roasted maple Brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts

I hope everyone had a lovely and restful Thanksgiving!  Mine was very nice, though went by far too quickly as it always does.  The good news is I will be reliving the holiday in my posts in the coming weeks as I share the recipes and pictures from my meal, starting with this dish.

I knew I wanted to incorporate chestnuts into the meal somehow, partially because I’ve always been intrigued by them and partially because I wanted to right the wrong I made several years ago when I cooked them with acorn squash but neglected to peel them before serving…  No one knew quite what to do with them but gamely attempted to crack them with their teeth and get to the meat in the center.  Oops.  This year I roasted them and then peeled them before taking any further steps.

Scoring the chestnuts with an x on the flat part and then roasting dry on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes did the trick.  The shells started to peel back making it easy to get the meaty centers out.  Lesson learned.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without Brussels sprouts, at least not at my house.  There have been a few years that I haven’t made them in favor of something other green-vegetable sidedish and there were complaints, so this year I brought a new iteration of them back to the table.

In this version, pancetta is pan-fried with a little olive oil and then tossed with the Brussels sprouts and pre-shelled chestnuts.  I added a little extra olive oil to the ordeal so that they didn’t dry out and then generously salted and peppered them and roasted them for about 20 minutes in the oven.  After they’re done roasting you toss them with a little maple syrup and serve.  They were a big hit, even with the children at the table and who ever heard of kids eating their Brussels sprouts?!

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts (recipe by Laura Pensiero, found in House Beautiful magazine)

  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts, approximately ¾ pound in shell (substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired)
  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered, if large)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roasting removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using the tip of a knife, cut a small X in the flat side of their outer shell, then spread them out on a baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside the chestnuts.

Heat the olive oil in a large (approximately three- to four-quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until it renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add the chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook for about one minute. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, for about two minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out into one slightly overlapping layer. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the upper third of the oven, stirring once halfway through until the vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup, and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking pan, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits. Return pan to oven and cook another five minutes. Serve hot or warm, family-style, in a festive bowl.

tips for a successful holiday party

‘Tis the season to invite friends, family, and coworkers into your home to celebrate the season.  I did just that this past Saturday and thought it might be helpful for those of you who will be doing the same in the coming weeks to learn from my mistakes via a few helpful tips…

1. You are not Martha Stewart and any attempts to recreate the beautiful and festive scenes that grace the pages of her magazine would be pure folly.  She has teams of people who make it look perfect.  You have a full-time job and limited time and resources.  Furthermore, no one is expecting you to be Martha Stewart so stop expecting it of yourself.

I did well to get the holiday table set early in the day before all of the food was done and long before guests arrived.  Granted, I wasn’t able to buy the adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth I had seen at an antique store before Thanksgiving because by the time I went back someone else with (clearly) impeccable taste had already snagged it.  (Note: when you see something you love in an antique/secondhand/thrift store, buy it right away.  Even if you think $30 is a little steep for an adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth with matching napkins, but are later reminded that even at Target or TJMaxx you will be charged $30 for a cheaply-constructed new tablecloth with an inferior design and then kick yourself for being a cheapskate in the first place.)  So I had to settle for my second favorite antique store tablecloth with giant gaudy poinsettias and pom pom fringe.  It worked.  I also planned to make cute little placecards for all of the food and beverages so guests would know what they were partaking in.  Ran out of time.  It happens to the best of us.

2. If people offer to bring food, let them.

I have a tendency to want to do everything myself.  Bad idea.  Let people bring something!  It’s great because it means less dishes for you to make and also might expose you and your guests to a wonderful type of food you’ve never had before.  Or it just might make your food seem even better in comparison. 🙂

3. Pick places to take shortcuts.  Rather than making all dishes from scratch why not buy a few ready-to-serve options like nice olives, a variety of cheeses for a simple cheese plate, and crackers?  Yes.  Totally do that.

I had visions of making six different appetizers and three desserts.  I realized that wasn’t so much going to happen when it was 1pm and guests were arriving in six hours and I had just gotten home with groceries.  So I wound up making the three desserts, made four of the appetizers, sent my trusty helper out to buy pre-made (gasp!) vegetable dip rather than the carmelized onion variety I had planned to make, and when three guests arrived exactly on time (who does that?) and offered to help I put them to work.  There’s no shame in it!  People like to help!

4.  Have great beverage options, preferably of the booze-variety.

Even my non-alcoholic beverage of the evening (spiced cider) got spiked by the end of the night.  It was a great time for all.

