When I was young, A Chorus Line was my favorite play. After school my best friend and I would stand proudly on the ledge of her large bay window and belt out songs from the show for our audience – her parents. Imagine her very catholic father’s surprise as we belted the lyrics to ‘Tits and Ass’ out of our 12-year old mouths.
In seventh grade, I auditioned for the school play with the character Morales’ song ‘Nothing’. In the song, Morales is learning how to do improvisations ala: ‘now you’re on a bobsled, it’s snowing out and it’s cold…OK Go!‘
I never hesitated about the words and delighted the director as I sang ‘I felt nothing except the feeling that this bull shit was absurd!‘
I got a small part and the shock of my peers.
This past weekend I learned even more about improvising. I was upstate at a friend’s home. We were hosting a dinner party for 12 – in part because another good friend was visiting from San Francisco (please don’t call it ‘Frisco’) and also so that our group could meet the host’s new boyfriend.
At the host’s request, I agreed to make Paula Deen’s Individual Beef Wellingtons in a Sherry Cream Sauce. Even though I’ve made the wellies a dozen times or so, I’ve had to improvise each time for one reason or another.
- I couldn’t find the right pastry
- The supermarket had no baby bella mushrooms
- I was cooking for 4 not 12
- This oven is too hot or not hot enough
This past weekend presented yet another improv challenge – ‘You’re making wellingtons, you have to roll out pastry dough, you don’t have a rolling pin. OK Go!
Individual Beef Wellingtons in a Sherry Cream Sauce (serves 12)
Note…After making this so many times, I think with the sequence of steps below, I’ve finally found the best way to ensure that dinner is deliciously delivered to the table on time.
Ingredients for the wellies, sauce ingredients to follow:
- 12 1 1/2 inch thick beef tenderloin fillets
- 2 tsps salt
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 4 tbsp butter – it’s Paula Deen after all
- 2 8 oz packages of baby bella mushrooms minced – Improvisation: I bought 2 10oz pkgs of pre-sliced shrooms at Trader Joe’s – $1.99 each! Math isn’t my thing and I just used most of the mushrooms, not all.
- 1 large shallot minced – Improvisation: I used 2 smaller ones
- 1/3 cup dry sherry
- 1/4 cup heavy cream – again, it’s Paula Deen just go with it
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- The recipe calls for 2 packages of 17.3oz frozen puff pastry (aka: Pepperidge Farm) But..Improvisation: I used 4 packages of Dufour Puff Pastry Dough – they carry this at Whole Foods and it’s worth every penny of the $11.99 per package.
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten – I needed 3
Here are a few things you need to know before you start:
There’s some chopping – mincing of the shallots, mushrooms and chopping of the parsley take time – prepare ahead
- The meat needs to chill for at least an hour after you sear it – don’t start cooking at 5pm for a 7:30 dinner. Actually, I usually sear the meat and make the filling the night before
- The puff pastry is frozen – you will need to either thaw by putting in the fridge the night before, or you can take it out :40mins to an hour before you need it, unwrap it and thaw it on the kitchen counter
- The sauce takes about :40 minutes – you can make the sauce while the meat is chilling and just reheat it when you’re ready to serve.
1. Sprinkle the fillets on both sides with 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper. In a large skillet, melt all 4 tbsp of butter over med/high heat
2. Add the fillets (probably in batches as I’m guessing you might not have a skillet large enough for all 12 at once) and sear on both sides – about 1 1/2 mins each side
3. Put the seared meat on a tray, cover and chill for at least an hour in the fridge
CREATING THE Wellington filling…AKA The YUMMY GOODNESS
4. In the same pan, in the meat juices, add the mushrooms and shallots and cook over med/high heat for 3 minutes stirring occasionally
5. Add the sherry, cream, parsley and 1 tsp of salt. Cook, stirring frequently until all the liquid is absorbed – this takes about 12 – 14 mins
6. Put the yummy goodness in a bowl, cover and refrigerate
Use the chilling time to: Make the Sherry Cream Sauce
- 3 tbsp butter
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/4 cup of flour
- 2 cups of beef broth
- 1/2 cup of dry sherry
- 1 cup heavy cream
Sauce 1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter….Add the garlic and saute 3 minutes
Sauce 2. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 more minutes to cook out the floury taste
Sauce 3. Whisk in the broth and sherry…BTB / RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer) and simmer for :10 mins
Sauce 4. Whisk in the cream and simmer another :20 mins. The sauce is very thick even without the cream…so, you can skip the cream or add a lot less – but, at this point, you’ve already soaked the meat in butter, so why not add the cream?
Sauce 5: Transfer the sauce to a small sauce pan and cover to keep warm
Back to the Wellie Assembly
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper
7. Roll out 1 puff pastry sheet to about 12x10inches and cut in half
NOTE: if you don’t have a rolling pin – Improvise…We used a washed and floured Diet Coke can – Oh! The irony!
8. In the center of each half pastry sheet, place a heap of the yummy goodness and gently press down to about 1/4 inch thickness
9. Place a seared fillet on top of each heap of yummy goodness
10. Paint the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg
11. Pull up the corners of the pastry over the meat and seal with additional beaten egg
12. Flip the meat package over and place on the rimmed baking sheet
13. Repeat until all 12 fillets are wrapped
14. Brush each package with the beaten egg
15. With the left over puff pastry, cut out seasonal shapes and place onto the wellies. Since it wasn’t yet Thanksgiving and certainly not Christmas, we decorated with fall leaves and acorn shapes.
16. Give the decorated wellies one more brush of the egg wash and place in the oven
17. Bake for :20 -:22 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. When you remove from the oven, let the wellies rest for at least :08 mins. The meat should be a perfect medium rare
18. Each guest will have his/her own perfect package with a generous pour of sherry cream sauce
Life is full of opportunities to improvise. The trick is not to be thrown by them.
Generally, I don’t share meal prep improvisations with my guests. I mean, no one had an allergy, so did they need to know that we used real flour not corn starch to flour the pans in which we prepared a meant to be gluten-free cake? And, when you think about it, improvising with the diet coke can as a rolling pin for a fabulously fattening Paula Deen dish is not only ironic, but may be just a little bit brilliant…