I've been waiting for a while to cook brussels sprouts. Catherine really doesn't like brussels sprouts, and as you may or may not know, I am currently on a crusade to expand her palate. Now, this is no war of attrition; the plan emphatically does not involve cooking the same food over and over again until victory is attained or I go broke. (Empirically speaking, that strategy simply doesn't work -- sorry dad, but mom will never like squash, even though they are so good for you). No, mine is a slow, deliberate campaign that recognizes and elevates one critical fact above all else: People do not bite into foods of negative expected value, and first impressions matter more than anything else in setting their future expectations. This is one of a class of problems where the order of experience matters*. So it will not do to start low and end high, no! If one of my foods develops a bad reputation early on, I will not be allowed to cook it at all (the expectation of continuing being negative), or in the event that I am allowed, the mind will be particularly closed to embracing it.
Therefore, my strategy emphasizes patience above all. I hunt eternally for the best recipe, and I don't even turn on the stove until I find something with a lot of promise. Make no mistake, in this game I am at an enormous disadvantage because I have never cooked any version of most of the foods I want to introduce. The thing is, if your goal was just to get good at cooking, then your optimal strategy would be exactly the opposite of the one discussed above. If your goal was to get good at cooking, you would be happy with starting low and ending high. You would not fear initial failure. You would not sit on your gloriously spotless hands, no -- you would get them dirty, and clean them later. Unfortunately, I have both of these as goals, and it is the tension between them that makes the optimization problem so darn complex.
As my biggest victories so far, I claim sweet potatoes (thanks, Lin! a good recipe, that one) and pork (huge success from the pages of Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World). My most crushing defeat was definitely salmon. (sigh).
Today, I decided it was time to try brussels sprouts on Catherine. The thing is, the rest of us already think her mom's oven-roasted brussels sprouts are amazing, and evidently Catherine does not. Anne is a vegetarian, so you can bet she knows how to cook a good sprout. The question is: How on earth do you compete with a vegetarian on cooking vegetables?
Once you put it that way, the answer is almost obvious: do something vegetarians aren't allowed to do. That's right, I added bacon:
Yes I did. As it happens, in a head-to-head with a vegetarian, the answer is usually to add bacon**. And don't they look delicious? Cooked in bits of bacon and a healthy*** amount of rendered bacon fat. I didn't completely follow this recipe, but it's where the idea came from:
kenji's food lab bacon brussels sprouts of great awesomeness
Final score? Catherine took a bite, declared them "fine," and didn't eat any more. I consider this a partial victory, and not just in the sense that I got to eat more delicious bacon sprouts. You have to understand that in this game, I am always starting with 2 strikes. By my reckoning, I have just hit a foul tip, and that's not something to be ashamed of. Even so, at the risk of mixing metaphors, next time I will most certainly be going all in. I do have a plan, but for now, patience.
*If you were a baseball player and you knew you were going to get exactly 200 hits this season, what is the best order to get them? If you want to be deified, or even if you just prefer a higher batting average, then the answer is: all at the beginning! Then everyone thinks you are a god for a while, and perhaps more importantly, at every point in the season your batting average is higher than it would be for any other ordering, even once you start striking out.
**Of course, this itself is just a special case of the more general principle: if a solution is not to be found inside a special case, relax some constraints, or if you are Tammy Zue, worship the field extension.
***Oh yes I did. "Healthy" in the sense of "considerable in size or amount." Deal with it.