My Christmas Gift to You!

Dec 2011: Wow – the holidays are here and its time to celebrate; well, my gift to you is to show and tell you how to plan and present an elegant dinner party for six to twelve people. Remember, cooking is fun, and cooking for others is even more fun—all you need are a few hints to build your confidence.

To begin with, I recommend buying three little red or green plants at the grocery store, as well as a box of clementines, a bag of walnuts in their shell, and some small red apples. You can set a festive table with these interspersing the poinsettas with candles. And, these decorations will last. Of course, you need a few bottles of wine and a couple of good bottles of champagne. And, its always nice to have some music.

What about the menu? And what can be done ahead? Well, if you are really stuck in the tradition of a Christmas turkey, be sure to check out my last Newsletter and/or my Thanksgiving YouTube Video on roasting the turkey. I also made a Video on a quick and easy holiday dinner for one, two, or four:

But for elegant entertaining you need more!

I recommend shopping one day, cooking the next day, and finishing up and assembling when people are hanging around in the kitchen sipping wine or champagne. Bowls of roasted almonds and marinated olives are good to put out with drinks.

The best is to buy the whole filet (or tenderloin) from a good butcher and trim it yourself (it is best to buy beef that is naturally and humanely grown.) This is the cut of meat that runs down the inside of the back bone of the steer-it is the most tender and expensive cut of meat you can buy. So, the day before should unwrap the whole filet and rinse it in cold water and pat dry. Then, trim off and discard the fat and the silver skin, being careful not to remove the large sirloin end, but to remove the piece running the length, called the chain. The meat should be tied, wrapped, and stored in the fridge. The chain should be cut in pieces, browned, and cooked in successive ladles of veal stock to make a super enriched broth, called an essence of beef. You can keep an essence of beef in the fridge for five days and it freezes well. To make it into a sauce it needs to be added to the meat juices from browning the meat, with a reduction of wine; and the sauce is often finished with butter or cream.

This dessert is not really a crème brûlée, it just resembles one. It can be totally made a day ahead and kept in the fridge until an hour or two before serving. It is best to decorate the dessert with the raspberries and mint on the day it is to be served.

So, you have all the groceries, you have trimmed the meat, made your essence of beef and the desserts and you can also make the Potato Gratin and the Fresh Spinach a day or two ahead and keep on trays in the fridge covered plastic wrap. You have you table decorated and the wine chilling.

I find the easiest is to set up a drinks place with the nuts and olives, and to ask the first person who arrives at the party to take care of pouring drinks for all the guests. You can have the desserts coming to room temperature over in a corner. You can have the potatoes and spinach on trays also out of the way. You can have the salad assembled– but not dressed-ahead. And, you can be cutting the whole filet into individual steaks and browning them when people arrive (or have it all done ahead if you prefer). If you are cooking a steak for one or two, it’s easy to panfry them and finish them in a few minutes. However, if you are cooking for eight to twelve, I recommend undercooking the steaks in the pan (being very careful not to burn the bottom of the pan), and placing them on a baking pan to be finished cooking later. Don’t forget to deglaze the browning pan with brandy and/or wine and finish the sauce and make the compound butter.

So, if you invite people for 7 p.m., you should plan to serve the first course at least by 8 p.m. Just put the salads on the table and invite people to sit anywhere they want; or, serve the soup in heated bowls also on the table. When you sit down be sure you have the oven heating at 400 to 450 degrees. When everyone has put down their fork or spoon, ask one person-and insist only one-to help clear. At this time you put the pan of steaks in the hot oven. And, go back to the table for a five minutes. Then, feel one steak – rare is gushy, medium rare is somewhat resilient, and well-done is firm. Reheat the sauce. When the steaks are done, remove them from the oven, and put in the dinner plates and the potatoes and spinach to reheat. Reheat the wine sauce on the top of the stove. Here comes the fun part, have someone ladle the sauce on the plate, put on a steak, with a small spoonful of butter on top, a round of potatoes and a blob of spinach. There should be no white showing in the middle of the plate and the plates should go to the table immediately and the guests instructed to “please start eating”! Now, you can join the party!

Serve the delicious dessert whenever you want! When you serve the dessert, put water on to boil for coffee or tea. Do not give people choices. Offer either decaf coffee or herb tea-and they can take it or leave it. I also recommend having a couple of topics of conversation in your mind before your dinner party – other than politics of course. So, here you have it–Aunt Mary’s advice for an elegant dinner party broken down so that it should be fun for you! Happy Holidays!

For how to give an easy holiday buffet click here.