Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011: Beef Tenderloin and Nostalgia

Christmas Day, we drove up to my grandmother’s house in Western Massachusetts—where she always cooked Christmas dinner for the whole family when I was growing up—and my mom, the Beez, and I cooked Christmas dinner for the whole family. Though I have fond childhood memories of making E-Z-Bake Oven mini-cakes and baking cookies with my grandmother (I was particularly excited by her pizzelle press), this was the first time I’ve ever actually prepared a meal in her kitchen.

Our mission was to update some family Christmas classics, which include a hodgepodge of Middle Eastern influences (we’re of Assyrian descent—look it up) and 1950s Americana. So, on the appetizer table was pre-cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce straight from the jar, alongside stuffed grape leaves and spinach-feta-phyllo triangles. However, we skipped the canned-peas-with-meatballs-in-tomato sauce that was a vile annual staple of the holiday dinner table, and the Kool-Whip-and-God-knows-what-else-based frozen green pie for dessert. And since Aunty Olga was out of town, there were no Tollhouse cookies for the first time in my memory.

As is customary, we overdid appetizers—but this year we were shockingly conservative on desserts, with only two for seven people (compare with Thanksgiving). For the main course, we eschewed my grandmother’s usual entrée excess (we’re talking a roast turkey, a ham, roast beef, and maybe a lasagna thrown in for good measure) for a single beef tenderloin.

The tenderloin was cooked to perfection (we cut it with butter knives) but a little overwhelmed by the flavor of the smoked paprika I had carelessly overused in the dry rub. Everyone assured me it was good, but I imagine Tom and Padma might have sent me packing for that paprika-palooza.

In any case, here is our Christmas Day menu:

  • Spinach-feta-phyllo triangles (I really will have to post my grandmother’s awesome recipe for this)
  • Yahlangees (our word for stuffed grape leaves)
  • Cocktail shrimp
  • Stuffed mushrooms with ground veal (we meant to make these and were crestfallen to discover we’d accidentally bought ground veal instead of lamb, but we made it work)
  • Crostini with white bean-tomato ragout
  • Tzatziki with pita and crudités
Soup Course
  • Celery root bisque (this was excellent; I improvised it but I wish I’d taken note of the proportions to post a recipe—I’ll have to try to re-create it for you, gentle readers)
Main Course
  • Chocolate cake with raspberry filling
  • Pumpkin bouche

All in all, it was a pretty good spread, and really not too complicated to put together, though we did prep a bunch of stuff (phyllo triangles, grape leaves, cabbage, onion-roll dough, and desserts) a day or two before.

If you’re planning on making a New Year’s Eve dinner, the tenderloin would be an excellent and low-maintenance choice. Just be sure that you apply the dry rub sparingly—and that if you use paprika, it’s of the unsmoked variety.

Happy Holidays to all!

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