If you really want to know . . . I have been scared. I have a hundred excuses. I have moved houses, countries, and continents. I have gone from full time chef, food writer and teacher, to a brief stint as full time chauffeur, cook and cleaner. I am currently also (as are most) still trying to hold down various other full time positions such as; mother, wife and friend . . . in truth, to wildly varying degrees of success.
This time last year, we moved lock stock and barrel from Sweaty Singapore to Snowy Seattle. We have bought a house, ripped it apart and rebuilt every square inch of it. We have learned to ski an hour from our front door. We have discovered that, in fact, it does not rain every day here (though don’t tell anyone else that or they will all want to come). And, we now wake up to the eerie call of tug boats in the mist on Puget Sound.
Unlike Singapore, I can finally get my sticky hands on some real produce; fruit and veg that come from less than 3000 miles away, and don’t require bubble wrap and a plane ticket to reach my kitchen. Sourcing Radicchio, Squash Blossoms, Ricotta or Celeriac no longer require bribery, long journeys to strange warehouses or begging. I simply await the season. I have come to realise that the culinary talents of Singapore, whilst exciting, avant-garde and world class, are left in the dust by a small handful of quiet cooks in Washington.
I am stunned by the talent I am surrounded by. There is little glitz and glamour here, which actually just means there is little to hide behind. I have always believed that ingredients should speak for themselves. Use the best you can afford, let the produce lead you; cook (or don’t cook) what tastes the best, not what looks the best, or what is called for in a recipe. Don’t go to a farmer’s market with a shopping list. Be brave. Be simple. And in the words of April Bloomfield just try not to then “fuck it up”! These are Mantras that seem to resonate through my favourite menus in Seattle. I am surrounded by serious talent that does not shy away from simplicity. As I said . . . Terrifying.
Planting seeds (in this case – of ideas, hopes and aspirations) is not a good idea in the depths of winter. I owe my new friend and (Yoga Ninja) Sean, this recent insightful observation. Now is not the time to set unachievable goals or make promises to others that will have been forgotten or broken by February.
But, here I am. A year on, and making myself one promise. I will (in true English spirit) set my expectations low, but allow my hopes to soar. I will set out upon 2014 with open arms and an open mind. And so, with my stomach in my mouth and a knife in my hand, I offer up my first humble Seattle recipe post . . .
The Brussels Sprout, has made a comeback. Once the figure of ridicule and bearer of blame for the worst of the inevitable Christmas lunch faux pas, it is now the toast of the town.
If the sprout can do it . . . so can I.
Lemony Brussels Sprout Salad with Pink Pomelo and Pomegranate
At this time of year it is hard to find things in the farmers’ market that don’t demand to be roasted, stewed or turned into hearty pies or rich casseroles. However, the humble Brussels Sprout, for so long maligned, but now darling of the Seattle food scene; is a remarkably versatile ingredient – and one that well deserves its newly found spot in the culinary limelight. I was recently offered a Brussels Sprout and Fontina Pizza, a step too far I felt, but I appreciated the audacity of the idea.
These beautiful baby Brassicas are now a mandatory element of any self respecting menu in these parts, and rightly so (especially at this time of year). But I feel that they are at their best when they are the main event, and messed about with as little as possible. In fact, I dare you to relish them raw – experiment with clashing flavours of winter citrus for a surprisingly clean and fresh salad. Clementines, Mandarins and Tangerines abound at the moment, but search a little harder and you will find other more exotic, colourful delights that add a bit of additional bite and glamour . . . A sprinkle of pomegranate confetti transforms this most humble of vegetables into a lovely, sparkly little dish, a welcome respite from the overdose of root vegetable gratins and thick stews that my poor family has been putting up with for weeks!
Serves two as a main/four as a starter or as a side dish – lovely with chicken and pork
2 TBSPs Olive Oil
1 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tsp lemon zest
1 Tsp sea salt flakes
250g Perfectly clean Brussels Sprouts
Seeds of half a Pomelo – ideally pink
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
Whisk together the first four ingredients to form an emulsified dressing. Place in a bowl and set aside. Finely slice/shred the sprouts and toss them in the dressing. Remove the peel of the pomelo and pull away chunks of the flesh, being careful to peel away any membrane or pith. Halve a pomegranate and bash out the seeds over a bowl with the end of a wooden spoon. Rinse off the seeds in a colander or sieve and place on paper towel, so that they do not bleed over the salad. Carefully layer the shredded, dressed sprouts with chunks of pomelo. Scatter a little glitter of pomegranate seeds as you go, and crack a little black pepper just before serving. Eat now.
And now for the less adventurous . . .
I won’t patronise you by actually writing a recipe for these, but suffice to say, this update on the old fashioned overcooked, boiled to death version is a welcome one if you absolutely insist on serving your sprouts cooked. Simply clean and quarter the sprouts, toss them in olive oil and crushed garlic and then throw them in a large, hot saute pan. Allow them to caramelise and even catch a little on the pan over a medium high heat. Pour over the juice of a whole lemon – or more – be brave. Give them a stir and stick a lid on them for the briefest of moments . . . you don’t even have to be sure they are completely cooked all the way through! Be liberal with the sea salt, and serve hot. Lovely with a cold beer!