Beef Fillet with Mushroom Gratin

Beef Fillet with Mushroom Gratin

Something draws me to large hunks of meat. It’s strange really, because there are only two people who generally need to be fed in my household, and so I generally don’t need a kilo or two of solid beef in one piece to carve a meal out of. However, since the astounding success of my beef wellington recently, I’ve become somewhat enamoured with that special cut that is the beef fillet.

So, finally making progress at my Chinese butchers (they are getting better at pretending they understand me, and my pointing skills are through the roof), I bought a lovely beef fillet for next to nothing, having absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Back home and I had a vague recollection of Gordon Ramsey using beef fillet in something other than a beef wellington during the second series of his F-Word show… After a little detective work I managed to track the episode down and was rewarded with a great recipe for (hence title of post) beef fillet with mushroom gratin. According to Ramsey, beef fillet is the Rolls Royce of cuts… but from past experience, I’d rate it more like an F1 car… The ride of your life under the right conditions, but one wrong step and it all goes downhill very very quickly.

The recipe was pretty simple though… sear the fillet, top with gratin, into the oven, done. I decided to serve mine with some jerusalem artichokes I’d been hiding in the fridge, sauteed with pancetta and red onions.

Ingredients

  • 1 beef fillet sliced into thick round medallions
  • olive oil, salt and pepper to season
  • For the gratin

  • fresh mushrooms (field, shitake, whatever you got)
  • heavy cream (thickened, not double)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • sliced shallots
  • 1 clove garlic (squashed but not chopped)
  • chives
  • fresh grated parmesan cheese

Prepare the gratin by chopping your mushrooms in chunks and your shallots finely, and sauteeing them in olive oil and a knob of butter. Add the smashed clove of garlic for a touch of garlic which won’t over power the mushrooms… and remove it after a minute or so. Once they’ve softened up and gotten some colour, take them out of the pan and into a bowl. Then add your thickened cream, egg yolk, some more salt and pepper to taste, and the finely chopped chives. Stir it all together and it should bond quite well, so that you can put it in a pile and it won’t all fall over.

So the rest is really simple. Season the fillet pieces in a good dose of olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt, and then pop them in a hot pan and sear them all over. This means 30 seconds to a minute on each side, depending on how thick you’ve cut your slices… mine were a couple of inches thick (oh yeah !).

Once the fillets are done, leave them in the pan and pile the mushroom gratin on top…using all your physics skills to balance as much as possible on top. Then cover your glorious little towers with plenty of grated parmesan and slide them into the oven, to cook on medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until pink and juicy… Important note: resist all temptation to leave them in longer… Beef fillet does not have the fat content to survive being over cooked, and will turn from melt in your mouth delicious to rubber ball disastrous in a matter of minutes if left in a hot oven too long.

Beef Fillet with Mushroom Gratin & Sauteed Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are a great alternative to potatoes. They are sweet but earthy and a lovely texture. In the past I’ve made them into mash, but this time I figured i’d keep them solid. Another import thing with Jerusalem artichokes is that a lot of the flavour is in the skin. So unless absolutely necessary you should keep the skins on while you’re cooking them.

This time I using my newly sharp paring knife to slice off the knobbily gross looking bits, and then threw them into a pot of salted water to boil. When they were mostly soft, but not yet falling apart, I drained them and sliced them up into… ummm… slices.

Into a pan with butter, diced pancetta, and sliced red onion, olive oil, salt, pepper, the usual. Bring it all together over heat, and when the artichokes have coloured nicely you’re done.

Served with a 2004 Hardy’s Oomoo Shiraz that was just dandy. Bring on the whole cow next time… I’m ready.

Happiness is a sharp knife

Tools of the trade

I’ve just got my knives back from being professionally sharpened and I am a happy man. I mostly use my 10inch Wusthof classic for most of my chopping, julienning, chiffonading, and the odd COMPLETE AND TOTAL ANNIHILATION of meat, vegetables, and/or herbs. I also use my Wusthof paring knife on a daily basis for peeling, and tidying up the knobby bits on veges and the like. Then there is also an 8 inch Furi East-West (Santoku) knife that I’m trying to get Sharon to use so she doesn’t have to use my Wusthof… but it’s not really working.

Needless to say they get quite a workout at times, and although I keep them pretty sharp with my diamond pronged sharpener and honed with a steel… they still get dull after a while.

So driving along through the city yesterday I happened to be stopped at the lights behind a van that said “Professional Mobile Knife Sharpening !” (actually I added the “!”, because it seemed appropriate). I called the number on the van and talked to the very friendly Ken, who said he’d swing by my work the next day and sort me out.

