Brussels Sprouts Gratin

This gratin is the ultimate way to show those healthy cruciferous brussels sprouts who's boss. Here's the thing, I don't eat heavy cheesy dishes every day, but special occasions can warrant good cheese, heavy cream, and butter. As a special occasion dish this is heaven. The brussels sprouts are roasted before they are assembled into a gratin making them buttery and caramelized, and the mornay sauce (simply a Béchamel sauce with grated cheese added to it) are so happy to be paired with these strong-tasting cabbage-y things.

Gratins are great make-ahead dishes. You can assemble them up to a day in advance and heat them up just prior to serving. They also tend to freeze well.

One note about brussels sprouts: the smaller the better. Sometimes you're limited to whatever the store or farmers' market has to offer. I lucked out and found young, fresh, tiny little brussels sprouts for this dish. I find that the smaller brussels are milder, more tender, and more delicious than the big ones. Certainly, this recipe will work with larger guys, I would just make sure to roast them for longer.

This dish would be great with a bright fresh light salad to balance out the richness of the gratin. It could be paired with your favorite savory entrée. For vegetarians, this side works super well alongside mushroom dishes.

Brussels Sprouts Gratin
Serves 8-10
Adapted from Saveur 

3 lbs. brussels sprouts (about 3 pints), halved
4-6 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half & half or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups shredded Gruyere, Emmental, or Swiss
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Start by cleaning the brussels sprouts and removing any browned or tough outer leaves. Halve your brussels sprouts. In a large bowl, toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil; make sure the sprouts are evenly coated in the oil. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper.

Transfer the seasoned brussels sprouts onto a baking sheet. Be careful not to crowd the sheet pan, you want to the sprouts to lie in a single flat layer so that they can evenly brown. Roast the sprouts until tender and browned, about 15-20 minutes depending on their size (check after 15 minutes and gage how much longer they need; they should be fully cooked).

Next, make the mornay sauce. Start by making a roux. Add 3 tablespoons butter to a medium saucepan (4-6 quart) on medium heat. Once the butter has just melted add the flour. Stir and cook until the mixture is golden brown and smells toasty, about 30-60 seconds. Slowly add the milk and half & half, continuously whisking the mixture as you add the liquid. Bring the liquid to a simmer, continuing to whisk so as to avoid lumps. Let the mixture thicken and simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and add the shredded cheese to the sauce. Stir until incorporated an you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Transfer the roasted brussels sprouts to an oval gratin dish (about 10-11 inches in length), or you can also use a 9 x 11 baking dish. Pour the mornay sauce over the roasted brussels sprouts. Top with parmesan and a few more gratings of nutmeg, or some additional black pepper.

Loosely cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and let the top of the dish brown, about 5 more minutes. Let the gratin rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Strawberry Hamantaschen Tartelettes

I need no excuse to make a cookie, but holidays are a good one.  Purim is this Saturday, and Hamantaschen, a three-sided cookie with a filling, is traditionally eaten and given as gifts on this holiday.

There are 2 things that hamantaschen need to be: three-sided and filled with something (jam, poppy seeds, prunes, etc.)  These aren't bad requirements for a cookie.  The only problem is that most of the Hamantaschen I've eaten in my life kind of suck.  They tend to be large in size, with dry bland cookie dough surrounding average tasting jam.

The only exception to the sucky-hamantaschen rule are my grandmother's (of course).  Instead of cookie dough, she made a pastry dough that she typically used for peroshke.  She also made her hamantashen small. She also filled them with homemade jam.

Pie dough is my favorite type of dough, and I  thought why not make hamantaschen with that?
The result: it worked.

These don't taste like typical hamantaschen. They taste like little pies.  If you want to make them into tartelettes (in fact, my french roommate says they reminded him of these), you don't need to form them into triangles.  If you want to make them triangular, you need to make sure you fold over the corners really well. This is a versatile base to work with, and I'm sure I'll play around with this recipe in the future.

I apologize in advance for the directions on this one... I sort of winged it, and some of this you have to do by feel... make sure your dough isn't too wet, don't roll it out too thick, make sure you chill the dough, and make sure you chill the cookies before you bake them. They are a little labor intensive, but they're also fun to make, if you like this sort of thing.

Pie-Dough Hamantaschen with Strawberry Filling
Makes 30 cookies

for the dough-
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cubed
1/4 cup ice water

for the filling-
1/2 cup strawberry jam (thick is best, recipe below if you want to make your own)
3-4 strawberries, quartered and sliced very thin
1 egg
turbinado or coarse sugar

for the dough-
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. For all pie dough, keep all of the ingredients as cold as possible.

In a food processor, add the flour and the cubed butter.  Pulse until the butter looks pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly.  Slowly add the ice water, a little at a time.  Pulse each time you add.  The dough is ready when it sticks together when you press it with your fingers.

Form the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, and cover it in plastic wrap.  Let the dough chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

to assemble-
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Make an egg wash by cracking an egg and beating it in a small dish.

Cut the dough into thirds, keep the dough you're not using in the fridge.  Roll the dough out until it is about a 1/4-inch thick.  Cut the dough with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. You can take the scraps of dough and re-roll those out so that none of the dough goes to waste.  If you want the tartelettes larger, use a 3-inch biscuit cutter or a glass (add more filling accordingly).

Spoon a 1/4 teaspoon of strawberry jam into the center of each round. Top the jam with a thin slice of strawberry.  Fold over the edges of the dough onto the jam, forming a triangle.  I start by folding one third, then another, then the last.  Pinch each corner super tight, otherwise the dough will unfold when the cookies bake. Here's a good tutorial.

Place the cookie on the baking sheet, leave an inch or two of room between each cookie.  Once you fill up the tray, place the tray of cookies in the freezer (or fridge) to chill for 15-30 minutes before baking. Take the cookies out of the freezer.  Brush the egg wash over the edges of the cookie, sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Fresh Strawberry Jam
adapted from Ina Garten's recipe

2 pints fresh strawberries, rinsed and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
juice and zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 45 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, and the mixture starts to look thick and jammy. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into a canning jars and either seal or keep refrigerated. Use immediately, or follow proper canning guidelines below.