Thursday, December 31, 2009

Kristine Guest Blogs: The Langham, The Dining Room & Top Chef Michael Voltaggio

To relieve this blog of my annual self induced holiday slump, my dear friend and food adventure companion Kristine blogs for me about dining with Top Chef Michael Voltaggio at The Dining Room in  Pasadena.

Forget the customary Sunday brunch after a morning of sleeping in or any notion of TGIF.  My favorite day of the week is Wednesday and it’s all because of Top Chef.

After an exciting finale that had us on the edge of our seats (just which Voltaggio brother would take it?) there was no doubt that we just *had* to go to The Dining Room at The Langham to see what Chef Michael Voltaggio is all about in his own kitchen.

Strolling into the very posh Langham lobby, I wondered how Voltaggio’s whimsical and contemporary creations would mesh with the formality of the hotel that accommodates The Dining Room.  Upon being seated my sister, Heidi, and I noticed the “ship” theme.  Hmph.  It’s not the most modern or stylish of spaces, but I think that is set to change in 2010. As of this upcoming January, The Dining Room will close its doors to “revamp” and remodel the front of the house.  I have no doubt that they will liven up the demure space and give it a chicness that will compliment Voltaggio and his cuisine.

The menu offers the perfect variety.  

We decided to go with the five-course menu, each ordering different items. That way, by the time we finished we would have tasted ten different dishes.  

After starting off with a delicious bacon biscuit and truffle brioche with chevre butter (so delectable that I started nibbling instantly) I was reminded: “Oh, don’t forget to take a picture!”

First course was the Langoustine w/ Fennel “Slaw” and Porcini “lasagna” w/ bouillabaisse.  Divine.  The Langoustine was prepared perfectly, slightly firm but not a trace of the rubbery that is the hallmark of an overcooked shellfish.  I could have had several more portions of this.

Japanese Shima Aji.  The pickled baby peaches gave the dish a complimentary brininess; the Benito flakes gave it the balancing crunch.  I do admit that the texture of the dashi sea sponge was a little “different” and I could’ve done with a slightly smaller cube.

My sister had never had foie gras before and decided it was decadent and wonderful.  The aerated brioche and almonds gave the feathery dish a nice textural balance and when you cut into the foie gras there was a nice sweet apple-saffron “surprise” that oozed out.  When you cut into the apple-saffron sauce it just oozed out and made a very pretty glistening sheen on the foie gras.  Heaven.

Kurobuta Pork Belly.  My favorite dish of the evening.  Succulent pork belly sous-vide 48 hours (so said by our charming server, Joshua.)  With pistachio beans, garlic chips, a pearl onion and coriander sauce.

Turbot dressed with butternut squash, Madras curry and a fun pumpkin seed granola.  I love that Chef Michael never forgot that textural element in any of his dishes.  Divine.

Chilean Sea Bass with fennel, quinoa, Billy-bi croquette.  Again, it was amusing and fun to cut into it and get the perfect amount of sauce drizzled on the sea bass.  Between the two fish dishes we enjoyed the lightness and flavors of the turbot more.  (Had my husband been with us, though, I know he would’ve loved the sea bass.  Some people just prefer a meatier fish.)

Veal Cheek with the cutest Hon Himeji mushrooms.  A beautiful plate to look at.  I thought for a split second that the lentil “balls” looked like braised blackberries.  Again, what a captivating play on visuals.  My eyes saw one thing and tasted another.  And you have to give kudos to cuisine that can keep you on your toes.  :)

The Wagyu Shortrib was prepared in a “pot roast” style.  Earthy, comforting, cozy.  My sister tasted nutmeg and thyme.  I tasted marjoram and a little sage in the gravy.  Served with confited potatoes and carrot “straws” this dish was the perfect way to wrap up the savory part of the meal.  It was like a fleeting “hello and goodbye” of the holidays that are just ending.

As a little intermezzo we were presented with the most refreshing raspberry and yuzu “ice.”  Shaped like the Dippin’ Dots that we enjoyed as kids, we appreciated the walk down Memory Lane.

We enjoyed the Fool’s Gold (chocolate and salty hazelnut praline w/ milk sorbet) and the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Lime and Banana Custard, and loved the flavorful but not-too-sweet aspect of both desserts.  

