Everyone knows a turkey...

And in this house, the turkey still has a name and is walking around somewhere, glad to have survived Christmas dinner intact.

And while that smelly bird strutted his stuff in a large pen with others (I've been involved in a turkey harvest - they smell and they strut and they are dumb!) we enjoyed a completely different Christmas dinner entirely, where the cow was not so well off as the turkey was.

I planned my Christmas dinner some time back, probably in late October or November, whenever the December 2007 issue of Fine Cooking made it to my door. The beef tenderloin on the cover made me drool and glad I was not a vegetarian. It's simplicity also appealed to me, though the price of a good beef tenderloin made me shudder. It's not often a 30 pound turkey would be cheaper than buying a small piece of beef. Yet despite this, I forged ahead with my plan and carefully put aside this magazine where I could find it again (which I actually did!)

This beef was amazingly good. It was so tender you could cut it with the side of your fork. The seasoning was perfectly matched to the beef, though not overpowering. It was good hot or cold, and still wonderful the next day as leftovers.

My plate styling, however, was not so good. So forgive the picture and just take my word for it - this beef was great!

I had made the creamy mustard sauce included in the recipe, replacing the cream fraiche with sour cream when I could not find any. It was alright but certainly not needed with such a flavorful beef. I think if I were to make it again, I would use a grain mustard instead.

Mashed potatoes accompany the photo on the cover, but I didn't want those. I wanted a potato and fennel gratin I had seen on The Barefoot Contessa, and when I was actually able to find the recipe online, cheered! The fresh fennel in the gratin was going to be a nice side to the crushed fennel seeds on the beef. In fact, it was a wonderful accompaniment. Made in advance so that all I had to do on Christmas Day was to throw it in the oven, it was creamy and mild and delicious. Word of warning though - if you make it in advance, don't be surprised if your potatoes look greyish underneath the cheese and cream. Don't worry, that disappears during baking.

To go with my beef tenderloin and potato fennel gratin, I oven roasted some fresh, sweet carrots, and white asparagus. I hadn't planned on white asparagus but that was all that was available at the stores. The white was a bit too woody, though still tasty, and the carrots were so sweet and soft that they melted into your mouth.

Dessert had to be a made in advance affair. Nothing too fancy, nothing over the top. Not with the piles of chocolate that filled the stockings, and bowls of candy scattered around the house. With those requirements in mind, I chose to make some mini tarts, almost cheesecake like, decorated with fresh fruit. I found the recipe for these little bites on Joy of Baking, when looking for some other recipe. The bases, a shortbread cookie dough tart, could be made in advance, as could the lemon filling, freeing me up to enjoy time with my family on Christmas Day. A quick five minutes with my pastry bag and some fruit and I had a pretty plate of dessert. Served along side some of the other goodies I'd made in advance (sugar cookies, ginger cookies and caramel shortbread squares), the only thing I needed to do was put on a pot of tea.

I was very pleased with Christmas dinner this year. Everything was either made in advance or required only a little bit of prep work a few hours in advance. Nothing required standing over the stove at the last minutes. There was no rush to get a gravy gone while everything else stood by and got cold. I even had time to set the table early.

I hope everyone else had as lovely a Christmas meal as we did.

(I've just discovered that despite having used the sugar cookie dough several times in the life of my blog, I have never put the recipe up anywhere. I think I will have to go look for it and post about it tomorrow, as well as the recipe for the caramel shortbread squares.)

Fennel and Rosemary Beef Tenderloin with Creamy Mustard Sauce
by Fine Cooking Magazine

1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 1/2-3 lb beef tenderloin, excess fat trimmed
1/2 cup creme fraiche
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375F.
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, rosemary, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Stir to make a paste. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and rub the paste all over the surface of the meat. If necessary, tie the roast at 1 1 /2 inch intervals. (The roast can be seasoned and refrigerated up to 4 hours in advance.)
Put the roast on a rack on a small, rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 120F for rare, 125-130F for medium rare, or 135F for medium, 40-50 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche, mustard and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt to taste.
Transfer the roast to a carving board (preferably with a well for collecting juices) and let it rest, uncovered for 10-15 minutes before carving it into 1/3 - 1/2 inch thick slices. Serve the beef, passing the mustard sauce at the table.


Peabody said...

Mmmm, beef tenderloin...always pricey but always so good. Sounds like a great dinner.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Delicious - what a great alternative to turkey. I have a thing for cookie cutters so it made me smile reading your old post about your son choosing the bone shaped cookie cutter.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Forgot.. Happy New Year too.

BC said...

There is another grateful turkey out there. We had lamb!