Over the holidays, I realized that I now have adult equivalents of ketchup: maple syrup and bourbon. Despite long ago leaving behind my finicky eating habits, there are still a few foods out there that I really don't enjoy. A few vegetables. Having had the occasional revelatory experience at a friend's home (what, brussels sprouts can taste good with a nice chestnut cream sauce?) or a restaurant (cauliflower can be comforting in a kofta??), I knew that it was possible to enjoy what I had despised if only the preparation was right. I set out a challenge that would let me conquer my prejudices and allow me to embrace some really spectacularly useful vegetables: all vegetable side dishes for our holiday meals would be veggies I normally hate.
First up: brussels sprouts. Partly because they look so festive in the stores at the holidays, displayed on the stalk and partly because I know so few people who like them, I really wanted to tackle these tiny brassicas for Thanksgiving. My favorite food-porn magazine, Bon Appetit, came to the rescue with a recipe for brussels sprouts with maple syrup. Outstanding. Not mushy at all and not pungent. Firm, roasty, and with just enough maple to bring out the quite nice flavor of the sprouts without making them overly sweet. Most surprisingly, they reheated really well. Good thing since we had a lot of leftovers. Big score here. I will happily make these again.
Next up: sweet potatoes. One of the healthiest veggies around and a personal favorite of the veg, I really felt obliged to find more ways to work this into our diet when I discovered that North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country. I had already found one recipe for sweet potatoes in sage brown butter than made me quite willing (just not excited) to eat them. When a friend pointed me toward one involving cranberries, butter, and bourbon, I knew we had a winner. The original recipe for cranberry-glazed sweet potatoes can be found in Food & Wine magazine but it definitely needs adjusting. I was advised to skimp on the cooking time but splurge on the bourbon and that's exactly right. Still working on getting the amounts just right (and a bigger baking dish so the slices can spread out a bit more). Yes, that means I have already gone back to this recipe for seconds. It is that good. The contrast between the bursts of tarty goodness and the buttery, bourbony potatoes is spectacular. I'm upping the amount of cranberries each time just to be sure there's at least one in every bite.
Alas, I cannot report a cauliflower victory just yet. I hope to have that soon but I haven't procured the oyster mushrooms required. Really want to wait until I have some that I've foraged myself, not the sad little ones in the plastic-wrapped containers at the grocery store. Then again, it would have messed with my theme of maple and bourbon making all the icky vegetables magically turn into crave-worthy side dishes. And if I can't get the oyster mushrooms soon, I may just go ahead and figure out someway to cook cauliflower with one or both of my adult ketchups.
In the end, I didn't do all scary veggies for all our holiday meals. We let our new old favorite, celery root puree with hazelnuts, stand in for the cauliflower both at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And what did they accompany? Well, for Christmas it was Carbonnade a la Flamande for the meat (Bon Appetit's recipe for beef short-ribs slow-cooked in a muchness of dark beer) and wild mushroom and caramelized onion shepherd's pie with a mushroom-pinot noir sauce (recipes from Vegetarian Times). Throw in our usual wine, sunchoke and arugula salad, and some honey yeast rolls and we were set. More than set.
And although we drank Chinese 5-spice mulled wine and hot gingerbread punch at the holidays, it must be noted that ketchup in ketchup (and by that I mean maple syrup in bourbon) makes a lovely beverage any time of the year.