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Pairing Beef Tenderloin with Fall Flavors

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I love having friends over for dinner,

and I do it often. And I’m convinced that for me, entertaining at home is long on fun and short on stress because of two key points I keep in mind when making up the menu. The first is balancing and bridging flavors so the lineup of dishes makes sense as a whole (that way, all your guests are impressed and satisfied and you’ll feel proud). Right alongside that is planning a stress-free menu, with little touches that elevate each dish to invite- your-friends special— and that can all be prepared long before anyone rings the doorbell. For this menu, I wanted something easy, but with a little drama that would get everyone excited, so I chose filet of beef. Filet (also called tenderloin) is a real crowd pleaser that takes well to earthy flavors.

With that as my starting point, the rest was easy. Beef filet’s earthiness is a natural for wild mushrooms, and I wanted to counter that with a tangy accent, so I added cider to the sauce (apple is just about my favorite autumn flavor). Things were going in a kind of woodsy direction, so I added a touch of sherry vinegar (it’s aged in wood). Piny rosemary completes the picture. Celery root purée is an earthy and delicious alternative to mashed potatoes, and an apple in the purée links to the cider in the mushroom sauce.

Because beef filet is rich, I chose a salad that was light yet had some savory touches—blue cheese and crunchy spiced walnuts. And for dessert, individual butterscotch custards, which are made ahead, are perfect because I find that once you sit down to dinner, you want to stay with your guests.

Take a few minutes to make a plan. Again, many of these simple elements can be done a day or two before the dinner: the dressing and spiced nuts for the salad, and the tasty sauce for the filet, which gets its flavor from sautéed mushrooms and beef stock rather than from pan juices. The butterscotch custard actually must be made the day before, too. You even can whip the cream before serving time and chill it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl.

Menu Timeline

Two days ahead

  • Order the filet of beef.
  • Buy the pears and blue cheese; let them ripen.
  • Find sources for less common ingredients (sherry vinegar, wild mushrooms, celery root).

The day before

  • Make the custards.
  • Make the spice-candied nuts.
  • Make the salad dressing.
  • Make the sauce for the filet.

That morning

  • Wrap the filet in bacon and tie it.
  • Wash and dry the greens.
  • Slice the cheese.

Two hours before serving

  • Make the purée; keep warm over a water bath.
  • Whip the cream for the custards; keep chilled in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl.
  • Heat the oven.

One hour before

  • Roast the filet.

Just before serving

  • Reheat the sauce gently as the filet rests.
  • Assemble the salads.

Shopping List

Meat, Eggs & Poultry:

  • 1 whole tenderloin of beef (3-1/2 to 4 pounds)
  • 4-6 ounces apple-smoked bacon
  • 1 dozen eggs

Fresh Produce:

  • 3 medium shallots
  • 1 small head curly endive or frisee
  • 1 small head Bibb or Boston lettuce
  • 2 large heads Belgian endive or 2 small bunches watercress
  • 2 ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears
  • 1 apple such as Winesap, Granny Smith, or Braeburn
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 large celery roots (about 4 pounds total)
  • 3 ounces cremini mushrooms
  • 3 ounces shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 ounces oyster mushrooms
  • 1 bunch fresh rosemary
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint (or other delicate herb such as basil, tarragon, etc)

Other Groceries:

  • 1 package walnut halves
  • 1 bottle sherry vinegar
  • 1 carton apple cider
  • 1 carton heavy cream (need 2-3/4 cups)
  • 1 can low-salt beef broth
  • 1/4 pound Gorgonzola or Roquefort
  • 1 bottle Scotch whisky

Pantry Staples:

  • Kosher salt black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • about 15 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • about 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 3 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground star anise or anise seed
  • fresly grated nutmeg, to taste

Buying beef tenderloin Order a whole filet of beef from the butcher two to three days in-advance. A whole filet weighs about four pounds trimmed (for eight guests, that allows for-about eight ounces per person). Ask the butcher to trim-it for you. You’ll probably pay for the untrimmed weight, so be sure to-ask for the scraps to use in a-quick stir-fry later.

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