Celebrating Winter with Friends

I've missed being here so much and I can't tell you what a huge relief it is to come back here: it's a sign that my life is returning to some amount of normalcy.  I was drowning in all things NCTE and ALAN before Thanksgiving (check out the recaps here and here) and then I was on the loveliest trip ever to Anguilla for the holiday (photos forthcoming).  Christmas and ALA Midwinter are looming larger and larger on the horizon but, for right now, I'm here.  And I'm determined to enjoy this moment and not think about the rest.

Our first weekend back from the sunny beaches of Anguilla we were faced with 40-degree winter days and I thought that there wasn't a better way to brave the weather than to hole up with good friends - Jenn and Phil - and catch up on all our news.  On the menu: Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Creamy Parmesan Polenta, and Grilled Sausages.

Jenn and Phil are regulars at the Lutz table and we've settled into a nice routine where we cook and they bring dessert. Often, it's petits fours from this wonderful bakery near Jenn and Phil but, last night, it was Salted Maple Walnut Thumbprints, made by Miss J herself.  Fabulous.

Things are always crazy during conference time at work and the holidays compound that.  My blog dropped off...I didn't contribute to the holiday fair at Bug's school like I had intended...I haven't set my fantasy football teams for three weeks.  But there's always time to get together with friends, to catch up over food and drink, and to share laughs and smiles.

Eat, drink, and prioritize.

Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?

4 cups chicken stock
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground (medium)
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup creme fraiche
2 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

Place the chicken stock in a large saucepan.  Add the garlic and cook over medium-high heat until the stock comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and very slowly whisk in the cornmeal, whisking constantly to make sure there are no lumps.  Switch to a wooden spoon, add the salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring almost constantly, for 10 minutes, until thick.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan thoroughly while you're stirring.  Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, creme fraiche, and butter.  Taste for seasonings and serve hot with extra Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top. (Serves 6)

My notes: There really isn't much I need to do to Ina's recipes.  I upped the garlic to 3 cloves...and I might even go to 4 next time - I love garlic.  This was the perfect amount of polenta for four people - I don't know that I could have stretched this for six.

Nigel Slater, Real Fast Food

1 tbsp drippings or butter
1/2 cup bacon or pancetta, cut into small dice
1 lb. Brussels sprouts
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat drippings or butter in a large, shallow pan.  When it is warm, add bacon.  Shred Brussels sprouts - this can be done in minutes with a sharp knife or in seconds with the slicing disk of the food processor.  When the bacon has crisped throw in the shredded sprouts.  Salt and pepper them.  Fry the shredded sprouts till slightly golden in parts, about 3 or 4 minutes.  (Serves 2, or 4 as a side dish)

My notes: I follow this one to a T.  No need to mess with a good thing.  I use my food processor to slice the sprouts and it seriously takes just seconds.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 large egg yolks
12 ounces walnut halves
Fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt, for sprinkling (or use freshly grated nutmeg)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add 1/2 cup of maple syrup and the egg yolks, and beat until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Using a tablespoon, drop the dough, 3 inches apart, onto two baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each round of dough. Bake until the edges are just golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
While the cookies are cooling, prepare the maple glaze. Place the remaining 1/2 cup maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the syrup until reduced to about 1/3 cup, 7 to 10 minutes. Carefully spoon the glaze into the thumbprint of each cooled cookie, then place a walnut and a sprinkle of salt (or nutmeg) on top. Allow the glaze to set, at least 10 minutes, before serving.

My notes: I didn't make these, of course - Jenn did.  I believe this is the recipe she used but I'm still confirming that and finding out what changes she made, if any.  Stay tuned.


Kathie said...

It's good to have you back blogging. I've missed you!

Danette Haworth said...


That entree photo looks like it came straight from a magazine!

I looked for you in the HC photo on PW Children's Bookshelf--are you in there?

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Kathie! And here I am...not blogging again. Oy, the holidays combined with conferences just kill me!

Danette, thanks so much!!! 8-) And, yes, I am in the photo! LOL I'm one of the people kneeling in the front - I have a gray sweater on. So much fun to chill out with my colleagues!

Unknown said...

Oh, and that reminds me, Danette! I need to get you novels in verse! We have one that just got a starred review - INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN - and it's really amazing. I'll send your way!