Monthly Archives: May 2010

Beef, Butchers, and Butter

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti

So next on our list: Beef Wellington.  Beef Wellington, like most entrees with surnames in their titles, has a back story.  The dish got its name from the Duke of Wellington who earned the honor by sending word of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. The French had created the dish and called it “filet de boef en crote”. The Duke apparently loved it and the English wanted to spite that silly French “emperor”…so the name got changed.

So basically Beef Wellington is the original “freedom fries”.

I used the recipe from The Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 2006 edition).  Classic recipe = classic cookbook.  And there is NOTHING more classic than TJOC….in fact, it’s going to require its own post.  Stand by.

Back to the beef.  There are basically four big ingredients: 1. the beef; 2. the puff pastry; 3. the pate or foie gras; 4.  something called “duxelles”.  I’ve pronouncing this like “duck’s L’s” which I think is pretty close.  No doubt the French would still pretend they couldn’t understand me….

First: buying the ingredients.  Most recipes call for a fillet of beef.  So basically a really big (eg. 3 lbs) filet mignon.  Which, I discovered, you have to pre-order and may have required pawning some of my personal belongings.  So- I chatted up the butcher at our local grocery store and asked for a substitute…he gave me a well marbled bottom roast tender enough to cook in the oven.  A 3 1/2 pound roast was about $13.  WIN.

Sidenote: I attempted to befriend the men working at the meat counter…I think they may be invaluable to this project.  They, in turn, demanded that I report back on the outcome of the Beef Wellington. DEAL.

Beef, shallots, Madiera, Mushrooms, and Pate. Mmmm.....

I also had to ask for help finding some sort of liver/pate/foie gras.  This deeply concerned the assistant manager….but HUZZAH!! They had it!  For future reference: the canned meat section is home to this treasure.  Also for future reference, I will try to avoid using the phrase “canned meat”.

First, the mysterious “duxelles”. This recipe was also in TJOC.  You mince a pint of mushrooms in the food processor and dry them off with a paper towels.  Saute them with lots of butter and finely chopped shallots until all the liquid is gone and they have browned.   Add 2 tablespoons of Madeira wine…which smells thick and boozy, like an after-Masterpiece-Theater kind of drink, and cook until evaporated. This is duxelles.

Cool this mixture.  Later mix the duxelles with about 1/2 cup of the pate and a couple tablespoons of Madeira to make a paste.

Next, sear your roast on ALL sides just to start the cooking.  Then let cool.  While this happens get your puff pastry situated so you can wrap your whole roast in it.  I needed two sheets rolled together to cover the roast.

Puff pastry, smeared with goodness, getting wrapped around the beef

Sprinkle the counter with flour and don’t over handle the pastry or it will start melting…it’s 1/2 butter.  No, I’m not joking.  Puff pastry is half butter.  So. Amazing.

So next you smear the duxelle/pate mixture on the pastry, center the beef on it, and smear the remaining mixture all over the beef.  Then, fold the pastry over the beef and seal the edges with an egg wash (egg + a little water + a little milk).   Disclaimer: this looks gross.

The whole things goes SEALED SIDE DOWN on a greased pan.  Cut a few slits to release the steam and to create a place where you can check the temp of the meat. Traditionally, you decorate the top with leftover pastry in the shape of vines and flowers.  I attempted two flowers but they looked like the trees in Horton Hears a Who.

350 degrees for about 45 minutes, then start checking with a meat thermometer. 160° is about medium, but keep in mind  it will keep cooking post-oven.  Pull it out and let rest.  I had to use a meat fork and a massive spatula to move it…veeerrry gourmet.

And…..drumroll please……

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Honorary Mention

When I was making the list of 30 I called my mom.  Naturally.  90% of the US population views their mother’s kitchen as the source of all their best meals.  And the other 10% would say their grandmother’s kitchen.

So, Mom threw a couple ideas out there: Irish Soda Bread (done that).  Lamb. (done that too).

Then my mom actually suggested roast goose to me.  And she said it just like that: “roast goose”.  Completely serious.  Do you know anyone who has roasted a goose? I don’t.  I can think of no one who has roasted a goose other than Bob Cratchit’s family.  I protested that it might be difficult to find a goose….she would have none of it.  “I’m sure your grocery store has goose.”   Oh, of course….right next to the figgy pudding.

