Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oven-Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts...

Hey wait a minute.  They look like little cabbages. 

     "Eat your Brussels sprouts.  They're good for you."

This is the dreaded line that little boys and girls everywhere hate hearing from their mothers while sitting at the dinner table...  or so I've been told.

My mother never actually fed Brussels sprouts to my sister and me when we were growing up.  I didn't even know what Brussels sprouts really were until I was nineteen or twenty.  For most of my childhood, I was under the impression that they were those stringy little hair-like things with the little dingleberry-like seed-type things on the end.  Later, I learned that these were actually bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts, or alfalfa sprouts.

Imagine my surprise when my first ever serving of Brussels sprouts was placed in front of me at a restaurant...  resting aside the 16-oz medium-rare steak that I had ordered...  the vegetable-of-the-day, as it were.

     "And along with your steak, you get a choice of baked potato, steak fries, or rice pilaf, and the vegetable-of-the-day."

     "I'll have steak fries," I said.  "What's the vegetable-of-the-day?"

     "Brussels sprouts...  I think," replied our server.

Fine by me.

I was about to enjoy a mouthwatering, 16-oz, medium-rare slab of cow along with a side of delicious steak fries, so i wasn't too concerned about the vegetable.  When my meal came, I do remember eating all of my Brussels sprouts.  They were fine...  and therein lied the problem.  They tasted like just about every other vegetable that I'd eaten during our family dinners, while growing up.

The Brussels sprouts that evening tasted kinda like the steamed broccoli from my early days...  which sorta tasted like the steamed spinach that mom served us...  which slightly reminded me of the steamed French cut green beans that the four of us ate once or twice a week with dinner...  which were not completely unlike the steamed carrots that mom lovingly placed on the family dinner table in a serving bowl.

No wait...  I guess the steamed carrots reminded me more of the steamed corn that mom served us...  more so than any of the other steamed green vegetables, anyways.  But the steamed corn also reminded me of the steamed cauliflower that we sometimes were lucky enough to enjoy.

The exception was any of the vegetables that my parents grew in our family garden.  For one or two months out of the year, we enjoyed delicious corn-on-the-cob, peas, pole beans...  all still steamed, of course.  But steamed vegetables from the back yard garden still taste better than steamed vegetables from a box that you find in the freezer.

How did we dress up all of our steamed vegetables?  What a foolish question...  with butter, salt, and pepper, of course.

OMG this is my most favorite blanket
ever 'cause it's the same color as
Daddy's yummy Brussels sprouts MOL. 
The meals of my childhood were fairly predictable.  Most of the time, they were pretty good.  Sometimes, they were really good.  We typically had spaghetti and meatballs once a week, and another one of our weekly meals was usually some sort of a taco or burrito meal out-of-a-box concoction.  And the other five nights...  some kind of meat, some kind of rice or potato, and...  you guessed it...  a steamed vegetable.

I never protested, routinely wolfing down the entire soggy heap of whatever vegetable was on my plate.  It just wasn't very tasty or memorable.

On the one hand, I suppose that a limpid heap of steamed greens is not a big deal.

While the meals of my childhood were pretty good, what really meant the most to me was being able to share dinner with my entire family just about every night.  All of the best dinnertime memories that I have involve my older sister, Mom, and Dad.

I can still hear Mom's cheerful greeting from the kitchen, whenever my sister and I got home from Cross Country practice every day after school, just after five o'clock.

     "Dinner's almost ready!"

The smell of whatever she was preparing would smack us in the face, just as we set foot through the front door.  As we made our way through the living room and into the dining room, the chattering, spattering, sizzling sounds of the the impending feast would catch up with the mouthwatering aromas that had greeted us thirty seconds earlier.  Finally, as we stepped into the kitchen, the journey of our senses would be completed by the sight of whatever mom was retrieving from the oven or mixing around on the stove.

     "Time to set the table and pour the drinks."

I'd immediately grab four plates from the cupboard and four sets of silverware from the utensil drawer, while my sister would fill up four glasses with ice and water.

