The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee


Are Brussels sprouts stalks edible? I cut to the pith.

When I was a kid, I imagined Brussels sprouts as little cabbages with their heads growing out of the ground, carefully picked in Belgium by ... children, maybe? ... and sent to us in the States.

That's not how they grow.  They grow like this.


  You've seen this before but you're still slightly creeped out by it, right?

It's quick and easy to go down the stalk and twist-and-snap off the little sprouts.  So easy, in fact, that it's baffling that you usually pay much less (per sprout) if you buy a whole stalk of them.


  They're not uniform in size, but that just gives you more ideas of what to do with the different sizes.

But that stalk!  Aye, that stalk!  It's heavy.  It's like a baseball bat.  And I feel so wasteful every time I compost one or (with no compost bin these days) throw one in the trash.  Can a Brussels sprout stalk be eaten?  Is it edible?

So I turned to Google, and someone else had asked the question on Chowhound — in 2003, it turns out, so I'm not exactly the first one to ponder this.

The comments are fascinating.  Some people said "yes".  Others said "no".  Some said they took a lot of peeling and weren't worth the effort.  Another emphasized their woodiness by noting that other cultivars have stalks that are used as walking sticks.  Many pointed out that the shoots were edible and tasty.


  And soft, and lovely.  I might put them into a stir-fry.

But one person said the trick was to "hack them" into six-inch segments and steam the pieces.  They would crack open when they were "done".

Aha.  A lead.

But as to that verb "hack": yikes.  I don't own a cleaver.  I'm never going to own a cleaver.  I'm terrified of cleavers.  But my stalk seemed pretty fresh, and I thought really leaning down on the blade of a sharp, heavy knife would work.  So I went up the stalk, counting in six-inch increments, and wondering if the Brussels walking stick was ruining my $54 J.A. Henckels santoku.

Turns out you don't have to cut all the way through the stalk.  If you score it about 1/4" deep all the way around, you can break it into segments.  No hacking and less knife-dulling.

Awesome.  Now I could see what was inside.


  This was inside.

Steam them until they're "done", huh?  You could hammer in nails with the core of that stalk.  I could see someone going through this exercise and thinking "Forget trying to get food out of it.  Next time I'm just using it as a walking stick."

But into the steamer basket they went.  And I wondered how long "done" would take to reach.


  Bye, guys.  See you in ... fifteen hours?

I started to check every five minutes.  After fifteen minutes, there was not much progress.


  You about to split?  Guys?

Same at half an hour...


  Starting to wish I had gone the walking stick route.

At an hour, aha!  Cracks in two of them!


  That guy on Chowhound might not just be messing with the readers.

At 1:45, I could press my thumbnail into the core of the stalk (but could still have used the outer ring as a bludgeoning weapon).


  You guys are ... done, maybe?

So, the moment of truth.  What treasure was inside, assuming I could open them?


  This was the treasure.

It was coarse.  It could easily have handled more time in the steamer — maybe another half hour, or hour even.  But it was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.


  The marrow was no match for the mighty teaspoon.

Aaaand now I had a bowl full of coarse, warm brassica pulp.  I tasted it.  It wasn't bad at all.  Maybe a cross between a broccoli stem and an undercooked artichoke heart.  Puree it, maybe, I thought.  Get some fat and liquid into it and see if I can spread it on some home-baked sourdough.  A touch of parsley, perhaps, to make it look like it was worth three hours' time. 

I put the pulp into the mini-prep; added mayonnaise, kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, rubbed sage, and (a little too much) fresh lemon juice; and I gave it a whirl.  Then I removed the lid and added a little more mayonnaise, and whirled it some more.  Then I stopped it, scraped down the sides, engaged it in a staring contest to convince it to become a puree, and ran the mini-prep one more time.

And this delicacy is what I ended up with.


  A bit too much lemon.  Whoops.  But you can't tell that from the picture.

So, in short:

  1. Yes, (portions of) the stalks of Brussels sprouts are edible
  2. Yes, they are palatable
  3. Yes, you can use them in recipes
  4. Is it worth a few hours of cutting, steaming, scooping, seasoning, and pureeing to make a cup of spread?  You'll have to judge that one yourself.


“42 Salad”: A unique fermented fruit and vegetable slaw

I made this strange-looking salad for a Thanksgiving dinner.  It appeared so unusual that I posted a picture in my family's WhatsApp group chat with the caption "Any guesses?"

My father responded "42?"

I replied "That was an unintentionally-trick question.  I have no idea what to call it.  '42 Salad' is as good a name as any."

