Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things - Brussels Sprouts and Artichokes

We drove out to California for Christmas, and stayed in Santa Barbara for a few days - it was wonderful, and to top it all off, they had a farmers' market while we were there! Since we were going up to visit Dave's brother and his girlfriend in Morro Bay the next day, I thought it wouldn't hurt to pick up a few things we could cook at their house. Here's a photo of all the delicious bounty I just couldn't resist - look at all the beautiful things that are in season this time of year in California!


I was so excited to find whole stalks of  Brussels sprouts for sale! They are so beautiful on the stalk, and someone told me you can eat the big leaves too. I guess that makes sense, since the sprouts are just little leaves, but I never thought about it before. Yes, look at me, it's ridiculous how excited I get about vegetables.


Brussels sprouts... just another much-maligned vegetable that is incredibly tasty when done right! If your mom boiled them until they were soggy, stinky blobs, I can certainly understand if you don't think you could possibly like them. I humbly submit that perhaps if you give them a try my way, you might be surprised.


So, here it is - my simple method of making Brussels sprouts taste good. Fry the heck out of them! Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, toss in the sprouts and some minced garlic, sprinkle generously with salt, and cook them on medium-high until the sprouts are browned on the outside and tender on the inside. This takes maybe 20 minutes or less. Ok, so maybe anything tastes good fried, but you don't have to resort to frying them in bacon grease (although that's good too) just to make them palatable. When you brown the outside, they take on a warm, nutty flavor all their own. If you like, you can also add bacon, dried cranberrries, parmesan cheese, whatever sounds good. I particularly like a maple and mustard glaze, but they are delicious plain and simple.

Artichokes are such strange and elegant vegetables. If you have never eaten one, you might have no idea what to do with it... Much of it is prickly and tough, and we eat it in the most bizarre way: peeling off each leaf and scraping the tender bottom part off with our teeth! Here is a wonderful step-by-step explanation of how to prepare and eat an artichoke: http://foodblogga.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-to-clean-cook-and-eat-artichoke.html.  Personally, I don't go to the trouble of cutting off the pointy tips or cleaning out the middle before cooking it. I just steam or boil it ~45 minutes and it's ready to eat! In my family, we always just handled the leaves carefully and after eating all the leaves we'd use a spoon to scrape the prickly "choke" off the heart.


My mom always served it with plain mayonnaise for dipping, and though it may sound weird, it is surprisingly fantastic! Until you've eaten it with artichokes, you've probably never appreciated the subtle flavor of mayonnaise. If you think of mayo as just a sandwich spread, you may not have an opinion about brands, but in my artichoke-eating experience, I prefer Hellmanns/Best Foods. Aioli is basically just mayonnaise with a little bit of mustard and garlic and sometimes other delicious things added. Some like to serve lemon butter or fancy dips with artichokes - go crazy, it's all good, but I still think plain mayo is the best.  Bon appetit!
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