The Fool’s Gold reminded me of Bryan Voltaggio’s mint and chocolate ganache during the Restaurant Wars episode and made me wonder if the brothers ever cook together and devise shared recipes.

At this point of the meal my sister asked a runner if Chef Michael was in the back of the house that evening.  “Yes, Chef Michael is back there and if you ask your server he can ask if it’s okay to take you back there to meet him.”  What!?!  How great was this?  As big Top Chef fans we were on Cloud Nine.  With this bit of information there was no way in hell that we were leaving without meeting the talented Chef himself.

All in all, Votaggio’s food was stellar though the restaurant’s ambiance was a little on the dowdy side.  However, we have plans to go back to The Dining Room after the renovation. Perhaps for a celebration dinner because of the price point (it was a spendy dinner for us, even if it’s not for some) but it is easy to see how this restaurant received and maintains its Michelin star. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Birthday Dinner at Ludobites

8910 Washington Blvd
Culver CityCA 90232
(310) 559-6300

December 21st I celebrated my birthday quietly with D at Ludovic Lefevbre's most recent Ludobites engagement at Royal/T.   Rather than explaining yet again all about the brilliance of Ludobites, you can read about it here, here and all about Ludo's most recent engagement at Royal/T here.

Having already experienced many items from this particular menu, I was able to focus on anything I adored the first time and anything new Ludo might have added that we might find intriguing.

We started the evening off with a beautiful berry-licious Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé sparkling wine.  When living in London with H, one of our favorite pastimes was to pop around to the Odd Bins for a bottle of Crémant then lounge around the flat philosophizing while sipping fizz and munching on salt & vinegar crisps. At the time it never occurred to me to ask what a Crémant is, until now anyway at 6am mid-winter vacation.

Crémants are sparkling wines made in the methóde champenoise, but outside the Champagne region of France. There are seven Crémant regions in France and one in Germany.  To earn the label Crémant, the wine makes must still adhere to strict wine making guidelines, mais bien sur!

  • Grapes must be harvested by hand, in amounts not exceeding the set amount for their AOC.
  • Crémants must be aged a minimum of one year.
  • In Bourgogne, Crémants must be a combination of 30% Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris grapes. (Aligoté may be used to fill out the remaining %).
Information courtesy of Wiki. While I looked at a few other sites, Wiki compiled the information the most thoroughly and succinctly. Merci beaucoup, Wiki.

First course of the evening was a new soup.  Celery root soup with black truffle and parmesan.  Black truffle is such a subtle flavor compared to white truffle or the truffle oil that is permeating lesser menus all over the place.  The truffle flavor here was subtle, the parmesan and celery root flavors snuggle against each other nicely. The warm rich texture of this soup was perfect for a cold winter's night, the first night cold enough to justify bringing my warmest long black winter coat out of the closet.

Tuna Sushi Rice Ice Cream, Soy Sauce Gelee, Smoked Ginger Oil.  This is a beautiful little dish, so characteristic of Ludo's inventiveness.  Very high quality fish, and both the soy gelee (salty) and ginger oil (bitter sweet) were beautiful with the fish. However, I was looking for more acidity in the rice ice cream.  Sushi rice is typically made with sugar, salt and rice wine vinegar.  While I got the sweetness and the rice of the sushi rice, I didn't get enough of the acidity of a well constructed sushi rice. It was a delicious ice cream nonetheless. Sinosoul, are you listening? Get in the kitchen and make me some sushi rice ice cream!!!!

On my birthday, I left the house with every intention of paying 100% attention to my spouse. Sans camera.  Just enjoy the food, the conversation, the fizz, the atmosphere.  Reflecting on the year past and plans for the future. But...NOOOO!!!  No matter where you go, your iPhone is there with you.

This course I enjoyed during the Food Digger preview event. Slowly Sauteed Monterey Wild Squid, Chorizo Oil, Kimchi Puree, Black Olive.  Loved the first time, loved it on my birthday.  D found the squid to be undercooked, which to me means that it was cooked perfectly.  Soft, malleable in my mouth, just a touch of resistance. The standout flavor in the dish is the kimchi puree, which is the mustard yellow schmear across the plate.  Balanced nicely against the chorizo oil, the dehydrated black olive crumbles were just a fun fairly neutral flavored addition to the plate. I scarfed most of this myself.

