Recipe: Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Chef Winnek's Brussels sprouts

Chef Winnek presents a pan of bacon-braised Brussels sprouts

You can make these on an unused corner of the grill in a cast iron pan, if you like. Another of Market Bistro Chef John Winnek’s grill accompaniments. Serves 4-6.

4 oz bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 sweet onion (like Vidalia or Texas 1015), peeled and sliced thin
2 c Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
salt and pepper to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Add bacon to cast iron pan on grill or saute pan on stovetop. Render bacon about 5 minutes until it begins to crisp. Remove from heat and drain bacon on paper towel; pour most (not all) of the bacon fat in a container for later use. Add onions to pan and caramelize on medium heat; add the Brussels sprouts and stir to mix. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole and heat in oven for 15 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are tender; if using grill continue to cook in cast iron skillet. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

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Recipe: Sweet Corn Souffle

Corn Souffle

Corn Souffle (after the Market Bistro class did some diggin’ in)

From Market Bistro Chef John Winnek. It’s more like a fluffy corn pudding or spoon bread than a true souffle, but its non-fussy nature makes this a perfect side dish for a cookout. Serves 8.

1 c polenta/corn grits
1 c boiling water
2 c milk
2 t Kosher salt
4 T unsalted butter, melted
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 large egg whites, beaten into stiff peaks.
1 ear of fresh corn, shaved off the cob (about 1 c)

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk polenta into boiling water in a double boiler pan and then set over simmering water and continue whisking for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1 c milk and cook, stirring constantly, until milk is absorbed. Now add second cup of milk and melted butter and salt and continue to whisk until absorbed, about 2 more minutes. The end result should be smooth, no lumps, and a little soupy; it will continue to set up as it cooks in the oven.

Remove from heat and stir in the egg yolks, then the corn niblets. Fold in egg whites just until incorporated (don’t overstir or they’ll lose their loft). Pour into a buttered oven pan or individual buttered ramekins. Bake 40 minutes (30 minutes for ramekins) or until puffed and brown. (Try not to open oven door.) Serve immediately if you can; if you wait it will deflate a little but will still be light and delicious.

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Recipe: Three-Way Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

Three Way Strawberry Shortcake (pickled berry in front)

I whipped this up for a promotion sponsored by Driscoll’s. It features home-made buttermilk biscuits and three different preparations of strawberries: quick-pickled, macerated and fresh. 12 servings.

For the biscuits:
2 c unbleached all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
3 T sugar
1 T baking powder
¼ t baking soda
½ t salt
8 T unsalted butter (1 stick), frozen
½ c buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Strawberry bias

Strawberry cut on the bias

For the strawberries:
6 c ripe strawberries, each strawberry cut on the bias into 3-4 pieces with maybe a few whole strawberries for garnish
½ c sugar
1 T lemon juice
½ c cider vinegar
½c water
Rosemary, small sprig or 1 t dried

For the whipped cream:
½ pint heavy cream
2 T good floral honey
1 t vanilla extract

Method: The night before serving, quick-pickle about 1 c of strawberries. Bring water and cider vinegar to boil in a saucepan with rosemary and half a dozen peppercorns. Cool and strain into a bowl with strawberries. Refrigerate.

Sweet biscuit dough

Biscuit dough (those on the left and front have been finger-smoothed)

Biscuits: Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a half sheet or two quarter sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpat. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 3 T sugar in a bowl or food processor. Cut butter into ½ inch cubes and add to dry ingredients. Pulse food processor or “cut” with pastry blender until butter is finely dispersed. Mix beaten eggs and buttermilk in a separate bowl and pour into dry mixture with butter. Blend quickly, just until dried flour streaks disappear. The dough will be very sticky. Using a tablespoon and your fingers dipped in water, transfer dough to sheet pan in clumps that are about 2 inches across and 1 ½ inches high. You want to end up with 12 clumps, evenly spaced on the sheet pan. Use your finger dipped in water to smooth them out so they are more biscuit-like. Bake approximately 18 minutes or until slightly brown on top, rotating pan halfway through. Cool about 10 minutes in the pan, then flip over onto a wire rack to continue cooling. The biscuits can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until needed; reheat in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes before serving (or zap them a few seconds in the microwave).

Macerated strawberries: Mix ½ c sugar and 1 T lemon juice in a bowl. Add 2 ½ c cut strawberries and toss to combine. Allow to macerate 15-30 minutes until a good amount of liquid is given off.

