Whoosh! Weekends spent in my hometown are always far too brief. I'm aware that I'm unusually close to my family, but perhaps it's because I actually like them. We discuss local wine, new recipes and travel destinations. We play board games. There's a lot of yelling and carrying on.
They warm my cold, black heart. That sort of disarming thing.
Amherstburg is the kind of place where you meet up with decade-old friends at the local greasy spoon, the kind of place that still serves $5 breakfast (with coffee) on checkered table cloths and doesn't accept interact cards.
You follow your sister into the barber shop early, before the regulars pile in, and head to the back so she can trim your ends and make you look presentable. You ask her boss how he's doing. You say hello to her co-workers, and together discuss the merits of roasted red pepper hummus as someone gets their hair straightened to the sounds of Top 40s.
Before leaving for a party, someone might exclaim, "Take a roadie!" and so you do, tossing it under the seat, smiling while shaking your head.
And then, poof!, you arrive back in the Big Smoke, surrounded by skyscrapers and fellow transplants.
Now I'm going to talk about Brussels sprouts.
But wait! Don't leave! Just say it with me: Brussels sprouts. It sounds pretty. I think it has to do with the word sprouts. If they were called something different, perhaps Brussels blooms, maybe people would be more inclined to eat them. When I brought them up to a room full of co-workers, most cringed in disgust, repelled by the sprouts.
To be honest, I am not a big fan of the little cabbages. I like cabbage. I even like vegetables in miniature. Though people have tried to convince me over the years that Brussels sprouts are inherently delicious, I'm a reluctant believer. There's still not much of a gravitational pull. I've tried them roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, sure that a simple preparation would win my heart. That didn't happen. I've eaten them with bacon. Meh, alright. My mom likes to boil or microwave them. There are no words to accurately describe my facial expression when the words "boil" and "sprouts" unite.
Fortunately, food authorities exist out there and Cook's Illustrated is really the foremost of them. It's one of those modern day rarities: no glossy photographs, no fuff, no advertisements (!) -- just plain good ol' teachings. What can I say? I may be woed by pretty things, but not indefinitely.
At over seven Canadian dollars, this magazine does not come cheap, folks (though my current library fees makes it look like a bargain.) But it is good quality. I often mosey over to Chapters on my lunch hour to peruse the cooking and art sections. I might grab a coffee and linger a while. It's a nice reprieve from Cubicleland. The good news is that these recipes are classics, which makes the magazine an investment -- unlike current favourites that publish predominantly sensational food news, appealing nearly exclusively to a bourgeois sensibility. I've stopped subscribing to these because I find the recipes are poorly constructed, flop or simply aren't good. Pretty pictures be damned (!).
The more I cook, the less I rely on your standard recipes. Yes, I love trying new things. I'll give a good-looking dish a go. But perfecting the basics is sometimes trickier and requires more diligence and patience than I may have been willing to muster in the past. I can find you a great chili recipe; I can make you a fish taco that will blow your socks off. However, ask your typical home cook how to properly roast Brussel's sprouts or cook scrambled eggs and they might look at you a little quizzically. Truthfully, anyone can follow a recipe; it isn't exactly hard. But acquiring skill -- identifying when something has finished cooking, tasting with intent, understanding the various components of a dish -- that takes experience and a little know-how. Cooking a fine, simple meal is an underrated thing.
And so, Brussels sprouts.
I've become a bit of an overnight fan.
By adding a bit of water, the sprouts are transformed. Magically, they are rendered tender and sweet, the bitterness removed entirely by the slow caramelization process. It helps to find yourself some nice Brussels sprouts, by which I mean fresh ones with tight leaves. I purchased mine at the local farmer's market, where they all looked delicious.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, Nov. 2011
1lb Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Drizzle of water
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 500F. Using a sheet of aluminum paper, make a pouch. In a separate bowl, toss the sprouts with the olive oil until thoroughly combined. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the sprouts to the pouch and drizzle with a splash of water. Nip the pouch shut. Roast for about 10 minutes, covered, and uncover for another 10, or until sprouts are tender-crisp and lightly caramelized. Serve immediately.