A dish for most seasons

We’re still not having calendar-appropriate weather, but at least it’s not 80 degrees!  Still, we don’t know what it’ll be like from day to day, so I started looking through my old recipe file for dishes that could be served hot or at room temperature.  That way, if you’re having people over, you can decide that day based on the forecast.

This is my recipe file — lots of hand-written recipes, some of which date back to when I was 12 or 13. Plus random cut-outs from newspapers and magazines. It’s a memory trip each time I open it.

My recipe file isn’t a binder, it’s a collection of loose paper in an expandable letter file with alphabetical slots.  Its arrangement is pretty much alphabetical, although sometimes by major flavor/ingredient rather than dish.  This can sometimes lead to confusion, as I found two recipes for different chocolate tarts, one filed under “C” for chocolate and the other under “T” for tart.

This makes for interesting reading, though.  And a nice memory trip, too.  Some of these pages were recipes I copied when I went off to college.  And some of them are even older, copied from library cookbooks when I was 12 or 13.  I won’t make every one of these things again, but I like looking at them every once in a while.  Like the cannoli recipe I copied from one of the Time-Life foods of the world books.  My mother and I made them once.  They were delicious, for sure, and worth trying.  They took pretty much all day, though, and I haven’t made them again.  Especially since these days I can go to 2 Amys here in DC and have great cannolis.  But looking at the oil-stained page reminds me vividly of making them.  I wouldn’t dream of tossing that piece of paper.

And the bonus of the search is finding something that I’d completely forgotten but deserves to be made again.  Like this beef tenderloin recipe.  It’s pretty simple, too.  You coat the filet with a mixture of coffee, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, then roast it.  No browning necessary.

I have no idea where it came from, and I have several penciled-in notes changing nearly everything about it.  I made it often in the early 2000s and it’s a great dish for a dinner party.  The original is served hot with a heated sauce.  But tenderloin is also good at room temperature, so I also came up with a different sauce that you could serve on the side or put in a sandwich.

The recipe calls for finely-ground coffee in the rub.  If you have an espresso machine, you’ll probably have coffee that’s really finely ground for it.  If not, get out your coffee grinder and grind some yourself – even if you’re already using coffee ground for a drip coffee maker, you’ll need it to be finer.  The sauce is a mixture of onions, garlic, chicken broth, chili powder, Mexican crema (or a mixture of heavy cream and sour cream), thickened with tortilla chips.  The original recipe I have uses a corn tortilla, so you can use that if you have it.  But I tried it with a handful of tortilla chips instead, which also gives you the bonus of having the chips to serve before dinner.  The cold sauce has many of the same ingredients, but folded into mayonnaise instead.  I also added the roasted poblano peppers, I like the flavor they add.  Plus, they’re particularly good with the mayo sauce.

Since it’s beef, and pretty flavorful, I think a red wine is the way to go, whether the tenderloin gets served hot or not.  I’d go with Domaine la Croix des Marchands Vieilles Vignes ($17).  It’s a blend of Syrah and Braucol – a grape native to the wine region around Gaillac, where this wine is made.  It’s medium-bodied, but plenty of flavor.



All-season Coffee-Roasted Tenderloin

Serves 4 to 6

2 poblano peppers

2 pounds beef tenderloin, tied in 1-inch intervals

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely-ground coffee beans (espresso grind)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 large pinch ground cinnamon

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon mild chili powder

A big handful of corn tortilla chips, crushed, or 1 small corn tortilla, torn into pieces

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup Mexican crema (or ½ cup each sour cream and heavy cream)

Additional salt and pepper

For cold sauce:  1 cup good mayonnaise and ½ cup Mexican crema (skip the stock and the other ½ cup of crema from the warm sauce ingredients)

Roast the poblanos under a broiler or on gas burners until the skin is blackened all over.  Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 20 minutes.  Then remove the skin with your fingers, and seed and stem the peppers.  Cut them into strips and set them aside.

Combine the coffee beans, cocoa, and cinnamon and spread the mixture out on a baking sheet – spreading to an area as long as the tenderloin.  Rub the tenderloin with the salt and pepper, then coat it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Roll the tenderloin in the coffee mixture, getting it well coated all over.  Set the tenderloin on a part of the baking sheet that’s clean, then wipe up the rest of the sheet with paper towels.  Set the oven to 400 degrees F, and let the beef sit for 30 minutes.

Saute the onions and garlic in the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat until very soft and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the chili powder and the crushed tortilla chips, and saute for another minute.  Then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then puree it all in a blender.  (Be sure to remove the plastic insert from the top, and put a folded kitchen towel over the blender cover and hold it down with your hand.  The blender shouldn’t be more than about one-third to one-half full when you blend it.)

Strain the sauce to get out any unblended chip pieces.  Put it back over low heat, and warm it to just under boiling.  Whisk in the crema, and taste for salt and pepper.  Cover the pot and keep the sauce warm.  You can reheat it, but don’t boil it.

Put the beef on a roasting rack and put the rack on the baking sheet.  Roast the beef for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 250 degrees F.  Cook it to an internal temperature of 125 degrees F for medium rare, that’ll take 20 minutes or so.  Remove the beef from the oven and let it rest on the carving board loosely covered in foil for 10 minutes.  Cut off the strings, and slice the beef into ¼-inch thick slices.  Serve with the warm sauce and poblano strips.

For warmer weather:  Saute the onions and garlic as directed.  Add the chili powder and cook for another minute.  Scrape the mixture into a bowl and let it cool completely.  When cool, whisk in the mayonnaise and crema.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve this sauce with room-temperature tenderloin slices, along with the poblanos.

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