Thursday fun: Top(?) Chef, pot brownies, and more goodies

picture-22Top Chef?

Anyone else put off by the outcome of last night’s “Top Chef” finale? Hosea? Really? Mediocre all season long, too scared to make a dessert for the finale, and he still won? I’m with Hubert Keller–someone who will be called “Top Chef” should at least be able to turn out a damn dessert. If only my girl Carla had ignored dopey Casey (sous vide steak? souffles?) and stuck to her guns, she might have shown that nice girls can finish first. Join the discussion at Serious Eats, which is abuzz about it today.

Visit Brussels

picture-31Sprouts, that is. Heidi Swanson shares a delectable salad made with shredded raw baby Brussels sprouts, toasted hazelnuts, and lots of other goodness.–101 Cookbooks


picture-14Water ways

Food scientist Harold McGee experiments with how much water you need to cook pasta.The incomparable Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan weigh in, too.–The New York Times

picture-42It’s all about location

“Location, location, location,” is the mantra of real estate agents. Turns out, location has a big impact on food, too. A growing body of evidence links locale with diet quality. Residents of poor neighborhoods have limited access to high-quality fresh foods and tend to have correspondingly poor diets while those who are better off have a range of food-shopping options with healthier fare.–

Brain food

picture-8The just-say-no-to-drugs crowd likes to claim that consuming pot kills brains cells. Not so fast. A pair of new studies finds that marijuana, along with red wine, may prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease. “Neither of these findings surprises me,” says integrative medicine pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D., in his latest weekly bulletin. “That marijuana has medical efficacy against a variety of conditions is firmly established scientifically, and the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption are also becoming clearer with each passing year. As of November, 2008, 15 states had laws with provisions for medical marijuana on the books, and I hope more states enact enlightened policies in this regard.” Now, if the federal government could just get on board and turn the war on drugs to more productive efforts…–

Making dough

The editors at Epicurious must be reading my mind, because I’ve been thinking about bread-baking a lot lately and they just e-mailed me their newsletter with a link to a wonderful online guide to bread basics. How did they know?

Ever since I was a kid and enjoyed the homemade bread baked by my best friend’s mom, I’ve wanted to be one of those people who turned out yeast bread like it was nothing. But, like many, I find the prospect intimidating, from fermenting the living yeast to kneading the dough to proofing. It’s a time-consuming process, not suited to those (like me) who crave instant gratification. I’ve tried baking bread occasionally, but it requires practice if you want to enjoy tasty, consistent results.

But these current economic times have encouraged me to revisit my ambition. You see, bread is a staple of our household. Even during the height of the Atkins anti-carb craze, we never abandoned bread. It’s good for the soul. But we crave artisanal loaves with crunchy crusts and tender interiors, and we’ll go through a pricey ciabatta from the gourmet store in a day or two. That adds up.

So, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and try again. I’ve had some success lately with pizza dough, which makes me more confident about working with yeast. After trolling around the Internet for recipes, I turned to cookbooks and settled on Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. Marcella never leads me astray.

Still, as usual I couldn’t resist futzing with the recipe. It calls for a total of 6 1/2 hours of rising time, which works if you start by noon, revisit it at intervals throughout the day, and then bake it for dinner. I was starting at 6:30 p.m. And I had a plan, sort of. Here’s the recipe, with many deviations from Marcella’s sage instructions. Experienced bread bakers, please chime in with any advice you have.

breadcloseupMantovana (Olive Oil) Bread

Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Even with a few hiccups, it turned out OK, but practice will make it perfect.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1/8 teaspoon sugar

1 cup warm water, divided

2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached bread flour (’cause it says it’s “better for bread” right on the label)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil


1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Place 1 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. With the motor running, gradually pour the yeast mixture and 1/4 cup warm water through the food chute. Process until dough forms in a lump around the blades. Remove dough from processor, and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Place the dough in a large bowl dusted with flour; cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 3 hours or until it has doubled in bulk.

2. Place 1 cup flour in the bowl of the food processor, add the dough and salt. With the motor running, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water and oil. Process until the dough forms a lump around the blade, add more of the remaining 1/2 cup flour if needed. Remove the dough from processor, and knead by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Return the dough to the flour-dusted bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for another 3 hours or until it has doubled in bulk. [At this point, it was getting late, so I popped the bowl in the refrigerator and went to bed.]

