Food Memories: First Chesnuts of the Season!

Chestnuts, more than many other things, make me happily nostalgic for the time I spent living in Italy. Although I knew the refrain well from Christmas carols, I’d never actually eaten a chestnut until my Italian mamma Maria Teresa made them for me. At the time, I was studying in Florence and coming down to Rome on the weekends for a visit. At one point, she stated that it was chestnut season, noting that Tuscan chestnuts were sweeter and thus preferable to those grown in Lazio. I proceeded to bring her several kilos every weekend for the rest of chestnut season.

The first time I brought them to her, she excitedly put them in a frying pan on the stove, after slicing the dark brown part against the grain. She covered the pan and let them heat up, and when we started to hear a popping sound, she removed them from the heat and put them on a plate. After admonishing us to wait until they cooled to dig in, she finally proffered one to me — and I promptly put the entire thing in my mouth. Every Italian around started either to laugh or lunge in horror as I began the spit it back out…ma lo devi sbuciare prima! You must take the shell off first! What did I know? I’d never had one before. Choking and laughing aside, I finally dug into the surprisingly sweet meat of the nut. Then, I finished off the plate.

Chesnuts roasting on an open fire…as in my gas stove…
Such good memories. I love fall!

Party Favors: Smoked Trout Hash

In addition to the venison and cheese, I also brought home about three pounds of house-smoked trout from the Telluride event. Of all the left over ingredients, the fish had me the most worried — smoking would have preserved it for the first go-round, but after it had been opened and dressed with onions and oil, how long would fish last in a Tupperware container? Fortunately, I found a recipe for smoked trout hash that would be easy to execute, using things I already had in my pantry: eggs, cream, scallions, onions, and potatoes. I whipped up a big batch for a potluck dinner that I am heading to in a few hours, leaving a bit for brunch. Served with raw mache lettuce (Toni’s favorite, I have now discovered, since he devoured it raw during post-event clean-up), it was the perfect Sunday morning meal.

Smoked trout hash with mache lettuce

Smoked Trout Hash

  • 5 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 lbs. smoked trout, skinned and shredded
  • 2 egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 tbsp. butter

1. Sauté potatoes and onions in a frying pan for a few minutes until slightly browned, then cover with salted water, allowing to simmer over medium heat for about ten minutes. Cook until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a knife, then drain.

2. Gently mix cooked potatoes and onions, smoked trout, egg, heavy cream, and scallions in a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add potato-trout mixture and fry, turning occasionally, until the hash begins to get a golden brown color and crisp texture. You may need to increase heat to get a good sear.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a side of undressed mache lettuce.

Recipe adapted from SAVEUR.

Party Favors: ColoRouge Cheese Biscuits

Also on Chef Roth’s menu was a ColoRouge Grilled Cheese, little baguette rounds filled with homemade pesto, arugula, and slices of a stinky Camembert-style cheese from MouCo Cheese Company in Colorado. The cheesy bites were delicious, but with several blocks of the young cow’s milk cheese left over, the fridge at work was already beginning to smell. I decided to take few blocks home to see what I could do with them.

Photo courtesy of MouCo Cheese Company.
I decided I wanted to make some sort of cheese biscuit to go with the venison pie but worried about making a traditional cheddar-style biscuit since this was a soft cheese, rather than a hard one. Inspired by a recipe from the Home on the Range blog, I froze the cheese so that I could grate it into the dry ingredients.
Grating the peeled cheese into the dry ingredients.
Using my fingers, I gently combined the flakes of frozen cheese and butter into the flour, baking powder, and baking soda mixture, added a cup of milk to create a dough, and then dropped them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. The biscuits were ready to eat 12-15 minutes later — hot, steamy, and a hint of delicious cheesiness, ready to sop up the dregs of the pie.
ColoRouge Cheese Biscuits
ColoRouge  Cheese Biscuits
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, frozen solid
  • 1/2 wheel of ColorRouge cheese, frozen solid
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients together into a chilled bowl. Using a cheese grater, grate the butter and cheese through the large holes. Gently mix the shaved butter and cheese into the dry ingredients with your fingers until loose and crumbly. 
Add 2/3 cup of the milk to the bowl, stirring together. Add a little more at a time as needed to incorporate all the dry ingredients, but do not exceed one cup. The mixture should come together in a loose, slightly sticky dough.
Knead together a few times in the bowl. Place a large spoonful of dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, evenly spaced. Bake 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees til golden brown. Serve immediately.
*Any soft cheese, such as a brie or Camembert, could be used instead, although I think the stinkier the better; the flavor mellows as baked.

