Brussels sprouts

Today, I bring you a story that to me is pure embarrassment and laughter, but to you I hope will be encouragement. It is a post is for anyone who has ever done something stupid, not just in cooking but in life. It is for those who think they are incapable of cooking or baking, especially when you look at food blogs like this one. And, not only will it include a recipe, but also a tip on a great restaurant to check out next time you’re in Galena.

It is a story, yes, but it is also a reminder, mostly that when you make a very big mistake, you might as well laugh about it because, at the end of the day, even if you told nobody and got to hold your head a little higher, you’d still know the truth inside and then, you wouldn’t know the intimacy of being honest with people or hearing that they mess up sometimes too (yes, that is an invitation for you to share your stories), and that would be a great loss indeed. So here goes; when I say you’re going to love this one, I mean it.

And it all starts with Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts in bowl

Last November, my friend Kelley—she of the banana bread—sent me an e-mail packed with recipes and links, in preparation for my plan to cook Thanksgiving dinner on my own for the first time. In it, among other things, she’d included a link to Black Forest Brussels Sprouts, citing the vegetable as one of her husband’s favorites, something they had to have at the table every year, and, while I thought that was nice, I promptly dismissed this particular suggestion, partly because I’ve never eaten Brussels sprouts before and partly because the recipe she’d included called for bacon.

OK, quick aside: I’m going to guess that around 95% of you reading right now like bacon. Am I right?

Well, don’t hate me when I say this, but I didn’t grow up eating bacon. Just plain never had it as a kid. I couldn’t even tell you when I first tried some—only that it didn’t make much of an impression and I was definitely already of driving age. Good news is, from where I sit today, I am a big fan of bacon wrapped around dates (oh heavens), particularly at a table covered with Spanish tapas, and I also don’t mind it mixed in with other things like on a sandwich, but even still, I’ve never, not once, eaten in on its own. And last year, when I filed away Kelley’s e-mail, I had not only never purchased bacon, but I didn’t know where to find it in the grocery store. Honest.

So fast-forward about a year to that recent pasta-with-kale recipe around here, where Kelley left a comment mentioning that very Brussels sprouts recipe she’d sent last year, and I, a year older and more experienced, thought, Yes! Yes! I am ready to try this now.

One night after work, I stopped over at Jewel to pick up some milk, after which I worked my way over to the produce section, where I hand-picked a couple dozen sprouts, weighing one pound total and almost emptying the store’s supply. Then for the bacon: I walked up and down the meat display and over to the turkey and chicken and could! not! find! bacon! until finally, in a moment of desperation, I wandered back to the produce and found all kinds of bacon, bordering cheese, so I grabbed a pack of hickory-smoked strips and headed home.

Here’s where things get really interesting. While the sprouts were cooking on the stove, I opened the bacon package and saw a lot of marbling on the strips. My first thought was that maybe I should cut off the fat, like I’d do with chicken or sometimes beef, which then led to an inner dialogue about cooking meat and wondering how someone would know to cut fat off chicken if they’d never made it before (recipes never say to, do they?) and then, hey, does everyone cut fat off of chicken? Or is that just something I grew up doing? And before I knew it, I had trimmed some rather large chunks of fat OFF OF THE BACON before putting it in the frying pan.

Black Forest Brussels Sprouts

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I hardly need to tell you what comes next, do I? The bacon was dry, very dry, with none of the grease the recipe said I should save for the sauce, and I was very ignorantly left scratching my head until a day or two later when, telling my brother the story, I realized what I had done. People. YOU DON’T CUT FAT OFF BACON! BACON IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE FAT! WHAT KIND OF PERSON CUTS FAT OFF BACON?

Lesson learned!


The good news is, I tried again, although not with bacon but with Brussels sprouts, as I hope you’ll have the courage to do with whatever seems daunting to you, having read this post. This time, I tried quartering and layering them in a rimmed baking pan filled with browned butter, roasted with chopped hazelnuts, and while it’s possible I’ll never love Brussels sprouts, I liked this version very much.

Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and brown butter

This gives me hope for other things. Things like bacon. Meanwhile, our story continues in Galena (see! I told you I’d get back to that!).

