It was the party from hell.
Everything went wrong. The crostini was soggy; the bread was dry; the sauce separated. I don’t even think I managed to cook the chicken all the way through.
Thankfully, I have a loving husband who didn’t criticize once the guests left. He didn’t even snort the next time I told him to invite some colleagues over for dinner.
I’ve learned a lot since that party. (People actually pay me to cook for them today.) But I remember how fearful I was the next time we entertained.
What if I blew it again?
It’s a question I hear a lot. People want to entertain. But they’re afraid of making mistakes. Is there such a thing, they ask, as a party entree that’s fool-proof? A showstopper that’s a sure thing?
There is. In fact, I’ve found three. Memorize these easy dishes, and you’ll have a smashing foundation for your next dinner party (or tonight’s dinner)!
Open a 2-tenderloin package and pat the meat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and brush with olive oil. Roast at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. (The internal temperature will be 140-145 degrees.) Let meat rest 20 minutes. Use this technique on plain meat, or brush every 15 minutes with your favorite barbecue sauce or glaze.
Brush a 2- to 2 1/2-pound beef tenderloin with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fire up a cast-iron skillet until it’s scorchingly hot (it should almost be smoking), then sear the tenderloin on all four sides until a nice crust forms. (Don’t hurry this step! It’ll take you about 15 minutes.)
Place the pan in a 375-degree oven. Roast for 30 minutes (the internal temperature will be 130 degrees). Remove pan from oven and let meat rest at least 20 minutes. You’ll get a perfectly medium-rare roast every time.
If you want to amp this dish up, make a paste of 3 minced garlic cloves, the zest of 1 lemon, 1-2 teaspoons minced rosemary, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup olive oil. Rub it all over the tenderloin after you’ve seared it. Roast as directed.
Salmon with Herbs
Mince a variety of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, tarragon and dill are good) until you have 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Add 1 minced clove garlic, the zest of 1 lemon, salt and pepper. Mix with 1/4 to 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs. Moisten with olive oil until you have a mixture that hangs loosely together.
Dry a 2 pound salmon fillet (sockeye, preferably) and place it on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then spoon on the herb/breadcrumb mixture, pressing lightly so everything adheres.
Roast in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. You’ll end up with flaky, moist fish and a crispy topping.