D swooned over this.  Brittanny Cod Teriyaki, Mashed Potatoes, Pickled Garlic, Lemon Miso.  A fan of Ludo's plating, the lemon miso is the swipe of yellow against the wide lip of the dish.  I loved the flavor combination of lemon paired with miso but felt it had a hard time standing up to the teriyaki, while the teriyaki sauce here was what D wanted to lick the plate clean of.  The cod was gorgeous, succulent, meaty, no bones.

And about this time we up-ended the Crémant into the ice bucket.  Ludo did something genius for his customers this run and partnered with the gal over at Domaine 547 to build a wine list both beautiful and easily wallet accessible. Therefore, our wonderful berry-rific Crémant was only $36, and our second bottle of fizz was only $30. (We didn't finish the second bottle, we are slowing down in our old age.)

This German Gilabert cava came highly recommended by several people on Twitter who had visited Ludo during this engagement pre-moi.  It was better than the Crémant. Drier, little tighter fizz, apple flavors but not too tart. Full case-worthy.  Cava is sparkling wine made in Spain, according to the methóde champenoise, wherein the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. You can buy this for $15 at Domaine 547 in Hollywood at 6801 Melrose, at the corner of Melrose and Mansfield. Just saying.

This is so not a great picture of a really umami-gasmic dish.  Braised Veal Udon, Kombu Dashi, Enoki Mushrooms, White Curry.  For some reason, in this iPic of my iMeal, the broth looks thick and viscous. It was nothing of the sort. 'Twas thin, dark, umami-wonderful kombu seaweed dashi broth bearing chunks of a rather lean veal and long thin threads of enoki mushrooms.  Just eating this has to be good for the soul. The white curry paste on the side was a lovely element, unnecessary because the dish was complete without it, delicious nonetheless.

The fried chicken heard round the Twitter-verse. Tweeps have been tweeting about this fried chicken in mole with baby corms since Ludo opened the Royal/T doors.  Fried Chicken, Cantal Polenta, Baby Corn, Mole.  Anyone following Ludo closely knows he learned his mole making OG style in East LA under the tutelage of the Teenage Glutster's mom.  On the night in question (did I mention yet that it was my birthday?), Javier and his mom were in the dining room tasting the fruits Ludo's mole making.  I gotta say that Mama Glutster is adorable with that blonde hair and bright smile. You raised your kid good, Mama Glutster.

This chicken was delish.  Not identifiable body parts, which is something I am usually more comfortable with in fried chicken thanks to my mom's skills with a butcher knife and her own fabulous fried chicken recipe.  However, inside the thick slightly spicy breading are pieces of the most succulently rich chicken, the polenta had a soft, mild flavor and texture and the mole brought the pop and thrill to the dish. Javier said Ludo is doing things to the mole no Mexican would ever dream of, but to be honest it tasted pretty much like the mole I vividly remember eating in Yucatan so many years ago. And that baby corm in its husk didn't hurt the dish either. Likes.

Sadly, Ludobites has vanished seemingly into thin air yet again, leaving behind a barrage of blog posts to commemorate this recent successful run and hundreds of tweets extolling the virtues of Ludo's cooking and the graciousness of his wife and our hostess Krissy.

Happily, I had a sublime evening with my husband that ended with my head on the pillow before 11 dreaming of slow sauteed squid, kombu dashi and sushi rice ice cream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hawaiian in the Inland Empire: Ono BBQ, Perris

(Perris Crossing, Winco) 
3150 Case Rd, Suite H-4 
Perris, CA 92570 


After being introduced and rapidly becoming addicted to spam musubi during this fall's trip to Hawaii, the taste of a spam musubi has really not left my mind for long. Imagine my surprise when working several days in a row in the beautiful Inland Empire to discover a Hawaiian BBQ spot just a few miles from my school site!

Located in a strip mall just a few feet from a truck stop, I was lucky to get there minutes before the lunch crowd. Immediately after ordering the room was packed.

Drawn immediately to the spam musubi, and prepping my taste buds for comparative analysis. $3.09 for TWO pieces? Well, I suppose it really is just potted meat product, a little rice, nori and BBQ sauce. 

I was a little drawn toward these mini-meals, each selection served with rice and macaroni salad.  I stuck this knowledge under my cap for later reference.

