Learning to Embrace Brussels Sprouts

If you grew up in the Midwest, I am quite sure you dreaded coming home for Sunday lunch after Church.  Invariably, you were “treated” to the vegetable specials of overcooked Brussels sprouts and canned green beans.    I still know people who enjoy eating food prepared this way, but we are not on speaking terms.   Let’s face it,  who can blame the Russians from becoming a nation of alcoholics by trading in overcooked cabbage and borscht for a bottle of distilled potato juice?

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Skip the bacon and go Balsamic Vinegar

I’ll admit that Brussels sprouts was not often found on my plate until I sampled “shaved Brussels sprouts” at Mario Batali’s Lupa restaurant in New York some years ago.   Imagine?: Raw Brussels sprouts with what I believe was a dressing of olive oil, lemon and, perhaps, some anchovy paste.  Wonderful!   Since then, I have learned that culinary culture may have arrived in the Midwest when I received a wonderful recipe from Rose Shafer for “braised Brussel sprouts.”

Our latest favorite is a recipe from Mark Bittman that was published in the New York Times:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic

Ingredients

  • 1 pint brussels sprouts (about a pound)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to coat bottom of pan
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (from Gourmet Living, of course!)

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim bottom of brussels sprouts, and slice each in half top to bottom. Heat oil in cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers; put sprouts cut side down in one layer in pan. Put in garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook, undisturbed, until sprouts begin to brown on bottom, and transfer to oven. Roast, shaking pan every 5 minutes, until sprouts are quite brown and tender, about 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Stir in Gourmet Living’s balsamic vinegar of Modena, and serve hot or warm.

We trust your family enjoys them as much as ours does.

A Betty Crocker Thanksgiving

As readers to GourMay are aware, our Texas relatives will be joining us for Thanksgiving and for that we are most grateful.  I had hoped to welcome them with this ice-breaker joke:  “A family reunion is an effective form of birth control,” but my timing was off by about 10 years.   I suppose I could chime in and say “You don’t choose your relatives,” but I actually like mine and so does Pitbull Nora.   

Betty Crocker

While I am OK with nostalgia, I do draw the line at Betty Crocker when it comes to food.   Some critics trace the decline in American morality, drug addiction, childhood obesity and propensity for consuming vast quantities of colorful but largely unappetizing processed foods to Betty Crocker.  I find this criticism of Betty a bit harsh, but memories of her gelatin tomato aspic still turns my stomach.

In this delightful video, the New York Times commissioned artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari to interpret the 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library. They were faithful to the period, but not particularly kind to the “good” Betty.


I bring this up, because – sadly – Betty Crocker recipes are now beginning to appear as family favorites for Thanksgiving.  I thought I had seen everything until “Love My Family” Leslie insisted on Betty’s “Mystery Pink Salad.”  Mind you, I could easily see this hideous dish served at a Breast Cancer Awareness lunch, but hardly see its place at the Thanksgiving table.

Fellow Gourmand, Lord Cheseline of Maiden Lot Farm has just returned from a month of eating his way through Europe.  Fortunately, the folks in Spain and France had never heard of Betty Crocker.  He sent me this delightful collage of the tasting menu at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.    According to the Financial Times, this is the number 1 ranked restaurant in the world.  I can see why.

Celler Can Roca

Needless to say, this is what I had in mind for Thanksgiving, but as the pious Pilgrims would say, “you must avoid giving the natives anything out of their culinary comfort zone.”

Chipotle and the Healthy Diet Myth

The “talking heads” of CNBC appear to be no more reliable than the politicos who occupy prime real estate in our nation’s capitol.   After months of championing Chipotle for providing a “healthy food” alternative to McDonalds, it would appear that the Masters of the Universe know as little about food as they do about finance.

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In a devastating article published by the New York Times yesterday,  “healthy food” alternative Chipotle is serving up the same calorie-ladened and high salt content fare as their brothers at the Golden Arches.   If you believe the propaganda from Chipotle, their farm animals are treated more humanely than the factory-processed meats at McDonald’s, but dining frequently at either restaurant is probably taking years off your life and adding inches to your waistline.

Get a load of these statistics from the New York Times article entitled “At Chipotle:  How Many Calories do People Really Eat?”

Today, we have a ballpark estimate. The typical order at Chipotle has about 1,070 calories. That’s more than half of the calories that most adults are supposed to eat in an entire day. The recommended range for most adults is between 1,600 and 2,400.

The histogram above shows the distribution of calories for all orders. The spike around 1,000 calories represents “standard” burrito orders – a meat burrito with typical additions: cheese, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, rice and beans. If you order a meat burrito at Chipotle with these toppings, it’s very likely to reach 1,000 calories.

But there’s so much more to this data than the averages. Chipotle customers can and do order meals with fewer than 650 calories, such as a cheese-free burrito bowl. On the other end of the spectrum, about one in 10 meals had more than 1,600 calories.

The distributions of two other metrics of a meal’s health — salt and saturated fat, shown in the charts below — are just as revealing. Most orders at Chipotle give you close to a full day’s worth of salt (2,400 milligrams) and 75 percent of a full day’s worth of saturated fat.

Ouch, these statistics are pretty damning, but I suspect it won’t have much of an impact on their inflated stock price.  “Save me a bite of your burrito, Mr. President.”