Ken does all the sharpening for a number of the “King Of Knives” stores in Perth, so if you drop your knives off there, it’ll probably be him who does them, as well as numerous hotels and restaurants throughout the city. He is a busy man.

So in a very Proverbs 27:17 way (except it was man sharpening steel this time), Ken swung by in his van today and went through the process of sharpening my knives. The Furi had a couple of small dents that needed to be ground out on a stone, and then it was onto the grinder with three grit levels taking the edge back to razor sharpness before a finishing buff and polish. The whole setup runs off a small petrol motor in the back of his van. All up, it took about 10 minutes to do three knives and cost me $18… which I was more than happy with.

For a while I’m going to have to stop my normal routine of running my fingers over the edge of the blade to test how sharp it is, because even across ways I’d be scraping my finger prints off…they’re that sharp… or else I could take up burglary… hrmm.

Anyone wanting to get some knife repairs done, or to feel the love that only a razors edge can bring should give Ken a call. Now I just need to find something to cut.

Ken Powell – Professional Knife Sharpening
0418 916 947

Epic Espresso

Worth the wait...

Last Friday I headed down with great anticipation to see the latest addition to Perth’s burgeoning gourmet coffee scene, Epic Espresso. Epic is the vision of former “Core Espresso” owner, and all round coffee obsessive Corey Diamond.

The place looks nice. Sexy fit-out with wood tones and funky furniture throughout, and some crazy machinery sitting on the bar. To start with is the 2 x 3 group Synesso Cyncra’s… the top of the line in commercial espresso at the moment, and a small feat of engineering brilliance. I had the pleasure of playing around on one of them recently at the Perth Food & Wine Festival, and they are sweet. Next on the list is the sizable stack of Mazzer grinders. There are three Mazzer Roburs (two of them running off three-phase power, and another from regular power), and a Mazzer Mini (on the first day) for Decaf, that has since been replaced by a Mazzer Super Jolly. All that gear alone would cost more than I’d like to think… let alone the heavy duty ceramic cups, stylish new tea infusers, and an array of milk steaming jugs that could equip a small army (of milk steaming soldiers).

Needless to say, Corey is not one for doing things halfheartedly. Epic is his vision for raising the standard of coffee in Perth, and from what I’ve seen it’s done that already.

Baristi

Stepping into the shop on opening day I was greeted by the lovely baristi, and asked what to order. I thought i’d better start with a flat white and work my way on from there. All of epics coffees come with a double shot as standard, they have a policy of sending all their flat whites out with latte art on top, so mine was presented with a lovely rosetta. Aside from looking great though… it tasted phenomenal. The espresso cut through the milk nicely and although I’m pretty bad at describing flavours it had a definitely chocolaty after taste… If you’re one of those 2 sugars in your coffee by default people… it may be a good place to start getting out of that habit.

Next I tried a double ristretto shot of the Capricorn Estate Singe Origin. Epic dedicated one of its grinders solely to single origin espresso (which is funnily enough, coffee beans that are sourced entirely from one place, and not blended). This week/month (?) It’s an Australian grown coffee, and a good one at that. A lot of single origins don’t stand up on their own as espressos, and there is much debate about whether they should be used for espresso at all… but I think it’s great to have the ability to try and taste different coffees, and to help educate people into not thinking of coffee as just a bitter black liquid you have to pour sugar into for your morning caffeine hit. It’s by tasting single origins that you get to see the vast array of flavours that are possible.

Belgian Couverture Hot Chocolate

So next on to the hot chocolate. This is made with molten Belgian chocolate which is ladelled into a small steaming jug. Then milk is added and it’s steamed together to a nice thick consistency. Then poured out and extra molten chocolate poured over the top. No need for tacky marshmallows or the like…this is luxury in a cup… without the sickly sweet tasty that most hot chocolates suffer from… sure to be a hit.

Piccolo Latte

Finally, when I thought i was finished, and had a nice little buzz going from all the coffee (4 shots so far), Corey suggests I try the piccolo latte… which he thinks works really nicely with the espresso blend they’re using (another 5 Senses blend).
He was right… deep rich espresso and steamed milk… A great way to get the flavour of the coffee and the sweetness of the milk in one package.

All in all, 6 shots of coffee, and the happy satisfaction of knowing there is somewhere I can count on to get great coffee when my Silvia (Rancilio) decides to give me hassles. Looking forward to heading back soon and keeping them honest… but I expect lots of good things to come.

