Shrimp & Chicken Sausage Pasta Shells

With Christmas right around the corner, pasta meals are an easy quick fix on those busy days leading up to the big day. Stuffed Shells are truly the perfect meal to make ahead of time since you can prepare everything but hold off on baking them until you’re ready to eat.

Stuffed shells are a tasty dish that is usually made with ricotta cheese or other types of cheese inside the pasta shells. Tomato sauce is another common ingredient in the dish. However, there are so many ways to jazz it up and one might be surprised just how many unique ingredients one can put into a shell.

I have always loved stuffed pasta shells and over the years I have stuffed them in every way I could imagine. There are endless variations such as using different cheeses and herbs or making some homemade marinara or sun-dried tomato sauce.

There’s a reason surf and turf is often one of the most desired items on a restaurant menu — it’s because meat and fish are the perfect complement to each other! The light flavor of fish and shellfish is a great addition to the richer, heartier flavor of meat.

Today, I’m combining some shrimp and chicken sausage in my filling and topping it with a nice smoky sun-dried tomato parmesan sauce. Should be good!

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Shrimp & Chicken Sausage Pasta Shells
Instructions
Pasta / Filling
  1. Cook pasta shells in a pot of salted boiling water for about 10-12 minutes. Drain well & lay on a wire rack to keep them from sticking together until ready to fill.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add onion & mushrooms; sauté until tender & moisture has evaporated from mushrooms. Add chicken sausage & minced garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine & cook until sausage is no longer pink about 4-5 minutes more. Drain well & transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Peel & devein shrimp; chop into 1/2-inch pieces. In a small bowl, whisk together broth & flour. Set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, heat remaining 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add shrimp; cook, stirring constantly, until shrimp begins to turn pink. Stir in flour mixture. Add cream, Old Bay seasoning, garlic powder & Italian seasoning; stir until thickened. Remove from heat & stir in sausage mixture. Set aside until ready to use.
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
  1. In a skillet, heat oil. Add onion & cook for 2 minutes until it starts to soften. Add garlic, oregano, thyme, paprika & sun-dried tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Add vegetable broth; bring to a boil & simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in cream & parmesan cheese into the sauce. Remove from heat & cool for a few minutes. Pour sauce into food processor & process to a fairly smooth consistency. It will not be completely smooth but that is fine.
Assembly / Baking
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Spread half of the sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Divide filling between cooked shells. Lay in rows over sauce. Pour remaining sauce over top carefully covering all the shells.
  3. Loosely lay a piece of foil paper over baking dish and bake for 45 minutes or until bubbling nicely.

Chicken, Veal & Shrimp Pastetli (Vol-Au-Vent)

Pastetli were invented in the early 1800s in Antonin Carême’s pastry store in Paris, France where they’re called vol-au-vent, French for ‘windblown’ to describe its lightness. While they’re served as an appetizer in France, they’re eaten as a main meal not only in Switzerland but also in Belgium and the Netherlands. It is also from the Netherlands where the Swiss name Pastetli origins from. The Dutch call them pasteitje (little pastry). From there it came to the German Pastete. Just to add a little complication though, a Pastete in Switzerland is rectangle cake shaped puff pastry pie filled with sausage meat, mushrooms in a creamy sauce.

A vol-au-vent is a light puff pastry shell that resembles a bowl with a lid. The shell is generally filled with a creamy sauce (most often a velouté sauce) containing vegetables, chicken, meat or fish. The lid is placed on the filled shell and the pastry is then served as an appetizer, also known as bouchée à la Reine, or as the main course of a meal. When prepared, the pastry dough is flattened and cut into two circles. A smaller circle is cut out of the center of one of the circles, which then will be used as the lid. The circle without the center cut and the circle with the center cut are then joined together around the edges so as the pastry bakes, it rises into a shell with a hole in the top. The lid, which is baked separately, is added later. The pastry shell may be made the size of an individual serving, or it can be made in several different sizes to become a main serving for one or a larger size to be served for more than one.

Vol-au-vents rose to prominence in Paris in the 19th century. In post-war Britain, they were a mainstay of any self-respecting buffet, served to suitably impressed guests alongside welcome drinks at dinner parties. By the 1990s, they had become unfashionable and remained so for decades. Updated vol-au-vents started reappearing in chic restaurants a year or two before the covid pandemic (2020) erupted and have become the retro appetizer or main course to have.

You can even adapt them to make some elegant desserts. Fill with cream and fresh fruit or melt a chocolate orange with a dash of Grand Marnier and orange zest then spoon this quick-fix mousse into the cases and top with sweetened Chantilly cream and chocolate shavings.

