Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

This Valentine’s day, my one true love bought me two dozen perfect roses and two bottles of lovely champagne.  I may be a harpy to him from time to time, but my needs on silly days like this are simple – and he met them with just want I wanted: beauty and booze.  Considering that he is still healing from knee surgery and had to hobble on his crutches to and from Whole Foods in freezing weather to do this, it was actually super-nice.  So I had to make him a super-nice dinner to show him my love for him.  Thanks to Savenor’s on Kirkland, I decided to do so with veal steaks, risotto, and foie gras — I mean, what says love better than that?  Topped with a little tart cherry, an herbalicious veloute, and some oyster mushrooms, and this didn’t just say love, it said SEX, baby.  (And I leave it to you to take from that what you will…)

Valentine’s Veal T-Bone with Herbed Velouté, Truffled Fontina Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Cherry’d Foie Gras

2 veal t-bones, about 12 ounces each
1/4 lb fresh foie gras
1/2 wild mushrooms (these are oyster)
2 shallots
1 cup arborio (short grain) rice
1/4 lb fontina cheese
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
1 cup cream
2 tbs butter (not pictured)
1 tsp truffle oil (not pictured)
1 qt chicken broth (not pictured)
1/2 cup white wine (not pictured)
1/4 cup dried bing cherries (not pictured)
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Despite the highbrow nature of this meal, it doesn’t really take too long.  The most time is spent on the risotto, which takes about 30 minutes to get just perfect, so I start there.

Half my minced shallots get sweated in a couple glugs of EVOO in my small saucepan before I dump my rice on top and stir well.  You have to sort of toast the grains before adding any liquid; this coaxes them into absorbing the wine and stock more effectively.  All this is done on medium heat, by the way.

On my other back burner, I set the chicken broth to a medium simmer; I want to add it warm to my risotto as I go, which will also help the liquid absorb.  But first, I add my wine, then stir well until all the liquid has disappeared.

I then drop the heat to its lowest setting, and add 4 oz of broth.  I stir well consistently, and add more broth each time the last batch disappears.  I revel in the plumpifying of my wee rice grains, and bask in the sauce that forms and thickens with every stir.  It takes 30 minutes to do this, requiring regular – but not constant – attention.  Stir and add, stir and add, until the rice is tender but still toothsome and bound together by its thick, fragrant, flavorful rice gravy.

As my risotto works, I get started on my velouté.  This is a mother sauce, traditionally made with white stock and roux, to which I’ve added some cream, herbs, and aromatics.  Ideally, it should be made in advance, cooled, and then reheated before service in order to really concentrate its delicate flavor.  1/2 of my remaining shallots get sweated in two tablespoons of simmering butter along with a tablespoon each of thyme and rosemary leaves.

Once the shallots transluce, I sprinkle two tablespoons of flour over the butter and whisk well to incorporate all the ingredients and simmer on medium low until the roux begins to turn beige.

Like so!

Finally, I add about 1 cup of my warm broth, and my cup of half and half (which is not traditional, but yummy nonetheless), and bring this to a simmer to thicken for about 8 minutes.

After seasoning with salt to taste, I removed my sauce from the heat, strain all the solids, then chill it in the fridge until I’m ready to plate – when I will gently heat it back up before service.

My steaks will take about 15 minutes to make total, so I get a pan all hot and ready before greasing it up with a glug or two of EVOO.

I salt and pepper my steaks, and smack them down on said smoking hot pan to sizzle and sear.

I sear not just their backs and fronts…

… but also the ribeye edges…

…and the tenderloin edges.  Then I stick the whole pan into a 425° oven for 8 minutes, until they are a perfect medium rare.

After I remove my steak pan from the oven, I move my steaks to a warmed platter to settle, and I through the rest of my shallots, another teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary, and another glug of EVOO into the pan along with my chopped fungus of the day.  2 minutes of tossing to melt these babies into umame joy is all it needs.

The piece of resistance (BTW – I totally do that on purpose; I know the phrase is pièce de résistance, but I like it may way bettah) is this delightful hunk of foie gras, which I didn’t notice was heart-shaped until I got home and took it out of the bag.  How apropos! I split it in half thickness-wise, so that I can maintain the shape for each of us. (After all, neither of us wants to eat a broken heart (shape) on Valentine’s Day!)

