Thursday, December 29, 2011

The best December holiday meal ever

Holiday meals can be a challenge when both vegetarians and carnivores gather around the festive table.  We want everyone to feel nourished, and a meal centering on a ham or a cut of beef isn't necessarily going to do that.

On Thanksgiving, we have turkey, sure, but the vegetarians get a vegan field roast and all the veggies they can eat.

The Christmas meal is usually more of a wild card.

This year, inspired by a grits bar at a family wedding in Birmingham, Alabama, I decided that our holiday meal would feature a polenta bar.  The base:  savory polenta, a recipe from my friend Joan Cooney.  The toppings:  Mediterranean chicken, garlicky greens, roasted carrots and parsnips with lemon and nutmeg, and eggplant stew, a recipe devised by our unofficially adopted fourth daughter Meg Furniss Weisberg.  To start things off, a salad of shaved  Brussels sprouts.  To finish, forgotten cookies and peppermint bark.

It was the best December holiday meal ever.

The recipes:

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Fresh Walnuts and Pecorino
Gourmet | October 2005
Adapted from Jonathan Waxman

1 1/2 lb Brussels sprouts (preferably on the stalk), any discolored leaves discarded and stems left intact 1 cup walnuts (3 1/2 oz), lightly toasted 2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano, or to taste 1/4 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Special equipment: an adjustable-blade slicer

Holding each Brussels sprout by stem end, cut into very thin slices using slicer.
Toss in a bowl to separate layers.
2 of 2
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Fresh Walnuts and Pecorino (continued)
Lightly crush walnuts with your hands and add to Brussels sprouts along with cheese, oil, and lemon juice, then toss to combine.
Season with pepper. 

From our friend Joan Cooney
2 T olive oil
3/4 c finely chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
1 c coarse ground cornmeal
3 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 oz grated parmesan
In a large, oven-safe saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the red onion and salt and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.  
Turn the heat up to high, add the stock, bring to a boil.  Gradually add the cornmeal while continuing whisking.  Once you have added all the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven.  Cook 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps.  Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper.  Once they are incorporated, add the parmesan.

Mediterranean Chicken

Bon Appétit  | March 2004

yield: Makes 8 servings


  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 8 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 1/2 pounds
  • 1 1/2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms (such as oyster, crimini, and stemmed shiitake), sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled butter
  • 1 cup teardrop tomatoes (red and yellow
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • Caper berries, halved (optional)


Preheat oven to 200°F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, add chicken to skillet. Cook until brown and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to ovenproof plate and place in oven to keep warm. Discard oil from skillet.
Add 3 tablespoons oil to same skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until wilted and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add broth; boil until almost all liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add olives, plum tomatoes, garlic, shallot, and capers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 7 minutes. Add butter; stir until melted. Mix in teardrop tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon mushroom mixture over chicken. Sprinkle parsley and pine nuts over. Garnish with caper berries, if desired, and serve.
Market tip: Capers are flower buds from the caper bush, and caper berries are the fruit. They are about the size of an olive, and are usually pickled and sold in jars. They can be found at Italian markets, specialty foods stores, and some supermarkets. 

Roast Carrots and Parsnips with Lemon and Nutmeg
From Yankee magazine, date unknown
1-1/2 lbs parsnips
1-1/2 lbs carrots
3 T butter
Shredded zest of 2 lemons (about 1-1/2 T)
1/2 tsp salt
Several scrapings of fresh nutmeg
1 T lemon juice, or to taste

Peel the parsnips and carrots and cut them into chunks about 2-1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch around.  Don't worry about the pointy ends; they just get a little crisper.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the butter on a large cookie sheet with sides and put it in the oven long enough to melt.  Put the vegetables on the sheet and roll them around until all are coated with butter, then sprinkle on the lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg.
Roast the vegetables, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until they are well-browned, about 45 minutes.  Turn them into a large bowl, stir in the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings.

Meg's Eggplant Stew for Polenta
From our unofficially adopted fourth daughter, Meg Furniss-Weisberg
2 eggplants
Olive oil
Garlic, chopped
Hot pepper flakes
2 large cans chopped tomatoes (28 to 35 oz), preferably Muir Glen fire-roasted
Cube eggplants and toss in oil.  Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.  While the eggplants are roasting, saute garlic and hot pepper flakes in olive oil.  Add 2 large cans chopped tomatoes.  When the eggplant is done, add to the tomatoes, adjust the seasonings, and serve over polenta.

Garlicky Greens
I bunch kale
Chopped garlic
Olive oil
Wash the kale and remove the stems.  Cut kale leaves crosswise into strips. Heat olive oil and saute garlic in it.  Add kale, a few pieces at a time, tossing to coat with the oil and garlic.  As kale cooks down, add more leaves.  When all the kale is in the pan and has been tossed with the oil, add about half a cup of water to the pan, turn down the heat, and cook 5 minutes

Forgotten Cookies
From our friend Diana Rafferty
Makes 3-4 dozen

2 eggs
3/4 c sugar
6 oz chocolate chips
1 c chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350
Separate eggs and beat the whites with a pinch of salt. Add sugar gradually.  Beat until stiff.  Fold in chocolate chips and pecans.  Stir well.  Drop by teaspoons onto foil-covered cookie sheet. Place in preheated oven.  TURN OVEN OFF.  Leave cookies in oven overnight.  Do not open oven until morning. 

Peppermint Bark
From Martha Stewart Living, date unknown
Makes 2-1/4 lbs bark

2 lbs white chocolate
12 candy canes
1/2 tsp natural peppermint flavoring (i.e., not dyed green)

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water.  Place candy canes in a plastic bag, and with a blunt weapon of your choice,  crush into 1/4 inch pieces. Stir candy canes and peppermint flavoring into melted chocolate.  Remove from heat and pour onto an 11 x 17 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Chill until firm.

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