Christmas Eve Dinner “à la Française”: Part 1

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Joyeux Noël! | Merry Christmas!

 

Celebrating Christmas in the summer is still something I can’t get used to after so many years living in Australia. I love white Christmases and all the hearty Christmas foods that are so soothing to eat in the freezing winter. That being said, I absolutely love seafood and so being able to crack into a beautiful, fresh crayfish at Christmas Day lunch is something I relish.

Luckily I don’t have to choose between re-creating the nostalgic feasts of my childhood Christmases and indulging in new summer festive food traditions because I always celebrate Christmas Eve French-style with my brother and his family, and then an Aussie Christmas Day lunch with my wife and hers.

So today, I thought I’d share a perfect menu for both and maybe inspire you enough to share some of my favourite family dishes with yours this holiday season.

Christmas Eve Dinner “à la francaise

Most French families will kick off any family meal with a delicious terrine or pâté. I posted a recipe for a great Huntsman Terrine a while back, which you can check out here, otherwise you can pick up a ready made slice from most good quality delis.

For Entrée, I’ve chosen a duck and mushroom vol au vent. The hero of this, aside from the light-as-air pastry, is the Girolle mushrooms (they’re called Chanterelles in Australia), which hail from my region in France and are delicious and meaty in texture.

For main, I couldn’t go past a beautiful pork loin (with the skin on as crackling is a MUST!) that I’ve filled with a sage, pistachio and cherry stuffing, and a classic garden salad on the side.

Lastly, a true French Christmas treat is a Bûche de Noël, which is a sponge, rolled with and covered in crème au beurre (Italian meringue whipped with butter). It’s super rich but there’s like nothing else. You can flavour them too, so I chose to do coconut, white chocolate and passionfruit.

And there you have it. Joyeux Noël and bon appétit!

Chanterelle Mushroom and Duck Vol au Vent with a Port Sauce

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Ingredients for the Vol au Vent:

  • 4 sheets puff pastry
  • 2 duck breast
  • 50g Chanterelle mushroom (dried)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • ½ bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 50 mL milk

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Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (392 F).
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge or the freezer (leave it warm up a bit if it’s directly from the freezer).
  3. Whisk the egg and the milk together to make an egg wash.
  4. Using a round pastry cutter cut the 4 vol au vent bases and place them on a flat baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Cut 3 more circles for each one, then using a smaller cutter cut the middle out, so only the outside ring remain. Brush the base with the egg wash and place the ring on top, press down gently to make it stick and repeat the process until you have 3 layers on each Vol au Vent.
  5. Put them in the fridge for 15 minutes before baking them.
  6. Take the Vol au Vent out of the fridge, brush them with egg wash and bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Soak the mushroom in warm water for 10 minutes, then discard the water.
  8. In the mean time, grate the garlic, finely chop the shallots, wash and chop the parsley.
  9. Take the fat off the duck breast and dice them (about 1 ½ cm).
  10. Heat up a medium size shallow frying pan with olive oil on high heat. Cook the shallots, chanterelle mushroom and garlic in the pan for 2 minutes on high heat, tossing from time to time. Then add the duck and cook for about 3 minutes on high heat.
  11. Add the chopped parsley and stir.
  12. Add the port sauce and toss well so that all the ingredients mix together.
  13. Spoon the mix into the warm Vol au Vent and serve immediately.

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Ingredients for the Port sauce:

  •  1 brown onion
  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 200 ml port
  • 350 ml beef stock

Method:

  1. Finely dice the brown onion, grate the garlic and finely chop the thyme.
  2. Heat up a medium size saucepan with a little bit of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat.
  3. Pour the port in the saucepan and reduce by half, then add the stock and reduce by half again.
  4. Mix a little bit of corn flour with water, enough to make a runny paste. Slowly add it to the sauce until you reach the desired consistency. Check seasoning and set aside.

With the Vol au Vent I recommend a chateau “Briand” Bergerac red available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au

 

 

 

Lamb Pasta Bake with Tomato & Cheese Sauce

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The wonderful team at Barilla has treated me again with a sneak preview of some of their latest products. This time it’s their new pasta bake range which is fantastic for those casual dinners with family or friends as it’s hearty, cost effective and most importantly, delicious!