Foie only take a moment to sear, but it needs a superhot non-stick pan, and it not only releases a lot of delicious fat, but it smokes like hell.  I made the mistake of inhaling open-mouthed some of that smoke, and it sort of choked me up for a while.  But the foie needs nothing but a sear on each side to transform it into the quivering, sexy, hunk of haute cuisine junk it is.

Foie gras benefits from something sweet/tart to compliment it, so I grabbed a handful of dried red cherries and chopped them into a sticky, simply compote sort of thing.

As I plate my steaks and mushrooms, I throw my fontina cheese and a teaspoon of black truffle oil into my perfectly tender risotto and stir will to melt.

Tender, delicious veal steaks, topped with the sumptuous unctuousness of seared foie gras, tempered with the tangy sweet bite of scarlet cherry.  Served with a delicate herbed cream sauce, silky, nutty, and fulfilling risotto, and the woody chew of buttery mushrooms – this plate of passion really got our motors running.  Take about a bodacious plate.  Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

What a weekend!  I’ve been busy busy busy – socially, professionally, culinarily, and intellectually.  I’ve been grading the scholarly work of others, and others have been grading me in a vastly different arena.  Challenges abound.  But I’m thrilled to say that it’s been a good weekend, one I will be proud of for quite some time.  You don’t necessarily need to know why, dear reader, that I am so happy right now, but you do have lots to do with it, and I thank you for loyally visiting Lolita’s dinner table week after week to see what I’m serving for my supper.  I’m plumb tickled every time someone tells me they tried one of my recipes, and tickled to hot pink whenever I hear someone say they felt comfortable enough to futz with my how-to in order to make the dish their own masterpiece.  Teaching you all how to enjoy the fruits of the land, the sea, and the grocery store is almost as good as eating my own creations.  Cooking is creativity, friends — nourishment for the body and for the soul.  Cook, eat, drink… and be happy!

Tonight’s dinner was launched on something of a whim.  I wanted to use some perfect tenderloins purchased again at Blood Farm, in West Groton, MA (our new favorite meat purveyor – sadly, but charmingly, lacking a website) as our main course, and I wanted to do something technically challenging, stick-to-your ribs, rich and delicious, but elegant, too: to celebrate! What else but Beef Wellington?  Several recipes I looked up called for mustard, several for foie gras; I couldn’t reconcile the sharp,vinegar taste of the former with the savory, ethereal aspect of the latter, so I split the difference by purchasing a slab of pure duck liver paté mousse with black truffle.  Fancified home-cooking, here we come…

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

2 1 1/2″ thick fresh filet mignons (beef tenderloin steaks)
1 stick butter
4 shallots, diced, divided (about 1 cup total)
an assortment of beautiful wild mushrooms (about 2 cups total, chopped)
4 oz chives (about 1 bunch), chopped roughly and divided
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup dry sherry
4 oz paté (this is duck liver mousse, with cognac and black truffle)
3 cloves crushed garlic
8 oz puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a dash of water
watercress, tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice

This is the second set of tenderloins I’ve eaten from Blood Farm, and it is the second best steak I’ve ever eaten at home.  Seriously.  Not only because of how tender and flavorful it was, but because at a little more than $8/lb, it’s cheaper than any tenderloin I can find.  Anywhere.  And this was seared, cooled, then baked in pastry – not an easy thing to get just right, requiring really fresh, wonderful meat to make it happen.  I pat these very dry before sprinkling them liberally with fresh crushed black pepper and sea salt.

In a hot, bubbling mixture of EVOO and butter (a glug of the former, 2 tbs of the latter), I sear all the sides of my steaks for about 1 minute each: that’s top,…

… bottom, and – using my tongs…

…I rolled them across the heat on all their cut edges.  I’m looking for a lovely brown fond on all surfaces – sealing in the juices and par-cooking the steaks before the final bake.

Meanwhile, I’ve scrubbed and trimmed my mushrooms, and skinned and chopped my shallots.  I have a delightful blend of fungi: shitake, chanterelle, and wood ear mushrooms.  Whole Foods had ’em, and I bought ’em.  Given that the tenderloin was so cheap, these represented the largest chunk of tonight’s bill, but mushrooms don’t weigh much, so a handful of each (at from $10.99 – $21.99) at the market still only rang in at less than $10.00.  Totally worth it.

I remove my steaks from the pan and set them aside on a dish to cool (they need to reach room temp before they are wrapped in pastry), collecting all their lovely red beefy drippings to use in my sauce later.  My ‘shrooms and shallots get chucked into the hot pan where the fat is still sizzling, and I stir everything around really well to get it sweating.

