Tuesday, February 10, 2009

80 Plates: Rule Brittania!

So this weekend's two countries, as stated, were Israel and England. I have since discovered that my dish from Israel wasn't so much Israeli as it was Jewish, so I think I'm going to have to have a do-over of Israel. As for England, it represented a true success and a true failure, the failure of which was a bit disheartening as I am a real tried and true daughter of England. And there is a recipe that has always been one that I have always thought I would very much like to try, but never have: beef wellington. I am a devotee of puff pastry, and I figured you wrap it around some beef and voila. Oh no. No, no, no. It's not that easy.

I decided I was going to try Paul Burrell's recipe from his book In the Royal Manner. Burrell for many years was Princess Diana's butler and is vilified for being a total sell out after her death. I have 2 copies of this particular book, one of which is autographed and I keep under wraps. I pulled out the other copy, but I noted with some disdain that the recipe was for mini beef wellingtons, and quite frankly, I wanted to go whole hog and make a big one, and also that it called for foie gras.

Ok, well, I did not know this about beef wellington. So I quickly defected from Mr. Burrell and went to Darren McGrady's book Eating Royally. McGrady, you will recall from my review of this book last year, was Diana's personal chef and also a chef for the entire royal family during his career before moving to the US. He had a recipe for a big beef wellington, but also his called for foie gras.

Crap. Well, that was not going to happen. Although I can actually get foie gras at my local supermarket, I have some issues with forcefeeding ducks until they die just so they have plump livers. Yes, you can make the argument that the cow was probably unhappy to face its end so unceremoniously, but at least it wasn't forcefed with a metal tube that could have punctured its esophagus. Still, I decided to put it to a vote--if the General wanted to try it, then I'd buy some and put it in there. But I wasn't going to like it. The conversation went a bit something like this:

Me: Darling, what's your opinion on having foie gras with dinner?
Him: Foie gras? Don't believe I know the chap.
Me: Oh, you know darling, foie gras. It's made of duck liver or sommat...
Him: Go on. Pull the other one then.
Me: No, truly.
Him: Well, if it's all the same to you, I mean...
Me: Right-o, darling.

Well, if we lived in England, that could have happened. What actually happened was:

Me: Honey, the beef wellington has foie gras in it.
Him: What the hell is foie gras?
Me: Duck liver pate.
Him: Like hell it is.
Me: Seriously.
Him: I'm not eating that.
Me: Yeah, me either.

And thus the matter was decided.

Everything else I was completely faithful to.

Sunday morning, I headed out for my supply procurement expedition. I hit Giant first, by virtue of the fact that it is closest. And then I nearly had a heart attack.

I needed 3 pounds of center cut beef tenderloin. Giant's price!? $14.99 per pound.

"Go on. Pull the other one then."

Seriously!? You have to be the Queen of England to afford $45 dollars for beef for one freakin' meal! This is a week when we needed very few groceries, fortunately, but I can assure you, there's no way I'm spending $45 on some beef. I don't care if that was the happiest cow on the planet before he surrendered to his fate. Sorry.

I looked around desperately for other options. Of course, as you well know by now, I know absolutely nothing about cuts of beef. And nothing appeared even remotely do-able. So I went home to think about it. My dad called. He suggested I should get a boneless prime rib. The General and I pondered the matter over breakfast and the Sunday paper. We were looking at the ads for Best Buy, as he needs a new monitor (that's another story in itself), and we decided to go over to Central Park. I figured I could try Shoppers for the beef while we were there. I also needed a souffle dish for the pudding. (more on that later as well)

Although my dad was skeptical that Shoppers might come through ("Really, Cheese, they specialize in very cheap cuts of meat"), I was undeterred, and Shoppers proved my faithfulness was well placed. I got 2 1/3 pounds of beef tenderloin for about $20. I have no idea if it was center cut or not, but the savings made me very happy. After a quick stop at Target, where I used the money I saved on a souffle dish by Corningware, It was time to go home and cook.

On one of the pages near to Beef Wellington in Eating Royally was a recipe for Andrassy Pudding. A chocolate souffle topped by a rich chocolate frosting, I thought this would be a great way to add a dessert into the mix--I don't believe we have done a dessert yet. I have always wanted to learn to make a souffle, and the directions in the book assured that this was a good one to start with, as if it falls, it's fine, you're going to let it fall anyway. Perfect, I figured! So, I decided to make that first, since baking was involved and I knew I would need the oven later for the beef. The ingredient list was pretty simple: butter, sugar, flour, cocoa, cream, milk, and lots and lots of eggs. I combined the dry ingredients--sugar, flour, and cocoa--and added them to a half stick of melted butter in a sauce pan, where they promptly formed a muddy paste.

