Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

I prepared this stew with boar meat, because boar reminds me of autumn in Europe when it’s the season of la chasse – or hunting season.  Like most game, boar is lean and has a slightly gamey flavor. It benefits from slow cooking and pairs well with powerful aromatics such as juniper, winter fruit and spirits, such as Calvados and Armagnac. If you cannot find boar meat, pork is a good substitute.

Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
3/4 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork or boar shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and a handful of parsley leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
5. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bay leaves and bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve warm with mashed potatoes or polenta.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300 F. oven before serving.) 

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

Pots de Crème are an entertainer’s best friend. They may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and are very easy to make. With just a little finesse, and some high quality chocolate, you can be sure to wow your guests. Depending on the vessel in which they are served, they are an appropriately small shot of rich chocolate following  a heavy meal, or a moreish serving for the chocoholics at the table. Keep it simple with straight-up chocolate, or dress it up with Gran Marnier. This recipe is a keeper.

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

This recipe requires refrigeration before serving for at least 6 hours. For best results, prepare at least one day before serving. Makes 6 large or 12 small servings.

1  3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70-72%), finely chopped
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream
Candied orange peel and/or raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Combine cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove and add chocolate, whisking until melted and thoroughly incorporated. Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add chocolate to the eggs, whisking constantly. Mix in Gran Marnier if using. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Blot foam from the top of the chocolate with a paper towel or skim with a spoon.
Pour chocolate into demi-tasse cups or 3/4 cup ramekins. Cover each cup with foil. Place cups in a large baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan until it reaches half-way up the side of the cups. Bake until the chocolate is set but still wobbles in the middle, about 40 – 50 minutes depending on the size of the cups. Remove and transfer cups to a wire rack; cool. Cover and refrigerate pots de crème at least 6 hours (or overnight). Bring to room temperature before serving.
Serve with Gran Marnier Whipped Cream. Garnish with candied orange peel or raspberries.

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream:
Before serving, beat 1/2 cup heavy cream in bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Whisk in 2 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons Gran Marnier and beat until stiff peaks form, taking care not to overbeat.

Aprés-Ski Menu: Beef Bourguignon

 

During the winter season I like to prepare rustic recipes from the French countryside. These hearty dishes are made with staples from the land, such as potatoes and root vegetables, bitter winter greens, cured meats and cheese.  My favorite is beef bourguignon, a stew consisting of a tough cut of beef slow-cooked in Burgundy wine until falling-apart tender, mingling with carrots, onions and mushrooms in a rich, savory stock.  It’s a delicious one-pot meal perfect for a cold night or an apres-ski meal. It can easily be made in advance, and like most stews, tastes even better the next day for easy planning. Enjoy with a glass of red wine, a roaring fire, friends and family.

Beef Bourguignon

Serves 6 to 8

Olive oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cognac
4 large carrots, divided
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 (750-ml.) bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme
10 ounces pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar

1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof pan with lid or Dutch-oven. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the beef to the pan, without over-crowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining beef.
2. Add the cognac to the same pan and deglaze over medium-high heat, scraping up any brown bits, and reduce by half. Pour the cognac over the beef and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 F. (170 C.)  Coarsely chop 2 carrots. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan. Add the chopped carrots, the garlic, and onion. Sauté over medium heat until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Return the beef and any collected juices to the pot. Add the wine, stock, tomato paste, and thyme. (The beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more wine or stock to cover.) Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
4. About 30 minutes before the beef is finished cooking, cut the remaining carrots into 1/2-inch slices. Saute the carrots in a skillet with 1 tablespoon oil until bright in color and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions and mushrooms to the same skillet and sauté until lightly golden and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
5. Remove beef from oven. Pour the stew into a large strainer set over a bowl. Remove the meat from the mixture and return to the Dutch oven, then press down on the cooked vegetables in the strainer to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the solids.
6. Pour the strained liquid into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half and has a sauce consistency, skimming the fat from surface. Add the sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce back over beef and add the carrots, onions, and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer to heat through, then serve.

Note: Beef bourguignon can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove solidified fat from surface before reheating. Reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop, or in a 325 F oven.