Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Beaujolais, The Other November Holiday


Last Sunday, on the last evening of our long and lazy Thanksgiving weekend, we held another mini celebration with our friends Edgar and Bill, in honor of another November holiday, Beaujolais.  An easy, relaxed night with our neat, new friends – not nearly the to-do of Turkey Day.  And admittedly we celebrated belatedly by about a week and a half.  For Beaujolais Day, a French harvest celebration marking the early release of Beaujolais wine, comes every year on the third Thursday in November. 

While sharing an afternoon coffee with Edgar a couple weeks ago in their wonderful, beautiful antique shop, musing with him over what type of food I’d prepare and what sort of wine they’d bring for our up-coming dinner party together, Edgar had the brilliant idea of making it a Beaujolais night.  I jumped at the notion right away.  I’ve always been fond of this other November foodie night, always loved the indulgent idea of a second celebratory dinner of wonderful wine and gorgeous food in the middle of harvest season. 

Beaujolais Nouveau, from the Beaujolais region of Burgundy, France, is a young, light and fruity red wine, made from the Gamay grape.  None too complex or ever expensive, but certainly tasty and rather refreshing, it’s best paired with simple, rustic fare.  Chicken and goat cheese are two especially regarded cohorts.   And so, our Beaujolais menu:

Crostini with Fig Compote & Goat Cheese
Chicken Thighs Braised in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce
Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries
Brussels Sprout Leaves Sautéed in Brown Butter
Persimmon Bread Pudding with Whipped Cream

While uncorking the bottles of wine, and putting the finishing touches on dinner, we snacked on these crispy French bread crostini, topped with dollops of creamy, whipped goat cheese and a savory compote of dried Black Mission figs.  With aromatic fresh thyme, sweet shallots melted in butter, and a thick reduction of ruby red Port, the fig compote was wonderfully well- balanced in flavors - lightly sweet, but deep with an earthy richness.  And perfectly paired with the light, tangy goat cheese and crisp, buttery crostini.   A great start to our Beaujolais feast!

Crostini with Fig Compote & Goat Cheese Crostini with Fig Compote and Goat Cheese

Chicken Thighs Braised in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce.  I truly don’t know how appealing this dish sounds to most people.  With its chief components being the most boring of birds and the most ordinary of vinegars, it could very well sound way too dull to be delicious.  But to me, it has always sounded utterly marvelous.  I’ve happened upon various Vinegar Chicken recipes in several different cookbooks, magazines and websites over the years.  And these encounters always gave me a little thrill, set my mouth watering and my imagination rushing.  Something about these all-too simple ingredients, coaxed and charmed into something else entirely, something with all the promise of being altogether different, anything but mundane, and wholly extraordinary.  It’s a wonder to me, that up until now, I’d never in reality gotten past the imagination stage, and actually into the kitchen to cook some up for real.
    Time to Dish Up!

After the obvious foreshadowing of the prior paragraph, laden with its musings of marvelous hypothetical results, is it a surprise at all when I tell you that this dish did indeed turn out stupendously?  Tender, slowly braised chicken thighs,  swathed in a velvety sauce – rich and smooth with a finishing of cream, subtly tart with a hint of honey sweetness, with buttery speckles of sweet shallots and mellow garlic, and an intoxicating essence of fresh tarragon.  This dish, with such humble ingredients, was anything but humble itself!

Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce, Wild Rice with Cranberries, Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter & Garlic

Our sides too were at once simple and fabulous.  The wild rice I prepared just as I do for any (nearly every) rice dish in my repertoire – with sautéed shallots, chicken stock, a bay leaf and a sprig of fresh thyme.  As simple as can be, and then bejeweled with plump dried cranberries.  It’s a lovely little dish, with it’s deep brown earthiness, delightfully chewy bite, and hidden gems of dazzling, tart, sweet cranberries.  And quite another thing altogether, from regular old white rice. 

