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.