Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Clubs and Brussels Sprouts

I decided early last year that, in my "new" life, I wanted to join a Book Club. I had never had time before, so why not take advantage of the time I had now? I thought that by belonging to one, it would force me to read -- a pasttime I used to love with a passion, but one which had sadly lapsed over the years of so much "work reading".

A few initial outreaches taught me that most existing Book Clubs were NOT looking for new members. So for a while, I explored the notion of starting one myself.  Since I came to the conclusion that I did not want to take on that leadership role, I was so pleased when my friend Laura's Book Club decided they wanted some "new blood".

Life intervened for a while -- for the first two or three meetings, I was out of town or had a previous commitment. (This club doesn't meet at a set time/date each month.) Then I broke my leg-- that was was about 4 1/2 months out of commission. But this month I was able to "officially" join their Book Club!

The book chosed to read could not have been a better one for me: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I purchased it in the LAX airport in late January, read half of it on the trip home, and the remaining half later that week one evening. What a delightful read! It was EXACTLY what I had hoped for when I first decided I wanted to join a book club. It was easy to read (it's a short book, and I flew through it.) It has history (I learned a lot about World War II that I had not known before), humor, mystery and romance. And it celebrates the love of books, and the love of mankind, throughout.

So now for the second part of belonging to a book club that I think I will enjoy: food! I discovered that the host of the "meeting" provides the main course, and the rest of the members fill in with the "fixin's". I volunteered to bring a salad, and used the opportunity to try out a recipe from Saveur Magazine that I had been saving for quite a while.

Brussels Sprouts in the Raw?
Brussels sprouts are a funny vegetable. I never heard of them until I was a teenager, and then it was mostly hearing friends speak of their dislike of them. While I was in high school, my mother decided to try them for our dinner, and prepared some from one of those frozen boxes. I liked them -- not LOVED them, but didn't understand why some people seemed to loathe them so much.

It wasn't until much later in my life, when I began to cook myself and enjoy reading about food and cooking, that I discovered their true potential. I think first I was drawn to them as an artist: they are a quite unusual looking vegetable, aren't they? Tighty little bulbs of green and pale yellow, with a wonderful textured design where the little leaves overlap each other.

My first success in cooking them was when I learned that if you roasted or grilled them until they carmelized, you had hit a home run. You see, I think most people don't cook them LONG enough, or hot enough. Caramelization brings out their nutty sweetness. My friend Joey and I prepared them one year as shiskabobs on the grill for a Green Pond repast . . . even those guests who professed to hate Brussels Sprouts loved them! (The caramelizing grill marks, olive oil, lemon, kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper helped!) And they are perfect for threading on Kabob sticks -- they look so cunning! A great way to add green to your shiskabobs.
So when I saw the recipe in Saveur (one of my favorite magazines, by the way. . . it is more than a cooking mag-- it is also a travel magazine, a culture magazine, and a history magazine all rolled into one beautiful slick publication!) I wanted to try it immediately. Of course, life got in the way again, and I needed a reason (and a crowd) for which to make it.

Enter the book club meeting! TA-DAAA! So I purchased the ingredients at the Fresh Market on my way home from my IVIG treatment (thankfully, the store had some beautiful small, brightly green sprouts on hand) and assembled the salad.

Now, I must admit that I had to do some last minute improvising: evidently I had either misread the recipe or copied it incorrectly into my computer. Where it should have read "1/3 cup cheese", I thought it said "3 cups cheese"; and where it said "1/4 cup olive oil" I had down "4 cups olive oil". !!!!!! Thankfully, as I was pouring, I quickly became aware that the amounts were WAY too much, and was able to adjust downward in mid-preparation.

The result? Delicious! This is a very flavorful salad, with a nice crunchy texture. It was a great accompaniment to our host's lasagna, and later that week, the leftovers were fabulous with sliced turkey thrown in. (It keeps very well, so it is a perfect "make-ahead" salad.)

However, I need to come up with another name for it -- some people won't even try a "Brussels Sprout Salad", so I would rather tell them AFTER they have eaten it what the main ingredient was! (Sprout Salad with Walnuts? Green Walnut and Pecorino salad? Nutty Green Salad? I'm looking for suggestions!)