3. Put a baking stone (a k a pizza stone) in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 F.

4. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. [At this point, it was 6:30 a.m., I woke up, scampered downstairs and removed the dough from the fridge. It was very cold so I let it warm to room temperature. Sort of.] Slap the dough down very hard several times or until it stretches out lengthwise. Starting with the farthest edge, fold the dough 3 or 4 inches toward you, then push it away with the heel of your hand. Continue to fold and push, gradually rolling the dough toward you in a tapered roll. Holding the dough by one of the tapered ends, lift it high over your head and slap it down on the counter (this part is lots of fun); do this several times until it stretches out lengthwise. Repeat the folding-and-pushing maneuver. Continue working the dough–slapping, folding, and pushing–for 8 minutes. [Since my dough was chilly, I had to work it a bit longer.] Shape the dough into a thick, cigar-shaped loaf that’s thick in the middle and tapered at the ends. Place it on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal. Cover with a damp towel, and let it rest 30 minutes.

[I was just about ready to put bread in the oven when my mate toddled into the kitchen, started slicing an (existing) loaf of (fancy, gourmet-store) bread, and sliced his thumb in the process. It needed professional medical attention, so I turned off the oven, left the dough, took him to urgent care, and returned 2 hours later. It looked fine when I returned.]

5. Use a sharp knife to cut a 1-inch-deep lengthwise slash on top of the dough. Use a pastry brush to brush the top of the dough with water. Slide the dough onto the preheated baking stone. Bake at 450 F for 12 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F (do not remove bread from oven), and bake an additional 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf.

[Note: Yes, I have tried Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe, printed in The New York Times a couple of years ago. The dog ate the dough that was proofing on the counter, which could happen anyway, but I’d also rather knead the bread and enjoy it the same day I crave it.]

Kitchen porn, or what I learned from redoing my kitchen


A room of one's own: My dream kitchen involved color, ample storage and counter space, a decent range, and a working dishwasher.

A room of one's own: My dream kitchen involved color, ample storage and counter space, a decent range, and a functioning dishwasher.

If you’ve ever lived through (survived?) a kitchen remodeling project, you know it’s messy, intrusive, and expensive. But if you love to cook, the kitchen is your favorite room in the house, so you’re always looking for design inspiration. Even if your kitchen is “done,” it’s never really done.

Case in point: No matter what state your kitchen is in, it’s hard to pass up a chance to thumb through the pages of Kitchen Trends, the big-format, lushly produced book-azine published by The print edition is $10.95, but the lavish kitchens featured within its pages are a great source of inspiration, even if you don’t have a big budget. Even better, the good folks at Trends Ideas have made the e-book version of the magazine available for free. I’m not usually a fan of digital versions of magazines–they tend to be clunky and slow to flip through–but this one loads quickly and smoothly. Bookmark or print out anything that catches your eye–it can be a great start to your own design idea book.

cimg1031I’ve moved across the country, but my heart still belongs to the kitchen I had remodeled my Alabama home. I couldn’t bring the kitchen with me, but I did pack up the spiral notebook of design ideas that inspired it.

The kitchen was not a selling point when I bought the 1930s bungalow. Counter space was virtually nonexistent, storage was minimal, the stove was ancient (but not in a cute, vintage way), and worst of all was the dishwasher. It was an outdated portable Kenmore that you rolled over the sink and hooked up to the faucet, which inevitably sprayed water everywhere but on the dishes in the dishwasher.

I lived with it for more than a year, to get a sense of what I wanted the space to become and to psyche myself up for the money-pit mess that is any kitchen remodel. But when mice started to invade through the rotting floorboards of the pantry, it was time to call my coworker’s contractor husband to start the project. (After calling the pest control company, of course.) Here’s what I learned from my project.

cimg10321Keep a design notebook. Design experts always suggest this, and it’s a great idea. Include anything that catches your eye–could be a color, a design element, a layout–noting what it is that you like. Themes will start to emerge. I quickly discovered a fondness for color and vintage-looking design that would suit my bungalow. I also found specific items that eventually ended up in my kitchen–Formica’s Citron Ice countertop and the Jenn-Air range.

