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Morning Madness; Make Mine Merende; Classic Cabernet; & A Recipe for Beef

It’s a foggy morning and the quiet morning belies the panic in Erin’s eyes. Erin is our morning baker and she had a longer than usual day yesterday. She was here for close to 12 hours helping Mark with special orders and other prep. Mark worked close to 17 hours yesterday so he could finish up the Christmas cookies and Erin was a big help taking care of other things. So Erin was tired and this morning she slept in. Sharon arrived at the cafe close to 6 this morning and the thing we have dreaded since we opened had happened: the baker over slept. Sharon called me and Mark just happened to be on his way out to get back here when I hollered out to him to wait a second. I told him that Erin was not there, so he shot out the door saying ‘see ya later’.

I called Erin and she woke up grabbing the phone already apologizing. I said to her calmly ‘it’s ok, just go now, as fast as you can, and be safe’. I shut down my computer and hit the shower (we will be here until 9 or so tonight, I HAD to take a shower!) and realized that I was not panicked, and neither was Mark when I spoke to him a few minutes after he left. This was simply a thing that we had to adjust to and so be it. We knew what needed to be done and luckily there were no special orders first thing, so it would all get out when it got out. I got here and Erin had beat me, thank goodness. You should have seen the look in her eyes… so disappointed and still panicky, even verging on teary. I gave her a hug, didn’t say anything and just got to work. They had worked so efficiently and quickly that there was not much for me to help with (though there will be when the bread has risen) so I am here to blog about it. We have already started teasing her about it (oh yes, there will be merciless teasing!) and she is relaxing and realizing that even when her idea of the worst happened, it wasn’t exactly a crisis.

So we are all here settling in to serve dinner for 25 upstairs tonight, among tons of other special orders. The group upstairs is having a choice of 4 entrees: Braised Chicken w/Almonds & Mushrooms; locally smoked wild coho salmon & crab in cream sauce over fresh taglietelle pasta; grass fed beef tenderloin roast from Oregon Country, crusted in pink peppercorns; and for the littlest kids fresh raviolis with butter and parmesan. There will be roasted veggies, mashed or roasted potatoes, dinner rolls, salads, and of course dessert as well. My mom and sister and Lori are coming to help with service (thank you!!!) so Mark and I will be exhausted and yet quite satisfied by the end of the day. Tomorrow we have another beef tenderloin dinner for 10, and lots and lots of special order quiche and things. I had to clean, trim and tie those tenderloins and even though I have not had to do that in so detailed a way (in a restaurant) in over 20 years, I did a beautiful job! These are some beautiful cuts of beef.

This holiday season has been a billion times better for us than last year because the snow forced so many cancellations that we never recovered. Our customers are the best in the world and they have truly rallied around us this season! We can tell that they are choosing to support us and I am grateful every moment of each day lately. Every time someone walks through that door I can’t help but grin. Thank you thank you thank you is all I can think!

Last Saturday Mark and I went to the Seattle Symphony show of ‘Messiah’ with my parents and we had a wonderful time! After the show we drove around and stopped in Tacoma for dinner at il Trattoria di Merende and had a fabulous meal. ‘Merende’ literally translates as ‘snacks’, and in this case they mean it as it relates to small plates. They have lots of shareable options and boy did we ever share! We tried the risotto and it is the best restaurant risotto I have had in the states, outside of New York City. Most places disappoint me with their risotto and Merende absolutely did not. We also tried the broccolini which had been put on the grill and it may have been everyone’s favorite thing. Simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and red chili flakes, the grill gave it fantastic flavor. I had the bolognese and I LOVED it! We all loved our food and we enjoyed some wine and I have to say that they have some of the best Italian food around. And you all know I have very high standards for Italian food!

The next day we headed to Bellevue to the home of Mark’s Aunt Dee & Uncle Johnny. It was the annual extended family gift exchange: Mark’s mom and her sister and all of their families were there. Someone brought in some Cougar Gold cheese and it is delicious! Sharp and tangy, a bit crumbly with a great salty bite… we were all eating it up quickly. It was a really fun day catching up with the cousins (we missed it last year because of the snow!) and even though Mark and I got there an hour early (we thought it started at one…oops!) it went by really quickly! The annual pictures were snapped and we were all merrily on our way. Dee and Johnny have always given us wonderful gifts for as long as we have known them, and this year was certainly no exception. Johnny has collected wine over the years, buying one to drink and one to cellar for his retirement years. Now that he is retired, fate has conspired against him and he is unable to drink the wine that he so lovingly cellared. (He says ‘let that be a lesson for you’!) They honored us with the gift of a bottle of French Cabernet from 1987! Can you believe that?? We were so surprised and thrilled! This will be the most special bottle of wine we have ever had and I have a specific plan for it, with a toast to Johnny being the first part of it! I will let you know how it turns out.

So I need to get busy and start prepping for the dinners tonight and tomorrow. I hope we get some great New Year’s Eve parties to do as well, since that is my favorite cooking to do. For the recipe this week I will tell you how to cook the beef tenderloin, in case you have one in your fridge as well. It is so easy, and I think it showcases this mildly flavored cut beautifully. It is based on about a 5 lb tenderloin, already trimmed and tied. (You want it tied with the small end tucked under, so that it cooks evenly without charring any part of it.)

olive oil
salt
peppercorns (a medley of colors is nice; I use just pink, though white and black could easily be thrown into that mix)

Pull the tenderloin out 2 hours before you will cook it, so it can gently come up to room temperature.

Lay out the beef on an oversized piece of plastic wrap. Rub it all over with the olive oil.
Sprinkle salt on all sides and then press in the peppercorns. Pull up on the sides of the plastic wrap to help pick up all the dropped spices, and be sure they get pressed into all sides of the beef, even the bottom.

Lay the beef on a cooking rack, on top of a baking sheet and set aside until time to cook.

Preheat the oven to 350 (325 convect) and when it is ready place the beef in the center of the oven. Turn it at 20 minutes. It may cook upwards of 40 minutes, though you should start checking the temperature at 30. If you are eating a cut this expensive, I am assuming you will not cook it past medium rare-medium, and therefore you want the internal temperature to be around 125.

Pull it out, tent some foil over it, and let it rest for about 30 minutes (20 minimum) before you slice it.

We like to slice it about finger width, and then lay it all out on a bed of arugula, surrounded by tomato slices or cherry tomatoes. We offer a little horseradish on the side, and I do even that with trepidition. This cut of meat is not the most flavorful, and you could even sear it all around before baking it to get a bit more flavor, though I think this presentation is perfect. Tender and juicy and perfectly cooked; you can’t go wrong.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!