For our main course vol-au-vents, I am making an interesting filling which includes, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms and tiny meatballs. Sounds a little odd but is packed with flavor.

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Chicken, Veal & Shrimp Pastetli (Vol-Au-Vent)
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Instructions
Chicken/Broth
  1. Add the rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, chopped celery, carrot and onion to a stock pot. Season generously with pepper and salt. Cut the chicken up: legs, wings and breasts. Also chop up the remaining carcass. Add it all to the pot. Then fill it with water (about 7 cups) until the chicken is fully submerged.
  2. Place the pot over high heat until boiling, then leave it there for 10 minutes. Turn the heat lower and gently cook the chicken for about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the heat and let it cool down for another 45 minutes.
Mushrooms/ Shrimp/ Cheese
  1. Chop the mushrooms into bite-size pieces. Peel & devein shrimp. Grate parmesan cheese.
Puff Pastry Shells
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Cut (4) 5-inch circles from puff pastry. Beat the egg & prick holes in the large circles with a fork & brush with egg. Cut 12 more RINGS from pastry about an inch wide. Lay a ring on each of the 4 circles & brush with egg wash. Repeat this until there are 3 rings on each large circle. Bake the puff pastry shells for 25 minutes.
Finish the Broth
  1. Remove the cooked chicken from the hot stock. Reserve stock for later. Remove any chicken skin, bones, veins, cartilage, or sinew (discard all this) & pick the cooked meat from the bones. Shred the larger bits up roughly. Then transfer the chicken meat to a large saucepan.
  2. Strain the chicken stock in a fine sieve or colander over a large pan. You should end up with about 6 cups (1,4 l) of chicken stock. Discard the cooked vegetables.
Meatballs
  1. In a bowl, combine ground veal (pork), salt & pepper, egg & breadcrumbs. Mix well and make tiny balls of ½ oz (15 g) each. You should end up with about 20 of them. Cover the meatballs with cling film and store them in the fridge until later.
  2. Bring the stock to a gentle boil again. Once warm, add the meatballs, shrimp & mushrooms. Poach them for about 5 minutes. Then remove the meatballs, shrimp & mushrooms using a slotted spoon. Add them to the shredded chicken in the large saucepan.
Béchamel Sauce
  1. Take the chicken stock off the heat now. In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk well until you get a wet crumble. Gently cook this over medium-low heat for about a minute. Then gradually add splashes of the warm chicken stock until you get a sticky flour paste. Keep stirring. Don't add too much at once or the sauce will become lumpy.
  2. Whisk well. Gradually add more chicken stock (about 3 to 4 cups) until you get a pretty runny sauce. Bring the sauce to a low simmer & cook for 3-4 minutes or until thickened. whisk in Montreal Steak Spice, onion salt, garlic powder, mustard & grated parmesan.
  3. Add the béchamel sauce to the chicken, meatballs, shrimp & mushrooms. Stir carefully. Cover the pan for another 5 minutes and let the vol au vent filling warm through or place it back over very low heat.
  4. Put the vol au vent puff pastry casings onto 4 serving plates. Top with the chicken, meatball, shrimp & mushroom filling. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley if desired. Serve the vol au vents hot.

Cheesy Everything Spice Crackers

Crackers and cheese are one of life’s true snacking pleasures. They have been around for almost two centuries since they first made a debut as an after-dessert course in restaurants in the 1850s. Today, this classic duo is still going strong in everything from lunchboxes to the most elegant charcuterie boards.

Crackers are available in different shapes and sizes. Some can be round, rectangular, or even irregular in shape. John Pearson, who invented crackers, will always be credited for baking the first cracker at a time when it wasn’t even in anyone’s imagination. He used only three basic ingredients. Later on, more ingredients were added to the recipe that gave a different flavor to the crackers.

Crackers are one of the most versatile snacks around, and these cheese crackers are no different! There’s something about a homemade version of a store-bought snack that’s amazingly delicious. By making crackers at home, you can skip over the artificial flavorings, sugars and preservatives and stick to the good stuff—

These crackers are buttery, crunchy, savory, so cheesy, and sprinkled with that addictive spice known as everything bagel seasoning. You will love these!!

