If you’ve been reading GG for awhile, you know one of my biggest passions is cooking. To me, there’s no better way to wind down than testing out a new recipe while drinking my favorite Pinot Noir. I geek out over olive oil and I’m a sucker for cute aprons. Chopping vegetables with a good knife yields similar effects as an hour of yoga.
Okay, you get it. I’m a total cooking nerd. That being said, nothing saddens me more than someone who refuses to learn to cook because they assume it’s going to be a difficult art to master. That’s simply just not true–in fact, some of the most impressive meals are secretly the easiest to make. In the spirit of the holidays, I’m excited to share some with you today, in partnership with Sur La Table (one of my FAVORITE stores) at Westfield Old Orchard Mall!
I love Westfield Old Orchard because it offers SO much in one place, which is something we definitely can’t get in the city. It’s only about a 20 minute drive outside of Chicago!
I feel like a kid in a candy store each time I walk in to their Sur La Table store–for a couple reasons, really. 1. They have just about every fabulous gadget you could want–from cast iron skillets to fantastic pans, blenders to espresso machines, the finest knives, and any cooking knick-knack under the sun, with the most helpful and warm staff.
They also offer a series of cooking classes that are, unlike most other cooking classes I’ve seen, both affordable and approachable. Each class boasts a different menu–from easy date night recipes to an Ina inspired menu (eeek!) to the holiday classics I’m sharing with you today!
Whether you’re hosting a holiday meal for friends, family, cooking for one, or for your significant other–this is one of the most the most foolproof meals in the book, that will impress everyone from professional chefs to the pickiest eaters!
(Plus, I’m sharing some of my favorite foodie gifts that will have any cooking nerd over the moon!)
On the menu: Simple, but perfect cream of mushroom bisque, a bright, fresh salad, followed by pan-seared beef tenderloin with herbed compound butter. (How fancy does that sound? HA. I fooled you.)
Let’s start with booze though first, shall we?
Apple Cider Holiday Mule
This is a fun holiday twist on the classic moscule mule that is insanely easy to make. Here’s how:
In a copper mule mug, combine 4oz apple cider (or if you want to get extra fun, hard cider) with a shot of vodka. Top with ginger beer and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Garnish with a slice of apple on top of the drink, a sprig of rosemary, and a cinnamon stick.
We also like to use these giant ice cube molds, which are fun and also melt more slowly than regular ice cubes. Although, regular ice cubes and crushed ice work well, too!
Okay, now that you’ve got your cocktail, let’s move on to the main event!
Creamy, Earthy Mushroom Bisque
If you’re saying, “mushroom soup? Really? BORING”–I get you. I was once a non-believer.
I once thought bisque sounded like too much work for my lazy self, and I typically feel that blended soups are a bit too one-note. However–this is because I typically tend to treat soups as a main course, so I want them to be meatier, more complex.
Side note: I also did not know that a bisque was simply a blended soup. I thought it was much more hoity-toity than that. (And to think, I thought I knew a lot about cooking? EMBARRASSING.)
Anyway, I was proved wrong in every regard. As a first course–an appetite stimulant, if you will, a bisque is a perfect way to give your guests (or yourself) a little something without totally filling them up.
And the flavor? I could die. How did I live without this rich, delicious, earthy soup all these years?
My favorite part about this soup is that I got to use an immersion blender to blend it into creamy perfection. If you don’t know what an immersion blender is, it’s this hand-held blender that you just pop into the pot. I used this version, which has different speeds, and did such a fantastic job! No transferring of soup into a food processor or blender, and it makes clean-up so much easier! Plus, there’s something about whipping vegetables into a pulp that is strangely satisfying? It would make such a great gift.
Here’s how to make the soup:
(Adorable festive Christmas apron optional, yet highly recommended.)
- 1 oz dried wild mushrooms
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 stick butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 2 pounds trimmed and sliced wild and/or domestic mushrooms
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup Sherry wine
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons minced chives (optional, for garnish)
Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl with 1 cup boiling water, and let steep for 20 minutes.
To a dutch oven (aka a large soup pot) add butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and sauté about 5 minutres until tender. Add the sliced (non dried) mushrooms and cook until just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Then add the garlic, stir for about 1 minute, and add the flour to coat the veggies. Cook for 3 minutes, and gradually add the sherry. Finally, add the soaked mushrooms along with their soaking liquid and stir to incorproate. (One watch out, sometimes there will be some sediment in the bottom of the bowl, so avoid adding that!) Simmer for another 10 minutes, and season to your tastes with salt and pepper.
Then comes the fun part: Blend with an immersion blender until smooth, and finish off the with the cream. To serve, ladel into bowls and top with a dollop of creme fraiche and a spinkle of chives for color.
Crunchy Frisee Salad with Classic Vinaigrette
Up next: A bright, crunchy, fresh, simple salad.
You guys, let me tell you somethin’ about homemade salad dressing.
It will CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE.
Do not be fooled into buying that bottled garbage from the grocery store. It takes approximately 1 extra minute to make a homemade, delicious dressing yourself–and your guests will be talking about your salad dressing for years. (Not to mention, it’s much healthier with no added preservative yuckiness!)
I like to make a batch ahead of time and keep it in a mason jar, but if we’re being honest, it’s much more impressive to whip it up for your party attendees on the spot, so they can see you in all of your glory. Look at you, making your own salad dressing!