Be flexible. I went the home improvement store all set to order white cabinetry. Then I spotted gorgeous natural hickory cabinets that I liked even better.

Gather samples. Home improvement stores have samples loan. Take them home and see how different materials work together. I spent a weekend looking at cabinet, countertop, backsplash, and flooring samples before I made up my mind.

Keep an eye out for special promotions. Home improvement stores often have special offers on materials, and it may be worth timing your purchase to take advantage. I put off ordering my countertops for three weeks in order to get a free integrated sink–and saved about $600 on a feature I wanted anyway.

Shop at different outlets. Although I purchased big items like the cabinets, floors, and countertop at Lowe’s, I gathered items from other sources. The appliances came from the manufacturer’s retail outlet. I bought a brand-new John Boos kitchen island on eBay, paying at least one-third less than I would have for a similar model at Williams-Sonoma; I also ordered the antique-bronze cabinet hardware through a dealer on eBay. The copper lights (made from converted antique Turkish bowls) were purchased on sale from the Sundance catalog. The result was a kitchen that looks personal, not like a catalog. More importantly, it wasa place where I loved spending time doing what I love best.

Tuesday’s tidbits

picture-13The CIA in Spain

File this one under sites-you-must-bookmark. The CIA (Culinary Institute of America, that is) teamed up with the Spanish trade commissions for food and wine to create the spectacular new Worlds of Flavor Spain Web site. Forget Mario Batali traipsing through Iberia with Gwyneth Paltrow in tow and focus on this gem instead. None other than Ferran Adria and Jose Andres are this site’s co-chairs, and they’ll introduce you to a wealth of instructional videos, dozens of tempting recipes, explanations of Spain’s regional cuisines, glorious spotlights on its cheese and wine, and a marketplace to buy specialty ingredients. The site may be aimed at professional chefs, but there’s plenty here to entertain and inspire the home cook. This one sets a new benchmark for food on the Web.

picture-21Can’t wait to make this

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured the rustic charms of a British meat pie. The only motivation I’ll need to make this adaptation of Jamie Oliver’s pastry-topped meat-and-veg Guinness Pie is a chilly evening.

Not every one is a winner

fwpuddingThe March issue of Food & Wine has a gorgeous special section of 40 healthy recipes. The Creamy Caramel Pudding tempted my sweet tooth, so I made a batch this weekend. The results were…mixed. It’s more sweet than caramel-y (my fault–I didn’t let the caramel cook long enough). But what put me off more was the gelatinous texture, thanks to 6 tablespoons of cornstarch. Still, it wasn’t awful, especially when topped with chopped salty roasted peanuts to cut the sweetness. That’s OK, I’m still eager to try the Beet Salad with Tangerines. But for a more satisfying low-fat pudding experience, try Cooking Light’s Butterscotch Pudding or Chocolate Pudding (make it with dark chocolate–yum!). Both include egg yolks and a touch of butter for a richer–yet still low-fat–pudding.

Tom on Coke

picture-41What’s your opinion of “Top Chef” top judge Tom Colicchio in a commercial hawking the “taste” of Diet Coke during the Oscars? It left a bad taste in my mouth–much like a sip of Diet Coke does, blech!–but I still thought, “Dude, take the money and run.” Add your 2 cents at Serious Eats. Or check out what the community at Epicurious has to say about this tempest in a Coke can. Hey, it’s a diversion from worrying about the economy.

But we still love Fabio

picture-5Speaking of “Top Chef,” I joined a lot of other fans in mourning the exit of Season 5 charmer Fabio. Check out YumSugar’s interview with the man who will surely be this season’s fan favorite.

Take that, raw foodies!


Raw foodies miss out on the soul-soothing comfort found in a hot pot of gumbo.

I’ve always thought the raw food movement was a crock of hooey, a kooky offshoot of vegetarianism in which followers believe heat (above 108 F or 112 F or 116 F, depending on the source) “kills” the nutrients in food.

Okaayyy…of course, once a plant is harvested–pulled from the ground, cut off from its root system–it is no longer living. It is in the process of decaying, in other words. It is not “living.”

