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Something Simple - Roasted Brussels Sprouts

A happy Monday to you! On this fine day, we are talking about sprouts. Of the Brussels variety. I never thought much about Brussels sprouts until I had them roasted. When you roast a Brussels sprout, it becomes a sort of green-vegetable French fry. They get crispy and brown on the outside, while still remaining soft on the inside. Add to that some sea salt and you really do have a round, greenish-brown French fry. And, you can use them on a pizza. Motorino does it. And so do I (I'll show you on Friday). But first, let's roast.

What You Will Need:

1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts

Olive Oil - about 2-3 Tablespoons

Sea Salt (use your discretion)

What To Do:

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse off the little sprouts in a colander like so:

When they are nice and squeaky clean, trim them up a bit by shaving off the base of the sprout ( just a tiny bit) and removing any brown or otherwise unhealthy-looking leaves. And then cut them in half, length-wise. They roast a bit faster this way, plus the cut side will turn all nice and toasty golden-brown.

Once this is done, place them either in a cast iron deep dish pan, or onto a baking sheet. Coat them with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt. Make sure you mix them up a bit (you can use your hands) so that all the little sprouts get some oil & salt.

Place your clean, oiled and seasoned sprouts in your heated oven, and set your oven timer for 35 minutes. It may take longer than that, but it's a good idea to give them a check at this point and note progress. Are the sprouts turning brown? Is there smoke billowing out of your oven and your sprouts are a crispy char that resembles the remains of Pompeii? At this juncture I'd like to remind everyone how fond I am of safety goggles. And fire extinguishers. But let's hope that reminder is unnecessary.

Your sprouts should be turning a nice brown color. If they are not quite as brown as you would like, give the pan a little shake to move them around a bit and encourage a nice, even tan, and leave them in the oven for a little bit longer. How long, you ask? Let's try 5-10 minutes. But keep an eye on it.

Once you've achieved your desired level of toastiness, take your sprouts out of the oven. You can add a touch more salt at this point if you think they need it, and even a dash of fresh pepper.

These guys make a great side dish. You can serve them up just like this (add some toasted pecans for crunch and even some grated Parmesan over the top if you are looking to get fancy).

OR since this is still PIZZA MONTH, you can use them as a pizza topping. So for now I am putting my sprouts in a Tupperware container in the fridge because on Friday, you will see how they make a pizza topping.

Whoooo gourds there?

Ok, I know that was cheesy. I couldn't help it. I took this picture after I impulse-bought all those crazy gourds during my Montauk Weekend. My dad (the Box) purchased this faux owl to scare away a team of woodpeckers that was plaguing the house with their incessant banging (don't they get headaches?). It didn't work. Furthermore, squirrels openly flout the owls by walking (if squirrels walk) right up to them and eating acorns along side them.

Anyway, as both Fall and the weekend are clearly upon us, this image seemed appropriate for reasons I can't even imagine. I'll try and think of some though:

1. An owl is supposed to be wise, like this one. We happen to think our readers are pretty sharp. You guys keep coming here, after all.

2. My dad always uses the expression, "Are you out of your gourd?" when either myself or my brother do something particularly stupid (like take a photo of an owl and a gourd regarding each other). He means "out of your mind," of course, but whatever.

So! To keep those wise little gourds of yours entertained over the weekend, please review these past posts, and know that we will be back on Monday with more fun stuff!

Wine recs with pumpkin pizza

Need a burger? Get one here.

Eat in a giant wine barrel at West End Station in the 'Boken.

Make some butternut squash soup!


Roasted Pumpkin Pizza with Fried Sage and Toasted Pecans

I don't know what I'm going to do when Pizza Month is over. Luckily for me (and you) we are only about half way through, because we've got some good ones for you. Including today's feature: Roasted Pumpkin Pizza with Fried Sage and Toasted Pecans. And as a special treat - at the end of the post Astor Wines has again treated us with some wine pairings. So don't forget to check those out.

So, by now I am assuming that you have roasted your wee lil' pumpkin just like I told you to on Monday. If not, get to work, post-haste, because you are going to need those little golden nuggets of roasted pumpkin-ness right now. And go:

What you need:

Roasted pumpkin slices (use your judgment on how many)

A handful of whole pecans (more if you snack on them while you cook, like I do)

A small bunch of sage

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp butter

Pinch of nutmeg

1/8 cup grated Parmeggiano Reggiano

salt and pepper

What To Do:

Heat up your oven (with pizza stone if you've got one) to 500 degrees. Prepare your dough. Maybe by now you've tried your hand at making some? At this point it should be ready to go, so get it ready by rolling it out and placing it on your pizza peel (sprinkled with semolina flour or cornmeal so your dough doesn't stick) and set it aside.

