Buvette's Brussels Sprout Salad

The Soul Twin (a.k.a. my best friend, Andrea) recently celebrated a birthday.  It's the first birthday I've actually shared with her in person in...years and years.  Maybe even since we graduated college?  So I was incredibly excited to take her out to Buvette for lunch this year to celebrate live and in-person.  I'd heard amazing things about Buvette, but I just never had the chance to go...it's in the West Village after all and, like most Manhattanites, I cry and whine about having to go to the opposite side of the island.

Anyway, Buvette surpassed every expectation I had and more.  The ST and I nibbled and drank for three hours.  The restaurant folks didn't seem to care; it truly is the sort of place you can sit and enjoy as long as you want.  We had sandwiches...we had a gorgeous selection of cheeses...we had a bottle of wine...but the stand-out for us were the Brussels sprouts.  We ordered them on a bit of a whim - they were "just" a side dish and, even though we're deep into winter, we're still obsessed with trying everyone's variation on Brussels sprouts.

Buvette's were heavenly.  They were sliced very thin and tossed with walnuts and cheese.  The taste was so fresh and so light, and we desperately wanted to be able to recreate them at home.  So we asked the server how they were prepared: Brussels sprouts, Pecorino, walnuts, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  That. Is. It.  To quote Ina Garten, "how easy is that?"

So my variation is below.  Make sure to use a very dry, crumbly Pecorino, and you also want to salt liberally.  The key, though?  You need to keep tasting, tasting, tasting to make sure you have the seasoning right.  And don't skimp on the olive oil!

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 pound Brussels sprouts, sliced thinly
1/2 pound aged Pecorino, grated
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1. Trim off the dry ends of the Brussels sprouts and run them under some water.  The best way to slice them very thin is to use the slicing attachment on a food processor: feed the Brussels sprouts into the processor and they'll be finished in about a minute.  You could use a mandoline, but be careful of those fingers.  And I suppose you could slice them by hand but that'll be a long process.  Once finished, empty Brussels sprouts into a large bowl.

2. Add the grating attachment to your food processor.  Add Pecorino to grate.  Again, you can do this with a hand grater too.  Add cheese to Brussels Sprouts in the bowl.

3. Using a dry pan, toast walnuts over medium heat until fragrant and slightly darker.  Add to bowl.

4. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to the bowl and toss well to coat.  Taste for seasoning; add more olive oil, salt, and/or pepper, as needed.  Serve.

KID-FRIENDLINESS: Who are we kidding?  Bug would never eat this.

WINE NOTES: Usually, a crisp white is the way to go with Brussels sprouts, but the Pecorino makes them a bit more red wine friendly.  I had the Foris Pinot Noir with this and liked it.  

Eat, drink, and recreate your favorite restaurant dishes.


Bacon and Hazelnut Leeks

Why does this happen every year?  By the time the New Year comes, I'm so excited for things to wind down a bit.  I envision a January that's cozy, quiet, and slow-paced.  But that NEVER happens.  I don't exaggerate: NEVER.  This year has been no different.

But it's been okay.  As I mentioned before, I've had some exciting changes happen.  In mid-December I was hired as a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute; I'll be teaching master's level library science students children's and YA literature.  I'm ridonkulously excited.  I'm also doing some consulting work for Scholastic Book Clubs.  Lastly, I just planned a spontaneous trip to California in February: I've been feeling a little homesick for the West Coast and need to head back to the Golden State for a spell.

Part of the reason I think I've been avoiding blogging lately is because I've just been in the moment and going about my day-to-day life.  Frankly, it hasn't occurred to me in weeks to even take a picture of what I'm cooking.  I'm just making it, serving it up, and enjoying time with my family.  But I am coming out of it now, helped along by the fancy new flash I got that will help me take better photos in my dark, dark apartment (Note: the photos below are pre-fancy flash).

And like everyone, I'm paring down post-holiday, trying to make simpler foods that are (slightly) healthier for me...and if they're not healthier, then they're just simpler.  Today's recipe is just that: Bacon and Hazelnut Leeks.  With a cup of heavy cream, it certainly isn't all that healthy.  But it's simple to make, rich in flavor, and even a little bit sexy.

It's probably un-French but I make this 4-serving dish for just me and Adam.  But this is all we eat - I don't make another course.  Served up with some bread to sop up the sauce, it's all we need.

From Laura Calder (French Food at Home)
Serves 4 (or 2, in our house...)

