Monday, 22 February 2010

Dinner party

Well it all almost went to pieces due to a surprise snowfall.

Let me explain. I meant to go & get the meat for the main course on Saturday, unfortunately things conspired to get in my way. No problem, the farm shop is open 10-4 on a Sunday, the only thing I need is the Beef (vital, after all the centre piece is a Beef Wellington). I have several recipes for Beef Wellington, the traditional ones require gallons of claret and heaps of Foie-gras. The more modern ones use a mushroom Duxelles. I prepared that & the puff pastry on the Saturday, thinking Sunday would be a quick dash out to get the beef, some work with our friends & then assemble & go.

Fortunately the snow didn't bring everything to a grinding halt & I was able to get out to the farm and get my fillet. The beef I buy is traceable from birth local meat (the cows are usually in the field opposite the shop) that is properly aged. I'm happy to eat this beef raw (and have in the form of carpaccio). However it made a 40 minute errand into a two hour expedition. Needless to say no work got done & I spent time in the Kitchen instead. The pastry was already made as was the duxelles, so the first job was to whip up some square pancakes. In a modern beef Wellington these stop the pastry going soggy by acting as a barrier to the beef juices. Traditionally you used short crust as the bottom pastry & puff on top. Once done (and there is something very odd about square pancakes) they get set aside to cool.

Whilst that was happening I whipped up the batter for dessert a traditional treacle sponge pudding, that was going to be steamed for a couple of hours. The recipe I was using was an all-in-one method, which was a bit of an arm ache since I don't have an electric mixer (mind you it burnt the calories the snowfall had prevented me burning so...). Here it is in the pudding basin.
Remember when making steamed puddings put a string handle on the basin before it goes anywhere near your steaming set up. Also with this one it's going to expand, so make sure you put the pleat in the top covering its going to need it. With all that in mind I wrapped the pudding safely and then found a handy secondary use for crumpet rings as they can be used to keep the basin a lot higher up in the pan so you don't have to keep a very close eye on the pudding boiling dry. The pancakes had cooled enough by this time so it was out with the duxelles and the spatula to coat them. Your fillet then needs to be seared, do this in your favourite way (a quick flaming with brandy is always fun) and then let that cool (yeah there is a bit of waiting about with this recipe).

Beef Wellington construction then begins. Roll out a rectangle of pastry big enough to envelope your beef. Lay the duxelles covered pancakes mushroom side up on the pastry & then lay your fillet in the middle of them. Seal the fillet in the pancakes, then to make things a bit neater & more secure flip the fillet over so the pancake seam is in the middle of the pastry. Seal the beef & pancake construction in the pastry and give it a good egg wash & make sure everything is sealed up, decorate if you like and put in a couple of small steam vents, put aside till about 30 mins before serving. Get the oven warmed up to gas 4 and set your potatoes & veggies going. The beef wants to go in for 25-30mins .As somebody once said to me, "if you aren't going to eat the beef pink, then don't bother with this recipe, its a waste of your time & money".
Let it rest for 5-10 mins & then cut into it.
As you can see I went with rare, rather than medium. The pastry grows & the meat shrinks, so you end up with a bit of extra pastry ends. I was really worried about this dish once it went in the oven, beef fillet is an expensive cut & I was scared it was going to get ruined, fortunately that didn't happen. Between the five of us we managed to eat the entire Wellington, not bad for a 750gr fillet, even the meat free bits of pastry from the end got eaten and one person actually had 3rds of this incredibly rich confection. I was holding back, because simmering away was the pan in which the treacle sponge was steaming.

Another success (phew) even if I didn't grease the basin quite thoroughly enough or allow for the amount of expansion I should have. Serve with crème fraîche ? I don't think so, its not going to make an appreciable dent in the vast pile of calories that you are consuming by simply sticking your spoon in a treacle pudding, so treat yourself and go with real cream or in our case clotted cream. Somehow 3 of us managed seconds on dessert. So there we have it a hugely calorific meal, given the cocktails before hand (a nice Gin & grapefruit number that I'll talk about in more detail later and the wine (a pair of good new world shirazs) I dread to think what we actually consumed. It was a success & I'd be happy to do it again, but its definitely a winter menu.

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