The Little Cabbage that Could

February 14th, 2012 · 14 Comments · Sides, Salads, Soup

It pains us to even admit this, but it took us a long time to come around to Brussels sprouts. They didn’t crack the dinner rotation until we were well into our 30s, with two kids, a mortgage, a dog, and a creeping difficulty reading the fine print on aspirin bottles. In other words, until we were full-fledged adults. But in our defense: When we were kids, way back in the 80s, Brussels sprouts, like liverwurst and canned sardines and that weird gelatinous pate you’d see at our parents’ dinner parties – was a grown-up food, a punch line food, the kind of thing you associated only with thinly veiled threats. “OK, guys, if you don’t eat your Brussels sprouts…”

From an early age, then, it was drilled into our heads: Brussels sprouts were something to be choked down. They were what had to be endured if you wanted your bowl of Rocky Road. One thing you learn as a parent, though, is that you are not necessarily doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. With our kids, we could start over. We could change the narrative. We could, if we went about it the right way, get them to like Brussels sprouts. So a few years ago, we set out to try. We spied a billy-club-size stalk of fresh-looking sprouts at the farmer’s market, brought it home, and began experimenting. And by experimenting, we mean spinning. “Baby lettuces,” we began calling them.Hey kids, aren’t they cute? We shredded and sautéed them (“Look kids, it’s like confetti!”), then tossed with fettuccini and Parmesan; we blasted them at high heat in the oven, and dressed them up with mint, cilantro, fish sauce, and Rice Krispies. (“Can you say Mo-mo-fu-ku, kids?”) But it was, of course, bacon that took us to the Promised Land. We fried some Brussels in bacon fat, drizzled them with cider vinegar (they love a little sweetness), then watched as our daughters popped “baby lettuce” after “baby lettuce” into their hungry little mouths. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to like what accompanied (and elevated) our boring old chicken that night. All they knew was that they wanted seconds of this magical vegetable that – bonus! – came with bacon bits on top. And we were only too happy to oblige. – Jenny & Andy

This is our “Providers” column from the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit — on newsstands today. Please head over to their site for the brussels sprouts recipe. Photo by Romulo Yanes for BonApp.

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Thanksgiving Roll-Out: Greens

November 15th, 2010 · 19 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving, Vegetarian

On Saturday afternoon — a gorgeous, unseasonably warm one in New York — I was sitting with some moms on the sideline of Phoebe’s last soccer game of the season. In a conversation interrupted every two minutes with a cheer for whichever formidable 8-year-old was rocketing down the field with the ball, we discussed the merits of our coach’s European-style alignment (only one forward!), we discussed grand plans for our soon-to-be soccer-free weekends, and, of course, we discussed Thanksgiving sides. Technically I had been having the Thanksgiving-side conversation with one of the moms for three straight weeks. It seemed like every time we ran into each other –at the farmer’s market, at the away game in Chappaqua (where we crushed, btw), and on the night she and her husband cooked the happiest, market-freshy-est dinner for my family — she was plotting a dish that would be substantial enough for her vegetarian Thanksgiving guests. The pressure was on because she had gone ahead and killed the year before — some sort of baked polenta with mushrooms — a fatal error because now that she realized she had to top herself. It was so delicious, she kept telling me. So special!

“So why not just make it again?” I asked her the night at their house.

“Yeah,” she said. “I guess I could.” But I could tell she thought this idea was uninspired. Lazy. Total loser move.

Here’s the thing: Repeat dishes are only uninspired and lazy if they’re not good. Repeat dishes that are so memorable you’re still talking about them a year later in a tone usually reserved for George Clooney, are the opposite of that: They are Signature Dishes. This is what the holiday family table is about. I don’t know about you, but in 10 years I want to get that call from Phoebe when she’s in college (playing midfield for UNC, natch) begging me to make her favorite confetti brussels sprout dish when she returns home for break…because what kind of Thanksgiving would it be without that on the table?

Anyway, I think I convinced my friend while we cheered on our girls. (Final Score: 3-0; the good guys.) I’ll find out for sure and report back to you — and try to nail down the polenta recipe for you, too.

Confetti Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves about 8
To make this vegetarian, just skip the bacon and add a few more more glugs of olive oil before you saute the brussels.

Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, slice 1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts. Meanwhile, fry 3 pieces of thick-cut bacon in a large skillet. Remove bacon and chop into small pieces. Using a paper towel, soak up some of the bacon fat from the pan and add a little olive oil. Add 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/2 medium onion or 1 small shallot (chopped), salt and pepper. Add brussels sprouts and saute about 1 minute until coated with oil and slightly wilted. Add 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth and cook another 5 minutes. Remove brussels to serving platter and sprinkle with bacon pieces.

What to do ahead of time: Shred brussels (up to one day in advance)

Arugula Salad with Butternut Squash, Lentils, Candied Pecans, & Feta
Serves about 8

On a cookie sheet, toss 1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and chopped into small pieces as shown below) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of fresh thyme leaves. Roast at 425°F for 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss about 8 cups baby arugula, 1 cup cooked beluga lentils (you can buy these precooked at Trader Joe’s), a handful of crumbled feta, and a handful of storebought candied pecans. Make dressing: Whisk together 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, snipped chives. When squash is ready and has cooled, add to the salad and toss with vinaigrette right before serving.

What to do ahead of time: Make dressing, wash greens, chop up squash.

More adventurous than my family? Here’s what I’d check out:

Brussels Sprouts with Thai Chili Pepper Sauce (The New York Times)
David Chang’s Crazy Delicious Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens (101cookbooks)
Bright, Beautiful Creamy Shredded Beet-Carrot-Celeriac Salad (devil & egg)
Beet and Orange Barley Salad (p. 53, Time for Dinner)
Raw Lemony Brussels Sprout Slaw (The New York Times)
Beets in Lime Cream (food52)

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Thanksgiving Two Ways

November 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Dinner, Rituals, Sides, Salads, Soup, Thanksgiving

Last Wednesday morning, I was on the 8:43 train reading Sam Sifton’s story Thanksgiving tips from NYC restaurant chefs, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture of Fatty Cue’s Brussels Sprouts. They were roasted and drizzled with a bright red sauce made from Thai bird chilis, crushed coriander seeds, and maple syrup, among other things. I showed the photo to Andy, who was busy reading about some new Yankees catching prospect.

“We should make these next time someone comes over to dinner,” I said.

He did a quick scan of the story. “Why not make them for Thanksgiving?” he replied. (more…)

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Wax-On Wax-Off, the Kitchen Edition

September 21st, 2010 · 19 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick

My friend and Time for Dinner co-author Pilar Guzman has a theory about cooking from recipes (as opposed to improvising with what you’ve got in front of you). She calls it the Wax-On/Wax-Off theory. Remember how the Karate Kid had no idea he was developing muscle memory for defensive blocks until Mr. Miyagi took away the car-waxing cloth???  Pilar believes that there is a whole world of capable cooks out there who are still waxing cars…I mean, still relying on recipes even though their highly developed culinary muscles have fully prepared them to start winging it in the kitchen.

That person was me until a few years ago. I remember the recipe that turned it around for me — Chicken with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts. I had eaten some version of the dish in a restaurant and for whatever reason decided that this was the meal that was going to be my Crane Kick. I had probably cooked and edited 4200 skillet meals by that point in my life so I knew the basic technique was…

Brown meat in fat. Remove meat. Add vegetables. Add meat back to pan with some form of liquid. Simmer until meat is cooked through.

So I thought about the ingredients I needed, thought about the technique, then tested myself. The exercise not only yielded the most delicious dinner that even the girls inhaled like wolves, but ignited a little flicker of confidence that I knew would just keep growing. And it has. I think it’s a huge reason why I’ve been able to keep the family dinner thing going. (Is there anything less appealing than bobbing back and forth between a pot and a cookbook during the six-o’clock scramble?) So now, it’s your turn to test yourself. Up there in the picture are all the ingredients you need (chicken, bacon, brussels, onion, wine…forgot to show salt & pepper) to create Chicken with Bacon and Brussels (finished dish pictured below). See how you do…and let me know how it turns out.

Can I tell you how much I love this dinner? Not only is the bacon/ brussels combo genius, but the whole meal takes about a half hour and uses only one pot. (more…)

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