God Bless Us, Every One

What does a chef-couple eat for Christmas dinner, having just narrowly escaped the end of civilization?

Not turkey, that’s for sure.  I hate turkey!  Plus we just had it 3 or 4 weeks ago didn’t we?

Why does everyone eat turkey, ham, and pumpkins for an entire month, at a time when the weather is most inhospitable and life is most stressful?  Why don’t we eat more “feel good” foods?  Or am I the only one who hates everything about traditional American holiday food?

This year we went to Wegman’s and picked up the makings for Beef Wellington, a little Demi-Glace, and a twist on Green Bean Casserole — Haricot Vert with Caramelized Cipollini Onions and Maitake Mushrooms.

A company called “More Than Gourmet” makes outstanding concentrated stock and sauce products.  Just add a cup of water to a single little $5 capsule of demi-glace base, and you will have a sauce that most people couldn’t make from scratch, even if they did spend 4 times as much and tie up the stove for 2 days.  Reduce a little wine first and it’s even better!

foie gras   veggies   demi glace

We started by making our own all-butter puff pastry.  A dough of bread flour, water, and salt is layered with 50% of its weight in French butter!  Then over a period of a couple hours it is folded and rolled again 6 more times!  The result is a network of microscopically thin layers of dough and butter.  When baked at a very high temperature (at least 400 deg F) steam is created between the layers, causing the layers to rise to as much as 8 – 10 times the original thickness of the dough.  I did some quick math and estimate the number of layers (both butter and flour) at 2,187.  That’s a lot of layers!

puff test 1

We took a center-cut piece of tenderloin, which WAS NOT the center-cut piece we paid for (thanks Wegman’s), thrust a knife steel through it…

tenderloin steel

…opened up the hole a bit more with my fingers…

tenderloin fingers

…and stuffed the hole with about 4 ounces of foie gras that I seasoned, mashed together, rolled into a log, and froze.

inserting foie

Cooking can be dangerously sensuous!

Then the dough was rolled out, brushed with egg wash, and covered with mushroom duxelles.  Duxelles is a mixture of plain white mushrooms that are chopped finely in a food processor with shallots, sautéed, and baked until completely dry and granular.  Their purpose is to 1) add intense flavor and umami, and 2) to soak up the delicious juices that leak out of the meat during baking, thereby keeping the pastry from becoming overly soggy.


spreading duxelle

Finally the prepared meat is rolled up in dough…

placed on dough

roll 1

roll 2

roll 3

The ends are sealed with egg wash…

sealing end

The whole thing is egg washed…


And decorated with some scraps of puff pastry.


ready to bake

We put the Wellington into a 425 deg F oven…

whole wellington

…and 15 minutes later we had delicious Beef Wellington, and a vegetable pot pie for Joan’s vegetarian daughter.

cut wellington 1

veggie pot pie

So after a long day of opening presents we were rewarded with a meal fit for a king–or at least a Duke.

Maybe not the healthiest meal in the world, but there’s always the New Year!

Classic Beef Wellington uses Pate de Foie Gras, not straight foie gras.  This version is a little more decadent, and is a more French version that we made at the now defunct Marais restaurant in Charlotte many years ago.

The Veggie Pot Pie was made from an array of fresh vegetables from Wegman’s spectacular produce section — green peas, baby corn, baby carrots, onions, celery, yellow potatoes, and haricot vert.  All of the vegetables were blanched in plain water, and then that water was strained and fortified with roasted vegetable base from “Better Than Bouillon” (another great convenience product).  The vegetable stock was thickened with roux, the veggies added back in, and the mixture placed in a casserole and topped with puff pastry.  I like to egg wash the rim of the casserole to seal the pastry.  This holds in moisture and flavor, and often promotes a better rise.

For our “green bean casserole” we mixed the beans, cipollinis, and maitakes with some of the veggie veloute and heavy cream.

Believe it or not we didn’t have a dessert.  Forgot all about it.

Joan had been wanting to make Madeleines for some time, so we researched a few things and threw together some Meyer Lemon Madeleines and some Salted Caramel Sauce just for fun.  We’re still enjoying both.

The snow is melting, and we have a fridge filled with exotic fruits from Wegman’s to play with.  Rambutan, Hachiya Persimmon, Satsuma, Feijoa…and we even have a Spotted Dick for when we run completely out of ideas!

“Honey, Christmas is over. How about some Spotted Dick tonight?”