Wild Rice

Wild Rice - Long, Thin Grains

As I learned long ago from a very wise woman (my first chef and teacher, Jen, from Just a Taste in Ithaca), nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) goes quite as well with Brussels sprouts (or most anything, for that matter) as browned butter.  Browned butter is just that – butter, slowly simmered until it turns a gorgeous golden brown.  As the butter deepens in color, its aroma deepens too, transforming into the most amazing scent imaginable – rich, toasty, nutty, warm – fully, utterly intoxicating.  One of my most favorite ingredients, browned butter truly holds the power to enhance just about any dish, sweet or savory.  
    Brussels Sprouts

I riffed on Jen’s famous recipe, of brown butter-sautéed sprouts with garlic, pecans, lemon and Romano cheese, and came up with a quick version of my own - keeping the garlic, and of course the browned butter, saving the pecans and cheese for another special night, and switching out lemon juice for red wine vinegar, to echo our chicken dish.   The sprouts I changed a bit too.  Rather than just slicing them into halves, I carefully peeled back their coiled layers, separating these dense orbs into delicate, pale green curls.  A quick flip in hot sauté pan, with the rich, full flavor of the caramelized butter and a bright hit of vinegar, and these lovely leaves took on crisp, golden brown edges, and a wonderfully warm tenderness.

Brussels  Sprouts

And for dessert, another humble dish that works magic with some of fall’s most wonderful bounty – Persimmon bread pudding.  You’ll probably have noticed some persimmons in your local fruit markets this time of year, shyly peeking around the more popular apples and pears.  At first glance, they look a bit like tomatoes.  But something about their stout shape, curled leaves and rosy orange glow, may have clued you in to the truth that they taste nothing like tomatoes at all.  Immensely delicate in flavor, lightly sweet with rounded corners of tartness and just a suggestion of bitter, reminiscent of any number of fruits (peaches, pears, apples) but at the same time none at all.  They’re really quite charming, persimmons.  And fun to experiment with too. 

The Insides of a Persimmon

My latest persimmon experiment evolved quite nicely into a warm and gooey bread pudding.  Into a simple custard of eggs, sugar and cream, I folded a smooth puree of fresh, ripe persimmons, along with a warm dose of cinnamon and nutmeg.  This silky, pale orange sauce soaked indulgently into all the tender nooks and airy pockets of  some soft golden cubes of plush Challah bread.  Baked in the oven, it emerged steaming and fragrant, deliciously golden brown on top, densely sticky inside.  With a cool, lightly sweetened dollop of whipped cream, it was near perfect.  And a delicate garnish of paper-thin, oven-dried persimmon slices made it just that.  The wispy orange circles further served as a clue to this dessert’s main ingredient, a nod to to the mysterious and subtle persimmon flavor coyly lurking within. 

Pretty Persimmons 

Crostini with Fig Compote & Goat Cheese
Makes about 24 hors d’oeuvres, enough for 4 to 6 guests
Crostini with Fig Compote  & Goat Cheese
2 Tbl butter
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
4 oz dried Black Mission figs, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup Port
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
about 24 French bread crostini, from a half baguette
5 to 6 oz creamy goat cheese
3 fresh figs, sliced into thin wedges
about 24 small clusters of thyme leaves, for garnish
To make the fig compote: In a small sauce pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the shallot, season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the chopped thyme and bay leaf and cook 1 minute more. 
Shallots, Bay and Thyme in Butter
Add the chopped figs and stir to combine.  Then add the port.  Cover, then bring to a boil.  Gently simmer until the figs are tender, about 10 minutes.  If liquid remains in the pan, remove the lid and simmer, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Discard the bay leaf.  Transfer the compote to a bowl and cool to room temperature.  Can be kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. 
To assemble the hors d’oeuvres:  Top each crostini with a heaping teaspoon of the fig compote, then another heaping teaspoon of the goat cheese.  Garnish with a slice of fresh fig and a small cluster of thyme leaves.  Serve immediately.