A Christmas doubt complete with roast goose.

So “roast goose” did not make the list.  Buuuuut….if I turned 30 during the holidays, I would have had to do some serious research on procuring a goose.

I mean how awesome would it be to cry joyfully “The CHRISTMAS GOOSE!!” a la Tiny Tim on December 25th.

Pretty awesome.

A soft opening: applesauce

“Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.”  The Song of Solomon

All right everyone, (takes a deep breath) here we go!

Up first from the list of 30: applesauce.  I know…its not terribly exciting, but sometimes simple things are unexpectedly good.   Well that and you like to have a victory early on.

After reading through a handful of different recipes, I decided to go with a really simple one from The Martha Stewart Cookbook (Crown Publishing, 1995).  The recipe was simple and straightforward which seemed like the best bet for a final product that is, well, simple.

I used a mix of Braeburn and Pink Lady apples.  Pink ladies of course being the wild apples of the produce world…stealing their parents cigarettes and chasing boys.

I chose two kinds of apples as recommended by several recipes.  This is to make the sauce more balanced and complex.  I used about 5 pounds of apples total.

Pink Lady Apples...oh la la.

The apples get quartered, seeded, and then tossed in a heavy pot with 1/3 cup of water and a couple tablespoons of lemon juice.

Cover the pot so the steam keeps breaking down the apples. Then cook and cook and cook.  Make sure you stir every so often so that all the apples are being evenly cooked.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: every time you open the pot, you’ll be temporarily transported to a fall evening with a glass of hot apple cider in your hand.  The smell of cooking apples is crisp and lusciously saturated with the smell of apples.  Every time I lifted the heavy lid I found myself leaning down and breathing.  Mmmmmmm…..cider.

So after you’ve breathed in the autumn, appley goodness, and after the apples are all very soft, remove them from the heat and let cool slightly.  Now comes the fun part: you get to use a kitchen gadget!  I heart kitchen gadgets!  And I like to occasionally validate their presence by actually using them.

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Making the Cut

“And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath” – Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Building a list of 30 recipes was more difficult than I’d thought. I got about ten down and realized I needed to ask the audience.  I got lots of great suggestions and the promise of one family recipe.  Annnnnd of course some silly ones.  You know who you are- Haggis?!  C’mon.   So here’s  how I weeded them out for purposes of “the list”.

1. Some things have been done.

I have conquered, with varying success, cheesecake, thanksgiving turkey, fondue, creme brulee, etc.  (pats self on back). When you love eating and buying kitchen tools, its inevitable that some things get crossed off the list.

2. Some required preparation that seemed borderline irresponsible.

Sushi is best left to experts…..yes, Hy-Vee, I’m looking at you.  I know a little about food and our house is equipped with proper refrigeration, but still.

Ceviche was also on my list at one point. Ceviche is raw fish “cooked” in acid from limes.  Fresh, light, delicious…and yet, what if its under “cooked”??  Poisoning of one’s handsome husband is typically frowned upon– better left to the lyrics of weird country songs by singers of questionable patriotism (oh relax..I’m joking!)

So we’ll stick with some less exotic cooking methods and keep ourselves a safe distance from the ER.

This should also serve as a fair warning for all of you thinking of deep frying a turkey.

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30 Before 30….

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” – Julia Child

Last week it hit me: I’m 15 weeks from turning 30.  Sigh.  30 is hard. Just saying “thirty” feels very serious and settled.

So I decided to make a list…a happy list to distract me.  A PROJECT.  I love a project.  Lists, planning, errands, research…fulfillment.  And, there is currently a project void in my life.  Sadly, I am not allowed to plan my own wedding every year.  (judge away)

So, the project list started as a list of things to do.  I got to about #11.  Ummm, it was boring.  Really boring. Honestly…one of the items was “match white paint in the living room”.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.   Then, on the morning commute…I got it.

30 quintessential recipes. Pillars of cooking. Dishes you make and feel like you’ve accomplished something when you set them on a table…as if you’ve reached some sort of unwritten kitchen goal.  You’ve created something unlike any other food…you can boldly proclaim to Facebook “_____ successfully made a croquembouche!”*

So here is my list. Some are easy, some are hard. Some are common, some fancy and French.** And I’ve made none of them…yet.

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