Improvisations: No Rolling Pin? No Problem.

Paula Deen Beef Wellington's

Thank you Paula Deen!

A Chorus Line

Best. Musical. Ever.

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
  • Dufour Puff PastryThe 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:

  • minced baby bella mushrooms

    Shrooms & Shallots Mise En Place

    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

butter

mmmmm….butter

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

Searing the Meat – One side done

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

Baby Bella Mushrooms

Shrooms & Shallots

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

baby bella mushrooms Trader Joe's

The Yummy Goodness

baby bella mushrooms trader joe's beef wellington filling

Yummy Goodness Complete

6. Put the yummy goodness in a bowl, cover and refrigerate

————————————————————————

Use the chilling time to: Make the Sherry Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 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

Sherry cream sauce

Saute The Garlic

Sauce 2. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 more minutes to cook out the floury taste

creating a roux

Creating the Roux

Sauce 3. Whisk in the broth and sherry…BTB / RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer) and simmer for :10 mins

Adding the beef broth

Beef Broth & Sherry & Boil

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?

heavy whipping cream

Just 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!

Diet coke can

Rolling Pin

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

baby bella mushrooms beef wellington filling

A Heap of Yummy Goodness

9. Place a seared fillet on top of each heap of yummy goodness

10. Paint the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg

paula deen dufour's puff pastry

Painted Edges

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

beef wellingtons

Stuffed, Sealed, Decorated & Oven Ready

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

individual beef wellingtons

Perfect Package

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…

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Holy Braciole

braciole flank steak

Beauteous Braciole

OK….last night’s dinner was a bit of work with a lot of steps and a bunch of ingredients. Everyone liked it. That’s my story.

Braciole (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • A 1 1/4 -1 1/2 lb flank steak
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped

    mise en place

    Le Creuset Prep Bowls

  • 1 chopped shallot
  • 1 10oz package Birds Eye frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 8-10 baby bella mushroom, stem removed and sliced relatively thin
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine (same as pignoli) nuts
  • 2 tbsp Poly-O whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of Sliced or Shredded Provolone Cheese

    Organic Provolone Whole Foods

    Cut the Cheese

  • 2 leeks – chopped
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 28oz can of Muir Glen tomato puree
  • Herb bundle with Rosemary and Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. In a medium saute or fry pan, over medium heat, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil and add 1 clove garlic chopped and 1 chopped shallot. Saute until fragrant (about 2 mins)

Fragrant Garlic

Saute Garlic and Shallot

2. Add in 1 10oz package of Birds-Eye frozen chopped spinach – defrosted and squeezed dry. Saute until heated through then transfer spinach to a bowl and set aside.

Birds-Eye Spinach

Birds-Eye Spinach Sauteeing

3. Add 1 tbsp of Olive Oil to the same pan and heat over medium. Then add in 1 cup of sliced baby bella mushrooms. Saute until tender.

Whole Foods Baby Bella Mushrooms

I foraged for these at Whole Foods

4. Add back in the spinach and stir to combine

5. Stir in 1/4 cup of toasted Pine Nuts – I buy these in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods. They’re expensive, but buying in the bulk aisle allows you to get just what you need.

Baby Bella Mushrooms Birds Eye Spinach Saute

Spinach, Mushrooms & Toasted Pine Nuts

6. Once heated through, transfer to a bowl and while still hot, stir in 2 tbsp of Poly-O whole milk ricotta cheese. I wasn’t going to add anything here…but needed a binder for the stuffing and I heart ricotta cheese!

Poly-O Ricotta Cheese

Stuffing is Done!

7. Place the flank steak on plastic wrap on a cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap and using the flat side of a tenderizer, pound out the steak to about 1/2 inch thick. Be careful not to over pound and toughen the meat. If the flank steak is super thick, you can carefully butterfly the steak before pounding or even instead of pounding out.

Whole Foods Flank Steak

Pre-Pounded Flank Steak

8. Remove the top and bottom layer of plastic wrap and Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper the meat on the up side

9. Place 4 – 6 pieces of cooking string under the pounded flank steak at about 2 inch intervals. The string will need to be long enough to tie around the braciole once stuffed, so better to err on too long than too short.

NOTE: Putting the string under the meat before stuffing and rolling it, makes the ultimate tying process easier

10. Cover the meat with a layer of the spinach, mushroom, nut mixture. Leave about an inch uncovered all around – I didn’t leave enough space…

Birds Eye chopped spinach mushrooms

Layer on the stuffing

11. On top of that, add a layer of thinly sliced or shredded provolone cheese. You need a medium hard cheese here as you don’t want it all melty and oozing out of the braciole.

Organic Whole Foods Provolone

Because Everything is better with Cheese

12. Carefully roll the flank steak – keeping the stuffing inside.

13. Tie the roll securely with the strings – mine looked a little frankenstein or maybe ‘The Mummy’, but that was fine.

Whole Foods Flank Steak Braciole

Secured Franken-Style

14. In a roasting pan or a lasagna pan over two burners on med/high heat 3 tbsp of olive oil. I used my All-Clad turkey roasting pan…but, should have used a smaller one like the All-Clad lasagna pan.

14. Sear the stuffed flank steak on all sides – about 2 minutes a side.

whole foods flank steak braciole

Searing the Braciole

15. Transfer the seared steak to a cutting board. Set Aside.

16. Depending upon size of pan…Add another 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to the pan and heat over medium.

17. Add in 1 medium onion sliced, two chopped leaks and one chopped carrot. Saute until softened – about 7 mins.

NOTE: I might have added a second carrot…but only had one in the fridge.

Leeks Onions Carrots

Saute Veggies

11. Add in 2 cloves of garlic chopped and salt and pepper – saute another minute or two.

12. Raise the heat to med/high and pour in 1 cup of dry red wine to deglaze the pan.  Allow about 1/2 of the wine to evaporate.

13. Pour in 2 cups of beef broth – I had some chicken stock I needed to use so I did 1/2 chicken stock, 1/2 beef broth.

14. Return the meat to the pan and cover with 1 28oz can of Muir Glen pureed tomatoes. Then add in an herb bundle of Rosemary and Thyme – about 2 sprigs of each….

Muir Glenn Tomato Puree

Smother in Muir Glen Tomato Puree

15. Stir the sauce a bit. Bring to a boil, carefully cover with tin foil and place in the oven.

16. Braise in the oven for :50 – :60 minutes.

17. When done…Remove from the roasting pan and allow the meat to rest for :10 minutes.

18. Transfer a few ladles of the braising sauce to a blender and allow to cool….Then puree.

DO NOT puree while the sauce is still super hot – it’ll blow the lid off of the blender…really.

Whole Foods Vegetable Puree Muir Glen

CAREFULLY Puree the Sauce

19. Slice the braciole and transfer to a serving dish. Serve with the pureed vegetable sauce. Make sure you remove all strings and…I had to toothpick the ends…remember to remove those too.

Braciole Spinach Mushroom Stuffed Flank Steak Whole Foods

Holy Braciole!

Holy Braciole! That was a bit of work – but well worth it. And…while it could serve 4, three of us ate all but one slice!