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Cheesy Everything Spice Crackers
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CRACKERS
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CRACKERS
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder & smoked paprika. Add the butter & pulse 5-7 more times or until butter is incorporated into flour & no large pieces remain. It should look like coarse meal. Add the cheeses & pulse a couple more times until combined. With the machine running, stream in 1/4 cup of the half & half until mixture comes together in a ball. Divide ball in half.
  3. Take one half & roll out to about an 1/8-inch thick between two sheets of parchment paper. Transfer dough, along with bottom piece of parchment to a baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut out 2 x 2-inch crackers & use a fork to prick each one a few times. Brush the crackers lightly with remaining half & half & sprinkle with 1 Tbsp of everything spice. Repeat with remaining dough.
  4. Bake on middle rack for 20-25 minutes or until crackers are a light golden brown. They continue to crisp as they sit. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Recipe Notes
  • Don't hesitate to substitute a different cheese in for the cheddar & Romano such as fontina, asiago, parmesan, gruyere or an aged gouda if you prefer.

Zesty Chicken Wraps

People in Mexico, the Mediterranean, and South Asia  have been eating wraps since around the 1900’s. The wrap in its Western form probably comes from California, as a generalization of the Mexican/Tex-Mex burrito and became popular in the 1990’s.

Wraps have become a popular option in sandwich shops and restaurants, and for good reason. Like all sandwiches, wraps are an outlet for culinary creativity. A wrap can be anything you want it to be – breakfast, lunch, dinner, even a snack!

Wraps offer the same flexibility and creative options as a sandwich, but in a more convenient format all rolled up in a tasty tortilla or flatbread. The usual flatbreads are wheat tortillas, lavash or pita; the filling may include cold sliced meat, poultry, or fish, shredded lettuce, diced tomato, guacamole, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, grilled onions, cheese, and a sauce, such as Ranch dressing or honey mustard.

They are the perfect on-the-go meal. Most wraps can be eaten one-handed, leaving the rest of you free to continue about your day. They’re the perfect meal solution for a busy schedule.

It is remarkably easy to create your own personalized wrap: choose a bread, pick your condiments, layer your fillings, decide whether you want to grill it or not and enjoy. Does it get any better than that!

I have to admit, I absolutely love wraps so I like to fit them in to our meals whenever I can. These zesty chicken wraps are so good !

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Zesty Chicken Wraps
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Course Lunch
Cuisine Mexican
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Course Lunch
Cuisine Mexican
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Instructions
Chicken
  1. In a large bowl, combine 2 Tbsp oil, lemon juice & seasonings; add chicken & turn to coat. Cover & refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Filling
  1. In a heavy skillet, heat 2 Tbsp oil & sauté zucchini & onions until tender crisp. Remove & keep warm. Drain marinade from chicken & cook in the same skillet until no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes. Return zucchini/onion to pan, heat through.
Assembly
  1. Lightly spread 4 tortillas with a bit of guacamole or sour cream. Spoon filling down the center of tortillas. Add toppings saving a good bit of the cheese for sprinkling over them after they are rolled.
  2. Roll up & place on a microwave safe dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese & microwave only until cheese is melted. Top with sliced green onions & tiny grape tomatoes. Serve extra toppings on the side if you like.

Ritz Cracker Crumb Pork Chops

They’re not just for snacking—Ritz crackers go in casseroles, main courses, appetizers, side dishes and even desserts! Everybody loves Ritz, and even more when they’re on pork chops.

Breading is an essential ingredient in so many recipes. Turns out that many pantry staples (including crackers, chips, and other dried goods) can be used as a breading. All it takes is crushing up some crackers to get the same effect as your usual breadcrumbs and you may even find that you like some of these swaps better than the real thing! Ritz Crackers make a great substitute for traditional breadcrumbs. 

Why use breading? Firstly, there’s the elements of taste and texture. Seasoned breading on a chicken or pork cutlet, for instance, helps encrust the meat in more flavor. It also adds a bit of texture and along with a good blend of spices, a humble pork chop becomes amazing!

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Ritz Cracker Crumb Pork Chops
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Instructions
  1. In a small dish, combine spices. Mince onion (chopping by hand).
  2. Empty 1 1/4 sleeves of crackers into a large zip-lock bag. Crush crackers finely until you have a uniform size. Add seasoning mixture & onions to the bag & toss well to incorporate.
  3. Create a breading station for pork chops. One dish with flour, one with the beaten egg & one with the cracker crumb breading.
  4. Dip one of the chops into the flour & flip it over a couple of times . Coat all sides of the pork chop well with a thin layer of flour. Dip the flour coated chop into the egg, coating all sides.
  5. Lastly, dip coated chop into cracker crumb breading mixture. Press the crumb mixture onto the pork chop with your hand to ensure it is coated well. Lie breaded pork chop onto a platter. repeat this process for the rest of the pork chops.
  6. Place breaded chops in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. This will help the batter adhere to the chops better.
  7. Heat a griddle to a medium-low heat & spray griddle with cooking spray. Grill chops on both sides until cooked through & nicely browned. Serve with pork gravy if desired.