The majority of the other customers in the room, quite a few construction workers and house painters, were ordering the combo plates. Worried a little about time I ordered my lunch to go and headed back to the school site. 

While not the star of the show, the salad was good.  Big chunks of cuke, slightly under ripe tomato with won ton strips and a lovely dressing. "Hawaiian" dressing is basically Thousand Island, or a twist thereon.

My musubi were a let down. Not as tightly wrapped, not as warm, not as much BBQ sauce as the beautiful musubi I ate on Oahu from L&L BBQ, from Nijiya on University, and Oneawa Market in Kailua. Granted, at L&L where I actually saw the musubi being constructed, the versions I ate in Hawaii were made by Hawaiians. 

This one wasn't bad by any means, it was a delicious little lunch.  Unsure how anyone could eat two at one sitting, I devoured one of the pair, my salad and a diet Coke.  $5 and some change for all three items.

Despite my slight disappointment in the musubi construction, my musubi love feels in no way diminished.  There are L&L BBQs in Eagle Rock and Glendale waiting (hopefully with musubi in hand) for me to walk through the door.

Pictures courtesy of iPhone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Dinner Party Chic of the 1960's Establishment Elite

When faced with a variety of ideas to present to the generous minds at Foodbuzz for December's 24-24-24, T, J and I pondered about a dozen themes. We finally landed upon the idea of cooking the dinner party food our parents cooked during our childhoods, recreating a 1960's holiday evening of epic proportions in food & drink, company & celebration.  24-24-24 gives Foodbuzz, the sponsor of my left hand sidebar, the opportunity to showcase posts from 24 Foodbuzz featured publisher bloggers.  Each month, 24 bloggers from around the world create 24 approved meals during a 24 hour period, document them and post the results the very next day. Foodbuzz sponsors the meal and shares the 24 posts on its website. You can see the results of past meals here.

Verbiage from my proposal:

We will be cooking and serving the dinner party food our parents were enjoying when they were our ages.  All three of us, Tracy, Janet and myself, are 1960's babies. We are all born during this momentous and revolutionary decade to parents of the establishment, and all remember the lavish hours long dinner parties executed and enjoyed in the middle class California suburbs while war protests and the feminist revolution raged in urban centers.

Menu:  Oysters Rockefeller  Deviled Eggs with Crab & Caviar  Salad with Green Goddess Dressing  Beef Wellington  Baked Alaska Cocktails & German Reisling    

This meal is unique because while these dishes have been out of vogue in the last couple of decades, the three of us remember them fondly as part of our parents' link to a sophistication more often experienced in the 1960's outside the suburbs where we were raised.  I remember sneaking into the kitchen, tasting from pots and pans dishes not yet served and remnants from plates already cleared, morning after leftovers of exotic foods not seen at the family table Monday through Friday during regular meal time.  So much of what cultural production represents as memorable of the 1960's and early 1970's was the zeitgeist of cultural and social upheaval. But our own experiences of that era bore little resemblance to those events; think "Mrs. Robinson", "The Ice Storm". This is the food we would be serving at our own dinner parties were we in our 40's in 1969 if we lived in Palo Alto, San Jose, or Land Park.

Approval for my proposal rolled in on December 7th, planning, plotting, and scheming in all our houses began in conjunction with the planning, plotting and scheming that regularly takes place during the plan, plot, and scheme heavy month of December.

My responsibilities landed at the appetizer end of the menu. Crab & caviar deviled eggs and oysters Rockefeller.

I have been known to take short cuts when cooking, and the low road I take tonight involves hard boiled eggs.  The last time I tried to make crab deviled eggs, I undercooked the eggs without enough time to re-cook. So I bought already hard boiled eggs from the deli section in the downtown Ralph's. Every egg is perfect.

My recipe calls for mayonnaise (and although I am doubling the recipe I do not add extra mayo, I prefer a filling that is more yolk & crab heavy), cayenne (I substitute ancho chile powder), tarragon, shallots, salt, pepper and hot sauce if desired (I toss in some Sriracha).

What could be more wonderful than strolling outside to your urban lemon tree for the necessary citrus?

The eggs are stuffed at home and lightly covered in cling film for transportation to J's West Hollywood bungalow.

On arrival to J's, I break out the tiny jar of Romanoff black lumpfish caviar.

