Saturday, November 08, 2008

Won Over

I'm not quite sure what drew me to Brussels sprouts. My mother used to claim she loved them but she never served them. Perhaps my father didn't like them. Perhaps she just liked the idea of them. They are quite cute: like little baby cabbages. It's probably a blessing she never did make them; in our house when I was a kid, vegetables were supposed to be mush. Correction, they were supposed to be canned.

In talking to people I find that childhood memories of Brussels sprouts are what primarily deter them from eating them today. Moms who boiled the daylights out of the poor little things (the Brussels sprouts, not the kids) and then served up acrid-tasting balls of soggy leaves have ruined many of my friends for the joy that is Brussels sprouts.

Something I've recently discovered: almost any vegetable is improved by roasting. Cut into uniform pieces, tossed with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 450 degrees until the edges are browning just about all vegetables are transformed. I've roasted the obvious choices, the usual roast accompaniments, such as potatoes, carrots, and onions, but I've also roasted things like butternut squash, fennel, endive, and Brussels sprouts with great success. I even roasted some asparagus one time that almost turned my opinion of it.

Once I'd discovered Brussels sprouts and was tiring of roasting them with olive oil, recipes popped out at me. Sauteed, roasted, steamed (although I confess I've never steamed them for fear of turning them to the aforementioned mush), with bacon, cream, or cheese. I've cut them in half, shredded them, and pulled them apart into individual leaves. I can't recall having made a bad Brussels sprout recipe.

We recently had some friends to dinner, one of whom was a vegetarian. Since Fall was just upon us, I wanted to serve something that reflected the season. When I mentioned Brussels sprouts to my friend, she curled her lip. She had childhood-boiled-acrid-mush syndrome. I felt it was my duty to cure her. The problem I faced was that every recipe I could recall had bacon in it.

And then I remembered Donna Hay. In a feature on roasts in her magazine, she offered half a dozen sides, one of which was a Brussels sprout recipe that puts all others to shame. The sprouts are cooked under a soft blanket of cream mixed with cheese and mustard. The mustard was originally english mustard, but I swapped it out for my beloved Dijon, and upped the amount. It also recommends that you blanche them first, but I confess I always skip this step. Trim the spouts and cut them in half, mix up the cream with the cheese and mustard, spread the cream mixture over the sprouts and bake for 20 minutes. The result is heavenly and could convert even the most determined Brussels sprout hater on the spot. As evidence of this I can report that my friend who curled her lip was convinced.

So because I want everyone to love them as much as I do, I urge you to go get some Brussels sprouts and try this recipe. You too will fall completely in love with them.

Cheesy Mustard Brussels Sprouts
adapted from Donna Hay magazine #26
allegedly serves 6, but in fairly small portions; to my mind this is enough for four

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine cream, cheeses, and mustard. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed (because of the parmesan, it may not need any salt, but a couple of grinds of pepper are recommended). Place sprouts in a 4-cup capacity baking dish in a single layer. Spoon cream mixture over the sprouts, covering them evenly. The mixture is pretty thick, so you'll wind up sort of blopping it on and spreading it with the back of the spoon. Bake 20 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Devour.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Prolonged Absence!

Lawsy, I've been so remiss! I have a very good reason, however: I just started a brand new job, and you know how that is. First few weeks you have to actually be productive, prove yourself, learn everyone's name, figure out where the ladies room is. Stuff like that. Also, the computer I used to use for blogging belonged to my old company, which means I've been effectively without a decent computer to compose on and use for picture storage.

Now that I'm settling in, I promise to get back to posting more regularly. I've come to realize that I adore Fall and Winter vegetables even more than I like the Spring/Summer lot. Fresh tomatoes are great, but somehow I find myself much more excited about cabbage, cauliflower, endive, fennel, leeks, and butternut squash. I don't understand it, but I'm going with it. So far this month I've made:
  • Oven roasted fennel
  • Cauliflower gratin
  • Butternut squash gratin
  • Swiss chard gratin (yes, E, again)
  • Sauteed cabbage with oven roasted potatoes, cream, and Gruyere cheese

Every one of them was outstanding, and now that I'm resolving not to be such a blog slacker, I'll get start taking pictures of them and posting the recipes.