One Eleven Main

At 9 PM Saturday night, while my mom went to bed early (we’d had a long day of antiquing, don’t forget!), Adam and I headed to One Eleven Main, a restaurant right along Main Street that focuses on locally grown foods, sourcing from farms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. This is usually a good sign, we figured, and oh, yes, yes, it was.

fish and Brussels sprouts

For our main course, we split the the almond-encrusted walleye, which came with creamy, buttery mashed potatoes and a side of seasonal vegetables that, would you believe, just so happened to be Brussels sprouts. From this experience, I learned (1) what Brussels sprouts should be like when cooked well: tender but not like smooshy tender, more like a little soft, and (2) even when they are cooked absolutely perfectly, I am still on the learning-to-like-them side of sprouts, though willing to keep working at acquiring a taste for them.

cheese board

soup and salad

As long as we’re talking about One Eleven Main, though, can I say a little more about our meal? It was so, so good, the standout among anything and everything else we experienced in Galena. The cheeseboard was filled with three types of Artisan cheeses from Galena River Wine & Cheese, slices of Bluebell Orchard apples, some Wooded Wonderland honey, balsamic vinegar, almonds and assorted crackers, and we wiped that board clean.

This was followed by bowls of butternut squash soup and a salad with herb citrus balsamic vinaigrette, with bread on the side, all before our main course. One of us may have said he wanted to marry the restaurant; that’s how good it was. Brussels sprouts included.

One Eleven Main
111 North Main Street
Galena, Illinois

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts and Brown Butter
from Eating Well
All right, back to Brussels sprouts: Whether you’re an old fan or new, this roasted version is a great way to make them. How can you go wrong with nutty browned butter and chopped bits of hazelnuts that get toasted in the oven with the tray? I can think of very few things that wouldn’t be improved with brown butter and hazelnuts, actually. Yum.

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tablespoons water

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 450°F.

Place butter on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until the butter is melted, browned and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven; toss Brussels sprouts and hazelnuts with the browned butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return to the oven and roast for 7 minutes. Sprinkle with water; toss and continue roasting until the sprouts are tender and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes more.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. Maria

    The thought of you cutting fat from the bacon is cause for giggle, even to this mostly-vegan. :)

    And I think Brussels sprouts are one of my favourite winter vegetables ever – roasted, steamed, shredded doused in vinaigrette, quickly sautéed. Nothing better!

  2. Shelley

    Loved this story. I love bacon, but brussel sprouts with them didn’t look very good. I did like the look of your second recipe though. Such a way with words you have.

  3. Whitney

    That bacon story is too funny! Next time that you make bacon, get a little jar and save the bacon fat in the fridge. Makes for a nice addition to plenty of other stuff and its really not that much worse that a little butter/olive oil and it goes a long way.

    I made some brussels sprouts in the oven, roasted at 400 for 20 mins, toss once at 10, with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Then once they are roasted, toss in a bowl and top with a little good balsamic (I have a bottle from Old Town Oil) and a little honey. REALLY good. Dave (who HATES sprouts) almost liked them.

  4. Katy

    What a fantastic story-we’ve all had our moments in the kitchen! I made a brussel sprout dish very similar a couple weeks ago. Rave reviews! I’ll have to give your version a try.

  5. Celeste

    My Thanksgiving has passed but I might have to make this dish for Christmas.
    Nice to know other people have embarassing cooking moments.

  6. Kasey

    Love it! I’ll have to try adding hazelnuts to my brussels sprouts next time. I just did a recipe for shredded sprouts and bacon–the bacon just adds a lil’ something :)

  7. Alicia

    Haha oh man. I can’t believe you didn’t grow up eating bacon! You’re probably much healthier for it. I have a funny story about bacon too, though. My boyfriend at the time sent me to the grocery store to get the ingredients for his uncle’s famous green bean recipe. One ingredient was bacon drippings. Neither of us knew what that was. So at the store, alone, I asked a worker where I could find bacon drippings. She looked at me like I was insane and said, “Honey, you can’t buy that. It’s just the leftover grease after you make bacon.” Oops. So humiliating.

