Feeding a crowd…

Well hello, I’m baa-ack!

Somehow or another real life had taken over the virtual one for a while there and I have missed opportunities to blog about key foodie events in our family life, namely Mother’s Day, Easter, my birthday and our youngest hitting double figures. Suffice to say I have been slaving over a hot hob ring and double oven laboriously and the mouths I’ve fed over the past 6 weeks must be into triple figures… at least!

Here’s a tiny selection:

As I’ve said previously it can be very difficult finding one meal which effortlessly appeals to our family’s mixed palate requirements, so for reasons I’ve been pondering leading up to this blog post rather than lighten the load I have a tendency to invite all and sundry to our mealtimes, in particular, Sunday evenings… when all six of us are together… often just after I’ve schlepped down the motorway to collect my two from their dad… in between getting homework completed… on a school night.

So why make life more complicated? When two families are blended together it doesn’t take long to realise how differently we all choose to parent our children. We all have different boundaries, different expectations, different ways of behaviour management and very different buttons that once pressed can release frustration rather quickly. Mine: attitudes to school and homework, sudden loud noises, whingeing and don’t even get me started on people who pick their nose… Mr HDD: table manners. Now, I agree, of course, no one wants to see children behaving like squealing pigs at a trough, inhaling food without taking a breath, or worse those that toy with their food, spreading it about the plate, wafting forks in the air whilst simultaneously dribbling hair into the gravy. Oh no, wait… that pretty much sums up the Vegetarian, the only girl, with long hair that persistantly dangles into the gravy, without fail! I can literally picture Mr HDD turning puce with pent up frustration right now. Every Sunday mealtime would be the same, starting from when she was approximately 7 years old, I have tried everything but some how her complete lack of spatial awareness at the dinner table would rear its ugly head, there would be drinks spilt, forks wafted, food debris EVERYWHERE and crispy hairends to further highlight my ineptitude at maintaining standards at the dinner table.

And then one evening I invited the in-laws for a Sunday roast and out of nowhere a moment of clarity occured, the more mouths I fed the more the intense need for the perfect family dynamic I was striving for at the dinner table was dilluted. There was more noise and chatter, less opportunities to notice fork wafting, hair dribbling instances were not so easily clocked and commented on amongst the chaos of the extended family. I actually began to relax and even, dare I say it, look forward to our blended family meals together, well when we were entertaining the masses and feeding a crowd at least!

A recent such event was for Mummy HDD’s birthday celebration, on this occasion a party of 10. As it was a big occasion I pulled out all the stops and cooked a Beef Wellington, one of my absolute favourites, (what’s not to like? Juicy fillet of beef? Crispy pastry?), and a recipe that has taken some tweaking for me to perfect. It was also quite easy to bend the recipe to suit the (spatially unaware) Vegetarian by using a piece of salmon in place of the fillet and putting some of the mushroom paté to one side before adding any meat-based product to it.

A disclaimer to this delicious and somewhat extravagant meal, especially when serving a large group, it is relatively necessary to spare little expense when purchasing the meat. On this occasion I spent £44 on 2 decent sized hunks of beef fillet from a local butcher, I have rarely found an appropriate cut of meat in the supermarket, and created two similarly sized pastry parcelled delights.

For the Beef Wellington

  • 1 kg fillet of beef
  • olive oil
  • a large knob of unsalted butter
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 600 g mixed mushrooms
  • 100g chicken liver paté (on this occasion I used Tesco’s Chicken and Chorizo paté)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 50 g fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 x 500 g block puff pastry  (because I created two separate wellingtons plus a salmon parcel I actually used 2 x 500g blocks of puff pastry, and to claw back some calories I used the ‘lighter’ version)
  • 1 large free-range egg (courtesy of our fabulous feathered back garden friends!)

The Method

  1. Preheat a large frying pan on a high heat. Season the beef thoroughyl, rubbing sea salt and black pepper in using fingertips. Pour a glug of oil into the pan, and add the beef, a knob of butter and a sprig of rosemary. Sear the beef for 4 minutes in total, turning regularly with tongs, then remove to a plate.
  2. Wipe out the pan and return to a medium heat. Peel and finely chop the onion, garlic and mushrooms and put into the pan with another knob of butter and another glug of oil. Strip in the rest of the rosemary leaves and cook for roughly 10-15 minutes, until soft and starting to caramelise, stirring regularly.
  3. Add the paté of your choosing and Worcestershire sauce into the pan and cook for another few minutes, then tip the contents into a blender and blittz into a spreadable consistency, (this may also be done by hand by re-chopping the mixture). Season to taste and add the breadcrumbs, (the breadcrumbs replace the pancakes that some people use in a Wellington to stop too much moisture escaping from the beef into the pastry).
  4. Preheat the oven to 210°C/425°F/gas 7. On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the pastry to a size and shape, (most likely a rectangle), that will easily fit around your piece of meat It may be easier to use pre-rolled pastry, whatever the shape or size the thichness of the pre-cooked pastry is important: approximately the thickness of a coin, no thinner than a 2p, no thicker than a £1!
  5. With one of the longer edges of the rectangle in front of you, spread the mushroom paté over the pastry, leaving a 5cm gap at either end and at the edge furthest away from you and eggwash these edges. Sit the beef on the paté and wrap the pastry around the beef, pinching the ends to seal. Score carefully in a diagonal pattern across the pastry, without cutting through the pastry. I then wrapped the Wellington tightly in cling-film and refrigerated for a few hours in order to encurage the parcel to maintain its shape, although this is not absolutely necessary. Ensure the Wellington IS NOT fridge cold when you bake, remove it from the fridge an hour or so before putting into the oven.
  6.  When you’re ready to cook, heat a large enough baking tray in the oven for 10 minutes, (this will help to avoid a soggy bottom), whilst you brush the parcel all over with eggwash, place the Wellington onto the hot baking tray with the sealed edge on the underneath, transfer to the oven and cook for 50 minutes to an hour, bearing in mind when slicing and serving that the end pieces will be more cooked and less ‘pink’ then the middle slices.

The Beef (and Salmon) Wellintons actually provoked a round of applause when delivered to the table, served with rosemary baked new potatoes, roasted vegetables and fried sprouts tossed in almonds, all drizzled with a delicious madeira gravy, the meal was an utter fork wafting, hair dribbling success!

A few caveates will now follow…

  1. My daughter, the Vegetarian, well actually the Pescatarian, is now 12 years old and relatively hair and body conscious so although still prone to some fork-wafting she no longer sports crusty hair tips, those particularly dark days happened more between the ages of 7 and 10, and I’m pretty certain she was at all times fully aware of her Wurzle Gummidge impressions, she just didn’t especially care. My parenting motto has often been ‘let them naturally evolve’ and as she now persistently primps, preens and selfies in front of her iPhone I almost hanker for those days… well, not that much!
  2. When serving everyone else first PLEASE ensure that you do not save only ends of this delicious Wellington for oneself or that you serve slices too thick. Yep, that’s right, there wasn’t actually any soft, tender juicy beef left in any of the ends I had saved, only pate… Luckily Mr HDD came to my rescue and shared a smidgen of his meat with me, and he NEVER shares food! Sadly the same could not be said of the Madeira Sauce, but I’m told it was a superb accompaniment!
  3. If you intend feeding a crowd long term… buy a dish washer… I don’t have one. That is all!

Happy Eating!

HDD xoxo



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