After hosting a houseful at Thanksgiving, it’s going to be just a handful at Christmas. That, and the fact that it’s Christmas, means that this is the perfect year for beef tenderloin. Nothing beats this opulent cut, especially when you serve it with my Mushroom Fricassé. Here’s the menu, along with do-ahead tips for making it easier. Plus, check out my wine pairings.
Apéritif: Pâté Canapés
Keep it simple with my three-ingredient Pâté Canapés. Easy-peasy. And if you can find some pâté with a little foie gras in it, even better. This would be classic for a French Christmas feast.
Make-Ahead?: Just make sure you have everything on hand. They come together very quickly. You can make them up to 30 minutes before guests arrive; just stash them in the fridge until it’s time to toast the day.
To Drink: Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Rosé. Or, really, any Crémant d’Alsace Rosé. If you read this blog at all, you know what a fan I am of Alsatian sparkling wine (called crémant)—especially the rosés. These wines are fabulous for the price: You could spend twice or three times as much for a similar bottle of rosé sparkling wine from Champagne, France, but this Alsace’s versions are made with the same grape (Pinot Noir) and using the same elaborate time-consuming methods (méthode traditionelle). Read more about these wines and why I love them.
First Sit-Down Course: Endive-Walnut-Blue Cheese Salad
I just love a classic Endive-Walnut-Blue Cheese salad. As is often the case with French salads, the leaves are not meant to be the bulk of the salad (as the lettuce in American salads often is). Rather, the endive provides a pleasantly bitter, nicely crisp backdrop to the cheese and nuts, which are the true stars. This salad does exactly what a first course should do: It rouses (rather than douses!) the appetite. And it’s just so elegant.
Make-Ahead?: Up to 1 day before, you can toast those walnuts, wash the endive (but do not cut, for it can brown quickly after cutting), and stir together the vinaigrette. Then, everything will come together quickly.
To Drink: An off-dry (that is, just lightly sweet) rosé—especially one from the Loire Valley—would serve this salad well. But you know what? You could also just open another bottle of that wonderful Crémant d’Alsace (which, of course, is also a rosé!) to serve with this salad.
Main Course: Beef Tenderloin with Mushroom Fricassée
Again: Elegant. And so easy. And, for the record, I just don’t believe in gravy for beef tenderloin; plus, there isn’t enough fat in this cut to make a pan sauce viable. So, serve it with a mushroom fricassee—a woodsy, rich and warm side. Pureéed potatoes are also a must with this (they go so well with the fricassée). And also: Green Beans Persillade (cooked the French way—that is, blanched then sauteed and finished with garlic and parsley). It’s in my cookbook.
What? You don’t have my cookbook? No hard feelings! This recipe by Ina Garten looks fabulous, too (though I’d omit the nuts in this case, as there’s plenty else going on for this main course feast).
Here’s how I cook beef tenderloin: Rub it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, plus some Herbes de Provence 1/2 teaspoon per pound–don’t go overboard!). Then, cook it according to this chart. How much to buy? Plan on four ounces per person (plus a little more for beautiful sandwiches the next day).
Make-Ahead?: Make the fricasée up to 1 day in advance. Blanch the green beans (but save the sautéing step until just before serving). Make the pureed potatoes up to 1 hour in advance and keep warm (or reheat in microwave). The beef tenderloin can’t be made ahead, but it comes together SO quickly!
To Drink: E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2013. I’m so excited about this new wine find. For everyday drinking, I often buy E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Red; for about $15 a bottle, you get that a classic Syrah-Grenache-Mouvedre blend with rich dark fruit and plenty of body—but with that slightly shimmery lilt on the finish that always makes me choose a French red over a New World red.
But for this more special occasion, I recommend the E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage 2013 ($30). It’s made in a specified area of the Northern Rhône Valley of 100% Syrah; compared to the Côtes-du-Rhône, this wine brings more heft and structure (via Syrah’s hallmark tannins), and darker and richer flavors–think blackcurrants and plums. And yet, a touch of jazzy berry flavors means it’s not too brooding for day-drinking. PS: Its 13% alcohol content sure beats the 14.5% bruisers you generally endure with this much heft and flavor.
Of course, I’m serving a cheese course. And for this occasion, I’ll probably go classic: One cow’s milk (Comté for me, please), one sheep’s milk (Ossau-Iraty, bien-sûr!), and one goat’s milk cheese (any semi-ripened goat cheese from the Loire Valley will do just fine!). Since this is a special occasion, serve them with my Winter Compote for Cheese (it’s in my book). If you don’t have my book, just ask your cheese-shop pro for a great preserve to serve with cheese.
Wine Pairing: Normally, I’d just continue serving whatever wine I was serving for my main course. And if you wish to do so, the Crozes-Hermitage will be just fine! However, because this is a special occasion, I might just bring out a bottle of cru Beaujolais. Not, mind you, Beaujolais Nouveau! Rather, a bottle from one of the villages in the Beaujolais region. I find these fresh, easygoing wines to be a great choice as a meal enters its dénouement. Plus, their fresh, lightly acidic appeal is just the thing for rich cheeses. Read about Beaujolais cru in this posting.
Dessert: Bûche de Noël
For me, there’s only one French dessert for Christmas: The Bûche de Noël. Symbolizing a log brought that burns on the open fire, bringing the warmth of the season, this is the epitome of a French Christmas recipe: It’s festive, traditional, very tasty, and very memorable.
Wine Pairing: Open a bottle of Madiera or Port. Or, if you wish to stay focused on French, try Banyuls—France’s answer to Port. Personally, I’ll probably take that bottle of Graham’s Six Grapes Port off my shelf. Though not labeled as such, it’s a ruby-style port, with deep, rich red berry flavors that go well with the chocolate in the cake roll. As much as I love the Tawny Ports I’m leaving them on the shelf for this dessert: Those caramel-coffee-maple flavors will be too much with this cake.
Alors, Joyeux Noël, mes amis. Are you cooking anything French for Christmas? I’d love to hear about it, if so!
Other posts you might enjoy:
Cookbooks for your favorite Francophile:
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