  8. kate

    Ha, that is too funny. Cutting off bacon fat. Wheee…… well, at least there is hindsight, hmmm? My love for bacon knows no boundary, but I have balked at Brussel Sprouts and am waiting for enlightenment from someone else. It won’t happen on it’s own, in my kitchen.

    And MY kitchen errors? Ah! I could fill a book.

  9. Julia

    That is so hilarious I can’t even begin to tell you. Thank you so much for sharing that. And to Alicia who was looking for bacon drippings! So funny. I do stuff like that daily!

  10. Jacqui

    i love how the way you write a story is the same way you tell it aloud. it’s a great thing about your blog — with each post, it’s the real you, as if you’re sitting right next to us and dishing all the details in person.

  11. Kim

    This post made me so happy. It just sounded so much like you, and made me want to give you a big ole hug and cook with you and eat cookie dough on the couch while watching Sixteen Candles. Or Wet Hot American Summer (for some reason, I think you have not seen this movie. and you should. it is hilarious.).

    Anyway, I never ate brussels sprouts because I was SURE that I hated them. I don’t know why…residual anti-brussels sprouts angst from my childhood perhaps. About a year ago, a friend made me balsamic-glazed sprouts (basically, pan-fry them, cut side down in some olive oil and I think some garlic, toss with balsamic, stick pan in oven for like 10 min at 350 or so to brown) – and I fell in love. So good, and so good for you (they are even featured in the November issue of Real Simple)!

    My current favorite way to enjoy brussels sprouts (and the way I prepare them nearly every time because it is just so easy and delicious) is this:
    *Line a cookie/baking sheet with foil (so it’s easy to clean up afterwards)
    *drizzle a bit of olive oil on the foiled pan… not too much, just sort of zig zag it around.
    *slice sprouts in half, and put cut-side down in the oil. shmoosh them around a bit so each one is in some oil, but they’re spread out in the pan. If this doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry I’m a bad explainer.
    *sprinkle (fairly generously) with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I’ve also added crushed red pepper, which was yummy.
    *bake at 400 degrees or so until bright green with brown, crispy edges. If your oven is closer to 350, it’ll take 15 min? Closer to 400 degrees, 10 min? Just check up on them after about 8 minutes and see how they’re lookin’.

    I’ve made this recipe in my toaster oven several times when I didn’t want to wait for the oven to heat up. It is delicious, simple, goes with just about everything, and oh man I’m making it tonight. Mmmmm brussels sprouts!

  12. carolyn

    I felt like you were telling me this story in person. good one!

  13. Hannah

    You definitely had me laughing! I LOVE bacon, but I hate cooking it. Too much splatter!

  14. Vicki

    I love how you openly share your cooking mistakes on the blog. At least we all know that we are not alone! Most of my cooking mistakes can be attributed to not carefully reading a recipe like the time I put in a quater cup of red pepper flakes instead of a quarter tsp. As for your bacon story I think you should give pancetta a try. It is like Italian bacon only thicker like ham. I learned about from Food Network.

  15. Jennifer

    Good story! And your recipe looks great.

    My worst cooking error was burning — get this — spaghetti that I was boiling. I promise that there was a good excuse, though. ;-D

  16. Shannalee

    Maria, So even mostly vegans know not to trim bacon! How have I missed this for so long?!

    Shelley, Ha, well hopefully next time that I try Black Forest Brussels Sprouts, I’ll cook the bacon properly and it will look a whole lot more appetizing!

    Whitney, So save the grease and use it for other stuff? OK. Mental note made. And you are really making me want some oil – which one do you like from Old Town Oil, btw? There are SO MANY choices!

    Katy, Thanks for the encouragement! Pretty sure anyone, anywhere will feel a little better about their skill level after reading this; even if we do all make mistakes, this was a pretty big one.

    Celeste, Oh, that’s right! Canada’s Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago, right? And Brussels sprouts do seem right for the holidays!

    Kasey, Now shredded sprouts have me intrigued. Seems like a perfect way to make them more tolerable… less tough and intimidating?