Chicken Thighs Braised in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Paula Wolfert on
Serves 4 to 6
Chicken Thighs in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar (I really like this brand.)
3/4 cup chicken stock (And for chicken stock, I really like this.)
1 1/2 Tbl honey
1 1/2 Tbl tomato paste
2 Tbl plus 2 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
8 large chicken thighs (with skin and bone), trimmed of excess skin and fat
4 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
4 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup plus 2 Tbl dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the vinegar, chicken stock, honey and tomato paste in a medium-sized sauce pot.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.  Simmer until reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Set aside.
In a large heavy skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towels, then season liberally with salt and pepper.  Add half of the chicken to the hot pan, skin side down.  Reduce the heat to medium, and cook until well-browned.  Flip, and brown the opposite sides as well.  Transfer the chicken to a plate, placing them skin-side up.  Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs.
Pour out and discard the fat in the pan, but try to leave all the browned bits in the pan.  Add the remaining 2 Tbl butter and melt over medium heat.  Add the sliced shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the white wine and boil until reduced to roughly 1/3 cup.  Add the vinegar sauce and stir to combine.  Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up.  Cover and gently simmer over low heat until cooked through, about 30 minutes. 
Transfer the chicken to serving plates, then add the cream and tarragon to the sauce.  Stir to combine, then taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken thighs and serve immediately.
Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries
Serves  4 to 6
Wild Rice with Cranberries
1 cup wild rice
2 Tbl butter
1/2 cup finely diced shallot
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken stock (I like this brand and type.)
1 cup water
1/2 cup dried cranberries
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Rinse the rice with cool running water in a colander, and set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized sauce pot.  Add the shallots, season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the chopped thyme and bay leaf and cook 1 minute more.  Add the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes.

Toasting the Rice

Add the chicken stock and waterBring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  When the liquid comes to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and decrease the heat to low, in order to maintain a bare simmer.  Peek under the lid from time to time, to make sure you’ve got just a bare simmer.  Simmer with the lid on until the rice is tender and ‘popped’ (you’ll see what I mean – the white insides pop out of the black skins a bit) and all the liquid is evaporated and absorbed.  To make sure all the liquid is gone, tilt the pan to the side.  If water rises up the sides of the pan, continue cook the rice a little while longer.

Once all the liquid is evaporated/absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest five minutes, still covered.  Add the cranberries, stir to combine, then rest again for about 10 minutes, still covered. Then remove the lid and fluff with a fork.  Serve hot.

Brussels Sprouts Leaves Sautéed in Brown Butter
Serves  4 to 6
 Brussels Sprout Leaves Sauteed with Garlic & Brown Butter
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp red wine vinegar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To prep the Brussels sprouts:  Working with one sprout at a time, slice across the stem, at the base of the sprout – this will loosen the outer leaves attached to the lower stem.  Peel off and discard any tough and discolored outer leaves.  Reserve the un-blemished, tender leaves.  Then repeat, slicing across the base of the sprout, a little further up, to loosen another layer of leaves.  Peel off the leaves and reserve.  Continue this slicing and peeling, until you’ve separated the entire sprout into single leaves.  Repeat with the remaining Brussels sprouts.  Reserve. 
To make the browned butter: Place the butter in your smallest saucepot.  Melt over low heat, and then leave it over the heat until specks that fall to the bottom of the pot turn deep golden brown.  Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.  (You won’t need to use all of this browned butter for this single recipe, but it’s hard to get good results (without burning) using anything less than 1/2 stick.  Save the left-over browned butter and use it to sauté up anything you wish.  It will magically turn any vegetable into something spectacular!)
To assemble the dish:  Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.  Add about 1 to 2 tablespoons of the browned butter (making sure to get lots of the brown specks) and swirl to coat the pan.  Add the minced garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, no more than 30 seconds, until just lightly golden brown.  Add the Brussels sprout leaves and toss and stir immediately.  Season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then sauté, tossing and stirring frequently, until lightly golden brown, tender and crisp.  Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar, then toss to coat.  Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately.  
Brussels Sprout Leaves


Persimmon Bread Pudding
Serves about 8

There are two varieties of persimmons you’ll likely find in the fruit market during the autumn and winter months – the smaller, sweeter, firm yet tender Fuyu persimmons (the kind to use in this recipe); and the larger, more astringent variety of Hachiya persimmons, which remain all but inedible until they are very soft and very, very ripe.  Be sure to keep this difference in mind while searching through the produce aisles.   

