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A Trio of Autumn Vegetables

This time of year is usually time for burrowing in and getting ready for the cold months ahead. The storm windows come down, the heat goes on, and our menu shifts to comfort food. Comfort food at my house might be casseroles or hearty stews. It can also be a variety of cold weather vegetables. Sometimes they are served as side dishes, but I’m just as happy to surround a pile of grains with a trio of different vegetables for a meal.

I just got Melissa Clark’s new cookbook Cook This Now. I became a huge fan after I devoured her previous book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite over the summer. I feel like she cooks so many of the same things that I like to cook and eat. Her new book is organized by month, with recipes that match the food that’s in season. There are so many new recipes to try. I jumped right into November’s selections with her Roasted Squash with Honey, Smoked Paprika, and Sage Salt. I didn’t have any acorn squash, but peeled and sliced a large nearly 3-pound butternut squash for a delicious result. The seasonings are blended in oil to coast the squash before roasting.

I think my favorite thing about this recipe was the discovery of how easy it is to make your own herbal salt. I baked some freshly picked sage to dry it out, then crumbled it into coarse sea salt. It was a great accent to the squash, but I’m enjoying sprinkling it on other dishes as well. What a great technique that I can use with other herbs. I have to hurry and try some other variations before the frost gets my herb garden.

There was a bag of Brussels sprouts in the refrigerator. While my favorite preparation of these is to roast them, I wanted to try this Mark Bittman recipe that sautés thinly sliced Brussels sprouts with bacon and dried figs. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar tops it off. The sprouts just seem to melt in the pan, and the contrast of the salty and sweet with the earthy vegetables was great. It’s nice to have a fast option up my sleeve.

Sauteed spinach rounded out the plate. First, I sauté some garlic in olive oil. Then, I toss spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces, into the pan. The spinach was washed and drained, but not dried. Put the lid on the pan, and the spinach will steam in the water clinging to the leaves. Once it has wilted, I take the lid off to let the remaining moisture evaporate. Finally, I sprinkle the spinach with a handful of chopped lightly salted almonds.

Whole wheat couscous, cooked with sautéed onions with some pine nuts mixed in filled the center of the plate, and it was dinner.

Roasted Squash with Honey, Smoked Paprika, and Sage Salt
Adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark
Serves 4 to 6

1 large butternut squash, 3 to 4 pounds
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp kosher salt
4 large sprigs of fresh sage
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the squash, cut (carefully) in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds from the center, then cut into ½-inch slices. Place the squash in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, honey, smoked paprika and kosher salt. Drizzle this mixture over the squash, scrapping every last bit out of the bowl, and toss well to coat the squash. Arrange the squash slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet (or two). Place the sage springs in its own, smaller, baking dish.

Put all the pans in the oven. Roast the sage until just crisp, about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Let it cool.

Raise the oven temperature to 400F. Continue roasting the squash for 20 to 25 more minutes, flipping the slices over once, about halfway through. The squash should be tender and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, once the sage is cooled, in a small bowl, crumble the leaves into the coarse sea salt and combine (discard the stems).

Sprink the sage salt over the squash slices when serving.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, here’s a picture of my latest knitting project, a sweater for my friend Lauren’s toddler. This was such fun to make. I’d love to make an adult sized version of the same sweater for myself.

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Brussels Sprouts and Me

Brussels sprouts happen to be one of my favorite vegetables. It wasn’t always that way. I grew up in a house that had banned Brussels sprouts. When my parents got married, they made a pact that they would never have to eat liver or Brussels sprouts. I suppose their parents forced those foods upon them.

I didn’t even know what a Brussels sprout looked like until college. I remember it well. The dorm I lived in had kitchens, so most people cooked their own meals. My friend Rob was cooking a vegetable I’d never seen before. Here’s how the conversation went:

Betsy: What are those?
Rob: Brussels sprouts
B: Yick! Really? You’re going to eat them? They’re disgusting.
R: You didn’t even know what they were. How do you know they’re disgusting? Have you ever had them?
B: No. My parents wouldn’t eat them.
R: Well, you’ll have to try some. If you don’t like them after than, then you can say they’re no good.
B: OK, let me know when they’re ready.

Well, I didn’t hate them after all. I can’t say it was love at first bite, but they were much better than I expected. Your parents aren’t always right.

My next encounter with Brussels sprouts was a few years later. At my first full-time job after college, the boss took our department out for dinner to celebrate the holidays. We went to a fancy restaurant. I don’t remember much about it except one thing. When our meals were served, the woman I sat next to had ordered liver and Brussels sprouts for her dinner. I couldn’t stop laughing at her. After all, my parents did make that pact. I couldn’t wait to call my parents.

I was finally sold on Brussels sprouts in California. I went to the Bay area to visit my friend Paige for Thanksgiving. We picked up some farm-fresh Brussels sprouts, still on the stalk. Have you ever seen how they grow? It’s surreal. Check out this picture. It looks more alien than earthly. We cooked them for Thanksgiving dinner, and I was hooked.

Usually I roast them until they are falling apart, but it takes a long time. I recently discovered a much faster way. This recipe won’t replace the long-roasted one, but it’s a nice alternative on a weeknight.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves 4
From More Fast Food My Way by Jacques Pepin

1 lb trimmed and cleaned Brussels sprouts
4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ¼ slices
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Slice the Brussels sprouts in the food processor, using the ¼ inch (6 mm) blade. There should be about 5 cups.

Place the bacon in a large skillet, add the oil, cover, and cook over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and brown, and most of the fat is rendered. Add the sliced Brussels sprouts, salt, and pepper, cover, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Uncover and cook over high heat, tossing occasionally, for about 2 minutes, until tender but a little bit firm.