    Alicia! Bless you for saying that. No wonder we can be friends because you know that is totally something I would do. Completely awesome. I just want to hug you.

    Kate, Laughed when I read that it won’t happen in your kitchen – ha! I feel that way about some things, too. Wishing some well-cooked sprouts your way, though. :)

    Julia, Happy to bring a little joy to your day, ha! And Alicia’s story was great, right? Love that she shared it.

    Jacqui, You poor thing having to hear it all twice in two days, lol! And you are so kind with your comment, especially after my whole crisis-of-conscious breakdown at B&N yesterday. Thank you.

    Kim, I have never heard of Wet Hot American Summer. Sounds like I am missing out? Going to Google it as soon as I finish this comment… and how nice are you for posting that whole recipe like that? Definitely inspires me to want to try it and soon.I think my favorite favorite recipes are the kind someone can rattle off the top of their head – it means they’re good. Thank you!

    Carolyn, Ha! Glad you enjoyed!

    Hannah, Oh boy, I’ve been laughing, too. The things I do!

    Vicki, I am nodding my head in agreement about not reading recipes carefully enough. Boy do I do that a lot. And thanks for the tip about Pancetta! Some friends on Facebook said the same thing, so I am adding it to my expanding list of to-try-soons. Thanks!

  17. Shannalee

    Jennifer, We were commenting at the same time! Now you’ve got me dying of curiosity about the spaghetti story (and I assure you, hand on my heart, that I could easily do the same thing)!

  18. jessiev

    you’re so very honest!! i love bacon. but don’t like eating it plain. although a BLT? yep. and, i also love brussel sprouts and now you’re going to make me go to the store today and get some. that recipe looks fantastic!

    and what a great restaurant you and your brother found! you seem to have some kind of radar, you 2, on finding the good ones.

  19. Kitchen Butterfly

    Love it….love it…love it

  20. Kelley

    Yay for bacon! Yay for Brussels sprouts! Yay for trying again! Yay for that side dish that just happened to come your way at the perfect moment!

    I’m just eating next week, not cooking, so fear not about what I might send your way this year. :)

  21. Jennifer

    OK, I burned the spaghetti several years ago because I was babysitting 5 kids (and the OLDEST was 3 years old!) for about 2 days. Before leaving, the dad had held up the amount of spaghetti to cook for them, and I blindly trusted because I am accustomed to cooking for only 2-3 people and plus, hey, he knows how much his kids eat, right?
    It turned out to be way too much, and the pot was way too small once the noodles swelled up. With the kids running around making messes, crying, and needing attention, I was too overwhelmed to think about what to do about the now-too-full spaghetti pot. Since I couldn’t stir the bottom noodles, they swelled up and didn’t make enough room for water to surround them, and they burned.

    Can you believe that boiled noodles can actually burn! We threw away the burned part for the dogs to eat, and we still had loads more spaghetti than we could eat.

    As bad as that was, at least I have already hit rock bottom and it only goes up hill from here — I can never make a cooking mistake as bad as that one. I hope.

  22. postcollegecook

    Oh Shanna, you are hilarious! I’m the weirdo who cuts the fat off the bacon after it’s cooked, so I could totally see myself doing the same thing before it’s cooked, thinking I’m making it all healthy. hahaha.

  23. Shannalee

    JessieV, Thanks and we do seem to do better together than apart, at least when it comes to restaurant selections – although, to be fair, we had a pretty awful dinner the night before. Just made this one that much sweeter!

    Kitchen Butterfly, Thanks!

    Kelley, And yay for friends who are patient with us and full of good tips and empathy! Glad to hear you’re resting up this year – you should be!!

    Jennifer, I only wish a story like that were my rock bottom. And you still had plenty good spaghetti to eat! And no children died that night! I’d say that’s much more of a success than you’d think.

    Postcollegecook, LOL. When I talked to a friend of mine about this, she told me the same thing, that she cuts fat off afterwards! Wish I could say my mistake was because I was like you guys and trying to be healthy, but alas… thanks for sharing that!

