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.
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.
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?
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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
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.