Epic Espresso
Outtram St (turn left off Hay St, just down from Miss Mauds)
West Perth

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Chocolate Sticky Date Pudding

Sticky Date Pudding with Leatherwood Honey Caramel Sauce
Sticky Date Pudding with Leatherwood Honey Caramel Sauce

Sticky Date Pudding is one of my mum’s best desserts. She has turned it into an art form that few restaurants can come close to matching in my book. The texture of the pudding and the richness of the caramel butterscotch sauce is a combination of rare and special beauty that can be the perfect ending to a great meal.

So doing my usual trick of butchering good food with my own shoddy attempts at making them, I went off and tried to make it myself. I didn’t have time to get the recipe off mum, seeing as it was already about 9:30pm when I decided I was going to cook it, and so I went off to the net to find a recipe. I did my usual trick of combining the essence of about 15 different recipes into my own unified Jeet Kune Do (“I have developed a form of fighting with NO fixed positions!”) style sticky date pudding recipe.

As an interesting addition, I thought i’d make the sauce with honey, and funnily enough, after reading JenJen’s list of 5 things to eat before you die, I happened to come across a small tin of Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey in Fresh Provisions Mt Lawley (who incidentally also have Black Summer Truffles !), and I thought i’d give it a try.

Ingredients For pudding

  • 1 cup dates (or figs even) (stones removed unless you like a bit of bite)
  • 1/2 chocolate bits
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cups plain flour
  • 50g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients For sauce

  • 50g butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup tasmanian leatherwood honey
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

How I made mine

Rummage through your cupboards until you find the one baking dish you bought a few years ago with all good intentions of using to make cakes and the like. Rinse out the dust it’s been collecting and then smear the insides with butter. Sprinkle flour inside and chill in the fridge. Or alternatively, get new age fancy style silicone containers and not bother at all. Preheat your oven to 180C.

Chop up the dates and simmer in a pan with the water and orange juice for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat, stir in the baking soda, and watch a glorious volcanic eruption of foamy goodness. Sit that aside for 20 minutes or so while you prepare the rest. Resist the temptation to taste it, because this mixture is kinda nasty at this point.

While that mixture is standing, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt (i may have even added a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon here, just because it felt right).

Meanwhile back at the ranch, in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs in one at a time. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating after each addition until just combined. Add date mixture and with a wooden spoon stir batter until just combined well.

Pour batter into your pan and put it into a bane marie (larger pan/tray filled with water) with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of smaller pan. Slide it carefully into the oven and bake until a metal probe comes out clean, which I found was roughly 45 minutes.

Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Sticky Date Pudding

Now for the sauce…
In a heavy saucepan melt butter over low heat and add brown sugar, then carefully pour the honey in. Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a bubble, stirring occasionally, then stir in cream and vanilla. Stir it around for a few minutes until its thick and smooth.

Serve straight away by cutting a sizeable chunk of pudding and smothering it in the sauce, with a good helping of cream or ice cream on top to help assuage your stomach from the heavy onslaught of the determined forces of pudding and sauce.

fin.

We have the technology

Just a quick post that will (read: will not) appeal to the geeks amongst you.

I’ve been updating my wordpress plugins and such recently, and a few nice additions have come up.

Firstly, I’ve added a print friendly version to all of my posts. Which means if you’d like to print off a recipe or one of my highly clever attempts at humour, you can do so without the harsh tones of my ill concieved green and pink theme to hurt your sensibilities. It will also remove the sidebar and other links, so you get just the content you might need.

I’ve also added a new version of the FAlbum plugin for flickr, which shows my most recent photos and albums. The updated version is a mashup of FAlbum and Lightbox, a very funky javascript library that you may have come across on many sites that will display the images in a special popup flash window. You can test it now by clicking on any of the photos across the top of the page.

There is also the “Subcribe to comments” plugin thats been getting a bit of a work out of late… making sure anyone interested keeps up to date with the latest replies to any posts they are interested in.

In photo geek news… I’ve recently purchased a new lens for my camera. It’s a 50 mm prime f1.8 lens, and its making me happy to have some sweet low depth of field photos coming out. I’m thinking about getting into the photography side of things a bit more seriously too, with some excellent posts by Lara on “Still Life With…” giving me some nice tricks to try out.

Oh, and it was my birthday yesterday, and Sharon’s two days before that. Yay us :)

Celebrity Spam

Itís happened to you before. Youíre browsing away happily, surfing from one blog to the next, enjoying content that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years would have no hope of recreating, when all of a sudden it happens. You come across a site that looks like a blog, calls itself a blog, is for all intents and purposes blog-like in natureÖ but reads like a paid advertorial on page 3 of your local gossip rag. Something that one monkey could knock up in a casual afternoon quite happily, and still have time for banana or two.