  24. Caitlin

    Oh. My. God. You didn’t. Seriously, I have to question your sanity. Bacon is better with fat! Although I must admit, the bacon I got at home had much less fat than the bacon you get in a grocery store – it tastes better, meatier. And brussels sprouts are fantastic, both on their own and with bacon. Love them.

  25. Jessica

    Wow I am not a huge brussels sprouts fan but this looks really tasty! I might have to give it a try

  26. Shannalee

    Caitlin, I know. I know. I KNOW. At least this experience has given me a lot of laughs, right? And your bacon sounds perfect – I need some farm hookups!

    Jessica, I’m not either! Seems the trick for getting me to like new vegetables is roasting them and covering them with things I already like (aka brown butter and hazelnuts). this probably says something about me, but I am OK with that. I hope it works for you, too!

  27. Alejandra

    I just laughed hysterically at the part about the bacon and then read it out loud to my boyfriend who also laughed. I love this story. And the recipe sounds really, really good! I love brussels sprouts and bacon…I’ve never tried them with hazelnuts before but can’t wait to give it shot.

  28. Shannalee

    Ha, Alejandra, I’m glad you guys enjoyed it. This is a story that won’t be easy to forget. There is no limit to my mistakes!

  29. Niki

    Okay, so I never ate bacon until I went to culinary school. Our finals for the very first basics class was the week after Thanskgiving in 2007 and I had my very first piece of bacon on the Friday after Thanksgiving b/c I knew our teacher wanted it in our baked potato soup the following week. I am now hooked, making it for savory dishes, putting it in chocolate chip cookies (omg, yum). I just bought some fresh brussel sprouts from trader joes and was wondering what to do with them other than the normal roasting and then tossing w/ buttery garlic… Bacon!!! Magical and wonderful bacon!!!!!
    You so rock my world

  30. Mamaliga

    Hahahahaha –

    Yes – I will heed your advice to NOT cut fat off bacon! But go even further – do not discard the precious dripping! That can be used for so many things, like sauteing (almost a butter replacement!!) etc.
    I am coming from a country where in school our lunch bag consisted of a sandwich (good hardy sourdough) with pork lard, salt and paprika (sort of like the modern day P&J sandwich) – sometimes I crave it.

    I did the Brussels Sprouts recipe you have here last year for Thanksgiving – lovely!! I am having trouble finding sprouts that are smaller and tight.

    Gabi @ Mamaliga

  31. Shannalee

    Niki, Your note made me feel so much better! Glad to know there are other people who lived bacon-less childhoods! Best wishes making your sprouts with bacon! I hope you enjoy it (and fare better than I did, ha!)

    Gabi, I just learned that about drippings and have made a mental note. Wow about your school lunches of pork lard!! I cannot even imagine eating that but I know it’s only because I haven’t – amazing how much what you eat as a child affects what you want as an adult. And I know about Brussels sprouts – they have been harder to find this year! Happy Thanksgiving!

  32. Janet

    This is wonderful timing. I’ve been obsessed with brussel sprouts since August that I caved and bought frozen ones recently. There’s something about how the leaves unravel layer by layer that makes it so much fun to eat – sort of.

    What really impressed me about your post is how the restaurant paired such a simple vegetable with something so pretty – the walleye. I’m not quite fond of hazelnuts but I think walnuts or almonds might do the trick.

    Btw, I made and ate your kale linguine recipe all last week. After coming home from vacation and rummaging the pantry for food, I found a very old bag of spaghetti. I subbed in canned tomato sauce and bagged lettuce along with canned salmon (very lazy) but it was really satisfying. I haven’t had pasta noodles in many years so it was nice to revisit a very old favorite.

  33. Shannalee

    Janet, right? This restaurant seriously knew what it was doing. Glad you enjoyed the kale pasta – satisfying it is. Thanks for updating me! Happy Thanksgiving, friend!

  34. Kate

    My Mum loves to tell everyone the story of how I would eat platefuls of brussels sprouts when I was only a toddler. The funny thing is, my elder daughter did exactly the same when she was about 2 years old … liking them must be a genetic thing!

  35. Shannalee

    Kate, that’s amazing! Wish you could pass that genetic trait around to the rest of us!

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