Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ground beef with tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms

Sounds a bit like spaghetti sauce, doesn't it?

I belong to a luncheon group named Ptomaine. Technically, it's Ptomaine 2, since the originator of our group brought the idea with her from the original Ptomaine over 20 years ago. The basic idea: once a month you make a recipe you've never made before. It's legal to have tasted it elsewhere, but not cooked it. Categories are assigned: appetizer, bread, salad, vegetable, meat, dessert. The latter is coveted while vegetable is usually a downer. Still, you'll have two of each per year. Three times annually, we bring the spouse or a friend to a night meeting and the rules are relaxed. No one wants to present a "true ptomaine" when there are serious eaters in the crowd. We tend to stick to riffs on the familiar. Sometimes, we have the men cook. Your results may vary.

Therefore, at least once a month, I'm in serious contemplation of new recipes. Sometimes I scour my files, sometimes it's the newspaper. More often than not, it's Bon Appetit, a magazine I've actually had the good fortune to have my recipes featured in not once, but twice. I can't even remember when, but late '80s, early '90s, sounds about right.

So there I am with the current issue and I've noticed a trend, not only here but elsewhere. No longer is a recipe simply labeled "spaghetti" or "company chicken". There was a hint of mystery to those, a read-on-to-see-what-I-really-contain allure. No, now it's spelled out in the name and well, really, why go further.

As an example, I was saddled with, uh, had the opportunity to make, a vegetable dish this month. If there exists a version of green beans, corn, or potatoes we haven't made, I'd like to see it. I was determined to find something new. The best place to start would be with a vegetable we rarely, if ever, serve: Brussels sprouts. How perfect would that be? And how did I know this recipe was right there at my fingertips? The title: "sauteed brussels sprouts with lemon and pistachios". No second-guessing here. With a glance, I knew all the major ingredients (the others were grapeseed oil and shallot).

Just what I needed, a challenge. I'd never served brussels sprouts by first separating them into leaves. It would have to be sauteed just before serving, so I'd be cooking while we munched the appetizer course. Again, a bit different. And, best of all, while I wasn't sure this would fly in my own kitchen, I was granted an appreciative (for the effort if nothing else) and open-minded audience.

Part of me, of course, would have liked to have had it called something like "spring vegetable delight", but as I cleaned out an empty pan--and decided that yes indeed, it would fly at home--I realized it just didn't matter.

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