely don’t listen to emo anymore! Seriously! I don’t!) I, too, am a victim of too much choice, the possibility of someone somehow better existing too tantalizing to pass up, as I found out recently after being rejected by an unemployed man who’s “too busy” for a second date.

So, more often than not, I find myself “stuck” with, well, myself.

Living in NYC solo means needing to enjoy dating the only person I can rely on 100% of the time. It means I take myself out to dinner, buy myself a nice new outfit, make myself an extravagant meal that, under circumstances involving another person, would be considered a downright romantic one.

I cannot recommend that kind of meal enough. Dining alone, living alone, travelling alone, is the kind of soul-satisfying, sometimes saddening/maddening, always reflective activity that reminds me that I am enough. That I will never be a lot of things, but I will always be enough things. At the very least, I crack myself up, especially toward the end of the night/glass. I can’t always say that about my dates.

Last night, I made myself this tart. It’d be great with a side salad, but when you’re dating yourself, you hardly need to impress anyone with the number of vegetables you’ve consumed in a given day. In fact, the best way to show your appreciation for you is to cut yourself another slice.

Tart Dough:
Makes 2 12-inch tarts
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup ice-cold water

1) Cut the butter into the flour with your fingers or with a stand mixer. Pour in the water slowly, until the dough begins to clump. (Mix for 30 seconds or less if using a mixer.)
2) Divide the dough in two and create two balls of dough. Wrap with plastic and compress into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Tart Filling:
Note: This recipe makes enough to fill one tart. Double the recipe if you want two!
olive oil
1/2 butternut squash, peeled & sliced thinly width-wise
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 cup of ricotta
parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon of water
about 15 leaves of sage
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of canola oil

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay butternut squash slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil and salt on both sides of the slices. Roast squash for about 20 minutes, or until tender.
2) Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine the spinach, ricotta, and some salt and pepper in a bowl.
3) Once the squash is removed from the oven, lower the oven heat to 375 degrees. Remove one of the tart dough sections from the fridge and roll into a circle with a rolling pin until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
4) Spread ricotta cheese/spinach mixture over the chilled tart, leaving a border of 1 and 1/2 inches. Place butternut squash slices in one layer over top of the mixture, again leaving a border. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5) Fold the border over the squash layers to make a crust. Mix the egg and water together and brush gently over the crust. Place the tart on the lower rack in the oven and cook for 45 to 55 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
6) Heat canola oil in a pan over medium heat. Place in a few leaves of sage at a time, fry for about 5 seconds each, then place on a paper-towel lined plate. Sprinkle over the tart.

Sweet Broiled Oranges

sweet broiled oranges

For those of you who had the distinct pleasure of knowing me in high school, you might remember when I was weirdly concerned about getting scurvy. (A concern that preceded my early college obsession with combating adult-onset rickets, and also that time I gave myself swine flu purely because of the strength of my conviction that I was going to get it.)

While I never spent extended periods of time on boats lacking fruit/veg refrigeration technology, nor islands with no access to vitamin C-laden produce, I still insisted on chugging orange juice, especially through the winter months, just in case. Winter already has me coping with seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and I quite simply couldn’t deal with splotchiness and bleeding gums on top of that.

While I have moved on from fixating on so-last-century diseases and even the more trendy recent ones (kind of, mostly), there’s still a part of me that just knows when I am suffering from some nutrient deficiency or another.

Fortunately, as an adult, I can more maturely address these issues with a spoonful of sugar, like I did with these scurvy-fighting oranges. They’re a really quick dessert that are satisfying after a big meal. We ate ours after big bowls of beef stew.

Anyone else here have unwarranted health worries they want to share? I can’t be the only one, right?!

Sweet Broiled Oranges:
Serves 1
One orange
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1) Slice orange in half, remove seeds, and cut between the orange and the peel and along the orange sections to make smaller pieces.
2) Place orange slices on a cookie sheet. Turn the broiler on high.
3) Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the orange halves, then place into the oven.
4) Broil for 5 – 7 minutes.

I found the recipe on Pinterest and adapted it slightly. Original recipe here.

