Looking back at my vacation, I didn't do anything all that different from what I do at home. I shopped at Trader Joe's, ate gelato, and sought out the latest and greatest new eateries. The one exception is that I got to cook more than my schedule normally allows while visiting David in Arizona.
David is my version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World," a character in the latest Dos Equis ad campaign. The absurd taglines, such as "He's a lover, not a fighter; but he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas" and "He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels," could easily be applied to the retired Air Force colonel, who is one part bon vivant - albeit one with an Oklahoma drawl that brings to mind Foghorn Leghorn - and one part action hero.
Boy, I say, boy... have you ever seen a rooster fly an F86?
Really. His calling card does not boast his last rank in the Air Force but simply reads, "David E., Unemployed Fighter Pilot." He flew Sabre jets in the Korean War, an experience that landed him and his fellow fighter pilots the chance to be featured in flying footage in the 1958 film, "The Hunters."
No fighter pilots were harmed in the making of this film. One of them, however, says that he had to keep Robert Mitchum in cocktails at the premiere - on a first lieutenant's salary in 1958.
His many interests include woodworking (his bookcases are oddly reminiscent of a cockpit... and it works!), history, holding forth on the issues of the day, crying over the Dodgers, and cooking.
Now one would not think that a boy living on a farm in Oklahoma who watched his dad fire up a steak on the same forge he used for shoeing horses would someday learn to make Beef Wellington. But that's what we made one night on my visit to North Phoenix, where fine dining is often characterized by an Italian restaurant with a logo that looks like it was stolen from a Chinese restaurant and a place that since 1985 has served 746,481 chicken fried steaks.
Wherever I hang my hat... there's gravy. Thanks to Texaz Grill for the photo and for providing me with the 696,732th chicken fried steak.
Beef Wellington is a celebration of all things politically incorrect: red meat cooked fairly rare, goose liver pate, and antiquated English titles. Although it was popular for its showiness at dinner parties in the 1960s, it is astonishingly easy to make. David took two filets and seared them in a hot oven until they turned a lovely mahogany brown. They were then placed in the refrigerator to await their suits of puff pastry while I chopped leeks and mushrooms for the savory coating.
Beef - it's what's for dinner, in all of its bovine glory.
After sauteing the leeks and mushrooms, we stirred in a can of good old-fashioned goose liver pate. I suppose you could substitute a "healthier" version made of nuts or lentils, but I would experiment first to make sure the seasonings were compatible. After all, you wouldn't paint the Sistine Chapel with Magic Markers.
"You! You left the cap off the blue one!"
Once the pate mixture had cooled slightly, David spread it onto a sheet of frozen puff pastry that was slightly stretched a bit with a rolling pin. By this time, the filets were also brought down to a temperature where they would not make the dough soggy.
Wrap star: Note the careful cuts at the edge of the filet to ensure a perfect fit. The chef is destined to find his second calling as a professional gift wrapper at Macy's during the holidays.
My contribution to the final enrobing of the beef was a tiny cattle horn insignia made out of a scrap of dough. But it shrank during baking into a tiny Ken doll-sized moustache. And the other Wellington decided to pop open at one end, exposing a beefy shoulder a la Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance."
Go on, admit it... you cut up your sweatshirts too.
Because this was a home cooked meal, the menu had to have at least one homey imperfection. We had picked up frozen potato knishes the day before at Costco. To David, meat without potatoes is an aberration. So we served the beloved Eastern European pastry alongside the Wellington in an effort to achieve multiculturalism on a plate - and to use more of the gravy we had made from the filet drippings.
Food + dough = vacation dinner extraordinaire. Christo would be proud.
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