An inspired holiday dinner

PAM ANDERSON | 9/17/2009, 11:20 a.m.


Even though the economy is squeezing everybody's wallets, no one wants to skimp on the holiday meal. So what to do? Make a splash with a beautiful roast, then turn to less luxe side dishes.

Start with Creamy Tomato Soup made from pantry staples. Like a little black dress, this soup is refined yet simple. It can lead an important meal or accompany a lunchtime grilled cheese sandwich.

The main course requires two pans. Barley pilaf cooks directly under the meat in the roasting pan, absorbing tasty meat juices. And the cookie sheet with Brussels sprouts gets popped in the oven as the meat comes out.

End the meal with Gingersnap-Caramel Pear Parfaits, a do-ahead yet impressive seasonal dessert. Once the pears have roasted, the dessert is easy to assemble -- a task that you can delegate to older children and teens. Omit the brandy, if you'd like: The moisture from the cream will soften the cookies.

And because there likely will be plenty of leftovers, go ahead and splurge on the beef tenderloin, knowing you also can make a big pot of delicious beef-barley soup later (see Bonus Recipe, below).1 Tb. olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 1/2 Tbs. Italian seasoning

2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. baking soda

2 cups chicken broth

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk (whole or 2%)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; saut until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in Italian seasoning; cook until fragrant, less than a minute. Add tomatoes and baking soda, then chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

Working in batches, pour soup into a blender; pure (be sure to vent blender by removing pop-out center and draping a kitchen towel over the top) until creamy smooth, 30 seconds to a minute. Return soup to pot, stir in milk and heat to simmer, seasoning with salt and pepper. (Soup can be refrigerated up to 3 days before serving.)

Ladle warm soup into bowls and serve.

Makes 10 cups, serving 8

Per serving: 136 calories, 8g protein, 21g carbohydrates, 3g fat (0.8g saturated), 4mg cholesterol, 4g fiber, 536mg sodium1 4-pound trimmed beef tenderloin

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. black pepper

3/4 tsp. dried thyme

2 cups crumbled blue cheese

1/3 cup bread crumbs

Butcher's twine or string

1 Tb. olive oil

1 cup ruby port wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 tsp. water

For the barley pilaf:

1 cup dried mushrooms 2 Tbs. olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 pound pearled barley

1 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken broth

7 ounces rinsed baby spinach

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare beef and sauce: Slit tenderloin lengthwise, almost but not all the way through. Sprinkle with salt and 1/2 tsp. each pepper and thyme. Mix cheese, bread crumbs and 1/4 tsp. each pepper and thyme; stuff pocket with cheese mixture. Tie tenderloin crosswise at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Coat with oil and sprinkle with more salt and pepper; set aside.