Beef Wellington!

I’m just getting back to my desire for cooking elaborate things. My biggest supporter and motivation being gone… for awhile I was having to remind myself that it was time for food, again, and eating it was a chore.

Monday was ideal, since our friends are still coming over every week and they’re on board anytime I’m feeling creative! I had last Monday off from work and resolved to make something extra yummy, having been sick the previous two weeks and resorted to ordering pizza. He’d always wanted to make beef wellington, having been inspired by Gordon Ramsey, but never managing to get there.

After a bit of research, I was ready to go and decided to make individual ones, using filet mignons. Providence smiled on me, for the day after I had thus decided, my boss sent me to Wegmans, the largest local grocery and I was able to get prosciutto de parma!

Monday rolled around and I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen! Somehow I managed to wait until 17:00, then into the kitchen I went! Started with the mushroom duxelles (I wish I spoke French and knew how to say this word!), using the mini food processor to finely chop all the mushrooms (work smarter, not harder!). It took them quite awhile to brown up, but they smelled wonderful!

While the duxelles cooled, I seasoned and browned the meat.

I used pre-bought puff pastry sheets (my one concession), rolled thinly and cut in half.

Having prepped everything, I took piece of puff pastry, laid a piece of prosciutto in the middle of it and placed a filet on top of that. I then spread some of the duxelles on the meat, folded the prosciutto over that and folded the pastry dough around the entire thing, sealing the seams with egg wash. Lastly, I placed it on a parchment-lined  baking sheet and egg washed it all over.

Repeat X 5.

Into the oven for 20 minutes, then out to rest before we cut into them. The suspense was getting to everyone, for they smelled amazing! I had served a brie en croute with black raspberry as an appetizer and it had worked, they were hungry!!

Success! I’m not one to toot my own horn (that was his job), but they were cooked perfectly and were a beautiful red in the middle. I enjoyed watching everyone taste theirs before sampling mine. WOW! It was full of complex flavors, one of those I-can’t-believe-I made-that moments. One week later, I’m still stuck there.

The broccoli casserole I’d made to go alongside it was tasty too and has potential for many variations, I also shall hold onto that recipe.

My unexplained absence explained…

Hello friends on the internet,

As I’m hoping you noticed, I haven’t been on lately. Allow me to explain… *exhales*… my fiance had a heart attack one Sunday morning and has gone up to Heaven.

Needless to say, this knocked a lot of the wind out of my sail, not to mention the fact that I was kept busy with arrangements.

I did do some cooking,baking, and eating over the summer, but since work goes crazy every summer, I was too exhausted every evening to do more than survive. Not to mention that I’ve been debating how to post this news.

Since school has started again and I have more free time, I have forced myself to post this. I am not entirely sure what the future holds for me, but I hope to keep this blog going for a little longer at least.

Au Gratin Bistro – Carlisle, PA

Spoiler Alert: Another disappointment in Carlisle. If there was just one restaurant with consistently tasty food around here, they would thrive!

We’d seen this new spot once before, but they weren’t open, so when we passed them again last Saturday, and they were serving, we went in to see a menu. It had several intriguing dishes and so we got a table. The water was from the tap, but served in a glass bottle to give the appearance of being something better. We’ve seen this before in Carlisle. The water was unpleasant and the soda we ordered instead was nearly flat!

After much discussion, we settled on two dishes to share; a duck salad (duck leg confit on arugula) and butternut squash ravioli with rabbit confit.

One of the dishes came with a side, so we both had a small salad. They were kind enough to divide all the dishes onto separate plates before serving. When asked for our choice of dressing, we inquired if the vinaigrette was made in house… we never got an answer, just that dressing on the side.

We asked for some bread to go with the salad, but the salads were long gone before the rolls arrived, still frozen on the bottom. This wasn’t encouraging.

After more then half an hour, we were told the delay was do to the ravioli we’d ordered, and were thus confused when our plates arrived to determine that they were of the pre-bought, frozen variety. Why did they take so long?! Everything else had sat under the heat lamp for so long that our meat was dry and over-done. The sauce on the ravioli showed promise, but not enough to redeem the meal.

All in all, we still managed to have a good time, but for the money spent we could have had a fantastic time at one of our favorite restaurants in Harrisburg. We do, however continue to hold out hope that one day, there will be a great place to eat in Carlisle.

