Holiday comfort foods
Chicken potpie is a fine, comforting dinner for most of the winter. But at Christmas, you want comfort with a little more. You want a dinner that’s as special as it is comforting.
So we used the model of a basic puff pastry-topped chicken potpie, but substituted tender sirloin tips for the poultry. Add a creamy beef gravy and you end up with a savory potpie that is the perfect casual, comforting, yet special way to cap a wonderful Christmas.
Christmas Beef Potpie
1¼ pounds yellow potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 medium shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1¼ pounds sirloin tips, cut into 1-inch pieces
Ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
¼ cup red wine
3/4 cup unsalted or low-sodium beef stock
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup heavy cream
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package directions
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, shallots and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook until beginning to brown and caramelize at the edges, about 10 more minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Cook for another 2 minutes.
Transfer to a plate and set aside. Season the sirloin with salt and pepper. Return the skillet to the stovetop over high heat. Add the oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, sear the meat on all sides until well browned, about 3 minutes. The meat does not need to be cooked through.
Once seared, remove the meat from the pan. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the red wine. Scrape up any browned bits from the pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the beef stock and flour. Add to the pan, whisking until thick, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream. Return the beef, vegetables and potatoes to the pan and stir to combine and coat everything with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a medium casserole dish or baking pan.
Unfold the puff pastry sheet and set it over the pan. Use a paring knife to cut slits to vent. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown and the inside is bubbling.
Makes 6 servings.
Lemon Pear Upside-Down Gingerbread Cake
There is no subtle way to say this. This cake screams Christmas. To start with, it’s gingerbread, the aroma of which alone is embedded in the definition of this holiday. That aroma, of course, is paired with an ultra-rich, moist cake that is at once dense, but also light. Then there are the sugar crisp, caramelized sides of the cake, which only build to the tender, sweet, lemony pear slices that crown the cake. Pair this cake with a mug of hot cocoa, coffee or (to be totally indulgent) a frothy glass of eggnog.
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
½ cup white wine
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
3 large pears, peeled, cored and sliced
½ cup golden raisins
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 Tablespoon dry ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
In a skillet over low heat, combine the lemon juice and zest with the wine and ½ cup of the brown sugar. Add the pears and bring to a slow simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the pears are just tender. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the raisins. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a tube pan with baking spray. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar in the bottom of the pan. Arrange the pears, slightly overlapping, over the sugar. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, granulated sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl between additions. Add half the milk followed by half of the flour, mixing before adding the remaining half the milk and flour. Spoon into the prepared pan over the pears.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then place a large overturned plate or platter over the cake. Invert the cake so it is standing on the plate. If any of the pears stick to the pan, carefully remove them and return them to their place on the cake.
Makes 16 servings.