cooking. baking. recipes. eating out.

cooking. baking. recipes. home economics. eating out.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Spectacular Christmas Dinner

This Christmas dinner is nothing short of a decadent, indulgent, rich feast. It incorporates so many wonderful food elements of the holiday season that just reading the menu makes one's mouth water. This meal is actually much easier to prepare and serve than it looks. You simply need to be prepared and think through the meal beforehand. I made and served this meal without help, so it can be done, and still had enough energy for church and presents and all that good stuff. Also, the first two courses are the only courses requiring much work. You see, aside from the spicy dates, the starters simply require being arranged on a platter. The same goes for the cheeses and the desserts. Because there are so many courses, you will want to offer small portions.

Below is the menu of what we had and the recipes for the soup and the veal. The recipe for the salad is already on this blog. I always order my buche de Noel, when in Chicago, from Bittersweet Bakery. They make a beautiful, generous buches de Noel and also stunning croquembouches.

Pate de Foie Gras Truffe
Toast Points
Rolled Prosciutto
Dalmatia Fig Spread
Spicy Sauteed Dates

Soup Course:
Perigord Black Winter Truffle Soup

Plat Principal:
Rolled Veal Tenderloin with Morel Mousse
Carrots Vichy
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Salad Course:
Herb Salad

Cheese Course:
Selection of three goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses

Buche de Noel
Petit Fours

Perigord Winter Truffle Soup

This recipe, and the recipe for the veal, are adapted from Cooking for Madam.

Multiply this recipe as needed.

5 ounces raw chicken breast meat
1 cup homemade chicken stock

Poach the chicken breast in the stock for 10 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes then cut into 1/4" dice.

1 teaspoon olive oil
5 Tablespoons freshly peeled, minced carrots
2 Tablespoons freshly minced celery
6 Tablespoons freshly minced mushrooms, any kind
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Thyme flowers

Coat the inside of a small saucepan with the olive oil and heat it. Add the diced carrots and cook, covered, over medium heat for 3 minutes then add the diced celery. Cook for 3 minutes then add the mushrooms and cook 3 minutes. The vegetables should cook 9 minutes in all, covered. The idea is to have the vegetables give up their juices, not to brown. Add the salt and pepper and a pinch of thyme flowers.

1 fresh Perigord Black Truffle (available at fine food stores such as Fox & Obel)
3 cups chicken stock
few drops of truffle oil

Using a truffle shaver, slice the whole truffle very thin. In a small saucepan, heat the stock, truffles and truffle oil over a low heat.

4 sheets phyllo pastry, or puff pastry
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg yolk, beaten

While the vegetables are cooking heat the oven to 450F. Lay out one of the layers of pastry on a counter top. Use a pastry brush to paint it with melted butter. Fold the pastry in half and paint again, then do it one more time. Use a tureen as a pattern, and cut a circle of pastry an inch bigger than the opening. Repeat with the other three pieces of pastry.

Place a spoonful of the mirepoix vegetables in the bottom of each tureen and a quarter of the chicken breast meat. Add 3/4 cup of stock (divide the truffles evenly among the tureens). Brush the rims of the pastry circles with the beaten egg yolk and press the pastry, yolk side down, over the tops of the tureens, using the egg to seal the edges tightly.

Set the tureens on a jelly roll sheet and place them in the over. They will cook very fast. The pastry will expand and turn golden and when that happens, they're done. The aroma when you first break through the crust is amazing!

Rolled Veal Tenderloin with Morel Mousse

You will need to find a good butcher in order to find a veal tenderloin. They are not common at grocery stores. Whole Foods said they couldn't even order them. However, Paulina Meat Market did have them and they were perfect. For this recipe, the tenderloin needs to be butterflied. Unless you are especially skilled with meat this should be done by the butcher. Just explain what you are doing with the tenderloin and for the veal to be butterflied. A good butcher will know what to do.

10 ounces ground veal, preferably tenderloin
1 shallot, finely chopped
6 dried morels, soaked, lightly rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 egg white
1/4 cup heavy cream

Place the veal, shallot and morels in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Add salt and pepper then the egg white and cream and pulse until the mixture is smooth. You want it really moussey. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until you need it.

