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Burning Questions: Tips for cooking tenderloin

What's the easiest main course you can make for a dinner party?

Beef tenderloin. And I have the story to prove it.

Last week, my book club met to discuss our latest selection, "Lady Chatterley's Lover." We try to have a meal that ties in thematically with the book, and I wasn't very far into D.H. Lawrence's meditation on sex and class before I realized that there was only one possible main course: tenderloin. (I counted 17 loins in "Lady Chatterley," among them white loins, sensitive loins, crouching loins, silent loins, full loins and slender loins -- if not tender loins.)

Beef tenderloin is the long, narrow muscle from which individual filet mignons are cut. A whole tenderloin weighs about 5 pounds and will serve 10 to 12 people; you can get smaller sections for smaller parties.

On the night in question, I had asked the butcher at Uncle Giuseppe's in Port Washington to put aside a tenderloin with my name on it. I picked it up at around 7 p.m., called the friend who was hosting book club to get her to preheat her oven to 450 degrees, then headed out to my car. It wouldn't start.

A friend, who also happened to be at Uncle Giuseppe's, came to my aid. We thought I'd run out of gas, so we took his car to get a gallon from a local service station. This took longer than expected and, ultimately, failed to get the car to start. Lots of discussion about starters and towing. Finally I decided to leave the car at Uncle Giuseppe's and have my friend drive me to the book club.

An hour late, I raced into the kitchen and tore off the tenderloin's wrapping. I rubbed it with olive oil and gave it a good sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. I placed it on a rack in a sheet pan and shoved it into the preheated oven. Forty minutes later, when its temperature reached 125 degrees, I took it out of the oven and covered it with foil for 10 minutes. Dinner was served.

How long the roast takes will depend on its thickness and how cold it was before it went into the oven, anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes. An instant-read thermometer is key here, as is the 10-minute rest.

Tenderloin is not a cheap cut of meat; this one was $19/pound. But there's absolutely no waste, and it could not be easier to prepare.

More on spoilage

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, I had occasion to correspond with a number of readers who had endured power outages and were curious about which refrigerated items to toss, which to keep. I was surprised to learn about the nonperishable items that some of them keep in the fridge. Folks, here's a good rule of thumb: If the supermarket doesn't refrigerate it, you don't need to. Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, hot sauce, jelly and jam will all do fine in the cupboard. Even products such as mayonnaise, salad dressing and peanut butter, which you are instructed to refrigerate after opening, will be OK for a few days.

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