A dash of chopped chives add color and snap.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this lovely fungi mixture is my duxelle, to which I’m adding the sweetness of sherry and the weight of cream.  Once the fungus has begun to soften…

 … a little of both (about 1/2 cup of sherry, and 1/4 cup of cream) gets added to the pan, which I set to a low simmer to reduce, burning off all the liquid.

 Like so.  I remove this from the heat so it, too, can cool before being layered into my puff pastry.

Speaking of which, it’s time to prep the pastry wrapping: that which makes this beef “Wellington.”  I break out my rolling pin, and dust my crappy Formica counter with flour.

I admit, this is just Pillsbury puff pastry, and I didn’t love it.  It lacked the buttery flavor I expected, but it certainly puffed nicely.  I’ve been defrosting it in the fridge for a few hours, then on the counter until it reached room temp.  I carefully unfold it, then roll it out to a nice, square, uniform thinness.

Using my paring knife, I cut two nice squares, just large enough to fully encase each steak without leaving too much overlap.

It’s high time I gave credit to The Review Lady, whose Beef Wellington posting largely contributed to this recipe.  Thanks for the inspiration, especially the great instructions on how to wrap the steak: I’d screwed that up before.  Based on her recommendation, I start by spooning a few tablespoons of my creamed, sherried, sauteed wild mushrooms in the center of each pastry square.

Foie gras is the idealization of the flavor of rich duck deliciousness, and it is expensive and not usually found in your workaday supermarket – including Whole Foods.  I can get it at Savenor’s, usually in small enough cuts to not blow the bank, but I couldn’t get there today.  I’ve made this recipe before, but have been turned off by the flavor of mustard with the duxelle, thinking it overpowering and out-of-place.  Lacking liver, but rejecting mustard, I opted for a savory, whipped mousse of foie savored by cognac and studded with flecks of black truffle, wrapped in aspic.  I have to resist the urge to just dive into this with a water-cracker and a side of triple-cream brie…

 A layer of paté is laid over the mushrooms…

 … and the steaks are layered over that.

 I first wrap each corner of pastry over the steak’s center, sealing everything with beaten egg/water wash and a basting brush.

I entirely seal the steaks in pastry dough, using the egg wash to glue all the seams together, and forming the Wellingtons with my hands by shaping the dough package into smart squares.

I have too little experience forming shapes with dough. What I thought would be a vaugely off-set layered leaf effect ended up looking like a swollen nipple – to be blunt. I’ve learned: don’t cut your pastry shapes too small.  Still, it looked promising!  I brush the whole package down – top and sides – with egg wash, then I set both Wellingtons on a parchment lined cookie sheet before throwing it into a 400° oven for 25 minutes to roast through.

Now to the sauce.  A few tablespoons of butter melted in a large saucepan…

 … and my minced garlic, sweetly sweated over medium heat.

Remember how I said to reserve the drippings off the steaks earlier?  The Review Lady’s recipe called for beef stock, but I just used these couple tablespoons of lovely lovely juices.

Beef juice + garlic butter = one hell of a gravy base.  I add 1/2 cup of sherry, and reduce to half.

Here I deviate more from The Review Lady, since I have another 1/2 cup or so of duxelle leftover from topping my steaks.  It seems such a waste to not use it, so I add it to my pan and stir well.

For the last long simmer, I add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  With a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste, and another shot of chopped scallions, my sauce makes for a perfect douse.

After my sauce has thickened, and my puff pastry has browned, I have a perfect package of protein shot through with savory deliciousness and layered on a bed of tender mushrooms enrobed in creamy sherry sauce.

With a simple salad of salted and oiled watercress, my Beef Wellingtons sit pretty on their pillow of umame enjoyment.  From start to finish, this meal took only 90 minutes to make, but the impact was timeless.  A perfect, flaky pasty shell wrapped around a tender, medium rare (if only the picture had turned out!), thoroughly juicy, mushroom caked and richly-moussed prime steak — a dinner perfectly suited to crown an excellent weekend.  Dear friends, my readers, how I hope you begin and end each span of time in your life – be it a moment, or an eon – with such eager anticipation and equally enriching fulfillment, as I enjoyed these past few days.  Eating well, by the one’s own labors, is one of life’s true pleasures.  Try it for yourselves — you won’t regret it.