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When to Open Special Wines? Whenever.

I try to follow three simple rules when it comes to opening the (relatively few) bottles of wine that I keep under lock and key: (1) Open a bottle when I’m in a bad mood, as it always helps or, failing that, (2) Open a bottle and share it at a moment when everyone else is least expecting it – say, if they happen to drop by on a Sunday afternoon. If you just wait for special occasions to open wines from your collection, the occasions never feel quite special enough – and you end up sharing the wines with people who don’t necessarily appreciate or understand them. Or, worse, there are so many people to pour for you barely get an eyedropper amount of your own wine. But here’s the most important rule: (3) If you spent a ton of money on the wine, don’t spend the kids’ college fund on the food to go with it. Make something simple that allows the wine to show at its best.

There are several collectible wines on Lot18 this week, among them a rare red Burgundy and a small-production Napa Merlot. Gourmet curator Katy Andersen and I pulled together this simplified Beef Wellington recipe that’s a great match for either wine, and won’t do additional damage to the bank balance.

OK, it’s not exactly health food, but then again, who wants carrots and hummus when opening a rare wine in its prime? Just be sure to hit the gym the next day … and maybe the day after that, too.

Simplified Beef Wellington
Prep time: About an hour
Servings: 4
Ingredients:
• Four beef tips (I used beef from Robinson’s Prime Reserve, but your local butcher’s or grocery store’s beef will work just fine)
• Two packages of frozen puff pastry, thawed
Medallion of duck foie gras with black truffles (sounds fancy, but only costs about $13)
• Sliced white button mushrooms
• Approx. 2 Tbsp. butter
• Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
1. Set the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt half the butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter stops bubbling, add about 25 mushroom slices and brown them on each side, about two minutes per side. Work in batches and add butter as needed. Set aside the mushrooms on a paper towel.

3. Season the beef tips with salt and pepper. A beef tip is the thin, triangle-shaped end of the tenderloin (the thicker, middle part is the filet mignon). If your tips are thick, sear them quickly on all sides in the pan you just used to brown the mushrooms. If they’re thin, turn off the burner and set the pan aside. Just work with the raw meat.

4. Spread a thin layer of the foie gras on top of each beef tip.

5. Stack about 6-8 mushroom slices on top of each beef tip. The foie gras should hold the mushrooms in place.

6. Lay out the puff pastry on a cookie sheet. Cut large circles in the pastry, using a salad plate or small dish as your guide – just place the dish face down on the pastry and run a sharp knife along the edges.

7. Place a beef tip in the center of each circle. Carefully fold the dough over the meat and seal it shut, so each Wellington is a half-moon shape. Cut a few slits in the top of each Wellington so steam can escape.

8. Place the Wellingtons in the oven. Check them every 10 minutes, and bake for no longer than 25 minutes. The trick is to keep the beef medium rare and get the puff pastry golden brown. For medium-rare Wellingtons, try baking for 20 minutes, then move the tray under the broiler for two or three minutes. Slice in half, right down the middle, and serve.

For a good, complementary side dish, try roasting new potatoes with salt, pepper and rosemary in the same pan in which you browned the mushrooms (and, possibly, seared the beef). You can just add the pan into the oven with the Wellingtons, on a different rack. Let them roast for at least 30 minutes.

Have another easy recipe to that you like to serve alongside your special wines? Share it below.