Who knew there was such a thing as FROZEN brussel sprouts? I do know about frozen peas, corn and spinach and often cook with them. But somehow I’ve never noticed the brussels sprouts hiding in the back of my grocer’s freezer. Turns out that food writer Matthew Amster-Burton, author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater, knows a lots of shortcuts like this. Have you ever tried “Better Than Bouillion’s” chicken or vegetable stock? If not, you should. How about Wyman’s Frozen Blueberries in your Saturday morning pancakes?
It’s not just shortcuts that Amster-Burton writes about, though. Ultimately, it’s his quick wit, his love of food and his desire to share it with others that make an impression in this cheeky memoir. After all, this is the dad who makes potstickers from scratch for his preschool daughter’s snacktime (I will admit to doing the same thing for the Chinese New Year Celebration when my son was in fourth grade). And he shares some great recipes for Brussels sprouts – his and my favorite vegetable – for which I will always be grateful.
This month’s book choice for the Kitchen Reader came from by Meryl of the blog My Bit of Earth. Thanks for such a great pick! I chuckled my way all the way through this book on contemporary parenting and cooking for developing palates. Amster-Burton’s observations on “snack moms,” Starbuck’s almond milkies and his reflections on his own role as a stay-at-home dad alone are worth the price of the book. I nodded in agreement at his insights into this brave new world of parenting – and even though he is rearing his daughter on the opposite coast in urban Seattle while my my own family lives up in the hills of Vermont, I recognized a lot in his experiences.
“Hungry Monkey” would make a terrific gift for a new parent. After all, it chronicles the gastronomic terrain of the first four years of his daughter Iris’ life. It’s an easy read to pick up and put down in between loads of laundry, trying to take a shower and, yes, even preparing a corn pancake or two (check out his easy recipe for these that he recommends topping with pumpkin butter). His voice is light and fun, humorously self-depricating at times, and would make a nice companion during those first few disorienting years as a caregiver (and short order cook).
But here’s the kicker: I’m not a new parent – I’m an old and hardened one, sixteen years into the job, no longer listening to Raffi or changing diapers – and it made a really nice present for ME, too. Reading “Hungry Monkey” RE-reminded how much fun it can be to cook and enjoy new foods with my kids. So last night found me in the kitchen with my fourteen and sixteen-year-old dancing to their ipod playlists while we sauteed Brussels sprouts and boiled noodles. My more grown-up hungry monkies and I whipped up a mean batch of Amster-Burton’s “Penne with (frozen! – though I would maintain that fresh is still best) Brussels Sprouts and Bacon” as we listened to their rocking, brave, new choice of a song “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine. I highly recommend this book, this dish, this song, trying new foods and cooking and dancing with your kids – even on a school night. Take no shortcuts when it comes to spending some time together in the kitchen. Life tastes best that way.
Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon
This is quick, easy — and sophisticatedly delicious. Kids like it. I have proof: mine gobbled it up and asked for leftovers in their lunchboxes. It’s not often we find such a crowd pleaser. I think this dish is genius. Kind of like a perfect little black dress. I can imagine eating it in Paris, Seattle, or even here in Vermont (FYI: the word for brussels sprouts in French is chou de Bruxelles). When we made it I doubled the recipe to feed the five of us as the one Amster-Burton wrote serves 2-3.
Penne with Brussel Sprouts and Bacon
10 oz penne rigate
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) frozen (thawed) or fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise if small, quartered lengthwise if large
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup lightly packed) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
In a large skilled, cook the bacon in the olive oil until crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, reerving the fat in the pan. Raise heat to medium-high and add the Brussels sprouts. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and cook until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until sprouts are tender, stirring occasionally.
2) Meanwhile, cook the penne. Drain and add to the Brussels sprouts along with the bacon, Parmigiano, and optional lemon juice (this is a yummy touch). Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, top with more cheese and serve immediately.