How To Make Brussels Sprouts That Aren’t Gross

by | Dec 3, 2012
Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Hate brussels sprouts? So did I. But I also don’t like being a picky eater, so I was determined to learn to like these little devils.

This is the recipe that finally made me love brussels sprouts. Bacon makes anything taste good, but these days I appreciate the sprouts even without it.

Buy the freshest brussels sprouts you can get your hands on, preferably from your local farmers market. Like any vegetable the fresher it is, the tastier and more nutritious it will be. I usually buy a pound or so. The smaller they are, the better (sweeter and less bitter) they taste.

The secret is to halve and blanch the sprouts before cooking them with other ingredients. This helps them cook through and gets rid of the nasty, bitter taste that can be so characteristic of sprouts. The other trick is to balance the remaining bitter flavor with an acid like lemon or red wine vinegar. Oh, and did I mention bacon?

I prefer to purchase my bacon from a local butcher. Get two slices, but for a larger batch of sprouts increase it to three.

This recipe is delicious with either walnuts or hazel nuts. If you decide on hazel nuts, I prefer to toast them in the oven first (350 degrees) until the skins start to turn dark and crack, about 10-15 minutes. I then roll them in a paper towel or plastic wrap to separate the skins from the nuts. Don’t worry if all the skins don’t come off, they’ll still taste good.

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Bacon

Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 1 cipollini onion (or 1 leek or 2 baby leeks)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or hazel nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp butter
Blanching Brussels Sprouts

Blanching Brussels Sprouts

Start some water boiling and add a few pinches of salt. Rinse and halve your brus sprouts. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add sprouts and set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes. Do not rely on yourself to remember, overcooking at this stage will ruin your meal. Boil sprouts exactly 5 minutes, rinse with cold water, strain and set aside.

In the meantime, chop cipollini onions (or leeks) and the nuts. Slice bacon (pieces stacked) into half inch slices.

Heat a pan on medium heat and add bacon slices. Allow bacon to cook about 4-5 minutes, until fat starts to render in the pan. Add the nuts and stir. If you are using cipollini onions, add those too (wait if you are using leeks).

Cook nuts and bacon until the bacon is almost done, then add butter. You can add leeks at this point or skip this step and add Brussels sprouts directly. When leeks just begin to soften (about 1 minute), add Brussels sprouts, sea salt and pepper.

Stir sprouts and turn most of them so their cut faces are resting against the pan. I strongly recommend using tongs for this. After about 2 minutes, stir the sprouts and sprinkle on oregano. Continue to cook, stirring every 2 minutes or so until the faces of the sprouts are all browned and onions begin to caramelize, 8-10 minutes. In the last 3 to 4 minutes, add vinegar (or lemon). This step is essential to cut any last bit of bitterness remaining in the sprouts. Use the taste test to determine precise cooking time (depending on the size of the sprouts).

Brussels sprouts pair beautifully with almost any protein. Pork, chicken and fish work especially well. Here they are served with French green lentils.

How did you learn to love brussels sprouts?

Originally published October 27, 2008.

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Are You Eating In The Matrix?

by | Oct 12, 2011
Do You Think That's Food You're Eating?

Do you think that's food you're eating?

Or to put it another way, do you know the difference between real food and food that was designed to fool you into believing it is real?

It might not be as easy as you think.

(Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the original Matrix film yet, crawl out of your cave and go watch it real quick before reading. We’ll wait.)

In the classic film The Matrix, machines of the future create a sophisticated computer program that produces an alternate reality for their human slaves. The program, the Matrix, placates humans into believing they are living normal lives while their bodies are imprisoned in suspended animation.

The Matrix is plugged directly into the brains of humans. They live the Matrix, breathe the Matrix, eat the Matrix. They’ve grown up with it, and have never known any other world.

Now think about a Twinkie or a McNugget. Can you remember life without them? I can’t. These products have always been a part of my world, even though it has been a long time since I’ve eaten them. I have vivid childhood memories of both products–after school snacks with friends, my 10th birthday party–and my memories are happy.

But I’ve learned to refer to Twinkies and food from McDonald’s as products and not foods because, when you think about it, they really aren’t foods. Sure you can eat them, but that just makes them a novelty–something akin to beating up your friends in Mortal Kombat.

“Do you believe that me being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?” -Morpheus

Real food nourishes your body by providing essential building blocks for your cells and organs. The human body evolved alongside real food and is adapted to digest it.

Edible products on the other hand were specifically designed to fool your brain and sensory perception, but your body, cells and organs have no idea what to do with them.

