While planning a small dinner party celebrating a good friend’s birthday, I wanted to simplify the last minute preparations as much as possible. I enjoy having this wonderful couple with us for dinner and didn’t want to be a jack-in-the-box cook, popping up and down in the middle of conversations. A little of that is unavoidable in this day and age. Few of us have cooks, or maids, or butlers handling household duties and I’m not sure I would want that anyway.
Deciding on the menu was relatively easy. I knew I wanted to serve beef tenderloin, either as a roast or as steaks. Some potatoes, a vegetable, and a salad would make it a very traditional meal, and one I knew we all would enjoy. I had bought a half-peck of apples and wanted to make an apple crisp. (By the way, a peck is a quarter of a bushel, so half of that would be an eighth of a bushel, or 8 pints, dry measure.) Broccoli would serve for the vegetable, mainly because I had a huge amount on hand, having received two bunches the day before from my CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) delivery. I also had a lot of fresh salad greens from the delivery.
I bought a whole tenderloin and trimmed it and cut it up into several different pieces. It was nearly five pounds intact. I wound up with a nice size piece to roast, about a pound and a half. I also was able to get three moderately small filets weighing about 11 ounces total, and nearly a pound and a half of beef for stir frying or sauteing. The scraps will be used for flavoring soups, etc. Everything except the roast is being stored in the freezer. The price of the whole tenderloin is nearly what I would have paid for just four filets at the meat market. Of course it took a while to do all the trimming. I’m not as fast as a butcher but then I don’t prepare tenderloins everyday, darn it.
The Barefoot Contessa provided the perfect recipe for the tenderloin. With the meat at room temperature, I rubbed the surface with butter and seasoned it with salt and pepper generously. It roasted on a baking sheet in a 500 degree oven, yes, five hundred degrees Fahrenheit, for 25 minutes for medium rare. Then I wrapped it tightly in a double thick piece of foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. I will certainly use this method for all future tenderloin roasts. It was perfectly cooked, nicely browned, still juicy, and very tender. Remember to tie the roast with kitchen twine every two inches to keep the shape uniform. Luckily for me, I have three nice slices leftover from last night!
I found a great recipe for goat cheese potatoes at Epicurious. I played with the recipe a little, using 1 large shallot instead of onions. I wanted less onion flavor and the potato and cheese to be predominant. I splurged and added about a quarter cup of heavy cream with the milk. I was able to assemble the potato casserole in advance and bake it about an hour before serving. My variation on the recipe follows.*
The broccoli was steamed and served as it was, no sauce, no lemon. Plain. The unadorned slightly bitter flavor was a nice complement to the rest of the meal.
I made a salad of romaine, and a few other greens, with thinly sliced zucchini rounds as a garnish. The dressing was a vinaigrette.**
I called on the Barefoot Contessa again for her apple crisp recipe.*** It had the zest of an orange and of a lemon in it. That adds pizzazz to the old-fashioned dessert that we all enjoyed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
All in all, it was a very good dinner, with few interruptions from the kitchen. The apple crisp was made in the afternoon and sat ready to go on the kitchen counter. The potatoes, assembled a little before the guests arrived and already in the oven, needed no tending and neither did the beef. The broccoli was in the steamer ready to steam during the last few minutes.
I was very pleased with the flow of the food preparation. It helps me to have a small chart in the kitchen showing required temperatures and times for the various dishes. I then calculate approximately when each activity should take place and list everything in chronological order. I can check off each chore as I accomplish it. That way I don’t have to remember everything. I carry my little clip-on timer with me if I need to go outside, as we did last night to sit on the patio and enjoy the perfect fall weather before dinner.
*MORGANA’S VARIATION FOR POTATO GRATIN WITH GOAT CHEESE
Serves 4 or more
(Based on a recipe from Epicurious)
1 large or 2 small shallots, diced, about 1/2 cupful (may substitute scallions or onion)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems and chopped
1- 2 T. olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 T. flour
1 c. milk
1/4 c. cream or half-and-half (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 c. goat cheese, crumbled
1/8 t. nutmeg
1-2 T. butter
1. Heat oil in a medium heavy bottomed pan. Add shallots and saute over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and cook for a few minutes until the shallots are tender. Then add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds or so. Add the flour and stir constantly while cooking the raw taste from the flour, about 1 – 2 minutes.
2. Add 1 cup of milk and whisk into the flour/shallot mixture. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until thick. Add cream if desired and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Try to make them as uniform as possible. It’s important to not get them too thin or they will break apart while boiling. Add to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Drain the potatoes well in a colander.
4. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 425. Butter a gratin dish or other 2 to 2 1/2 quart baking dish.
5. Arrange half of the potatoes in the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Put half of the goat cheese on the potatoes and pour half of the cream sauce on top. Repeat the layers and dot with the butter. Sprinkle with a little more nutmeg if desired.
6. Bake at 425 for 35 minutes, or until tender and the top is slightly browned. (I baked the casserole alongside a plain baked potato at 375 for one hour and it was just fine.)
**MORGANA’S VINAIGRETTE (One of many variations)
(Makes about a half cup of dressing.)
1 ounce white wine or rice vinegar
1 t. dijon mustard
1 t. mayonnaise
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 t. dried Italian seasonings
3-4 ounces canola oil
1/2 t. sugar
1. In a glass jar with a lid, shake the vinegar, salt and pepper and garlic together.
2. Add the mustard and mayo and shake again.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake well.
4. Store in the refrigerator for a week.
***BAREFOOT CONTESSA’S APPLE CRISP – Food Network
5 pounds McIntosh or Macoun apples (I used a mixture of apples that I had on hand)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmegFor the topping:
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish.Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish.
To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.
Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm.
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