So I read an article in the current issue of The Economist with particular interest. It details Harvard anthropology professor Richard Wrangham’s theory that cooking is humanity’s killer app. In other words, cooking makes us human. A few years ago, I caught Dr. Wrangham’s keynote address on the same topic at the annual meeting of the International Society of Culinary Professionals. He noted that humans have big brains that require lots of calories. Heat renders otherwise inedible foods digestible–and palatable–which greatly expands our range of things to eat. And even foods that don’t have to be cooked–calorie-dense meat, for example–are more easily digested when cooked. Cooking makes some nutrients–lycopene and iron, for instance–more bioavailable and therefore more nutritious. Heat also kills bacteria, making many foods safer to consume.

And then there’s the social aspect of cooking. As people gathered around the fire to share a meal, relationships and society blossomed. That’s not a small thing.

Some raw foodists claim their way is more “natural.” I’m not sure what this means. Humans have been cooking–i.e., applying heat to food–since the Neanderthals, so one could claim cooking is part of humanity’s evolution. In any case, raw cuisine certainly entails processing food as ingredients are dehydrated, blended, juiced, and soaked. (I’m sorry, but cold-pressed coffee beans, really? Yuck.) It requires finesse and skill. In that respect, raw foodism is a culinary cousin of molecular gastronomy.

The science behind raw food diets is sketchy at best–raw food adherents don’t typically have weight problems, but they can be low on vitamin B12, calcium, and protein. Longtime followers can have low bone mass, which leaves them vulnerable to osteoporosis.

I have nothing against raw food, per se. I love the crunch of a great salad. But I think it’s even nicer paired to a bowl of hot (not tepid) soup.

Recession food: Homemade strawberry jam


Strawberry jam made with fruit purchased on sale. Does this make me an artisanal producer?

This week, I was working on a story for a Web site about how to eat supper for under a buck per serving when I got some simple advice from Julie Parrish, co-founder of the sites and Even if you never clip a coupon, supermarkets are rich with unadvertised, last-minute bargains that you should snap when you find them. Get the stuff home, she said, and figure out what to do with it later.

If you spot a great deal at the supermarket, buy it and decide what to do with it later.

You would think someone whose blog is named “Eat Cheap” would do that anyway, but there you have it. As this recession deepens, I’m still learning what it really means to shop and eat frugally. I’m old enough to remember the recession of the 1970s, but I was a just a kid then and mostly recall our family’s belt-tightening involved my mother buying store-brand plastic wrap. She probably did much more than that, but I was unobservant in these matters.

So after talking to Julie, I visited the supermarket with new eyes and spied all kinds of goodies on the cheap–two pounds of Tillamook butter for $7 (a great deal and we’ll use it up long before its May expiration date), a couple of lamb sirloin steaks for 5 bucks. But the best buy, by far, was two pounds of fresh strawberries for $3.

I took one look and thought, “Jam.”

You see, my mate is British, and jam is a staple of his diet (along with PG Tips tea, bread, and butter–hence, why we’ll plow through the bargain Tillamook in no time). He probably goes through jar of jam every week or so. And he likes the good stuff–Bonne Maman and the like. No Smuckers preserves for him. He recently weaned himself from a minor addiction to a very fancy-schmancy (i.e., expensive) Italian jam, so the Bonne Maman is a step down for him.

Still, as I pondered the piles of sale strawberries, I recalled that jam is dead simple to make. Basically, just combine fruit and sugar and simmer the hell out of it until it’s a sweet, fruity mush. And that’s what I did last night, stopping to stir the goo between sips of cheapo Sangiovese and catching up on “Nip/Tuck” on Hulu (Lesbian Liz has finally left Christian the Cad–really, it was doomed from the start).

“It’s Ali’s Artisanal Jam,” my mate declared as he slathered it on toast this morning. So that’s it, I’m not just thrifty, I’m an artisan. And you can be one, too, with this recipe.

You-Can-be-an-Artisanal-Producer Strawberry Jam

I used a bit more sugar than usual because the strawberries aren’t quite in season yet, and not as juicy and sweet as they will be in a few months. Taste your berries first and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly–if they’re sweet and juicy, you’ll need less. Also play around around with the flavorings you add at the end. A couple teaspoons of lemon juice can stand in for the Cointreau and vanilla. This is a refrigerator jam, so plan to use it within 5 days. Not a problem in our household.