Twinkies and McNuggets are engineered. They do not come from the earth and are not food. Twinkies were created in the Matrix.

Do you think that’s food you’re eating now?

This may sound like rhetorical foodie fluff, but please humor me and entertain the metaphor for a little while longer.

Food should nourish your body and contribute to your overall health. Even foods that are considered fattening–bacon comes to mind–provide nourishment so long as they are based in reality.

But what is a Twinkie? What is a Pringle? What is a McNugget?

BigMacs may look, smell and vaguely taste like food, but if what you are eating is not sustaining your health and is possibly making you sick, isn’t it time to question whether it is food at all?

These are products that were created in a laboratory. They may have started as raw materials from plants, but the plants were never grown to be eaten. Industrial corn, soybeans and the cattle raised on them have been processed and redesigned to the point where they’ve been stripped of anything that allows for them to be reasonably classified as food.

Shouldn’t we then stop calling this stuff food?

Most people will initially reject this idea. Of course food is food. But I’d argue that this opinion is just another product of our environment. Haven’t we always lived in the Matrix of industrial agriculture?

We have coexisted with McDonald’s for so long it seem preposterous to speculate it doesn’t meet the definition of food.

But let’s take a closer look:

Food -noun:

1. Any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.
2. More or less solid nourishment, as distinguished from liquids.
3. A particular kind of solid nourishment: a breakfast food; dog food.
4. Whatever supplies nourishment to organisms: plant food.
5. Anything serving for consumption or use: food for thought.

(emphasis mine)

With the exception of the last point, which is clearly philosophical, all these definitions include the word nourishment.

Nourishverb (used with object)

1. To sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth.
2. To cherish, foster, keep alive, etc.: He had long nourished the dream of living abroad.
3. To strengthen, build up, or promote: to nourish discontent among the workers; to nourish the arts in one’s community.

(emphasis mine)

If it doesn’t provide nourishment, it is not food.

But relying on dictionary definitions is both semantic and impractical. It also becomes confusing when companies market products that are not real food but have added back nutrients to give the appearance of nourishment.

The important question is how do we break free?

Being convinced that these products are not food is not enough. Like the Matrix, McDonald’s is so closely tied to your perception of reality that it can fool you even when you know it isn’t real.

Remember, when Neo makes his first attempt to jump across the building roofs. He doesn’t make it.

“Everybody falls the first time.”

That’s because the Matrix feels so real that not believing it is almost impossible. Likewise, knowing that edible products are not food and that they will in fact make you less healthy is often not enough to prevent you from eating them. Your senses are easily fooled.

But better decisions are not impossible and your food world doesn’t need to be 100% black and green. Even small steps in the right direction, back into reality, can improve your health.

The first small changes you try also make subsequent steps easier.

Unplugging from the industrial food Matrix does not need to happen all at once, but you can extract yourself from it eventually. The first step is starting to see it clearly.

“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

Are you eating in the Matrix?

For your viewing pleasure: Morpheus is fighting Neo!

This post was inspired by commenter Martin Levac who gave me permission to roll with his awesome idea.

Originally published November 11, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 11, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Let’s start with some news. I’ll be on The Block Radio podcast this morning sometime between 7am and 10am PST talking about how to make the most of your farmers market trip. It will be archived on the site once it airs. The interview was inspired by an article/slideshow I had at The Huffington Post last weekend, Top 10 Mistakes Made By Farmers Market Noobz.

Also, for the next two weeks I’m participating in the Inkwell interview at The Well with David Gans and Diane Brown. Have questions for me or just want to eavesdrop? Come join us!

Lots of good news in the food world this week. Brian Wansink demonstrates that it’s pretty easy to trick kids into making smarter food choices at lunch. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn posting calories really does help people eat less. And local meats are easier to find than ever. w00t!

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

What good stuff did you learn this week?

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Orthorexia, Bacon Worship And The Power of Food Culture

by | Nov 2, 2009
By lepiaf.geo

By lepiaf.geo

Is it possible for healthy eating to become an unhealthy obsession?

Absolutely.

Orthorexia is a word turning up frequently in the media to describe an excessive focus on healthy eating and dietary restriction. Though the term is not yet an official psychological diagnosis according to the DSM-IV, it is being used by some clinicians to describe patients with eating disorders that resemble obsessive compulsive.