Rice, Lentils, and Caramelized Onions with Spiced Yogurt

lentils and yogurt

lentils

People often ask me what I make for lunches, and I have to be honest; I will make one meal on Sunday night and eat it everyday for lunch the entire week, provided that it’s adequately delicious.

Even better is when the meal gets better over the course of the week, like this one. The longer the flavors mingle, the more comforting this dish becomes. (For the record, it’s actually called mujaddara.)

Even even better is when that meal maintains some semblance of “healthy.” Granted, I doubled the yogurt sauce recipe, but I also added carrots and celery because I’m aware that some of you have New Year’s resolutions that you’re interested in keeping, and my cupcakes are no help. I wanted to redeem myself this week.

Speaking of New Year’s resolutions — what meals are you looking to make more of in 2013? I’d love some new post inspiration.

Note: This recipe can easily be made vegan by substituting the butter for more olive oil, and using a vegan yogurt. (My real vegan roommate suggests the coconut alternative as the almond was too sweet.)

Recipe from Food 52. I added carrots and celery.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting & Candied Pecans

sweet potato cupcakes

Hey friends.

I know it’s been awhile.

Hopefully some sweet potato cupcakes will appease you. (For now.)

plain cupcakes

They are quite delightful, these moist little muffins topped with creamy frosting and crunchy pecans.

single cupcake

I’m currently testing recipes for a friend’s wedding. This friend, to be exact. These passed the test. Remember last time I made cupcakes for a wedding? I vowed only to do one wedding every two years.

I’m a woman of my word, it turns out. Except when that word involves promising to write more. That kind of thing is best left to chance.

Anyway, I know I should be posting recipes that help people keep their New Year’s resolutions, not actively attempt to break them. Alas, one of those recipes is best left to another day.

The original recipe for these cupcakes comes from some sort of Food Network cupcake challenge, but I’ve modified it to suit my tastes. (And the happy couple, of course.)

If you make them yourself, let me know how they turn out!

Sweet Potato Cupcakes:
Makes 18 – 24 cupcakes
2 cups mashed and cooled sweet potatoes, or one 16-ounce can
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cinnamon sugar, if desired

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a few cupcake tins with paper liners.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and eggs. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients and then the sweet potato puree.
3) Fill cupcake tin cup three-quarters full of batter. Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean — 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
4) Once cooled, frost the cupcakes with the frosting, top with candied pecans, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Brown Sugar Frosting:
Frosts 18 – 24 cupcakes
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1) Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the butter and beat until well incorporated.
2) Add the light brown sugar and beat until fluffy, then stir in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla extract until fully incorporated.

Candied Pecans:
Makes four cups
Canola/vegetable oil, for greasing
1 egg white
4 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound chopped pecans

1) Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with oil.
2) Beat the egg white in a bowl until frothy, then whisk water and the vanilla extract into the egg.
3) Stir the sugar, cinnamon and salt into the egg mixture, then stir in the chopped pecans until they’re fully coated.
4) Spread the pecans onto the baking sheet and bake in 20 minute intervals, stirring the pecans before placing them back in the oven. Continue baking for about an hour.
5) Allow the pecans to cool on the baking sheet.

Tapioca Pudding

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved tapioca pudding. For as long as I can remember, I’ve also been known in my family as nutmeg. (You better believe there’s a direct correlation.)

Megala. Goobie. Little. Cowsey. Wilbur…

Just a sampling of the other charming names my siblings and I acquired growing up. Fortunately, they never really took off beyond the walls of our house. Every so often, there are occasions when sharing means more when it’s intimate (and when it means avoiding potential ridicule).

This recipe, however, is meant to be shared. Just don’t ask me to share my pudding. It’s fluffy and creamy and best straight from the fridge with a large spoon.

Fair warning: don’t top it with too much nutmeg. In large quantities, nutmeg is a hallucinogen. Read into that as you will.

