When someone mentions New Year's Eve, I immediately think of spending the evening out, going to parties and drinking champagne, but then I remember to do this I have to get dressed up, stay up late and often spend a bundle on an expensive dinner -- but not this year. This year I am bringing the festivities to my house by inviting a small group of friends over for a restaurant-style dinner, games and very likely, a New York City timed New Year's, aka 11 p.m. Chicago time.
When I was a little girl, my parents would often invite family and friends over for a low-key New Year's Eve gathering. My uncle worked for Nabisco, so he always brought goodies like cheese in a can and fancy crackers, and my parents would go to a special "pop" store near Schiller Park that sold glass quarts of soda in flavors like strawberry, grape and black cherry. The adults would play Tripoley, and my sisters and I would stay up as late as we could. In the morning, while my parents were still sleeping, we would make "mixed drinks" by combining what remained in all the unfinished bottles of pop -- those were the days.
As an adult, I will admit to still enjoying the occasional squirt cheese and cracker. And I have returned again to the practice of my youth: staying home on New Year's Eve. While I always enjoy appetizers and snacks, this year I want to make a nice dinner, so we can pretend we're at a fancy restaurant without having to fight for a reservation and get all dressed up.
My answer to a special dinner begins with bacon-wrapped scallops. This dish is an impressive starter and incredibly easy to make. Make the spicy mayo the day before and wrap your scallops earlier in the day to eliminate last minute preparation, leaving putting them under the broiler as the last task. Impressive and elegant, and no one will guess these were so easy to make.
The main event of my evening is roasted beef tenderloin. I have made this many times and am always amazed at how simple it is to prepare while being impressive on the plate. I usually buy an untrimmed whole beef tenderloin, although you can usually find them trimmed around the holidays. If you prefer to trim your own, be sure to remove all the excess fat and silver skin, the white or silvery colored connective tissue that runs lengthwise in the tenderloin.
A beef tenderloin is not an evenly shaped piece of meat, so once trimmed, it is best to tie the tenderloin to ensure even cooking. Using cooking twine, available at most kitchen supply stores, tie the roast every two to three inches in as uniform a diameter as possible, trimming any extra string. The trimming and prepping the tenderloin can be done a day or two ahead of time. When you're ready to roast the meat, brush or rub with olive oil and generously sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and roast to your desired temperature but don't forget to allow a little resting time afterward to ensure juicy and perfectly cooked meat.
My secret weapon to perfectly cooked roasted meat is an electronic meat thermometer. Mine is an older model. Its probe is connected by a cord to a cellphone-like device with a digital readout. It allows me to set the alarm to go off when the meat reaches my desired temperature. It is so much better than the old dial-style thermometers or instant read variety that require you to open the oven every time you want to take a temperature. They come in almost every price range and are a very worthwhile investment, so ask Santa for one this year.
No steak dinner is complete with side dishes, so I have picked my some of my favorites to make, or prep, the day before, so I am not stuck in the kitchen while my guests are visiting. My plan includes roasted red onions, Cabernet mushrooms, rosemary garlic potatoes and roasted asparagus.
Imagine your plate: perfectly roasted beef tenderloin, red onions, browned potatoes, bright green asparagus and those mushrooms a work of art! You could even make it a surf and turf if you served the scallops with dinner, too. The best part about this meal, other than it tasting amazing, is that most of the preparation can be done the day before, leaving you time to enjoy your guests.
I didn't forget dessert. Christmas is the time to put out some good chocolates and maybe an angel food cake with berries and whipped cream, but whatever you do, don't forget the champagne for a toast at whatever time you decide to celebrate! Hope you have a safe and happy New Year's Eve.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.