Tenderloin, Not Turkey: A Less Traditional Holiday Meal

What's your holiday protein of choice? More often than not, turkey is what's for holiday dinner. Even for vegetarians, there's Tofurkey. Don't get me wrong. Turkey is great. It's a lean white meat, easily available locally from sources that raise the birds humanely. One turkey can feed a lot of people. Leftovers are easy to package up and send home, and can be used in many ways beyond the obvious turkey/mashed potato/cranberry sauce sandwich: turkey noodle soup, shredded turkey mango wraps, turkey pot pies, turkey noodle casserole, etc.

Chances are, though, most of you had turkey on Thanksgiving. And for several days after Thanksgiving. So I thought you might be interested in a not-so-traditional, non-turkey holiday feast for a gathering in December. Ham is an easy way to feed a crowd. Pork or beef roasts are nice, too. But when I was growing up, the main dish we were happiest to see on the table was a well-prepared beef tenderloin.

Well prepared is the key. Some meats are forgiving. Turkey can be dressed up with gravy if it's a little dry. Tenderloin, if overcooked, gets tough. Since its selling point is tenderness, not flavor (for more flavor, go for a chewier, fattier cut like a rib eye), an overcooked tenderloin is an expensive mistake. But when I use a reliable recipe source like Cook's Illustrated -- where they exhaustively test each recipe -- I have a good chance of success.

My extended family visited the weekend before Thanksgiving, and since we were gathering at an untraditional time, I thought we should eat untraditionally too; I suggested a tenderloin and a new Brussels sprout dressing recipe. Oven cooking the tenderloin instead of grilling made it easier to check and control (and warmer than grilling outside in a Minnesota winter). While the dressing was more vegetable than bread, it was savory, warm, and doubly local: I used Minnesota sweet potatoes, and my sister brought Brussels sprouts from her garden near Philadelphia. I added a green salad and my go-to brownie recipe. We only had a few items on the table, but we had a satisfying -- and satisfyingly celebratory -- meal.

Horseradish-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream Sauce, from Cook’s Illustrated
(serves 6)

Note: Start this recipe early in the day. It has many steps, but the delicious and impressive-looking results are fit for a celebration or important event. 

For the tenderloin:

1 beef tenderloin center-cut Châteaubriand (about 2 pounds), trimmed of fat and silver skin (Ours was a special order at the Eastside Food Co-op from Thousand Hills Cattle Company)

Kosher salt

3 Tablespoons panko bread crumbs

1 cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 small shallot, minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)

1/4 cup well-drained prepared horseradish

2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 small russet potato (about 6 ounces), peeled and grated on large holes of box grater

1 1/2 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Kosher powdered gelatin 


  1. Sprinkle roast with 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (or 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt), cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature (wipe out skillet). Once cool, toss bread crumbs with shallot, garlic, 2 tablespoons horseradish, parsley, and thyme.
  3. Rinse grated potato under cold water, then squeeze dry in kitchen towel. Transfer potatoes and remaining cup oil to 10-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until potatoes are golden brown and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to paper towel-lined plate and season lightly with salt; let cool for 5 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon oil from skillet and discard remainder. Once potatoes are cool, transfer to quart-sized zipper-lock bag and crush until coarsely ground. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet with bread-crumb mixture and toss to combine.
  4. Pat exterior of tenderloin dry with paper towels and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon pepper. Heat reserved tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Sear tenderloin until well browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and let rest 10 minutes.
  5. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons horseradish, mayonnaise, and mustard in small bowl. Just before coating tenderloin, add gelatin and stir to combine. Spread horseradish paste on top and sides of meat, leaving bottom and ends bare. Roll coated sides of tenderloin in bread-crumb mixture, pressing gently so crumbs adhere in even layer that just covers horseradish paste; pat off any excess.
  6. Return tenderloin to wire rack. Roast until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of roast registers 120 to 125 degrees for medium-rare, 25 to 30 minutes.
  7. Transfer roast to carving board and let rest 20 minutes. Carefully cut meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve with horseradish cream sauce.

