New Year’s Eve is only a few days away. Do you have reservations somewhere fabulous? Come to think of it, neither do I. We were actually supposed to be out of town for New Year’s Eve this year, but the Blizzard of 2010 rearranged our travel plans. Our flight from DC, which didn’t get any snow, to Florida, which also didn’t get any snow – hey, wait a minute! – was canceled so we just decided to pack up and head home.
December 29 was a bit late to rustle up New Year’s Eve plans — let alone a babysitter — so we will be staying home. Again. To tell you the truth, since having kids, New Year’s Eve hasn’t exactly been the all-night baccanalia that it once was. Okay, the real truth is that I was never really one to go out on New Year’s Eve. All those overpriced prix-fixe menus and drunk drivers on the road. But that doesnt’t mean I don’t celebrate the holiday. I just prefer to celebrate with a nice dinner and maybe a classic movie on DVD.
When I was growing up, we had a tradition that everyone could pick what they wanted for dinner on New Year’s Eve: lobster, filet mignon, escargot, caviar — you name it! It was a fun tradition, although, in retrospect, I can see that it was a lot of work for my mom. I definitely think the holiday deserves an indulgent menu, but it shouldn’t be one that causes the cook to spend the whole night in the kitchen. That’s no fun. So, I have designed this elegant menu to make a special night at home –whether it’s New Year Eve or any other occasion — memorable and fun. This menu while delicious and special, has the additional advantage of not being terribly heavy because no one wants to start the new year feeling heavy and sluggish.
Elegant Dinner Party Menu
Serves four adults
Potato-Celery Root Puree
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Argula Salad with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and goat cheese
Apple Tart with Creme Fraiche
A few notes about the menu. First, I have not listed a specific starter. The starter can be anything you like, from cheese and crackers to caviar. But in general, make your starter something easy that goes well with sparkling wine, like Champagne or Prosecco. My friend Kate from Savour Fare has a nice recipe on her site for an easy, elegant starter of proscuitto-gruyere pinwheels that would go great with this meal.
Beef tenderloin, which is also somtimes called filet of beef, is a terrific special-occasion main course. It is special in part because it is expensive — expect to spend around $75 for a 2.5 lbs beef tenderloin — but also because it is so delicious. It simply melts in your mouth, it’s so tender. The great news is, beef tenderloin is incredibly easy to prepare. So don’t worry that you are going to ruin that expensive piece of meat. For a perfect medium-rare beef tenderloin, all you have to do is rub the outside with a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil, season well with salt and pepper, and roast in a 500 degree oven for 25 minutes. Upon removing the tenderloin from the oven, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then remove the strings tied around the tenderloin and carve it into 3/4 inch thick slices. You can certainly serve your tenderloin with a sauce, but I like mine plain with a little horseradish mustard. If you want a recipe to consult, try Barbara Kafka’s cookbook, Roasting.
The timing of this menu works out perfectly because just as you take the meat out of the oven, you put the grape tomatoes in. They will be done right when the meat is ready to carve. And just like the beef tenderloin, roasted grape tomatoes are easy and elegant. To make them, toss two pints of grape tomatoes on a baking sheet with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 475 for 15-20 minutes. After the tomatoes come out of the oven, add some ribbons of fresh basil. Serve in a pretty bowl.
Potato-celery root puree is a light, fresh-tasting take on mashed potatoes. For that recipe, see this post. The key to this part of the meal is to boil the potatoes and the celery root earlier in the day. Then you can mash them and heat them up while the meat is resting and the tomatoes are roasting.
I like to serve salad after the main course, like the Europeans do. For this menu, I have chosen a arugula salad because of that green’s peppery bite. To make it special, add toasted chopped walnuts, pomegranate seeds and crumbled fresh goat cheese. Pomegranates are plentiful at your grocery store this time of year. I absolutely love the rosy color and sweet juicy crunch that pomengranate seeds add to any dish. Removing the seeds is time-consuming, so do it ahead of time. (One of the best birthday presents I received this year was a plastic container full of pomegranate seeds from my next-door neighbor. Having pomengranate seeds to snack on without having to do the work to get them is a true luxury.) For the dressing, make a fresh viniagrette with lemon juice and olive oil.
After a meal of beef tenderloin and potato-celery root puree, a rich dessert would be too much. So, I chose a nice, not-too-sweet apple tart. An apple tart like this one looks beautiful but it is easy to make. You can find a recipe for tart dough in any good cookbook. I used the apple tart recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which is really a must-have for any kitchen. The secret is to make the tart dough the day before and chill it. Then, make the tart early in the day of your dinner party and get it out of the way. To make the tart, take the tart dough out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit before rolling it out on a well-floured surface. You will need to blind-bake the dough in a tart pan, using pie weights or raw rice to weigh it down, for about 15 minutes or so. Then, when the tart shell is cooled, add your peeled apple slices arranged in concentric circles. Use a tart, firm apple like Granny Smiths. Sprinkle with lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon and dot with butter before baking. At the end, you can glaze the tart with some jam that you heat up on the stove with a little water until it is thin enough to spread. It would be typical to serve this tart with vanilla ice cream but because this menu has a European flair, I prefer to serve it with creme fraiche, which is kind of like a French version of sour cream, but not as thick.
End your dinner with coffee, port and some small treat to nibble on, like some beautiful Vosges Haut Chocolat truffles. What a great way to end your special night, or your year!