wild mushroom and chestnut brioche stuffing with fresh sage

November 15th, 2012

wild mushroom and chestnut brioche stuffing with fresh sage

This is a rich and flavorful stuffing. Instead of using animal fat
as a tenderizer (additional melted butter, bacon, or sausage) this stuffing gets
its moisture from lowfat milk. The autumn flavors comes from well-browned,
earthy mushrooms and fresh sage and thyme. To make things easy for yourself on
Thanksgiving Day, you can prepare the stuffing in advance and bake it on Thanksgiving Day.


serves 8-10

what you need:
1 loaf or 4-5 large buns (5 heaping cups) quality brioche, cut into ½ – 1” cubes 1 ¼cup lowfat milk
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf and 1 cluster of sage leaves)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves 8-10 fresh thyme stems, stripped Read the rest of this entry »

my garbure

January 26th, 2012

Garbure or stone soup

Peasant stew.  Fit for a king and royally good: 
my garbure

This month second graders all across America are reading as many books as they can that have been awarded the Caldecott Honor.  One of my favorite Caldecott books is Stone Soup by Marcia Brown. The book is about three hungry soldiers who convince (or trick) a town of peasants to make soup from stones (and other on-hand, but hidden, ingredients). The effort culminates in a soup that the peasants declare is “fit for a king.” While we are not making soup from stones, the ability to make a simple yet hearty soup with on-hand ingredients (and a few seasonal vegetables which I consider under-used but easily obtainable) is the inspiration for this week’s simple pleasure, my garbure. Read the rest of this entry »

giving thanks 6 ways

November 17th, 2011

Those who took the “be a 10” challenge (October 6, 2011 post) received 6 Thanksgiving side dish recipes for their $10 donation. It is not too late. If you would like to receive recipes for:

wild mushroom and brioche stuffing with chestnuts and fresh sage

wild mushroom and brioche stuffing with chestnuts and fresh sage

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duck, duck, tart: duck and kale savory tartlet with black chanterelles, fresh sage and thyme

November 11th, 2011

Duck Tart

duck, duck, tart: 
duck and kale savory tartlet with black chanterelles, fresh sage and thyme 

“Duck, duck, goose…” On a recent return from France I sat next to a man from Toulouse and our conversation began by discussing ducks and geese, although in the culinary-sense, not related to the childhood game. It was an natural topic of conversation because Toulouse is well-known for its ducks and geese and boasts regional specialities such as foie gras, cassoulet, and garbure. The temperature has finally caught up with the calendar and everyone is craving comfort food. My transatlantic conversation (and the fact that it is duck season) inspired this week’s simple pleasure: duck and kale savory tartlets with black chanterelles, fresh sage, and thyme. Comfort food, redefined. Read the rest of this entry »

Bœuf de Noël

December 24th, 2010

Bœuf de Noël

Every year a number of home-cooks try their hand at creating the French classic Bûche de Noël (also known as the Yule log or Christmas log).  The Bûche de Noël signifies the European tradition of placing a Yule log on the fire during the Christmas holidays.  The Bûche de Noël, an edible rendition of a yule log, is a génoise sheet cake covered with buttercream.   The cake is then rolled,  creating a swirling pattern of cake and buttercream visible from the sides.  The rolled cake is covered with frosting, scored to create tree bark appearance, and decorated with marzipan mushrooms and sometimes marzipan holly leaves.   This week’s simple pleasure takes the theme and techniques of a Bûche de Noël and applies them to the savory side.  Instead of a dessert, we are making the main course.

Bœuf de Noël (not a French tradition but my own play on words) is a beef tenderloin, butterflied to a thickness of one inch, covered with a delicate chestnut and fresh herb stuffing, rolled, and then enclosed and roasted in puff pastry dough.  You can dress up the dish by adding foie gras or wild boar sausage to the stuffing.  Truffles can be also added (either to the stuffing, the sauce, or sliced and sautéed and served with the mushrooms);   however, the recipe is written with just the basic ingredients (but if you have these specialty items on hand, use them!)  The idea is similar to France’s rôti de boeuf en croûte (roasted beef in pastry) or England’s Beef Wellington (a popular dish in the 1960’s), except this recipe uses the French preparation technique of roulade (basically stuffing and rolling a food) as well as the en croûte method (to enclose a food in dough) and it resembles the Bûche de Noël in spirit.

