"If you don't come to eat dinner now daddy and I will eat all the brussels sprouts." This is the threat/promise I used the other night to get my children to stop playing with their LEGO® and come to the table. Here is the amazing thing that I have to mention only among select groups of parents, or duck... It worked. Granted the brussels sprouts were not boiled into a sulfurous mess, instead they were served after roasting in the oven until they caramelized a little. The threat might have actually been a promise if I had not made enough of them for us to have for dinner two nights in a row, just warming them in the oven the second night. They were nutty, sweet and crunchy in spots, basically they were delicious. A smaller quantity my husband and I could have easily finished. Last night we had broccoli instead and my 3 year old complained about their absence. Mind you he still ate his weight in broccoli.
I feel that before I share the recipe for roasted brussels sprouts, although some might just say it is a method, I should write about why I believe my children eat vegetables. The first one I alluded to when I mentioned that I did not boil the brussels sprouts. When I prepare vegetables I make them taste good in whatever method appeals most to me. So for example I am not afraid to add butter, salt, pepper, other seasonings and even in some cases, gasp a pinch of sugar. I don't overcook them and I don't boil them.
One of my goals is to raise my boys to enjoy good food, even to be food snobs. I don't really care all that much what they do for a living when they grow up, but when I get invited to their houses for dinner I want to eat well. Before either one of them was born I knew that parents have a lot of power in a child's relationship to food as my mother had me brainwashed. She would make these proclamations about some foods in this horrified voice and I would agree. I was 18 before it dawned on me that, without the scornful tone, fruit yogurt being nothing more then "yogurt with jam added," sounded pretty tasty. I am still afraid of cotton candy because it is "just straight sugar with food coloring added." Somehow when I said this to my boys they were even more excited at the prospect. Sigh, I am not as persuasive as my mother.
However I still try to follow my mothers lead when it comes to feeding my children. Not that she was a great cook, or even someone who enjoyed it. However she believed in real food. (I won't hold it against her that she insisted on margarine instead of butter, the health experts in the seventies were pretty good at brainwashing as well). My mother also refused to cook a special or different meal for the kids. If we did not like what was served we could have cheese or cereal, or make something ourselves. When I went through a phase in 3rd grade of not wanting tomato sauce on pasta I made my own sauce with butter (actually margarine, but as I already alluded to that was not my choice), garlic and lemon juice.
My brother and I were some of the most adventurous kid eaters I knew. Actually I really enjoyed the sport element of ordering spinach, broccoli or liver as a restaurant when I was a child. To be honest I was not a huge fan of liver, but occasionally I would eat it just for the joy of ordering it in a restaurant and seeing the look on the waitresses face. Before I had children I believed our eating habits were a result of not being forced to eat anything.
Then when my oldest was 2 he became picky, refusing foods he had previously loved. As any mother who loves to cook and eat would do, I panicked. Dinner time became a battle ground with him yelling yuck over the food I had taken so much time to prepare. He was refusing foods he had previously loved: tomato sauce, beets, eggplant... I would argue with him, try to negotiate that he take one bite, changing menus to appease him, once even telling him we would not go out for some fun activity if he did not try his dinner. The gagging response meant I only tried that once.
Then I came to my senses, albeit probably slowly, and went back to what I had done before. I prepared food that I wanted to make and eat. I made sure I felt good about every item I placed on the table so I would not freak out when he chose to make his dinner of only one thing on his plate. Once I stopped freaking out and letting his comments get to me, I began to enjoy my meal again. Eventually he also learned not to say cutting things about what I prepare and is slowly developing the palate I had hoped for. So is his brother, although his brother also puts my childhood vegetable eating to shame, and to be honest my adult vegetable eating as well. They still have some kid food pickiness, but now I have faith that this too shall pass. So last year as I chopped and sauteed, preparing chicken roasted on fennel dressing to go in the oven, the boys stood on step stools watching and one of them stage whispered to the other one, "That looks yucky to us, right." I just laughed and told my husband the story later. The fact that currently neither one of them will eat tomato sauce on pasta just means I buy Barilla Plus, which does not use vitamins to make it more nutritious but actual real food like beans, spelt and flaxseed. I feel like I get the last laugh here as they like their pasta plain with Parmigiano-Reggiano grated on top, not exactly a kid friendly cheese.
One other thing that I think really helps is I cook and I don't hide what I am doing. My boys and I have had many discussions about ingredients. So while I agree with them that I would never willingly drink fish sauce on its own, or even buttermilk, we like them as ingredients. As a mater of fact when I made a dipping sauce for spring rolls the other night with fish sauce they both gleefully stood next to the finished product dipping anything I would let them have into it. And yes, they do know that fish sauce is made by letting anchovies rot in the sun and collecting the liquid that comes of. This is why we use it as an ingredient and do not drink it!
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1 large bunch fresh brussels sprouts
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 - 45o degrees. Basically if you are making something else in the oven the sprouts can adjust. The other day I was making braised turkey in the oven at 300 degrees, I still tossed in the sprouts early on, no reason to waste the oven space, and when the turkey was done I turned the temperature up to 400 with convection.
Trim the stem pretty close to the leaves and then pull off any leaves that look unappealing. If the leaves are bruised deeply you can also trim off the area in question. For smallish sprouts cut them in half lengthwise, for larger ones cut them in fourths.
Place the brussels sprouts on a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on kosher salt and freshly grated pepper. Afterwards toss them around with your hands making sure that the sprouts are well covered in oil. roast in the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, until the sprouts are nice and caramelized (brown) over much of their surface area and tender but not mushy when pierced with a fork or knife. I am afraid I have no idea how long this takes, especially as I gave a range of temperatures. I just check them when I go to shake the pan. I will have to pay better attention the next time I make them. (since originally posting this I actually paid attention once and cooked them for 45 minutes at 400°)