I can still picture Dad sitting next to me at dinner, making a fool of himself to liven the mood.  On some nights, he'd simply entertain us with a simple joke or an amusing story.  On other nights, he'd unfold his napkin, stretch it across his face, and put his glasses on to hold it in place.  Then, he'd wiggle his tongue through the napkin until the three of us were rolling with laughter.

I can still remember all of the mischief that my sister and I would get into around the dinner table.  The meal always began harmlessly enough, with civil discussion centered around our days at school, an upcoming Cross Country meet, or how the Mets were doing in the standings.  But within a few moments, the temporary facade of civility would degrade into a show of juvenile lunacy.

I think it was actually funnier when
Dad did it.  But you get the idea.
Spaghetti night would often end with my sister and I launching solitary pasta noodles towards the ceiling, waiting to see who's noodle would stick the longest before plummeting back to the table.  On other nights, I'd shatter the tranquility with a thunderous fart, setting off all of the mousetraps in the basement.

     "DAVID...  ACT YOUR AGE!"

Five minutes later, Dad would let loose with a juicy, rip-roaring belch that was foul enough to wilt the African violets on the large bay windowsill behind my sister, who was also sitting directly in the line of fire.

     "DAD...  ACT YOUR AGE!"

By the end of the meal, my poor mother would be convulsing in fits of violent laughter.  On some nights, she was laughing so hard that she'd have to sprint to the bathroom to avoid wetting herself.

As you can probably imagine, a pile of slimy spinach was the least of her concerns.  If nothing else, I figured that I owed it to mom to mop up every last bit of steamed, soggy greens from my plate, even if they weren't very memorable.

On the other hand...  it's a shame that the vegetables of my childhood weren't very enjoyable.  Even though the bonding and 'family-togetherness' around the dinner table is extremely important, we can't lose sight of the other key aspect of the evening meal...  we eat to nourish and sustain our bodies.

OMG that's the spot MOL. 
Fortunately, I've been very open-minded about trying food that's been prepared in all sorts of different ways.  But I know lots of people who still view their vegetables as an afterthought...  a sad, tasteless mound resting helplessly next to the meat and potatoes on their dinner plates.  That's really too bad...  because we're still not eating enough fruits and vegetables in this country, and it's drastically affecting our collective health, as well as raising our medical bills.

We live in a country where moms and dads are trying to sneak more vegetables into their kids diets by hiding them in all sorts of dishes.  Hmmm...  if I add some chopped spinach to these brownies, will little Billy notice?  If I dump a handful of frozen peas into the marinara sauce from a jar, will sweet little Betsy still think that it's yummy?

Many of the commercials we see on TV are telling us that their products will help us add another daily serving of vegetables to our diets.  V8 tells us that 'Every 12-ounce bottle of V8 100% Vegetable Juice contains 3 out of 5 of your daily vegetable requirements'.  Ragu claims that there are '2 Servings of Veggies in Every 1/2 Cup of Sauce'.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing...  far from it, actually.  Adding fruits and vegetables to your favorite dishes is not just a way to 'sneak' them into your diet, it can actually make your favorite dishes taste even better.  Next time you make pancakes, try shredding a peeled apple into the batter, and remember to add some extra cinnamon.

And reaching for a bottle of V8 is certainly a better choice then a can of Coke.  Coke is actually one of the most effective cleaners available to break down and remove stubborn stains from the inside of your toilet.  What more do you need to know?

Nothing says Spring like the #$&*%!
woodpecker drilling away on top of our
chimney all day long.
If we're all trying to work more fruits and vegetables in our diets, processed sauces and juices out of jars and bottles do have their place.  However, they're only a small part of the equation.  We really need to stop viewing our fruits and vegetables as foods that we begrudgingly include in our diets.  Instead, we need to look forward to including them as a delicious, substantial addition to our daily meals.

This doesn't have to be a daunting task.  When vegetables are prepared, cooked, and seasoned correctly, they're absolutely delicious.

