Cooking With the Crystals

The Northside Sun
June 2010

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Soon after Bucky and Holly Crystal began dating, they discovered a shared passion for cooking.  When recalling the first time her future husband cooked dinner for her, Holly remembers him going above and beyond her expectations.  “I walked in and here is this beautiful roast chicken.  I was very impressed!”

Both Holly and Bucky credit their family as the primary influence for their love of cooking.  Growing up, Holly describes her mother as a “Good Housekeeping” mother.  “I remember other kids at school telling me they were having hamburgers for dinner and I would be so jealous.  A normal week night dinner at my house was beef stroganoff or coq au vin,” laughs Holly.  “It was a rare occasion that we ate out.  I definitely did not appreciate the trouble she went through when I was younger, but I do now.”

Bucky also credits his love of cooking to his mother in addition to Velma, the Crystal’s housekeeper when he was growing up.  “She made the world’s best fried chicken!”

Holly, who is originally from Kentucky, graduated from Mississippi State University and currently works as a paralegal for Brunini Law Firm in Jackson.  Bucky is a Mississippi native who graduated from Belhaven College and now works for Rockett, Inc., in Flowood.  He is currently working towards his MBA at Millsaps College.  The couple eloped to Big Sur, CA, in 2005.  Later that same year, they purchased their London Avenue home and began renovations three years ago.

As soon as guests enter the front door of the Crystal’s split level ranch house, they are greeted by the Crystal’s three dogs – Sierra, Callie, and Lulu.  Callie, an English Spaniel who loves to play “catch,” will plop down beside your chair, ball in mouth, and gaze at you with sad eyes until you agree to play.  In the background, the Crystal’s usually have a eclectic collection of tunes playing, which may include a little Phish, Son Volt, and Wilco.

To accommodate their tasty hobby, the Crystals completely remodeled the small galley kitchen that came with the house.  The kitchen now has an open floor plan and cozy seating area where Bucky and Holly can sit and flip through their large collection of cookbooks.  “I really like cookbooks with pictures,” Holly says.  “Beautiful pictures and how the food is presented is what sells the book for me.”  Holly’s favorite cookbook at the moment is Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes by Jeanne Kelley.  Bucky, a barbeque enthusiast, finds himself turning to The Barbeque Bible by Steven Raichlen.  Also displayed prominently on their kitchen counter is Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.

The kitchen’s most unusual feature is a modern black AGA range that resembles something your grandmother used to use.   The England-based company produces cast iron cookers coated in a hard enamel surface to produce a long-lasting, scratch and fade resistant appliance. “We had read about AGA stoves in several cooking magazines. We never thought we’d get one as typically they are enormous and require a structural engineer to survey your house prior to installing it,” explains Holly.  “The one we have is their newer, smaller model. We were drawn to it mainly for the configuration of the ovens and burners and that it is a dual fuel [gas burners/electric oven] stove.”

Holly starts the meal with an appetizer of Boursin cheese, thinned with a little half and half, mixed with chives and piped into fresh green endive leaves.  The creamy cheese provides just the right balance to the bitter endive and you find yourself unable to pop just one.  Next is a salad of butter lettuce topped with sliced apples and manchego cheese.  The salad is completed with a vinaigrette made with olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, sherry wine vinegar, and minced shallots.

The main course on tonight’s menu is smoked pheasant marinated in herbs and bourbon.  Before completing renovations on their house, the Crystals added an outdoor kitchen area featuring a large gas grill and Big Green Egg.  Once a year, Bucky makes a hunting trip to South Dakota, so it isn’t unusual for their freezer to be stocked with pheasant.  “Pheasant can be tricky to cook because it has a tendency to dry out very quickly,” explains Bucky.  “I enjoy experimenting with a lot of different cooking techniques.”

On the side, Holly prepares wild mushroom risotto with shitake and porcini mushrooms, and roasted Brussels sprouts.  Before turning up your nose at this leafy little wild cabbage, give Holly’s recipe a try.  Sautéed with bacon and shallots and topped with brown sugar, this recipe will turn the taste buds of even the most die hard Brussels sprout opponents.   For dessert, Holly arranges slices of fresh Anjou pears over a sheet of puff pastry.  She then folds up the corners and bakes in a 350 degree oven for twenty minutes.  She serves each slice with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and drizzles a thin sauce of Riesling wine, sugar, and water over top.

Bucky and Holly enjoy trying quirky new recipes together, particularly Thai food.  Holly also finds herself making a lot of comfort foods and soups. Because the couple enjoys entertaining, friends and family often benefit from the Crystal’s love of cooking.  Comments Holly, “It’s not unusual for us to prepare a whole meal and then invite people over to try it out.  Our friends don’t mind being guinea pigs!”

Holly’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts Caramelized Shallots

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ounce finely chopped bacon or pancetta
  • 4 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vermouth or cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 400°.  Arrange Brussels sprouts on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray.  Drizzle with oil; toss to coat.  Bake at 400° for 15 minutes.  Add shallots, pepper, salt, and pancetta to pan; toss well.  Bake at400° for 10 minutes.  Add sugar and vermouth; toss to coat.  Bake an additional 10 minutes or until caramelized.