|photos and recipes by Henry McDaniel
|Make it all easy and have fun while you're doing it!
|The holidays are upon us, and that means guests, often plenty of them. This season, why not take a break from the ordinary? Make cooking for and serving them engaging and entertaining with our quick pro tips, and this easy, elegant menu. We'll show you how to kick off the celebration with a sparkling prosecco cocktail, tangy shrimp appetizer, fresh green salad, succulent beef tenderloin filet, crispy zucchini frites, and finished with a classic crème brûlée.
Let's start with a toast of Raspberry Royales, crafted with Zonin Prosecco and Absolut Raspberri. Topped off with a few fresh berries, this crisp cocktail makes any night worth celebrating! We like Zonin for its light, clean taste, and Absolut Raspberri for its fresh berry flavor, with no added colors. The recipe is simple - start with three parts chilled prosecco, add one part Absolut Raspberri, and top each glass with a few fresh berries. This will set the mood as you move onto the grilled shrimp appetizer.
Our citrus glazed grilled shrimp appetizer is a sure hit. You'll need four to six shrimp per guest. We used jumbo Florida Gulf pink shrimp. Lightly steam and chill the shrimp prior to prepping and grilling. This ensures a fully cooked shrimp without having a tough, over-cooked exterior. It also dramatically reduces shrinkage. While the shrimp are cooling down we'll began preparing the zucchini frites.
|Assembly and cooking the zucchini
Start by peeling the zucchini, cut into thin 4" slices (about 1/8" in thickness) set aside on a paper towel. Shave carrots into thin slices (the length of the carrot) and set aside. Mix up a thin egg / milk wash, blend finely ground corn meal with seasoned salt. Have your deep fryer pre-heated to 375°.
Dip the zucchini strips into the egg wash, shake off the excess until just a thin coating is left. Drop the strips into the cornmeal mixture. Thoroughly coat. Place strips into a mesh strainer and shake off the excess cornmeal coating. Tie small bundles (about 1" in diameter) of the zucchini strips with the carrot slices. Once you have enough bundles tied, drop them into the fryer (six bundles at a time) and fry until a light tan color (about 1 - 2 minutes). Set aside on a paper towel lined tray and place in a warming oven. Serve within three minutes of cooking. Make sure you coordinate when you'll be frying the zucchini. You can always fully prep ahead of time (about an hour) and set aside so the frying can take place right after the shrimp are grilled.
|Final prep and grill for the shrimp
|Prepare your shrimp glaze by mixing 4 parts marmalade with 1 part soy. Prepare the zucchini dip by mixing 3 parts mayonnaise with 1 part sriracha. Dip shrimp into glaze, shake of excess, sprinkle with blackening season and grill for 45 seconds per side. Arrange the shrimp, zucchini bundles, dip and serve. Pre-prep time for steaming shrimp, slicing zucchini, carrots, bundling, mixing baste and dipping sauce is about 25 minutes. Final coat, cook, arrange and serve time is under ten minutes. (That's the show part.)
Baby mixed greens with scratch made balsamic mayonnaise dressing
|This salad is so simple to make, and so very entertaining. There are just a few basic ingredients to make the dressing, and it is the quality of the ingredients that makes all the difference. Start with four farm fresh, organic brown eggs. Separate the eggs and place the yolks into a bowl. Removing the chalazae from the yolk with tweezers or your fingers. Allow egg yolks to come to room temperature. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and a generous grind of fresh pepper. Whisk egg yolks until smooth.
|Slowly drizzle virgin olive oil into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously. Just a few drops at a time. Continue this process until the mixture begins to thicken to the consistency of semi-liquid custard (about ten minutes of solid whisking). Now, drizzle in aged balsamic vinegar while continuing to whisk at a gentle pace. Taste periodically until the flavor agrees with you. Drizzle over greens and top with shaved Parmesan cheese, grapes, walnuts, carrots and red onion.
Getting down to the main event
|The main event is a show stopper. With a little careful planning, prepping and time management, this dish will come together right before your guests' eyes. The main course consists of four components: beef, potatoes, grilled asparagus and mushroom cream sauce. Each of these components can be prepped in advance, so the cooking portion becomes an easy and entertaining moment.
|The advance prep work
Let's start with the meat. You can always have your butcher trim the meat for you, but in this case, we chose to purchase a whole tenderloin, and do the work ourselves. The goal of trimming the beef is to get the very center of the tenderloin - clean and without the excess fat and sinew.
Begin by cutting away the tough exterior on the outside of the tenderloin. Once that is completed, find the natural separation of the outer and inner sections by sliding your fingers in between the outer flap and the center. The meat will naturally separate. With the aid of a very sharp knife and a few slices here and there, you'll get to the center piece in a matter of five minutes.
|Now that you have your center cut of the tenderloin in plain sight, cut it to the appropriate length for grilling and roasting. In this case we are serving two, three ounce portions to each guest. That's about 3/4" per slice after cooking. Next, take the tenderloin, generously coat in olive oil and roll in freshly cracked black pepper. Shake off the excess pepper, wrap in plastic and let stand at room temperature.