A Christmas Feast (for New Year’s)… Part Three (The Eating!)

Settled in to eat and found myself suddenly very tired. Having gotten everything on the table after pushing all day, I was out of steam, but still managed to fill my plate, mouth and stomach, in that order.

Shrimp puffs; Two of my friends requested the recipe and one doesn’t cook at all!

Herbed Green Beans; The letdown of the night to me, the feta cheese I’d gotten was store-brand and VERY mild. Also, the lemon peel just didn’t work for me.

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Cranberry Sauce; Might have been made a little too far ahead, the orange had heightened and the sugar lessened, but then, I like tart things, so I was fine with it.

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Giblet Gravy; There was so much flavor that every gravy after this shall have a hard time meeting the mark.

Turducken; Done to perfection, the chicken was done, but the turkey beasts weren’t dried out at all! I love meat thermometers.

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Wild Mushroom, Bacon, and Sourdough Stuffing; all three elements held up well against each other.

Baked Alaska; I couldn’t fit it in my freezer once it was fully assembled and had to resort to putting it outside, where it was below freezing, but not cold enough to keep the ice cream as firm as it needed to be. Still, all the elements turned out better then I could have hoped (the meringue was a first and the cake was a new recipe). We’re going to be putting meringue on everything, it was amazing. Tasted like a cloud, then a toasted marshmallow when browned!

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All in all, a successful feast!

A Christmas Feast (for New Year’s)… Part Two (The Making Of)

I’d plotted out my schedule and began thawing the turkey on Christmas, eventually adding the duck and chicken. I had a very full refrigerator… so full that my chicken was still icy and hard after 24 hours!

Monday saw me out shopping, then home again to assemble the ice cream portion of the baked Alaska and bake the flourless, dark chocolate cake. Made the cranberry sauce as well.

Tuesday morning saw me boning all three birds, which took quite a little while, but I did it! A bird completely without bones becomes a rather shapeless and somehow amusing, lump of meat, fat and skin. I then put them into a large pot with several gallons of brine (1 Cup brown sugar and 1 Cup kosher salt per gallon) in it and weighted the whole thing down with a plate. This then went on the front porch, where it was quite cold, I’d run out of room in the refrigerator. I pre-roasted the mushrooms and toasted the sourdough bread, both for the stuffing and called it a day.

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Wednesday (day of the feast), I woke up excited and ready to get into the kitchen…but it was far too early. So instead, I ate breakfast and read a little, until it was finally 10:00. First order of business was to finish the stuffing, which went rather smoothly and smelled fantastic. My sous chef (a.k.a. dishwasher and lifter) for the day arrived a little before 11:00 and we set about assembling the turducken. The trickiest part of this proved to be the trussing and it would have been impossible without my helper! I’d found that the skin had been torn on the turkey when I’d removed it from it’s wrapping yesterday, so this necessitated rolling it over and trussing up that side as well. Another, smaller complication was getting the thermometer into the chicken, I’d stuck it in before we’d folded everything back together, only to realize that it needed to come out closer to the neck, which I managed by sticking my fingers though the trusses and feeling around for the chicken breast. I’d become very familiar with these birds by this point! We rubbed it down with a bit of paprika and stuck it into the oven.

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On to other things, the next order of business was to get the Baked Alaska completely prepped. I first cut the cake down to size (finding that the leftover crumbs were incredibly rich and would hold up well against all that ice cream!) and stuck it onto the ice cream. I then set about making the Italian meringue. I must confess that besides the birds, I was most nervous about this… I’d never made any sort of meringue before and have to admit that I’d had no desire to, they didn’t sound tasty to me. I pictured them tasting like whipped cream, which I skip whenever I can… and everything else I was familiar with/knowledgeable enough about to be able to adjust and save, but this felt sink or swim and I didn’t have time to sink! I worried for nothing though, it all worked perfectly and I soon had a mixing bowl full of clouds. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the beaters transform the mixture into exactly what I’d seen on tv. Thoroughly coated the turned out ice cream with this, then covered it and set it outside, it wouldn’t fit in the freezer anymore.

At this point, we took a bit of a break, my sous chef had kept up with the dishes and my fiance had arrived (no, they were not the same person today), so we paused to partake of the extras/samples. We’d had extra stuffing and meringue that we’d finished in the toaster oven and some duck skin that we’d trimmed from the turducken and crisped up to snack on. We began to get excited as everything met or exceeded our expectations!