Just a taste on each egg half. Caviar felt incredibly chic to me as a child, albeit totally unappetizing. In the recipe below, my changes are in bold.

Crab-Stuffed Deviled EggsBon Appétit | April 2002

8 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled (12)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (ancho chile powder)
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (sriracha)
8 ounces crabmeat

Fresh tarragon sprigs (optional)
Cut eggs lengthwise in half. Scoop out yolks. Place yolks from 4 eggs in medium bowl (reserve remaining yolks for another use). Mash yolks with fork.
Mix in mayonnaise, chopped tarragon, minced shallot, lemon juice, cayenne, and hot pepper sauce. Mix in crab. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Mound crab mixture in cavity of each egg-white half (about 1 heaping tablespoon for each). (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Place crab-stuffed deviled eggs on platter. Garnish each with small tarragon sprig, if desired, and serve.

Starting the oysters.  When researching oysters Rockefeller for the menu, I had in mind an oyster dish similar to one served at the Half Shell, the SoMa restaurant I worked at in San Francisco for years. Ron's Rockefeller was heavy with cheese and shot through with bacon.  Although I found a likely looking recipe incorporating bacon here, and an interesting sounding "deconstructed" oysters Rockefeller here, T J and I decided mutually via that great conferencing tool that is "reply all" that I should use the recipe from House & Garden from 1959 for authenticity sake.  Into my archaic Braun food processor went spinach, anise liqueur and cheese.

At J's bungalow many hands pitch in to shuck Blonde oysters from Carlsbad purchased at Franky & Johnny's down the hill from my house on Riverside.

Spoon into the shell the spinach mixture.

Sour cream, breadcrumbs and last top with Parmesan cheese.

Pop them under the broiler. I suggest you broil on a low setting, a high setting will brown the cheese & breadcrumbs too quickly and not allow for full warming/cooking of the oyster.

The oysters Rockefeller looked gorgeous. Sadly, they tasted awful. There's a reason chefs and home cooks have added bacon, deconstructed, toyed with the original recipe. It's really very licoricey, and just doesn't taste good. Collectively, we decided that although it was fun to have a time specific menu item, we are glad cuisine has evolved.

Oysters RockefellerHouse & Garden | March 1959
by Dione Lucas
Yield: Serves 3-6 as an hors d'oeuvre

6 oysters on the half shell
1/2 cup heavy sour cream
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
Salt, black pepper

1 bag raw spinach
2 tablespoons Pernod or Kirschwasser
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Browned bread crumbs
Remove oysters from shell and put in each shell 1 teaspoon of the sour cream which has been mixed with the garlic, salt and pepper. Put oyster on top and completely fill the shells with raw spinach which has been put through the meat chopper and mixed with the Pernod and cheese. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter, put oyster shells on a bed of rock salt in the broiling pan and brown the oysters under the broiler. Serve piping hot.

While final construction of the oysters and eggs are taking place, J has two beautiful beef filets in the oven, par-cooking under large pieces of lard in preparation for the Wellington.

Gorgeously browned, with chitlins.

At least one of these crunchy pieces of lard made someone's dog very happy.

Attempting to stay in theme, Bill the wine guy from downtown Ralph's told me kir royale was very in vogue in the late 1960's/early 1970's, and that was all the encouragement I needed. T made everyone else Tom Collins, which despite my perceived hatred of gin I thought were delicious. Must have been the homemade sweet & sour. Please see the video below.

After the par-cooking of the filets, J covers them in a thick layer of a beautiful goose pate de foie gras from Bristol Farms. Even without the beef, that pate was wonderful quality. Below, watch J spread the pate covering the filets entirely.


The duxelles adhere nicely to the thick layer of pate.

And J rolls the loaves of meat into long rectangles of puff pastry.

And into the pre-heated oven the entire mass goes.

Waiting for the Wellington to cook, we all settle into the living room to nibble and catch up.

T has brought Chex Mix, which A, the youngest among us by far at 25, had no prior knowledge.  Chex Mix. A stand by at all cocktail parties and some kid parties when I was growing up.  This can now be bought pre-made in a bag, but T did it old school and made it from scratch.

THE original Chex Mix recipe from the early 1960's (No date, but from an old recipe cut out of a magazine from that decade.)