2 pound eye of veal loin, completely trimmed and butterflied
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
10-15 large spinach leaves, washed and dried
1/2 cup coarsely chopped small white turnps
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onions
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 ounce dried morels, soaked in hot water, overnight
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups homemade veal or chicken stock
1 teaspoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat 450F. Open the veal out flat on the counter and season the inside with kosher salt and pepper. Lay large spinach leaves down the natural crease along the center of the veal. Spread the mousse over the spinach, making sure that the mousse covers only the middle section of the loin. Cover the mousse with the remaining spinach so it is completely encased in spinach. Roll the loin up carefully so the mousse stays in place, then tie kitchen string around the roll every couple inches.

Place the turnips, onions, carrots and garlic in a roasting pan with the rolled loin on top. Roast for 20 minutes then lower the heat to 375F and roast another 15 - 25 minutes, or til mousse is set.

While the meat is roasting, drain the morels through a double layer of cheesecloth. Save the liquid they were soaking in. Wash the mushrooms well and set them aside. Remove the meat from the oven and keep it warm on a covered platter. Leave the vegetables in the roasting pan. Put the roasting pan with the vegetables still in it over a burner. Pour in the white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the little bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape the contents of the pan in a saucepan - with the cooked vegetables, too. Add 1 1/2 cups of the stock and the reserved morel soaking water. If that is skimpy, add more stock. Cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups. Strain it through a fine seive, discard the vegetables and set the sauce aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and lightly saute the shallots. Add the morels and the cream, stirring over low heat until thickened. Stir constantly to keep the mixture smooth, as you slowly add the sauce base. Serve immediately with the sliced veal. Serves 8.

The cheese course looked like this...

The buche de Noel looked like this...

The drinks looked like this...

Here is the Christmas tree before dinner and the opening of presents...

Now, onward to 2012!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread House

I love making a gingerbread house! I have made this one every year since I found a recipe online at Here is the link. It is the best gingerbread house recipe I have seen. It is thorough and step-by-step and comes with pattern pieces you can print out and then use to cut the walls and roof of your house.
The question I am asked most often about gingerbread houses is: do you eat them? The answer is yes and no. It is made entirely from safe, common, edible ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, etc.) However, some people do not like the idea of eating something which has sat out for a long time. And I would never destroy a gingerbread house before Christmas Day. I personally consider it something to snack on during the twelve days of Christmas. If you wait to eat your house until a couple weeks after it is made it will, indeed, be hard. But I enjoy breaking off a small piece, like the corner of the roof, and dipping it in hot coffee, tea or chocolate. The spices with the drink make for a very Christmasy experience. It also seems like quite a waste of food to make the gingerbread house and then never eat it. So, as long as you enjoy it, it is perfectly fine to eat a gingerbread house, even after it has sat out.

Some helpful tips:
1. Left over dough can be used to make gingerbread men cookies or ornaments for your tree or other pieces for your gingerbread house scene..
2. Roll the dough used for the roof a little thinner than the walls. You will have to attach the roof with royal icing "mortar." The less it weighs, the more easily it will attach.
3. This is such a large batch of dough you can be generous with the spices. I use an extra teaspoon of ginger and cinnamon to make this house especially fragrant.
4. I've used various things over the years to make snow on the ground, including marshmallows, shredded coconut, and royal icing. Here, I piped royal icing.
5. Assemble your house on whatever platform it will rest on. For example, I often use a foil covered cutting board. This will save you from having to move the assembled house to a display board.
6. Be creative. Gingerbread houses are pretty whimsical. You needn't be afraid to try a different design. If you think it might be cute, try it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gingerbread Men Cookie Ornaments

I have made these fellas to hang from the Christmas tree for ages. They are darling, edible and make cute gifts. They are also a great project for the amateur artist. You can craft your gingerbread men (or women!) to look however you want. This year, I gave a few of mine beards. I'm keeping up with the trends.


3 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup butter

2/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark)

1/3 cup molasses

1 egg

1/2 cup softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar, possibly more
1 Tablespoon milk, possibly more
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

Measure the flour and whisk in the baking soda and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached, cream the butter. Add the sugar and whip until incorporated. Add the molasses and the egg and whip until light. Scrape down the bowl and whip for another 10 seconds or so.