Whipped cream: Start with cold heavy cream and bowl and whisk or beaters that have been chilled in the freezer a few minutes. Whip cream until it starts to set up; add 2 T honey and 1 t vanilla extract; continue beating till it forms soft peaks.

Assembling the shortcakes: Slice each biscuit in half (if you make them in advance, do this before reheating). Place each pair of cut biscuit halves, sliced side up, on a serving plate. Drizzle a little of the liquid from the macerated strawberries onto each biscuit face. Evenly divide the macerated berries across the 12 servings, then add drained quick-pickled berries (if they taste too pickle-y to you, rinse in water and drain before using). Finish with 2 ½ c of fresh strawberries, cut on the bias. Spoon a generous amount of whipped cream onto each serving and top with a small whole berry as garnish if you like.

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Certified Angus Beef grilling class at Market Bistro

Chefs Market Bistro

Chefs Michael Ollier and John Winnek at work in Market Bistro demo kitchen

I’ll be sharing a few recipes over the next couple of weeks from John Winnek, the resident chef and chief instructor at the Market Bistro Cooking School in Latham, NY. John has an easy, confident way in describing and preparing his recipes and it was a pleasure to spend 90 minutes with him and Michael Ollier from Certified Angus Beef, watching them grill and then sampling three different cuts of beef (a marinated top round, a petit sirloin and a New York strip which had been partitioned into “filets” on the principle that the modern diner wants strong flavor and can put up with less meat).

Steak and Taters

Twice Baked Potato Casserole (recipe to come)

This is an excellent facility that I’ll recommend to anyone who is within driving distance, especially because it turns out to be the area’s first full-scale cooking school at a chain grocery. The large demo kitchen has three islands where up to 15 students can participate in hands-on classes, and counters and stools facing the kitchen and two large video monitors for nonparticipatory classes (like the one I attended). Classes are held almost daily on a variety of specialties and for all interest levels and age ranges (there was recently a “Frozen” cooking class for kids, which I gather was a learning experience for all involved). The current schedule is here.

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How Stephanie Izard gets kids to eat their vegetables

Magic mixed veg

Mixed vegetables with a bit of mayo and The Saute

On a recent trip to Chicago, I was unsuccessful at getting a seat at the popular Girl and the Goat restaurant. But a few weeks later, I ran into head chef/owner Stephanie Izard at the Fancy Food Show and she was kind enough to load me up with a few samples of the sauces and rubs inspired by her cuisine, which she collectively calls The Flavor.

Wall Street Journal said that Izard’s Rub #1 “concentrates ranch dressing’s predominant notes with herbaceous rosemary” while The Marinade is “every protein’s friend” but so far I have been concentrating on The Saute, a “vinaigrette” (it isn’t technically since it contains no vinegar) which is like a checklist of all that is umami and/or good to eat: fish sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce, dijon mustard, sriracha, oh my!

The Saute

The Saute

A version of this sauce is served on the restaurant’s “Magic Beans” in which green beans are sautéed with some cashews, then sauced with an aioli containing the concoction. But the killer application I’ve discovered is squirting a bit of mayo into a serving of any blanched-from-frozen vegetable, adding a bit of The Saute (no more than ½ t per serving), then serving to children. The types gobble it up!

Chef Izard generously shares the recipe on her website, but The Saute is very reasonably priced so you might just want to order a bottle. It’s available from Abe’s Market for $9.95 a bottle plus $4.95 shipping, or $9.95 with (apparently) no shipping fee from Izard’s own Goat Store.

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My first spherification experiment

Peas and Carrots

Tastes like peas and carrots…

Longtime readers will assume Burnt My Fingers has jumped the shark when I tell you we spent last weekend forming carrot juice and pea soup into little globules. I have been doing some work with the folks at Modernist Pantry, and for my first experiment proprietor Christopher Anderson advised me to try spherification which is the “gateway drug” for many new enthusiasts.

Alginate Bath

Carrot globules in their alginate bath

Spherification depends on the chemical reaction of sodium alginate and a calcium salt. Sometimes the alginate is in a bath, sometimes it’s in the food product. I started with reverse sperification (alginate in the bath, calcium in the food) because it’s supposedly easier. After an afternoon I had a small cup of orange globules, only a few of which exhibited the desired symmetry you’ll see in just about any “molecular gastronomy” food porn. (Most chefs hate that term, it turns out. It’s meaningless because everything is made of molecules and it’s overly technical-sounding. “Modernist Cuisine” is preferred because it describes the broad spectrum of new explorations in food preparation.)