4 medium leeks
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped hazelnuts
4-6 strips bacon, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Trim all but an inch of green from the leeks.  Wash them thoroughly (get in between the layers - they are usually sandy/dirty), tie them in a bunch with string, and plunge them into the boiling water.  Cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes (this cooks them pretty soft - cut down the time if you like firmer vegetables).  Drain and quickly rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain, remove the string, pat dry, and keep warm.

Meanwhile, toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan; set aside.  In the same pan, fry the bacon until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Deglaze the pan with the vinegar, scraping up any good stick-to-the-pan bits.  Pour in the cream and boil for a minute or so to reduce to sauce consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the bacon and nuts.

Place 1-2 leeks on each serving plate, spoon around the sauce, and serve hot.

NOTE ON KID-FRIENDLINESS: Forget about it.  This is something I dish up after Bug's gone to bed and had a dinner of her own.

WINE NOTE: Hands down, Chardonnay is what you need to be drinking with this.

Eat, drink, and simplify.

P.S. I really do love Laura Calder.  Check out her recipe for Pear Pork here.


Eternal Flame

I tried a new recipe during the holidays: Scallops with Chestnut Sauce and Crisp Sage from Food and Wine (November 2009).  It was the first time I had encountered these instructions in a recipe: "Add the Cognac and carefully ignite it."  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.

Bug had the nerve great idea to film the whole thing...being a child of the millenium and all, she already wants to get everything on camera.  So here it is (please ignore my Valley Girl voice and delight in Bug's whispered, "Oh my god"):

As you may or may not have been able to tell from the video, I singed my arm hairs.  "Singed" is such a gentle word, of course, but what I did was create a film of blackness on my arm and made the whole kitchen smell like burned cat.

Of course, it was AWESOME.

Eat, drink, and be daring.

Happy New Year's!

I've mentioned here before how seriously I take New Year's Eve and the few days that precede and follow it.  Sure, I party and celebrate with the best of 'em...but I also take a moment for introspection and, truth be known, I shed a few tears of happiness every year.  To me, New Year's is one of the rare times when we have no other choice but to live in the moment, straddling what has passed and what is to come. I take stock of what I've done and who I am...and I think about how that'll look going forward.  And it's a bonus if I get to share all this with friends and family.  And I did this year, toasting to me, Adam, and Bug moving to Manhattan, toasting to the Soul Twin and The Other Husband moving to NYC, toasting to my new position as visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute (oh, wait...did I not tell you guys about that yet?  More to come...).  In the end, Adam and I invoked one of our favorite toasts: "To all our shit!"  Seriously.  Because we're vulgar and dorky that way.

I'm still getting my feet back under me, post-holiday, so it'll be a couple days before I'm back with recipes, photos, and chatter.  In the meantime, my rad friend Jen sent me this article: "A Recipe for Simplifying Life: Ditch All the Recipes" by Tara Parker-Pope, and I would love for the rest of you to take a look at it as well.  Let me know what you think.  I have conflicting feelings about the book Parker-Pope is discussing, AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE by Tamar Adler...or, more accurately, I have issues with Parker-Pope's complete reverence for it in this article.

First, I think not having a gimmick is the new gimmick and, as someone who has been in marketing for a publisher, I see the marketing behind this book from a mile away.  Second, cooking isn't easy and I have real problems with any book that makes the promise that it is (even my beloved Ina is guilty of this).  Why not say that, yes, it is hard work?  Yes, it does take up a large chunk of time?  Yes, you will have failures in the kitchen?  But the rewards are soooooo worth it?  But I don't know that enough of these books do that.  And then their readers get frustrated when they inevitably experience failure...or when they inevitably realize that it's still a lot of work, that "simple" does not equal "easy".  Lastly, there's so much emphasis on cooking made easy and simple...but I have always felt that menu planning and food shopping is given short shrift in the cookbooks I read.  THAT is the time-consuming, complicated, creative part of the cooking process, I think.  I'd love to discuss that more.  (And I will note that I haven't read AN EVERLASTING MEAL yet.  Amy mentioned it to me, and I'm adding it to the top of my list)

Phew!  Okay, well, there's my rant.  If you read the article, let me know what you think or, better yet, if you've read Tamar Adler's book, let me know how it works for you.

Happy New Year, all!  I'm not a fan of resolutions (to quote Mary Poppins, they're pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken).  However, I always strive to live life fully, eat and drink well, treasure my friends and family, and challenge myself.  So I hereby renew my conviction to do so in the next year.

Eat, drink, and cheers to new beginnings!