Friday, December 4, 2009

Cleo Coyle's Holiday Brussels Sprouts with Stilton, Bacon, and Figs

This blog post was named a 
"Foodbuzz Top 9" for Sunday, December 6. Thank you, FoodBuzz! 

~ Cleo Coyle

“What does Christmas
taste like?”

When I wrote about the "flavors of the Season" in Holiday Grind, I tried to come up with an array of evocative tastes that my amateur sleuth might want to feature on her coffeehouse’s holiday menu. 
Nutmeg, cinnamon, rum, and peppermint were among the many flavors Clare Cosi considers. Of course, they're only a fraction of the tastes that we look forward to eating or drinking at this time of year—whether they're attached to our family traditions, our ethnic backgrounds, or the little discoveries that we make when we dine at brand new tables far and wide.

Today I'd like to share with you a more savory holiday taste, one that comes with the yearly availability of English Stilton at my favorite cheese monger here in New York City.
Stilton is traditionally eaten at Christmastime, and I’ve enjoyed it for many years now, pairing pungent chunks of it with fresh figs, dried fruits, or sweet slices of ripe pear.

I still remember the second time I tried Stilton. It was served to me in a Pear and Stilton Salad at Bryant Park Grill.

(The first time I tried it was at a formal dinner at Oxford University, where I happily concluded that port and Stilton were my new best friends.)
BTW: Bryant Park Grill is a great restaurant to visit if you are planning a holiday trip to NYC. Click here or on the photo to see a slideshow at New York magazine, which called it one of the best-situated and most attractive dining rooms in the city. This lovely, airy restaurant is located just behind the Main Branch of New York’s Public Library, a memorable landmark that I also used as a featured setting in Holiday GrindAs far as today's recipe, the Grill's Pear and Stilton salad was what gave me my first clue that a blue-cheese-and-fruit pairing would work well as a base for other dishes—like this one...
Although English Stilton is traditionally eaten at Christmastime, any blue cheese will work nicely in this recipe: Danish blue (aka Danablu), Italian Gorgonzola, or French Roquefort. If you’re not a fan of dried figs, try substituting dried cranberries, which is an equally festive holiday flavor. I hope you like my recipe! Eat with joy and...Happy Holidays!
Click here or on the photo of the Stilton crock to virtually visit my favoite cheese shop in New York City: Murray's Cheese. The shop is located in the heart of Greenwich Village, where my Coffeehouse Mysteries are set.
Cleo Coyle’s Holiday Brussels Sprouts with Blue Cheese, Bacon & Dried Figs

To get this recipe in a takeaway format, just click here and you can download it as a PDF document.


3 slices thick bacon
(or 4 slices thin)1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 10-oz package of whole Brussels sprouts
(about 18-20 sprouts)10 dried figs, roughly chopped (I use mission figs. You can also substitute 3/4 cup dried cranberries.)Crumbled blue cheese (Stilton is perfect for the holiday season!) 

(1) Prepare sprouts and figs: Wash and dry sprouts and slice each in half. Chop dried figs. Set aside. (If you aren’t a big fan of figs, try 3/4 cup dried cranberries.)

(2) Brown bacon pieces: Cut bacon slices into small pieces. In large skillet, fry bacon pieces until browned but not crisp. NOTE: As soon as you move to the next step in this recipe, the bacon will stop browning, so make sure your bacon displays some nice caramelized color before you move to step three and toss in your onions.

(3) Add chopped onions: Throw in the chopped onions and sauté until lightly caramelized. Remember: color equals flavor! If you move to the next step before the onions get a bit of color on them, they will not taste as sweet and the dish will not be as tasty. As with so many things in life, patience is a virtue, especially when sautéing onions! 

(4) Toss in sprouts and figs: With the bacon browned and the onions sweetly caramelized, you are ready to throw your sliced sprouts and chopped figs into the pan. Fold these in well, until they are absolutely glistening with the rich, delicious flavor of rendered bacon fat! 

(5) Add water, cover, and simmer: Here is the trickiest step. Add about 1-1/4 cups of water. This amount may vary depending on the weather and your geographic altitude. That’s why you need to watch this process and adjust it as needed. Cover and simmer the mixture on medium-high heat for about 8 to 10 minutes. After about 8 minutes, lift the lid and stir. Bite into one of the sprouts to see how far it is from properly cooked through. You want a nice “al dente” texture and not mush. If the sprout is too hard, replace the lid and keep going, checking every few minutes.

