March 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Brussels sprout french fries(ish), and what are your frozen veggie tricks?

Frozen Brussels sprouts take on fried-like qualities with a high-heat roast. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Lately, I find there are two things I cook weekly: my beloved Slow-Cooker Steel-Cut Oats with Cashew Butter and Banana I told you about a couple of weeks back (there’s some finishing up as I write now, filling the kitchen with delighful warm smells of nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon) and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Wait — this isn’t going to be one of those time-consuming recipes using just-out-of-season sprouts (or as my friend Amy calls them, “bitter little cabbages”). It’s a fast, easy way to convert them into sweet/crispy little treats and make your kitchen smell like french fries, and an opportunity to ask you about your frozen veggie tricks.

Yes, I use frozen Brussels sprouts for this hearty side dish — even when they’re in season (what can I say, I love the ease of zero-prep; for you fresh-devotees, though, I should mention this method works fine with those, too). I cover a sheet-pan with foil and cooking spray, dump 36 ounces of sprouts on the sheet (three Kroger brand bags, or two Meijer), coat the veggies with cooking spray, sprinkle them liberally with fine sea salt and sprinkle them normally with lemon pepper, and throw them in the oven at 400 degrees.

They’re best taken out and shaken to expose different sides to the pan (they brown best where they touch) after 45 minutes, then staying in another half hour to 45 minutes max, depending on the size (the smaller, the shorter the cook time, of course). You get to where it’s kind of a nose thing; you can tell when your home fills with just the right roasted smell that they’re good to go, and the method’s somewhat forgiving (10 minutes either way won’t kill ’em) and preference-based (like with fries, some people like them crispier than others). They can loiter in a warm, turned-off oven a while after that if you’re eating them right away (they’re good cold, too, I think).

The sprouts come out crispy on the outside, sweetly soft on the inside. They’re incredible dipped in a tablespoon of Chipotle Ranch salad dressing (I like Olde Cape Cod brand, though I’d like to experiment with making my own); my friend Dana, from whom I got the idea and who also avoids sugar and honey and the like, used to make a faux-honey mustard dip for them with a little Splenda in place of honey.

The best part might be the smell. Sundays, my husband and I try to do a day of rest (well, after church, and until the toddler wakes up post-nap — so an afternoon of rest?). Anyway, for that post-nap time we spend a little three-of-us time together, then my husband and I take turns with our son so the other can choose to do something. Lately, I’ve been meeting with some nearby friends for about an hour of my choose-what-I-do time. So I pop the Brussels sprouts in the oven (and how my son loves to help me dump the “balls” on the baking sheet and sprinkle the seasonings along with me), set a timer for my husband to shake ’em for me after 45 minutes, and come home to a house that smells fantastic.

Dana, meanwhile, has mostly moved on from the sprouts to a frozen broccoli roast. In her words: YUM YUM YUM. Spray Pam on sheet pan, throw frozen broc on, spray generously with Pam, sprinkle with sea salt (or Goya, my personal fav) and Lemon Pepper. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I go for one hour as the florets become crunchy. I like to use part of my salad dressing portion to drizzle over the broccoli. Especially Meijer's buttermilk ranch dressing.

Since then, she has made it with garlic instead of lemon pepper and says both ways are great. (I’ve made it myself and agree, although unlike with the Brussels sprouts, I wouldn’t recommend leftover roasted broccoli cold.) Inspired by Dana, I’ve been thinking of trying some other frozen vegetable roasts — like a California medley tossed in Mojo Criollo, a favorite citrus-garlic marinade. Hmm.

But for now, the Brussels sprouts are, believe it or not, what I look forward to EVERY Sunday night, when I get home from my meeting, and every Wednesday night (my stay-at-home-mom day, when I enjoy the leftovers straight from the fridge; I like how they get a little chewy cold). I love them with my rice cakes and cashew butter, and a nice salad. This menu really is my treat; there are no meals I look forward to more or schedule more regularly these days.

I can’t promise they’ll be a hit with everyone — you may recall I shared them with Amy during our visit, among other experiments, and this was the one thing she didn’t like — and I saw another Brussels sprout-hating friend politely and discreetly remain unconverted after she tried them post my hard-sell. But most people I’ve talked into giving them a shot go back for seconds — which is about the only tell you can count on for whether people really love ’em.

Do you have any frozen vegetable tricks to share? We’d love to hear about it them in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions in the next few days. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!

You need to shake the Brussels sprouts about 45 minutes into cooking; ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
I like them quite crispy myself (though I can go too far too). Sometimes I ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)