In either a grill pan or a frying pan, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter. Then place your slices of roasted pumpkin in the pan to toast them. Give them a sprinkling of salt while they are in there.

Once you've got those pumpkin pieces nice 'n' toasty, set them aside in a bowl.

Now, get excited everyone, because we are going to make an Alfredo sauce - or a variation on it - for the pizza. Get out a frying pan (or wash and reuse the one in which you toasted your pumpkin). Melt the other 1 Tbsp of butter in there. Pour in the 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Add some salt, pepper and the dash of nutmeg and stir. You will want the cream mixture to start bubbling a bit. Keep stiring. You need it to thicken (so it doesn't run right off the pizza and make a big ol' mess, setting off all the smoke detectors in your kitchen....not that that's ever happened to me or anything. I'm just warning you). As it thickens, you will notice that it will start to coat the back of your wooden spoon (or whatever stirring implement you happen to be using - I find a small squeegee works in a pinch*). Once you have the sauce at a nice thickness, remove from the heat and stir in your grated parm. Oh so creamy!

Ok, before we get too excited, let's put all the pieces together.

Using a spoon, smooth that Alfredo sauce on your uncooked, rolled-out, fantastic-looking pizza dough. Then, place your roasted, toasted pumpkin slices on top of that, in a nice arrangement. Then, place some pecans on top of that.

How's it going? Good? Good. Now, shimmy that thing into the oven and onto your pizza stone (which by now should be nice and hot) via your semolina-coated pizza peel.

Now, we are gonna need that frying pan a THIRD time. I know, it's nuts. But it's worth it. Heat a little olive oil in the pan. How much? 1 Tbsp? Just a bit. Take about 5-6 leaves from your bunch of sage, and once your oil is nice and hot, throw those little leaves in the pan. They should start to fry and get crispy. Once that happens you can take them out of the frying pan. And put them in the fire. NO! Put them aside (on a dish or paper towel).

Now I know you've been keeping an eye on your pizza that's in the oven during this time. Please don't forget about that. Take a peek at it and see how things are moving along in there. Is the sauce bubbling? Are the outer crusts turning golden brown? If so, you have my permission to remove the pizza (carefully) from the oven using your trusty peel. Once your masterpiece is out, place it on a serving dish and garnish with the fried sage leaves.

You're gonna like it.

When we made this, we added a salad of spinach, purple figs and cucumbers with a honey dressing. Like this one:

Now, the obvious question remains. WHAT are you going to drink with this? To answer this question, I turned to the experts at Astor Wines in NYC. These guys are just so helpful. They seemed intrigued by this combination in a pizza and have offered 4 different wines. Below, I give you their recs with tasting notes.

1. Bourgogne Rouge "Le Chapitre", René Bouvier 2006 (20558) – A pinot noir with nice red fruit, here you get rustic raspberries, again will work well with the pumpkin. This wine also shows a bit of herbaceous notes and is slightly earthy on the end making it a no brainer with the sage and pecans.

2. Lagrein, Muri Gries 2008 (45679) - Pizza/Italy/Italian wine – a natural choice for the type of dish but also will go beautifully with the ingredients. Like the pinot noir, it will offer some lush fruit, but as a relative to Syrah, it also offers some spice and herb qualities that can bring all the flavors together in a unique and delicious way.

3. Moscato Giallo "Vigna Giere", Vivallis 2008 (20466) – This Italian white has a touch of sweetness on the palate that will actually play off the natural sweetness of the pumpkin, making this dish a touch more savory as a whole. The slightly floral aromatics will blend nicely with the sage. Watch to not over-chill the wine or you’ll miss out on the subtle orange aromatics.

4. Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2008 (22188) – Chardonnay that has a touch of oak influence will blend the creamy aspects, the pumpkin and cream. The food and the wine together will create a nice round feeling in your mouth and with hints stone fruit in this white the fruit will bring out the pumpkin flavor.

* We would like to note that a squeegee actually makes a terrible Alfredo sauce stirring device. We just really like the word "squeegee". Squeeeeeeeegeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee... ok, sorry.


Mind Your Mannas (a concise review of White Manna in Hackensack)

I know it's pizza month, but even the most dedicated of blogs should include some variety here and there.  Those warm for iconic, Jersey burger joints should be familiar with White Manna in Hackensack which, quite possibly, may have invented the modern slider.  The place has been around for ages; its decor appears to pre-date the 1950's actually.  I was in the area recently and decided I was in the mood.