We set the table and prepped the rest of the side dishes. mixing up the shrimp puff’s filling, peeling and soaking the mashed potatoes, and assembling the dressing for the green beans… then we hit a wall. The feast was to be at 16:30 and everyone began to arrive, but the thermometer was nowhere near where it needed to be! Fortunately, they were all going to be here until midnight, so there was no rush (except for our hungry bellies!) and I managed to resist the urge to turn it up.

We finally hit the correct temperature at 18:30 and pulled the birds out, putting them on my new (purchased just for this occasion) carving board to rest.

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At this point, I must apologize for the drop in photo quality, but things got a little hectic….

Sous chef handled the mashed potatoes, fiance finished off the gravy, I popped the shrimp puffs in the oven and steamed the green beans while putting the cranberry sauce on the table, and voila! One Christmas feast!

A Christmas Feast (for New Year’s)… Part One (The Back Story and Menu)

We have a group of friends, guys mostly, that have come over once a week for several years to play games, watch a movie, or whatever we end up doing. They chip in towards whatever dinner I make and have served as my taste testers on occasion.

The past several years, we’ve been having Christmas parties, last year’s found us playing live Clue all over my apartment. This year, I proposed several ideas, including making a turkducken and having a feast, guess which one they went for? Yes, the turducken.

The party got moved from our normal evening to the only other everyone had free, New Year’s Eve, hence the confused title of this post.

I’d already been researching the process for making one and set about finding sides to match and round out the feast. The final menu turned out as follows:

Shrimp puffs; These were rather simple and included my one cheat, a roll of store bought biscuits.

Herbed Green Beans; You have to have a vegetable.

Cranberry Sauce; Believe it or not, I’d never made this before and was thrilled with how well it turned out. I put in a little lemon zest and liked the brightness it added. Found a recipe for “cosmopolitan cranberry sauce”, but that wouldn’t have been legal for all my guests, so all I could do was add it to my recipe box.

Giblet Gravy; This had giblets from all three birds, as well as wing tips and spines (but no livers) and was awesome! There was so much flavor that every gravy after this shall have a hard time meeting the mark. We filled a pitcher with it all and had enough leftovers that the next time we got together we were eating waffles and gravy for dinner.

Turducken; Of course. I followed Paula Deen’s brine and roasting instructions, substituting my own preference of stuffing.

Wild Mushroom, Bacon, and Sourdough Stuffing; ala Bobby Flay. Wild mushrooms and bacon need no explanation.

Baked Alaska; with Italian Meringue. Seemed fitting for a winter holiday feast.

The Hundred Foot Journey

After reading the book last fall, it was finally my turn to borrow this movie from the library and I picked it up last night.

My fiance wanted to watch it right away but I was apprehensive… I hadn’t enjoyed the book. It seemed too determined to stay “real”, making sure it wasn’t a book one read to escape (or even one felt happy reading). Also, call me a prude, but I have a hard time liking main (or for that matter, any) characters that debase themselves through immorality, even if they were traumatized as a child. There wasn’t as much cooking and food dialogue as I expected either and I found myself drooling the most over Madame Mallory’s cookbook collection!

That being said, once I got over the fact that it wasn’t exactly the novel (something I’m a stickler for, just ask anyone who’s ever watched a movie based on a novel with me), I found myself liking the movie more. The food made me hungry, both what I saw on plates and what they talked about throughout the story. I could relate more to the main characters and it wasn’t as somber as it went along. My fiance, who loves a good romance, was thrilled when Hasan got the girl in the end.

Sure, it wasn’t the greatest movie either, but if you love food like I do, I find myself (and I’m shocked by this) recommending you save some time and skip the book, go straight to the movie. Just make sure you eat first!

His Christmas

I got him, among other things, three cooking related Christmas presents.

One: Last year’s bacon edition of The Food Network magazine. We’d borrowed it multiple times from the library and he kept expressing the wish that we had a copy of our own. Wish granted! I managed to get one off Ebay. (We did subscribe to the magazine this fall, so that shan’t happen again.) He managed to guess this one before unwrapping it.

Two: A spherification kit, purchased from Mondernist Pantry LLC off Amazon.com. He’s been looking at this process for several years and now he can give it a try, also, it will tie into the next present. It was very interesting to wrap at it came bag, but I managed. He also, somehow managed to guess what this was, by feeling it out before he unwrapped it. To be fair, I had invited him to try and figure it out.

