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A Quiet but Elegant Holiday (December 12, 2006)

The extended family all showed up for both Canadian and American Thanksgivings, and at this point all we want is a quiet Christmas... well, less hectic anyway. We're thinking an elegant meal for two, one that reflects the season, goes with superb wines and doesn't have us spending hours, once again, in the kitchen. Help arrived in a wonderful new crop of cookbooks, and we spent happy evenings poring over each one – reading, discussing and deciding and then drooling. These are all books that you need on your "A list" shelf... read on and start adding to your want list!

Great Food for Families by professional chef Fran Warde is a delightful surprise of a book whose subtitle is Kid-friendly food that adults will love too. Yes, your munchkins will really enjoy the dishes, but more importantly, this is a book for discerning grown-ups as well. Chef Warde covers most meals you'll ever deal with, from The Best Start Breakfasts to Sunday Dinners, plus entertaining family and friends of all ages and a luscious dessert section! She demystifies dumplings – to us one of the great "forgotten foods" – and tours the world with recipes for Thai Green Chicken Curry, Roast Duck with Citrus Fruits, and an exquisite Steamed Lemon and Blueberry Pudding. Give someone in your brood Great Food for Families!

Steak. That's the title, that's the book. Author Fiona Beckett is an award-winning journalist who has written for specialty food and drink magazines as well as many of the UK's national newspapers and was named UK Guild of Food Writers Journalist of the Year. We knew her recipes would be superb, and they are. All the classics are here under one cover: Steak au Poivre, Steak Tartare, Bavette aux Échalotes and the ultimate, Tournedos Rossini! Steak also includes sandwiches, wraps, sauces and butters. Who could possibly need more?

Now don't be intimidated, as Dorie Greenspan's new book, Baking: From my home to yours contains spectacular, pages-long recipes. First glance will dazzle you and leave you feeling that this collection is not for the fainthearted, but Greenspan, author of the best-selling Baking with Julia, among other award-winning books, has a knack for making every recipe disarmingly simple. In Baking: From my home to yours, she happily shares three decades of her own favourite recipes as well as the secrets she learned in the kitchen of the world's great chefs. We simply couldn't resist trying the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake, and while it took time and patience, oh my, the rewards were great!

It's also that time to be giving as well as cooking, and two wonderful little stocking stuffers came our way. The busy Alberta-based utility company ATCO and their Blue Flame Kitchen staff have produced A Holiday Collection 2006. And as always, these professional home economists leave nothing to guess or chance, giving the reader recipe keys and how-to's, plus a cook's glossary for those who just might be new to the kitchen. This terrific spiral-bound collection covers everything from Great Beginnings and Morning Food to Christmas Tradition and The Day After! Sides and Desserts are well covered... and really, as we read, we realized this is a year-round book for everyone!

Our good friend, Toronto home economist and food journalist/writer Mary McGrath, has put together Delectable Collectables, an encore presentation of some of the most popular recipes that appeared in the national Toronto Star newspaper. These favourites range from soups to desserts, and, best of all, 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Toronto Star's Fresh Air Fund and Santa Claus Fund. A super book for two wonderful causes, and we can tell you that nobody does better shortbreads than Mary McGrath!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (99 KB)


 

Golden Butternut Squash Soup

Start simple and perk up the appetite. This soup is homey yet still so pretty, and in a fancy serving bowl, quite elegant. Best of all, it's quick and easy and can be done ahead. A nice find from Fran Warde's Great Food for Families.

  • 1½ lbs peeled and diced butternut squash
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Light cream, to serve

Heat the oil in a large saucepan; add the squash, onions and garlic and sauté over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Using a hand-held blender, blend the soup until smooth and creamy. Season and serve with a drizzle of cream.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A Palo Cortado Sherry or an oaked Chardonnay from Sonoma or Ontario


 

And now... what we've been waiting for:

Tournedos Rossini

We're turkeyed out with those two Thanksgivings, and decided to treat ourselves to the ultimate beef dish... Filet mignon steaks with foie gras and truffles. Ron once had the original in France and never looked back. Fiona Beckett calls this version "lighter," as she uses sourdough toasts instead of the traditional white French bread. Go on, spring for the truffles and foie gras... it is the holidays and soooo worth it all. Serve with a fresh green vegetable.

Yes, there is a Santa Claus!

Serves 2

  • 4 small filet mignon steaks, 2½–3 oz. each and ¾ inch thick
  • 1–2 fresh or preserved black truffles, about 1½ oz
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp butter (= 9 tsp)
  • 2 long, thin slices of white sourdough bread
  • 2 thick slices of fresh foie gras or 3 thin slices of preserved foie gras, about 2½ oz
  • 4 Tbsp Madeira
  • ¼ cup beef stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Lightly cooked green beans, broccoli or spinach to serve.

Take the steaks out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you intend to cook them. Trim any excess fat or sinew and pat dry with paper towels. Thinly slice three truffles, reserving the best slices for the garnish, then finely chop the rest.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, then, when it has warmed through, add 2 teaspoons of the butter. Warm through the truffle slices for a few seconds on either side and set aside on a warm plate increase the heat, add another teaspoon of the olive oil and another 2 teaspoons of butter and fry the slices of bread briefly on each side until crisp, then transfer to the plate with the truffles.