For the Horseradish Cream Sauce:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper, black, ground


Whisk cream in medium bowl until thickened but not yet holding soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. Gently fold in horseradish, salt, and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before serving.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Dressing adapted from Vegetarian Perspective

(serves 8 to 10)


1 large red onion, diced

1/2 stick butter (vegan option – 2 Tbs olive oil)

2 large cloves garlic, minced

4 cups sweet potato, diced

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved

1 large bunch fresh sage, minced

1/2 tsp. salt

freshly ground pepper

1 apple, peeled and diced

4 cups cubed wheat bread (I used New French Multigrain sandwich bread; crusty loaves like baguette would work nicely)

1 cup apple cider


  1. Saute the onion in the butter or oil until translucent. Add garlic, the halved Brussels sprouts and the sweet potatoes. Saute until the potatoes begin to tenderize and the sprouts begin to brown. You won’t need to fully cook the potatoes and sprouts as they will spend some time in the oven as well.
  2. Next add the sage, salt and pepper. Once these are combined, add the chopped apple and cubed bread. Mix together. Add the apple cider last making sure that everything is moist, but not soupy. You may need to add a bit more cider if you used very crusty bread.
  3. Move stuffing into a covered casserole dish, cover, and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Winter Holiday Salad with Driftless Organics Sunflower Vinaigrette

(serves 8 as a side salad)

For the salad:

8 to 10 cups washed hydroponic Living Waters lettuce

2-3 local Comice pears, washed, cored, and sliced thin

1/4 cup Barsky's smoked almonds or toasted sunflower seeds

1/3 cup crumbled Shepherd's Hope cheese

1/4 cup dried cranberries

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons local maple syrup or honey

3 Tablespoons apple cider or white vinegar

1/2 cup Driftless Organics sunflower oil

salt and pepper to taste


  1. Wash and tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces.
  2. In large bowl, toss lettuce with 2 to 3 Tablespoons of dressing. Leaves should have a thin sheen of dressing; you don't want a pool at the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Place dressed salad on individual plates, place pear slices, almonds or sunflower seeds, cheese and cranberries on top. Pass extra dressing at the table. Dressing keeps for a week refrigerated in an air-tight container.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

New Classic Brownies adapted slightly from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies

(Makes 16 brownies)


8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

4 ounces unsweetened Fair Trade chocolate, coursely chopped

1 1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour


  1. Use an 8 inch square metal pan, lined across the bottom and sides with 2 strips of aluminum foil, spray with oil.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F. Position rack in lower third of oven.
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate gently: in double boiler, in glass bowl over low-simmering water in small saucepan, or in microwave at 50% power. Stir frequently until mixture is melted and smooth.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt. Check to be sure mixture is not hot, then add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until each is incorporated before adding the next. Stir flour into chocolate mixture, and beat with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth, glossy and comes away from side of bowl, about 1 minute.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until brownies begin to pull away from side of pan. Surface will be dry but inside will be gooey, so don’t bother with a toothpick test.
  6. While brownies bake, prepare an ice bath: Fill a roasting pan or large baking pan with ice cubes and water about 3/4 inch deep.
  7. When brownies are ready, remove pan from oven and set it immediately in ice bath, taking care not to splash water on brownies. Cool brownies in ice bath. Medrich calls this the Steve ritual; this step is critical in producing brownies that have a firm crust but creamy, fudgy center. You may use this method with other 8-inch pan brownie recipes: bake for 20 min at 400F, then put in ice bath. The ice bath is why you must use a metal pan, not glass or Pyrex!
  8. Remove pan from ice bath, and brownies from pan. Cut into 16 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Kristin Boldon is a frequent contributor for Simple, Good and Tasty, who also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for us was "Dogwood Coffee: Riding the Third Wave."