Carrot Drop

One of my better efforts

There are some excellent videos on Modernist Pantry’s ChefSteps partner site that make it look easier than it is. (You get a URL to unlock the spherification course when you buy one of their kits.) My liquid initially wouldn’t spherify but just dispersed into the solution. I then added xantham gum and got something closer to globules but they were very irregular. What finally worked was to take a food service syringe filled with liquid and squeeze out a drop into a quarter teaspoon measure held just above the surface of the alginate bath, then flip the spoon to dunk the drop into the bath. In the end, maybe 10% of my efforts were good enough to keep. But I am sure with practice this will go up.

Frozen Reverse Spherification

Frozen Reverse Spherification setup

Next, I tried frozen reverse spherification for the peas. Strained pea soup was frozen in a silicone mold (each half-sphere is about a tablespoon) then the results were individually dipped into the alginate bath which had been heated to 125 degrees F. The principle here is that as the outer surface of the ice melts, it interacts with the alginate and forms a shell that will contain the rest of the contents. This worked fine until the bath cooled down, at which point I got a lot of gummy (from the alginate) pea soup.

I had a hard time finding solid reference information. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking (the five volume version; the home edition doesn’t cover processes involving specialized equipment) is massive and intimidating and the many internet sites often aren’t clear on methods. This subject longs for a “science project” book in which you tackle a recipe and a technique, learn something of the chemistry, and end up with an edible result plus ideas for other things you can make in the same way.

A few trial-and-error discoveries are worth sharing:

1. Mixing an alginate bath is tricky. The powder starts to hydrate immediately when it contacts water, so you have to keep it dispersed by using a whisk or a blender. Then, you have to wait for the air bubbles to percolate to the top and pop. This can take 24 hours or more. If you like, you can buy mixes like Modernist Pantry’s Sphere Magic that simplify and speed up the process.

2. If your “flavorful liquid” is much thinner than the alginate you’re putting it into, and it disperses and doesn’t gel, you can thicken it with xanthan gum. Measure out 0.5% the weight of the liquid in xanthan gum and sprinkle this over the surface of the liquid in a wide dish; if you add the xanthan all at once it will clump up. Wait a few minutes for it to hydrate. If it has a vaguely slippery feeling when you touch it and rub your fingers together, that means the xanthan gum is being absorbed. If you still have problems with dispersal, measure out another 0.5% xanthan by weight and repeat.

3. When working with alginate baths, don’t pour the residue down the kitchen sink. It will interact with calcium in the pipes and can plug them up. Instead, wipe off as much as you can from spoons, surfaces and containers with paper towels and dispose of the paper towels in the garbage. Then pour the residual solution in the garden. It’s a natural product, made of algae, so should not produce any problems with your plants.

4. Finally, don’t plan on eating your first products. Get the technique down first. Of course I couldn’t resist, and my little amuse bouche tasted like… peas and carrots, from the frozen Birdseye pouch.

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Recipe: Spiedie Marinade for Spiedies

Chicken Spiedie

Preferred spiedie serving method: on a puffy Italian bun, with only its juice as condiment

This is the marinade I used for my spiedie taste test, corrected to include paprika like the winner. It produces moist, tender grilled meats whether you use lamb (the classic), pork, chicken or beef. Makes enough to marinate 1 1/2 lb boneless meat.


Boneless chicken, pork, lamb or beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
½ c olive oil
1/3 c cider vinegar
¼ c lemon juice (approximately one juicy lemon)
½ t dried oregano
½ t dried “Italian seasoning” or ¼ t dried basil and ¼ t dried thyme
½ t paprika
3 finely chopped fresh mint leaves (optional, but traditional for lamb)
½ t granulated garlic
½ t Kosher salt
¼ t ground black pepper

Mix everything except the oil and let the dried spices soak up the liquid; add the oil, shake and marinate the meat in it for at least 24 hours (chicken) and preferably 48 hours (other meats). Thread onto skewers, with or without shish kebab vegetables, and cook on grill or in broiler. If making traditional spiedies, serve the meat on a soft Italian roll with no accompaniment other than a bit of the fresh marinade (not the marinade you had the meat in).

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Taste Test: Spiedies!

Pork Spiedie on Bun

Spiedies in the wild at Spiedie and Rib Pit

Spiedies (pronounced “speedies”) are a regional treat I discovered on a recent trip to Binghamton, NY. They’re essentially shish kebabs without the vegetables—cubes of lamb, pork, chicken or beef marinated and grilled on a spit or skewer (“spiedi” is Italian for “skewers” and “spiedini” is meat cooked on skewers). The classic way to serve them is bare, no condiments, on a puffy Italian bun, with maybe a little bit of the marinade poured on. (Some online spiedie commenters say they put mayo or Miracle Whip on the bun.)

