Friday, December 26, 2008
Just before the Christmas season, our local PBS station was deep into its holiday pledge drive. Sometimes they feature cooking demonstrations during such times. But this time, they were featuring the European travels of Rick Steves, our local PBS tour guide host. And not just any Rick Steves--Rick Steves European Christmas Tour!
The show consisted of Christmas traditions within most of Europe--from hiding the tree until Christmas morning, to an all community reenactment of the Nativity story, to each different version of Santa Claus.
With 3 kids now, we've been at the Christmas tradition thing for a few years. However, we found ourselves drifting through the seasons without much direction. And let me tell you--most traditions take some thought and planning! I sure wish we could have "happened" into some great and meaningful traditions, but that wishful thinking wasn't producing results. Time to be proactive.
First, we decided to plan around the advent calendar. Each Sunday night we lit the candles (unfortunately, Michael's--the stroke inducing craft store--was not carrying advent wreath/candle holders....so we made do with a grape vine wreath and a circular candle holder with 5 candles...the extra candle was assigned to Christmas Eve dinner).
In addition to the candles, we drew from a variety of European Christmas ideas and planned an activity for each Sunday night...snowflake making, gingerbread house, cookies, window drawings (very cool Crayola brand window markers). Perhaps most proactive of all...we refrained from setting up the Christmas tree until the very last Sunday before Christmas! I can't tell you how much I loved this part. This must be the first year that I wasn't hating the tree by Christmas day. The anticipation of the tree was really great.
The one aspect of the tree that we saved even longer was its "starring." Christmas Eve was our special night. My family hosted a dinner for my parents and sister's family. Post-dinner, we topped our evergreen with my favorite decoration--the star glittering with thousands of pieces of crushed antique mirror glass. A perfect ending to a fantastic meal.
So let's talk about the meal, because it deserves some text space. When Rick Steves visited a family in France, we witnessed our dinner muse. A brunette French housewife took a beef tenderloin, seared it in foie gras, grated local truffles over the top, and wrapped the whole thing in brioche dough!
Yes, this was the one. My parents graciously contributed the beef tenderloin--an expensive cut of meat to begin with coupled with nearly five pounds of weight. With such a precious hunk of bovine muscle in my refrigerator, I decided I should be a teensy bit more responsible and look up a few recipes just to be safe.
We discovered that this dish is most closely related to a Beef Wellington differing in a few details--butter vs. foie gras, mushroom duxelles filling vs. truffles, and puff pastry vs. brioche.
I fully intended to go to my local Whole Foods for the foie gras and maybe even a truffle (which I've actually never tried yet). However, here in rainy Seattle where it rarely ever snows...we've now been under storm after storm dumping more than a foot of snow. Let's just say that those 8 snow plows that the greater Seattle area owns are not making the grade, especially here on the Eastside. And my super cool mini van lacks snow tires, chains, and 4 wheel drive. We are truly stuck close to home.
So, fancy ingredients were out the window and I wasn't about to attempt puff pastry for the first time! I made some delicious brioche dough (12 yolks!), seared the beef in butter and brandy, and used half of a recipe for the duxelles mushroom filling (we had some mushroom allergies to factor in). Wrap it all up like a present in the brioche...roll out the extra scraps and carved the letters NOEL to decorate the top of the dough...and bake it to tender perfection.
With the addition of my neighbor and her 3 kids (who's father was stuck in Alaska--no flying into Seattle!), we managed to polish off all but one piece of that nearly 5 pound tenderloin. Coupled with creamy risotto, a mandarin orange salad, and my mom's homemade rolls...we were stuffed...with only enough room for a piece of caramely coconutty Laisy Daisy cake!
BEEF WELLINGTON, ALMOST
Preheat oven to 425. Tie a heavy string at several points around a 4-5 pound beef tenderloin. Season very well with salt and pepper. Brush the meat with 2 TB soft butter and 2 TB brandy. Sear it quickly on all sides in a roasting pan, transfer to a rack and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Remove it from the oven, transfer to another rack and cool for about 30 minutes until barely warm to the touch. Remove the string and pat dry with paper towels.
While the beef is cooling, make your Mushroom Duxelles Filling. Finely chop a pound of mushrooms and sprinkle with lemon juice to maintain their color. Melt 4 TB butter in a skillet and add mushrooms, 1/2 c finely chopped scallions, 1/2 c dry sherry (or wine), 1/2 c minced parsley and seasoning. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all the liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes).
Roll out your puff pastry (about 2 pounds) or brioche to about 3/8 inches thick or about 12 by 18 inches. Spread the duxelles over the pastry pushing it into the dough--leave a 1 inch margin around the outside. Place the meat inside and wrap the pastry around the meat, sealing the edges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, seam side down.
Roll out leftover pastry and cut out small designs to suit your purposes for decorating the top. Wrap the Wellington in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Pull out the Wellington to leave at room temperature for another hour before the final baking.
Preheat the oven to 400. Mix a couple of egg yolks with a couple of tsp of cream or milk and brush your pastry. Bake the Wellington for about 45 minutes (the recipe said 30 minutes, but that wasn't enough time). I stuck a meat thermometer in and took it the meat out when it reached 130 degrees for rare beef. I also covered the brioche with a loose foil tent a few minutes into baking as the dough was browning too fast.
Let the meat rest for 15 minutes or so. Then carve into 3/4 inch slices and serve with your favorite gravy (red wine would be great!). We thought truffles and foie gras would be grand. Next time. Also, maybe a dijon mustard coat on the meat would enhance it further. Don't be shy with the salt and pepper!!!
Whew...a lot of work, but worth it. Happy Christmas!