In addition to the woodsy flavors (sage, thyme, chestnuts), this main course looks like a yule log.  The puff pastry is scored to create the appearance of bark.  You can also add “tree limbs” by rolling smaller bits of puff pastry and attaching them to the “trunk” (let your imagination be your guide for this).  When you slice into the tenderloin, there is not only the pastry puff layers (the “bark”), but the swirling patten of the stuffing and the meat, resembling the tree’s rings.  Instead of marzipan mushrooms, sautéed whole small brown mushrooms (combined with wild mushrooms if you like) are served on the side to complete the yule log.  A thyme-port reduction sauce is a perfect compliment to the stuffing, meat, and the pastry.

While the dish may sound a little complicated, it is not.  Cut.  Stuff.  Roll.  Roast.  This is a great dish for a holiday dinner because it is special enough that your guests will not see it every day yet it is simple for the host because the majority of it can be ahead of time.  On the day of your dinner, all you have to do is roast the meat and prepare the sauce while the meat is in the oven and then resting.  You can make this dish with a less expensive cut of meat (such as a flank steak); however,  the tenderloin is the better choice because the delicate, tender cut pairs best with the puff pastry, the smooth sauce, and the fine-textured stuffing.  Turkey breast also works, but  I imagine most people are tired of turkey after Thanksgiving.

A couple of ingredient and production notes.  While I usually advocate making everything from scratch, you only need one sheet of puff pastry for this recipe so if you do not have it on hand, it can be purchased  in the freezer section of your grocery store or speciality food store.  There are actually some decent puff pastry doughs out there (although there are some bad ones too). Buy a quality puff pastry, defrost it in the refrigerator, and make sure that it is not too thick (roll it with a rolling pin if it is).  Also, make sure the pastry dough is cold but pliable when you wrap it around the meat.  Once you have wrapped the meat, return the entire thing to the refrigerator for about 15 minutes (although you can do this the day before and put it in the refrigerator overnight).

You want to make sure the meat is cooked correctly and that the puff pastry is golden brown and and not doughy or soggy.  The latter I find to be the biggest trouble spot.   According to Harold McGee, about 75% of a meat’s weight is water and as meat cooks, the meat firms up, squeezing out the  moisture.   This water (the juice) has to go somewhere so even a barrier between the pastry and the meat (i.e., prosciutto or pâté) will not eliminate the moisture factor.   I find that the best way to deal with this is to minimize it: (1) use a thin layer of quality pastry dough and do not overlap it; (2) score the dough to allow heat to penetrate the pastry dough, (3) bake the log on a wire rack to allow the oven heat to surround the log (I also make some fork piercings in the bottom of the dough as an escape route for cummulative moisture);  and (4) start the oven off at a high temperature, even though you have already browned it in a skillet, which will allow pastry to rise better and turn some moisture into steam.    Also, if the meat is not too big (if you roast only 1 pound instead of 2), you can turn it on its side  when it cools so any draining juice will not sit on the bottom of the puff pastry.

Lastly, the meat should be taken out of the oven when it registers 130 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer.  This will give you medium/medium-rare meat that is still pink in the middle which is what you want.   Normally, I would suggest taking it out at a much lower temperature but the enclosing the meat in pastry artificially raises the temperature of the meat (and also prevents it from cooking as it would without the pastry around it).

Serve this dish with simple roast winter vegetables (see companion post) or a creamy winter soup.  Below I have included the recipe for the thyme-port sauce as well as sautéed mushrooms to go with the Bœuf de Noël.

Whether you make a Bûche de Noël or a Bœuf de Noël (or both),  je vous souhaite un bon appétit et je vous souhaite un très Joyeux Noël  du fond de mon coeur (and I wish you a very Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart).


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roasted brussels sprouts and chestnuts

December 24th, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts and chestnuts

serves: 6-8

what you need:

1/2 cup lardon or pancetta, cubed
1 pound brussels sprouts, halved
12 chestnuts, steamed and halved (shells and skins removed)
olive oil (as needed)
kosher salt (as needed)
freshly ground black pepper (as needed)

how to:

  • Prepare Chestnuts.  Cut in half.
  • Partially Cook Lardon or Pancetta.  In a cast iron skillet (or in the microwave on paper towels), cook the pancetta or lardon until  the meat has pinked up.  Do not cook all the way and do not cook until crispy.  Drain on paper towels.  This step is merely to eliminate the majority of the animal fat.
  • Prepare Brussels Sprouts.  Wash and dry brussels sprouts.  Cut in half lengthwise.  Add to bowl with chestnuts.  Add drained pancetta or lardon.
  • Coat With Oil.  Coat the brussels sprouts and chestnuts lightly with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Place in a baking dish.
  • Roast. Roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Use a wooden spoon to toss the brussels sprouts, chestnuts, and meat to ensure even cooking.   Cook until the brussels sprouts are slightly browned and some of the edges are crisp.