Persimmon Bread Pudding with Whipped Cream and Dried Persimmon Slices
about 1 1/2 loaves Challah bread
1 1/2 cups Fuyu persimmon puree, from about 4 peeled Fuyu persimmons
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar, divided in half, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbl butter, sliced into small cubes, plus more for greasing the pan
Pre-heat the oven to 350ᵒF and arrange a rack in the middle position. 
Slice the Challah loaves cross-wise into 1 1/2-inch thick slices.  Remove most of the crust from the perimeter of the slices (no need to be too thorough here – just do as best you can) then slice each bread slice into 1 1/2-inch cubes.  You should have about 12 cups bread.  If not, cube up a couple more slices. 
Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer over a large baking pan.  Bake for about 10 minutes, then toss the cubes to flip most of them over, and continue to bake about 5 to 7 minutes more, until the bread feels firm and dry, like it’s stale.  Cool to room temperature.
A note on pureeing the persimmons:  It’s best to quarter them first, length-wise through the stem.  Then slice off the stems and a small portion of the core.  Then slide your knife just beneath the skin to separate it from the flesh.  Puree in a food processor until smooth.  Four Fuyu persimmons should yield about 1 1/2 cups of puree.
Pureeing Persimmons
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs together with 1/2 cup sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepot, combine the cream, milk and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from the heat, then slowly add the hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly as you pour.  Add the persimmon puree to the custard and whisk to combine.  Add the toasted bread cubes and toss to coat, using a rubber spatula.  Allow the mixture to rest about 15 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally with the rubber spatula.
Generously butter the bottoms and sides of a medium-sized casserole dish, roughly 10-inches by 10-inches.  Pour the custard-soaked bread into the prepared dish.  Dot evenly with the 2 tablespoons of butter, then sprinkle evenly with about 1 tablespoon sugar.  Bake until puffed, golden brown on top and cooked through, about 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.  Slice into portion-sized squares.  Serve topped with whipped cream and garnished with dried persimmon slices (see recipes below).
Whipped Cream

1  cup heavy cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).

Dried Persimmon Slices

Technique adapted from a recipe on
3 ripe yet firm Fuyu persimmons
Pre-heat the oven to 250ᵒF and arrange a rack in the middle position. 
Using a mandolin (or a very sharp knife and a very confident hand), thinly slice the persimmons cross-wise into thin (1/16-inch thick) circles.  Arrange in a single layer over a wire cooling rack placed over a baking pan. 
Thinly-Sliced Persimmons
Bake until dry and curled at the edges, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Be sure not to bake for too long, or they’ll turn from a vibrant orange to a dull orange-brown.  Cool completely to room temperature then store at room temperature in an air-tight container.
Dried Persimmon Slices


  1. Very excited about this one. I have chicken thighs frozen in the freezer, unsure of what to do with them. Is it okay if they don't have bones? Can I still try it?? And I just bought wild rice and I have been wanting to try brussel sprouts (not sure if josh does or not) But really Kate, its like you read my mind :)

  2. Hey Dana :). Go for it with the chicken thighs. The bones are hardly necessary. And the chicken will be easier to eat for lack of them! Chicken thighs, boneless or no, are one of my favorite week night meat options. And wild rice too - you'll love it! Let me know how it all turns out!

  3. Tried it last night. Turned out okay. I was missing a few ingredients and didn't feel like going to the store. So the rice had dried cherries and the chicken had regular old white onions instead of shallots. Well...I guess I mainly just made plain long grain wild rice with shallots etc. It was still good and received a Josh seal of approval.

  4. Well, I'm glad you tried it out, even with the differences :). It's a simple dish, I know, one not packed with huge amounts of 'wow' factor. But that's its charm, I think. Simple, satisfying and cozy.