The recipe is below (with my suggestions added).

The alliteration of Book clubs and Brussels sprouts: bountiful and beautiful!

Photo: Andre Baranowski

When shopping for brussels sprouts for this appealing side dish, look for small ones that have a bright green color. Brown spots on the cut edge of the stem or yellowing of the leaves usually signifies older sprouts, which tend to have a more bitter flavor. Store brussels sprouts in the refrigerator in a paper bag.

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 2 cups toasted walnut halves (I found that I liked it better with the halves broken in half -- smaller pieces)
  • 1⁄3 cup grated pecorino, plus more for garnish
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish (I used a lemon infused olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon for sweetness)
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1. Working over a large bowl, shave brussels sprouts into very thin slices on a mandoline, starting from each sprout's top while holding it between thumb and forefinger by its stem. Discard stems. (I don't have a mandoline -- I'm afraid of slicing my fingertips off! I used my chef's knife.)
2. Add walnuts, pecorino, olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste. Depending on the saltiness of the cheese, season lightly with salt to taste.
3. Toss with a spoon until just combined and divide salad between 4 bowls or small plates. Using a peeler, shave more pecorino over the top; drizzle with more olive oil and add more pepper to taste.


This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #115

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's snowing, so I must be blogging. . .

It is one of those rare days in Atlanta: it is showing outside, so much so that it seems as if I am looking through rice paper as I gaze out my kitchen window. The trees are outlined in white, and the ground and building tops are beginning to look solid while. I think it was snowing like this the last time I wrote here. . . hmmmmm. . . maybe I should move to a colder climate to be a better blogger!

I have fennel roasting in the oven, with parmeson, herbes de provence, and lemon olive oil (which also seems to be one of my snow-day activities!) My little dog is beside me -- all I am missing is a roaring fire! But alas, this condominium doesn't allow even a gas fireplace.

A horse is a horse; of course, of course. . .
Last night I met some friends at the High Museum of Art, and we toured the Da Vinci exhibit (go see it! I believe this is the last week.) Very well done, and I really enjoyed it. Especially the Da Vinci's equine drawings. I remember studying them as a kid (a very horse-crazy kid!) I had a book of famous artists drawings (something I am sure my mother found at a garage sale or library sale, since that is where she bought almost everything nonessential!) The are small, and exquisite. There was something quite breathtaking about seeing the real thing. . . seeing the master's strokes on the paper. Another little surprise was who owned these little treasures: the Queen of England! There was actually quite a lot in this exhibit on loan from Her Royal Majesty. My friends and I all agreed that the High had missed a real marketing opportunity in not publicizing this: there are quite a few people that might not be that interested in seeing an exhibit on "Da Vinci and Sculpture", but who would make it a point to see something belonging to the Queen!

As much as I loved the little drawings of horses, my favorite thing was OUTSIDE the exhibit: the reproduction of Leonardo's horse sculpure, long since destroyed. It fills one end of the piazza with its powerful looming presence. It is so exquisitely EQUINE-- the proportions, the sensuality, the strength . . . it just filled me with joy. I wish we (Atlanta) could keep it! I would enjoy sitting outside sketching it (but not in the snow!) Unfortunately, I believe it travels next to the Getty in L.A. (it will look spectacular there, too.) Magnifico, and bravo to the person who thought to put it there!

A Life Lesson
One of my things I resolved to do is to try to make sure I use this blog to share "lessons learned". So I'll end this post with my new "motto". I can't take credit for it, although the paraphrasing is mine. Let me give you the background, before the motto.

I enjoy doing cryptograms. (I admit I only seem to do them on planes, in waiting rooms, and (ahem) in the bathroom. I was working in a new book my cousin had given me for Christmas, and when I solved it, discovered it was quote from Mary Pickford (the silent film actress who went on to become a powerful Hollywood business executive.) I don't remember what her quote was exactly, but it was quite lengthy, so I shortend it and paraphrased it to be this:

Failure isn't falling down . . . it is getting back up after you fall.

Man, does that hit close to home for me! Literally and figuratively. I'm going to keep that close to my heart from now on. I have a feeling I'll need it again and again in the future!