In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

How To Eat Your Vegetables: Part One: The First in a Two-Part Series

Vegetarians, move along. Bacon has entered the building.

You need five servings of vegetables a day and they can be hard to choke down ...unless you embrace the magic of bacon, coarse salt, and high-heat roasting.

Generally repellent veggies like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower take on entirely new identities when fixed thusly (they are now among my favorites):
Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Let it get good and hot.

Choose any mix of hearty, tough and sometimes loathed veggies: the aforementioned sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, turnips sweet potatoes, white potatoes, peeled butternut squash, maybe mushrooms? Don't use beets. They will turn everything an unappetizing pink.

Trim the sprouts as you would normally -- cut off the hard bottoms, cut them in half if they are really big (ie, bigger than a single bite. I like them super tiny). Break apart the cauliflower/broccoli florets, chop the carrots and parsnips into pieces roughly the same size as the Brussels sprouts (this way they will all cook at the same rate, approximately).

Get your hands on good, thick bacon -- I like skin on. Crunchy! Washingtonians can get it from Canales fine meats at Eastern Market

Thinly slice crosswise one or two slices of bacon, so you'll have little matchsticks about an inch or an inch and a half long. Each piece will have a fat and a little lean.

Scatter the bacon across the base of a large roasting pan.

Scatter the chosen vegetables over the bacon. Don't crowd them. They should have some breathing room otherwise they'll steam rather than roast. If you have too many, move them to a second pan.

Douse everything with a few tablespoons of good olive oil.

Shake the pan to roll and mix everything. The vegetable should be glistening and the bacon will be clinging to this and that.

Now: use a little more coarse sea salt than you think you should (just a little more ... you can always add it, you can't take it away) and sprinkle it over the veggies in the roasting pan. You should hold your hand at least a foot over them for even sprinkling.

Don't skip the salt. It's important. It inhibits your ability to taste bitterness -- so it does away with the objectionable sulphurous tastes Broc, Bruss and Cauli tend to give off.

Put the pan in the hot oven and walk away. They need to roast a while -- check them at 20 minutes, give the pan a shake. Walk away. Come back in another 5 or 10 minutes. The outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts should be crispy and brown. If you pluck one off and eat it you will think you are eating a very delicious potato chip. That's how you know you are done. The carrots should be tender when you poke them, ditto the parsnips and turnips and potatoes. If those things have not been achieved, walk away again. Come back. Repeat.

When they have reached the desired state of doneness (browner than you might be initially comfortable with... it's called carmelization, and it means the sugars inside the veggies have achieved their Platonic Ideal). Let the vegetables cool on your counter. Try not to eat them like candy before dinner. IT CANNOT BE DONE.
You'll make these all fall and winter, I promise. They are good enough to make you not miss tomato season, and you'll never look at Brussels sprouts the same way again.*

(While you're at it, throw a whole organic chicken - devoid of its bag of gizzards and heart etc -- in the oven to roast in either the same pan or separately. In the same pan, it will baste your veggies in chicken fat.. .so then you have three kinds of fat at work in the same dish and that is a sure fire route to success. Rub the chicken all over with a cut lemon first, then liberally sprinkle the bird with with coarse salt and pepper, and smoked paprika if you have it. Put the lemon in the chicken's cavity. Drizzle the chicken with a little olive oil ...Roast the chicken until the legs wiggle loosely and the skin is crisp. Dinner is done. Put a second one in and you have lunch for a week.)

Stay Tuned for How To Eat Your Vegetables Part Deux, in which I sing the praises of, and crib wildly from, Padma Lakshmi and Ina Garten:

* and if you haven't seen it, rent Shirley Valentine, an old British comedy about an Englishwoman, Shirley who goes to Greece and falls in love and rediscovers blah blah blah. I don't remember much except one of my favorite vegetable jokes EVER. Before she takes off for the cerulean seas, she talks with a neighbor about her terrible visit to Belgium's capital. Shirley, trying to be sympathetic, offers the only criticism she can think of: "I hate Brussels... All those sprouts."

Not anymore Shirley. NOT ANYMORE.
Make these veggies and report back. Remember: Don't crowd the plan, let them carmelize and use enough salt.

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