The secret? Really good olive oil. It’s not all created equal. I recently picked up this kind and it’s fantastic. Best of all, it’s super affordable–the oil is cold-pressed, made from half Italian, half-Spanish olives and it really makes the biggest difference in your recipes! Just combine the following into a small bowl, and whisk away!
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced shallot
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
This salad is so lovely and simple, and the frisee lettuce is a nice departure from the classic mixed green salad that tends to get wilted and soggy within minutes of dressing it. Top with your favorite crumbly cheese, and you’re good to go! Extra points if you include something indulgent like bacon, too!
Beef Tenderloin with Herbed Compound Butter:
I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as too much butter, and this rule is especially important to remember when combining things such as steaks and the holidays. Put on your stretchy leggings and throw the diet book out the window–it’s CHRISTMAS after all.
Butter is what really makes this dish sing. Adding herbs to make your own compound butter is even better, and is super duper fancy. You can also serve it with your dinner rolls and speaking of impressing your guests, casually mention that you hand made your own butter.
(They don’t need to know that it’s just softened butter, mixed with herbs, and then re-chilled again, then sliced. Shhh.)
That’s really the only hard part here. Or if you’re lazy, you can just use regular butter. Or you can buy fancy compound butter at the store. Really, whatever you’d like–I won’t judge you.
For the butter:
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsely
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
- 1 stick salted butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
Set butter out to come to room temperature. It should be a very soft consistency. Then, place shallots and wine in a suace pan and stir to combine. Set aside until cool. Once cooled, mix in herbs, pepper and mix thoroughly, and combine with softened butter in a small bowl until well incorporated. Place mixture on parchment paper, and roll up into a log. Place in freezer or fridge until chilled and hardened. Then, cut into thin slices.
For the steaks:
- 4 (6 ounce) beef tenderloin steaks
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Set out steaks to come to room temperature, at least 30 minutes ahead of cooking. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pat steaks dry with a paper towel and season LIBERALLY with salt and pepper. (Like, you should feel like you’re using WAY too much salt.)
When ready to cook, place butter and oil in your pan, swirling around until it foams. Sear one side until a deep brown, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip the steak, and place in the oven until your instant read thermometer reads 125 degrees F for medium rare. Top with a generous pat of compound butter, which will melt buttery goodness all over the steak. Let rest for 5 minutes, and serve.
Now, speaking of foodie favorites, what’s one to purchase for their favorite foodie for the holidays? Here are my top gift and stocking stuffer picks!
Top Gifts for Foodies:
If you (or someone you know) has been searching for a great all-purpose pan that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, I finally found it. It’s the same pan you see in the photos above–it has a ceramic titanium non-stick surface that, unlike other non-stick pants, is fantastic for searing, but also has those fantastic release qualities you need to flip an omelet. The surface won’t flake off or warp with wear like other pans do, you can use it with metal utensils, and even put it in the dishwasher. (MAGICAL!)
I love this version, which also comes with a chopper, but if you want the no-frills version for just $34, you can snag it here! This handheld blender makes it super easy to blend, chop, beat, or mix virtually anything without having to dirty up your blender or food processor. Anything that makes for less dishes is a win in my book!
Any cook is always in need of more great spatulas–they’re inexpensive, and make great stocking stuffers! I especially love the spatula spoon, which is dished and great for scooping and scraping!
This classic design has been a favorite of mine for years. They’re so affordable, and a nice set would make a fantastic hostess gift or newlywed present!
Contrary to popular belief, you really don’t need a giant block of knives taking up space on your countertop. One all-purpose knife, like this Wüsthof Classic Ikon Chef’s Knife, will serve you much better than 10 mediocre ones. I love this version, which any cook or aspiring cook would die for. I know it’s a splurge, but would make a great gift to go in on with family members or friends!
One-Step Seasoning Mixes:
These seasoning mixes–like Garlic & Lemon Pepper Green Bean Mix or Garlic Pepper Whipped Potatoes Mix are probably the most exciting stocking stuffers I can think of. They make side dishes so incredibly simple–just combine with your favorite veggies and bring your sides to life! (Which is especially convenient during the holidays!)
I love this little thing! It creates the most fluffy parmesan shavings, which I used to finish off the mushroom soup. It’s a fun little thing to pop into any stocking!
I’ve been longing for some copper mugs but always thought they were so overpriced. These will only set you back $12! Totally doable with most budgets, and always a great gift for any hostess.
Neal LOVES these things. He puts them in all of our cocktails, and especially loves them in his whiskey. My favorite part about this version in particular is that it comes with a lid, so you don’t risk spillage in the freezer.
Saving the best for last! Not only would this make the coolest gift ever, but it would also make for a really fun activity to do with family and friends. (A far more interesting…and warmer…way to entertain your out of town guests than a trip to the Bean.)
Even more exciting: I’m giving away a pair of gift cards to a cooking class of your choice at Sur La Table at Westfield Old Orchard! Details on how to enter will be posted on Instagram this morning!
Cheers! May all your holiday entertaining be merry and bright! (And, easy.)
A special thanks to Westfield Old Orchard and Sur La Table for sponsoring this post!
Photos by Jules Kennedy