Monday, December 22, 2008

You never forget your first food co-op, or brussel sprouts really *can* be good!

One of the best things about visiting the Northwest for the holidays is shopping at my very first health food store, the Boise Co-op ( My family first became members back in the early 1980s, when they were still in their third location (this co-op has been around since 1973) on 13th street in Hyde Park. According to the Boise Coop website, this storefront in Hyde Park originally housed a Salvation Army and had a dirt floor when they moved in, but I don't remember the dirt floor. What I do remember was my mom telling us we'd need to go volunteer there ("wrapping cheese and sorting food" was the work we'd be doing, according to my mom), because membership in the co-op back then couldn't be bought, you worked for your share in the store. It was definitely a "crunchy".."granola"...or "hippie" affair, whatever you want to call it, in the Northwest tradition.

The Boise Co-op has come along way; they now are in their fifth location, an actual supermarket space with 26K square feet, offices in a North End bungalow across the street, and a wine store in an adjacent building. And while it has gotten "fancier", as much a yuppie favorite and specialty and gourmet foods purveyor as health food market, it still certainly retains that Northwest counterculture feel. Since our family Boise Co-op membership in the early 1980s I have lived in four states, sampling co-ops, health food stores, specialty markets and high-end grocery chains. None has captured my heart and palate the way the Boise Co-op has (although Wheatsville in Austin runs a verrrrrry close 2nd, but that's another post altogether, most likely on the heels of some much longed for trip to Texas).

While I usually head to the Boise Co-op to simply wander around the aisles and soak up the atmosphere (yes, I really do visit a health food store just for the atmosphere!), this time I was on a mission: brussel sprouts for my family.

Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound terribly exciting. Now St. likes brussel sprouts, but I suspect that's because she's Belgian (get it? Brussels, Belgium...I wonder if she likes Belgian endive...will have to cook that for her upon my return). I'm actually not trying to be funny, but I think it might just be in her heritage. The rest of the world, the people who are not Belgian...generally don't get excited about brussel sprouts. But...I do.

My mission: two pounds of locally and organically grown brussel sprouts to compliment my mother's baked ham. Number of people served (counting on hands..1..2..3..) a whopping 10! Well, seven, actually, because three in that crew are children and we all know that the kids weren't going to be eating the brussel sprouts. So, off to the Boise Co-op to purchase two lbs. of brussel sprouts for my people.

Now, I should have mentioned above that I have a delicious brussel sprouts recipe that is perfect for a winter meal. Yes, once again, (I'm a broken record here) it's from The Gourmet Cookbook, like many of my favorite recipes. I was to make Pan Browned Brussel Sprouts, which sounds just fine, but it doesn't really make your mouth water until you hear the ingredients: butter, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and of course brussel sprouts and pepper. Did I mention the pine nuts?

Yes, the pine nuts. Brussel sprouts browned in butter with pine nuts. I mean really.

Much to my city slicker amazement, the brussel sprouts I found at the co-op were still on the stalk. I was amazed at this because, well, I didn't know they even grew on the stalk. And if you didn't know that, don't feel badly, because my brother didn't know that either. So, seriously, I bought two stalks, each one with maybe 35 sprouts on it. I felt so damn wholesome I could hardly stand it.

So I walked back from the co-op, through the snow storm, making a stop by the sledding hill (is this starting to get too Charlie Brown Christmas for you yet?) to say "hello" to my sister and my son, then arrived at my parents home, a 100-year old farmhouse decked with holly, bows, Christmas lights, and a fabulously remodeled kitchen.

Without further ado, I give you one of my favorites:

Pan Browned Brussels Sprouts
(this recipe serves 2 or 3 - I obviously quadrupled it for the occasion)

1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 T pine nuts
salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt 1 T butter with the olive oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over moderate heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 3 mins. Transfer to a small bowl with a slotted spoon.

Reduce heat to low, arrange sprouts cut sides down in skillet in one layer, and sprinkle with pine nuts and salt to taste. Cook, uncovered, without turning, until sprouts are crip-tender and undersides are golden brown, 10-15 minutes (for some reason this took nearly 30 minutes this last time). With tongs transfer sprouts to a plate, leaving pine nuts in the pan.

Add remaining 1/2 T butter to skillet and cook nuts over moderate heat, stirring, until evenly pale golden, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic, then spoon mixture over sprouts and season with pepper.

My family loved this. Since they are not accustomed to my cooking, I can't really trust their words (great, wow, etc.) but the fact that an entire 2 lbs. of brussels sprouts disappeared...well, that speaks louder than words.

1 comment:

  1. When I cook B.S.s I blanche the halves for about three minutes first; it really helps them cook quicker and more evenly. Thanks to Mario Batali for that one...