Remove the whisk attachment and switch to the dough hook. Dump in the flour and spice mixture and knead on low until the wet and dry ingredients have combined well. Refrigerate about one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out one quarter of the dough to 1/8" thickness on a well floured surface.

Using a gingerbread man cookie cutter, stamp out pieces. Use a plastic straw to punch out a hole in the head of the cookie in order to put a ribbon through. Make the hole a good size; it will close some during baking. Line the men up about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. If there is a lot of residual flour on your cookies, use a pastry brush to remove it. Too much flour will result in a lighter colored cookie. I like the rich brown color to contrast well with the white icing.

Bake 6 minutes. Cool completely on wire wracks or on another heat-proof surface.

Make the icing: Whip the butter until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla and whip until light. You may need to adjust your icing to be the right consistency. Add milk 1/4 teaspoon at a time to thin it. Add powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time to thicken it. You want your icing to be piping consistency. (I will mention here that it is also possible to use royal icing for this part. The English certainly would. Royal icing is a brighter shade of white, though this icing, once dry, is very nice, too.)

Decorate the ornaments as you see fit. Here, I used a piping bag and a number 3 tip to ice these cookies.

Here are how some of mine turned out iced.

Once the icing has dried, cut an 8-10 inch piece of red ribbon (1/16" to 1/4" works best). String through the hole and tie a knot, adjusting for the length you want. Hang from your tree or give them away as gifts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Advent Wreath

Advent - the four weeks preceding Christmas - is really a fantastic season in the Christian calendar. It works well for those who love everything about what Americans know as the "holiday season" (me) and those who hate the commercial thrust of Christmas the second Halloween is over (me, too). It presents a terrific chance to let your inner rebel out and become, briefly, counter-cultural. Essentially, Advent gives you the rightful opportunity to reject those secular parts of the lead-up to Christmas that don't enhance your spirituality, or, in the words of St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians, that don't "set your hope on Christ." After all, Advent in its most traditional understanding is a season of preparation. Finally, I will add that I like Advent because it permits me to actually celebrate the 12 days in the season of Christmas, right up to Epiphany on January 6. I always think it such a shame to go out Boxing Day morning and see countless Christmas trees already thrown out on the tree lawn. There are eleven more days to go! Though more and more parishes, both Protestant and Catholic, will display with more or less prominence an Advent wreath, it was originally, and remains, primarily an object for home devotions and prayers. Some families like to light the candles before having dinner and let them burn throughout. Others will light the candles briefly before saying their evening prayers, either alone or in a family setting. Since I am a self-avowed foodie, I prefer the option of lighting the candles before saying grace and then burning them through dinner. A proper Advent wreath will ordinarily have three purple candles and one pink candle. Some Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and low-church Lutherans and Episcopalians will also opt for four blue candles. Regardless, one additional candle is lit each week for the four weeks preceding Christmas until all four are burning on week four. The pink candle is lit on week three, or Gaudette Sunday. The pink symbolizes joy. Advent wreaths are also a fantastic craft and there's really not much of a way to mess one up. Since its components are largely natural, no strict rigidity is required. The wreath can be as plain or plush or sparse as you wish.

Here are the tools and supplies I use (and please forgive any incorrect or imprecise botanical language):

1 Advent wreath form

balsam branch clippings

juniper clippings
long-needle pine clippings

holly clippings

round pine cones

long pine cones

floral wire

small wire cutters

sturdy clippers for cutting branches

3 purple tapers

1 pink taper

purple ribbon, optional

The instructions and technique are quite simple. Clip several pieces of floral wire to about 3 inches. (You will need to clip more once you use these up.) Use these wires to attach the branches to the Advent wreath form. If you are unsure how to do this, the easiest way it to make all your greenery point in one direction, such as clockwise. Start in one place on the wreath, add one piece and then continue around the wreath until you come full circle. You can then add to fill in an any empty or sparse places.
Once the greenery is attached, you can tie wire to the pinecones and attach them, as well. Finish with the Advent candles and, if you wish, some purple ribbon. (I left the ribbon off this year for no good reason other than simplicity.)