Iím not generally one to bag other people out, but itís got to a point where I think something needs to be said, because it annoys me when the spirit of blogging and the organic dissemination of information is treated with such calculating disdain.

Such is the world of “Celebrity” Chef, Benjamin Christie, and his attempts to boost his own celebrity status by manufacturing hype. This takes the form of his blog, his Wikipedia entry about himself and his tv show, written by himself, and his frequent unsolicited emails asking me and others in the food blogging community for links and to visit his website, complete with web bugs and statistics tracking links built in (note the actual link address in image).

email scam

Itís no surprise why these kinds of sites exist. The Internet is an important part of our social consciousness these days. People rely on it for news, entertainment, and community, with blogs forming a large chunk of that world. It makes sense that where the people goÖso the advertisers go. Everyone knows that you have to be online now if you want to capture that highly prized share of the market.

So why does this grate me so much ? Benjamin Christie has done a number of things. Heís appeared in a TV series and published a book (or had a hand it at some point), and from what I can gather (from reading his own publicity material) travels around the world as an ambassador for Australian native food. These are all good thingsÖ but that doesnít make him a celebrityÖ

The blogging community is not stupid. We are normal people, with normal lives, who choose to congregate around each other websites in order to share ideas and receive inspiration. If you want to join in, feel freeÖ Just donít use your blog as a thinly veiled marketing ploy for all of your other products. If you do so, donít call it a blog, call it a marketing portal. A self contained world where you are the most famous person in the world and everything else thinks so too.

Doing a number of searches online, you find it really difficult to find anything about him, that wasnít either written directly by him (or one of his “team”), or posted as an advertisement for his various wares. Now I have no problem with commercialism. I have no problem with people getting paid for what they do. What I have a problem with are advertisements disguised as journalism, and with someone trying to hijack the food blogging community for their own marketing purposes.

The beauty of blogs is that they are written by real people. Ideas are shared freely and the comments you receive are taken on board and evolved into a new understanding of food, wine, or whatever you happen to be writing about. The best blogs have evolved over time through the authors writing great content that people want to read, and through actively commenting and encouraging others.

As soon as you start to try and change the course of public opinion through surreptitious ways, you start treading a very fine line between raising awareness and outright spam, and the nature of blogging itself takes a sharp and painful twist back to the days of media companies telling us what we should think.

To me it all seems like the emperors new clothes in blog form:

Yes thereís great content, because I say thereís great content !
Yes Iím a celebrity, because I say Iím a celebrity !

I think itís time for Benjamin Christie to put his pants back onÖ because no-one wants to see it.

** Update **
Another article by Ed from Tomato about Mr Christie and his advice.
Responses to Ed’s post on Food Blog S’cool
A bit of history on the situation as pointed out by Sam from Becks & Posh

*** Update II ***
After some creative but accurate editions to BC’s wikipedia entry by Ed, the page was promptly reverted to it’s original glowing praise version. The IP address used to make that change, was incidentally used to visit my website recently, referred via one of his stats pages. The world is full of strange coincidences it seems…

Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington

Just when you think you’ve got an original idea, everyone else seems to go and do it. Ok, so it wasn’t an original idea, it was born out of my obsession with watching Gordon Ramsey TV series, and his obsession with that quintessential English dish, the beef wellington.

I’ve been watching Hells Kitchen, Restaurant Nightmares, and his F-Word series, all of which at some point feature a delicious looking beef wellington recipe. A thick beef fillet wrapped in mushroom and proscuitto and again in puff pastry, and baked to a perfect moist pink, being sliced open everytime to the sound of his own self satisfied praises.

Now good sense and a little judgement would normally steer me away from attempting something that after a good hour or so of preparation, can come out looking and feeling like a burnt lump of wood… Not this time though. I had at least 3 different Gordon Ramsey episodes to cross reference and a giddy sense of self assuredness, that this would all be easy.

So after poring over the video footage with all the intensity and analytical skills of a coach preparing for the grand final, I was ready to go. I picked up a lean been fillet from my favourite Chinese butchers (Wing Hong in Northbridge) that looked like it would do the job nicely, and then made an important executive decision that I would not be making my own pastry. Puff pastry in itself has a degree of difficultly of around 9.5 in my book… and coupled with the standard degree of difficulty of the rest of the wellington, would push it way out of the reach of my meagre skills. So I picked up a pack of puff pastry sheets and hoped noone saw me in the frozen food isle.