Where do we begin?  We begin with Brussels sprouts, of course.

Why Brussels sprouts?

As Dr. Liz Applegate, who is the director of sports nutrition at the University of California at Davis, explains in the January '11 edition of Runner's World, "Out of all cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts have the highest levels of glucosinolates, compounds that rid the body of cancer-causing agents.  They're also rich in vitamin C and K."

Keep reading, and I'll explain the simple method for roasting them in the oven.  After you prepare and try them just once, you'll probably want them several times a week.

Ready to start roasting?  Keep reading...

These...  are your Brussels sprouts.
Use them wisely, and they'll provide you with a lifetime of pleasure.

Brussels sprouts don't look like sprouts at all.  Instead, they resemble little cabbages.  If they're in season, try to pick them up at your local farmers' market.  Otherwise, grabbing a bunch from the produce section of the supermarket will do just fine.  Preheat your oven to 475 degrees, and line a rectangular baking sheet with parchment paper. 

It places the sprout leaves in the compost.  It does this when it's told.

Now, you need to cut, wash, and prepare the sprouts for roasting.  You'll want to start by removing the outer leaves from each of the sprouts.  After removing the leaves, cut the end off of each sprout and add to the pile of leaves.  As for those leaves, don't you DARE throw them out.  Instead, add them to your compost pile in the back yard.  If you don't have a compost pile, now would be a great time to start one. 

It rinses the sprouts one by one.  It does this when it's told.

Now, it's time to oil and season them.  After blotting them dry with a paper towel, dump the sprouts onto the lined baking sheet and drizzle them with a healthy dose of light olive oil.  Mix them around on the baking sheet with your hands to make sure they're evenly coated. 

It rubs the oil on its sprouts, or else it gets the hose again.

Next, sprinkle some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the sprouts...  not too much, but not too little.  Again, be sure to distribute the seasonings evenly by mixing them around some more with your hands, and then make sure that they're in a single layer on the baking sheet.


And finally...  pop the pan into your hot oven.

The sprouts will take about 15-20 minutes to roast, depending on your oven.  After the first 10 minutes, stir the sprouts around a bit, just to encourage even roasting.  In my opinion, it's actually better to overcook them just a bit.  There's nothing quite like a sprout that's crispy and charred on the outside, and tender on the inside.

Once you remove the pan from the oven, drizzle a healthy amount of balsamic vinegar all over the sprouts, and stir them around one last time.  You'll probably want to use a spatula this time, since the sprouts will be hot.  (duhhhhhhhhh...  )

Right about now, you should be REALLY looking forward to dinner.

And there you have it.  Fresh, delicious, oven-roasted, balsamic Brussels sprouts...

You know what's great about this roasting method?  You can actually use it to roast just about any vegetable you'd like.  Try cooking broccoli the same way.  Try it with asparagus.  Asparagus would actually take less time to cook.  Try it with cauliflower.  Roasting vegetables brings out unique flavors and crispy textures that you could NEVER duplicate by steaming.

As I said before, jarred and bottled produce does have its place.  However, vegetables are never going to earn a favorable spot on our dinner plates until we start buying the fresh kind at our grocery stores and farmers' markets, and then take the time to prepare them in a variety of creative, exciting ways.

Actually, it really doesn't take that much time at all, and the end results are well worth the effort.

Once you start cooking your vegetables this way, you'll look forward to them at every meal.

Best of all, Mom would be proud.

We enjoyed our Brussels sprouts with baked potatoes and chick pea and feta pancakes, but they go just as nicely with a juicy, medium rare filet mignon, if that's your kind of thing. 


  1. Alright, alright! I'll take your challenge and try the roasted Brussell Sprouts! :-)

  2. Gee. You sound like I'm twisting your arm or something... :-p

  3. Kale is also delicious roasted...but go light on the salt, since it naturally tastes salted when roasted (not sure why). It's also a good alternative to potato chips.

  4. Good call, Hausfrau. I've heard about 'kale chips' before, but I haven't made them yet.

    Gotta get on that...