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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner 2009: Maryland Crab Cakes, Herbed Beef Tenderloin & a "Tilt to Milt!"

With the passing of Steve’s dad, Milton Miskew, on December 9th, this holiday season had somewhat of a somber tone. Milt had been in declining health in recent years, but his mind was sharp and his warm sense of humor indelible. He passed away peacefully at home during his usual nap...a true blessing. We had just been up to North Carolina to visit him in October to celebrate his 85th birthday. We had crabs flown in from Baltimore for an authentic Maryland crab feast with the entire family – one of his favorite meals. We are so happy to have had that time with him.
On Christmas Eve this year, Steve and I were looking forward to attending an early Mass at St. Vincent’s and making a quiet, albeit delicious, dinner at home. In honor of his Dad, Steve made real Maryland crab cakes using his family’s closely gaurded recipe. They are almost entirely jumbo lump crab meat with just a little bit of the secret “sauce” to bind them together. Don’t worry, Uncle Tom & Aunt Marthy, the family secret is safe with us! With the crab cakes we enjoyed Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne NV which was a wonderful pairing with its lively apple and citrus notes and the perfect choice for a “tilt to Milt.”

For our second course, I made the Herbed Beef Tenderloin with Shallot Wine Sauce (pg. 148) from “Savor the Moment.” I halved the recipe since, as is, it feeds eight: nothing wrong with having some leftovers! The tenderloin is marinated in a delicious mixture of rosemary, thyme, garlic, shallots, orange zest and spices including ground nutmeg, cloves and bay leaf. It’s very convenient to make since you pop it in the fridge in the morning, let it marinate for 8 hours or longer and then pop it into the oven.
With meats, especially larger cuts, it’s always best to let them come to room temperature before roasting or cooking; this process is called “tempering.” Thomas Keller includes a page dedicated to the importance of tempering and resting both meats and fish in his new book “Ad Hoc at Home.” He writes, “If you put a piece of meat, poultry or fish straight from the refrigerator into a hot pan or oven, it can’t possibly cook evenly. To ensure even cooking, you must allow it to come to room temperature.” This can take as long as an hour for larger cuts of meat such as a prime rib or beef tenderloin. Hey, who am I to argue with the genius of Thomas Keller?! I do what the man says.
Once sufficiently “tempered”, I placed a meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the tenderloin before putting it into the oven. When preparing a large, read “expensive,” piece of meat, the only truly reliable way to ensure it is not over (or under) done is to use a meat thermometer. I love my Williams-Sonoma digital roasting thermometer & timer. It’s gotten us through many a Thanksgiving meal and dinner party with perfectly cooked meats and greatly decreased our reliance on the “cross your fingers” method of preparation.

The recipe states to roast the tenderloin at 400 degrees to an internal temperature of 130 degrees for rare and 140 degrees for medium. Best to opt on the under side since, when you remove the meat from the oven, it will continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes or so. Nobody likes an overdone beef tenderloin and it’s very avoidable! I cooked until the thermometer said 135 degrees and the meat came out a beautiful medium rare.
The Shallot Wine Sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the tenderloin and is made with the pan drippings from the meat together with butter, chopped shallots, fresh chives, red wine vinegar and red wine. You just reduce the mixture over medium heat for a few minutes and then spoon over the meat. Hungry yet?
I served the tenderloin with sautéed mushrooms, steamed asparagus and a special bottle of red wine: a 2003 Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Stelling Vineyard. Nickel & Nickel was established by the partners of Far Niente in 1997 and produces 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines that best express the distinct personality of each vineyard. The 100 acre Martin Stelling Vineyard, where the grapes for this wine are grown, is located in the Oakville, Napa Valley appellation and is the primary vineyard for renowned Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon (fabulous!). The Stelling is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and, upon pouring, had a gorgeous deep, ruby color with aromas of ripe berry, vanilla and spice. It was a wonderful pairing with the beef tenderloin with its rich, ripe blackberry, currant and cassis flavors with nice spiciness from the oak. Milt definitely would have approved, with his signature Ukranian toast of “Na Zdorov'ye!”
We thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas Eve dinner for two, reminiscing about Christmases past and looking forward to the beautiful day ahead.


  1. what a wonderful meal... i love the idea of a beef tenderloin for a special occasion.

    All sounds terrific, and nice memories

  2. Sorry to hear about the passing of your father-in-law. I know how sad it makes the following Christmas. My dad died the first week in December 2002.

    Great looking tenderloin and good for you for keeping the crab cake secret!

  3. Sorry about your father in law. May the new year bring you loads of happiness daaaaaahling.
    *kisses* HH

  4. Please tell me more about your cookbook. Thank you

  5. Peachy,
    Thank you for your inquiry. "Savor the Moment" is the James Beard award-winning Cookbook of the Junior League of Boca Raton. It contains exciting menus, inspirational entertaining ideas, and most importantly, great recipes. The Junior League members collected and tested over 3,000 recipes to fulfill your every cooking and entertaining need. The book is coffee table quality with beautiful photography. All proceeds from book sales go to support JLBR community projects. For more information please visit Thanks again for your interest!


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