However, the next step was to whisk in some milk, which made everything go nice and smoothly. It turned into a lovely smelling, smooth mixture, a lot like I suppose hot chocolate might be like if it had flour in it. Per the directions, I took it off the heat and poured it into a bowl to cool while I beat some egg whites into stiff peaked submission. And, if I may, I'd just like to take a chance to re-iterate how much I love my mixer. It's one amazing piece of machinery. It took no time to whip egg whites.

So that done, it was time to butter the living hell out of the souffle dish, which I enjoyed. Normally I don't like getting my hands greasy, but I was feeling optimistic about this souffle, so I enjoyed it very much. Then, I began to carefully fold everything together, and then poured it into the dish.

I baked it up and voila! I MADE SOUFFLE!!!!!!!!! It puffed up beautifully, cracked a bit on top! I was stoked! Not only had I conquered crepes, I conquered souffle, and I did it all in one day!

Per the directions again, I let it cool a bit and then slid a knife around the outside and then flipped it onto a cooling rack to fully cool. That it did not fall apart, I took to be a very good sign. But it was at this time I realized I was running dangerously short on eggs. Remember in an earlier episode when I stated there are certain things we just don't keep around the house because we don't tend to use them very often? Well, eggs is one of those things. However, the souffle part of the pudding called for a full dozen of them, which fortunately I had the foresight to purchase, and the beef needed some too, as did the 'frosting' part of the pudding. When I began this day, I had 17 eggs in my fridge. By the end of the day, I had zero, and I had used up my egg beaters too!!

However, this was to be the last good news on this pudding, which went on to turn into my first kitchen failure. However, my good friends Elizabeth and Jacalyn/Lady Ozma have informed me that I really should report on my failures as well as my successes, and so, despite my desperate need for all of you to think I am the perfect chef, I am going to report on the full treachery of this pudding. Later.

But isn't she a beauty?

For now, it was time to turn my attention back to the beef. I gathered up all my ingredients again and laid them out. The first thing I had to do was to make a paste out of a pound of portabella mushrooms. Knowing that they would be turned into a paste, I decided to get baby bellas, which I cleaned and then naively crammed into the food processor.

Note to self: the food processor is a powerful tool capable of annihilating many ingredients. It was not, however, designed to do a full pound of mushrooms all at once. So basically, after letting it run a good 4 minutes, I wound up with paste on the bottom and whole mushrooms on top. I had to pull the whole thing apart, scoop out the paste, slice up the mushrooms so that more would fit in near the blades, run it again, scoop out more paste, cram in more mushrooms, and so on until they were a nice mushy paste. Also, it should be noted that the feed chute for your food processor was not really designed to stick the handle of a spatula down to "try and stir things up a bit". There is a high probability that the food processor will not like this.

Isn't the color of the paste beautifully rich?

Then I hacked up some onions and sauteed them in more butter. When this was completed, I added the mushroom paste and let the whole thing cook until "the mushrooms release their liquid and the pan runs relatively dry."

This seemed like it would take a while, so I decided to turn my attention to the beef. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'm not that crazy about how raw beef smells, and also thinking about those poor little ducks got me to thinking about the poor little cow, and I got a little teary eyed over this tenderloin, which is not a happy looking piece of meat. I mixed up a spice rub of dry mustard, celery seed, and salt and fresh ground pepper and rubbed that beef down, giving it a final massage on its journey to becoming food. Then I put it into the only frying pan I had that was even remotely large enough to handle the task of searing the whole thing, which was my electric frying pan.

Yeah, for a cut of beef, it looks kind of hideous

While it may not have looked too pretty, I will say, the smell of it was FANTASTIC. The General came downstairs, stood in the doorway of the kitchen and just inhaled. We both did. It smelled amazing.

Ok, so then it was time to turn my attention back to the mushrooms, which I figured were in pretty good shape by now. I added some heavy cream to them, along with some Worcestershire sauce, and let them cook up a bit more while I rolled out the puff pastry into what I hoped was a large enough rectangle to cover this whole thing.

After that, the hard part was done, if you can call it hard. It really wasn't that challenging. There was a lot to do, but not anything difficult. I had the pastry on the counter, and then smeared it with the mushroom and onion mixture. Then I put the beef on top of the mushrooms and brushed the edges of the pastry with the egg beaters.

After that was completed, all that was left was to basically folded the pastry up, over, and around the beef and kind of seal it, and then brush it with more egg. Then I put it in the oven and finished cleaning up the dishes while preparing the rest of the side dishes. In this case, I acquiesced to the General's demands for mashed potatoes and I added a side of peas.

I decided to bake the beef on a piece of parchment paper, figuring that it would a) be less likely to stick, b) be easier to clean up, and c) make it easier to lift and transfer the beef from the pan to the cutting surface. It turned out I was correct on all accounts, and I highly recommend doing this if you don't have one of those lovely little silicon mats, which I don't. The beef looked glorious when I removed it from the oven. There was some moisture in the bottom of the pan, which I took to mean that I probably had not let the mushrooms cook up enough to really get good and dry, something I would do if I make this again in the future.

