December 27, 2012

Beginnings, Endings & Gourmet Sandwich Bars

The month of December was a blend of happiness, tragedy, grief, and celebration. Yes, these things belong together. Like peas nestled in a pod, they are closely bound. The beginning of December began with my grandmother passing away after moving to Texas from Florida, and just following her 80th birthday. 

She always said she would make it to 80. 

Everyone flocked to her side, and although I missed saying goodbye to her by mere minutes, I was still able to see her one last time. She gave us the gift of healing together as a family, and we were as sad as we were relieved that she was no longer in pain. 

We spent a week healing, eating, laughing, and remembering the woman who made us. We shared a meal at one of my favorite restaurants, Trattoria Lisina. A dear family friend spoiled us with a homemade BBQ extravaganza complete with smoked ribs and brisket. My Aunt took us on a field trip to the mother of Whole Foods in the heart of Austin which turned in to an all day affair. We brunched on breakfast tacos and mimosas, found reasons to laugh, and spent every moment together until we were forced to go our separate ways. 

We love you, Gigi. May you rest in blissful peace.  

As soon as I returned home I was whisked away by holiday planning. It took a concerted effort to gather some holiday spirit, but a few days before Christmas we found a tree, dug the lights and decorations out of their hole in the basement, and decorated the house. By the time Friday rolled around I had a theme in mind for the family party on Saturday, and I was filled with elfin excitement. 

Repeat after me: I love you, I love you, I love youuuuu. Candy canes and gum drops.

Instead of coming up with completely new recipes, I took a little help from some tried and true methods collected through the years. I came up with the idea of setting up different food stations. The main station was a gourmet sandwich bar complete with a festive chalkboard menu, crab dip, old bay shrimp salad, balsamic chicken salad, antipasti, fancy mustards, sauces, and a 6 pound dry-brined beef tenderloin. I was too busy having fun to break out the camera and take pictures, but trust me, these recipes are a must. 

Below are a handful of my favorites that helped make entertaining a crowd relaxing and downright fun.  

Sandwich Bar Essentials 

Roasted Garlic Aioli
This recipe is a classic. Make this first and use it for everything that requires mayonnaise. It makes every recipe a winner. This recipe makes one cup of aioli. Double or triple this recipe for a party.
(Adapted from Emeril)

  • 1 head roasted garlic
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 turns freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup light olive oil
  1. Combine the roasted garlic, egg, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the oil in a very slow stream and continue to process until the mixture has formed a thick emulsion. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  2. NOTE: Be careful with the lemon juice. It can quickly overpower the aioli. Also, be sure to use regular olive oil and not extra virgin which is often too strong for everyone’s taste.

Baked Sriracha Lump Crab Dip 
Downright decadent. You must use homemade aioli, sriracha, and lots of fresh jumbo lump crab to make this right. Don't skimp on the crab if you want the compliments. 

  • 16 ounces jumbo lump crab, fresh and local
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chives
  • ½ cup aioli
  • ½ cup cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2.  Place all the ingredients except the crab in a medium bowl and blend together with a spatula. 
  3. Gently stir in the crab. 
  4. Turn the dip into a 1-quart casserole and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until heated through and browned on top. 
  5. Serve immediately with French bread and crackers. 

Dry Brined Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2007)

The BEST beef tenderloin I have ever made. It is also the easiest crowd pleaser on the face of the planet. Trust me, make this and you will never make it any other way again. I served this as the main course in the middle of my sandwich bar surrounded by cream sauce, gourmet mustards, caramelized onions, aioli, and toasted breads.

4 to 6 pound trimmed whole beef tenderloin (tuck the tail end under and tie every few inches)
1 teaspoon of salt per 2 pounds of tenderloin

Step 1: Dry Brine: Sprinkle surface of beef tenderloin with coarse kosher salt and rub liberally. Place beef on a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered at least 24 hours and up to 36 hours. The longer this brines the better. 

Step 2: Roasting:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely cracked 

Let beef stand at room temperature 1 hour before roasting. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Rub beef all over with oil and cracked pepper, pressing firmly to adhere. Return beef to rack on baking sheet and roast until the thickest part is 125°F for medium-rare (135°F to 140°F in thinnest part), about 30-35 minutes. Remove roast from oven and let rest 15 minutes. Cut off string from roast. Cut roast crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on platter. Serve with horse radish cream sauce.

Horseradish Cream Sauce

A simple side for the beef tenderloin that can double as a sandwich spread. Two for one! 

2 tablespoons white horseradish
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Stir all of the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour to allow ingredients to meld together. Serve alongside beef tenderloin.

Old Bay Shrimp Salad
(Recipe from Old Bay)
Classic shrimp salad. You just can't go wrong with this if you are feeding a crowd of Marylanders. 

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons OLD BAY® Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, cooked, peeled and de-veined
  1. Cook shrimp: 
    • In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup water to boil. 
    • Add unpeeled shrimp. Cover. Cook about 5 minutes or until shrimp are pink. 
    • Drain. Cool shrimp. 
    • Remove shells and de-vein. 
  2. In a large bowl, mix mayonnaise, celery, old bay, and lemon juice.
  3. Add shrimp. Toss to coat; cover with plastic wrap
  4. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or until ready to serve. Best served cold. 


  1. What a great tribute to your grandmother--I'm sorry for your loss. Wow, what an amazing sandwich bar. Wish I had experienced party food like that over the holidays!

  2. So sorry to hear about your grandmother's passing. It sounds like you all were able to celebrate her life appropriately though. I bet she loved that you all got together.

    On a happier note - sweet mother of baby jesus that sriracha baked crab dip is genius. *Drool.*

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your beloved Gigi! I love that you called her that and that photo of her... stunning. :) Wishing you a very bright and happy New Year!

  4. First of all, I'm a so, so sorry to hear that your sweet Gigi passed sounds like being with family offered you a lot of comfort. And your holiday food stations sound fantastic! I'm going to dry brine my next beef tenderloin! Happy New Year, my friend!!! xo

  5. I am so sorry for you loss. I never new my grandmothers, it would be amazing -( I wish you and your family many happy days in new year! All the best!

  6. My condolences on the loss of your grandmother. Sounds like she was an amazing woman! I wish you all the best for 2013...

  7. beautifully expressed. and you're right, those emotions seem to roll all together.

  8. I'm sorry to hear the loss of your grandmother. I lost my grandpa past summer and it was hard as I couldn't go back to Japan. Your grandma must have been very happy to see all her family's faces together. Happy New Year to you! I need to make your roasted garlic aioli... sounds amazing!

  9. So sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds like your grandmother was deeply loved. I'm glad though that you found time to laugh - it's very healing - and that you discovered your 'elfin' excitement in time for the holiday. What a lovely tribute to your grandmother.

    p.s. the feast sounds absolutely wonderful - I hope you raised many a glass to Gigi!


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