I am sharing the four appetizer recipes I made– bonus post today!  The irony is that three of the four recipes came from Martha Stewart publications… Maybe I was a little closer to channeling her for my party than I thought…

Rosemary Roasted Nuts (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Herbed Flatbread (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and hands
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary or thyme (or a combination)

Place water in a medium bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, oil, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and the sugar. Stir until dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces; cover with plastic wrap. Roll out 1 piece to roughly 4 by 10 inches on a lightly floured surface; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sea salt and herbs. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 4 pieces per sheet.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until crisp and golden, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool on sheets on a wire rack.

Cook’s Note: Crackers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Baked Brie

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into fourths and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • 1 round (15 oz) Brie cheese
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts, slivered almonds, or walnuts
  • Crackers

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in 10 inch skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion in butter 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cranberries, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and caramelized.  Lightly brush ovenproof plate with oil.  Place cheese on center of plate.  Bake uncovered 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is soft and partially melted.  Spoon onion topping over cheese.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Serve with crackers.

Pancetta Wrapped Figs (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
  • 12 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and cut into      1/2-inch-thick strips

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Add figs, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, to bring to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer figs to a cutting board using a slotted spoon; cut in half. Wrap a pancetta strip around each half. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Bake until pancetta is browned, about 30 minutes. Secure each with a toothpick. Serve warm.

the right stuff

You could say that Thanksgiving is all about the turkey but let’s be real here: it’s really all about the stuffing.  Hands down stuffing is the best part of the whole meal and definitely everyone’s favorite leftover.  (Right?  I’m not alone here, am I?)

I used to be more of purist when it came to stuffing and always made the traditional kind with breadcrumbs, onions, celery, sage, etc. and then I branched out and did a cornbread version.  Last year I got real crazy and added sausage, apples, and dried currants.  Somebody stop me!

If you’ve been a reader of Baxter and Main for even a short while you have probably noticed my affinity for all things bacon so when I saw a recipe for stuffing with pancetta (which is essentially Italian bacon) I could not pass it up.  The fact that it also included chestnuts which is an ingredient I have only begun to experiment with was just icing on the cake.

This stuffing also has prunes which add a nice sweetness and probably help balance out some of the not-so-good-for-you ingredients (see image above of pancetta frying in butter…)

The recipe called for canned chestnuts which were not so easy to find in Madison, Wisconsin.  I tried three different grocery stores before winding up at the LARGEST grocery store I have ever seen in my life (it rivals a suburban Wal-Mart in square footage with maybe a Kmart thrown in for good measure) where I spent a good half hour seeking them out.  Would they be near canned vegetables?  No.  With nuts?  Naw.  In the ethnic food section?  Nope, weren’t there either.  Turns out they get shelved next to the canned pie filling.  Wha-wha-what?  Yeah, that’s what I said.

However, the long search for the canned chestnuts was well worth it as the stuffing was delish.  A very strong contender for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, indeed.

Chestnut, Prune, and Pancetta Stuffing (found at www.epicurious.com)

Yield: Serves 12
Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 2 hr

  • 1 (1 1/2-lb) sourdough loaf, cut into 1/3-inch dice (18 cups)
  • 1 lb coarsely chopped pancetta slices (about 3 cups)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 3 cups chopped celery (5 to 6 ribs)
  • 4 cups chopped onions (2 large)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 (7- to 8-oz) jars peeled cooked whole chestnuts, halved (4 cups)
  • 3/4 lb pitted prunes (2 cups), quartered
  • 5 cups turkey stock , heated to liquefy, or reduced-sodium chicken broth (40 fl oz)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

Scatter bread in a single layer in 2 large shallow baking pans (17 by 12 inches) and toast, stirring once or twice and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden and dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a very large bowl.

Cook pancetta in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Add butter and heat until melted, then add celery and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 12 minutes. Stir in sage, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute.  Add pancetta mixture along with chestnuts and prunes to bowl containing bread. Whisk together stock and eggs, then stir into bread mixture until combined well. Transfer to baking dish (stuffing will mound above dish).

Bake, loosely covered with a buttered sheet of foil (buttered side down) 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake until top is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Cooks’ notes:
•Stuffing, without stock-and-egg mixture, can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Stir in stock mixture, then proceed with recipe.
•Stuffing can be baked 6 hours ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, loosely covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 400°F oven until hot, about 30 minutes.