Brussels

About a dozen years ago a friend of mine threw herself a birthday party at a newly opened yoga studio, and she asked me to help prepare some food for the post-practice party. We had Champagne (of course) and a huge platter of raw and lightly-steamed vegetables with a couple of dipping sauces.

“Who knew Brussels sprouts would be the most popular vegetable on the platter?” my friend marveled the next day.

To be sure, the small, green gems were the first to disappear – before the red pepper strips, baby carrots, or haricots verts. I had included them on a whim, as I recall. The party was in December, and when I was shopping at the market, there was a display with lovely stalks of fresh green sprouts. I couldn’t resist them – mostly on looks but also because I had become fond of Brussels sprouts in my adult cooking years.

In the dozen years since, Brussels sprouts have become utterly ubiquitous. You’ll even find them on bar menus, served in little iron skillets with heaps of bacon and loads of cheese. In the week or two leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ll bet almost every food site, blog, column, or TV show includes a Brussels sprouts recipe.

So why add yet another entry, here? Simple: to encourage you to keep it simple.

Brussels sprouts (cultivated in, yes, Belgium several centuries ago, which is why the “B” should always be capitalized) need very little enhancement but require good preparation. Fresh, light green sprouts can easily be shredded or shaved (in a food processor, if you like), dressed with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette (and some salt), and served as salad. (See? You don’t even need a recipe!)

Cooking the sprouts is where you have to be both attentive and light handed. If you overcook them, they’ll be mushy and taste of sulfur. That’s why the best and most popular recipes typically call for cutting the sprouts into quarters, dressing with olive oil, and roasting in a hot, but not too hot oven until they are crispy on the outside edges of the leaves and just cooked inside. Pan frying is also an option if you follow the same rule and do not overcook.

I love to cook: If you’re already a committed Brussels sprouts fan and just looking for something new (without maple or bacon), try them with pecans and avocados (recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten). Or try crispy gnocchi and Brussels sprouts using either this free-access recipe from Eating Well or the subscriber-only recipe at New York Times Cooking.

Weeknight reality: Try this hearty salad with quinoa, lemon, walnuts, chile and Brussels sprouts. Make enough to take for lunch another day. Or used the old standby: Ina Garten’s roasted Brussels sprouts.

I need a miracle: OK, first you’ll have to decide whether you want to save prep time or cooking time. If you’re saving cooking time, then buy the freshest sprouts you can find, trim the ends, remove outer leaves, and shred. You can toss the raw, shredded sprouts in dressing and serve; or, if you want to take the raw edge off, try this easy – and super quick – warm salad. If you want to save prep time by buying a bag of sliced or shredded sprouts, then you’ll have to cook them. The pre-packaged stuff tastes terrible raw but can be salvaged by cooking and seasoning. Here’s one way: Heat some olive oil in a skillet; use tongs as you toss in the bag-o-sprouts, moving them around to coat in oil; add some lemon juice, if you have it, or a little water (a tablespoon or two) if not, and cover to steam for a couple of minutes; remove the cover, sprinkle in red pepper flakes (this is the best way to use the pizza packets, if you store them in a drawer like we do) and salt; keep cooking, and tossing, until all the liquid is gone and the vegetables are brown and crispy in places. Easy-peasy.

Lavender

There’s a few things I’ve learned in life: always throw salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for good luck, and fall in love whenever you can.

lavender

Let us be clear here: no one (or almost no one) keeps lavender on hand – at least not in the typical U.S. home kitchen.

But it you want to have a special evening, and build it around a special theme (flavor), then lavender is a lovely choice if you use it sparingly. Give a hint of it in a roast chicken for dinner (though true Herbes de Provence does not include lavender), then a fuller dose in dessert (crème brûlée or ice cream). It is one fragrance that actually enhances dinner instead of detracting from it. Give it a try; you’ll see.

Love to Cook: Up for something different, and have plenty of time to source ingredients and prepare? How about a wild turkey with lavender masala. Pair with simple roast potatoes and a citrusy salad, then finish with honey lavender ice cream or lavender crème brûlée

Weeknight Reality: Melon salad with lavender and ginger can be either the start or finish or your otherwise-simple meal (roast chicken and buttered rice would do – seriously).

Need a Miracle: Lavender in a cocktail/mocktail is it. This Lavender spritzer can be made with either sparking water or sparkling wine. If you’re in a super rush, double the amount of lavender, skimp on the water, and chill the syrup with a couple of ice cubes. It won’t be as good as if you let it steep, but it will work. Dinner of cheese and bread and sausages, or perhaps a simple but dinner-worthy salad like this mixed green salad with pears, hazelnuts, blue cheese and homemade croutons (just skip roasting your own hazelnuts and making your own croutons and swap out something faster and pre-made).


Enchanted

broccoli

Scallops (or fish) in White Wine | Saffron Risotto (or rice) | Steamed Broccoli

Now that the relentless summer heat is gone, you might find fresh, local broccoli at your farmers market. Fresh broccoli is surprisingly fragile when compared to its supermarket relatives, so cook it soon after purchasing – and not for nearly as long as you need cook the conventional grocery kind. Round it out with simple scallops and risotto (or just rice, or bread), and you’re all set.

Love to Cook: Scallops don’t need much fuss; this simple recipe from Food 52 proves it. Although traditionally paired with heartier meat, saffron risotto works just as well with scallops or other seafood. (Risotto might actually be the best comfort food of all time, with cheese grits coming in a close second.) Round it out with simple steamed broccoli – if you get it from the farmers market, it won’t need anything but a touch of salt.

Weeknight Reality: If scallops are too expensive for a weeknight dinner, a firm white fish would be a good substitute. Here’s a recipe for that – one that has more flavors in it, so pairing with plain jasmine rice or even rice noodles would work.

Need a Miracle: Look for pre-marinated fish, or scallops – all you have to do it cook, which will take minutes. Pair with quick-cooking rice noodles and flash-steamed broccoli (bagged florets will work, if you’re not up for hunting down fresh broccoli), dinner can be ready in a flash.