1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely 

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon Cointreau

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until thickened, stirring every so often. Remove from heat; stir in the Cointreau and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate (jam will continue to thicken as it cools). Yield: about 2 cups.

Oh, Joy


Portion sizes and calorie counts in The Joy of Cooking have burgeon over the years, along with our waistlines.

Portion sizes and calorie counts in The Joy of Cooking have burgeoned over the years, along with our waistlines.

If you’re of a certain age–like, say, mine–you probably grew up in a household where The Joy of Cooking held an honored spot on the cookbook shelf. Well, maybe not honored in our house, since my mom didn’t really like cooking all that much, but it was a reference to which she turned with some regularity.

First published commercially in 1936, Joy has been updated every few years since. (Irma S. Rombauer had self-published the original edition in 1931.) Leave it Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., to examine how the cookbook has evolved over the years to reflect our changing food habits. Wansink is the author of Mindless Eating and heads up Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, where he and his colleagues do amazing research into our attitudes and behavior when it comes to food. He and former postdoc researcher Collin Payne culled through 18 recipes that have been published in every addition of Joy, including such beloved American faves as brownies, sugar cookies, mac ‘n’ cheese, and beef stroganoff.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that portions have gotten bigger over the decades, but I was shocked to discover they’ve ballooned 63 percent. Um, that’s a lot. In 1936, the average recipe was a trim 268 calories. Seventy years later, the average was  436 calories per serving. “What served four people in 1986 would have served almost seven people by 1936 standards,” says Wansink. He thinks analyzing other long-published cookbooks would yield similar results.

What served four people in the 1986 edition of The Joy of Cooking would have served almost seven people by 1936 standards. 

“People often blame eating out as being one of the big culprits for gaining weight, but this study suggests that what we do in our own homes may be equally bad or even worse,” he says. “Family size has gotten smaller, but calorie content and portion sizes have gotten bigger.” Several factors contribute to this, he explains, including:

  • Americans have grown larger.
  • Restaurant portions have gotten bigger, which has changed our expectations for portions at home.
  • Food has gotten cheaper, so we spend a smaller proportion of our income on it and buy more of it.

Now, the last point is really interesting, because when Joy’s 1986 edition was published in the heart of the go-go ’80s, and even when the 2006 version was published, food was indeed cheap. But as we all know, the cost of food has risen steadily in the past year, while salaries have dropped, people have lost their jobs, and the economy has slowed to a deep and tenacious recession (depression, some say). I can’t help wondering how this will influence Joy’s editors as they prepare the 80th anniversary edition for 2011. It will be interesting to see if portion sizes and calorie counts hark back to Irma Rombauer’s Depression-era incarnations.

Food prices have risen sharply over the past year, and we’re in the midst of a stubborn and deep recession. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming 80th anniversary edition of Joy harks back to the portion sizes and calorie counts of its Depression-era roots.

In the meantime, when cooking from the current version of Joy, Wansink has some advice: If you’re preparing a recipe that’s supposed to serve 4, set aside half the recipe to enjoy another night. “Families need to be aware that serving size and calorie composition of classic recipes “should be downsized to counteract growing waistlines.”

Shopping scared



Killer PB? Most people are aware of the peanut butter scare, but a new Harvard survey finds many don't know how widespread it really is.

“Are you really going to eat that?” my mate asked yesterday.

I was opening a jar of gourmet chocolate chip cookie dough peanut butter, which had arrived in a box of samples.

“Yeah, I’m living on the edge,” I replied, spreading a generous schmear of the stuff on toasted ciabatta. The jarful of three of my favorite things–peanut butter, chocolate, and cookie dough–seduced me into overlooking the risk.

Like just about everyone else who hasn’t been living under a rock, we’ve heard about salmonella-tainted peanut butter, which has led the FDA to recall more than 130 products.  The agency even sent out alerts on Twitter.