So… to the recipe (batman) !

Ingredients

  • 1 beef fillet (or long roundy log shaped piece of meat)
  • Salt and Pepper to season the fillet
  • Mustard (Gordon used English, I used Dijon)
  • Field mushrooms (lots of, we’re going to blend them into a paste of sorts)
  • Thinly sliced prosciutto (enough to cover the fillet)
  • Puff pastry (enough to wrap the fillet entirely without stretching too far)
  • Egg wash (egg yolks and water (or milk)) to help the pastry seal

How I Made Mine

So firstly season the fillet with salt and pepper and some olive oil. Get a pan nice and hot and sear the fillet all over. I put it in on one side and left it there for 30 seconds to a minute til it had some nice colour, then turned it 90 degrees and did the same thing, turning each time so you get a good colouring all over the fillet. Once thats done, take it out and smear the mustard all over with a brush. Let that sit for a bit while you get the rest of it ready.

So take the mushrooms and put them into a blender or food processor, or just chop them really really small. I blitzed mine in the food processor and then into a hot pan with nothing else except a little salt to season. You’ll quickly see all the moisture that’s in the mushrooms start to evaporate and after a few minutes they’re good to go.

That's a wrapIt rubs the lotion on its skin

Now get some gladwrap (cling film/plastic wrap) and lay it flat on the bench. Lay the slices of proscuitto down next to each other in a row and slather the mushroom paste (or duxelle as it’s properly called) on top in a thin layer. Place the fillet in the middle and roll from one side to the other until the ends touch. Then wrap the cling film up tightly and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes, try to avoid having to explain to your house mates or loved ones why there is a ball of skin in the fridge if you can.

Now take it out of the fridge, lay out your puff pastry sheet(s) and put the wrapped fillet in the middle. Using a pastry brush, get a good coating of egg wash all the way around the edges of your pastry, so it will stick nicely when you try and wrap it up.

Then summoning all the dark powers of great pastry chefs that have long since past, attempt to roll the fillet up in the sheet of pastry and have it look like something one of those professional present wrappers in department stores might come up with, rather than the twisted mess you manage to make each time you attempt to wrap anything more complicated than a small box (that was more for my myself than anyone else btw).

Glaze the wellington all over with more egg wash and score the top with a knife for some elegant post baking patterns.

Yay, it sticks !Beef Parcel

Now comes crunch time. Pre heat your oven to around 180C and place the wellington onto a tray. Season with a bit more salt and pepper and put it in.

The tricky part is exactly how long you should leave it in the oven. Never having cooked one before I was a little hesitant to take it out too soon, unless it was a mess of pastry wrapped raw meat. I left it too long though, and what I ended up with was best described as what they must serve to meat lovers in hell. The outer shell was nice… the pastry, proscuitto and mushroom formed a beautiful casing, but sadly were not protective enough to save my fillet from becoming a hard rubbery mess of dry meat.

Gah

So after going to bed hungry and crying myself to sleep, I woke up with a determination that I would not let any pastry wrapped meat dish get the better of me, dammit !

So back to the trenches I went. Another beef fillet, more mushrooms, proscuitto, mustard, seasoning, pastry… The very next night, and now with the added pressure of guests with expectations of culinary mastery… it was do or die.

The second time around was much faster to prepare, the steps of the preparation came back to me like a seasoned veteran, fillet, season, sear, mustard, proscuitto, duxelle, fillet, wrap, chill, pastry, egg wash, wrap, bake… All in all taking me about half an hour less than the night before.

I was also damned if I was going to let this one get overcooked. We’d be eating raw meat or nothing if it didn’t come out right. I’d taken the precautionary measure of finding my thermometer (previously used solely as a milk frothing thermometer before my coffee making skills developed), to test the inside temperature of the fillet while it was cooking.

So this time after about 15 – 20 minutes we were done. A check of the temperature in the middle of the fillet said just above rare, and that was good enough for me. Beef fillet doesn’t have the fat content to handle over cooking, so if you go much past pink you’re destined to be chewing your way through leather.

This time however, it was cooked to perfection. Succulent moist and tender all spring to mind as admirable words to use to describe it. The pastry and duxelle and prosciutto adding a delicate salty exterior that made for a nice feeling when you got a big mouthful of it all (which i always do).

Take 2

My guest satisfied, my stomach filled, and my faith in meat wrapped in pastry restored, it was off to bed with happy thoughts of what to cook next, and whether it would pushing it to cook the same thing three nights in a row.