Tapioca Pudding:
Serves 4 – 6
1/2 cup small pearl tapioca (NOT instant)
3 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature, separated
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
nutmeg, if desired

1) Combine tapioca, milk, and salt in a saucepan on medium high heat. Stir until boiling. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes at the lowest possible heat. Add sugar gradually.
2) Beat egg yolks in a separate bowl. Stir in some of the hot tapioca so the eggs don’t curdle when added to the pudding.
3) Combine eggs in the pan with the tapioca. Slowly bring mixture barely to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and stir several minutes at a low simmer, stirring constantly until the pudding thickens and coats the back of your spatula.
4) Beat egg whites in a bowl until they form soft peaks. Remove the tapioca pudding from the stove and fold in the beaten egg whites.
5) Cool the pudding for 15 minutes. Add vanilla. Serve either warm or chilled and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Confetti Vegetable Sauce

I’ve been keeping something from you.

More than a year ago, I was hanging out in Italy. Mostly just eating, but sometimes cooking. Obviously, my life tends to revolve around food as it is, but my fixation was only exacerbated by being in a place where food serves as a language of its own.

The point is, I learned how to make this really amazing, really simple sauce, and then I proceeded to not share the recipe with you for more than a year. My host in Pisa taught me how to make this sauce. That’s right; you’re looking at a real Italian recipe from a real Italian person.

Once you make it, I imagine you’ll forgive me. Basically everything in here is easily substituted, too. Try it with eggplant. Try it with sour cream. Try it without any dairy at all. Then, let me know how it turned out!

Confetti Vegetable Sauce:
Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini, grated
1 squash, grated
1 red pepper, grated
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
your favorite pasta, cooked and drained

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash and red pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until most of the water has been cooked off. Drain the vegetables.
2) Place the pan back on the stove and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Stir in the garlic. Cook until light brown.
3) Stir in the well-drained vegetables until the mixture is very warm. Turn the heat to low and combine the mascarpone cheese. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper.
4) Spoon sauce onto your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil.

Chickpea, Cucumber & Tomato Salad

It’s that time of year again — that period in summer where I mostly boycott my oven. And I eat even more vegetables than usual.

This salad is super simple and chock full of protein, which I always appreciate along with my veggies.

Chickpea, Cucumber & Tomato Salad
Serves 8
2 (8-ounce) cans of chickpeas
2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of feta cheese
3 (or to taste) sprigs of dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper

1) Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Apple Onion Cheese Tart

I am not private in my opinion of comfort foods. This blog, if nothing else, serves as a testament of my devotion to all things warm and buttery. Living so far from home necessitates cooking with an excess of butter from time to time. Is a flaky tart an acceptable replacement for my brother’s bear hugs or my sister’s permeating laugh? Well, no. But it makes a decent consolation prize.

Being a resident of New York City is taxing in all the ways you’ve heard (including, quite literally, taxes). There is no loneliness quite so profound as the one experienced while surrounded by a sea of strangers. Cures are difficult to come by. When home is a few bites away, sometimes that’s enough. In any case, it has to be.

This recipe comes from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, which is my go-to resource for fresh and, obviously, simple food. Alice actually has the onion tart and the apple tart listed as two different recipes, but the two foods seemed like such a complementary pair. The dough recipe required no modification. It actually bubbles butter. Now that, my friends, is enough.

Tart Dough:
Makes 2 12-inch tarts
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup ice-cold water

1) Cut the butter into the flour with your fingers or with a stand mixer. Pour in the water slowly, until the dough begins to clump. (Mix for 30 seconds or less if using a mixer.)
2) Divide the dough in two and create two balls of dough. Wrap with plastic and compress into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Tart Filling:
Note: This recipe makes enough to fill one tart. Double the recipe if you want two!
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1 pound Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup cheddar or goat cheese

1) Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan on medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir occasionally, cooking for 20 to 30 minutes until onions are brown and soft. Let cool.
2) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove one of the tart dough sections from the fridge and roll into a circle with a rolling pin until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
3) Spread cheese over the chilled tart, leaving a border of 1 and 1/2 inches. Starting at the outside, layer the apples slightly over one another and work toward the center. Apple slices in the center should be layered about 1 inch thick.
4) Sprinkle the apples with the cooked onions. Fold the border over the apples and onions to make a crust.
5) Mix the egg and milk or water together and brush gently over the crust. Place the tart on the lower rack in the oven and cook for 45 to 55 minutes until the crust is golden brown.