The Christmas verve is in full swing here in Weimar. To add to the spirit it has been snowing for the past 2 days covering Weimar in a blanket of soft, powder-white, pureness, making the city look postcard perfect. The annual Christmas market in the center of town has been spreading joys of spiced glühwein, roasted chestnuts, sticky cotton candy, fresh stollen or warm quark doughnuts, making it irresistible to walk through the cobbled streets without stopping and sampling a cupful here, a portion there or a morsel around the corner.
We stop counting calories as December 1st rolls in. There is no use - we crumble and give in to mince pies, rum-soaked fruitcakes, cookies and co. This is the time of year where the expandable jeans are put into extreme use and we somehow convince ourselves things could be worse - at least we still fit in those expandable jeans from last year. As we stand in front of the mirror sucking in our paunches, our thoughts linger around the warm spiced confiture de lait simmering away on the stove waiting to be filled in jars for gifts. A slice of rustic bread with a slathering of the sticky jam and a coffee is in order - after all there is still room in the expandable jeans.
The chilly and frosty temperatures outside make us seek the warmth and cosiness inside and we crave big robust stews and hearty meals. Candles glow and the air is perfumed with cinnamon and citrus. Family and friends gather around a decorated table at tea time, passing stollen, cookies and pastries, filling the room with merry chatter. We talk about Christmas Eve and Christmas day and the meals we plan to serve. There is talk about duck breast in plum sauce, sautéed red cabbage and dumplings, on the other side there is venison with cranberry jelly, while at the head of the table there are ideas of pavlova, cream cakes and sticky toffee pudding. Recipes are exchanged, menus are modified and shopping lists are altered while morsels of marzipan cookies are jammed into mouths washed down with a good glug of spiced tea.
Does this sound slightly familiar to you?
This year I will be serving an all time favorite - a Beef Wellington. I have a sacred love for a good Beef Wellington and strongly believe that the ingredients used to make this classic English dish should be of a very good quality. Furthermore, I will adamantly rebut that flavors of garlic and onions have no business in a Beef Wellington. It is not a pie! It is the fantastic combination of earthy mushrooms and herbs with the slight sharpness of the mustard on a melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin wrapped in flaky pastry that makes this dish so spectacular.
Traditionally a Beef Wellington is coated with a pâté de foie gras and a mushroom duxelles then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. In my opinion the foie gras can be rather overpowering and kills the more delicately flavored beef. Some will argue that the salty and stridently savory flavor of the Parma, in this recipe, does exactly that but I find it complements the beef nicely. If you do use the Parma ham do not season the mushrooms duxelles. For the mushrooms I use a mix of dried porcini, girolles, shitake and chestnut to give a mélange of flavors and textures to the duxelles, which is sprinkled with a mix of herbs, like thyme, rosemary and parsley. I keep wine, cream and stock all away from my duxelles preferring not to mask the clean flavors of the mushrooms and herbs with boozy acidity or creamy richness.
And please … no truffle oil. It is the worse thing one can do to the Beef Wellington. For the pastry it has to be puff pastry and I say yes! to using a good quality, all-butter, store-bought puff pastry (unless you have homemade puff pastry in your freezer). With all the other things to think about at this time of year it will make life so much easier for the pragmatic cook. Steer away from flaky pastry or pie pastry - the Beef Wellington is a delicate dish and needs the elegance of a beautiful puff pastry wrap around it.
What dishes do you traditionally serve at Christmas? I would love to hear about your traditional dishes.
Serve the Beef Wellington with a side that is equally elegant and provides complimentary flavors. My roasted pumpkin, parsnip and mushroom are drizzled with a creamy mustard sauce, highlighted with sage. It’s the perfect partner to the mighty Beef Wellington.
I am not going to tell you to eat sensibly or healthy or how to avoid the extra kilos during this time. I am sure we’ve all found our peace with the additional grams we put on during the few weeks of Christmas. For me the additional stress of watching what I eat just adds to my frustration so I indulge and have found myself happier when I allow myself smaller portions of everything. Come January I am then ready for a cleansing and to be honest after all the excesses I really enjoy the period where simple, easy and toxic-free meals are cooked.
So, bring on the expandable jeans!
I really wanted to share this image of the Central Street Cookery School in London where we will be hosting our Supperclub | Food Styling and Photography Workshop. Doesn’t it look fantastic? Look at that incredible light streaming in through the gorgeous windows! When Sofia from the cookery school sent me a few pictures I got really excited. They are inspiring me to create new exercises and assignments for the participants of the workshop.
In case you missed it I will be in London in February and together with the talented Sumayya will be hosting a great new concept for a workshop, on 15 & 16 February 2013. We are putting on a full food experience for all participants attending the workshop. It will be a hands-on food styling/photography workshop led by me, a session on overcoming the challenges of restaurant and low-light photography by Jeanne as well as a culinary tour through Pakistan and India led by Sumayya where participants will learn different cooking techniques used in the Indian/Pakistani kitchen, create some mouth-watering dishes, and indulge in an array tantalizing South-Asian street food. The main venue is the stunning kitchen at the Central Street Cookery School above, which not only provides huge windows for gorgeous natural light but also offers plenty of space for cooking, styling, photographing and eating; and we will also be dining at a gastropub to practice the low-light photography skills.
This makes great Christmas present!
And we have a couple of slots left! Register for a place on this workshop now. The workshop is limited to a max. of 12 participants and we have a spaces are still available.
More Christmas treats from from WFLH:
|An assortment of Christmas Cookies||Spiced Advocaat Custard||Scandinavian Gingerbread House - Pepparkakstuga|
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