Artichoke Chicken

Native to the Mediterranean, the artichoke is actually the edible flower bud of a thistle plant in the sunflower family. In fact, if left to develop, the artichoke will blossom into an extraordinary, spiky, brilliant purple flower.

Artichokes pair well with many dishes. They don’t have a ton of flavor so they’re a blank canvas and can go in pretty much anything.  Artichokes are one of the most beloved vegetables in the world. But, like all vegetables, artichokes don’t have much protein. That’s why it’s important to pair them with a good, high-protein meat.

Chicken is one of the most popular types of meat to serve alongside artichokes because it is so versatile. The flavor of artichokes and how it is perceived can vary from person to person and from preparation method to preparation method. Roasting will bring out the nutty, savory flavors inherent in artichokes.

The ways to cook artichokes, are plenty. They can be added to pastas and salads, pureed for cheesy dips, sautéed, roasted and served whole with other  springtime vegetables or added to pizzas. Really, the options are endless.

This chicken is marinated in Italian dressing then topped with a cheesy artichoke dip and baked. Just a few ingredients – easy to prepare – ready in 30 minutes – perfect!

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Artichoke Chicken
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Cuisine American
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Instructions
  1. Marinate chicken breasts in Italian dressing for a couple of hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Remove chicken from marinade & cook 2 minutes per side. Place chicken on foil lined baking sheet.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together chopped artichoke hearts, parmesan cheese, mayo & garlic powder. Spread artichoke mixture evenly on top of chicken.
  5. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until juices run clear.
Recipe Notes
  • I added 200 gm sautéed mushrooms & a bit of minced garlic this time just for a little something different.

Zesty Broccoli & Smoked Cheddar Pizza

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

St. Patrick’s Day is a funny thing here in Canada. It’s the one time each year that people seek out green food and drinks, everything from shamrock shakes, a green bagel, or green beer are part of our version of this holiday.

And what’s funnier, is that this holiday is a very different experience in Ireland. At least that is what I have been told by people who live there. They don’t do all the ‘crazy green stuff’ like we do, if they celebrate it at all.

Green food has been getting more and more ‘creative’ on this particular holiday. Clean eating, green foods like spinach, avocado and broccoli for example. A walk through the grocery store produce section will provide a variety of examples of just how many green foods are available to use in meals and snacks. 

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to incorporate some green food in our supper meal. What better excuse could I have to make some broccoli pizzas!

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Zesty Broccoli & Smoked Cheddar Pizza
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Instructions
Herb Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, combine butter, cream cheese, milk, garlic & onion powder, basil, oregano, salt & pepper. Heat & stir over medium heat until cream cheese is melted & sauce becomes thick & creamy.
Toppings
  1. Slice grape tomatoes in half lengthwise & marinate in zesty Italian dressing.
  2. Prepare broccoli florets. Steam in microwave dish for about 2 minutes. Drizzle with zesty Italian dressing.
  3. Shred cooked chicken & grate cheese.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  5. Spread herb sauce over Naan breads & top with shredded chicken. Divide cheese evenly between the 4 Naan breads.
  6. In the center of each pizza lay 6 marinated tomato halves. Place the florets in a circle surrounding them sprinkling veggies with black pepper.
  7. Bake pizzas for 10-15 minutes or until veggies are nicely roasted & edges are crispy. Remove from oven & serve.

Spicy Chicken Naan Pizzas

CELEBRATING FAMILY DAY!

Family Day is observed on the third Monday in February in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. This holiday celebrates the importance of families and family life of people and their communities. Its timing is said to have been selected to coincide with the American holiday of Presidents Day. About two-thirds of all Canadians will have the day off on Family Day.

Alberta was the first province to adopt Family Day as a statutory holiday in 1990. 

There are no established traditions surrounding Family Day as there are for occasions like Christmas and New Year’s Day. But, as the name implies, many Canadians take advantage of the three-day weekend in February to spend extra time with loved ones. Road trips, winter sports outings, and extended family gatherings are all popular ways to observe the holiday.

Who needs a holiday to eat pizza? Not Brion & I … YUM!