1 stick (1/2 C) butter or margarine
1 1/4 teaspoons seasoned salt
4 1/2 teaspoons Worchershire sauce
2 1/3 cups Corn Chex
2 1/3 cups Rice Chex
2 1/3 cups Wheat Chex
1 cup small pretzels
1 cup salted mixed nuts

Heat oven to 250. Melt butter in 15x10x2 pan; remove pan from oven. 
Stir in seasoned salt and worchestire sauce. 
Gradually add cereal, pretzels, and nuts, stirring to coat evenly.
Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
Spread on paper towels to soak up excess oil.
Makes 9 cups.

We laughed about the production and failure of the oysters, but the eggs were a smashing success.

And we made our way to J's gorgeous dining table.


Both T and I vividly remember our mothers making Green Goddess dressing, and to this day it is one of my favorite salad dressings.  It is having quite the resurgence on menus recently, having been seen at Suzanne Goins' Lucques, at Selland's Gourmet Market in Sacramento, on Ina Garten's section of the Food Network web site, at Eva, Tavern and A.O.C., all in Los Angeles.

T tosses her beautiful baby romaine leaves with her own Green Goddess dressing.

At the table, she and C serve the salad with crab hand cracked by C himself, our resident culinary expert. The rest of us in the kitchen just dabble, when C is behind the stove he dazzles like a vampire in sunlight. Satisfying crunch of romaine, bright flavors of tarragon and parsley, the savory anchovy and onion, the sweet sweet crab.
Gourmet | March 2002

The William Archer play The Green Goddess had a run in San Francisco in the 1920s. Star George Arliss, dining at the Palace Hotel, was served a specially created salad with this green-hued dressing.

Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cups
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

1 cup mayonnaise
3 anchovy fillets, minced
1 chopped scallion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

Salt and pepper.

Purée all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Nicolas Feuillatte.

Beef Wellington. What and why? Wikipedia tells us that though a definitive origin is unclear, one theory about Wellington is that Beef Wellington is named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.   Some say the dish was created because of his love for beef, mushroom, Madeira wine, truffles and pate cooked in pastry. Others hold that a patriotic English chef wanted to give the popular French dish filet du boeuf en croute a British sounding moniker during a period in which England was frequently at odds with France. Still a third theory holds that the dish is named after the shiny boots the Duke of Wellington wore that mimic the shiny baked puff pastry, these boots also being called Wellingtons. Whatever the case may be, our culinary research for this festive project tells us that Beef Wellington enjoyed a surge in popularity in the U.S. during the late 60's and early 70's.  In our current climate, so reverent of bacon, offal, and foie gras, I can see this delicious dish making a comeback. I can envision a lot of ways to tastily spin and tweak the ingredients.

G carved the Wellington for us, as we waited with dropped jaws and watering mouths.

Cooked to medium rare perfection.  This is one of the most wonderfully decadent and exquisitely flavored beef dishes I have ever had. Layering the beef in the pate helped it retain so much moisture, and the flavors of the duxelles, pate and beef together were just a little hedonistic. The puff pastry was both crispy on the outside and more moistly bread like on the inside.

Fillet of Beef WellingtonGourmet | January 1991

Some say it was his favorite meal, and others claim it resembled the boots that he wore. Whatever the case may be, the Duke of Wellington has a grand dish named after him, which became the entertaining extravaganza of the 1960s.
Yield: Serves 8

a 3 1/2-pound fillet of beef tied with thin sheets of larding fat at room temperature
3/4 pound mushrooms, chopped fine
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound pâté de foie gras (available at specialty foods shops) at room temperature
1 pound puff paste (page 196) or thawed frozen puff pastry plus additional for garnish if desired

1 large egg white beaten
an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water
1/2 cup Sercial Madeira
2 teaspoons arrowroot dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water

1/2 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped black truffles (available at specialty food shops) if desired
watercress for garnish if desired

