I love the show Mad Men. The attention to detail is amazing. The characters are believable and complex. However, there’s one scene that’s almost too unbelievable to be watchable. It’s the one where Joan and Rodger have just completed a tawdry tryst at a fancy hotel and Joan insists she must get back to work rather than nomming on the amazing room service spread that has been ordered for her.
Roger couldn’t believe it either. “Look, we’ve got oysters rockefeller! Beef Wellington! Napoleons! We leave this lunch alone, it’ll take over Europe.”
Fast forward to several years later. Brian and I are happily cohabitating and decide on Beef Wellington as the main course for our Thanksgiving Dinner. Neither of us had had the dish before, but the urge to consume juicy beef wrapped in prosciutto, mushrooms and mustard that’s then wrapped in a crispy pastry crust could no longer being denied.
When I was handed a slab of beef tenderloin from my friendly butcher, my eyes widened with sticker shock. This was the moment I learned half of a beef tenderloin costs about $50.
“We cannot screw this up,” I warned Brian over the phone on my way home.
Fortunately, it turned out great. However, it wasn’t a dish we thought we’d make very frequently, given the expense.
Or was it?
About once a week, we’re going to invite a couple of friends over for a budget dinner party. Our goal is to create the best meal we can with a limited budget.
Welcome to our first Dinner Party Challenge!
We invited our good friends Phillip and David over for Beef Wellington, Fondant Potatoes, and Green Beans.
Our total grocery bill for ingredients, some of which we’ll have plenty left over (like potatoes and half the ground beef) came to $20. We substituted beef tenderloin with ground beef. That, along with buying everything from Aldi (except the puff pastry, which they don’t sell), helped us keep costs down.
Budget Beef Wellington
The biggest worries we had about the Wellington was that the beef wouldn’t cook all the way through and it would just taste like a burger wrapped in pastry. Luckily, neither of those worries came to fruition!
Here’s the recipe Brian came up with to make our Budget Beef Wellington:
- 1 and 1/2 pounds ground beef (use lean ground beef)
- 1/2 of an onion, diced
- 8oz. of button mushrooms
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 eggs
- About 1/2 cup of regular breadcrumbs
- Worcestershire Sauce, about 1 Tablespoon
- Fresh thyme, about 1 teaspoon
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- Dijon mustard
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Oven preheated to 400 degrees F
1. Put the mushrooms in a food processor and chop them until they are very small and take on a paste-like consistency.
2. To a hot pan, add butter and then the chopped mushrooms. Then season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. The goal here is to cook out as much moisture as possible from the mushrooms. Try to get the mushrooms as dry as possible.
3. While the mushrooms are cooking, make the beef mixture. To the ground beef add the breadcrumbs, onion, egg, parsley, salt and pepper.
4. Once the puff pastry is thawed, place a few sheets of plastic wrap on your counter and then place the pastry on top of it. Using a rolling pin, stretch the pastry so it measures 14 x 14 inches.
5. Spread dijon mustard in a thin layer all over the pastry, leaving about an inch free around the edges.
6. Spread the cooked mushrooms in a thin layer over the top of the mustard.
7. Put the ground beef mixture on the pastry and form it into the shape of a beef tenderloin. It should look like a long round log. Be sure to leave enough space towards the edge so you can still wrap the beef with the pastry.
8. Using the plastic wrap to help you, roll the pastry over the top of the beef. Once the beef is wrapped, twist the ends of the plastic wrap to secure and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.
9. Place on a cooking sheet sprayed with oil and then, using the last egg, beat egg to make an egg wash and “paint” the egg wash all over the Wellington.
10. Finally, make a few slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape during cooking.
11. Cook for 45 minutes at 400 F then let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Brian and I both are a little miffed that “Scalloped Potatoes” is already taken, as the finished product from this recipe looks almost exactly like scallops!
The browned potatoes can be placed in the oven at the same time as the Wellington.
Bacon Fatty Green Beans
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare green beans! All you need is salt, pepper, green beans (duh) and bacon fat, which I’m sure you also save, right?
Here’s my recipe:
- Boil the green beans for about 3-4 minutes.
- Immediately throw into an ice bath (this will keep them bright green, but still soft)
- Return beans to the orginal pot, along with two heaping tablespoons of bacon fat and heat on low til warm.
- Salt & pepper to taste.
Our guests arrived just as we were plating dinner.
The Beef Wellington was perfectly cooked through, and the crust was delightfully crispy.
Phillip and David seemed pleased with our spread.
After dinner, we asked them what they felt would be a fair restaurant price for the meal they just had. They both agreed $18 seemed reasonable.
Let’s do some math:
$18 x 4 = $72
$72 – $20 = $52 saved!
How do you think we did? What would you like to see us cook for our next Dinner Party Challenge?