Also check to see if the water is evaporating too slowly or quickly. If too slowly, remove the lid and turn up the heat. If too quickly, add a little more water so the mixture does not burn. While you do not want this dish to be swimming in liquid at the end of the cooking process, neither do you want it to scorch. The trick here is getting the water to evaporate at the proper rate so that the sprouts are perfectly cooked through and still browned a bit in the pan, giving you that beautiful little caramelized rim that you see in my photos. (Yes, color = flavor. But black = burned!)

(6) Finish: To serve, spoon onto serving plates and crumble your favorite blue cheese on top, whether it’s a Danish blue, an Italian Gorgonzola, or a French Roquefort. For a special treat at this time of year, try English Stilton, which you can also serve as an appetizer with sweet slices of pear, or as a final course with a lovely glass of port before coffee, tea, or espresso.

Till next time,
~ Cleo Coyle
author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries

by Cleo Coyle
A Coffeehouse Mystery

Now in paperback and...
a National Bestseller

To find out more about the books in my Coffeehouse Mystery series or enter my weekly Free Coffee Drawing, click this link to my virtual home at Coffeehouse

Recipe text and photos are copyright (c) 2009 by Alice Alfonsi who writes
The Coffeehouse Mysteries as Cleo Coyle with her husband, Marc Cerasini


  1. This is such a beautiful dish, Cleo! I love the idea of all the different tastes together. I'm definitely giving this a go...thanks!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. This sounds fabulous Cleo! And so festive.

  3. I think I've finally found a way to eat Brussels sprouts. Your recipes makes them look good. Thanks.

  4. I love blue cheese and this combination of flavors sounds delicious. I might go with the cranberries instead of the figs, though. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Figs are wonderful. This is a very interesting, festive combination. Sounds absolutely delicious and I'm sure it it will be a Christmas hit!

  6. What a pretty dish for the holidays!

  7. Jolly good looking dish. Haven't tasted figs cooked this way, wonder how it'll taste like.

  8. My youngest loves the sprouts. Me? Not so much.
    This dish may be our middle ground! Thanks, Cleo.

  9. You had me at Brussels Sprouts, Cleo! This one looks wonderful. I'll have to try this and maybe serve it at Christmas here this year. Fabulous pictures. I'm in.


  10. Mmmm. Brussel sprouts, bacon, figs, blue cheese, some of my favorite foods. Going to have to try this.

  11. Elizabeth, Molly, Mason, Janel, redKathy, Mother Rimmy, Cheah, Jenn, Julie, and Glenda -

    Wow! I was busy most of the AM and was thrilled to see all of your comments. Thank you! Brussels sprouts have always been a fave of mine -- I guess it's the mini-cabbage cute factor.

    I also like this side dish because there are so many layers of flavor in it. The Holiday Sprouts are so colorful and festive, they can really jazz up a plate with a more straightforward main course like roasted turkey, chicken, or beef. Just add some nice warm rolls and a glass of wine and you're all set!

    Thanks again for dropping in!

    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  12. bacon always makes everything taste better! I just love everything about this dish

  13. If this recipe doesn't make you like brussel sprouts, what would? Bacon and cheese always make things taste better.

  14. LOL, Sam! You could not be more right--bacon makes it better and cheese doth please. Thank you for stopping by and Happy Holidays to you!


  15. Excellent flavour combination, blue cheese and fruit goes so beautifully together :)

  16. What a fascinating combination of flavors. Bacon and cranberries? Never thought of it. This is a must try -- assuming I can find the figs!

    ~ Krista

  17. What a wonderful combination of flavors going on here. I love brussels and bacon for sure but never thought to add Stilton! Brilliant!

  18. Conor - Hellooooo Australia! Thank you for dropping by and leaving such a lovely comment!

    Krista - LOL! Yes! The pungent kick of the blue cheese is very nicely offset by the sweet, almost cloying taste of dried fruits like figs and cranberries. They really balance each other out when eaten together. The sprouts themselves are the neutral carrier for flavor; and the bacon provides that deep, savory "umami" base note while also giving the fat that's needed to coat the sprouts for cooking. Too much information??? Now I REALLY sound like Clare Cosi, LOL!

    Danielle - Thank you so much for the nice comment. I just checked out your blog - So Many Recipes Wonderful stuff!

    Happy Holidays!
    LIVE Coffee Drawing Every Monday! Enter at site.
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  19. Amazing dish! I love all the flavors! Congrats on making Top 9 on Foodbuzz!

    And I love this site! I have been reading about your books on other blogs and plan on picking one up to read over the holidays.