I had pork spiedies at the Spiedie and Rib Pit and took an immediate liking to this moist, tender meat. Investigation led to some recipe experimentation as well as purchase of two popular commercial spiedie marinades from Amazon.

Spiedie Bottles

Bottled Spiedie Marinades

You can see from the picture how different they are: Lupo’s is heavy on the oil with a red tinge from paprika, while Salamanca’s “State Fair” marinade resembles a classic vinaigrette with lots of herbs. My own concoction was a more traditional (if you believe Wikipedia, which has a very good backgrounder) mix of white vinegar, lemon juice, oil and a few spices but with more vinegar than a dressing you’d put on a salad.

For my taste test, I used boneless chicken thighs and marinated them for 20 hours in the three different sauces, then grilled and served on appropriate Italian rolls. (Long marinating times are another key: if it was pork or lamb I’d give it a couple of days.)

The envelope please: though Lupo’s seemed a bit oily and bland when I tasted it out of the bottle, it scored first with all three tasters. My own sauce was second, with State Fair last. The differences were slight—all preps were delicious and the meat wonderfully tender after its long bath in the marinade.

Spiedies Taste Test

Spiedies off the grill, ready for the bun (my prep at left)

There is an annual Spiedie and Balloon Festival in Binghamton, and many natives who have moved away go to considerable lengths to get bottled spiedie sauce, the State Fair apparently being most popular. (It is sold in half gallon jugs on Amazon.) But I recommend you get the Lupo’s, or else make your own. (My recipe was subsequently corrected as a tribute to Lupo’s victory, adding in some paprika.)

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Food photography tips from Evi Abeler

Evi Abeler

Evi Abeler answers blogger questions at TECHmuch NY

At today’s excellent TECHmunch blogger conference, food photographer Evi Abeler shared some ideas to make our photos more appealing from an appetizing and artistic perspective. Evi has a strong academic background, credentials with many familiar food websites and magazines, and a five-year stint as staff photographer for a museum in which her job seems to have been finding ways to make statues look interesting. Here are some of her tips:

1. Use a tripod. This frees you up to compose the shot and adjust lighting. Even better, a tripod with an extender which allows overhead shots. A tether which connects the camera to your laptop is also useful because you get a better preview of the shot and instant results for review.

2. The best lighting can often be found in a windowsill. White and off white plates make good backgrounds for food, as does wood and stone. These are typically neutral or dark colors and do not have a busy pattern to distract from your subject. Another good background: the back of a well used sheet pan. (As in this photo for Kewpie Mayo.)

3. Take pictures of leftovers. They help tell your story and may end up being your best shot. Also, take pictures with fingers in them (they can be arranging, selecting or holding the food). She first did this by accident, now it is part of her standard repertoire.

4. To make white rice look interesting (apparently the ultimate food photographer’s challenge) use your hand to arrange it into a pattern, or “make poetry” with sauce poured over it to guide the eye.

On Burnt My Fingers, we do try to take passable photos though we are sometimes too hungry to keep our hands off the food. (You can tell which photos are our favorites because, in general, those are enlarged in the posts.) Depending on the circumstances we shoot with either an iPhone 4s or a Canon SX280 HS. The latter is the latest of a series of Canons; we like this brand because its present color balance is particularly kind to food. We will definitely apply some of Evi’s tips to improve our own photos.

You can see Evi Abeler’s work at She also has a blog she does with a pastry chef friend, called Whip [as in using a whisk) and Click. It’s inspiring stuff.

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Gwa Kao (Chinese Taco Buns)

Gwa Kao with Jones ham, hoisin and pickled ramps

Gwa Kao with Jones ham, hoisin and pickled ramps

Gwa Kao, sometimes labeled Taco Buns, are found in the cold case with the noodles in my local Asian market. I bought them to serve a Momofuku-type pork belly, but have discovered they have other uses as well. Pop a Gwa Kao in the microwave for 30 seconds and it will emerge steaming hot but still well formed and not wilting or sticking to itself as an American bun would. The secret is probably the undefined “emulsifiers” listed on the ingredient list.

Anyway, I have been employing these to make leftover ham mini-sandwiches with my Jones Dairy Farm ham and pickled ramps. Squirt on some Sriracha and hoisin and you’re good to go. They’re about half the size of a burger bun, so takes two to make a meal.

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