Sample text for Entertaining 101 : everything you need to know to entertain with style and grace / Linda West Eckhardt & Katherine West DeFoyd.

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Counter Christmas Day Dinner: Beef Tenderloin with Peppercorn and Mustard Seed Crust

A fine Christmas feast can be made even finer if the primary cook doesn't carry all the responsibility.  We try not to even think the word potluck when it comes to this traditional winter celebration, but, in fact, all of our lives are so hectic at this time of year that assigning different dishes to different guests is the only thing that makes sense.  If we've invited ten guests and we ask one to bring the wine, another the dessert, another the bread; if we ask somebody to make the gratin, another the scones, and another to whip up the hot salad; somebody else to bring flowers, and someone to make the hors d'oeuvre, before you know it, about all the host has to do is drag out the best china, shine up the table, and cook the roast.  That is what we call a real Christmas gift.  Got more people on your list?  Add dishwashing and cleanup to your assignments.

The Menu

White Bean and Rosemary Spread with Slices of Sourdough Bread
Hot Salad of Mustard Greens with Mint and Pancetta
Beef Tenderloin with Peppercorn and Mustard Seed Crust
Cranberry Horseradish Sauce
Beets in an Orange Vinaigrette on a Bed of Baby Greens
Turnip Potato Gratin
Cranberry Scones and Sweet Butter
B¹che de NoÙl (from the bakery)

Wine Suggestions

Appetizer--A bubbly sets the tone for this festive meal.  Try a Prosecco from the Veneto region of Italy.  This fun, creamy-mouth-feel bubbly will go well with the Italian-inspired appetizer.

Main Course--Try a mature French Bordeaux from the Pauillac.  The tannins in the wine will be a great complement for the meat.  Be sure to decant the wine and let it breathe for at least 20 minutes before serving.  This will allow the flavors to really open up.  You will probably have to spend from $20 to $40, but what better time to enjoy a great wine than Christmas?  Besides, a tenderloin will really show off a good Bordeaux!  You could also try a California Merlot for a similar effect.

Dessert--Try a dessert muscat from Greece, California, or Australia.  It will be sweet enough to stand up to dessert, and it's so good you will want to pour it on your pancakes.

Cooking Tip

Make friends with a butcher.  Order the tenderloin in advance.  Consult with the butcher for length of cooking time.  Our butcher said to cook it precisely 30 1/2 minutes at 425         for medium rare.  We laughed, but we did what he said and our tenderloin came out perfectly.  You can buy a whole or half tenderloin, depending upon the size of your party.  A whole beef tenderloin will weigh 4 to 6 pounds and will serve ten to twelve people generously.  If buying a whole piece, ask for an untrimmed tenderloin, which will have the tapered end that includes the best-tasting meat on the animal.  Cut this off and save it for yourselves later.  With this small precious end piece, you can make Chateaubriand, filet mignon, or beef tenders with peppercorn sauce for two.

Tradition determines expectations for Christmas table decorations.  In 1959 grandmother decided she'd like to be "modern"; she put away all the old hand-blown glass ornaments and did up the house and table in a uniform "blue" look, with all blue bulbs on a phony white tree, blue decorations on the Christmas table, and even blue lights in every socket she could find.  The result was, in a certain ten-year-old's mind, a disaster, though it might be considered cool right now in Soho.  So our advice to you is, don't meddle with tradition!

All the Trimmings

This one day a year we love red-and-green plaid cloth napkins tucked into brass napkin rings; evergreen boughs from the yard, laid on the table and sprinkled with red glass bulbs; and fat red candles.  Linda has a big holly bush in front of the house, so adds some holly to the mix.  But mainly, we let the food, served family-style, be the star.  The term "groaning board" is not an empty phrase on Christmas at our house.  Our table is bountiful, colorful, and aromatic.  We expect the guests, when they are called to the table, to gasp at the sheer beauty of it all before they even take a chair.  All the hubbub of passing dishes is very exciting!

Serve the tenderloin on a large platter surrounded by sprigs of rosemary and pickled beets.  Carve it at the table and top each serving with a jot of Cranberry Horseradish Sauce.  Pass the other items and allow your guests to serve themselves.

You're Invited!

Being invited to a "cooperative" Christmas includes a responsibility for the guest to bring something.  So a phone call to discuss the venture is best.  Talk over the menu and see what each guest is willing to bring or cook.  Mark up your master menu, then send a quick note to confirm the arrangement, noting the time of the dinner, and the agreed-upon contribution.  People enjoy participating in this Christmas gift to one another.  What a fine thing to give to each other.  A day of pleasure and plenty at table.

White Bean and Rosemary Spread with Slices of Sourdough Bread

2 (16-ounce) cans cannellini or great northern beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, chopped (1 teaspoon)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus sprigs for garnish

If you can work a can opener, you can make a true appetizer that will leave your guests lunging for the dinner table.  Cannellini beans seem to come in a variety of can sizes.  And in some parts of the country, not at all.  Not to worry.  Use navy beans or Great Northerns.  You're looking for white beans in a can that weighs roughly 1 pound.  Use what you can find and go forth.  Measurements are not critical here.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Refrigeration time: 30 minutes to 2 days
Makes 3 cups to serve 10 to 12

A definite do-ahead.  Find 10 minutes somewhere in your busy schedule and whip this together as much as 2 days in advance.