Each time I shared it with a family member, I asked what I should call it.  After pondering the question, starting and stopping with names, they would respond "No, '42' is good."

The recipe starts with fermented celeriac, kohlrabi, and green apples, which are then tossed with dried cranberries, a sweet dressing, and ginger.  It's crisp — almost nutty.  It's vibrant and piquant and sweet and sour and totally delicious.  Just plan a week in advance.

"42 salad"


  • 1 large celeriac root
  • 2 medium kohlrabi stems
  • 2 medium to large Granny Smith apples
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 quart 4.5% saline brine (roughly 2 Tbsp salt dissolved in 1 quart filtered water)
  • 1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp granulated white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp 2% milk
  • ground ginger (1/2 tsp or to taste)


  1. Peel the celeriac root and kohlrabi stems with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks.  Wash and core, but do not peel, Granny Smith apples into slightly larger matchsticks.
  2. Place mustard seeds and peppercorns into the bottom of a fermentation vessel.  Pack the vegetables and fruit on top of them, cover with brine, and add a weight to submerge contents.  Proceed with how you normally ferment vegetables.  I used a wide-mouth 1/2 gallon mason jar with a Pickle Pebble and an airlock lid.  If you don't normally ferment vegetables, Amanda Feifer's excellent blog Phickle is a great place to start.  Once you get started fermenting, you'll never give it up.
  3. Ferment at room temperature for 7 - 8 days, out of direct sunlight.  If you keep the contents submerged at all times, the apples will not oxidize or become mushy.  If some pieces of apple float to the surface and start to turn brown, pull them out and compost them.
  4. After fermentation, drain enough of the vegetables (reserving brine) to yield 4 cups of matchsticks.  Avoid mixing mustard seeds or peppercorns into your salad.  Add enough brine back to resubmerge any remaining vegetables, perhaps transferring them to a smaller vessel.  Move the remaining vegetables to the refrigerator for later use.
  5. Place the 4 cups of drained matchsticks in a large bowl.  Toss with 1 cup of dried cranberries.
  6. In a measuring cup, combine mayonnaise, sugar, and milk.  Pour over salad and toss again.
  7. Shake in ground ginger a little at a time — adding, tossing, and sampling — until your desired gingeriness is achieved.
  8. Refrigerate at least two hours and serve chilled.

Try this one.  It has a great crunch and zing.  It tastes amazing.  It will be the hit of any party you take it to.


Happy Birthday Carl Sagan!

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. — Carl Sagan

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. — Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)


Sourdough Starter: Care, Feeding, and Use

Sourdough starter is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria that requires care and feeding.  Fortunately, both are pretty easy, and you only have to do it once a week.  All you need is a jar and a kitchen scale.

Sourdough starter

A vigorous fed sourdough starter

How to feed your sourdough starter

Once a week (set a reminder!), you will need to give your starter new food so that it won't die out.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in its container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  You will have some unfed starter left over.  Discard the leftover amount; place it into a new container to propagate; or use it in a recipe that calls for "unfed starter".


    Sourdough Popovers, an example of what you can make with unfed starter
  4. To the measuring cup, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water and stir.
  5. Thoroughly wash your starter container under hot running water, being sure to scrape off all the crusty bits inside.  Don't use detergent.
  6. Pour the fed starter back into the container.
  7. Leave on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, for two hours.
  8. Close the lid and return to the refrigerator.

How to use your sourdough starter

Plan 24 hours ahead from when you want to use your starter.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in the starter container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  This will allow you to continue your starter.  Follow the instructions for feeding your sourdough starter, as above (add flour and water, wash the starter container, return the starter to the container, wait two hours, and return it to the refrigerator).
  4. Pour another 110g of the original starter into a large jar.  Add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.  Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 12 hours.
  5. After 12 hours, add 220g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 220g of lukewarm water.  Stir, set on the counter with the lid slightly ajar, and wait until it has doubled or tripled in volume.  This can take as little as 4 or as much as 12 hours.
  6. Use in your recipe that requires "fed starter".

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread, an example of what you can make with fed starter

How to propagate your sourdough starter

The most fun part of maintaining a sourdough starter is sharing it with friends.

Sharing Sourdough Starter

Propagated sourdough starter, ready for sharing!
  1. When it comes to feeding time, follow the instructions for feeding your own sourdough starter, but also place 110g of starter in a separate, clean container for your friend.
  2. To your friend's container, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.
  3. Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 2 - 4 hours.
  4. Replace the lid and give it to your friend.  If you are not giving it away immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one week without feeding it again.  You might want to add a date to the container to show when it was last fed.