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Spicy Chicken Naan Pizzas
Instructions
Chicken Marinade
  1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine all ingredients. Seal & turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Guacamole
  1. In a bowl, mash avocados with lime juice & salt. Stir in garlic, onion & cilantro. Blend well. Cover & set aside until ready to use. You will have a bit extra for something else.
Pizza Topping Prep
  1. In a skillet, cook bacon until fairly crisp, drain & blot on paper towels; chop coarsely. Wipe skillet with paper towel, add marinated chicken & stir-fry until cooked then remove to a dish. Add onion to skillet & sauté until tender crisp.
Assembly & Bake
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large baking sheet, lay a piece of parchment paper. Place the 4 Naan breads on it. Spread each naan bread with guacamole then spinkle each with a bit of cheese. Layer onion, bacon, chicken, tomato & remaining cheese.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes or until hot & cheese is nicely melted. Remove from oven, top with sliced avocado & serve.

Creamy Roasted Red Onions

All onions are not created equal so using the best onion for the job can really add a depth of flavor to your meals.

Onions are the workhorses of the kitchen and the foundation of so many billions of dishes across the globe that we forget how lovely and delicious they are all by themselves.

For most of the year, you’ll find red storage onions at the supermarket, which are pungent and spicy. In the summer months, you’ll often find fresh red onions, which are much milder, and lack a bit of the ‘onion-y’ flavor you’ll find in their yellow and white cousins.

The main difference between red onion and white onion is that red onions are a little spicy in taste while the white are comparatively sweeter and less mild.

It is a well-known fact that almost all dishes feel and taste incomplete without the presence of onion in them. Stuffed onions are an impressive side dish and a perfect complement to any main dish. 

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Creamy Roasted Red Onions
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Ingredients
Onions
Servings
Ingredients
Onions
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Instructions
Onions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Peel onions, trim the root ends so they will sit upright & cut about 1/2-inch from tops. Rub onions with olive oil & season with salt. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly.
  3. Gently remove the centers leaving a shell of about 2-3 layers. Return a slice of the center to form a bottom. Coarsely chop onion centers.
Filling
  1. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, salt, herbs de Provence, garlic powder, minced garlic & chopped onions. Spoon filling into onion shells.
Topping
  1. In a small bowl, combine Panko, butter, cooked bacon & parsley. Spoon carefully over onions.
  2. Bake for 30 minutes or until filling is heated through & bread crumbs start to brown. Serve immediately.

Beef & Potato Wellington

Today, November 24th, our neighbors to the south in the USA, are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day. It encompasses both religious and secular aspects … being both a harvest festival and a festival of family.

Here in Canada, we have already enjoyed our Thanksgiving in October but I thought it would be nice to acknowledge their holiday with posting a special meal.

While a classic beef wellington makes for a elegant dinner, it is easy to re-create a Wellington into a gourmet, hearty meal but on a more reasonable every day budget & time frame. Rather than using an expensive steak cut, this beef wellington recipe uses inexpensive ground beef and puff pastry sheets. The ground meat can be changed to ground pork, chicken, turkey or sausage. The list of additions to the meat is endless ranging from mushrooms to cheese. Some bacon mixed with the beef gives the dish that nice bacon impact that is very tasty.

This classic beef wellington-revisited is not only delicious but decadent. It is so good with a mushroom gravy.

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Beef & Potato Wellington
Instructions
  1. Thaw puff pastry overnight in refrigerator. Cook potatoes & mash with grated cheese, salt & garlic powder. On a piece of parchment paper, roll potato/cheese mixture into a log shape. Set aside, keeping warm.
  2. In a large saucepan, cook bacon until browned but not real crisp; drain on paper towel then chop & set aside.
  3. Sauté onions, mushrooms & garlic in bacon drippings; set aside. Add beef to saucepan & scramble fry until browned, stirring to break up & moisture has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  4. Add vegetables back to saucepan along with flour, beef broth powder, beaten egg, bacon & seasonings. Combine well.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  6. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll out puff pastry thin but not so it will break when filled. On one end (which becomes the center underneath the roll) spoon a layer of meat mixture. Next, lay the mashed potato 'log' on top. Spoon the rest of the meat mixture on top & around the sides, lightly patting it into the potato log.
  7. Taking hold of the pastry (that is already tucked underneath), wrap it over top & tuck the edge in underneath to join up with the other pastry edge. Pinch together the open ends, leaving a bit of a gap to allow steam to escape.
  8. Make egg wash & brush liberally over pastry. Lift the 'wellington', using the parchment paper to a baking sheet.
  9. Bake for about 45 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from oven, cover lightly with a sheet of foil for about 10 minutes. Slice & serve with a mushroom gravy if you wish.