Combine all the ingredients except salt, hot sauce, bread, and garnish in the food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade.  Process until smooth, about 30 seconds, then season to taste with salt and hot sauce.  Transfer to a bowl or jar and refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving time.

To serve, place the bean spread in a bowl and garnish it with parsley sprigs.  Set the bowl on a platter and surround it with the bread chunks.  Let your guests serve themselves.

Hot Salad of Mustard Greens with Mint and Pancetta

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 slices pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters and segments separated
6 cloves garlic, chopped (3 teaspoons)
2 pounds fresh mustard greens, well washed and stemmed

Here's a great beginning to your Christmas dinner.  Serve a small, smoking serving to each guest at the dinner table to whet his or her appetite.  Got an eager assistant in the kitchen?  Assign that cook the job of making the hot salad.  It's simple, but it needs tending.  Substitute kale, spinach, or other sweet hot winter greens if you wish.  Choose your largest skillet or stew pot to hold all the greens.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 10 to 12 servings

For a bright colored salad, sautÚ the greens just before serving.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and fry the pancetta or bacon until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat.  Add the onion, turn the heat down to medium, and cook and stir until the onion is soft and golden, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes more.

Chop the mustard greens and discard the stems.  Add the vinegar and greens to the skillet, cover, and cook just until the greens are wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Season the cooked greens with salt and pepper, then toss with the mint.  Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Beef Tenderloin with Peppercorn and Mustard Seed Crust

1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 (4- to 6-pound) whole beef tenderloin
6 to 8 sprigs of fresh rosemary, for garnish

The sight of a whole beef tenderloin on a bed of rosemary studded with cold pickled beets will say "Merry Christmas" before your guests even take the first bite.  Buy the beef from the best butcher you know.  Nothing could be easier to prepare, and, done right, it has a buttery soft interior with a crisp, pungent crust.  All you need is a meat thermometer, a roasting pan with low sides, and a rack.  Serve it with a jot of Cranberry Horseradish Sauce.  "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" . . . and remember there'll be plenty of beef for sandwiches the next day.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Roasting time: 25 to 45 minutes
Resting time: 10 to 15 minutes
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Best if made and eaten at once.

Preheat the oven to 425         and spray both the rack and the shallow roasting pan with cooking spray.  Place the roast straight from the refrigerator, fat side up, on the rack.  Don't add water or cover the pan.
Combine the peppercorns, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds in a Ziploc bag.  Close the bag and crush the seeds with a rolling pin or mallet.  Add the salt and stir to combine.  Rub the outside of the meat with Dijon mustard, then press the spice mixture into the surface.  Transfer to the rack and roast until done to your taste.

Don't overcook the roast!  Because the meat temperature will rise 5         to 10         after it's removed from the oven, remove it when the thermometer reads about 130         for medium-rare, 140         for medium, 150         for well done.

Stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to test it.  Roast about 40 to 50 minutes, to achieve 130         for medium-rare; about 50 to 60 minutes, to rise to 140         for medium; or up to 70 minutes, or to rise to 160         for well-done.  Transfer the meat to a warmed platter, garnish it with the rosemary sprigs and beets, cover it with foil, and set it aside for about 10 to 15 minutes before carving so the juices will settle down and the meat will firm up for easy slicing.

Other Classic Roasts for Holiday Meals

Beef rib roast, beef rib eye roast, or beef eye round roast will all work well with this recipe for a peppercorn and mustard seed crust. Here's a tip.  Ask the butcher for the small end of the rib or rib eye roast for best flavor and tenderness.

When choosing meat from the counter, beef roasts should be a bright cherry red color.  If vacuum-packed, the meat may look darker, but it will redden as it's exposed to the air.  Store roasts, unopened, in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or frozen in the store packaging for up to 2 weeks.  To defrost properly, transfer the meat to the refrigerator and allow from 4 to 7 hours per pound for thawing.

Cranberry Horseradish Sauce

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared white horseradish (or to taste)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Makes 1 1/2 cups to serve 10

May be made as much as a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated until serving time.

Stir the sauce ingredients together, place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Turnip Potato Gratin

3 cups half-and-half
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (4 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 55 to 70 minutes
Makes 10 to 12 servings
May be made a day in advance and reheated in the oven or microwave just before serving time.

Preheat oven to 425         Combine the half-and-half with the garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a saucepan, and boil about 10 minutes.

Spritz a large (4-quart) gratin or baking dish with cooking spray.  Peel and slice the turnips, potatoes, and onion into 1/4-inch-thick slices and overlap them, alternating the vegetables in the baking dish and making concentric circles.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Pour the hot cream sauce over the vegetables, sprinkle with bread crumbs, cover the dish with foil, and bake the gratin 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, about 25 to 40 minutes more.  Garnish with the parsley leaves and serve hot.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Entertaining, Menus, Cookery