Brussels Sprouts: A member of the cabbage family, Wilson said, the earthy, nutty-tasting Brussels sprout looks like a miniature head of cabbage. Ranging in diameter from 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches, Brussels sprouts grow on thick green branches, and are sold either on the branch or individually. Brussels sprouts get a bad rap because they are so easy to overcook, resulting in a mushy texture and pungent aroma. When cooked properly, Brussels sprouts should be crisp-tender, with a pleasant crunch and a complex, slightly sweet flavor. Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron.
HOW TO BUY
Look for small to medium sprouts (the bigger ones often have less flavor). They should be bright green, with the leaves tightly wrapped. Brussels sprouts are in season from late August through March, and are sometimes sold on the stalk at farmers' markets and good produce markets.
HOW TO USE
Before cooking, prep Brussels sprouts by removing any tough or shriveling outer leaves and cutting a small X in the stem end of each sprout, to help ensure the interior cooks in the same amount of time as the exterior, preventing overcooking. To cook Brussels sprouts, drop them into boiling, salted water and let simmer for no more than 8 to 10 minutes, until they are crisp-tender. Sautéing Brussels sprouts in butter, oil, or rendered fat caramelizes their surface, bringing out their sweet, nutty flavor. You can sauté the leaves by themselves, or blanch whole Brussels sprouts and either halve or slice them before sautéing.
HOW TO STORE
Refrigerate Brussels sprouts unwashed in an air-tight bag for up to a week.
Cranberries: A staple of the Thanksgiving table, Wilson said these pucker-inducing berries are surprisingly versatile, brightening both savory and sweet dishes. Their high content of pectin (a naturally occurring thickening agent) makes cranberries particularly well suited for sauce. Cranberry sauce is one of the quickest and easiest holiday sides to make from scratch. Fresh cranberries are high in vitamin C. They are also a good source of antioxidants.
HOW TO BUY
Peak season for cranberries runs from October through December, though frozen cranberries are available year-round. You can stock up on fresh cranberries when in season and store them in the freezer. Whether fresh or frozen, cranberries are typically packaged in 12-ounce plastic bags, though you can sometimes find loose fresh berries during their season. Look for plump, firm berries that are bright red and shiny. Ripe berries should bounce, lending cranberries the alternative name "bounceberries." Sweetened dried cranberries are also widely available in supermarkets.
HOW TO USE
Substitute dried cranberries for raisins in baked goods, eat them plain as a snack, or sprinkle them over a salad.
Mix fresh cranberries with apples, cinnamon, lemon juice, and sugar for a sweet-tart filling for a pie, crisp, or cobbler.
Add fresh cranberries to your favorite quick bread or muffin recipe.
To make a sweet topping for cheesecake or ice cream, simmer fresh cranberries with water and sugar over medium heat just until cranberries pop.
HOW TO STORE
Because of their high acidity, cranberries store exceptionally well. Fresh cranberries, either in their original plastic bag or tightly wrapped, will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Frozen cranberries will keep up to a year.
Sweet Potatoes: This sweet root can be much more than just a vehicle for mini marshmallows, Wilson said. Though it comes in dozens of varieties (which can range in color from white to pink to purple), two types of sweet potatoes are the most prominent in the United States. The light sweet potato has pale-yellow skin and flesh, and is not sweet at all. When cooked, it has a crumbly texture, similar to that of a white baking potato. The second, better-known, type of sweet potato is the orange-fleshed variety generally labeled "yam." It has red skin and sweet flesh, and is particularly popular in the American South.
HOW TO BUY
Sweet potatoes are available year-round, and are at their peak during the winter. Choose small to medium sweet potatoes that are heavy for their size. Avoid any with bruises or signs of sprouting. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes should have uniformly colored skin. The skin of light sweet potatoes is naturally more mottled.
HOW TO USE
Sweet potatoes can be mashed, roasted, baked, boiled, or sautéed, and can also be made into sweet-potato chips or fries.
HOW TO STORE
Keep sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place for up to a week. Do not refrigerate (chilling can cause sweet potatoes to develop a permanently hard center).
Lemon Sole with Lemon-Shallot Brussels Sprouts
To prepare the Brussels sprouts before cutting them, be sure to pull off the tough outer leaves. Thin slicing and simple seasonings will convert those who aren't fans of Brussels sprouts.
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper plus additional for seasoning
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces lemon sole fillets
3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
6 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
Combine flour, lemon peel, coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper in shallow bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in each of 2 large skillets over medium heat. Coat fish in flour mixture and shake off excess. Add fish to skillets and cook until opaque and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt. Cover loosely with foil and set aside.
Wipe out 1 skillet. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until almost translucent, about 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts and broth. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until Brussels sprouts are tender and liquid is almost completely absorbed, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Spoon Brussels sprouts onto plates. Top with fish, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, and Sage
This dish showcases both red- and tan-skinned sweet potatoes.
1 pound red, white, or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 12-ounce red-skinned sweet potato (yam), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 12-ounce tan-skinned sweet potato, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
30 medium fresh sage leaves
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 425°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl; toss to coat. Spread mixture in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until potatoes are tender and browned around edges, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Serve roasted potatoes warm or at room temperature.
Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine, Pomegranate Molasses, and Mediterranean Herbs
Cilantro and mint add a fresh note to this cranberry sauce. Pomegranate molasses lends a bit of sweetness-and an extra shot of color.
Makes about 2 1/4 cups
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup dry red wine
1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
1/4 teaspoon (scant) dried basil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 1/2 tablespoons sliced fresh mint
*A thick pomegranate syrup; available at some supermarkets, at Middle Eastern markets
Stir sugar and wine in heavy deep medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil over medium-high heat until syrup is reduced to 3/4 cup, about 8 minutes. Add cranberries; boil until berries begin to pop, about 5 minutes. Stir in pomegranate molasses and basil. Cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.
For a Garnet Yam Puree recipe, go to Page 2.
Garnet Yam Puree
The garnet yam, named for its dark reddish-brown skin, is the variety you're most likely to find in the produce section of the supermarket. It's actually a sweet potato, and it's so flavorful that it requires only a little cream and butter, and some tart lime juice.
5 pounds garnet yams or other yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
Coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Fresh chives, chopped
Potato ricer or potato masher
Place yams in large pot. Pour enough cold water over to cover by 2 inches. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; boil gently until yams are very tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well; reserve pot. Let yams stand in strainer at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes.
Working in batches, press yams through potato ricer back into same pot or mash yams with potato masher. Combine cream and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high just until warm, about 45 seconds. Add cream mixture to yams and mix with potato masher or whisk until puree is almost smooth. Stir in lime juice. Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.