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Be your own 'Top Chef' this Christmas: Make beef tenderloin, acorn squash

If you haven't started cooking Christmas dinner yet — don't worry, there's still time. Whether you need inspiration for the entire meal or just a dish or two, "Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons has recipes that will have everyone feeling merry about. Here, she shares her Pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin, baked acorn squash and gingerbread sticky toffee pudding.

Pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin
By Marcia Kiesel, FOOD & WINE Test Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms 
  • 2 cups boiling water 
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 3 large shallots, minced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 4 scallions, minced 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • One 3-pound center-cut trimmed beef tenderloin in 1 piece
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
  • 7 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chilled 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Soak the porcini in the boiling water for 20 minutes. Rub the porcini in the soaking liquid to remove any grit; pat dry and coarsely chop. Transfer the porcini to a mini food processor and puree. 

Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the shallots and cook over moderately low heat until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the scallions and cook until softened, 2 minutes. Stir in the porcini puree. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. 

Season the roast with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet. Sear the roast over moderately high heat until browned all over; let cool. 

On a work surface, slightly overlap three 16-inch pieces of wax paper. Arrange the pancetta on the paper in 4 overlapping rows to form a rectangle the length of the tenderloin. Spread the porcini puree over the pancetta. Set the tenderloin on the bottom edge of the pancetta. Using the wax paper as a guide, tightly roll up the roast in the pancetta. Carefully peel off the wax paper.

Tie the roast with kitchen string at 1-inch intervals. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and brush with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil. Roast the beef for 25 minutes, or until the pancetta is crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 120 degrees. 

Let rest for 10 minutes. Cut off the strings and remove. Thickly slice the roast with a serrated knife and serve. 

Baked acorn squash with chestnuts, apples and leeks
By Justin Chapple, FOOD & WINE Test Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 4 acorn squash (about 1 pound each), halved lengthwise and seeded 
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery 
  • 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 
  • 1/4 inch thick 
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced 
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme 
  • 10 ounces day-old rustic rye bread-crusts removed, bread cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 6 cups) 
  • 7 ounces vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts 
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley 
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream 
  • 1/3 cup vegetable stock or low-sodium broth 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Brush the cut sides of the squash with olive oil and season the cavities with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down on two baking sheets and roast for about 25 minutes, until just tender. 

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the celery, leeks and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the apples and thyme and cook over moderately high heat until the apples just start to soften, about 5 minutes.

Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add the bread, chestnuts, parsley, cream and stock and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the squash cut side up. Spoon the stuffing into the cavities and bake until the squash are tender and the stuffing is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve. 

Gingerbread sticky toffee pudding
By Gail Simmons

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 cup dates, pitted and coarsely chopped 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger 
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves 
  • 1 stick butter, plus extra for greasing 
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • Zest of half an orange

For the sticky toffee sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream 
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped 

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9 by 13 baking dish. 

Combine the dates and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Allow liquid to cool and puree the date mixture with its liquid in a blender or food processor. Reserve. 

Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth at medium-high speed. Beat in eggs one at a time until just combined. Add molasses and mix until incorporated. Lower the speed and slowly add flour mixture in three parts. Stir in date puree and orange zest. 

Transfer batter to prepared dish and bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the sticky toffee sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan. Slowly add cream and dark brown sugar, whisking until mixture comes to a gentle boil and forms a smooth sauce. Set aside. 

Remove pudding from the oven and immediately poke holes in the pudding every inch or so using a skewer or chopstick. Pour three quarters of the sauce over the cake and allow it to soak in for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm with a drizzle of extra sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. 


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