Some pasta bakes can be quite heavy on the cheese so I’ve kept this one lighter by only using parmesan cheese as the very top layer to add a nice crust as opposed to stirring a cheese all the way through.

 

Ingredients:

  • 500g Barilla Casarecce pasta
  • 1 Jar of Barilla’s new cheese and tomato sauce
  • 1kg lamb mince
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 5 sprigs rosemary
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 8 slices mild pancetta (2-3mm thick)
  • 2 onions
  • 350mL red wine
  • 4 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 4 Tbsp Peter Watson lamb spice mix
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 250 g parmigiano reggiano

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Method:

  1. Put a large pot of water on the stove for the pasta and preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 8 minutes, then drain and keep aside.
  3. Peel and dice the onions, crush the garlic, chop the thyme and rosemary. Roughly dice the pancetta and keep aside.
  4. Preheat a metal roasting tray on the stovetop on a medium heat.
  5. Cook the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, and then add the thyme, rosemary and pancetta. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Add the paprika and lamb spice, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add the red wines and reduce by about ¼.
  8. Add the lamb mince and cook until brown, making sure you don’t have any big lumps.
  9. Add the Barilla cheese and tomato sauce and the crushed tomatoes and 150mL water, stir then add the cooked Barilla Casarecce pasta, mix well and top with the grated parmigiano reggiano and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes covered with foil, and then 5 minutes without it.
  10. Serve hot with a green salad

 

With this wonderful dish I recommend a Château “Falfas” AOC Cote de Bourg available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au .

Roasted pork fillet salad with a grilled pear and walnut dressing.

 

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I really enjoy pork fillets in springtime. They’re a nice change to the heavy roasts and slow cooks of winter, and the perfect complement to this crispy pancetta salad. The hero of the salad aside from good quality pancetta is the dressing, which combines freshly grilled pears and walnuts. It’s so good that you could almost eat it on it’s own!

This dish is the perfect Sunday lunch, reinvigorated for warmer months, and the best part is that any pork leftovers will be just as delicious to eat cold the next day, sliced and thrown into a salad or as cold sandwich meat with your favourite accoutrements.

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 1 purple cauliflower
  • 1 bunch baby Dutch carrots
  • 1 oak leaf lettuce
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 4 globe artichokes
  • 5 slices mild pancetta ( 2 mm thick)
  • 40 g walnut
  • 1 bunch chive
  • 1 packam pear
  • 1 pork fillet ( about 400g)

 

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Method :

 

  1. Set up a steamer on the stove and preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into little florets, peel the carrots and asparagus, wash the lettuce and take the leaves, stems and the fluff of the artichoke until only the heart remain, place the artichokes in lemon water straight away to prevent them from going black.
  3. Steam the vegetable separately or in different basket if you have a multi level steamer. Cook them until just tender, a good way to check is to use a small knife if it goes in easily, it’s ready.
  4. Preheat a shallow frying pan with a bit of olive oil, cut the meat in equal pieces, season it with salt and pepper and seal the pork all around then put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, slice the pear (2-3 mm slices) and grill them on a grill pan for 1 minute on each side, then cut them into small dice and keep aside. Finely chop the chive, roughly crush the walnut and mix with the pears.
  6. Heat up a small frying pan on a high heat and cook the diced pancetta until crispy (no need to add any oil in the pan), transfer the pancetta in a bowl with some kitchen paper to soak up the excess fat, then mix with the rest of the dressing ingredients.
  7. Add white wine vinegar and olive oil to taste, season with salt and pepper. Mix the vegetables together and arrange them on serving board or a platter, place the pork pieces around the salad and drizzle the dressing over the top.

 

With this dish I recommend a Chateau “Ollieux Romanis” Blanc, available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au

 

 

Steak Tartare

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Steak tartare is a dish of culinary legend as it was originally thought to have come about from the tenderised pieces of meat that Tartar horsemen would carry under their saddles. In actual fact this was to help heal their horses saddle sores and definitely not to consume (ew!). More accurately, the dish evolved from raw and cooked minced meats brought to Europe by eastern Europeans. At the end of the 19th century anything served with tartare sauce was known as “à la tartare” and somehow this really stuck with steak. The dish served most popularly as we know today with a raw egg on top, became fashionable in the 1950’s and is now a staple at most French cafés and bistros.