It was time to dish up and eat! I decided to get a little bit creative with my mashed potatoes and my Pampered Chef scoop, in honor of the Pampered Chef party last night, and I made a little daisy out of my mashed potatoes. Oh c'mon, you love it! The General just got a mound of potatoes, but I got a flower. It also made my meager serving of potatoes seem like more than they were, which is always a good thing. I expect mashed potato daisies to be all the rage in haute cuisine in the very near future. The beef sliced up beautifully--it was so tender. I cut off the two ends, as they contained only mushrooms and pastry, but I'll be quite honest--I ate the end later and it was amazing. The only thing I thought was that it was a bit salty, which was when I discovered I had used celery salt, not celery seed as I thought I had done. So read those labels carefully when buying this stuff at the store!

I asked The General to give me a thumbs up after he assured me that he liked it, so here he is giving the dish a positive review while not pausing to pose. He wanted to eat, damn it!

After supper, we cleaned up and the General requested that I put some beef in his lunch for the next day. Mind you, this beef was LOADED with mushrooms and onions. There is hope for picky eaters yet!

Ok, so I cleaned up everything and then it was time to turn my attention to the frosting for the pudding. I had actually made it earlier in the day, combining more flour, cocoa, and sugar with heavy cream, butter, and eggs. It was supposed to sit, so I wasn't too concerned with the fact that it seemed very, very soupy. However, as I returned to it at 8:00 that evening, it was still very, very soupy. I decided to make up some whipped cream, as the recipe said it should be served with whipped cream, so while my mixer was quickly making delicious clouds of cream, I debated the problem with the 'frosting soup'. Clearly, I had forgotten to put something in. I re-read the ingredient list and could not find a single thing I had missed. I went through it line by line and nothing seemed amiss.

I sliced up the souffle, and I was supposed to spread the frosting on the cut part. But there was no way it was going to spread. Honestly, it would have soaked right through. I was also left with another problem: the souffle, when sliced, was falling apart. It was very, very moist in the middle--not underdone, but just very moist--and when I pulled off the top half, it broke. I managed to sort of push it back together on the cooling rack, but this was devolving rapidly.

Ultimately, I decided that what I should do was to fold the chocolate mixture in with the whipped cream. Unfortunately, it was so thin that it really turned the whipped cream into soup too. But even more unpleasantly, some of the cream refused to give in and formed little clumps in the overall mess, so I had a kind of chunky tan mass. But there really wasn't anything to do with it, so I decided to just put it on the souffle and hope for the best. I poured some of it onto the bottom layer, and as you can see, it started to run out all over the place. After this picture was taken, it made a break for the counters even.

In for a penny, in for a pound, so I then picked up the entire cooling rack, said a prayer, and flipped. Well, when a fairly heavy substance hits a fairly soupy substance, you can imagine one result and one result only: splatter. I didn't get a picture of it, but there was soup in the toaster. Ugh. I was getting kind of upset now. I had been looking forward to this chocolate fantasticness for some time, and it was rapidly turning into something horrible. The cake was falling apart, the sauce was going everywhere. Ugh. I poured the rest of the cream over it and quickly snapped a picture, then called the General.

I mean seriously, could it look worse?

We 'cut' into it with a spoon and scooped out a couple of servings. And I have to say, despite its spectacular failure, it tasted delicious. It was chocolately and sweet without being too sweet or too rich. It really was an amazing dessert and I think I will try making it again without messing up the frosting this time! Because, you see, it occurred to me in the middle of the night that what I'd done wrong was to put in 1/4 cup of flour and not 1 1/4 cups of flour. And that clearly made all the difference.

Sadly, we had to put the rest of it down the disposal. While we were eating, it just literally fall apart and went everywhere. I've never had such a chocolatey mess to clean up!

I have lots more recipes to try from this book, but these are the two I'll count from England! Great success and great failure, but everything tasted great, as usual. And if Mikey likes it...

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Cindy said...

I made a cake once - when I was very young. I put in 11 and 1/4 cup water, and not 1 and 1/4 cup water. I couldn't understand why it wouldn't fit in the pan - I think I had to use 2 or 3. And it was awful cake. Haha.

Can you send me the whole recipe for the beef wellington? I'd love to make that someday. IS the mushroom paste take the place of the duck liver? So normally, it would be that on the inside and not the mushrooms?

Kate/Susan said...

Hey Cindy:

I'll be happy to send you the recipe. I don't have your email address tho', so send it to me at my home address which is s u s a n k ( at ) m k o s i o r ( dot ) c o m

The mushrooms and the liver are both supposed to be inside. The only thing different was that I left the liver out.