Ironically, White Manna is located directly across the street from a McDonald's.  But in terms of quality, the two establishments could not be further apart.  Approaching and entering White Manna is an experience.  I opened the front door at about 12:30 p.m. and it was packed.  I walked right into the last person in line - the place is tiny.  I patiently waited my turn to give my order - "Three cheeseburgers, grilled onions please."  The woman takes my order, reaches into a metal chest, pulls out three balls of fresh ground meat, splatters them on the grill, and proceeds to whack the hell out of them with a metal spatula until they are flat.

One end of the grill represents the burgers which are almost ready to be served.  The other end cooks the newbies.  It's a slightly confusing process; particularly at lunch, where dozens of hungry, drooling patrons would be more than happy to jump ahead of you and steal your order, but the woman working the grill seems to know the exact destination of each slider.

The time spent waiting for my burger gives me a chance to survey the inside: tiled floors, old time decorations, and hilarious orders (one high school kid ordered 12 burgers. From the looks of him, he was not sharing) pass the time. The grill woman is like a Hibachi grill chef - using her metal spatula to flip, serve, organize, scrape, chop and whatever else she feels like.  It's like a poor man's chef table.  Good stuff.

After about 15 minutes, my burgers are ready to be served.  I am seated at the right hand side of the semi circular bar/table, and the woman puts the burgers and onions, which are now sandwiched between a  Martin's potato roll , on a paper plate.  The masterpiece comes along with a side of pickles.  I never have to put my hand up or anything, she just knows those bad boys are mine.  Side note on Martin's potato rolls - for my money, these are the best hamburger buns in the galaxy.  Fluffy, moist, substantial, yet not so much as to dwarf the presence of the burger - there is simply no better compliment to a burger in my mind; or a pulled pork sandwich; or a hot dog.  You can see the "give" in the bun as I hold the slider.  So tender and wonderful.

The final result is just fantastic; a hot mess of satisfaction. The meat is perfectly cooked (typically, they only cook it one way; Medium well-ish. I've yet to hear anyone have the audacity to ask for a "medium rare" slider at Manna), the onions provide a strong complimentary balance, the cheese is melted just right - not overwhelming or bubbly - and the Martin's roll is fresh.

I devour the three sliders in record time.  Manna is definitely one of the ultimate destinations if you are fixing for burgers.  Affordibility is off the charts as well.   A recession buster!

Overall Movie Equivalent - The Big Lebowksi


John's Seasonal Impulsivities for October

1) Butternut squash soup - Just follow the recipe and get lost in the fun.  Everybody's doing it.  No, really, this is one of my favorites - such a dreamy, buttery, creamy treat that, let's face it, is as appropriate during this time of the year as it will ever be.

What You Need:

2 T butter
1 med. Onion. Chopped
½ t. thyme  fresh if you have it
½ t. curry powder
2 T flour
1 c apple juice and 1 c chick stock
½ pound butternut squash peeled seeded and cut into cubes
½ c heavy cream
salt and papper

For garnish (optional):
thin wedges of granny smith apple
1 T hazelnut or walnut oil
1 T finely chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
What To Do:

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add ion and pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is translucent but not brown.  Add thyme and curry powder, cook 1 minute longer.  Sprinkle flour over onion mixture, whisk until smooth.  Cook 3 minutes.  Slowly add stock and apple juice, then the squash.  Raise the heat to high and bring to boil.  Cook until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Allow to cool.

Transfer to a blender in small batches, taking care to fill blender jar no more than half full.  Personal experience has taught me that hot liquids tend to blow up in the blender (Yikes - remember those safety glasses!) if it is filled too full or started at a high speed.  Hold the lid on the blender jar tightly with a pot holder .  Then turn on starting at low speed.  Strain soup though a sieve if desired (not necessary in my opinion).

Return to heat.  Add cream and correct the seasonings.

Ladle into bowls and garnish.

Makes 4 cups of soup

2) A football with a good, sticky grip enables me to channel my inner Uncle Rico after Jets' victories.

3) Enjoy a glass of the Cadillac of Bourbons with a few, but not too many, ice cubes. Sip slow and let Maker's warm you up to compliment the crisp fall weather.  Drink it neat for deeper taste, respect and chest hair growth.

4) Honey Crisp Apples - For those seeking a non-sour apple option with optimal snap and flavor, get to your local grocery store and stock up on these guys.  Better yet, get out to rural neighboring parts of the tri-state area, participate in a Hayride (6), and do the apple picking yourself.  Perhaps at Wightman's Farms in Morristown, NJ.

5) Leffe Blonde - Described as a Belgian Abbey Ale, and claiming to be around since 1240!  That is impressive.  Indeed, it almost tastes like something from the middle ages.  And I don't even know what that means, because I wasn't there.  But these guys were.  It's creamy and complex, and deserves a spot in your fridge.