Holiday Traditions

One of my favorite things about the world of social media whether it be Twitter or Facebook is the ability to learn so much about my friends lives. Whether it be what they are reading (I just finished Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte) or more about their family. This past holiday season, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about everyone’s holiday traditions. For so many people, food embodies the holidays. Friends planning feasts in advance, baking cookies for exchanges and parties and most of all talking about what the holidays mean to them.

At my office, we receive a holiday ham. Yes, most friends laugh about this, but every year, I try to pimp out my 7.5lb piece of pork to willing takers. Oh and this week, I’ll be making mac n cheese with ham and probably a few soups to freeze.  One friend’s family eats lasagna for Christmas. Others, like the more traditional, goose, standing rib roast or turkey. My family traditions are a bit more sporadic, maybe thats because we lack the continuity of traditions.  Panettone, the Italian sweet bread, seems to be a mainstay now for Christmas breakfast. One year when I was much younger, I insisted on a birthday cake for the Baby Jesus. I also distinctly remember my mom teaching me the words to Silent Night, to this day, it remains to be one of my favorites, making me smile when I hear and sing the song. Some years we’d have an Advent wreath or calendar, other years we’d forget to put them out!

And of course egg nog, that seemed to be a staple in our house for Christmas.This year, I fell in love with the Twin Brook Creamery nog, made locally with just a hint of nutmeg and the perfect balance of rich and sweet. I drank it straight from the bottle, it’s that good.

As I grow older, I start to develop my own holiday traditions. My simple apartment still is neglected, no true or formal decorations. Last year, I went to my first midnight Mass! This year, I baked turtle bars from this lovely cookbook: Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich (plus I topped them with a bit of Secret Stash Vanilla Salt- so good!). I drank hot toddies with friends. Attended my favorite annual holiday party in the basement of church. I’m interested in hearing how people begin to cultivate their own traditions. What makes traditions stick? Or do they start to stick once you have a family or children? I like how so many traditions are similar, yet many variations or twists. I imagine almost a recipe box of traditions, ideas and recipes to make the holiday season special. Perhaps this is something I’ll do next year, creating something to save for the future and share with my children someday.

One of my new favorite traditions (two years makes it a tradition right?) is this recipe for beef tenderloin from Fine Cooking. It’s perfect for a smaller group, incredibly easy and scrumptious! The tenderloin cooks at a slow roast, yielding a very tender and well seasoned meat. And the double-mushroom ragout is a beautifully rich compliment to the beef. Served with some mashed potatoes, you can’t go wrong with this meal for a festive occasion.

Slow-Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Double Mushroom Ragout

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tsp. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
2 Tsp. minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4lb. beef tenderloin roast, preferably from the thicker end & trimmed of silver skin & chain.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees, rack in the center.

Combine the olive oil, thyme, garlic, 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Put the tenderloin in a roasting pan and rub oil mixture all over it. Roast until meat thermometer reads 130°F for approximately one hour (medium rare).  Transfer to carving board, tent with foil and let rest for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into 1/2″ slices.

Double Mushroom Ragout

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
20 oz. cremini or other wild mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
Kosher salt
1/3 Cup finely chopped shallot
1/3 Cup dry Marsala wine
1 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh thyme
3/4 Cup heavy cream; more for reheating if necessary
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Soak porcini mushrooms in 1-1/2 cups of hot water- stir occasionally til they are soft, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer to cutting board with slotted spoon and chop coarsely. Strain liquid through coffee filter & reserve.

Heat 2 tbs. of butter and olive oil over medium heat in saute pan. Add cremini/wild mushrooms, 1 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally until they’ve softened and released their liquid (8-9 minutes). Increase heat to medium-high, stirring frequently until mushrooms shrink and very well browned (8-10 minutes). Reduce heat to medium, add the shallots and remaining 1 tbs. of butter and cook  until shallots are softened (1-2 minutes). Add Marsala, thyme, porcini and 1/4 cup of porcini soaking liquid; stir until liquid evaporates (1-2 minutes). Add the cream and cook until reduced to a saucy (thicker) consistency (1-2 minutes). Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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