Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Individual Beef Wellingtons

      Beef wellingtons are traditionally joints of beef wrapped in paté, mushroom duxelles, and puff pastry. A beef wellington is a rather impressive centrepiece for a dinner. It looks fancy and tastes good. But when you live with just one other person and don't entertain guests regularly, opportunities to make an impressive beef wellington don't always come up. That's where individual beef wellingtons come in.

     Beef wellington, which is very English, can be considered a variation of boeuf en croute, which is French. More variations of wellingtons exist. Salmon, vegetarian, chicken....

      The mushroom duxelles is vital to making a beef wellington...well...a beef wellington. If you are not a fan of mushrooms (really?!) you can use caramelised onions or look up other alternatives. As for the paté, I never liked anything made of liver. My mother used to cook curries with bits of liver in it and I always picked the liver out and complained that it tasted weird. I have not outgrown this dislike for liver so I chose to omit the paté.

     Some chefs wrap the beef in a pancake before wrapping it in puff pastry. I felt that this would be an unnecessary fuss when cooking for two. I can see the merits of wrapping the beef in a pancake: it helps the wellington keep a better shape.  However, parma ham can be used to this same effect. I did not use any parma ham, though in future I will because my beef wellingtons did not hold their shape very well after they were sliced. I have to say that it takes quite a bit of time to make this dish. Be ready to spend at least an hour preparing it.

      This is not a traditional beef wellington with traditional mushroom duxelles. There is no wine, vermouth or any alcohol used to deglaze the pan like in most other recipes. I did not even brush the pastry with an egg wash to give it a gloss. I used some milk instead. This is a slightly simpler version which delivers the essence of a beef wellington. This is a special dish which doesn't not require a special occasion to justify making it.

This was a meal that my husband and I enjoyed. It was extremely filling so I am glad I did not prepare any fancy dessert because we were almost too full to eat our fruit salad after dinner. If you feel like making a special meal for your partner, try this simplified version of a traditional dish.

Individual Beef Wellingtons
serves 2
can be made up to 4 hours in advance

2x 150g chunks of beef 
(cylindrical shape)
salt & pepper
Approx 150g ready-rolled puff pastry 
(depends on the size of the beef)
1 tsp butter
250g closed-cup mushrooms
4 TBSP minced shallot
(or onion)
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 TBSP dijon mustard
some milk

optional: parma ham

* Start at least 2 hours before serving
1. Leave the beef at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking. Season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. Spray a frying pan with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil. Turn the stove on to high heat and let the pan get very hot, almost till it starts smoking. 
3. Sear the beef quickly on all sides then drop the heat to medium and brown the beef for 30 seconds on each side.

4. Transfer the beef to a plate to cool. Start making the mushroom duxelles.
5. Chop the mushrooms as finely as possible, or use a food processor to process the mushrooms to the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.
6. Tip the chopped mushrooms onto a large piece of kitchen towel. Lightly wrap the kitchen towel over the mushrooms and press to absorb excess moisture from the mushrooms.
7. In the same pan that was used for the beef, heat 1 tsp of butter.
8. Add the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, thyme and black pepper to the pan.
9. On medium-low heat, cook the mushrooms till almost dry. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
10. Leave the mushroom mixture to cool.

* At least 1 hour before serving, start assembling the wellingtons 

11. Cut the puff pastry sheets into 2 pieces and lay them on cling wrap.
12. Lay pieces of parma ham (if using) on the puff pastry, leaving a 1cm border
13. Spread 1 TBSP of dijon mustard on each piece of pastry (or on the parma ham), leaving a 1 cm border.
14. Scoop tablespoons of the mushroom duxelles onto the mustard and press with your fingers to form a 0.5cm thick layer (leaving a 1.5cm border).
15. Place the beef on the mushroom mixture and using the cling film to prevent sticking, roll the pastry over the beef to enclose it.

*Any leftover duxelles can be stored in the fridge to eat on crostini, brushetta or toast!

16. Cut off any excess pastry and brush the ends of the pastry with milk then lightly pinch or fold to seal the ends. 
It's just like wrapping a present!

17. Wrap the parcels in cling film and place in the fridge until ready to bake.
18. Preheat oven to 200°C, brush some milk on the beef wellingtons.
19. Bake the parcels in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and bake for a
further 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned.
20. Remove from oven and serve immediately!

Served with spinach & potato mash, gravy and some boiled carrots

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Savoury Chocolate Chicken

      I'm back! Well, I never disappeared. I just haven't been cooking anything inspiring enough to write about. Yesterday, however, I tried a recipe for chocolate chicken. It is similar to chicken mole, which is a Mexican dish prepared with a few types of chillies, spices and chocolate.

      It wouldn't take a genius to figure out that I am pretty-much addicted to chocolate. Maybe it's the sugar, maybe it's the endorphins that it releases. Whatever it is, I thought I should finally try a savoury dish that includes chocolate. I based my version of the dish on this recipe and made some adjustments to the ingredients and method. It is, of course, low in fat (as are most of my main dish recipes).

      I must say that though the results were far from disappointing, this chicken dish might be an acquired taste. After all, the description by the author of the original recipe above is that it tastes like a cross between rendang and satay sauce. That's really not far from how I would personally describe it. It's like a curry, but not a curry. It is hard to describe in definite terms, but be forewarned that my husband wasn't a huge fan of this dish. He didn't feel that the flavours worked together harmoniously. I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the texture and exotic flavour! I served this with mashed potatoes, though in hindsight, rice would have been a better option.

      If you are looking for something different to cook for a poultry main dish and bear in mind that some people will love this dish while others might not, have yourself a kitchen adventure by trying this recipe!

Savoury Chocolate Chicken
serves 4 (easily halved)

Cooking spray or vegetable oil
700g chicken breast

1 chicken stock cube
1 cup hot water

40g almonds (or almond meal)
20g white sesame seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper

2 small or 1 big onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 TBSP tomato puree
1 tsp dried chilli flakes

25g dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp cocoa powder

1. Crumble the stock cube into the hot water, stir to dissolve then leave aside to cool.
2. Blend the almonds and sesame seeds together till crumbly and almost powdery. Stir in the cinnamon, ground coriander and pepper.
3. Blend the tomatoes, garlic, ginger and tomato puree together till it is a smooth mixture. Mix the chilli flakes into the tomato mixture.
4. Heat a sauté pan and brown the chicken using oil or cooking spray. You might have to do this in 2 batches.
5. While the chicken is browning, stir the cornflour and cocoa powder into the cooled chicken stock mixture.
6. Remove the browned chicken from the pan and pour the blended tomato mixture into the hot pan.
7. When the mixture has come to the boil, add the chicken stock mixture and bring to the boil again.
8. Now add the ground almond, sesame and spice mixture into the pan and stir, then add the chopped chocolate.
9. When the chocolate has melted, add the browned chicken to the pan and coat with the sauce.
10. Put a lid on the pan and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring periodically.
When chicken is cooked through and sauce is thickened to your liking, turn off the heat and serve!

Served with boiled or steamed rice and a side of vegetables, this makes a very hearty meal!