As a web editor at America's Test Kitchen television show and Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines (all three exist under the same company), I think about food all day long. Not that food didn't occupy my mind
Even though I've always loved and appreciated cooking and eating, when I started working at America's Test Kitchen I wasn't the best cook. I had a few staple dishes I could make but often flew by the seat of my pants when it came to feeding myself and others. I was hired for my writing and editing ability (I hope—maybe they were just desperate), so this lack of culinary skill wasn't really a problem when it came to my career. However, when many people heard where I worked, they usually responded with, "You must be so talented in the kitchen!" Well, yes, I am—quite talented at consuming food in kitchens.
But since working for America's Test Kitchen I've picked up a few new tricks when it comes to cooking. After attending many, many tastings during various stages of recipe development I'm starting to figure out when a dish could use more brightness, when it wants for salt, or when the spice is over-powering. Tasting is like anything else: The more you do it, the better you get at being able to articulate the nuances.
I've accrued this culinary knowledge through the generosity of the test cooks who take the time to chat with me and answer my millions of questions. By hanging around them as they bake and saute and blanch and chop and frost and fry I've begun to piece together what it takes to make a really fine meal. I'm not on my way to becoming the next David Chang; if anything, I've learned what a long way I have to go. But it does make me want to continue to improve. Because ultimately what I love most about making good food for people is that it's tangible, digestible affection. By cooking for people you not only feed them, you provide a shared experience. And yes, it's really rewarding when someone compliments your efforts. Even if it's as simple as letting you know you didn't overcook the swordfish (for once).
All of this is to say that I've got a great recipe to share with you and to let you know why I've been pretty absent from this blog for the past year—I now have even more admiration for people who have 9-5s and also manage to run their own sites packed with weekly content.
This is one of the first recipes I ever tasted in development at America's Test Kitchen: the Raw Brussels Sprout Salad from Cook's Country. When I told my aunt that I'd be bringing this dish to Thanksgiving this year she said, "That sounds pretty gross." I was grateful for her honesty but assured her it was a transcendent recipe: And fortunately, after eating it, she agreed.
I have made a few changes (which is blasphemous when it comes to the company I work for, but what can I say, I'm a sucker for a good balsamic vinaigrette). The original recipe calls for either Pecorino cheese with pine nuts or for cheddar, apple, and hazelnuts, but I mixed the two up and changed the dressing.
Here's my version, but be sure to check out the original as it's probably better than my hybrid. Though to toot my own horn for a minute, this recipe did get pretty rave reviews at Thanksgiving; so much so that my family requested it again for Christmas Eve. On Christmas, however, I used Gruyere and Parmesan because I left the Pecorino on the counter while I left the kitchen for a few minutes and Rosie The Dog jumped up and ate the whole wedge. I'm pleased to report that the salad still tasted good, but that I'll be sticking to Pecorino if I can. I am also pleased to report that Rosie is still alive.
Raw Brussels Sprout Salad with Pecorino, Granny Smiths, and Hazelnuts
(If you're feeding a crowd, double everything)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
2 pounds raw Brussels sprouts trimmed, halved and sliced very thin (either by hand or with the slicer attachment of a food processor)
1 1/2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and finely chopped
1 1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, shredded
1. Combine the lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, balsamic, salt, and pepper in an empty (clean, duh) jam jar, screw the lid on, and shake vigorously (or you could whisk it together in a bowl but I'm into the whole shaking situation).
2. Combine the shallot and sprouts in a large bowl, toss with the dressing, and let it all sit for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
3. Fold in the apples, hazelnuts, and cheese. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.