Friday, December 16, 2011

Talking Stalk: A GUEST POST!!!!

 OH MY GOODNESS it makes me so happy to announce a GUEST POST. My love for brussels sprouts nearly rivals my love of my friend Adam, so this is just perfect. I do love to roast them at impossibly high temperatures and then eat the leaves that fall off like potato chips-- but now I am totally going to make brussels sprout-ham bites. Adam, you are my hero.

An Exploration of a Snack Pariah: Brussel Sprouts

Today in true Make Your Own Pudding fashion, I decided to audaciously expound on a foodstuff that has been wrinkling noses for centuries: brussel sprouts.  And like my dear friend Lily, I am prone to make even the oddest item into an easy-to-snarf snack.

The wonderful qualities of brussel sprouts can elude even the most open-minded vegetable lover.  Not only a little tough and bitter, badly done ‘sprouts have tinny quality which is all their own.  However, cooked just right this signature flavor can blossom into a delectable backdrop for the well rounded meal. 

Usually I will just half or quarter the little cabbages, cover with olive oil, coarse salt, pepper and garlic and roast at 400F until they are brown and crispy on the edges and sweet smelling (and tasting! yum!).  This is the tasty side dish I had in mind when I saw the bold display of brussel sprouts still on the stalk at my local Trader Joes. 

I am sure I am not the first to be beguiled by the site of a whole brussel sprout stalks.  Exotic and robust (and 2+ feet long!), the stalks can seduce us into forgetting experiences of the banefully bitter bits that show up on dinner plates.  Trader Joes had a bushel of them begging me to undertake a food adventure, leave it them to make food fun.  So, I grabbed a stalk and headed home, not knowing what this bludgeon de brussels had in store for me.

Little did I know that these ‘sprouts would be meant to grace the crudite table at my family’s upcoming holiday party, not surreptitiously eaten at a private dinner affair.  My mother, the consummate hostess, has been obsessing about foody things to hold cheese, wrap in bacon or squirt in filo shells for weeks.  Considering the snackable size of brussel sprouts, I realized that these little monsters might fit the bill.  How, though, to cook them? 

Patting each other on the back for being true America’s Test Kitchen candidates, Mama Holt and I decided to cover our bases and steam them, roast them, and (my first thought) deep fry them.  First, to make them snack sized we cut the top quarter inch off laterally and then hollowed them out.  The result is a dimpled bite that holds together remarkably well.  You can cut the bottom so they stand upright, too.  With that tough core exposed, they cook a little through a little faster I imagine. 

To steam, just a quarter inch of water was needed in a sauce pan.  They cooked covered for about 7 minutes and were done.  The result was pretty good.  They had a little bite, but the core was soft and meaty and the leaves a fresh shell.  I figure they would be good with a bit of sweetness like hunk of honey ham inside, or a walnut, maple syrup goat cheese mixture.

The roasting took some more thought.  I poured quarter inch of oil in a glass pan and rolled the sprouts around in it, making sure some of the oil got into the dimple.  We heated the oven to 450F for 10 minutes.  I found that they roasted best when placed upside down.  That way the leafy part got crispy, sizzling in the oil, resulting in a sweet crisp crunch on top and a soft delicious center.  We tried it with a cream cheese spread that had chives and red peppers in it and it was quite good.  I could even imagine it with chicken salad, tapenade or roasted red pepper spread.   

“Deep” frying was the most fun, of course, and it cooked the fastest.  Deep in quotes because it only takes about an inch of oil to cover the sprouts.  We put a stray leaf in and waited for it to start bubbling to make sure the oil was hot before we put the brussels in.  After about five minutes, we grabbed them with tongs and placed on some paper towels.  The result was a golden brown blossom that was sweet, crunchy and wonderfully textured—not too heavy, but just  oily enough to qualify as a sometimes food.  These guys would be good with the above toppings, but I got a little carried away and grabbed a bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels we had sitting around from a holiday baking project.  I sprinkled them in one of the sprouts, watched as they melted slightly and popped it in my mouth—not bad at all.  Try it, I dare you!

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