just the bones we're made of

"The ability to enjoy eating, like the ability to enjoy fine art, is not a matter of inborn talent alone, but of training, memory, and comparison. Time works for the palate faithfully and fee-lessly.” — Clifton Fadiman

I have a few confessions to make, dear reader—confessions that will be shocking to no one, but for the sake of the story, need to be told. It’s that simple. Let’s start with the nitty gritty:

1)      I have little patience with myself, and like all individuals of my generation, this translates into a severe dislike and even a phobia of all activities where one does not immediately excel.

Baby faced and still in college

Baby faced and still in college

As of late, my strife-causing activity has been photography. You’ve seen my food photos first hand and let me tell you, they are the slowly improving result of a refurbished point and shoot operated by an exasperated me. All of my favorite food blog compilation sites deny me for “awkward composition” and “exposure issues”—I get it. They need technical improvement. I need to work on my food styling (which is a practice and skill I am immediately jealous and dubious of). So to better my skillset, I called Lauren, my highly talented dancer/photographer/ceramic thrower/chef friend to help out.

2)      Lauren and I have an intense love of casual wine drinking that, when indulged, leads to one of two conclusions: sincere heart-to-hearts and happy tears or snort-laughing and happy tears.

root vegetables 2
wine glasses

Seriously though, we love wine and talking about our feelings. Almost three years ago, we decided via Skype to start a co-blog about food and wine (Chardonnay to Cabernet). I was in Florida for graduate school while she was in Washington, and so one night after a four hour chat, two cry sessions, and far too many glasses of wine, we decided to bridge the gap between us with a blog. We couldn’t keep up with it for a variety of reasons, but I present it as evidence that Lauren and I are cut from the same foodie cloth.

3)      Reality TV often has a bigger appeal and pull on me than I would like to admit. So much so, that sometimes I feel the need prove my skills over and against reality TV show contestants.

Example: Master Chef Junior.  About a year ago, Gordon Ramsay challenged these adorable and supremely talented kids to make beef wellington—the same dish he is always screaming at adults about on Hell’s Kitchen. Upon watching this particular episode, Lauren and I were both impressed and baffled that all of these kids could cook us under the table. We could pull off a perfectly cooked beef wellington, right? After much debate and self-encouragement, we decided that we could and vowed to make it ourselves.

Fast forward about a year and you end up at this past Sunday when we decided to merge both goals: photography lessons and an epic beef wellington. You know you’ve found your cooking partner in crime we she doesn’t even bat an eye at the suggestion of two tenderloins so we can both have a hand at rolling our own. There is nothing but pure indulgence here and Lauren and I gave it our all: mustard rubbed beef tenderloin wrapped in a layer prosciutto covered in finely minced mushrooms sautéed with thyme, garlic and white wine (aka duxelles) and encased in puff pastry. You really can’t go wrong. Granted, we had a food processor mishap and minced our mushrooms by hand, but who cares? The result was downright luxurious. Roasted red and gold beets, rainbow carrots, and onions rounded out an otherwise heavy meal, the earthiness of the mushrooms only enhanced by the rounded sweetness of the vegetables. Lauren cracked open a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla she had been saving and we tucked in to a dish to be proud of.

beef tenderloin
root vegetables

Our evening ended with a promise to put our skills to the test again soon. I left with lightness in my feet that I have not felt in quite some time. There is something remarkable about a friendship like that—one that needs so few words and is so mutually understood. As I once wrote many years ago: “I know that through months of silence I can come back to you and be myself. How I hold no expectations for how you will be, but I secretly hope we will still find the power of our secrets beneath a few glasses of wine.” No doubt, we will be back at it soon. To many more bottles, m’dear!

Beef Wellington
Loosely Adapted from Gordon Ramsay
Serves 3-4

This is unapologetic, showy, and downright delicious. I don’t recommend this dish of you prefer your beef well-done. Tenderloin is very expensive and is much leaner than typical cuts—overcooking would be disastrous here. Do not use Pepperidge Farm puff pastry as it is not the correct size for rolling the tenderloin.

1 lb. beef tenderloin, trimmed (about 8 inches across)
8 oz. crimini mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t. thyme leaves, minced
¼ c. dry white wine
2 T. olive oil
4 T. English mustard
8 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto
1 package Dufour puff pastry, thawed
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Sea salt

Take your tenderloin out of the fridge and let come up to room temperature.

Trim the stem ends of your mushrooms and place into a food processor. Add garlic and thyme leaves and pulse until the mushrooms are very fine. Pour the whole mixture into a dry skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the mushrooms begin to release their liquid. Add the white wine and cook, stirring often, until all of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Remove tenderloin from packaging and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over high heat in a large skillet.  Once smoking, add tenderloin and sear on all sides. You’re not looking for browning here, just a color change—this will not take more than a minute. Remove from heat and brush with mustard on all sides.

Stretch a long piece of plastic wrap down your counter, about a foot and a half. Orient your plastic wrap horizontally (wider than it is long) and shingle the prosciutto in the middle of the plastic wrap (2x3). Spread mushroom mixture (also called duxelles) on top of the prosciutto. Place the tenderloin on the prosciutto, about one-third of the way up. Roll tightly, like sushi, using the plastic wrap to keep everything tight and intact. Twist the long ends of the plastic wrap like a tootsie roll so the tenderloin makes and even log shape. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Unroll a new sheet of plastic wrap and place thawed puff pastry on top (same orientation as the prosciutto). Take the plastic wrap off of the tenderloin and place the meat on the puff pastry, one-third of the way up. Roll tightly, just as you did before, trimming any excess pastry as you go. Twist ends to form an even log. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Unroll tenderloin and place on a greased sheet pan. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.