Party Favors: Venison Hunter’s Pie

The SAVEUR team had a big event with Telluride Ski Resort on Thursday night in the SAVEUR kitchen, featuring the cooking talents of the Telluride Executive Chef Stephen Roth.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Henley-Anderson

One of the featured dishes was a rack of venison with spiced huckleberry Port sauce. It was delicious, but a little tough to eat at a cocktail party without knife and fork…so there was plenty leftover, and I went home with about 25 pieces of venison. However, unlike last time when I brought home the lamb, the meat was already cooked; I needed to figure out how to incorporate it into other dishes that I could eat or freeze to make sure the meat didn’t go to waste.

Photo courtesy of Courtney Henley-Anderson 

For the first attempt, I decided I wanted to riff off of the traditional Shepherd’s Pie — a hearty dish of lamb, vegetables, and mashed potatoes — by making a sort of “Hunter’s Pie” with venison as the base meat. I began by cutting the meat off of the bones, throwing the latter into a pot of salted water with other vegetable remnants to make stock. Meanwhile, I cut the venison into cubes and quickly browned them; after removing the meat from the heat, I added finely chopped carrots and leeks to the pan juices to soften them. 
Primary ingredients coming together on the stovetop. 

I added the meat back to the pan, along with the stock, some Worcestershire sauce, flour, and some herbs, then let everything simmer in the pan for about an hour and a half. In another pan, I covered some russet potatoes with salted water and brought it to a boil. Twenty minutes later, once strained, I added a splash of cream, a tablespoon of butter, and some salt & pepper, then set the mashed potatoes aside. When everything was ready, I assembled the crust-less “pie,” topping the meat with the mashed potatoes.

“Hunter’s Pie” fresh from the oven. 

Once the potatoes turned a light golden brown number and the venison roux began to bubble, I removed the pie from the oven and let it cool briefly. Digging into the meal, we discovered that the nutmeg in the spice blend complemented the gaminess of the meat — and I even think I preferred this dish with venison rather than lamb. I served it with a side of spinach and a cheese biscuit to sop up the jus, and we sipped on the Clos de la Roilette 2009 Beaujolais from Fleurie, the same wine that had been paired with chef Roth’s rack of venison. Its complexity, with a bit of earthiness as well as bright fruit, was a refreshing contrast to the weight of the meal.

First round of leftovers = success!

Hunter‘s Pie
  • 8 venison chops, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, finely chopped 
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1⁄2 cups venison stock 
  • 1 tbsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped thyme leaves
  • 1⁄8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • Splash of Organic Valley half-and-half
1. Melt 2 tbsp. of the butter in a large pot over high heat. Add one-third of the venison and brown on all sides, then transfer to a plate, leaving fat in pot. Repeat process 2 more times, using 2 tbsp. of the butter and one-third of the venison for each batch. Add leeks and carrots to pot, reduce heat to medium, and cook until softened, scraping up any browned bits. Return venison and its juices to pot along with flour and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Whisk in stock, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until venison is tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover pot and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, 35–40 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, put potatoes into a large pot and cover with salted water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, 20–25 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes to a bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the butter, half-and-half, and salt and pepper to taste; mash until smooth.
3. Preheat oven to 375°. Transfer venison to a pie dish. Top evenly with mashed potatoes, and top with small cubes of butter, scattered over potatoes. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes.
Recipe adapted from SAVEUR.