What’s your Christmas Eve tradition? Until a few years ago, mine was to have dinner with a dear friend and her family. It started when I was in the 7th grade and continued, almost unbroken, until maybe two or three years ago. The dinner kept expanding and incorporating new people (girlfriends, boyfriends, adopted siblings, parents) and eventually it was several tables long and, I imagine, quite the event to prepare. It was a true Italian feast- homemade pasta and sauce (tomato and pesto), shrimp and scallops and wonderful desserts. It was a lovely tradition while it lasted and I will always remember it fondly.
Without her house to go to, I was sort of lost on Christmas Eve. I honestly can’t remember what we’ve done for the last few years. This year I decided perhaps we needed to start a new tradition- dinner together. Now, during the workweek, we sometimes have dinner together. By which I mean, we try, but as my husband went back to school a few years ago his schedule is, um…. different. On the nights he doesn’t have class or isn’t working, we all sit together for dinner. There are plenty of nights where this doesn’t happen but we try.
For Christmas Eve, we decided that I’d feed the toddler at her regular time (which is when we usually eat, one step removed from the early bird special time!) and then after she went to bed, he and I would sit down for a somewhat elegant meal without her. Which may be the first time we’ve done that. Ever.
What to make? Mac and Cheese, of course, though not the cr$%^p from the box that he favors. And not the baked kind, which he does not love. Instead, I made this Alton Brown version which is quite similar (though far less chemical-tasting) to this from the box. I also made potatoes with cheese which were supposed to be all fancy-like but ended up flat and frisbee-like. More on that in a minute. For the main dish, I made beef wellington which is something we had at our wedding and which, four years later, my husband still talks about while getting all misty-eyed.
Ok, so the potatoes first- get the semi-failure out of the way first, right? I made mashed potatoes and added a little bit of flour and egg to stiffen them up (I would have used potato starch but I didn’t have any). I also added a fair amount of cheddar cheese (shredded). Then I dumped it into a ziplock with the tip cut off and a pastry tip inserted.
Sad, deflated "pastry" bag
I piped it out onto parchment and threw it into the oven.
I'm aware that they look like piles of doo-doo. This was my first clue that something was amiss.
I was going for something like this. My mistake, I think, was too loose a mixture and not broiling right away- I wasn’t paying attention and put them in on bake, which allowed them to do this.
Now, they were tasty- sort of a crunchy, cheesy crust and a smooth creamy interior. But they were not pretty. Oh well. Experimental cooking at its best, I suppose.
On to the beef wellington. A word about my version- it’s an amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes. It never comes out the same way twice. And I definitely can end up with some soggy bottom dough (which happened this time- it was not my best cooking day). If you are looking for the perfect beef wellington, I suggest going to cooks illustrated as they have quite an extensive recipe with many steps and directions and I have no doubt that theirs comes out perfectly. If you want something a bit more user-friendly and you don’t mind slightly soggy bottom dough, go with mine.
3 lbs beef tenderloin (full confession, I can almost never find this and tend to just use good steak)
1 package puff pastry, defrosted (I use Dufour brand and it’s great)
8-10 cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and quartered (fascinating bit on mushrooms here)
olive oil, butter
Splash of sherry or marsala wine (optional)
1 egg, splash of water
Season your beef with salt and pepper.
No tenderloin this time, I used I think boneless ribeye. Maybe? I can't remember.
Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium to high heat. When hot, add the beef and sear it on all sides. You do not want it to cook through.
Set it aside to rest and cool. CI will have you wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it for four to twenty four hours (this is after you already let the tenderloin sit over a rack/pan in the fridge for something like 24-48 hours. Too many steps for me!). I simply wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it chill it the fridge while I did other stuff- about an hour or so.
Don’t wipe out your pan, just take it off the heat and set aside while you prep your mushrooms.
Wash and remove the stems. Cut any large ones into quarters. Add them to your food processor and process until very fine.
In the skillet that has the oil and leftover beef bits, add about a pat of butter and heat over medium heat.
Once the butter is melted, add the finely chopped mushrooms.
Let them cook over medium heat until all the liquid is released. They may start to stick to the bottom of the pan and when they do, I add a splash of sherry or marsala wine to help degalze the pan and add some extra flavor. I add a pinch of salt and pepper as well. Again, cook until all the liquid has evaporated.
Set them aside to cool. Pull out your puff pastry and lightly flour the surface you’ll use to roll it out. Place the sheet on the floured area and lightly flour the top.
Roll it out, gently, until it is large enough to cover your meat (heh-heh, that sounded dirty. Yes, I’m a 12 year old boy.). Keep moving it around so that it doesn’t stick. I lift mine and flip it every few rolls. Since I had two steaks, I cut mine in half and rolled each half to size. You’ll need to put it in the fridge after rolling to let it firm up again. I did this by using the packing it came in to help fold it back up without it sticking.
Let it chill for a bit- this is when I made the potatoes and when I took a few photos of the toddler amusing herself with my baking things.
Ok, now that everything has chilled, set up your assembly line. You’ll need your mushrooms, some egg wash (1 egg lightly whisked with a bit of water), a pastry brush, a sheet pan with parchment on it, your beef and your pastry dough.
part of my assembly line- not shown, the parchment pan
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. Lay out your dough on the sheet pan. Spread the mushrooms on one side (I used half for each steak). You may need to use your fingers. Make sure to leave some space around the edges.
Place your steak on top of the mushrooms.
Brush the egg wash around the edges.
Fold the other half of the pastry dough over and seal the edges. I’m sure you could do this in an extremely pretty way but I didn’t.
Brush with egg wash.
Repeat with the other steak/dough if you have two. Put them in the fridge for a bit to let the pastry firm up again.
Bake in the oven until the internal temperature of the beef reaches 113-155 for rare (15 minutes), 120 for medium-rare (20 minutes). Take them out and let them sit for 10 minutes (to allow the juices in the beef to re-distribute) before slicing.
Slice and serve. Yum.
Obviously, the thicker cut of meat you use, the higher your wellington will be. This worked just fine for us but again, the bottom was a bit soggy. Traditional recipes also use pate and have an accompanying sauce, usually some sort of red wine-based. Some recipes use pate and mushrooms on all sides. For us, this was relatively quick, easy and somewhat outside our usual fare. It may be the start of a Christmas Eve tradition!