Add the remaining olive oil and another 2 teaspoons of the butter to the pan. Season the steaks lightly with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 3–4 minutes, turning regularly, depending on whether you want them rare or medium-rare. Transfer to the warm plate and cover lightly with aluminum foil.

Carefully lay the slices of foie gras in the pan and cook them for just a few seconds each side, then put them on the steak plate. Pour any remaining fat out of the pan, then pour in the Madeira, let bubble up and reduce to about 1 tablespoon, then add the beef stock and chopped truffles. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the remaining butter and any juices that have accumulated under the steaks. To serve, take a couple of warm plates, put a slice of sourdough toast on each and place the sliced foie gras on top. Top with 2 slices of steak. Spoon over half the truffle sauce and top with the truffle slices. Serve with lightly cooked green beans, broccoli or spinach.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Châteauneuf du Pape, Amarone or California Merlot


 

Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Plan ahead and work this cake into your holiday meal. Yes, you need a couple of days and a fair number of ingredients, but oh my, it's worth every single step, calorie and whatever time it takes. Baking: from my home to yours will have you produce the perfect ending to this special meal... Oh, yoo hoo, Dorie, Merry Christmas to you too!

    For the Ganache
  • 9 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate (such as Valrhona or Guittard), finely chopped
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2¼ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    For the Cake
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup store-bought sweetened chestnut spread with vanilla (available in specialty markets and many supermarkets)
  • ¼ cup whole milk
    For the Syrup
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 2 Tbsp (packed) brown sugar
  • About 24 jarred peeled whole chestnuts (about 7 ounces; available in specialty markets and many supermarkets) 12 coarsely chopped, the rest left whole
    For the Glaze
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • Edible gold dust (optional; available at bakers' supply shops)

To Make the Ganache

Put the milk and bittersweet chocolates in a heatproof bowl.

Put the sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir, place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, bring to a boil and boil, without stirring, until the caramel turns a deep amber colour, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals an swirling the pan from time to time. (Depending on the size of your pan, it will take between 5 and 7 minutes for the caramel to colour properly.) Stand back and add the cream and salt – the mixture will bubble furiously and it might seize, but it will smooth out as you heat it. With the caramel at a boil, whisk it for another minute, or until it is smooth, then pull the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick.

Pour the hot caramel over the chocolate and gently stir until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until it is completely cool, about one hour.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the chocolate ganache to the butter in 4 additions beating on low just until smooth. Scrape the ganache into a container, cover and refrigerate overnight. (The ganache can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Getting Ready to Bake

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-inch-high 9-inch square pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and light. Add 1 cup of the brown sugar and beat for about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks one by one, beating after each addition until well blended. Beat in the vanilla extract, chestnut spread and milk. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the dry ingredients and gently mix them in. If using a stand mixer, scrape the batter into a large bowl and thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl.

Working in the clean mixer bowl with the whisk attachment or in another large blow with the hand mixer (and clean beaters), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the chestnut batter in 3 additions. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 48 minutes, until the cake is golden on top and a thin knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and run a knife around the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Let cool to room temperature in the pan. (The cooled cake can be covered and kept at room temperature overnight.)

To Make the Syrup

Stir the brandy and brown sugar together in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves.

To Assemble the Cake

Cut an 8-inch cardboard square for a base for the cake. Turn the cake out onto the rack and peel off the parchment paper. Using a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motio,n cut the cake horizontally into 3 layers.

Place one layer cut side up on the cardboard. Brush it with half the brandy syrup, spread it with 1 cup of the ganache and sprinkle over half the chopped chestnuts. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and repeat with the remaining brandy syrup, another cup of ganache and the remaining chopped chestnuts. Put the last layer on top, cut side up and spread the remaining ganache over the sides and top of he cake. Refrigerate the cake while you make the glaze.

To Make the Glaze

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.

Bring the cream, sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A sweet champagne, Beaumes-de-Venise, Cream Sherry or Late Bottled Vintage Port


 

For permission to publish material and photographs, we wish to thank:

Thomas Allen and Son Limited, Canada, and Houghton Mifflin Co. for Baking: from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan. Photographs by Alan Richardson. © 2006 by Dorie Greenspan. Photographs © 2006 by Alan Richardson.

Thomas Allen and Son, Limited Canada and Ryland Peters and Small, London and New York for Steak by Fiona Beckett. Photographs by Martin Brigdale. Text © Fiona Beckett 2006. Design and photographs © Ryland Peters and Small 2006.

Thomas Allen and Son, Limited Canada and Ryland Peters and Small, London and New York for Great Food for Families by Fran Warde. Photographs by Caroline Arber. Text © Fran Warde 2006. Design and photographs © Ryland Peters and Small 2006.

To order your copy of the ATCO A Holiday Collection 2006, go to www.atcoblueflamekitchen.com.

To order a copy of Delectable Collectibles by Mary McGrath, go to www.thestar.com and visit the Star Store.

 

Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (99 KB)

 

 

 

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