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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cry Havoc, and Unleash the Dogs of War!

When referring to one's first day back at the office after vacation, I'm sure most of us have used the phrase, "re-entry's a bitch!" The same could be said for taking down the Christmas tree. I've always gotten a live tree, and every year I vow to get an artificial one for the next because the mess the real ones create. 

Getting the tree down this year was particularly taxing. Maybe the tree was kinda dry from the start. It took me over an hour to vacuum up the pine needles. (And I keep finding them in odd places—sock drawer!?)

© 2013 Chris Terrell
Alas,  poor Xmas tree!
As you can imagine, getting my place back to some semblance of pre-Holiday order felt like a battle that I was on the verge of losing. Think A Christmas Story meets the Sommeyou'll poke your eye out kid with that tree branch!

But I was determined to get 
it done. I even forgot to eat lunch. So by late afternoon, with the energy from my small bowl of Cheerios long gone, my stomach was really roaring. But what to eat?! Plenty, if you counted the 23 boxes of chocolate-covered cherries, pralines, truffles, nuts, and caramel popcorn that I had collected as gifts over the past several weeks. No, I needed real food. But want could I cook that would be low fuss and fill my belly?

Vive la Napoleon!
And then it hit me! Having battled the Christmas tree all day, what would be more appropriate than Chicken Marengo!? A dish named for a battle! This would be perfect. It would combine my love of cooking and eating with my love of history.

Whether true or not, the story goes that after Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo, his personal chef created the eponymous chicken dish out of ingredients he could find in the nearby town. Supposedly Napoleon enjoyed it so much, he had it served to him after every battle. (Though, probably not at Waterloo!) 

Chicken Marengo


1 (2 1/2 lb.) chicken 
2 tablespoons oil
2 heaping tablespoons butter (this is a French recipe after all!)
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1/3 cup of flour
Generous 3/4 cup of chicken stock. (I prefer chicken stock—Swanson—and despite the reference.)
Generous 3/4 cup of white wine (I use a dry Chardonnay (Chablis) or un-oaked American.) 
Salt and pepper
7 ounces of button mushrooms, chopped
2/3 cup of tomato paste


Cut up the chicken. (Or like me, ask the butcher nicely to do it for you. I recommend cutting it into six pieces and use the wings for something else, as they will be overdone.) Heat the oil and butter in a dutch oven, such as Le Creuset or Staub. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and then generously apply salt and pepper. Then add the chicken pieces and begin to brown them over medium-high heat. When they are half-browned, remove the chicken to a plate. De-glaze the pan with the white wine and then add the parsley, shallot, flour, and stock. Stir so the flour is incorporated. Return the chicken to the pan and cover and cook gently (i.e., low) for one hour.

©2013 Chris Terrell
Chicken Marengo, or at least my version of it.
After an hour, remove the chicken and add the tomato paste and mushrooms and stir to incorporate the paste. Return chicken to the pan, cover, and cook for another thirty minutes.

Place the chicken on a serving plate and cover with the sauce. Voila!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

©2013 Chris Terrell

Now, of course I needed something other than the chicken. I needed something green, which had been missing from my Holiday diet. And this being winter, you can never go wrong with Brussels sprouts. One of my favorite vegetables, though I must admit that I hated them as a kid. Brussels sprouts are a great vegetable because they are so versatile. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is the simplest: roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Poires à la Crème

© 2013 Chris Terrell
And this being Christmas, I had plenty of pears sitting around from Harry & David. Pears make a wonderful, yet simple desert. I referred again to my trusty I Know How to Cook cookbook and found a recipe for Poires à la crème (Pears with Creme):


12 small, firm pears
1/2 cup superfine sugar [you can take regular sugar and grind it in the food processor]
Crème Anglaise (see below)

Peel the pears, leaving the stems attached. Place the sugar, vanilla, and 1 cup water in a large pan/pot and slowly bring to a simmer. (You can omit the vanilla if you put vanilla in the crème anglaise.) Gently simmer the pears in the syrup for 30 minutes, or until the pears are tender. Remove and drain. Increase the heat to medium-ugh and boil to reduce the syrup to half its volume.  Pour over the pears. Make a thick crème anglaise with the milk, sugar,  and egg yolks. Coat the pears with the sauce.

Before I get to the crème anglaise, the question may arise as to which pears to use.  I used what I had on hand, which were your run-of-the-mill barlett pear. They are great for grabbing as a snack, but if I had my druthers, I would have gone with bosc or comice pears.

Because bosc pears have a firm, dense flesh they are ideal for baking, broiling, or poaching. Some would describe their taste as "woodsy" or "honey-sweet." Comice pears are Rubenseque, with a full and round shape. They have a custardy flesh and a mellow sweetness that make them a good dessert pear.  

What really makes this desert work is the crème anglaise, which I had never made before. I had always heard of it, but never made it. It is physically hard work.  When the recipe states that you are to stir constantly, they are not kidding! I stood over that pan for a good twenty minutes whisking until I thought my arm would fall off. But it was worth it. The crème anglaise had a rich, custard flavor that was silky smooth in texture. Next time I make chocolate fudge cake, I'm going to pour this over it.

Here's the recipe for crème anglaise:


Generous 2 cups whole milk

Scant 1/3 cup of sugar
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract


Place the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. In a large pan (preferably a Windsor pan), bring the milk and sugar to warm simmer. Pour the milk into the bowl with the egg yolks and whisk. Then pour this mixture back into the pan, add the vanilla extract and gradually thicken over low heat stirring almost nonstop. The mixture should thicken until it coats the back of a spoon. Do not let it boil. And you really have to stir the hell out of it.

There you have it. A late-winter, French, post-holiday meal. Enjoy. I did.

Bon appétit! And Happy New Year!

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