Three: The Mondernist Cuisine cookbook set. We’ve looked at and discussed this set many times over the years, but it always seemed out of reach. We did acquire the “At Home” version off Amazon after borrowing it from the library many, many times, but then I saw this listed on Craigslist (back in May). It was cheaper then any I’d ever seen and in like new condition, complete with Plexiglas case and kitchen manual . The original owner claimed to have received it from a friend after they learned that he’d spent a summer in the kitchen at Ebulli, but he’d never used it and was moving. His loss was my gain and what a gain, it weighs 50 pounds! I hauled it home and wrapped it right away, there was no occasion befitting such a gift until Christmas and I didn’t want him finding early by accident! Then the waiting began, the interminable waiting….

Fast forward to December, with the help from some friends, I wrapped it again (in such a fashion that it in no way resembled itself. I didn’t want him guessing this one.) and stuck it under the tree. I gave him no hints, besides to confirm that it was indeed something he wanted and that that was not it’s actual shape. He was completely stumped. What could he want that weighed so much?

Christmas Day, we saved it for last (I knew he’d want to spend sometime looking at/into it). When he finally got through all the wrapping to see the set, he was agog. How did I ever manage it? Perfect.

I’m back… And I have HP sauce!

Apologies for the lapse in posting, it’s been quiet around here lately.

I read Jamie Oliver’s ‘Comfort Foods’ yesterday and have had to add or to my Amazon wish list. There are many things I’d love to try my hand at in there.

What really intrigued me though, was a condiment he kept referencing “HP sauce”. I’d never even heard of it before! Not had my fiance!

Looked it up, but that’s not the same, so when I had to stop by the local super supermarket today for work, I visited the international aisle. Found it, $5.

Now, the question is, what to taste it on? I’d love some suggestions.

Bricco’s – Harrisburg, PA

Last Sunday, he was in an interesting mood, he wanted to go out, but he wasn’t sure where, or what style of food he was hungry for.

We first went to Quaker Steak and Lube, but didn’t stay, there wasn’t anything on the menu we felt we really wanted to try. I was glad for this, the plastic chairs had instantly displeased me and I found the music to be far too loud.

Next, we went to the Carraba’s across the parking lot. This time, we asked to see a menu before being seated and found a few things we thought we might like try. Upon sitting down, we requested bellinis from the waitress, which we were surprised to learn weren’t only on the menu, but she’d never heard of before! As she went to check with the bartender, we realized I’d been given a dirty napkin (though it was wrapped around my silverware, just like the clean one he had). She returned with wine glasses that had a white sparkling wine with (very little) peach schnapps and a strawberry in them, which tasted nothing like a bellini. This didn’t bode well and we were rather disturbed by the napkin, so we left without ordering anything else.

Finally, he decided on Ricco’s in Harrisburg, but they weren’t open for lunch, so we went home to wait for dinner.

We called ahead, but they don’t take reservations.

Arriving, we were seated in a booth and met our server, Mary. He told her that we’d love to let the chef have fun and cook us whatever he felt like. The chef came out to meet us and check our preferences (nothing spicy, I unfortunately can’t handle that). Our only request was an oyster dish of some sort (I love oysters!)

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We moved to the chef’s table(counter)and enjoyed trying to guess what we were going to be eating next. Each course was served with a new wine as well.

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Our first dish was Oyster Rockefeller and it was an amazing start. I’d never had one before and was afraid I’d burn my tongue. So much flavor and interesting textures, I throughly enjoyed that bite!

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Up next was the above salad, my least favorite dish of the night. It had a bitter component that I didn’t care for, but the toasted pine nuts were a lovely note.

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Braised pork belly, warm, moist, meaty and so rich. There was also a tasty glaze.

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Scallops, cooked to perfection, on a bed of corn and tomato salad.

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Duck breast on wild mushroom risotto with a red wine sauce, again, absolutely amazing. No complaints from my tongue.

Dessert was house-made peanut butter truffles with crisped rice inside. This was served with our favorite wine of the evening:

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We liked it better than the chocolate!

All in all a wonderful evening, with great service and amazing food! We left quite happy, and it wasn’t just from all the wine.

Kuddos, Ricco’s, and thanks for such an enjoyable meal.