Paradoxically, orthorexics obsessed with health are not healthy and often shun food to the point of emaciation and starvation. But unlike patients with anorexia nervosa, the goal of orthorexics is not to be thin but to be “pure, healthy and natural,” according to Dr. Steven Bratman who first described the disorder in 1997. Suffers are frequently associated with a particular eating regimen such as veganism or rawfoodism.

That orthorexia has only recently been identified and characterized may be the best argument yet for Michael Pollan’s assertion in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that over the past several decades America has undergone “a national eating disorder.” Americans spend tens of billions of dollars per year on weight loss and fitness products, with only growing obesity and chronic diseases to show for it. We’ve shunned fats, sugars, starches and everything in between, and embraced each new diet trend with open arms and wallets. And perhaps not surprisingly, it appears some people are now taking it too far.

The irony is that as a condition like orthorexia has emerged as clinically relevant, we’ve also seen a notable health food backlash. Google searches for the word “bacon” have increased significantly in the past year, and books are being written from websites like This Is Why You’re Fat.

Google Bacon 2004-2009

Google Bacon 2004-2009

In other words, we have serious issues with food.

But why?

It is easy to be sympathetic toward all of these behaviors, even if their extreme forms make us a bit uneasy. For those interested in living healthy and being thin (the chronic dieters), the only guidance is offered by thousands of diet books and companies like Weight Watchers. Each of these systems has its own strict guidelines for success, while unfortunately few (if any) of them encourage us to behave in a way that we would naturally. Thus the dirty little secret of the diet industry is that the vast majority of them are ineffective for long-term weight loss.

This is why we now have a congregation of bacon worshipers. A growing segment of the population is tired of bland food and unsatisfying, ineffective diets. Bacon tastes good, and since we are all clearly dying of heart attacks anyway we may as well live it up. Right?

Even if this attitude is a bit fatalistic, at its core it reflects a desire to enjoy life. And anyone who counts themselves among the human race should acknowledge this as a sentiment that deserves respect.

But striking the perfect balance between health and gluttony is extremely difficult in a food culture where we are allowed to eat in our cars and in front of our televisions. The food industry has made sure that as far as food is concerned, there are no rules. So a bit of obsession seems like a necessity for someone that still holds the desire to eat whole, unprocessed foods from the bottom of the food chain. The healthiest foods, after all, cannot be found at your neighborhood supermarket. For taste, health and the environment, the best stuff is at your local farmers market.

But avoiding the supermarket, isn’t that orthorexic?

Not necessarily. Every day we take a little extra time to do things that are necessary and important, things like sleeping, doing laundry and brushing our teeth. We go out of our way to do these things because the alternative is simply unacceptable. Eating quality food isn’t an obsession so much as a life maintenance task that–like being clean–is not up for negotiation. Until we have farmers markets on every corner, a little extra effort will be necessary.

But delicious, high-quality food is not only about health. It is also about taste, enjoyment, community and life. Food is something that is worth building your days around, because when approached from this angle food improves your quality of life in every way. Eating like this is not a disorder, it is a culture. And it is something that we desperately need to rediscover.

When proposing the term orthorexia, Bratman suggested framing a diagnosis around two direct questions:

  1. Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  2. Does your diet socially isolate you?

In other words, seeking healthy food only becomes unhealthy when it is devoid of enjoyment and social relationships.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a lecture at UC Berkeley given by Michael Pollan. Near the end of his talk Pollan proposed reestablishing food culture in America as “The Omnivore’s Solution,” the way to break our habits of both health food obsession and unbridled gluttony. He described health as “a set of relationships,” and encouraged his audience to think of food not as a product but as something we do.

Throughout history and around the globe food cultures are what have dictated when, where and how much we should eat, and countries that have worked to preserve their cultures have fared better against obesity and other diseases of civilization. For Americans though, food culture has been replaced by nutritionism and all-you-can-eat buffets.

This kind of thinking is often branded as elitist, but it shouldn’t be. Food culture does not cost money, it is a basic tenet of life that extends across class boundaries. It costs time, but this is a priority shift that is worth investing in. According to the latest Nielsen statistics, Americans are watching an average of 5 hours of television per day. Calculate in the cost of high-definition screens and monthly cable bills and your daily food investment will start to be put into perspective.

It is undeniable that food grown locally with care costs more than the subsidized, mass-produced products that fill your favorite supermarket. But despite our reputation, Americans have never been opposed to going out of our way for and spending a little extra money on food that tastes amazing and makes us happy. (If you don’t believe me I’ll redirect you once again to This Is Why You’re Fat.)

Is it such a stretch to say that we should be able to eat healthy and still enjoy our food?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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