When I was growing up, my family had roast turkey with all the trimmings twice a year – at Thanksgiving, and then a month later at Christmas. After my mother died (when we were all just becoming adults) I led a revolution and proposed that we have roast beef for Christmas dinner, and so we did for as long as my Dad and my siblings and I continued to be together for the holidays. Time and distance and marriages and resentments keep us apart these days, and my husband has a job that keeps us right here in Vermont for Christmas, so it's just us and whoever manages to come this way (this year, all of the kids and TJ's Mom).
I've chosen to dispense with tradition for Christmas dinner, my only tradition now being that I try to make something different each year (and always blow the roof off with dessert). We've had a standing rib roast or two, some fun with pork – including a crown roast one year – and last year some lovely sautéed duck breasts. This year I thought Beef Wellington would be a fun challenge. I'd made it once before, when I worked in a restaurant kitchen; we made 15 of them, as I recall, for one New Year's Eve party. So it wasn't a completely ridiculous idea. I used a few different online recipes for reference.
My kitchen range is a GE P.O.S. that gets temperamental about temperature at the most inconvenient times, usually on a holiday when I have a full house. The igniters or the thermostat (hard to say which; both have been replaced twice) go petulant on me, and the oven becomes an instrument of torture, deciding on its own what the temperature should be, capriciously shifting up or down for no reason. The temperature is apt to be dead nuts when I first set it, then drop 50 or so degrees, then pop back up to 25 degrees low, then go back where it's supposed to be. My only relief is that it never seems to run hot. But trying to cook anything becomes a game of wits, constantly checking and adjusting the temperature. It took three tries to make a proper crepe for the inner lining of the roast.
In the end, I won and the Beef Wellington was perfect. I made a simple sauce of reduced red wine & shallots and some veal glace from the freezer, finished with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Served with vegetables grown right here – peas from the freezer, the rest from the root cellar: carrots (glazed with butter) and a purée of potatoes, parsnips, and celeriac. I had a couple of bottles of Gigondas in the cellar, which were an ideal accompaniment.
Wrapping the seared roast in duxelles and crepe; sealed in puff pastry ready for the oven; resting.
Cooked to 120°F, then allowed to rest for 20 minutes. Perfectly medium rare.
I thought it would be nice to have my stepdaughters Annie and Isabel make dessert. They pored over cookbooks for hours before settling on the Chocolate Tiramisu Cake from Kate Shaffer's Desserted. It was a flawless finish for a rich, festive meal – a light but chocolatey genoise soaked with dark rum syrup, frosted with a coffee-scented mascarpone cream. Exquisite:
Two days out, we're getting the first major snowfall of the season. It's been snowing hard all day, and we've gotten well over a foot of fairly light snow. My sister-in-law Carolyn and I took the dog out for our first snowshoe this morning, and pushed a little snow out of the way...but we need to wait for TJ to get home with the plow truck this evening to get the real snow removal done.
For now, we're hunkered inside by the woodstove, reading new books and trying hard to avoid eating all the Christmas cookies still hanging around.