Bring water to a boil, add salt, and cook potatoes. We used Idaho baking potatoes as they retain less water, and blend perfectly with the ricotta cheese. The potatoes should be ready for mixing as you finish the next prep steps. Remove the ricotta cheese from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
Time management note: Plan on a grilling and roasting the tenderloin while the potatoes boil and you finish the balance of the prep steps.
|Grill the tenderloin until the outside is just seared and takes on grill marks. Place meat in an oiled roasting pan and roast on 425° until cooked to your liking. Use the chart below for approximate cooking times. We suggest using a meat thermometer for more complete accuracy.
|Prep the asparagus by snipping off the tough end of the base. Hold below the bud or top of the stalk and again on the base. Bend until it breaks. That is where you cut the remaining stalks. Lightly blanch the stalks, and cool immediately in ice water. Place in a plastic bag and coat with olive oil and your choice of herbs and seasonings. We used a simple combination of lemon zest, juice, salt and pepper. Set aside in refrigerator.
|Prepare the cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos) by trimming the stem bases and slicing. Set aside the best looking slices for sauté. Take the remaining pieces and boil (until reduced by 2/3) in a mix of 4 parts chicken broth, 2 parts white wine and 1 part soy. Once the mixture has reduced by 2/3, add enough chicken broth to return the sauce pan to its original level and reduce again by 2/3. When complete, set mixture aside and let come to room temperature.
Sauté the remaining mushrooms in butter. We used Kerrygold salted. Just as the mushrooms begin to brown, add a splash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire, swirl the pan a few times, then add a pinch of light brown sugar. Return to heat and stir continously with a wooden spoon until the mushrooms begin to crisp. Remove from heat. Cover to keep warm.
Put the mixture of mushrooms bits and reduced broth into a food processor. Blend at a medium speed, adding a small amount of cream until the mixture turns to a light tan. Return mixture to sauce pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for two minutes. Turn off heat and let stand. Reheat just before serving.
|Strain potatoes and let stand for two minutes. Mash potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper. Fold room in temperature ricotta, about two tablespoons at a time, until the potatoes begin to take on a creamy texture. Move potatoes to serving container and place in a warming oven.
|Grill the asparagus over high heat for about thirty seconds per side - just until they take on slightly charred grill marks.
You're ready to plate! Slice the tenderloin and shingle two pieces against a dollop of potatoes. Add the mushroom sauce topped with a few crispy mushrooms. Place the asparagus and voilà, dinner is served.
|A classic dessert to finish.
What better way to finish off a meal than with a cup of cappuccino and traditional crème brûlée. Truth be told, there's a myriad of recipes out there for crème brûlée. Our solution? The simpler the better, and most importantly... one that is foolproof.
This recipe doesn't require a double boiler or torch. Combine six eggs yolks, 3/4 cup of sugar, and a teaspoon of real vanilla extract, in a heat resistant, glass bowl. Whisk thoroughly until it begins to thicken.
Slowly heat one quart of ultra heavy whipping cream in a sauce pan over medium heat. No stirring necessary... yet. Watch closely, and when the top of the cream begins to foam ever so slightly, turn heat to high and whisk vigorously until the cream begins to form small bubbles (just before it begins to boil). Remove from heat immediately. Continue whisking for another two minutes.
While whisking the egg / sugar mixture, slowly pour small amounts of the hot cream into the bowl until all of the cream has been added. Don't stop whisking and don't pour too fast or the hot cream will cook the egg mixture. Ladle this mixture into medium size ramekins (about 2/3 full). Arrange ramekins on a large, deep baking pan / dish. (If you don't have one large enough to handle six ramekins at a time, visit chefscatalog.com. They have just what you'll need.) Add cool water to the pan until the water is even with the mixture inside the ramekins. Put in a pre-heated oven (325°) and bake on middle rack until the custard begins to form a darker, yellow skin on top - about 20 to 25 minutes.
|Remove baking pan from oven using great care not to spill the hot water, and set on a heat safe surface. Remove the ramekins and let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with light brown sugar, pop under a broiler set on 400° and watch until the sugar melts and just begins to caramelize. Remove ramekins, set aside to cool slightly, make some coffee, cappuccino or after dinner drink and wham! You're ready for the finale.
|Wines, Beers & Spirits
|For your convenience we've included links to the beverage companies. Tap the links below and / or check your local stores for availability.
Balverne Russian River Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Lion Stout from Sri Lanka
Curran Syrah 2006 Black Oak Vineyard
Headbanger American Gold Whiskey
Fresh mixed baby greens
Aged parmesan cheese
Coarse cracked black pepper
Kerrygold Irish butter
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Light brown sugar
Light brown sugar
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