Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Squash Seeds

I have a special fondness for the winter market.

Oh, sure, I have to bundle up, wear a woolen cap and good gloves, and by the time I lock my bike to the street sign I’ve claimed as mine, few of my fingers are available for immediate use. But when I get to my favorite produce stall and the vendors greet me, their jolly smiles clearly say, “thanks for braving the cold!” and I always feel humble imagining what it must be like for them, who have loaded the truck long before dawn and will be standing on the drafty sidewalk for a few more hours.

And that is essentially what I was thinking on Saturday morning, waiting in line, tapping my feet, and politely declining the orange segment I was offered to sample — I find the taste of citrus repulsive when I’ve just brushed my teeth –, when I spotted the crate of brussels sprouts.

Pistachio green, tightly furled, and no larger than the big marbles French kids call calots, they fit the ideal profile perfectly. When you’re shopping for brussels sprouts, this is the kind you should look for: the smaller the better, firm, fresh-looking, and roughly all the same size so they’ll cook evenly.

Like most lovers of brussels sprouts, I am a late-blooming one. As a child, I was subjected to the vile boiled stuff on occasion, at school or at summer camp (as if I wasn’t miserable enough as it was), but when I started to cook, I quickly surmised that there was more to them than that.

And certainly, there is, provided they are cooked to your taste. The trick for me is twofold: 1- to sear or bake them so they’re cooked through and browned in places, but not at all mushy, and 2- to pair them with something sweet, something smoky, and/or something crunchy, to defuse any bitter tendency.

This recipe is a fine example of that trick: softened onions, smoked paprika, and toasted squash seeds help cast a flattering light on these much-defamed, miniature cabbages. We had them as a side to the cured filets of duck my butcher prepares and sells, and which are the most tender and flavorsome I’ve ever had.

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Yogurt Scones

We had friends over for brunch on Sunday, and Maxence went out in the morning to the charcuterie shop, cheese shop, and bakery. He came back with a basketload of ready-to-eat goodies — bone-in ham and duck terrine and eggs in aspic and cheese and freshly baked bread — that we served with a simple green salad topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.

And for the sweet part of the brunch (there must be a sweet part to a brunch, otherwise it’s just lunch), I baked scones, using my favorite recipe, which is simple and quick, and calls for ingredients I always have on hand.

These scones are delicious plain, but you can add whichever flavoring you like:

  • spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, roasted lemon zest powder, cardamom…
  • dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, or raisins (if using larger fruits such as apricots or figs, dice finely)
  • nuts, finely chopped, such as almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts…
  • citrus zest, freshly and finely grated
  • orange flower water, not too much for a subtle, non-soapy flavor
  • chopped or grated chocolate

I baked the scones earlier that morning, and put them back in the oven for a few minutes to reheat before serving, with butter and creamy honey.

Yogurt Scones

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The Bun and the Oven, Take 2

Maxence, Milan and I are happy and proud to announce the arrival of our second son / baby brother, Mika, born in Paris ten days ago. I feel immensely grateful that things went perfectly smoothly. Mika is a healthy and beautiful little boy and we are all doing well.

I will be taking a little time off to rest and enjoy this longest shortest time, and I look forward to coming back with new ideas and recipes in a few weeks. In the meantime, I will republish a few seasonal favorites for you to discover or re-discover, and I hope they will provide inspiration for your daily meals.

Be well, eat well, and see you soon!

The gorgeous decorated loaf sent by Poilâne.

The gorgeous decorated loaf sent by Poilâne.

March 2015 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2015, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

The desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for March is a picture of this crisp and flavorful paleo granola in my beloved granola scoop from Earlywood, which is actually sold as a coffee scoop but is the perfect shape and size for granola.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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How To Cut and Peel Hard Winter Squash

Winter squashes, with their wonderful range of shapes, colors, patterns and flavors, are definitely among the sweeter treats of the cold months. But the sweetness comes at a price: first, you have to roll up your sleeves and find some way to cut and peel the lovely beasts without losing a finger to the process.

Indeed, while some — especially in the early season — boast a thin rind easily peeled with a vegetable peeler, or even one that’s edible (cue love letter to the Hokkaido squash, potimarron in French), most secure their tender flesh underneath a tough outer shell that challenges even the sharpest chef’s knife. The task is made trickier by the shape of the squash, which is rarely stable enough that you can hack at it safely. And even if you do manage to cut your way through, working your paring knife along the grooves and ridges of the rind can be awkward and time-consuming.

Fortunately, there is an easier way, which I’ve recently adopted: it consists in par-cooking the squash for a very short time in a pan of simmering water to just soften the rind: after this treatment, only the very outside of the squash is cooked, which means you remain free to do with it as you please, whether you want to boil it, roast it, braise it, or stir-fry it (take your pick).

Here’s how to proceed:

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