  • I went to feed my starter, and it has a thin layer of brown liquid at the top.  Is it ruined?

    • No.  That's alcohol, another fermentation byproduct.  Just pour it off.
  • My starter smells much sharper than when I put it into the fridge.  Is it ruined?

    • No, there's just a lot of vinegar in it.  Without delving too deeply, lactobacillus produces two primary acidic metabolites: lactic acid and acetic acid.  Lactic acid is what gives yogurt its tang, and it's mild.  Acetic acid is vinegar, and it's sharp.  Refrigeration suppresses production of lactic acid, so your starter will have developed more vinegar than it has developed yogurt-acid.  When you feed it and leave it at room temperature for a couple hours, it will dilute the vinegar and give the bacteria some time to produce lactic acid at room temperature.
  • I fed my starter twice to use in my recipe, but it's not bubbly.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably not.  This often happens if it has missed a feeding or if your kitchen is not warm enough.  After the two feedings (waiting 12 hours after each), if it hasn't reactivated, set aside 220g of the mixture, add 220g each of flour and lukewarm water, and return to the cleaned jar until it doubles or triples in volume.  If that doesn't work, repeat after 12 hours.  Sorry if this threw off your baking schedule.
  • I fed my starter four times at room temperature (and waited 48 hours total) like you instructed, and it's not bubbly nor increasing in volume.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • I took my starter out of the refrigerator, and it doesn't smell sharp or boozy — it smells putrid!  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • My refrigerated starter has billowy mold on it.  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.

Did I miss anything?  Anything unclear?  Let me know in the comments!


The best bread in the world (according to my dad)

Rosemary Dutch oven bread with Parmesan and Romano cheeses

When I shared this with my father, another dyed-in-the-wool foodie, he told me that this is the best bread he has ever tasted.  He said "You know, I used to go to Brothers restaurant in Solvang. They had a baker come in every morning and prepare bread for that night's dinner. I loved that bread. And this is the best I've ever had."


It's a simple tweak on a traditional Dutch oven bread recipe, with the addition of rosemary and cheese along the way.  All it takes is patience (letting it rise undisturbed for 18 hours); a piece of equipment you may already have in your kitchen (a Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven with a skillet lid); and one little trick (cooking the bread in an inverted Dutch oven).

The basic recipe for crusty Dutch oven bread is as follows.

Ingredients: [1]

  • 405g bread flour [2]
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cup (355ml) warm water

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl.  Stir in warm water until well-combined.  Cover bowl with a lid, or tightly with plastic wrap, and set on the counter for 18 hours to rise on its own.

Preheat oven to 450°F with the Dutch oven inside, with the lid separate from the base.  After your oven has reached 450°, it will take another 30 minutes or so for the Dutch oven to reach 450°.

During this preheating time, remove the sticky dough from the bowl with floured hands and placed on a heavily-floured surface.  Stretch the top into a smooth surface and tuck the edges underneath to form a round loaf.  Let it sit on the surface until the Dutch oven is fully heated.

Carefully remove both pieces of the Dutch oven from your oven and place on the stovetop.  Set the dough ball on the skillet side (the interior of the lid) of the Dutch oven, and carefully place the Dutch oven itself, upside-down, on top as a dome.  (Yes, you are cooking in the interior of an upside-down Dutch oven.)

Carefully replace the Dutch oven into your preheated oven.  I cannot stress the "carefully" bit enough.  For best results, wear silicone cooking gloves in which you are holding cloth potholders.  A heavy piece of 450° cast iron can cause serious injuries.

After 30 minutes, remove the dome, leaving the bread on the skillet surface.  Bake for another 10 minutes to brown and shake onto a cooling rack.

To turn it into rosemary bread with Parmesan and Romano, reduce the salt in the recipe to ½ tsp.  Take 1½ sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Rinse and pat dry.  Remove the leaves and snip the leaves into thirds with a pair of kitchen scissors, discarding the stems.  Add to the dry ingredients, along with unpacked, coarsely-grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses (about ⅓ cup total).  Add the warm water as you would in the basic recipe, and proceed as above.

And voila!  You've just made "the best bread in the world".  According to my dad.

[1] Yes, it's a little weird that I'm switching between imperial/metric and weight/volumetric units like this, but it's how I measure it.  Feel free to convert it.  405g of bread flour is about three cups.

[2] Using bread flour is important.  All-purpose flour does not have the necessary gluten percentage to form the delightful big air pockets.