All right, quit that snickerin' out there. Brussels sprouts are GOOD, I tell ya! No, really ...

One key, of course, is not to overcook them. As members of the cabbage family, these fellers get downright stinky if you cook them to mush. Undercooked, they're tough and chewy. But get them about right -- simmered from about five to, at the most, 10 minutes, depending on size and age -- and they're tasty treats, especially when you use them as players in a culinary orchestra rather than expecting them to do a solo act.

I got the idea of a Brussels sprout soup from the new "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups Cookbook" that I've been talking about recently, but didn't like either of its renditions, so I put away the book and came up with this light soup, which we used as a vegetable course with Christmas Eve dinner.

Peel one large carrot and slice it into very thin "coins."

About 25 minutes before dinner, bring three cups clear chicken broth to the boil and add the carrots, leaving them to cook, uncovered, at a very low simmer.

Wash and trim about 12 Brussels sprouts and cut them into thick vertical slices (about 1/3 inch thick, maybe -- three or four slices per sprout, depending on size). Wash and slice about 12 button mushrooms into slices of similar thickness.

Mince a couple of garlic cloves fine and sautee them in a little olive oil until they're golden; add the mushrooms and sautee, stirring frequently and adding a little water if necessary, until they cook down. Add the sliced B. sprouts and stir for a moment or two; then add the contents of the sautee pan to the simmering soup, timing this so they'll cook no more than the last 3 or four minutes before serving.

As I hinted in the somewhat pained orchestra metaphor above, the sprouts really gain something from their partnership with the carrots, mushrooms and garlic as well as the warming broth; the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts, and as long as you don't overcook it, the bright green sprouts and bright orange carrot slices look mighty fine on the table, too.