Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brussels Sprouts...yes, I had to!

When you read the title for this post, you were probably thinking "ugh, I hate Brussels sprouts!" or "not another one! Everyone is blogging about these guys!" or maybe both things came to mind, but nevertheless, I couldn't resist! As a "future chef" I want to record my adventures in the kitchen for my own benefit even if everyone else is sick of the topic (sorry!). If your still reading, you must not be completely sick of hearing about Brussels sprouts or you just like to hear what I have to say...I'll take either! :)
Anyways, moving on, I had actually first wanted to make some Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving as a little something different. Unfortunately when I went shopping for all my food, they were out :( so I had to postpone my adventure til later...which ended up being yesterday!
I've had Brussels sprouts only one other time before and it wasn't a very noteworthy experience. My mother made them the way she had had them as a child: steamed. Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against steaming, it's just that that was it. No salt, pepper, herbs, butter, or anything to give them flavor, it was just steamed little balls of cabbage, period. If you've ever had 'em, you understand why I wasn't too thrilled, if you haven't, be glad I'm clearing this up for you.
I'd read numerous posts on how wonderful and amazing Brussels sprouts were if cooked properly and I was very interested. Also, many of my classmates at culinary school agreed, saying that roasting was the way to go. They said it was fast and easy and that the little outside leaves got all crispy and delicious. This sounded too good to be true to me. So I HAD to give it Brussels sprouts another try, and roasting was my plan.
I went back through some blog posts and recipe sights and got the basic idea for making roasted Brussels sprouts. Coating with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper was the basic preparation and a common variation I found was adding some balsamic vinegar to the mix. I had all of these items on hand as staples and decided to give it a shot. I also read that cutting off the tough stub at the end of the sprouts was a way to make them less bitter and cutting each one in half allowed for more even cooking and better flavor penetration, so I thought I'd do that too. With all of these proven methods I felt sure I had a winner on my hands!
Cutting up 4 cups of Brussels sprouts took a little time, but only because I had to go one at a time. Then I threw them all in a big bowl, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a little balsamic, and a pretty good amount of salt and freshly ground pepper.
Threw THAT into the oven preheated to 400 F and set the timer to 15 min, as was the recommended time.
15 minutes later the kitchen smelled strongly of cooked cabbage and the little half Brussels sprouts were shiny and slightly browned, with the fallen-off leaves turning almost black. They looked done to me and I was trusting the "recipe" so I took 'em out and served 'em up! The evaluation? Well...even my mom, who LIKES Brussels sprouts, was slightly skeptical about this side dish, but my picky younger sister surprisingly tried ONE, which was pretty impressive. My dad ate quite a few, but he wasn't a huge fan. I ate a lot of them, but not really because I thought they were good, but because I was trying to figure out what to make up them. First off, all I could taste was cabbage, despite the fact I thought I hit them really well with S&P. Then there was the textural issue: they were not soft and tender as I had been aiming for, but still kind of on the chewy, not-fully-cooked side of things :/ STILL, I noticed that the dark, crispy little leaves that had fallen to the way side were pretty tasty and I felt there was still hope yet.
The next day for lunch I decided to go round two with these puppies and REALLY hit 'em up with seasoning and fix the texture problem. I could have just roasted them again, but I wanted to be able to monitor them better, plus I thought I could keep more flavor on the sprouts if I were stirring them around in a pan and getting them completely and evenly cooked and covered, thus I chose to saute!
I dumped all the Brussels sprouts in a large saute pan on med-high heat, with about a tablespoon of olive oil and started cooking! I added LOTS of salt and pepper, a clove of garlic, and about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar since I couldn't taste it AT ALL before. I cooked the cabbages until I could easily piece them with a fork, but they weren't mushy.
Then I tasted...WHOA! Total difference! The flavors came through great and the texture was perfect!!! The vinegar definitely helped a lot and I think I might add more garlic next time. My mom agreed, they were waaaay better the second time. Later that day I pulled the left-overs out of the fridge for a snack and they tasted better yet with the flavors just really soaked in. I ended up eating all the rest of the Brussels sprouts and now...I want some more. Honestly, I do! They were such a tasty little finger food snack and so fast...I can't wait to go to the store to get more!! Sorry I don't have a real recipe typed up for these guys since I just winged the whole thing, but I can tell you what I might recommend. I'll try a more precise procedure next time and hopefully have some real measurements for you all! Then again, you may prefer to just experiment and do everything to taste like I did. Sometimes the adventure is more enjoyable than the end result anyways :)

- about 4 cups Brussels sprouts
- olive oil
- salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a few cloves of garlic, minced
- balsamic vinegar

1) Wash the Brussels sprouts and remove any wilted or discolored outer leaves. Trim off the tough stem on the end and cut in half lengthwise (some outer leaves may fall off, that's fine, just at them to the mix, they will be reeeeally yummy!).
2) Preheat the oven to 400 F and heat the olive oil in a large saute pan (or do this in batches) to about med-high heat.
3) Add the Brussels sprouts and VERY generously season with the salt and pepper.
4) After a few minutes, add the garlic and stir.
5) When the Brussels sprouts are beginning to soften, remove the pan from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar, stirring to let it absorb and coat evenly.
6) If your saute pan is oven safe, put it directly into the preheat oven, if not, put the sprouts on a jellyroll pan or other pan and place it in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, watching carefully after 5 to see that they cook to the amount that you would like. Take one out and taste it to check if you like. 
7) Serve warm with MORE pepper OR chill and eat later with your fingers because it's sooo good you won't be able to wait to get a fork :) 

 ~ Oh and as a side note, just for of my sisters asked the question of whether Brussels sprouts get their name from the city of Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The answer is...yes! These sprouts were thought to have been first cultivated in Italy and Belgium as early as 1200s, but it was their popularity in Belgium, near the Brussels area that won them their name. So now if you get will know!

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