Some say this dish isn’t for the faint hearted, but I disagree! If you can put aside your judgments on raw meat and let your taste buds guide you, most people would be surprised at how tasty steak tartare actually is!

 

Classic steak tartare for 2:

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch chive
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 lemon juice
  • 50g cornichon
  • 50g capers
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ small bunch parsley
  • 5 drops Tabasco (optional)
  • 200 grass fed rump steak or eye fillet (you can ask your butcher to mince this for you fresh)
  • 2 free range egg yolk
  • 1 baguette

 

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Method:

  1. Finely chop the meat with a sharp knife or if you have a mincer, put it through that, or the easiest option is to ask your butcher to mince a quality piece of meat fresh for you.
  2. Finely chop the shallots, capers, cornichons, chive and parsley.
  3. Heat up a grill pan on a high heat.
  4. Cut little slices of the baguette, brush them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Grill them on both sides until golden and crunchy.
  5. In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients except the Tabasco, egg yolk and lemon juice. Mix well then add the lemon juice and Tabasco to taste, you want it to have a bit of a kick but not over power it.
  6. On a plate, using a pastry cutter form the mince into a round shape with a hole in the middle big enough to contain the yolk. Gently put the yolk in the middle and serve with the croutons.

With the steak Tartare I recommend a Chateau Mouthes Le Bihan “Vieillefont” available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au

Lamb Persillade with ratatouille

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Ratatouille, like many French dishes that are considered “classics” today, started life as humble peasant food, in this case a simple mix of abundant, in season spring/ summer vegetables. Today, opinions are divided as to how to cook the “perfect” ratatouille, but really, the most important part of this dish is the quality of the produce you are using to make it with.

 

My preference is always produce that has been grown locally and as free from chemicals as possible, with the exception of tomatoes which I don’t mind being canned, as long as the only thing in the can is the tomatoes themselves.

 

Purists will say that the original dish didn’t include eggplants, but I quite like the meaty quality they add to the dish so I’ve included them here. Good news is, if you’re not a fan, you can leave them out and still have a delicious dish on your hands.

 

I’ve paired my ratatouille with delicious lamb persillade, but it’s a truly versatile dish enough so that you can eat it hot, cold, as a side or as a meal on it’s own and it goes perfectly with fish too – so enjoy it your own way and bon appétit!

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Ingredients for the Ratatouille:

 

  • 2 eggplant (diced)
  • 3 zucchini (diced)
  • 1 red onions (sliced)
  • 2 red capsicum (diced)
  • 5 garlic cloves (grated)
  • 1 bunch thyme (chopped)
  • 2 tins crushed tomato
  • 4 fresh tomatoes (diced)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock

 

 

Method: Place a deep cooking pot on a high heat with a little bit of olive oil in it. Once heated turn the heat down to medium and ad the sliced onions, grated garlic and chopped thyme. Cook for about 3-4 minutes until the onions have browned, stirring from time to time. Then add the diced capsicum and cook for about five minutes, until the capsicum softens a little. Add the diced zucchini and the diced eggplants and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 25 minutes on a low to medium heat. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes on a low heat and adjust seasoning if necessary.

 

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Ingredients for the persillade:

 

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 100 g coarse breadcrumbs

 

Method: Wash, dry and chop the parsley. Peel and grate the garlic then combine it with the parsley and the breadcrumbs. Lay down the lamb cutlets on a board and season well with salt and pepper. Dust the lamb in plain flour, dip it egg wash (egg , milk mix) and coat the cutlet with the persillade mix. Heat up a frying pan with a little bit of olive oil on a medium heat. Place the lamb cutlets in the pan (depending on how many cutlets you have, you may need to do more than one batch, as you don’t want overfill the pan). Cook on each side for about 3 minutes. You’ll see when they are ready to be turned, as the persillade will be golden and crunchy. Turn them and cook for a further 3 minutes. The cooking time may vary depending on how big the cutlets are. An easy way to know is if you slightly cut one of them, the meat should still be pink and juicy. Allow the cutlets to rest for a minute or so then serve with the ratatouille.

 

Wine Note: A fresh Rosé is perfect to compliment this dish in the warmer months. I recommend a “Chateaux Minuty” cote de Provence, Available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au .