In a roasting pan roast the beef in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the thermometer registers 120°F. Let the fillet cool completely and discard the larding fat and the strings. Skim the fat from the pan juices and reserve the pan juices.
In a heavy skillet cook the mushrooms in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until all the liquid they give off is evaporated and the mixture is dry, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cool completely. Spread the fillet evenly with the pâté de foie gras, covering the top and sides, and spread the mushrooms evenly over the pâté de foie gras. On a floured surface roll 1 pound of the puff paste into a rectangle about 20- by 12- inches, or large enough to enclose the fillet completely, invert the coated fillet carefully under the middle of the dough, and fold up the long sides of the dough to enclose the fillet brushing the edges of the dough with some of the egg white to seal them. Fold ends of the dough over the fillet and seal them with the remaining egg white. Transfer the fillet, seam side down to a jelly-roll pan or shallow roasting pan and brush the dough with some of the egg wash. Roll out the additional dough and cut the shapes with decorative cutters. Arrange the cutouts on the dough decoratively, brush them with the remaining egg wash, and chill the fillet for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Bake the fillet in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°, and bake the fillet for 5 to 10 minutes more, or until the meat thermometer registers 130°F. for medium-rare meat and the pastry is cooked through. Let the fillet stand for 15 minutes.
In a saucepan boil the reserved pan juices and the Madeira until the mixture is reduced by one fourth. Add the arrowroot mixture, the broth, the truffles, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the sauce over moderate heat, stirring, being careful not to let it boil, for 5 minutes, or until it is thickened. Loosen the fillet from the jelly-roll pan, transfer it with two spatulas to a heated platter, and garnish it with watercress. Serve the fillet, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices, with the sauce.

Place settings for dessert.

Both dishes J took on were architectural culinary wonders. Beef Wellington, and for dessert she chose to make Baked Alaska. With such a daunting task she did three trial runs prior to the party.  I think G might have been just a little tiny bit tired of Baked Alaska.  Here at the meringue stage I had to convince J to keep beating the whites.  The job of the whites is to insulate the ice cream during baking so it really really needs to stand up stiffly and stick to the ice cream.

The Alaska stands on a simple cake base, J used Betty Crocker yellow cake from a box. Effective and time efficient.

The ice cream needs to take on a shape that is easy to layer the meringue on top of, for easy moving back and forth, J put a layer of cling film in between the strawberry ice cream and the simple bowl. Below, J lifts the ice cream from its mold and onto the cake base.

After undoming the ice cream, she pipes the meringue onto the outside of the very frozen ice cream just before sticking into the oven.

J tried to use a pastry tip to pipe the meringue around the ice cream decoratively, but the meringue wasn't really having it. We ended up just splooging the meringue all over the ice cream as thickly as we could. In the oven, albeit briefly, our Alaskan volcanic mountain forms a side vent and strawberry lava starts to flow, imaginary villagers run for their lives.

Honestly, even the little leakage did almost no damage to the structure.


And how beautiful does it look when sliced into? Pink, white and yellow heaven.

Despite the structural challenges we were rewarded with simply sweet flavor profiles, creamy sugary cakey deliciousness.

Baked AlaskaGourmet | June 2001

The key to this dessert is keeping the cake and the ice cream as cold as possible, so be sure not to thaw the cake or soften the ice cream before assembling. We recommend using ice cream that comes in paper pints, so that they're easy to remove.
Active time: 20 min Start to finish: 45 min

1 (10 3/4-oz) frozen pound cake, not thawed
2 pints superpremium strawberry ice cream (not 1 quart)
6 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Cut frozen cake crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Line bottom of a 9-inch pie plate with cake slices, some halved or cut into pieces to fill in gaps. Halve remaining cake slices lengthwise and place around edge of plate. Patch up any holes with pieces of remaining cake slices. (You may have a couple of slices left over.)
Cut paper containers from ice cream and slice each pint into 3 rounds. Arrange 3 rounds in 1 layer on top of cake in pie plate and cut each remaining round into 6 wedges. Fill holes in ice cream layer with some of ice cream wedges and mound remainder in center of pie plate. Freeze 25 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450°F.
After ice cream and cake have been freezing 20 minutes, beat egg whites and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer until foamy, then add lemon juice and continue to beat until whites hold soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beating, and continue beating until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks.
Remove ice-cream base from freezer and mound meringue over it, spreading to edge of plate to cover ice cream completely. Bake in middle of oven until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Many thanks to for providing us a clearing house of recipes to inspire and execute, FoodBuzz for sponsoring the revelry, and to C, D, G and A for their patience before, during and after our efforts, making cocktails and dutifully cleaning as many dishes as necessary.

Happy Holidays and beautiful meals to all my readers.