A new survey from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests the government has done a pretty good job of getting the word out. More than 90 percent of Americans are aware of the issue, and of those, more than 60 percent have changed their habits. They’re scrutinizing ingredient lists at the grocery store, throwing away potentially tainted foods at home, and avoiding restaurant dishes that contain peanuts.

That’s a good strategy, considering the dudes who head up the Peanut Corporation of America invoked the fifth amendment, refusing to testify before a congressional hearing. Evidence suggests they knowingly shipped tainted PB.

There’s a striking level of awareness of this recall, and many people have taken action. But they’re not aware of the range of products involved in the recall.

But the Harvard study indicates consumers are still confused about the wide range of foods covered by the recall. The array of potentially tainted products is daunting, ranging from the obvious–peanut butter–to the less expected, like pet food. Less than half of consumers know that the recall includes snack bars, cakes, brownies, cookies, pet treats, candies, prepackaged meals, and dry-roasted peanuts. Whew!

“There’s a striking level of awareness of this recall, and many people have taken action. But they’re not aware of the range of products involved in the recall,” says Robert J. Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. “People should check the Food and Drug Administration recall list routinely, since the number of products is still growing.”

The peanut scare is only the latest in a growing list of food safety snafus that point to the urgent need to revamp our food safety system. It’s no surprise to Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, who has for years noted that the U.S. government does a woefully inadequate job of policing the safety of our food supply. “What more evidence do we need that an overhaul of the food safety system is very much in order?” she recently posited on her blog.  “Congress: this is your problem to solve!  Citizens: write your congressional representatives!”

That’s easy enough to do–everyone in congress has a Web site and e-mail address. Drop your representatives a line to voice your demand for safe food.

Wednesday’s tasty tidbits

You don’t always get what you pay for

picture-3The latest food scare–tainted peanut butter–reveals consumers still place too much trust in our current food safety system. It’s the “halo effect,” a new Hartman Group report reveals. Shoppers believe that if a food is labeled “natural” or “gourmet,” it must be higher quality than lower-priced brands. In fact, premium products are often sourced from the same producers as the ordinary stuff. Hartman President and COO Laurie Demeritt says consumers say they’re concerned about food safety when asked about it, but when shopping, they don’t scrutinize the source of their food and assume it’s safe. This echoes a recent study from Cornell University.

Foreign Fast Food

picture-11No matter where you’re from, you still need to get dinner on the table after a long day at work. Reporter Leslie Kaufman goes into the kitchens of immigrants living in New York to find out how they’ve adapted their favorite dishes to the American kitchen. Be sure to check out the audio slide show, too–it’s cool!–The New York Times


Smart Apron

picture-12I’m not big on aprons (though I should be, since I’m always spilling and splattering in the kitchen), but Zip&Dry apron, which is edged with a towel, might win me over.–The Food Section


Nuts for Nutella

picture-2Can you really trust a person who doesn’t love the creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella? I think not. Reporter Amy Scattergood delves into its seductive charms, with recipes.–Los Angeles Times


Best Canned Tomatoes

picture-4If you’re cooking with tomatoes this time of year, they’re probably canned. And the best are Muir Glen’s, according to Chow.

Comfort me with pasta

It’s been a rough week, with a really sick cat and all, so I figured we could use some comfort chow for dinner tonight. These days, that means a pasta toss with lots o’ veggies. After hitting up the local market to stock up on Brussels sprouts, cremini mushrooms, and a wedge of pecorino Romano, we were ready to go. I’m not sure when Brussels sprouts became a comfort food for me, but they are they are. Especially with bacon. Come to think of it, everything is better with bacon.

cimg0982Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

This would work with any short pasta–orrechiette or cavatappi, perhaps. I used cremini mushrooms for their full, earthy flavor, but white button mushrooms would do the trick just fine. You can substitute a slice or two of regular bacon (with smokier results) for the pancetta.

6 ounces dry penne pasta

2 tablespoons diced pancetta

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 garlic clove, minced

4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, and keep warm.

2. While the pasta cooks, heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta to pan; saute 2 minutes. Add shallot; saute 2 minutes. Add garlic; saute 20 seconds. Add mushrooms and salt; saute 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, broth, vinegar, and pepper; cook 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta, and toss to combine; cook 1 minute or until hot. Garnish with cheese and sage. Yield: 2 servings.