First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve


35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

A busy day; the filet still to be pre-roasted and the ‘croute’ for it still to be made – I’ve stopped for a gin and tonic! One disaster averted; I arrived at the butcher at 3.10 to find he’d closed at 3.00. Frantic banging on the door produced my wonderful piece of filet – aged for a month by farmer Charles Johnson of the farm at Mallard Grange in Sawley, North Yorkshire.

Filet of beef, from the 'coeur de filet', as bought

Filet of beef, from the ‘coeur de filet’, as bought

The trimmed filet

The trimmed filet

First job was to trim it. I have a local butcher who sells great meat but he’s not a French butcher so I didn’t trust him to trim the filet, a lesson learned when I asked him to ‘Frenchify’ a rack of lamb. I’m not that great at it either but with no trained chef or French butcher on hand, needs must. Being only two of us for dinner, I ordered just a short length from the central portion, the ‘coeur de filet’. Even so it’ll be too much but I bought a larger piece to make it easier to handle and the part I am not using is in the freezer for another day.

As I said when I first mentioned my main course, I’m making ‘filet de boeuf en croute’ but not ‘Beef Wellington’ because it won’t be long enough to enclose the calf of Wellington, it will be cooked already sliced to make serving easy, and the ‘croute’ will not be the usual puff pastry, but a brioche dough subjected to a little S&M, ie kept under restraint! But more of that after the pudding.

The ‘pudding’

The pudding is in the fridge; Alleluia! It’s basically a modified Bavarois cream tipped into a mould lined with slices of cake – a la Malakoff.

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Buttered and sugared cake slices ready for the oven

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Toasted and sprinkled with kirsch

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

Mould lined with cake; gelatine in kirsch and toasted almonds ready

The cake (Madeira but could be Genoa or any firm sponge cake) was sliced about 1/4in thick, then cut into four quadrants for the bottom (which will become the top when un-moulded) and ‘fingers’ about 1.1/4 in wide to go around the inside of a 2.1/2pt mould, with a few spare ‘just in case’. They were painted with clarified butter, sprinkled with sugar and popped into the oven at about 200 deg C until golden brown after having put 7oz of almonds in at 180deg C for a few minutes until a deep golden brown. The almonds were then pulverised in a food processor. Meanwhile, 1.1/2 tbl of powdered gelatine was soaking in 4 tbl of kirsch.

Egg yolks, 7 of them (should have been 6 but they looked a bit small to me), were beaten with 6oz of sugar until very pale and ‘the ribbon’ survived a few seconds. Meanwhile a pint of milk, with a few drops of vanilla essence, was made very hot and then poured into the egg/sugar mixture in a thin stream while beating with the whisk. Back on the hob and carefully heated while continuously stirring until the wooden spoon had a thin creamy layer on the back of the bowl. Off the hob, a vigorous stir to cool a bit then the gelatine/kirsch tipped in and beaten with a whisk until certainly dissolved (2 mins). Now 8oz of unsalted butter was beaten in, adding 2oz at a time. Then the pulverised toasted almonds were mixed in. A taste suggested a small pinch of salt and a few drops of almond essence. Finally the cream, now tepid, was spooned into the cake-lined mould, putting the ‘spare’ cake fingers in when about 2/3 full. I found that the side fingers started to rise up when the mould was full so I covered with some non-stick baking paper and put a plate on to to keep them in place until set. Into the fridge till tomorrow. Phew! It’s very rich and far too much for two of us of course, but it freezes well.

The filet

Trimming the filet is quite a faff, even with a very sharp knife, especially trying to remove as much of the membrane and fat as possible without detaching the ‘side straps’ (often, of course, the filet is sold without these but it makes the slices rather small). Then I cut six slices about 1/2in thick; this is where a very sharp knife is needed and the larger than needed piece is helpful. The rest of the filet, as I said, went into the freezer.

Between the slices I put a duxelles stuffing. Mushrooms finely diced (1/16in) and twisted in the corner of a cloth to extract as much moisture as possible. Into a frying pan with some butter heated until foaming, together with some chopped shallots and some finely diced ready-cooked ham; fairly high heat until the mushroom began to brown very slightly. A little flour was then added and stirred for a couple of minutes. Off the heat, I added a little dry sherry, then beat in some liver pate (should be foie gras but a good liver pate had to do), followed by an egg yolk, a pinch of tarragon and salt and pepper. Left to cool.

A double thickness of butter muslin (cheese cloth) was laid in a small roasting tin and painted with rendered pork fat (cooking oil would have done as well). The sliced fillet was then reformed with a thin layer of duxelle stuffing between each slice. A loop of butcher’s string was put on lengthwise to hold the slices in place, then the filet tightly wrapped in the muslin, twisting at each end (like a sausage) and tying, then wrapping a spiral of string around the whole thing to hold it together. Now it’s wrapped in cling film and in the fridge till pre-roasting after breakfast tomorrow. The ‘sausage’ will be roasted for about 25mins in a hot oven (210degC), turning a few times, then allowed to cool before covering with the brioche.

Whether I’ll get to the brioche dough this evening I’m not sure – I’m a morning person! But this is as much as I’m going to post today; I’ll catch up on the rest tomorrow, with one or two more pictures, one of the advantages of eating this meal in the evening.